Steeton 3 Nelson 0
Marley Stadium, Keighley
North West Counties League, Division One North
Monday, December 28, 2020
Little did he know it but when Ben Wignall fired home a 32nd-minute opener for Steeton in their North West Counties League clash with Nelson, he was bridging a 56-year gap in the history of Keighley’s Marley Stadium.
Although no longer recognisable, in April 1964 the same venue witnessed a 2-2 draw for Keighley Central against Harrogate Town Reserves to secure the Yorkshire League Division Three title.
Alas, a lack of facilities at the then-named Centre Pitch, meant promotion was refused and, instead Central dropped back into the West Yorkshire League. Within seasons they were no more; gone the same way as their forerunners Keighley Town, who had played in the Yorkshire League from 1946-48, albeit further along the Aire Valley Road at the Parkwood Stadium, later used for greyhound racing.
That has been a common theme in Keighley’s footballing history; going to the dogs as grand ideas of a club to rival those in neighbouring towns have been thwarted by a lack of support from the town’s businesses and spectators.
While Keighley rugby league club have flourished, the round ball game has never taken off at any reasonable level.
Indeed, until the arrival of Steeton from their village base four miles further up the Aire Valley, the highest ranked ‘town’ team was FC Sporting Keighley, plying their trade in the Premier Division of the Craven League, way down the ladder on the 14th rung of the national pyramid.
They are one of many teams to have used Marley’s extensive but basic outdoor facilities over the years, numbering seven football pitches, a rugby pitch and cricket field.
In the past teams have risen as high as the West Riding County Amateur League’s Premier Division and the grand vision of local legend Trevor Hockey in 1979 raised hopes of a town team good enough to gain promotion to the Northern Premier League.
But it was not to be and, instead, the only non-League football on view for the town’s 70,000 population, has been ill-fated ‘loan’ moves for Silsden and Steeton to the rugby club’s Lawkholme Lane (Cougar Park) ground.
However, that has now changed, thanks to a stroke of luck and some perfect timing.
How appropriate that in this festive week, Steeton should enjoy a Christmas carol of a present in the form of the £280,000 redevelopment of Marley Stadium, enabling it to host non-League football for the first time in half a century.
Charles Dickens’ Jacob Marley was ‘a good man of vision’ but even he would have struggled to foresee the good fortune that befell his namesake stadium.
Steeton had moved from their cosy, but unsuitable, Summerhill Lane ground to Cougar Park to enable elevation to the North West Counties League in 2018. However, only two years into their groundshare deal, the landlords pulled the plug.
The agreement had been made with a prior regime at Cougars, with the new board deciding to explore other options, leaving Steeton with the task of finding an alternative home, temporary or permanent, for 2020/21 and beyond.
Club chairman Pete Jeffrey, speaking in the Nelson programme to Emma Kennedy, took up the story: “When we were served notice to leave last year, it was a race against time to secure a suitable place for us to play the 2020/21 season.
“We would love to have played at Summerhill Lane but it wasn’t realistic to increase the size of the pitch or build the extra facilities needed to meet the league’s requirements.
“With the pitch so close to houses, it just wasn’t feasible to build stands or install floodlights.
“We wanted to stay in Steeton but there wasn’t anything available. We then looked at some other sites in Keighley and Utley but none of them worked for one reason or another and we were a bit short of time.
“When we looked at the pitch at Marley, it was clear that the site itself was ideal.
“Thankfully, we were on the same page as Bradford Council but it was a coincidence that when we got in touch with them, they were already looking at Marley for regeneration.
“It’s ended up working well for us both and we’ve secured funding to get Marley up to speed.”
Most of that funding came as part of a £15 million shake-up of Bradford’s playing fields after a report into the city’s sports facilities highlighted the declining state of public pitches and fields across the district.
The redevelopment at Marley has seen the pitch lengthened and replaced with a new FIFA-accredited artificial surface, floodlights upgraded, with changes to the pitch barriers, fencing and access to meet Football Association requirements.
Steeton have also had to raise funds and rely on generous volunteers and sponsors to bring the ground up to the required standard, including two 50-berth stands fabricated from old freight containers, a pay booth, refreshments cabin, dug-outs and a new walkway round the pitch.
The original Centre Pitch was a large ground with a grass pitch, surrounded by an athletics track, and was still in use after the demise of Central, as the major local cup final venue.
Long-standing Steeton manager Roy Mason, who took up the reins in 2006, played on it during its final days and said: “I remember playing here in a schools cup final. It was absolutely huge.”
Since then the venue had been demolished, replaced by the Marley leisure centre but, coincidentally, with an artificial pitch in a similar place to where the original centre field was.
That had seen better days and Mason said: “When we came to look round last year, we could see that the floodlights were there and the ground was enclosed with hard-standing, so it ticked a lot of the boxes.
“The biggest problem was the lack of spectator facilities and the state of the pitch as it was 15 years old and in no fit state to play football on.
“The council have been really helpful and we’ve made sure we have plenty of space around the pitch should we need to expand in the future.
“We’ve had three friendlies to sort out any glitches on and off the field and things have gone really well, it’s just a shame we can’t have more in for today’s game,” he added, with capacity limited to 150 for the competitive opener due to Covid-19 restrictions.
“We could easily have had double that. I don’t know how deep people think my pockets are but I’ve had so many requests for spare tickets. Unfortunately there are none, they all went very quickly.”
Mason paid tribute to the hard-working volunteers and support and generosity of local businesses.
“We couldn’t have made the move without them,” he said. “They have been fantastic. Our volunteers and sponsors have also contributed massively.
So delighted with the facilities is Mason that he even hinted at a return to playing, albeit tongue in cheek.
In an interview with James Grayson’s Non-League Yorkshire website, he said: “I’m 51 but when we had the first training session here I actually got my boots back on and trained myself for a hour because the surface is fantastic.
“It is without a doubt the best artificial surface I’ve seen.
“The stand is up, the changing rooms are finished, the walkways are done, the dugouts are in and we’ve put up advertising boards. It looks like a proper football ground.”
Not that the club’s previous ground at Summerhill Lane is being abandoned.
“When we decided we needed to push forward, a few of the older committee were unsure but we knew if we didn’t go for promotion, we’d start to stagnate,” said Mason.
“We’re keeping the Summerhill Lane ground for our reserves and junior teams to use because we need to keep a presence in the village.
Chairman Jeffrey added: “Yes, it’ll always be our original home and the pitch will still be used. We hope to introduce a women’s team there in the future too.
“It’s a three-quarter size pitch, which is perfect for developing our young players.
“However, the new facility is a credit to Keighley and hopefully we can attract more players to play. It’s in a great location, just off the bypass, so it’s accessible to everyone.”
The changes at Steeton have come at lightning pace for a club that had spent its previous 112 years in local football.
The formation of the club is vague but is believed to have come about for the 1910/11 season with the merger of Steeton Church Lads Brigade, Steeton Wesleyans and a previous Steeton FC, who had been playing since 1905. The new club entered two teams in the Keighley & District League, where the Church Lads had been playing since 1908, being joined the following season by the other two Steeton clubs.
The new club played at The Oaks (which made way for the rebuild of an area that now includes a housing estate and the Airedale Hospital) where players often had to get washed in a nearby beck.
The first team finished second in their debut campaign in the Keighley League and won the Division Two title in 1926.
Short dalliances with the South Craven Combination and Airedale & Craven Leagues before a return to the Keighley League brought immediate success. The championship title was gained in 1938 and 1939, winning it for a third time in 1955 after returning to the league following a post-war season in the Craven League.
The yo-yoing continued with the club moving back into the Craven League in 1958.The club moved to Summerhill Lane, in 1969, to the Doris Wells Memorial Field, but league success evaded them, the nearest they came being as runners-up in 1976, 1978, 1983 and 1984 before moving up the West Riding County Amateur League in 1985, winning the Division Two title in 1989 and 2001 and the Division One championship in 2010.
An early cup adventure saw them reach the final of the Keighley Charity Cup, losing 5-1 to Keighley Celtic in 1911. Two years later they went down to the same opponents 6-2 in their first Keighley FA Cup final appearance.
It took a further six appearances in the district cup final before the club registered victory, beating Crosshills by a single goal in 1989. Since then, the Chevrons have lifted the cup four more times in a total of 16 appearances in the final.
Their Charity Cup record looks better, however, chalking up a trophy treble in the late 30s, with two wins and a ‘share’ after drawing with Sutton United.
After winning the West Riding County FA Trophy in 2002, the arrival of Mason as manager in 2006 coincided with a desire to push further.
In 2013/14 they reached the final of the West Riding County FA County Cup but lost 5-2 in the final at Elland Road to Field.
The expansion of the North West Counties League and the earlier rise to that level of neighbours Silsden whetted the club’s appetite and they were given the nod to step up, subject to getting a suitable ground.
They thought they had it at Cougar Park but, after the initial shock of losing that, they are now back in a home of their own.
One person who would have been delighted to see the Marley Stadium back in use for semi-professional football is sadly no longer around.
Keighley-born Trevor Hockey enjoyed a lengthy professional career in the 1960s and 70s for clubs including Bradford City, Nottingham Forest, Birmingham City, Sheffield United, Norwich City and Aston Villa, as well as gaining nine Welsh caps. He also played in the North American Soccer League against the likes of Pele.
Keighley football historian Rob Grillo, who wrote the magnificent Keighley’s Soccer History book, said: “Trevor would be absolutely delighted. When he reformed the famous old Keighley Town club in 1979 he hoped to take the team into the higher echelons of non-League football.
“After having started life on an unenclosed pitch at Utley, the team later played on the famous old Marley Centre Pitch, the venue for all local cup finals and showpiece games.
“This was Keighley’s Wembley Stadium, the pitch surrounded by a cinder running track that had graced some of the country’s finest distance runners, before the whole site was torn up in the late 1980s to make way for the new Aire Valley Trunk Road, and replaced by a multi-sport all-weather pitch instead.
“Before their enforced move back to Utley, and Hockey’s untimely death, Town played a few games on the adjacent Keighley RUFC pitch at Marley before that too disappeared to make way for the new road. Ironically, the same site became the site of a new football pitch, and the home ground of Keighley Phoenix some 10 years later.
“Phoenix followed Town’s path and took the County Amateur title in 1990. A mainstay of that club was one Roy Mason, a man who had an entire chapter dedicated to him in my Anoraknophobia book, due to his absolute devotion to the game, and to his organisational skills.
“Nearly two decades on from that, Roy has himself taken Steeton into the non-League system. Ironically, Steeton have secured the much-improved and upgraded artificial surface, right where that centre pitch was.”
And so to the game and, after a quick chat with manager Mason outside the changing rooms, it was into the ground via the town’s Covid Test Centre, which had been set up in the car park but was not in use today.
Admission was by pre-paid ticket (£5) and a quick check of my ticket and name by the ladies in the kiosk allowed entry.
Straight in front was a table with the programme and some club souvenirs.
The £2 programme was excellent and deserving of a place at a far higher level with lots of interesting content in a professionally produced format. Well done programme team!
To my left was one of the converted shipping containers, now holding 50 seats and not looking out of place, despite its unusual history. In the near left-hand corner sat its twin, offering shelter for 50 more fans.
On the opposite side of the ground were two perspex dug outs. The pitch barriers had plenty of advertising boards and the walkways offered plenty of space to walk round, while keeping your distance in these strange times. The ground is enclosed by high fencing with opaque netting to stop external viewing, although top deck passengers on buses travelling along the Aire Valley Road could gain a free, although fleeting, view of the action.
After my usual circumnavigation of the pitch, it was back to the souvenir stall to spend a tenner on a Steeton scarf. It was far colder than I’d expected so it was as much to keep me warm as to show my support for the hosts – Come on you Chevrons!
Toilets are in the adjoining leisure centre, along with a bar/entertaining suite, with a refreshment kiosk in another converted container near the ground entrance, but closed at the moment due to coronavirus restrictions.
Steeton had hoped to make it an all-singing, all-dancing welcome to Marley for a record number of fans but the lockdown put paid to those plans as Mason told Non-League Yorkshire: “We had planned to have a pre-season game to launch it with balloons, flags, kids playing prior to us but it isn’t to be.
“We’ve had to make the best of it and crack on. At least we’re playing football, which is the main thing.
“But it is a really big occasion, not just everyone directly involved in the club but the supporters as well.
“They’ve not seen a home game of a competitive nature since February. We’ve gone nearly nine months without a home game.
“It is the end of what seems to be a very bizarre year. It is just over 12 months since we had the first meeting with the council. There’s been snags in the road and we’ve had delays with certain things but who thought we would have the Covid scenario?”
To make up for those missed celebrations off the pitch, the Chevrons made sure it was glory all the way on the pitch with a 3-0 win over their former Football League opponents.
Nelson’s 10-season stint in the Football League ended 89 years ago but memories of those heady days, winning at Old Trafford and, remarkably, being the first English side to win at Real Madrid, are faithfully recorded in club legend.
Today’s game is unlikely to be too fondly remembered for the Admirals though. Despite possibly just shading the balance of play and creating the majority of chances, it was the hosts’ finishing power that proved decisive.
Nelson made a solid start and had the first good chance when Yves Zama tested home goalkeeper Jordan Moorhouse with a shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Zama was then denied by his own team mate when a goal-bound shot was deflected away.
Nelson hit the post from a free-kick and soon after Steeton made them pay with a swift and slick attack in the 32nd minute with Kayle Price crossing for Wignall to score at the far post.
Goalkeeper Jack Little’s trip on Jake Townsend had the home fans screaming for a penalty but referee Lee Corns was unmoved, and possibly unsighted.
Price and substitute Andy Briggs went close to extending the lead after the break but Nelson always looked dangerous and gave the home defence a thorough testing.
Just as it was beginning to look as if the one goal would settle it, the green-shirted hosts added a second when substitute Toby Jeffrey made up for tripping over the ball to gift it to the opposition with his first touch, by sending the ball spearing into the net from 20 yards in the 84th minute with his second touch.
Nelson piled forward in search of a way back but against Steeton broke and, after a flurry of shots were fired in and blocked on the edge of the area, the ball fell nicely for man of the match Townsend to curl a superb shot into the top corner of the net from 25 yards in the 89th minute.
“I’m delighted for the lads,” said manager Mason after leading his team to a second consecutive 3-0 win to continue their climb up the Division One North table.
“We had to grind it out and in the first half we were not at our best.
“We said at half-time we needed to be better with our decision making.
“You only have one chance to make a first impression and there was a lot of people watching Steeton for the first time today. It was important they left here with a good feeling and I think people will have really enjoyed that.”
You’re right Roy – we did!
More pictures on the Tyke Travels Twitter feed – https://twitter.com/TravelsTyke/media
With grateful thanks to all at Steeton FC, Rob Grillo and the Non-League Yorkshire website.