Author Archives: DaveBurin
Neither side are currently enjoying their finest days, but today marks a clash between two of football’s grand old clubs. Wrexham were formed in 1863, and Macclesfield Town in 1874, and for much of recent history, this fixture was a staple of the Football League calendar. That all changed in 2008, when Wrexham fell through the League Two trapdoor, with Macc following in 2012.
The aim for both clubs is a playoff spot, and it’s today’s visitors who will be feeling more confident about meeting that target. Macc have faltered recently, with three league defeats preceding this crucial clash, whilst Wrexham – with 1,089 traveling fans in tow – arrive at the Moss Rose on a run of six matches unbeaten. Could Welsh dominance be the order of the day?
I take the arduous 10 minute train journey into Macclesfield, and even under grey skies, the town retains a real charm. There are old cobbled streets, medieval churches and an abundance of charming little cafés. Originally a major player in the silk trade, Macc has more recently become renowned for the availability of some rather less wholesome substances. But on a Saturday afternoon, traversing the town centre’s cobbled steps, it’s undoubtedly scenic, pleasant and lively.
The great Irish playwright Brendan Behan claimed that “the most important things to do in the world are to get something to eat, something to drink and somebody to love you.” I set out to tick off the first two, starting at Volk Bar & Kitchen, a new Macclesfield eatery. Its walls are dotted with surrealist art, its menu with Americana eats (I opt for an excellent bacon cheeseburger with skinny fries) and the drinks offering is hip without being hipster. In short, I’m impressed. However, if you’re just after a light bite, the nearby Rustic Coffee Co. would be my recommendation.
There’s time to nip into The Bate Hall, a traditional pub dating back to the 16th century, and most notable for its historic timbered interior. Its old world charm makes it a nice place to stop off for a quick drink – which I do – and its large windows offer a view out onto the historic Chestergate, if you fancy watching the world go by. But I have somewhere to be, and off I head to the Moss Rose Ground, around 1.5 miles south of the town centre.
I arrive in time to enjoy the ground’s Corner Flag bar, which boasts an impressive selection of bottled beers, and an even larger collection of fans bemoaning Macclesfield Town’s recent form. I grab myself a Badger Hopping Hare ale and a match day program (well written) and chat with Allan, a lifelong Macc fan, to get the inside scoop on the team’s season.
“We played quite well at the start of the season, and were well into the groove by the beginning of October”, he tells me. However, Allan contends that there’s now “no chance of a play-off spot”, and that whilst “Kristian Dennis is a top player”, he contends that “if [Dennis] doesn’t score, there isn’t much else”. As for Jack Sampson, I am informed that “he’s 6’9” and looks 5’9” in the air”. I thank Allan for his time, and head to my seat in the Brewtique Stand, having dialled down my expectations of the home team by several notches.
The Brewtique Stand consists of some modest terracing, with several rows of seats in front – none of it remotely protected from an icy Cheshire wind. Its smart but varied appearance is representative of Moss Rose. Behind the opposite goal is the uncovered John Askey Terrace, with the raised Silk FM Main Stand – built in 1968 – on one side of the pitch, and the smart, modern Henshaws Stand running alongside the other touchline. Wrexham’s large away following – and their flags – cover the chilly terrace and a corner of the Henshaws Stand, as we get underway.
The early exchanges are a fairly tepid affair. Macclesfield’s Iraqi goalkeeper Shwan Jalal has one straightforward save to make in the early moments, but the game is short on goalmouth action. There is a strong wind howling across the Moss Rose, and both sides struggle to adapt their passing game, resulting in a series of throw-ins and groans from both sets of supporters.
As the half wears on, Macc begin to exert themselves on the game. Danny Whitaker’s looping header lands on the roof of the net before Danny Whitehead lashes a shot just past the post. But the visitors come even closer, shortly before the half-hour mark, when Kayden Jackson rushes down the wing with the ball, and fires a lovely curling effort which beats the helpless Jalal. It crashes agonisingly off the post, though, and the Wrexham fans stand head-in-hands, as a grateful Macc defence clear the danger.
The intensity – and the quality of play – drops a bit as we near half-time, and those sauntering out of the Brewtique Stand for a cuppa before the whistle blows miss very little action. But the second period is quickly lit up by a slick Macc move which culminates in a goal bound strike from Kristian Dennis, and only the quick reactions of Wrexham ‘keeper Rhys Taylor – who spent three seasons with the Silkmen – prevent an opening goal.
Wrexham’s first opening of the half is a dramatic and faintly ridiculous goalmouth scramble, which Macc just about survive. But again, this all-action burst quickly fizzles out into a game dominated by two well-organised defences and punctuated by a lack of cutting-edge in attack. It isn’t helped by some poor refereeing decisions, and whilst Macclesfield’s Chris Holroyd and Danny Whitehead continue to look lively, both struggle to provide Dennis with a gilt-edged chance. For their part, the Wrexham defence continues to outmuscle and outmanoeuvre the prolific Macc marksman.
He’s marked closely throughout the game, and his final real chance of the match is effectively (and bravely) blocked by Wrexham’s imposing centre-back Blain Hudson. Both sides look for a winner, though neither take the risk of throwing men forward in big numbers. Chris Holroyd’s insouciant lob shaves the crossbar for the hosts before the tireless Kayden Johnson has a decent strike saved by the solid Jalal in stoppage time.
A frustrated Sean Newton picks up a late yellow for the Dragons, with the game’s first reckless challenge, and referee Ollie Yates blows for full-time. It’s been a hard-fought and fair contest, but neither side has been close to their best. For Macclesfield Town, their last real chance of a playoff push appears to have gone
For Wrexham, it’s a solid away point, and 0-0 is a fair reflection of the game. But the huge travelling support may well be thinking of Kayden Jackson’s strike against the woodwork and wondering what might have been.
Macclesfield Town – 0
Wrexham – 0
3pm, 27th February 2016
Moss Rose Ground, Macclesfield (Att: 2,406)
Travel & Ticket Info:
Ticket Prices: Prices vary as to whether tickets are bought in advance or on the day. Advanced ticket prices– Silk FM Main Stand & Henshaw’s Stand (Adults – £17 / Concessions – £13 / Under-12s – £2). Brewtique Stand & John Askey Terrace (Adults – £13 / Concessions £9 / Under-12s – £2). NB: It was £15 on the gate for entry to the Brewtique Stand.
By Train: Macclesfield is well served by rail. The town’s station is on the London Euston-Manchester Piccadilly line, the Manchester Piccadilly-Oxford route, and the regional Manchester Piccadilly-Stoke on Trent service, all of which run frequently. The Moss Rose Ground is around 1.5 miles south of the train station.
By Car: If you’re coming from the South, leave the M6 at Junction 17 and go onto the A534 towards Congleton. Then follow signs for A54 Buxton, and remain on the A54 for 5 miles before taking the A523 towards Macclesfield. The ground will be on your left.
From the North, exit the M6 at Junction 18, taking the A54 towards Congleton. On reaching Congleton town centre follow the signs for A54 Buxton. Then it’s the same route as for the South. Postcode: SK11 7SP
The last 17 years have been quite the ride for Northern Irish wing wizard Wayne Carlisle. And the genial, engaging Truro City assistant talks me through a playing career which began at the lofty heights of a packed Selhurst Park and ended with a bittersweet mixture of triumph and early retirement at picturesque Plainmoor. But Wayne’s journey has been about much more than his performances at 3pm on a Saturday.
There have, of course, been back-to-back promotions to the Football League, with Exeter City and Torquay United. A dramatic end-of-season run which somehow preserved Bristol Rovers’ (then) unbroken run of 83 years in the league. And, of course, success as Steve Tully’s right-hand man at Truro City. But Wayne has also been coaching the next generation of players to succeed, whether in the beautiful game or in the world of business. Here is his story.
DB: You joined your first club, Crystal Palace as a teenage trainee. How difficult was it leaving your home in Lisburn, Northern Ireland to join the Eagles? And what are your earliest memories of life at the club?
WC: At 15-years-old, I didn’t find it tough at all. I didn’t look at it in that way, I saw it through a child’s eyes. I was just excited to have the opportunity to play professional football. Looking back on it now I have my own children, and work with children, for someone at that age, moving was a big thing.
I went into digs with another Irish lad named Kieran Loughran, and we lived together for about three years, so having that company made it a lot easier. And I was a young lad, training every day, and it was all I had ever dreamt of doing. It was a brilliant experience.
DB: Your league debut at Palace came against Birmingham City in February 1999, and you became a regular fixture in midfield. What do you remember about your debut? And what was it like playing and training with established stars like Atillio Lombardo and Saša Ćurčić?
WC: On my debut? I just remember the noise. Walking onto the pitch, having never played in front of so many people before, that was memorable. As soon as any game kicks off, you’re into the action and you play automatically from your habits in training.
I think I took training with that calibre of player for granted. I was used to it from an early age and assumed that it was just normal. But in retrospect, it was a really big deal and a privilege to get to work alongside people of that quality.
I definitely tried to learn from them, though. Atillio Lombardo was especially helpful. Obviously, he played the same role [winger] as me, and he would spend time talking me through things – via his interpreter, most of the time! We discussed topics like good positioning, different types of crosses and how to best use them, so he was particularly helpful.
DB: Scoring a first senior goal is a special moment for any player. Yours came in October of that year, in a 4-0 drubbing of Portsmouth. What was that moment like?
WC: That was pretty special. As I remember, the ball was on the edge of the box, and I just worked off instinct and hit it on the half-volley. Luckily enough it found its way into the net. It’s a cliché, but, you can’t describe it. It is the best feeling in the world at that age. Experiencing that was a real buzz.
I didn’t have a celebration planned, though. I wasn’t really that type. Whatever I did to celebrate – I can’t remember exactly – I’m sure it was pretty boring! Not up to the standard you see nowadays!
DB: Palace at that time were a club who went through managers pretty quickly. You played under the likes of Terry Venables, Steve Coppell, Alan Smith and Steve Bruce. Who got the best out of you as a player, and why?
WC: My best time at Palace was under Steve Coppell. He was another winger like me, so he was great in giving me individual support about that role, and was not demanding of me. He understood that I was young and finding my feet, and let me develop at a rate which was right for me, without putting me under any pressure.
Those other managers were more focused on results. Obviously, Steve [Coppell] wanted good results too, but they were more demanding. As a 19-year-old, I maybe wasn’t ready for that kind of pressure. For me personally, Steve [Coppell] was the best man-manager of the bunch.
DB: You joined Division Two side Swindon Town on loan in the following season, and were an important part of helping the side to a respectable mid-table finish. Did you enjoy your time at the County Ground, and were you keen to head out on loan?
WC: I loved my time there, actually. I was getting guaranteed first-team football at Swindon, and we were playing in front of decent crowds at a good standard. As a team, we were having a fairly successful spell, as well. At the end of my loan, I actually tried to extend it, but the Palace manager had changed from Steve Bruce to Trevor Francis. He decided to recall all of Palace’s loan players back, to have a look at them.
Going out on loan was something both I and Palace were keen on. I had been used to first-team football at a young age, and wanted that feeling of training all week and playing on a Saturday. I was desperate to have that again, and the club thought it would be a good idea for me.
DB: In March 2002, you made a permanent switch to Bristol Rovers. In your first full season, the club avoided relegation from the Football League by just 3 points, winning 3 of their last 4 games to survive. What was that nervy run-in like?
WC: That was really tough. We had signed a lot of very good players that season, and for some reason, the team just didn’t click. We had so much quality in the squad, so in the latter part of the season, the players were just looking at each other thinking ‘we really shouldn’t be in this situation’.
We signed Andy Rammell partway through the season, and he was a hugely important addition and scored some crucial goals [including 4 in those final three games]. I pitched in with some goals myself, and we survived. But it wasn’t enjoyable, and certainly not a situation which a club of Bristol Rovers’ stature should have been involved in.
DB: In the following campaign, you notched an impressive 8 goals from midfield, and provided the service that helped striker Giuliano Grazioli reach double figures. Do you think that was one of your best seasons in the game?
WC: I was certainly productive that season, and I did my job well, so it was one of my best years in a personal sense. Rovers’ manager at that time was Ray Graydon – another right winger, funnily enough! So again, he was a manager with a good understanding of what was needed from me, and I fit into his style of play. That obviously made it a lot easier for me to have a successful season.
DB: You joined Martin Ling’s Orient revolution from Rovers, and played in the first half of the Promotion season of 2005-06, before you were sold to Conference Premier club Exeter City. Do you feel proud to have been part of Orient’s success, or were you unhappy at having missed out on that end-of-season glory?
WC: No, I wasn’t unhappy about it. I played my part in Orient’s season, and obviously whilst I would have liked to have been there to celebrate at the end, the move to Exeter was a mutual decision. Exeter were looking for someone in my position, and I had worked with [then City manager] Alex Inglethorpe at Leyton Orient previously.
He said he wanted to take me down there, and as I wasn’t getting guaranteed regular games at Orient at that time, I thought the move would be worthwhile. I wished them all the best, and off I went. And I was just proud of what I achieved in the early days.
I left the O’s on good terms. I actually went back and trained with Martin after breaking my leg, before I rejoined Exeter [in October 2006]. It was actually Paul Tisdale who re-signed me there!
DB: Your time at St. James’ Park was certainly a successful one. The Grecians reached the Playoffs twice and were promoted to the Football League in 2008, thanks largely to your crucial strikes against Torquay United in the Semi-Finals. Did that feel extra special after what happened with Orient?
WC: Yes, to an extent. However, Orient’s promotion was not something I was especially conscious of missing out on because I had still played a part in it. The nature of football is also that players move on.
It was nice to see the journey through with Exeter. Especially so as we had come very close in my first season with the club, losing the final at Wembley [to Morecambe].
DB: What was Paul Tisdale like to play under?
WC: Paul is a fantastic gaffer and an especially good man-manager. He understood the players well as individuals and took the time to get to know us. I had a very good relationship with him.
DB: You repeated the Conference promotion feat the following season with none other than Torquay United, but retired less than a year later, in January 2010. Were injuries, or a new career path the main reason behind retiring at age 30?
WC: It was a combination of both. I had damaged ligaments in my knee, around Christmastime [of 2009]. The medical advice I received was that the injury was going to seriously inhibit my days of playing football, in the near future. At that point, a job had become available, teaching the game in a college. I had taken on board the advice of the specialist who warned that the injury would stop me playing at Conference level, at some point.
The game usually spits people out, and I didn’t want that to happen to me. When the opportunity of this college role came about, I decided to leave on my own terms, and in my own way.
DB: Outside of the game, you are still Director of Football at Ivybridge Community College in Devon, and have had the likes of Paul Scholes running a session, as part of your initiative to improve the school’s football academy. So what are the essential things that you think young players need to know about the game?
WC: They need to understand how the game functions. So they need to realise how invasion games work. Game understanding is a key thing. It is something which the top players possess, and a lot of younger players don’t have. Work ethic is also crucial, as is a passion for actually playing football.
Players also need to take on information and apply what they have learnt in training and matches as well. But what we try to do at the college is not just about developing footballers. We actually look to develop people. They get strong values from us, so that whether they are in football or business, or whatever route they take in the future, those individuals will have the skills to make a positive contribution.
DB: In 2011, you returned to play a handful of games for Truro City, and you must have liked the place, as you came back to Treyew Road three years later as Assistant Manager to Steve Tully. How did the move come about? And what was it about Truro City that made this the right club for you?
WC: When I first took the job, I wasn’t sure it was right for me to be honest! I had seen my pathway after playing as working in youth football. Working with players in that development phase is something I really enjoy.
The Truro City position came up when Steve Tully – who I had played with at Exeter – contacted me. He said the job had come up and asked if I’d be interested. My initial response was ‘not really’!
I didn’t think this role was part of my journey, but Steve convinced me to go along and stand with him on a Saturday. And I had to be honest with him, I enjoyed it! It’s a role I’ve been happy with ever since, and the club has had some real success, which has tied me to it.
Being involved in senior football again has also reignited that competitiveness in me. You kind of lose that when you work in the development phase, because the aim is to develop players in the long-term, and winning a game on a Saturday is not a major focus. You don’t experience those positive short-term results.
Having played football for 12 years professionally, that competitive spirit is always in me somewhere. It doesn’t just disappear. Joining Truro gave me the opportunity to ignite that fire again and gave me that spark that I had probably missed.
DB: You and Steve have proved a formidable team, winning promotion from the Southern Premier Division last season, defeating St. Neots Town in the final. But how do you two differ in your approach, tactically and as man-managers?
WC: We both have our different views on the game, but we’re also pragmatic about our approach. Steve and I both have an idea of how we would like the team to play, but we realise that sometimes our circumstances and the level we’re working at means that can’t always be translated onto the pitch.
But we don’t let ourselves get bogged down by that because the aim is to win games of football. I think part of the reason we’ve been a successful partnership at Truro is a willingness to sacrifice a bit on our ideals of how we think football should ideally be played.
DB: That’s fascinating. So how do you think the way Truro line up differs from how you would play ideally?
WC: We line up to compete with the opposition, first and foremost. Tactically, we set about trying to disrupt their game, and as the match goes on, start to impose how we want to play on them. The pitches at this level dictate what we can do, somewhat. We’d like to ask our players to play the ball out from the back and through midfield, but that isn’t always going to be possible.
Sometimes we have to be more direct than our ideal style would be, and on occasion, we’re required to be a more physical side as well. Those things are dictated by the opposition, the level and the pitches we’re working on.
DB: The success Truro City have experienced with you in the dugout is bound to mean that your stock is high. Is the long-term aim to take on a manager’s job within Non-League, or do you prefer the assistant role and having the work at Ivybridge?
WC: No, that isn’t my aim. Steve [Tully] does all the man-management work, and dealing with the agents – things in that area. I just enjoy being out on the grass with the players, coaching them. I like watching our opposition and coming up with tactical plans. Those are the aspects I’m happy doing, so I don’t think I could see myself going into management.
Then again, I hadn’t seen being an assistant manager in adult football as part of my career path. So I could never say never, but it would take a lot to get me off the training pitch and away from spending that time teaching players. It’s what I love doing – at any age group and any level.
DB: What do you enjoy doing outside of football? And was there ever a career you considered, aside from playing the beautiful game?
WC: Oh dear, I don’t get any time outside of football Dave! [*laughs*]
I enjoy being with my family. I have two young boys, and I love spending time with them. They’re my release from football.
With regards to a career outside of football, I wouldn’t have a clue what else to do! It’s been my life since I was 15, and had been all I ever dreamt of doing as a little lad kicking around in Northern Ireland. I feel privileged and proud to have made a career in the game, but I never had any other occupation in my head, and still don’t.
Thank you to Wayne for his superb insights into a fascinating life in football. Best of luck to Wayne and everyone at Truro City for the rest of the season.
All images are accredited in the ‘Description’ section for the photos.
My latest Matchday Adventure saw me venture into West Yorkshire, and to The Shay in particular. Read the rest of this entry
The clock has just ticked past 18 minutes when Adam Blakeman’s deftly weighted free-kick is glanced in by the head of Andy Wright. Southport’s revival under new boss Dino Maamria seems set to continue. After three wins in their previous four league games, it’s another 1-0 lead for the side who are the league’s lowest scorers, going into this Christmas clash. But after two 1-0 wins in their previous four league games, this does not play out as the tight, tense affair those gathered on Haig Avenue are expecting. Amidst a torrent of miserable Merseyside rain, we witness a stunning goal-fest, awash with skill, slip-ups and a touch of controversy. Here’s how it all went down…
I eat at A Great Little Place, a cafė in the heart of the charming town centre. And it does live up to the name. The vibe is attractive and pleasant, without being hipster or overly cutesy. But it’s the food where this place really excels. I go for an amazing chestnut and wild mushroom soup and a very nice bacon & brie panini. It’s hearty fare for a chilly Christmas afternoon – and combined with the handy location just a stone’s throw from Southport railway station, I’d have no hesitation in recommending it – though if a cosy cafė isn’t your thing, then there’s a huge range of good places to eat and drink in Southport.
Whilst a lot of England’s seaside towns have been declining amidst waves of dilapidation, social issues and unemployment for several decades, Southport has been one of the few to buck that unhappy trend. The architecture along the grand Lord Street is stunning. The town is upmarket, leafy and filled with attractions – from air shows to water parks and, erm, a lawnmower museum. And after a wander through its grand central streets, I’m whisked away to the home of its finest institution – Southport F.C. – by a very prompt and equally racist taxi driver…
I head into the sanctuary of The Grandstand Lounge, a bar within the ground, just along from the terraces of the ground’s Grandstand. There’s nothing particularly special about it – all sixth-form style tables, pints of Mild (I go for a Chestnut Dark Mild, which is quite nice) and hastily-added tinsel. But it’s a friendly place for fans to congregate, with football on the TV and fans discussing the upturn in form of Dino Maamria’s side.
I chat briefly to three chaps in Southport kits, to get a feel for their verdict on the Sandgrounders’ season thus far. As is usual at Non-League grounds, people are friendly and happy to chat. “Our season’s been as usual, as well as could be expected [for a part-time team]”, one gent tells me. “It’s now 7 managers in 2 ½ years, there’s no continuity”, another grumbles. But they all concur that there seems to be a new-manager bounce under ex-Southport player Dino Maaria. Two predict a draw, the other a narrow win.
I thank them, and flick through this game’s issue of club program The Sandgrounder. It’s glossy, (fairly) well-written and includes one or two unique, slightly quirky features. The content is better than average for programmes at this level, but at £3, it feels a bit steep at a level of football where avoiding the overpriced trappings of the Football League is considered one of the main attractions.
The Merseyrail Community Stadium – better known as Haig Avenue – has stood in this corner of east Southport since 1905. Whilst it does have a sense of character and history, it’s also pretty much the archetypal old National League ground. There’s one big seated stand, the Grandstand (housing 1,840 fans), one large covered home terrace behind one goal (the Jack Carr Terrace), and smaller, uncovered terracing around the rest of the ground. The capacity is just over 6,000 in total – though the crowds usually just creep into four figures. Today, just 751 of us have braved the rain. But those who stayed at home may soon be regretting their choice…
Today’s game starts at a frenetic pace, and the Santa-hatted away fans briefly think their side has snatched an early opener, when Steve Pinau fires a fierce shot with just 92 seconds on the clock. The ball, though, lands in the side netting. And there are chances at both ends. Jamie Allen hits a smart, flicked effort from Paul Rutherford’s cross, but his effort is smartly caught by Ravens ‘keeper Chris Kettings. But it’s a brief reprieve for the Bromley stopper. Just five minutes later, Andy Wright nods home from Blakeman’s free-kick, and the home side have the lead. Can beleaguered Bromley – after four defeats on the spin – muster a response?
After Frenchman Steve Pinau heads a promising opportunity over the bar just before the half-hour mark, it looks like this might not be Bromley’s day. But in the 36th minute, the capital club draw level. After good build-up play on the wing, the ball reaches Lee Minshull, whose hard, low shot squirms under the outstretched arm of Southport ‘keeper Max Crocombe. The young New Zealander looks on in despair as Minshull wheels away, and within ten minutes, that frustration is compounded.
Whilst Paul Rutherford’s rasping effort beats a stranded Kettings – but flies wide – at one end, with the scores locked at 1-1, Bromley grasp their opportunity when it arrives, in the 45th minute. Joe Anderson’s whipped-in corner is defended haplessly, allowing Rob Swaine to nod home from close range. Southport’s pre-Maaria frailties seem to have returned to the surface, but only for an instant. The first-half drama is far from over.
In the first minute of first-half stoppage time, just 79 seconds after Bromley take the lead, parity is restored in dramatic fashion. Southport’s number #11, Gary Jones picks the ball up in space and unleashes a long-range rocket, which rockets into the back of the Bromley net. It’s a fantastic crescendo to an exciting half, and those gathered file out of the Grandstand to grab a hot drink and catch our breath.
As the second half begins, the intensity shows no sign of letting up. And neither, for that matter, do the goals. Perhaps the best of the lot comes in the 47th minute, as Southport’s speedy turnaround sees them lead for the second time in the game. A fantastic, slick, quick, passing move reaches the lively Paul Rutherford, whose cross is delivered at an awkward height for the Bromley back line, but lands perfectly for Mike Phenix. The Barnsley loanee finishes the move off with immense composure, as scenes of stunned delight play out on the bouncing rows of the Jack Carr terrace.
In the 59th minute, the home side double their lead, when a clumsy challenge rightly results in a Southport penalty. Ex-Hyde United man Louis Almond steps up to calmly convert the spot kick for his 7th of the season, and Bromley are increasingly being run ragged. And Jamie Allen joins in the fun on 75 minutes, finishing superbly into the Bromley net after a lovely run. Maaria’s troops have the Haig Avenue faithful in dreamland.
Ex-Dover defender Sean Francis reduces the arrears to two a couple of minutes later, but Simon Bennett waves away a Bromley penalty claim – seemingly wrongly – and Max Crocombe makes a few smart saves, meaning that the closing stages never get too nervy for Southport. The home side get the points, the plaudits and probably immense confidence, after tearing their unwanted record as the league’s lowest scorers to ribbons. It’s been quite an afternoon.
It was no surprise when Carl Piergianni was named Boston United’s Player of the Year at the end of the last campaign, and it was a given that his face yet again adorned the National League North’s ‘Team of the Year’. A tough, talented and combative force at the heart of ‘The Pilgrims’ defence, Piergianni is as articulate, measured and likeable off the pitch as he is solid and skilful on it.
We discuss everything from Carl’s early memories as a Peterborough United fan, to learning the ropes in the Northern Premier League with Spalding United, a brief appearance for the first-team of his boyhood heroes, the experience of relegation at Corby Town…and much more. With Boston pushing for promotion again this season, there’s no better time to hear from one of the division’s hottest prospects.
DB: You’re a Peterborough lad, and spent your youth career with the POSH. What are your memories of supporting the POSH growing up, and what do you remember about being a young player at the club?
CP: I have really good memories of supporting the club as a youngster. One of the first games I remember going to was when Peterborough played Darlington at Wembley in the playoff final [in 2000]. They won 1-0 and Andy Clarke scored the winner and that was one of many great memories of being a Peterborough fan growing up.
Being a youth team player at Peterborough United was great as well. To be named Captain during that time was a great honour and then to get offered a pro contract – at my hometown club – was fantastic. It was exactly what I’d always dreamt of.
DB: Despite coming through the ranks at London Road, your first taste of senior football came 20 miles north at Lincolnshire club Spalding United. Were you keen on heading out on loan to play mens football? And was it tough to adapt to the physicality of the Northern Premier League, as a young player?
CP: I was very keen to go out on loan, personally. The advice I’d give to any young player now is that it’s vital to go out and get experience of playing in mens football, as early as possible.
Doing so made me the player I am today. I became a lot stronger, a lot more physical – so I definitely recommend going out and playing first-team games, rather than sitting on the bench or player under-21 matches.
I enjoyed the toughness of the NPL. I’m quite a physical player and don’t mind getting stuck in. It was important to learn how to use my body in those kinds of games, and also to adapt to a game which actually meant something.
When you play in reserve games, obviously you want to win, but it doesn’t really mean anything. However, when you go into a club like Spalding and it’s a proper first-team game, the 3 points are vital and the team were trying to survive relegation [from the NPL Division One South]. You quickly learnt that both performances and results really meant something.
DB: In 2010 you had your first taste of the Football League back at Peterborough, but it was just a single game. What are your memories of that sub appearance against Rochdale? And do you feel you deserved more first-team opportunities at London Road?
CP: At the time, I don’t think I was ready to be starting games for Peterborough. I wasn’t quite good enough at the time, and I was only a young lad – so I don’t hold a grudge against anybody at the club. There were much better players there than I was at that point. Peterborough were challenging to try and get up into the Championship, so it was difficult for me to get a game.
With a debut, people always say ‘it’ll happen when you least expect it’. And I remember just being sat on the bench, and [then manager] Gary Johnson suddenly just told me I was going on. So I was suddenly just standing on the sideline, my knees shaking, and just waiting to go on!
DB: You joined Altrincham on loan later that season, in early 2011. The club’s awful start to that season meant they ended up relegated from the Conference Premier, but you were a regular fixture in the side, as results improved. So was Alty an experience you enjoyed or not?
CP: Very much so. Altrincham’s a great club. As you said, they had such a bad start to the year that it was hard for them to claw their way back up the table. There was a big gap of points between them and safety at one point, but during the time I was there Alty won a fair percentage of the games we were involved in, so it was actually a period I really enjoyed.
Credit to Altrincham, they’re back in the National League now and as with Spalding, I felt it was a club which did a lot to help develop my career. The players there were a very close, tight-knit group. Robbie Williams at the back, Sean Densmore (who’s now Alty captain) at full-back, and Damien Reeves – they were really good players, and everyone there ensured I loved my time at Altrincham. There were no cliques in the changing room, which was great – everyone at the club just got along really well.
DB: Aged 19, you moved to my local club – Stockport County! You played in almost every game that season, as the club stabilized themselves in the Conference Premier. But you had three different gaffers in that one season – Dietmar Hamann, Willie McStay and Jim Gannon. How did they all compare?
CP: That was an interesting experience. Dietmar Hamann and Jim Gannon were polar opposites. Willie was the assistant under Didi Hamann, so he was familiar to us already, and his management style was similar to Didi’s.
Didi had a more relaxed approach than Jim Gannon did. He’d change the team a lot, go with different tactical approaches and was very keen on rotating the squad. He was a lot more laid-back in training and gave the players free-reign to play as they wanted to. Jim was at the opposite end of the spectrum. He knew exactly what tactics he wanted to employ in every part of the game, and stuck to a certain way of playing. So, two deeply contrasting managers!
DB: At County, you scored your first league goals in senior football, getting four in total. What do you remember about your first two, both scored in an exciting 3-3 home draw against Hayes and Yeading United.
CP: I just had a bit of luck and managed to score two! (*Laughs*). The first one just came to my feet and I slotted it in. As for the second, I just remember being completely surprised after scoring again! Sadly I didn’t have a celebration planned, I think I just raised a finger into the air and ran off.
DB: You moved to Corby Town in October 2012 after just over 12 months at Stockport. You helped the side to some excellent results in that early period, and scored 4 goals in your first 5 games! Why do you think you fit into that side so well? And what caused your sudden goal rush?
CP: I always thought I was a threat from set-pieces, and having moved down a league, where the defensive marking wasn’t always as good, I found it a bit easier to get goals than I did in the Conference Prem.
I also had the benefit of a giant centre-half next to me in Paul Malone, so their biggest player would always be marking him and it’d give me a chance to go up against someone a bit smaller! I managed to get on the end of balls quite a lot, and luckily a few of them went in.
DB: Corby were extremely unlucky to be relegated that season, going down on Goal Difference – and just by a solitary goal – below Histon. As a player, how do you cope with that kind of a setback? And did the club’s drop to the Southern Premier League influence your decision to leave?
CP: That was a really tough time for me personally, and for everyone at Corby Town. I’d really enjoyed being at Stockport, and I was sad to have to leave the club. I chose Corby because I’d moved back home and wanted a local club, to try and steady myself again.
That season, I thought all along that Corby would comfortably avoid the drop. We had an okay squad, and I certainly thought we were good enough to compete in the division. We played some good football at times and looked like we were going to avoid the drop, but unluckily went down by such fine margins. All we needed was a point in any of the games that we lost, which was tough to take.
Once the club went down, I made the decision that I wanted to play in the Conference North (or higher) in the following season. As soon as I spoke to the people at Boston United, I knew that joining them was the right move for my career.
DB: In May 2013, you headed to York Street, home of your current club, Boston United. In that first season, the club finished 6th in the Conference North, and you were part of a formidable defensive unit, alongside the likes of Scott Garner, Conor Marshall and Netan Sansara. What were those guys like to play alongside?
CP: It was interesting, because when I signed for Boston I was the only centre-half at the time, and then the gaffer told me he was bringing in Scott, who’d been captain at Cambridge United the year before. Playing alongside Garns* [*Scott Garner] was great, and he’s challenged me and brought my game on a hell of a lot. I’ve really enjoyed playing alongside him, and the other lads you’ve mentioned.
DB: Going back to the beginning of that season, your competitive debut for The Pilgrims was in a 4-1 win away at Edgeley Park, home of your former employers Stockport County. Is it extra sweet to beat one of your old clubs, or is it no different to any other 3 points?
CP: There’s always something extra there when you play an old club. You want to try and show that club what they’re missing! The main thing is always getting the win, but personally it was really special to do that at Edgeley Park.
DB: Last season Boston improved on that 6th placed finish, ending the season in 3rd place – before the narrowest of play-off losses to Chorley. The Pilgrims have been a little inconsistent so far this season, but do you feel this squad has the quality for another play-off finish…or maybe more?
CP: Definitely. I think we’ll achieve at least a play-off spot this year. We’ve been a bit hit and miss at times, but the quality across this group of players is good enough to be up there. It’s about getting a sustained run of form. We’d gone five games unbeaten – with four wins in there – before the North Ferriby game [a 4-3 loss on 7th November]. But when you have those frustrating results, you need to bounce back. That’s absolutely vital if we want to finish in the play-offs.
DB: Absolutely. And alongside yourself, who would you say are the main danger men for Boston. Who should we all be watching out for?
CP: In terms of goals, you can’t look past Dayle Southwell. He’s already on 12 for the season. But he’s only one of the really good strikers here. Mark Jones is so hardworking up top, and he’s something of an unsung hero for us. We’re certainly not short of options in attack.
From set-pieces, me and Scott Garner chip in with quite a few goals, so I think as a side, we always pose a threat – whoever we’re up against!
DB: You’ve made it into the Conference North/National League North ‘Team of the Year’ two years running, and at 23, you still have a long career ahead of you. Are you looking to stay with Boston in the long-term, or is the aim to keep performing well and hopefully interest a Football League side.
CP: I always hope that one day a Football League side will be interested in me. But Boston have treated me so well, and I’ve always had good dealings with everyone at the club. I couldn’t ever envisage leaving for another club at this level. For me to even consider moving, the interest would have to be from a club at the top end of the National League [Premier], at the very least.
Living here is important for me, as well. I’m close to home, I have work outside of the game and there’s football at a club I really enjoy being a part of. When it comes to Football League interest, though, I don’t think anyone [at this level] would be able to turn it down.
DB: We’ve talked about the National League North. It’s a division with some lovely old grounds and some pretty impressive new stadiums. Is there an away trip you especially enjoy – either for the results you get there, the location or what kind of away support the Pilgrims fans bring?
CP: Stockport’s probably the best away ground I’ve played at. When we played at Edgeley Park on the opening day of this season [a 2-1 defeat for Boston] the atmosphere was electric, and as a player, it’s great to be involved on the field when the ground is like that.
Tamworth is another trip I always enjoy. We always get an excellent away following there, and [The Lamb Ground] is a really tight ground, the fans are right alongside the pitch, and it’s a fixture where that traveling support always makes a lot of noise!
DB: I know from Twitter that you like a bit of Ibiza. So what else do you enjoy away from football, aside from soaking up the sun? And what job you do outside of playing the beautiful game?
CP: I like to travel. And not just to Ibiza! I’ve been around Asia and traveling is always something I’m looking to do come the end of the season. I try and save my money so I can see as much of the world as possible. I always like pre-season but we stay here, which isn’t quite as exotic!
Outside of football, I work for Molson-Coors, the Brewery, as a sales rep. I go into convenience stores and Co-Ops as an account manager for them. And it keeps the money in that I need, as someone playing football part time.
Aside from all that, I like the gym – though that’s also a necessity when you’re playing football – and like everyone, I enjoy a bit of golf in the summer!
Thanks to Carl, and best of luck to him and everyone at Boston United for the rest of the season. You can find the Pilgrims defensive rock on Twitter @CarlPidge.
Much like the subtle Meatloaf song or the salad bowl in Eric Pickles’ house, the entertaining 0-0 draw is a rarely-witnessed phenomenon usually dismissed as mythical by those not so enamoured with the beautiful game. Occasionally, these games are tactical, chess-like battles between great sides. Other times they’re memorable for the result’s significance. And on days like this one at Keys Park, home of Hednesford Town, the ball somehow ends up everywhere but the back of the net.
Amidst the driving rain of a dark November afternoon, I am admittedly not seeing Hednesford at its loveliest. Even so, even under the glow of brilliant August sunshine, this is not a town of any great beauty. A gritty, post-industrial town of just under 20,000 people, Hednesford was traditionally one of Staffordshire’s major centres for coal mining. But the pits have long-since closed, and the town has a rather bleak feel. Still, whilst it may lack the glamour and picturesqueness of certain Non-League venues, like Harrogate or Cheltenham, this small Staffordshire town could hardly be more welcoming.
My first stop is The Vintage Kitchen, a friendly, casual café on the town’s main commercial thoroughfare – Market Street. Whilst Hednesford’s small size and relative lack of prosperity means this isn’t an ideal destination for foodies, the Vintage Kitchen is one of a couple of handily located places to get fairly tasty, good value food in a snug setting. I get my hands on a cheeseburger, homemade chips (excellent) and a cup of tea – all for under a fiver, meaning you can save your pennies for those pricier away days!
Despite the name, Hednesford Town’s modern Keys Park ground is thankfully* (*or disappointingly, depending on your point of view) not situated in a Richard Keys-inspired theme park. Opened in 1995 to replace the club’s crumbling former home – The Cross Keys – it’s one of the National League North’s most impressive stadiums. With two seated stands (including a sizeable Main Stand), two modern and tidy terraces and three different food vans, it wouldn’t look out of place in the lower echelons of the Football League. I am however, even more intrigued by Town mascot ‘Pitman Pete’. A large chap in a Hednesford Town kit and mining hardhat, with realistic soot marks on his hat and body, Pete looks like the likely result of Ken Loach designing football mascots.
My mood, and that of everyone in the ground – quickly shifts a few moments before kick-off. It’s the club’s closest home game to Remembrance Sunday, and the day after the horrific terrorist attack which has devastated Paris, and left an ever-rising death toll. A lone man plays a trumpet in the centre-circle, as the players huddle together, arms over one another’s shoulders, and but for the trumpet’s sound, there is silence. It’s a moment of quiet reflection and perspective, a reminder of how lucky we all are to be here, to be safe and able to enjoy the simple pleasures of a Saturday afternoon at the football. Then the referee motions for kick-off and the traveling Solihull Moors faithful raucously burst into song.
I chat to Bob, a veteran Pitmen supporter, who describes this season’s crop as “not very good”. “We’re heading for a relegation fight. I’ve got no faith this time” he says. Yet, like all loyal fans, he’s still here. Meanwhile Solihull’s support run through a rendition of ‘Oh When the Moors Go Marching In!’ – which sounds like a tribute to Shakespeare’s Othello – and a rendition of ‘Shit Ground, No Fans’. This despite the fact that Keys Park is a rather nice ground, and the two clubs average very similar crowds. But when did football fans let facts get in the way of a good song? We kick-off, and Solihull – still unbeaten in the league – are surprisingly on the back foot.
Hednesford look considerably the brighter side in the opening 15 minutes, and produce a couple of half-chances, with well-traveled winger Paul Ennis producing much of The Pitmen’s most impressive play. Ten minutes later, veteran Andy Todd curls another chance for the home side wide. Then, the best chance of the game – perhaps of the season falls to Pitmen striker Ahmed Obeng. After great work on the wing from Johnson, the ball falls to Obeng inside the six-yard box, with almost the entire goal to aim at. Somehow, he clumsily smashes this golden opportunity over the bar. 0-0. And with Solihull having scored in every National League North game this season, the miss may prove extremely costly.
Despite the fluency of the home side’s play, the evergreen Todd still finds himself embroiled in a heated shouting match with the coaches roaming across the Town technical area. The particulars of this debate are inaudible, and probably unprintable, but it’s clear that gaffer Bernard McNally and his staff want more from the side. And as we reach half-time at 0-0, their frustration at the home side’s failure to capitalise on their dominance is understandable.
It has been a breathless first period in which Hednesford have had the lion’s share of the chances, whilst the more physically imposing Moors have struggled to break down a well-organised home defence, with ex-Kidderminster Harriers man Tyrone Williams and the robust Ben Bailey having looked especially imperious at the back. The early stages of the second half, though, see both defences on top as the weather worsens and Solihull’s centre-back pairing of Franklin and Daly get into their stride.
But as the hour mark comes and a November rain which would dissuade even Axl Rose dissipates, the game roars back into life. Adam Thomas’ rasping shot forces a spectacular save out of Moors’ talented Swiss stopper Benjamin Siegrist. It’s followed a little while after by an immense Hednesford team move masterminded by Ennis and Obeng, but ends with a strike fired agonisingly wide. Seconds later, Siegrist ends up charging out 30 yards from his goal-line and clumsily taking out Todd. ‘Come on Hednesford! Come on Hednesford! Come on Hednesford!’ rings all around me.
Before we finish, the otherwise lackluster Solihull attack threaten. A superb inswinging effort forces an even better save out of the otherwise untroubled home ‘keeper, Daniel Crane. This before a last-gasp clearance from Tyrone Williams stops former Premier League starlet and Solihull striker Stefan Moore from tapping the ball into an unguarded net. It ends 0-0, and the home side are greeted with warm applause and cheers, and several supporters around me deem it the most entertaining game Keys Park has seen this season.
For Hednesford, a first home clean sheet of the campaign and a draw against the West Midlands’ title challengers represents progress, as does the fact they will probably feel they deserved all three points. For Marcus Bignot’s Solihull, the unbeaten run and a hard-fought point will please, but with just 4 draws in the club’s last 5 league games, improvement will be needed if the club want to keep the likes of Nuneaton Town and Fylde in their sights.
Hednesford Town – 0
Solihull Moors – 0
3pm, 14th November 2015
Keys Park, Hednesford (Att: 562)
Ticket & Travel Info:
Ticket Prices: Main Stand – Adults (£13), Concessions (£8) / Terracing – Adults (£12), Concessions (£7), Adult + 1 Child (£13).
Travel: Hednesford is served by regular rail connections from Rugeley Trent Valley and Birmingham New Street stations. If you’re driving from the North, take the A5 towards Cannock, and then the A460 towards Rugeley/Hednesford. From the South, exit the M6 at Junction 11 and take the A460 towards Cannock. Keys Park has a large and well-priced car park. Postcode: WS12 2DZ
“There won’t be much to write about”, mutters a bloke sat just behind me on the wooden benches of Victory Park’s historic Main Stand, his tone a mixture of resignation and sympathy, as I scribble a few words into my battered matchday notebook. It’s hard to disagree. We’re just beyond the 75-minute mark, and Chorley and Brackley Town are deadlocked in a drab and goalless embrace. Then, the drama happens. Following a scruffy free-kick, the ball lands at the feet of the Magpies Darren Stephenson. The Jamaican striker – with class and composure – fires the ball under Brackley ‘keeper Sam Hornby. Chorley celebrate. The latest round of fireworks go off in perfect harmony from somewhere in the distance. It’s a rare treat in a tight and tricky contest. But is it enough to bring 3 points to this corner of South Lancashire?
I arrive in Chorley on Saturday lunchtime, to witness one of the town’s regular markets – a tradition here since the 15th century. As with the unwavering support of the local Non-League club, it’s a sign that community and tradition are still alive and well in Chorley. But there’s no getting away from the fact that Chorley has been hit hard in recent decades. One of many Lancashire towns to grow up around the booming cotton trade of the Industrial Revolution, it’s struggled to cope with the end of traditional industry. Its terraced streets look tired, and serve to make the town’s handful of stunning buildings look even more impressive and incongruous.
Despite the tough exterior, Chorley has a good range of pre-match options for the visitor. I decide to take in one of Chorley’s smart, urbane restaurants and one of its resolutely unpretentious pubs – partly because it’s an interesting combination, but mostly because they’re near each other. I’m lazy like that.
I eat at Cosmopolitan, a sleek eatery at the heart of the town. With a timeless, stylish interior – and more importantly, tasty, hearty food for excellent value (at lunchtimes, at least), I’m impressed. I go for a spiced vegetable soup (delicious) and a crispy chicken burger with fries (pretty good). It’s followed by a visit to The George pub, also located about 1km from Victory Park. There’s football on the TV, inexpensive beer and a spacious, unfussy vibe. It won’t set the world alight, but it’s a decent enough spot to grab a drink.
The next destination, though, is the most evocative. Victory Park (officially ‘The Chorley Group Victory Park Stadium’), reached by a muddy car park off of Duke Street, is redolent with the aura of football grounds of decades gone by. The Main Stand- running along one end of the pitch – is resplendent with old wooden benches, reached by a set of crumbling steps, and offering a superb vantage point towards the pitch. There’s a few pillars, but provided you don’t sit too near them, they’re more a minor irritation than an inconvenience. Behind each goal are reasonably sized terraces – and at half-time fans of both sides swap between the covered Pilling Lane End and the weather-beaten Duke Street Terrace, to watch their beloved sides in action. Across the other side of the pitch, fans lean casually on the hoardings, whilst one cheeky viewer avoids the entry fee by pitching up a chair on a hill behind the ground. It all feels like a glorious ‘fuck you’ to the increasing encroachment of soulless, bowl-shaped, all-seater grounds imposed on fans across the land.
I take a pew on the benches of the Main Stand, and keen to get a fan’s view, chat to Chris, a Chorley supporter bedecked with a rather stylish Chorley FC beanie hat (I’m almost tempted into getting my own). He tells me that this campaign has been “up and down”, predicting the club to finish the season “mid-table, the way they’re playing”. “No way we’ll get play-offs”, he adds glumly. After last season’s devastating play-off final collapse against Guiseley, and this week’s shock cup exit to Northwich Victoria, it’s easy to see why optimism might be in short supply amidst the Victory Park Faithful. The tannoy announcer is finding gallows humour a bit easier. “Horizontal rain”, he announces of the afternoon’s forecast. “Well”, he concedes, “it’s the North, innit”.
The teams kick-off, Chorley in the famous black & white stripes that garnered their nickname, Brackley in shirts of a relatively demure yellow. The home side press their visitors in the opening moments, but are let down by some sloppy passing. The first chance – on the break – goes to The Saints. David Moyo’s header across goal finds tireless striker Glenn Walker, but his shot flashes wide of Sam Ashton’s near post. A collective sigh of relief rings out from three corners of the ground.
As the half wears on, though, Chorley have the better of what few chances are on offer, on a rather churned-up pitch. Marcus Carver, on loan from Accrington Stanley, slashes through the Brackley defence twice in quick succession, showing a real touch of class. First, his rasping shot forces Brackley ‘keeper Sam Hornby into a smart, low save, before Carver darts down the wing mere moments later, playing in a sumptuous cross across the 6-yard-box. Only a superb defensive clearance saves Brackley from a certain goal. And it is Chorley who look the more threatening – albeit sporadically – throughout the half.
Both sides manage to slash a free-kick off target from a decent range, before the home side waste a few headed opportunities, and the half goes into something of a lull. The encouragement from the home faithful never lets up, even as the game drifts aimlessly towards half-time. The whistle goes, and one hopes that a rousing team talk from either of Messrs. Jansen and Wilkin will lead to a blistering start to the second period. It doesn’t.
As the daylight ebbs away, the second half shows no sign of sparking into life. Chorley struggle to build any momentum, and visiting Brackley (without an away win in the National League North all season) look increasingly happy to sit back and occasionally try to hit their opponents on the break. It takes about 15 minutes for the second period to spawn a chance of note, as an inventive strike from Darren Stephenson is matched by an excellent stop from Sam Hornsby, who tips the ball up and over the crossbar.
To give both sides credit, the defences have been strong, and Chorley’s Mark Ross and Chris Doyle look particularly calm and imperious. That defensive certainty is needed when Brackley’s Moyo bursts through on goal, and only a fantastic last-gasp tackle guides the ball past the post, preventing a certain goal and a likely winner. And the Northamptonshire side are made to pay. A Chorley free-kick eventually finds its way to the Magpies’ Stephenson, who slots nonchalantly through the legs of Hornby. 77 minutes gone. 1-0.
The closing moments are surprisingly end-to-end, but the solitary goal proves enough for the hosts. The referee’s whistle rings out in the darkening Lancashire sky, and the eleven men in black & white wander off the pitch, as a sea of scarves, hats and applauding hands look back at them. Chorley has had some tough times, not just in the arena of football, but the people of this proud town are sticking with their club. It’s a win. They deserve this win.
Chorley – 1 (Stephenson, ’77)
Brackley Town – 0
3pm, 31st October 2015
The Chorley Group Victory Park Stadium, Chorley (Att: 982)
Ticket & Travel Info:
Ticket Prices: Adults (£10), Over-60s (£7), Ages 12-16 (£5), Ages 8-11 (£2), u-8s (Free!). These prices relate to all areas of the ground, seated & standing.
Travel: Chorley is well-served by rail, with hourly trains from Blackpool North, Manchester Victoria and Newcastle calling here. By car, the ground is close to the A6/Bolton Road and B5251/Pall Mall. The ground offers car parking for the decent sum of £3. There is some parking in the town, though much of the town centre is pedestrianised.
Right now, Kurtis Guthrie is the toast of The New Lawn. With five goals already this campaign, the Jersey-born forward is skilful, powerful and regularly contributing vital goals for the current leaders of the National League. Having begun his career at Jersey club St. Clement, 22-year-old Guthrie has experienced time in the Football League with Accrington Stanley, promotion from the Conference South with Welling United, and last season helped Forest Green Rovers to the highest finish in their 126 year existence. And this time, they’re aiming to go even further… Read the rest of this entry
194 miles separate Guiseley A.F.C.’s scenic Nethermoor Park ground from Boreham Wood’s modernised Meadow Park, but the two sides battling for points on this bright autumnal weekend have much in common. Both clubs have belied their small stature to reach the pinnacle of the English Non-League. Both are part-time clubs with modest attendances, and each triumphed via last year’s playoffs, vanquishing more fancied opposition – including Chorley and Havant & Waterlooville respectively – along the way. It’s also the first year at this level for both The Lions and The Wood. So, with just 4 points dividing them before kick-off, could either team come away with a priceless victory?
I arrive in Guiseley just after midday, and am instantly enamoured with this attractive corner of West Yorkshire. Resplendent with handsome brick and stone buildings, dotted with tranquil green spaces and imbued with a resolutely laid-back feel, Guiseley may be just 10 minutes from the bustling heart of Leeds, but its peaceful, traditional vibe feels a world away.
My first stop is the Station, a lovely pub and pizza bar, with strong ties to the football club and located a stone’s throw from the ground, on Otley Road. The food is – with no exaggeration – fantastic. I enjoy a sumptuous pizza, as fans of both teams congregate in number around the pub, preparing for the crucial clash. Involved with sponsoring their local team, the Station’s doors and walls host posters beseeching fans to go and support the Lions. I hardly need the encouragement.
Nethermoor Park – shared with the town’s cricket club and, erm, a childrens playground – is less than half a mile’s walk from Guiseley railway station and the appropriately named pub across the road. It’s a quick and straightforward stroll through the pleasant surrounds of this picturesque Leeds suburb.
I head in through the turnstiles to the sight of Guiseley’s players milling around, chatting to early arrivals on the terraces and beginning their warm-up. The Boreham Wood squad wander into the club bar, a few of them stopping to chat with the hardy Hertfordshire fans who’ve made the long trip and are enjoying the gravy-heavy cuisine on offer here.
Keen to get an insider’s perspective on Guiseley’s first season at the National League’s top table, I speak to Brian, a veteran Lions fan ahead of the game. “Reasonable” is his one-word summary of the year so far. He credits the team having “not lost too many”. “Too many draws” is his main issue thus far, but he’s “confident we’ll stay up”, predicting his side to finish in mid-table. As a neutral, it seems optimistic, but this is a club which has repeatedly upset the odds to achieve success, having been Northern Premier League stalwarts until as recently as 2010.
Due to being slightly under-the-weather, I stick to the soft stuff, but there’s a good range of drinks on offer in the ground’s Clubhouse – all at a reasonable price. The place is roomy, full of snug sofas and there’s lunchtime football on TV screens. All in all, a pleasant spot to pass the time before the serious business on the pitch begins. I flick through the match day magazine, where Lions boss Mark Bower candidly seethes about last weekend’s penalty decision at The New Lawn. Overall it’s a good read, though at £3 perhaps a touch steep.
I take a pew in the Main Stand, one of only two seated area within the ground – both running along one side of the pitch, with a combined capacity of 500. Across the other side, the unusual, covered terraces of the JCT600 Stand are also split, with two cameramen located perilously between on a makeshift gantry, presumably hoping that the wind doesn’t pick up. There’s no formal setup behind either goal, but a handful of supporters of both sides are crowded by the fence at each end. Ground ‘improvements’ are set to take place in the coming months at Nethermoor, and whilst some roofing at either end wouldn’t go amiss, one hopes that any changes don’t spoil the likeable, low-key feel of this picturesque venue.
As the game begins, the home side look much the brighter. Within the opening few minutes, a good passing move gives Guiseley captain Adam Lockwood the first chance of the match, but the experienced defender fires his effort well over the bar. Buoyed on by their early dominance, the home side look to have taken the lead after a goalmouth scramble, but the Boreham Wood defence somehow clear the ball to avoid an opening goal – and it’s as close as either side come for the majority of a quiet first half.
The West Yorkshire side’s dominance of possession continues throughout the first period, but to no avail. The inconsistent Tom Craddock – in a particularly poor display – wastes a golden chance after Liam Boyes’ fantastic build-up play, just beyond the 15 minute mark. George Maris produces a scintillating run a little while later, but he too fails to trouble Wood stalwart James Russell, between the sticks. Amidst an overly whistle-happy refereeing performance and a defensive Wood side seemingly happy with a point, the first half seems set to be petering out.
Then, in first-half injury time, talented teenager George Maris receives the ball on the wing. A blur of movement, against the rich autumnal hues of Nethermoor’s grand trees, and the Guiseley A.F.C. flag flapping grandly in the wing, he skins the Wood defence, cutting inside with a dexterous flair. He locks his eyes upon Russell and curls a shot past the helpless Russell. It rolls inches wide, and a collective sigh rings out as the patrons of the Main Stand (myself included) head down the steps to seek some comfort in a cup of tea. So close to delight, we stand unified, resigned to the reality that Boreham Wood may not be so wasteful – if they ever create a chance, that is.
And they do. Boreham Wood begin the second half with a newfound tempo and slickness. They have a goal ruled out for a narrow offside, before Conor Clifford fires wide after some sumptuous footwork. Then, the visitors get the breakthrough. In the 59th minute, a soft free-kick is awarded on the right wing, and the imposing Clovis Kamdjo heads home smartly. His distinctive dreadlocks breeze through the air as he races away in triumphant celebration. After back-to-back home defeats against Lincoln and Macclesfield, the Lions have to pick themselves off the mat against a Wood side growing in confidence.
‘Give him a BAFTA!’. The Guiseley support are annoyed by a piece of perceived play-acting. It’s an oddly moderate shout, as if this isn’t Oscar-worthy fakery, but still deserves a less prestigious award. But to brand the Wood as time-wasting would be unfair. For the most part, they continue to push forward, looking to extent their lead. Steve Drench – superb in the Guiseley goal today – produces two excellent saves in quick succession to deny the tireless Jamie Lucas.
Then, against the run of play, Guiseley strike a leveler in the 90th minute. But referee John Brooks has already blown for a Lions penalty, chalking out an equaliser, at least for the moment. Joy turns to fury. Fury turns to anxiety, as Nicky Boshell places the ball on the spot. Then joy reigns again, as Boshell slots home with perfect placement, to bring Guiseley level. As injury-time begins, the Wood push forward frantically. They miss a couple of good chances, and as with Guiseley in the first period, the Herts. Side are left to rue their profligacy. The whistle rings out. The points are – fairly – shared.
Overall, Guiseley has offered one of, if not the best matchday experience I’ve had in the National League. It’s a lovely place not only to watch football, but to enjoy a warm autumn afternoon. Just before reaching Nethermoor Park, I passed a chap walking in the opposite direction, clad in a Leeds United tracksuit. Some people, man. They don’t know what they’re missing.
Guiseley – 1 (Boshell, pen ’90)
Boreham Wood – 1 (Kamdjo, ’59)
3pm, 17th October 2015
Nethermoor Park, Guiseley (Att: 749)
Travel & Ticket Info:
Ticket Prices: Adults (£15), Concessions (£10), 12-18 year olds (£5), Accompanied u-12s (Free) – prices the same for seated and standing areas.
Travel: Guiseley is well served by rail, with regular services between Leeds and Ilkley, as well as services from Bradford Forster Square (also terminating at Ilkley). Buses also run to Guiseley from Leeds, Bradford and Harrogate. The station is 0.4 miles from Nethermoor Park.
By car, the football ground is along Otley Road/A65 and very close to Bradford Road/A6038. The main car park is on Netherfield Road. There is limited parking at the Otley Road End of the ground, but much of this is reserved for players, club staff and officials.