Earls Orchard. Picturesque name, picturesque place. Nestled beneath the walls of Richmond’s Norman Castle, it’s been a sporting venue of sorts since the Middle Ages, when the nobles watched from on high as jousting tournaments took place on the fields beside the River Swale.
Then, as now, another world. Richmond Town play in the Wearside League, a competition where teams are still redolent of the old age of ship-building and mining. Richmond, though, had a stint when they were known as Young Conservatives FC. If Wearside tends to weigh the Labour vote rather than counting it, Richmond, one senses, struggles to find crosses next to candidates with red rosettes.
The contrast is underscored by today’s joust: Richmond Town (blue-shirted, naturally) take on Cleator Moor Celtic in the final of the Shipowner’s Charity Cup. Celtic, founded in 1908 by Irish migrant workers in Western Cumbria, arrive with a raucous coachload of fans, shattering the tranquillity of a summer afternoon beside the river. Loud, in-yer-face, and – in some instances – opting to hop the fence to avoid a £2 admission fee, they were out to make their presence felt. The hosts greeted them with a charity cake sale; the end result was like inviting the Ultras to a church fete.
Within five minutes of the start, they were celebrating. Celtic settled into the game quicker and grabbed an early lead with a long-range shot that took a deflection on its way in. The game should have been all over in the first half: Cleator Moor dominated as Richmond seemed shy of the occasion. But there were no further goals and by half time the final was in doubt.
The interval coincided with a thunderstorm and a torrential downpour. Hailstones the size of marbles came down, most of the 300+ crowd scuttled for what little cover Earls Orchard has to offer and the teams huddled in the dressing rooms. It took 40 minutes for the worst of the storm – and this was a proper storm, strong enough even to drive the exuberant Celtic fans under cover – to blow over, giving a much-needed boost to sales of cake. Finally, the teams could get out and play, although there was still some intermittent mopping up needed in one of the goal mouths while play was at the other end.
Richmond adapted better to the delay, starting the second half the brighter. An equalizer was followed by a Celtic goal on the breakaway, both teams hit the woodwork then Richmond had a goal disallowed before levelling at 2-2. It felt like that set the stage for a home win, but two goals in the last 10 minutes handed the cup to Cleator Moor with a repeat of the scoreline from the teams’ recent league meeting. A great game, beautiful surroundings and – for half the time – perfect summer weather to wrap up the season.
Earls Orchard, Richmond, England
Wearside League Shipowners Charity Cup Final, May 27, 2017
Richmond Town 2 Cleator Moor Celtic 4
Att: 300 ish (head count)