My wife remains unconvinced there is any such thing as a ‘Football Close Season’. What with the end-of-season play-offs, then the World Cup, not to mention my Summer League trip to Ireland, when I tell her that today is the start of the new football season, she raises a disbelieving eyebrow.
But some things don’t change, as in the weather, with my original plan to train and bus it up to Nelson in Lancashire already in tatters due to torrential rain with more forecast. So I look around the Midlands area for something more local, to lessen the petrol pain should the match fall foul of the weather. And although I very rarely dip into Step 6, I’m attracted by a fixture in Warwick, not least because my wife wants to go to nearby Stoneleigh Park for a horsey event, and in my new-ish car too. This way, I get to drive it!
We land at Stoneleigh with the heavens open and the rain bucketing down. The poor little darlings taking part in the Trailblazers show jumping finals are getting a thorough soaking and as I scan the skies for any sign of divine intervention, the prospect of an afternoon in the Stoneleigh park bar starts to look attractive. At 1.30pm it relents, so I say my adieus and drive off into nearby Warwick, heading for the racecourse by the side of which – they kind of share a car park (the bays adjacent to the clubhouse are free, the majority is Pay & Display) – is Townsend Meadow, home to Midland League Division 1 outfit, Racing Club Warwick.
It’s an appealing if somewhat tumbledown little stadium, with three-tiered seated stands on either side of the pitch, albeit with many of the seats in a state of some disrepair. When the heavens open during each half, the gaps in the tin roofing are self-evident. The clubhouse, which backs on to the racecourse, is a sizeable if dimly-lit affair, but comfortable nonetheless. A disused hand pump adorns the bar, but there’s nothing for the discerning beer drinker, unless you are partial to a bottle of Grolsch. There appears to be some hot food under preparation, but I can’t see a serving hatch and don’t particularly fancy poking my head through a door which might be off-limits.
Today’s game is against Lichfield City, and I speculate that – if Warwick is also a city – this could be the lowest level contest between senior teams from two cities in the English football pyramid. Further enquiries reveal that Warwick is in fact still only a town so bang goes my theory. The match turns into a fiercely competitive battle in occasionally difficult conditions. The visitors edge the better chances and make the most of a first half penalty decision, grabbing a second late into the second half.
The following day – Sunday – I decide, now that the July sunshine has returned to early August, I should take advantage of the one ground on the Groundhop UK Peterborough hop that interests me, so take in the 11.00am kick off in the suburb of Dogsthorpe, and the Chestnut Avenue home of United Counties Premier side Peterborough Northern Star. The hop bus has beaten me to it, but there’s still plenty of programmes left, not to mention a nice tray of vegetarian pasta bake and bottles of room-temperature British beers behind the clubhouse bar (I actually prefer mine chilled!). I renew one or two acquaintances made on the Irish trip, and meet some new faces, at least one of whom actually likes the idea of a two-way conversation (there’s a novelty)!
I decide to enter into the spirit of things by buying a badge – Barrow Town, my village team – but eschew the delights of the Bouncy Giraffe and the Penalty Shoot-Out (my back’s not what it was…). The stadium itself consists primarily of flat standing, with small covered standing areas behind one goal and down one side near the corner flag, as well as two 50-seat ‘kit’ stands opposite, spaced either side of an impressive brick-built dugout complex.
The game is against strongly-fancied Holbeach United but the home side have the edge after going into an early lead, before everything starts to go belly-up for them with a red card offence handing a penalty to the visitors on 25. By the time Star lose another player to a second yellow on 58, the damage has been done. They are 1-3 down and looking at a hiding. The eventual scoreline of 1-6 is probably fairly respectable under the circumstances.
So the football season starts for me, and already – despite telling myself I’ll take it a bit easier in this, my bus pass year – I’m scheduling a hectic itinerary of matches for 2014/5. Roll on the next close season….if indeed there is one.
Programmes: A modest affair for 50p at Warwick, with a much glossier effort for £1 at Peterborough NS. No doubt the prospect of sales to a couple of hundred ‘hoppers’ inspired the latter. Interesting that on the front of the Warwick programme, the club’s name is incorrectly spelt. Oops!
Floodlight pylons: 4 at Warwick, 8 at Northern Star
Toilets: Clubhouse bar at both
Club shop: items available in the bar at Warwick, not noted at NS
Kop choir: No
Away fans: Not vocal
What’s in a Name? Is it true that Warwick’s Josh Tiff has had a big fall-out with t’management?