Most people who know me will testify, i'm a groundhopper. Most people who know me may testify i'm slightly mad. Either way, I travel around various football grounds of this island and, sometimes, beyond to watch the beautiful game.
Most of my travels encompass the non-league game and, with my inane ramblings, I will attempt to show you where my travels take me and, also, try to show you that there is footballing life beyond the so-called "best league in Europe"
I hope you enjoy reading!
What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than a good old midlands derby in the cup. It was either this or work! Lye Town of the West Midlands Regional League were taking on Southam United of the Midland Combination, both leagues are classed as step six, five levels below the conference. To be honest this game never even registered with me as it was announced very late on that it was to be taking place on a Sunday. This is because The Stourbridge Road Sports Ground, where Lye play is also home to the cricket team and they have priority over the grounds use. So armed with my trusty non-league directory it was to the outskirts of Stourbridge I headed.
The ground turned out to be very easy to find as it is on the main A458 Stourbridge to Birmingham road and it is impossible to miss coming from Stourbridge. After parking up and having a quick (non-alcoholic) drink in the social club I entered the theatre of dreams. It cost £4 to get in and a further pound for a, quite frankly, crap programme. It was just 12 pages of filler, nothing to read as such. I can’t complain too much as at least I got one. There were many disappointed hoppers present who did not acquire a programme and the club seemed reluctant to print any more.
As you can imagine with a cricket field on one touchline, the ground was only three sided. Behind one goal there was a grass bank (which gave the best view of the ground) a covered stand, which had terracing at the side down the other touchline and behind the other goal a covered terrace, which had a curved roof, which looked different to your usual covering.
As mentioned before lots of hoppers were present and swelled the attendance to 133, which is treble the normal gate. A few of the faces I recognised so there was ample opportunity for a chat and a general catch up. The game itself was a scrappy affair with neither side creating any clear chances. Lye had the better of the opening exchanges and took the lead just before half-time when Francis Allen headed home.
Southam came out in the second half and quickly levelled through a Danny Adams header. The game seemed to spark to life, with both teams playing better football. However it was Southam who were to get the advantage when they took lead through substitute Jim Graham on 66 minutes and this was more or less the end of the contest. The game reverted to the scrappy play of the first half, with neither team looking like scoring, though Lye were denied a penalty in the dying moments. Southam held on to go through to the next round and a home tie with Gornal Athletic and my spectacular weekend double-header of cup football was at its conclusion.
So here we are back on the road to Wembley and today the road led north to the delightful castle town of Penrith. As this is a relatively easy destination to reach, on the main line to Edinburgh, it was decided to let the train take the strain. Trying to do my bit for global warming and nothing to do with having a skinful of beer in the highly recommended Agricultural Hotel by the train station!
There were no delays on train and were in said public house before 1pm. It did not disappoint! Four different types of ale to be sampled and sampled they were…hic! It was then a 10 minute walk (stagger!) down the hill into town and the Southend Road football ground. As soon as you get in the vicinity of the ground you can see the building work and bulldozers going on around it. This is the reason of the visit today. Another gem of a football ground is to be lost forever under the foundations of a shopping centre. They call it progress, I say it’s all part of the agenda to create a homogeneous country where every town is the bloody same.
Although no club official could confirm the date, Penrith are due to move into their brand new soulless bunker towards the end of October but for now Southend Road was to have one of its last hoorah’s in the cup. Indeed it was in the cup that Southend Road had its highest attendance when 2,100 crammed in to watch Penrith turn Chester over 2-1 in 1981. The ground itself is a proper old-fashioned non-league ground with a large wooden stand on one touchline and a covered terrace on the other. Behind both goals there was basically a pathway to stand on. Not much in terms of facilities but you can feel the history of the ground. I bet it could tell a thousand tales!
I paid my £4 entrance, a £1 for a programme and after scoffing a delicious meat and potato pie to soak up some beer, a bargain at £1.20, I positioned myself behind the goal in readiness for the match. Penrith were in a lower league (Northern) but were sitting proudly at the top of table, whilst Clitheroe, although not quite top, had got off to a decent start themselves in their league (Unibond Division one north). This had the makings of a good competitive match and what a cracker it turned out to be! As the home team, Penrith took the game to the visitors and dominated the first half. Through great attacking play, especially down the wings, they created numerous chances but were thwarted by poor finishing, great saves and the crossbar. It was no surprise when they did score through centre half Wayne Robertson on 29 minutes when he headed home from a corner. It was no more than they deserved but they should have been out of sight and, as always, when its only 1-0 the other team still has that chance and against the run of play Carl Lomax equalised on 39 minutes. Level at half time.
The second half was a different story as Clitheroe came back at their hosts and when they took the lead on 47 minutes through a header from Ian Flannery there was only going to be one winner. Penrith’s game deserted them in the second half and the confidence had clearly gone. Try as they might they could not force an equaliser and Lomax scored his second goal on the hour to finish the tie. The last ever FA Cup game at Southend Road, had come to a sad conclusion for the hosts.
There was just time to have a couple of more “sneck lifters” in the Agricultural Hotel before boarding the train for home. I look forward to re-visiting Penrith again when the new ground opens in the near future, especially for a few more scoops.
This however was not to be the end of the FA Cup journey for this weekend as a Sunday game appeared on ones radar late on…
While the focus of the media attention today is turned to the beginning of the Premiership season and all its grossly overpaid prima donnas (how can anybody justify player wages in excess of £100,000 a week?) it has been overlooked that today also marks the beginning of the 2008/09 FA Cup. Yes, that’s right, the FA Cup! It doesn’t start on the first Saturday of January you know!
396 teams across the length of the country start on their road to Wembley this weekend. Alas, we know that none of the teams that were in the hat today will have any chance of reaching Wembley, indeed many will be lucky to make it to the 1st qualifying round but that isn’t the point, the fact is though that the dream is there and we can all dream, can't we?.
With 198 cup games being played today the choice was simply overwhelming. Where do I go? I based my decision on the most scientific system that is known to humankind...I simply stuck a pin in the fixture list! The fickle finger of fate landed on Shirebrook Town v Causeway United.
Shirebrook is a former mining town inbetween Chesterfield and Mansfield, just off junction 29 of the M1. The football team plays in the Northern Counties East League, which is four leagues below the Conference. The opposition Causeway United hail from Birmingham (though they groundshare with Stourbridge) and play in the Midland Alliance league, again four leagues below the Conference. I think it always makes for an interesting tie when teams from differing leagues are paired together, usually due differing styles and standards between the leagues.
After enduring a nightmare journey along the A6, thanks to a combination of roadworks, caravans and lorries it was gone past 2pm before I was parked up at the ground. Thanks to the directions off the Shirebrook website, Langwith Road was pretty straight forward to find. I paid my £5 admission and another £1 for a decent 44 page programme (but no staples!) and entered the ground. The beauty of going around many different grounds is that you just don’t know what you are going to get in terms of a ground, as the variation in standards is amazing!
Today, i’m happy to report, was a pleasant surprise. Two fairly decent covered seated stands, separated by a small gap on one side of the ground and terracing on the other three sides. The pitch looked in great nick too. First port of call was to the refreshment bar where a northern speciality of chips and mushy peas was purchased, sadly lacking some gravy but still a bargain at £1.50. It was then off to the directors box, err, portacabin to try and find out which potential heroes would be lining up today. Here is where you find what I think is the essence of watching non-league. The chairman greeted me with a smile, was extremely helpful with the team-news and was genuinely pleased that I have come to watch his club. You actually feel valued and appreciated as a football supporter instead of just being a nameless customer number. After a conversation asking me the usual questions of where i’d travelled from, why i’d come here and generally putting the football world to rights, the Chairman assured me i’d see an entertaining game, especially as Shirebrook had lost their two opening games of the season 6-2 and 4-1.
The visitors took the game to the hosts from the off and clearly looked a stronger, fitter side and created numerous chances within the opening 10 minutes, mainly from set pieces. It was no surprise when they took the lead on 19 minutes. A great run down the left from Stuart How left two defenders in his wake before cutting into the penalty area and laying it on for a simple tap in for Danny Jones. For the rest of the first half Causeway had plenty of possession but didn’t seem to create anymore clear chances and Shirebrook started to creep back into the game with a couple of half chances.
The second half was in complete contrast to the first, as whatever the Shirebrook manager said at half time had the desired effect. They looked a different team. Shirebrook had a chance to equalise on 54 minutes when they were awarded a penalty for handball but Aaron Brady’s weak effort was easily saved by Todd Henderson. The equaliser was not long in coming when on 64 minutes a cross from the right was headed home by Joe Taylor and it was Taylor again who 6 minutes later gave Shirebrook the lead when he burst through into the area to shoot home. The game was now end-to-end as Causeway chased an equaliser and in the 91st minute it duly came when a dipping volley from Stuart How flew into the top corner. All back to Stourbridge for a replay on Wednesday or so the crowd thought! There was still time for Shirebrook to snatch a dramatic 94th minute winner when a cross into the area was flicked on and the ball fell nicely to substitute Nat Watson to volley home from 12 yards.
The magic of the cup! A great game for the 97 people in attendance and a great advert for non-league football.
Bring on the next round...
Saturday 16th August 2008 FA Cup Preliminary Round Shirebrook Town 3-2 Causeway United Attendance: 97