Fortunately for Wetherby, Tony Holt’s dad owns his own taxi firm in Halifax and the team were able to use his minibus to take the team all the way to Barton-upon-Humber, just across the Hull docks. It was an hour-and-twenty minute drive and Mark was worried that his players’ legs might go stiff with the length of the journey and all the sitting down.
Arriving at Barton Town’s ground - Marsh Lane - the reality hit the players that today could be the day that they go to the top of the table. Mark was the first off the bus and he stood at the door listing the starting eleven for the game today. “Holt, Godden, Khan, Garfield, Jovanni, Jackman, Scholesy, Alfie, Craig, Karl, Jacobs - got it?
“Bench is Paley, Miller, Underdown, Fergie, Baldwin, Kian, Baker - sorted. Sorry if you’ve been left out, but you know how it is.”
The squad slapped Mark’s outstretched hand coming off the bus with their boots clinking on the tarmac. Mark’s dad, Harold was also here to watch the game, joined by the backroom staff of Kenny Chapman, Paul Green and Jon Hood.
After the warm-ups, it was time to head to the touchline as all 30 of the Wetherby travelling supporters stood behind the hip-height wall separating the stands from the grass turf. The coin toss landed in Barton’s favour and they elected to kick the game off at Marsh Lane for this top of the table clash, with Wetherby trailing two points behind Barton in the Northern Counties East League Premier Division.
Five minutes in, Wetherby had a good-looking opportunity from a free-kick that was easily within shooting distance for the designated taker Craig Herd. Mark had his hands on his hip, crouched down as Herd lined up. Aiming for the near post, it was up to Barton’s goalkeeper Cartwright to tip the ball around the post for the corner which he did, just about.
Shortly after that chance, Tom Godden got hold of the ball next to Mark’s dugout. Dragging himself out to the right wing, Henry Jacobs received the ball ahead of his marker. The striker hit a cross that went slightly too far, nevertheless, Karl Milne was able to control and turn to face the goal. Swinging a low cross across the face of goal, Craig Herd was there to bag an opener for Wetherby.
With a strong fist pump from Mark, Wetherby Athletic could now say that they topped the table, with today’s opponents falling into 2nd place.
It had barely been five minutes since Wetherby got dangerously into Barton’s half with Karl Milne receiving the ball from Shaqeel Khan. With Jackman taking control in the middle, Alfie Raw received it from the Wetherby veteran. Raw pinged a ball over to the right where Herd looked menacing after his first goal. He ran at Barton’s left-back with his first touch, turning him inside-out as he made his into the box, cutting inside on his weaker left foot. Herd launched a ripper at goal to double Wetherby’s lead to 2-0, much to the delight of the Wetherby players, coaches and fans that had all travelled from West Yorkshire to Humberside.
Deep down, Mark Milne knew that his side needed a third goal to seal their place at the top of the table. With some interplay inside Wetherby’s own half between the central midfield trio of Jackman, Scholes and Raw, a long ball was pumped up to Jacobs who had beaten Barton’s offside trap. A one-on-one opportunity was denied by Cartwright - who had performed well between the sticks despite conceding two. Herd whipped in a corner from the left side which was duly headed away by the tired Barton Town centre-back. Jackman began dribbling back into the box after retrieving possession before unleashing and unbelievable strike across goal, bagging Wetherby’s third goal.
As the captain wheeled away in delight and slight amazement that he had scored a rare goal, never mind a goal with so much technique, his teammates shared that moment by running over to him on at the edge of the box. Slapping his manager’s hand on his way past, Mark Milne told Jackman to make to ensure the players kept their heads as the team captain.
Wetherby went into half-time 3-0 up and comfortably so, with Barton Town not even achieving a single shot on target throughout the entire first 45 minutes. Mark’s half-time team talk didn’t need much substance after this, plainly asking for more of the same and if things get edgy with regards to conceding then to sit back a bit more to defend the precious three-goal lead.
Following a shot that had rebounded off the wall, Herd chased the ball down the right and got to the byline before delivering a perfect ball to Karl Milne. With the goal at his mercy, Karl somehow managed to put the shot wide. “For f*ck sake, Karl,” Mark whispered to himself, expecting to see his side go four goals up thanks to his younger brother.
From a Godden throw-in deep inside Wetherby’s half, Craig Herd had the ball with his back to goal. On his instep, Herd flew past the Barton left-back, who was getting sick of the sight of Herd speeding past him every time. Herd curved his dribbling towards goal before getting twelve yards out before firing a placed shot across goal. The ball hit the post before Barton’s centre-back Barkworth lumped the ball out, thankful to not have conceded.
As the game was drawing to a close, Mark had made three late changes, bringing Jovanni Sterling, Alfie Raw and Scott Scholes off all in the closing five minutes for Paddy Miller, Kian Smart and Adam Baker.
In the final minute of added time by the referee, Khan retrieved the ball from a slow and tired Barton attack. With the Barton right-back committing himself to the previous attack, Milne had all the space down the left wing to carry the ball down, with Jacobs and Jackman in support. As Milne got further down, a cross went to the back post to Craig Herd who headed the ball back to Henry Jacobs who was to get the fourth and final goal of the game.
Shepherding the team back on the minibus after the game, it was agreed that once back to Wetherby at about 8pm, the team would all be heading to The Corn Mill for a celebratory drink along with the staff members and whichever fans happened to be there at the time.
Wetherby Athletic had just taken their position at the top of the division.
I’ve got to say I’m very proud of the lads!
Jacobs is on fire, no doubt about that. We were indeed predicted a 15th placed finish at the end of this season, but as shown in Milne’s Verdict at the end of these three months, we’ve adjusted to our own expectations off the back of the first part of the season, in which we’ve done fantastically.