2017-18: the review

Another season over, and 10 new grounds in four different counties. Arguably five, if Yorkshire’s determination to field its own national team in CONIFA action counts for anything. From Scotland to Sweden, Cowdenbeath to Copenhagen, here’s a review of the new venues and the eventual fates of the teams that call them home.

Pickering Town vs Knaresborough Town, pre-season friendly

landscape
The picturesque setting of Mill Lane, Pickering.

On the evidence of this pre-season friendly, it was easy to predict that Knaresborough would have a good season. And they duly did, winning the Northern Counties East League First Division after collecting 100 points from the campaign.

Pickering, meanwhile, looked fairly poor. The chatter around the ground wasn’t all that confident, either. It didn’t feel like an experimental pre-season team suffering a meaningless defeat. But, if ever you wanted proof that friendlies mean nowt, check out the NCEL top flight table. Pickering, second place, 96 points. That was good enough for promotion to the NPL Division 1 (East) for next season and a new high point in the Yorkshire club’s long history.

Jarrow vs Easington Colliery, Northern League Division 2

winning goal
Max Kirkham (blue, left) scores Jarrow’s winner at home to Easington Colliery.

Northern League new boys Jarrow provided one of my favourite photos of the season when I was right on the spot to snap Max Kirkham’s winning goal in this game against Easington. It was a bit of a turning point for the team as well, with the Tyneside club claiming its first Northern League win and going on to produce a solid mid-table season after climbing out of the Wearside League.

Scarborough Athletic vs Marske United, FA Cup preliminary round

marske goal
Marske equalise from the penalty spot.

Scarborough eventually got past Marske in extra time in the replay, and the FA Cup run took them to within a game of the First Round Proper. Wins over Workington, Sunderland RCA and Stafford Town, but the Fourth Qualifying Round brought defeat against Hyde United. The season was all about the promotion bid, and a grand battle with South Shields and Hyde. Shields took top spot with 103 points, but Scarborough came second on 95 to claim a measure of revenge over their cup conquerors. The Seadogs also managed the rare distinction of winning at Mariners Park, a 3-1 league victory ringing in the New Year.

Hallam vs Atherton Collieries, FA Cup preliminary round

IMG_4872 (2)
A light-hearted moment between Hallam’s Josh Birds and Atherton’s Darrhyl Mason.

Historic Hallam, the oldest football ground in the world, played host to a midtable season. The Countrymen finished eighth in NCEL 1, three points and two places adrift of a play-off place. The cups didn’t bring much more excitement: after this FA Cup loss, there was a second qualifying round exit in the Vase and defeat at the first hurdle in the League Cup.

Cowdenbeath vs Elgin City, Scottish League Two

empty terrace
The Central Park terrace, sparsely populated in the final minutes of the game.

Cowdenbeath’s problems were clear before I even got to this game – the lead story on the club’s website was an advert for a new manager to take charge of the Blue Brazil. I’m no expert in football recruitment, but this didn’t seem to be the most effective way of hiring a new supremo; I don’t remember seeing similar approaches at bigger clubs. Gary Bollan was the man who took the job shortly after this defeat against Elgin and the former Dundee Utd and Rangers defender managed to keep the team together to survive a relegation play-off against Highland Leaguers Cove Rangers. From here, the only way is up.

Wearhead Utd vs Stanhope Town, Crook & District League Division 2

second goal
Stanhope’s Connor McArdle (blue, obscured by the number 9) fires home his team’s second goal at Wearhead United.

Easily the most beautiful scenery of the season, but results for Wearhead weren’t so pretty. The pre-game chat about the difficulties of fielding a settled team was reflected in the league table: lofty Wearhead finished rock bottom, just two wins all season and three points deducted along the way. Stanhope ended up sixth out of nine. Football in Weardale isn’t always easy to sustain.

Gala Fairydean vs East Stirlingshire, Lowland League

stand 4
The modernist main stand at Gala Fairydean’s Netherdale ground.

One of the best names in football, and one of the most striking grounds in the lower leagues, but not a vintage season in Galashiels. Fairydean were always in the lower half of the table, and ended up down in 13th. East Stirling, still the only team to be relegated from the Scottish League via the play-off system, also had a frustrating time. The Shire ended up in fourth, unable to reach those play-offs and have a crack at Cowdenbeath for a return to the big(ger) time.

Annfield Plain vs Cleator Moor Celtic, Wearside League

stand and terrace 2
The terrace and stand at Derwent Park, Annfield Plain.

By the time this game came around, Annfield Plain’s destiny near the foot of the table was already clear. A 13th-place finish for the Derwent Park men duly followed. The surprise came for the opposition. As Celtic won here, title rivals Redcar Athletic suffered a home defeat against Sunderland West End and the prize looked to be heading to Cumbria. Redcar, so close to promotion so often in the recent past, had other ideas: a storming finish to the season, including a win at Cleator Moor, took top spot by a single point. Athletic, at last, will play Northern League football next season. Celtic’s second place was good enough to earn a place in the North Western Counties League.

Malmo FF vs Djurgardens, Allsvenskan, Sweden

club hymn
Pre-game at Malmo as the club anthem plays.

No blog from this one due to a lack of decent pictures. Malmo offered a lively crowd and a chance to see a couple of players I remembered from my days in Russia. The home team’s former CSKA Moscow man Carlos Strandberg got the winner; Djurgardens brought on ex-Spartak forward Yura Movsisyan as a late and ineffective substitute. Defending champions Malmo claimed a 1-0 win here, Stockholm-based Djurgardens got revenge in the Swedish cup final the following week. The season continues, with MFF down in 10th place and some way off the pace in their bid to make it three-in-a-row.

Fremad Amager vs Thisted, Danish Division 1

landscape
Trees and a church behind the Sundby Idraetspark in Amager, Copenhagen.

This was already end-of-season fare, and both teams were resigned to a lower midtable spot. Fremad, perhaps unsurprisingly, once again failed to score in their final game and lost 2-0 at Roskilde. That result secured Roskilde’s survival and pushed Fremad down to ninth (out of 12). Thisted finished one place higher.

FC Kobenhavn vs Midtjylland, Danish Superliga

parken
Parken, home of FC Kobenhavn.

The disgruntled FC Kobenhavn support finally got some consolation at the end of a disappointing campaign – but the team did it the hard way. Held to a draw at Nordsjaelland in the final game of the season, FCK needed a qualifying play-off to secure Europa League football next term. With a 4-1 win over AGF Aarhus, the team has cause to dust of their passports, but this was not a vintage campaign for the capital club. Midtjylland, meanwhile, went on to clinch the Danish Superliga with a home win against Horsens, breaking Brondby’s hearts after a strong challenge faded in the closing weeks of the campaign.

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