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