Kidsgrove Athletic v Market Drayton Town
Hollinwood Road / Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One South / 28th March 2016
Very, very rarely do me and Gibbo look at each and question our decision to visit some sort of non-league football backwater. Even rarer is it for this moment to happen within 30 seconds of dismounting the train at such a location. But this most certainly happened as we took our first steps into the small Staffordshire town of Kidsgrove.
One of my fellow teaching colleague hails from Kidsgrove, Mr. Edgerton (who we’ll resort to calling by his ‘normal’ name, James, from this point onwards) and I had promised for the best part of 3 years that eventually I’d lead the Lost Boyos bandwagon to his humble hometown near the Staffordshire/Cheshire border. In fact, it would be Gibbo who was the true catalyst for the visit, as on realising neither us had any Easter Monday football plans I asked my groundhopping amigo, ‘Where should we go?’
‘Kidsgrove?’ he replied.
Without any really discussion we both decided on another trip into Staffordshire (it feels like I’ve spent the best part of 2016 in that county). As alluded to, we probably wished we picked something…eh…more lively we’ll say.
Red brick after red brick greeted us on arriving into Kidsgrove, as well as the filthy looking Macclesfield Canal, originating in Kidsgrove, alongside the Gritstone Trail (the Gritstone Trail became the centrepiece for a rude joke that ran throughout the day, but which I won’t publish here). The streets were deadly quiet and me and Gibbo felt a bit like extras in The Walking Dead, especially with our surroundings slightly resembling a sort of provincial dystopian world.
Whilst we looked for civilisation, we decided to play a game of ‘what do you think the clock tower is over there?’ In jest, I stated ‘Home Bargains,’ only for the silence to be interrupted that very second by a Home Bargains truck zooming past. How very weird. How very weird Kidsgrove was being.
Regular readers of this blog will now be awaiting the bit when I ramble on about all the local pubs and bars we would go on to delve in and out of, but this part of the blog almost never came. We’d been warned by several people that finding a pub in Kidsgrove would prove a potentially taxing, yet this was the mighty Lost Boyos and Gibbo and we saw this as a fairly empty challenge having plundered pubs in places far more isolated than this. The challenge proved very real though. Admittedly, it was early Easter Monday and maybe the Queen’s Head we walked past may have opened later in the day (although it did look particularly shady, so maybe best dodged),. More importantly, it was situated next to the superbly named tanning shop, ‘Tanz’in’ere’. Brilliant punning.
Panic was gripping us slowly as Kidsgrove’s pub scene seemed non-existent and with Google finding us nothing apart from the Plough Inn, which we soon learned was closed until Wednesday evening. Opposite the Plough was a rather modern-looking Aldi and we even began forecasting that we could end up in the car park here drinking some of Aldi’s most random exported German lager.
“A pub!” came the cry from Gibbo as he spotted another establishment up the hill from the Plough. He was definitely right – it indeed was a pub and there were definitely locals walking towards it. We watched in anticipation from the bottom of the hill to see whether they veered into the building and if it indeed was open. The tension was akin to those over-elaborate pauses much treasured by X-Factor hosts as we waited…THEY WERE IN. “PUB OPEN!” I screamed, before performing a series of flying heel clicks and jogging ahead.God bless the Crown and Thistle: our pub saviour on this Monday afternoon.
We’d have taken any drinking hole, but the Crown and Thistle proved to be a delight. We were happy to find a host of ales on tap, including the Titanic Brewery’s Plum Porter that I’m so fond of. I waited to finish my pint this time before gleefully uttering my regular post-Titanic Brewery pint, “The beer that the Titanic brewery makes always goes down well.” As per usual, Gibbo looked at me in disdain having heard me make the same joke several times by now.
In another concurrent act, Gibbo had taken another shine to another barmaid; I asked how he was going to strike up a rapport with this one, but Gibbo seemed to think that she was out of his league. Moments later, I went to the bar to find him forensically discussing the perils and issues surrounding the current student finance system with her. Groundhopping’s ultimate Lothario.
By now, we were joined by James, who had travelled down from Manchester to visit his hometown, his parents and, more importantly, feature on Lost Boyos. He’d been running late as he’d had to feed his tortoise first (obviously), but on arriving he was asking us our views on Kidsgrove. We didn’t properly answer and instead mumbled some nonsensical, monosyllabic sounds. He got the gist of our views I think.
The bar staff had told us that the ground wasn’t too far to walk, but James was determined it would be an effort – plus he had his Mercedes outside so a ride to the ground was hitched (he’ll love the fact that I’ve mentioned that he has a Mercedes in this blog).
After our glitzy chauffeuring over to Kidsgrove Athletic, it turned out that James wasn’t kidding when he said the ground was located within the heart of a winding housing estate. It seemed the public had come out to watch Kidsgrove’s clash against Market Drayton today too with the streets near the ground being clogged up with either other parked cars or yellow traffic cones.
We made our way to the ground…well I say ‘we’ – Gibbo had gone missing. This is a usual occurrence for me as Gibbo goes off wandering or pausing in random places to capture far more expertly taken photos than my trigger happy ‘aim and click’ approach’. However, I went back from the turnstiles to find him chatting to a Hanley fan, who had turned up at today’s game following Hanley Town’s postponement. Much to Gibbo’s ire, this gentleman then had the cheek to fire criticism at the pitch at Alder Street – the home of Gibbo’s beloved Atherton Collieries (who’s game had actually survived the wet weather and was ON – unlike Hanley Town’s game). Fair to say that Gibbo was not too pleased with the comments aimed his club’s way.
Today’s fixture cost £7 and once again Gibbo was upset when he learned that there were no student prices at the ground and that he’d have to pay the same as us real adults too.
A form of Kidsgrove Athletic had played in the town at the start of the 20 century with them housed on the lands of the Clough Hall, but the Great War would see football leave the town and not return again until after World War II. The new club would move to their current home in 1960 as a farmer’s field was converted to make it suitable for football.
Slowly over the next 30 years or so the club would build itself up, until they joined the North West Counties in the early 90s with the ground now taking shape. For their 50th year in existence and after extensively improving the ground, Kidsgrove joined what is now the Northern Premier League with the club currently residing in the Division One South section of the league (Step 4 of the non-league ladder).
James had proudly boasted that he’d enjoyed his 21st birthday party at Kidsgrove Athletics’s clubhouse (I figured there was little place else to host such a shindig locally) and it was here we headed first; amusingly, it was called the ‘Phoenix Club’, but, sadly, there were no ‘pull off into Paradise signs’ to be seen.
We did query whether the ‘Happy Birthday’ banner adorned across the ceiling was remaining from James’ birthday party 6 years earlier, but he felt it was not. The clubhouse was impressive though with all the usual amenities you’d want: comfort, Sky Sports News and a bar (although I was now forced to switch to the mainstream mediocrity of Carling having enjoyed my Plum Porter so much).
In the club bar we were joined by our Market Drayton friends who we’d befriended when we had been at Newcastle Town v Market Drayton back in February; Gibbo had even met up with them again in the weeks since then at Shaw Lane Aquaforce and was thus dubbing himself a ‘Market Drayton Ultra’. Those three words are enough to strike fear into the heart of any rival fan.
With kick-off looming, Gibbo went out photographing whilst I worked on selling charity wristbands. Courtesy of Brad of the Northern Premier League Group and in preparation for the big NPL Group v Lost Boyos charity match in June, I was in possession of a bundle of red wristbands supporting our charity, the British Heart Foundation, who we are raising money for in tribute to the young Leek Town player Jordan Bunford who tragically died last summer. My first sales were to our Market Drayton friends and obviously every £1 goes to charity, so if you see me at a game, make sure to get one off me. That’s wristband plug over.
Me and James headed out and met up with his ‘Kidsgrovian’ pal Jaqusey, who immediately I commended for his headwear choice – no not a flat cap, but a rather funky purple Orlando City snapback. It was a beauty. Equally beautiful was the pie, chips and gravy on offer (£3.30), although the steak pie did let itself down with its outer rim being quite the battle to break through with a plastic fork.
It was soon time for kick-off, just as we were joined by James’ mate Shaun – another original native of Kidsgrove. Once again, I was asked for my views on Kidsgrove and once again I resorted to mumbling an anodyne view on the town as not to offend, although I think my surrounding gang of Kidsgrovians knew the score really.
So, Kidsgrove’s ground, officially called the Novus Stadium, but seemingly called Hollinwood Road (at least that’s the name that I’ve found most used for it) – what of it? Well, it’s alright I suppose. All four sides of the ground have stands of some sort with the area behind both goals having sheltered standing areas and both sides having sheltered seating stands. The side of the pitch with the club bar has most of the amenities such as the food bar, executive boxes and the aforementioned Phoenix Club, as well as a rather dashing balcony area atop the main stand for those lucky enough to be VIPs at Kidsgrove Athletic.
The running theme of recent weeks and months continued as I could tell from the off that this wasn’t going to be a thriller; although the game definitely had its feisty moments with some of the Kidsgrove fans being uproarious, as they believed that one of their players received a blatant elbow to the face (I missed it).
With the game failing to excite, we went for a wander of the ground, until we eventually ended up behind the dugout of Market Drayton manager Martin Davies, who was certainly a lively character. He certainly made himself known to the officials with his reaction to a Martet Drayton freekick deflecting off an opposition defender only for the referee to somehow award a goal kick. He then took amusement in a loose ball almost knocking Gibbo’s phone out of his hand.
The away team came close when their expert freekick taker almost floated one into the bottom corner, only for it to go wide, but by the time we’d completed a lap of the ground and rejoined Market Drayton fan Stu, not too much had happened and it was time for half-time.
Half-time: Kidsgrove Athletic 0-0 Market Drayton Town.
After a pint in the clubhouse, I eventually rejoined the action 5 minutes into the second half (I wasn’t exactly in a rush after a far from pulsating first 45). The thought was going through my mind that this could well be just the 4th 0-0 of my 2015/16, but it turned out I just had to be a bit patient and wait for a goal.
Eventually, it was the away team who took the lead as a long ball over the top saw MDTFC’s McFarlane sprint towards the box. From a tricky angle, he confidently fired in and it was 1-0 to the away team. Just as we did at Newcastle Town, me and Gibbo found ourselves cheering the away goal alongside our Market Drayton-supporting chums.
Market Drayton’s lead would be fairly short-lived, as 8 minutes later Kidsgrove grabbed a deserved equaliser with Jack Sheratt sending his shot from the edge of the box into the far corner. 1-1.
The equaliser seemed to buoy Kidsgrove and they were the better team for the remainder of the game, although the home team seemed to crumble in front of goal. When they finally did get a shot on target, a header from Tom Morris, Market Drayton’s keeper made an outrageous reaction save to keep the home team out and to earn his side a point.
Full-time: Kidsgrove Athletic 1 – 1 Market Drayton Town.
The game had been a poor one, yet the football club and ground were certainly to a good standard.
Our post match entertainment was to be spent at the nearby Clough Hall pub – there was another pub in Kidsgrove after all! It seemed we were the only punters in on this Easter Monday and in a rare occasion for me I was to take to the pool table. The reason why I rarely play pool is for the simple reason that I just can’t do it; any game that requires coordination and a bit of patience is definitely not for me. Nonetheless, me and Gibbo teamed up against James and Jaquesy in a contest we titled Lost Boyos v ‘Fan Boyos’. As predicted, ‘Fan Boyos’ stomped to a 3 game victory, although me and Gibbo (mostly led by Gibbo) took them close a few times.
With a hatrick of pool doubles victories under their belts, James and Jacquesy headed off and me and Gibbo were ready to leave with Shaun offering us a lift back to Kidsgrove station. However, we never alighted at the station and instead we stayed in Shaun’s car and headed onwards to Shaun and James’ flat in Burnage, South Manchester thanks to Gibbo leaving his camera and bag in James’ car. I did note that the road leaving Kidsgrove and towards Cheshire was actually rather lovely, so, you see, I wasn’t all negative about Kidsgrove as a place after all: the way out is pleasant.
The next day in work James asked me for my final views on Kidsgrove and once again I resorted to just giving him a quizzical look.
“Now you see why me and most of my friends have moved to Manchester,” he declared.
Highlights: The Crown and Thistle, decent ground, good clubhouse.
Low Points: really not much to Kidsgrove, lack of pubs, poor game, losing at pool.
See all my photos from Kidsgrove here.