Stafford Rangers vs Leek Town, EvoStik Northern Premier Division One South, Marston Road, 9/1/16, Match 26
Another week, another plan falling foul of the weather. My original idea for today had been to head to Maes Tegid to watch Bala Town play Haverfordwest County but the weather had other ideas, and they switched the game to a ground that I have already been to this season, the Airfield home of Airbus UK FC. Then again that hadn’t been the worse fixture move of the weekend, as my original plan, back when the fixture had been first announced, had been to go and watch Shrewsbury Town play Cardiff City in the FA Cup Third Round, but for some reason (Money) the fixture had been changed from a sensible Saturday game to a 6pm kick off on a Sunday, so that ruled that idea out, because as much as I love Shrewsbury Town, I’m not prepared to travel to Cardiff on a Sunday, just so the game can be shown on TV! FOOTBALL IS NOT A TV PROGRAMME! Why is that people that want to sit at home and not make an effort to travel to the games are catered to, but those that want to go to the ground and cheer their team on have to fit our plans around TV schedules? Sorry, deep breaths now, but if you ever need a reason as to why I love Non-League football, just look at the rapid transformation of “League Football” into a TV programme.
Anyway, with Bala Town’s game with Haverfordwest becoming a no-go, I then decided to look at the Cymru Alliance, and my eye was drawn to Porthmadog vs Cefn Druids, which was then called off along with the majority of the rest of the fixtures in the Cymru Alliance. Buckley Town vs Holyhead Hotspur looked like it had survived, but a tweet from Holyhead’s twitter, put that idea to bed. I then began desperately trawling through the internet to find another fixture, and that was when I noticed that Stafford Rangers would be playing a local derby against Leek Town, which I felt was worth the hour long journey.
So following a few detours on the way to Stafford’s Marston Round ground, I got lost even with a Sat-Nav, I arrived at around 2.45pm and found plenty of parking on a nearby industrial estate. From there I walked back down to the ground, where I bought a programme for the bargain price of £1.50, it should have been £2, the reason for this price cut, being that the programme had actually been written for the original fixture which should have taken place in August. The original game had been cancelled due to Leek Town’s draw with Rocester in the FA Cup, which meant that that tie went to a replay, which forced the re-arrangement of today’s match. Programme in hand I headed around to the turnstiles, and paid £9 for entry. I’ve not had the best of luck with 50/50 draws, and today I decided to donate the £1 that I would have spent on the 50/50 draw to the Samaritans, who had a collection at the game.
Marston Road, home to Stafford since 1896, is a typical non-league ground with three sides of terracing, and a single stand providing the only seats in the ground. I say typical, but I mean proper, Marston Road is a proper ground, and within minutes of being inside I knew that I had made the right choice for my groundhopping adventure. I had emerged, from the turnstiles, behind the dugouts where I had heard one of the managers telling his side to “Set your markers early.” From the dugouts I walked around the Main Stand, which straddles the halfway line and only stretches around a quarter of the pitch on each side of the halfway line, however this stand is rather tall and it does contain a good number of seats. The dugouts are at the front of this stand, with the first row of seating reserved as seating for the dugouts. Behind the goal, furthest from the turnstiles, are a few rows of uncovered terracing, this side of the ground is known as the Shed End, as once it had housed a covered terrace which was supposed to have the power to “suck the ball in”, however in 2007 this stand was demolished and a new 2000 seater temporary stand was installed, however this stand only lasted until 2009 when it was taken away as it was no longer needed, this could have caused the club to fall into administration as they still owed money to the seating company, but the Stafford fans created a “250” club, where fans loaned the club £200 and the debt was paid off. On the touchline opposite to the Main Stand, stands the Lotus Side, which compromises a small covered terrace, and this stand does create good acoustics, as the fans of both sides demonstrated. Behind the goal, closest to the turnstiles, stands the Social Club End, and there will be no prizes for guessing why it is named that. At this end of the ground there is a stretch of uncovered hard standing, and a quick way to access the Social Club.
Stafford Rangers were formed in 1876, but this is disputed as the early minute books were destroyed during the First World War and there is a theory that the formation date could have been 1877. The clubs’ early years were spent in the Shropshire League, Birmingham League and the North Staffordshire League up the turn of the century. In 1900 the club rejoined the Birmingham League, but were demoted in 1912 to the Birmingham Combination, where they won the championship at the first attempt. Rangers then won the Birmingham League title in 1927. The club disbanded in 1940 due to the Second World War, and reformed following the conclusion of the war, where they played in the Birmingham Combination for six seasons, before joining the Cheshire County Football League in 1952. In 1969 the club finished as runners-up in the Cheshire League and earned a place in the Northern Premier League. Rangers were founder members of the Alliance Premier League, now the National League, in 1979 but after four seasons they were relegated to the Northern Premier League. Rangers returned to the Alliance in 1985 as they won the Northern Premier League, and in 1990 they sold a young striker by the name of Stan Collymore to Crystal Palace for a substantial six figure fee. Rangers then found themselves relegated to the Southern League Premier division at the end of the 1994 to 1995 season, and in the 1995 to 1996 campaign they suffered a second, successive relegation. Stafford won the Southern League Western Division in 2000, with the club returning to the Southern League Premier division, where they stayed until 2004 when they finished 3rd and became founder members of the Conference North. Rangers returned to the top flight of non-league football in 2006 as they defeated Droylsden on penalties in the Play-Off final. In February 2008, with Stafford struggling, Steve Bull was appointed manager, but he was unable to stop the club from being relegated to the Conference North, and he left in December of 2008. In October 2010 another big name became Stafford manager with Tim Flowers being appointed, but after nine games he resigned, in January 2011, and by the end of the season the club had dropped down to the Northern Premier League, with the club then being relegated to the Northern Premier League Division One South in 2014, where they currently find themselves as league leaders.
Football was first played in Leek from at least 1876, with a side simply called Leek FC having been part of the Combination in the 1890s. But the current club trace their lineage to the formation of a team called Leek Lowe Hamil in 1946, although it is suggested that the club were initially known as Abbey Green Rovers before adopting the Lowe Hamil name. The club started life playing on a field adjoining a pub, as they played in the local Leek and Moorlands League before joining the Staffordshire County League in 1947. In 1951 the club switched to the Manchester League, and it is at this time that they adopted the name Leek Town, in their first season in the Manchester League they won the title, but after this they relocated to the Mid-Cheshire League, where they played a solitary season before joining the Birmingham & District League in 1954. Leek Town then resigned from this league, in the middle of the 1956 to 1957 season due to financial difficulties, they rejoined the Manchester League, but this was also curtailed due to monetary problems, and the club eventually returned to the Staffordshire County League. In 1969, Paul Ogden took the manager role and two Staffordshire County League championships were followed in quick succession by two Manchester League titles. After the second Manchester League win, the club joined the Cheshire County League, where the club were league champions at the second attempt in the 1974 to 1975 season, this led to Ogden’s departure as he left for Northwich Victoria, and a quick succession of managers came and went with none of them being able to match Ogden’s achievements. In 1982 the Cheshire County League merged with the Lancashire Combination to form the North West Counties League (NWCL) where Leek spent five relatively unsuccessful seasons, during this spell Mike Pejic took over as manager, but he only had a short reign before he left for Northwich Victoria. Leek were chosen to be among the founder members of the new Northern Premier League in Division One in 1987, and in 1990 they won the title, to ensure promotion to the Premier Division. In 1994 the club finished second in the league which should have seen them promoted to the Conference, but they were refused due to financial irregularities, and to further cripple the club financially they were shifted from the Northern Premier League to the Southern Premier League, where travel costs almost killed the club, and following one season they were allowed to return to the Northern Premier League. In 1997 Leek won the Northern Premier League and this time they were granted entry to the Conference, but were relegated back to the Northern Premier League in 1999, this was followed by relegation to the Northern Premier League Division One in 2001. In 2004 the club regained their position in the Northern League Premier as the leagues were restructured due to the formation of the Conference North. Following a number of seasons facing financial peril the club were bought by a consortium which secured the club’s future, but they were relegated back to the Division One South in 2008, where they have stayed ever since.
I decided to stand in the Lotus Side for the first half, but around ten minutes into the first half I moved into the Shed End. Whilst in the Lotus Side, I noticed Stafford’s mascot dancing its way around the ground, and I’m pretty sure that this is the first time I have seen a mascot at a game this season. Anyway Stafford’s badger mascot seemed to be having a good time as it danced past the Lotus Side.
It became very clear that the Leek Town keeper, Chris Martin, was not wearing shinpads, and despite multiple shouts from the fans behind the goal for the referee to check this the keeper was allowed to continue to play, despite this being a violation of Law 4 of FIFA’s Laws of the Game. Then again those same laws don’t mention not accepting bribes in order to ensure that a country hosts the World Cup.
Leek’s number 8, Chris Baker picked up the first yellow card of the game in the 30th minute, as he barged into a Stafford player as the two competed for the ball, in the process of this challenge Baker appeared to injure himself, but following a bit of treatment he was fine to continue. As the Stafford players prepared to take the free kick, I noticed that the Leek keeper, had finally put some shinpads on, but they looked to be around the size of A8 paper, and didn’t look like they’d be that protective.
Five minutes later Mathew Wood, the Stafford number 3, picked up a booking for an incident I’m not sure the ref saw but he definitely heard the scream from the Leek player who was fouled.
The first half was definitely a hard fought affair, as neither side shrunk away from any challenges, with plenty of full-blooded challenges flying in from both sides, and I have to admit that I was surprised that only two players picked up bookings.
Half time: Stafford Rangers 0-0 Leek Town
At half time I headed round to the refreshment hut, and despite the long queue I was served quickly. I decided on a ¼ pound cheeseburger, £3.50, and a bottle of Diet Coke, £2. As readers of this blog may know by now, I’ve been searching for a burger as good as the one I had at Chirk AAA, and I may have found it! This cheeseburger was brilliant and well worth the money I paid for it.
Stafford made the first change of the game in the 60th minute, with their already booked number 3, Mathew Wood making way for number 16 Alex Melbourne. Wood’s substitution was probably a good idea as he did seem to be losing his head a little, and it was sensible from the Stafford bench to take him off before he was sent off.
In the 63rd minute Samuel Griffiths the Stafford number 2 was booked for a poorly timed challenge.
Stafford made another change in the 68th minute with their number 10, Ben Haseley coming off to be replaced by their number 14 George Cater.
Leek then made their first change of the game in the 71st minute, with them also replacing their number 10. Dan Shelley walked off of the pitch to be replaced by Leek’s number 15 Kyle Diskin.
By this point in the game, the rain had begun to come down heavier, and the already slick grass, was now drenched, meaning that the players were having a hard time adjusting to the speed of the pitch.
Leek’s number 7, Anthony Danylyk picked up a booking in the 84th minute, as Stafford won a free-kick on the edge of the area. However the free kick was wasted by Stafford as the ball cleared the cross bar.
In the 90th minute there was a serious clash of heads between a Stafford defender and a Leek attacker, and it appeared that the Stafford defender Wayne Daniel had come out of it worse off, as he stayed down on the pitch for a couple of minutes, he did recover and got back to his feet, but he only managed to walk a couple of yards to the touchline before he went down again, and this time he was stretchered off to be replaced by Stafford’s number 15, Leon Miles. (I have since read that Daniel’s took a bash to the mouth, but is okay now.)
I had begun to resign myself to that fact that this game was going to become my first 0-0 of the 2015 to 2016 season. However Stafford’s number 8, Nathan Rooney had other ideas, and he picked the ball up on the left hand side of the area and curled the ball past Chris Martin, and into the bottom right corner. The Stafford players and fans celebrated rightly, and the Leek players looked upset at the fact that they had just lost out on a point in the dying moments of the game.
Leek followed this goal by taking off their number 4, Jon Beaumont, and replacing him with their number 12, Lee Cropper. Cropper took up an attacking role, as Leek looked to find an equalizer, however that equalizer was not going to be found.
Final score: Stafford Rangers 1-0 Leek Town (Rooney 93)
As I left the ground, the stadium announcer came onto the tannoy to inform the crowd that today’s victory had seen the club had set a club record for home games undefeated, with the club reaching 31 games without defeat at home.
Following this win Stafford Rangers moved 15 points clear at the top of the table with Coalville Town FC sitting in 2nd. Coalville currently have 3 games in hand over Stafford, but even if they won each of those games, they would still be 6 points behind Stafford. Leek Town find themselves in 9th position and they are currently 28 points behind Stafford, with 4 games in hand over the league leaders, Leek are currently 2 points off of the play off places, and they have a game in hand over 6th place Chasetown.
Marston Road is a fantastic ground, and I believe that this ground should grace a higher standard, which hopefully it will soon. Hopefully the club will be able to erect a roof on the Shed End, and return it to its former glory.
Hat-tricks seen so far: 3
Next game: Not decided yet, going to play it by ear.
Money spent: £17
Thanks for reading!
Stafford Rangers’ twitter: https://twitter.com/SRFCofficial
Leek Town’s twitter: https://twitter.com/leektown
Youtube link to Rooney’s goal (I’m the guy stood by the Mercedes Benz advertisement, wearing a black hoodie.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vy7KxhPFpTY&feature=youtu.be