I’ve no idea who it was that first linked the phrase ‘the Beautiful Game’ to football but he got it mostly right. In truth I’ve seen some dreadful matches over the years, but also pouched some beautiful memories from the more classic encounters I’ve been privileged to witness, many of them in the city where I am today.
Dunkirk will be my first new ground in Nottingham for almost 35 years, having been dragged down to Meadow Lane by a keen but misguided school chum in 1970, and then stumbling upon the City Ground six years later on one of those what-shall-we-do-today moments of my youth. That chance encounter in late 1976, when we arrived late but really got our moneys-worth while watching Forest steamroller Sheffield United by six goals to one, still occupies storage space in my memory today, as do other games in that same season, including a three-goals in-three-late-minutes blast against Fulham.
Over the next four years those ‘beautiful’ moments came pretty thick and fast and I didn’t feel the need to go anywhere else for my football ‘fix’. Most teams visiting the City Ground were invariably put to the sword and we were playing the kind of football that made us friends throughout the world… well maybe not in Direby.
Talking of which, the lad and I decide to start our day down at the Forest Academy where the youth teams have 11.00am kick-offs against the Shaggers. It’s a bright morning albeit with a bitingly cold wind but punters from both ends of Brian Clough Way have turned out in reasonable numbers to look at the ‘stars of tomorrow’. Not that any of them are on view in the Under-18’s game where two teams of future journeyman fail to entertain us, the visitors clearly having bought their own ref with them to ensure a 2-1 win. From a distance it would seem that the Forest U-17’s have prevailed so it is honours even.
With the Reds being at home at the City Ground today, we decide to avoid the area around Trent Bridge and call at the nearest pub to Dunkirk’s ground, which we reckon to be Riverside Farm on Queen’s Drive. Although primarily a family eating house, I am familiar with the secretive chain that owns this hostelry and know that there will be some cask ale on offer. Not that I’m drinking any of it today, as I’m driving, but it’s still comforting to know that it’s there. My lad tucks into his chicken burger and chips and then proceeds to enquire whether there’ll be any hot dogs at the Dunkirk match later. I marvel at youth’s capacity to eat its way through the day.
From here it’s just a three-minute drive to Dunkirk’s ground, which although listed as being on Lenton Lane, is actually down a twisty, windy little country road just off the island under Nottingham’s very own scaled-down version of Spaghetti Junction. There are three football ‘stadia’ on this lane, the Ron Steel Sports Ground being the last and clearly signposted. Car parking is plentiful and the clubhouse outside the ground, which is just as well as they don’t appear to open the turnstiles until about fifteen minutes before kick-off.
The clubhouse itself is kitted out with some comfy sofas and with Sky Sports on TV is halfway to becoming a great place to be. The other half however is left wanting. No cask beer – not even a decent bottle – to tempt my abstemious disposition and the choice of hot food limited to meatyburgers and hot dogs. The lad’s eyes light up but I remind him he’s less than 30 minutes out of a slap-up lunch and he will not be disturbing the snack lady today.
We enter the ground as two of about thirty punters who have decided to eschew the nearby City Ground and instead admire the beauty of the Midland Football Alliance game, in this case between two under-performing middle-of-the-table teams in Dunkirk, and visiting Ellesmere Rangers who appear to come from near Shrewsbury. Both sides look to have a couple of lively forwards quite capable of making inroads but that final ball is forever elusive and neither keeper is seriously troubled until early in the second half, when Dunkirk’s number ten decides he has enough confidence to round the keeper and scores the only goal of a pretty woeful match. Not only is that my opinion, but that of the gaggle of knowledgeable chaps standing near us behind the goal.
Game over, we retire to the clubhouse to learn that Chelsea’s earlier defeat to Manchester City has been followed by an Albion win at Arsenal. No doubt there are fans around the country walking home at this very moment glowing in their praise of the ‘Beautiful Game’. Sadly, from our experiences today, we’re not so enthusiastic.
Programme: £1 on the turnstile. Weighty with info about every local league you might care to mention.
Floodlight pylons: 6
Parakeets: Just the odd wood pigeon
Tannoy music: The ‘right here, right now’ intro they play at Forest and nothing else
Toilets: Clubhouse job
Club Shop: Nothing apparent
Player with the quirkiest name: Dunkirk’s Barry ‘Akesan’ Payne