Result: Hucknall Town 0-1 Sherwood Colliery (Central Midlands Football League South Division)
Venue: Watnall Road (Saturday 31st March 2018, 3pm)
It’s another Saturday morning and what a surprise, it’s raining again! Yes, yet another weekend was to see the lower leagues around the country see their fixture lists decimated by the seemingly never-ending wet stuff emanating from the sky and I had begun to suspect that it would affect my very own list too. My first choice was Hucknall Town’s Watnall Road, a ground that looks to be one destined for the history books in the not too distant future, yet I had to put my faith in the footballing gods (or the referee) once more. Leaving my departure as late as possible – in terms of also having a look around, of course – I was soon headed out of Manchester and towards Nottingham where I’d catch the train onwards to Hucknall. Hopefully.
By the time the East Midlands service had rolled into Nottingham station by around 12.30, there was no true update on the pitch condition. That is until more hopeful sounds began to emanate from the Watnall Road area that the game looked all set to go ahead, with both sides willing to play it – but the final decision would be with the match officials. The man in black held the fate of all supporters in his hands, though I did have a contingency plan in mind and that was to get a ticket through to Mansfield where the AFC club of that parish had already stated their contest was all go. This was soon confirmed as not required, as the referee passed the pitch shortly after my arrival into the former colliery town, its memorial to the miners lost down the years a touching one, with the many names hitting home just how dangerous a job it really was.
I needed a drink after the stress of the journey(!) and no sooner had I entered into the town centre did I come across no less than four establishments within about a minute of each other. It’s the stuff dreams are made of, is it not? Anyway, I opted to start off at the closest point and headed straight for the Plough and Harrow. A decent place to start off, especially with its handy USB charging points, a pint of Moretti was got in at around about the £3.50 mark, which you can’t complain much about! From there it is right across the road to Chequers to continue watching the second half of the Palace-Liverpool game, whilst another pint of Moretti came in at almost, if not exactly, the same price as over the way. Fair enough.
After leaving there rather swiftly, it was a few doors down to the Wetherspoons: the Pilgrim Oak. Punk IPA on draught was again a must (£3.25) and it was in here that my factual knowledge was expanded (no, really) as the menus informed me that Lord Byron is interred in the churchyard just a little further up the way, though I have realised since that I think I’d heard that on my previous visit to the town, when watching the now defunct Hucknall Rolls Leisure, who played a short way on from Watnall Road. This Spoons was a decent one with the booths lined up on either side of the room giving some nice privacy for those lucky enough to grab one, but with time continuing to conspire against me, I continued on to the Red Lion for my final pre-match stop-off.
The Red Lion proved a very economical visit, with a pint of Carlsberg in here coming in at just £2.20, with the barman taking much delight in me smiling at his banter with another guy at the bar. This was another decent place to add to the list, but with a fifteen minute walk to the ground still to come, I was pressed into leaving pretty quickly and heading down to the ground which for once, on account of the aforementioned Rolls Leisure trip, I actually knew where it was. Madness, I know.
Arriving at the ground with a good fifteen minutes before kick-off, I reckoned I’d be just in time to secure a programme, as I was a little more keen to get one here what with the ground situation. Unfortunately, after handing over my entry fee of a few quid, I was informed that they’d just sold out. Distraught doesn’t cover it. Okay, maybe it does, but you get the idea! To ease the pain, I sought out the food bar within the clubhouse for some chips, which were rather decent too. On the plus side, I would be sorted out with a programme by the guy who deals with that side of things, which arrived just prior to writing this. It’s a largely ad-based issue for £2 (£3 for the extra printing cost), though, as I said, that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Cheers for the help!
Soon enough, it was time to venture out onto the terraces of Hucknall’s home as both they and their visitors from Sherwood Colliery entered the field for the battle of the top two in the Central Midlands League’s Southern section. The game would go a long way to probably confirming a title winner, with Colliery still unbeaten in the league this campaign. No mean feat, though they still have a few teams not too far behind them and ready to take advantage of any late slip-ups.
Watnall Road itself is a mighty impressive ground for the level Hucknall currently compete at. Of course, this harks back to their time higher in the pyramid, as high as the Conference North, in fact, before their drop down the divisions. Upon entering, you are met with an open, hard standing side of the ground where the dugouts are located, with the far end featuring an open terrace of a number of steps. The far side of the ground features a stand that runs the full length of the field and houses a mix of both seating and covered terracing, with the latter sandwiching the seats within the middle of the structure. The near end houses the clubhouse, dressing rooms and a further covered standing area. A ground well worth the visit. So that’s Watnall Road and this is Hucknall Town F.C.’s story….
Hucknall Town FC was founded in 1943 as Hucknall Colliery Welfare and began life playing in local leagues in the area. Their first honour came in the form of the 1963 Nottinghamshire Junior Cup, prior to winning the Nottinghamshire Alliance’s Division Two in 1970 and being promoted to Division One. The club would lift a double in 1972-’73, winning the Division One title and the league’s Intermediate Cup for the first time too. However, despite winning the Senior Division in both 1977 & 1978 and winning a further cup double in 1979 – triumphing in the Alliance’s League Cup and Intermediate Cup, they seem to have been relegated at the close of the following season, despite having won a third Intermediate Cup that same season.
Their tenure out of the Senior Division would be a short one, as the won the Division One title for a second time in 1981, along with completing a hat-trick of straight Intermediate Cup wins. A fifth Intermediate Cup title would be achieved in 1984, with the club’s first Nottinghamshire Senior Cup arriving the following season, but the club were back in Division One around this time, being promoted as champions for a third time in 1987, with this leading to a name change to Hucknall Town FC and a pair of Senior Division titles in 1988 (along with a Nottinghamshire Intermediate Cup) & 1989 followed, which led to the club taking the step up into the Central Midlands League and this would just see their recent successes continue.
The club would win the league title in both 1990 & 1991, winning their second Notts Senior Cup in the latter season as well and winning three straight CMFL League Cups between 1990 & 1992, the ’92 season also seeing Hucknall finish as runners-up and secure promotion to the Northern Counties East League’s First Division. Here, Town would immediately achieve promotion to the Premier Division, again as runners-up, though it was now the club would encounter something of a stagnation. The first three seasons were unspectacular league-wise, however they would see the NCEL League Cup arrive twice (1994 & 1997) and the President’s Cup once (1997) during their stay here, with the 1997 cup double preceding a treble the next season, with the League Cup & Notts Senior Cup being joined the Premier Division title and, along with it, Hucknall would be promoted to the Northern Premier League.
Their first season in the NPL’s Division One was a highly successful one, if not one tinged with the feeling of “what might have been”, as the club finished second but missed out on the title to Droylsden on account of a points deduction earlier in the season. They were still promoted, however, and would remain in the NPL’s Premier Division through until 2004, winning another three Notts Senior Cups during that time (2000, ’01 & ’03), plus the NPL’s Chairman’s Cup, also in 2003. The 2004 season would see Town promoted to the Conference North as Premier Division champions, though they would have gone into the National had Watnall Road passed ground grading. It didn’t and so Hucknall had to settle for a place in the newly formed regional section.
Their first season saw the club embark on a fine run through to the final of the FA Trophy, but the club would lose out at the final hurdle on penalties to Grays Athletic following a 1-1 draw at Villa Park. However, their league form swiftly fell away and after avoiding relegation in 2008 on account of Halifax Town’s demotion and subsequent folding, the reprieve would only last a season, with 2009 seeing a bottom of the table finish condemn them to the drop.
A further relegation in 2011 saw Hucknall back in the NPL’s Division One – now in the South Division. A stay of two seasons here followed, but the worst was to come as financial issues forced the club into a three level drop, bypassing the Northern Counties East League completely and returning to the Central Midlands League, competing in the South Division. 2015 saw the club achieve their first honour since their drop down the leagues, lifting their fourth CMFL League Cup and finishing fourth in the league. After finishing the next year in third, they returned to the fourth-place berth last season and sat 2nd ahead of the game today.
The game got underway and the first real chance of the game brought the first goal. The visitors got forward, capitalising on a loose ball and after the ball had been worked to the edge of the area, Sean Smith, returning to his old stomping ground, fired home confidently to open the scoring and give the leaders something akin to a dream start. I continued on round, just managing to ‘hip’ away a stray ball as it careered towards me, the few people watching around me fearing for my phone’s life at that very moment!
From then on, the rest of the half was a closely-fought effective non-event with next to nothing in terms of chances created by either side in truth. Hucknall would go close after about twenty minutes, when a searching cross narrowly avoided the incoming forward in the area, but that was as close as we’d come to a second goal in the first half, and though Sherwood never looked like adding to their lead, they had controlled the majority of the half. Half-Time, nil-one and off back into the foyer of the smart clubhouse for the duration of the break.
The sides were soon back out and we were back playing once more and although the second period was an improvement on the first, there wasn’t really much in it. Hucknall would have the first chance of the half, a shot flashing wide of the far post as they attacked the clubhouse end on this occasion, before the impressive #6 fired a shot over as the hosts strived to get themselves back level and avoid what would probably be a fatal blow to their hopes of the title.
Sherwood’s defence weathered the storm and Colliery themselves went close when a header from a corner forced a routine save out of the Town ‘keeper, but this was as attacking as they got, the visitors happy to adopt a defensive approach to their slender lead, confident in their abilities to see the game out it appeared. They did so very effectively as it was, restricting Hucknall to only a couple of late, blocked chances as the hosts failed to truly test the Colliery stopper throughout the ninety minutes.
Full-Time arrived soon after and signalled another win for the unbeaten leaders who look like they are edging out of reach of their pursuers. As for myself, I made a swift exit and headed back the way I came, having scouted out the Half Moon pub on the way up. Arriving back there, I reckoned I’d go on the Dark Fruits for now, having wanted to squeeze in a quick couple before heading over to the station. The Half Moon was another decent establishment too, but again my visit was a brief one as I was more intrigued by the nearby Byron’s Rest. I was right to be too, this place is a brilliant little bar, dimly lit and well populated! A pint of Magner’s’ fruity offering was had in here prior to me having to head over to the station prior to my train back into Nottingham. The Station, you see, is another pub!
The Station (the best CAMRA pub in the Nottingham area don’cha know) is a nice real-ale-centric pub which is a fine place to waste away the time ahead of your respective carriage. I opted for a pint of the Spring Green from the local Lincoln Green brewery, which I think was termed as a “lager style beer” offering. It was bloody good though, whatever it was! That would be it for my Tour de Hucknall though and I was soon back in the Nottingham and awaiting my train back to Manchester. Again, this would be a pretty swift journey, on account of me nodding off through to Stockport. See, drinking has its benefits!
So there ends the second of my trifecta of Easter games. The day had been a good one overall (the fact my first choice had survived notwithstanding) and despite the game not being the best, I’d wanted to visit Watnall Road for a while, so I didn’t really mind too much about that. Hucknall is a decent place too, especially pub-wise and not too costly on the pocket either. So it’s on to Crawley on Easter Monday for the final chapter of this busy part of the season….
Value For Money: 6