By Lee Morris

Golcar United take on Huddersfield rivals Emley AFC on Friday (April 21) in the semi-final of the NCEL League Cup in what is arguably the biggest game the Skye Direct Stadium has ever hosted.

A bumper crowd of over 1,000 is expected for a match which is the culmination of over four years’ hard work at the club.

Since Golcar took the decision to turn semi-professional in 2019, the journey has been unbelievable. The club has been transformed and is now holding their own at Step 5 in the football pyramid.

There’s been continued improvement season on season under managers Ash and Gav Connor, who have been in charge since 2014. Their final two seasons in the West Riding County Amateur League saw two league and cup doubles before they made the step up into the North West Counties Division One for the 2019-20 season.

Even that season now seems like a lifetime ago, with the ground completely unrecognisable from those early NWCFL days. It was in that first season that the club achieved their then record attendance of 556, which was remarkable at the time as the ground boasted just one small stand and very little else!

Ash and Gav Connor with last year’s play-off trophy. Pic by: SEAN DOYLE

While some clubs were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic from March 2020 onwards, Golcar probably benefitted from it in a strange way as it gave them a chance to improve the facilities at the Skye Direct Stadium. The club’s problem pitch was relaid and improved, the clubhouse was extended, a new toilet block was installed and an impressive 100-seater stand (above) was constructed.

By the time the league resumed in September 2020, the ground was one of the best in the league for facilities. The crowds also improved, with a maximum capacity of 300 due to the restrictions, the first few games of the abandoned 2020-21 season were all sell-outs, including their first ever FA Vase tie against Northwich Victoria.

With restrictions lifted and the country returning to some sort of normality, the 2021-22 season began with another record-breaking attendance against Huddersfield Town in July 2021.

Then, as the season progressed, Golcar topped the division for much of the campaign and until the final months of the season pushed eventual champions Bury AFC all the way.

The record attendance was smashed twice during the league season, with 645 against Holker Old Boys in January 2022 and then 1,204 against Bury AFC on the final match of the season, where Bury were limited to 300 tickets.

The 2021-22 season ended in promotion, with a 2-1 win over Holker Old Boys in the play-off final. Over 300 Golcar supporters made the long journey to Cumbria to support their team. That success was unbelievable when you consider it was Golcar’s first full season as a semi-professional club.

This current season has been a fantastic achievement for the club, they’ve finished 9th in the NCEL Premier, their highest ever placing as a club, and are now in a League Cup semi-final.

The place has been bouncing this season, especially in the second half of the campaign where the club lost just two matches in their last 12. There’s been a lot to cheer and the support has been rising.

There is a real connection between the club and the community of Golcar and that is extended to the supporters on the terraces, where there is a real loyalty between the players and the fans.

The Skye Direct Stadium has been a real fortress at times over the last few years, with the roars of the crowd heard all over the Colne Valley.

The club are currently 217th in the top non-league attendances list, which is fantastic for a village club in Huddersfield. The average attendance is 331, with 672 as the highest attendance this season.

Golcar United v Emley AFC. Pic by: SEAN DOYLE

This brings us onto Friday’s match. It’s a massive game for both clubs, but particularly Golcar as it would be a fabulous achievement to reach the final of a major competition in their first season at Step 5. To finish in the top half of the table is already a massive success – but an appearance in the final would make that even bigger.

The club are encouraging all football supporters in the Huddersfield area to come up to Golcar on Friday and watch two Huddersfield sides battling it out for a place in the final.

Both Golcar and Emley are two well-supported teams and fans will be in fine voice on the night, but the club would like to welcome neutrals to the game as this is a game that isn’t to be missed.

While the game is pay on the day, over 500 advance tickets have already been sold and with many more people paying on the night, perhaps the club’s record attendance of 1,204 is under threat?

One thing is for certain, the non-league football scene has grown tenfold over the last few years, with many supporters of Football League clubs disillusioned with a game that they no longer recognise. Also, non-league football is affordable, personal and enjoyable, it is real.

This is why the popularity is growing season by season, as more football fans grow sick and tired of watching professional football, with constant cheating, timewasting, astronomical admission charges and a game that is no longer enjoyable to watch.

So while only one team can ultimately win the match and progress to the final, the town of Huddersfield is the real winner here as it has two bustling non-league sides that are enjoying lots of success and bringing no amount of enjoyment to a large group of disenfranchised football supporters.

While the game will decide who plays in the final of the League Cup, no matter who wins, the match will be a celebration of non-league football in Huddersfield.

Golcar United play Emley AFC at the Skye Direct Stadium on Friday (April 21) at 7.45