Result: Nantwich Town 1-1 Kettering Town (FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round)
Venue: Weaver Stadium (Saturday 14th October 2017, 3pm)
With the FA Cup’s qualifying rounds reaching their conclusion, so it was that those clubs remaining had the chance to make the promised land of the first round “proper” and with that the possibility of securing a tie with a Football League club. Having been attracted to this tie with the lure of visiting the lovely town of Nantwich upon the drawing of the round’s games, I latterly sorted out details with fallen blogger Paul and we had our headings set. To Nantwich it was.
With the Liverpool-United match on beforehand, Paul had wanted to get there bright and early to watch. This suited me and I arrived into the Cheshire market town prior to midday, with the quest of seeking out somewhere to watch the game. After passing the town’s stocks and navigating the already bustling town square on a couple of occasions I was finding that options around here were fairly few and far between. That was until I, by chance, spotted the Wickstead Arms down a side-street and it was to be here that we’d spend the first half of the anti-climactic North West derby.
Paul joined me just before kick-off, with us soon realising we shouldn’t be greeting each other with pleasantries at this point. Luckily, we were becalmed with the goings on at Anfield and soon looked for a change of scenery for the second half. This would come in the form of the Vine, which was certainly the popular choice for the town’s people of Nantwich, the place offering standing room only, and a fine pint of Erdinger soon proved why. Lovely, but not cheap!
The clash continued on its way to its obvious nil-nil result (which I had predicted some twenty seconds in, on account of the stupid build-up it had been afforded by the media in the lead-up), whilst we finished up our drinks before thankfully leaving in the hopes of finding a more entertaining contest at the Weaver Stadium. Crossing the River Weaver on our way to the ground, we were passed by the jogging duo of Chris and Dave Ellis – two Poppies fans Paul and I had met last season at Leek – with Chris narrowly avoiding falling foul of the deadly Nantwich kerbs!
Arriving at the ground, we were welcomed with a pre-match bag check before heading through the turnstiles in exchange for £10. Once through, a further £2 gave us an issue of the programme entitled “The Dabber”, with a bee-line to the bar following where a pint of Heineken would see us through to kick-off. After a swift meeting-up with the Ellis’, they headed out to join the ranks of the well-numbered travelling support within the covered terrace at the far side of the Weaver. The Main, all-seater, Stand (the bar is located at the top of the stairs) stands opposite, alongside the turnstiles), with the remainder of the ground being open, hard standing. Now, it’s time for everyone’s favourite part, and mine….
Nantwich Town F.C. was founded in 1884 as Nantwich F.C. and derives its nickname from the town’s leather-related tanning industry. The club’s formative years were spent playing friendly and cup matches, prior to it joining the Shropshire & District League in 1891, where Nantwich finished runners-up at the end of their first season. This prompted a move up into the stronger Combination league for the following season, with Nantwich also welcoming Liverpool to the town in the Reds’ first ever FA Cup tie, the future 5-time European Cup winners going on to win the game 4-0.
Prior to WWI, the club had short spells in numerous leagues, including the North Staffs & District, Crewe & District, Manchester League and Lancashire Combination, with England rugby and cricket captain A.N. Hornby holding the role of club President and occasional player. Post-war, Nantwich became founder members of the Cheshire County League where the club tended to struggle, bar a 6th placed finish in 1922. 1933 saw the Dabbers finally lift silverware, with the Cheshire Senior Cup being lifted after victory over the attractively named ICI (Alkali) in front of 8,ooo fans. This coming after a 1921 tie (versus Winsford United) at Kingsley Fields (on the current site) which was played out in front of over 5,000. Imagine that nowadays!
After WWII, Nantwich joined the newly founded Mid-Cheshire League and entered the inaugural FA Youth Cup in 1952, falling to a narrow 23-0 defeat to Manchester Utd’s youngsters (featuring the likes of Duncan Edwards) at the Cliff. However, this proved to be no reflection on the next decade, with the club going on to achieve regular success throughout the 1960’s, with ’63-’64 seeing a treble of Mid-Cheshire League, League Cup (adding to a 1962 win) and Cheshire Amateur Cup won. After a short spell in the Manchester League (promoted from Division 1 in 1966 and Premier runners-up in 1967), 1968 would see Nantwich re-join the Cheshire League, adding the “Town” suffix in 1974. In 1976, the Dabbers took the Cheshire Senior Cup with a 5-4 triumph over Northern Premier League Champions Runcorn.
Nantwich would go on to win the Cheshire League in 1981 – defeating runners-up Hyde United in the penultimate game to do so – and after a final year in the league, would join the newly created North West Counties League in 1982. However, the club would finish bottom of the league’s first season and were relegated to Division 2, where they would remain (bar a sole campaign in Division 3 in 1986) until 1989, when they were promoted to Division 1 once again. 1995 would see Town win the NWCFL League Cup, which would be their final silverware for over a decade, prior to their triumphant FA Vase campaign in 2006 when the Dabbers defeated Hillingdon Borough at St. Andrew’s, with Andy Kinsey netting two goals before dislocating his shoulder in celebrating securing his brace.
2007 saw Town finish third, securing promotion to the NPL Division One South in the process. The club also signed off at their former home Jackson Avenue at the close of that season, defeating Squires Gate in their final game there prior to moving to their new ground, the Weaver Stadium, named after the nearby river. Their first season at the new home was a success, Nantwich finishing up 3rd in the NPL Division One South, which meant a place in the play-offs. After defeating Grantham Town in the semis, the club would go on to beat Sheffield F.C. on penalties in the final to achieve promotion to the NPL Premier Division. This was added to by another Cheshire Senior Cup win in 2008.
A further Cheshire Senior Cup was added to the trophy room in 2012, a season which also saw Nantwich’s only (to date) appearance in the FA Cup’s First Round. After knocking out Nuneaton Town in the 4th Qualifying Round, the club drew MK Dons away, which resulted in a heavy defeat. After battling relegation during their earlier seasons at Step 3, Nantwich began to stablise in mid-table, though struggled to 19th in 2014. 2015-’16 saw Nantwich embark on a successful FA Trophy campaign, the Dabbers reaching the semi-finals (after defeating Dover Athletic in the quarters), bowing out to eventual winners FC Halifax Town 6-4 on aggregate. Last season saw the club finish up in fifth in the NPL Premier Division, reaching the play-offs, but a 2-0 loss to eventual winners Spennymoor Town put paid to their hopes of Step 2 football.
The final hurdle before the first round was soon underway, with Kettering having slightly the better of the opening exchanges, though they never really troubled Will Jääskeläinen – son of Jussi – debuting in the Dabbers goal for this game. As such, the first real chance of the game fell to the home side, with David Forbes drive being well saved by Poppies keeper Paul Wright.
Sean Cooke looked to be the main threat for Nantwich going forward, though wasn’t having too much joy in this respect early on and it was this lack of true penetration that meant the tight game would lurch the way of the visitors just before half-time. As Paul and I were waiting in the slow, slow food line (despite having got there fifteen minutes before the break, we left five minutes after the whistle), the ball was knocked over the line by Michael Richens to give the game a much-needed goal. Sadly for me and lucky for him, only Paul was in position to see it, as I saved our space. 0-1, half-time!
With the remainder of the break being taken eating a pie that was hardly worth that wait (Paul’s meat and potato had something of the Chicken Balti about it too), we were back underway with Nantwich searching for the equaliser to keep their FA Cup adventure alive. They started off well too, with Harry Clayton seeing his shot saved low down by Wright and Forbes scraping the woodwork with an effort just after the hour.
Despite these chances, the game remained a tight one, with Kettering looking to attack on the break, the wingers getting some joy in this without creating too much to speak of. This inability to kill off the game would come back to haunt the visitors, as their defensive second-half display would soon be ruined by a magnificent free-kick and, unsurprisingly, it was that man Cooke who provided the magic. Cooke stood over the set-piece around twenty-five yards out and as soon as the ball left his foot, you knew it was destined for the net. The flying Wright, taking a leaf out of his American namesakes Orville and Wilbur, couldn’t get near it and the Dabbers were level with around fifteen minutes left and it all to play for once again.
Well, it appeared that way but, sadly for us of a neutral perspective, both sides looked content to try their hands again during the coming week and take the replay. The whistle duly arrived to confirm this game would need a second go, which Nantwich would go on to win and set up a tie away at Stevenage. Not a bad reward. As for Paul and myself, we were off to explore a little bit more prior to our train back.
First up came the Tudor-era Black Lion, which is a tight, fairly snug pub complete with roaring fire-place. It does have an outside bar window too, according to Paul, so it definitely caters for all seasons! Anyway, having finished up in here we now had a dilemma. Head for the Red Cow another Tudor pub which I spotted on my pre-game recon, or head of the dominating Crown Hotel in all it’s splendour. Paul, probably smartly, decided the Crown was best on account of it being on the way to the station.
After meeting a couple of the local canine population in here, it was off to the station via a quick visit to the Railway for a couple of pricey Beck’s bottles for the train back (£3.60). Paul had a much more troublesome trip back than me, heading off via Crewe and Chester before finally landing back in Liverpool, whereas I was en route straight through to Manchester. Trains, eh?
So, there ends the FA Cup’s qualifying rounds. Now the big boys come in, and it’s around three rounds left until most of the interest drains away from the competition in my eyes. But for now, there’s a number of attractive looking First Round ties on the horizon to choose from and who knows where will be next up? Certainly not me, which may be an issue. Anyway, next up is a trip North of the border and to a ground that is more used to balls of a different variety…
Value For Money: 5