Non League Club

If you want the rainbow…

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on August 23, 2015

With the mighty Rooks making their longest league trip of the season to deepest Suffolk at Leiston, I volunteered to go and retrieve the youngest Fuller’s from my in-laws in Newark.  This annual ritual normally involves having to re-educate them on certain aspects of every day life, such as how to use electricity, eat with a knife and fork and not to douse every food item with gravy.  It also gave me the opportunity to enjoy a night out in Lincoln, with £1.99 pints a norm, with The Current Mrs Fuller and a football away day on the Saturday.

20764588296_5d7ec14ff0_kBut where to go?  Northern Steve had to work so I would be flying solo.  I ruled out a visit to North Ferriby United in protest to their owners, laughed at the amount Notts County wanted to watch a League Two game (and the fact that their ticketing website was down) and had been to the likes of Grimsby Town, Boston United and Alfreton before.  One new name caught my eye – Basford United down in the Evostik League Division One South.  Promoted to the league at the end of last season as Midland League Champions, the club are probably best known for featuring not one, but two Hendries, Stuart and Lee.  Yep, that Lee.  The 38-year-old former England international is still on the books at the Mill Ground along with his younger brother Stuart.

Just one line below on the list of fixtures was Carlton Town v Leek Town.  Carlton was at 4 O’Clock on the map of Nottingham, essentially on the right side for my trip back up the A46.  Google Maps said that with a fair wind, no Sunday drivers and a run of green traffic lights I could get between the two grounds in 16 minutes…or a half-time break.  Would be rude not to do a Souness (“One half and he’s off) and cover two games.  First stop – north Nottingham and the home of the Shipstones Beer, back in the suburbs after a twenty year holiday in Burton-on-Trent.

Basford United 1 Stocksbridge Park Steels 2 – The Mill Ground – Saturday 22nd August 2015
With the sun shining, there can be few better ways of spending a Saturday afternoon than watching Non-League football.  From the moment I arrived at The Mill Ground you could sense that this was a club who were starting to make their move up the Non-League pyramid.  Smiles all round as you enter, buy a beer, order a sausage cob (had to use my local dialect look-up app for that).  Whilst it was only game 3 of the season, the visitors arrived from Sheffield with a 100% record.  However, it was the home side who did all of the early running, having an early goal disallowed for offside and commanding the midfield, thanks to the impressive Jermaine Hollis.  They got their reward just before half time when Rob McCormick scored on his debut.

20764573206_079dc6bb40_hThe second half report comes courtesy of Basford United’s website as I headed off to Carlton.

“Basford again started well in the second half and had chances to extend their lead but as the game wore on, Stocksbridge began to find their feet and they equalised through sub Richard Patterson on 69 minutes.  Five minutes later United were awarded the perfect opportunity to go back in front but substitute Stuart Hendrie’s penalty was saved by substitute keeper David Reay.

Both sides then continued to push for a winner but it was the visitors who then snatched all three points in the first minute of stoppage time, as Hinchcliffe’s 30 yard thunderbolt crashed off the underside of the crossbar and into the Basford net.”

Carlton Town 1 Leek Town 3 – Stoke Lane – Saturday 22nd August 2015
If you plan to visit Carlton Town in the future and use Google Maps, don’t.  Because it will direct you to Stoke Lane but the wrong side of possibly the most ludicrous 10 metre section of road known to man.  Outside the entrance to the ground is a small stretch of road that is a bus only route, meaning if you are coming from any direction bar the A612 you will need to go on a 3 mile diversion just for a 3 second journey.  I’m sure some local counsellor is feeling very pleased with himself about putting that in place.

20797791321_ca638e0faf_zAnyway, due to the unforeseen diversion, my arrival at Stoke Lane meant I had missed the first few minutes of the second half.  Once again, I rely on the official match report to fill in the first 47 minutes:-

“Carlton came out of the blocks fighting as Leek struggled to get into the game. With Daniel Gordon setting the tone, as he ran into space and delivered a shot that was just wide of the post. Then the away side were struggling to get the ball away, but the best the Millers could offer came from Nangle, as he dragged his shot wide of the target.

Josh Rae was then the latest player to cause a threat, as his cross seemed to be destined to meet Daniel Fletcher, but Chris Martin was able to parry the shot just before the striker got there. Then a few moments later Fletcher had a second chance from a Tom McConway corner, but his header went out of play for a goal kick.  Then finally the hosts broke the deadlock, as an error of judgment from Martin ended up with the ball at Nangle’s feet, who turned Dan Shelley as he cut inside, to then launch a shot onto the left boot that Martin could only get a hand to, before the ball rippled the net.

However, the lead wasn’t to last long, as Tim Grice managed to find himself through one-on-one, after a pass from midfield. With the striker taking the ball round Curtis McDonald, before gathering his composure, and slotting it into the bottom corner.  Before the break, Carlton had another chance to take the lead, as again, Martin played the ball straight to Nangle, but this time his effort, on his right foot was just over the crossbar.”

20764526866_24f8edd4a3_kThe bright blue skies were slowly being eaten up by dark, grey thunderous clouds.  On the pitch Leek Town looked the stronger of the two sides, controlling the midfield and constantly looking at a ball over the top of the back four. Grice was the main threat and he didn’t hesitate when presented with a one-on-one chance, as Conor Green was unable to deal with his header, and the striker didn’t wait for McDonald to come out, instead just smashing the ball into the back of the net. Grice completed his hatrick with a fine solo effort when it appeared that the opportunity had gone with ten minutes left.

As the final whistle blew, the seventy or so fans made a hasty retreat before the rain fell.  It had been an interesting afternoon, getting another couple of perspectives on how other’s approach Non-League match experiences.  For both home side, the start to the season hadn’t been ideal.  However, nothing is decided in August.



A kick in the privates – Goole AFC

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 2, 2015

Two facts that you may not know about Goole. Firstly, when you type it into any Apple device, it will try to suggest to you that you really meant Google, and secondly it’s bloody cold. I can’t help think that the club have missed a trick with this whole naming thing. Perhaps the town could create their own global search engine or an email service? Goole Chrome has a good ring to it, Goole Drive could be a new road name whilst the local newspaper could rebrand as Goole Buzz – bound to be more successful than Google’s attempts. The domain name, has actually been registered since 1999, almost at the same time Larry Page and Sergey Brin started making their magic in a Stanford University dorm room, whilst the town itself can trace its history back to 1629. Any court in its right mind would surely side with the people from the East Ridings of Yorkshire.

As we leave the M62 Northern Steve asks the valid question, in my opinion, as to whether the residents of the town refer to themselves as “Goolies”? His motivation for the question seemed to be the phallic looking structure on the horizon, which after a quick “Gooling” (using my new local Search Engine website) turns out to be a water tower. Such architectural follies are so British, so Victorian, so wonderful.

15979360558_6b25b4746f_kWe were keeping the Victorian theme by heading to the Pleasure Grounds (using Goole Maps as our guide) as one should do on annual days of rest. Alas, the Pleasure Grounds here do not have the traditional bandstand, rides, an orangery, menageries or even a zoo for exotic animals, such as those that used to exist in 19th century London. Instead the Goole version has two goalposts, a stand, some beer and pies (always with peas in these parts) home not of fine Victorian gentlemen but The Vikings of the Evostik League North, First Division South. The water towers, nicknamed salt and pepper, that overlook the ground act as beacons, lighting the way to the ground from the M62. Hands up who thinks modern Britain is crap now eh?

Driving through the town on the way to the Victoria Pleasure Grounds suggests that few other people in these parts were heading to the big festive derby with Lincoln United. Goole is a town of nearly 19,000 souls, once an important port but now struggling to find an identity as is the case with hundreds of other British towns. The High Street (well, Boothferry Road anyway) is symptomatic with the failing British retail scene. Pound stores, Charity shops, Bookies and Weatherspoons. No problem with that, especially as we handed over our £2.50 for our lunchtime pint but Goole was losing its identity.

The history of the football club stretches back over one hundred years and various different entities. They started off with a plain old Town, then Goole Shipyard Football Club. When the hull fell out of the shipbuilding industry they found the Town down the back of the sofa which they held onto until financial problems saw the club go under. From the ashes came Goole AFC in 1997, the current version although the club tried to sneak the Town back a few years ago, enraging the West Ridings FA in the process who take such matters very seriously – sod trivial matters like racism, match fixing and respect campaigns, the serious business is about a town wanting to add the word “town” after their name.

15981017447_19a7bf7f8a_kWhilst progress hasn’t yet happened on the pitch, the club are still fighting. Quite apt that the current manager, Curtis Woodhouse, held the British Light-Welterweight boxing title until June, although perhaps too much of that fighting spirit rubbed off on former captain Karl Colley back in January when after being sent off for violent conduct in a game against Coalville Town decided to attack a fan. The club acted swiftly, sacking Colley who had previously been sacked by Belper Town for his conduct. I’m sure the West Riding FA will get round to adding their sanctions once they’ve dealt with other major incidents such as teams deciding which colours to play in or renaming a tea bar. Reading the programme notes it appeared that the club’s ownership was once again unclear. Being part of a community-owned club like Lewes does make me feel blessed at times. Perhaps this is the model that could work for Goole, bring the much-needed identity and inclusion to the local community that they talk about being missing.

“There is so little to cheer (about) in Goole alone that sport is a way of transforming the image of a place and sadly Goole football over the last 30 years has been unable to do so.” Tough words from the club in the match programme but they are 100% bang on.

Lincoln United are Northern Steve’s local team. They had lost the reverse fixture a week ago in Lincoln, so revenge was their primary motivation today. By attending this game he would be automatically elevated to the ranks of “hardcore” due to the unwritten code of football supporting. Talking of club names, the story behind Lincoln’s is a peach. Originally called Lincoln Amateurs, they signed a former Nottingham Forest professional in 1951, meaning they couldn’t keep their name. So the players had, according to the club’s own story, a “brainstorming” session in a pub in Sleaford and came up with the name United. The film rights to that story must have them queuing round the block at their Ashby Avenue ground.

Like Goole AFC, Lincoln United’s honours roster is modest to say the least. But that’s not to say they couldn’t serve up some silky football to warm up the hundred and fifty or so fans who had made the trip to the dockside. The exterior of the ground may have been stark but the welcome was warm. Pie, peas and mint sauce were the order of the day round these parts, perfect insulation against the hurricane that was blowing down the ground. Both teams would be fighting the elements as well as each other over the next 90 minutes. We took up our place opposite the main stand, still enthralled by the phallic structures behind the ground. Every 20 minutes or so a train passed by the ground, offering travellers a glimpse into the heart of grass roots football.

Goole AFC 1 Lincoln United 1 – Victoria Pleasure Gardens – Thursday 1st January 2015
With two minutes left the celebrations from the home side were as if they’d won the cup rather than just equalised against a mid-table rival. The goal, scored by Billy Law was completely unexpected and against the run of play – simply because of the conditions. The wind, coupled with the open aspect of the ground had led to some almost comical passages of play, with the home keeper struggling to kick the ball forward at all, whilst at the other end, the bookies had stopped taking bets on the next goal scorer being the Lincoln goalie.

15979399908_a05a84fab9_kBoth teams had started the game trying to keep the ball on the deck but the heavy conditions had made that problematic. Lincoln had set themselves up in an unusual 3-5-2 with the idea of getting their wing backs forward. Alas the wind blowing in their faces meant they spent most of the first half on their heels, trying to defend against lofted balls over their heads. Despite having the conditions in their favour, Goole struggled to trouble the away keeper Peet. Half-time and we were all square.

Lincoln opened the scoring ten minutes into the second half, making a meal of a clear-cut chance before Matt Cotton nudged the ball over the line. They immediately went on the front foot, playing the elements well. Whilst they hit the post twice and were denied by some astute goal keeping, there was only a few moments of quality. It took them eighty minutes to realise that placed rather than power was the key to using the elements for shots on goal.

15979358738_46b2a39bda_kWith time ticking away Goole tried to get the ball into the danger zone but were thwarted time and time again by the wind and a resolute defence. The post and Peet combined well to keep the ball out but they were powerless to prevent Law’s exquisite lob in the final minutes, timing it perfectly for a moment when the wind abated for a few seconds. Whilst they hadn’t used the favourable conditions to their advantage in the first period the goal was more than they deserved.

Goole probably wouldn’t have been many people’s preferred destination on the first day of 2015 but we had no regrets. Twenty miles down the road Hull City were celebrating their first Premier League win in front of 22,000, many of whom would have come from the terraces around the Victoria Pleasure Grounds. But were they really happy with their £35 seats? A tenner had given us a friendly club, a decent game, pie and peas plus a golden goal ticket. That’s the heart and soul of football. Let’s hope that Goole can engage the local community and grow as a result. If not then my search engine idea might just do the trick.

Romeo has nothing on me

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on February 12, 2012

Like most married men, Valentines Day’s arrival every year in a pain in the arse. Surely we do enough to show our love to our wives/girlfriends (and husbands/boyfriends – let’s not forget many women are fans of TBIR too) without having to go overboard on one particular day. So I am about to shatter a myth which will have you re-assessing your thoughts on the 14th February. It transpires that when the Shaftesbury Memorial Monument was built in 1893 to commemorate the work of politician, philanthropist and all round good egg Lord Shaftesbury in Piccadilly Circus it is not that of Eros sitting a-top the structure firing his arrow of love but of his identical twin Anteros. You see Eros was the sad lonely lovelorn character, whilst his brother was the God of Requited Love. He is the one with the bow, firing his love arrows at people in need of some TLC or happy endings, whilst Eros was banished to Lillywhites.

If Greek mythology is your bag then you will know that Anteros, with Eros, was one of a host of winged love gods called the Erotes, the ever-youthful winged gods of love, usually depicted as winged boys in the company of Aphrodite or her attendant goddesses. Good work if you could get it, flying around as an ancient porn baron if you please. If it is not, let’s talk about Leek Town.

Leek and Valentine’s Day – two odd bedfellows. Or are they? Some eighteen years ago, The Current Mrs Fuller and I headed off on our first ever holiday, destination Leek. When I say holiday, of course I mean a weekend away. These were the days before I knew what a ground hopper was, let alone whether anywhere I went had a team and CMF was still a young and innocent schoolgirl. What attracted me to her you may wonder? Apart from the fact I never had to ask her to dress up as a schoolgirl, it was her A-reg Ford Fiesta. Did we have some adventures in that car I can tell you. But on this trip we stayed in a farm house just outside Leek, with the snow fluttering down outside. I had set a high romantic bar for years to come. The weekend ended with my bravado of trying to drive her car through a ford despite warnings that it wasn’t suitable. Of course it wasn’t and a two hour delay whilst I found a farmer with a tractor didn’t exactly fill our room with love that evening.

So this year, after being on a different continent for most of the past two weeks, I decided to get all nostalgic and take her back to the wonderful Derbyshire/Staffordshire borders for the weekend. I had planned it to perfection. A trip to a spa on Saturday afternoon, followed by overnight in The Retreat, which is described as:-

“The cosy, 2 bedroom cottage has been refurbished to a high specification. The main double bedroom has an en-suite bathroom, which comprises a Jacuzzi bath and shower, and the second bedroom, also with its own en-suite, is suitable for single occupancy. The kitchen is well appointed with oak units and granite work surfaces, wi-fi throughout and the lounge has a 42” plasma screen tv with Sky fitted for your enjoyment.”

What they failed to mention though was it was 220 yards, or 2 minutes 33 seconds walk from Harrison Park, home of Evostik Division One South Leek Town. And would you believe it, they were playing at home on the very day I had booked CMF into the Spa for two hours on Saturday afternoon. Unbeliveable Jeff. Romantic, yet selfish one one breath. As CMF loves to say, “You really are a catch aren’t you” (Note: she normally says this when I have done something wrong and tried to cover up a major indescretion with a cup of tea/biscuit/petrol station flowers).

I did tell her the lucky co-incidence on the way up. She seemed so interested in my run down of Leek’s history that she plugged in a microphone to her iPhone to record my musing – that or she was actually listening to some music, but that couldn’t be true? Leek had once played at Wembley (1990 FA Trophy Final) – “Nearly as much as West Ham then” was the cutting remark to that one. They once reached 19th place in the now Blue Square Bet Premier – “Oooh, you mean they once became the 101st best team in England”. You can’t fault her maths can you. They average about 240 at home – “So my non attendance isn’t going to break the bank then is it?”. So she had confirmed she didn’t want to come then. And finally, when I told her they used to be called the hilarious Leek Lowe Hamil she simply shook her head and looked out of the window as the passing lorry drivers on the M1.

What could go wrong? Well how about the coldest start to February since records began? Fixtures were falling left, right and centre. It would have been too easy just to not go and resort to those petrol station flowers to celebrate Valentines Day but I am not a quitter. I am Spartacus! Well, sort of. We carried on across the snowy tundra of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and finally into Staffordshire. It is not all about football, right? (ED – So why are you writing about this on a football blog).

Leek Town P Stamford P – Harrison Park – Saturday 11th February 2012
As we headed west I kept an eye on what games were falling by the wayside. Things weren’t looking good for the Leek area. Port Vale and Macclesfield Town, the two closest league teams to Leek had given up any hope of playing 24 hours before. Early on Saturday Matlock Town and Mickleover Sports conceded defeat to the wintry conditions. However, Leek Town was still holding out. As a good boy scout I also had a reserve option lined up – Chesterfield v Charlton Athletic.

Technically I am no longer a member of the infamous 92 Club. Whilst the club has become a bit more liberal these days, and even now has a website would you believe, some of their rules are nonsensical. I actually stopped being a member some years ago when I vowed that I would not be visiting Carlisle United any time soon after they were repromoted to the Football League some years ago. No disrespect to my Cumbrian cousins but it is a long way from the South East of England and I still have the mental scars of visiting them during the Mervyn Day era. So having visited Saltergate on numerous occasions I wasn’t falling over myself in planning a trip to the new B2Net stadium which they moved to last season. It was so similar to a host of other grounds around the country (ditto my only other omission from my list, Morecambe’s Globe Arena) that it wasn’t compelling enough to make me want a special trip. However, it was perfect as a back up should the weather take it’s toll.

Saturday 11.15am. Despite temperatures falling to a very chilly minus 15 in the East Midlands both Leek and Chesterfield hadn’t called their games off. But then I got the familiar vibrate on my phone to signify a new Tweet. I am fond of saying in my Social Media presentations that you no longer have to go looking for the news, it finds you thanks to the likes of Twitter. And here was the perfect example. Both Leek Town and Chestefield had been forced to cancel their games.

I kept a stiff upper lip and said to CMF that today was all about us and there was no football distractions. She of course completely believed me. “It’s been cancelled hasn’t it?” I forget sometimes that she is a genius and has known me for nearly 20 years. “Technically yes, but it was only a diversion for our weekend away” was the only response I could give as we made our way across the snowy tundra of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

We stopped off at Rainsworth Miners Welfare FC and Mickleover Sports just to make sure they really were telling the truth about being off. The lush white carpet of snow at both seemed to back up the truth. At Mickleover the chairman even came out to greet us, assuming we had come from Buxton and didn’t know the game was off. “After all” he said ” why else would anyone come here on a non-match day”. Exactly….I got back in the car quickly.

Eventually we reached Leek and it would have been rude not to double check the pitch there. Alas the thick blanket of snow there with just two sets of footprints on the pitch suggested a pitch inspection had been swift and conclusive. And then I had an idea. I had a ball in the back of the car. Why not pretend the game was played with a kick around on the pitch between CMF and me? I’m not exactly sure what my wife actually said but it I definitely made out the words “going to the pub” in their amongst some expletives.

So we retreated to The Retreat no more than a goal kick away. A fantastic little cottage with a huge TV and a Wii….hold on – there was a copy of FIFA 11 there too. Second great idea of the day arrived – let’s play the game on FIFA!

It took me a good 3 minutes to catch her up walking swiftly up the hill into the town centre. Apparently it was a silly idea and it was never going to happen. Still she started to warm to the idea over a couple of Crabbies in the Black Swan whilst we watched the football world implode over a single handshake, or lack of one.

Football took a back seat for the rest of the day as we shopped, ate and drunk. The drinking was very enjoyable as we stumbled upon Den Engel, a pub with 53 different Belgian beers. The bar was run by a couple, according to Tripadvisor, were the Northern equivalent of Basil and Sybil Fawlty. They didn’t disappoint, frowning when someone asked if they could sit at their table in the bar to have their drinks. It was Saturday night at 10pm and they were sitting their in cardigans and matching slippers reading the weekend supplements. How inconsiderate. We toyed up the prospect of a trip to a nightclub, but Google didn’t fill us with confidence with the following review on the Knowhere Guide for Leek.

“Only go to these places (night clubs) if you want to take the piss out of the inbred locals; Don’t let them anger you – just laugh at how they think their nightlife is fantastic” Harsh.

There was also the Winking Man, that apparently had the highest function room in England at 1,500 foot above sea level but it closed at 12 so it wasn’t worth the trip out of town.

So we stayed in Den Engel and after a few De Koninks, some Tournay Noires, a smattering of Blanche de Bruxelles and topped off by a Franck Boon Kriek and Framboise we gingerly headed home, down a very steep hill which had a nice coating of ice. But we made it home and CMF was so chuffed with a “lovely day” so far that she said we could do whatever I wanted. She was eyeing the big jacuzzi in the bathroom. I was eyeing the FIFA11.

I set the weather conditions to snowy. I was Leek Town, although obviously EA Sports had neglected to include the Evostik League One South teams (an oversight surely that will be rectified in this year’s version?), CMF Stamford. The all blue kit of Everton doubled up as the home side, whilst the all red of Swindon Town represented Stamford.

The game wasn’t a classic. In fact after just 4 minutes I heard the familiar sound of a bath running upstairs as CMF had thrown her controller to the floor in disgust at my over physical tactics (on the game of course) which she deemed were “unnecessary” and going unpunished by the virtual referee. By this stage Ben Nixon (aka Tim Cahill) and James McCarthy (Louis Saha) had both scored for the home side. I played on until half time passing the ball around the back four, trying to tempt the Stamford players into coming forward. I heard the taps stop, the low hum of the jacuzzi starting and the music start. Let’s face it, Stamford weren’t going to come back from the two goal deficit so the game was abandoned with the Northern League immediately decreeing that the result would stand despite only 45 minutes having been played.

You see it isn’t always about football. Sometimes life needs to take priority over the beautiful game, well anyway for that two week period we seem to get every year when the weather decimates our national game. Normal service will be resumes next week I am sure, by which time I will have reminded CMF what a great husband I am for taking her away for a romantic weekend in the Peak District. Time is a great healer.