Manchopper in….Pontefract

Result: Pontefract Collieries 4-2 Belper Town (Northern Premier League Division 1 East)

Venue: Beechnut Lane (Saturday 12th January 2019, 3pm)

Att: 232

Another weekend with no plans set out came about and I arrived into Manchester still looking at where my fate may lie. Heading into Piccadilly station at around 11am, I popped up to the Hourglass bar for a pint of Shindigger Pale – which gave me a shock at £5.85 – before the twitterverse’s decision was given. Well, sort of. Despite putting it to a vote, the poll would come back level-pegging but a bit of positive feedback from fellow ‘hopper the Wycombe Wanderer, Russ, saw me off to the old Yorkshire mining town of Pontefract and Collieries’ NPL East game with Belper Town. Both the ground and town looked pretty interesting, so I was rather looking forward to my visit as I caught the Hull-bound train to Leeds where I’d catch the connection over to Ponte.

Actually managing to find a Northern service running on a Saturday (shock, horror, I know) the short half-hour hop to Pontefract was completed with little issue and I was soon paying a brief visit to the town’s castle, though it was under a fair bit of reconstruction work meaning it didn’t look quite as classic as it usually would, I supposed. Anyway, with the castle not at its full glory, I continued back down towards the town centre and first came across the appropriately named Golden Ball. However, upon entering, it appeared that the golden ball in question was more egg-shaped than round. A Strongbow in here sufficed for a quick one before I continued up the high-street and through the pedestrianised centre, bypassing a few hostelries I made a note of whilst heading right to the other side of the town and to Russ’ recommendation – the Robin Hood.

What’s left of the infamous Pontefract Castle

Golden Ball

Pontefract

It certainly was a good pointer too as it was probably the most craft/real ale centric pub I visited during the day, opting for a pint of London Fields Brewery’s Pale Ale (£4.45) whilst watching some of the early kick-off before returning back towards the centre and, more importantly, the ground. Incidentally and more than helpfully, the next few pubs were right up next to each other, though I had the time to visit just the two pre-match at that point, and even then it would have to be a quick in and out task, though time was aided by the fact two were actually next door. Nice. First up came the Ponty Tavern where I opted for a pint of Dark Fruits before popping next door to the Green Dragon for a Desperados prior to cutting through the nearby car-park and over the road towards the lights illuminating the surrounding, overcast area.

Pontefract is a historic market town in the West Riding of Yorkshire and is one of five towns within the metropolitan borough of Wakefield. The area has been inhabited since Neolithic times and the modern town is located upon an old Roman road from Doncaster known as the “Roman Ridge”, likely used as an alternative route to the main road over the Humber to York in times of bad weather. Around the time of the finely named Viking king Eric Bloodaxe in 954 AD through to the arrival of the Normans, Pontefract was made up of two townships known as Tanshelf and Kirkby. Known as Tateshalle (or something alike) within the Domesday Book, Tanshelf is first mentioned in 947 AD when King Eadred of England met with the ruling council of Northumbria to accept its submission to him. This wouldn’t last long, and the aforementioned Danish king Bloodaxe would soon become King of York. Kirkby, meanwhile derives from the latter’s language being given the tell-tale suffix “-by”.

Pontefract market place

After the Norman Conquest, the area fell under the control of William the Conqueror and Tateshale (another name Tanshelf was called) was given to an ally by the name of Ilbert de Lacy who constructed a castle there. The wooden motte and bailey castle dated from 1086 before being rebuilt in stone, the family remaining in situ until 1348 and the death of Alice de Lacy. It is also infamous in English history as the site of King Richard II’s murder (or starvation), though the exact reason for his demise is unknown. Pontefract is also the apparent site of the legendary Robin Hood’s death, it being stated he died in Kirkby. The town was also mentioned in both of Shakespeare’s plays – ‘Richard II’ & ‘Richard III’ under the name ‘Pomfret’ as it was known in Tudor times.

During the English Civil War, the castle was put under siege by the Parliamentarian forces of Oliver Cromwell who called it “….one of the strongest inland garrisons in the kingdom”. An eventual three sieges were suffered by the Royalist-supporting town, leaving it impoverished and depopulated, with the remaining residents calling for it to be knocked down, in fear of a fourth. The remaining ruins show what the outcome of that, as the castle was deconstructed from 1649. The All Saints church was also damaged during the conflict, with a new one built within the ruins of the old, whilst the priory had already fell during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539.

Looking across from the castle

Nowadays, the town continues to host a market as it has done since the middle ages, and is known in jest by locals as “Ponte Carlo” (I’d like to see that track). The former General Infirmary is also infamous as it was the place Harold Shipman began his murder spree, whilst beneath this building is an old hermitage. Its barracks currently house a recruitment regiment of the Rifles, whilst the town hosts three railway stations (Tanshelf, Baghill and Monkhill), which would have been handy when the town (allegedly) held the record for most pubs per square mile in the country.

Passing underneath the neighbouring railway line via a small tunnel, you head round past a couple of warehouses and down a dirt track before arriving at the turnstiles. Handing over my £8 entry, I initially thought the programmes were sold out, before being helped out by one of the guys on raffle duties who pointed me back in the direction of the gate. £2 lighter, I made my way into the main stand ahead of kick-off, which was just moments away at this time, the seats within are some of those that previously resided in Maine Road back-in-t’day.

Robin Hood

Final stops: Ponte Tavern & Green Dragon

Arriving at Beechnut Lane

Elsewhere, Beechnut Lane is a great little ground. Its quirky, ramshackle nature is highly appealing to those who like places with character to them, the Main Stand retaining the style that seems fairly commonplace in and around the Ridings and has a mix of seats and a small area of benched seating towards the middle. Behind the near-end goal is a covered terrace that runs most of the width of the pitch, whilst both the far side and end are open, hard standing, though the far side does host a small grass mound with a stream right behind and the railway embankment above it, featuring a number of passing choo-choos for those into grounds featuring the two! The hospitality area is between the terrace and entrance, tucked back from the pitch and is adjoined to the food bar. The dressing rooms and bar, meanwhile, are located within the stand. That’s the ground in a nutshell (get it….ok) and this is the story of Ponte Colls….

History Lesson:

Pontefract Collieries Football Club was founded in 1958, though the town is known to have been home to a football club since at least the 1890’s, when a side comprised mostly of soldiers from the garrison stationed in Pontefract played in the West Yorkshire League as the imaginatively named Pontefract Garrison. Unfortunately, there is a dark period with regards to information from this point through to the current club, though it is known the Garrison side reached the higher Yorkshire League by the end of the 1920’s but would not being able to finish the 1929-’30 season. However, 1935 would see the Pontefract name return to football as Tanshelf Gems became Pontefract United after moving to a ground on Ackwith Grove. They would dominate the local scene pre-WWII, but were joined post-war by a side under the name of Pontefract Collieries. This Colls side would go on to have slightly the better of the fortunes on the pitch, with both being competitors in the West Yorkshire League. However, 1960 would see the Colls team fold with the name being rekindled not too long after as United merged with a local youth team and adopted the name for themselves.

The new club quickly asserted itself, returning to the West Yorkshire League and gaining a fair amount of success before again joining the Yorkshire League in 1979 and winning its Division 3 in 1982. This would prove to be the last season of the old Yorkshire League in this guise as it would then merge with the Midland League to form the Northern Counties East League. Colls became a founder member and would remain in the league for the next 36 years. They started life there well, two successive promotions in both the first two seasons saw the club finish as Division 2 runners-up and Division 1 champions whilst making the top-flight and remaining there for the next decade whilst continuing to improve their Beechnut Lane home.

In the clubhouse

The club would add cup success to their honours list, winning two NCEL Floodlit Cups whilst also making losing appearances in two West Riding County Cup finals and in the 1994 NCEL President’s Cup. However a change of manager saw a turn for the worse with the club relegated in 1995, yet this would only be brief, with a further change in the hot seat seeing Colls return to form and a runners-up finish saw them make an immediate return to the NCEL Premier, whilst also lifting the “Wilkinson Sword” Trophy to secure a 1995-’96 double. Unfortunately they would miss out in the NCEL League Cup final the next season before again suffering the drop to Division 1 in 1999, just missing out on survival on goal difference alone.

Things would stagnate for a while before again taking a turn for the worse after the millennium. Losing out in their second Wilkinson Sword Trophy final appearance in 2000 to Goole on aggregate, they would go on to finish bottom of the NCEL Division 1 two years later. Things would recover though and Colls would again make the Wilkinson Sword Trophy final in 2003, finishing as runners-up and made a good recovery in the league in finishing 4th. However, the recovery was brief and Colls would be forced to seek re-election in 2004 whilst also being affected off the field by fires in the main stand and tea bar, whilst the loss of the nearby Prince of Wales Colliery also hit the club hard as they also lost electricity supply to their home. On the pitch, meanwhile, things looked bleak as the club were saved from dropping out of the “pyramid” system on more than one occasion thanks to league restructuring and happenings higher up the divisions. Things reached their trough in 2007-’08 as, despite winning their first game, Colls would go the rest of the season without a victory, finishing up with just nine points. Again, restructuring would come to their rescue, saving their place in the NCEL.

Teams & teas

Under Simon Houghton, things drastically improved over the following two campaigns as early runs at the top of table were enjoyed before eventually falling away. Houghton would depart and former Leeds United skipper Brendon Ormsby was installed as his replacement, though things didn’t go to plan and he would be replaced by joint player-managers Nick Handley and Duncan Bray, who suffered just the one defeat in the last ten games in securing a third straight 5th place finish in 2013. A ninth-place finish in 2014 preceded a successful year as they finished as Division 1 runners-up to return to the NCEL Premier Division for the first time in 16 years.

The club’s return to the NCEL’s top-tier wouldn’t be a successful one and a bad run saw a new management team of Craig Parry, alongside assistants Craig Rouse and Nigel Danby brought in, but they couldn’t save the club from an immediate return to Division 1, finishing up third-bottom. But, they would again bounce back at the first attempt – again finishing as Division 1 runners-up to return to the Premier Division. This time, the club went on to go straight on through the division, taking the title after reeling in AFC Mansfield’s 21-point lead in making up their games in hand on the Bulls, after bowing out in the last 32 of the FA Vase to ensure full focus was on their league campaign. Ponte passed 100 points in taking the Premier Division title and, as such, are playing Northern Premier League football for the first time in the club’s history this season.

The game got underway and the first real chance of the game produced the first goal. Within the first ten minutes, the strong starting Belper outfit were awarded a pretty clear-cut penalty for a push, with skipper Craig Nelthorpe taking responsibility from the spot and making no mistake with a confident finish. I would leave the relative comfort of the stand at this point, proclaiming to the Belper tracksuit-clad guy next to me that I “was off”, making him think I was there for just the solitary goal and that was enough!

Belper open the scoring

Match Action

Belper continued to be on the front foot and were well and truly dominating the early phases of the contest and would see further chances for Danny Gordon and Nathan Curtis go off-target as the Nailers looked to push home their apparent advantage. By the time I’d completed my lap and gotten back around to the food bar – ordering some cheesy chips as the half drew to its conclusion – the game had settled down a little and become more competitive, though there wasn’t a whole lot in the way of action as a result bar a scramble in the Belper box that saw Leigh Overton keep out the initial free-kick, the loose ball eventually being cleared by the visiting defence.

Match Action

From the terrace

But then, on the stroke of the break, Belper would double their advantage as Pitou Crouz sprung clear and advanced upon the Pontefract goal, where he fired across the home ‘keeper and into the far corner to secure a two-goal advantage heading into the dressing rooms, although I had missed most of the action for this strike whilst queuing, my view obscured by the stand. Ah well, what can you do? It was little more than Belper’s first-half showing had deserved and I returned back to the clubhouse for a bit of a warm.

The second-half was soon underway and if you wanted a proverbial “game of two halves”, then this was the one for you. It couldn’t have been any different from the first from both sides’ perspectives as, after a fairly inconspicuous start, Ponte would come on strong. Overton would deny a header early on in the half in something of a precursor of what was to come, before the hosts did pull one back on the hour, a cross eventually finding its way to the feet of Chris Jackson, who knocked home from close-range.

Match Action

Ponte about to go ahead

With renewed vigour and belief, Ponte came at Belper straight from the resultant kick-off and found themselves level just seconds later when Michael Dunn was found on the left flank and he cut inside prior to firing above Overton and into the roof of the net, sparking some scenes. The blue-touch paper had now been lit and Belper almost hit-back themselves, Louis Danquah striking the upright soon afterwards, but this would only prove to be a false dawn for Belper’s hopes of recovering their position and the hosts’ comeback was completed with around twenty-five minutes to play, when a corner from the right was met by the head of Spencer Clarke – the ball nestling into the net to spark jubilation in the Colls ranks.

From the Main Stand

Hey completes the win.

As the clock began to wind down to the game’s end, the Nailers began to throw caution to the wind somewhat and commit more bodies to their attacks it seemed. Nathan Curtis again went close, as did right-back Isaac Assenso, but it was to be in vain and things would end on even more of a sour note for the visitors from Derbyshire, as Curtis was given his marching orders for a second yellow for a rash challenge and Pontefract would add a fourth late in stoppage time as Eli Hey was felled in the area and, in some ways summing the game up, he would convert Colls’ own pen to complete the scoring. Full-time, 4-2 and a quick exit was made through the ever more cold evening air.

Post-match it was back from whence I came, with me giving a lad on a bike a cheap laugh by splashing through an unseen puddle in the increasing darkness. Unscathed by mud somehow upon inspection, I carried on undeterred and to the Windmill Inn back in the town centre. A bonus of this place was that it was that it was a Sam Smith’s pub and, if you follow my blogs regularly, you know what that means. Cheap pint alert!!!! A Taddy Lager (£2.30) was most welcome as I warmed up in the cosy, traditional bar area prior to continuing to head more towards the station for the last train back to Leeds…..at half five. Jesus Christ.

Windmill

Liquorice Bush

Next on the tick-list was a choice of two – either the Beastfair (from the square it stands on) or the interestingly named Liquorice Bush (later I found it’s due to the fact the town is one of a rare few in Britain that can grow liquorice in its soil) – deciding the Malt Shovels was a little too far to bother with. I chose the latter on account it was open when I passed earlier in the day and with time conspiring against me ever quicker it seemed, I chose to stick on the weaker stuff. A Dark Fruits in here (£3) was followed by another in the Horse Vaults (£3) just past the Town Hall before a quick stop in Pontefract’s Wetherspoon’s, the Broken Bridge – coming from the town’s derived name – where a bottle of Hooch sufficed for the five minutes I had before returning to the station for the train, nodding off somewhere along the way back and being awoken at Leeds. Cheers to the guy who saved me a possible trip to a depot!

Horse Vaults

‘Spoons to round off with

The remainder of the journey back to Manchester and onwards home was completed without issue to end off the day which, again, had been good fun despite having been up in the air approaching midday. Pontefract as a town far exceeded my expectations on arrival, whilst the ground was one of those that appeals to me for sure, in many an aspect. The game was brilliant too, the food decent and the programme a good read. Complaints? Nada. Just the fact I was hamstrung for time could be a small gripe, but that’s not really anything I’m too concerned about. Anyway, onto another week and its off to Staffordshire once again to get one of the more tricky North West Counties grounds out the way. ‘Shall we….?!

RATINGS:

Game: 10

Ground: 8

Food: 7

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Droylsden

DroylsdenthCAMJDCAE

Result: Droylsden 3-2 Salford City (Evo-Stik NPL Division 1 North)

Venue: The Butcher’s Arms (Thursday 1st January 2015, 3.00pm)

Att: 208

New Year’s Day and, to be honest, last thing the night before I still had no real idea of where I was to be heading for my first venture in 2015. Wherever it was, it promised to be a rather wet one as the rain steadily fell throughout a dreary morning in Manchester. I decided at just before 11am that my destination would be the wonderfully named The Butcher’s Arms, home of Droylsden FC, “The Bloods”.

So, after checking for confirmation via twitter that the game was pretty much certain to go ahead, I was on the rattler into the City Centre. From here, I was to get a bus from Manchester Piccadilly Station towards Ashton-under-Lyne. Eventually, one turned up which enabled me to avoid any traffic heading to the Etihad on the afternoon.

It worked a treat as I rolled into Droylsden at just about 25 to 3. After quickly cutting up Ashton Hill Road, I was soon on Market Street and with the floodlights blazing through the rain right in front of me I arrived at the turnstiles at around about 10 minutes to kick-off. However, my day was to take a hit when I was struck with the setback of no programmes being left! Shocker! I like to collect one, especially for blog games so I wasn’t best pleased. But it’s happened before and will happen again and we all know why it happens so I won’t be too harsh.

After being relieved of my £8 entrance fee at the turnstiles, I took a place in the Main Stand for the first time in any of my previous three visits to the ground. This was, for the most part to escape both the, now heavy, driving rain and swirling wind surrounding the Tameside ground. The Main Stand is one of three in the ground, with the dressing rooms, hospitality, press box and seats all housed here. Opposite is an old covered standing area which looks a bit rickety and behind the near end goal is a new, smart looking covered terrace, with the clubhouse & food bar situated in between it and the Main Stand. The opposite, far end is open hard standing, and goes back a fair distance.

Heading to the Butchers

Heading to the Butcher’s

The old stand.

The old stand.

Before long though, the two sides made their way out onto the field for the customary obligatory handshake before the game got underway in earnest. Before that, however, we will delve into the annuls of history of Droylsden.

History Lesson:

Originally formed at the invitation of the landlord of the Butcher’s Arms Public House (no longer standing) in 1892, the club played in friendlies and local league football amidst a number of disbandment, reformations, the club began life after WWI in the Manchester League. It was at this time the club adopted their current colours and their nickname. They twice entertained Hyde United in 1921, attracting over 15,000 attendees. Their first silverware was the 1923 Manchester Junior Cup.

After winning two Manchester League titles in 1931 & ’33, the club joined the Lancashire Combination in 1936. They became a “nursery club” for Manchester City which allowed surplus City players to turn out for the club, but disqualified the Bloods from the FA Cup. With the beginning of WWI, the club joined the Cheshire League. The club were soon struggling though, and four years after finishing as Cheshire League runners-up were not re-elected and saw their ground lease sold on to Belle Vue FC who became Droylsden United.

The Bloods, therefore, moved to a nearby ground known locally as Pork Park. With the town being considered too small to support two clubs on unfriendly terms, a merger was negotiated, with Droylsden returning to the Butcher’s Arms in 1952.  The pitch had been turned round 180 degrees too and the ground newly renovated. They went on to compete in the Lancashire Combination for a further two decades, but returned to a depleted Cheshire League after the creation of the Northern Premier League.

League form never got going for the Bloods during their time in the Cheshire League, but they did win three Manchester Senior Cups in 1973, ’76 & ’79 and reached the FA Cup First Round twice (’76 & ’79) losing to Grimsby Town & defeating Rochdale before being defeated by Altrincham in the Second Round. However, this successful side soon broke apart and so did Droylsden’s fortunes as they finished bottom of the Cheshire League First Division in 1982. They were spared relegation, though, due to the merger of the league with the Lancashire Combination to create the North West Counties League, with Droylsden placed in Division 2 of 3. 2 seasons later, that league was won with the club skipping the Counties 1st Division due to the creation of the NPL’s 1st Division after a successful application.

In 1990, the club were promoted to the NPL Premier Division as runners-up and remained there until 1996 when they were relegated back to the Division 1. During this season, the club also conceded a 148 second hat-trick in the FA Cup at Nantwich Town, the fastest. For 1998-’99, after Dave Pace was installed as dual Chairman-manager, the club rebuilt and lifted the Division 1 title and achieved promotion pairing this with an NPL President’s Cup. They also won the NPL Challenge Cup in 2003. In 2004, the Bloods were invited to join the newly created Conference North. They achieved a play-off final in 2006, but lost out to Stafford Rangers on penalties. In 2007 the club won the Manchester Premier Cup (won 13x by the club), beating Flixton 3-0, and three days later beat Harrogate town and in doing so secured promotion to the Conference National as champions. However, the club lasted just a solitary season in the “Blue Square Premier”, being relegated at the first attempt.

The following season saw the Chesterfield FA Cup escapades with two abandonments before Droylsden shocked their Football League opposition 2-1, Sean Newton scoring both goals. But, it was then discovered Newton was ineligible for the competition & thus, the Bloods thrown out & Chesterfield re-instated. You couldn’t make it up. They did jointly win the Tony Downes Memorial Cup with Chester though, so it wasn’t all bad, I guess.

In 2010-’11, the Bloods again played League opposition, this time Leyton Orient. After leading 2-0 after about an hour at Brisbane Road, they capitulated to an 8-2 defeat. From here, it’s all gone downhill. Relegation from the Conference North at the end of 2012-’13 season saw Droylsden compete in the Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division, where they finished bottom, thus finding themselves in today’s division.

The open end

The open end.

I told you it goes deep.

I told you it goes deep.

Back to today then and the game got underway as the rain continued to make the pitch more treacherous by the minute. A minute was all it took for Salford to find the net through Gareth Seddon, but his sliding effort was ruled out for offside. They weren’t denied for long, though, as Danny Webber classily guided a volley into the bottom right hand corner of Russell Saunders’ goal.

20 minutes in and it was all square once again, though, as Ben Deegan (I knew it was him, not Ciaran Kilheeney) beat Salford custodian Daniel Lloyd-Weston to the ball to nod home. 1-1. Soon after, Salford were denied, what looked to most, a stonewall penalty when Seddon was brought down in the area by the onrushing Saunders. The referee waved away the protests confidently though, much to Seddon’s disbelief.

The Main Stand w/ match action.

The Main Stand w/ match action.

Match action

Match action

Blurred in the rain.

Blurred in the rain.

It was to be costly for Salford as Droylsden took the lead for the first time. A counter attack down the right ended with Kilheeney receiving the ball inside the area before coolly slotting past Lloyd-Weston. 2-1 it looked to remain until the break, but Seddon had other ideas. With the pitch now cutting up terribly in the awful conditions, he this time avoided Saunders’ onrushing frame before neatly finishing from a tight angle. A really good finish, and that signalled “chip muffin time”. The two people in front of me ordered one, so I figured “Why not?”. Turns out it’s a chip barm.

Refreshment bar.

Refreshment bar.

So, after returning to the shelter of the main stand, I quickly ate the barm/muffin and soon enough the second half was underway. The fifth goal arrived almost instantly, Kilheeney grabbing his second and the Bloods’ third, knocking home from inside the six-yard box following a bit of pinball.

The new terrace close up

The new terrace close up

And from further away

And from further away

With a brief respite from the weather, I set off on a lap of the ground for photograph purposes. One thing I’ve noticed is there are some flowers placed in a certain spot, just to the right of the home dugout. I don’t know why but it intrigues me. I’d only made it half way round when it began bucketing down again. The pitch really was sodden by now and was becoming pure mud in places and the game became scrappy and disjointed with players struggling to just keep their feet, never mind do anything meaningful with the ball. Salford were unfortunate to have a second ruled out for offside when Madeley finished smartly late on against his former club. He wheeled away in delight, only for his celebration to be cut short, to the delight of the rather noisy home fans. The visiting contingent also created some backing for their side, thus creating a decent enough atmosphere, as Phil Neville arrived early during the second period.

But that was that, and Droylsden held on for a big three points, which makes Salford’s title chances hang by a thread. Droylsden are right up there in the play-off mix too, and look a strong outfit. The game also ended up being Salford boss Phil Power’s last in charge, as he was dismissed a couple of days later.

I headed for the clubhouse after to shelter for a while until the bus was due. As soon as I had to leave, I did. Not anything to do with the clubhouse, which is lovely and welcoming and very nicely decorated, but more to do with the weather which seemed to be worsening. It may be a new year, but one thing remains the constant in Manchester. The weather!

The Butcher's Arms. Great Ground!

The Butcher’s Arms. Great Ground!

My Droylsden M.o.M.- Adam Morning
My Salford City M.o.M.- Martyn Andrews

RATINGS:

Game: 7- Considering the conditions, it was a great game.
Ground: 7- A smart ground, with new and old intertwined nicely. One of my favourites.
Programme: N/A- (Ran out!)
Food: 6- It wasn’t bad, but it’s a barm.
Fans: 8- Make noise for their team, and it’s good to see fans return still after the struggles last season.
Value For Money: 7- Travel £6, Food £2, Admission £8. All in all, not too bad.

Manchopper in….Stamford

Result: Stamford 2-2 Trafford (Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division)

Venue: The Vic Couzens Stadium (Saturday 16th November 2013-3pm)

Att: 271

Another day, another ground. On this bright, fresh Saturday it was a trip to the Lincolnshire/Rutland border to the historic town of Stamford. As usual when an away trip features Trafford, I boarded the team bus for the 2 and a half hour drive south-east. It was unfortunate that this trip clashed with West Didsbury’s trip to AFC Blackpool, but due to this being the last season Stamford will play at this old ground, it had to be done now, otherwise it would be lost in the annals of history. So, after the aforementioned trip was completed, I set off into Stamford Town Centre. After a quick pit-stop in the St.Mary’s Vault’s pub, which has a separate games room upstairs.

A stop in the Sam Smith’s brewery pub which was being visited by an American couple, showcasing Stamford’s historical attractiveness to tourists, both international and domestic, before on the way to the ground an unscheduled stop at The Golden Fleece was made. Here, I met a trio of Stamford fans, who remarked how similar the two clubs are in size and ambition, and how they would happily take 20th place, as I am sure would be a view shared by their opponents today. The Three Stamfordteers made their way towards their spiritual home past a needle structure in front of the pub. We followed soon after.

Interesting advertising!

Outside the Golden Fleece

The needle

On arrival at the ground after a 5-10 minute walk, including playfully trying to get in as u-16’s, ( based on the ages and appearances we have this was highly unlikely!!), I paid the £10 entrance fee, before I was delivered some shocking news. They had run out of programmes!!! A crowd of around 270 had taken all the programmes. This is a very rare occurrence so high up the pyramid. Happily for myself, I later acquired one from long-term Trafford fan Gaz. Cheers.

Stamford’s Vic Couzen’s Stadium (Kettering Rd) is a small, somewhat crumbling ground which is why the club are moving imminently. It has two small stands, one on either side of the ground. One is all terraced, two rows deep, whilst the other near-sided ‘Main Stand’ is seated, with ‘SAFC’ emblazoned on the front. The two ends behind each goal are open, the left-hand goal is accompanied by a very small terrace behind it. It has a  capacity of 2,000, with 250 of these seated in the main stand.

History Lesson:

Stamford A.F.C. have been in existence since 1896, and are nicknamed ‘The Daniels’. Many of you will already be aware why, but for the benefit of those who aren’t, it is after England’s fattest ever man, Daniel Lambert, who died in the town, and is buried in St.Martin’s churchyard, close to the ground. Back to the club, and after spending their first season in the East Midlands League, and winning their first silverware, a pair of Hinchingbrooke Cup wins in 1906-’07 and ’07-’08, they dropped out of league football for a number of years, until 1909, when they joined the Northamptonshire League, winning the title in 1911-’12. In 1933, the league was renamed the United Counties League. They left this league in 1939, joining the Peterborough & District league for a season. After a break in football due to WWII, they rejoined the UCL in 1946, winning the UCL Knockout Cup in 1951-’52. The same season, the Daniels also lifted the Lincolnshire Senior B Cup, winning the latter cup again two years later. In 1955, the club once again departed the league, this time joining the Central Alliance, before moving on again soon after to the Midland League.

In 1972, the club once again rejoined the UCL, and became champions in 1975-’76, as well as lifting the UCL League Cup and Knockout Cup and reaching the FA Vase Final, losing 1-0 to Billericay Town, the most Irish-sounding non-Irish team ever to have existed, after extra time. The league was won again in 1977-’78, going on to win a hat-trick of titles by taking the next two seasons as well, a Lincs Senior Cup (A) was lifted in 1978-’79, and the club picked up a further two Knockout Cups, in ’79-’80 and ’81-’82, (82-83 saw another Lincs Senior Cup (A) win). As well as winning the cup in the former season, the club lifted FA silverware at the second attempt in 1979-80, defeating Guisborough Town 2-0 in the final, but lost 4 years later to Stansted, this time a 3-2 reverse. A further Knockout Cup success followed in 1985-’86.

GroundHouse

After winning a UCL league title double in ’96-’97 and ’97-’98, along with a Hinchingbrooke Cup win, a further Lincs Senior Cup (A) win and the strangely named Benevolent Cup win in the latter season, Stamford joined the Midland section of the Southern League, which was renamed the Eastern Division, rather than Midland, at the end of their first season. In ’03-’04, the club finished in P7, and achieved promotion thanks to league restructuring, but were relegated after one season. In ’05-’06, they reached the play-offs, going on to defeat Wivenhoe Town 2-1 in the final to bounce straight back up. Their second experience of Premier Division football was a much more successful experience, as Stamford finished 8th, and lifted the Lincolnshire Senior Shield, beating Brigg Town at Lincoln City’s Sincil Bank. The following season, the club was switched to the Northern Premier League Premier Division, but were relegated after losing their manager, Graham Drury, and half the squad to Corby Town in mid-season.

The club narrowly missed out on the play-offs despite a 20-game league undefeated streak, a club record, but did defeat Boston United 4-1 inn the Lincs Senior Shield to soften the blow. In ’09-’10, Stamford reached the NPL President’s Cup final, but lost out to Belper Town, 3-1, at Quorn, where, incidentally, Trafford had won the same competition with a 2-0 victory over Quorn the previous season. 2010-’11 saw a disappointing league performance, but another Lincs Senior Shield was lifted, with Stamford again defeating Boston United, this time via a penalty shoot-out. 2011-’12 saw an improvement in the league, with the club just missing out on the play-offs with a 7th place finish, before Graham Drury’s return in May 2012, replacing Tommy Bookbanks.

The club created a small piece of interesting history, by becoming the first sports club in the world to promote their twitter ‘handle’ on their shirt. During this season, it was announced by new chairman Chris Rivett that the club will move to a new stadium on the town’s Ryhall Road. Drury left mid-season for Boston United,  with ex-pro player Wayne Hatswell given his first managerial job. This gamble paid off handsomely as Hatswell guided the club to 4th, and the lay-offs, culminating in a 2-1 win over Chasetown at home in front of 864 fans. Hatswell left to become a coach at newly promoted league club Newport County, with his assistant David Staff taking the reins.

Onto today’s game, and in all honesty it looked like two struggling sides, battling away for the points in a somewhat turgid contest, lacking in spark, other than Trafford’s captain, Shelton Payne, who netted two goals, and the man whose first goal his two strikes sandwiched, Ryan Robbins. Robbins first was converted from close range following Steve Mason’s slip. Payne’s first was a sweet strike from the edge of the area from Tom Schofield’s daisy cutting corner, and a free-kick delivered via the underside of the bar, past the rooted goalkeeper. Brett Mbalanda spurned a great chance to give the visitors a two-goal advantage, but struck the bar when he ought to have hit the target, the ball going over following the contact with the woodwork.

No Match Action

Match Action

Half-time came and went, with a quick visit to Stamford’s small but smart clubhouse, and a meeting with Stamford’s own non-league dog, before after an action lacking second-half ended in controversy, when in the 92nd minute of 93, Kieran O’Hara, Trafford’s young on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper, had a bit of a rush of blood and connected with Robbins. Despite winning the ball, the assistant on the near side signalled for a penalty, which the referee duly awarded, much to O’Hara’s dismay. I think it was given for intent which could be interpreted as correct, but it was very harsh to call it as a penalty. Robbins converted the resulting penalty impressively. It was an unstoppable shot, even if O’Hara had guessed correctly. 2-2 and full-time. O’Hara’s frustrations boiled over at the whistle, as he vented his anger at the officials, before being guided away towards the tunnel, not without a kick of the hoardings on the way off.

Stand action

After the game,  I received a call from Mike saying he was intending to go back into Stamford, and did I want to join him. I agreed, and after the short walk back we met a Welshman in the pub called The Millstone, before a second visit to the ‘Golden Fleece’ was undertaken, where we unwittingly rendezvoused with our new friends from the town. Cappy managed to namedrop my blog into the conversation, so guys if you are reading this, you know who you are, even if I don’t because I don’t think we ever found out your names! But it was great to meet such friendly and knowledgeable fans, who respectfully admit their club has limitations. A good day, in a ground soon to be consigned to  the history books. Sad, but things move on…

 

My Stamford M.o.M.- Ryan Robbins

My Trafford M.o.M.- Shelton Payne

RATINGS:

Game: 5/10- Poor on the whole.

Ground: 6- Nice and quaint, but outdated, The club will benefit from their imminent move.

Fans: 9- Know their stuff, but the younger lads who sang Trafford’s a s**thole lose a mark 😉

Programme: 8- Quite enjoyed the programme. Informative, and some interesting original articles in their too, including Douglas Bader!

Food: N/A: Line was too long and never moved from when I saw it! Think some were still waiting as the pen went in!

Value For Money: 7- As I say, standard amount for admittance, and a good programme for £2

Referee: 6- Felt he missed a fair bit, but did well to defuse the flair-ups that occurred.

TEAMS:

STAMFORD: 1.Alex Lynch, 2.Shawn Richards, 3.Richard Wesley, 4.Ryan Walker, 5.Richard Jones(c), 6.Jon Challinor, 7.Dan Lawlor, 8.Alvin Jarvis, 9.David Moyo, 10.Jordan Smith, 11.Ryan Robbins(2),(1pen). SUBS 12.Liam Richardson(p), 14.Ash Robinson(p), 15.Jack Ashton, 16.David Staff, 17.Andrew Stevens.

TRAFFORD: 1.Kieran O’Hara, 2.Chris Palmer, 3.Luke Heron, 4.Steve Mason, 5.Nia Bayunu, 6.Rory Fallon, 7.Shelton Payne(c)(2), 8.Tom Schofield, 9.Michael Oates, 10.Brett Mbalanda, 11.Paul Ashton SUBS: 12.Jake Parker, 14.Ali Nsangou(p), 15.Clevon Beadle, 16.Omar McKenzie, 17.Callum Jones.