AFC Telford v Nuneaton Town
New Bucks Head / Conference North / 14th November 2015
Zinedine Zidane, Paul Scholes, Ronaldinho, Fabio Cannavaro, Luis Figo and David Beckham – these are just some of the plethora of former footballing legends (proper legends too) that were gracing Old Trafford, just a mere 40 minute walk from my doorstep. Obviously, I was going to be there for it…wasn’t I? Well, no. I’ve never been a big fan of obvious. Give me the likes of Sean Clancy, David Hibbert and Connor McCarthy any day – some of the glittering names you’ll find adorning the AFC Telford squad list.
Okay, I’m not one of these ‘true’ football fans who constantly screams belligerently ’Against Modern Football!’ (I support a Premier League team after all) and so I did feel a bit silly missing Beckham’s ‘Match For Children’ charity match with such stellar names on show. However, I had seen the majority of the big names play before (including all of the ones mentioned earlier) and so I figured I’d work on adding to my ‘92’ instead. The plan was originally to head to Shrewsbury v Walsall for my first visit to New Meadow; however, with Walsall’s star striker Tom Bradshaw earning a call up to the Wales squad, Walsall requested the game be postponed and their request proved successful. Stupidly for me, I had already booked cheap train tickets from Manchester to Shrewsbury. Back to the drawing board and at that board I found all signs pointing to Telford. Telford it was to be – more precisely AFC Telford v Nuneaton in the Conference North. Sod you David Beckham!
After my initial 9.30am train was cancelled, I was forced to hang around Piccadilly for an hour for the next train, but still, even before the day had reached midday, I was rolling into Shrewsbury. Here I met up with Walsall fan Stu, who had originally sorted me out with a ticket in the Walsall away end at the New Meadow; I had convinced him that coming to Telford v Nuneaton was a good idea with his beloved Walsall no longer in action on this Saturday afternoon. He seemed to think it was a good idea did too judging from the fact he turned up to meet me, although he was far more against my idea of heading into Telford itself. You see, AFC Telford’s ground is located in the small Shropshire town of Wellington found just a few miles west of Telford. However, I thought it rude to visit AFC Telford and not the town that gives the club its name. Bad call Harrison.
I usually reserve my most derisory comments on British towns for the likes of Stoke and Milton Keynes, but having alighted the train at Telford Central I think I may have found a place that contends with Milton Keynes for sheer blandness. Stu, who lives in nearby Shrewsbury, had told me repeatedly that there is nothing to be found in Telford centre but I wanted to challenge the notion. I lost. There was nothing barring a huge shopping centre under one roof – and I definitely wasn’t in a shopping mood. So I turned to the internet and knew there would be one establishment that would save the day: I typed into Google ‘Telford Wetherspoons’. Thank the lord there was one to be found around the back of the aforementioned shopping centre.
At least Telford can boast a good Wetherspoons in the form of the Thomas Botfield (named after a local industrialist). It was in here we began formulating an exit plan out of Telford and to head over to the apparently more pub-abundant Wellington. So after a swift pint of Shropshire Gold ale we were heading back down the road and back to Telford Central. Next stop: Wellington.
Now this was more like it! On walking out the station we were greeted by two pubs almost immediately and on looking up the high street, I knew this was my sort of place. We headed straight into the nearest pub, The Beacon, and conceived our plan from there. However, we did have to deal with some intimidation from the Nuneaton ‘Yoof’ who came over to chat with us, assuming us to be Telford fans. Our juvenile pals looked the part of stereotypical hooligans with their mix of Stone Island, goggled jackets and general ‘casual clobber’ – they were about 14 years old though. We figured we wouldn’t go in the away end with the Nuneaton lot anyway.
In a running theme on these blogs recently, next stop was Wellington’s branch of Wetherspoons, the William Withering (this Spoons was named after the famous Wellington born botanist). Having enjoyed the Salopian Brewery’s Shropshire Gold earlier in the day, I opted for the same brewery and its Hop Twister beer. This was the winner of the ‘Best Beer of the Day’ award undoubtedly. Although mid-beer, we were rejoined by the Nuneaton ‘Yoof’, although they were soon forced outside whilst their elders enjoyed a drink at the bar. I got chatting to 2 of the Nuneaton lads and they seemed a good bunch really, although I was then subjected to repeated verbal hammerings from a third Nuneaton fan about the fact that we were going to go in the home end and not the away end at New Bucks Head today (“You’re a Swansea fan, so you don’t give a fuck about Telford. Come have a fucking party with us!”) He didn’t exactly charm me into joining the Boro fans on their terrace. Anyway, it was onwards to the ground we headed.
The ground was a short walk from the town centre and it seemed that within ten minutes we could spy the floodlights of New Bucks Head – the home of AFC Telford. And what a lovely home it is too. I know quite a few people who had visited Telford before and all had generally delivered glowing praise about New Bucks Head. Now to me, from the photos I had seen, it looked like a bog-standard, new-build ground, but I have to say that it was a new-build which won me over.
The ground was opened 12 years ago back in 2003 with it supposed to be the new home of Telford United. Telford United had played at the original Bucks Head for over a century before that, sharing the ground with Wellington Town. New Bucks Head was built upon the same ground as the old Bucks Head, but sadly Telford United would only last one year at the new ground before business issues saw the club crumble and eventually fold. However, the club was resurrected as AFC Telford who just replaced the old club at New Bucks Head (a ground which is apparently the 111th biggest in the English football pyramid – cheers for that gem Wikipedia!)
Kick-off was approaching, so we circumnavigated the rather dull exterior, past The Dugout club bar (which we weren’t sure we could get into from the outside anyway) and headed for the entrance to the David Hutchinson Stand – or as it’s also known, The Hutch. I had sounded out this stand beforehand purely for it being a fairly large sheltered standing terrace – my favourite sort of stand.
On entering, I was actually a bit surprised to find space here for a living, breathing concourse. It was a cool concourse too with different paintings of various random things on the wall – from cartoon fans to managers of the club, from the club badge in ‘funky’ style graffiti to huge images of club mascot Bobby the Buck; sadly, I didn’t get to meet the man (Buck) himself, so I just had to make do with a photo alongside the cartoon image of him on the concourse wall. Whilst I’m lavishing praise on the concourse, big shout out to the fact that they were not selling shitty Carlsberg and instead I enjoyed some wonderful Hopping Hare pale ale. More importantly, as a Welshman and one that usually has to make do with gravy on everything up north, the club were selling curry sauce and chips. Perfect. I was already liking Telford. Now time to have a look at the ground proper.
We found ourselves a perch on the terrace and the pitch looked in great condition considering there had been severe weather warnings up and down the country (we seemed to have missed the worst of it in this part of Shropshire). The ground was looking good too. Behind the further goals was another almost identical terrace to the one we were standing on and it was here the Nuneaton ‘Yoof’ were located. To the right of where we were standing was the fairly plush main stand named the Sir Stephen Roberts Stand – a stand named after the club’s former Director and lifelong supporter and here you could find an array of executive boxes and offices housed at the back of it. On the opposite side to this is the fairly incongruous looking Jack Bentley Terrace with a large building plonked in the middle of the terrace (I’m still not sure as to what it actually was). I did sort of regret getting onto our chosen terrace, as, for those who don’t know, I have a pretty massive soft spot for Morecambe and it turns out the Jack Bentley Terrace is named after Morecambe manager Jim Bentley’s dad – the top goalscorer in Telford’s history and all round club legend. Jimbo himself even played for the club for 5 years before leaving for Morecambe where he became a legend as a player and now as manager.
Shortly after stepping onto the terrace, the teams were rolling out onto the pitch and straight away a debate begun: Nuneaton’s red and black checked away shirt – nice or not? For me, it was an undouted yes – it was beautiful. Stu was slightly more suspicious of its garishness. Telford were lining up opposite their counterparts in a far plainer white shirt/black shorts combo and a minute silence for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris the night before was impeccably observed by everyone in the ground with Telford fans also unveiling a ‘Pray for Paris’ banner’.
Nuneaton were not only looking good in their away shirts, but also good at the top of the Conference North table, while Telford languished in the relegation zone of the league. The table hinted at there being a clear favourite to win today and it wasn’t about to lie to us either.
From the off, Nuneaton looked the better team and it took just 5 minutes for the away team to take the lead. The player I had dubbed ‘De Bruyne’ because of his short ginger hair and playmaking role (but was actually called Elliot Woodhouse) scored when a nice cut back in the box was comfortably slid home from the no.10.
Nuneaton proved relentless in the opening minutes as not long after they forced a good save from the Telford goalie, which was soon followed by the Nuneaton attacker smashing a shot against the bar. Despite their attacking intent, it took half hour for the away team’s second and it came courtesy of Elliot ‘De Bruyne’ Whitehouse again, this time with a fine sidefooted effort, which floated into the top corner.
Telford did slowly begin to get a bit more of the ball, but were producing little against a resolute-looking defence. It was not looking like it was going to be their day as the grey skies gathered overhead.
Half-time: AFC Telford 0 – 2 Nuneaton Town.
More Hopping Hare was purchased at half-time, but the teams were soon back out onto the pitch. Of course, this is the upper echelons of non-league football so alcohol is definitely not permitted in the stands (also, it seems that the no smoking ban is so important that the paper notices need to be framed on the concourse). But not to worry! We could just stand in the opening at the back of the terrace and watch from there undisturbed.
Telford looked to be up for making a game of it in the second half, but their efforts were thwarted rather rapidly as Nuneaton scored once again. This time it was Callun Chettle scoring and scoring in style too. With space, Chettle paced forward before unleashing a powerful low shot that flew in on off the bottom of the post. A brilliant goal which made it 3 – 0 to Nuneaton, much to the delight of our friends over on the away terrace. They were indeed having a party.
That looked to be game over, but the way Telford had started did tease at the slight chance of a comeback and they did grab one back. A cross to the far post was put back across goal, before the ball was driven home by Connor McCarthy from close range.
I stated that there was still hope for Telford if they could score again soon and they did start to get forward more. Sadly for them, this left them open to the impressive Nuneaton attack and soon it was 4 – 1. The low shot into bottom corner was similar to Nuneaton’s third, although this effort was from slightly closer range.
At 4 – 1 up, it was time for Nuneaton to unleash their big name striker: introducing ladies and gentleman, the one, the only, big Marlon Harewood. Yes, it seemed that Harewood, formerly of West Ham, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest amongst others, had to make do with the Nuneaton bench. To be honest, he showed why by doing virtually nothing whilst he was on the pitch in his 20 minute cameo.
In the 73rd minute, Whitehouse duly and deservedly grabbed a hatrick with another drive into the bottom corner from the edge of the box. Fair to say, Nuneaton’s Whitehouse had been superb and he had delivered a performance that his lesser Belgian imitator De Bruyne would have been proud of (if he were to delve into the depths of the Conference North anyway).
It was beginning to look like it could get worse for the home team, but, fortunately for them, the scoring stopped there and they were offered some respite when Nuneaton’s Shane Byrne earned a red card towards the game’s close.
Full-time: AFC Telford 1 – 5 Nuneaton Town.
An absolutely hammering in the end for the Bucks, but for us neutrals it proved to be an entertaining game. My pre-booked train wasn’t heading out of Shrewsbury until 19:52 so there was still plenty of time to go revel in the delights of Wellington.
On walking out of the ground we were subjected to the conundrum I’m sure many Telford fans have to endure when exiting New Bucks Head: the pub choice between the Swans Hotel and the Cock Hotel (sniggers). Being a Swansea fan, I obviously opted for the Cock Hotel. Also, it looked the slightly more run down and shit, but how wrong I was, as inside we found a cosy and tidy real ale establishment. The pub was generally awesome.
I’d scouted out the Dun Cow pub in the town centre earlier, as a definite ‘must visit’ post match. It met my usual Lost Boyos ‘it looks a bit of a dive’ criteria. There was a very ‘local’ feel to the low-ceiling-ed bar, but despite its fairly rough edge, everyone seemed pleasant enough and at least the bar staff were friendly and accommodating. Unlike our final Wellington pub…
Our final pub stop was to be The Station Hotel, unsurprisingly found adjacent to the train station, and it seems in here that they have a very bizarre Big Brother-esque presence monitoring their staff. Out of common courtesy, if I do need to give my phone a jolt of life, I always ask behind the bar can I plug in my phone charger in a pub (despite what a certain dickhead landlord thought in Oldham once), but on asking here I had a weird response. Firstly the ponytailed barman mumbled something about nobody being able to watch it behind the bar – a strange response as we were standing at the bar. When I asked again a few minutes later, the rather panicky reply I received was, “I can’t mate. My manager is watching on the cameras upstairs.” Okay then…I think it was time to drink up and exit Wellington’s answer to Orwell’s 1984.
Out the door we headed onto the platform of Wellington station and shortly after we arrived back in Shrewsbury. My train back to Manchester was delayed and so I deemed that it was necessary to sample the nearest drinking hole to Shrewsbury station while I waited. A hasty pint in the Bulls Head may have proved to have been too hasty for my companion Stu. Over recent months it seems I’ve developed some sort of reputation amongst my football pals for supposedly being the chief architect of messy sessions and I had joked about my ‘influential’ reputation to Stu earlier in the day, What I didn’t bank on when walking back to Shrewsbury station was to turn around to find Stu spewing in the street. Oops. He mustered enough time to say his goodbyes, but as I headed up to the platform and up to my train home, another session of ‘coughing up’ ensued from my Walsall friend. Quite the ending to my day out.
Highlights: Two Wetherspoons in one day, nice ground, proper beer at the ground, good food, plenty of goals, the performance of Elliot ‘De Bruyne’ Whitehouse.
Low Points: Telford…not great,Big Brother state in the Station Hotel, Stu dying at the end.
All my photos from my trip to AFC Telford can be found here.