Swallownest 1 Retford 2
Miners Welfare Ground, Rotherham Road
Northern Counties East League, Division One
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
When it comes to ‘pub teams’, Swallownest are unique.
This is no tale of Sunday cloggers, or an insult to their comfortable facilities, no it’s a simple fact – Swallownest are the original pub team. However, rather than the club being named after a pub, it’s the whole village that took on the moniker.
Named after the Swallow Nest hostelry, a wayside inn between Sheffield and Rotherham, the village spring up around it and took on its name in the 19th Century. Its growth was accelerated with miners moving into the area, working at Beighton, Brookhouse, Treeton and Waleswood pits, as well as the later infamous Orgreave.
Formed in 2006 as Aston, the football club actually claims an older heritage, back to 1959, when the ground’s original tenants, Swallownest Miners Welfare, were in FA Amateur Cup action, a season before joining Division Two of the Yorkshire League. After a season adjusting to the countywide competition, they gained promotion after finishing third to Bridlington Trinity and Doncaster United. Two seasons followed in Division One, competing against teams including current Football League side Harrogate Town, Stocksbridge, Farsley Celtic, Ossett Albion and Bridlington Town, as well as the reserve teams of Scarborough and Goole Town. Five terms back in Division Two brought a single season back in the top flight. A 14th of 14 finish in Division Two in 1970/1 spelled the end for the club at that level, although they did continue to compete in the FA Amateur Cup until the competition ended, playing for two seasons in its replacement FA Vase, losing both ties before scratching from the 1976/7 competition.
During their 14 years in the Amateur Cup, the furthest they reached was the fourth qualifying round, in 1961/2, although they did claim the scalps of Guiseley and Lincoln United in other seasons.
The present club started life in the South Yorkshire Amateur League, winning the league title in their second season. That brought elevation to the Sheffield & Hallamshire County League and two swift promotions saw them competing in the Premier Division in 2010, when they changed name to Swallownest Miners Welfare.
Success was immediate with the club clinching the league title. The Miners Welfare suffix was dropped in 2016 and a second league title in 2017 saw them promoted to the Northern Counties East League after significant improvements to their Rotherham Road facilities, which had lost much of its previous infrastructure and by then consisted of a roped-off pitch, with remnants of terracing and pitchside fencing.
The ground now meets the necessary criteria, despite its unusual two-and-a-half sided appearance. Entry is off Rotherham Road, hidden up a track with a sign hidden behind overgrowth and access to the car parks along a weed strewn drive. Thankfully the floodlights were on to offer guidance to the sports and social club (members only during the pandemic), behind which the ground sits.
Most facilities are behind the near goal at the entrance to the ground. Land behind the far goal is out of bounds with a fence and a row of trees masking the immense backdrop behind – across to the twinkling bright lights of Sheffield, with occasional fireworks trails adding to the nightscape.
Two small stands are behind the nearside goal – one with four deep levels of benching, the other standing only. These are separated by the entrance building, tea bar and changing rooms entrance.
Another small seated stand is on the dug-out side. These sit alongside two gazebos, offering additional cover for the coaching staff but there is no entry for fans beyond the halfway line.
The club offered online admission, with the £5 entry fee paid a day before and the match ticket allowing swift entrance and a warm, friendly welcome from club officials keen to ensure everyone followed coronavirus precautions. With a programme just £1 and chicken pie and chips on offer for £3.50 it is a cheap night out. The food was plentiful and soothed my tea-less hunger pangs, with the pie filling still volcanic even after a walk to the far end of the ground.
For fans, neither side of the pitch is particularly close to the action, with enough room between the touchline and barriers for a couple of small-sided pitches or perhaps space to turn the pitch 90 degrees should any future expansion plans demand it.
Any of the 163 in attendance hoping for a pre-lockdown bonanza on the pitch were left disappointed with a scrappy game ensuing, although Retford fans could take solace in two late goals that earned them the points.
In truth, that was the first time the visitors showed much attacking intent, with the hosts dominating possession. However, they could not build on a stunning early goal with smart interpassing moves frequently ruined by a final ball that could have been modelled on Peter Kay’s “No Nonsense – ’ave it” John Smith’s advert.
Rain throughout the day had made the surface tricky and with the clouds parting to reveal a near full moon, conditions were not the best for either playing or spectating as the cold gnawed at the bones.
In truth, despite the campaign being barely six weeks old, the encounter had a real end-of-season feel to it, with the new lockdown ensuring at least another month of inactivity.
It had started so well with Swallownest taking a third-minute lead when Alex Lill curled an exquisite free-kick arcing into the top corner of Retford goalkeeper John Kennedy’s net.
But that was it for the first half – not another single noteworthy incident.
Swallownest did all the pushing but Retford were not really tested and were happy to absorb the pressure and push out on the break.
A flurry of action warmed up the evening 10 minutes after the interval.
Luke Adby saw a shot cleared off the line but straight from the clearance the hosts suffered similar frustration when their effort was blocked by a defender with Kennedy grounded.
A minute later the Retford goalkeeper flapped at a corner and gave Tyler Bradley an unexpected free header on goal at the far post but his downward effort lacked direction and bounced wide.
Just after the hour mark, Swallownest goalkeeper Owen Evans pulled off a superb save at the foot of his left-hand post.
The game then returned to a midfield battle until the closing stages when the heat was turned up.
With Retford belatedly pushing forward for an equaliser, they won a corner, which found its way to the far post where Adby headed in from close range, despite home claims the ball had not crossed the line – the linesman’s signal said otherwise, demonstrating it was a good three feet over.
Determined not to let their long-term lead have been in vain, Swallownest pushed forward for the winner but it left Evans exposed and a swift inter-passing attack for the visitors left the home defensive ranks depleted and Adby was left unmarked to slam the ball into the net to complete an unexpected turnaround with his second goal.
So that was my 149th different Yorkshire ground – when No.150 will materialise can only be imagined…