Result: Sutton Coldfield Town 3-0 Dunstable Town (Southern League Division One Central)
Venue: Coles Lane (Saturday 27th April 2019, 3pm)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
Value For Money: 7