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Over the rest of this week, we’ll be giving up more space on Twohundredpercent to non-league football. As many of you will already be aware, this weekend sees Non-League Day taking advantage of a gap in the Premier League and Championship schedules to try and promote the cause of the semi-professional game. With this in mind, we have taken the opportunity to pick out ten non-league grounds which may, amongst many others, be worthy of a visit from you on Saturday. Architecturally speaking the Premier League and the Football League have changed almost beyond over the last two decades. Dozens of clubs, some because they were forced to, but the majority through choice, have left their ancestral homes, for better or for worse.
There have also been many non-league clubs which have done likewise, but we have chosen this list to give a sense of the extent to which the non-league game can still offer something that isn’t seen at bigger clubs any more. We haven’t selected these grounds on the basis of anything related to the clubs themselves – these are ten of the football grounds that time forgot, which have remained largely unchanged in at least some ways as time has come to pass. Perhaps more importantly than this, each of the ten that we have picked out is a venue that will be hosting a match this weekend, and we have tried to select matches from the entire length and breadth of England, although there are – of course – some gaps. There is a full list of the matches that are being played this weekend here, and this list will be updated to include the results of FA Cup replays throughout the week.
Marlow FC: The Alfred Davis Memorial Ground – We’re kicking off on the banks of the River Thames with a club that has its own niche within the history of the non-league game. Marlow FC was founded in 1870 – making it older than all bar a handful of Football League clubs – and remains the only club to have applied to enter the FA Cup since the tournaments inception. The Alfred Davis Memorial Ground has been the club’s home since 1928, and is notable for its distinctive white, wooden main stand. The club is agitating to move away from here to a new, purpose-built ground on the edge of the town and, while the urge to move in order to develop itself as a community club is understandable and laudable, the opportunity to visit this old ground is one that shouldn’t passed up while it is still there. Marlow are at home against Thatcham Town in the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup on Saturday afternoon, with the kick-off at 3pm.
Hitchin Town: Top Field – Hitchin, a stone’s throw north of London, has a football history which goes back even further than that of Marlow. Hitchin FC was founded in 1865, but folded in 1911 – Hitchin Town followed in their foot-steps seventeen years later. Both clubs are recorded as having played at the club’s current home, at Top Field, and this is a club that is having something of a revival after some years of steady decline. They won promotion into the Southern League Premier Division through the play-offs at the end of last season and have a decent start to this season as well, with the team currently sitting in sixth place in their new division. Top Field, with its green painted main stand, wooden terraces, is a distinctive venue and its facilities need bringing up to date in the fullness of time. Top Field is at the centre of ongoing wrangling over its future, but it remains a quintessential non-league venue. Hitchin Town play Bashley in the Premier Division of the Southern League on Saturday afternoon, with the kick-off at 3pm.
Kings Lynn Town: The Walks – The collapse of Kings Lynn FC and the decision to award the lease for the council-owned ground to a private group rather than the club’s supporters trust has been covered on this site before. Politics aside, though, The Walks remains a handsome ground, the scale of which more than hints at where the club came from and to where it may well return again from its relatively lowly current position in the Eastern Counties League. With a seated stand that holds 1,200 people, The Walks was the home of Kings Lynn FC – which was originally known as Lynn Town – from 1879 until its closure in 2009, and has been the home of the new club since it started its competitive life at the start of last season. They are top of their league at the time of writing and, having narrowly missed out on promotion at the end of their first season, have an excellent chance of going one better this time around. Kings Lynn Town play Soham Town Rangers in the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup on Saturday afternoon, with the kick-off at 3pm.
Hastings United: The Pilot Field – The Pilot Field is another large, traditional non-league ground, this time laid out in a bowl shape on account of the speedway and greyhound racing which used to take place at the ground. The original Hastings United FC folded in 1985, only for neighbours Hastings Town to move into the ground and claim a place in the Southern League. They changed their name to Hastings United in 2002. The Pilot Field also has a large, seated stand, as well as a large covered terrace behind one goal. Hastings are another football club that are seeking to leave their home for pastures new – stands of the size of the main stand at The Pilot Field can be horrifically expensive to maintain – but for now this is a venue that is well worth a visit. Hastings United play Carshalton Athletic in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League on Saturday afternoon, with the kick-off at 3pm.
Spennymoor Town: Brewery Field – A discarded cigarette started a chain of events ended in chaos at the end of the Northern League season in 2005. When Spennymoor United’s social club burned to the ground in December 2003, it resulted in the close of the club almost a year and a half later, and this in turn led to a farcical series of events – three clubs claimed the Northern League title after Spennymoor collapsed – which sums up the absolute worst of non-league administration. A new club was formed from a merger with the failing Evenwood Town, and Brewery Field has been updated since then, with the club now looking upwards in the medium to long term. Spennymoor have won the Northern League for the last two years in a row, and it is expected that they will take a step up in the foreseeable future. Spennymoor Town play Sunderland RCA in the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup on Saturday afternoon, with the kick-off at 3pm.
Stafford Rangers: Marston Road – Stafford Rangers were promoted into the Blue Square Premier in May 2006. They have slipped two divisions since then and now play in the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League, following relegation at the end of last season and have failed to win any of their opening six matches of this season, either. Marston Road, however, remains an idiosyncratic home for a club which has seen better days than now. It has a stand that seats over 500 people and a wooden covered terrace that runs approximately two-thirds the length of one side of the pitch – in other words, this is a ground that is of a vintage and, as a result of this, Stafford have also made noises about leaving home for nothing newer and purpose-built. That the club hasn’t been in a great financial state has meant that, for now, they stay where they are. Stafford Rangers play Marine in the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League on Saturday afternoon, with the kick-off at 3pm.
Worcester City: St Georges Lane – If there is a common theme running through this list, it is of clubs that have difficulties in the past few years, and few have been as troubled as Worcester City. The team that once – in 1959 – knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup have had a constant battle to stay alive over the last few years, but St Georges Lane, which is another ground that may face the bulldozers in the next couple of years or so, is a hint at the former size of the club and few other grounds transport you back to a bygone age in quite the same way, with four traditional floodlight pylons in each corner of the ground, a large stand that runs the length of one side of the pitch and, opposite it, a “Shed” which sits, unusually, at one end of the pitch. St Georges Lane is, perhaps, the archetypal big, old non-league ground. Worcester City play Corby Town in the Blue Square North on Saturday afternoon, with the kick-off at 3pm.
Merthyr Town: Penydarren Park – Merthyr Town is a new club, formed after the closure of Merthyr Tydfil FC two years ago, which, after a year away from home, managed to get a return to the old club’s home, Penydarren Park, for the start of this season and, whilst they started in reduced circumstances, playing in the Western League, they won the league championship in their first season and have had an encouraging start to this season as well. Penydarren Park is another old ground, and the club’s return to it has been greeted by crowds of over 500, which are ordinarily almost unheard of at the level at which the club currently plays, which is perhaps a reflection on a more positive atmosphere around the club after reforming under the ownership of its supporters trust. This is also Merthyr Town’s first season playing in the FA Cup after their reformation. Merthyr Town play Longwell Green Sports in the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup on Saturday afternoon, with the kick-off at 3pm.
FC Halifax Town: The Shay – Another club which folded and reformed, FC Halifax Town have made solid progress since their return and last season won the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League at a canter. Thus far, however, they haven’t found life in the Blue Square North quite so easy and they currently sit in thirteenth place in the table, having failed to win all three of their home matches so far. The Shay, meanwhile, is unrecognisable from the ground that hosted League football for so many years, with three new stands having been built all three years and the ground, which is shared with the local rugby league club, has an almost unheard of – in non-league terms – capacity of just over 10,000. They may be mid-table at present, but it seems difficult to believe that the club will not continue its upward trajectory shortly. FC Halifax Town play Workington in the Blue Square North on Saturday afternoon, with the kick-off at 3pm.
Mossley AFC: Seel Park – Mossley celebrate their centenary at Seel Park this year, and there can be little question that the view that it offers, with the Pennines sitting dauntingly in the background. In December 2009 two floodlight pylons collapsed and the remainder had to be condemned, but these have now been replaced. This is another club which is struggling on the pitch at present, and sits at the bottom of Division One North of the Northern Premier League. Crowds, accordingly, have dropped so an FA Cup run might bring some welcome money into the club and at the weekend they play a supporter-owned club, Runcorn Linnets, in that very competition. Mossley AFC play Runcorn Linnets in the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup on Saturday afternoon, with the kick-off at 3pm.
This little list is a tiny proportion of the matches that are being played this weekend – you can get a full list, along with details of the promotional offers that many clubs are putting on this weekend, at the Non-League Day website.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
However wrote this is clearly an aficionado of football grounds. A great collection here, many that I’ve visited and photographed. I’d love to get up to Mossley and Halifax on Saturday but will have to be content with Wealdstone, another club with a great non-League pedigree.
Another lovely ground is Staylbridge Celtic’s. Went there in pre-season following Chester and they have a curryhouse attached to the ground! Haven’t checked whether they are playing at home this weekend though.
Halifax, Mossley and Stalybridge are all fine northern grounds well worth a visit – and covered in words and pics on my FA Cup groundhopping blog (click my name to link to it).
And if you can’t make the Merthyr game on Saturday, they play at home in the Welsh Cup the day after!
[…] you go? You could start by finding your local club on the Non-League Day website, or by taking one of the ten recommendations made by Ian at Twohundredpercent. The possibilities, as I’m sure James and Mike can testify […]
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