“This is big boy’s football” explains the Steeton keeper to an Atherton forward who’s just been on the receiving end of an enthusiastic “welcome to Keighley” challenge from a home defender. And the keeper’s not wrong. There might not be much in the way of the silky or of the slick to take the sting out of a starkly cold December afternoon at Cougar Park, but this is still, in its own way, an entertaining slog.
After all, Steeton, who are starting the day propping up the North West Counties Division One North* table on 12 points and a sizeable minus 27 goal difference, need some points on the board, sharpish, if they want to continue at this level next season.
(*Administrative bodies for the lower leagues, I’ve learnt, much prefer geographical accuracy over brevity when naming their divisions.)
They’ll need a new spot to play at, too, having been served notice on their groundshare arrangement with the Keighley Cougars rugby league team. It's a shame, that. This old-school ground, with its wooden bench seating and well-populated, well-stocked and festively-decked bar, seems like a good match for a local football club trying to push on.
Look up “scrappy” in a future edition of the Oxford English Dictionary and the first half of Steeton AFC v Atherton Laburnum Rovers FC may well be referenced; beyond the floodlights hesitantly warming up there’s not much of note to report. Steeton certainly don’t look like the relegation fodder the table reflects, though, and are having as good a go as their Lancashire opposition. Aside from a flurry of home team corners and a couple of long-range free-kicks from right-back Tyler Marsh, sponsored by the illustrious Gail’s Ironing, goalmouth action is rare.
We’re treated to some early second half action though, when Atherton’s goalkeeper cleans up an advancing forward and Steeton are awarded a penalty. Ben Clarkson, not dissimilar in stature to that lad who went from working in the Co-op down the road to a couple of trips to Wembley, sweeps in the spot-kick.
It’s a 1-0 lead that Steeton valiantly defend for much of the remaining half, and despite Atherton turning the screws it looks like this could be Steeton’s day – and 3 points – when the away team miss what looks from my seat in the Danny Jones stand like an open goal.
Afraid not. Atherton heads refuse to drop, and their huff and puff pays off when Nathan Strong – a lively threat all afternoon – gets space in the box and grabs a late equaliser. Steeton might see this as two points dropped but, for a more positive spin, it’s also the third match on the bounce from which they’ve taken points. And - yes, let’s bung a cliché in here - there’s still a lot of football to be played.
Steeton AFC 1
Atherton Laburnum Rovers FC 1
Pie notes: 2 quid yer steak pie. Rich of beef and golden of pastry. Thoroughly foiled. Good work.
Here’s why I’m having a year watching non-league football.