‘The Bottom Corner – A Season with the Dreamers of Non-League Football.’ written by Nige Tassell.
First Published by Yellow Jersey Press in 2016 which is a part of the Penguin Random House Group of Companies,
Nige Tassell writes about a Season from August to May as a true football fan. He explores the teams, characters, venues and stories that make Non-League football fascinating and humbling.
From Bishop Sutton in August to Worthing in May he describes a journey amongst the football teams that hang on and thrive in this world so far away from the mega rich of the Premier League. It makes you think why is a pyramid system that is being administered and dominated by a few leagues the best way to run non-league football when the regional diversity is being ironed out. Why did the Northern League with their historic knowledge of North Eastern Football not be given the running of new League for 2020/21 in their area. Why has the West Midland league been cast aside. Why on FA Cup weekend England kicked off at a time that meant people had to choose between watching them on TV or going to a local game and putting some needed money through the turnstiles. The same weekend the media also concentrated on the first games in the WSL and ensured fantastic attendances at the Premier Clubs as opposed to local teams. The FA needs to really engage with localism, diversity and community football or else the vine will wither away. Sorry for the rant.
How did Nige find some of the characters in this book? His undoubted knowledge picked teams that are making their way or have challenges.
The continual return to Bishop Sutton sees a desperate but determined season end in hope when they are not relegated because of ground grading.
The book is written with such care that it was a joy to read.
Having driven down the winding Lees Lane through the chicanes of parked cars you arrive in the South Normanton Athletic FC. Car park.
It’s FA Cup day and South Normanton AFC are at home to Coalville Town FC in the First Qualifying Round of the FA Cup.
The first thing that hits you as you pass through the turnstile is the lush green pitch that slopes down from one end to the other. It’s warm in the sun but some dark clouds look ominous as they rush past. The ground is on the edge of town, with open views from its hilltop position and breezy aspect.
South Normanton are nicknamed the Shiners and Coalville the Ravens. This dates back to the fact that Coalville were first formed in 1926 as Ravenstone Miners Athletic and played in the village successfully in local football. as their progress continued a dispute with the local Parish Council about the erection of floodlights meant a decision was made to move the whole team from the small village to nearby Coalville in 1995. The erection of the floodlights at their new ground meant that they could make further advances up the leagues and today play in the Premier Central Division of the Southern League at Step 3 level.
South Normanton AFC play in the Premier Division of the Midland Football League two levels lower than Coalville. Like Coalville South Normanton were formed in 1926 as South Normanton Miners Welfare which they changed in 1990 to South Normanton Athletic FC. Following a fire, lack of money and an ageing committee they were forced to fold but since a new start they have been able to steady the ship and have settled into their current level.
South Normanton Athletic FC 0 Coalville Town FC 1
The game took some time to establish a pattern where Coalville showed their higher status through some neat interpassing in midfield. Coalville didn’t cause any direct threats in open play but a series of corners caused problems for the home team with the visitors taller defensive players coming forward to attack outswinging balls. Jack Duggan (No5) should have done better when he headed over with a strong header. However he was my man of the match with a command of the defence and a near perfect game. South Normanton were pleased to go in at half time level having played against the wind in the first half.
The Shiners midfield gained the upper hand at the start of the second half but Coalville were still the most dangerous again from corners. With it looking like the tie would go to a replay some neat interpassing between substitute Leandro Browne and Tom McGlinchey in the penalty area gave McGlinchey the chance to roll the ball past Curtis Hall on 87 minutes.
Jubilation for the few travelling Coalville supporters but some consolation for the home team in that they had held their own against a higher placed club in the football pyramid system.
South Normantons food facilities were good with a friendly club house and a food stall that had outside tables and chairs . the kiosk was being run by one man who was doing a sterling job as his usual helper was working. As the queues lengthened some reinforcements arrived. The chips were deep fried but mine came from a tray in the oven which meant they could have been hotter. Great value and the best so far this season with a score of 60.
The nickname ‘Shiners’ derives from the mid-1750s when South Normanton was at the heart of the ribbed stocking industry. The people involved in this craft worked long hours sitting at their windows on wooden stools, so much so that the backsides of their trousers became very shiny making them instantly recognisable as coming from the South Normanton area; since then local people have been referred to as ‘Shiners’. Taken from
South Normanton Athletic F.C. – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › South_Normanton_Athletic_F.C.
The mornings rain had stopped giving way to blue skies ,and billowing clouds with strong blustery winds that were made worse with the ground being on top of a hill.
The game I had come to see was an FA Vase First Round Qualifying game between Swallownest FC of the North East Counties league Division One and Vauxhall Motors FC from the North West Counties league Division One. An intriguing comparison between two similar level teams on opposite sides of the Pennines. A disappointing crowd of only 75 was in attendance.
Swallownest FC have only been going since 2006 when they started as Aston FC and in 2010 changed their name to Swallownest Miners Welfare a name previously used by a local team in the 1960,s. The club have come a long way in a short time and shortened their name in 2016. The ground is alongside the Swallownest Miners Sports and Social Club and is a credit to the local supporters with a friendly atmosphere, small covered areas, pitch side hard standing and a good refreshment kiosk. A very lush green pitch slopes slightly side to side and a few dotted sand patches are testament to the continual battle against some local rabbits.
Some history of Vauxhall Motors (Ellesmere Port) was posted last year when I attended one of their home games and they currently await what Brexit might do to the viability of the factory. By contrast in the distance of the Swallownest ground you can see the Advanced Manufacturing Centre on the Rotherham/Sheffield border that houses such names as Boeing, Rolls Royce and McLaren.
Swallownwest F.C, 0 Vauxhall Motors F.C. 2
Vauxhall were the quickest off the blocks and played some neat football but after a foul and fracas which brought home team trainers and subs onto the pitch Swallownest commanded the rest of the half. Oliver Grady should have done better when driving the ball wide from close range for Swallownest. Despite the advantage of the wind Vauxhall had not taken advantage and they must have been the happiest to go in all square at half time.
On a half time walk around the perimeter on this last day of meteorological summer I saw one House Martin in the sky and no Swallows. With autumn beckoning perhaps the flight south has already begun.
Swallownest again dominated the start of the second half and should have scored but Michael Burkey replaced Karl Noon for Vauxhall and he went wide to the right and gave Aaron Statham at left back a torrid time with some neat footwork and direct runs.
One of these led to Statham bringing Noon down in the box on 76 minutes and Ben Holmes placed the ball along the ground to the left of Richard Watson,s dive to give Vauxhall the lead. Only minutes from the end Joe Brandon burst into the penalty area latching onto a long ball and was immediately brought down by Alfie Smith for penalty number 2. Holmes replayed his previous penalty, this time sending Watson the wrong way.
Vauxhall played out the game for their 2 nil win which was perhaps not to the liking of their manager, Mick McGraa, who had said at the start of the season that a run in the Vase competition can be a distraction from the main aim of promotion.
This was another charity shop find at £2.50 and what appeared to be a frivolous book turned out to be another of those stories that just warm you to the football community that exists all over the world and the extraordinary lengths people go to achieve their dreams.
Up Pohnpei written by Paul Watson was first published by Profile Books Ltd in 2012.
Paul and his pall Matt Conrad discuss endless lists, ideas and dreams about football and one is which country in the world could they play for. Their footballing ability rules them out of playing for their home countries but there could be a possibility of playing for one of the smaller lower ranked nations.
In depth research leads them to Pohnpei a team that has never won a match. One problem is that Pohnpei is a Pacific island, one of the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia whose population is only 36000 people. Not only is this thousands of miles from home but football seems to have no current roots in the Island.
The friends manage to get funds and kit together and approval to go to the island to train the locals but have no salary to do this. They find challenging facilities and a casual approach to football and life in general that does not look good. They also find that they will not be able to qualify to play for the Island.
Determination and the help of some local people seem to keep them going but Matt’s chance of advancing his career in the USA leaves Paul the only one on the ground. Matt still helps from afar but it is Paul who goes through all the emotions possible to try to succeed in getting football established.
Shining through the book is friendship that football gives and receives and the joy of comradeship.
It would be wrong to say more and spoil the book but I can guarantee you won’t put it down.
The best way to sum up the book is by quoting a sentence from near the end “Not bad going for a couple of Sunday League nobodies”.
What a difference two weeks make, after the monsoon in Northampton to see an extra preliminary round of the F.A.Cup I found myself in Walthamstow for the next round on a glorious sunny day with the car registering 35 degrees as we drove away.
I had come to see Walthamstow F.C. of the Essex League take on Great Wakering Rovers of the one step higher Isthmian League North.
The ground is part of a bigger complex that has artificial pitches and is for use by the community throughout Waltham Forest. That community spirit seems to be flourishing with deeds not words and youngsters from Ryan F.C. were in force to watch the team and come out onto the pitch with the players. The crowd was the most diverse I have seen at local football for a long time in sex, age and ethnicity.
Football has always been strong locally here and the famous old team of Walthamstow Avenue won the F.A. Amateur cup twice in their existence in 1952 and 1961 and Leyton FC in 1927 and 1928.
Walthamstow F.C. have a history which the program calls not straightforward and they claim to be the second oldest club in London.
As Leyton Fc (1868-1894)
As Matlock Swifts (1887-1895)
As Leyton FC (1876-1904)
As Leyton FC (Professional) (1904-1912)
As Leyton FC (1919-1976)
As Leyton-Wingate (1976-1992)
As Pennant FC and Walthamstow Pennant FC (1965-1995)
As Waltham Forest FC and Leyton Pennant FC (1995-2018)
As Walthamstow FC 2018
Definitely not straightforward and more complicated than Handsworth FC I visited on Tuesday.
Great Wakering Rovers by contrast were formed in 1919 and still bear that name. Their football was mainly locally based but since the turn of the century they have flirted with a higher status in the Isthmian set up.
Walthamstow F.C. 2 Great Wakering Rovers F.C. 0
The pitch was yellowing, hard and the surface slightly uneven as the teams kicked off. Long balls were the order of play and neither side made any inroads.
Then on 13 minutes Walthamstow’s captain Vinny Murphy clashed strongly with the tall Wakering striker Brandon Diau. They faced up to each other and the resulting physicality gave the referee no option but to send them both off.
Probing by both sides threatened but didn’t result in clear chances or goals and the teams remained level at half time. The referee stopped the game around 35 minutes for a well deserved drinks break, a good decision by the officials.
The second half saw Walthamstow’s Mc Cullock and Gebrai continue to threaten with direct runs but on 51 minutes Bennett was brought down in the box and Dwade James casually converted the penalty to the goalkeepers left. Within 2 minutes Walthamstow had another penalty when Samarai Gebrai was fouled on one of his runs. Dwade James casual run up did not suffice this time as he blasted the penalty over via the crossbar.
Rovers kept pressuring for an equaliser but their strength was further sapped with Henry Fisher being sent off for a foul on Danny McCullock.
Tiredness soon told and and a through ball to Jack Folan was neatly collected and curled in past the keeper.
A great afternoon that I hope will encourage some of the junior fans to return. Good luck Walthamstow in the next round.
I went through this turnstile last season to see Worksop Town but this year it was to see Handsworth FC. Handsworth are buildings a new 3G pitch at their long term home at Oliver’s Mount in Sheffield and hope to move there as soon as possible. Their very impressive youth set up is already based there.
So how did they end up in Worksop 13 miles away.
1936 Works team of F Parramore & Sons, Sheffield, Parramore F.C. established and existed until 2013.
1986 Handsworth Junior Sporting Club was formed.
1998 Handsworth Juniors took over running of Oliver’s Mount Sports Ground having expanded football sections for many ages.
2008 Paramore Sports F.C. played in Sheffield at the now demolished Don Valley Stadium.
2011 Parramore F.C. manager Peter Whitehead bought Worksop Towns disused ground of Sandy Lane Worksop. Worksop Town having their lease terminated by previous owners in 2008. Parramore moved the team from Sheffield to Worksop and became Worksop Parramore.
2013 Merger between Handsworth and Worksop Parramore taking up Worksop Parramore’s higher league placing as Handsworth Paramore F.C. and playing at Sandy Lane, Worksop.
2018 Women’s team join Sheffield and Hallamshire Women’s County League under the Handsworth banner.
April 2019 Peter Whitehead who bought Sandy Lane resigns as Chairman of Handsworth Parramore F. C.
2019 renamed Handsworth F.C.
So what started in Sheffield will return to Sheffield after an interlude in Nottinghamshire. Quite a journey but I’m sure it won’t be the last as they continue rising up the non-league pyramid.
Barton Town F.C. are also an amalgamation of two clubs. Barton Town were formed in 1880 becoming a successful club in North Lincolnshire. However they hit bad times after 111 years and eventually merged with Barton Old Boys who were 33 years their juniors. So Burton Town Old Boys F.C. was formed in 1995 and they have enjoyed rising 2 steps in the pyramid system since then.
Handsworth F.C. 3 Barton Town 1
Tool station Northers Counties East League Premier Division. Sandy Lane Worksop Tuesday 20th August 2019
The pitch was in excellent condition after the summer rest and dark clouds drifted by on a dry night.
The Handsworth under 17 side warmed up on the pitch with the seniors to get valuable experience ahead of their own season and the game was underway to a goal after only 3 minutes for Barton as Ben Townsend in goal for Handsworth lost all positional sense to allow Ben Hinchliffe to tap home. Barton remained on top but a beautiful hit ball landed at just the right height for Jamie Austin to head home at the near post to draw level.
It should have been 2-1 at half time but Ben Townsend made amends for his earlier error by saving a penalty diving to his left just before the referee blew for the interval.
Handsworth looked stronger in the second half and a direct run into the goal keepers area drew a foul and a penalty that Leon Howarth placed well to Harry Cartwrights right hand for them to take the lead.
Leon Howard made it 3-1 when he glided past three defenders before slotting the ball home from an acute angle inside the goalkeepers right hand.
Barton pressed hard to get back in the game but strong aerial control by the centre backs, two outstanding saves by Townsend and the bar kept them at bay.
The summer rain was by now back again to dampen Barton’s homeward journey and the result means they have lost their first three league games that makes the season ahead look gloomy .
The chip league made a disappointing comeback with the chips warm and soft. This was despite them being fried in a fryer, the fact that they are then kept in a bowl covered with metal foil ready for serving had an effect. They gained only a lowly 50.
Like last season my first game was an F.A. Cup Extra Preliminary round match and this season the same but between Northampton O N Chenecks and Godmanchester Rovers. The FA Cup has been competed for since the 1871/72 season and in the first 14 finals an old boys team featured 8 times but not since. Could Old Northamptonians Chenecks go all the way.
You would expect that the the summers day of the 11th August would not be a miserable grey day with heavy black clouds and torrential rain. The roads to the ground were far from coping with the heavy downpours but the beautiful green pitch was doing fine. The teams did not warm up but came strait out and immediately the referee called them together and we were underway.
The ON’s Association was established in 1919 in memory of the 94 members of staff, sixth former and leavers who had lost their lives in the First World War. Initially as a cricket club a football section was started in 1946 to allow former pupils of Northampton Grammar to play football. They started playing as Chenecks in local football and progressed to join the United Counties League in 1969. With the recent ground improvements they have progressed to the Premier Division and have developed a very good men’s and women’s youth team set up.
Godmanchester Rovers have been around since 1919 playing in local Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire football. But a speculative application to the Eastern Counties League in 2002 saw them step up and have since won promotion to the Premier League.
Neither team had won their opening games so an even game was anticipated.
Northampton ON Chenecks 2 Godmanchester 3
Godmanchester looked the better side in early play but it was Chenecks who went ahead on 8 minutes when a ball from the right flashed across the wet surface for Nathan Burrows to slot home.
The play evened out but Godmanchester equalised on 32 minutes with a move similar to Chenecks goal when a Chandler cross from the right was tapped in by James Hall.
The rain kept falling for all of the first half and the teams went in all square at half time although Godmanchester had a goal ruled offside. VAR would have helped here.
There was no respite at half time from the rain and a warming coffee under the umbrella kept spirits up. There were no chips here so this seasons chip league was postponed. Water had started to puddle in the goal mouth as play was restarted.
Godmanchester kept up their superiority and as the rain stopped they went ahead on 63 minutes when number 5 Ross Munro neatly struck a low free kick through the wall past the outstretched hand of the keeper to find the back of the net just inside the left hand post.
The away team were 3-1 up on 79 minutes when my man of the match Josh Dawking skilfully evaded defenders to slot the ball past the goalkeeper.
It seemed all over at this point and the crowd were distracted when the Air Ambulance landed next to the pitch and three paramedics ran off to a nearby emergency.
Despite Godmanchesters continued pressure Chenecks were able to make a late rally and saw Ben Diamond deliberately place his shot past the keepers right. A bit of extra pressure from the home side came to nothing and the referee blew to give Godmanchester a home derby against St Neots Town in the next round. The referee, Joseph Larkin booked a player from each side for tackles that perhaps would not have been made in better conditions but his actions meant that both teams settled down and in the main it was a pleasure not to notice the referee.
The 90 people wadded off as the rain came down again but must have felt it was well worth getting wet for this entertaining match. The dream of an Old Boys team at Wembley was over but a new season ahead still beckons.
Today South Yorkshire said farewell to Bob Jackson, a well known football fan and pioneer.
Bob was a sports reporter and producer for BBC Radio Sheffield between1972 and 1992. He was known for his unbiased fanatical support of South Yorkshires football teams and would play brass band music during commentaries to cheer up losing teams. Local legend had it that this often worked.
Football fans nationwide have to thank him for his invention of the football phone in. November 1986 was when he invited fans to ring in with ‘grumbles’ about their local team. A few weeks after this it is said that a Sheffield Wednesday fan rang in to ‘praise’ the Owls for their 5-0 win. ‘Praise and Grumble’ was born, the first football phone in.
It has blossomed since then nationwide and gives a backdrop to many a fans journey home from the match.
The Far Corner ‘A Mazy Dribble through North-East Football’ by Harry Pearson – published by Little Brown and Company 1994.
When on holiday you have the time to catch up on those books you have in store. This was another charity shop find and turned out to be an absorbing read.
Harry Pearson is a Middlesbrough supporter and also a Football Supporter. The book is about Harry’s 1993/94 season and all of the matches he watched. It is not just about each match he attends but also detail on football clubs, leagues, players and fans in the North East.
The book has inspired me to visit some new teams as there are reviews of games including such teams as Billingham Synthonia, Seaham Red Star, Esh Winning Albion, Easington Colliery to name a few.
There is some good humour and colourful detail about players such as Hughie Gallagher and in depth comment on the history of the Northern League.
The humour and idiosyncrasies of football fans shines through, who else would try to find where the Charlton brothers were born and succeed. The holiday was made better by my suppressed laughter.
‘Playing with the Boys’ by Niamh McKevitt – Published by Vision Sports Publishing 2015
This easy to read and sometimes funny book is a journal of teenager Niamh McKevitts dogged determination to play football at the best level possible. She finds that playing with boys teams gives her more opportunity to hone her skills but more importantly to compete with players who are at her age level or above.
Her story is of how she searches for the best teams to play for and stands up for girls/women to be able to play against boys/men of an equal age on an equal footing.
To do this she has struggles against her school, coaches, general prejudice, team mates, opponents and the F.A. However with changes at the F.A, who believed that girls will become better footballers if separated from boys, she is able to help effect the change that now allows girls to play alongside boys in competitive matches right up to 18.
Niamh plays and succeeds with teams at the very top of boys football in Sheffield and demonstrates through her play that she is an equal and deserves her place in the team. It should also be noted that but for her Dad who supports her all of the way then a lot of this would not have happened.
Anyone who enjoys football will not only enjoy this book as a reminder of the struggle in the women’s game but also will enjoy the human story and an insight into grass roots football.