Result: Alfreton Town 1-0 AFC Fylde (FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round)
Venue: North Street (Saturday 17th September 2016, 3pm)
Following the last round in the FA Cup at Leek, myself and blog regular Paul decided we should continue our own cup run for another step along the “Road to Wembley”, following the dramatic contest at Harrison Park. For what is likely the final consecutive round of the Cup this season that I will watch a game in, we decided to head into Derbyshire and visit North Street (or Impact Arena), home to Alfreton Town FC.
After eventually locating Paul on the train after boarding on two separate occasions, I took the place of two, apparently, highly excitable Hollyoaks fans, who’d gone very OTT by the fact that an actor from the show who plays “Jack” was in our very carriage. The star quality was lost on us, however, and we were far more impressed by the odd pacer trains that flashed past, none more so than when we had to wait for one to pass as we headed for Sheffield. The excitement was far too much. Is he joking?
After passing into our third county of the day, we arrived into Alfreton at midday, immediately heading for the first watering hole we would encounter. The Station didn’t look the best of options, though and so we continued on with Paul recommending we head into the Plough for our first drinks of the day. This wasn’t to be the greatest of decisions, as Paul will attest to and so I was given the reigns for the rest of the journey through Alfreton, starting at the far end of town and the safe hands of Wetherspoons.
The town’s ‘Spoons, Waggon and Horses, was a fairly run-of-the-mill offering, with little to excite and so the “Wetherspoons News” kept us entertained, as we tried to match places respective outlets with their football clubs. Yes, this is the on-the-edge life we lead. Punk IPA’s finished off, we headed back into Alfreton town centre, passed by the arriving Fylde coach as we did so, before a burst of sound out of a pub drove us inside to discover just what was going on.
It turned out that the Blue Bell had been taken over by a group of Northampton fans, who’d, for one reason or another, chosen Alfreton over Chesterfield as their place for pre-match drinks and entertainment. This added some good atmosphere to our stay here, with the pint of Fox’s going down very well. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the better ales I’ve had. Tremendous. The barmaid here was also very helpful in going through each offering, despite the noise radiating from the maroon-clad mass, so added props for that. Upon their exit, though, it seemed the regulars had had enough of having their early afternoon drinks being interrupted, so we also departed, heading just up the street to the King Alfred.
In the previous establishment, I’d seen a bottle in the fridge by the name of Revolution and, being easily taken by attractive looking insignia and labels, reckoned I’d like to try one of those at some point. This wait proved a short one as, upon browsing the fridges in the Alf, my eyes once again focussed on the blue-clad bottle. Paul decided to join me in tasting the Marston’s offering. It was ok, but nothing more than that and with the clock approaching 2pm, we were soon heading for the Impact Arena.
An encounter with a door saw us head for an impromptu drink in Bluey’s Australian Bar, which sits at the top of the road, give or take, from where Alfreton Town’s home sits. Upon entering, it certainly seemed a good choice. Bluey’s struck me as a sort of sports bar and the barmaid was taken aback by us being quite impressed by us declaring the bar as “cheap”. After a chat in just what brought us to Alfreton, it turned out that her boyfriend is a player for Matlock Town and so continues the influence of non-league football amongst the population of the UK.
With our unplanned stop meaning the time was ever closer to kick-off, we swiftly headed off, finding the turnstile hidden away somewhat down a small dirt path and after paying £12 entry, ground 192 was entered. The excitement didn’t stop there though, oh no, as I bought the final programme for the match, denying the guy behind me a copy (sorry, not sorry), though the £3 price was a bit steep.
North Street is a differing ground from many in this country, by virtue of the fact it houses seats that are left open to the elements. This, to me at least, gives it something of a continental look to it at one end. The other three sides put this illusion to bed, though, with them being very regular views seen at grounds. The “Main” Stand is a small-ish construction, that houses the clubhouse, dressing rooms and everything else within, with only a few rows of seats, mostly toward the far end. The opposite side is populated by another all-seater stand, that is again only a few rows deep and, interestingly, doesn’t have a perimeter fence in front of it. The near-end goal features a fairly large terrace behind it, with the rear part covered by a roof. As for Alfreton Town’s story….
Alfreton Town FC was founded in 1958, following the merging of Alfreton Miners Welfare FC & Alfreton United FC. The new club duly moved into a new ground (their current home) on North Street and initially competed in the Central Alliance’s Division 1 North, doing enough over their first two season to allow them to become founders of the re-formed Midland Counties League.
Following several good performances and close calls, Alfreton eventually took the Midland League title in 1970, before adding a further two titles to this throughout the decade (’73 &’77). The club also achieved three Midland League Cups during the same decade and were rewarded by being allowed to keep the very trophy they achieved this with. 1982 saw the Midland League merge with the Yorkshire League to create the Northern Counties East League.
The NCEL League Cup was won by Town in 1985 and the title was lifted in 1987. At the close of the following campaign, Alfreton took up a place in the newly formed Northern Premier League Division 1. Despite finishing bottom in 1991, league re-organization in Wales meant clubs left the NPL and this in turn gave a reprieve to Town, allowing them to keep their spot. After missing out on promotion in 1995, ’96 saw Alfreton promoted to the Premier Division of the NPL as runners-up.
From their, fortunes took a downturn and Town dropped back through the NPL levels to find themselves back in the NCEL by the ’99-’00 season. 2002, though, saw the title won once more, alongside the League Cup, President’s Cup and Derbyshire Senior Cup in a fine quadruple. The following season saw the club lift the NPL Division One title and defend their Derbyshire Senior Cup along the way as the club returned to the NPL Premier Division.
2003 saw Town lift the Derbyshire Centenary Cup in pre-season, before finishing the season in 4th place. This finishing position meant Town could take up a spot in the newly formed Conference North. The season’s highlight was, arguably, reaching the FA Cup First Round, where Town lost in a replay to Macclesfield Town. 2008-’09 saw Town reach the play-offs after being a largely mid-table outfit prior to this, but were defeated in the semi-finals and the club did an FA Cup PB in reaching the 2nd Round, where they bowed out to Scunthorpe United.
A second third place in 2010 saw Town again compete in the play-offs, this time reaching the final, but again were to face heartbreak, this time at the hands of the fast-rising Fleetwood Town, but 2011 saw Alfreton finally get their promotion as they won the Conference North by ten points. Despite equalling their FA Cup best in 2013 & after three mid-table finishes, the club were relegated in 2015 and finished last season, their first back at Step 2, in 10th place.
Paul decided there was still time to head for the clubhouse pre-match with me opting out on a drink this time, as my mind worked in a sensible way for once. The clubhouse here is covered in memorabilia, with shirts adorning the walls and numerous scarves and more shirts covering the ceiling, featuring jerseys from all over the world. It’s certainly interesting but there was little time to be spent looking, as the sides were in the tunnel and ready to head out onto the pitch ahead of this tie.
The game got underway with free-scoring Fylde, 5-3 winners at North Street the month earlier, attacking their opponents’ defence at regular intervals, with a header going close to opening the scoring. But, it was to be Alfreton who were to take something of a shock lead, as they won a corner on the right and the resultant set-piece was volleyed in at the back post by Tom Allan. 1-0 and it looked as though goals were to be plentiful, as expected, once more.
Fylde still looked the more dangerous of the sides, with top-scorer Danny Rowe flashing a drive wide of the post, but the chances were at an extreme premium, with both sides looking more fearful of going out, than they did of trying to force their way into the next round. The best chance for the visitors came as Town ‘keeper Fabian Speiss (who I saw have a man-of-the-match performance for Boston at Fylde last season) collided with a team-mate but, despite a desperate scramble in the goal-mouth, the grateful Speiss found the ball return to his grasp once more.
It wasn’t until we headed into the food bar next to the smaller of the stands that things began to kick-off. As Paul ordered his grub, he was met with a confused look from the girl serving and the phrase I’m sure many scousers get “I don’t understand”. So after turning translator and meeting no such issues through my accent, or lack of it as I was informed that I “didn’t sound Northern”, we headed back onto the terraces thoroughly entertained by this. Food was good too, so all positives!
Just before the break, I met with Alfreton fan/steward Ashley, who’d messaged me prior to the game, before I left him to his task for the moment as the whistle blew. Half-time, 1-0. Off to the bar once more we went, with two cans of San Miguel purchased, though the remainder of mine went missing just after the restart, as I stuck my head out the door to check on the game’s progress!
Back outside for the second period, Paul and I headed for the Spanish-end and took up a position within the seats and next to a group of home fans, though both sets were finding it hard to create any noise, despite having tried earlier in the contest. Though, with the lack of on-pitch action, this wasn’t all too surprising an occurrence.
Fylde continued to dominate the game overall, though Alfreton looked quite solid at the back which came as something of a surprise considering their overall defensive record so far this season, though Fylde haven’t exactly been top-notch in this field either. They again survived a 6-yard scramble, as the ball somehow evaded crossing the line despite the best efforts of the ever dangerous Rowe and Niall Dixon cleared off the line from Bohan Dixon.
Alfreton did have their odd moments too, with Fylde stopper Tony Thompson forced into a couple of saves by the Gibraltan international Adam Priestley and impressive on-loan defender Kallam Mantack, but Speiss was the man in this game, as he denied further chances for Rowe including the crowning glory of his performance in stoppage time, when he clawed away the former’s free-kick which was destined for the top-corner. WHAT A SAVE! With Paul chatting to a Fylde committee man who was full of praise for Town, while berating his own side’s lacklustre performance, the game came to a close with the surprising 1-0 score-line standing, but with Alfreton fully deserving their place in the 3rd Qualifying Round (at King’s Lynn Town).
Back into the bar for the final time we headed for a chat with a few Alfreton fans, including John (though I can only remember his name from twitter, sorry everyone else for my bad memory) and thanks to Ashley for buying me a post-match drink. Soon enough, it was time for us to leave and have a final drink in the pub at the top of the road, the Victoria. After bidding goodbye to all the above, the Victoria proved a decent enough stop-off point and a guy gave us a tip-off for something of a shortcut back to the station, with the journey back proving largely uneventful. A week off next week, before a return to the big leagues…
Value For Money: 6