Result: Haughmond 3-2 Matlock Town (FA Cup First Qualifying Round)
Venue: Shrewsbury Sports Village (Saturday 2nd September 2017, 3pm)
With the introduction of the Step 3 clubs to the FA Cup of 2017-’18, this of course meant a good selection of interesting ties to choose from to continue this year’s cup quest. With quite a few of those in the offing, the most attractive to me came out of left field somewhat, with a sports village playing host. The venue was in Shrewsbury and the team the newly promoted Step 5 outfit, Haughmond FC and the visitors, the “Gladiators” of Matlock Town, competing two divisions higher. I will try not to include any reference to the film.
After a couple of changes, I was heading out of the shadow of Gresty Road in Crewe and onwards through the South Cheshire & Shropshire countryside, arriving into the shadow of Shrewsbury castle at just before midday. With lots of time to spare, I thought I may as well pop into one of the number of pubs near to the station and plan out the rest of my intended route.
First up was the Bull’s Head, an old-style pub complete with fireplace. Plumping for a pint of Thatcher’s to begin with, I had just began to have a peruse of the nearby area when an elder gentleman laid down his umbrella and coat on the table I was at. This was Brian and he’d go on to regale me with a tale of him courting and having to spend a few weeks wages on a suit, having come out of the army. A thoroughly nice guy, he also recommended his tobacco and ale diet, with it having done him “no harm”. It certainly hadn’t.
After bidding goodbye to Brian (via a quick return to pick up my sunglasses), it was off next door to the Vaults, a dull real/craft ale sorta place. Thrillingly, I soon spied the familiar blue sign of Punk IPA lighting up the bar. On draught no less too! A pint of that (£4.50) was quickly ordered and from here I looked at where I’d go next. The plan I settled upon would be to first have a quick look around the town centre, though this was almost scuppered as I headed away from it somehow and found myself about to head into a new-build housing estate. It was then I knew I’d probably gone wrong. What a shock.
Once I’d righted my inner compass and found my way into town, I was given a tip by my parents to head to the Prince Rupert hotel, on account of it being “haunted”. Alas, I couldn’t find any conclusive evidence of this…nor that there was an open bar, so I instead opted to head next door and to the second Bull of the day. Bully! This was a decent enough stop-gap in the midst of the town, though I left the attractive looking Loggerheads for my return here when Shrewsbury Town will be my destination.
After polishing off my pint, it was off onwards to the ground. With the F1 qualifying in full flow, I was ideally looking for somewhere to watch the events in Italy. My intended stop, the Old Dolphin, was shut as I headed on past, so I set my sights on one final drink in the nearby Coracle, that sits just a couple of minutes from the ground. That was until I came across the Coach and with this advertising Sky, I reckoned this was the place. In I headed, purchased a drink, only to find the rain teeming down on the TV and action non-existent (some may say this is the norm when it comes to F1, mind you). Ah.
My search would prove not to be fruitful and with the rain still falling at the track, I headed onwards to the aforementioned Coracle with the clock nearing 2pm. Arriving here, I found it surprisingly empty, imagining a fair amount of travelling fans would have been taking advantage of a nearby watering hole. This proved not to be the case, apart from around five Gladiators fans and so after a quick chat with a pair of them, it was onwards to the Shrewsbury Sports Village.
I decided to follow one Matlock fan there and see where he ventured on the way in. Eventually, it seemed the entrance was gained via the main atrium and through the door at the far end of the main building, which gave entry to the ground itself. After heading past the steps, the view from which had been blocked off by tarpaulin, I arrived at the gate and handed over my £5 entry, whilst asking after my programme, which I’d reserved the day before. This duly arrived soon after, with the £1 price being waived. Cheers guys.
Haughmond’s ground at the Shrewsbury Sports Club is pretty basic, minus the large stand on the right hand touchline. Bar this, there isn’t much to report on the ground, what with it being only a two-sided venue, the far end and left-hand touchline being off-limits/non-existent (r.e. spectator areas) respectively. The near end, closest to the entrance and building, is open hard standing. The ground was nearing capacity, though this didn’t stop a few freeloaders from watching on from outside the perimeter fence. Boooo.
Anyway, with the ground being this full for a game such as today’s (meaning no disrespect to either team’s numbers), this must surely mean a move in venue would be required should Haughmond draw a club with a larger following at any point during their stay at their current home. With this in mind, here’s the story of Haughmond FC….
Haughmond FC was formed in 1981, the brainchild of two brothers, Roger and Dave Ellis-Morgan. They began life in the Shropshire County League, before a move into the West Shropshire League after a sole season. Here, Haughmond would win the Second Division title in 1985, plus two West Shropshire League Cups (1987 & ’89) and a West Shropshire League Subsidiary Cup (1991) prior to the end of their first decade.
1995-’96 saw a highly successful season for the club, with Haughmond lifting the League Cup for a third time, along with the West Shropshire League’s Premier League title, Premier Cup and John Davies Cup, completing a quadruple. 1998 saw a fourth League Cup arrive, before the 1999-2000 season saw a return to the Shropshire County League, where they were to immediately finish as Division One runners-up, gaining promotion to the Premier Division.
Haughmond would follow this with further cup success, winning the 2003 Ron Jones Cup and Premier Cup, and the next year would see the club go on to win the 2004 Shropshire County League title, along with the “prestigious” Commander Ethelstone Cup at the beginning of that season. After a slight lean spell, the club would go on to achieve a pair of Shropshire County Premier League runners-up placings in 2009 & 2010, prior to lifting the title in 2011, along with a further League Cup in a double winning campaign. This preceded a move into the West Midlands Regional League for the following season.
After immediately lifting the WMRL Division 2 title in 2012, Haughmond would take this success into Division 1, where they’d finish 2014 as runners-up. Following the resulting promotion to the WMRL Premier Division, Haughmond would go on to lift the title (plus a WMRL Premier Cup) in 2017 and be promoted to the Midland League’s Premier Division for this season.
We were soon underway with the underdog home side striking early. In fact, it only took them two minutes to break the deadlock, striker Steve Hole firing beyond Matlock ‘keeper Phil Barnes, in what was to turn out to be his final games between the sticks prior to his retirement midway through this week (as I write). Sadly for him, it wasn’t to get much better, as Haughmond looked to take the initiative against their higher-ranked hosts.
They did just that. After having slightly the better of the early stages, the hosts doubled their advantage and it was that man Hole again. After forcing his way into the box, the forward was bundled over by Barnes and the referee duly pointed to the spot. Hole finished off his attack, firing the penalty convincingly high and beyond Barnes to secure his side a fine advantage.
From then on, Matlock did begin to get a stranglehold on the tie and looked to assert themselves. After going close with a couple of efforts plus Luis Rose’s attempted overhead kick, they deservedly grabbed themselves a goal back just before the break, Rose eventually getting his goal in more conventional fashion, smartly finishing off a cross with what was the last meaningful kick of the half. With that, the first period duly came to a close and now I’d usually head for some food. But on this occasion, I couldn’t be bothered seeking it out, though apparently there was some on offer inside the main village building via a café.
The second half began in much the same way as the first, with Matlock’s Gladiators on top. Therefore, it came as little surprise when they levelled the scores just after the hour, Adam Yates side-footing home a free-kick from the flank past home custodian Ash Spittlehouse to level up the scores. From there, I’m sure most in attendance would have agreed that there was only one winner.
A goalmouth scramble and a smart chip narrowly avoided putting the visitors ahead but, as the clock ticked down, it looked more and more likely these two teams would have to go at it again back at Matlock’s Causeway Lane. Spittlehouse had to be at his best just prior to the 90 mark, tipping a fizzing effort away when it looked destined for the net, before the unthinkable happened.
With the four added minutes almost up, Haughmond managed to achieve a rare breakaway. Advancing down the left, a deep cross found one of the attackers at the back post. However, he dallied on the ball when it looked as though he ought to have fired in his effort and the chance looked to have passed the hosts by. However, that man Hole was lurking, unmarked, at the back post and his team-mate kept his cool to feed him perfectly and Hole did the rest, shooting beyond Barnes and into the net to cue scenes of jubilation from those on the field and on the bench, though one Haughmond player was sent flying by a stray ref’s foot. Even I let out a cheer at such a moment!
Seconds later, the final whistle went to signal a cup upset at the Shrewsbury Sports Village, Haughmond were through to the next round having vanquished the Gladiators in battle. The fans of the visitors….were not entertained. This was not why they were here after all. Ah, damn it, so close…
Post match, I final pub visit was just within the time constraints, and so it was off to the Heathgates at the roundabout at the foot of the road. Not too much to report in here, before the return half-hour’s walk was undertaken, arriving back at Shrewsbury station an easy five minutes before the train back to Manchester was due. Here ends a far more interesting day than I was expecting when I set out.
Though I was expecting decent things of Shrewsbury itself, the ground and game were definitely better than expected and thanks to the club for giving me the free programme. They’d go on to draw Boston United in the next round at the fine York Street ground I visited last season with Altrincham. Next up, it’s a return to the 92 trail and the current Rotherham ground….
Food: N/A (was available in the SV café)
Value For Money: 7