ROB Carroll was among a group of Ossett United fans who walked to their opening match of the season at Mossley raising £1,100 for Andy’s Man Club, a mental health charity battling high suicide rates among young men, and towards away travel.
Here are Rob’s thoughts and recollections of the 30-mile trek across the Pennines to Seel Park.
It is three o’clock on Saturday. The first league game of the season, the first since March. After the last few months this is the stuff of dreams for football fans, isn’t it?
Well, it could be, but this is the wrong three o’clock. In the eerie small hours of Saturday, I am standing outside Ingfield, home of Ossett United, as supporters’ club members are walking to the first away game for charity.
Our opponents are Mossley, some 30 miles away on the other side of the Pennines. As we brace ourselves for the hike, we thank our lucky stars. The fixture generator could have thrown Workington at us, in which case we would have needed to set off a week ago!
We depart Ingfield in darkness. Luke and Chris are the walk organisers, both Ossett Albion prior to the merger with local rivals Ossett Town in 2018, now passionately involved in the resulting United and its supporters’ club.
“We used to run the bar at Albion,” Luke told me, “and often we’d give the bar takings straight to the manager after the game, scraping together money to pay the players.”
Chris added: “The financial challenges we’ve overcome at Ossett United would have sent many clubs two or three levels higher than us out of business. The fans have pulled us through. I’m not sure how we’d cope though without constant financial peril!”
It is safe to say that the two years since the merger have been a rollercoaster. Highs on the field, including an unforgettable West Riding County Cup final victory against Guiseley at Ingfield in front of 1,100 fans, have combined with crippling debts. That United still exists is thanks to colossal support from fans and the surrounding community.
Along with Chris and Luke the other pacesetter is Liam, a half-marathon running machine. Then there’s Richard, who won the supporters’ club quiz last night before kipping for a couple of hours in the ‘Can Bar’ until the start of the walk.
We might be called United but this isn’t Old Trafford! Mark, Jon and Dave began supporting the club in its merged form. “I don’t even like football!”, Becky told me. She came along to a game, then became hooked.
The towpath of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is a delight, but I overhear Luke whisper that the next bit will break some of us. Old Mount Road, climbing out of Marsden into the Pennine wilderness, would be the most relentless, unforgiving incline of the day. The amazing views are scant comfort.
Heather moorland took us to Diggle where Ossett Town Juniors’ secretary Debbie is waiting, car packed with refreshments to send me hobbling down the canal towpath to Mossley.
After 30 miles, the Commercial Hotel in Mossley is a welcome sight, as is the Hopmeister. Unable to walk another step and with Seel Park up another steep hill, I am saved by Aiden Chippendale, scorer of United’s second goal in that West Riding Cup final.
Without a game for Colne today, Chippy had decided to watch his old pals. Driving me up to the ground the ex-Ossett winger explains that he can barely watch the Premiership, loving non-league instead for its close community spirit. And giving a lift to a knackered stranger because of a mutual love encapsulates everything that is very great about non-league.
Seel Park is one of my favourite grounds, a place oozing with old school non-league charm, with great fans and a couple of lovely old stands framed by the Pennine hills. When the right three o’clock finally arrives Mossley dominate, applying pressure with and without the ball. As I plonk my aching bones behind the goal for the second half, it is a relief to be just one goal behind. In the second period Mossley score again. The game passes by in a bit of a blur. I am not sure whether it is fatigue or the Hopmeister.
Outside the ground we walkers gather for the train journey home when Ossett manager Wayne Benn emerged. Honest and forthright as always, Benno tells it like it is. “You should have heard it in there after the game. I told them there are people out there who’ve walked 30 miles to be here today. And this is how you repay them!”
What we love about non-league football again encapsulated in a scene on a late summer’s day in the Pennine hills. Forget your prawn sandwiches. This is the beautiful game.
“Are you not walking back?” shouts one Mossley fan in jest, “You’ve only done half the job!”
The walk has so far raised £1,100 for mental health charity Andy’s Man Club and OUFC Away Travel. If you wish to contribute please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/ousc-annual-away-game-charity-walk