A couple of days after arriving in the UK, Jen and I had a drive out to Tow Law for their derby with Crook Town in the second division of the Northern League. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Tow Law before and it was a lot more pleasing on the eye than I’d imagined it to be.
Whereas I’d been expecting somewhere run-down, with polystyrene take-away trays blowing down a deserted high street, it was actually a pleasant little town with plenty of countryside around it. More green than the grey that I’d anticipated.
The Ironworks Road ground dates back to 1893 although the ironworks that it is named after had actually closed a good ten years or so earlier than that. I’m not sure how much of the ground is original, although the fella that took our fivers to get in reckoned that the ‘step-on’ turnstile might very well have been.
There were plenty of options for viewing the game and we initially stood behind the goal at the end where we had come in. When the rain that had threatened for a while finally arrived we moved to the stand behind the dugouts.
A good proportion of the sixty or so crowd had the same idea, with a few kids seeking shelter at the far end in the standing enclosure with a small roof on it. A handful of older blokes braved the drizzle on the terracing opposite us, whilst one or two fans tucked in close to the walls of the changing rooms.
I was a bit disappointed with the standard of play, although I seem to think the same thing every time I go to a Northern League game. Surely the technical ability of the players should be so much higher these days with the academy system. Whilst I’ve no idea if any of the players were ex-pros, you’d think that most of them would have been in academies for some of their formative years. If so, it didn’t show.
Tow Law created plenty of the chances and the Crook goalie managed to somehow get out of the way of most of them. He had a signature move of quickly dropping to his arse whenever a shot was fired in, as if he was playing Musical Bumps.
If only the keeper been as successful at getting out of the way of the barber he might not have ended up with a curly perm on the top inch of his head with the remainder shaved to the bone.
At half time I got myself a coffee and some chips from the window near to the turnstiles and we had a chat with a bloke who had brought a wooden rattle. He was younger than us, so it wasn’t as if he’d had it since the nineteen fifties or whenever they were popular. I doubt you’d get into the Boro with a device like that these days.
We watched the second half from the terracing on the opposite side to the stand. It meant that we got to hear the linesman keeping the players straight as to what they were doing wrong. He’d quite happily point out to a whining centre-half that “you played him on” or that “the full-back didn’t step up”.
At one point he got into a shouty exchange with a coach over the hand signals that he had used to indicate that a player had returned from a previously offside position. I suspected that the most recent offside change that the other fella was aware of was when it changed from three defenders to two, back in the days when the Ironworks still had that lingering smell of fresh paint.
The officiating was all very impressive, but wasted on those players and coaches. I doubt I’d have had the inclination or the patience to explain my decisions. Nor, come to think of it, the stamina to run up and down the line.
It wasn’t much of a contest, with Tow Law being five goals up by early in the second half. They could probably have had more but a few of the home players looked happy to see the season out at a canter.
The excitement levels perked up towards the end when with all of the Crook Town subs used, or more likely, an incomplete bench to begin with, an injured outfield player had to swap positions with Mr. Musical Bumps. The change made little difference, apart perhaps from reducing the opportunities for the original goalie to have a bit of a sit down.
Tow Law rounded off the afternoon with a sixth goal before the end and brought their season to a close. It wouldn’t be overly harsh to suggest that for some of the Crook players, the season had finished long before kick-off.