Result: Belper Town 1-0 Alvechurch (FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round)
Venue: Christchurch Meadows (Saturday 7th September 2019, 3pm)
The FA Cup rolls onwards through its rounds and as it does, I continue to follow its path. The best part about the Cup is that it springs up some intriguing contests that would otherwise not be possible in the short term. Case in point being today’s game at Christchurch Meadows in the market town of Belper. The home of the Nailers has been a long-term target of mine and a cup tie always adds an extra intrigue to proceedings and, as a result, once the draw had thrown up a home tie for Belper, there was little choice that had to be made.
I headed on through Sheffield and Derby, with twenty minutes waits at both – the latter of which yielded a group of guys riding leprechaun suits – the train for the short hop to Belper came in and I was walking down the High Street within 20 minutes of leaving Derby. The high street leading up past the memorial gardens and to the cenotaph area is a fair incline, but is nothing on the bit of road between there and the Nags Head, the small traditional pub at the end of the town centre. This is a true locals place but, that’s not a slight on it whatsoever. Its a lovely, snug place and the pint of San Miguel (£3) was probably one of the fizziest I’ve ever had. Good signs!
Finishing up in the Nag, I backtracked the short distance to the cenotaph but where three drinking holes sit in close proximity to each other. Namely, these are the Angels micropub, the Cross Keys and the Black Swan. The former is a small, real ale-centric place and seems to be in some kind of former church building of sorts. I might be completely wrong, but the Oakham brewery’s Citra beer (£3) certainly wasn’t! The highlight here had to be the picture above the bar of a group of angels, all with pint in hand. My idea of heaven.
Belper is a market town and civil parish within the Amber Valley area of Derbyshire, around 7 miles to the North of Derby, with its name thought to derive from the word Beaurepaire – meaning ‘beautiful view’ – which itself was the name given to a local hunting lodge, mentioned in a 1231 charter. This would have been owned by the 1st Earl of Lancaster and its chapel still remains and is thought to be the oldest building in Belper. The town stands upon the River Derwent and counts the village of Milford and nearby hamlets of Bargate, Blackbrook and Makeney as areas of its parish. At the time of the Norman invasion, Belper was part of the land centred on Duffield and owned by the family of Henry de Ferrers, whilst the Domesday Book states that the manor of “Bradley” was located in the area, thought to be now near Coppice which, at the time, was likely within the Forest of East Derbyshire that covered the county east of the Derwent.
The area was disafforested in 1225 and became a part of Duffield Frith. The coal deposits at the time were associated with ironstone being important to the de Ferrers family, who were ironmasters back in Normandy and by time King Henry VIII had come to the throne, Belper had grown and prospered quite significantly around nail-making and the selling of these to surrounding textile mills, although it was still considered a lesser area near to Duffield. This remained the long-term industry of the town through to the late 18th century and the building of the world’s second-only water-powered mill by Jedediah Strutt and the expansion of the textile industry saw Belper become a mill town. Further followed, with the North Mill and ground-neighbouring East Mill still standing – parts of the Derwent Valley Mills world heritage site.
The construction of the North Midland Railway in 1940 saw Belper connected to more wide-ranging areas and allowed the town to become the first place in the U.K. to gain gas lighting, with textiles and hosiery remaining the core industry into the 20th century, whilst iron-founding also grew up. A ‘Poet’s Trail’ was added to the town in 2009 and features well-known and local talents, whilst Belper won the ‘High-Street of the Year’ award in 2014. Local alumni include Commonwealth Games double gold-medallist swimmer Ross Davenport, the “father of the American Industrial Revolution” Samuel Slater, colonial ruler of Malaya Frank Swettenham, ex-Derby County footballer Ron Webster and none other than James Bond!!! Well, Timothy Dalton.
From there, it was to the Black Swan, what with the Cross Keys not being open until later. The Black Swan was instead and this is one of the slightly more foodie places, though not overly so. Anyways, I opted for a pint of Estrella (£4.60) here, prior to making my way down the other side of the gardens, slightly away from the centre itself. Here, I came to the Old King’s Head, another of the more local, traditional pubs in and around the place. A Strongbow (£3.25) was had here, whilst I battled a bout of the sneezes, which aren’t quite the thing you want to have come upon you in a queitish place!
Cutting back through the gardens afterwards, I made headway for the Green House, one of those ‘Wetherspoons-without-being-a-Wetherspoons’ type of places. They had the ill-fated (from an England perspective) Ashes test from Old Trafford on, where the hosts were batting to avoid the follow on, the legendary Jack Leach’s glasses and lens cloth aiding the cause gamely. A Dark Fruits – at a pricey £4.05 -was had before going groundwards to secure a programme early doors before returning to the surrounding roads of Christchurch Meadows for one final pre-match drink.
The Rifleman’s Arms was the venue for this, and a pint of Strongbow (£3.65) was milked to wile away the good 45 minutes through towards kick-off, with the programme purchase now no longer an issue. Again, this was a pleasant enough pub and was well worth the visit, prior to heading the short distance back to the Christchurch Meadows turnstiles, whereupon I paid the £9 entrance fee and entered inside. I reckoned it’d be best to seek out the food bar first, though the first place I came across didn’t sell any other than soup. As a result, I ordered some tomato which, thanks to the ladies there, was eventually made despite their unyielding saucepan task. Thanks for the efforts and it was fine nonetheless!
Christchurch Meadow itself is a tidy and pleasant ground. It houses two stands; the covered terrace is located just in front of the turnstiles, and runs the third of the touchline on the near side. Running the majority of the far side is a seated stand, whilst the clubhouse (and actual food bar as I would find out) is situated directly behind it. Both ends, and to the sides of the stands are all open, hard standing, with the neighbouring church and mill providing an interesting back drop. That’s the ground, and this is the story of the Nailers of Belper….
Belper Town Football Club was founded in 1883 and after playing both locally and in the FA Cup initially – reaching the First Round in 1888 and losing out to The Wednesday (before they added Sheffield to their name). They later became founder members of the Derbyshire Senior League in 1890, finishing as runners-up in 1896 before moving into the Mid-Derbyshire League around the turn of the century and winning the title there in 1905 and finishing as runners-up two years later in the final year of the Mid-Derbyshire League before its re-naming, now being known as the Derbyshire Alliance. However, the league only lasted a sole season before merging with the Nottinghamshire & District League in 1908 to form the Notts & Derbyshire League, with Belper again becoming a founding member. Unfortunately, their stay would be brief, and after leaving the league during the 1911-’12 campaign, the club folded shortly after and wouldn’t return until post-WWII.
1951 saw Belper Town eventually return to the field and this came in the Central Alliance’s Division One – where the ‘new’ club took over the fixtures of the departed Mansfield Town ‘A’ side. The league was restructured five-years later to become more regionalised, with Belper being placed in the Division One North and after finishing runners-up in 1957, they won the Division One North title in 1959 and then added to this success with a first Derbyshire Senior Cup too. When the Midland League was re-established in 1961, Belper would join the new league but despite lifting their second Derbyshire Senior Cup in 1962, didn’t begin life there all too well, finishing bottom in 1970. However, they did stabilise somewhat after this, but upon the league’s split into a two-divisional competition, Belper’s tenure in the Premier could’ve ended with relegation in 1979; instead the drop didn’t come their way and the following year saw another league and cup double attained, with the Premier Division title and the club’s third Derbyshire Senior Cup won.
1982 saw the Midland League merge with the Yorkshire League to become the Northern Counties East League and Belper were again placed in the Premier Division. The Nailers would win the league in 1985, but wouldn’t be promoted, and success soon became harder to come by. Indeed, it took a decade for the club’s next silverware to arrive, this finally coming in the form of the 1995-’96 NCEL President’s Cup. They would follow this up with a runners-up placing in the NCEL Premier Division the next year and this was enough to secure Belper promotion to the Northern Premier League Division One. They would remain there through until the league’s re-organisation and the regional split of the Division One in 2007 with the Nailers being placed in the South Division. 2008 saw a fourth Derbyshire Senior Cup won too, their last to date.
The club would finish runners-up in 2009, missing out on the title on goal difference, and so had to make do with a place in the play-offs. However, they wouldn’t manage to end their season on a high, losing out to Stocksbridge Park Steels in the play-off final. Belper won the NPL President’s Cup in 2010 and 2013 saw the Nailers back in the play-offs, but again their run here would end in disappointment with a 4-2 defeat to Stamford in the semi-finals being suffered. But it would be third-time lucky for the club the next year, as they vanquished Leek Town and Mickleover Sports in the play-off semi and final respectively to secure a spot in the NPL Premier Division, though their first foray into Step 3 would be brief, lasting just the one season prior to the drop back to the Division One South. Since this drop, the club have spent two seasons in the First Division South, one in the re-designated Division One East, and have started this in the now-named South East Division.
The game got going, well….that’s a bit of a lie – it really didn’t ever get out of first gear in truth! The visitors from the catchily-named Southern League Premier Division Central – a step above Belper’s current placing – began ever so slightly on top, but never really looked threatening, whilst the hosts largely mirrored this. An early header by Kyle Rowley flew high over the bar for Alvechurch, whilst experienced forward Danny South and Riece Bertram had efforts down the other end, but there was little to choose between the teams.
Just after the half-hour, the hosts’ Nathan Curtis volleyed narrowly wide in what was the closest we had come to a goal, but there would only be a few half-chances at either end in the remained fifteen minutes or so of the first period, before Phil Watt went close for the hosts too, but he couldn’t force the ball over the line from a narrow angle. George Milner then fired over from the edge of the area with a couple of minutes to play ahead of the break, before the whistle blew to signal the halfway point of a rather tepid, turgid game. The visit to the food bar for a decent portion of chips was probably the highlight for me!
The second half started with even less in the way of true goalmouth action and all I could say is, from a neutral’s point of view, thank God it was a decent day weather-wise! However if I was to look at it a little more positively, a closely-fought game does at least keep all results possible and that is a good thing on the whole. It took until around the hour for a first real sight of goal to come the way of any player – that player being Javia Roberts – but his shot would only drift over once more.
The tie meandered onwards towards its conclusion with little to suggest that an opener was on the cards. However, as I made my way around to the far-end of the pitch to head around for the exit, something of a divine miracle occurred which, with the church as a back-drop, was perhaps always going to happen. Having not really troubled their visitors in the second half, a long punt forward was met by the lanky frame of South and his flick-on fell perfectly for the on-rushing Charlie Dawes, who hammered the ball past Lloyd Ransome between the Alvechurch sticks to send the home support (and, I have to admit myself) into rapturous cheers. Okay, maybe I wasn’t quite at rapturous levels, but I was bloody relieved.
The Nailers duly saw out the remaining five minutes or so with little alarm and deservedly booked their place in the next round, though if ‘Church had taken it, you could say they’d have deserved it too; it really was that kind of game. Anyhow, post-match, I made haste to the nearby George & Dragon, where I decided to play it safe with a Kopparberg Mixed Fruit (£3.90), prior to returning back station-wards for the neighbouring Railway, where I indulged in a Dandelion & Burdock (£2.50) prior to the train home.
Incidentally, the station at Belper is home to a copy of a lovely Robert Stevenson poem, which rings true across all eras. That would end a fine little trip, one that almost ended in a 0-0 disaster, but resulted in a cup upset. The game itself was a bit middle of the road, but the town itself was really pleasant and great to visit. Programme and food (plus the efforts soup-wise) were both great and appreciated and, all in all, a highly enjoyable day was had. Back on the road we go….