Non League Club

More than a feelin’

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on September 2, 2012

I looked out this morning and the sun was gone
Turned on some music to start my day
I lost myself in a familiar song
I closed my eyes and I slipped away

As all of you music aficionados know, that is the opening verse from the UK number 22 smash hit from US rockers Boston. The music summed up my start to the day perfectly as I peered out of the window of Northern HQ. Drizzle had taken hold of the day, the same drizzle that had descended on Worksop last night and would hang around until we would pass Peterborough on the way home, when the sun would immediately come out.

Today was all about Boston. Not Red Sox wearing, Cheers Bar frequenting, Bullish MIT Boston but Stumpy, Flat, Obese Boston. South-East Lincolnshire’s finest with the highest obesity rate in England rather than the highest IQ rate in the US, Massachusetts. Who needs Michael Jordan when you can have Jason Lee anyway? Lee, one of the nicest men in football, and a good friend of this very website is currently doing a great job as manager of the Pilgrims of Boston United.

But today wasn’t just about the Pilgrims. Oh no, we were also going Poaching. Boston is home to not just one, but two football teams and both were at home this afternoon. It would be rude to choose one over the other and so I intended to get a slice of both United and Ton flavours of Boston football.

“But how Stuart? I hear you cry “Time travel is impossible and there is only one of you”. I know and without any H.G Wells or Doc Brown time travel apparatus I was going to simply go into Tapas mode – a taster at both just for you, dear readers.

First up would be a trip back to York Road to see Boston United play Workington in the Blue Square Bet North. Our last visit had come during their five-year period in the Football League when they demolished Shrewsbury Town 6-0 (and missed a penalty).Some people still have a grudge about The Pilgrims, thanks to a certain Steve Evans, currently at Rotherham United. Evans was in charge of the club when they rose through the leagues and were promoted from the Conference National ten years ago. Except they didn’t do it “cleanly”, with Evans amongst others being found guilty of making illegal payments to players in their promotion season.

Unfortunately, our toothless footballing authorities decided to punish the clubs who suffered rather than the guilty parties. Evans was banned from football (although was still able to return to be in charge of Boston after his ban), and the club docked four points but not retrospectively applied to the period where they gained the advantage which meant that Dagenham & Redbridge who finished runners-up to Boston got no redemption.

But time moves on. After the Evans era the club became more likeable and their subsequent financial problems were systematic with football in general. However, they are “bouncing back” as Mr Partridge would say. After falling all the way down to the Northern Premier League they came within a game of promotion back to the Blue Square Bet Premier last season under Jason Lee, losing in the semi-final play off to Guiseley. But this season hopes were high for a season of success.

In their way today would be Workington, making the short journey of just 229 miles (each way) from Cumbria. Regionalisation at this level really needs some thought as it is ridiculous to think that spending 9 hours in a coach to play one game is sensible. They, like Boston, had played in the Football League although their tenure was a little longer, coming into the league in 1951, replacing New Brighton and leaving after failing to gain re-election in 1977. That vote by the Football League chairman, whilst never proved, was believed to be a protest at the distance most teams faced in getting to Cumbria.

Like Corrigan to Shilton, KP to Walkers, MySpace to Facebook and Margaret Michaels to Victoria Principal, Boston Town are the perennial bridesmaids to United’s blushing bride. They exist on the outskirts of the town, comfortable in their surroundings and trying to attract a different type of audience.

This part of England is famed for a number of things, but one unique aspect is the number of EU-Immigrants. The agricultural nature of the region means that manual labourers are in constant demand so there is a huge influx of migrants from the rest of Europe. Consequently the club has tried to appeal to local communities of Lithuanians, Latvians, Poles, Portuguese and Romanians even going as far as having different language versions of their website.

So after a half of football at United, I would head up the Tattershall Road to take in the second half of the FA Vase (sponsored by Carlsberg don’t forget) where Boston Town would be taking on Loughborough University. The Poachers (they are experts in cooking eggs so I believe) were formed in 1964 by a few ex-Boston United officials who had left after expressing concerns about the financial state of the club (30 years before their time as well!). Their high point came in 1976 when they reached the 1st round of the FA Cup, losing to Barnsley. Today they are at home in the United Counties League, with an eye on reaching the Evostik League one day.

Alas I would be making my journey on my own. Northern Steve was on party preparation duty for SCMF (Sister of Current Mrs Fuller) who was celebrating her 40th later in the evening. What better present than my return, bearing fables of a far exotic land?

Boston United 1 Workington 3 – York Street – Saturday 1st September 2012

Just you and me, we were go walking together,
Watching the sunrise over the trees

I got to Boston after an hour’s drive South-East from Lincoln, admiring the flat landscape. After parking close to York Road I took my place opposite the Fantasy Island stand. I assumed this was in honour of the 80’s trio Tight Fit and their smash follow-up to the number one single The Lion Sleeps Tonight but it wasn’t. It wasn’t even a shrine to the 70’s US TV series of the same name, featuring Tattoo. Oh no, this was part of a sponsorship deal with East Lincolnshire’s Premier amusement park, based in the exotic paradise of Skegness. However, it is neither on an island nor is it in any way part of anyone sane’s fantasies.

Boston had started the season with two wins out of two, including a 6-0 demolition of Histon.  Unfortunately, two consecutive defeat had sent some locals into despondency, judging by the few hundred who turned up for this game (the official attendance suggested just under 1,000 but there seemed less than that).  It didn’t get any better for them after 90 minutes against the Cumbrians who came away with all three points.

Firstly I have to give top marks to Boston for the finest portion of curry and chips I have ever had.  Not a dish you will see on many take away menus down south, let alone in a football ground, it went down a real treat and set me up for a mouthwatering game.  The home side certainly started the brighter, but as more often is the case, fell behind against the run of play when Da Costa was adjudged to have been fouled in the area and Gareth Arnison slotted the penalty home.

However, the home side continued to pass the ball around nicely, using the width of the pitch, and stretching the visitors.  It was amazing it took them until the 38th minute for the equaliser to come.  Jones played in Weir-Daley and his shot flashed across the goal and past the Workington keeper.

Half time saw my cue to leave for pastures new, but it appears despite dominating play in the second half, Boston didn’t take their chances, whilst Workington did.  You can read the report here.

Boston Town 4 Loughborough University 3 – Tattershall Road – Saturday 1st September 2012
If I was a betting man (yes, yes so you say), I would have lost my shirt, house and probably a few of my organs by lumping heavily on Loughborough Dynamo after an hour of this game.  But the reason why we all love football is that literally anything can happen.  As we saw earlier today, even West Ham can play entertaining football with “Big Sam” in charge, and even more unbelievably a team completely outplayed and 3-1 down with just twenty-five minutes to go can go onto win a game.  But that was exactly what happened in this humdinger of a FA Vase tie at Tattershall Road.

I arrived just as the teams returned to the field.  Apparently, in true Paul Hardcastle style, the average age of the opposition was 19 (well, they are all students) and they had coasted to a 2-0 half time lead.  “Bloody students…when you want them to be hungover from last night they bloody turn up looking like whippets” a local told me when I asked what the score was.  It didn’t look good for Town (although ironically, their young female Physio did look good) until they got a slice of luck when the referee gave them a fortuitous penalty which Josh Ford converted to reduce the deficit to 2-1.

But the visitors, who were younger, fitter, more organised and tactically more astute, retook the two goal lead when an excellent move across the pitch saw a low cross smashed home by their winger.  3-1 and surely game over?

But no, whilst the Loughborough players got out their “Sports Psychology “books and started saying things like “focus”, “0-0” and “shoes” (I made the last one up), they should have listened to David Pleat.  The ex-Spurs Manager who loved a slow drive around the backstreets of London (allegedly) always says “You are never more vulnerable than when you have scored a goal” and how true he was today as Boston went up the other end and Matt Barber scored.  Pleat for England! (He also said that 3-0 is the most dangerous score in football so he isn’t always right!).

Even at 3-2 you would have still fancied the away team but all of a sudden they looked like they had been asked to go to two lectures in a week. Matt Barber surged through the centre-backs and his shot slipped under the keepers body. It got worse.

Just 10 seconds were left on the referees watch when Barber played in Josh Ford, the defender slipped and he stroked the ball home to put the home side in the lead for the first time in the tie.

Loughborough were gutted, but paid the penalty for naivety.  Boston had stolen victory from the jaws of defeat and as well as pocketing the cheque for £500 for winning the tie, and could look forward to a tasty clash in the next round away to Maine Road whilst the students would have to make do with Pot Noodle’s for a bit longer until their grant cheques came through.

Postscript: It is now well over 24 hours after the 1st round ties and still the FA Website is not showing any results or replay fixtures.  Their contempt for football at this level is staggering….

JEKYLL AND HYDE – Hyde FC 0 Stalybridge Celtic 2

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on February 22, 2011

After the high’s of Gainsborough a day’s R and R was in order, which was spent hunting down a pub with an internet connection in LN6. Fortunately ASDA came to the rescue and I spent an hour or so there, reconnecting with society. Fully recharged I headed across the A57 on the notorious Snake Pass ready for another slice of Blue Square Bet North life. I was heading west for the Tameside Derby.  And as luck would have it a chance to see another one of the relegation candidates at the foot of the Blue Square Bet North.

This really is a different country. After I left the M1 I passed exotic places I had only ever seen on the Northern League website.  Stockbridge Park Steels, Glossop North End and Retford United were all passed on the way although the weather up on the moors was not really conducive to playing football. With just 10 miles left to go on the SatNav I was driving past fields of snow and minus 2 degrees.

But these areas have a strange effect on the climate and as I descended the A628 and into Hyde all was well with the world and “drizzle” had restored normality.  I found Hyde’s Ewen Field ground with relative ease, parked up and took a moment to have a wander around the stadium hoping to bump into the club’s President Sir Geoff Hurst, who of course won the World Cup for England in 1966.  For all you kids out there who don’t know it was actually West Ham who won the FA Cup in that year and not England.  Long story but your Dad will tell you I am sure.

Hyde are a very interesting case study of a football club in transition. A few years ago they were struggling to make ends meet, playing as Hyde United in their red and white kit, almost an homage to Manchester United a few miles around the M60. On 24 September 2009, the club was officially wound up at the High Court in London, with debts of around £120,000 to HM Revenue and Customs.

Over the next few days major fund-raising efforts by the club officials, supporters and players, which included a bucket collection at a Manchester City Premier League match, sufficient funds were raised for an appeal to be lodged against the High Court decision. The appeal was heard on 30 September 2009, and the original decision was reversed and they were allowed to live to fight another day.

Two years later they have dropped the United and changed their kit to the original white and blue. Are you thinking what we are all thinking? Yes, there has been a City hand in this.

A few weeks ago when we mused on the demise of Leyton we suggested that local sides such as West Ham United and Leyton Orient had been notable by their absence in helping out their non league neighbour. The same could not be said for Manchester City and Hyde.

Go onto Hyde’s official website and the first thing that will strike you apart from the sky blue design is the similarity of the club badges.  Look on the left hand side menu and there is a heading for Manchester City.  The world’s richest club play their Elite Squad (posh name for reserves) games at Hyde’s Ewen Fields.   The clubs are in a “partnership” which has see Hyde’s ground undergo a complete makeover thanks to the help from Man City.  The stands all look freshly painted (in dark City blue), the team wear a kit that is almost a spitting image of an old City one, and they are sponsored by CITC – City In The Community.  The one stipulation they had was that only adverts related to City could be displayed around the ground – hence the ones for Etihad, Umbro, Etisalat.

So why did City chose Hyde, and not more local teams such as Droylsden?  Well it appears that Tameside had a need for such work in the local community and a significant part of City’s support comes from this area, a throwback to playing a few miles away at Maine Road.

I think it is an excellent idea, and whilst some other clubs look on jealously, what is clear is that this is no “Sugar Daddy” investment scenario.  Man City do not pump money into the club.  They have helped Hyde build a base to grow on.

The club have been in the Conference North for five seasons now, seemingly stalled in their charge up the divisions.  They won back to back promotions from the Northern Leagues in 2003 and 2004.  It all looked to have come to a sticky end in 2008/09 when Hyde finished the season in 20th place and were due to be relegated, but were spared when Kings Lynn were demoted for failing to ensure that their home ground met Conference North standards.

This season they had struggled again so far, falling into the relegation fight with our old friends Gainsborough Trinity and Stafford Rangers.  The visitors, Stalybridge Celtic had travelled all of 4.3 miles for this local derby and were in much better shape than the hosts sitting in 13th place.

Stalybridge had brought a fair few fans down the road and started making a decent noise from the moment they arrived.  Unusually for Non League grounds the home fans took up a spot on the side of the ground and let the away ones have the ends behind the goals.  As the teams came out a quick scan of the programme revealed no ex-League stars, although I am sure Villa may have a word or two if it was the real Ashley Young lining up for Hyde.

Hyde FC 0 Stalybridge Celtic 2 – Ewan Fields – Monday 21st February 2011
Both sets of fans got into the ritual derby abuse from kick off.  a perfectly observed minute’s silence was ended with a blow on the referees whistle and a shout of “Sheepshaggers”, which had the retort of “Does your carer know you’re here”.  Original to say the least.

The game wasn’t a classic to be brutally honest.  It was interesting to compare the standard between this game and Lewes’s most recent ones which according to the pyramid should be about the same.  I would say that from what I have seen the Blue Square Bet South is stronger all the way down, perhaps apart from Alfreton Town at the top whose direct style of play has left them in second place in this league, seven points off the top but with a mere eight games in hand.

The major incidents in the opening quarter were all tackle related.  Stalybridge Celtic’s Tim Ryan being the first player in the book after just a two minutes.  They then lost full back and captain Glenn Rule after he failed to recover from a shuddering tackle. One player who didn’t shirk any challenge was Hyde’s Scott McNiven, with his “robust” frame.  He was taunted in the first half by the Celtic fans with a repertoire of songs such as “Diet in a minute, he’s gonna diet in the minute”, “Who ate McDonald’s” and “I predict a diet”.

The first real chance didn’t materialise until the twentieth minute when Phil Marsh shot just wide for Celtic.  Five minutes later he made no mistake though, running onto a ball over the top of the flat back four and slotting the ball through Kyle Clancy’s legs.  Danny Hudson then saw his shot well saved at the other end but the half ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

One cup of tea and a check on the West Ham score later and we were back off again.  Celtic looked more fluid in the second period after manager Jim Harvey brought on Callum Warburton.

Stephen Brogan came close to a second when his effort hit the woodwork. It was a surprise that the second goal took so long in coming really, and most of the home fans sensed it would arrive at some point.

A ball over the top saw a one on one for Celtic and as the forward rounded the keeper he was brought down. There was a covering defender but referee Ackermann deemed it a professional foul and sent off Clancy much to his disgust.  With all of the substitutes all used up the players looked to each other to see who would draw the short straw and go in goal.  Step forward McNiven who put on the gloves and had his moment to make his name from the spot kick.

Unfortunately the ball moves faster than McNiven could and Brogan made it two nil and ended any fight that Hyde had left in them.  Surprisingly Celtic then took their foot off the gas and decided not to test McNiven in goal.  The last action of the game was a second red card for Hyde as Manship was given his marching orders in injury time for a foul.

For me it was time to head back over the Pennines.  My journey time was extended as I ended up following a police vehicle for a while.  Nothing wrong with that you may think, but this was aPolice tractor.  I kid you not!   Of course I could have taken a picture of this but that would have been illegal, and as you know, I do not do illegal.

So day four and three games down.  One day left and a trip southish to Grantham, birthplace of the most famous women in the world.

More pictures from the game can be found at our Flickr feed here.


THE WHOLLY TRINITY – Gainsborough Trinity 2 Stafford Rangers 2

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on February 20, 2011

This was not in the plan. Today was all about Glapwell – the search for their fans and Joanne Guest. But instead the northern climate put pay to that idea early on Saturday as well as Plan B (not literally as we tend to like his tunes in TBIR Towers). But having good time management meant I had already scoped out a Plan C. Big tick in the box for that. The only problem is that Northern Steve’s gaff is the only place in the UK it seems without any mobile phone coverage, and when Sky decided to cause him terminal t’internet trouble we were catapulted back to the seventies in terms of communications.

We sent out a carrier pigeon to the nearby town of Gainsborough, and a few hours later it returned saying “eh up lads, game is on”. So we were off, following road signs confusingly for a place called “Gainsboro’ “. It seems the local councils up here realised that by saving 2 letters off every road sign they could make enough money each year for their Christmas party. We drove through the flat Lincolnshire countryside, passing a second ex-Little Chef that had been converted into an Adult Shop (the 1st FYI is on the A1 going south just after Grantham). The poor locals must get terribly confused. One day they would be popping down for nibble on a muffin and the next, well , they could have a nibble on a muff in(side).

Northern Steve is a bit of an expert on Gainsborough. He used to work there and in fact is responsible in some ways for its financial prosperity today. And by that I mean it now has a Next. A few years ago you could buy a house here for less than £10,000. Need a mortgage sir? No just a personal loan. Those days have changed and now a two up two down will cost you the price of a BMW X5, second hand with one careful WAG owner.

The football ground is just a throw of a bottle of cheap alcopop away from the town centre. Northolme sounds so grand, conjuring up images of a stately home on the side of a river. Sorry to ruin your dream but the home of “Trinity” is not quite as utopian. It has one small stand, which is named the Ping stand after the sponsorship of the local and world famous golf equipment manufacturers, a covered terrace opposite and one behind the goal and then an open terrace at the west end of the stadium.

The club had tried to build some interest in this important game and ticket prices were just £5 for adults, a saving of 50% (“Still £6 too much if you ask me” said one of the locals as we went in). However the main draw in these parts is league football and with Lincoln City (playing Chesterfield), Scunthorpe (playing Derby) and Nottingham Forest all at home it was going to be a tough job raising the average attendance by more than a few local armchair fans. Top marks for the club for trying something in the worrying times for the non leagues.

We parked in one of the side streets near the ground and it was disappointing that nobody wanted to “mind our motor” as we would have paid for the privilege in the “interesting” street. It has to be said that the noise coming from inside the stadium was impressive. Music and chat drifting out of the ground and filling the streets all around. The reason for that was some bloke had essentially set up his Saturday night disco kit (Dave’s Wheels of Steel – Weddings, Birthdays, Bar Mitzvahs, Wakes and Getting Out parties all catered for) on the terraces with his two huge speakers plonked down on the terrace.

The crowd was an interesting mix. The old school hardcore Trinity fans all congregated around the halfway line. And by old school I meant they went to a very old school. A very traditional cloth cap support base who have probably seen the lot standing on the terrace. There was even someone with a pipe! When was the last time you saw a pipe at a football match? And then behind the goal was a group of young chaps and their “birds”, who had obviously been treated to a morning of shopping in Rodeo Drive Gainsborough style with their Matalan and Poundland bags. Still they were at least vocal and a few had scarves which at least shows there is some engagement between the club and the young fans.

The visitors were Stafford Rangers who were in more Dire Straits than Mark Knopfler. Sitting in 20th place, one spot below Gainsborough but six points behind. After the early season sad demise of Ilkeston Town, the league only has 21 sides meaning that relegation this year will depend on who comes down from the Blue Square Bet Premier. At the current time it looks like it will be only one northern side (Altrincham) which would mean the number of teams relegated would be up in the air. They were once a mighty force in the Non Leagues, and were one of the clubs that could name Stan Collymore as an ex-player.

Good old Stan has now moved onto presenting on TalkSport, talking crap to the nation. On the way to this game he told the listening public that “watching a football match streamed on the internet was illegal”. Really? So al of those people who subscribe to Sky TV Mobile are watching the games illegally? Buying services from people like FilmOn is illegal? He had obviously been reading up before his presentation beforehand as he used the phrase “The genie is now out of the bottle FOUR times in one rant”…world class.

Brian Little is manager of Trinity these days. The same Ian Lavender lookalike (as your Mum and Dad about Private Pike in Dads’ Army kids) who once took Aston Villa to 5th place and into Europe twice. Quite how he fell so spectacularly is hard to fathom but here he is today planning strategies against the likes of Vauxhall Motors, Guiseley and Solihull Moors as opposed to Xamax Neuchantel, Spartak Trvana and FC Jazz. He came over to have a chat with us post game as we watched the teams warm up. “Alright lads, how’s it going?” I think we had a look of continental scouts from Azerbaijan looking for the next manager of FC Baku which tempted him to come and chat….

Gainsborough Trinity 2 Stafford Rangers 2 – Northolme – Saturday 20th February 2011
The teams came out, not from the same tunnel, but one from each side of the main stand. This must cause some confusion for the officials as they are only three of them so one team will get “favoured” with two of them. At the old Belle Vue ground in Doncaster they got round this issue by having a THIRD tunnel for the officials. After a minute’s silence for the passing of the old club chairman the game started. The poor weather meant that passing along the ground was impossible. With both sides fielding centre backs that made the England rugby back row look “slight” the ball rarely saw the ground in the opening exchanges.

The away team took the lead in the 5th minute when Niall Maguire got his head to a Edwards corner, sending the Trinity faithful into further depths of depression.  “Bugger off Little”, “Little wonder we are so shyte” and “We have Little chance of winning anything with you in charge” were some of the comments aimed at the managers.  You can never get tired of Little-based comments can you.

With time running out in the half we headed out of the “magic door” and into the bar next door where for just £2.30 we enjoyed a smooth pint of Mitchell & Butler’s Blueberry Ale.  “Smells like blueberry, tastes like blueberry but doesn’t have the feminine purple colour”.  A fair summation from Northern Steve who likes to be seen as a man when he is out and about in the bars of North Hykeham.  We also found out that we had missed Trinity’s equaliser, apparently a soft penalty given for a foul by keeper Lee Evans on Liam Mettam.  McMahon slotted home the spot kick.

Talking of Lee Evans, there was a venue being advertised in the programme called, The Venue.  As a typical regional “entertainment” venue (think The Phoenix club in Phoenix Nights) I expect the odd tribute band such as Blurasis, YouToo and Take Twat.  But a Lee Evans “tribute” comedy act?  Really?  Why not just put on a DVD of him?  Surely it is just copying his jokes?

So we came back through the magic door and bought our Pukka Pies, and damn nice they were too.  As we put our extra gravy on there was a cheer and behind us Gainsborough had taken the lead as midfielder Peat unleashed a volley from 35 yards out (not my words but that of Ron – more of him to come).  Two goals in one game is a bit of a rarity here.

We had a wander around the ground and popped into the club shop.  Lots of Gainsborough goodies to be had here and all reasonably priced.  We were approached by the woman who ran it who told us the story about the yellow away scarves.  Apparently at a recent away game, Ron (see he’s a big man in these parts) took 28 in his rucksack and sold them all!  As if on cue Ron came in and told us if we thought a yellow beanie hat would sell well.  Before we could answer a long ball wasn’t dealt with by the Gainsborough defence allowing Stafford’s Clarke to run unchallenged on goal before squaring for Levi Reid to tap home.  “Bloomin’ ‘eck” roared Ron, slamming his hand against the wall.  I could see cats being kicked all the way home later so we made our excuses and left.

The last few minutes saw both teams threatening, with Gainsborough’s cause not helped by the two yellow cards given to Paul Mayo to complete a nightmare game for him as he was at fault for the Stafford second goal.

A draw with help for neither team, but for Northern Steve and me we had the privilege of football, beer and a pie for less than a tenner – surely the whole trinity?

Onwards and upwards as the next stop on our roadtrip is the Manchester suburb of Hyde for a Blue Square Bet North local derby.  We can’t wait!

For more pictures from the day click here to view our Flickr feed.