Sunday, 10 December 2017


Beeston Rylands  4  Keyworth United Reserves  5

Nottinghamshire Senior League – Division One

“If the first thirty seconds are anything to go by, this could be a very long hour and a half…”

The famous last words of Steve who was on the phone to his good lady, just after the Keyworth full back had found a back garden with an attempted ball down the touchline.

Nostradamus need not worry, Steve’s prediction did not quite unravel in the way he expected, but more on that later, first, this was always going to be a challenging day on the football front, the weather Gods had not been very kind to us.

Snow and frost in the previous 24 hours had blitzed the Midlands and North, so finding a game was going to be a tricky exercise, especially if I wanted to get a new ground in. Kiveton Park went by the wayside early doors due to a frozen pitch, the artificial pitch that Caribbean Sports used was fine, but the visitors could not raise a side, Hepworth was under so much snow they couldn’t find the ground, let alone do a pitch inspection, so that left just the two.

They were Thurcroft Miners Institute and Beeston Rylands, with Thurcroft being my initial choice in the run up to the weekend. The visitors, Boynton Sports, received confirmation all was ok at the Thurcroft Sports Hub, so off I set, knowing that Steve had got an affirmative from Beeston and was on his way to the edges of Nottingham.

It was when I drove into the car park at Thurcroft that I sensed something wasn’t quite right, players were milling around in that limbo like fashion, and it soon became clear that the referee was unhappy with parts of the pitch being frozen. But, Thurcroft offered the alternative of a second pitch on the complex, but again, after much striding and heel digging by the somewhat picky official, the game was officially off.

I admit, I might have broken the odd speed limit, getting to at least 75 mph on two or three occasions on the M1, but a clear run and thanks to Steve guiding me into the car park via the maze of roads that is the housing estate where Beeston Rylands play, my scheduled 2pm arrival was now more like ten to two.
Beeston Rylands joined the Notts Senior League at the start of this season from the Notts Amateur Alliance where they were champions, and deemed to be a strong side, they joined the league in the middle division of the three, and to be fair that placing seems justified as the club sit in a comfortable mid-table position.

The Facilities
The ground at Leyton Crescent is a council facility comprised of a couple of pitches and a dressing room complex at the top of the site by the road. No rail or rope was in place, but it had a somewhat rural feel to it being located on the very edge of the urban life that is the busy Nottingham suburb. My original thoughts at the start of the season were to visit on the train and sample some of the excellent pubs that Beeston has to offer, but with it being a port in a storm kind of day, that experience will have to wait.

Bizarrely the pitch was fine, no sign of any frost and the temperature felt relatively mild under the circumstances. We had a game, but after thirty seconds, Steve felt suitably informed to make his prediction.

More Autumn Than Winter?
So, what really happened after the initial hoof into the back garden, was a quite brilliant game of football, played by two committed sides and very well refereed by the young official.

The visitors raced into a two goal lead before Rylands pulled a goal back. That only spurred on the away side to go up the other end to make it 1-3, and that was hot it remained at half time. We were both ready for a beer at this point, and with no refreshment facilities at the ground, I shot up the road to a shop and picked up some cans of Carling to see us through the second period. A fridge was not deemed necessary to keep them cool as the snow showers started to fall on the open expanse situated close to the banks of the nearby River Trent.

Not A Speck Of White Stuff In Sight
A screamer of a shot made it 4-1, but then Rylands rallied and it went 4-2 and 4-3, were we in for a monumental finish? Keyworth restored the two goal advantage but then Rylands, who refused to give up, pulled it back to 5-4.

That was how it finished, and what a superb game of football, one that neither of us really wanted to see come to an end. Credit to all involved for putting on a great spectacle.

As for Steve, as the final whistle blew, he turned to me and said, “Well that was crap….”, with more than a touch of irony in his voice.

We’re planning on going to a game together on Wednesday, and the first choice match is one that Steve suggested might be a really entertaining spectacle. On that basis I’ll take my sleeping bag then….

Beeston Rylands FC

Friday, 8 December 2017

The Maltby Kop

Maltby Main  8  Grimethorpe Sports  0

Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior Cup

It was Tuesday the 21st of February 1989, and after a hard fought draw the previous Saturday at our place, Belper Town faced a trip to Muglet Lane to take on Maltby Miners Welfare in a League Cup Third Round Replay.

This was uncharted territory for the Nailers, we’d never been to Maltby before and didn’t quite know what to expect. Now my memory is pretty good, and I can remember two things that specifically stand out from a game we lost 2-0.

Firstly, they had a lad upfront called Ian Hutchinson who absolutely destroyed us. He was a big centre forward and we just had no answer to his power and presence, in fact, at the time I remember thinking to myself that we seemed terrified of him. He scored one of the goals, he may have got them both, but either way, he was a massive difference between the two side.

The other abiding memory was the fact that this was a big game as far as Maltby were concerned, what with Belper being from the division above and recent champions. A big crowd had pitched up, and a large number of them congregated on the covered terrace that sat on the Miners Welfare side of the ground. Talk about hostility, they didn’t like us, not one bit, and the stick our players took was merciless, and to be fair the match officials didn’t get away lightly either!

The Kop
The ‘Maltby Kop’ has, over the years, been stuff of legends, you could write a book about it, in fact esteemed fellow blogger Rob Waite who writes THE66POW, has probably already done so, and he has far more experience of it than I have. Tonight though, I decided it was time to join them, but we’ll come to that later…

Any trip to Muglet Lane is not the same without a wander round the corner to the Miners Welfare, and every time I go in this place, I seem to make the same mistake, I sit in someone’s seat, and it was the same again tonight when all around they were setting up for some kind of meeting. They are very polite, and never ask you to move, but it’s that look, the way you feel encircled and trapped, that makes you head for another part of the room.

There’s a picture on the wall that strikes a chord with me, it’s effectively a list of all the closed South Yorkshire pits complete with their respective emblems, under the banner of ‘Closed By The Tories’. It’s very evocative and is a timely reminder that it may have been 1985 when the pits went to war, but it will never be forgotten in these parts. Coal mining is part of the fabric in villages like Maltby, and arguably over thirty years later they are still trying to recover from the devastating effects.

The Kop From Within
The Welfare is a very nice place, warm and welcoming, and they do serve a good pint at excellent prices. If you go to Maltby, make sure you pay a visit, but be careful where you sit.

Back at Muglet Lane, I needed some fodder so I got myself a burger from the chaps in the tea bar. Maltby’s burgers are great, so I jokingly suggested that they should give themselves some publicity, only to be met with..

“Bloody hell, we don’t want it being made public we do burgers, health and safety will come along and shut us down!”

Muglet Lane is a proper little ground, with the infamous Kop sat next to a seated stand, while the dressing rooms sit inside a two storey building by the corner flag, otherwise, nothing else of note apart from the floodlight pylons which are pylons from the old pit yard. These used to be commonplace years back in South Yorkshire but as floodlighting systems have been upgraded, they are now as rare as hens teeth, so long may they stay at Muglet Lane.

The Lush Surface
The pitch was in perfect nick, and to be honest I was expecting a relatively close game against table topping County Senior League side Grimethorpe, who themselves come from another famous pit village (see a previous blog article from last April).

It wasn’t to be though, Maltby scored three times in almost as many minutes in a first half spell, and then added two more to go into half time with a 5-0 lead. Clearly it was game over and I guess it was almost inevitable that they would add to that tally in the second period, which they did, three time to leave the score 8-0.

Were Grimethorpe bad? No, not at all, they worked hard and tried to play football, but on the night they came up against a Maltby side that were simply on fire and playing some fantastic football. Was it harsh, maybe if you take into account the effort the visitors put in, but in terms of the chances the hosts created, it was difficult to argue with.

Even At The Keepers Distance - You Still Aren't Safe!
So, the Kop.

We are talking the old boys here, and tonight what with it being a cup tie on a cold night it probably wasn’t as populated as it normally is, but the banter was still fantastic. The away team got away with it to a large degree, but when you are 5-0 up at half time, you don’t really need to be getting under their skin. However, in the past when a foolish opposition player has decided to respond to the taunts and bite back, its game over, he’s finished, his football career is effectively ruined because psychologically the damage will be beyond repair.  

The linesman did cop for it though, albeit good natured on this occasion. And as Rob once eloquently put, many a linesman has metaphorically finished with his head on a stake after incurring the wrath of the locals. I’m not saying they’ve managed to sway any decisions, but the temptation to swing a particular way on a 50/50 call must be high! 

It’s the conversation and banter though that makes it though. I recall a game against Scarborough once where the topical and learned subject was the North Sea cod wars, whereas tonight, the subject for debate was same sex marriages. Now, this is working class Maltby, a pit village where men are men and the women are not to be messed with. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to how the conversation developed, but suffice to say, I don’t want my blog closing down so I won't be repeating it!

So that was Maltby, it doesn’t change, in fact it seemed no different to how it was thirty years ago, and like many, I hope it never does change, it just wouldn’t be quite the same would it?

Where Burgers Are Flipped

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Denied FC

Swallownest  1  Armthorpe Welfare  1

Northern Counties East League – First Division

It was Tuesday morning and I was sat on the sofa sipping on a cup of coffee before setting off for work.

The time was 6.50am and I was already thinking ahead about football that evening, I had a few messy bits and pieces to get through at work but to be honest I was looking for something to take my mind off of that, so letting my thoughts drift towards Swallownest was not a bad thing to be doing at that point in time.

Since I’ve been writing my blog I’ve always tried to keep an open mind about the angle I take in terms of writing a story about a football club, but from time to time I'll go to a game with something of a pre-determined agenda, because there is already a story I want to tell, irrespective of what happens on the field when I arrive.

The Business End
I’d not really got any pre-conceived ideas about Swallownest, I’d been a few times before when they were a County Senior League, but otherwise I was struggling for inspiration and was hoping something would hit me later that evening.

As I turned to leave the coffee mug on the mat next to the bookshelf, my eyes caught a work that I bought some years ago now by esteemed writer and football historian Dave Twydall.

‘Denied FC’ the story of the clubs that had tried and failed over the years to gain access to the Football League, clubs like Altrincham, Bedford Town, Kettering Town and Chelmsford City to name but a few. The ‘closed shop’ approach adopted by Football League Chairmen up until the introduction of automatic promotion was staggering. Wigan Athletic and Wimbledon got in during the mid-seventies, while Hereford United also found their way in the early Seventies, but other than that the likes of Rochdale, Hartlepool United, Halifax Town and Crewe Alexandra were generally speaking safe, Barrow, Workington and Southport were not so lucky, the North West coastline was not a secure place to be.

The train of thought had begun, Swallownest had been on the receiving end of a few setbacks over recent seasons, and if being denied promotion was worthy of being included in a book, then theirs is a story to be told.

The Out Of Bounds Terracing
Swallownext Miners Welfare were a big club back in the Sixties and Seventies, a strong County League outfit playing behind the Welfare on Rotherham Road. As the pits closed and times got tough, the club dipped in both fortunes and status, but during the 2014-15 season they felt the time was right to move the club forward. Lights went up and an application was submitted to join the Northern Counties East League.

The ground grading took place and the club believed they had passed it, a move upwards looked inevitable, but then came the bombshell news that they had actually failed the grading. An appeal was heard but ultimately it was unsuccessful. A third place finish in the County League had been achieved in that season, but with restrictions on league positions being relaxed for the following season due to the need for more clubs to be promoted, it seemed all Swallownest (as they were now called, having dropped the Miners Welfare) needed to do was pass the grading.

They finished seventh in 2015-16, which was presumably fine, and they passed the ground grading. But when the Northern Counties East League constitution was revealed, they weren’t in it…..

From what I can gather, it was simply a case of the FA selecting other clubs ahead of them for promotion, on the basis they had received a significant number of applications from suitable clubs. Maybe league position did come into the equation after all, I can’t really say and whether Swallownest did find out the real reason I’m not sure, but from an outsider looking in it did seem a bit strange, surely if the FA needed more clubs at Step 6, they would have shuffled things around to accommodate them?

The Welfare In The Far Corner
Anyway, 2016-17 beckoned, still a County League club, had they got the desire to go for it again after two seasons of disappointment? On the field they certainly weren’t affected adversely, they went on to win it, but would they get the promotion that surely they deserved?

They did, and you could forgive the club for not shouting from the rooftops until the constitutions were unveiled, but, they were finally a Step 6 club.

Midweek games have been a bit scarce this season at the Miners Welfare, but with it being a mere five minutes from my nearest office, it was time to go and have a look at how both the ground and the team has developed.

The Miners Welfare building is an enormous place, with numerous spacious rooms, a legacy of the days when coal was King in this part of the Country. It still gets busy, but back in the day I can imagine the place was an absolute mass of activity as families gathered of a weekend after several grueling shifts by the patriarch.

The football ground is to the rear of the Welfare and is accessed via a smart turnstile block behind the goal that has been built since my last visit. To the right of this are the changing rooms, while to the left is a tea bar and a small area of covered terracing. Sadly, the old crumbling terraces of the Sixties and Seventies that run
along the Southern touchline is now out of bounds, as is the far goal. The only other area spectators can stand in is along the North touchline. The pitch is in excellent condition which is the norm with Miners Welfare’s, they do take pride in the playing surfaces.

Lush Surface
They’ve done the required work to get to Step 6 and clearly it’s a work in progress, but to move any further I suspect they’ll need to install more cover and seats.

On the field they sat in the bottom six of the table after a mixed start to the season which included a change of manager, while visiting Armthorpe Welfare sat in a mid-table berth. It was a very competitive game, one which the officials struggled with at times, albeit of their own making to be fair. The hosts took the lead in the 26th minute when Alex Lill found the net, but within ten minutes Luke Williams used his pace to grab an equaliser for the away side.

The second half saw no further goals, but Swallownest will probably be the more disappointed side at gaining just a point after creating numerous chances on the back of good possession. The ball would neither fall right, or Welfare would manage to get something in the way of anything goal bound, it was one of those kind of nights.

A very decent crowd of 128 turned up though which is hugely encouraging for the club, and if they can harness that sort of support then that can only be a good thing going forward.

It’s been a long time coming for the club that refused to be denied, I reckon there could be a book in that somewhere……….

Under The Moon......

Monday, 4 December 2017


New Bohemians  1  Manor Hotel  5

Sheffield County Senior League – Division Two

I can’t remember exactly what year it was, but I was on my usual route between our offices in Dronfield and Gleadless when I spotted a sign attached to the side of the Boundary Social Club in Jordanthorpe.

New Bohemians FC had taken residence at the venue, and were using one of the two pitches on the site, but who were they?

A bit of research later and I’d found the answer, they were a new club in the Sheffield County Senior League. I did plan to pop over and watch at some point, but it never happened. Since then the ground and the club at the Boundary has gone to ruin, it’s overgrown and it’s been vandalised. I can’t see anything other than demolition happening any time soon.

The club had long gone though to pastures new before this set in though, this time to the Sheffield University Sports Ground on Bawtry Road, I planned to pop over and watch at some point, but that too never happened.

At the start of this season they were off again, this time to the Forge Valley School which sits on the border between Malin Bridge and Stannington, on the North West side of Sheffield. I planned to pop over and watch at some point, and now, that time had come! Sorry it’s taken so long Bohs!

So what was New Bohemians FC all about? I knew of two clubs called Bohemians, one of which I’d seen on a few occasions, located in Dublin and playing in the League of Ireland. They are one of the oldest and most famous clubs in Eire, playing at the iconic Dalymount Park in the Phibsborough area of the Fair City.

Schools Weren't Like This In My Day
The other club is Bohemians 1905 of Prague, something of a cult club with a left wing identity, and somewhat bizarrely they have a picture of a kangaroo on their badge. Turns out they went on tour to Australia and were donated two live marsupials, which ended up in Prague Zoo. The Chairman of the club is Antonin Panenka, that fella who invented the penalty kick that can make you look a genius or a complete dick, depending on the outcome!

It turns out that New Bohemians were formed by Richard Cobb in 2006, who returned to his native Sheffield after spending a number of years living in Prague. While in Prague, Richard began to support Bohemians 1905, so upon his return the club he created included the colours, the name and indeed the kangaroo! Not only that, the New Bohemians have been known to tour Prague from time to time when it’s possible to put such a trip together.

And They're Off.....
Nowadays the club sports various teams playing on Saturday’s and Sunday’s plus it also has a ladies team wearing the famous kangaroo on the shirt. I know all this because they are very good at updating their Twitter account, and it was via that medium that I received notification the game against Manor Hotel was indeed on, with both the venue and the kick off time duly confirmed.

Liquid refreshment was taken at the nearby Anvil pub which is a mere five minutes walk from the school. It took some getting to with Sheffield Wednesday being at home to Hull City, but after dealing with the traffic along Penistone Road and Bradfield Road, it was pretty straightforward getting round the Malin Bridge ring road and up the hill!

Forge Valley School is a modern establishment s these new fangled academies often are. Sat at the top of Wood Lane, and behind the school down an embankment, are the sports pitches that are used by Bohemians. The pitch was roped on one side, and after the recent rain and obvious usage by the school it was heavy and already looked quite cut up before the game even started.

From Behind The Security Fences
The weather was good on the day though, and with Bohemians needing a win against the mid-table outfit and league newcomers from Maltby to go top of the Second Division, they started the game confidently

It soon went wrong though, very wrong. They were 3-0 down before a goal just prior to the break from Bradley Clarke reduced the deficit. The visitors then scored twice more in the second period, with the dangerous Tom Shore getting four of their goals and Ryan Smyth getting the other.

Stannington Skyline
On the day, Manor Hotel were much the better team and you could argue that they adapted to the pitch far better than Bohemians did. Although to be fair, Bohemians defensive organisation left a lot to be desired and with the away side growing in confidence and not being without a physical presence, the outcome quickly became inevitable.

Not a good day at the office for the boys in green and white, this was one Bohemian Rhapsody that was not going to get to number one, but I’m sure they’ll bounce back, isn’t that what kangaroo’s do? 


Sunday, 3 December 2017

The Weston Effect

Selston  3  Blaby & Whetstone Athletic  1

East Midlands Counties League

I first met Craig Weston back in the late Eighties, when he was a young player at Belper Town. He didn’t stay too long at Belper in his first spell, and clearly destined to play at a higher level, he moved on to Grantham Town, Gresley Rovers, who reached an FA Vase Final during his spell, and Alfreton Town.

Craig did eventually rejoin Belper as a player in the early Noughties before having a brief spell as Manager, only to then move on to Leek Town and latterly Long Eaton United.

Craig’s parents ran the Spanker Inn at Heage, and during my days of living with my folks, myself and my Dad would make the odd journey up for a pint, and more often than not his Father would give us an update as to Craig’s most recent games and performances.

He was a neat and combative midfielder, and perhaps the best compliment you could pay him was that he was most noticeable when he wasn’t in the team. If ever there was a vital cog in a side, then it was Craig.

I saw a fair bit if him during a successful period playing for the Alfreton Town side of the mid-Nineties, and what a team they were, although in terms of characters, they were on another level with the likes of John McFadzean, Matt Walsh, Neil Pickering and Lee Hirst in the side. Bus trips to away games were not for the feint hearted! In fact on more than one occasion Craig gave me a lift home after the bus had returned, what with me being in no real state to find my own way back!

When he returned to Belper he formed a midfield partnership with Richard Denby, and that was as good a midfield pairing you would see in that league at the time. When he did take over as caretaker manager following Martin Rowe’s departure, he did want the job full time but the decision was taken to give the job to Gary Marrow at the end of the season. Craig was unhappy, he’d kept the club up and felt hard done by, but while relations were strained for a period, that became water under the bridge.

Mood Lighting
In more recent years, his son Sam has played for Belper’s academy and is a fantastic prospect, while in terms of his own involvement in football, he took the managerial reigns at Selston, and that’s been nothing short of a massive success.

Going about their business quietly, Selston moved from the Nottinghamshire Senior League into the Central Midlands League. They won the Southern Division at the first attempt but it was Belper United who got promotion as the Parish Hall ground was not up to standard.

Undeterred, they went out and won it again the following season, and this time, with ground improvements completed and floodlights due to be installed, promotion to the East Midlands Counties League was in the bag for a club that less than ten years ago was competing in the lowly Midlands Regional Alliance, and not even in the top flight of that.

The Crowd Gathers
It’s quite a story, a story of a club and a community that has worked hard together to create a forward thinking and hugely respected organisation that the locals really want to get behind. Crowds rarely drop below three figures, and for a league that is pretty poorly supported on the whole, that’s a fantastic figure to be achieving.

We mustn’t forget though, Selston did have a strong side back in the Nineties, ironically managed by the now Chairman of Alfreton Town, Wayne Bradley, but at the time they had to play home games at Alfreton’s North Street because the Parish Hall was deemed unsuitable for the level they were then playing at. Bradley’s story since is a remarkable one, and while Selston did fall back, there is no doubt now that this is a club on the up.

I was going to go to the corresponding game earlier in the season which was due to be the clubs first competitive fixture under the new floodlight, but that was postponed due to the Electricity Board failing to fit a meter! However, with meter now in place, it was time to go and have a look.

Spion Kop
After a slightly surreal pint in the quirky Bull & Butcher, what I found at the Parish Hall was smart set up. Some cover and some seats are located to the side of the dugouts, while behind the top goal is a large bank with a path running across the top that provides an excellent view of proceedings.

Sharing with the cricket, one side is out of bounds and across the cricket field are the dressing rooms and the clubhouse, serving the usual array of football fodder and beverages. The floodlights are excellent, and clearly visible as you enter the village from the motorway side.

A victory over Blaby would see Selston hit the summit of the league, and despite having to wait until the closing stages of the first half to take the lead via a Grant Hackett header, it was a fairly straightforward night.

They played some excellent football in the second half on what was a tricky surface and well taken goals from Sean Gregory and Dominic Airey had the three points in the bag. Blaby pulled a goal back in the last minute through Joe Morrall, while the only sour note for Selston came when a late challenge on Josh Waldram saw him carried off with a broken ankle and ligament damage

Selston By Night
A really enjoyable evening, despite the bitterly cold weather, and what a very good outfit Selston are. The credit largely must go to Craig Weston for putting this side together and moulding them into a fine football team. I suspect clubs at a higher level have taken a look at what he’s done and wondered whether he would be able to do a job, and I’m sure he would, but I think being the sensible and down to earth bloke he is, he probably realises he’s onto a really good thing at Selston and considers it to be home from home. Not only that, he probably doesn’t want the aggravation the Northern Premier League might add to a manager’s workload.

Selston are a club on the up, and on a freezing night 109 spectators turned up to watch the game. I’ll be back again, and I’m sure plenty of others will be too. Craig will no doubt continue to go about his business in the unassuming manner he’s renowned for, and with him at helm, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if they were to claim their third title in successive seasons.

Now that would be one hell of an achievement, but richly deserved for one of the nicest blokes in football you could meet.  
View From The Hill

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Blueprint

Mickleover Sports  3  Bedworth United  0

Northern Premier League Cup

If there was ever a blueprint as to how to build a club and take it forward, then you need look no further than Mickleover Sports.

When I first started to watch non-league football as a teenager in the mid-eighties, I’d never heard of Sports, and believe me, I wasn’t called Rainman for nothing, I knew my stuff!

Not only that, every Saturday we used to drive down Station Road, where the Sports Club is situated, to get to my Grandma’s house in Mickleover, yet still I had no idea. I knew all about Mickleover Royal British Legion who played off Western Road, and indeed used to have a wander round and watch them from time to time, but Sports? Nah!

Station Road
The club history tells us that they were formed in 1948, playing in the Derby Senior League, but it wasn’t  until 1992 when they joined forces with other members of the Mickleover Sports club to acquire the site on Station Road that things really started to ramp up. This lead to the development of the facilities and by the start of the 1993-94 season they had been accepted into the Central Midlands League.

Two seasons later and promotion had been secured to the Supreme Division, where they remained for four seasons until the championship arrived in 1998-99 and with it promotion to the Northern Counties East League. It was during this season that they were involved in a controversial FA Vase tie with big spending Bedlington Terriers, where a mysterious floodlight failure saw them denied a famous victory (must be a North East thing, didn’t that happen at South Shields last season?).

They came close in the First Division of the Northern Counties East League with finishes of fourth third and fifth, before finally under the stewardship of Martin Rowe they won the title in the 2002-03 season.

The Premier Division experience saw various mid-table finishes until the arrival of former Derby County centre half Dick Pratley, and then in the 2008-09 they went on the clinch the championship and make it to the Northern Premier League for the first time in the clubs history.

The Food & Drink End
No one could have envisaged what happened next, under Pratley’s astute leadership they went on a sixteen game winning run in the middle part of the season, which ironically I witnessed come to an end at Belper Town, and that proved to be the platform that saw them deservedly clinch back to back titles. To have reached the third tier of non-league football seventeen years after arriving from what was effectively parks football, was one hell of an achievement.

The first season in the Premier Division saw them finish 15th, but disaster was to strike in the 2011-12 season when they finished next to bottom and were relegated for the first time in the clubs history. However, the club were deducted three points during the course of the season due to an ineligible player, and that ultimately did cost them.

The cynics argued the bubble had burst, and now it was just a case of how far they would fall to what would be their natural level? And yes, they did finish next to bottom of the NPL First Division a year later but relegation was avoided, however, the club re-grouped, and finished in the play off places the next season, only to lose to Belper Town in the final.

Then as Belper were having a disaster and finishing bottom, Mickleover were going again and this time made no mistake by winning the First Division championship for a second time, and on this occasion with 98 points.

Three seasons later and Sports sit mid-table in the Premier Division, the first season was a bit tight in terms of staying up, but last year they finished 15th. To respond to the cynics, maybe Mickleover have now found their natural position?

So how have they done it?

A Promotion Requirement!
On the field, in my view, they haven’t been silly by throwing ridiculous cash about. They do focus very much on local players, utilising great relationships with Derby County and Burton Albion to bring in young players, while at the same time it has proved a masterstroke to appoint the vastly experienced John McGrath as manager who himself has an array of contacts and is renowned as a superb coach. Not only that, McGrath has made a significant contribution towards developing a very successful Academy structure of the club, and that’s starting to reap benefits.

Shrewd managerial appointments have been the norm at Sports, Martin Rowe arrived after a successful spell at Belper Town, Dick Pratley was without doubt the right man at the right time, while in Glenn Kirkwood and Craig Hopkins they bought in two young manager’s who were very ambitious.

Off the field though it’s equally important to get it right. Every club needs a bedrock, and at Sports that man is Tony Shaw, the Secretary and General Manager, who has been with the club pretty much since day one. The current Chairman is Don Amott, a very wealthy man in his own right, but more importantly he’s a visionary man and he has great plans to develop Station Road in conjunction with the major housing developments taking place in the locality. Cynics may argue that it’s easy to have a plan, but how often do they get executed successfully? Well, I have absolutely no doubt that under Amott, Sports will be successful in their plans and will have facilities that will be the envy of many.

So what about the facilities? Well they are absolutely fine, plenty of seats and cover, a nice clubhouse albeit a bit on the small side, and an impressive boardroom / sponsors area. The pitch is excellent and the burgers are immense! If you were being critical, one of the things holding the club back in terms of ground development is the fact they share the ground with the cricket, and that effectively puts one side out of bounds.

I have a ride down to Sports two or three times a season, I love going, the welcome is always friendly, and for me it’s just a really nice place to watch good football at a club that actually cares and wants to progress.

Some Football
Tonight they were playing Bedworth United who operate a league below, and to be fair it was a game Mickleover won without having to hit top gear. Mickleover were that bit more physical and that bit quicker moving the ball, and ultimately that was what led to the 3-0 victory.

Bradley Grayson scored in the first period, Oliver Mulders then scored a cracking goal ten minutes into the second half before Lewis Belgrave notched the third in the closing minutes. Only 73 spectators paid to watch the game, but this is a club that can be impacted by Derby County home games, and with Ipswich Town at Pride Park tonight, that was always going to adversely affect matters.

The average crowd this season at Station Road is 223 which is modest for the division they are in, but they deserve more, and with a growth in the population of Mickleover starting to happen through house building, the club will be desperate to capitalise on that to increase support.

But until then, if anyone is looking for a model of what a football club should look like, then they should go no further than Station Road in Mickleover, the answers are all there, and you won’t need a degree in rocket science to understand them.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Final Instalment

De Treffers  0  VVSB  1

Tweede Division

Mention the Dutch town of Groesbeek to anyone and the chances are that if they've heard of it, then it will be because of Operation Market Garden and the 82nd Airborne Division landing close by in the latter stages of the Second World War.

History tells an incredible story of Groesbeek, the Allied forces landed and made their way through the town in an attempt to head off the Nazi invasion as it moved towards the Rhine. The operation, which was powerfully portrayed in the film ‘A Bridge Too Far’, was designed to secure the bridges that crossed the river in the Nijmegen and Arnhem area, but ultimately it failed, and the residents of Groesbeek paid the price. The town was destroyed and its inhabitants forced to flee.

Despite its failure, the Allies were, and still remain heroes in this part of the Netherlands. In Groesbeek itself is the National Liberation Museum which gives a fantastic and poignant insight into the events of the time. Nearby is also the home of the Canadian War Cemetery.

That’s the serious side of Groesbeek, but in a footballing perspective this is one extremely curious town. Firstly some background, the population is just less than 20,000 inhabitants, but, it can boast the following six football clubs.

Welcome to De Treffers
Playing in the third tier are Achilles 29 (who were recently in the second tier) and De Treffers. Germania play in the sixth tier, Rood Wit in the seventh tier along with Groesbeekse Boys, while DVSG are the relative minnows in the ninth tier.

Ok, some of these are at a pretty low level, and some or Saturday clubs, some are Sunday clubs, but at the same time, they still have squads to fill, they still have junior sides, they still need to be staffed, they still need somewhere to play.

20,000 inhabitants is comparably the size of a town like Dronfield. So it would be like having two teams in League One, one in Conference North, two in the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League, and one in the Premier Division of the Northern Counties East League.

Bonkers isn’t it, and yes, the relative standards of the steps in Holland are nowhere near what they would be in England, but all the same, can you think of another town in England of a similar size that could compare? The only one coming anything like close would be Northwich and it’s various districts, but even that’s pushing it based on the fact most of that is due to basket case management and ownership.

We’ve been to Achilles 29, when they were in the second tier, and saw a pretty dull 0-0 draw with Volendam. The crowd was small, but the official figure seemed nothing like the reality. We spoke to a players parent and he told us the wage bill, it wasn’t sustainable from what we could see, and recent history has seen them relegated in what is believed to be serious financial mire.

Many would argue though that in the town, the bigger club is actually De Treffers, and should the opportunity arise, they too would consider a jump to the professional ranks of the second tier. The Dutch pyramid has changed somewhat in the last couple of years so whether that ambition remains is debatable, but, it seemed like it was worth giving them a visit with it being a short distance from base camp.

I have to say, it’s a very impressive set up. A large and spacious car park is easily accessed, and then after buying a ticket you enter the ground behind the goal, and that’s where you are met with the massively impressive site of the two tier clubhouse.

Yeah, Not Bad!
I’ve been in a few clubhouses over the years, from the brilliant to the Beirut, but this place was right up there. Walking in through the main foyer you reach a large room with two bars and a snack bar. It’s plush, comfortable and very well decorated with lots of De Treffers memorabilia adorning the walls. Next door to the main room is a very smart looking business club area, while upstairs are more rooms and a balcony that looks out onto the pitch. Of course, the players and officials are also catered for, with their facilities at the very end of the building.

Pitch side, behind the goal is some terracing, while on the road side is more terracing and a seated stand. Opposite the stand is a long covered terracing area, and that was where we took our places in the first half.

East Side - Give Us A Song.....
It’s not been going so well on the pitch for either team, and in a first half that saw very few chances, it was the visitors VVSB from the Nordwijk area who took the lead with a lofted shot that beat the onrushing De Treffers goalkeeper.

The second half was viewed from behind the goal, and to be honest it failed to capture the imagintaion until the last ten minutes when De Treffers went full tilt for the equaliser. That goal never came, but we did see a pretty tasty scrap!

A De Treffers player went down injured, a visiting playing thought he was faking it so dragged him across the pitch, and this didn’t go down well with the home side. All kinds of handbags were being swung around until order was restored and a player from each side received a red card. The player was actually injured and in the dying seconds he was carried past us on a stretcher, being dragged by one of his legs probably didn't help matters.

De Treffers remain deep in trouble, while VVSB gain some vital breathing space. It hadn’t been as good a game as the previous day, both sides were noticeable inferior to both FC Lienden and GVVV, but it perhaps also wasn’t helped by the fact the game was played on quite an uneven grass surface.

It was a cracking set up though, and a great way to end our famous Football Weekend, however, it wasn’t quite over just yet.

We had our final meal at the place where it began on the Tuesday, Een Mooie Dag, where Edwin and his staff once again laid on a brilliant meal for us. We drank to the Football Weekend, and while it was never discussed, I suspect all of us were hoping we can do it all again next year, for the fourteenth time in a row.

I’m pretty sure we will, Heineken will be most disappointed if we can’t contribute to their profits!

Hendrik - Bob - Edwin - Dad - Theo (The Weekenders)