I have seen a lot of football in my almost half a century. I clearly remember the first time I saw West Brom play because they were relegated that day (21 April, 1973). I am pretty certain that I saw Stourbridge play before that date, possibly in 1972 and I have a vague recollection of Nuneaton Borough being the opponents. My first ever football match, however, was Brierley Hill Alliance v Kidderminster Harriers in the late 60’s (1968/69 season is most likely) of which I have a very clear memory of rusty corrugated ironwork and a fuzzy recollection of a 4-4 draw (this may be totally wrong). My point is, I have seen a lot of football. I was in Munich when England won 5-1, I was at Wembley when West Brom beat Port Vale in 1993, I saw SuperKev put the Wolves out of their misery in the playoff semi-final and I saw Stourbridge play Cardiff in the Welsh Cup Final in 1974 ( a Stourbridge side that I believe featured Chic Bates and Ray Haywood). However, I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed a single season of football as much as the 2013/14 season.
The highlights, as far as matches go, this season have to be Stourbridge scoring 9 at Chippenham. Hemel 4 Stourbridge 3, and the surprising performance of bottom club Fleet Town at North Leigh.
The 9-0 away win at Chippenham was an extraordinary game of football. There was no indication of the drama to come when the sides kicked off on a damp October evening. The home fans were not
particularly happy with their club at the time and results had not been going their way but nothing could prepare us for what happened next. Stourbridge started the stronger and took an early lead. Chippenham lost two players to red cards and Stour got two more goals to lead 3-0 after 23 minutes. Remarkably, there was no more scoring until the 67th minute. In fact, Chippenham’s nine players were the better team for 10 minutes at the start of the second half. Once the 4th went in, the floodgates opened and the home team’s heads dropped somewhat.
The late season match at Vauxhall Road between the two top scoring sides in the Calor Premier lived up to the hype. What a game! Hemel took a very early lead but Stour pulled it back to 1-1 by half time. The second half was a blur of end-to-end attacking football, goals and action (even a controversial decision to play on after the ball was put out of play). My team may have lost but this was one of the best £10s I have ever spent to watch football.
My final selection followed a spur of the moment decision to watch North Leigh v Fleet Town in March. If you have never been to North Leigh you should. It’s a most interesting location. However, that is not the reason I picked this game. The real reason was the performance of the away team. Second from bottom and looking doomed to relegation they took on a team pressing for the playoffs and completely played them off the park for 50+ minutes. Fleet’s style of play was a joy to watch. Quick passing, continuous movement off the ball and a willingness to run and run. If only their finishing could have been better. Eventually the home team got on top with two quickfire goals which deflated Fleet. To their credit, they kept plugging away and got a consolation to end up beaten 3-1. If this is the way Fleet intend to play football (and I am pleased to say they stayed up due the Thatcham’s resignation) I am certainly putting Calthorpe Park near the top of next season’s hops. http://basepyramid.weebly.com/2/post/2014/04/april-09th-2014.html
My favourite stadium has to be Hardenhuish Park. Not because of the scoreline that I saw there but because it is a proper old-fashioned football stadium. A tight, enclosed space that generates atmosphere. I look forward to visiting that ground again soon. Not least because, another award, the Cuppa League Championship, is also wending it’s way to Wiltshire. The tea bar at Hardenhuish has the honour of being the inaugural BotP Cuppa League champion (2013/14).
My team of the year has to be Hemel Hempstead Town. They played great attacking football and just over-powered everyone in their path. Worthy champions of the Calor Premier League.
Referee of the year goes to Mr E Turner who I saw take charge of Ardley United v Holyport in the Hellenic Premier.
One of my favourite moments was meeting the Stratford Town supporting dog and his owners who were forced to stand out in the pouring rain so that their pet could get a good view of the match. That’s dedication for you.
Lowlights of the season were obviously the playoff defeat at Chesham and the 0-2 reverse that Stourbridge suffered at Burnham. Not only was that an awful game of football on a very cold night, in a stadium with no toilets, but I also returned to find my car back window smashed and some of my
possessions missing. I will not be in a hurry to return The Gore for a number of reasons.
The thing that stands out most of all from my visits to non-league stadia across the country is the hard work put into these clubs by mainly volunteers. These people are not motivated by money or European glory. They do, however, all have a love of the game and an attachment to their local community. That’s what non-league is all about. Community.
Just as I write this, I am reading about the latest possible FA proposal of introducing B teams at a level between League 2 and the Conference. I can feel the anger rising as I type. I am describing the feeling of community in the game whilst, meanwhile, the FA dreams up another plan to destroy
I must, before I close, thank a few people. First of all, a couple of people who have retweeted me and plugged my blog to their followers. Thank you Richard Clark (@sfcofficial) and my brother-in-law Chris
(@chrislepkowski). Very much appreciated.
Finally, and most importantly, my long-suffering wife Dot who not only has to put up with me getting home at an unearthly hour at least one night a week but also has to explain to our 4 year old why Daddy is standing in a field in Gloucestershire rather than reading her stories.
I’m already looking forward to the new season and planning which stadiums I will visit first.