Sunday, 24 April 2011

Ground 165: King George V, Guisborough

Easter: for football fans a time to celebrate new beginnings and an end to the dark winter days of doubt, denial and freezing cold terraces. Wycombe’s goalless draw at Torquay United had already put Chesterfield into League One. In Cardiff, two goals from Adel Taarabt left QPR on the cusp of the Premier League, while a last-minute header at Brighton’s Withdean Stadium put Nigel Adkins’ Southampton within touching distance of the Championship. And at the lovingly-tended King George V Ground in Guisborough, the home team, now six long years out of the Northern League’s top flight, need only a single point to clinch their first promotion since 1987.

Excitement mounts as the team news comes in.

Seventh and fifth in the previous two seasons, the Priorymen began their league campaign with seven wins and a draw and haven’t been out of the top two anytime since. With just one defeat in 18 games – a run which includes a 1-0 North Riding Senior Cup final win over local rivals Marske United – Guisborough go into the game having scored 15 goals in their last four matches and 98 across the season as a whole. Washington had a barnstorming start of their own when they briefly challenged at the top and inflicted a 3-0 defeat on Newton Aycliffe – the champions’ second and final league loss of the season – but have recently lost their main source of funding, manager David Lee, and most of their playing staff to other clubs, resulting in a run of 20 games without a win which has latterly included a 9-1 battering at home to North Shields and only the third victory of a tumultuous season for bottom club Morpeth Town. In soaring temperatures, visiting boss Dave Smith is pressed into service in the centre of defence – his first competitive game in fifteen years as part of an otherwise youthful and largely inexperienced first eleven. Local lad, captain and top scorer Dave Onions, whose 35 goals – to go with the 31 he scored last year - include a stunning three hat-tricks in ten days against Crook, Seaham and Morpeth Town, leads the line for Guisborough. “Every player except the keeper has scored so far this season” committee member John Butterfield tells me as he chalks up the team on a board in the social club. Even so, Mark Cowan, who helps run the ever-growing supporters club and is currently writing Far From the Massive Crowds, an entertaining, anecdotal account of the club’s season, isn’t the only Guisborough fan to be feeling more than beer and hot dogs in their stomach as the kick off draws near.

Guard of honour

Those nerves don’t last long. It takes approximately two minutes for 19-year-old ex-Aston Villa junior Tom Portas to open the scoring, slipping a defender and stroking a 20-yard shot past the goalkeeper’s dive. It’s three within twelve minutes and six before half-time, ex-Horden forward Chris I’Anson scoring four times and Onions contributing his now obligatory goal. With the sublime Portus controlling the tempo from midfield and manager Chris Hardly patiently conducting his team’s play, Guisborough glide through the half, the Washington defence left looking despondently at the linesman as I’Anson scores his fourth goal OF the day and fifteenth of the season just before the break.

To the away side’s great credit they never once look like giving up, and their unstinting efforts are finally rewarded with a late goal for midfielder John Sherlock. By then the home team are seven goals ahead, Ian Clark – who made over 300 professional appearances for Doncaster, Hartlepool and Darlington – having scored shortly after the restart. As the North Riding Senior Cup is paraded in front of the tea hut, Lee Bythway stoops to head an eighth goal with his side’s final attack of the game. Most of the season high crowd of 210 stay back to celebrate with the players in the clubhouse bar. “We’ve got a lot of young lads in this team, seventeen and eighteen year olds,” a beaming Dave Onions tells me. “We’ll push on next season and see where it takes us.” “Beyond any of our expectations,” says Mark Cowan.

Thunder booms over the nearby hills as players from some of Guisborough’s ten youth teams start to practise on the now empty pitch, but inside the bar the celebrations are louder still. A fantastic club. Go and see it for yourself.

Admission: £4
Date: 23rd April 2011

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