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Armthorpe Welfare
Armthorpe Welfare

The Great Escape

By: Chris Smith
Date: 21/10/2009

NO, this isn’t about yet another escape from relegation campaign. I thought I’d get away from the early season pantomime at Blundell Park and take in another non-league game and my first since returning from holiday.

There wasn’t too much on last night, but a quick perusal of the Non League Paper showed that Armthorpe Welfare had a home match against Rainworth Miners Welfare and I was sold. Armthorpe is a couple of chavcab rides away from me and given their timings, involved a suicidal dash over a main road to make the second leg of the journey and thereby kick off. Appropriately though, the change is at Doncaster Royal Infirmary so the ambulance wouldn’t have had far to travel.

Armthorpe’s ground is nestled behind a Netto and other commercial properties on one side, and housing on the other. Whilst there isn’t a bar in the ground, you can nip into Markham Main Social Club before during and after the game. Ponte Mariner likes this ground as Armthorpe also boasts quite a few promising boozers in the vicinity. I parted with my £5 (with another £1 for the programme) and headed for the small refreshment bar for the obligatory pie and peas (very nice thanks and a snip at £2.20). They do a good bacon butty as well. So I’m told.

Did I tell you that I spoke to Macca at this ground a few seasons ago and just after he’d been released by Town? I even got his autograph on a home programme as he’d been turning out for Armthorpe. When asked, his response was "Whoever thought I’d be signing programmes at ******* Armthorpe?" as he did the deed. If I have told you before, I couldn’t resist another name drop. And I’m not sorry either.

I’m pleased I chose to come to this game. I eschewed the opportunity to part with £20 to watch Donny play Peterbore and fancied getting away from the living room, Sky Sports and updates on the Scunny v Newcastle game. Remember us playing them? Win away and draw at home.

I’ve been to Armthorpe’s ground several times and always get a warm welcome. It takes dedication to keep clubs like this running given past and current economic downturns and with Rovers being embraced by the Donny public with its go-ahead club and attractive side. Dare I say vibrant support as well? Armthorpe had their ground badly vandalised last season with a perimeter wall knocked down. This has been repeated this season and had it not been for an outstanding start to the season, the committee could be forgiven for giving up. The ground has seen better days but it has the required facilities to play at Level 5 in the non-league pyramid and that’ll do for now.

Before last night, Armthorpe had won eight and drawn one of their opening nine games, their last being a 4 1 win at Hallam (oldest football ground in the world). Included in that set of results was a 10 0 win at fellow Donny side, Brodsworth, and a 9 2 mauling of Eccleshill. I just hoped that the curse of being a Grimsby fan, whereby all who come into contact with me are tainted with our club’s innate crapness, didn’t make itself felt.

Talking of Grimsby, there are a few connections with Armthorpe. One is the Dixons advertising hoarding (a reminder of happy times). Only joking, but the connections are tenuous. Armthorpe’s assistant manager is John Steeples who made a few appearances for the Mariners in the successful 1980/1 season. He has been at Armthorpe for five years during which Town have had how many managers? I always thought John had scored a winner against Swansea in 1981 which cemented us in the third and final promotion position with just a month to go to reach the top flight (author sobs at memory). He didn’t, but featured in that game, where he must have made an impression on me, and also in a win against Notts County the previous week. Those two clubs were promoted with West Ham by the way, where he also played in a game featured on Match of the Day.

The other connection was pointed out to me by a Rainworth fan who said that their number seven was Nigel Jemson who had been signed that week. This hadn’t made the squad list for the programme, which I always look at to see if there will be any familiar faces on the pitch. Not a bad little read and I appreciate the effort to get an up to date issue out. For the record, Jemson turned out for Town on seven occasions between September and October 1993 and scoring twice, including a goal at Oxford in a game I vaguely remember through a haze of alcohol. Oh, one last thing, Grimsby Borough beat Rainworth 2 0 last week in a League Cup win, just to show I read the programme.

The game itself kicked off at a blistering pace with Armthorpe putting a lot of pressure on newly promoted Rainworth who have had a good start themselves. Their goalkeeper was called upon to pull off one good save and another was cleared off the line. It’s good to see all that is going on in a tight compact ground with everyone cosied up in the one small stand offering cover. In a fashion that we are all too familiar with, Rainworth quickly broke away and a really well taken shot by Ant Lynam put them one nil up against the run of play. I don’t mean of course that we execute quick breakaways, more that we are a victim of them. It looked like the Grimsby curse had infected the home team. A few minutes later, and it was two nil with another break and a ball coming in from the right into the path of Lynam who made no mistake for his second. This cheered the away fans, possibly a few dozen, who were sat among the home support.

Rainworth then put some pressure on before Armthorpe woke themselves up. One player went down in the penalty area after a surging run but only got a booking for his trouble (where’s Jack Lester when you need him?). Whether it was deliberate or not is open to debate but the ball was won by Rainworth fair and square. From what I saw, the officials got things right. I didn’t notice them, which normally indicates that they have. Armthorpe weren’t to be put off though, and it was game on when a ball from the right was knocked in to pull a goal back just before half time. That wasn’t the end of the action though with a Rainworth attack resulting in one of their players turning in the home penalty area, and after doing all the hard work, completely banjoed his shot. He was a tall lad, and memories of Crouch at his worst immediately came to mind before I shuddered at the comparison with Forbes’ horror effort in the first half against Rochdale.

Half Time Armthorpe 1 Rainworth 2

I got talking to some of the travelling fans at half time. I was curious as to why one bloke who had a Newcastle United badge on his cap hadn’t gone down the road to Scunthorpe although I appreciated that tickets would be an issue anyway. He now just went to all the Rainworth games. He then added that the club secretary was a Sunderland fan and that like a typical Mackem, he was being unsociable and stood on his own in the open rain. I did think about saying that perhaps he couldn’t bear to be in the same stand as a Geordie, but thought that it was a non-league game and hey, we’re all friends here. The bloke to my right was a Peterborough fan, and as a Rainworth die-hard, had also given the game at the Keepmoat a miss.

Armthorpe took the game to Rainworth at the start of the second half, but the second or final ball was sadly lacking. The game’s tempo had slowed somewhat and the home side, having been undone by some poor defending in the first half, never took control of the game. That isn’t to say the game lacked excitement, with some nice touches being shown, but Rainworth dealt with anything that did make its way into their penalty area. Similar to the first half, Rainworth broke away for a third goal and Ant Lynam completed his hat trick, knocking in a ball from the right. It could have been four in the last few minutes. No matter, the Grimsby curse had struck. There was even time for a bit of a bundle on the far touchline before the referee blew time on a really entertaining game. I certainly enjoyed it more than Saturday’s offering.

Full Time Armthorpe 1 Rainworth 3

Scarborough Athletic (the reincarnation of the team we played in Division 4) sit at the top of the table, five points clear of Armthorpe who have two games in hand and are favourites for promotion, getting crowds ten times the size of most competitors. Rainworth are now three points behind Armthorpe.

It’s interesting how many followers there are of non-league teams have been regulars at a league side( who they continue to follow in their hearts). They obviously get more from their involvement with a smaller club and a sense of empowerment. I can relate to that. Throw in shorter journeys and a variety of new grounds to visit with the myriad of cup competitions, and in idler moments, I could almost welcome an AFC Grimsby. Almost....

Oh, and John Steeples for manager, anyone?

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