Richmond Town Veterans FC returned to action on Saturday morning in their historic first match following a move to Earls Orchard, having been previously based in Catterick Village.
Earls Orchard is officially England’s most scenic ground football ground, sitting directly in the shadow of Richmond Castle looming above with the River Swale one side of the pitch – thankfully the clubhouse contains a giant net for fishing balls from the river!
Restrictions allowing, groups can also gather on Castle Walk, overlooking Earls Orchard, giving a panoramic viewing point truly comparable to Cricket’s iconic Galle Fort in Sri Lanka.
The ground had previously been home to Richmond Town FC, who have recently moved to the Dave Clark Arena, a new flood-lit 3G pitch named after the popular Richmond School teacher who tragically died last year.
The Veterans, who currently sit sixth in the Sunderland and District Sunderland Mill View Social Club Over 40s League, though having played the fewest games due to COVID, overcame Newton Aycliffe Cobblers Hall 040s AFC 3-1 in a hard-fought encounter with both teams showing plenty of quality and commitment.
The new start also brought a new strip for the Veterans, who had their first official team photograph at their new ground before the match.
Before the first whistle, both teams gathered around the centre circle to observe a minute’s silence following the death of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
The match itself started brightly, with the home side enjoying most of the early possession but perhaps understandably looking a little rusty in the final third.
The home team continued to probe, with Danny McCowie seeing plenty of the ball in midfield and Daniel Glue bringing typically vocal organisation from the heart of defence.
It was the Newton Aycliffe team who broke the deadlock in the first half though, when they quickly broke following a Veterans corner, and Tim Barry beat the offside trap and slotted home a tidy finish.
The Richmond team continued to push for an equaliser, creating several opportunities but went in at half-time 1-0 behind.
Manager Mark Sanders decided to make changes at half time, with Daniel Glue being forced off with an ankle injury, and the introduction of striker Neil Tarrant for his Veterans debut.
Tarrant is currently manager of Richmond Town FC, having previously played professionally for a number of clubs including Aston Villa and Ross County, and showed real class which would have delighted his new team-mates and manager.
With the sun at their backs in the second half, the Veterans got off to the perfect re-start when Nigel Bamford’s cross from the right was headed home by Clark Gunn, who had a fine game in defence and later central midfield.
The home team smelled victory and continued to look dangerous with their continuous probing, and their second goal came shortly after, albeit controversially.
Mark Cleminson scored a real Captain’s finish with a brilliant chip into the right of the goal having been put through by Neil Tarrant to make it 2-1.
There followed furious scenes as Micky White who played the ball to Tarrant was clearly offside, but the referee had mistakenly decided the flick came off a Cobblers Hall defender, and it took several minutes for the protests to die down.
From then on it was end-to-end, and both sides had chances, though the Veterans still looked most likely to get the next goal, and they made it 3-1 with a remarkable goal from Faizal Kirk.
Kirk picked up the ball some way from goal and set off on a mazy run, beating several defenders before sliding the ball into the bottom corner.
Veterans’ defender Daniel Glue said of the goal: “Kirky’s a great player to bring on late in the game, as he’s quick and strong and can really stretch tired defenders. That way he cut through their defence was brilliant”.
They may not be dreaming of Premier League scouts anymore, but It was a highly entertaining game and a day for the ages for Richmond Town Veterans FC.
After a good start, they will be hoping that their new ground will reflect the ancient fortress that towers above it.