Over the past few seasons it has become very fashionable to dislike international football. Not cheering on your country is a concept I have stirred around in my mind on numerous occasions and yet it still makes no sense to me. I love my country and I love watching Wales play the game I love. On Friday 12th October, I had sat in my bedroom watching Wales take on Scotland in a World Cup 2014 qualifying. Thanks to an incredible Gareth Bale performance, Wales went on to defeat their fellow Celts and it was a great way to start off the weekend. I was buzzing following our victory and this carried on into the Saturday morning following the triumphant Friday night. The Friday night international is a new phenomena in world football. It’s existence spawned from club managers moaning about the lack of time they get to spend with their squad following an international week, so thanks to the money-propelled club football, international fixtures were moved from Saturday and Wednesday to Friday and Tuesday nights. I’ve never been a huge fan of this switch; however, one brilliant event has emerged from this international fixture switch – ‘Non-League Day’.
With modern football becoming more money-orientated and less fan-centralised , many football fans are beginning to turn towards non-league football. Anyone that reads my groundhopping ventures on this site or who follows me on Twitter (@mophead_88 by the way), will know how very fond I’ve become of non-league football. Non-League Day has been running annually for the past three seasons, since the original international fixture day switch With no glamour games to distract the country’s footballing audience, Non-League Day acts as an all-encompassing advert for the basement divisions with the intention of advertising the thrills that can be experienced at the smallest clubs and grounds in the country. I could go on to explain why I find non-league so brilliant, but my mate and non-league virtuoso Aaron Flanagan sums up why non-league football is so brilliant in this handy little blog post.
So, with Non-League day on the horizon I perused the fixtures and decided I was going to visit a new ground; after much deliberation and after narrowing down the many choices, I decided I was heading to Glossop North End, a club situated on the brisk of the Penines and a town regularly referred to as the ‘Gateway to the Peak District’. With a plethora of non-league clubs available for me to visit on Non-League Day, my vote was swung by an alluring, pie-related tweet from the Glossop North End AFC Twitter account the night before non-league day promising me a high standard of pie. Glossop had won.
So, Non-League Day had arrived and by 11am on the Saturday morning I found myself in Manchester Piccadilly station ready to set off for Glossop. Joining me on my journey east of Manchester to Glossop would be Jason, who’d joined me on my trip to Hillsborough only two months previous and who wanted a slice of my non-league action.
It turned out that Glossop was further east of Manchester than I had anticipated, so much so that my ‘County Card’ which lets me ride any public transport in Greater Manchester was invalid; it turned out that Glossop was so far east of Manchester that it was in Derbyshire!
Anyway, just before midday we rolled into Glossop train station a full 31 minutes after setting off from Manchester Piccadilly. On leaving the station we were immediately greeted by a pleasant looking mill town, but most interestingly, there were already three pubs in sight after taking one step outside of the station. With it not yet being midday, we opted to shun the pubs for the time being and have a nose around Glossop’s high street; however, there was very little to see and I was soon bored and dispelling the ‘lets not drink before midday’ philosophy. Jason got himself some chips from Glossop Fish Bar (the chips were described as very average by the way) and conveniently opposite was the Howard Arms – Jason finished his chips outside the pub, whilst I ventured in and ordered us two pints.
Now, for a historic moment in the life of Matthew Harrison (just in case you are unsure, that’s me). I am useless at any sport that involves a racket, a club, a cue, a bat or anything to do with your hands, yet perhaps my greatest sporting achievement ever involves defeating my golf-playing friend in an 18 hole game of’ pitch and put’ in Pontypridd park by one shot; to add to the drama, I even collapsed on the green the moment I somehow defeated him,as if I had secured the Ryder Cup. Today would be another historic day. I cannot play pool. Never have been able to. I cannot hold a cue properly, I cannot hit a pool ball properly and I am generally hopeless. Yet something compelled me to take up Jason’s offer of a game of pool. I was soon displaying my inadequacies as I did not sink with one of my balls, yet in a moment of triumph, Jason potted the black ball to crown me victorious. I had won (admittedly by default). Wow! I was happy, yet better was to come. With the second game from the pound we had paid, I feared the worst, but somehow, through freakish acts of luck, I began to actually put my yellow balls in the pockets (excuse the wording of that sentence). After a lengthy exchange with the black ball, I eventually potted it to win my second game and to trigger the biggest cheesy grin across my face – the game was not mentioned for the rest of the day, hence why I am so compelled to write about it here. Matthew Harrison: Glossop’s Howards Arms’ pool champion.
Following this sporting triumph and a £3+ pint of lager we headed down the road to the The Norfolk Arms. Unlike the punter bereft Howards Arms, the Norfolk Arms had people in it, with many people indulging in the very nice looking food in the restaurant area. I was saving my stomach for the award winning pies at Glossop’s Surrey Street ground, so I skipped the food and headed straight to the bar and adventurously bought a Crystal lager (it was crap). The Norfolk Arms was a very clean, tidy and pleasant bar, but easily my favourite feature was the oddly-shaped black box hanging from the ceiling wielding four TV screens – all pubs need one of these!
Following my pint of Crystal (avoid next time) and Jason’s pint of Joseph Holt Bitter, we headed further down the high street in the direction of the ground with the aim of visiting one more pub. The pub we plumped for was the alliteratively named Corner Cupboard, a little pub just 5 minutes around the corner from Surrey Street. Of the three pubs we visited prematch, this was easily the least modernised, yet it was my favourite as it actually had some character to it. Just like in the Howards Arms, Jason and I were originally the only customers in there. The friendly old lady behind the bar served us our drinks and gave us clear instructions on how to get to the ground. She was even worried about us when she noticed it was raining, although I informed her that I was from South Wales and rain was not an issue for me. On mentioning I was from Wales, she seemed completely confused as if she had not heard of this strange land called ‘Wales’. Speaking of Wales, it was also great fun to rewatch the highlights of Wales’ excellent victory over Scotland (I was still buzzing) on Sky Sport News in the pub, before heading up to Glossop’s ground.
With accurate directions from the friendly lady in the Corner Cupboard, we found ourselves outside Surrey Street, the home of Glossop North End, 5 minutes after leaving the pub. I had seen photos of Surrey Street after a browse of the web the night before and loved the old, derelict factory that loomed over the one side of the ground; I was disappointed to find, on our arrival at the ground, a huge pile of rubble behind the one stand where the factory once stood, losing this defining characteristic of the ground. However, one feature that was still present and looming over Surrey Street was the 300ft chimney, certainly a landmark you do not see at many football grounds up and down the country – even trying to fit the chimney into one photo was a struggle because of the sheer height of the thing.
Anyway, having marveled at a rusty chimney long enough, we entered the ground paying our £6 entrance fee. Surrey Street is certainly not the largest of grounds and as soon as you enter you get a feeling of compactness, although I quite like this when it come to non-league grounds. Directly opposite the turnstiles we entered through was the only real stand in the ground, which consisted of five rows of seats and only went along half the pitch. Behind the far goal was a barren space, although just peeking his head over the fence behind the goal was Colonel Sanders and a KFC outlet for misfiring strikers to aim for. Down the side of the pitch we entered from stood a sheltered standing area and behind the goal nearest us was another standing terrace (ominously titled ‘The Trenches’), the pie hut and the clubhouse, as well as the shadow of the chimney looming across the field from behind the same goal.
No visit to any non-league ground is complete without a visit to the clubhouse and this seemed to be as good a place to start as any with a full 30 minutes to go until kick-off. In regards to a clubhouse, it had clearly been done up recently but there was nothing particularly eye-catching about the place and the beer was priced around the £3 mark. One cool feature of the clubhouse was the large painting on the far wall which depicted Glossops’s trip to Wembley for the FA Vase trophy final in 2009, a fixture in which they were defeated 2-0 by Northern Premier Division side Whitley Bay.
Glossop currently play in the North West Counties Football League Premier Division (9th tier of the English football pyramid), yet this is a club that has been right to the top. The club began life in 1886 and after various trial homes they eventually settled at The North Road. Whilst at North Road, the club began to climb through the various leagues before the were elected to play in the Second Division of the Football League. Amazingly, just over a decade after forming, Glossop finished second behind Manchester City in the Second Division and found themselves promoted to the First Division – quite an achievement for such a small town club. In fact, a bit of football trivia for you, Glossop are the smallest town to have ever had a team in top flight in this country. Their unlikely rise to the top led to the startlingly reality of the top flight as the Hillmen only won four games all season against Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Blackburn and Burnley – all these victories came at home. Their ascendancy is perhaps less surprising when you take into consideration the local business tycoon they had funding their rise: Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, a man who had made his money in the cotton trade, was a MP, a renowned cricketer for Derbyshire and he even had two stints as chairman of Arsenal. The man was also the father and grandfather of former Arsenal chairmen Denis Hill-Wood and Peter Hill-Wood; the family ties with Arsenal came to an end in the 1990s when Peter Hill-Wood sold his shares to the incoming Stan Kroenke.
Now it was time for the moment I had been waiting for: the pie. I had heard nothing but good things about these pies and the hype surrounding them had reached an unprecedented level. With 10 minutes to go until kick-off, there was already a queue forming outside the pie booth, which gave me time to consider my pie options. On spying the pie menu there was only ever go to be one winner – I opted for the chicken balti pie whilst Jason went for the classic meat and potato pie. The helping was very generous and at £1.50 a pie I was already impressed – now just to taste the thing. The pie was great, but after analysing the pie thoroughly, it did not hit the higher echelons of the pie realms mainly because it was a little dry on the inside; after analysing the innards of Jason’s meat and potato pie, I came to the same conclusion with his: just a little too dry. Despite a slight dryness (I am being really picky, but there was so much hype around the pie I thought it was going to be perfect), it was still a top class pie.
The teams came out onto the pitch and we decided that we’d enjoy the first half from the main seating stand, before having a bit of a wander later. And what a half we had to enjoy. The game started at lightning speed with AFC Blackpool, playing in the same shade of orange as their second tier neighbours, starting much the better side and even hitting the bar in the opening seconds. One of AFC Blackpool’s wingers was particularly lively so much so that he earned himself a booking for a very rash challenge which incensed the Glossop bench. The Blackpool winger was raging and I commented that if he stayed on the pitch, he would certainly see red by the end of the game. He just had that crazy look about him (sorry, I don’t know his name and I can’t find a match report or team sheet ).
Against the run of play, Glossop put together a flowing passing move which ended with Mark Battersby taking a knock to the side of the incoming goalkeeper and then finishing from a tight angle.
AFC Blackpool were stunned and two minutes later they found themselves 2-0 down after Danny Browne headed in at the near post. The way the game was progressing it looked like Glossop would go onto further their lead, but Blackpool were about to pull out a worldly goal. After a corner was put into the mixer, the ball shot up into the air towards the edge of the box; with players closing him down and with a whole load of bodies in front of him, the Blackpool player (once again, no team sheet) waited patiently for the ball to drop out of the sky at the edge of the box, before hitting a sumptuous volley first time; the ball duly flew into the far corner leaving the goalkeeper routed to his line. It was quite a brilliant goal!
This incredible goal should have been the catalyst for Blackpool’s comeback, but less than ten minutes later Glossop restored their 2 goal cushion with Adam Oakes converting an emphatic penalty. 3-1 up with minutes to go until half time and Glossop looked very much in control of the game. However, Blackpool had a trump card up their sleeve just before half time with another superb goal. Jason had taken to calling one of Blackpool’s players Alvaro Recoba for reasons which I am still unclear about. Anyway, the same guy decided to embrace the spirit of the enigmatic Uruguayan genius Recoba by bringing down a ball on the edge of the box and beautifully curling a left-footed shot into the far corner. 3-2 at half-time and what a half it had been.
Half-time was spent circling the ground, as I tried to find the best the place to get a photo of the chimney. It was whilst on this wander that I was confronted by an old man who just wanted to tell me the fact that the chimney was 300ft high (I should really verify this fact having used it numerous times already). With photos taken it was time for another pint in the clubhouse.
Whilst in the clubhouse, I gazed out the window at the players coming back out on to the pitch and noticed something moving by the side of the pitch out of the corner of my eye: a dog. My excitement had risen…no not because I have some weird dog fetish, but because I saw my opportunity to contribute to one of the most incredible websites around – Non-League Dogs! For those that are not acquainted with the site, Non-League Dogs (why aren’t you?), a bit like Ronsil, it does exactly what it says on the tin – it is a site that collates photos of dogs…at non-league football grounds, hence…Non-League Dogs.. I know the concept sounds strange, but the site is actually very popular and well-known (it even got a mention of BBC 5Live’s Non-League Show). The game almost became unnecessary now, as the chief goal of the day was to snap this canine (without looking like a weirdo) and make my claim to enter the pantheons of non-league football/dog-related photography – I just had to bide my time, like a non-league David Attenborough.
The game carried on at the whirlwind pace which it had left off on at end of the first half. Soon enough Blackpool’s comeback was complete as they hit two goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half to go 4-3 up. However, as predicted after another late challenge, Blackpool’s short, fiery winger found himself getting his second yellow card and subsequent red to see him make the long stroll back to the changing rooms behind the Glossop goal.
The game was now Glossop’s for the taking as they piled on the pressure with their impressively quick and skilful left winger now being given plenty of space to surge at the Blackpool’s stretched defence. Eventually the equaliser came through a second goal for Mark Battersley and the Glossop onslaught continued right to the final whistle, but they were repeatedly denied by last ditch blocks, some good goalkeeping and some poor finishing. A 4-4 thriller! This is why non-league is brilliant!
But the big question…did I get my much desired canine photo? The answer is an emphatic yes. With the clock ticking down I realised I had to act fast and I began slowly approaching from the side pretending I was snapping the clubhouse. Just as I was about to click the dog strolled towards me, before majestically placing his paw on a football right next to me in a dream pose. The result is displayed below and yes it even made it onto Non-League Dogs (here) – a proud moment.
To cap off the day we headed to the charmingly named pub ‘The Friendship’ (with a cool semi-circular bar) located just around the corner where we enjoyed some drinks and watched the League One and Two goals from that day on Sky Sports News. There may have been some league football on that day, but ultimately Non-League Day was the winner. My day had been a great success – a 4-4 goalfest, a great little ground, great pie, a nice town and most importantly a published photo on Non-league Dogs. Woof indeed.
Highlights: Nice town, plenty of pubs about, winning TWO games of pool, very good pies (cheap too), a 4-4 thriller, the 300ft chimney, getting my photo published on Non-League Dogs
Low Points: The hype of the pie was almost impossible to live up to, trying not to look like a weirdo taking photos of dogs.