Result: Matlock Town 1-2 Kidsgrove Athletic (FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round)
Venue: Causeway Lane (Saturday 21st September 2019, 3pm)
Yet another FA Cup weekend came up on the footballing world and with summer biting back for likely the final time this year, I reckoned I might as well make the most of it and join the tourists in one of the more popular inland areas up in t’hills. This would entail a rather irritating journey to get there, but I figured it would be worth the while in the end. As such, Matlock was the chosen destination and, having only visited the Gladiators’ ground once some six years back, I was looking forward to the trip.
Passing through Manchester on the way, I caught the train to Alfreton where I would make a change of transport method for a bus onwards to ex-New Zealand Test Cricketer Iain O’Brien’s abode, Matlock. The bus, helpfully, leaves from the station’s front entrance and so allowed for a small delay, though I did only have around seven minutes or so in hand, or I’d be stranded for a couple of hours and looking for alternatives on the fly. Luckily, these wouldn’t be needed, the bus arrived in good time (£5.30 day ticket) and I was soon rolling onwards towards Matlock Bath, though the journey wasn’t exactly peaceful – a couple of excitable kids putting paid to that – and that’s coming from someone who deals with this on a daily basis!
The journey included a hareum-scareum trip down a narrow road as a diversion, though this did mean we encountered a convoy of a few Caterhams and an old, mid-1900’s bus on the approach to Crich – the latter complete with one guy and a huge, life-size panda teddy as passengers for some ungodly reason; I prefer not to consider too hard. I eventually arrived a good twenty minutes later into Matlock than planned, meaning my stay here was forcibly truncated due to bus timings and the like, as mentioned earlier. I did still have time to have a couple of sunsoaked pints on the pleasant-looking main street through it though – first in the Fishpond freehouse just across the way from the spa building itself, and an interestingly named alehouse called Toads and Tails. Both were fine and I decided to go local in my ales, opting for a Derby Pride Pale Ale (£3.70) in the former and a Matlock Brewery Illuminations (£3.40) in the latter. I preferred the Derby personally, though that’s not to say the Matlock one wasn’t good.
Soon enough, it was time to grab the bus up the road and to Matlock itself, sadly having to bypass the Cottage and Midland pubs as I did so. I originally planned to get off at the stop that would allow me a cut-through to the Duke William, but missed this due to not being attentive enough – the stops aren’t exactly easy to spot if you’re not used to them. However, this allowed me to instead head straight into the centre of town and proved to be a far better way of doing the day overall – well, if you don’t count not finding the aforementioned cut-through and getting lost in a churchyard, but more on that later. The Remarkable Hare just opposite the bus stop was first up for a pint of Atlantic Pale Ale (£3.30), whilst I went about setting out a tour of Matlock’s, surprisingly few, hostelries.
Matlock is (apparently) the county town of Derbyshire (yes, I thought it was Derby) and is located at the south-eastern edge of the Peak District, and is part of the Derbyshire Dales district. The former spa town has the resort of Matlock Bath lying just to the south and Matlock’s urban district is considered to take in Wirksworth, Darley Dale, Tansley and Hackney. Its name derives from the Old English mæthel, meaning assembly or speech and āc meaning ‘t oak tree’ – so Matlock or ‘moot-oak’ is ‘oak tree where meetings are held. Recorded as Meslach in the Domesday Book, by the mid-1100’s it had become Matlac. Built upon the River Derwent, the town’s industries were thus taken from this, with hydrotherapy and cloth milling growing up along it and its tributary Bentley Brook.
Originally a group of villages within the Wirksworth Hundred – that of Matlock Green, Bath, Town, Bridge and Bank – until the 1698 discovery of thermal springs, the hydros that were being built became ever more popular and so the area grew with both residents and tourism eventually leading to the villages pretty much linking together. The Derbyshire County Council HQ currently resides in the largest hydro that was built and lasted over 100 years until closing its doors for a year in 1955 before re-opening in its current guise. The town council of Matlock also takes in Riber, Starkholmes and Hurst Farm as well as its ‘Matlock’ grouping.
A cable tramway was used until 1927 to get around the issues of Bank Road, with the area’s earliest settlements around Bentley Brook at Matlock Green, eventually growing up the hillside, though the tramway was eventually usurped by buses and cars. The rail line through to Manchester (via Buxton) was closed in 1968, with Network Rail’s subsequent thoughts of re-opening the route not yet coming to fruition, though the line has been kept free of overgrowth with it still possibly having a new re-purposing. The town centre’s Hall Leys park houses a Victorian bandstand, an old tramway shelter, sports areas, café, a footbridge over the Derwent with river-level markings (its part of the flood defences), as well as a miniature railway and boating lake. The bridge and war memorial neighbour it, alongside a wishing well. Matlock is also one of the smallest towns in the country to host two bus stations. Exciting.
From there, I took a stroll on over the bridge and through the neighbouring gardens (no market as there was on my previous visit though), passing by the Wetherspoons before arriving at the modern, and kind of showroom-looking Tipsy Toad. A very modern/craft-style place, this was all very rustic inside and a pint of Rattler cider was had to fit in with the theme. Rattlesnakes and taverns go together, right? The pint here was £4.50 and is always a good one (though it had been a fair while since I’d sampled it – since Exeter, in fact if I remember rightly) and set me up nicely to brave the ‘Spoons. With time beginning to run a little on the short side, I opted for a Kopparberg Mixed Fruits (£2.75) before again taking a slight detour to the gardens and paying a brief visit to the ground to grab a programme on my way over to the Red Lion, just beyond the cricket ground at the far end. Again taking advantage of the outdoor seating in the sun here, I decided to milk a Dark Fruits for the twenty-or-so minutes through to kick-off time.
Returning back to the gate, I paid my entry dues of £10 and was allowed into Causeway Lane for a second time. The ground hadn’t changed from what I could remember, with the near side being populated by a covered terrace/seating dual stand that runs the length of the pitch and a covered terrace area at the near end. The Main, all-seater, Stand is located on the opposite side and straddles half-way, whilst the clubhouse area and food bar flank it to either side, the clubhouse standing between it and the off-limits far end, which is the cricket outfield. There is also a small amount of uncovered terracing just between the food bar and the covered standing area too, making for a super little ground. That’s Causeway Lane in a nutshell and this is the story of Matlock’s Gladiators….
Matlock Town Football Club was founded in 1878 as Matlock Football Club and initially played at a ground on Hall Leys before moving into Causeway Lane. They began entering the FA Cup from 1885, though wouldn’t manage to win a game in the competition until 1890, the year when the club joined the Derbyshire Senior League as founder members. They would win the inaugural championship that year and defended it successfully the next too, this preceding a switch into the Midland Amateur Alliance for 1892. However, this would prove to be the Alliance’s final season – the league disbanding and leaving Matlock to return back to the Derbyshire Senior League once again. They would later attempt to move up to the Midland League in 1894, but this would prove to be something of a disaster, Matlock recording a bottom-placed finish at the end of their first season, before somehow managing to go one worse the following year, losing out in each and every one of their 28 league games.
This horrific campaign led to Matlock returning back, once more, to their safe haven of the Derbyshire Senior League, but things hardly improved on the field, and the club finished bottom of the league here too, in 1898. A period of un-noticeable seasons leading up to World War I came and went and, after the end of hostilities, the club returned to the field as Matlock Town; the club clearly hoping to start afresh. They would move from the Derbyshire Senior League to the Central Alliance in 1924, but the club again proved to be something of an ‘Alliance grim reaper’, as they competed in a second alliance league’s final season (1924-’25) before, yet again, finding refuge in the familiar surroundings of the DSL. They finished as league runners-up in 1927 before moving to compete in the Central Combination for two seasons from 1933, seemingly folding.
However, Matlock Town would return once more as a post-war side, joining the Chesterfield & District League in 1946 for a season prior to the Central Alliance also returning. Upon a divisional split in 1950, Matlock maintained a place in the top division, Division One, though avoided the drop two-seasons later, despite finishing bottom. This happened again in 1956, but the club were benefactors of further league re-organisation – this time a regional North/South Division One split. This proved to be for the better as Matlock won the Division One North title in 1960 and also reached that season’s FA Cup First Round, losing out in a replay to Crook Town, by the odd goal. Their league turnaround would continue the following year, with the Gladiators successfully defending their league title and thereupon again decided to try their hand up the leagues; their destination this time coming in the shape of the reformed Midland League.
The club lifted the league title at the first attempt (1962) and took their second championship in 1969, which subsequently saw Matlock promoted to the Northern Premier League. 1975 saw a second FA Cup First Round appearance for the Gladiators end in a 4-1 reverse to Blackburn Rovers, but a Wembley appearance would be forthcoming that same season; Town making it to the FA Trophy Final where they thumped Scarborough 4-0 to lift the prize – a feat which also saw a bit of history in that three of the Town side were brothers; the only occasion this has happened in a final at either the ‘old’ or ‘new’ ground. This success would lead to an automatic qualification for the FA Cup’s First Round for the next season, but they would again be bested by 4-1, this time by future Cup winners Wigan Athletic.
Before Wigan’s future heroics though, Matlock would get their revenge in the next staging of the famous competition – besting the Latics 2-0 – and beating eventual Third Division champions Mansfield Town 5-2 at the Stags’ home, taking their first Football League scalp in the process, before eventually bowing out to Carlisle United in the Third Round. An NPL Cup double would be achieved in 1978, as the Challenge Cup and Peter Swales Shield arrived at Causeway Lane, and Matlock entered the 1978-’79 Anglo-Italian Cup, finishing a creditable 2nd in the English section. The Gladiators finished as NPL runners-up in 1984 and three years later, became a member of the NPL Premier Division when the league gained a First Division too. They remained there through into the new decade, winning the 1989 Floodlit Trophy, whilst 1990 saw yet another First Round FA Cup appearance end in a 4-1 loss, this time at the hands of Scunthorpe United.
Despite starting the decade with the 1991 Floodlit Cup, Matlock would suffer relegation to the NPL’s First Division in 1996, finishing bottom, and would remain there for eight seasons before finishing as runners-up and earning promotion back to the Premier Division. They followed this success by winning the next season’s (2004-’05) NPL Challenge Cup, the second time they had won this silverware, and 2008 saw Matlock earn a shot at a place in the Conference North when making the play-offs; Witton Albion would, however, prevail 4-2 in the semi-finals, consigning Town to another year in the NPL. They have since finished a best of 7th (coming in 2010), whilst consolidating themselves as a solid mid-table outfit, year-on-year, finishing last season in 15th place. They have also lifted the Derbyshire Senior Cup on a total of ten occasions – their first in 1975, and most recent coming in 2017.
The game got underway as I got talking to Matlock and Leeds fan Gary, about all and sundry with regards to different things in the world of football and the like. It was a good job there was something to distract me (at least from my perspective) from the on-field action…or the lack thereof; it was bloody horrendous early doors. It really isn’t a stretch to say that the first twenty minutes or so saw next to nothing in the way of goal-mouth action – or 18-yard action even – truly be created – a shot from over the half-way line being the closes we came to an opener. Even then, it wasn’t really that close. The first real chance eventually came the way of Matlock’s Dan Bramall, his shot being deflected wide, before Ant Malbon responded for Kidsgrove – however he could only tamely hit straight at Jon Stewart between the Gladiators’ sticks.
That would pretty much be that for the first half it seemed, but, right on the stroke of half-time, the hosts grabbed a slightly deserved lead on the overall balance of play. Having just visited the food bar for something that involved chips (I can’t remember what else – its been over ten days…), I headed over to the clubhouse entrance in anticipation of the whistle, when a free-kick was met by James Williamson at the back post and his header nestled in the net. 1-0 Matlock at the break, a break which was spent watching the half-time scores come in from around the country, as a rather sizeable queue formed at the bar.
The second half was soon on the go and Kidsgrove came out like a house on fire, intent on getting themselves back on level terms, clearly having been stung by conceding so late in the first-half, Malbon volleying over the bar in their best chance early doors. Having said that, this approach gave Matlock the space to attack too and they also went close, Marcus Marshall firing narrowly wide in search of a second goal that would have likely clinched Town’s place in the next round. Kidsgrove, however, would have other ideas and the impressive Kingsley Adu Gyamfi went close on a pair of occasions as Athletic strove to get back level.
They would achieve this goal with around twenty-five minutes left on the clock; skipper Ant Malbon latched onto a loose-ball, after James Butler’s header had been cleared off the line but no further, and he calmly finished – showing all his experience in doing so. The wind was well and truly in the sails of Kidsgrove now and, with their band of supporters in the terrace behind the goal still coming to terms with their leveller, their joy became jubilation moments later. All but straight from kick-off, the quicksilver Gymafi picked up the ball just inside the Matlock half, beat a couple of challenges in advancing forward, before lashing a drive across goal that flew past Stewart and into the back of the net. What a strike it was and Gyamfi enjoyed it just as much as the Grove faithful did!
A stunned Matlock did seem shell-shocked by the sudden turnaround and despite seeing Williamson and Luke Hinsley denied by Kidsgrove ‘keeper Kieran Harrison, even the coming up of Harrison’s opposite number Stewart for a final minute corner couldn’t force an equaliser and the NPL South visitors held on to seal a “Cupset” and head into the Third Qualifying Round, the magical First Round place and all the possibilities that come with it edging ever closer. However, I’m still left with just the one ‘keeper goal live – Greg Hall’s place in my ‘Hall of Fame’ (NB: a note) as sole member in that category is safe. In fact, I’ve seen him score as a ‘keeper, midfielder and striker. So, yeah.
After the game, I made haste up the steep incline to the Duke William, which should have been my starting point upon my arrival into Matlock proper. This had also been the scene of one of my rare darts wins which, I must admit, came in my more sober days!! Upon entering into this throwback public house, I plumped for a pint of Heineken (£4.30~) and wasted away a fair bit of the hour-and-a-bit or so I had until the bus back to Alfreton. This was all going well until….well, you remember that “getting lost in a churchyard” bit, yeah? See that and add ‘a private road’ and could I find this place? Could I hell. As such, I decided to follow the paths from whence I came and got back to the Remarkable Hare in good time for the bus….which was then delayed by a good twenty minutes, meaning a later train back was now on the cards. Walking through Alfreton, I decided it was time to employ my ‘trump card’. What was that, you ask? I think you know….!
Since visiting Alfreton with fellow hopper Paul a few seasons back now, a small micropub in an unassuming side road has opened up judt a few minutes walk from the station entrance. Going by the name of the Prospect Micropub (on account of said road it is on), it was always going to be a place of refuge is something went a little awry, and so it came to be. Unfortunately, for some reason, I sounded like a pure drunk on my arrival there and could barely string the sentence I wanted together, though maybe wasn’t as bad as I suspected, as the guy there seemed to know what I was on about. Or maybe he guessed?! Either way, I ended up choosing another Rattler at £4.70 and wasted away the remaining time lazing on a couch. Lovely stuff.
Eventually I had to rouse myself from the sunken sofa and back out onto the streets of Alfreton, which by now were bathed in darkness and illuminated only by the streetlights glaring down upon them. Hello darkness, my old friend. Winter is coming. Any other puns; I can’t see me thinking of anymore. Sorry. Anyway, no other problems were seen and via a welcome doze on the train back into Manchester, I was there in quick time, though wasn’t in the mood to stick around the best part of an hour for a train; instead I opted to part with a couple of quid extra to grab a bus and get home a half-hour earlier. I fair trade I think. That ended another good trip to another lovely town. Of course, I knew what to expect out of Matlock (less so its pubs), but I hadn’t been to its Bath-y neighbour before and that was the bonus. Both were great and, of course, Causeway Lane is, as I’ve already said, a top ground – even without the dramatic backdrop up to Riber Castle. Next up….
Value For Money: 7