“My fault, my failure,” Jack Kerouac wrote, “is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.” Pete Sixsmith’s lack of control over his passion for non-league football took him (mercifully?) far from SAFC v Colchester the other night, memories of some stonking exam performances by the lads and lasses at Ferryhill Business and Enterprise College (does that mean school?) fresh in his mind …
Fair weather supporter, that’s me. One defeat at West Brom, the toys are slung out of the pram and I miss our most important game of the season until the next one comes along. Disgraceful, I know.
Where was I? Enjoying the delights of Church Lane, Chasetown and Station Road, Mickelover, with an afternoon at England’s finest stately home slung in, that’s where, and although the Chasetown v Marine clash wasn’t the greatest game I have ever seen, the visit of North Ferriby to Mickleover was a minor classic.
I had booked the Travelodge at Walsall weeks ago, when I saw the Northern Premier League fixtures. It was a cheapie, although they add little bits on, so a £19 room ends up costing £23.50 when you add on Insurance and car parking. But it’s still reasonable value for a place where all you want to do is sleep and if there are two of you it’s even better.
When I booked, I had neglected to check the League Cup dates, so when it finally burrowed its way into my feeble brain, I hoped for a tie somewhere nearby like, er, Shrewsbury or Port Vale or anywhere.
Failing that, if it had been somewhere I had not been to, I would have taken the hit on my credit card and gone to Northampton or Millwall (well, maybe not Millwall.
So, I decided to miss out on our clash with the Essex giants and set off for the West Midlands, but not before popping into Ferryhill Business and Enterprise College to see our students achieve a record haul of GCSE results.
Great stuff and a testimony to the hard work that they and their teachers have put in. Well done everybody.
I stopped off at Burton-on-Trent intending to visit the National Brewing Museum but the admission price of £8.50 put me off so Walsall it was. The hotel was found easily, a wee nap and then back north to Chasetown.
You may remember them having a couple of very good FA Cup runs recently. They reached the third round two years ago and gave Cardiff City a hard game in the year that City got to Wembley. They have shot through the leagues, won the Southern Midlands Division last year and were transferred across to the Northern Premier by the FA.
They are in an area where they have long journeys either way. In this league, they have to go to Whitby and Kendal; in the Southern League, Truro and Ramsgate beckoned. They just seemed happy to be playing at Step 3.
It wasn’t a great game. Marine were the better side and just deserved their single goal win. Like all Merseyside teams, they had the obligatory small midfield player with a high pitched voice (Alan Ball must have got about a bit in his Everton days), and a decent away following.
However, they had a vuvuzuela and a drum and a trumpet, and their tuneless squawking and hammering reminded me of the classic Laurel and Hardy scene where the Boys are busking. A lady opens the window and says “How much do you boys make a street?”, to which Ollie replies: “About 50 cents ma’am.” “Here’s $2,” comes her rather unkind response to the Boys’ playing, “now move along a couple of blocks.”
Sobs, Doug Forrest and the half time announcer kept me abreast of the situation at the SoL and I returned home to my Travelodge secure in the knowledge that we had negotiated a potential ambush.
This part of the Black Country seems to be full of tattoo studios. Every small town I drove through (Chasetown, Rushall, Walsall Wood) had at least two and the walk into Walsall on Wednesday morning turned up several. The arms, shoulders, necks, backs and calves of many of the locals were adorned with various Maori swirls, naked women and names of lovers in indecipherable Gothic lettering.
Walsall was okay for a couple of hours. I saw the birthplace of Jerome K Jerome, author of Three Men In A Boat, the new Art Gallery, a huge cuboid structure at the end of a fairly desperate 70s shopping precinct, and the local library, where a pleasant lady thought they might be the Tourist Information Office now that the one in the bus station had shut, but she wasn’t sure and there wasn’t much to see anyway.
By noon I was ready to head east to the outskirts of Derby to take in the game at Mickleover, but I sped past the home of the Rams and headed for Hardwick Hall, a magnificent 16th century house just off the M1 near Tibshelf services.
Flashing my National Trust card I gained entry to a house described as “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall” which is true. It was built in the last years of the 16th C by Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, a serial marrier of wealthy men. If you are in the area go and see it. You can borrow my card. It’s afternoons like this which justify my pursuit of obscure football grounds.
The game I saw in the evening was a veritable Hardwick Hall of a game. Seven goals (three to the home team, four to the visitors), a missed penalty and a raffle ticket seller to match the late George Elliott at Shildon, all added up to a most enjoyable evening, in weather better suited to October.
Six years ago, Mickleover were playing at the same level as Coxhoe, Annfield Plain and Ashbrooke Belford House. They have shot up the leagues and are now probably as high as they can get, seeing as the ground only has three-and-a-half sides. They are a very well run club, selling hand pulled Pedigree in the club house and promising the arrival of a special beer called Sweet 16 to celebrate their 16 game winning streak that took them to automatic promotion last year.
That North Ferriby, and Carl Bradshaw in particular, proved to be a little too strong for them on the night, should take nothing away from their own Magic Carpet ride, which matches anything that Blackpool, Burnley and ourselves have achieved in the last few years.
Again, the heartbeat of football is strong at this level with volunteers working hard to make the club successful and players testing themselves at different levels.
Both Chasetown and Mickleover have lots of players who have been with then since their odyssey began. Our longest serving pros are Craig Gordon and Kieran Richardson – going into their fourth season. Sometimes stability brings results rather than constant change.