It’s that time of year again. No, not when I write my now seemingly annual article (sorry, I’ll try and get back to it!), but rather the time when clubs anxiously await their fate as to which division they’ll be competing in the following season. Why, though, does it always come to this? Read the rest of this entry
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.
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