Result: Nuneaton Town 0-0 Hemel Hempstead Town (The FA Cup with Budweiser 4th Qualifying Round)
Venue: Liberty Park (The James Parnell Stadium) (Saturday 25th October 2014, 3.00pm)
FA Cup weekend, and for many sides, it’s the biggest day of their season. Arguably, this could be claimed for the two sides I was going to watch do battle today for a place in the hat for the FA Cup First Round “Proper”. Nuneaton, of the Conference National, were the favourites in the book over their visitors from Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Town or “The Tudors” as they are known. Town, still known as the “Boro” after their previous incarnation as Nuneaton Borough (until 2008), are having a somewhat understated start to this, their 125th season sitting third bottom in the Vanarama Conference. Hemel Hempstead are also struggling somewhat occupying only 18th in the Southern Section.
I began my journey at just before 10am and headed into Manchester Piccadilly, but not before trying to be clever and save money by buying, what I was told, was a cheaper ticket by splitting the journey. Alas, this wasn’t the case and I paid an extra £2.20. Ok, it may not be an end of the world catastrophe, but still….
So, after this mentally disturbing farce, I was soon sitting on the Cross Country Trains service to Bristol Temple Meads via Birmingham New Street, which was to be my transit destination. After a rather pleasant journey down through Cheshire & Staffordshire the train soon rolled into the “Second City” at just about 12.30. With 20 minutes to find the correct escalator & platform in the rather confusing sub-terrainean world that is New Street I eventually found my way to the waiting London Midland service which was to take me to Nuneaton for about 20 past 1. After another trouble free journey (this was to be made up for later, don’t worry), I hopped off at Platform 5 and soon made my way out of Nuneaton Station and towards the town centre. After a while, I began to get the feeling something wasn’t right and surprisingly I had headed in the wrong direction. Wonders never cease, eh?
Anyway, now on the correct path and heading back through a market in the town centre, I was soon making my way down Attleborough Road towards the industrial estate bearing the same name. Attleborough being the area of Nuneaton the ground sits in. After turning near the Crematorium, the sign for which is accompanied by an “Elderly Persons’ Crossing” (not the greatest pairing of road signage) I crossed the railway via footbridge and through the scenic walk up to the ground. Scenic, in the way of lovely storage facilities and warehouses.
Soon enough, I spotted the gates and sign bearing the name of Nuneaton RFC (the rugby club who ground share with Town) and after walking past the adjoining smaller Rugby ground, complete with truck trailer as a stand, I made my way up to the turnstiles situated at the far end of the ground.
After paying my £10 fee & having my bag checked by the steward, who nicely told me about the loose change I had in there (or was he telling me that so I didn’t launch any missiles?) I was soon inside Liberty Park. Liberty Park has been in use as Nuneaton Town’s home since 2008 (and Borough before that for one season).
You exit the turnstile in the corner between two terraces, one a raised covered terracing, the other a smaller uncovered terrace, which runs all the way down the left touchline in two sections. Down the far end is the usual away end, not in use as such today, which is another covered terrace, almost the twin of the one opposite. The far touchline is populated by a small-ish seated stand, a graffiti mural reading “Nuneaton Town”, the Boro’ Sports Bar (tucked in the corner near the formerly mentioned covered terrace), dressing room areas and dugouts.
I sat down on the open terrace away from the building crowds, programme (£2 cut-price) in hand and booked a ticket for the Morecambe-Exeter City game the next day. Once this was done, I was asked if I would mind moving as my chosen position was usually occupied at every home game by an elderly gentleman & not wanting to intrude, I moved about ten feet to the right. By now the atmosphere was building, the elderly gentleman had taken his obligatory position in the ground and the teams had entered the pitch to do battle. Hemel Hempstead, with King Henry VIII on their crest, were about to enter into a Battle Royale. See what I did there? I’ll get my coat.
The club can trace it’s roots back to a local church side representing St.Nicholas Church in 1892, as Nuneaton St.Nicholas, competing in friendlies and Charity Cup ties. Two years later, the side changed its name to Nuneaton Town Association F.C.
Known as the “Nuns” the club started league life in the Warwickshire Junior League in 1894, before also competing fleetingly in the Coventry & District, Coventry & North Warwickshire and Leicestershire Leagues before the turn of the century. The club also briefly competed in the Nuneaton & District League, the Trent Valley League and a second stint in the Coventry & North Warwickshire League, before settling in the Birmingham Junior League and Birmingham Combination (it’s new name after WWI) from 1908 to 1933, bar a two season stay in the Southern League (Eastern Section between 1924& 1926). the club then competed in the Birmingham League from 1933 to 1937 when the club folded. On May 13, 1937, it was decided to wind up the football club despite Nuneaton Town being financially sound having sold their Manor Park ground the previous December. Strangely, the club was to be replaced after just two days by Nuneaton Borough F.C., the brainchild of a “group of local gentlemen”.
The Boro’ began life in the Central Amateur League in 1937, before similarly flitting between leagues, soon joining the Birmingham Combination before entering the Nuneaton Combination during the war years. On the cessation of hostilities, the club returned to be Birmingham Combination where they remained until 1952. In ’52, the club joined the Birmingham League where they competed in both the Northern Section & First Division as the league tried out different structures. After this, in 1958, the Boro’ joined the Southern League, which was to be their long-term home. Their first season was played in the North Western Section, before re-organisation meant they were given a place in the Premier Division. The club were relegated on four occasions to the First Division (’59-’60,’80-’81, ’87-’88 & ’93-’94) the latter three being to a “Midland Division”. All other seasons were spent competing in the Premier Division, bar three tenures in the Alliance/Conference (’79-’81, ’82-’87 & ’99-’03). On relegation in 2003, the club spent one season back in the Southern League before restructuring & the introduction of the regional Conference Leagues saw the Boro’ compete in the Conference North from 2004 until its demise in 2008.
Brought back under its “original” guise of Nuneaton Town, the club were demoted two divisions for being a “new” entity (see Darlington, Halifax Town, Chester) and were back in the Southern League. They still had large debt, despite the sale of their Manor Park home. They soon recovered, however, and were soon back finding success, gaining promotion to the Southern Premier at the first attempt, beating Chasetown in the play-offs, and were back at Conference Regional level by the end of the next season, as they again found play-off success, this time at the expense of Chippenham. After defeat by AFC Telford United in their first season in the Conference North, the club went one better the following year, by defeating Gainsborough Trinity 1-0 at Trinity’s Northolme ground, to ensure three promotions in four seasons. A remarkable comeback.
For the last two seasons, the club have settled in mid-table finishing in 15th & 13th places respectively.
As Nuneaton Town (original):
Coventry & District League: Champions 1902-03.
Coventry & North Warwickshire League: Champions 1904-05.
Birmingham Junior League: Champions 1906-07.
Birmingham Combination: Champions 1914-15, 1928-29, 1930-31.
Birmingham Senior (County) Cup: Winners 1930-31.
As Nuneaton Borough:
Birmingham League: Champions 1954-55 (North), 1955-56 (Division One).
Southern League Premier Division: Champions 1998-99.
Southern League Midland Division: Champions 1981-82, 1992-93, 1995-96.
Southern League Cup: Winners 1995-96.
Southern League Championship Match: Winners 1993.
Conference National: Runners Up 1983-84, 1984-85.
Conference North: Runners Up 2004-05
Birmingham Senior (County) Cup: Winners 1949, 1955, 1960, 1978, 1980, 1993, 2002.
Boro’ made it to the Third Round three times: 1949-50 (v Exeter City), 1966-67 (Rotherham United, Replay), 2005-06 (Middlesbrough, Replay).
As Nuneaton Town (Present):
Southern League Division One (Midlands): Runners Up 2008-09 (Promoted via play offs).
Southern League Premier Division: Runners Up 2009-10 (Promoted via play offs).
Conference North 2011-12 (Promoted via play offs).
Birmingham Senior Cup: Winners 2010.
First Round Proper 2009-10, 2010-2011 & 2012/13.
The game began at a frantic pace, with both sides going close early on, none more so than Jack Dyer, who struck visiting goalkeeper Laurie Walker’s left hand post with just three minutes on the clock. Soon after, the dangerous and direct Dyer was forced off after contact with visiting skipper Jordan Parkes. Little happened thereafter in terms of clear cut chances, but the Tudors’ fans behind the goal added atmosphere where there would have been none by giving unrelenting backing to their team both vocally and via a drum. The drummer could actually play the drum, so for all those who don’t like drums, you may just be swayed?
The visitors big defender Moussa Diarra was immense, winning everything in the air thanks to his height or on the floor thanks to his long levers. He also smashed a ball the highest I’ve ever seen anyone clear one, over the Main Stand and into the adjoining land. It never bounced, so I’ve no idea where it ended up!
Half-Time came, 0-0. I had already gotten a decent sized portion of chips from one of the three outlets around the ground for £2.50, and they were well worth it too. Lovely, and they lasted until after the break. Perfect.
On the resumption,, the tie followed the same pattern, a decent free-flowing game, but with both sides lacking that end product to bring themselves a winning goal. But, in the 68th minute, it was again Boro’ who had the opportunity to progress when Chris Curran beat the offside trap but Laurie Walker, who was probably one of the most impressive custodians I’ve seen this season, especially in commanding his area & information giving, was out like lightning to charge down his effort and maintain his clean sheet. Soon after, Hemel had their best chance when the young home ‘keeper James Wren pulled off a fine one-handed save to tip over a rasping drive. 0-0 it remained, as both sides looked relatively happy to have another go at each other (tonight as I write, Tuesday 28th).
So, I exited soon after the whistle, with both sets of fans being given a round of applause from their respective outfits. But there was one set of fans happier than the other as shown by one fan who commented “That’s the worst I’ve seen us play in ages!”. After discovering a pathway shortcut to cut down my walking trip back to the centre of town by a good ten minutes, I popped into The Crown Inn with around 35 minutes to spare until my train. With Rekorderlig in hand, I settled down to watch the early stages of Bayer Leverkusen vs Schalke 04, but after five minutes the TV conked out, so I soon left, just in the nick of time as it turned out as my train rolled in a lot earlier than I was being told by my National Rail App, and I just made it on to the service to Crewe. This is where it falls apart a bit. After a trouble free trip back up to Crewe, we were kept out the station for a good 10-12 minutes for no obvious reason causing me to miss my connection(s) and extend my journey by a good hour and a half. I hate Crewe. I really, really do.
My Nuneaton Town M.o.M.- Ben Hutchinson
My Hemel Hempstead Town M.o.M.- Moussa Diarra.
Game: 6- Not bad, but no goals.
Ground: 8- Nice ground, smart looking and good viewing areas.
Programme: 6- Cut price and size, but was ok.
Fans: 5- Were very quiet and subdued. Strange one really. Thought they’d be more up for it.
Food: 8- Very nice, good portion size for the price too.
Value For Money: 5- Quite a lot for travel, cut price ticket & programme helped a bit though.
Referee: 6- Was ok, riled both sets of fans at times with a few decisions though.