Manchopper in….Bournville (Bournville Rec. Ground)

Result: Cadbury Athletic Reserves 1-4 Gresley Reserves (Midland League Division 4/Reserves)

Venue: Bournville Recreation Ground (Saturday 28th December 2019, 2pm)

Att: 50

The final Saturday of 2019 saw me without a nailed on game once again. I’m not used to this freedom! With the weather again something of a factor, I was obviously on the lookout for an early bit of confidence to emanate from some parts of the country. Now, I’d been looking at doing Bournville – somewhat famed in ‘hopping circles – for quite some time, and this had only grown as I became more familiar with the ground as a….well, ground, i.e. more than just a pitch. As luck would have it, the Bournville Rec looked to be all set to go, as Cadbury Athletic’s Reserve side – who currently are the major side here with the first time in exile just down the road – saying the pitch was in good nick and all set for play. So no time like the present then. To Bournville it was!

A pretty problem free journey saw me heading through Manchester and to Birmingham New Street, arriving at a little before midday. Unfortunately missing an earlier connection by mere seconds, the frequency of the service meant this mattered little, the short hop to the purple giant’s suburb taking just the 10 or so minutes. Alighting in the shadow of the Cadbury factory (which I neglected to get a picture of for some unknown reason), I took a left turn out of the station and headed for the main road through the village. Well it actually turned out to be the adjoining Stirchley, but close enough!


British Oak

I began with a walk towards the far end of the road, where I was expecting to come across the Three Horseshoes. This I did, but I found it closed and within a state of flux – a sign outside stating it was to reopen under a different name shortly. To be honest, it didn’t look to be the case, but let’s hope I’m wrong. Anyhow, I returned back to the group of three bars that populate the area just a few minutes from the station itself, beginning with the rather grandiose British Oak. This pub looked like it was going to be more of your Carling, Fosters etc. establishment, and to a point it was. However, it was also home to a decent number of craft ales and the like, with me opting for a pint of the fine Clwb Tropicana (£5.20) – a hark back to my Millennium Stadium visit earlier in the year.

Watching a bit of the South Coast Derby clash between Brighton and AFC Bournemouth here, I soon finished up and crossed over the way to the Cask & Cage. This was a fairly strange set-up, offering Turkish dishes in a micropub-designed place, whilst having said micropub beers on offer. It felt a bit weird having a family lunch on one side as I sat in with a pint, although they left soon after, clearly not wanting this borderline alcoholic to give the kids any ideas! A pint of the Mancunian Cloudwater Pale Ale (at £5 and which I found to be similar to the Clwb strangely enough) was the tipple of choice here, whilst I scouted out any other possibilities. Be aware – it’s card only in here.

The two other bars here – the Wildcat Tap and the Cask & Cage

King Kong sighted in Stirchley

Attic Brew Co.

Bournville is a model village in the southern outskirts of Birmingham and is best known for its connection to the much mentioned Cadbury chocolate company. Historically a part of Worcestershire, it is also now a ward in the Selly Oak constituency and was even named as “one of the nicest places to live” in 2003. The area began as little more than a few farmhouses, cottages and the larger Bournbrook Hall, whilst parts of the ancient forest of Arden and Roman remnants have been found nearby. Upon the purchase of the area by the Quaker Cadbury siblings, they moved their factory from central Birmingham to allow for further expansion of their business, and required somewhere that would have good links by both rail and canal. Thus, the area that was to become Bournville was earmarked, with the future Birmingham West Suburban Railway being an obvious plus for them and it was already served by Stirchley Street station too. It gets its name from the nearby river Bourn and the French “ville” which, for anyone familiar with any kind of French language, shouldn’t need explaining!

The Cadbury workers were treated well by all accounts and the model village was cultivated to “alleviate the evils of modern, cramped living conditions”, which, to be fair, the brothers had a point about! Growing up slowly pre-World War One, it would go on to set the blueprint for the model villages of the future to follow, though completely unacceptably, there are no pubs due to the Quaker beliefs of the Cadbury’s. Terrible. However, this has been (apparently) rectified somewhat as the Rowheath pavilion is now licensed. Gw’arn! The pavilion, alongside which the recreation ground sits, held balls and the like, whilst the usage of the grounds were at no charge to those working for the business. In 1900, the Bournville Village Trust was set up to independently control the estate’s development and focussed on public amenities and to later oversee the in-keeping with its conservation area status, whilst Cadbury maintains its status as a large force both on the skyline and on the workforce.

Bournville station and the canal



The station, Bournville, is separate from the others, in that it’s painted purple, over the usual corporate WMR colours. The Worcester and Birmingham canal towpath can be joined straight from the station platform. Bournville has also been home to, along with the Cadbury family, “Hero of the Holocaust” recipient Bertha Bracey, suffragette and trade unionist, Julia Varley and actress Felicity Jones; whilst Cadbury Athletic has aided in the development of footballers like Daniel Sturridge, Ryan Burge, Corey O’Keefe and Demarai Gray – two of whom hold Premier League winners’ medals.

Options, as expected, were low on the ground and after an attempt at an art gallery/cafe-bar (I kid you not) was unfruitful, I decided to make my way to the Attic Brewery – one of those modern ones set up within an industrial unit. Having seen it wasn’t open for another half-hour past its scheduled opening time, another attempt at the gallery thing was again brought up a whole lot of nothing, and so I returned back to the industrial estate once again, whereupon I settled in with a pint of the brilliantly named Bob’s Revenge Pale Ale (£4.50). Lovely it was too, so whatever Bob wasn’t pleased about, he’s done a good job in getting his own back. Maybe; depending on his intentions….

Heading off groundwards….

….down towards the factory

and finally, arriving at the ground!

Time had ticked down towards the 2pm kick off time and after a five minute walk, I passed by the entrance to the Cadbury factory and came within sight of the fine pavilion that Bournville is home to. The sides were just heading out onto the field as I arrived and the pitch was, as promised, in fine fettle. The Recreation Ground is kind of a throwback. It shares a cricket outfield, though is flanked on the near side by a decently sized open terrace, with a larger set between the entrance and pavilion. The opposite side is where the cricket square is roped off, with the far end hosting open, hard standing, though may have been off limits, but I wasn’t aware and it hasn’t stopped me before anyway. Oooh, what a rebel! That’s pretty much that really for the Rec and with it being a Reserves game, I wouldn’t usually do a history lesson. However, with it unlikely to be revisited for the first team, let’s get on with the show!

History Lesson:

Cadbury Athletic Football Club was founded in 1994 and are, of course, usually decked out in the purple and white colours associated with the company’s branding. However, a Bournville Athletic side did compete in the Birmingham Combination from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, winning six straight titles between 1898 and 1903. Back to Cadbury, and the club were admitted into the Midland Combination’s Division Three and were promoted at the end of their first season, despite finishing in 9th. They remained in Division 2 until 2001, where a 4th placed finish was enough to secure promotion up to Division One, whilst the club also picked up their first piece of silverware in the form of the Midland Combination’s Challenge Vase, with a 1-0 victory over Rugby Town. In 2005, Cadbury finished as runners-up in Division One to reach the Premier Division of the Midland Combination and they would remain in situ through to 2012, whereupon they resigned from the division – despite finishing 12th – and voluntarily took the drop back to Division One.

Ground from the Cadbury World entrance

Despite losing out in the next season’s President’s Cup Final, this drop in divisions would prove fruitful in 2014, as Cadbury lifted the Division One title in the Combination’s final season, ahead of its merger with the Midland Alliance to form the Midland League. Despite their previous year’s title win, Cadbury were placed in the Division One here too and they have remained there through to this day, finishing last season in a solid 8th position, now playing just down the road in King’s Norton, having been forced into a move from Bournville due to a lack of floodlights. However, the Reserves continue on within the factory grounds, where they began life at the turn of the millennium, mirroring the first team’s origins by starting in the Midland Combination’s Division 3. They were immediately promoted to Division 2 after a 6th placed finish, and remained there through to (I assume) the first team’s voluntary drop and it seems the reserves joined the Reserve Division 2 and won the Challenge Urn in 2013, ahead of the league merger a year later.


Now in the Midland League, the Reserves finished up third in the Reserve Division 2, with the divisions being merged together into a single division for the following year. That season, 2015-’16, saw the reserves lift the Birmingham Saturday Amateur Cup with a penalty shoot-out win over Peugeot Millpool and when the Reserve Division was again re-designated for 2016-’17, as the long-winded Division 4/Reserve, they again secured a third placed finish. However, they struggled to 10th (second bottom) last season and have had something of a ‘hit-and-miss’ start to this campaign.

The game got going and within the first sixty seconds we had the opener, Gresley getting swiftly forward and giving the ball to James Shakespeare, who curled a fine effort around the Cadbury ‘keeper from around 20 yards out. A great start, and Gresley were almost two up shortly afterwards, when some good build-up play allowed Nathan Bowen a sight of goal, but he was denied by a fine stop from the home gloveman. Cadbury would respond, with good work by Deon Colstock forcing an eventual corner, from which the resulting delivery was headed over by John Baker. An exciting start and it belied the fact that this was, apparently, supposed to be the two sides’ reserves!

Match Action

From the raised path around the cricket

Gresley still maintained the slight upper hand over their hosts during the first 45 as a whole, and after Bowen had shown some good strength to force his way into a shooting opportunity, he’d have been somewhat frustrated to direct the effort wide of the mark. His strike partner, Shakespeare, who’d struck in the early seconds then wasted a fine chance to make it two, and was almost punished as Cadbury went right down the other end, but Baker’s attempt lacked conviction and resulted in a pretty comfortable stop for the Gresley stopper.

Cadbury though they had levelled it with around ten minutes to the break, when a challenge on the visiting ‘keeper led to him dropping the ball, and it being slotted in, but the officials adjudged him to have been fouled. However, to me anyway, it looked as though he may have got a little lucky, as he seemed to be mis-controlling the cross before contact was made; and if Athletic weren’t in the best mood after that, then they would go in fuming at the break. The visitors attacked, Gresley’s front two linked-up well, with Bowen unselfishly squaring for Shakespeare to side-foot home into the largely unguarded net.

Match Action

Match Action

Shakespeare nets number two

So it stood at 2-0 come the break and I wasted the ten minutes or so of half-time by wandering just around the corner and into the centre of Bournville itself – or what there is of it anyway. The entrance to Cadbury World wasn’t in any great use today either, and I was able to cross both ways in short order without the threat of being run over, which may not always be the case come the summer time, perhaps? Anyway, the sides were just getting underway as I walked back around to the pavilion entrance and Cadbury nearly got back into it almost immediately after the start, when Stuart Butcher outmuscled his defender and got something of an effort away, but the Gresley ‘keeper was able to block it out and onto the post. A close call.

Colstock went close shortly afterwards as the hosts strove to get back into the game and, as the bells behind the far goal began to replace Christmas Carols with ABBA’s “Supertrooper” for some unknown reason, a low ball in by Baker was turned in from close range by #10, Joe Busst, and it was game on! However, it looked as though the goal just arose Gresley from a half-way slumber and they began to gain a foothold once more – #11 forcing the Cadbury ‘keeper into another good stop, before a long ball by the Gresley ‘keeper looked to be heading to his opposite number directly, and with no danger seeming to be imminent, I looked away for a split second….

Criminals and proof

Match Action

Match Action

It was then I heard some excitement I hadn’t expected and glanced up just in time to see Bowen knocking the ball into the net with no-one near him and the ‘keeper accepting the blame for whatever the hell had just happened. For whom the bell tolls, I suppose?! This setback seemed to rouse Cadbury just as their strike had done for Gresley, and both Butcher and Baker (almost sound like a comedy duo) were both superbly denied by the visiting ‘keeper who, it has to be said, had a fine game between the sticks. Unfortunately, I can only link the scorers with their numbers for Gresley, so I don’t know who he is. (NB: I’ve since been informed by “Clive” that this was 16-year-old Charlie Leak. I look forward to seeing his progress over the coming years (God, I feel old!).

Soon after the fact, a poor ball gifted Gresley possession in the midfield, and the ball was slotted through to Bowen, who calmly slotted home to make it 4-1, a score that was somewhat harsh on Cadbury, though Gresley had, for the most part, taken their chances when they had come along. The home side would go close on a couple more occasions before the final whistle, a goalkeeper clearance being charged down, and the ball ricocheting wide, along with a drive from Dan Shea also being tipped over by said custodian, but the whistle would go to ensure the points would be heading back to the Moat Ground.

Late on….

Headin back Stirchley way

Upon the final whistle, I beat a hasty retreat under the railway and back to the main road, where the third of the trio mentioned earlier on was now open. Another micropub style place, the Wildcat Tap was certainly more of the usual in this respect, a good range of ales on offer too. Again, I stuck true to my roots with a Pomona Island Pale Ale (£3.90) before taking up a tip I’d picked up on twitter – that being that the newsagent next to the station was an off-licence, and with the offerings not exactly plentiful, I thought I’d give it a go. A Kopparberg was eventually decided upon, before a war between me and the bottle top ensued, my opener key ring isn’t exactly the best, it has to be said!

The journey back allowed me to catch the original train I’d hoped to catch in planning, before the one from Bournville was cancelled, so an earlier return from New Street home was more than welcome. The remainder of the journey was smooth sailing and, for the first time in what seems like an age, I’d had a trouble free trip. What is this sorcery?! Anyway, it had been a good day at a long-time target of mine. It’s certainly something a bit different and well worth a visit. The game quality was better than I expected too, but despite the few pubs being superb, the area itself was a bit of a let down in this respect (look, look, I’m being negative!). All things considered, though, the positives outweighed the negatives for sure (well, that lasted long). Onto New Year’s Day and, fingers crossed it isn’t a repeat of last year’s drab, drab beginning….


Game: 7

Ground: 9

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Walsall Wood


Result: Walsall Wood 8-0 Coventry Alvis (Midland League Division 1)

Venue: Oak Park (Saturday 27th January 2018, 3pm)

Att: 103

I had been given a dilemma. Having bought tickets a few weeks earlier with the intention of re-visiting the Bescot and doing it properly (i.e. a first team game), Rochdale’s very selfish progression in the FA Cup left me with a postponement on my hands and, therefore, seemingly useless train tickets to the West Midlands town of Walsall. I needed something to come to the rescue and, wouldn’t you know it, Walsall’s non-league clubs came to the party and rescued my day.

Having originally set my sights on Darlaston Town, whose ground sits just outside of Walsall – around a 40 minute walk or so – my decision soon came under some threat when I saw that the ground was a rather uninspiring one. Had they still been in their old ground then this may have been a different story as that looked ramshackle and therefore pretty cool. Luckily, a further peruse of the West Midland fixture lists soon threw up another option: Walsall Wood. I’d heard good things about the ground before and it certainly looked the more interesting of the two. So come the morning of the final Saturday of the first month of 2018, I set off through yet another wet, murky Manchester morning and headed for the village just outside of its bigger neighbour. At least I hoped I was. The weather had been playing havoc with pitches all over the country once more and any further significant rainfall could have put paid to my plan.

Happily, this proved to be an unfounded concern and after arriving into Birmingham at just after midday, a short hop over to Walsall was completed before disembarking and heading straight up the steps leading out of the station, only to find myself immediately entering a shopping mall. Strange. Anyway, after getting my bearings, I undertook the 5 minute walk over to the bus station from where I’d grab my carriage up to Walsall Wood. Alas, as I’m unfamiliar with the buses in the area, I hadn’t realised that it was ‘correct change only’ upon my boarding of said bus and so ended up paying a fiver for a £4 day ticket. Boo, National Express buses. Boo indeed.

First stop: the Horse & Jockey

Walsall Wood

Regardless, I was en route through the drizzle and arrived at the foot of Walsall Wood at just after 1pm. You see, there was a reason I’d gotten off on the outskirts and the reason may be one that is rather unsurprising for the regular readers out there (I think there’s some anyway). Yes, this was where the first of the village’s pubs is located and it goes by the name of the Horse and Jockey. The pub is part of the Marston’s carvery style chain and so proved a decent respite from the rain during my brief stay here. After a short wait at the unguarded bar, I was soon in possession of a pint of San Miguel which, at £3.30-ish, was certainly decent value.

After a short while watching some of the Australian Open Women’s Final, I reckoned I might as well be lazy and make more use of my day ticket. As such, I headed straight out the door and to the adjoining stop where I was to get the bus up to the next one along….which I duly missed. Not too much to worry about though as the stop after that one was only a further two minutes walk down the road and so there wasn’t much keeping me from the finely named Drunken Duck. Upon entering I was greeted by a pair of dogs who were very lick-friendly! Once they had been called off by their parents, I was able to get myself a Kronenburg in for just £3. Not too bad on the pocket around here!

Polishing off the Kronie in the Duck, I next headed over the road and to the Boatman’s Rest. It was fairly quiet and unspectacular in here, but it was fine enough. A quick pint of Strongbow was had at £3.20 before I reckoned, with the clock approaching 2.30pm, I should really start making my way over to Wood’s Oak Park home. I had again decided to be lazy and hoped to jump on the bus up to the foot of the road leading to the ground but soon discovered this too had been missed as I spotted it driving into the distance. A cut across the park it was then.

The Drunken Dog and the friendly dogs

Boatman’s Rest

Another of the mining figures

Walsall Wood sprung up as a result of mining; first limestone and then coal from the later 19th century colliery, the latter of which saw the village expand. The colliery closed in 1964 after the accessible coal had been exhausted and a number of commemorative constructions located around the village keep this part of the area’s history alive. Interestingly, for me anyway, Wood was also home to ex-Formula 1 team Ensign Racing through the 1970’s.

The park was surprisingly not too boggy and I was soon approaching the gates of Oak Park. Paying £6 in, plus a further £1 for the decent programme, I was left with a good 20 minutes until kick-off, which is quite a rare occurrence for me. As such, I reckoned I may as well visit the bar and, for the second week in succession, I did what I very rarely do and bought a pint at a ground. Dark Fruits was my tipple of choice this time and for around that magic £3 mark once more, I had what would be my long-time companion throughout the first half and also popped my change in the collection pot for the family of the poor girl who was murdered in such horrendous circumstances earlier that week….

Arriving at the ground

After grabbing one of the free teamsheets being handed out around the clubhouse, it was time to head outside for the clash of top vs bottom. Wood were welcoming Coventry Alvis who have had, quite obviously, something of a struggle this season. Handshakes done and we were all set to go at what is a top little ground. Bar the fantastic old stand (apparently the last of its type still standing, pardon the pun) on the far side of the ground which I found somewhat reminiscent of the former concrete stand at Salford’s Moor Lane, there is little in the way of furniture otherwise. The near side is populated by all the necessary buildings: dressing rooms, bar etc., with this area and both ends being open, hard standing, though the far Shaw End (and seemingly the play area just past the dressing rooms) were out-of-bounds today. It does however play host to the sight of an old colliery wheel just outside the ground’s perimeter wall, which is pretty cool. The near Osbourne End also plays host to a food van in the car park which, as far as I could decipher, was the only food outlet at the ground. With the ground description done, here’s a bit on the background of Walsall Wood F.C….

History Lesson:

Founded in around 1915 as the catchy named Walsall Wood Ebenezer Primitive Methodists FC. During the years between the two World Wars, the club was regarded as one of the stronger outfits in the region as they went on to jointly lift the Walsall Senior Cup in 1923 & 1935 and the Walsall Senior League in both 1946 & 1947. After joining the Worcestershire Combination in 1951, Wood won the championship at the first attempt, before finishing as runners-up on five occasions over the next decade (1954, ’55, ’58, ’59 & ’61). In addition, the club would add a further three Walsall Senior Cup titles to their honours board – these arriving in 1952, 1958 & 1961 – as well as a sole Staffordshire Senior Cup in 1954.

After the Worcestershire Combination became the wider-ranging Midland Combination in 1968, the club struggled for the most part prior to an eventual relegation from the Division 1 to Division 2 in 1975, though their stay in the second tier of the Combination was only a short one, lasting three seasons before they were promoted back to the top-flight after finishing third. In 1982, the original Walsall Wood outfit merged with Walsall Sportsco FC and the two’s amalgamation formed a new club, Walsall Borough, whose existence would be brief under that name – just four seasons – before returning to the Walsall Wood name in 1986.


Pre-match handshakes

In 1992, Wood switched to the Staffordshire Senior League for a sole season (finishing 4th) before a further move into the West Midlands Regional League’s Division 1 at the end of the ’92-’93 season. Finishing their first season here in 5th place, this was enough to ensure promotion to the Premier Division where the club would remain through to their relegation back to the Division 1 in 2003, successfully appealing a relegation in 2000, with the FA finding in favour of Wood’s case. The club also won the 2001 Wednesbury Charity Cup during their stay within the WMRL.

After spending a season in the regionalised Division 1 North of the West Midlands League, the regional divisions were brought to an end and were split into Divisions One & Two at the end of the 2003-’04 season, with Wood taking a spot in Division 1. They spent a further two seasons in the league, finishing 6th and 4th respectively and winning the Wednesbury Charity Cup for a second time in 2006, before undertaking another league move, this time back into the Midland Combination, at the end of that season due to a redrafting of the league’s boundaries. Taking a place in the Premier Division, Wood consolidated themselves as an upper mid-table outfit for the most part, before having a bit of a struggle in 2011-’12, finishing in 14th out of 17 clubs. This proved to be no indication of a lengthy downturn in form, however, as Wood would go on to lift the title the following season and were thusly promoted, taking a place in the Midland Alliance for Season 2013-’14. The title-winning 2012-’13 season also saw Wood reach the Midland Combination League Cup Final and embark on a club-best run to the FA Vase quarter-finals, where they eventually fell to Guernsey after a replay.

A nice pair

A 6th placed finish was achieved in their one and only season in the Midland Alliance, before the Alliance and Combination leagues combined to form the new Midland League in 2015. Wood would go on to compete in the Premier Division for the next three seasons, reaching the final of the 2016 Midland League Cup, but were relegated at the end of last season. However, they look set for an instant return to the Midland League’s top-flight, currently sitting atop the Division One table.

After what must have been some great work from the groundsman (etc) to get it on considering the pitch was still pretty boggy, the game got underway with it becoming apparent that Walsall Wood were not about to be on the wrong end of a shock result. Very, very quickly. It took just six minutes for the game to be killed off as a contest and only two of those to open the scoring. A ball in from the right flank was only half cleared, with Wood recovering possession and working the ball to Jordan Fitzpatrick who fired into the top corner from around 12 yards, via the boot of Abidan Edwards in the Alvis goal.

Match Action

Match Action

The second goal arrived just seconds later, a long ball over the top found Ben Lund in the inside right channel and he continued his run, pretty much unopposed, into the box before placing his shot wide of Edwards for two-nil. A minute later and it was three. Lund was instrumental in the lead up this time, again getting free down the right and crossing for the unmarked Lei Brown who had all the time in the world to turn, pick his spot and knock the ball home.

Alvis were beleaguered at this point and it looked like a cricket score was on the cards. This certainly looked the case on that six-minute mark as Wood’s fourth arrived, with the right side of midfield again proving fruitful for the hosts. Lund forced a corner from the initial attack and the resultant set-piece was met by a towering, yet again unmarked, header by Brown who powered the ball beyond the helpless Edwards. Four-nil and game over within 360 seconds or so. Crazy.

One of Wood’s early strikes

Match Action

Match Action

Wood’s goal lust didn’t end there and they went on the search for yet more joy. Tony Clarke really should have made it five when he was put in one-on-one with the besieged ‘keeper, but he could only strike the upright with his effort. A few more chances were spurned by Wood which included Lund being denied his hat-trick by a fine save from Edwards (who I thought had a pretty decent game all things considered), however the fifth would duly arrive not long before the break when Clarke atoned for his earlier miss by coolly lifting the ball over the ‘keeper and into the side of the net. Half-Time five-nil and burger time. Cheeseburger and onions. Lovely stuff.

After doing a lap of the ground (well as much of it as I could) during the first half, the second half saw me largely camp out up at the top of the stand’s stepped seating, if that’s how you’d term it (again, think Salford if you are familiar). The half also looked to be about to follow the same story as the first, with Wood striking early on in proceedings. A purposeful run forward by the impressive Lund saw him advance into the area where, whilst being well blocked out by an Alvis defender, he played a lovely reverse ball to Clarke and he finished smartly, firing into the top-corner. Six.

The sixth goal seemed to, rather strangely, spur Alvis into some sort of attacking mindset and this saw them manage a few chances in a ten minute spell, the best of which saw Wood ‘keeper Lloyd Ransome forced into a save from one of the visiting sky-blue clad forwards, before Edwards denied Clarke his third goal, a good save seeing him divert the ball wide of the upright.

Match Action

View from the Main Stand

Late action

Substitute Paul Sullivan was then introduced into the fray by Wood and he quickly went about giving Alvis some issues to think about, forcing Edwards into another stop before the woodwork would also come to the rescue (if you can call it that at this point) for the visitors. The respite was only brief, though, as the early sub, Lee Butler tapped home from point-blank range after Sullivan had drawn Edwards out of his net, before Sullivan himself rounded off the scoring, firing a low drive into the far corner. Eight-nil and that was that. Fair play to Alvis and their manager, though, who kept going for the whole game despite it having long gone. The boss wasn’t all too happy with the linesman about the last goal though! Anyway, I was off to a final pair of pubs to round off my visit.

After bailing on a lethal artificially surfaced path leading out of the ground, I headed round to the far side of the ground and the bridge over the stream which leads to the Black Cock. Yes, I still have a childish chuckle at a pub with cock in its name….The Black Cock was a decent enough pub too and after a fairly swift Dark Fruits in here, I set off to visit the Royal Exchange back on the main road where the bus back to Walsall runs. Luckily, this pub stands right opposite the bus stop, so I could take my time over my final pint, a Coors Light, which again was £3~. However, it was only whilst in here that I realised why I was planning on getting the earlier bus. This one gave me just 10 minutes to make it over from bus station to train station! Any delays and I was in some bother of missing my booked train back from Brum. Not too pressing an issue maybe, but certainly one I preferred to avoid!

Black Cock

Royal Exchange

Finishing up in the Exchange, I caught the bus (which was mercifully on time) and was back in Walsall with copious time remaining. A cut through the shops got me back to the station a little quicker than I expected too, so there was no problems and I was soon heading to Birmingham and, after a short wait, back to Manchester where I’d be joined not long into my journey by a group of lads, encompassing Liverpool, Man City, Man United and Newcastle fans, the City fan being, interestingly (so I was told anyway), the grandson of (ex, brief-United manager) Jimmy Murphy. It’s crazy the people you come across sometimes in this mad hobby. Anyway, the remainder of the trip was spent trying to figure out some tough questions before getting back to Manchester, where my last leg was completed problem free. Again! Scenes.

So Walsall Wood then. It was decent enough. The village was cheap enough for drinks and entrance, food etc. at the ground similarly. Oak Park itself is a great little ground and the game was entertaining if only for the amount of goals, rather than as a contest. Either way, it was a great divert when the Walsall game went tits up. So on to next week and a visit to another of the historic grounds. Any idea which…..?


Game: 7

Ground: 7

Programme: 5

Food: 8

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Shrewsbury (Haughmond FC)

Result: Haughmond 3-2 Matlock Town (FA Cup First Qualifying Round)

Venue: Shrewsbury Sports Village (Saturday 2nd September 2017, 3pm)

Att: 236

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.

First sight of Shrewsbury

First pint of the day in the Bull’s Head

Pubs aplenty

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.

St. Mary’s Church

Shrewsbury (including the Bull)

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.

The Coach

The Coracle

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….

History Lesson:

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.

Haughmond’s home, Shrewsbury Sports Village

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.

Obviously must be the most asked question!

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.

Match Action

Match Action

The one and only stand

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!

The aftermath of the hosts’ late winner

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….


Game: 9

Ground: 6

Food: N/A (was available in the SV café)

Programme: 3

Value For Money: 7


Manchopper in….Hereford (Westfields FC)


Result: Westfields 1-1 Curzon Ashton (FA Cup 1st Round)

Venue: allpay. park (Saturday 5th November 2016, 3pm)

Att: 1,187

As the draw for the FA Cup First Round was going on live on BBC 1 a couple of weeks ago, it would be fair to say that, personally, I found it very drab. There really wasn’t too much in terms of really interesting fixtures to choose from, so when the above game was eventually created by the dynamic duo of…well, I can’t remember, though I think David James was involved, my destination for first round day was easily decided. To Hereford & Westfields FC it was!

Having booked my train tickets to Hereford whilst en route to Charnock Richard (bet that sentence hasn’t been uttered often), the journey was pretty easy. Following my arrival at Manchester Piccadilly, I decided that 10am was a little early to get on the beers and so plumped for a bottled water in the Mayfield, whilst I waited for the Welsh-bound train to arrive. I soon wished I hadn’t, as it cost the princely sum of £2.20 (or something in that ballpark). For water. Madness.

The Mayfield

The Mayfield

Anyway, with the shock put behind me, it was soon time to head down to the platform, with the chance to use the newly installed ticket gates for the first time. How exciting. After some Rotherham-bound fans had trouble in finding the correct tickets, including one who tried to put his receipt through the machine, I was eventually released and before long, we were rolling through the Cheshire countryside, heading towards Crewe. Ah, Crewe; how I’ve missed you.

After passing by the grounds of the Alex, Stockport County, Shrewsbury Town, Whitchurch Alport and the famed Parrswood Celtic (in no particular order), we were eventually arriving into the city of Hereford, with the floodlights of Edgar Street soon taking my attention. Indeed, a seed was planted in my mind to maybe, just maybe, head there instead. But no, Westfields vs Curzon was the big game and to be honest and with no disrespect intended to Westfields or their ground, it was less likely I’d head down here again to do allpay. park, solely on the basis of travel distance & price! Anyway, I’m rambling a little, so off into the city I headed for an explore.



Oxford Arms (a little later than when I actually went in!)

Oxford Arms (later than when I actually went in!)

Granted, I didn’t want to really look around too much as yet, as I figured I’d leave that for when I do the club that carries the city’s name. So, I decided to stay fairly linier and just head straight toward the ground. Having headed out into Commercial Road, I quickly picked up on a couple of pubs that were advertising cheap drinks. However, I reckoned I’d save these for later and instead headed into the ‘Spoons, The King’s Fee. I was a bit shit and after a quick Punk IPA, I beat a hasty exit.

After heading for the imposing-looking, but sadly shut, The Kerry, I settled on the idea of heading closer to the ground itself, with the intention of getting there nice & early as to beat the crowds. After a short walk, I came upon the Herdsman, but couldn’t navigate my way through the door and as to avoid further embarrassment, instead found myself at the Oxford Arms, housed in an old-looking building. The Oxford Arms seemed a stronghold of fans of the Bulls and again the thought to divert floated into my mind. A pint of Stella soon quelled the voices and I was soon past Edgar Street and heading over a poorly designed roundabout crossing, before finding myself at the Widemarsh Common and with TV trucks in full view.

Arriving at allpay. park

Arriving at allpay. park

The BIG game!

The BIG game!

Fans congregating in the "bar"!

Fans congregating in the “bar”!

Following a greeting from the two stewards manning the car-park, I arrived at the turnstiles just after purchasing my programme from a young lad outside the ground, for the standard £1.50.  A further £10 later and I was a step closer to my bicentenary. allpay. park became ground 196.

allpay. park itself is a fairly simple, tidy ground. It houses two stands, the all-seater main stand sitting on the half-way line & the smaller stand on the opposite touchline is located more towards the end from which you enter. Both ends are open, hard standing as is the remainder of the ground, with the clubhouse, food hut and other facilities being located in the smart-looking building alongside the turnstiles, in the corner of the ground.

After deciding to buy a portion of chips for £1-ish before the small hutch was overcome by the masses, I headed for the tent in the designated bar (table) area and the unmistakable sounds of the Curzon fans.

I quickly went over to greet Aaron, who’d been busy on media duties in the run up to the game, but had now edged over into pure fan mode for the day. He also bought me a drink and by virtue of his twitter tick, I think that means he’s the most famous person to buy me anything. Cheers! After heading over to the Curzon contingent for pre-match entertainment and with almost all those who I’d joined at York in the previous round in attendance too, all the ingredients were there for an interesting match, though a few of us were left looking foolish after waiting for a toilet, only to find out it was a urinal cubicle, thanks to the woman alongside us! On that note and with the clock approaching 3pm, it was time to head to the far side and join the ranks of the Nash fans. But first…

History Lesson:

Westfields FC were formed in 1966 after a group of ‘local lads’ were so enamoured with England’s World Cup win that they formed their own side to play in friendly fixtures against other local & works teams. One of the original members are still involved with the club today, holding the positions of Chief Executive & Secretary.

Following their early existence as a friendlies only side, they transitioned into Sunday League, winning their first trophy against the fantastically named Danish Bacon. In 1973, Westfields transitioned into the Worcester & District League, where they remained for five years before moving up once more and joining the West Midlands Regional League whilst now playing at Rotherwas, having moved from the playing fields they formerly called home.

Westfields on TV. History!

Westfields on TV. History!

New(ish) stand

New(ish) stand

1984 saw the club end up as Division 2 runners-up and achieve promotion to Division 1. Season 1986-’87 ended with the club as First Division Champions, resulting in promotion to the Premier Division. This followed a good run in the FA Vase, where Westfields reached the 5th Round. As an offshoot, Westfields also, apparently, hold the record for Herefordshire Senior County Cup wins & final appearances, whilst also being the only club in the region to win all trophies available at senior county level.

After initially struggling somewhat in the Premier Division, the club eventually got to grips with the level in earnest and at last won a further promotion in 2003, this time to the Midland Alliance, as West Midlands Regional League Premier Division Champions.  A move to allpay. park also coincided with their 2003 promotion. As their stay in the Alliance went on, Westfields become more comfortable, somewhat mirroring their prior stay in the West Midlands League. This resulted in a pair of runners-up placings, coming in 2012 & ’13 respectively, before the league expanded into the Midland Football League. Last season saw Westfields record a 16th placed finish in the Premier Division.

The game got underway, wigs and all, with both sides testing each other out early on, but it didn’t take long for the first flash point to arrive. Westfields were on the attack down the Curzon right and made their way into the area via Aiden Thomas. Thomas then went down under…minimal…contact, but there was no doubt about the penalty, Craig Jones showing no nerves as he slotted the ball into Hakan Burton’s bottom left-hand corner.

Jones dispatches the pen

Jones dispatches the pen.

Match & Crowd Action!

Match & Crowd Action!

Match Action

Match Action

From then on in though, it was pretty much all Curzon. Despite their control, however, the Nash made little in terms of clear-cut chances, though they did force Westfields’ custodian Keiron Blackburn into a couple of fairly comfortable saves, plus a decent one to block a Niall Cummins effort. Half-Time 1-0 to the lowest-ranked side left in the competition. Was the fairytale to continue?

My half-time consisted of heading back round the ground a couple of times for no apparent reason, before the second-half was soon underway. The half shadowed the first, with Curzon putting Westfields under immense pressure, but rarely breaking through the well-drilled home defence but on the first occasion they did, Iain Howard somehow contrived to hit the woodwork with only the ‘keeper to beat.

Westfields’ number 1 Blackburn was also on top form, pulling off a few good stops when called upon to do so. A low reaction save, again from Curzon dangerman Cummins, was the highlight. The National League North side did have the ball in the net after a goalmouth scramble, but the assistant’s flag spared the home side on that occasion as it appeared luck may have been shining on the Midland League Premier outfit.

Howard strikes the post

Howard strikes the post

Match Action

Match Action

In the box seat

In the box seat

But, with the clock ticking over into the last 10 minutes of the game, the visitors began to earn a succession of corners and you felt that this, or a similar set-piece, would be their best way of levelling the tie. Indeed, a corner was to be Westfields’ eventual downfall. A kick from the right fell within the six-yard box and following a further scramble on the line, the ball was eventually forced over the line by former Liverpool-man Adam Morgan. 1-1 and cue the pitch invasion!

The equaliser did spur both sides onwards to try and secure the winner, with Curzon going closest, a header narrowly clearing the crossbar, but the whistle eventually blew with both sides earning their place in the Second Round draw “hat” and both seemingly fairly pleased with the result. A nice touch, also, from Blackburn who applauded the Curzon fans both at the break & at full-time and credit for him to not being distracted by incessant shouts of “‘Keeper” from one member of the travelling support.

*A further well done to the Curzon u13 girls’ side who, I was told by, I presume, a member of the team, won their game in the morning 1-0. I think that is all true from memory, but if not I take full responsibility! I may also be in breach of FA rules soon, knowing how the results publication rules are going…



...and after!

…and after!

So, the sides will meet again on the 14th of November for the replay back at the Tameside Stadium and I hope to be able to make it for that to see the climatic (or anti-climatic, perhaps) end to someone’s run. Anyway, for me, it was back off towards Hereford under the guiding lights of Edgar Street. After bidding goodbye to Gibbo & Dylan (I hope that’s the right spelling), who’d kept me up to date on occasion during the game with live scores, I was soon re-tracing my steps back to the station.

With a half-hour or so until my train back to Manchester, it would have been rude not to afford a final stop-off in one of the city’s hostelries. As such, I plumped for the Merton Hotel, a hotel bar, with the pulling point being that pints of Carlsberg were on for £2. Indeed, this was the case and I whiled away my final few minutes in Hereford whilst watching the rugby, before tripping over a step but styling it out in my, probably sole, opinion!


In the Merton Hotel

In the Merton Hotel

The train back was fairly uneventful, though it was fairly full until Shrewsbury with Welsh fans heading back from their contest. After the usual 40-minute or so journey from Shrewsbury to Crewe was shortened markedly by sleep, I was awoken by the sounds of a topless man running up and down the carriage shouting about Curzon Ashton. I wasn’t expecting to say that five years ago. Anyway, the rest of the journey was a bit calmer as the guy and his companions were distracted by the females on their way to town and thus everything quietened down! Hopefully, there aren’t similar scenes on the 216 after the replay…



Game: 5

Ground: 6

Food: 6

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 5