You will have seen these words before in Paul Simon’s song ‘The Boy in the Bubble’ but they are how I feel about my 2021/22 football season.
We all started the season hoping that it would finish and not be cut short by the Covid Pandemic as it had been in the two previous.
The Non-League scene had seen some major changes of league structures and a new landscape beckoned. New to me and new to the Toolstaion North East Counties were Teversal F.C. who I visited in July. The ground was homely but the football was dull and they lost 1 nil which was a bad omen towards their eventual relegation at the end of the season back to the feeder leagues. The club house was reassuringly warm and friendly and the chance to eat football ground chips was a delight.
Spalding up next saw them beat Loughborough Dynamos in a detour on the way home from holiday.
My first F.A Cup game was at Belper Town who progressed against Whitchurch in a ground that I fell in love with because of its view of the local church and Salts Mill along with great facilities
More F.A. Cup action followed at Lancaster 1874 as they beat Northwich in a disappointing game that was enhanced by the staff at the ground.
As September rolled on the evenings were darker and the lights were on at Dinnington Town. It was fascinating to sit in the small stand with the locals and hear about the development of their club.9
A highlight was my 5th attempt at visiting Tow Law Town to see a competitive game against Birtley. The ground clinging to the Durham hillside has some stunning views and its history seems to hang in the air. A great chat with a Birtley fan was all that is good about the game at this level.
Having messed up on visiting Quorn I went to see Rainworth Miners Welfare play Hallam in a game previously abandoned due to a medical emergency to an official. He was there to start the game having made a welcome recovery. Hallam ran out 4-0 winners at this near Mansfield ground.
Back to Staveley Miners Welfare because it was one of the only games I could reach as others had been called off due to the constant rain. Their artificial pitch meant the game was on but it didn’t help them with the result. The facilities here are amazing for their level and they intend to make them even better. Despite a mid table finish they have accepted a demotion to ensure that they achieve their plan for ground improvements and ensuring that the club achieves a debt free position. I believe that this mature governance of the club will see them becoming a beacon in this level of football for some years to come.
By the end of October I visited Folkstone Invicta to see them overwhelm Kingstonian. Good facilities here that are being used by good crowd support. The fanzone was one of the best I have seen.
A night time drive to Milton Keynes Dons to see them play Aston Villa in the EFL Trophy was special as I met my son and my 5 year old grandson. Three generations of fans felt good. The ground changed my mind about the new stadiums that are sprouting everywhere. Often they just seem like a concrete bowl with no soul but this has a great feel being next to a vibrant retail area, lit up at night by food outlets. You walk in off road level and you are at the top level of the seating which unfolds below you. You can stay in the hotel built into the stadium and watch from your room. There is also space to increase the capacity in the future. One thing I would say though is please it is time to drop the Dons name’ your roots have now been firmly planted in Milton Keynes.
Next up was Percy Main in the Northern Alliance not far from the North Shields Cruise terminal. I had to visit here after reading Ian Cussack’s book about his experiences with the club.
It was all I expected, a small homely club and ground providing local football in these parts. Long may they continue and also keep serving the enormous amount of chips that they do.
St Albans City F.C. – YES!!!! The F.A. cup again brought me to my original home town where I saw my first match in 1955. In all those years since either watching games or the results, St Albans had never beaten a Football League side in the F.A. Cup but they did it at this match beating the League 2 leaders and eventual winners, Forest Green Rovers. It was a tremendous game not just for the players but the supporters too, the excitement could be sliced and taken home. City unfortunately went out to local rivals Boreham Wood in the next round and then having been in a position that could have seen them win their league they faded away and didn’t even make the play offs. Oh well there is always next year.
Kiverton Park was a complete change to St Albans but this feeder league club is trying hard to develop. Where else have I ever been served chips in my seat in the stand. Thank you for this unusual but appreciated experience.
The end of November saw me visit Turf Moor to see Burnley play a hectic 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace. The continual rain that drenched me did not dampen my appreciation of visiting a ground that I have wanted to see for many years. It didn’t disappoint.
From a wet Burnley I next went to an even wetter Sherwood Colliery who beat Knaresborough Town in a thrilling game. Sherwood Colliery are on the outskirts of Mansfield and are a team on the up, supported by a lottery winner who is building the club slowly putting in building bocks one at a time. After a successful season in the Toolstation Northern Counties East League they have now been moved along with other Nottinghamshire clubs to the United Counties League.
Corby Town in Northamptonshire was next just before Christmas but the damp cold fog put a damper on the experience although the coffee and mince pie at half time kept me going.
My Christmas game found me at Hallam F.C. in Sheffield to see what was going on. The crowds had been growing as Hallam edged up the league and now in 2nd place they entertained the third placed team in front of 1198 spectators in this step 6 clash. Hallam won and went on to finish top of the league with 100 points and 100 goals for. It will be interesting to see the crowds in the Premier Division next season.
2022 saw me welcoming the New Year at Heanor v Selston which was an edgy 0-0 draw.
From a goal less draw I couldn’t believe that I saw Hucknall Town hit 10 in my next match. Hucknall are trying to get back to former glories and the set up is all there but the United Counties League Division 1 looks like one of the hardest in the country to escape from.
A long journey to Spennymoor was nothing to their opposition that day in the F.A. Trophy, Plymouth Parkway. Parkway looked like making the journey worthwhile but a Spennymoor revival in the last ten minutes must have broken their hearts and made the return home seem like an eternity.
Mid week and it was Rossington Main near Doncaster Airport and the floodlights piercing the darkness always make evening games exciting. Brigg Town won in this league Cup game but were eliminated due to playing an illegible player.
Now down to the South Coast where I saw Poole Town beat Swindon Supermarine a game which was decided by penalty incidents. I stayed at the Royal National Life Boat H.Q. in Poole for this one where you can stay if members are not using the overnight facilities. Look it up if you are planning to stay in the area.
Another night under the lights, this time at Emley AFC, and also under the two Emley Moor towers. A solid 4-0 win against Knaresborough Town being the outcome, I had now seen Knaresborough concede 9 goals in two matches.
Then to Esh Winning for a Northern League match, a great club house, an interesting ground in the country, an unusual name and Dec, Alias Miserable Les who enthralled me with stories of the club, the area and his music career. Thank you Dec for a great afternoon. Afterwards we nipped into the village chippy, Fields, to get chips cooked on one of the last coal fired chip shop ranges left in the country.
With February nearly over I attended Non League heaven when I went to Loughborough Students. What great facilities this University has for their students and rightly so an investment in young talent to see us into the future. Loughborough won in the league against Eastwood but their exploits in the F.A. Vase were where it was at this season, reaching the semi finals only to lose away at Newhaven. Unfortunately the purple didn’t make it to Wembley.
Having seen Eastwood Community play away the previous week at Loughborough I decided to visit their ground. The facilities were good for the level though the two level synthetic pitch was unusual. Eastwood unfortunately lost again, this time to visitors Newark Town.
Having enjoyed my visit to Belper to see Belper Town I noticed an evening game at the same ground which is shared by Belper United. I again took the wrong turning some where and arrived just in time for kick off. If you go to Belper to see either team go early to park near the ground. The walk down the hill to the match is fine but up hill on the way back is a killer. Belper United won but just missed out on promotion unlike their bigger brothers Belper Town who won their play offs.
Mansfield Hosiery mid week was next, where I enjoyed the evening football and a second half chat with a budding coach. Great name for a football club though.
A hot sunny day in Newcastle under Lyme and a very long walk from the town via a cemetery to a park with all types of sports grounds and a football stadium with a velodrome around its perimeter. Newcastle Town played Glossop North End in a not to remember game where I watched the end of a rugby match from the back of the goal on an adjoining pitch.
The chance to see England’s under 19’s at Chesterfield couldn’t be turned down and I enjoyed a slick performance to see them qualify for this summers UEFA competition.
St Josephs Rockware Worksop was the venue for the most unreal game of the whole season when the referee abandoned the game after 44 minutes due to what appeared to be alleged threats from the home sides bench. I still haven’t been able to find out the outcome of the episode.
A full 90 minutes were restored at Carlton Town in Nottingham where the home team beat Belper Town to keep their play off hopes alive. Carlton eventually failed in their quest but Belper gained promotion.
My first Sheffield and Hallamshire League game found me at North Gawbor Colliery for an evening game which with the lengthening daylight didn’t need lights. The away team Wakefield AFC won on their way to win the league and promotion to the Northern Counties East League. Wakefield are a team to watch in the future. this was one of the best games of the season as it was amazing to see families, dog walker et al turn up to watch, no payment needed. I was sorry for the bus driver who had to wait till the game ended to pass the spectators cars and vans parked on the road. Luckily no passengers were inconvenienced in the playing of this game as there were none on the bus.
Easter Monday and the playing of the 125thMexborough Montagu Hospitals Charity Cup Final at Mexborough, believed to be the oldest cup competition still played at the original ground. A real family local football crowd of 1700 helped the Hospital Charity. By the way Scawthorpe beat Dog Daisy Athletic.
Nearing the end of the season on the way to a holiday in North Wales it gave me the opportunity to see some Welsh football when I went to Llandudno v Llangefni. I was impressed with the quality of their second tier football and I think they are building a good future.
On the way back I managed to get a ticket to sit with the Southend fans at Wrexham. Wrexham won the game and eventually finished the season in second place and are favourites to win the play offs. Their new owners have the money to develop the squad and stadium but the National League must be the hardest in the country to win.
The last game of the season unusually not a Non League game but Barrow v Northampton in League Two. Not to see the drama that unfolded but to see my daughter attend her 92nd current League game, an amazing achievement. A proud Dad who was there at the first.
These are definitely the days of miracles and wonder in that the season was completed and I attended 36 diverse and enjoyable football matches.