I made the journey back to Belper for the second time this season to The Raygar Stadium in Christchurch Meadows but not to see Belper Town but Belper United who rent the ground off their neighbours. United moved here in the 2013/14 season but moved away to return in 2018.
I must go to Belper sometime to visit Strutt’s Mill that gained UNESCO World Heritage Status over 20 years ago and was a major cotton spinning Mill in the Derwent Valley. I also need to go if I am to go back to watch football again to work out the best parking places as I have on both occasions ended up walking a long way (good for me in reality).
It was a pleasant evening of 12 degrees with a stillness in the air and very black skies that made the floodlights shine brightly. I was greeted by a friendly team at a table selling tickets and programs and there was a crowd of 168. Belper United’s biggest league crowd of the season.
The pitch here slopes slightly and the grass cover is very good considering two teams are playing on this ground regularly. There was a very good programme (The Green Army Review) and one of the support staff walked round the ground handing out team sheets.
There is photographic evidence that Belper United came into existence around the early 1920’s and were active for around 20 years. A merger in 1969 between Milford Sports and Belper Park Rangers created the current club. They have played in the Midland Regional Alliance, the Central Midlands League, East Midlands Counties League and in the reorganisation of the Non-League structure now find themselves in The United Counties League.
Like Belper there are two teams in Hinkley, Hinkley LRFC who play in the United Counties Premier Division South and Hinkley AFC who are one division lower, both were formed with the demise of Hinkley Town. Hinkley AFC are a community club playing in Barwell just to the north of Hinkley. They initially played in the Midland League and were place in the current League this season,
Belper United 2 Hinkley AFC 0
Tuesday March 15th 2022, 7.45 p.m. kick off.
United Counties league Division One – Division Position: Third v Top.
Kit – Belper United, Green and Black vertical stripe shirts and shorts v Hinkley AFC away kit Purple shirts, shorts and socks.
Hinkley were on a thirteen game unbeaten run and top of the table with Belper third and seven points behind. The game started immediately in a competitive. combinative tone which continued all match. The home team playing against the slight slope had the best of the first 15 minutes but it was Hinkley on 28 minutes who had the best chance to take the lead from a corner when Curtis Hall made a stunning save low down. Hinkley again looked dangerous when awarded a free kick on the left edge of the area for a foul on the dangerous Isa Abraham who had an intriguing tussle with Belper’s Jake Dodds all night. The free kick was wasted and half time came with Belper still looking the strongest team.
Belper kept up the pressure and as the bells tolled nine from the next door Christ Church it seemed that an exciting goal less draw was on the cards. Six minutes later the energetic Kieran O’Conell was sin binned for decent and what looked like arguing with the referee.
Hinkley should have made the extra man count but it was O’Connell’s return 2 minutes earlier that made the difference when with ten minutes remaining he was put through on the left by substitute Ben Ollett and after drawing the goalkeeper curled the ball across him into the right hand corner of the net to take the lead.
With Hinkley pushing for the equaliser Belper broke away leaving Ben Ollett on his own to beat the keeper, Mathew Hill, to put the game out of sight for Hinkley. The referee blew the final whistle one minute after the re-start and Hinkley’s run was over.
One of the best games I have seen all season and my man of the match was Belper’s whole back four who were steadfast all game.
The chips looked great and were real chips, red hot, just cooked, crispy on the outside but hard in the middle. What started as potentially the best chips of the season ended up a disappointment and a score of only 45.
N.B. I have always considered the United Counties League a bit of a Cinderella League but the recent restructure has ended up with a better quality of football across a wider region. This shows up in that a team from each of their Premier Leagues have made it to the semi finals of the F.A. Vase. Loughborough Students and Newport Pagnell. The games in the League this year have all showcased some very good talent.