Have you ever got so far only to fall at the last possible moment? Well that is what the end of season Playoff’s are all about. It doesn’t matter what division you look at the end of season playoffs are on a knife edge. There is real fear in most games. The rules of fairness always favour the team that “just misses out” but who wants to see that? As a neutral you want to see the complete outsider win on the day and really upset the applecart.
Who didn’t laugh when Leeds United were tanked by Watford in May 2006 and then 12 months later were relegated (no disrespect to Leeds fans but everyone wants to see the big teams fail, as I should know), or when Crystal Palace came from the brink of relegation in 2005 to beat West Ham in Cardiff to secure a place in the Premier League.
In the lower divisions the rewards are just as rich. This season the Blue Square North and South have been even contested with the final top positions only decided on the last day of the season. I had already covered the race for the Blue Square South positions in my post from Hampton & Richmond v AFC Wimbledon which saw the former reach the Playoff final, and AFC gain automatic promotion. So it was time to turn my attention northwards to the goings on in the Blue Square North.
The title had been won by Tamworth on the last but one day of the season, and three of the four play off spots were already sorted prior to the ultimate day. A final win for Alfreton and Telford United saw them secure a play off spot and a double header against each other. AFC Telford United are arguably the biggest team in the league in terms of fan base and tradition. They actually rose out of the ashes of the original Telford United who were forced into liquidation in 2004 just months after reaching the FA Cup third round by Millwall and reaching the FA Trophy semi-final. Through the efforts of the supporters trust the club reformed as AFC Telford United and have since worked their way back up the non league pyramid, followed at times by thousands of fans.
So hands up who could place Alfreton on a map? CMF actually thought it was called Alfreston and she was actually born less than 30 minutes away. It turned out that this mythical place was from the song she used to listen to when she was a wee nipper (on a few searches on T’Internet this proved to be the song Galveston by Glen Campbell). Alfreton is located close to the M1 in the East Midlands and no more than a few miles from Mansfield. It was once an important mining community but today is more reliant on chocolate as Thornton’s major factory is located here.
So what of the football club? I have to say that until this season I have never heard of them or the “Impact Arena” where they play. The club have actually been playing in the Conference North since 2005, and for a long time during the following season actually led the table under the leadership of ex-Forest and Leicester City player Gary Mills (who subsequently left and last season led Tamworth to the title). Current manager Nicky Law, himself a local legend with Rotherham and Chesterfield has managed to build a team that has lifted the club to their highest ever league position.
The Impact Arena? Sounds like it should be in the same vein as the Reebok or the JJB? Well not quite. It is actually called North Street really, and the naming rights were concluded some point in the past – despite searching at length about the deal I could find no details nor who “Impact” were. (Subsequently I discovered that Impact Marketing & Design Ltd are owned by the club’s chairman Wayne Bradley and are based locally – good on you sir!)
Alfreton’s season had been underpinned by a potent strike force of Paul Clayton and Liam Hearn whos 47 goals not only drove the promotion drive but has resulted in a call up for the England C squad – an amazing achievement considering the likes of Graham Morrison, Lee Boylan, Richard Brodie and James Constable playing in the higher league and scoring goals for fun. They are in fact the only two non-Conference players in the sixteen man squad
I was to be joined on this jaunt into Derbyshire by Brother-in-Law Steve The Imp (He is a Lincoln fan and not a small devil) who was keen to sample some northern hospitality. It was a simple 45 minute drive across from Lincoln and we found the ground, just a short hop from the A38 and parked up without any issues. From outside the ground you could see the huge travelling contingent from Telford at the far end of the stadium, and despite there being 30 minutes before kick off they were in fine form. We took up a place behind the “home goal” although there was very few home fans around.
Alfreton Town 4 Telford United 3 – The Impact Arena – Sunday 3rd May 2009
As the two teams took to the field we were suddenly surrounded by a large group of youngish fans who immediately broke into song. “Alfreton is full of twats, full of twats, full of twats, Alfretonis full of twats poor old Mansfield”…We were confused – why would the home fans be singing this? They followed it with “We’ve got hooligans, we’ve got hooligans, you aint”…A nice welcome. Telford won the toss and changed ends meaning a very warm welcome to the Telford keeper, referring to him as a YamYam (I had to latterly look this up as I was unaware what it actually meant).
The atmosphere created by this group of fans was impressive. I have no idea if they are regulars but they seemed to know a few songs. They didn’t have to wait long for something more to sing and shout about as former West Brom defender Tony Butler headed the home team ahead with a header from close range. The crowd went ballistic and with an old fashion surge we were pushed against the perimeter wall and found ourselves being hugged by complete strangers. 2-1 on aggregate soon became 2-2 and pandemonium as Anton Brown swivelled on the penalty spot and the ball rolled slowly past the Telford keeper and into the net. Everything went flying at that point and in the melee we managed to find a few £1 coins on the floor and a crushed mobile phone that Steve handed back to a guy behind us who seemed too far gone to care.
Telford looked down and out and it seemed there would only be one winner. That feeling lasted three minutes until Telford’s Danny Edwards turned the ball in from close range and then with the half time whistle approaching Danny Carey-Bertram equalised for the Bucks. At this point we had taken leave from our spot behind the goal, scared for our health not due to the lively fans (keep it up guys) but the horrible dog shit smell that seemed to permeate around us as well as the Swine Fever carriers next to us who liked nothing better in the first half that a gob or three on the floor every thirty seconds. Nice habit to get into in the current climate.
We headed to the snack bar and after a ten minute queue we were presented with an option of chips, chips with peas or chips in a butty (I assume we could have also peas or peas in a butty but they weren’t on offer) such had been the demand for traditional Alfreton fayre so far. We noticed the number of policemen rising in the stadium, obviously concerned with the noxious local smell and headed back to the around the goal to the open air seats for the second half.
Alfreton came out fired up with their task at hand, knowing that an early goal was essential. And that is exactly what happened as Paul Clayton scored from close range in the 49th minute. Again they could sense victory but again Telford came back at them and it was 3-3 in less than five minutes as Carl Rodgers finished smartly in Telford’s first attack of the half. The fans knew that the game was up and so they decided to turn their attention to some away fan baiting. In groups of five or six they wandered past us to the barriers separating the two sets of fans. This didn’t go unseen by the police who followed them around until it became so obvious what was happening. Fortunately the team weren’t distracted and with fifteen minutes to go they were fortunate to get a penalty which after a delay for another booking (taking it to seven in the game) was slotted away by Anthony Howell to make it 4-3.
So one goal was all that was seperating the home team for a place in the final but it was not to be. Steve Jagielka, brother of Everton’s Phil smashed a shot against the bar for Telford near the end but that was the last of the real action. We moved around the pitch to get a vantage point for the imminent pitch invasion on the final whistle but it failed to materialise. The Police smartly formed a line across the pitch including police dogs (so that is where the smell came from!) but the fans simply gave the players a huge round of applause and wandered off out of the ground.
Telford meanwhile headed off home to ready themselves for the final away to Gateshead on Friday. It had been a great game of football, and on the whole the home fans were a passionate bunch, although a few of them had obviously worn their copy of Green Street out thinking it was a training manual for football in the current climate but it was harmless stuff. Still, I don’t believe that anyone feels the way I do about you Alfreton!
About the Impact Arena
The Impact Arena is a typical non-league ground, made up of a mixture of small stands and terracing. It has been home to the club since 1959 when the club were formed. The ground is a real mixture of styles. There is seating on three sides for around 1,500 although most of it is uncovered and just a few rows of seats bolted onto the terraces. The ground is smartly painted red and surrounded by trees giving it a really nice rural feel when the sun is shining. The Reds Bar in the ground is very popular on matchdays.
The stadium was given its FA grade B licence earlier in the season meaning it is fit to host Conference football, although if their ambitions are for League football in the future significant work will need to be carried out.
How to get to the Impact Arena
Most fans will drive to Alfreton so from the M1 in either direction turn off at junction 28 onto the A38 towards Derby. Follow for 2 miles then take the slip road onto the B600. Turn right at main road towards the town centre. After ½ mile turn left into North Street. The Ground is 200 yards down on the right. There is a free car park at the ground.
The nearest train station is Alfreton which is a ten minute walk away and on the Euston train line. Come out of the station and turn right onto the Mansfield Road towards the town centre. Take the second left into Prospect Street. At the end of this road the ground will be ahead of you to the right.
How to get a ticket for the Impact Arena
The record attendance at the Impact Arena is just over 5,000 in 1960 for a local derby versus Matlock Town. In recent years when the capacity has been reduced to 3,600 the average attendance has rarely got over the thousand barrier. Almost every game (the exceptions are FA Cup ties) are pay on the gate and entry costs £10 for Adults and £5 for Concessions. You can move freely between terraces to seats unless there is segregation in place.