TT No.41: Andy Gallon - Sat 13th October 2012; Richmond Town v Peterlee Town; Wearside League;           Res: 2-0; Att: 27; Admission: £2; Programme: £1 (12pp); FGIF Match Rating: ***.




Matchday images (16)


It requires no great leap of the imagination to picture a jousting tournament on Richmond Town’s pitch. Centuries ago, the Earls Orchard Playing Fields witnessed regular displays of equestrian valour for the entertainment of the Earl of Richmond and his courtiers, who spectated from a balcony jutting out from the town’s spectacular Norman castle. Jousting might be a thing of the past hereabouts, but the ruinous castle still provides a simply breathtaking backdrop to gladiatorial combat of a more modern variety: Wearside League football.


The castle, constructed atop a sheer limestone crag rising from the River Swale, dominates both ground and town. Richmond, with its vast cobbled market place, elegant Georgian buildings and picturesque narrow streets, is one of England’s finest small towns. Alan Rufus, Count of Brittany and a mate of William the Conqueror who helped defeat Anglo-Saxon monarch Harold Godwinson at Hastings, built the castle in the 1070s to tighten the Norman grip on the North. Rufus (or Le Roux, as he’s sometimes known) was the first Earl of Richmond. The title has been extinct since 1624. The castle’s most prominent feature is a 100ft keep. You’ll know which bit that is from Earls Orchard Playing Fields because custodians English Heritage fly their flag from its ramparts. This lofty vantage point is attained by climbing 120 steps and rewards the energetic visitor with a 360 degree panorama of the district. Cross the castle’s grassy court for a dizzyingly vertiginous view into the Swale Gorge and over the football ground.


Awesome backdrop aside, Richmond Town’s home is fairly mundane. Access is via a gate at the foot of Slee Gill, a minor road dropping steeply to an ancient stone bridge over the river before rising equally briskly to the town centre.  A small car park fronts the only structure of note, a single-storey brick pavilion housing the dressing rooms and a kitchen, where refreshments can be obtained. A plaque reveals the pavilion was opened officially in March 1975 by Jack Charlton OBE, then manager of semi-local big cheeses Middlesbrough. On his days off, Big Jack probably headed this way a good deal because of the fishing, a pastime the appeal of which I’ve always had great difficulty comprehending.


The pitch, down a grassy slope, is a decent size, flat and railed off. There are temporary dug-outs. It appears Town are not allowed to put anything permanent on the council-owned site. So, there is neither cover nor floodlights, an unfortunate situation that will inevitably inhibit the progress up the pyramid of this ambitious little club. A footpath, part of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast long-distance trail, squeezes between the ground perimeter and the roaring Swale. One resident, a stubborn old curmudgeon by the club’s account, seems determined to claim a right (as he sees it) to walk his dog across the pitch whenever he chooses. You can imagine the mess the mutt leaves behind. Town and the gentleman concerned have left the courts (barristers involved, no less) to make a final ruling on the argument. The ground’s location in a damp, wooded vale ensures it feels intimate and enclosed. On the Slee Gill side, the land rises almost as rapidly as the castle crag. Good spot to watch for free. Several did.


Football has been a fixture (as it were) at Earls Orchard Playing Fields for about 85 years and Town’s origins can be traced to 1945 and a Richmond AFC. The class of 2012-13 bears comparison with any predecessor. Last season, Town secured an unprecedented Quadruple, winning the First Division of the Teesside League, both League Cups and the Saturday County Cup. Promotion to the Wearside League ensued, and the club’s opening 17 games (including this) show 10 victories and a solitary defeat. Indeed, these hard-earned three points at the expense of Peterlee Town were enough to send them above previous leaders Willington, albeit on goal difference and having played five more matches.


The game proved much better than I feared initially. On arrival, I discovered Peterlee had only 12 names on the team sheet and no goalkeeper. There were mutterings about star players not answering their mobiles. “We’ll have to manage with what we’ve got,” was the verdict of one visiting official, having waited in vain for reinforcements from County Durham to gallop into sight. As it turned out, mid-table Peterlee (ex-Northern Leaguers called Peterlee Newtown until 2006) were a capable bunch. Sporting the brightest orange shirts I’ve ever seen, they were committed to a tidy passing game and with better finishing (or any sort of finishing at all) would have gone home with a point.


Richmond struggled to find their rhythm on a heavy (but not muddy) pitch, whilst the handful of spectators realised quickly just how gelatinous ‘softstanding’ can be. It is, I guess, one of the perils of a riverside location in the foot of a valley. The run-off (and, goodness knows, there’s been enough of it since April) flows directly onto the pitch. Richmond led at half-time thanks to a 38th-minute free-kick from Kalumn Holbrook, whose 20-yard strike found the net off the inside of a post. So threatening on the break were Peterlee that a second goal was necessary, and it came with 21 minutes to go. Ben Darville raced through and lobbed stand-in keeper Kyle Donaldson, whose rash decision to charge off his line made life considerably easier for the Richmond player. I’m sure a pukka goalie would have been more cautious. Peterlee had earlier hit an upright and during the last 10 minutes managed to squander several clear-cut chances.


Paper chasers might like to know Richmond have joined the ranks of programme issuing clubs. A decent effort it was, too, albeit unstapled and rather ham-fistedly folded by the chap manning the ‘turnstile’. He did, however, readily acknowledge his clumsiness and allowed the few remaining copies to be united with more care by the purchaser. The club don’t print many, so arrive in good time if you want one. It’s a shame the town doesn’t give better support to its football club, who also field about 150 junior players. Richmond, the biggest tourism centre in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, has a population in excess of 8,000 and ought to muster more spectators than a paltry 27. That total included a super-dedicated hopper who’d come all the way from Horley, Surrey – by public transport. I wonder how many ‘fans’ they used to get for the jousting?


contributed on 14/10/12