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!