Thursday, 19 October 2017

Charterhouse

Shepshed Dynamo  4  St Andrews  0

Leicestershire Senior Cup – First Round

They arrived in the Midland Counties League with a big reputation.

It was 1981 and three times Leicestershire Senior League Champions Shepshed Charterhouse were elevated into the relatively closed shop of the semi-professional ranks. This was the club who had previously been known as Shepshed Albion, but following a name change courtesy of a sponsorship deal, they rose from a being a struggling Second Division Senior League side, into quite a force, a force that also reached the semi-final of the FA Vase.

They won the Midland Counties League at the first attempt, and then when the non-league Pyramid was formed at the end of the 81-82 season, they went on to win the Northern Counties East League to become inaugural champions. Throw in an FA Cup First Round appearance at Preston North End, and you had a club that were seriously upwardly mobile.

So how did this all come about?

Maurice Clayton and his company, Charterhouse Textiles, effectively took over the club. Maurice did two things, clearly he funded the running of the club, certainly in terms of the playing budget, but not only that he was extremely well connected in the local area and had some great footballing contacts.

The likes of Frank Wignall, Ian Storey-Moore and Alan Hill became involved with the club in varying capacities, and what that allowed was an influx of the top talent in the area. By the time they were ripping the Northern Counties East up in 1982-83 they had the likes of Mark Cox, Dennis Jenas (Jermaine’s Dad) and Jeff Lissaman playing for the club, players who could easily have played at a higher level.

The Clubhouse - Where Throwing Of Beer Mats Is Forbidden!
Crowds were up, the media were all over it, in fact I can remember Central Television running a feature on them.  Shepshed Charterhouse were the IT club of the Midlands, but just how far could it go?

They moved into the Southern League Midland Division and finished runners up to Willenhall Town, thus earning another promotion, this time to the Premier Division. By now Evan Sutherland was managing the club, a vastly experienced and firebrand Scot who was extremely skilled at bringing together top quality players and blending them into great sides.

After a flying start to life in the Premier Division, they ended up finishing tenth, and then with seventh and eleventh placed finishes in subsequent seasons, it did look as though Charterhouse had found their level.

In 1988 the club were switched to the Northern Premier League and this appeared to do them no favours.  Finishing bottom twice, and in the bottom four on two other occasions, they were eventually relegated to the First Division of the NPL in 1992, at which point the club reverted back to their original name of Shepshed Albion. The Charterhouse days were over in every sense.

They went down again, to the Midland Combination, after which followed another name change to Shepshed Dynamo, and this is where we pick it up today.

Where Charterhouse Used To Reign
They did become founder members of the Midland Football Alliance, and in 1996 they went on to win it, under the stewardship of Mark O’Kane. The following season, back in the Southern League this time, they reached the First Round of the FA Cup for the second time, losing at Carlisle United.

The Southern League was to be the clubs home for eight seasons, and in the final season despite finishing bottom they managed to retain their status, but with it came a move back North again.

The NPL was also a struggle, a best placed finish of eight, was countered by the fact the club finished next to bottom and then bottom in successive seasons. They were going back down again.

The United Counties League beckoned for a season, before ending up back in the Midland Football League where they remain, and promotion back to Step 4 has not to date looked realistic.

I first went to Shepshed in 1984, to watch Belper’s reserves play in a Cup Final. My only memory of it was a telling off from a barmaid for throwing beer mats in the social club, not me I might add, the players were the culprits!

Over the years I’ve been to the Dovecote on numerous occasions, in various leagues as you would expect, and I’ve always found them to be a very friendly and welcoming club. They also hold the record for the ground I’ve turned up at the most times only to find the match referee has called the game off at short notice following an earlier passed pitch inspection! Three visits at the last count that saw me turn around upon arrival.

Dynamo Dominate
I do like the ground, it’s a mixture of structures and it has quite some character. The clubhouse sits to one side just beyond the turnstiles, with an area in front of it providing shelter. A quirky small stand sits beyond the clubhouse and despite its elevation it contains just a handful of seats, while beyond this running up the goal line is another area of covered shelter. On the opposite side is a low slung seated stand, while behind the goal is a larger but shallow seated stand, with the club shop and media areas to the side of it.

Talking of the club shop, Steve Straw and Alan Gibson who run it are Shepshed lads through and through, and always have time for some football chat when you pay them a visit, as I make a point of doing each time I go to the ground.

Shepshed were playing Leicester based St Andrews in the County Cup, with the visitors competing in the United Counties League, who’s boundaries over recent years have started to swallow up Leicestershire. Shepshed are indeed right on that border and probably suspect that a return to the UCL could easily happen one day.

It was a pretty comfortable night for Shepshed, after scoring midway through the first half the result was never in doubt, and the 4-0 final scoreline was reflective of the hosts domination.

It may not be the heady days of Charterhouse, but Shepshed still have a healthy following. It’s a pretty sizable town, and with the ground being very central and easily accessible, the locals do turn out for the club in good numbers, which is great to see. Could they sustain a club at Step 4, absolutely, but the trick of course is getting out of the Midland Football League, and with likes of Bromsgrove Sporting, Worcester City and Coventry United in the mix, it’s going to be very tough indeed. 

So that's Shepshed blogged, and not a single mention of liking it up the Butt Hole, and not many scribes have avoided the temptation to comment on that over the years. But if I'm being honest, a couple of times a season, there's no other place I'd rather be!

The Butt Hole End



Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Home Of Good Football

Belper Town  5  Basford United 5  (4-5 penalties)

Northern Premier League Cup – First Round

I was a bit bored in the Summer so I decided to count up how many times I’ve seen Belper Town take the field at Christchurch Meadow.

It came to just over 600 visits, so that’s over 600 times I’ve either walked, driven, crawled, been pushed, carried or fallen down the pot-holed driveway that leads to the entrance to the home of good football.

327 Of The Games Were Watched From This Vantage Point
The home of good football, that was how former Finance Director Rex Barker used to answer the phone, “Belper Town, Home of Good Football.”

Through family, I’ve got a history when it comes to the Nailers. My Dad became Treasurer in 1979, and since then has held a variety of roles, most notably as Club Secretary. Inevitably I tagged along from an early age and also filled a number of roles myself, Programme Seller, Junior Supporters Club Organiser, Committee Member, Club Shop Manager, Programme Editor, Press Officer and finally the heady heights of Director.

It was when I became a Director that I realised, arguably selfishly, that I didn’t want to be actively involved with the running of a football club, it was no fun, meetings could be argumentative, personalities often clashed, agendas were both overt and covert, and boardrooms on a cold Monday night were, well, cold!

Ordinarily, This Is Where I Would Stand To Eat A Pie
It wasn’t for me, I resigned. I didn’t feel like I was making any form of useful contribution. I had no money to put it, I had no time to devote, and I didn’t know how to mend a fence or mow a pitch.

I chose to choose freedom, I didn’t want to go to Goole Town away on a Tuesday with the kit bag in my boot and the team sheet book under my arm, I wanted to have a pint in a stress free environment, somewhere completely different.

Ultimately, you can get too close, to a point where it ceases to be enjoyable. You know too much, and it came to a head for me on a couple of occasions. After a particularly unfortunate defeat to Shepshed Dynamo I went for a pint after the game only to be rounded on by a group of supporters demanding answers to questions and change at the top. I can also remember getting in from a rather disappointing Derbyshire Senior Cup tie at Gresley Rovers only to find an expletive message left on my landline about the performance!

Don’t get me wrong, I still went to games, not a huge amount, but I went, in fact one season not that long ago I purchased a season ticket and didn’t miss a home game. I still considered it to be ‘home’ and the Nailers were ‘my ‘club.

Standing On The Balls End
Things changed again in the Summer, while I was counting my visits, my Dad reeled in his involvement with the club, and as we approach the end of October he’s only been to one game. I’ve not been all season, in fact I’ve not been since last February. But, a rare Monday night League Cup game at the Meadow, and a very last minute decision to go, meant it was time to make a re-appearance at the home of good football.

It was a very empty Meadow, less than a hundred spectators were present, and that was a shame because what we witnessed was one of the most spectacular games of football I’ve ever seen!
Both Belper and high flying Basford United chose to field fringe and Academy players, but that in itself made the game more interesting.

Basford took the lead through Harry Wakefield in the 5th minute, and then Aidan Austin added a second in the 13th minute. At this stage of proceedings Basford were rampant and could easily have doubled their lead with better finishing, it looked like being a very long night for the Nailers.

Basford Corner
But the dynamic of the game changed completely in the 20th minute when one of a number of somewhat strange decisions from the eccentric referee saw him choose to send of Austen Symons from Basford after a 50/50 challenge that saw a Belper player come off worse. Was it a foul? Possibly, was it more than that? Not a chance, so much so the Belper Manager turned to supporters behind the dugout and said it was never a red card.

Basford were suddenly on the back foot so it came as no surprise when Kyle Clarke reduced the arrears on the 24th minute, and then Leandro Browne equalised just seven minutes before the break.

Joe Harrison put Basford back into the lead just after half time, but within two minutes Haydn Goddard had made it 3-3 from the penalty spot, courtesy of another odd decision.

Samuel Birks put Belper into the lead with a cracking finish, but the experienced Rob Duffy was then on hand to make it 4-4! Josh Barr-Rostron made it 5-4 but within seconds Basford won a penalty and Duffy was on hand to make it 5-5, and we still had fourteen minutes to go, plus time added on!

Defences were on top for the remainder of the game, so the tie went straight to penalties. Belper missed their second spot kick, Basford didn’t miss any and it was former Nailer Kieran Wells who scored the winning goal to make it 5-4.

Strangely enough, because the game had been so entertaining, you didn’t feel that disappointed that the Nailers ultimately lost it, you were just pleased you’d been in attendance and seen it happen, and to the best of my knowledge, it’s the first time I’ve ever known a game at Christchurch Meadow finish 5-5, certainly on the 600 plus occasions I’ve been!

Ordinarily I would always go and have a pint after the game, with my Dad usually, but I chose not to on this occasion, he wasn't at the game anyway. It would always historically be a good chance to find out what was going on at the club, but I’m so far detached these days it hardly seems relevant.


Perhaps best to keep it that way, not knowing is sometimes the best way, going forward it can just simply be, the home of good football, every once in a while at least.....

Season Ticket Holder - This Was The View - Every Game



Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Nomadic Hibernia

Leamington Hibernian  0  Dunlop  4

Coventry Charity Cup – First Round

We’ve all got those friends who every couple of years move house, without warning, and the first we hear about it is when the Christmas card arrives with a brief note containing the new address.

Certain football clubs are a bit like that.

Over recent years two of those clubs have been Malvern Rangers and Burntwood Town. Let’s start with Burntwood Town, who I first saw in the mid 2000’s playing at the quirky memorial ground in the centre of the town.

The Community Hall
They moved from that venue though and the next location was Burntwood Rugby Club, on a boggy back pitch within a stones throw of Chasetown’s ground. That move was short lived and the next home was a few miles away in Brereton where they played at quite a neat venue, the Ravenhill Park ground of the old Brereton Town side.

The next stop was the Leisure Centre back in the centre of Burntwood, before what I can only conclude was a final move to Coppy Nook Playing Fields in Hammerwich. The club vanished after that, certainly from the Midland League, and to the best of my knowledge they no longer exist, which is a shame, although given the fact they couldn’t seem to put down any roots, not surprising.

Malvern Rangers is another strange one. I first saw them play at their traditional home near the centre of Malvern at Victoria Park, but then the next time I went they had moved slightly out of town to Lower Howsell Road. The final venue I saw them at was the Malvern Vale Community Centre which was on the road to Powick, but from memory I seem to think they also played at another ground for a short period, but I never got to it, and can’t recall where it was.

Kick Off
Again, not sure of where they are now, but they’ve vanished from the West Midlands Regional League, and the last I heard they’d changed their name to Powick FC and were playing in a local regional league, but again, I can’t be 100% sure.

So, Leamington Hibernian, what’s the story?

Venues wise, I first saw them playing at the Hampton Road home of Racing Club Warwick, but then they moved further down the road and spent a number of years playing at the large expanse that is the ground belonging to Central Ajax.

Sun's Out!
A couple of years ago they upped sticks and moved to a recreation ground with a clubhouse in Bishops Tachbrook on the outskirts of Leamington, only to be hit with a rent hike at the start of the season, so now they find themselves at a new venue, in Cubbington which is on the Coventry side of the town.

Leamington Hibernian were formed in 1974 by Jim and Joy Barry. Jim is an Irishman from County Cork, I know that because when I first went to the ground at Central Ajax I was wearing a Derry GAA jacket and it provoked a conversation between us.

The Barry’s are totally dedicated to the football club, which now boasts a large numbers of junior sides, and has one of the most respected reputations in the Midlands for its organisation, professionalism and quality of development for young footballers.

In the time I’ve known about the Hibs, they’ve been members of the Midland Combination and more latterly the Midland Football League as it’s now known. A couple of years ago they won the Third Division, losing only four games in the process, but relegation followed straight away and they now find themselves struggling without a win in the bottom division again.

Corner
The Third Division of the Midland League is effectively Step 8 football, and today in the Coventry Challenge Cup they were taking on Dunlop FC from the Coventry Alliance. I’m not sure what step this league sits at but the natural route forward is into the Midland League, albeit I have known promoted teams jump the Third Division and enter at Step 7. So, when comparing relative standards, 
I would have though Hibs and Dunlop are probably playing at pretty much the same level.

The kick off was advertised as 3pm, but with neither club updating their Twitter feeds I played cautiously, arriving at 2pm just in case. It was a good job because upon enquiring I was told the game would be kicking off at 2.15pm. No time for a pint, disaster!

The setting in Cubbington is a pleasant one. A small car park sits at the end of a cul-de-sac, and to the left is a community building that houses the dressing rooms and a tea bar. The pitch is up a slight slope to the left but isn’t railed or roped. A couple of park benches on the far side provided some seating, but otherwise it was standing room only. It wasn’t a dissimilar venue to the one at Bishops Tachbrook if I’m honest, the only thing missing being the social club.

It was a fairly even first half but it was the visitors who went in with a 1-0 lead. The second period saw Dunlop take a grip and control the proceedings, scoring three more times to secure a comfortable win and a passage to the next round.

I felt that while both sides were pretty even in the footballing stakes, Dunlop had that bit more of a clinical edge when it came to the final third and that was the difference between the sides in the end.


So that was it, Jim Barry spent the game stationed in the dugout, I believe he’s assistant manager these days, while Joy was working the tea bar. Leamington Hibernian is a real labour of love for them, I just hope their nomadic existence has come to an end. People like the Barry’s are the glue that keep clubs like this going, sadly though, in this day and age, there aren’t enough people around with the same sort of dedication and passion.

The future of clubs like the Hibs depends on them, we don't want any more Malvern's or Burntwood's do we?

Jim Barry - Somewhere Down The Touchline

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Loyalty

Worksop Town  2  Stocksbridge Park Steels  3

Sheffield & Hallamshire Senior Cup – First Round

271 spectators turned out tonight to watch this game, and by First Round County Cup standards, that’s pretty impressive.

I guess as well it’s even more impressive considering the home team is actually based in a different County to the completion that they play in?

Welcome to Worksop Town Football Club, a test of anyone’s loyalty given what the supporters of the fourth oldest football club in the land have had to go through.

Based in Nottinghamshire, but with strong sporting allegiances to South Yorkshire, the Tigers were formed in 1861, making them bloody old! The early years, in fact the bulk of the first hundred years of the club were spent in the Midland League, but then in 1974 they were elected to the Northern Premier League.

All was going well until 1989 when they were hit with a double blow, relegation to the First Division of the NPL and also eviction from their Central  Avenue home in the town. Gainsborough Trinity’s Northolme was to be called home for the next three seasons until their new ground at Sandy Lane was completed.

Sandy Lane
It took until 1998 to regain Premier Division status, and then by the time the formation of the Conference North came around, they were elected as founder members. Three years were spent in the second tier of non-league football before relegation and financial difficulty hit the club. They then found themselves unable to play at Sandy Lane due to ownership issues and consequently spent three seasons ground sharing at Ilkeston Town, Retford United and Hucknall Town.

2011 was a pivotal year for the club as they returned to Sandy Lane, albeit as tenants to Handsworth Parramore who were now the owners of the ground.  Good times looked to be back when the club reached the play off’s but they lost to upwardly mobile AFC Fylde in the April of 2014. A further blow was soon to be dealt.

Owner Jason Clark announced he would no longer be funding the club, so the decision was taken to drop two divisions to the Northern Counties East League, where they remain. A second and a fourth place finish were not enough to see the club promoted, and then after a thirteenth placed finish last season , change was needed, and in came Ryan Hindley, the man who turned around the fortunes at Hallam FC.

Behind The Goal Terracing
Wow, from a fans perspective you’ve had a real rollercoaster journey, not just the survival of the club, but major concerns over the ground, and a yo-yo performance on the field, yet now, they find themselves at the lowest level they’ve played at in modern times, it just doesn’t seem right to me.

Crowds average around the 300 mark, comfortably the best in the division, and would be considered by many clubs two leagues above to be an improvement on what they currently get, Worksop Town are in the wrong league.

Tonight they took on an in form Stocksbridge Park Steels side who are scoring goals for fun at the minute in the league above. It promised to be an intriguing clash, and like a lot of County Cup ties, it would also depend on how seriously both sides took it.

Fortunately the Sheffield & Hallamshire Senior Cup is taken very seriously, partly because of the number of sides who compete in it that play in the Northern Premier League, but also because the final in played at either Hillsborough or more recently, Bramall Lane.

Lining Up For A Corner
Alex Denton gave Worksop a very early lead in the game, but after an end to end opening it was Joe Lumsden who equalised around the half hour mark.

The game continued to be end to end right until the final whistle and we were in for extra time, which proved to be the most entertaining period of the game.

Rhys Davies put Worksop ahead in the 110th minute and it looked as through something of a shock was about to take place, but Steels had other ideas.

Ben Rhodes equalised on 116 minutes and then before Worksop had chance to dust themselves down from the disappointment, it was that man Lumsden who struck again in the final minute of extra time to take the visitors into the next round.

Worksop were clearly gutted by the outcome, but they are playing the long game. A return to the NPL is crucial, but with both Pontefract Collieries and Pickering Town stealing a march, it’s going to be far from easy.

They also need some security of tenure, Handsworth Parramore have removed some of the Atcost stands with a view to developing their own facility in Sheffield, consequently the Tigers would like to take ownership of Sandy Lane should this happen. Time will tell.


But 271 fans turned out to watch a County Cup tie, a sleeping giant needs awakening, Worksop Town Football Club and the loyal fans deserve to see the club return to its rightful place. 

In The Wrong League

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Like Old Times

Sheffield  4  Rossington Main  1

Sheffield & Hallamshire Senior Cup – First Round

When I walked out of the Coach & Horses on the Bank Holiday Monday afternoon in April 2012, it was inconceivable that it would be over five years before I set foot in the place again.

Belper Town had just won 2-0, my lad George had been mascot for the day, and all had been set up by one of my best buddies, Stuart ‘Jamesie’ James.

The Business End
I was a regular at the Coach for a number of years, partly through Jamesie, and also somewhat cheekily because I was mates with the Sheffield goalkeeper Danny Haystead, and he used to get me in on his players pass!

Belper and Sheffield became rivals, we were both vying for promotion, and the numbers of players that crossed over between the two clubs was significant. But that said, as clubs and as individuals we had a relationship, it did get a bit tense at times, as it would when you have two successful teams challenging each other, but all was soon settled over a pint afterwards.

But life changes, doesn’t it?

Football teams evolve and move in different directions, clubs aims and ambitions change, individuals work and family commitments take over, priorities start to differ.

The Pitch Looks Great - But It's Not Started Raining Yet!
Consequently, Jamesie and I kind of lost touch for a variety of reasons, nothing malicious, it just happened that way, whereas at the same time our footballing preferences started to shift as well, mine probably more so than Jamesie’s. He became more involved with Sheffield, I distanced myself from Belper.

Looking back, we had some mad and amazing times. Two trips to Ireland, one where we missed the 
last bus from the South to the North after some heavy drinking in Finn Harps territory, and also a comical occasion in a bar in Dublin with a couple of Dutch girls who we managed to offend in one fell swoop when giving our honest critique of the adjacent U2 concert at Croke Park.

We also had a cracking trip to Holland on the overnight ferry to Rotterdam that culminated in us attending a house party on a canal side before the Spakenburg Derby. If there is ever a bucket list game for a football fan, then the Spakenburg Derby has to be on it. 

We have since touched base with each other from time to time, but what was once a twice / thrice weekly occurrence, is now perhaps once or twice a year at best, often by pure chance.

A Bit Of Blue For The Owls
It was time though, time to go back to the Coach & Horses, and with a County Cup tie on the agenda against Rossington Main, that time was now.

The Coach doesn’t change, it still looks like it’s always looked, our company still has the huge advertising board outside that I think is no longer paid for, nor is it accurate in it’s proclamations!

The stand still sits behind the goal, whereas the vocal element still stand in ‘Copnell Corner’ named after the infamous Stuart Copnell who wore the black and red shirt with such pride and dignity!

The offices and hospitality areas are at one end, and as would befit the Oldest Football Club In The World / The First Football Club In The World (delete as appropriate), the ground quite rightly shouts the clubs history to you.

The pub, after which the ground is named, still stands, still serving an array of Thornbridge Real Ales, still doing what looks like very good food, and still the venue where ‘Clubbies’ hold court before and after the game.

I met Stu as planned, we had communicated via social media the day before, and it was like old times as we reminisced about scrapes and adventures of years gone by. Ireland, Holland, Wales, Bradford, even Coventry!

A decent crowd of 170 assembled to watch the game, I chose to stand in ‘Copnell’s’ with Stu and his colleague Andy Dixon. The game was quite open in the early stages but two goals from Charlie Dawes before half time put the game in the host’s control.

Dawes completed his hat-trick with a second half penalty, and although Main pulled a goal back through Andrew McCready, Frank Koroma scored a really well taken fourth goal for Club to seal the victory.

So all in all, a good nights entertainment, a good nights banter, and also the chance to catch up with an old mate at a club where I spent a fair chunk of my time several years ago.

Jamesie, let’s not leave it so long next time, you fecking spanner!

Copnell's Corner - Home Of The Clubbies


     

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Little Switzerland

Church Stretton  7  Ludlow Town Juniors  1

Shropshire County Challenge Cup – First Round

I’ll be honest, I knew very little about the town of Church Stretton when I set off, but having returned from what I subsequently found out is an area of outstanding natural beauty, I’ll admit to being blown away.

Probably down to a bit of ignorance on my part, I’d not done any homework on the town located on the road from Shrewsbury to Hereford, so was completely unprepared for what I found when I got there.

Where Better To Watch Football?
Parking at the Russell's Meadow ground of the football club, I took a walk onto the busy Sandford Avenue and was really impressed by the shops and eateries, this was a proper old Victorian town centre, bustling with locals and tourists.

A pint followed in the Malt House, and then a further walk took me down Ludlow Road before I worked my way back to the football ground. My only regret was that I wish I’d arrived earlier and been able to spend more time exploring the town.

The New Facility
But it actually gets better, because when you walk into the football ground it becomes plain to see why the town was nicknamed ‘Little Switzerland’ in the late Victorian and Edwardian times, because of the surroundings and the way the houses are shaped into the hillsides.

The surroundings are in fact huge hills, of which Long Mynd and Caer Caradoc are just two of the more notable ones. But, you have to just stand and admire the stunning scenery, the hills seem to roll on all four sides of the ground. Church Stretton has around five thousand inhabitants, and they are clearly very lucky people to be living in this beautiful place.

Let’s not forget though that I did come to watch a football match!

Stunning
Church Stretton were promoted at the end of last season from the Mercian League into the West Midlands Regional League. They spent last season playing at nearby Hanwood while they were in the process of building a new facility at Russell's Meadow which is an impressive dressing room and hospitality complex. It looks very much like this building was the final piece of the jigsaw to allow them to be promoted.

Apart from the stunning scenery, Russells Meadow is a tidy ground. It’s fenced on three sides, the fourth is open due to being shared with cricket. Other than a couple of dugouts there is no other furniture to note. The pitch was in good shape, but had a slight slope from side to side.

The opponents were Ludlow Town Juniors, a young side competing in the Herefordshire League, and they surprised the more senior hosts by taking the lead. However, this simply spurred Church Stretton on and by half time they were leading 5-1 and completely out of sight. I felt confident in advising Mrs Hatt that there would be no extra-time and I would be home as planned!

Out Over The Cricket Square
Church Stretton did add two more in the second period but were also guilty of missing numerous excellent chances, on another day it could have been double figures. That would have been harsh on the plucky visitors though who despite the heavy beating, never gave up and continued to try to play football. They just came up against a stronger, more experienced side today who simply had far too much for them.

A decent crowd assembled to watch the game, as you often find in small towns where the ground is as close to the town centre as it is in Church Stretton. Clearly the move back to the town has been a positive one, the question I guess is how far can the club go? Further ground developments may well be an issue, I’m no expert in local matters but getting floodlights given their location may be something of a challenge.


But what a fantastic day out, made all the more enjoyable by the element of surprise. I would strongly recommend a visit, you won’t be disappointed. 

Outstanding Natural Beauty

Friday, 6 October 2017

Hanley Stanley

Hanley Town  3  Maine Road   0

North West Counties League – Premier Division

The 1992-93 Keele University 5-a-side League was a short lived period for Traffic Cones FC.

I was resident in a block on the campus and we came up with this really great idea that we would enter a team into the competition, and our selection criteria was quite straightforward. I had a Derby County season ticket so I was in, Matt had an Aston Villa shirt so he got the nod, Simon watched Ipswich Town regularly so that was a no brainer. Then we had Scottish Tony and Sasha the Goat Slayer.

We couldn’t really understand what Tony was saying, so worked on the principle he could play football and wanted to join in, whereas Sasha was a bit scary, no one ever entered his room for fear of never coming out again, but he claimed to be a Blackpool fan and was mates with Trevor Sinclair, so clearly that was as good a testimonial we were ever going to get.

The name Traffic Cones came about because we were pretty adept at nicking them for souvenirs to keep in our block after a night out, but after a mad night involving unscrewing various bedroom doors from the hinges and setting off of fire extinguishers, we were swooped upon by the authorities, fined, and ordered to remove / return the said cones.

All was going well in the league, until one Sunday evening when we came up against one of the superpowers, Hanley Stanley, who were sweeping all before them. Our pre-match team talk involved a good session in the bar, whereas the tactic was quite simple. I was the big lad upfront, the keeper would launch the ball down the line to me, I would hold it up, look for a runner, lay it back and the said runner would welly it in the general direction of the goal.

Hanley Stanley were not daft, they had us worked out quite quickly, and their plan was a simple yet effective one. If they nailed the big lad upfront, the game plan was down the toilet. I think it was either the third or the fourth time that the ball had come down the line to me, but it was a bit wide, so I ended up with my back to the play, in the corner of the court. I decided to try and hold on to the ball and work my way out, but Stanley had other idea. Smash!

I felt the full force of a kneecap smash right into the side of my left knee, I hit the deck in absolute agony, but the game carried on. I couldn’t stand, so I had to drag myself off the court with searing pain going through my knee.

I can’t quite remember how I got back to my room that night, but I think I had to administer some anaesthetic, namely Carling, to get myself into a place whereby I could walk unaided. Traffic Cones FC after the heavy defeat that followed, found life tough after that, and eventually disbanded, thank you Hanley Stanley.

Seats 
Hanley, it was the mecca for us students, a short PMT bus ride (I know!) from the campus and the World was your oyster, it had a cinema, shops, pubs, a statue of Sir Stanley Matthews, but not only that, it had a nightclub called The Place!

It was a legendary venue, so much so Michaela Strachan and Pete Waterman used to frequent it to film the Hitman and Her TV show. I can remember being in it one night when it was my birthday, it was the same day that Freddie Mercury died so Queen featured heavily on the playlist. It’s an awful long time since I’ve been in any sort of nightclub, I can’t imagine Queen gets much airtime these days.

Student life was great, and what it also did for me was give me a chance to visit some football in the area. First visits to Stoke City, Crewe Alexandra, Wrexham and Chester City all happened while I was at Keele, but not only that, I picked up on some non-league as well. At the time the major players were Newcastle Town, Kidsgrove Athletic, Eastwood Hanley and Knypersley Victoria. Nowadays, Eastwood and the Vics have slipped off the senior radar, and as the years have gone by the likes of Alsager Town, Market Drayton Town, Norton United, Abbey Hulton United and Hanley Town have reached a senior level.

Hanley Town were a Staffordshire League side when I was at Keele, and to be brutally honest I wasn’t interested in the county league stuff at the time. But, with maturity comes an open mind, and over recent years I’ve made a couple of visits to them, but was keen to return as I’d not been since they achieved North West Counties League status.

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Having spent the bulk of the day at a conference at Old Trafford, I wasn’t too sure what time we would be released back into the wild, so I had a few games on the radar for the journey back depending on time and traffic. However, Hanley was the first choice, and as luck would have it, I made it with plenty of time to spare.

The ground has come on tremendously since I last went. The car park has been tarmacked and lined, while a turnstile block has been put in place. Floodlights have been installed, while opposite the old covered terraced, a seated stand has been erected.

A further block of seats has also been put in behind the goal, in one corner adjacent to the smart clubhouse that looks as though it’s had something of a refurb.

They’ve also put in a tea bar and a hospitality room, and overall the ground looks really good, and to be honest I was grateful for plenty of cover as it was a filthy wet night in the Potteries.

Hanley had started the season well whereas Maine Road were below half way in the league. With a few experienced players in their side from Northern Premier League football, Neville Thompson in particular, Hanley got off to a positive start and took the lead in the tenth minute through Theo Stair. In fairness to the visitors though, they came more into the game as the first half wore on and with a bit more luck could have gone in at half time level pegging.

More Seats & A Clubhouse
The second half was thirty minutes old before the second goal finally came, and it was Stair again who found the net. A third goal came in the 81st minute via Tom Ashton. It was difficult to argue with the outcome, but in fairness to Maine Road they battled hard and never threw in the towel.

The result saw Hanley move into seventh position in the league but with games in hand over the leaders. Five wins, a draw and a defeat is just the start to the season they would hope for, but can they compete with the likes of Runcorn Town who have won eleven from eleven? With the possibility of two sides getting promoted this season though, maybe finishing above Runcorn Linnets and Charnock Richard needs to be the aim.

Heavy rain persisted on the journey back over the tops into Ashbourne and back to Belper, a journey I have completed on countless occasions during my student days. As for Hanley Stanley, I’ve no idea what became of them, but the legacy lives on, I named my cat Stanley, not strictly as a tribute to the Potteries finest, but he was capable of inflicting pain when he wanted to!


Hanley Town however, a club on the up, watch this space……..

No Seats, Cover Or Clubhouse