Newcastle Town v Market Drayton Town
Lyme Valley Stadium / Evo-Stik Northern Premier League First Division South / 13th February 2016
Just as we had done a week earlier when we eventually ended up spending our Saturday at Whitchurch Alport, me and Gibbo met up at Starbucks in Piccadilly station ready for the day ahead; although this weekend George had been substituted for Rob Clarke. The other difference this weekend was the fact that we actually knew where we were going this Saturday as the weather was fine and not seemingly hell-bent on ruining our football plans. It had been decided earlier in the week that this Saturday we would be heading into the Potteries and to Newcastle-under-Lyme to visit Newcastle Town’s interesting looking home – more on what makes it ‘interesting’ later.
Shortly after 11am, and with M&S Belgian Lager purchased, we were on one of Branson’s Virgin Trains heading for London via our stop in Stoke. The service was rammed and so we found ourselves standing in one of the vestibules between carriages (I learned the word ‘verstibule’ from the train signs); in fact we ended up in the ‘first class vestibule’ and we were half-expecting the jobsworth conductor to charge us first class for standing there. You see, today’s conductor was a bit of a knob judging from his rant over the PA system (remember ‘Tannoy’ is a brand name) with him threatening to charge people for putting ‘small items’ on seats they hadn’t paid for. “I will charge you the full £83.40 for small items left on seats,” he boomed. Knob. We never got to meet this charming gentleman.
Anyone that knows me will know that Stoke-on-Trent puts the fear of God into me (4 trips to watch Swansea there have destroyed me) and so I was happy to arrive into Stoke and then immediately hop on the number 25 bus opposite and get the hell out of there. 20 minutes later, we were rolling into the market town of Newcastle.
Fair to say, all 3 of us declared our liking for the market town and expressed our surprise at the size of the town, as we imagined it to be much smaller. We sauntered through the market area taking our photos, but our destination was already set. Unsurprisingly, we were heading to Wetherspoons.
We located The Arnold Machin simply enough and here we found a fairly decent Spoons. Apparently the name of the pub comes the Staffordshire sculptor of the same name who designed the portrait of the queen which we now see on stamps. Interesting. More to my liking though was the Plum Porter ale of the Titanic Brewery, which, for the second week in a row, provided me with the opportunity to make more awful Titanic/drinking related puns (“This is going down well” etc.) Whilst enjoying my Plum Porter Gibbo became hysterical when I declared that “I don’t even like plums,” a phrase which got him in a fit of laughter…for some reason… And then it was time for Gibbo to fall back into his usual habit of recent months: falling in love with barmaids. Yes, just like the young lady at The Wheatsheaf in Whitchurch the week before, Gibbo was declaring his love for the waitress in Spoons and he’d even built up a character profile of her without even speaking to her (he had decided that she was intelligent and bubbly). He was distraught when I began to move us out of Spoons and onto our next pub stop and my Athertonian pal made it very clear that he was coming back later.
Our fellow groundhopper Russell Cox had recommended we visit the Lymestone Vaults and so we figured that was as good a place to go next as any. The Lymestone Vaults isn’t the easiest place to find with it being tucked away down Pepper Street – essentially an alley off the main high street. This was definitely our sort of place though with a host of ales on tap from the local Lymestone Brewery in Stone, whilst others took more pleasure playing board games by the fireplace. Plus, if you are a fan of dogs (I’m looking at you Non-League Dogs) then make sure you get a photo of you and your canine pals in the pub to add to the bar’s wall of fame.
As we set down with our pints of Stone Cutter, Gibbo’s heart had healed and he’d now found himself lovestruck by the barmaid here. I was to encounter my own problems. On entering the toilet, a gentleman immediately asked was I student; when I informed him that I actually taught English he began telling me about his favourite poets, especially his love of Robert Burns. He seemed a bit odd and when he stood in front of my only exit, I became a bit nervy. Not to worry, Gibbo soon opened the door to inform me that our taxi to the ground had arrived and so I went to exit. Not happening though. My Burns-loving friend put his arm in my way and insisted I hear him recite some Burns before I leave. Even as I explained that I would “love to hear some Burns,” but my taxi was outside, he was having none of it and so I was forced back into the toilet to listen to a grown man recite Burns in a strange Staffordshire-cum-Scottish accent. I did eventually escape and described to the other two my trauma. Our taxi driver explained that that sort of thing happens here, as apparently some sort of crackhead had tried to get into our taxi whilst I was held up in the bogs listening to classic Scottish literature.
The ground is located about 1.5 miles from the town centre and we figured it would be a little bit too much of a trek for us on this Saturday afternoon. I must applaud the measly price of Newcastle’s taxis (Sids Taxis to be precise – and no the company didn’t use an apostrophe) as it cost just £3 to get to the Lyme Valley Stadium.
As we stood atop the park looking down on the Lyme Valley Stadium, its quirkiness was immediately apparent. I’ve not been to many stranger grounds at this level, but that was undoubtedly what attracted us to this part of the Potteries in the first place. The ground itself stands by itself in the middle of a park alongside the Lyme Brook. Neighbouring the ground is Newcastle Rugby Club, who play next door to the football club, but it’s another sport in the ground that accentuates the strangeness of the Lyme Valley Stadium. Encircling the entirety of Newcastle Town’s pitch is a velodrome, which is still in use. It does make the place look a bit bonkers.
We walked around to the turnstiles at the far end, paid our £8 entrance and headed into the ground. Gibbo and Rob spent time getting programmes at the entrance, whilst I made a beeline for the club bar. And what a cool bar too. It’s not the largest bar you’ll find at this level, but the plethora of football memorabilia on the wall is much to my liking: a host of club pendants hang on the wall with me, Gibbo’s and Rob’s clubs (Swansea, Atherton Colls and Blackpool) all sharing the same area of the wall; there are photos of the time Kevin Keegan brought his swashbuckling Newcastle United to Newcastle Town in the mid-90s; and there’s even a host of Orlando City memorabilia from when the current MLS brought their youth team to the ground a few years ago whilst on tour. Further bonus points to the club bar for actually having awesome beer too in the form of the American pale ale Buffalo Lager. We remained in the bar watching the remaining stages of the early kick-off between Sunderland and Manchester United, (which Sunderland won much to my distaste with the Mackems being Swansea’s relegation contenders), before we headed outside for today’s game.
The game was made that slight bit more appealing today by the fact that we’d be witnessing a bit of a derby with Newcastle taking on nearby(ish) Market Drayton Town. The teams were already on the pitch by the time I emerged from the club bar and so I bought myself a pie (a Wright’s pie – very good actually) and then headed up the steps to watch the opening exchanges of the game. I also now had the opportunity to take in the ground properly for the first time. It looks huge! On one side of the ground you’ll find the club bar, food bar, little sheds acting as press rooms and executive boxes and the main stand sitting around the halfway line mark. On the other side stands a longer, sheltered standing area. However, the vastness of the place comes from the areas behind the goal which arch way back from the action thanks to the cycling velodrome. I personally loved the place purely because I’d never really been anywhere quite like it. Neither did I feel that the velodrome was that noteworthy an obstruction to watching the game unlike the wider running tracks you find at some grounds.
Gibbo and Rob were halfway around the ground taking photos by the time I began my lap and so I did try to catch up with them, but alongside watching the game on the pitch this proved difficult.
The game itself was decent without ever truly thrilling. Market Drayton took the lead in the 14th minute when they scored a header from a well delivered corner. There were a couple of cheers around the ground to show that at least a small contingent of away fans had travelled over from Shropshire.
The rest of the half consisted of a few half chances and Newcastle generally putting the pressure on the away team, but there was nothing more noteworthy. Instead, I got stopped by a gentleman standing with his Market Drayton flag and with his wife and son and it turned out he is a fan of these pages. Stu was great company for the remainder of the second half as he gave me the lowdown on Market Drayton and the fact that Newcastle and Market Drayton seem to perpetually be swapping players. Of course, and now with Gibbo and Rob by my side, he began to sell a trip to Market Drayton Town FC to us. It was a good pitch in fairness to him and I’d be well up for a visit some time soon.
Half-time: Newcastle Town 0 – 1 Market Drayton Town.
The interval involved enjoying some more Buffalo and the usual run down of the half-time scores. I was enjoying my Buffalo so much that I found myself in no rush to head out for the kick-off to the second half.
By the time I emerged from the bar, the second half was underway, so off I headed to join Stu, Gibbo and Rob in the corner of the ground again.
The second half continued in the same scrappy manner as the first half with Newcastle starting the better team. However, as the game went on, it looked less and less likely that Newcastle would grab an equaliser. I decided to complete another lap of the ground.
When I arrived back where I started, it was Market Drayton pushing to score again as they proceeded to miss their chances. More amusingly, one of Market Drayton’s player earned himself a bizarre booking when the home goalie attempted to take a quick freekick only for the ball to hit the attacker in the back of the head.The referee somehow saw this accident as a timewasting ploy.
It looked like the away team would be claiming all 3 points until Newcastle Town earned themselves a freekick about 20 yards from goal in the final minute of injury time. Up strode the Newcastle player and curled the freekick into the far corner with the last kick of the game to earn themselves a point.
Full-time: Newcastle Town 1 – 1 Market Drayton Town.
I couldn’t leave without having one more Buffalo, so I sat down and had a bit of a mope as the full-time score came in from the Liberty Stadium (Swansea losing 1-0 to Southampton). Meanwhile, Gibbo was put on taxi booking duty – a duty hard to navigate we found out. It seems taxi companies in Newcastle instantly assume that you are a local and demand you explain in the precisest of details exactly where you are in Newcastle. Also, grasping where the football ground is located proved difficult both getting to and from the ground for our taxi company. Surely one of a taxi company’s chief requirements is to have a working knowledge of the local area? Anyway, a taxi did eventually come, although we wished they’d sent us a different driver.
Weird. That’s the only way to describe our driver. Firstly, he wanted to know what we had been doing at the football ground (“Watching football…”) before then launching into a rant about Newcastle v Market Drayton not being a derby. On mentioning I was from Salford, the conversation took another strange turn when our driver began describing how his brother was once stabbed by a man from Salford – a point he kept driving home to us. We began to worry that he might take his ill feelings towards Salford out on us, so we were mighty relieved to escape the taxi unscathed.
Where were we dropped off? Obviously, Wetherspoons. Gibbo made us go back to hunt down his barmaid. Sadly, for Gibbo, she was nowhere to be seen and so on finishing our Punk IPA we headed back out into Newcastle with a lovesick Gibbo in tow.
We decided we’d fit in one more pub stop before heading back. The Old Bull’s Head Inn had caught our eye earlier in the day and we figured we may as well head there for our final drink. And a bloody lovely pub it was to finish with too.
There was time still for me to have a moment of sensibility as we ended up on the bus going through Keele University and I overruled Gibbo’s spontaneous call for us to jump off and go the student union; admittedly,writing this now I feel I may have extinguished a great adventure there, but oh well – I suppose I need to step up and be the sensible one sometimes.
Soon we were back in Stoke and with the train to Manchester being late, we actually made it over to the train platform just in time to shoot back to my adopted hometown. Gibbo and Rob headed off their own ways and I finished my evening in my beloved Piccadilly Tap, where I was happy to find two of the Bromley lads I’d befriended weeks before at Macclesfield.
Newcastle Town had lived up to its billing as a ‘different’ ground, but they are ultimately the more memorable and more likable grounds I find.
Highlights: nice town, Lymestone Vaults, quirky ground, good club bar, Buffalo Lager.
Low Points: Robert Burns man in the toilet, weird taxi drivers.
See all my photos from our trip to Newcastle Town here.