Result: Lichfield City 1-1 Brocton (Midland League Division One)
Venue: City Ground, Eastern Avenue (Saturday 15th February 2020, 3pm)
As Storm Dennis decimated the country’s fixture list, so it was that my own decision would be delayed. Hell, I had little idea where I was to be headed for anyway, so it didn’t matter all that much. As a result, I didn’t leave until a little before 11am and, after some delays in and around Manchester, arrived into Piccadilly station nearly a half hour later and headed to the Hourglass for a Becks to see who survived. Teams continued to tick down as I kept an eye on them and eventually I had to decide. On somewhere. Anywhere. Then I saw I could just about make it to Lichfield, a place I’d wanted to visit for a while, and with the City Ground being a 3G, it was surely all systems go!
Hastily buying a ticket to the city’s slightly outlying Trent Valley stop, a non-direct service delivered me into the windswept Staffordshire City at a tick before 2pm, having stopped off at Crewe for half an hour – a wait taken up by a stop in the Crewe Hero at the station, where I was staggered at being charged £5.80 for a San Miguel. Crazy. Struggling through the gusts and frequent squally showers, I eventually managed to arrive at the ground, only to then discover that the entrance was right around the clubhouse building and all that comes with it. As such, I found that it would be a good idea to put this into a positive, as a nearby pub by the name of the Dr. Johnson was directly reachable by cutting down the side of the ground, and so meaning I wouldn’t have to cutback on myself. Decent.
Lichfield is a cathedral city and civil parish in Staffordshire, situated between Birmingham, Walsall and Burton-upon-Trent. It gets its name from the nearby Romano-British settlement and military fortress of Letoceum – meaning Greywood, perhaps referring to abundant types of ash and elm tree – which was located upon the meeting point of the Roman roads of Watling Street and Icknield Street. The name of the fort later passed into Old English as Lyccid, to which “feld” was added, meaning ‘open country’. Thus, Lyccidfeld eventually morphed into Lichfield. Popular etymology has it that many Christians were martyred in the area and so Lichfield actually means “field of the dead”; no evidence is there to support this, though. Before the Roman-era, the area was settled during Neolithic and Mesolithic times, with evidence of both ages’ settlements found in the immediate vicinity. The fort at Leocetum itself fell into decline during the 4th century, though there is no suggestion as to what caused this, nor what happened to its inhabitants, although it is possible that the inhabitants moved to Lichfield after the Roman departure, with evidence of a burial from the times of their occupation found on the site of the city’s cathedral.
The first authentic recording of Lichfield is in Bede’s history, where it is named as Licidfelth and is noted as the place St. Chad fixed the episcopal see of the Mercians in the 7th century. The first Christian king of Mercia, Wulfhere, donated land to him to build a monastery and it was down to this that Lichfield became the centre of the diocese, just to the north of the royal seat in Tamworth. The first cathedral dated from the turn of the 8th century, when St. Chad’s bones were interred there after having become a sacred shine for pilgrims. Later, they were joined by Mercian kings Wulfhere and Ceolred, and because of this, King Offa gave the city the authority over all bishops from the Humber to the Thames, although this importance declined after his death, with Pope Leo III soon returning the power to Canterbury. Highly damaged by the Vikings in the 9th century, Lichfield, and Mercia as a whole, recovered and despite having lost the “see” to the more defended Chester, eventually, Lichfield’s new and remaining cathedral began being constructed in 1195, with Lichfield, by this point, having been noted in the Domesday Book as a village. 1291 saw the Lichfield severely damaged by fire, though a guild was given to the town in 1387 by Richard II before its dissolution and incorporation by Edward VI in 1548.
As Henry VIII knuckled down on religion during his reign, so the pilgrim traffic all but disappeared, with both St. Chad’s shrine and Franciscan Friary destroyed and dissolved also. The last public burning at the stake took place in the town during the reign of Mary I, as Edward Wightman met his demise, having declared himself as the ‘divine Paraclete and saviour of the world’…yeah. During the English Civil War, Lichfield was divided between the cathedral authorities – on the side of the royalists – and the majority of the people, who were in favour of the parliamentarian forces. The cathedral close was duly fortified and Lichfield became an important supply and strategic route. Parliamentarian commander Lord Brooke met his demise here by a deflected bullet on St. Chad’s day (which was celebrated as a divine intervention by the Royalists), though they were soon defeated and, despite having regained the close under Prince Rupert for a time, eventually fell upon their total defeat, three years later, in 1646.
During more peaceful times, Lichfield began to settle upon growing around its location on the supply routes, with these becoming trade routes between London and Chester and so the town was an important stopping off area, making it Staffordshire’s most prosperous town, continuing to thrive to the mid-1800’s whilst linking main routes through Birmingham and London. A regiment of the British Army was founded in the town’s King’s Head pub in 1705 and is now known as the South Staffordshire Regiment’s 1st battalion. The arrival of the railways signalled the end of Lichfield’s coaching stop prosperity and the Industrial Revolution saw Birmingham become the dominant force in the area. This did see evacuees come into Lichfield during World War II, with only a few light air raids suffered – ending in three deaths. This was likely due to the siting of the nearby aerodrome at RAF Lichfield, which was home to Wellington Bombers. Post-war, housing in the area boomed and the population duly shot up and local people of note include an obscure Anglo-Saxon saint, Ceatta, Elias Ashmole (founder of the Ashmolean museum), spinning machine inventor John Wyatt, writer Samuel Johnson, Admiral of the Fleet Sir William Parker, broadcaster Richard Allinson and actresses Sian Brooke, Siobhan Dillon and Helen Baxendale.
I got a programme in early doors (as to also ensure it didn’t overtly suffer in the wet conditions) and continued onwards towards the pub which provided some welcome respite from the weather. With time completely against me, I settled upon a Dark Fruits (£3.50) and quickly had it down me, with a swift return to the ground now on the cards. The whistle blew a little early and I decided to risk cutting over a grassy area near the turnstiles, which looked to be a bit of am iffy bet as it was. It was worse than that as it turned out, and my ten second short cut saw my trainers changed in colour to a kind of brown-clay hue. How lovely.
£5 lighter and I was into the City Ground properly. As it turned out, I hadn’t missed anything apart from the close range header that flew wide moments ago. Lichfield’s home has gone 3G in the last few years, though still maintains its own character outside of the pitch area. A couple of your usual, standard at cost-style stands populate the left touchline – one seating and one terrace. However, the latter is situated upon a raised area and thus allows a bit of a different viewpoint of the action. The entire opposite side is home to open, hard standing, though a grass banking is also there, a necessity in a lap! Both ends are also open, hard standing, though the clubhouse/turnstile end is also home to a small smoking area which double up as further covered standing. Not a bad little ground, as 3G’s go. So that’s the City Ground in a nutshell, and this is the story of the city’s team….
Lichfield Football Club was founded in 1970, although an original side had joined the Birmingham Combination back in 1923, but lasted just two seasons before disappearing. The current club joined the West Midlands (Regional) League’s Division ‘B’ in 1976, before re-organisation of the league for the following year saw Lichfield placed in Division One. They remained in Division One until their 1986 relegation to the Division 2, but returned in 1990 having finished as Second Division runners-up. Becoming Lichfield City in 1994, the club finished as Division One runners-up at the end of their first season under their new title and so were thusly promoted to the Premier Division, although they would spend just one solid season there – finishing mid-table – before resigning and joining the ranks of Sunday League.
They remained out of Saturday football for over a decade, only returning in 2008 when they joined the Midland Combination’s Division 3. Finishing 5th at the close of their return campaign, this was enough to secure promotion to the second division, before 2011 saw the club promoted to Division One, this time via a fourth-placed finish and also lift the league’s Challenge Vase with victory over Continental Star’s reserve side. The next season saw a second consecutive 4th position secured, and with it a second straight promotion, this time to the Premier Division. 2014 saw the Midland Combination merge with the Midland Alliance to form the Midland League, where they were placed, and have remained, in Division 1, finishing last season in 4th once again.
With the game underway, the first real chances fell the way of Lichfield. After the early Brad Rolston header had missed the target, #9, Nathan McKenzie, saw a shot well saved by the Brocton ‘keeper, Henry Smith, with the rebound falling kindly for #6, Max Black, but he could only fire wide. #2, Ryan Slinn, then saw a pair of chances come and go; first he fizzed in a drive from range which flew narrowly wide of the mark at a rate of knots, before he then hit a more “cultured” free-kick, which was straight at the visiting custodian. Brocton eventually responded and, perhaps, ought to have been awarded a penalty, when #3, Ben Douglas, went down in the area. There seemed like contact was made and it certainly looked a good shout to me.
#7, Declan Arber, then had the visitors best chance of the half, but wastefully shot wide, whilst his ‘keeper showed either superb judgment or misplaced faith in his abilities to make an accurate one, as he confidently left a low drive by #10, Kyle Patterson, from a fair way out, that clipped off the upright on its way behind. No damage done and the same could be said of the state of the clean sheet at the break, with a half rather summed up when #9, Regan Smith, pulled a shot horribly wide of the home goal. The break duly arrived and with no real signs of food on the go, I joined the rush for the clubhouse to see what, if anything I could discover. There was a pie heater behind the bar, but this was a no-go with all lights extinguished. But then I spotted a miracle.
CURRY POT NOODLE!!! Yes, would you believe it?! Pot Noodle to the rescue and it was one largely needed on a blustery, chilly day, which was only to get more affected by Storm Dennis’ ever approaching advance. I was also asked to get in a guy’s tomato soup as a favour and I duly did so, and was paid for my services with whatever the change was. I claim these happenings are payment for these blogs! With a tub of Pringles in tow for later in the day too, I returned outside for the second half which, unfortunately couldn’t ever really got going due to the increasing winds blowing across the pitch. However, the deadlock was broken shortly after the restart, as the visitors’ #8, Connor Haddaway, worked some space and gained himself a sight of goal – which he duly took up – delivering a well-hit drive beyond the home stopper, despite him getting something to it. 1-0, Brocton!
With the spectre of the 0-0 well in the rear view mirror, I decided to camp out in the seated stand for the majority of the second half, seeing little reason to venture out into the winds which must have been akin to those faced by the team on Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic. Then came a flashpoint as, right over the far side of the field, the recently introduced Brocton #12, Malaki Norford, and the home full-back Slinn got into a not so private tête-à-tête with each other, before the former seemed to recoil, with this being the catalyst for about 20 of the on-field participants rushing into the mass of bodies, which included subs and coaches alike. There wasn’t a whole lot really going on and I’m not sure what happened, but Norford was incensed….and then red carded.
The full-back received a yellow for his part, but no (ahem, Slinn-bin….sorry) with the ref annoyingly, albeit probably rightly by the book, not restarting the game until the unfortunate Brocton sub was back in the “tunnel” (i.e. walkway designated by barriers). He seemed mighty unlucky but, as I say, I was too far off to make a judgment on any actions that took place. Having said that, it did seem as though something had sparked his anger. Back underway after all this, little more happened as the winds continued to take hold, aside from a Jordan Hunt drive that Smith did well to be equal to. That is, until late on in the day. A cross was held up into the wind, the ball was only half-cleared and Hunt arrived at the back-post to rifle beyond Smith to earn his side a deserved share of the spoils on the overall play. Full-time arrived later than ideal (after the early start), with the draw remaining the order of the day.
My plan post match was the catch the highly irregular bus back into the city centre from outside the ground but, alas, the scuffle put paid to any thoughts of that. However, this did allow for a “scenic” approach, with a visit to the water taken in and the overlooking triple-spired cathedral providing some decent views. Soon enough, though, I was back on the pub trail and, rather helpfully, a number of them were all located within a few feet of each other. These were the Whippet Micropub, Beerbohm, The Pig and the Wetherspoons- all of which would have a visit paid. The first two were your more modern style offerings, with the Whippet offering your real ales, and the Beerbohm being more European-orientated. Both were brilliant places though, and Pale Ale (£3.60) and Bruxelles Belgian White (£4.60) respectively both went down well. There was also a rather hyperactive terrier I the whippet, somewhat fittingly, which provided the entertainment!
I next popped over to the Pig, closely followed by another Guy who’d clearly had the same idea as me. I opted for a Corona (£4) for the moment, before continuing through the centre, via a brief stop at the Franciscan Friary, which was unfortunate too dark to really take in. Anyway, next up was the Kings Arms, which was certainly one of, if not the, oldest watering hole in Lichfield and its links to and memorabilia about the local army regiment was interesting. A pint of the fine 61 Deep (£3.50) was deeply downed before a visit to the Horse & Jockey, the busiest of the pubs so far, was next up, the doorman not able to see why I’d want a pic of a pub! Another Corona (£3.50) was had, whilst Liverpool’s run to the title continued on, unabated.
Next, I came upon the area around the City Hall, where the Earl of Lichfield was found. A rather unattractive place (in the fact that there was nothing to really drag you there), inside really was quite different, it’s two-stepped layout and small rooms giving it a different identity. Bottles remained the order of the day, a Sol (£3.25) this time replacing its cousin, before a return to the High Street for the Crown (Corona £3-ish), before the Spoons was ‘ticked’, with a bottle for the train home. Breaking up the walk to the station with a stop in the Joules’ Duke of York, it soon became apparent that this was a smart move, as delays emanating from the South meant I now had an extra hour or so before the next service. However, this would be direct now, so, pros and cons – although a bus job from Stockport would now have to do. Ah.
Finishing off the Joules’ Pale, all went well nonetheless and that was that. All in all, the game had been decent, considering the conditions the players had to contend with. The ground was good all things considered and it was disappointing I didn’t have a little more time to explore Lichfield in the daytime. But I think it went well, taking into account how everything looked to be going. I’d still got in a target of mine, continued my 0-0-less run and got back with little issue. I couldn’t complain, and it looks as though it’s going to be another similar story next week. Back to the last minute drawing board….
Value For Money:6