Alfreton Town v Nuneaton Town
North Street / North Street / 20th September 2014
With a free weekend sandwiched in between two Premier League away days with Swansea City, I decided to counterbalance the forays into the glamour of the top flight with plunge back into non-league football. I’ve usually decided on a Saturday destination a good week or so in advance of heading off on my weekend football adventure, but, for whatever reason, I could not decide where to venture this particular Saturday afternoon. I had many grounds and clubs in mind, but I just could not make a final decision. I decided that I would let fate decide for me.
On Friday night I placed 25 non-league clubs based in Northern England and spread across Lancashire, Merseyside, Derbyshire and Yorkshire into a hat (a flat cap of course). The simple format was to be: last team left in the hat was to be my destination the next day. Out of the hat came the likes of Guiseley, Ashton Town, Bradford Park Avenue, Bootle and Macclesfield and 18 other clubs until two remained: Ossett Albion of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One and Alfreton Town of the Conference Premier. Drum roll please…(makes drum roll noise)…and my latest Lost Boyos adventure would be at…(drum roll continues…STOP)…ALFRETON TOWN! Although you already knew that as the blog is titled ‘Lost in…Alfreton – there was no need for that over-the-top build up whatsoever really.
Interestingly, Alfreton does have a bit of Lost Boyos previous. Undoubtedly, one of my most famous tales is the one of me falling asleep on the train home from Liverpool to Manchester and waking up in Nottingham just before midnight. Well, I actually woke up as the train rolled out of Alfreton station that night; although, in my bleary-eyed, drunken state, I could not get my geography knowledge quite sorted in my head and genuinely had to Google where Alfreton actually was. To my annoyance, I found myself in the middle of Derbyshire when I was supposed to be in Manchester, but a top day was had in Nottingham the next day anyway, so all’s well that ends well.
After such a calamitous night back on the first day of February this year, I was well aware of where Alfreton was located this time around, as I made my way there (this time intentionally) on the 10am train from Manchester Piccadilly.
By midday I found myself in the Derbyshire town and first impressions were not great, as I seemed to have landed in a strangely isolated town with nothing but red-bricked residential homes surrounding me. I hoped that as I plodded through the streets of Alfreton, past a shop proudly advertising ‘Incinerators – £16.99’, that things would improve and that the town centre would cheer my soul. Fortunately, as the afternoon went on, things did improve.
Admittedly, there still wasn’t too much to the main high street, but there were two decent looking pubs. My first port of call was the Blue Bell Traditional Inn. For an early afternoon, the place was busy with many locals enjoying the ales on tap and others enjoying typical pub meals in the small restaurant area of the pub. However, the main topic of conversation in the bar on this overcast Saturday afternoon was of Derby County with many gracing the place with their white Derby County shirts. The place seemed to be far more Derby-orientated than Forest-centric.
Next up pub-wise, was the much larger King Alfred. For the historians out there, Alfreton was supposedly founded by King Alfred and this is where the town’s name derives from. The pub is a large one with a huge bar area dominating the central area of the place with smaller areas breaking off from it. I settled with a pint to watch the football on the TV and to give my phone a much-needed charge.
It had occurred to me whilst sitting in the King Alfred that my late decision to head to Alfreton had led to me researching very little about the place – including, most importantly, where the football ground could be found. I had seen one of those familiar brown football ground signs earlier in the day pointing the way to ‘Alfreton Town FC’, but I decided to play it safe and ask the fella at the bar, who was clad in the red of Alfreton Town, for more exact directions to the ground. As he informed me I was fairly near to it, my next question was obviously were there anymore bars en route. “Come with me,” he obligingly stated. So off we went.
My new companion introduced himself to me as ‘Wozza’ (his name is actually Warren before you ask why) and he led me just a few minutes down the main road to Blueys. No that sort of ‘blue’ place! Strangely enough, Blueys is an Australian-themed bar – not something I expected to find on the Alfreton high street on this mid-September afternoon. A few other Alfreton fans were also gathered in Blueys and this will be the first time that I mention that they were all very friendly and welcoming to me with many commenting that my drawing-names-out-of-a-hat-to-choose-where-to-go-on-a-Saturday-afternoon idea a stroke of genius. I think the names out of a hat system will certainly be making another appearance soon.
It seemed that I was a slower drink than the ‘Often’ (the town’s nickname) lot, who informed me that they were moving onto the Victoria Inn located just around the corner from the football ground. I arrived into the Victoria Inn about 5 minutes after the Alfreton lads and I have to say out of all the drinking holes I visited on the day, the Victoria was easily my favourite. A large bar area leads out of large open doors into the beer garden and it was out here I found Wozza and the gang. Pints were drunk, mops were placed on my head in ode to the nickname of my teenage years, ‘Mophead’, and chat of Alfreton Town FC was had, but as the clock ticked towards 14:30, I decided I wanted to pay the club’s social bar a visit before kick-off.
Having strolled down North Street, I found myself at the clubhouse bar less than 5 minutes after leaving the Victoria. I was somewhat surprised to find the bar fairly quiet with only half hour to go until kick-off, so having sunk my pint fairly quickly, I headed through the car park and to the turnstiles of Alfreton Town FC’s impressively named, Impact Arena; although to the locals it’ll always be known as its pre-sponsorship name of North Street. £16 later, a steep price I still feel for Conference football, and I was into North Street.
The emergence of Alfreton Town FC in 1959 also led to the emergence of North Street, a ground provided by the local council. Previous to Alfreton Town, football had existed in the town in the form of Alfreton Miners Welfare and Alfreton United, but a merger saw those two clubs come together to form the current incarnation of the Reds. The story of Alfreton Town is one of very slow, but steady progress up the leagues with the club virtually always heading forward throughout their entire 55 year history. The club began life in the Midland League and has since climbed up into the North East Counties League, then the Northern Premier Leagues and finally into the Conference leagues, before finally reaching the top tier of non-league football in 2011-12, after 7 years in the Conference North. Respectable mid-table finishes have seen the club settle themselves in the Conference Premier, although today’s clash against Nuneaton Town would kick-off with the home team languishing towards the bottom places of the league.
North Street won me over as soon as I walked in. There is a certain lop-sided charm to the place. The ground looks rather sizable as you walk in, although there is a distinct lack of seating for the ground’s size (not that this really bothered me). Behind the goals as you enter the ground is an open standing terrace, where a loud home support was gathered today, including Wozza and friends. Down the right hand side of the pitch is a long sheltered stand, which houses another standing area, the dugouts and the press area, as well as the changing rooms and all the other usual amenities. On the opposite side of the ground is another stand, this time with some seating alongside an uncovered seating area. Finally, behind the far goal is another standing area with a small stand squeezed into the middle of it. This part of the ground looked particularly interesting, but for some reason it was decided that today’s game v Nuneaton was to have segregation, much to the bemusement of the Often fans, meaning this part of the ground was out-of-bounds for myself (unless I decided to turn all Nuneaton).
To combat the prematch beer, I headed straight to the food hut located in the corner of the ground where I had entered. Chips, pie and gravy for around £2 (I can’t recall the exact pricing) and it was bloody superb! Sorted me out good and proper. So with food in my belly, I headed over to where was Wozza was standing ready to cheer on the Reds.
The game got underway, Alfreton in the red and Nuneaton in the blue and white, and to be honest it was very much a slow burner. With very little action on the pitch I went for a nose around the ground, even being stopped by a steward at one point when I neared the away end, as he seemed to think I was some sort of deranged Alfreton fan on a mission to attack the Nuneaton fans behind the goal.
One of the strangest things I found at the ground was when I took my seat for 10 minutes down the left hand side of the ground; for a ground in the Conference Premier, I could not believe that they were getting away without fencing between this stand and the pitch itself; at a very long stretch, I could probably reach over and tap the linesman on the shoulder.
The game did improve slightly, but slightly being the operative word here. Former Tranmere and Carlisle player Craig Curran was looking threatening for the away team, but the best player on the pitch for me was another former Football League stalwart: Alfreton’s Karl Hawley. I remember Hawley being particularly good at Carlisle many years again and his talent shone through at this level.
Chances were few and far between and the most entertaining part of the game proved to be the name of Nuneaton Town’s huge defender Exodus Geohaghan. Now that’s a cool name.
Half-time: Alfreton Town 0 – 0 Nuneaton Town.
I nipped across the road for a half-time drink and to catch up on the scores elsewhere in the country, before running back over the road just in time for the start of the second half.
“I haven’t seen a 0 – 0 yet this season, so your lads better not mess that up,” I declared, as I rejoined Wozza and his pals on the standing terrace. Clearly, the lack of action in the first half had got to them and so they put a lot of effort into making a lot of noise in the second half to liven the place up a bit. They did a great job.
Admittedly, the game also improved and Alfreton were looking more and more threatening as the half progressed, although Nuneaton were denied by two outstanding saves from the Alfreton keeper in quick succession to keep things at 0-0.
Nuneaton were beginning to look the stronger, but eventually the home team would find their breakthrough in the 62nd minute. The excellent Hawley burst past the Nuneaton defence down the byline and his simple pass across the box was side-footed in by David Mellor, despite the away keeper getting a hand to the effort. 1-0 to the home team and I was just happy that my run of no 0-0s this season was still intact, whilst the Alfreton fans around me celebrated vociferously.
In fairness, the game looked won with that goal, even though there was still 30 minutes left to play. The Alfreton fans were now singing like they had already won the game too with a particular favourite chant of mine being their version of The Farm’s Altogether Now.
There was still time for big Exodus to miss a sitter from close range and to cause some havoc with his long throws, but Alfreton held on for an important 3 points, which saw them pull a little further from the relegation places.
Full-time: Alfreton Town 1 – 0 Nuneaton Town.
By 5pm I was back in the Victoria Inn with quite a few of the Alfreton fans entering not long after me. Originally, I had planned to pop in for a quick drink, before heading for the 6pm train, but I was enjoying myself so much and the Liverpool v West Ham on TV was decent, so I decided to stay until 7pm.
“Sorry mate, but I’m sure I’ve met you before,” enquired a gentleman next to me at the bar. He did look vaguely familiar and it was only when his young son, who was kitted out in an Alfreton top, joined him that I realised where I knew them from. I had been chatting to them on the train home from Liverpool two weeks before. They were Chelsea fans, who had travelled over to Merseyside to watch Everton v Chelsea, yet I don’t recall any mention of them saying that they resided in Alfreton. How strange to bump into them randomly again.
I was getting ready to leave, but Wozza insisted that I couldn’t leave until I had enjoyed a shot of ‘Yates’. Of course, I’m not one to turn a drink down, no matter what it is. I was unfamiliar with the stuff but it certainly left a burning aftertaste in my mouth. Shot done, onwards to the station.
The train journey was an enjoyable one, as the carriages were rammed with Oldham fans on their way back to Manchester from their away day at Notts County. I got chatting to an Oldham supporting couple who were sat directly opposite me and the talk of football and drinking of beer made the train journey fly by. A pleasant end to the day.
On arriving at Alfreton and having looked around the place, I feared the worst and I felt that I may be in for a bland outing. ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ is the old saying I’d deploy here. I had a great day in Alfreton and that is largely thanks to the fans, who were all very welcoming. The game may not have been a stellar one, but I was a big fan of North Street as a ground. I guess I should really thank the flat cap and fate for drawing Alfreton Town out of the hat. The ‘names of a hat’ routine will definitely be making a comeback soon.
Highlights: decent pubs, especially the Victoria Inn, friendly locals and welcoming fans, North Street is good ground, top pie, chips and gravy, Karl Hawley’s performance.
Low Points: not too much to the town, poor game.
See all my photos from my trip to Alfreton here.