Category Archives: Dave’s Matchday Adventures
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
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.
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.
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.
This was a day of firsts at Aggborough. Lively midfielder George Porter grabbed his first Welling United goal, Jordan Tunnicliffe saw red for the first time in his career and Antigua and Barbuda international Zaine Francis-Angol wore the historic red and white of Kidderminster Harriers for the first time. But the most hotly anticipated first – a first victory of the season – continued to elude Harriers. Despite a decent display, backed by the vocal support of the Aggborough faithful, it was another frustrating afternoon for Colin Gordon’s charges.
Nestled within the largely green and tranquil Wyre Forest district of Worcestershire, Kidderminster is an unremarkable but fairly pleasant town, best known for its carpet-making heritage and as the home of the county’s only ever Football League club, Kidderminster Harriers. The town’s Wiki page also informs me that it was formerly the home of ‘80s TV chef and UKIP candidate Rustie Lee. Heady stuff.
Today’s time constraints mean that the usual pre-match meal in town is scrapped, in favour of a bacon butty (lukewarm – hopefully the football won’t follow suit) and a pint of Hereford Pale Ale (delicious) amidst the bustling environs of the Final Whistle. This pub, based inside Aggborough, is one of several spots in and around the ground to settle down with a pre-match pint and bite to eat. With a social club also in the ground, and several good venues nearby, the only lack of options around here is in the Harriers strike force.
Here in the Final Whistle, blokes of every age pore over this week’s edition of The Harrier match program, where striker Reece Styche answers fan questions, in the process revealing his love of Leonardo da Vinci and describing why he wouldn’t want to be a slug. As someone who has long objected to the lack of surrealism in Non-League matchday publications, I’m delighted.
The mood around the place is surprisingly optimistic. The playing budget at Aggborough has been slashed in half for this campaign, and much-needed cutbacks have been made in other areas too. Right now, Harriers fans may just be happy that the lights are still on here. And there’s plenty of us home. Despite four defeats in the last five home games, there’s 1,438 of us in attendance – including a small but hardy band of Welling fans huddled together upon the South Terrace, proudly tying their flags onto the stand.
It’s one of two terraced stands at Aggborough – the North Terrace lying behind the other goal, and housing Kiddy’s most vocal support. I opt for the traditional main stand – the C&S Solicitors Stand – which runs along one side of the pitch, opposite the modern and smart Hire-It! Stand (which, confusingly, is not available to rent). The fairly smart interior of Aggborough belies the fact that this ground is 125 years old, though its largely corrugated exterior evokes either unpretentious tradition or Soviet Russia, depending on how kind you’re being.
The teams kick-off, backed by an upbeat home support, and in the early stages, this good feeling seems warranted. Kiddy’s Joe Clarke has the first half-chance of the game, but his 4th minute free-kick lands safely in the arms of Welling’s young ‘keeper Tom King. The home side look the livelier outfit throughout the opening 15 minutes, but struggle to turn possession into good chances. Harriers also look nervy in defence, and only the reactions of ‘keeper Alex Palmer stop a goalmouth scramble from putting the visitors ahead just before the 20-minute mark.
The hosts continue to play some neat passing football, and the talented Jordan Jones blasts an effort just wide after superb play on the wing. Too many of their moves, though, are breaking up in the final third, against a strong Welling defence who haven’t conceded more than once in any game since August. Tahvon Campbell’s effort – another comfortable stop for King – is the final act of a tight but intriguing first half.
At half-time, fans queue for Aggborough’s famously good food as the theme from The Great Escape booms out over the tannoy. But any plans to escape from 24th spot today are thwarted in the early minutes of the second period, as individual errors enable the skillful George Porter to make his mark on the game. First, his curling free-kick sneaks under Palmer, who should probably have kept it out. Then, a misplaced ball from Hodgkiss allows Porter a clear route through on goal. Jordan Tunnicliffe trips the Welling man, and though the contact is slight, the Harriers’ last man receives a straight red. From then on, the home side’s task looks momentous.
Amidst a continued cacophony of chants from the passionate Kiddy fans upon the North Terrace, George Porter continues his role as today’s pantomime villain. The speedy midfielder oscillates between producing exciting moves and rolling around petulantly to try and win free-kicks. Indeed, whilst Welling put in a solid and disciplined footballing performance, a few of The Wings players hope to gain the referee’s sympathy with some rather questionable ‘injuries’. Cynics might suggest that some members of Loui Fazakerly’s side have failed to learn the lessons of the embarrassing and costly Sahr Kabba debacle.
With that said, Welling also show some of the game’s best flashes of quality. A superb move is almost finished off by the lively Xavier Vidal with a quarter of an hour remaining, but he can’t quite provide the strike needed to double their lead. In the closing minutes, 10-man Harriers surge forwards, but neither Reece Styche’s curling effort nor Kelvin Langmead’s close-range header in injury-time hit the target. The points go to the club from Park View Road, who make it four wins in four. The contrast between the fist-pumping, cheering Fazakerly and the dejected Colin Gordon could not be starker.
This has been a decent performance from both sides, in a tense and hard-fought game. But for Kiddy, positives in defeat are hard to take after a 14-game winless run. It may have been a narrow and nervy win for Welling, but Kidderminster would give anything for one of those right now. Already five points from safety, Tuesday night’s game against fellow strugglers Boreham Wood at Aggborough could hardly be more crucial.
Kidderminster Harriers – 0 [Tunnicliffe Sent Off, ‘52]
Welling United – 1 (Porter, ’49)
3pm, 3rd October 2015
Aggborough, Kidderminster (Att: 1,438)
Ticket & Travel Info:
Ticket Prices: Terraces (North & South Stands) – Adults (£14), Over ‘60s/Students/Young Adults (£8), Under-16s (£5), Under-5s (Free)
Seats (C&S Solicitors & Hire It Stands) – Adults (£17), Over ‘60s/Students/Young Adults (£11), Under-5s (Free)
Travel: Kidderminster can be reached by direct train from Worcester, Smethwick or Birmingham’s Moor Street and Snow Hill Stations. The ground is also located close to the convergence of the A448 and A451 roads.
Ground Location: Aggborough lies 0.5 miles south-west of Kidderminster Railway Station, and the same distance south-east of the town centre.
Another eventful Matchday Adventure, this time taking in Tamworth’s Lamb Ground for their National League North encounter with Stalybridge Celtic. Read the rest of this entry
Whilst there’s little of the heady drama of Saturday’s last-gasp 2-1 victory at Macclesfield Town, it seems Chester F.C. will hold on for a hard-fought if slightly fortuitous three points. Guiseley, backed by a small but vocal away support are pressing, but cannot seem to force the ball over the line. Then, the latest in a succession of sloppy mistakes appears within the Chester defence. Liam Boyes is left unmarked to gobble up a rebound from inside the six yard box, and calmly slots home to level it. But it isn’t over yet… Read the rest of this entry