Northern League Hop – Monday April 21st 2014 (558-560)

April 23, 2014
"in a part of the country where wearing more than a T-shirt in Winter is considered overdressing, the toilet arrangements at Heritage Park are deemed as state-of-the-art...'

“In a part of the country where wearing more than a T-shirt in winter is considered overdressing, the toilet arrangements at Heritage Park are deemed to be state-of-the-art…’

Just as beer festivals are a valuable resource for the die-hard beer-ticker, so I suppose ‘hops’ are to football ground ‘collectors’ like me. Although I’ve yet to sign up for the full Groundhop UK experience – I have registered my interest for the proposed Irish trip so you never know – I have found their schedules very useful and cost-effective for adding a few new stadia to my ‘visited’ list.

The 2014 Northern League Easter Hop, staged over several days, caught my eye, though a number of other commitments narrowed my vision to just the one day, the Bank Holiday Monday trio of games in County Durham.

And so it comes to pass that I motor up the M1 and A1(M) – pausing only to deposit my son at his friend’s house in Sheffield – and turn up at Bishop Auckland’s Heritage Park ground at 11 in the morning. This is a stadium I am familiar with, having watched numerous match videos filmed there on the Darlington website, Darlo being current lodgers at the ground. This is the first match of the day, and features two teams whose names I grew up with as I read my hand-me-down Charles Buchan football annuals in the early 1960s.

Bishop Auckland and Crook Town were always prominent in the days of the old FA Amateur Cup and were known nationally to the extent that I had the former as one of my favourite Subbuteo teams, although the eye-catching light & dark blue kit might also have contributed to that. Big five-figure crowds once watched these two giants of the non-league game slug it out, although I suspect there would be slightly less-ambitious expectations of the number today, albeit with the bonus of attendant groundhoppers.

Despite the prospect of early arrivals, staff in the clubhouse are a bit slow on the ball, as the bar remains stubbornly shut until around 40 minutes from the kick-off, while the hot food arrives in dribs and drabs, although efficiently served by the young girl faced with a rapid build-up of customers. The chips & curry sauce hits the spot – there’s vegetable soup on offer too – and although I spot a Black Sheep keg dispenser on the bar, decide to opt for a quick half of the Dortmunder Union Vier pils, which I presume is a German import.

Heritage Park itself is only a few years old, and is located to the south of the town centre. It boasts a level (as opposed to undulating) pitch, surrounded by flat standing apart from a covered step terrace behind one goal, a tall main stand straddling the halfway line, and the advantage of a grassy bank on the side opposite, although I suspect this might be a no-go area for most of the winter.

Today’s game is between two mid-table outfits who slug it out for the first 25 error-strewn minutes on a hard bouncing pitch, but once the home side nose in front there’s no stopping them. They’re four up by half time and begin the second half in similar style, scoring goals regularly until seemingly deciding on 70 that enough is enough, and eight will suffice. During that time Crook Town have the temerity to pull one back! Still, 9 goals in 45 minutes seems good value to me. I do however feel sorry for the young lad in the Town goal who, apart from a howler for the fourth, is just let down by inexperience and an invisible defence.

So it’s back in the car and a 15-minute journey to the next port-of-call, the historic Brewery Field ground of Champions-elect Spennymoor Town, who may step up to the Northern Premier next season, a promotion prospect many of their compatriots in this parochial, FA Vase-obsessed league seem to shun. The club website recommends parking in the town centre, which I do, but on reflection there looks to be a lot of un-restricted street parking in the vicinity of the stadium.

Whereas the Heritage Park pitch is flat, this one is the polar opposite, with a pronounced end-to-end slope, and lots of hills and hollows. It’s a nice stadium nonetheless, with an impressive covered terrace running the width of the pitch behind one goal, raised uncovered terracing elsewhere, and a substantial main stand down one side. I briefly check out the clubhouse bar and then the food van, but there is nothing really to excite.

There’s something at stake for both sides today, with the home team needing points to maintain pole position at the top of the table, while visitors Team Northumbria look for a boost in their relegation survival battle. The latter are out of luck as early as the 13th minute as a clearance is charged down by a Spenny striker and balloons over the head of the keeper and into the net. There’s more drama as a stray ball poleaxes a spectator, with the Spenny physio the first to come to his aid. Chances at both ends are spurned but Town seem to have it sealed on 53 from a long-range free kick, and underline that with a third on 81. Cue a spirited revival from Northumbria who pull one back before a frantic finale in which a Spenny penalty adds gloss to the scoreline.

Now for another short drive to Newton Aycliffe, and the last of the three games for the day. Moore Lane is the least developed of the grounds, boasting only two kit stands – one seated – with the rest flat standing. Access is past a social club and round the cricket pitch (a la Feethams) with the complex boasting mainly pre-fab buildings which serve as offices, changing rooms and a snackery, which at least sells chips. The home team are on a run of eight successive defeats with only one win in 2014, but faced with title-chasing visitors Shildon are more than up for the fight and take a deserved lead within 5 minutes. Despite Shildon coming more into the game as the match wears on, and the home goal starting to lead a charmed life, it takes a penalty to add parity to the scoreline, with the 1-1 result probably being the right outcome.

A quick look at the crowds on ‘Groundhop Day’. There’s 434 at Bishops (average 233), 627 at Spenny (413) and at N.A. I’m guessing – as I didn’t hear anything announced – about 250 (115) so with a couple of hundred or so hoppers on the loose, it can only be a good thing for the coffers of the host clubs. Staggering kick-off times might not necessarily be popular with regular supporters and the players, but as we all know, in this game money talks. However, even a groundhopper boost would’t be likely to threaten the record crowd for a match between two Northern League teams, which according to the Bishop Auckland programme stands at 100,000! Mind you, it WAS a cup final and it WAS at Wembley. Heady days.

Programmes: BA – £1.25. Good reading but lots of adverts 5/10.  ST – £1.00. Very similar, although better design. 6/10. NA – £1.50. Slimmer but light on adverts. Good on the eye but strangely lacking a fixtures list and league table. 6/10

Floodlight pylons: BA – 4, ST – 4, NA – 6


Walsall Wood – Tuesday April 15th 2014 (557)

April 17, 2014
'Concerned that the speed of the game might pose a Health & Safety risk to the players, the club management decide to act quickly before someone gets hurt....'

‘Concerned that the speed of the game might pose a Health & Safety risk to the players, the club management decide to act quickly before someone gets hurt….’

I’ve always liked school holidays, as much now as when I was a kid. The main attraction then was the freedom to go out and ride bikes, climb trees, track down bird nests, fill in my train number book, or go scrumping for ‘guzzgogs’ and such like. The advantage now that I have kids of my own is that I don’t have to get up at some god-forsaken hour to put their school lunch pack-ups together. Bliss.

Mind you, there’s another battle under way to stop my teenage son from spending the whole two weeks blasting away at virtual aliens and the other creatures that infest his X-Box device. No matter how hard he tries, he just doesn’t seem to be able to destroy them all. Like many father-son relationships which span the generations, there’s a limit to the amount of shared interests we have, so I’m thankful for sport, and football in particular, as if there’s one thing that will drag him away from his gaming, it’s the promise of watching a game of footy, even better if there’s a Wetherspoons All-Day Brunch (no eggs, extra chips) thrown in. That last bit is for tomorrow, when we’re walking into Long Eaton to see United take on Knareborough Town in the Northern Counties East League Cup Semi-Final, but for today it’s a shortish car journey to one of those grounds where public transport is not so handy.

After enjoying an absorbing performance from Norway’s prog-rock maestros Gazpacho at the Assembly (nice venue) in Leamington Spa last night, I’m out for the second evening on the trot, this time with my 15-year old son riding shotgun. It’s a while since he came to what we call a ‘little game’ with me, and long-standing readers of my blog will recall his usual penchant for positioning himself behind the goal in order that he might scurry after each errant shot and return the match ball back into play. Sadly he’s now reached the ‘can’t be arsed doing that’ age and at 6 foot 1 inch he doesn’t do scurrying any more.

Walsall Wood’s Oak Park ground is tucked away behind a leisure centre not far from the A5 on the north-east outskirts of Walsall. There’s parking behind the goal in the ground, but it could be safer to park in the leisure centre car park, judging by the number of wayward shots bouncing off car bonnets during the match. The bad news on entry is that there are no programmes tonight, which stops me in my tracks. The gateman states an illness at the printers as being the reason. As an avid collector this means I may well have to come here again! The fact we have both come out for a night’s entertainment and can enter the ground for a joint fee of a fiver swings it and we wander down towards the clubhouse. A club official is running off team-sheets but as these are hand-written on a piece of lined paper, it still doesn’t compensate for no programme. Issues from past matches hang tantalisingly from above the servery, taunting me mercilessly.

Despite there being a handpump on view, there’s no interesting beer on offer in the cosy clubhouse, but the separate snack bar room does offer some comfort to the veggie in that there’s a bowl of cheese and onion cobs which are competitively priced at a pound, even if they are not using the freshest bread in the world. The lad goes for the chips. The ground itself benefits from a very nice part-wooden stand, which apparently dates from the 1930s, and those fans that don’t gather in front of the clubhouse opposite tend to gravitate towards this structure, as we ourselves do. It’s out of the wind, affords a decent view of the game, and is close to the dugouts where the visiting Gornal Athletic coaches are entertainment itself with their broad Black Country accents and impassioned pleas to the match officials.

The game itself is not exactly a classic of high quality football but makes up for that with a high level of competitiveness. The home side are mid-table in the Midland Alliance with not a lot to play for, whereas visiting Gornal are perilously close to the two relegation positions and need points towards their survival bid. Walsall Wood are marginally the better side in a fairly tedious first half, but after the break it’s a much more even, end-to-end contest decided when Gornal go in front from a header after a free kick on 60 minutes. Both sides have chances to make an impression on the scoreline before the end, but the glee on the visiting faces at the final whistle is plain for all to see.

And so we travel home to resume the school holidays. For me that’s the Long Eaton game on Wednesday, down to London on Thursday for the We Will Rock You show, returning to the Smoke on Saturday for Chelsea v Sunderland (which now that’s being moved back to the Saturday from Sunday has scuppered my pre-booked train ticket to Norfolk for the Dereham Town game) and then up to the North East for Monday’s leg of the Northern League Hop …. oh and then down to Devon on the following Thursday to do some beer judging. After all that running around I think it’s ME that needs a holiday!

Programme: Don’t ask

Floodlight pylons: 8

Birdlife: Not much

Toilets: In the clubhouse near the snack bar.

Club Shop: badges and scarves available (I presume from the bar)

Music the players come out to: None

Kop choir: No

Away fans: None evident

What’s in a name: Is Gornal’s Josh Skidmore the master of the Slide Tackle? Both linesman are apparently called Rowley. But if they ARE related, they’re about as alike as Schwarzenegger and De Vito in the film Twins!

15.4.89 – 3.07

April 15, 2014

25 years ago today, four of us travelled by car to a football match and chatted all the way there. On the way back none of us could say a word.

We were fortunate, because a lot of other people didn’t get back that day.

After 25 years of the facts being suppressed, is it too much to expect that the true extent of the cover-up – to the very highest level – will finally be exposed? Or will the ‘network’ continue to protect the culpable and shield the public from the truth?

Call me cynical but…..

Chatham Town – Saturday April 12th 2014 (556)

April 15, 2014
"in actual fact Box F is the desirable one, it's the box behind you wouldn't want to be allocated..."

“In actual fact Box F is classed as ‘desirable’ - it’s the one behind it that’s usually reserved for the stroppy visiting director…”

As followers of my blog will know, collecting stuff has been a habit of mine for much of the past 60 years. Whether that be physical objects such as insects, butterflies, birds eggs, Tri-ang locos, Action Men or Subbuteo teams through my primary school days, or else virtual things such as car, bus, train and plane numbers as I was growing up, there was always something there for me to ‘tick’. That collecting bug got marginally more sophisticated into my working years as I started drinking my way through the pubs in the 1977 Leicestershire Beer Guide (yep, did all 1,000 of ‘em, at least a half in each) and then brew-pubs in the Good Beer Guide as they started to spring up in the early 1980s, doubtless inspired by the success of the Firkin chain, Dogbolter et al.

Such was the nature of the beast, the brew-pub trips took a gang of us to all parts of the country, invariably in a camper van we’d hire from some unsuspecting operator, on the pretext we were a Venture Scouts group or something equally plausible, as we suspected that the true purpose of our visit being to go out on the lash might deter them from handing us the keys. A particular favourite destination was always the tip of Cornwall and the Blue Anchor at Helston, after which we’d camp nearby for the night, sleep it off, and work our way back home over the next few days taking in every other brew-pub we knew about along on the way.

During one particular trip to Sussex and Kent, we decided to book ourselves into a hotel for a change, there being a suitable candidate in a Medway town called Strood. There was method in our madness, because in those days opening hours were still tightly controlled and the only way round 10.30pm closing was to become a ‘resident’. As a result, and to the probable chagrin of the bar staff, we enjoyed the beer that this hotel brewed on the premises – for that was the main purpose of the visit –  to the very early hours of the morning. Sore heads all round.

To be honest I’d forgotten the name of the hotel until a chance conversation in a pub during my Kent trip today, a day which started out as per all my recent London-based ventures with the 5.29am ‘Megabus’ train out of my native Long Eaton and into St. Pancras – the things I’ll do for a £15 return ticket! After my usual cross-London walk – making sure to avoid the dodgy paving slabs after hitting the deck a couple of times in recent weeks – I settle into my recently-adopted London office, this being the ‘Lord Moon of the Mall’ Wetherspoons pub on Whitehall, which never really gets busy until later in the morning. I can enjoy a good veggie breakfast, a couple of cups of filter coffee, and my first pint of the day in relative piece and quiet before setting off elsewhere.

That elsewhere today is Chatham Town, one of those grounds that’s been on my ‘reserve’ radar for years but has now reached the top. The train journey today has to end at Strood – hence my earlier reminiscences – as there is a replacement bus service across the River Medway bridge and into Rochester, adjacent to Chatham but where all the best local pubs are. And most of these are outside of the town centre, and the first of them is the Man Of Kent. Undeterred by the ‘Closed’ sign hanging on the door – they must have spotted me coming down the road – I enter a classic drinkers pub devoted to the county’s brewing art. All of the ten beers on handpump are from Kentish brewers, and the landlady talks me through the pump policy of achieving a balanced offering of the different styles of beers, a lesson many other self-proclaimed ‘specialist real ale pubs’ could learn from.

I go for a Goachers Best Dark (in a jug, as I’m offered the choice) and would stay for longer if I wasn’t a man on a mission. There’s a handful of knowledgable punters present and we discuss the merits of several Belgian brews before I ask the question about the former home-brew hotel in Strood. ‘It was the South Eastern’ recalls one of my new companions, and a question that has been nagging me for the last few days is answered. My next port of call is just around the corner, and is called the Good Intent. There’s a large bar with a pool table and five bar stools, each occupied by one of the only five people in the pub, and obviously locals, judging by their familiarity with the bar staff. The beer here is served straight from the cask, and there are four  on offer, although none of them ‘Locale’. The Bespoke Brewing ‘Going Off Half Cocked’ is a palatable enough brew, and is fuel for the uphill journey to my next pub, the ‘Who’d Ha Thought It’ which is tucked up a side street off the main road.

It’s a splendid building with a distinctive frontage proclaiming its former life as a Woodhams & Co Ltd brewery house. This Rochester brewery was taken over in 1918 and subsequently ceased operations, but the landlady – who spots me taking notes and engages me in conversation – says the brewhouse building survived until recent times (on Victoria Street in the town, you can certainly identify it on Google StreetView). There are four beers at this friendly beer house where I enjoy a pint of Old Dairy Spring Top while chatting to her about football, as she’s a Southampton fan. On discovering I follow Forest she offers to switch on the TV game (Forest at QPR) but despite my protestations that this would amount to cruelty, given my team’s current form, I’m overruled by another customer, and we have to endure it!

From here it’s a good half hour walk through undulating urban terrain and although I have to break the journey to spend a penny at the General At Sea, a Shepherd Neame cask ale house on Balfour Road, I arrive at the Maidstone Road ground of Chatham Town in good time for kick-off. I’m impressed by what I find, with facilities clearly capable of sustaining a club at a higher level. There’s a large admin and changing rooms complex behind one goal, in front of which is covered terracing complete with crush barriers. Down most of the length of one side is a covered stand featuring wooden bench seating, while opposite there is a smaller covered stand with plastic bucket seating. Only the area behind one goal is undeveloped, and even that features a couple of concrete terracing steps. I have a quick peak into the busy clubhouse and although there is no cask beer, I espy bottles of Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay ale in the fridge. Snack bar fayre is the routine stuff with chips on offer.

As much praise as I pour on the stadium, sadly I can’t bestow on the pitch, which looks in need of a good close shave. I’m well aware you won’t find too many snooker table surfaces this time of year, but this looks likely to provide plenty of uneven bounce today. And to be honest it’s not really a great game between Chatham and their mid-table colleagues from Maldon & Tiptree, with most of the interest centred around the numerous dodgy challenges which make it a niggly match, and lead to two penalties, both awarded to Chatham with only the second of the two converted – by the excellent Matt Solly – on 53 minutes. No amount of huffing and puffing from either side threatens to affect the scoreline and 1-0 it stays to the death.

And so I set off back down the hill into Rochester and a walk across the bridge into Strood. Now where’s that South Eastern Hotel? I could do with a late night session…..

Programme: £2 on entry. Nice chunky design and glossy cover although the layout is a bit unambitious. The captain looks a fun sort of guy, so I’m not sure why his column is so bland. Come on Austin, give us a bit of dressing room banter! 6/10

Floodlight pylons: 8

Birdlife: Lots of gulls plus the ubiquitous wood pigeon

Club shop: Good question, did I see one….?

Toilets: Access from the terracing in front of the admin block

Music the players run out to: Nothing today, possibly due to the Hillsborough anniversary

Kop choir: No

Away fans: Not vocal

Squires Gate – Saturday April 5th 2014 (555)

April 8, 2014
'Having not had much joy with the two previous stands of straw and mud erected by Three Little Pigs building company, the club hope that the new bricks version will survive the Blackpool gales...'

‘Having not had much joy with the two previous stands of straw and then wood erected by the Three Little Pigs building company, the club hope that the new version made from bricks will survive the annual Blackpool gales…’

Aside from football and ale, one of the other great passions of my life has always been music. Brought up on a diet of the Shadows, then the Beatles and T. Rex, and having diversified through numerous musical genres – glam, punk, disco, mod, ska, new romantic, indie, Brit Pop – during the ensuing decades, one form of the art I’ve always gone back to is Prog Rock.

Not everybody’s cup of tea I know, but having been ‘into’ Pink Floyd, Genesis, Hawkwind, Yes, ELP and Led Zep during my early impressionable college and working years, it’s still the sound that I feel most comfortable with. Not that you hear a lot of it on the radio, or at football grounds come to think of it. So I get my kicks via my ipod, in the car driving to evening games after business meetings, or at the occasional Live gig. Now if only I could coincide one of the latter with a new football stadium….

Well I’m having a stab at that today, borrowing the wife’s motor for a sprint up the M6 to Squires Gate FC in Blackpool, before returning south and then West to Liverpool, and the O2 Academy to see a Polish band called Riverside, who I’m pretty sure most of you won’t have heard of. Like most prog-rockers they’re pretty well known all over Europe, but have only a cult status in the UK amongst us dwindling band of enthusiasts but hey, that means I’m not likely to get killed in the rush.

Situated just outside of Blackpool, virtually in Lytham St Annes and close to the airport, Squire’s Gate FC’s School Road Stadium is just a couple of hundred yards or so from the Mechanics Ground of fellow North West Counties Premier outfit AFC Blackpool. What’s even cosier is that there’s another football ground between the two, this being the (also) School Road home of West Lancashire League side Blackpool Wren Rovers, who also have a game today. In fact they appear to share some terracing cover with Squires Gate, just a fence partitioning the two grounds. Now if I had a stepladder – two games for the price of one!

I arrive around 2.00pm as do most of the players and a referee, who soon departs stage left as he realises he’s supposed to be in charge of the match next door. Squires Gate’s opponents today are promotion-chasing Norton United. I remember taking in their Community Drive ground back in 2006 when this Stoke-on-Trent based team were a mediocre mid-table side in the North West Counties second tier. Clearly some kind of forward momentum has arrived at a club which now threatens Runcorn Linnets’ position at the top of the table, and with games in hand look ideally placed to take the only promotion slot. A tweet on the Squires Gate Twitter account from a Linnets supporter implores the seaside club to ‘do us all a favour ‘ which, taking the home side’s recent poor form into account, seems fairly optimistic.

I have a walk around the ground which features a small covered seated stand which seems to be reserved for club officials behind one goal, while there is further covered seating down one side. On the opposite side, the one adjacent to the Blackpool Wren Rovers ground, there is a long section of narrow covered flat standing. I use the word ‘flat’ in its broadest sense, the surface appearing to be less ‘paved’ and more ‘crazy paved’, either by design or evolution, it’s not clear.

There is a reasonable sized clubhouse with an area set aside for a kids creche, which I presume is what it doubles as during the week (very similar to one I encountered at Chalfont St Peter a couple of months ago). There’s no beer of note and although there appears to be some trade in pies, it’s not readily obvious what’s on the menu and I feel disinclined to enquire.

From the early stages of the game it’s fairly clear that the home side will be up against it, and with the United No11 running riot down the left wing the visitors are two-up after barely 15 minutes. But just as I’m anticipating a cricket score, Squires Gate pull one back and that’s the way it stays. For much of the ensuing 70 minutes it’s a messy affair with Norton looking the most likely to score without ever achieving it. It’s a bad tempered contest with both sides giving Football League referee Paul Kettlewell plenty of grief, most of it unjustified.

And so it comes to pass that the favour requested by Runcorn fans is unfulfilled and the Linnets aren’t singing today. Not music to their ears, but it’s a different kind of music I’m thinking of as I head down the M62 for a pre-gig pint in the Ship & Mitre and then a date with Riverside.

Programme: £1 on the gate. 24 pages of which 16 are advertising. Allow 2 more pages for the cover and team sheet and you can work out the amount of actual reading matter. 2/10

Floodlight pylons: 6

Birdlife: Being so close to the coast, I think you can guess the dominant species

Toilets: Inside the clubhouse

Club Shop: No

Music the players run out to: None

Kop choir: No

Away support: I’d guess around half of the 42 people recorded as passing through the turnstile.

What’s in a name? Bet Squires’ Matthew Swash never gets called ‘Joe’! If Charles Dickens was still alive and writing books today, would he find space for characters like Squires’ Joe Noblet and United’s Thomas Winkle? and doesn’t Tom Fogg’s value to the Norton team seem to be shrouded in mist…?

Barnoldswick Town – Tuesday April 1st 2014 (554)

April 3, 2014
'With so many punters wanting to become officials of the club, it became increasingly obvious they'd have to draw the line somewhere....'

‘With so many punters wanting to become officials of the club, it became increasingly obvious they’d have to draw the line somewhere….’

I’ve just bought a new car. I thought it was a bit of a bargain, being just five months old, had most of the whistles and bells I was looking for, was half the price when new, one lady owner. In fact, almost perfect except for one thing… the colour – it’s white!

A very popular colour these days, the salesman assured me. Mmm. I’ve only ever had one white car before, a 1987 MG Metro, bought from new. Now that looked sporty. My new one looks … well ….. safe!

To be fair I WAS looking for a spacious, reliable, economical family car able to accommodate my getting-taller-by-the-minute teenage son. And this one ticks nearly all of the boxes. But white though….. That’s like a rag to a bull for a Forest fan like me!

Of course colour has always been important in the world of football. Look at the rumpus at Cardiff where the foreign owner has swapped the team’s prime colour from blue to red. Simple answer to that, Cardiff fans – don’t buy the replica red shirts. The chairman will soon get the message.

Midlands fans with long memories might well remember when Leicester City once spent a season in white. It was around the Jimmy Bloomfield era in the 1970s and the thinking was that it made them look like Real Madrid and Leeds United, the dominant English team of that decade. Sadly no top division titles were won by Leicester in white. Curiously, none in blue either!

I have a chance to give my new (white) car a good run out today with a couple of business trips either side of the Pennines, leaving me ideally placed at the end of the day to visit one of those grounds that would be a pain to get to via public transport. I arrive in the Lancashire town of Barnoldswick at tea time and after locating the ground, which nestles on the edge of a large public park, I dump the (white) car and head into town for some Chinese curry sauce (a personal favourite) and chips followed by a swift half at the Fountain. It’s a comfortable enough lounge bar local with a separate dining area, and although the beer range is not exactly mind-boggling, the Tetleys Cask Bitter is in good enough nick.

Back at the ground, the gateman has gone missing but I spot him walking round with a bunch of programmes, and I volunteer my entry cash. The pitch looks quite heavy, with boggy patches near the touchline, but the turnstile man confirms that the game is on, despite the previous night’s heavy rain. That’s a relief to me as the possibility of a postponement hadn’t entered my head.

The Silentnights Stadium is quite a tidy ground, and a neat sponsored wooden fence encloses the playing surface, with an elevated standing area at one end, uncovered flat standing all round except for a covered terrace down one side, and three small covered seated stands behind the same goal as the clubhouse bar, the latter sadly devoid of any interesting beers.

Both the home team, Barnoldswick Town, and the visitors, the snappily-monikered West Didsbury & Chorlton FC, are toiling away in mid-table as the season draws to a close, with nothing other than prestige to play for, but credit to the players of both sides who manage to put on a really entertaining show for the sparse crowd, particularly in a second half that produces five goals.

In a really physical and strong-running encounter blessed with quick and nimble strikers, it’s pretty even-steven at one apiece until Town score three times in a fifteen minute second half spell. Further goals for either side near the end leaves a final score line of 5-2, with the yellow and blue clad players of Barnoldswick by far the happier bunch.

Pity then the lads from WD & C, splendidly clad in… err … white. Nothing against them personally, but probably the only time I welcome the sight of the ‘white’ colour is when it’s on the players of a well-beaten football team, geographically close to me!

Programme: I got mine from a man walking around, but usually available on the gate. There appeared to be a shortage at one stage, but later in the game a lady was wandering around with a handful. A colour copier affair with statistics interspersed with advertising pages. 4/10

Floodlight pylons: 6

Birdlife: Songbirds singing at dusk but nothing out of the ordinary

Toilets: In the bar

Club shop: No

Music the players run out to: None

Kop choir: No

Away fans: Didn’t see many

Anstey Nomads – Saturday March 29th 2014 (553)

March 31, 2014
'The local pervert is suspected as once again - despite increased security - the players' jockstraps disappear from the club washing line...'

‘The local pervert is suspected as once again – despite increased security – the players’ jockstraps disappear from the club washing line…’

You know those “I remember where I was when so-and-so died” occasions? For most people it’s probably JFK or John Lennon, but for me it’s the actor Steve McQueen. Not especially because I was a big fan of his, but mainly due to a long-running disagreement with a friend of mine who was with me on that fateful day, about which pub we were in when we saw the sad news splashed across the front page of The Sun. I recall it was the Anchor Inn in the Leicestershire village of Kegworth, but he maintains it was another boozer just down the road. Either way, I know ‘roughly’ where I was on the day Steve McQueen passed away.

I mention this because they’ve just celebrated the 70th anniversary of the actual Great Escape, the Hollywood blockbuster version of which starred – amongst many other A-Listers – the aforementioned Mr McQueen. By way of commemoration, fans of perennial strugglers Notts Country (sic) have been using Great Escape imagery to good effect as they strive for League 1 survival with a late season’s rally. Oh that my village team could emulate that surge.

As you may know from previous posts in my blog, I spent some of my formulative football years in the Leicestershire village of Barrow Upon Soar where the local team, then called Barrow Old Boys, were creating waves in the Leicestershire Senior League. Local chaps to a man, they would be known to generously patronise the village hostelries before turning out to steamroller the opposition.

In subsequent years, having been forced to move out of town to comply with league rules and now known as Barrow Town, they have moved up the ladder to a point where last season they fell just one place short of being promoted to the Step 5 Midland Alliance. As usually happens, the manager departed for (higher) pastures new, taking the best players with him, and leaving a club now rock bottom of the division. With just a handful of games left, they must beat second-bottom Anstey Nomads today to have any chance of survival. So is the Great Escape really on?

Having sat with him to endure an excruciatingly bad performance by the once-mighty Reds against Charlton in midweek, I think it only fair to prolong my pal Nick’s agony for a few more days by transporting him to this veritable feast of anti-football, softening the agony by nipping into the Navigation Inn at Barrow for a beer, and then on to the Great Central Railway at Rothley (where it’s Deltic Day!) en route.

Then we arrive at my new ground 523 in good time for kickoff. Actually, it should probably have been new ground 50 or so if I had ever recorded any of my numerous previous visits to this stadium. As I ran a pub in nearby Leicester for a number of years, this was a ground I came to if ever there was a spare evening to fill. But today is my first official (ie buy a programme) visit.

The Davidsons Homes Park sits near the edge of the village on the road to Cropston. Spectator accommodation is primarily a few rows of seating tacked onto the front of the clubhouse, with an area of covered flat standing opposite. Modest, but in fairness comparable to the facilities at Barrow’s Riverside Park. The clubhouse itself is comfortable enough, although it doesn’t offer any cheer to the real ale or British bottled beer drinker. There is a food hatch outside but it’s mainstream burger fayre although chips are on the menu.

Because of his links in local sport, Nick inevitably bumps into a few people he knows, and quickly spots that Barrow have wheeled out veteran striker Rob Pitman for the occasion, as they chase down a four-point deficit with just four games to play. That’s a tall order for a team that has only won 3 games all season, and taken just 2 points away from home. Nomads, one place off the bottom spot occupied by the visitors, have much the better of the first half and go in two-up. It looks ominous for Barrow, but they show up for the second half and after Pitman blasts them back into the game with a thumping free kick, they have opportunities to take the spoils.

It’s not to be,  their season-long failings in front of goal dogging them to the last, and the Great Escape looks doomed. Steve McQueen must be turning in his grave.

Programme: £1 on the gate. Informative without being absorbing. Lack of information about the visitors aside from the usual ‘Barrow Town History’ I know off by heart having read it a fair few times now. 4/10

Floodlight pylons: 6

Birdlife: Much to Nick’s dismay, no parakeet activity whatsoever!

Toilets: Inside the clubhouse

Club Shop: Nope

Music the players run out to: Zero

Kop choir: No

Away fans: Apart from yours truly and Nick, a few others scattered around the ground.


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