The magic of the cup comes to north Yorkshire’s ‘Hogwarts’

The importance of the FA’s various cup competitions cannot be over-stated for smaller clubs, even when some larger ones are sniffily suggesting it isn’t for them. In this piece, Richmond Town FC volunteer Simon Duffin looks at his Yorkshire team’s history and what a huge fixture against York City FC means…

Richmond Town FC. In case you get lost.

Richmond Town FC. In case you get lost.

For a team like Richmond Town FC, playing in the Wearside League in the 11th tier of the English football pyramid, this Saturday’s FA North Riding Cup Senior Cup 2nd round tie at home to York City feels a bit like it must be for those non-league teams that make it all the way to the FA Cup third round and are drawn at home to Chelsea or Man United.

It’s a chance to play the role of David, taking on a Goliath from a higher division, an opportunity, albeit at a lower level, to emulate the likes of Sutton Utd, who famously beat Coventry City of the 1st Division in 1989, or Hereford who toppled the mighty Newcastle Utd in 1972.

York City have their own track record as the Davids of past cup ties.

They beat Arsenal in the FA Cup back in 1985 and then achieved what was possibly an even greater victory over Manchester United in the 1996 League Cup, especially bearing in mind that the Manchester  team included both Beckham and Giggs.

Of course, the approach of the top teams to England’s cup competitions has changed since the 1980s and 1990s. Most of the time, when drawn against lower league opposition, the Premier League and Championship teams will field a 2nd XI or a bunch of juniors from their Academy. But look at what happened to West Ham earlier this month when they fielded a team of youngsters against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup (The Hammers were hammered 5-0!).

This is why they call it Hogwarts. Photo from Paul Kirkwood's

This is why they call it Hogwarts. Photo from Paul Kirkwood’s

And so it is with York City in the FA North Riding Senior Cup. With a League Two match scheduled for 3.00pm at home to Bristol Rovers, it looks pretty unlikely that any of their 1st team will turn out at 11.30am in Richmond. But that doesn’t matter much to Richmond Town. A giant-killing is a giant-killing, regardless of who plays, and a win for Richmond may even see them drawn to play Middlesbrough FC in the semi-finals, so there’s even more incentive for the home team.

Mind you, The Guardian newspaper published a piece a few years back on players that HAVE appeared in more than one match in the same day, so there is precedence: Mark Hughes played for Wales in Prague in 1987 and then flew to Munich to help Bayern beat Borussia Moenchengladbach in the league that evening. And there have been other examples around the world over the years.

Having said that, I’ve not found any previous time a team has had two matches scheduled on the same day (if readers can find me one, I’d be delighted to hear).

Whoever plays for York on Saturday, there’s always romance for the neutral in games like these, and this tie has already attracted a fair bit of interest from the Groundhopper community, especially as the kick-off time allows ample time to move on after the final whistle and still make it to anywhere in the Yorkshire and North East region for a 3pm kick-off elsewhere.

The setting of Richmond Town’s ground adds to the allure, and is the main reason why so many Groundhoppers include Earls Orchard in their lists of grounds to ‘visit before you die’.

Richmond in action.

Richmond in action.

Earls Orchard sits right next to the River Swale (there’s always a mad rush to chase after balls that clear the perimeter fence before they roll into the flowing stream and end up somewhere down near the garrison at Catterick). It also lies in the shadow of Richmond’s beautiful mediaeval castle.

Visiting teams often refer to their away games at Richmond as their visit to ‘Hogwarts’. But there’s actually an even more colourful story behind the ground now laid out as a football pitch: this was once a jousting field, and the local dignitaries would watch matches from high up on the path that now circles around the castle.

Football is a relatively recent activity on this piece of land, though, with the first matches played here some 85 years ago. Richmond Town FC was only formed in 1945 (and has gone through a number of name changes over the years), but it came of age when it had the present clubhouse built in 1975. Jack Charlton opened the building that day, and still lives in the area, though he hasn’t been seen at a Richmond Town game for a while.

That’s a bit of a shame, since Richmond have come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years. When York City were beating Arsenal in 1985, Richmond Town played in the now-defunct Darlington & District League. By 1996, when York were ditching Man U. out of the League Cup, Richmond had progressed to the Teesside League. And in 2012 they gained entry to the Wearside League, just seven promotions away from Football League status!

Earls Orchard is a sticking point, however. Wonderful though it is to have a ground so many romantics want to visit, the club will have to leave the Orchard if they want to progress up the pyramid.

To play in the Northern League (9th and 10th tier), they’d need floodlights, a seating area for spectators and a covered area for standing spectators. Earls Orchard has none of these and planning permission in such a scenic spot is nigh-on unthinkable. Already the club have faced challenges from a local resident who objects to the perimeter fence needed for Wearside League status (and there’s a hearing pending on this, too!).

So the search is on for a new home in the area, which would allow Richmond Town to compete at a higher level.

Already, on the field, the team shows signs of being able to compete with teams above them. They’re unbeaten this season in three games (one abandoned due to serious injury) against Ryhope Colliery Welfare (relegated from the Northern League last season because of their own ground’s facilities). And in the 1st round of the FA North Riding Cup, they beat Marske United of the Northern League Division 1 (two leagues above Richmond).

Richmond's beautiful ground is worth a visit.

Richmond’s beautiful ground is worth a visit.

Getting publicity for the team’s success has not been easy, though. How many teams in the country could win a quadruple (Richmond Town in 2012 won the Teesside League and three cup competitions) and barely feature in their own local media?

Part of the problem lies in Richmond’s demographics: William Hague is the area’s MP, with one of the largest Conservative majorities in the country and one of the most sparsely-populated over the whole of Richmondshire itself. The local media pay more attention to cattle and sheep markets than to sport, and if sport does get a mention it tends to be cricket or rugby that feature: the gentlemen’s sports!

At least this season, though, the local weekly newspaper, the Darlington & Stockton Times, has found room for a regular Richmond Town match report.

But therein lies another of Richmond’s problems. It sits on the fringes of most of the regional media: there’s BBC Radio York and Radio Tees, but both some miles away; the Northern Echo newspaper focuses on Middlesbrough and Sunderland; the Yorkshire Post on more metropolitan parts of the county.

And the team’s opponents in the Wearside League are also generally from a different demographic: half the Wearside teams are from former coal mining villages: Ryhope CW, Horden CW, Easington Colliery, and the list goes on.

While Richmond has connections to cultural icons like Wordsworth, Turner, Byron or Shelley (though the story is that Shelley never did make it to Richmond, having left a mysterious note for his flatmate that he was on his way there…but that’s something for another blog, maybe), there aren’t many literary links to those mining communities, nor a North East equivalent to Lowry in Lancashire. No wonder coming down to Richmond feels like a day out at Hogwarts for most of these local lads.

Having said that, the Richmond Town players are no posher than any other local amateur team. Sure, there’s an accountant and a law student in there somewhere, but there are just as many with jobs at the local garage, shop or courier service (mind you, there are a couple of farmers, who aren’t available in the summer months because they’re too busy harvesting, and I don’t suppose many other Wearside League teams have that problem…).

And if you take the Richmond Town Football Club as a whole, it is actually made up of hundreds of schoolkids playing football in every age group from under 6s to under 15s, all of them I’m sure aspiring to play one day against the Beckhams and Giggs of the future. The way the 1st team are playing at the moment, those under-6s might just be maturing as the club hits the dizzy heights of Football League status.

Ah, the dreams of the amateur football fan!

But, in the cliché of many a manager over the years, it’s got to be taken one game at a time, and first up is the cup tie against York City on Saturday. Win that and Richmond Town will surely be in line for BBC Radio Five Live’s Non-League Team of the Day next Saturday evening on 606…

Simon Duffin writes usually about tea and coffee when on his travels, but this season has taken up a volunteer role for his local football team, Richmond Town FC in North Yorkshire. You can find him on Twitter .


  1. We will, indeed be bringing the Youth Team to Richmond and a shirt to be auctioned to raise money for one of your former staff who I believe is ill. Looking forward to the game.
    Tony Mee
    Academy Manager

  2. charles · · Reply→

    Old Emley had been play 2 team at same day,
    In November of that season, the club managed to field two “first teams” on the same afternoon. One side won 2–0 at Spennymoor United in the League while the other beat Athersley 3–1 in the first round of the Sheffield Senior Cup.

  3. Susan Lerigo · · Reply→

    Brian Lerigo former Player Captain and Manager of Richmond Town wishes them Good Luck

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