A couple of weeks back, I was scouring the various League sites looking for a convenient new ground not far from home where I could settle after a long day driving round central England. NPL newcomers Rainworth looked the ideal solution, but I noted it was a Presidents Cup game against Carlton Town. A competitive fixture – a key ‘new ground’ criteria for me – but nevertheless surely meaningless for the part-time players being asked to don their boots on a Tuesday night when they could be down the pub, or with their feet up watching Arsenal Reserves play Spurs on the box in the ‘Big Boys’ equivalent of the same competition.
As the day draws near I even begin to speculate as to whether there’ll actually be a programme produced for such a low-key event, apparently so insignificant that it doesn’t even feature on the fixture lists on either of the two club’s websites. Will any of the players turn up? Surely it’s akin to asking Las Vegas gamblers to take part in a village bingo session. Can the fans be arsed? Will it be played to a silent soundtrack. In fact, can even I be bothered…..
As I draw up outside the ground, the floodlights are on and car parking is at a premium. I pop my head into the actual Rainworth Miners Welfare club which is across the road. A huge place with Sky Sports TV but not a handpump in sight. Hardly surprising, I suppose, given that this is former mining country, and when that industry was in full flight, the tunnelers only wanted chilled keg beer. Or so the MD of Mansfield Brewery (RIP) once told my CAMRA branch before they finally caved in (not literally you understand) and started to produce the real stuff again. In fact their Mansfield 4X – later to be rechristened Old Baily – was one of my favourite real ales in the 1980s but it eventually disappeared when the brewery was gobbled up by Marstons.
The stadium itself is very prim and proper. There is a whitewashed ‘pavilion’ behind one goal, containing the changing rooms and a small cafe serving hot & cold drinks – non-alcoholic- along with Pukka pie & peas. Pukka are the finest pies money can buy, but sadly their excellent Potato, Cheese & Onion variant does not make it into the hot cabinet at Rainworth. I settle for a cheese & onion cob which is reasonable value at 70p.
There are three newish portakabins at right-angles to the pavilion, one of which is designated as the Managers office. He conducts his pre-match business with the likes of me peering through his window. Further down the side is the obligatory kit stand where only the middle section – dedicated to visiting supporters – is receiving any patronage. On the opposite side of the ground, behind the dugouts, is a long shallow covered area of flat standing with a low bench, which you’d be hard pushed to call either a terrace or a stand. The pitch is closely cropped and looks immaculate.
I’m amazed that, not only have 30 or so players and three officials turned up, but also 121 punters, many from visitors Carlton Town, included a chap with a trumpet which he has unfortunately not learned how to play. That club is now managed by Les McJannet who I watched in his playing days as a member of the mighty Darlo side that – under the guidance of Brian Little – burst forth from the Vauxhall Conference to attain the heady heights of the old Third Division before slipping back into relative obscurity once more. Les had a spell at Rainworth last season after Glapworth rewarded him for taking them to the verge of the play-offs by dispensing with his services. The lovers Loyalty and Football were divorced years ago.
There’s a lot of end-to-end stuff in the first half but it’s apparent that only the Rainworth keeper is being called into any meaningful action as he deals with a series of sharp chances. Carlton are currently third in the Northern Premier Division One South, whilst the home side have yet to push on following last seasons promotion from Northern Counties East, and current form prevails as the visitors take the lead early in the second half. Home manager Rudy Funk and his right hand man look a dapper pair with their seventies moustaches which start to bristle as Rainworth’s attempts to pass their way back into the game repeatedly founder on Town’s rock-solid defence. Two late goals add a further bit of gloss to the scoreline and Carlton are worthy winners.
So I go back to my original question. What has the Presidents Cup ever done for us? Well, I suppose it enticed more than 160 people out of the house for the night, put a few bob in the club’s pocket, shifted a few pies for Pukka, gave an incompetent trumpet player a bit more match practise … and provided me with another new ground tick… OK fair enough, but other than that…..
Programme: Yes, there was one. Photocopier quality with the usual facts and figures and not a lot else. £1 from the turnstile.
Floodlight Pylons: 6
Parakeets: A frenzy of moths dancing round the floodlights
Club Shop: A little selection of goodies adjacent to the snack bar
Tannoy Music: Hi-tempo clubland ditties
Toilets: Despite the signs pointing you behind the pavilion, use the ones in the cafe.
Player with the quirkiest name: Rainworth’s Julian ‘ The Exhibitionist’ Topliss and Carlton’s Lewis ‘Hedge’ Trimmer