Leek Town
Harrison Park

Ground No. 207
Visited - Saturday 13th March 2010
Result - Leek Town 5-1 Willenhall Town
Competition - Northern Premier League, Division One South
Attendance - 235

If you were to think of the Summer Solstice, then most people would instantly conjure up images of Stonehenge and worshipping druids, yet 160 miles northwards, near to Stoke-on-Trent is the small market town of Leek in the Staffordshire moorlands. Each year the town draws sightseers for the same event, yet here it’s for the more unusual phenomenon that might just have inspired one of the most famous scenes in Star Wars. No, not two Port Vale and Stoke fans doing battle up the High St with lightsabers, but that of a double sunset! Only visible from certain points around the town, it’s where thanks to the angle of a local hill, Bosley Cloud, the sun first goes down before reappearing on the other side and going down once more, leaving you with the impression of two suns hanging in the sky at the same time.

Tatooine though, this isn’t (I’ll refrain from referring to this end of Staffordshire as a barren, lawless land run by gangsters, although a trip to the Potteries… ahem, anyway!), no, this is far from it, it is in fact a rather beautiful part of the country on the edge of the Peak District, with Leek known locally for its markets and laid back feel.

Football has been played in the town since the 1870’s, Leek FC representing the area in the FA Cup and ‘The Combination’ (one of the early challengers to the Football League) before disappearing from records around the turn of the century. The current main team, Leek Town weren’t formed until 1946 when a group of players got together to join the Leek & Moorlands League, quickly progressing to the Staffordshire County League where they enjoyed great success. They purchased Hamil Park in 1948, where they’ve remained ever since, gradually building it up as they’ve moved up the leagues, which culminated in their highest position to date in 1997/98 when they finished 19th in the Conference before ‘second season syndrome’ hit them 12 months later when they were relegated back to the NPL, switching between the Premier and First Division ever since, without ever quite reaching the heights of their 1997 title win.

Their ground, renamed Harrison Park in the 1970s after their chairman, seemed to have a great reputation amongst those who had been, so it was one I’d wanted to tick for quite a while and looking down the fixtures I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of combining a trip with cheering on the mighty Lockmen when Willenhall Town were scheduled to make the trip there in mid-March, so with nothing else standing out, I circled the date on the calendar.

Setting off mid-morning then I’d been in a fairly good mood until arriving at the station and finding the train packed full of Villa fans heading to Stoke, ending up having to endure songs about John Carew being bigger than me or you for the whole way up. Thankfully it’s not too long a trip from Wolverhampton, and after arriving in the Potteries I happily went off in the direction of Hanley for the next stage of the journey, which would have to be by bus thanks to Dr Beeching and his ideas of modernising the railway network, which had seen the trackbed between Stoke and Leek lay empty and disused since 1970. Despite that though, after arriving in Hanley and braving the bus station (it isn’t nice!) I arrived in good time, and spent most of the early afternoon in the town centre, having a pint in a classic old pub called the Black Swan, before making my way up to the ground.

When the club laid out the site in 1948, it wasn’t until five years later that they discovered the pitch had been marked over neighbouring property that they didn’t own! They ended up rotating it 90 degrees to its present position, cutting away a large section of hillside which allows great views in from outside the ground nowadays (see first panoramic picture). Situated on the main road in and out of town, as soon as you approach you can tell you’re on your way to a football ground with large signs behind the near end and another sign for ‘The Grace St. Paddock… Visitors Only’ giving the impression that you’re coming to a ground more accustomed to a higher level of football than Step 4. Outside the Main Stand you’d be forgiven for thinking the same as well due to its height, but after going in then it does start to look more typical of a bigger NPL side.

The Main Stand would be considered big for a number of League clubs, especially if it ran the full length of the pitch, but unfortunately though it only sits on the far end of the halfway line, with a section of terracing below raised seating that would offer great views with its cantilevered roof if it wasn’t for the floodlight pylons right in front of it! Both ends are of similar design, with sloping steps covered by a low roof, whilst the far side is more terracing, a roof providing some shelter towards the rear of it in the centre. Finally, the clubhouse sits adjacent to the Main Stand at the near end, where after taking a few pictures I made my way in for a drink and to read the programme before the game started.

Willenhall had been having a torrid time of things all season. It had started badly enough with a 10 point deduction for being in administration, and it was an achievement just to have made it to this point without having folded thanks to the commitment of the fans rallying around. Even so, no budget to spend had seen several managers come and go, along with a procession of players which hadn’t left it difficult to predict the ensuing results, with the Lockmen going into this game with only 1 win and 11 losses in the past 12 games, having conceded 46 goals in the process.

Leek on the other hand were sitting just outside the play-offs, not having been defeated at home in nearly a year, so whilst looking forward to visiting the ground, I hadn’t been totally looking forward towards the match itself, expecting it to be ever so slightly one sided in favour of the hosts! Despite that though, when Willenhall defender Gavin Davies headed into his own net after just 20 seconds, then myself and the small group of travelling Town fans were left speechless! It seems though Lady Luck was in a good mood, and the linesman’s flag ruled it out for offside, but it wasn’t to be Davies’ afternoon when he went off injured with only 13 minutes on the clock. Whilst the home side had been having the better of the opening period, it was the visitors who took the lead, somewhat against the run of play in the 17th minute thanks to Andre Calder who headed home from a corner. That started to change the game for Willenhall, and whilst Leek were looking dangerous on the break, things started to become more even, with the Lockmen looking confident of ending the barren spell as the home fans became increasingly restless as the half drew to a close with Willenhall still leading.

Five minutes into the second half and Leek should have been reduced to 10 men when Matt Johnson handled the ball to deny George Pomroy-Crowe a goalscoring opportunity, but unfortunately for Willenhall the free-kick was fired over, and in the 56th minute it was all square when Ashley Miller poked home at the far post. It was the start of a devastating avalanche and Dean Crowe put the hosts ahead four minutes later when he fired home through a crowded area, before three minutes after that a harsh penalty was awarded which Miller slammed home for his second. The rout was completed with two late goals from Dan Cope and Paul Rutter to make the scoreline flattering to the home side who, even if they deserved the win, didn’t quite deserve it that much. Such is football though, and when you’re at the bottom…

After leaving I made my way back to the town, stopping off in the Cock Inn (no puns!) to watch the first half of Scotland-England in the six nations (although in truth it was more to avoid enduring another trip with the Villa fans returning from Stoke) before heading back to Hanley and homewards with no trouble.

Overall, it had been a good day out. It’s always disappointing to see a big loss, especially when the team deserved a little more out of the game, but as it wasn’t fully unexpected then it hadn’t exactly ruined the afternoon. It’s easy to understand why people speak volumes of this ground. Leek is a fantastic little market town to visit, and Harrison Park now listed amongst my favourites. Whilst relegation for Willenhall seems an inevitability (league places for next season still to be confirmed at the time of writing), with a bit of luck, and the continued hard work of the fans, then hopefully they’ll come out the other side of this trouble and start next season afresh and be able to get back up to this level, and if they do then this will certainly be a ground to look forward to getting back to.

Welcome to Harrison Park

Grace Street Paddock Turnstiles

Rear of the Main Stand

The Club Shop

The Main Stand

The Main Stand

The Near End

The Grace Street Stand

The Far End

Press Box and Wembley Sign

The Clubhouse

The Far End

The Grace Street Side

The Near End

Ready for Kick Off

The Grace Street Side

The Far End

The Main Stand

Harrison Park Panoramic 1

Harrison Park Panoramic 2

Harrison Park Panoramic 3


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