Manchopper in….Tamworth

Result: Tamworth 4-0 Leiston (FA Trophy 1st Qualifying Round)

Venue: The Lamb Ground (Saturday 26th October 2019, 3pm)

Att: 385

Another weekend of action in the FA competitions rolled around, with this one seeing the FA Trophy version of the ‘Road to Wembley’ move on a step closer to finals day under the arch. But this weekend’s weather would throw all plans out of the window – even going as far as to threaten any chance of seeing a game at all. However, persistence pays off on occasion and this, thankfully, was one of those days. Although, this would be a plan made on the fly and all quite last minute at that, as flooding, delays, cancellations and postponements all played their part in one way or another.

Eventually deciding to play it safe and make headings to Tamworth’s 3G Lamb Ground pitch, on account of the likelihood of a call off of my planned game at Radcliffe (which soon came to fruition), I made my way into Manchester and jumped on one of the delayed, rammed trains headed for Euston. My plan was to get to Crewe and then grab the connecting service down to Tamworth and, with a good twenty minutes in hand, my split ticketing theory (which saved about a fiver) would all go smoothly. I did catch the train without issue, though the delays reduced that 20 minute bracket down to just four – a sprint through the station underpass seeing me catch it just in the nick of time. Regardless, I was on my way, safely, to Tamworth where the flooding, that had apparently been prevalent earlier in the morning, had now seemingly subsided.

Arriving into Tamworth

Looking past the Globe towards the King’s Ditch

I arrived into the station’s lower-level platforms at a little before 12.30pm and after traversing the steps up and down again from the high level station, I made my way towards the town centre’s hostelries, whilst making a note of the Albert pub, not too far from the station entrance itself, as I went. I arrived at the narrow high-street-like area ten minutes walk later, and first came upon the small, unassuming taphouse by the name of the King’s Ditch. The downstairs area is more akin to a small front room, though now complete with tables and a bar in the corner, whilst the barrels are shown on a screen, so you can watch your drink being poured ‘while you wait’; different! I opted for a pint of the Shipley Brewery’s Harvest Muse Pale Ale (£3.60) before heading over the way to the Globe….though not before a few guys in with me blamed my exit on their acquaintance’s ‘boring conversation’!

The Globe was packed full, with quite a number seemingly having been out and about watching England make the World Cup Final a few hours earlier, and space was definitely at a premium. Unfortunately for me, I arrived just at the point where another guy was seemingly buying a round for half the place, but my wait wasn’t extortionate if I’m honest and I settled in to watch the remainder of the first half of City-Villa over a pint of Hop House 13 (£3.90). Thankfully, the rain began to abate during my brief abode in the Globe, which meant my hopes to pay a visit to Tamworth Castle just across the town centre were definitely becoming more positive as the minutes went by. As such, I bypassed the other couple of pubs in the centre and continued castle-wards before coming across the interestingly named ‘Crafty Two’. However, upon entry, I found the small bar to be rather bare, with not much on tap or draught to choose from. As such, I opted to sup at a bottle of Blue Moon (£3.70ish) and it was as I took it into my grasp that I saw the blackboard outlining all the options they did have along the way. The lesson here is to always take in your full surroundings.

Inside the Crafty Two

White Lion

Tamworth is a Borough and large market town in Staffordshire, standing to the North East of Birmingham and derives its name from the River Tame that flows through it. Upon the arrival of the Romans, the area around Tamworth and the Trent Valley was already home to the British Coritani tribe, and evidence of Roman building materials in the area suggest it held some importance, lying close, as it did, to the Roman Wartling Street Road and larger town of Letocetum. Following the Roman departure, the area fell under the rule of Anglo-Saxon peoples, likely the displaced Angles. The flood victims found their way to an “open meadow by the Tame” and christened it as such – Tomworðig, whilst also creating an enclosed estate named Tomtun, which was fortified by palisade walls. These people then named themselves as the Tame settlers, or Tomsaete.

They became more wealthy and Tomtown became ever more fortified due to their fighting tendencies, though their success led them to become the dominant force around the Midlands. This later would become the Kingdom of Mercia and Tamworth became the Royal Centre under King Penda and then the capital under King Offa, due to its far larger size and importance over any other nearby settlements. It was the ideal place for trade too, with it standing at the meeting point of the Tame and Anker rivers,but this also led it to attract unwanted attention and it was sacked and left a ruin by the invading Viking Danes in 874AD. It remained in this state through to 913, when Lady of the Mercians Eathelraed, daughter of King Alfred the Great, rebuilt the town and constructed a burgh to defend it from further raids. This proved successful and she remained there until her death.

Tamworth

Tamworth

An 11th century Norman castle was later constructed on the probable site of the earlier Anglo-Saxon Fort, with Tamworth becoming a market town during the 1300’s and being granted Royal charters to hold fair celebrations due to its history as the Saxon seat. Sadly, much of the town burnt in a 1345 fire, but was soon rebuilt once more. James I, the first Stuart King, visited Tamworth Castle in 1619, though this was later besieged during the English Civil War by Parliamentarian forces in 1643. Capturing it, the order was given to destroy, though this was, for whatever reason, not carried out.

The next few centuries saw Tamworth continue to grow in size and stature and the railway arrival of the 18 & 1900’s only proved to aid this, with both mainlines meeting there, and it was linked to the canal system by the Coventry Canal. Victorian PM Sir Robert Peel was MP of the town and later came up with the modern idea of the police force – lending his name to the “Bobbies”. In more modern times, Tamworth switched from its 19th century gas lighting to electric in 1924 and continued to grow around wartime as an overspill for influx of peoples in the West Midlands. It became home to the Reliant car factory, famed for its three-wheeled Robin, and the more racy Scimitar.

On to the Market Tavern….

….and then the Brewing Co.

Heading to the Castle

The drizzle returned once more as I departed the Crafty Two and so I dove into the nearby White Lion, which lies on the road junction just a couple of minutes down the road from the castle and its surrounding gardens. This seemed to be one of the cheaper places on offer in the town, a pint of the ‘new’ Carlsberg Pilsner coming in at the wallet-pleasing £2.50, though my stay would prove brief, as time began to go against me.  Following this, I arrived into the market area of the town which housed a couple of my target pubs – a Joules’ place, the Market Tavern and the Tamworth Brewing Co. – where I indulged in a Joules’ Pale Ale (£3.60) and rather large bottle of Aspalls Cider (£5) before finally making haste ground-wards….but not before a visit to the castle, of course. Going up and down as swiftly as the Grand Old Duke of York, I then navigated the gardens below and crossed the rather swollen Tam before the Lamb Ground’s floodlights began to come into view.

Soon after crossing a dual carriageway, I found myself arriving into a sprawling car park and leisure centre complex and couldn’t find my way out of it. Shock, I know. As it was, I found a few guys with football shirts on and thought I’d follow them to the ground….until I spied what I thought, in my unequalled wisdom, was a shortcut across an area of grass. Now, considering how much rain there’d been and the length of the grass that lay just the other side of the waterway bridge, there really should have been an appropriate amount of warning signs there to point out that this was probably not the smartest idea. However, my brain thought differently to any relatively smart person and I soon found myself wading (no exaggeration) through what seemed like shin-like hidden puddles within this waterlogged piece of hell.

 

Passing through the castle gardens

Down the river….

I’m seeing double….and penguins….I’m worried!

Finding a bit of refuge in the tarmac jungle of another underpass, I soon came upon the main entrance of the Lamb Ground and I made my way to the club shop where I’d seen that programmes were on sale. This visit also gave me the opportunity to try and get some sympathy for my watery misadventures, though they didn’t seem all too sincere….if they existed at all! Anyway, I digress; after picking up a ‘bible’ for £1.50, I made my around the other side of the ground and to the turnstiles at the bottom of a street I’d come across on Maps during my peruse of possible ‘ticks’ during the week. This all went fine and dandy and after paying £12 on the gate and receiving a paper ticket in exchange, I entered into ground 323 – Tamworth’s Lamb Ground home, which is a mix of both old and new, though even the newer bits actually lend themselves to its overall charm.

Both ends house terracing, though only the ‘near’ end is covered, the larger ‘far’ end being left open to the elements. Down one side runs a covered standing area, onto which the clubhouse/food bar backs onto, the entrance to both found at the far side of it – in the gap between this stand and the open terrace. Meanwhile, an all-seater stand runs the majority of the opposite side, with a small bit of open standing on either side, the tunnel, dressing rooms and other amenities) including an additional food trailer located around here too. The 3G pitch does take away from the overall look and feel of the ground as a whole of course, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives – especially so on days like today. As with Buxton, you feel these will become the norm at some point in the not-too-distant future and, to be honest, they play far, far better than their predecessors ever did. Grass is always preferable, of course, but I don’t have the resistance to the artificial surfaces that some others do, indeed a number of higher-level pitches are already (as I understand) hybrids of the two. Anyway, before I fully ramble, here’s the story of Tamworth FC….

History Lesson:

Tamworth Football Club was founded in 1933, following the demise of predecessor Tamworth Castle, with the new club originally taking up residence at the Jolly Sailor Ground prior to moving to their current Lamb Ground home after just one year at the Jolly Sailor. They began playing in the Birmingham Combination from their formation, where they won their first silverware in the form of the 1937 Bass Charity Cup (which, incidentally, Castle had won a decade earlier) and went on to join the West Midlands League (re-named the Birmingham League in 1963) during the 1950’s. The following decade saw Tamworth win two Birmingham League titles – in 1964 & ’66 respectively – whilst the club would also add the West Midlands League Cup (1965,’66), Birmingham Senior Cup (1961, ’66 & ’69) and Staffordshire Senior Cup (1959, ’64, ’66) to their honours roll during the same 10-year span. 1972 saw Tamworth promoted to the Southern League, though their stay here would only yield poor attendances and financial issues, with these eventually leading to the club returning back into the West Midlands League once more in 1985.

Arriving at The Lamb

The club had seemingly not been helped by being moved around from the Southern League’s Division One North to the Northern Premier League in 1983, and back to the Southern League’s Midland Division four years later, but a change in ownership saw fortunes (no pun intended) change for the better. The club again won the league in 1988 to return back to the Southern League ranks, where 1997 saw the Lambs take the Midland Division title and win promotion to the Premier Division, a position they’d hold through to 2002 (despite a near miss the year before) and their achieving promotion to the Football Conference as Southern League champions. That season also saw the Lambs end as FA Trophy runners-up to Burscough. Before that, however, Tamworth had added their first major cup silverware to their cabinet in the form of the 1989 FA Vase, the club overcoming Sudbury Town 3-0 in a replay at London Road – after the original game at Wembley had ended 1-1, lifted two further West Midlands League Cups – in 1986 & 1988 respectively – and two Harry Godfrey Trophies in 1994 & 1997.

The clubhouse/food section

After a spell of two matches with Paul Merson in the playing squad ahead of his 2006 retirement, Tamworth were spared the drop at the end of that year due to Canvey Island’s demotion, though didn’t make the most of this sparing, the club being relegated the very next season to the Conference North – though the FA Cup proved a somewhat happier hunting ground, with the Lambs reaching the 3rd round in both seasons. A poor initial season in 2007-’08 yielded only a 15th place finish, though the next campaign was far more successful and ended with Tamworth returning back to the Conference Premier as Conference North champions. They would go on to spend five-years back in non-league’s top-tier, and despite another 3rd Round FA Cup appearance at Everton in 2012, relegation back to the Conference North was suffered in 2014. Here they remained through to 2018, when relegation back to the Southern League saw the club in the ‘Premier Central’, where they finished last season in a seemingly disappointing 12th position.

The game began with Tamworth quickly asserting themselves as the likely dominant force going forward. A few chances came and went during the first ten minutes, with Tyrell Waite being the main threat, his best sight of goal being a shot that deflected wide off of a centre-half. Despite their dominance, it would take until the stroke of the half-hour for the hosts to finally break the deadlock; James Fry becoming the creator moments after firing narrowly wide. On this occasion, he advanced into the space in front of him before sliding in Rhys Hoenes who gleefully rounded Leiston ‘keeper Charlie Beckwith and slotted home. 1-0 the Lambs.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

As the half continued on into the final 15 minutes, Leiston were finally able to attempt some kind of threat to the Lambs’ goal, but stout defending saw the shot cleared before it troubled Jasbir Singh between the sticks. This then allowed Tamworth to double their advantage as I awaited my chips and curry from the food trailer, when Waite used his pace to rush on through the visiting back-line and wrongfooted Beckwith, rounding him and sliding into the net via the desperate lunge of a defender on the line. Joe Magunda also went close just before the break, when he headed over at the back-post following a corner, but the score remained 2-0 through to the break.

Following a visit to the clubhouse for a dual case of a warm and dry, it was soon time to head back out onto the terraces for the second half, which again Tamworth began on the front foot. The impressive Waite fired over after good walk by #10, before Dan Creaney made it three, when he met a Jordan Clement free-kick in the inclement conditions (eh?!, eh?!….oh, ok then) and directed his header into the net via the inside of the far post. Waite was mightily unlucky soon after, when his fizzing drive cannoned over off the crossbar, whilst fellow winger Hoenes was denied by the upright after he’d executed a quick free-kick and one-two.

Match Action

From the trailer terrace

From the ‘Main’ Stand

Bilal Yafai’s curiling effort was kept out by an acrobatic Beckwith, whilst the experienced Singh was eventually forced into some kind of action as the clock ticked on, the Lambs’ ‘keeper having to be watchful in the conditions to keep out Mason Sinclair’s long-range drive. But it would be, rather fittingly considering the gulf in the play, Tamworth who would add gloss to their victory late on; Waite’s replacement Delano Reid seeing his ball in met by Creaney, who diverted the ball past Beckwith for number four. Full-time arrived shortly afterwards with the game as one-sided, if not more so, than the score-line suggested. That’s not to say Leiston were hammered, though, they just never really made an impression on Tamworth’s back five.

Post-match, I returned back to the high-street area and to the first of two pubs I’d earmarked on my way ground-wards. I’d been spurned first time around by the Sir Robert Peel due to it being closed past its usual opening time, though it was in full flow by the time my second attempt had come around. Probably the nicest in the way of traditional pubs I visited during my Tour de Tamworth, the Bobby Peel yielded a swift Dark Fruits (£3.70~) as time remained at a premium, before I returned station-wards to the Albert I passed on my arrival earlier in the afternoon. A bottle of Desperados (£3.60) was had prior to the train, which was a little delayed anyway as it turned out, so the rush wasn’t as needed as I’d expected. A bit of a doze back to Crewe passed the time on that leg of the return trip, with the connection at Crewe being swift and easy, and I was back in Manchester by a little after 8pm and home half an hour later or so.

Back to the Centre and the Sir Robert Peel

The Albert to round off the day

Can’t complain with the day as a whole in the end, though the game was rather one-sided and the weather a bit….well, shit, the Lamb Ground itself was nice to finally tick from my ‘wanted’ list and Tamworth a decent little town too with a number of nice drinking holes to visit. Up next is my first addition to my ’92’ quest of the season (in November, no less), as I come down to a bridge, although I’m not certain that’s quite in the correct tense….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 5 (Cut-back issue, I guess?)

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Halesowen

Halesowen Town 3-1 Bedworth United (FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay)

Venue: The Grove (Monday 26th August 2019, 3pm)

Att: 377

Having missed out on an FA Cup tie on the Saturday, due to having executive tickets at Old Trafford (though I wish I hadn’t, having been subjected to the tosh served up by United there), I thought I’d missed my chance to continue along on the “Road to Wembley”….or in my case “Road to the 4th or 5th Round at Swindon” or something akin to that. Indeed, having woken up on Bank Holiday Monday morning, my intended destination remained to be my previous night’s choice – Barrow vs FC Halifax Town up at Holker Street. But, come a check of the weather, I began to doubt my choice a little; 19ºc seeming something of a waste of a, supposedly, rare balmy day out. A quick peruse of the fixtures again served up a pleasant surprise in this very tie I’m writing about and the high 20’s were definitely more attractive too.

As such, my FA Cup quest could continue on and I could enjoy the likely final day of true heat Britain is likely to see this year! I set off into Manchester at a little after 9am and having passed through there and to Crewe, headed further south and into the Midlands where I would hop off at Smethwick Galton Bridge for the brief journey a couple of stops down the line to Old Hill. However, on my arrival at Smethwick, I’d decided to try and get a plusbus ticket added on (and I was bloody happy I did looking at the hills!) and so jumped on the first train to Rowley Regis, a stop earlier, instead. Having eventually gotten the ticket safely bought and once again being a ticket guy’s first (sale of one I mean, God) I instead grabbed a bus from the foot of the road and down towards Halesowen.

The Loyal Lodge – first stop of the day

Arriving in Halesowen

Halesowen is a large market town within the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley in the county of the West Midlands, around 9 miles southwest of Birmingham, and is one of the largest towns in the U.K. to be without a railway station directly serving it, though one did exist as a meeting point of two separate lines, but the vast majority of pointers to this have since been removed. Historically a part of Worcestershire, Halesowen was previously a detached part of the county of Shropshire until 1844, when it was incorporated into the former and remained there until 1974 when it and neighbouring Stourbridge became a part of the West Midlands. It was recorded in the Domesday Book as being bigger than Birmingham and the manor and town was originally known as “Hala” from the Anglo-Saxon ‘halh’ meaning nook or remote valley, until it was gifted the Welsh Prince David Owen by King Henry II and became Halas Owen.

Halesowen had gained a market fair by the early 1200’s and attracted many women migrants to the area who proceeded to set up businesses (rather progressive!), whilst the area is renowned in history as being an area of conflict when seeing a 13th century peasant’s revolt crushed and the leader and wife of another prominent member murdered by Abbot-hired thugs at the abbey. It remained rather rural, though did have a coal industry from the era of Edward I, right through to the 18th century, when it grew quickly around the Industrial Revolution growing even more as a coal hub. This was added to be nail making, iron production and slitting within mills and its growth took in Oldbury in 1829, before changing from a rural district (a title given in 1894) to an urban district in 1925 and then a municipal borough in 1935, prior to its aforementioned switch to Dudley and the West Midlands in 1974.

Halesowen

Halesowen’s “Precinct”

The 1960’s saw redevelopment in the centre, and a precinct (imaginatively named “The Precinct”) was created and the high street pedestrianised. The town centre was further improved in the 1980’s, with a large part becoming an indoor shopping centre, though was usurped somewhat in the late 80’s by the nearby Merry Hill. Upon the original site of an Anglo-Saxon church, a fair amount of the Norman part of the church’s creation still stands too along with abbey ruins, whilst a medieval cross (which was actually defeated by wind at some point) stands within the churchyard. Leasowes Park is noted as one of the first natural landscape gardens in the country and was designed by William Shenstone, who is remembered as many would like to be – via Wetherspoons, whilst the town also counts the likes of presenter Bill Oddie, comedian Frank Skinner, footballer Lee Sharpe, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Judas Priest’s Glenn Tipton amongst its alumni.

I jumped off the 9H service outside a car dealership just short of the town centre itself and took the short walk across the road and around the corner to the Loyal Lodge, which is well worth seeking out. A lovely and somewhat hidden hostelry, the Lodge was a cozy place that I reckon comes into its own on colder days, though thankfully there was no raging fire in the fireplace today! A pint of Heineken (£3.90) was had here, whilst I planned out my onward trip uphill to the centre. I found I could just about catch the next bus from the stop I’d just debussed at and so I returned there, only for it to not make an appearance for a fair while. As a result, I got a feeling that fate was trying to deal me a bad hand and began walking – only for said bus to rock and roll around the corner, but not before I’d caught it in time. Called your bluff, fate-masters.

Olde Queen’s Head

Pick’s

Taking the ride uphill and past the town-centre church, I disembarked at the bus station and circled the neighbouring ASDA store (other supermarkets are available) and arrived at the Olde Queens Head, where a pint of Blue Moon (£3.95) was had, whilst the locals about inside were complaining about other locals, who had been complaining about the noise from an outdoor event that was on, which they had a complaint about. Follow? You don’t need to, it doesn’t add to the story. I continued on my tour of Halesowen, cutting back on myself a little and back into the precinct area and paid a visit to Picks, which had clearly been a pub for quite some time looking at its traditional exterior. A pint of Amstel (£3.60) was the choice here, whilst I was asked if I was ok by a couple of different guys in here. They were either very friendly, or I looked very rough. You be the judge!

As kick-off began to near a little more, I reckoned it was best to make my way up towards the ground and save the Wetherspoons outlet, and another couple of smaller places for later, as at least one appeared to not be open at this time. The George on the corner has seemingly shut its doors for good and so it was to the Waggon & Horses around a half-way up the road to the Grove, the Yeltz’s home ground. This pub proudly exclaimed itself as “A Specialist Real Ale Pub” and so I reckoned it’d be rude to not have a dabble into one of their numerous choices – I think there was 15 ales and ciders on the go, plus your few lagers. Anyway, I played it pretty safe with a weak-ish Kinver Light Railway pale ale (£3.65) which wasn’t bad; not one I’d overly shout about personally, but would have again.

Waggon & Horses

King Edward

Through the HTFC gates once more

It was then I came up with the decision to pop to the ground early for a programme, as I’d been told by the club that they were in small numbers and I suspected a pretty big crowd would be on. What followed was a failed attempt at coercing the guy at the near turnstile to grab one for me (though I did assure him I wouldn’t be on the rob), before I was informed I may be more successful up the other end. This I was – though the hurdling of the turnstile was a little uncomfortable. Jeans would have made it a little more questionable. Thanks to the guys on both gates for their help!

I back-tracked around the ground via the perimeter path and to the neighbouring King Edward pub, decked out in bright yellowy-orange paint, which ensures people are unlikely to miss it, I suppose. I waited out the remainder of the time pre-match in there over a pint of Stella (£3.60) before passing back through the impressive, old gates that guard the Grove stoically and returning back to the main entrance at the far-end with the queues being rather large at the sole entry. I paid my entry dues of £8 and was allowed, and counted this time(!), into the ground – and what a fantastic ground it is, straight into my favourites of all-time. Along the near side is a sizeable open terrace (which hosts a media gantry) that runs the length of the pitch, whilst more of the same covers the far end. The opposite, far side is home to a seated stand that takes up the vast majority of that side and between it and the covered terrace known affectionately as “The Shed”  at the near end is, what I guessed was, hospitality and the dressing rooms. The remainder of facilities (i.e. clubhouse, bar and shop) are all congregated around the main turnstile block. That’s the Grove in very shorthand, and this is the story of the Yeltz of Halesowen….

History Lesson:

Halesowen Town Football Club was founded in 1873 as Halesowen F.C. and have played at The Grove ever since, the ground being steadily built over the shared cricket ground over the years, prior to their sole occupancy. They joined the Birmingham & District League in 1892 but finished up bottom at the end of their first season and upon doing so again in 1905, left the league for a season before re-joining. Things weren’t all that much better on their return and the Yeltz finished bottom once more in 1911 and so took the decision to move into the Birmingham Combination – but this move only saw things get worse, with their three season pre-war stay only yielding finishes of last in both of their first two seasons, and second bottom in 1913-’14 saw their tenure end.

They would return after the war in 1919, returning to the Birmingham Combination and were renamed as Halesowen Town in 1926. However, the name change didn’t change their luck all that much and another bottom finish was recorded in 1927, but remained in the league right through to the outbreak of WWII on this occasion. Come the end of hostilities, fortunes began to change for Town and 1947 saw the club finally record their first league title, as they won the Birmingham & District League at the end of their first season back there. In 1954, the league was split into Northern and Southern sections with Halesowen being placed in the latter, though this change only lasted a season, prior to the league splitting into a less regionalised Division One and Two.

Arriving for a non-hurdling entrance!

Into The Grove

1955-’56 saw Halesowen reach the FA Cup First Round for the first-time where they eventually lost out to Hendon at The Grove, and further disappointment followed with relegation to Division 2 suffered the next year, but their exile from Division One was brief, as the Yeltz returned after finishing third the following season. In 1960, the Birmingham & District League returned to consisting of only a sole division and would go on to be renamed the West Midlands (Regional) League two years later. They finished as 1965 runners-up and when the league gained a second division for the following year, were duly placed in the Premier Division. They won the title in 1982-’83 and reached the FA Vase Final, but lost out to VS Rugby by a single goal at Wembley.

The league proved to be a fruitful hunting ground for Halesowen, as they retained the title for the next three seasons (through ’83-’84 to ’85-’86) to record four-straight successes, whilst the FA Vase then also caught the success bug when it came to the club, as they won both the 1985 and 1986 editions – defeating Fleetwood Town and Southall respectively, whilst that fourth successive league title preceded the club’s move up into the Southern Premier League’s Midland Division for 1986-’87, whilst the final league title season also saw the FA Cup First Round reached once again, but Halesowen fell to defeat at the hands of Frickley Athletic after a replay. Further 1st Round appearances followed in both 1987-’88 & ’88-’89, but both also ended in defeat, the latter at the hands of a Football League outfit for the first time, in the shape of Brentford.

In the Clubhouse

The Shed

First Round appearances became the regular over this period, and after the Midland Division was won in 1990 and promotion to the Premier Division duly followed, ties against Cardiff City, Tranmere Rovers and Farnborough Town also all ending in defeat in consecutive years through to 1991-’92. Their First Round regularity broke after that latter game and, back in the league, it took until 1996 for Halesowen to get close to promotion from the Premier Division, ending as runners-up in 1996 and missing out on the Conference by 3 points. Instead, Halesowen would instead drop away from the upper reaches after this brief shave with the Conference and yo-yo between the Prem and ‘Western Division’ for the next few years – relegation in 2001 was followed by an immediate return as Western Division champions, only for the Yeltz to then be immediately relegated again after a sole season….before being promoted once more at the first attempt. Blimey!

Their league status settled down upon their return to the Premier Division, and yet another First Round appearance in the FA Cup followed in 2004-’05 – but their somewhat cursed run continued with defeat to Yeading. After some re-organisations of the pyramid, the club’s league campaign in 2007-’08 also saw disappointment, with defeat to Team Bath in the final of the play-offs coming after having defeated Chippenham Town in the semis to get there. 2011 saw the Yeltz relegated into the South & West Division of the Southern League for a year, prior to being switched into the Northern Premier League’s Division One South, which the club won in 2014 and thus were promoted to the NPL Premier Division. Here they remained through to 2018, when they were switched to the newly-created Southern League’s Premier Central division upon further restructuring, but would be relegated to the Division One Central for this season.

After a pre-match visit to the food bar for chips, peas and gravy he tie got going with an early chance for the hosts’ Lewis Wright, but his effort was kept out in fairly routine fashion by Bedworth stopper Adam Harrison, whilst Harrison’s opposite number between the Halesowen sticks, Brad Catlow, also getting an early save in as Josh Steele fired straight at him. However, the opener would arrive just a couple of minutes after this, and it was the Yeltz who would grab it. An initial attack saw a first effort blocked out, but the ball fell to striker Jamie Molyneux, and he pounced upon the loose ball to slot home. 1-0 and a perfect start for the hosts.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

With around twenty minutes played, Molyneux would add a deserved second for Halesowen, as he beat ‘keeper Harrison to a loose ball after some questionable defensive communication, and was left with the simple task of finishing off into the unguarded net. A true poachers pair of strikes. However, Harrison would go on to redeem himself with a string of fine stops as the game went on, and these began to be instrumental in keeping his Bedworth side in the tie up to half-time, as he denied the unfortunate Robbie Bunn a pair of times within around ten minutes. First, Harrison was equal to an effort and palmed it behind for a corner, before keeping out another two drives, one from Bunn and the other Molyneux, just before the break, each of which looked a good bet to nestle in the net – Harrison flinging himself away low down at both – had other ideas. Half-time and it remained 2-0 to the Yeltz.

After meeting Flo the dog on my way around for a brief visit to the clubhouse, I spent up the time spanning the break in there before the sides were back out again to compete in the second period. This started off rather slowly, with little in the way of true chances being made in between the regular breaks to take on water. The usual start of the half storm from the side behind did see a clearance off the line to deny Khaellem Bailey-Nicholls and Bedworth a way back into the tie, with Catlow gratefully falling upon the ball and thus end the danger to his clean-sheet, whilst Lewis Wright was denied for a second time in the game by Harrison.

On the chase

Molyneux nets his and Halesowen’s 2nd

From the seats

The ever dangerous Molyneux then crashed a drive against the crossbar as he searched for his hat-trick, and was kept out by the feet of the impressive Harrison, but he wouldn’t be denied for long and, on the hour, he would complete it. Receiving the ball just outside the area, he raced through and beyond the United back-line, before coolly slotting beyond Harrison for 3-0. A fine showing for the #10. Unfortunately for Catlow, he would be denied the clean-sheet mentioned earlier when, in the 89th minute, Bedworth grabbed a consolation (or set up a possible famed come-back if you were of a Bedworth and positive persuasion, I suppose) when substitute Ashanti Pryce got in on the left-hand side of the box and slid a fine finish across the home ‘keeper.

Town’s Jamie Lucas, Molyneux’s strike-partner, missed a fine chance to add gloss to the score-line, when failing to find the net late on, but there would be no miracles for Bedworth despite this, though they had a fine chance to set up said miracle when skipper Elliott Parrott somehow spurned a tap-in from a few yards out, right in the centre of goal. As it was, Halesowen deservedly held on to secure a place in the First Qualifying Round, where they will welcome Lichfield City to The Grove.

Ashanti Pryce pulls one back

‘Spoons post-match for an express one.

Britannia to round off the day before the train

Post-match, buses were few and far between on this route and so I took the slightly downhill walk back to the Wetherspoons, where I demolished a bottle of Hooch (£2.69) in around 5 minutes as to get that one in, though had to kindly refuse the offer of “same again” by the barman. The bus was due shortly and despite the ‘Spoons only being a couple of minutes away, I didn’t want to risk missing it and getting back any later than I had to. As such, I had about a five-minute wait before my carriage pulled in, though this time I got off a little earlier – just outside the Britannia which proclaimed itself as a “free-house” outside and looked very pleasant, decked out in flower baskets and the like. Upon entering, I was struck by a familiar logo….yep, it was another ‘Spoons, one in disguise, if you want! A pint of Bud Light (at £1.99) did the trick here, prior to making the ten minute-or-so walk back to Rowley Regis station for the train back to Smethwick once more and, from there, to Manchester via a brief changeover in Wolverhampton.

So ends the first Bank Holiday weekend of the season and, removing the Old Trafford fiasco from the equation, it had been a decent one, with this game rescuing it (plus the bonus Manchester League fixture the following evening backing it up). I enjoyed Halesowen and found the area a really friendly place, with its pubs and the ground all showing this in abundance. The game was good considering the overall conditions and the ground, as I said earlier, was brilliant in my eyes. Programme was decent enough with it being a rushed issue, whilst the food at the ground was also up there. All in all, a good trip, and one that will take some beating, even at this early stage of the season. But, it’s back to local stuff for the Tuesday, as I alluded to, and a small hop over to Salford Quays. You’ve gotta love it!

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 10

Programme: 4

Food: 8

Value For Money: 8

 

Manchopper in….Sutton Coldfield

Result: Sutton Coldfield Town 3-0 Dunstable Town (Southern League Division One Central)

Venue: Coles Lane (Saturday 27th April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 206

The final weekend of the regular season for most of the non-league clubs around the country saw surprisingly little games with much riding upon them – well, those that were of any interest to me, that is. However, one game offered up something a little different, with both sides having something to play for, but ultimately at the end of very different seasons. Hosts Sutton Coldfield were looking to secure a play-off spot, whilst Dunstable Town aimed for survival. Decision made and off to the Midlands I headed.

Trains via Manchester and Birmingham had me arriving into a blustery Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield (to give it its full title) at just a tad after midday. Upon getting my bearings, I eventually traipsed up a fairly steep short hill to the town hall (which is haunted by an ex-caretaker apparently – thanks to Dion Dublin for that nugget) for a bit of a peruse before heading down to the nearby main road and the Royal Hotel that has its rear facing opposite. Spotting a rare opportunity for a pint of Asahi that doesn’t include a ‘Spoons, I duly opted for a pint of the Japanese lager (£4.80) whilst watching the early part of the West Ham-Spurs game on TV prior to heading on a few doors down to the nearby ex-coaching inn – judging by the old, repurposed entrance looking corridor down its middle -the Three Tuns for a lovely (and surprisingly fairly cheap) Warsteiner. A good start!

Haunted Town Hall. Woooooooo.

Royal Hotel

Three Tuns

After supping at this whilst watching the game continue, it was eventually time to move on, but this time I’d be heading slightly away from the pedestrianised centre of town and to the King’s Arms. However, I hadn’t truly factored in the walk there and back (only about 6-7 mins combined, mind you) but this mean the Moretti had to be dismissed somewhat quicker than what I’d have ideally liked. Not to worry, this was completed and I also got to meet the lovely Tilly the Labrador too. Nice.

The Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield is a town and civil parish within the city of Birmingham which it lies 7 miles to the north of. Considered a rather affluent part of the city, Sutton Coldfield was historically a part of Warwickshire before becoming a part of Birmingham and the wider county of the West Midlands in 1974 and, in 2015, it was elected as a parish town/council in its own right. It derives its name from being the “south town” (of Mercian capital Tamworth) on the edge of the “col field”, with the suffix usually being mentioned upon the existence of charcoal burning pits in the area or land that was open to the elements. It is thought the area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, when excavations for the M6 toll uncovered remnants of burial mounds etc., and Iron Age houses have also been found ranging from 400-100 BC. The iron age hill slopes mentioned in 18th century works have since been decimated and are only really noticeable from the air nowadays.

The Romans also inhabited the area during their invasion and later settlers created a gravel-based roadway connecting Metchley Fort in Edgbaston to Letocetum (now Wall, Staffordshire) of which some 1.7 miles is still preserved. After their era had come and gone, the Anglo-Saxon period saw the area become part of the kingdom of Mercia and it is believed that Sutton Coldfield came into being around this time as a hamlet with a hunting lodge for the Mercian leaders located close by. The Manor would go by the name of Sutone and was held of Edwin, Earl of Mercia, in the reign of Edward the Confessor but upon Edwin’s death, the manor and Mercia itself fell under the control of William the Conqueror. The area of Sutone forest became a Royal Forest and Sutone itself was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Sutton Coldfield

The area remained in royal hands through to King Henry I in when he exchanged it for areas in Rutland with Roger de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Warwick with the town becoming Sutton-in-Coldfield. It would remain in the Warwicks hands for a span of 300 years (with many breaks due to royal feuds and the like) but in 1640 it passed to the Mountfort’s under King Henry VI, however Richard Neville of the Warwicks regained influence an the manor in turn, with it going into Plantagenet hands for a time, with Anne Neville never quite able to get it away from her, despite her seeming best efforts! It was only in her death in 1492 that it again went back to the Crown’s ownership, where it would stay through to its incorporation in 1528. The town began to grow through from its market beginnings in the year 1300 and got a military connection when Sir Ralph Bainbridge gained a life-long lease of the area from the Earl of Warwick and it became an important training area for English soldiers for the wars with France.

Sutton Coldfield

It would decay somewhat through the Wars of the Roses and rekindled importance in industrial means during the 16th century as watermills and pools became the area’s focus. The English Civil War starting in 1642 saw the Battle of Camp Hill and despite Birmingham being pillaged by Royalist forces, Sutton Coldfield emerged unscathed although it was visited by both armies at differing times. The Priestley riots centred on anti-Presbyterian feelings saw Joseph Priestley take refuge in the town’s Three Tuns pub for a time and another who had his house attacked, William Hutton, was eventually forced to move on to Tamworth due to locals’ fears of the safety of both the town and themselves due to his presence. The railway arrived during the 19th century and Sutton Coldfield duly became a tourist spot for those escaping the city and then a commuter town later on, with the wealthier starting the move away from the pollution initially before the rest of their workforces could begin to join them.

Barracks would be added during the 1800’s to house the Edinburgh and Sussex militias and the 7th Dragoon Guards as well as a unit of artillery. The town continued to grow through the 20th century with the rural fringes of the district being swallowed up after WWI. WWII saw both German and Italian PoW’s held around the town and after hostilities ended, the town was regenerated in the 1960’s with a new centre being built, though many weren’t too impressed with the new arrival. The merger with Birmingham came around in 1970’s before 2015 saw it gain powers as a civil parish separate from Birmingham.

King’s Arms

‘Spoons. Bwoah.

Duke Inn

After a quick stop for a refreshing Kopparberg in the unspectacular ‘Spoons (the Bottle of Sack, after a line in Shakespeare’s Henry IV that mentions Sutton Coldfield in it), I decided it’d be safer if I popped into the little micropub not too far up the road pre-match. This would prove a shrewd move as it would turn out, as you’ll see later. This unplanned diversion saw me only have time for a half and I opted for a Paulaner which was decent enough before I finally made a more direct route for Coles Lane….not before one final stop-off at the Duke Inn on the way there for a pint of Thatcher’s before finally making my way to the ground in earnest.

Arriving at the gate around ten minutes prior to kick-off, with the turnstile being located almost in the corner, between a marquee-thing and the lovely, old main stand. Pretty much directly opposite the entrance is a far newer covered seating stand, neighboured by the clubhouse which also houses the food hut – the latter of which I utilised for some decent enough cheesy chips. The far end is home to a small covered terrace of only a few steps, though this runs about three-quarters the length of the end. It is flanked by open, hard standing between it and the main stand, with some portakabins hosting “facilities” in the middle, whilst the open half of the far side between the two other stands is home to open terracing. A small “dog training area” is also in situ behind the covered bit. That’s Coles Lane and this is the story of “The Royals”. Sutton Coldfield Town….

History Lesson:

Sutton Coldfield Town Football Club was founded in 1879 and originally competed in the local Central Birmingham League, Aston & District League, Small Heath League and Suburban League through to around the 1930’s. Then, upon their move from Sutton Park to Coles Lane, they began to compete in the higher Birmingham Alliance and Birmingham Combination with little success. Post-WWII and competing under the name of Sutton Town until 1964, the club played in the Walsall League and spent a time back in the Birmingham Combination before moving leagues once more, this time into the Birmingham & District League (soon to be renamed as the West Midlands (Regional) League) in 1954.

Arriving at Coles Lane

After spending a decade here, which saw the club promoted to the top division in 1960 after a 3rd placed finish in Division 2, the club eventually met financial issues and after having to field teams of amateur players, took the step down into the Worcestershire Combination (which would go on to be the Midland Football Combination) and won the title here twice prior to heading back into the West Midlands (Regional) League in 1979 – a return which was far more successful immediately as the club became champions at the end of their first season back. Finishing as runners-up in 1982, Town were promoted to the Southern League’s Midland Division and were again immediately successful, being promoted to the Premier Division at the first go of it, though would be relegated back after just the sole season in the top division.

There they would remain there right through until 2010, through its name change to the Western Division in 1999 and being placed in the newly created Division One Midlands upon league re-organisation in 2006, when they were switched over to the Northern Premier League’s Division One South, though did miss out in a play-off for a spot in the newly restructured pyramid in 2004 to Banbury United. 2011 saw Sutton Coldfield Town appear in their very first Birmingham Senior Cup final which they won 1-0 over Nuneaton Town and a switch to the 3G pitch was made that close season.

SCTFC – spot the weirdo taking pics of signs!

Long-serving manager Chris Keogh left the club after 12 years at the helm, being replaced by his assistant Neil Tooth. Tooth went on to oversee the club’s promotion in 2015 to the NPL Premier Division through the play-offs, defeating Newcastle Town and Leek Town in doing so, prior to their relegation last season, upon which they returned back to the Southern League’s catchment and took up a spot in the Southern League Division One Central, where they qualified for the play-offs and would meet Corby Town.

The game got underway with Sutton Coldfield striking almost immediately. Winning a corner shortly after kick-off, the resultant ball in was met in the middle by Mitchell Clarke, whose header back across goal was met by James Hurst who crashed the ball home from a matter of feet out. They went close again shortly afterwards when Jonathan Letford cut inside his man and advanced into the area, only to see his shot rebound off the upright via a slight deflection from a defender.

Match Action

Match Action

Letford finds the net

Dunstable grew into the game after a sluggish start and Davide Pobbe saw his header well saved by Royals’ keeper Lewis Gwilliams, but Sutton Coldfield would seemingly put the game to bed before the break with a second goal just before the half-hour. Reece Gibson robbed the ball in midfield and advanced into the space left behind, prior to playing in Letford who clinically fired home. Ryan Nesbitt then went close too, forcing Dunstable stopper Coulson into a decent stop before Alex Moore & Hurst again both almost sealed the victory just before half-time as both saw an effort kept out on the line by a fine defensive block and a superb save respectively. Half-Time, 2-0.

An uneventful break came and went and we were soon back and playing once again after a school-style bell alerted the teams that their break time was up. Dunstable, perhaps unsurprisingly table-wise, never really looked like a threat to their play-off chasing hosts in the second half, with that second goal really seeming to have taken the stuffing out of them, and after Nesbitt had rattled the crossbar Gibson sealed the three points and the Royals’ place in the play-offs as he hammered a shot from just outside the area high into the roof of the net.

From on high

Down the side

Match Action

A couple more close shaves followed as the hosts looked to add some gloss to the score-line, with a volley flashing wide but that would largely be that and the Royals had done enough to secure a shot at promotion, whilst Dunstable’s game effort came to nought as their relegation was confirmed despite the efforts of striker Chris Wreh (no, I don’t think that one’s still going!). However, at least it wasn’t one of those close-call, heartbreak moments, I suppose – although I guess that won’t be of much solace.

My post-match plans were immediately scuppered as I overheard a conversation in the covered terrace about trains being cancelled and thought I’d best look and there it was – everything was done for due to a fallen tree. It hadn’t been THAT gusty, come on. Grow a pair (of roots)! Poor tree-related (I hesitate to call it a) pun aside, I now had I dilemma in how I was about to find my way back to Birmingham, never mind compile a full trip home. I opted to pop into the station neighbouring, and imaginatively named, The Station for a pint of Amstel to hopefully come up with some kind of plan that would lessen the impact of some rather large wood.

Post-match avian sighting

The Station. Looks like God approves.

As it came about, I eventually saw that tickets were being accepted on the buses back which meant only a twenty minute or so extension to my trip, though a connection was going to be tight to save an hour. All this meant I sadly had to give the other pub there a miss, though it had become a Craft Union chain pub so wasn’t too disheartened due to that. Grabbing one of the X-whatever buses, I was whisked off back to the second city, which I haven’t been so happy to see since the start of the year and my pair of cross-country trips down to Plymouth and Exeter. Knowing little of the make-up of Birmingham, I eventually found my way back to New Street and made the train back with moments to spare. Disaster averted and the rest of the journey went smoothly, thankfully!

So another trip rounded off as we approach the season’s end. As for Sutton Coldfield, I really did enjoy my experience of the town (despite the efforts of Storm Hannah) and its pubs were decent offerings too. Ground-wise, Coles Lane is a nice, smart set-up and its main stand is certainly appealing to those who appreciate something a little different, though the rest is fairly standard. The artificial pitch wasn’t too noticeable to take away from the overall ambience either, which was a bit of a worry, though makes my thoughts on eventual trip to Bath more optimistic! Food, programme etc. all fine too. On to next week and yet another double and another double the one after. Pile ’em on….

 

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Banbury

Result: Banbury United 4-1 Kettering Town (Southern League Premier Division Central)

Venue: Spencer Stadium (Saturday 15th December 2018, 3pm)

Att: 371

A rare dip into the Southern League and to a place I’ve wanted to visit for quite a while. With it being an easy, direct journey as well, there was little excuse not do pay the Puritans of Banbury a visit as they welcomed high-flyers Kettering Town to the Spencer Stadium. All I had to do then was hope that the weather was ready to play ball. However, this is Britain and that was never going to happen now was it?! Upon grabbing the 9.30-ish train out of Manchester, the drizzle started just outside of Leamington and never ceased pretty much throughout the day, only getting worse to a point of near freezing come the end of the match. But there’s a fair bit to report in the midst of the day before that, so let’s get on with it.

Arriving at just before midday, I quickly set about somehow getting lost when trying to make my way to the north of the town and the pair of pubs there, so retraced my steps back to the centre’s J.T. Davies pub instead, where I discovered I was just across a carpark from my intended target. Not too bad in the end and I ended up watching the start of the Manchester City-Everton game in here whilst having a pint of the Shipyard Pale Ale, prior to heading over to the pair of pubs I should have started off in – the neighbouring Three Pigeons and Bailiffs Tap. The first of the two I visited would be the latter, a somewhat strange little set-up, whilst being rather brilliant in its own way. The bar area was pretty much non-existent, with just the beers and the like populating the front room, along with a few chairs and tables. More were set down the back along a small, long room and I decided to sit in there along with an IPA. The couple (I assume) who run the Tap were very friendly as well and its definitely worth a trip, if only for the fine pint, which came in at a fair £3.60.

Banbury

JT Davies

Bailiffs Tap & Three Pigeons

Next up was the Three Pigeons, an old, low-ceilinged pub with steps leading down a little from street level to the bar. This was a fair bit more costly, a Peroni costing a cool £5.50, but the place had a fair option on and I just fancied one as I had my peruse of the offerings. The Three Pigeons is a quaint, dimly-lit place with a fair bit of character about it, and I certainly enjoyed my lounge in one of the armchairs there before it was time to brave the increasingly cold wind and walk slightly uphill back towards the famed Banbury Cross. However, before I got there, one or two stops were on offer, the first being the Dog & Gun, which looked far more interesting outside than within where it had sadly been, in my opinion, overly modernised into the sports bar-like place it has become. Still, it was pretty cheap and allowed me to watch some more of the game along with a Dark Fruits though I did swiftly finish up and continue onwards to the Cross and its neighbouring drinking holes the Horse & Jockey and The Swan.

Banbury is a historic market town on the banks of the River Cherwell in Oxfordshire. The name derives from ‘Banna’, a Saxton chieftain said to have built a stockade there, or possibly ‘Ban(n)a’, a byname for a felon or murderer and ‘burgh’ meaning settlement and is informally called “Banburyshire”, a term used by market towns in the 19th century to describe themselves. The Saxon spelling was Banesbyrig and appears in the Domesday Book as Banesberie and had also been known as Banesebury around these times. The area dates from at least the Iron Age of which remnants of where found dating to 200 BC and a Roman villa was later found in nearby Wykham Park. The area was settled by the Saxons in the 6th century and in around 556, Banbury was the site of a battle between the Anglo-Saxons of Cynric & Ceawlin and the local Romano-British. The Saxons would go on to develop under the influence of the Danes and built two towns – Banbury on the West bank of the river and Grimsbury on the other which later became part of Northamptonshire prior to being absorbed into Banbury in 1889. Neithrop is one of the older areas of the town, recorded as a hamlet from the 13th century before also being incorporated into Banbury the same year as Grimsbury.

Inside the Three Pigeons

Banbury Cross

The town stands on a junction of the ancient roads known as the Salt Way (now a bridle path) and Banbury Lane which is closely followed by the modern road and continued on through Banbury High Street towards the Fosse Way. The town grew up around these links with wool the main money-maker in medieval times, with a castle being added by 1135 by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln and Banbury Castle survived through to the Civil War when it was besieged. During the Civil War the town was, at one stage, a Royalist town on account of its proximity to the King’s capital, Oxford, but the inhabitants were strongly Puritan and so welcomed the Roundhead forces. The castle was demolished after the war, during which the town was a base for Oliver Cromwell and is reputed to have planned out his battleplan for Edge Hill in a back room of the Reindeer Inn. The later opening of the Oxford Canal in 1778 gave Banbury access to coal and included a boatyard upon the extension through to the city’s opening. The town used to be home to a cattle market in Merton Street, Grimsbury – a street which had its own rail station until the ’60’s – though this was closed in 1998 and is now built upon.

Sadly, the first of these was surprisingly shut as I attempted the door in vain and so across the way to the Swan it was. The Swan was fine if unspectacular and I settled on a pint of normal Strongbow on this occasion (£3.30) prior to setting my bearings for the Spencer Stadium, although upon exiting the Swan I would come immediately across Banbury’s Wetherspoon’s offering – the Exchange. As such, I decided to pay it a visit and a quick Hooch then rather than post-match, thus giving me a little more time to finish up in the older few in the town centre, which I considered a far better option. Indeed, the Spoons was solid if (again) unspectacular and so I traipsed off up the road and down past a Morrison’s before eventually passing along the railway and to the ground itself. Programmes were still fairly abundant upon my arrival with around five minutes to kick-off, though one had been kept back just in case, which was kind of the club, so thanks to them (I didn’t receive the notification until far later on so was unaware of this at the time).

Dog & Gun

Swan

‘Spoons

The Spencer Stadium is an interesting ground and is full of character. The Main Stand sits right in front of the turnstiles as you enter and straddles the half-way line and is flanked by offices on the turnstile side and the clubhouse/food bar and tunnel on the other. Behind the far end goal is a small, atcost-style seated stand, with open, hard standing at that end otherwise, the far side being the same, but becomes slightly more terraced as it runs towards the covered standing “Town End” to the right of the turnstile, where there is also a tea hut. That’s the ground in a nutshell and this is the story of Banbury United….

History Lesson:

Banbury United Football Club was founded in 1931 as Spencer Sports Club, the works team of Spencer Corsets factory. They initially played friendly matches before joining the Banbury Division of the Oxfordshire Junior League in 1933 and renaming as Spencer Villa and later that year, Banbury Spencer. They went on to win the league in their first year there and so joined the Oxfordshire Senior League for the following year where the club again won the league at the first attempt and were then elected to the Birmingham Combination for 1935-’36, whilst also entering a side in the Central Amateur League.

After the Second World War, 1947-’48 saw the club turn professional and finish runners-up in the Birmingham Combination and also reach the FA Cup First Round for the first time where they lost out to Colchester United. In 1954, the Combination folded and so Banbury Spencer moved into the Birmingham & District League and were allotted a place in the Birmingham & District League, finished 4th in 1954-’55 and were promoted to the Premier Division. The league would latterly be reduced to a one division competition in 1960 before becoming the West Midlands Regional League two years later for the season after Banbury’s second FA Cup 1st Round appearance, where they were again knocked out by stronger opposition, this time in the form of Shrewsbury Town.

Arriving at Banbury United

BUFC

1965 saw the club re-named Banbury United after a change in ownership before they undertook another move, this time into the Southern League Division One for the 1966-’67 campaign. When this division was regionalised in 1971, Banbury were placed in the ‘North’ section and went on to reach the FA Cup First Round in successive years in 1972-’73 & ’73-’74, but again they would bow out at that stage on both occasions, though they did force Northampton Town to a replay in the latter instance. After winning their first Oxfordshire Senior Cup in 1978-’79, the following season’s league re-organisation meant the club were again moved, this time into the Southern League’s new Midland Division and remained here until relegation to the Hellenic League Premier Division in 1990, their only real success in that time being a second Oxfordshire Senior Cup in 1988. They would go on to spend ten seasons in the Hellenic Prem before winning the Premier Division title in 2000 and promotion to the Southern League once more, but again would be in a “new” division – the Division One East.

Finishing 8th in 2003-’04, the club were promoted to the Premier Division on account of many clubs above being placed into the newly formed Conference North & South divisions and this season also saw silverware in the form of the club’s third Oxfordshire Senior Cup title, adding a further two of these to their trophy cabinet in 2006 & ’07 respectively. However it would take eight years for them to repeat the feat, lifting their sixth Senior Cup in 2015, but this time the season saw relegation to the Division One South and West (yet another new ‘un) in juxtaposition to their prior cup win. Banbury became community-owned ahead of the following season and this change in ownership saw United finish runners-up and qualify for the Division One South & West play-offs, whereupon they defeated Winchester City in the semi-finals before going on to defeat Taunton Town in the final to achieve an immediate return to the Southern League Premier. Upon yet more restructuring, the Puritans saw themselves in another Southern League divisional variation, this time the Southern League Premier Central Division for the 2017-’18 season, where they finished up in 9th place. In addition, the club have also won the Buckinghamshire Charity Cup on five occasions (2001-’02, 2011-’12, ’12-’13, ’13-’14 & ’15-’16).

The game got underway with the rain and wind becoming ever more prevalent and it certainly wasn’t the type of weather that you envy the players having to play in, that was for sure! Despite having some understandable early struggles with the conditions, the two teams put on a good display as they continued getting to grips with what they were facing. Kettering were unbeaten away from home in the league this year and this record has led them to be title contenders at this stage and the Poppies started strongly here with the vast majority of the play, though failed to truly create real chances.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Indeed it was Banbury who created the first sights of goal, with both Greg Kaziboni and Steve Diggin seeing efforts miss the target before the visitors then had a strong penalty shout waved away by the referee but it would be the hosts who would grab the opener with around ten minutes to play in the first half, when Charlie Wise met a corner from the right flank and powered his header beyond the helpless Paul White in the Kettering goal and allow most to get some feeling back in their feet. Kettering would have a late chance when re-debutant Adam Cunnington saw an effort well saved at close-range by White’s opposite number Manny Agboola as the half came to an end and I headed into the clubhouse for a warm and ended up meeting back up with the Kettering supporting Ellis clan once again. As such, I decided to afford myself a bit of warmth in numbers for most of the second-half and piled into the small stand along with them.

It appeared to have been a shrewd move in terms of the action being at close-quarters when Kettering won a penalty soon after the restart when the fiery George Nash brought down Marcus Kelly in the area and the spot-kick was duly awarded. Dan Holman stepped up and sent Agboola the wrong way to level up the scores and it looked set for the second-placed side to go on and dominate the game from there. How wrong that outlook proved to be when, just five minutes later there was a first (I think anyway) for me at a game as Ravi Shamsi’s in-swinging corner somehow evaded White’s grasp and flew into the far side of the goal unaided. A direct goal from a corner and I was delighted at that; those around me meanwhile…..er, not so much!

Holman equalises from the spot

Match Action

Match Action

Shamsi seemed to single-handedly decide to grab the game by the proverbial scruff of the neck at that point and he almost immediately added his second when firing in a shot from range that clipped the top of the crossbar on its way over before Greg Kaziboni would net the all important fourth goal of the game when he received the ball in the inside-right flank, cut inside and beat his man with nice skill before firing across White’s frame and into the far corner. Despite White pulling off a fine double-save soon afterwards to keep his side somewhat in the contest,  it would get even worse for the Poppies as Banbury’s probable best performance of the season so far was rounded off when the impressive Shamsi slammed home into an unguarded net from around the penalty spot after an unselfish pull-back. Shamsi also had a late chance to claim a hat-trick but could only hit his effort straight at White as the game came to a close to round off a fine win for the hosts, whilst the away fans down the far end from me at this point, were left to bemoan what they perceived to be a pointless team switch-up.

As for me, a quick exit was bid through the freezing rain conditions and I eventually found my way back to the town centre via getting lost at the Morrison’s en route, though Maps soon came to my rescue and directed me to the respite of The Wheatsheaf, an old and fairly unassuming pub that was unfortunately completely empty on my arrival, though did fill a little by the time I would leave. After a quiet pint of Aspall’s at the pincely £4.70, I again got put slightly off-track in my pursuit to find the neighbouring hostelries of the Old Auctioneer and Ye Olde Reindeer (the extra “e” isn’t needed in ‘olde’, of course) prior to discovering a small alleyway was the way to go. Back in the warmth of the bar area, the Old Auctioneer’s Heineken set me back the same as my previous stop, before the Reindeer would be a little, and I mean a little, easier on the pocket with a pint of Stowford Press costing £4.50.

Wheatsheaf

Old Auctioneer

In the Reindeer to finish (excuse the rain blur!)

Finishing up my final drink in Banbury, the short walk back over to the station was undertook and I grabbed the direct train back to Manchester having agreed with myself that it would be easier to do so than have to change at Birmingham. It definitely did prove good as it allowed me to have a nap and waste away the journey time before awaking at Stockport ahead of a final “one for the road” in the Piccadilly Tap after a long time away. In this case, the “one for the road” is accurate as it would again be a bus back from the Gardens for me as the RMT and Northern continue to do f*ck all bar make life difficult for everyone who relies on them for Saturday trips. Surely enough is enough on one of their accounts and, at this point now after so long, I don’t really care which. Anyway, I’m not getting into that mess.

So what of the trip as a whole? Well, Banbury was what I expected really, a mix of old and new with some historical pubs to enjoy within the pretty town centre, the church being the jewel of that. The ground was brilliant too and is right up there with my favourites and the food (hot dog and chips at £3 I think, I can’t really remember) and programme were both good efforts, though the chips were at a bit of a premium. Otherwise, all went smoothly in terms of transport and the drink prices were to be expected on the whole. Next up comes the festive season and the lack of transport (though not as impactful as recent years obviously as they don’t turn up anyway) sees me restricted to local matches. Not that this is a bad thing, though, as a Wythenshawe double sees me visit Town, Amateurs on Boxing Day for the first Wythy semi-pro derby clash then hopefully to FC St. Helen’s on the following Saturday. Have a good one all and I hope, like me, you wont be dr*hic*ing too much….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 9

Food: 6

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7