Salts 1 Pool 0
Salts Sports Association, Victoria Road, Saltaire
West Yorkshire League, Division One
Saturday, December 19, 2020
Keen, Ryan, Warren, Cavanagh, McClum, Alexander, Barraclough, Boote, Clarkson, Rhodes, Stewart… won 1-0, Harry Warren scored t’winner in 10th minute.
Hmm, it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as the legendary line-up of Haggerty F, Haggerty R, Tomkins, Noble, Carrick, Dobson, Dewhurst, Crapper, McIntyre, Treadmore, Davitt, does it?
Then again, I’m not Michael Palin and the team on show is Salts 2020 and not the heroes of a century earlier – Barnstoneworth United, as depicted in the famous 1979 Ripping Yarns tale of Golden Gordon.
The 1-0 result, also doesn’t have the same resonance as “eight-one, eight-bloody-one”, as memorably expressed by Gordon Ottershaw (Palin) before wrecking the home he shared with his wife (Gwen Taylor) and their son, named Barnstoneworth United Ottershaw.
Forty-one years on and memories of that TV classic remain strong in the minds of supporters and club officials at Salts, where the filming took place and where Gordon memorably got together the 1920s legends to see off Denley Moor 8-1 in a Yorkshire Cup tie, a week after losing by the same score to Brighouse.
Long-standing fan and former reserve team manager Vinny Gott joined the club two years after that seismic event in Salts’ history and admits that, even though no-one is around at the club from those days, “Barnstoneworth” and “eight-bloody-one” are still commonly heard around the ground from fans and visitors alike.
“We’ve all seen the programme and even now try to catch glimpses of bits of the ground we recognise – even though much of it is changed,” said Gott.
Michael Palin certainly left a lasting legacy and has kept the club in a list of ‘must-visit grounds’ for hoppers of a certain vintage.
“When you watch reruns of that episode, you get the occasional glimpse of the corner of the old changing rooms and also the stands when they were both along the same pitch,” said Gott.”
Since those halcyon days, the club’s Hirst Lane venue has been renovated with two pitches now lying head to head with a stand each and a four-team changing room block and tea bar that was built about seven years ago, along with an address change to Victoria Road (the ground hasn’t moved, it’s just midway between the two roads and access is now easier from the Saltaire side).
Just like Barnstoneworth, Salts can also look back on a glittering history – their’s being in the 1950s – when crowds of more than 2,000 were the norm.
The club was named as one of the top 10 amateur sides in the country after twice reaching the last 16 of the FA Amateur Cup and maintaining an incredible local league and cup record throughout the decade.
Nowadays, Salts ply their trade in Division One of the West Yorkshire League in front of two-figure gates, with ambitions no higher than a return to the Premier Division.
Formed from the earlier Saltaire Mills club, Salts (Saltaire) began in 1924 and soon fielded teams in the Bradford Amateur and Bradford Industrial Leagues.
They gained elevation to the West Riding County Amateur League before the Second World War and, in 1939, reached the West Riding County FA County Cup final, losing to Bradford Rovers.
A league and cup double was enjoyed in 1946/7 and a string of district cups was soon added to the trophy cabinet.
Those stirring days saw neighbours Bradford City on the prowl and key players Arnie Kendall and Roy Brook were lured into the professional game.
By 1950/51 Salts had regenerated with Don Glover leading the line. The prolific scorer rewrote the record books and, according to Ronnie Wharton’s excellent The Best of Bradford Amateur Football book, hit five goals in a game three times and a double hat-trick against Yeadon in a 9-2 away victory. He then went one better, notching seven in a 12-0 win over Silk Street Labour Club in a county cup romp. By the Christmas of 1950 he had found the net 49 times, including hat-trick or more in five consecutive games.
Silverware continued to pile up throughout the 1950s with games attracting huge crowds to Hirst Lane for visits by opponents including Amateur Cup giants Crook Town and a Hounslow Town team that included an England amateur international.
Salts won the West Riding County Cup for the first time in 1955, trouncing Lancashire Combination side Barnoldswick 7-0 in the final and kept hold of it the following season.
The club were head and shoulders above their counterparts and needed a new challenge, so stepped up into the Yorkshire League, where they were able to pit their skills against professional players lining up for the reserve and A teams of Leeds United, Huddersfield Town, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley, Rotherham United, Hull City, Halifax Town and York City, among the cream of the county’s non-League sides.
Success was immediate with promotion gained to Division One and the League Cup captured for good measure – beating Halifax Town Reserves 3-1 in the final.
Former Tottenham and Bradford Park Avenue star Ray White took over as manager in 1956 and the older generation was replaced by a younger one, including young winger Mike Hellawell, who made such an impression that QPR made a £100 donation to spirit him away to Loftus Road, from where he went on to play for Birmingham City and Sunderland, earning two full England caps along the way.
A short period of transition followed before trophies started to roll in again, including the league cup for a second time, with the club regularly finishing above present Football League side Harrogate Town.
In the FA Amateur Cup, more good runs were enjoyed, including a 4,000 crowd to witness the demise of Stanley United, while a trip to the legendary Corinthian Casuals at Kennington Oval was memorable for two reasons. Among the home team were county cricketers Michael Willett (Surrey) and Doug Insole (Essex and England) as well as Saltaire’s own Jim Laker. Perhaps overawed by that cross-sport mixture, Salts crashed 10-0.
The start of the club’s demise came in the late 1950s with new manager Maurice Conroy unable to bring his Accrington Stanley experience to bear as the club finished near the bottom of the Yorkshire League and joined the West Yorkshire League for a brief spell, before returning to the West Riding County Amateur League.
Success since then has been sporadic with few highlights, although when the West Riding County Amateur League was wound up in 2018, Salts had seven league titles to their name.
Their final season in the competition saw them finish second in the Premier Division but their first campaign in the West Yorkshire League saw them suffer relegation to Division One.
Gotts said: “We want to get back in the Premier League but can’t see us being able to go any higher.”
The ground is in the Saltaire World Heritage Site buffer zone, meaning future development is unlikely and club committee man Simon Barraclough said: “We can’t even put up a net behind the stands to stop balls going in the river, for example.”
The river Aire flows behind the stands with the other touchline bordered by the Leeds-Liverpool canal but, surprisingly, the ground is rarely affected by flooding.
Today’s match against the appropriately named Pool was played on a soggy pitch after days of rain but excellent drainage meant a call-off was unlikely.
“That is thanks to the foresight of the original planners who built the pitch on an ash base with excellent drainage pipes down to the river,” said Barraclough.
Instead of delusions of grandeur to get back the pinnacle of non-League football, Salts are now happy to be a breeding ground for future generations of players, after merging with Shipley Juniors to offer maximum chances to play the game from the very youngest age up to veteran status.
“As well as the first team in the West Yorkshire League First Division, we’ve also got a reserve team playing in Alliance Division One and two teams in the Craven League,” said Gott.
“The third are mainly youngsters coming through from the junior sections, while the fourths are veterans with an age averaging about 37.
“The players in all the teams are mainly local lads from Saltaire, Shipley, Baildon and Bingley. Five or six of the first team have come up through the junior system.”
The merger with Shipley Juniors means the club now runs dozens of teams at all ages and Gott said: “Shipley Juniors had a very successful youth system but when they reached 18 the players had nowhere to go. The u18s came to Salts and the link-up was so successful that the whole set-up moved across and joined us to become Salts Juniors. It has proved to be a merger made in heaven.”
The two football pitches form part of a well-cared-for sporting complex, originally set out by Sir Titus Salt to keep the employees at his mill occupied outside of working hours.
It includes a cricket field, tennis courts and bowling greens as well as a clubhouse, in normal times selling real ales (although that would have been frowned upon by tee-total Sir Titus).
The football section’s twin stands consist of four steps of terracing with breeze-block dug-outs on the halfway line and the changing room/tea bar complex opposite.
There is no hard-standing around the post and rail surround but there are signs of very old terrace banking in the slope up to the canal.
It is still easy to imagine how a record crowd of 5,000 packed in to see a Yorkshire League match against Selby Town. A memorable picture taken from the nearby Hirst Lock gate shows thousands gathered around the football pitch for an Amateur Cup tie, with hundreds more watching the cricket on the neighbouring field.
Today a crowd of about 60 was boosted by hundreds of passers-by on the canal tow path, pausing briefly to watch the action on their way to the famous Bingley five-rise locks. The Aire Valley railway line on the opposite bank carried hundreds more past the historic site.
It was hard to realise we are in the midst of a lockdown when I arrived in Saltaire with hundreds of sightseers in and around the streets and Salts Mill, taking in the history of the impressive Victorian model village.
Queues had formed outside a variety of shops and, in normal times, a glut of bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants cater for base needs.
The Salts bar clubhouse is closed at the moment but inside is a wealth of old team pictures from all the sports at the ground, plus the Barnstoneworth shirt from Palin.
Committee man Barraclough said: “I wrote to Michael Palin and his PA kindly asked him to sign a shirt for us.
“He sent us one with a picture of him wearing it, together with the ‘Eight-bloody-one” legend across it.
“I also wrote to artist David Hockney, who has local links and has a gallery in Salts Mill, but never got a reply. I’ll keep trying, there’s plenty of celebrities with links to the area to help publicise the club.”
Chatty referee Luca Caggiano allowed me to take photos of the pictures of the team sheets on his phone before kick-off and, when I wished him a good match, joked: “I’ll know I’ve and a good game if I don’t get mentioned in any match reports.”
Opinions were divided on that one after a match that saw several Pool penalty claims turned down and the visitors goalkeeper sent off.
The club produced a glossy, professional programme for first and second team games and an end-of-season review until a couple of years ago but paper souvenirs are now absent unless, like me, you can get a club official to dig out an old one from the canteen or a car boot.
Salts, in their yellow shirts and blue shorts, kicked off and made a solid start, taking a 10th-minute lead when Harry Warren, one of the products of the junior set-up, was released in the area and, as defenders stood off him, surged past them and fired a shot into the net off the post.
That early goal raised my hopes of a surreal 8-bloody-1 match but, alas, it was not to be and that was the only goal of the game.
Indeed, you have to go all the way back to 2011 to find the last time they did record that famous result, an 8-1 win over TVR United in a local cup tie.
Salts dominated first-half possession but failed to build on their advantage with few chances created.
The white-shirted visitors relied on counter-attacks but were restricted to a few long-range efforts, easily gathered by home goalkeeper Matty Keen.
Pool pushed for an equaliser after the break but always looked vulnerable on the break and chances, although still at a premium, were more forthcoming than in an often-dour first 45 minutes.
Jack Farimond carved out an opening 10 minutes after the break but was denied by a fine save by Keen, using his legs to block.
A Salts counter attack on the hour-mark saw goalkeeper Andy Doey’s fluffed clearance go straight to Josh Eastwood 20 yards out but he somehow managed to hit a defender when the goal was gaping.
With 10 minutes to go Salts’ Toby Rawcliffe crossed for Alex Stewart in front of a wide-open goal but he mistimed his swing and sent the ball behind him.
At the other end, Casey Taglione outbattled the chasing home defenders to close in on goal but Keen was out quickly to narrow the angle and the no.10 chipped the ball harmlessly into his arms.
The longer the game went on, the more likely an away goal had looked but after a couple of strong penalty appeals were turned down, Pool lost their composure and concentrated more on goading the referee than worrying the opposition.
Their strange continued shouts of “appeal for everything lads”, probably worked against them and culminated in the last-minute dismissal of Doey, who overstepped the mark with an offensive remark to the referee, earning him a straight red card.
Gott had said before the game that Salts were playing good football but a lack of goals could be their undoing. So it had almost proved but a 1-0 win kept manager Luke Lavery happy and maintained his team’s unbeaten start to the season, going into the festive break in second place in the table.