Result: Stafford Town 1-2 Redgate Clayton (Staffordshire County Senior League Premier Division)
Venue: Evans Park (Saturday 29th December 2018, 2pm)
Att: (no idea) 60 ish?
As my original planned game at St. Helens fell by the wayside due to travel issues, I was left with a free weekend for the first time in as long as I remember. With that being the case, I reckoned it best to head into Manchester and see what was on the go, but first I had to have some sort of an idea of where to go and when I had to get there. My perusing of the fixture lists of numerous leagues saw me eventually come across Stafford Town and Brocton, both of which were located in Stafford and so I would even have an option upon my arrival in the county town. It looked as though my likeliest destination had been sorted. But to which ground would I be headed?
I arrived into Manchester with still no plan set in stone, but a quick look at the screens showed the train down to Stafford was leaving in just ten minutes and it looked like it was meant to be. After buying my ticket and grabbing one of a number of, for once, available seats on a Crosscountry train, I was soon rocking and rolling down through Cheshire before getting to Stafford at just after 11.30am and having had a tour of the pretty Victoria Park opposite, I set my sights on the more important things as I headed through the strange mix of old and new in the centre (especially the shopping bit):- pubs and stadia.
Stafford is the county town of Staffordshire and derives its name from ‘ford’ by a ‘staithe’ (landing-place) and the original settlement was on a dry sand and gravelly peninsula that provided a strategic crossing of the River Sow and a large area of the marshland that surrounded the area then still remains. It’s thought that Stafford in its current form was founded around the year 700 AD by a Mercian prince by the name of Bertelin who, according to legend, founded a hermitage on the peninsula, seemingly named after himself:- Betheney. It had been thought that an old wooden cross from the same era had been found under the remains of the church which bears his saintly name, but it was later found to have been nothing more than an old coffin, dating from the founding of the “burh” by Ethelflæd, Lady of Mercia, in 913AD and may have been an offering of sorts to St. Bertelin. This “burh” was fortified and industrialised to produce Roman-style pottery known as “Stafford Ware”.
Already a centre for deliveries of grain during the Middle Ages, the town grew under the Lady of Mercia (who herself was a formidable military leader and tactician) and she was making attempts to, along with brother Edward the Elder of Wessex, unify England into a single kingdom under their father King Alfred the Great. She also founded the “burh” at Runcorn and Tamworth amongst others. Stafford became a major military base and began to produce meat, baking coinage and weaponry and the Lady ruled over Mercia in 918 AD until her demise in Tamworth. Around this time, the county of Stafford was formed within the Pirehill hundred and in 1069, Stafford was the site of the Battle bearing the town’s name between Eadric the Wild (rebelling against the Norman conquest) and Edwin, Earl of Mercia, would follow his lead two years later but would be killed leading to William the Conquerer dividing his lands between his nobility. A castle was added in 1090, the ruins that remain today date from the later 19th century iteration, though uses much of the original stone.
Redevelopment in the 12th century saw a motte created overlooking to ford, and trades and crafts flourished in trade until the 14th century (likely due to the Black Death) and upturned in fortunes again during the mid-16th century. In 1206, Stafford received its royal charter from King John which created the borough of Stafford and it became a market town dealing in cloth and wool. King Richard II was paraded through the town as prisoner of the future Henry IV in 1399 and Charles I stayed in the town’s Ancient High House after the outbreak of the English Civil War. The 1st Viscount of Stafford, William Howard, would be executed for involvement in the Popish plot (before being later exonerated and beatified as a Catholic martyr). The railways arrived in the town in 1837 (from Warrington to Birmingham) and later became an important junction, thus attracting many industries and Stafford is home to the Stafford(shire) knot, a distinctive three-looped knot that is the traditional symbol of the county.
I first went off in slightly the wrong direction but did end up coming around to finding the Lamb Inn, a pub dating from the 19th century. Sadly, as I did receive a warm welcome, it was empty upon my arrival (though this was at opening time) and this didn’t change throughout my short stay as I supped at a pint of Stella (£3.70) as the twitterverse decided on my venue. By the time I arrived at my second stop, the Joules outlet by the name of the Rose & Crown, my destination was certain – I was off to Evans Park, home of Stafford Town – and my pint of Pale Ale (£3.35) was all the better for knowing.
A swift one in the pub the other side of the large gallery in the town square, by the name of the Market Vaults saw me begin my switch onto cider with an Old Rosie (£4.05) and from there then I continued to the nearby The Bear pub right in front of the impressive Tudor-era Ancient High House. A quick Dark Fruits (£3.45) in here also saw me kindly be allowed to reserve a programme for my arrival via Stafford’s twitter, which allowed me a stop off at my final pre-match hostelry, the Shrewsbury Arms, where my strange concoctions of real cider tasting began with an Apple & Pear offering, which came in at £3.80. Finishing up, it was off to the ground via getting stuck in an ASDA car park. (NB: I was on foot, don’t worry, I don’t drive….yet!).
A ten minute or so walk later, I arrived at the gates of Evans Park and after navigating the car-park I got to the gate, paid my £3 entry and was pointed in the direction of my programme – the food bar. Handing over my £1 fee for the bible, kick-off had just occurred and the game was going through its early stages. Evans Park is a tidy ground with a new-ish 3G (or something like it, it’s all 3G to me) surface providing a good quality of play. A large stand dominates the otherwise featureless ground, with seating located more-or-less centralised over the “tunnel” and the sides empty, giving it a rather strange look. The remainder of the ground is open, hard standing with the dressing rooms located below the stand, the food bar between it and the turnstiles down in the near corner. That’s the ground and this is the story of Stafford Town….
Stafford Town Football Club was founded in 1976 as Stafford F.C. and joined the Midland Combination Division 2 for the 1977-’78 season, winning the division at the second attempt. They changed their name to Stafford Town in 1981 though left the Combination the next year and joined the ranks of the newly founded Staffordshire County Senior League in 1984. Finishing a best of runners-up in 1992, they would remain until the end of the following campaign (spending two seasons there as Stafford MSHD after a merger with a Sunday League team of the suffix’s name) when the club joined the West Midlands Regional League and won the Division One at their first attempt, earning promotion to the Premier Division.
They would win the Premier Division of the WMRL in the millennium season of 1999-2000 and were promoted to the Midland Football Alliance. However, they would finish bottom in 2004 and were relegated back to the WMRL Division One. The club wouldn’t return until 2010 when they finished as runners-up to secure promotion back to the Midland Alliance – missing out on the title on goal difference alone – and transferred to the Midland Combination Premier Division in 2013 remaining there through the league’s merger with the Midland Alliance the next year and winning the Les James Challenge Cup before being relegated last season after finishing 20th out of 22 and returned to the Staffordshire County Senior League after a 25-year absence.
The game began with Stafford on the front-foot, putting in a number of early shots on the Redgate Clayton goal, the first of which clipped the crossbar and another few were either saved easily or ended up off-target. Stafford’s domination of the first-half was quite surprising given the relative position of the two teams in the table being so close, but it was the hosts who would continue to threaten to grab the opener, with Clayton hardly creating a chance or a real stop out of the Stafford ‘keeper.
As it was, Town continued on but found the Clayton ‘keeper in good form. First, he found himself in a one-on-one situation against Stafford’s #8 but saved well, and then denied Tom Duffy’s effort from inside the area in more routine fashion. However, he would eventually be beaten just a few minutes before the break – and just after I’d finished up my meat and potato pasty – when, after Duffy went close on a further couple of occasions, firing wide and forcing a further stop just a few moments earlier, he would be third-time lucky, finding the top corner from the edge of the area and giving the ‘keeper no chance. Half-Time arrived soon afterwards, the hosts deservedly leading but only by the slenderest of margins.
After a rather uneventful break, I soon got talking to a trio of Town supporters ahead of me whom I believe were named Ted, Emily and a young lad whose name escapes me (though it is definitely possible I may have fabricated the other two as well as I did forget to make a note) and the conversation spanned the vast majority of the second-half before I headed for a whistle-stop second-half lap of the ground with around ten/fifteen minutes or so left. It was good speaking and meeting you, so please accept my name-related ignorance! Meanwhile, back on the pitch, it began to appear as though Stafford (who I’d decided at this point must be miles ahead of Redgate by this performance) would continue their dominant display as a good move ended with #2 hitting just over. How wrong this view would be.
From then on it was pretty much all Redgate. First, one of the midfield headed off target from around eight-yards when he really ought to have at least hit the target but the visitors would be level shortly afterwards when Ben Mathews netted direct from a corner, meaning I’d now seen two in the space of three weeks having (I think) never seen one live in person before. Crazy. Anyway, Stafford responded to the set-back when #10 gambled well but upon being presented with a chance to shoot, hesitated, and ended up giving the Clayton ‘keeper an easier save than he might have had otherwise.
Stafford’s #1 then showed his best by pulling off a pair of quick-fire saves to deny #9 one-on-one, then palming away a drive from long-range, but he would be eventually beaten by Mathews’ second of the game as a free-kick ended as something of a cross-cum-shot and ended up drifting over everyone and into the far corner of the net to give Clayton a lead they would hold onto fairly comfortably until the end, only having to survive a spell of in-box pinball and a late effort from #3 to secure the points. Full-time: 1-2.
After the game, the short walk back around the cricket club and to the town-centre was undertaken and I was soon within the Sun Inn where I had a quick post-match surmise with Ted before finishing up my pint of Stowford (£3.75) and heading to the Floodgate Ale House, where I opted to try out a pint of the Rhubarb cider which was lovely at £3.50. From there, it was a back-track around the corner to the Wetherspoon’s on this side of the town, the rather grand and interesting Picture House, still with the screen and projector in situ behind the bar area. I settled in for a while over a bottle of Balitka, before realising the train back was a little too tight to bother with and instead opted to go for a final one at the Bird In’ Hand, located a couple of minutes away from the station.
This rounded off the day before grabbing the train back at a little after 7pm, and I arrived back in Manchester around a half-hour later, before making my way over to Piccadilly Gardens for the bus back home, though I did discover that tripping over a tram-line isn’t a great thing to do….! Either way, that was the only blot on a day which had proved a pretty fun one. Having made a choice all but on the fly, it was good to truly see Stafford, my prior visit to Rangers a number of years back having been far too short for my liking. The game was decent enough and the ground smart too and it always gives nice memories and opinions when you meet fans as open and friendly as I came across here. Cheers, Stafford, for a good one and I look forward to being back soon. That’s a year with no nil-nil. Could January 1st see a change….? (SPOILERS AOTS!).
Value For Money: 7