Hucknall Rolls Leisure v Notts County
Watnall Road / Friendly / 11th July 2015
(Okay, weird title I know, but bear with me).
I regularly cite Nottingham as one of my favourite cities in the country. It really is brilliant. 2014 saw me visit the city 3 times – twice unintentionally. The first was the infamous ‘Falling-asleep-on-train-from-Liverpool-and-waking-up-in-Nottingham-at-11.30pm-gate’, but which then saw me spontaneously go to watch Nottingham Forest v Yeovil the next day; the third time was a desperate rush to Forest’s City Ground from Mansfield to catch any form of Saturday afternoon football as Mansfield Town’s FA Cup tie against Concord Rangers was called off very late in the afternoon (I made it to Forest v Norwich literally as the ball was being kicked off); but it is probably the trip sandwiched in the middle of these two visits that I remember most fondly – incidentally this was the only planned trip to Nottingham: on Easter Monday 2014 I headed to Nottingham for Notts County v Crawley and a jolly good day was had which you can read about here.
The keynote of that day was me befriending some Notts County fans and I promised to do at least 1 away day with them in the following season – a promise I stuck to by heading to Coventry v Notts County. One of the chief ringers in getting me to go to that away day was Stu Brothers, the editor of the County fanzine Black and White. For this season, Stu was looking for some new writers to bolster his already successful fanzine and in a surprise turn of events he recruited a non-Notts County fan to his writing team: Matt Harrison – me.
“Make League Two sound sexy for us,” was the pitch Stu threw my way. County had been relegated to the basement division of the Football League at the end of last season and so Stu wanted someone to make the prospect of visiting the towns and grounds of League Two football sound more appealing and to put a positive spin on County’s relegation. Apparently, I was the man for such a task. To celebrate me joining the Black and White team for the forthcoming season, a celebration (piss up) was needed. Then I saw a tweet that fuelled my imagination and the piss-up was on.
‘Notts County will be playing Rolls Royce FC in a preseason friendly.’ From the instant I saw this announcement I was on board. I hadn’t a clue who Rolls Royce FC were, nor did I have any clue to where they were from, but I felt I had to go as…well, they are called Rolls Royce FC for god’s sake! They are sort of called that anyway; they are now known as Hucknall Rolls Leisure, but come on, their former moniker of Rolls Royce FC is a far cooler name and for that reason alone I shall be referring to them by that name throughout. Although their current name at least did reveal to me where they reside: Hucknall – a small town on the outskirts of Nottingham. ‘So, let’s get ourselves to Hucknall for some fun’, I thought. Nope. I was told it was shit and that we would be spending the morning drinking in Nottingham.
I arrived into Nottingham at 10.30am and then made my way to the Company Inn Wetherspoons located next to the canal. It was in here that my Notts County-supporting pal Landy had told me to meet him, but he couldn’t have picked a weirder Spoons to meet at. With Landy’s train running late from his abode in Kettering, I arrived into the pub by myself. Plastic fucking cups! The devil! Now, I can understand them being used when there’s a crowded pub or some sort of event when drunkenness may lead to a host of glass-smashing, but on this pleasant July morning there was about 5 old men in the pub sipping ale and reading their papers – not exactly the types to incite a spontaneous, glass-smashing riot. The barman informed me that the police had said there’d been too much broken glass found outside in recent weeks and told them to solely sell in plastic. There’d been no football for weeks, so I’m blaming those pesky cricket fans for the glass-smashing atrocities committed outside the pub.
If plastic cups weren’t bad enough, I then saw a sight that I tried to avoid on weekends: a class of schoolchildren came sauntering in complete with blazers from some sort of fancy, Saturday private school I expect. I’m not sure why their teacher was bringing them to the pub though; maybe it was a ‘life skills’ lesson or something. “Here’s what you do in Wetherspoons kids,” and “Don’t make eye contact with any of the crazy looking old men whatever you do kids.”
Eventually, Landy arrived and after a couple of beers in ‘plastic vessels’ (as the sign on the bar dubbed them), we headed towards the main square of Nottingham to meet up with Stu and to hop on the tram north to Hucknall. We found Stu exiting a place called ‘Five Guys’ with one monstrous looking hot dog – the name of the food outlet now made sense.
For £3.60 we had the freedom of the Nottingham tram network and on boarding I noted straight away that the trams here were much tidier and cleaner than the Manchester equivalents. The tram journey was spent discussing Notts County’s chances of promotion/winning League Two next season (quite high it seemed) and with Landy and Stu reminiscing about various away days from previous years too. I do enjoy a good football tale. My contribution to the conversation generally consisted of raving about former Swansea legend Andy Robinson and making bad jokes/puns, which continued to repulse Stu and Landy throughout the day.
We arrived into Hucknall just before 1pm leaving us with little over an hour to make it to ground for today’s 2pm kick-off. Having spotted no taxis, we opted to traipse across Hucknall to the ground, at times guessing our way through the streets with Google Maps letting us down this afternoon.
Hucknall as a place…well, there really wasn’t much to see on the route we took through the streets to Rolls Royce FC. Hucknall can be found 7 miles north-west of Nottingham itself and it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the town has a big association with the car manufacturers Rolls Royce. However, the town is more renowned for aviation that automobiles with the flight of the P-51 Mustang plane (fitted with a Rolls-Royce Merlin Engine of course) taking place here and the first vertical-take-off jet also being developed here. More appealing to my English teaching tastes was the fact that Lord Byron was also buried in Hucknall. And Hucknall certainly makes a point of basking in this fact, as on trek we noticed Byron Street, Byron House and even Byron Bingo hall.
Having zig-zagged our way through the streets of Hucknall, including the amazing Storth Avenue (you sort of had to be there), we came to Hucknall Town FC – the other club in town. Stu now recalled from visiting Rolls Royce last year that the ground we were visiting today was now about half a mile down the road, although it felt a hell of a lot longer. We did spot a rather quirky sounding ‘Nottingham’s Canine Hydrotherapy Centre though. I swear I could hear cries of “Swim dog, swim!” from within.
We eventually arrived at a driveway with signs confirming that we were entering the grounds of ‘Rolls Royce Leisure Association’ and its assortment of conference and function rooms, gyms, bowling green and playing fields and how it would proudly host any weddings, functions or any celebration for us. A football match would suffice for today.
The place was a far cry from your usual entrance into a football club as we headed through a small building, paid our entry (£5 today) and arrived straight in the spacious club bar. I was happy to just get a beer after a long walk, but my request was greeted with the wicked words of: “It’ll be in plastic though mate.” For fuck sake. What had I done to deserve this plastic cup hell? I bought my a fanzine off Stu to cheer me up and had a flick through that, before being greeted by my mug smiling back at me halfway through the fanzine. It was basically me explaining introducing myself to the readers of the fanzine and explaining how a boy from Merthyr Tydfil had ended up up north and groundhopping all over the place.
It was now a lovely day, so we headed through the large conservatory and onto the veranda overlooking the playing fields; yes, I did just say that we got pitch side via a conservatory and a veranda – it was just that sort of place. The scene ahead of me resembled more of a village fete than the usual scenes ten minutes leading up to a football match. There was a DJ playing in the corner, a barbecue on the go, an ice cream van making sterling trade and even a bouncy castle for the little ones. It was all aimed at wholesome family fun and clearly the club were making a fortune today.
The grounds of Rolls-Royce Leisure Association is essentially one huge open field, which could clearly host 2-3 games at a time. However, the fairly large crowd consisting of a lot of Notts County shirts (there was the odd brave child or two wearing Forest shirts) was beginning to circle the fenced-off main pitch at the far end. Now joined by fellow groundhopper George, we finished our drinks and headed pitchside just after the two teams, with County led by a long, blonde-haired Alan Smith of former Manchester United, Leeds and England fame, had made the long walk from the changing rooms to the pitch. So, onto Notts County’s opponents today…
At the same time that the Rolls’ factory was opening, the football club were formed in 1935 as Rolls Royce Welfare, before disappearing off the football map until the 1970s when they reformed. They became Hucknall Rolls Royce FC in 1991 and then in 2002 Rolls Royce Leisure FC, before dissolving again in 2002 and rising again in 2009 as Nottinghamshire Senior League team Hucknall Rolls Leisure FC – the far less cool name of the lot I feel.
After an initial quiet start the game, the gulf in class between the two teams began to show and as me and George completed a lap of the very basic ground (railing around the pitch and one small shelter behind the one goal) County began to bang in the goals. On the tram up to Hucknall, the lads had said that Notts County will be very attacking under their new Dutch manager Ricardo Moniz and it was easy to see why today. Although this was lowly opposition, County were brilliant at times in the first half with their very ‘top heavy’ formation.
A deflected 25 yard shot saw County take the lead, before their lead was doubled by the much-adored Jimmy Spencer who scored a simple tap in after the goalie tipped the ball across goal after a decent save. The goalie was cruelly treated during the first half, as he made a few great saves, but his goal was peppered with shots once County had their first.
Spencer then made it 3-0 as he curled in a brilliant shot goalwards leaving the keeper stranded, but it was the turn of his strike partner to get on the scoresheet next with probably my favourite goal of the day (there was a lot to choose from). Newly signed Jon Stead ran across the box, gave the ball to a team-mate, before then latching back onto it and unleashing a screamer into the top corner from inside the box, whilst he was falling over.
Blair Adams then rocketed one into the net as he cut into the box. “You didn’t get a sniff of that keeper,” shouted one fan, leading to the keeper to reply that he didn’t even see it let alone smell it. 5-0.
There was still time for one more goal in the first 45 minutes, as Stead converted from a Valencic cross to make it 6-0. Admittedly, I was more preoccupied with my own battle on the sidelines as a spider had apparently began crawling up my face, clearly a fan of my flat cap.
Half-time: Rolls Royce 0 – 6 Notts County.
Talk at half-time turned to ‘will this be double figures?’ I was certain it would be and the idea got me excited as my record result so far remains 9-1. Whilst we whetted our appetites for more goals, I sent George to the bar to get our beers, whilst I queued for the barbecue for a very tasty cheesy burger. Great puns on the sign too.
George took his time getting the beers, so by the time we had our beverages the second half was kicking off. With beers in hand, we headed back towards pitchside. Now, for a first in my football viewing years: the teams had not switched halves for the second half! Mental! I guessed that this might be down to the fact that the pitch did have a very slight slope to it and they wanted to make County work for their heavy win by playing both halves uphill.
Fairplay to Rolls Royce in the second half, as they remained resilient and did not let anything past them. Admittedly, they were now playing against a different Notts County XI consisting of more trialists and youngsters rather than the ‘star-studded’ team of the first half.
I’d began to give up on seeing double figures, when suddenly the impressive Genaro Snijders scored a peach of a goal and then Larty Sarpong placed into the bottom corner to make it 8-0. I was now shouting for 10.
As the clock ticked towards 90, County rightfully got a penalty which was scored by Abdoulla Alliyu. “WE WANT 10! WE WANT 10!” Sadly, that penalty was virtually the last kick of the game and we were left with a measly 9 goals to savour. Ironic boos came from the County fans behind the goal.
Full-time: Rolls Royce FC 0 – 9 Notts County.
We began to walk back to the clubhouse alongside the players and it was then I found myself walking across the path of Alan Smith. Of course, I couldn’t miss such a photo opportunity with a former international footballer. He was happy to oblige and he was game for the double thumbs up too. I sold it to him by telling him, “your old team-mate Scholesy has done it too.” George and Landy also wanted in on the fun too, despite Landy slating the player regularly for his apparent poor showings last season. As the photo below shows, Alan Smith appeared to be ecstatic about getting to feature on Lost Boyos, whilst I appear less thrilled by him (I love you really Alan).
A couple of beers were enjoyed in the clubhouse whilst Stu declared how supporting Notts next year will definitely not be dull with their new attacking outlook; although he did admit that he didn’t expect to see them score 17 goals in two games like he had seen them do in the first two preseason games of the season.
There was talk of getting a taxi back to Hucknall station, but once again we talked ourselves into walking it. As we walked past Hucknall Town’s ground, we saw a ball fly into the air above the stands, as they were finishing off their game v Heanor Town. We debated whether this counted as a another match and whether we could now say that we’d seen two games in one afternoon; the answer was ‘no’.
No pub calls again as we headed back down Storth Avenue (once again, I need to say what an avenue it is…but you had to be there) and then to the station and back to Nottingham.
After debating where to head for an evening drink in Nottingham, Stu decided he’d head home instead and so I directed me Landy and George back to the pubs by the station. I remember enjoying the ale in Fellows, Morton and Clayton pub (also the sight of the first ever hot air balloon flight). It was George’s round and so I asked him to get me a pint of the Nottingham Brewery stuff. When he came back I wanted to cry tears of joy: GLASS! THE PINT WAS IN A GLASS! I caressed and stroked the beautiful glass lovingly after enduring a whole day of plastic beer cups.
There was still an hour until me and George’s train back to Manchester and as Landy got ready to set off back to Kettering, I told George that there is a bit of a Lost Boyos tradition when visiting Nottingham: to Hooters we went. The bar was awash with stag dos on this Saturday evening and me and George finished our day out by drinking beer (in glasses again) and watching in amusement at the wacky array of attire on show ranging from a lad dressed up as a Hooters girl to a lad in an ostrich riding costume à la David Brent in the Comic Relief episode of The Office.
The journey back to Manchester is an hour and three-quarters, so beer was purchased for such a long trip back, although George decided that now was a good time to try Newcastle Brown Ale for the first time and so he bought himself a bottle for the journey home.
We reflected on the train home that today had been good fun. There really isn’t much to the home of Rolls Royce FC and we figured that we had picked a good time to visit with a big team and crowd in town in the form of Notts County; I really wouldn’t want to be in that big open field on a cold, Tuesday night in winter watching Nottinghamshire Senior football. However, today had been a perfect example of the fun that can be had at summer football during preseason: a friendly, family atmosphere, beer in the sun and plenty of goals for us to enjoy. Overall, the day had been a big success (apart from the plastic cups).
Highlights: a return to Nottingham, Storth Avenue (you just had to be there), seeing my first piece in the Black and White fanzine, pleasant, family atmosphere at the game, beer in the sun, lots of goals, meeting Alan Smith, Hooters.
Low Points: not much to Hucknall (although will explore more when/if I visit Hucknall Town one day), plastic cups haunting me all day!
See all my photos from my day out at Rolls Royce FC on my Flickr page here.