Buxton 2-0 Farsley Celtic (National League North)
A week ago, I was camel riding and quad biking in the Emirates desert. This Saturday I'm in the beautiful British spa town of Buxton to watch a National League North game between Craig Elliott's Bucks and Russ Wilcox's Farsley Celtic. Back on more familiar territory.
After heading off into the sun leaving the snow behind It's not stopped raining since I got back on Sunday. I was supposed to be at Rushden & Diamonds midweek to watch the Southern League Central table proppers host Rushall Olympic but Tuesdays match at Hayden Road was called off due to a waterlogged pitch. A long wait for a game since my last (11 days ago) so I'm buzzing, up early on a Saturday morning whilst my wife snoozes in bed nursing her Paddy's Day hangover.
Buxton are the form team of late. They're on an eleven-game unbeaten run since last losing ironically to Farsley in January. The Celt Army themselves in a spot of bother. Twentieth in the table and in the bottom four, they’ve shown resilience of late. Three draws and a win including victory over high flying King's Lynn Town and no shame penalty shootout defeat against Gateshead in the FA Trophy quarter finals. They drew with fellow strugglers Leamington last time out whilst the Bucks beat Banbury 3-1 in Oxfordshire.
I've actually never seen Farsley play, and presumed until yesterday they were from Bradford. Google telling me the town is otherwise in the City of Leeds Metropolitan borough. It’s pretty-much located halfway between the two.
They've had an interesting past though Farsley, with a couple of recent foldings and foundings, originally formed in 1908 they played Yorkshire League football before joining the Northern Counties East League in 1982 ahead of promotion to the Northern Premier League five years later.
In 2007/08 they had a single season in the Blue Square Premier League (formerly the Conference now the National League) before relegation and administration in 2010 led to disbandment.
The club immediately reformed as Farsley AFC before rekindling their 'Celtic' surname in 2015, gaining promotion back from the NPL to the National League North in 2019, where they have been ever since.
Formed in 1877, after a long stint in the Cheshire County league, Buxton (of Derbyshire) joined the Northern Premier League in 1973 and but for eight years in the Northern Counties East League during the turn of this century, have been prominent in the NPL top flight, having fifteen straight years in the division before promotion as champions last season saw them reach the National League North for the first time.
The club have also had a couple of decent cup runs in recent seasons, losing 4-0 against Ipswich at Portman Road in the second round of the FA Cup back in November. They're safe from danger and twelfth in the table, seven points below the playoff places, ten points above the drop zone, going into today's game.
It’s chucking it down but the sun is out as I head down the A610 towards Codnor and Ripley from Nottingham, hitting the Matlock Road at Ambergate where I tailgate a Mazda Mx5 with its top bravely down.
Trudging along at 50mph I’m now behind a trailer carrying sheep along the A6 and follow it towards Cromford where I turn onto Water Lane a winding woodland road that follows a stream which starts with a huge pond in front of a few antique shops. Very last of the summer wine.
I’m heading to Newhaven over the hills and onto the A515 which provides stunning scenery east and west, a real spring showers day, it’s too hot for a coat but you certainly need to keep the waterproofs on standby.
As I enter Buxton I’ve hit some temporary lights on the London Road and cars are spinning around but I stick with it. A good ten-minute stalemate before they change colour, eventually I turn right onto Dale Road and up Grange Road parking at the top of South Avenue annoyingly outside somebody’s house. The ground a short walk away up Silverlands which is a road that leads you straight back into the town centre.
I’m getting zapped on entry. I’m asking a steward which turnstile to use and am pointed to gate four but before I go in there’s a woman in hi vis giving me a good going over. I’ve got keys, phones, binoculars and a couple of hand warmers in my laptop bag but she waves me in, I’m not sure her wand even works but at least she looks busy. I haven’t a clue what she was hoping to find?
On entrance in the corner of the ground I reminisce on similar surroundings from my last visit here a couple of weeks ago. A neat venue with picturesque back drop of terraced housing and hillsides. The players are out on the pitch warming up as I head straight for the kiosk. A meat and potato pie and a cup of tea for £4.50. I’m standing behind the goal under the cover, food and drink perched on a terrace barrier as I take a couple of snaps and walk around to the main stand which hogs halfway, where the press box stinks of tomato sauce.
There’s a couple of blokes already sat at the back of the stand, they ask me what I do and I get the impression they don’t know much about the level. Both with pints, one looks pissed already, they look like contractors working locally and perhaps staying in digs nearby, they’ve a free afternoon so thought let’s watch some football and get shitfaced in doing so. I explain to them the division today’s teams are in.
As I look down towards the plastic pitch, pillar in view obstructing the goal to my left, a view out to Harpur Hill in the distance sun shining (for now), a young lad with a deep West Yorkshire voice says “Is this the press box” He’s from Farsley and is on duty today. A student at Derby Uni doing the sports journalism course which I’m quite familiar with, he’s a good young lad and tells me about his sides decent run of form of late, he’s still getting over their FA Trophy exit on penalties last week. “A trip to Wembley would have been nice” he says.
The weather's taken a turn again as the two teams come out. Farsley in green and white hoops apparently without their regular captain but otherwise full strength. Buxton in royal blue have the diminutive Tom Elliott in the side but Diego De Girolamo is on the bench. Shaun Brisley and Sam Osbourne also subs, they have some serious talent in depth.
It's chucking down on one side of the ground whilst the other is drenched in sun, the two teams take a cautious approach to begin with. I overhear the Farsley staff chatting 'why they can’t beat the bottom teams but do better against those around the top' I state "they look well organised, proper drilled off the ball" which is down to some top defensive coaching. I get the feeling they're hard to break down, but on the front foot lack a bit of panache. Set plays seem to be their best way of getting a goal, but two banks of four tight and compact, I'm impressed with the space they fail to offer their possession dominant hosts. One of the guys tells me "we very rarely concede more than one a game".
There's a lad up top for the away side playing with a white head bandage wrapped around his skull so is quite noticeable from high up in the stand. He's unconventional but works hard and every now and again does something impressive like chests the ball down or plays it into space. I learn his name is Frank Mulhern and think to myself "you can't get a more non-league name than that". He's scrapping around with the home team centre halves, it's not always pretty but you feel he's appreciated at the club for the work he puts in and for having a tiny bit of quality with it.
For all their endeavour and intricate touches in the final third, Buxton are struggling to break down their opponents. Elliott finds pockets whilst Connor Kirby is neat on the ball. For the second time in as many games I'm mightily impressed with their left back Max Conway. He's 19 years old, on loan from Bolton and is going to have a very good career in the game.
There's already half an hour gone and not much has happened but Bucks winger Warren Clarke is down after a challenge, falling sharply onto the hard synthetic surface. He's replaced for Sam Osbourne who immediately shows a bit of neat footwork, the boards up for added time and as Farsley switch off for pretty much the first occasion all half, Jak McCourt who's been brilliant in front of the back four for Buxton spraying passes left to right, has unleashed a deflected effort past Max Dearnley from range to give his side a half time lead.
That goal changes the gameplan for Farsley who would have been content with nil nil at half time. They bring on an extra attacker in Theo Williams after the break, as the skies darken grey the floodlights warming up, the rain flickers on and off like a public toilet flush chain, there’s a rainbow or two now in the distance.
The game is slow paced, Buxton have more possession and aren’t in a hurry to get it forward but the longer it plays the more prominent Farsley become. They go close as Mulhern rounds the keeper only to find the side netting.
A couple of sniffs from set plays have the Celts media team frustrated. They’re Leeds United fans who are keeping updated via their score apps, the Peacocks winning at Wolves. I say to them “would you rather take a point here or three points for Leeds?” Their answer is all about Premier League survival.
Buxton’s turn to miss a guilt edged opportunity as the Farsley back four get away with trying to play out from the back, at the other end Theo Richardson saves from point blank range a huge stop from a Danny Devine header with less than ten minutes remaining.
That save even more pivotal as moments later, substitute Diego De Girolamo is sent through, he’s rounded the keeper as I blurt “he won’t miss this” before a cool finish from a cool player puts the game to bed.
Buxton have an array of footballers who I think can hack it a level or even two above. The experienced Jak McCourt has a great game in centre midfield picking up the ball off his defenders to unleash curling passes to either wing. Connor Kirby, Tom Elliott, Joe Ackroyd all decent on the ball, quick footed in the final third interchanging like fleas, flies or mosquitos without a real set position waiting to bite and sting. I like Brad Jackson who’s direct and puts early crosses into the box from the right, whilst Max Conway at left back is stand out, making good decisions for one so young, he’s always looking to get forward and take on opponents, a willingness to make things happen with a good positive ethos on how to play his position.
Centre halves Josh Granite and Jake Hull do well, I particularly like Hull at a good six foot five plus he’s just 21 and on loan from Rotherham United.
For Farsley I’m less impressed with the quality but more the endeavour of Carlton Ubeazuono who puts a shift in from a left sided midfield position.
Frank Mulhern starts off up front, ends up right wing, I get the feeling you ask him to do a job anywhere on the field he’ll do it. A real warrior who’s been around a bit, but shows his worth to teams at this level through sheer grit and determination.
Buxton are safe. They can’t seriously trouble the playoff places? Can they? More realistically, if they keep doing what they’re doing and hold on to the majority of their squad (and manager) over the summer, they’ll be a real force in the division next season.
Farsley are worrying and more ominous is what division they’ll be in next season. Form hasn’t been too bad and when I asked, their Media guy stated “I think we’ll be alright” but the league position doesn’t lie and I wonder if they can score enough to stay up. Telford aside there’s not a bad team in the National North. Bradford and Blyth may succumb but that last place to drop could be one of five or six and looking from Southport below, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the sides in the mix, would be the ones to fall?
Buxton: Theo Richardson, Connor Brown, Max Conway, Josh Granite, Jake Hull, Conor Kirby, Tom Elliott, Jak McCourt, Warren Clarke (Sam Osbourne 26), Brad Jackson (Shaun Brisley 81), Joe Ackroyd (Diego De Girolamo 60).
Farsley Celtic: Max Dearnley, Lewis Turner, Lewis Butroid, Bobby Johnson, Andy Butler, Andy Clayton, Tom Allan (Theo Williams 46), Chris Atkinson (Danny Devine 64), Carlton Ubaezuono (Luke Parkin 72), Frank Mulhern, KIan Scales.
3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 18th March 2023, Silverlands, Buxton (att 663).