Buxton v Witton Albion
Silverlands / Evo-Stik Northern Premier Division / 1st September 2012
On Tuesday night (28th August 2012) I watched Sheffield Wednesday beat Fulham 1-0 convincingly. The clear man of the match that evening was Michail Antonio, but supporting him down the right side of the pitch was full back Lewis Buxton, a player tipped for greatness in his youth. Along with Antonio, Buxton had an outstanding game against Premier League Fulham. 4 days later I was en route to watch Buxton play again, but this time it was not to watch the former Portsmouth, Stoke and current Wednesday full-back, but to watch Buxton FC. That’s right, I was back on my non-league adventure.
During the summer months when I was searching for football matches to watch to fill my spare evenings, I discovered Buxton FC. I knew nothing of them until I decided to research the location of the various Evo-Stik Premier teams in pursuit of extra non-league knowledge. Of all the teams I uncovered on my online non-league scouting mission Buxton FC were the team that jumped out at me. Their geographical location in the middle of the Peak District made them rather unique, but there was one fact that really turned my head: Buxton FC’s Silverlands ground is the highest ground above sea level in the whole of the football pyramid in this country. I had to go.
I’d actually written off my football travels for the holidays after my trip to Hillsborough, but after a quick late night Friday peruse of the internet following the transfer deadline day coverage on Sky Sports News, I spotted Buxton were playing Witton Albion at home the next day. I tried to ignore it, but ultimately the idea was planted and I had to go. A quick Google search of Buxton revealed to me that the town was actually quite stunning.
11:30 the next morning I was sitting in Starbucks with my Guardian newspaper ready to make the one hour journey to Buxton. It really was a late decision to attend a game at all this weekend but as I sat in Starbucks I was really excited about heading up to Buxton. From what I had read, the journey up to the small town in the Peak District was going to be very scenic and what I had read wasn’t lying; the train ride up towards the Peak District was really a bit special, although I did begin to wonder where the hell the train was taking me as we appeared to be heading to the middle of nowhere – my phone signal even went! After one rural-viewing hour I arrived in Buxton.
Having gone through the what seemed sparsely accommodated villages and towns on the train journey, I was quite surprised on alighting in Buxton to find a fairly decent-sized town. I had no idea where I was going when I arrived at the station and no idea even where the ground was located, so I just followed the sign posts that pointed towards the town centre and hoped for the best.
Immediately it dawned on me how pretty a town Buxton actually is; so much so that I didn’t just dive into the first pub I saw and instead I opted for a wander around the quaint-looking town. The place really was a bit different to any town I’d been to in a long time. Buxton is historically renowned as a spa town, a reputation the town earned from it years occupied by the Romans. Thanks to its Roman routes and the fact the town is surrounded by the stunning Peak District National Park, Buxton is a hotspot for some tourists.
After a quick mooch around town, I spotted a sign for somewhere called the Milton’s Head and decided I rather fancied a pint. A wander through the town centre, which was much bigger than I expected, and I came across the Milton’s Head – a classic looking pub if ever I saw one. I made my way in and was slightly disorientated by the choice of rooms on the left and right, but I decided to play it safe and head towards the back room where the main bar area seemed to be. The place had plenty of character with many of the pub’s walls adorned with Elvis memorabilia, apparently leftovers from the pub’s decorations for the annual Buxton Festival (in which the pub won ‘Best Decorated Pub’). I have to praise the people in the Milton’s Head: the landlord, Jason, was very friendly and gave me very detailed directions to the Buxton’s ground, as well as some other pubs nearby, and the other people frequenting the pub were equally friendly and inviting too. I even had to write down the web address for this very site as they were genuinely interested in checking the site out – thanks to you all for being so welcoming.
Whilst chatting to people in the Milton’s Head, another man joined the conversation called Mick. Mick turned out to be an Ipswich fan that lived in the local area and he was also going to the Buxton FC game. It turned out Mick had been to Silverfields on several occasions so he welcomed me to join him, which I was very appreciative of. After two pints in the Milton Head, a pub I liked so much I promised to come back after the match,I headed up to the New Inn with my new pal Mick.
I was told repeatedly during my time in the Milton’s Head that the hill up to Buxton’s ground, Silverlands, was crazily steep, but I told them that I was a valleys boy and that I had grown up with the infamous “gutty” (a crazily steep footpath in my home village – nothing is steeper) – no hill scares me. Despite my boasts of being fearless of steep slopes, Mick led us up a much more gradient friendly hill to the New Inn. From the outside the New Inn looked like a standard pub, but inside the place seemed a bizarre cocktail of a place; first of all there was various banners celebrating “Frank’s 60th” but alongside that there was young punk rocker looking people behind the bar (that makes me sound old) and Prodigy banging out from the speakers for the duration of our stay (I love Prodigy but it was certainly an odd environment for it, especially with several of the elderly men in their Buxton FC scarves enjoying a prematch pint). After a pint, a discussion about various non-league football grounds and the up and downs of Ipswich Town with Mick, we began the short walk to Silverlands.
Buxton FC have played at Silverlands since 1884 after the club, which was an off-shoot of the town’s cricket club, played its games on Cote Heath and at Green Lane. As mentioned previously, the club’s ground SIlverlands is the highest above sea level in this country’s football pyramid at 304m above sea level; the highest in the Football League is West Brom’s Hawthorns at 168m above sea level. I had actually woke up in the morning and seen the grey skies over Manchester and opted for a t-shirt, jumper and jacket combination, especially to accommodate for the high and cold ground I thought I’d be venturing into. A bad call it seemed. Buxton, despite being up in the Peak District, was actually very hot on this Saturday afternoon and it was the perfect conditions for a game of football.
I had absolutely loved Buxton so far, but the first disappointment (maybe the only one) that occurred was at the turnstile when I was charged £9 to enter – a little steep I felt, especially after paying £10 to watch Sheffield Wednesday v Fulham Tuesday night (although in the club’s defence, most Evo-Stik games seem to be a similar price). First impressions of the ground were great and the ground looked very good for non-league level. The ground holds over 5,000 fans with most of the fans housed in the club’s main stand down the left side of the pitch. Behind the goals nearest the turnstiles stands a large sheltered standing terrace with another smaller sheltered standing terrace down the right side of the pitch and a general standing area behind the far goals.
As always the first port of the call was the clubhouse. Buxton’s clubhouse was spacious and it was in good condition – no signs of the wear and tear of usual non-league clubhouses. I bought me and Mick drinks at around £3 a pint and sat down to enjoy the BBC’s buildup to the upcoming Premier League games (I’d spend portions of the afternoon following Swansea’s game v Sunderland via Twitter and text messages) and read the programme Mick had bought; for £1.50 Buxton’s programme was great and gave all the necessary information you’d want from a non-league programme and more. Pint drunk, programme read – it was time to take in the game.
I knew nothing of Buxton FC’s team or history (although I’ve just found out that Blackpool’s former manager Tony Parkes played for them) but this would be my second experience of Witton Albion having seen them play Trafford in a preseason friendly a few weeks before. From what I recall of that game, despite Trafford winning, Witton played good football and that point was reinforced from the start of their league game against Buxton. Witton had just got promoted from the league below last season and hadn’t lost a game away from home since November 2011. Witton and Buxton both found themselves just below the Top 5 of the Evo-Stik Premier, but Witton were much the better team throughout the first half. Witton passed around Buxton and the home team could not get near Albion.
As the game settled I decided it was time for a pie. There was no queue for the food stall and I was presented with the choice of cheese and onion, meat and potato or steak pie. Meat and Potato pie every time. I have to say that the pie was a class act and at £1.70 an absolute bargain. Well played Buxton FC catering!
I was obviously supporting Buxton as the home team but my support intensified halfway through the first half after I put my New York Cosmos jacket back on and began my circulation of the ground to take photos. As I began my walk around the ground I suddenly heard a loud chant behind me from the large Witton Albion contingent: “Green and White shite! Green and White shite” they screamed, but to my amazement they were all pointing the chant at me and my NY Cosmos jacket; it soon occurred to me that Witton’s rivals were Northwich Victoria, a club that famously wear green and white shirts – my bad! Fairplay to the Witton fans, a lot of them had made the journey to the Derbyshire town and they were vocal throughout; chants about their own club were coupled with banter chants of “You’re just a small town in Matlock” directed towards the Buxton home support, who replied with chants of “You’re just a small town in Northwich!”
Whilst I began my journey around the ground Witton entered one of their numerous attacks; after a decent passing move the ball came out to Josh Hancock who smashed a 20 yard shot into the bottom corner. Unsaveable. 1-0 to Witton Albion. The lead was very much deserved, especially after Witton had also hit the bar, and Buxton were lucky to go in at the break just 1-0 down.
Half time was spent in the clubhouse watching the BBC’s football scores with a beer (Swansea were 2-1 down to a Steven Fletcher-inspired Sunderland much to my disappointment). I also happened to bump into another spectator at the game who was wearing a NY Cosmos jacket, but his was a dark blue colour with limited green on it; I informed him that he had made a wise choice with the colour choice unlike myself who had opened myself up to the taunts of the away support.
The second half began in a similar vein to the first half with Witton dominating possession and Buxton chasing shadows. Buxton’s only genuine looking threat throughout the game so far had come from the Delap-esque throw of their centre back Marc Roberts.
Not long after the restart, Witton found themselves 2-0 up after Rory Fallon (no, not the ex-Swansea striker) scored from a cross come shot which hit the far post before crossing the line. Witton looked like they were home and dry. I had been particularly impressed with Witton’s left back Matt Wood, who had shone throughout the game, so I was a little surprised to see him substituted with 25-30 minutes left on the clock.
Buxton found a new lease of life from nowhere and I noticed that many of their attacks were coming down the right-wing in the area vacated by the impressive Wood. Soon enough, Buxton’s no-nonsense football paid dividends as a free kick from the right led to a scramble in the box, which eventually resulted in thye ball bouncing to Kieran Lugsden who slotted home from 3 yard. Now we had a game on.
In all fairness, the second half was a brilliant game of football (so much so I hardly even checked the Swansea score) and it was played at a relentless pace which appeared to be suiting Buxton. Eventually the Bucks pressure paid off as they won a clear penalty after goalscorer Lugsden was brought down in the box. Up stepped Buxton’s substitute Kyle Nix to make it 2-2 and trigger an exciting last 20 minutes to the game. The game continued end to end but there was very little in regards to clear chances in the closing stages.
Final score: Buxton 2-2 Witton Albion – a brilliant game.
One last venture into the clubhouse to check the final scores (if Gillingham could have won, I would have won £600!) and I said goodbye to Mick and headed down the infamously steep hill; it was a bit of a let-down in regards to its gradient – if they think that is steep, ‘the gutty’ will kill them! A 2 minute walk down the hill and I was back in the town centre and back in the Milton’s Head – due to their welcoming nature earlier in the day, I opted to return before heading back to Manchester. A couple of pints with some rugby union fans (you don’t meet many of them up North) and I was ready to catch the 18:30 train back to Manchester.
I cannot speak glowingly enough of the town of Buxton – it really is a bit of a hidden gem. Peaceful, clean but also busy enough that you feel like you are in a thriving community rather than a rural outpost in the middle of nowhere. Also a big thanks to everyone at Milton’s Head for their generosity – top pub – as well as Mick for his company. The ground is great and if anyone happens to be holidaying in the Peak District I would definitely recommend a visit to Silverlands, an old-style ground, but the facilities are up to a good standard and everybody seemed very friendly there. You can see the highest standard of football anytime, but it’s not very often you get to literally see football at the highest level – only at Buxton’s Silverlands. Top day!
Highlights: Nice, scenic town, Milton’s Head pub, friendly people, good clubhouse, nice pies, Witton support was excellent, brilliant game (especially second half), being able to say I’ve been to the highest ground in the country.
Low Points: £9 a ticket was quite steep, getting taunted by the Witton Albion fans.