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Ground Number: 462
Saturday 21st February 2015
Hallam 2-1 Eccleshill United
Myself and Anwar had long been planning to do a groundhop on this date. Neither of us fancied the long trek up to Brunton Park to see Wycombe play Carlisle United. Anwar was keen to tick another off of his aim of completing the 92, and he chose Barnsley. This was perfectly acceptable to me - I could tick off another ground in the NCEL - my favourite step 5 league. I drew up a list of 11 possibles, with Hallam FC at the top. I chose this one for 2 reasons - firstly it had a bit of history about it with it being the oldest football ground in the world. Secondly, It had been visited already on a previous NCEL hop, meaning that I wouldn't be looking at a possible revisit on any future event. I did have my list of backups though - the pitch at Hallam had a slope and tended to get flooded down the bottom end after heavy rainfall.
HALLAM FC are one of the oldest clubs in the world, with only local rivals Sheffield FC being around for longer. They were formed in 1860 and despite the club dissolving and reforming in it's early years, they are still going strong today. They were winners of the first ever trophy in football, the Youdan Cup in 1867. This was a tournament, sponsored by local theatre owner Thomas Youdan, which involved 12 local teams. Hallam beat Norfolk in the final to claim victory. The cup went missing soon after, and didn't resurface until 1997 when a Scottish antiques collector sold it back to the club for £2000. In 2014 it was valued at £100,000 on the Antiques Roadshow, but the club said it was not for sale.
The club played in various local leagues in their early days, staying as an amateur club despite being strongly urged to become professional. They joined the Yorkshire League in 1952 and when this league discontinued in 1982, they became founder members of the Northern Counties East League (NCEL). With around half of their time spent in the NCEL Premier, they have had 2 spells at the higher level, from 1987-1999 then a longer spell from 1994-2011. They had a best ever finish of 3rd in 2001 - at the time this was before the formation of the Conference North and South, so it was step 4 of non league. Since returning to Division 1, they have found life tough, and have always been in the bottom half of the table. Before the game they sat in 14th place in the league.
In cup competitions, the best the club have managed in the FA Cup was the 3rd Qualifying Round, back in 1957. In modern times the 2nd Qualifying Round was reached in the 2006-07 season but a 5-1 defeat to Durham City put paid to any further progress. In the FA Vase they reached the 5th Round in 1981 before going out to Guiseley. While little progress was made in the FA Trophy or FA Amateur Cup, they do have a number of local cup wins to boast, including the NCEL League Cup and the Sheffield & Hallamshire Cup.
ECCLESHILL UNITED were formed in 1948, a few years after the end of the 2nd World War. Playing in local leagues at first, they joined the NCEL at Division 3 level in 1985. The following season Divisions 2 and 3 merged. They finished as runners up and therefore gained promotion to NCEL D1 for the 87/88 season. The club have had 2 spells in the NCEL Premier - 3 seasons between 1991 and 1994 and then a longer spell from 1997-2009. They have had a best ever finish of 8th in the NCEL Premier on 2 occasions. The 2008-09 season saw them relegated, whilst conceding a hefty 153 goals and they have remained in NCEL D1 ever since, with a 4th placed finish last season being the closest they have every come to returning to the higher level.
In the FA Cup, they have made the 2nd Round on a number of occasions, most recently in 2002 when they lost after a replay to NPL Premier side Marine. The FA Vase 5th Round was reached in the 1999-2000 season, a 2-0 defeat to Vauxhall Motors ending their Wembley dreams. There have been a few local cups amongst their honours list, most recently the West Riding Country Cup in 2014.
On the day of the game I woke around 5.30am, unable to get back to sleep, even though I had only had 4 hours sleep. I watched a couple of Youtube videos and then checked out the latest news online. I had a wash and got ready to go. My original plan was to leave at 8.30 and meet Anwar at 9, but I fancied myself a Subway breakfast, so left at 8.15 instead. The roads were nice and quiet, so I made good time. After having breakfast I made my way to Anwar's, getting there at 8.55. He kept me waiting as per usual and it wasn't till 9.05 that we left. We made pretty good time - apart from 40 miles of a pathetic 50MPH speed limit on the M1 where there were roadworks and we arrived in the town at 11.50. On the way we had passed Shaw Lane Aquaforce who would be on the upcoming NCEL Easter hop, the Saturday of which I am attending, and also trying to persuade Anwar to come along, to keep me company and help out with petrol
First stop was Wetherspoons for lunch. In contrast to the one in Winchester last night, this was one of the poorer ones in the chain with only the basic cider range. I still got good value however, with a pint of Stowford Press, along with Steak Pudding, chips and peas for just over £6. It was OK, but I have had better in chip shops when I have been up north for around the same price. Anwar enjoyed his jacket potato with coleslaw and cheese too. After that we went to a few shops and as part of the conditions of me parking in the retail park that I was in, I had to get something from Lidl and something from Quality Save. Between them I got an iced bun, some chocolates, some diet irn bru and some batteries and that was enough to cover my 2 hours parking.
From there I drove the 10 minutes to Oakwell, dropping Anwar off at 1.20. When I put Hallam FC into my Sat Nav, it predicted some traffic en route and that proved top be true, with a fair old bit of congestion near Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground, despite it not being a home matchday. I eventually got to Hallam at 2PM and after parking in a side street, walked across the road to the ground.
I paid a very reasonable £5 to get in, but the programme wasn't that good for £2. At least it contained all the essentials. It was quite chilly, so I went in the bar for a pint of Strongbow for £3. It enabled me to sit down and catch up with goings on online and read the programme. Everyone at the club was nice and friendly. After I had looked at some of the memorabilia in the bar, I went outside to get some pictures of the ground. Lots of people had mentioned the slope at the ground, and it really has to be seen to be believed. It all adds to the character of the ground though. I was hungry again by now, so I got a hot dog and some chips, which were both great value and tasty. The match was pretty average, and there was even a brief snowstorm during the second half. A match report from the Hallam website is posted below.
The game finished at around 4.50. I had been keeping an eye on the Wycombe result all day and was delighted when I found out that they had won 3-2 up at Carlisle. I was hoping to listen to the coverage from our local radio station online via my phone app, but it couldn't find it. Instead I had to make do with BBC Radio Cumbria, where I heard that Kendal Town had a surprise victory against Darlington and that Barrow had won to stay top of the Conference North. Most amusing of all was Carlisle manager Keith Curle's interview where he changed the subject on practically every question that he didn't like. I picked up Anwar at 5.40 and we listened to the 6-0-6 phone in on the way home. It felt like an age going through the 40 miles of roadworks and I finished up all the chocolate I had bought earlier as it was very tiring being bunched up with other cars to comply with a stupid speed limit.
We eventually got to Aylesbury around 8.20, with me getting home myself 20 minutes later. I would have written this blog, or at least got some notes down for it but I just wanted to chill after a long day. After catching up online I had a couple of drinks and watched Match Of The Day before going to sleep around midnight.
SANDYGATE is the oldest football ground in the world, but you would never guess it, as it is all smart and modern. There are 2 covered stands. Along the side is a seated stand, holding around 250. It is elevated slightly so you get great views. Then there is a terrace behind the goal, holding around 200, while the rest of the ground is open. There are only 3 sides open to the public, thanks to sharing with the cricket, but there is a noticeable slope on the pitch which adds to the character of the place.
The bar has nothing special on the cider front, but does have some real ales from the Kelham Island brewery. It is smart and modern and although it is quite small, it has lots of sporting memorabilia. The tea bar is excellent, run by a mother and son (I think) it offers a wide range of stuff at great prices and is very tasty too. Overall this friendly club are well worth a visit, even without the 'oldest ground' status.