Tough Tamworth: Lambs’ Late Show Denies Stalybridge Win
Another eventful Matchday Adventure, this time taking in Tamworth’s Lamb Ground for their National League North encounter with Stalybridge Celtic.
We’re deep into the seven minutes of injury time allocated, when Lambs captain Paul Green fires the ball goalwards from range. The home side are fighting desperately to keep up an unbeaten run which stretches back to late April. Green’s shot flies past the helpless Stalybridge keeper Tony McMillan, before clanging agonisingly against the post, and being scrambled away to safety. Amidst the sunshine of the south Staffordshire afternoon, the last chance seems to have come and gone. Then, in the seventh and final minute of injury time, Tamworth win a corner. Could this pleasant day have an unforgettable finale?
Whilst Tamworth F.C. have underwhelmed somewhat on the field – up until this point – their town has certainly proved a good destination for any groundhopper or away fan. Once the ancient capital of Mercia, attractive Tamworth has a lot of history and attractions packed within its geography. A mid-sized town of just under 80,000 souls, it’s home to the 11th century Grade I listed Tamworth Castle, the popular Drayton Manor Theme Park and – up until now – one of only two unbeaten sides in the National League North. Now in their second campaign in Non-League’s second tier, the club are mounting another promotion push, in search of a quick return to the top table.
My first port of call is The Albert, a bar and restaurant close to Tamworth railway station. It’s more upmarket than I usually go on a matchday, but good reviews and my inherent laziness tempt me there. This likeable venue mixes Mediterranean décor with a primarily Italian menu and, erm, a blaring hip-hop soundtrack. It obviously helps that the food’s excellent – I go for a Calzone – and whilst it seems to be only one of several highly-rated restaurants here, the plaudits are deserved.
From there, it’s a 15 minute walk to The Lamb Ground. Nestled just away from the main roads, in a peaceful estate, its innocuous location feels comfortingly Non-League. There’s just one entrance in, across a stony path, and as I head through the turnstiles, the Tamworth faithful are beginning to trickle into the ground and over to the Tamworth Club Bar. Friendly and cosy, it has the feel of a local pub, and over a pint of Stella I listen to fans’ friendly nattering on clubs ranging from FC United of Manchester to Coventry City, as the players start their warm-up facing the earthy Castle End Terrace.
As further up the pyramid, the National League’s stadia range from streamlined modern builds to characterful, traditional grounds and The Lamb Ground is firmly in the latter category. First opened in 1934, just a year after the Staffordshire club’s formation, its 4,000 capacity includes just one seated stand – which can (but rarely does) accommodate 518 fans. Many prefer The Shed, along the other side of the pitch, where Tamworth’s most vocal support congregate. I opt for the uncovered Castle End terrace, slipping in amidst the Tamworth faithful and the small but vocal band of ‘Bridge followers bedecked in blue and white scarves. As is one of Non-League’s most endearing traditions, they move at half-time to the Meadow Street End, to see their beloved Celts attack towards them again.
The warm-ups are punctuated by a ridiculously loud corrugated wall by the pitch, where several of the free-kicks end up. For the home faithful, it’s hopefully not a sign of the finishing to come. The sides re-enter several minutes later, to the utterly baffling one-two of Aaron Copland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ segueing into Robbie Williams ‘Let Me Entertain You’. The surrealism of this appears to be accepted by all on the Castle End’s steps, and the game kicks off.
The first chance comes around five minutes in, as ‘Bridge defender Jack Higgins fires a close-range shot straight at Tamworth ‘keeper James Belshaw. The 17th-placed away side continue to find a way through the home defence, and several minutes later the superbly named Aiden Chippendale flashes the ball agonisingly across the face of goal as the otherwise impressive Belshaw rushes off his line and gets caught in no man’s land. Even when Tamworth get a free-kick on the half way line, one of the ‘Bridge players kicks the ball away before the set-piece, landing it in the back of the net. Pointless? Yes. Impressive? Very.
Throughout the first 20 minutes, much of the threat from both sides comes down the wings. The respective #3’s, Tamworth’s Strong and ‘Bridge’s Chippendale look lively and skillful. The home side give away several free-kicks for niggling fouls, but look perhaps the more dangerous team as the half goes on. Tamworth’s Taylor has an effort from distance smartly saved, as the game heads towards half time.
Several fans have already trundled past for a half-time cup of tea when, in the last real action of the half, ‘Bridge’s Bohan Dixon strikes a spectacular shot from range, right into the top corner of the helpless Belshaw’s net. The cluster of away fans clap and cheer whilst the Reds fans around me can only admire the skill involved. “He’ll be playing in the Championship next season”, one bloke tells me.
Only a good cup of tea livens up the early minutes of the second period, before Stalybridge’s lively attack have a goal chalked off. The game begins to fizzle out following that incident, until the introduction of the Lambs veteran player-manager Andy Morrell. The former Blackpool and Bury striker entered the fray on 73 minutes, and looked the most likely player to equalise. Indeed, Morell nearly replicated his late heroics in the last home game against Nuneaton, but his chipped effort was impressively caught by McMillan. But his overall excellence on the ball leads to wave after wave of late Tamworth attacks, and eventually the pressure pays dividends – in the most dramatic fashion.
After Green’s rasping effort cannons off the post, the undeterred Lambs players surge forward again, winning a 29th* corner in the space of about five minutes (*roughly). The set-piece is whipped in and flicked home calmly by the head of Ross Dyer. As the net bulges, those of us on the open Castle End Terrace leap about in jubilation, all flailing arms and fist-pumping, amidst a cauldron of noise. Seconds later the whistle blows. Tamworth’s unbeaten run stays intact, but if they are to secure a play-off spot this season, the Lambs will need to turn more of their draws – four in a row now – into victories.
Tamworth – 1 (Dyer, ‘90+7)
Stalybridge Celtic – 1 (Dixon, ‘45)
3pm, 5th September 2015
The Lamb Ground, Tamworth (Att: 747)
Ticket & Travel Info:
Ticket Prices: Seated – Adults (£14), Concessions [16 & 17 y/o, 65+] (£6), Age 6-15 (£4), u-6s (£2) / Terrace – Adults (£12), Concessions (£4), u-6s (Free!)
Travel: Tamworth is easily accessible by rail, with hourly trains on a number of lines, including Crewe-London Euston, Cardiff Central-Nottingham and Plymouth-Edinburgh. The ground is located just off of the A51 road. The town is also served by bus routes to Birmingham, Nuneaton, Sutton Coldfield and smaller regional destinations.
Ground Location: Around half a mile from Tamworth railway station and less than a mile from the town centre. The Lamb Ground is conveniently located for fans – and visitors to Tamworth Castle!