Visiting the City Ground for the first football fixture of the New Year used to be a regular occurrence in my younger days, but this New Year’s Day there is a slight difference. This ‘City Ground’ is 40 miles to the west of the stadium where I guess I’ve watched 500 games or more during my time supporting Forest. Today I’m at the home of Lichfield City of the Midland League Division One and although the surroundings are on a tad smaller scale in comparison to that structure on the banks of the Trent, I’m happy to be here nonetheless.
Because it’s a fixture that’s ON and during inclement weather it’s helpful to a ‘hopper’ to get that information reasonably early. Which is where Twitter comes in very useful. I’m not actually on Twitter, on the basis that I don’t think anybody is that desperate to discover trivial things about my lifestyle, but I do believe it serves an important role in updating the football-following public with imminent match prospects. I notice that most clubs seem to have a Twitter ‘feed’ these days, with some used more sparingly than others, but it’s now my first port-of-call for the latest match information. Fixture Secretaries please take note!
Having perused the weather forecast, noting heavy rain coming in from the West – and seeing fixtures further South written off – I’m looking for somewhere more local, and although Lichfield’s City ground is handy for the town’s rail stations, I decide to go by car just in case I need to divert elsewhere at short notice.
The stadium is to the east of the town centre, and access is down a narrow lane which opens out into a car park which is almost full when I arrive. Nobody seems to be manning the pay-gate and enquiries in the very smart clubhouse about access and programmes seem to draw a blank. I’m not the only ‘hopper’ milling around looking for signs of any official activity but eventually a man with a money tin turns up, to be followed five minutes later by another chap clutching a small bundle of programmes. As my particular fetish is to get a match programme for every new ground I visit, this is the sign for me to relax!
Which I do in the bar now full of people, many of whom have no intention of watching the match (I know this having cause to visit the loos during the game). I chat with a couple of chaps who have travelled a good distance to visit the ground (Wrexham and London) and watch the last dregs of the Premier League game on the TV. There’s no cask beer, but they do stock bottles of mainstream British brands (Pedigree for one) either chilled or at room temperature. Behind the bar there’s also a Pukka Pies cabinet. I have to admit that when I used to be a carnivore, I considered that brand to be the best (discuss)!
The pitch itself is on a slope and looks heavy. To make things worse for the team kicking uphill (visitors Bolehall Swifts in the first half) there’s a howling gale – and later driving rain – facing them. There’s some covered standing behind the goal, with two covered kit-stands – one seating, one terrace – down one side. Most folks gather out of the wind, with the exception of a redoubtable lady with a toddler strapped to her back who completes numerous laps of the pitch. Said toddler steadfastly refuses to nod off, however.
Although the visitors sit in second spot in the Midland League Division One (Step 6) table, the handicap of taking on the slope and the elements in the first half contributes to an even game, with the hosts having early chances to go in front, while Swifts struggle to control the killer ball in the swirling wind. And although City do take a one-goal lead into the break, you get the feeling that the second half will be like the Alamo. Which in general it proves to be, especially when the home team effectively go down to ten, with a limping No9, and having run out of subs. The equaliser when it comes is not unexpected, and you expect Swifts to go on and take all the points, but Lichfield hold out and it’s a fair result at the end.
22 years ago today I stood on the wall at the ‘other’ City Ground, when Forest legend Des Walker scored his one and only senior goal. Ah, I remember it well. Whether or not I recall today’s match in nearly a quarter of a century’s time is open to debate, but at least I got to see a game. And I knew it was ‘on’, because a little bird told me…..
Programme: £1 from a bloke outside the turnstile being mobbed by hoppers! A tidy little affair with colour action pictures and minimal advertising. Commendable at Step 6.
Floodlight pylons: 6
Birdlife: the odd pigeon or two
Toilets: Back in the clubhouse
Clubshop: Badges being sold (outside the turnstile I think)
Music the players run out to: Just a howling gale!
Kop choir: No
Away fans: a few scattered around the ground
What’s in A Name: Presumably City’s Adam Breeze felt most at home in the conditions