The Non-League Triathlon (Part One)
This is just the practice run. Next week sees the real test. You see, I have foolishly volunteered to join hardy souls from the Ossett United Supporters Club on their annual charity walk to the first away league game. Away at Mossley. 30 miles from Ossett. Over t'Pennines, like.
Ossett United supporters began the tradition of walking to the first away game last season, traipsing all the way to Colne. This year's trip is in support of mental health charity, Andy's Man Club, as well as part funding OUFC's away travel.
Now Mossley is one of my favourite grounds, steeped in nostalgia, with a couple of fabulous old stands and Pennine views abounds, but how do you prepare for a 30 mile hike? Well, I looked at yesterday's FA Cup Preliminary Round fixtures and chose another ground I'm pretty fond of, deciding to pedal there and back for a forty mile round trip. "Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, we're going to Frick...er...ley, que sera sera."
When I say bike I don't mean one of these modern things with a "saddle like a razorblade", should you remember the old advert for the Yellow Pages. Mine has "proper mudguards and a cover for the chain". Three gears and the traditional German braking mechanism of reverse peddling, it would be a nostalgic trip to a nostalgic ground on a nostalgic bike. It was made by Condor, a Swiss company, back in the 1970s, which throws up a curious fact. Condor Werke manufactured the Swiss Army Bike. Don't laugh. This is true. It's no coincidence that the Swiss have an enviable reputation for neutrality. Let's face it, imagine the Swiss Army peddling towards the enemy lines on their three gear bikes, then pulling out their lethal weapons....multi-purpose penknives!
Two and a bit hours before kick-off, before you could say, "I were right about that saddle though," off I peddled southwards along the West Yorkshire Cycle Route, following the tracks of the old Garforth to Kippax railway line. Next up the bright lights of Cas Vegas before passing the racecourse at Ponte Carlo. The sat nav then took me onto a bridleway on the outskirts of the wonderfully Yorkshirely named Ackworth and it's here that the wheels came off. Well, if not literally, 16 miles in a double puncture enforced a 4 mile hike with the bike whilst the first half played on without me.
If you have never been to Westfield Lane, home of Frickley Athletic, it's highly recommended. The club and its band of volunteers have brought back the ground's beautiful old stand to its former glory. Back in the early 90s when I first visited "the Wessie", the ground overlooked Frickley Colliery's pit tip, or spoil heap, and the players ran out onto the field down a scary-looking caged tunnel in the main stand. Nowadays there is a swish changing facility, the grandstand gleams, the spoil heap has been grassed over following the mining industry's sad end and it's a friendly club doing positive things in the community.
When I finally reached Frickley's South Elmsall home, Chris let me and my sad-looking Condor bike through the closed turnstile. The second half was just about to start, the score being 2-1 to Frickley against Northern League opponents Newcastle Benfield. Despite being a division below Frickley in the pyramid, anyone following non-league at this level in the north will know that Northern League clubs always provide tough opposition. It was no different with Benfield, as they gave as good as they got throughout the second half, having two penalty shouts (correctly, in my opinion) turned down. It was a pretty open game, with chances for both sides, but in the final minute the ball came loose in the Benfield box and Jack Wightwick's great finishing put the game beyond doubt, with his management team racing down the touchline to celebrate. This is the FA Cup, after all.
"Que sera sera......" sang the Frickley faithful from the back of the stand as the final whistle confirmed their progression to the next round. My own last gasp hero was my wife, who arrived with the car to take me and the old Condor home. Next week is the real challenge. 30 miles on Shanks's Pony (my fifty year old legs)! Wish me luck.