AFC Emley held high-flying Hallam to a 2-2 draw in an entertaining game as I made my first ever visit to the Welfare Ground.
Two of the most famous clubs in the Northern Counties East League went head to head on Wednesday evening.
AFC Emley’s roots go back to the original Emley FC, who were formed in 1903. They are probably best known for their 1997/98 season when they knocked out both Morecambe and Lincoln City to reach the FA Cup 3rd round, before losing just 2-1 to West Ham United of the Premier League courtesy of goals scored by Frank Lampard and John Hartson!
Emley also finished runners-up in the Northern Premier League back in 2001, but have dropped since a move to Wakefield and name changes to ‘Wakefield-Emley’, and later Wakefield FC; the club eventually returning home and reforming as AFC Emley in 2005 – now playing at step 10 of the football pyramid.
The opponents for my first ever visit to Emley’s home, my 77th ground for a game in total, was Hallam. Hailing from Sheffield, they are the second oldest football club in the world, behind only their near neighbours Sheffield FC, and play on the world’s oldest football ground at Sandygate.
Under the management of Ryan Hindley, Hallam are once again bidding to return to the NCEL Premier Division for the first time since 2011, having lost out in last season’s play-off semi-finals.
And five victories from their opening eight league games had seen Hallam make an excellent start to the campaign. However, following a last-gasp 4-3 defeat at Knaresborough Town at the weekend, they once again had their work cut out against an Emley side who had won four of their last five outings.
A torrential downpour greeted the players to the pitch for the 7:45pm kick off but the first half, witnessed by 175 paying spectators, was an entertaining and action-packed affair.
It took 17 minutes for the deadlock to be broken and it was the hosts who claimed the early advantage – Alex Slack firing a low, driven strike into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
Hallam quickly went in search of a leveller and found it a minute shy of the half hour, courtesy of a superb effort into the top corner from Joel Purkiss.
However, parity lasted only four minutes before Ashley Flynn, a man who made headlines for finding the net a remarkably ridiculous 73 times last season, restored Emley’s lead in the 33rd minute.
Yet just as the hosts thought they would head in at the interval with a lead, Tom Roebuck levelled the game once more on the stroke of half time with a low shot into the near corner.
After a goal-filled first half, many onlookers may have expected plenty more in the second period. This wasn’t the case, however, as the two sides began to cancel each other out as each looked for that vital third goal.
The match was nearly brought to an early conclusion when a floodlight suddenly went out near the corner flag with around an hour gone. But after consulting the two sets of players and managers, it was agreed that the venue was still bright enough for the game to be continued.
Hallam then almost took the lead in bizarre fashion as an Emley defender looked to have lobbed the ball over his own goalkeeper, but fortunately for the home supporters he managed to tip the ball out for a corner.
The best chance of victory then fell to the hosts in the dying moments as the visitors’ goalkeeper parried a corner into the path of an attack, only for the Emley man to somehow nod the ball over the crossbar from close range.
But as the referee’s full time whistle echoed around the ground, the scoreline remained 2-2 and few could argue that a point a piece was probably a fair outcome to this NCEL First Division battle.
AFC Emley 2–2 Hallam
Alex Slack ’17, Joel Purkiss ’29, Ashley Flynn ’33, Tom Roebuck ’45
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