TT No.155: Mike Latham - Sat 27 April 2013- Northern League Division 2, Whitehaven Amateurs 2-2 Horden CW; Attendance: 40 (h/c); Admission: £2; no programme; FGIF match rating: 3*.



Matchday images (16)


Whitehaven is one of the few towns in the country where association football plays second fiddle to rugby league. The handling code is enshrined in the local sporting psyche and as well as the professional team, playing at the Recreation Ground adjoining the Whitehaven Amateurs football club the amateur game thrives in the area.


Whitehaven also boasts one of the oldest cricket grounds in the Country, the club having played at a vast expanse of flat ground known as The Playground close to the town centre since the 1830s. The All England Eleven played several games there in the 1850s and ‘60s; the 1921 Australians played Cumberland at the ground in a tour match that featured great names such as Ted McDonald, Bert Oldfield, Stork Hendry and Arthur Mailey.


The ground, shared with the town’s rugby union club is approached down Richmond Terrace. On a bright spring day, with the sun beaming down from a clear blue sky the home side were taking on Millom in a North Lancashire League encounter, their South African overseas amateur Chase Young eventually leading their victory charge.


The football club, by comparison, goes quietly about its business but a visit here reminds one what a fine community asset it is.  Whitehaven Amateurs are an FA Charter Standard Club and as well as the main football pitch, situated behind the main stand at the Recreation Ground there is also a fine enclosed, floodlit 3g pitch.


I’d been to Whitehaven many times before for rugby league, including one of my all-time sporting highlights when Leigh clinched their first championship for 76 years with victory in their final game of the season in 1982 on a dustbowl of a pitch.  Hometown heroes such as John Woods, Steve Donlan and Mick Hogan played big parts in that win and over 5,000 Leigh fans travelled up for the midweek game at the Recre’ to see history in the making.  Over 30 years on it seems inconceivable that Leigh, champions of the rugby league that year could ever repeat the feat.


Whitehaven RL club entered the professional ranks just after the last war and have had their moments, once reaching the semi-final of the Challenge Cup, losing by one point to Leeds.  They’ve had plenty of Australians over the years-the brilliant Neville Emery was one of their first player-coaches and also played cricket for Whitehaven and Cumberland.  But home produced players such as the legendary halfback Arnie ‘Boxer’ Walker, classy centre David Seeds (now assistant coach) and free-scoring winger Craig Calvert are the ones who have kept the club going and no club in the RL still ever relishes a trip to Whitehaven.


Whitehaven Amateurs joined the Northern League a few years ago and to their huge credit compete well in an excellent league.  Previously they’d been in the Wearside League, which must have involved almost just as much travelling to the north-east.  I came here for a Wearside League game against Coxhoe only to find the match had been switched to the 3g under floodlights. The reserves were playing in the Cumberland County League on the main pitch but as the game had already started I felt I couldn’t count the venue.  So this was all about closure for me.


The ground is approached down a single track, tarmaced road off Coach Road by the side of the entrance to the Recre’  Whitehaven Miners, part of the Miners’ Welfare complex closest to the main road also have a pitch but though they were advertised as being at home to Parton their ground was deserted.


Around 40 spectators gathered by kick-off time. The weather was lovely, though there was still a chill in the air. Two small seated stands either side of the half-way line comply with league regulations, the club house is in one corner. The rest of the ground is flat standing behind a post and rail fence.  The view from the ground is dominated by the back of the main stand at the Recre’ and by the village of Kells which rises up from the valley bottom behind the far goal.  The main coast road down to Egremont and beyond is in the distance behind the near-side goal.


Visitors Horden CW were bottom of the league but with two games to go still had a chance of climbing out of the bottom two with Whitehaven in mid-table. The visitors certainly impressed as a well organised side who looked committed and with some decent players in their ranks- if this is the so-called worst side in the league then the Northern League, as many groundhoppers think anyway, is really a step above the usual level five and six fare.


Twice the visitors held the lead and a valuable away win looked in their grasp until injury-time when Whitehaven equalised from a hotly-contested corner.  The action had been fierce and unrelenting, a great advert for the league.


With the sun still shining I called in for a couple of hours’ cricket at Cleator before making my way homewards. It was another fine afternoon of groundhopping.   I chatted to an old sage on the boundary about my afternoon and remarked that Whitehaven was unusual in that rugby league was the dominant sport in the town. “Rubbish,” he replied.  “Have you never heard of Hound Trailing, Marra?” He walked away in disgust.  Shows how much I know.


v2 contributed on 29/04/13