The night the World Cup winners came to Telford

Sometimes you see a slice of history that makes you double-take.  Last month I was watching the excellent BBC series, The Seventies, written and presented by Dominic Sandbrook.  He was focusing on football violence that was on the rise in the decade before mentioning a game that was played at Telford United in 1976.  It appears that the full England 1966 World Cup winning team came to Telford’s Bucks Head stadium in October 1976 to play a friendly.  Just as Dom appeared to be ready to go into lengthy detail, the programme cut to a story about another “bloody strike” and I was left hanging.  A search on Uncle Google revealed very little detail – in fact the official history of (AFC) Telford United devoted just 18 words to the game.

I couldn’t let the story go back into the hidden cupboard.  I had to find out more but it seemed everyone wanted to forget about the game.  An email to the FA drew a blank, and as this wasn’t an official game,  there were no records to be found in their archive.

Interestingly, England ran out in a white Admiral kit, without the Three Lions on their chest.  Whilst I cannot find an official source, it appears that the FA refused to sanction the game and thus banned the team from wearing an official kit.  A few months earlier they had allowed another “unofficial” England game to take place when they played in the “Bi-Centennial” Tournament in the USA.   The tournament, won by Brazil also featured Italy.  The day after England played Team America in Philadelphia, the Football Association said it was regarded as “a training game” and that caps would not be awarded to the participating players. Accordingly, the FA does not include the match in its list of full internationals. The associations of both Brazil and Italy, on the other hand, listed their national sides’ matches against Team America as full internationals.  Of course, if someone would have been sponsoring the tournament and there was prize money it may have been a different matter (must remember not to mention Trinidad and Tobago at this point).

But back to the 11th October 1976.  Telford United (long before they gained the AFC) were managed by Geoff Hurst which may have something to do with the game taking place.  Hurst also arranged high-profile friendlies against Chelsea and West Ham United during his stint in the hot seat at The Bucks Head.  All of the starting XI from July 1966 had agree to play in a game to celebrate the centenary of Telford United.  One question from me at this point.  Telford started life as Parish Church Institute in 1872 and then seven years later to Wellington Town.  They didn’t actually change their name to Telford until 1969 so what 100 year anniversary were they actually celebrating?  I would hasten a guess to say it was a liberal usage of the word “centenary”.  But the local’s didn’t care and came flocking to the ground, taking every space possible before Bobby Moore led the “England” team out.

The former internationals won 4-1 with goals from Jack Charlton (from the penalty spot), Bobby Charlton, Alan Ball and of course Geoff Hurst.  Which of course begs the question which side was he really playing on?  Did Geoff do the team talk for his Telford United side dressed in the kit of the opposition?  Did he deliberately change the tactics and then exploit them?  Surely his actions could have opened the doors to possible match fixing allegations these days?

It seems a real shame that such a match has been hidden from the world for nearly forty years.  For those present on the night it must have been an amazing experience, but for the rest of us including Uncle Google, we will simply have to live in ignorance for the rest of our lives.   Hurst stayed at Telford for a couple of seasons, combining the role with a coaching position with Ron Greenwood and the England side before he went on to be Chelsea’s manager.  Hurst was replaced at Telford by fellow World Cup winner Gordon Banks.  However, like Hurst, Bobby Charlton, Stiles, Ball and Moore, he was more cut out as a player than a manager.

Back beat, the word is on the street that the fire in your heart is out

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

Butler makes it 1-0

Butler makes it 1-0

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.

A small diversion – the price of silverware

Aldershot win the first Setanta ShieldWe seem to be accepting as football fans that some competitions are not worth the effort in taking part. The Carling Cup in England hasn’t been taken seriously by the big clubs for seasons, and in recent years the importance of a decent run in the FA Cup has taken second place for many teams over survival in the league. The most worrying trend though has been the lack of attention clubs like Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur have paid to their UEFA Cup campaigns which has really devalued the competitions.

In the non-leagues the major cup competition has always been the FA Trophy (and the FA Vase for the smaller clubs). There was a league cup competition that ran from 1979 until 2001 when Chester City became the last winners. By that stage crowds had fallen to laughable levels (it was not unheard of to hear matches in the opening rounds being played in front of a couple of dozen fans) so the tournament was scrapped, only to re-appear in 2004 under the name of the Challenge Cup. Unfortunately a poor winter lead to a crippling fixture pile up that meant clubs were forced to field virtual youth teams to get through the games. Woking ended the season as winners of the cup, beating Stalybridge Celtic 1-0. The Conference had managed to find a sponsor for the tournament (in fact they had a couple as it started off as the Carthium Group Cup before they went bankrupt before Galdwish Land Sales stepped in making it the GLS Cup) but they decided not to continue their investment and so the cup was once again sidelined.

When Setanta signed their deal to cover football at all levels they were keen on getting “exclusivity” to a new competition and so the cup was resurrected as the Setanta Shield in time for the start of the 2007/08 season. Again clubs did not take it seriously and neither did the fans. This was reflected in the quarter finals (essentially played as regional semi finals) where the highest attendance was just over 800. The format of the competition in the latter stages was that the final would be played at the club who held the highest league position out of all of the semi finalists at the time of the first semi. Which could mean that the final was played at a neutral venue, or not as the case may be. In this case it worked very well as Aldershot were on top of the league at the time and thus gained the right to host the final, which they themselves won against Rushden & Diamonds in front of 3,700 fans. Woking v Halifax Town played at Aldershot would have got no more than 500 if that turned out to be the game.

Undeterred by the inconvenience the cup caused, Setanta vowed to carry on with their patronage into this season with the winning club set to receive £16,000. Due to the fixture pile up last season the final date was set in stone as Thursday 5th March 2009, giving all clubs an opportunity to concentrate on the league in the final weeks of the season. All very well in practice. Early rounds again were poorly supported – Team Bath’s local derby with Bath City had no paying fans, and less than a hundred at Hyde Town. The Third round, the stage the “big teams” entered, faile d to attract one attendance over 1,000, and the local derby between Forest Green Rovers and Oxford United saw a awful crowd of 383, for a game that would attract nearly 4,000 in the league in early March. In fact prior to the semi-finals there had only been one crowd above 1,000 in the competition!

So with the final date looming, the clubs tried to shoe horn in as many games as they could in December and January….and then came the artic winter conditions in early February that caused havoc as the quarter final between Crawley Town and Ebbsfleet United had to be postponed on three occasions, and could only be re-scheduled on the 5th March – the day of the final and the it was cancelled again due to a flooded pitch! So as we reached cup final day we can see that Forest Green are waiting patiently for the winner of the game versus Crawley and Ebbsfleet, whilst the other semi-final between Barrow and Telford United had been postponed twice and abandoned on Tuesday 3rd March.

Setanta then stuck their oar in and told Barrow that they would have to play the game on Tuesday 10th March so that they could show it live. Barrow (and Telford) refused as both had scheduled league games – Barrow are flirting with relegation from the Blue Square Premier League at the moment but they have games in hand a plenty. They could play it on the 12th March, with both clubs agreeing to field a second team. Setanta again objected and demanded they play it on a Tuesday. Both clubs went to the FA to complain and suggested a coin toss to determine who went through – again Setanta said no, so it is now up to the FA to determine what the outcome should be for this tie.

But wait – here is the massive issue. The “rules” of the tournament say that the “highest placed team in the non-league structure out of the four semi-finalists on the day of the semi-finals being played will be deemed the host of the final of the Setanta Shield”. At the moment this would be Crawley by a country mile, but what if they lose to Ebbsfleet? As I write this Barrow have 33 points (from 32 games), Ebbsfleet 34 (from 30 games) and Forest Green Rovers 35 (from 34 games). Telford are in the Blue Square Northern so would not be considered. So if Ebbsfleet win tonight* versus Crawley AS WE SIT AT THE MOMENT Forest Green would host the final….but suppose the semi’s cannot be played for another few weeks, giving Barrow the chance to play their games in hand? It could well mean they were the highest positioned club in the semi-finals DESPITE having already played their game and lost to Telford BEFORE Forest Green play Ebbsfleet. And thus a Telford versus Forest Green (not too far apart in terms of Geography) would be played some 200 miles away in one of the remotest towns in the UK in front of a crowd of one man and a dog.

* Stop Press at 3pm 5th March – Crawley v Ebbsfleet is postponed again due to a waterlogged pitch!  New date to be decided when???  Setanta have also announced that the final WILL be on the 26th March.  That means that if Ebbsfleet are to reach the final they will have to play two Setanta, two FA Trophy semi-finals and four BSP games – a simple 8 games in 20 days – I am sure they would like to thank Setanta for this!

Update 18th March 2009
So we now have some clear water….Ebbsfleet beat Crawley in front of 844 people last night meaning they will be in the Semi-Finals…..Both will be played on the 26th March (again the date of the final)….But who exactly will host the final?  as we sit today it will be Ebbsfleet BUT before the 26th March all teams have to play once – Barrow have Lewes at home, Forest Green away at Altrincham and Ebbsfleet away at Salisbury some 3 days after playing the FA Trophy semi final 2nd leg and 2 days before the Forest Green game.

Ebbsfleet and Forest Green are seperated by goal difference, with Barrow two points behind.  However, Ebbsfleet have FIVE games in hand on Forest Green, hardly making it fair if they end up below both teams by a week tomorrow.

Update 22nd March 2009
Ebbsfleet are now playing at home versus Forest Green Rovers on Thursday 26th March, whilst Barrow take on Telford on Tuesday 24th March, the same night that Ebbsfleet play Salisbury in the league.  If Ebbsfleet fail to win on Tuesday then the final will be played at Forest Green’s New Lawn.  If they win then it will be at Stonebridge Road irrespective of the result in the game between Barrow and Telford.  That is of course if Setanta change the rules AGAIN!

Update 25th March 2009
Ebbsfleet lost away at Salisbury and coupled with Forest Green’s win at Altrincham on Saturday means that the final will be played at New Lawn.  Just got to work out who will be there for it.  Forest Green will hope for a “local” ish derby with Telford which may mean that the crowd reaches four figures…..

Stonebridge Road - another possible venue?

Stonebridge Road - another possible venue?

If Ebbsfleet beat Salisbury away on Tuesday night then they would host the final, which could be between Forest Green (152 miles away) and Barrow (352 miles away) or Telford (181 miles away).

The New Lawn - The venue for the final?

The New Lawn - The venue for the final?

Or will it be here in the heart of the Gloucestershire countryside – certainly handy for Telford but not so for Barrow (or Ebbsfleet)