Never go back is the old adage. But it’s only true in certain circumstances. Deciding to go back to Matlock Town’s Causeway Lane ground when a match was on wasn’t one of these occasions when you regret going back. Not a bit of it.
If you’ve been reading this blog and desperately not trying to fall asleep when reading it (my dear mother) I’d passed the ground when driving around the Derbyshire Dales back in September when I visited the area to watch Ilkeston Town on a Monday night and Belper Town on a Tuesday night. Some considerate soul had left the gates open and I sneaked in and took a few photos of one of the nicest grounds I’ve seen.
I’d been trying to get back for a game in Matlock for ages but for some reason, probably Torquay’s unexpected promotion campaign, I hadn’t managed to organise myself sufficiently. But a few weeks ago, and with the arrival of a brand new camera, I decided to take in Matlock’s match with Champions-elect Chester. Not the Chester City I once visited for a Friday night game after work during Torquay’s darkest football league season. A match where fathers and sons almost came to blows, all of our players looked inept apart from an on loan keeper from Lincoln City desperately keeping trying to keep the score down. The Deva Stadium or the Saunders Honda Stadium was a bizarre one. I’m pretty sure that I parked the car in England and stood on a terrace in Wales that night, watching an English football league match. From memory I think Torquay got a draw that day. Local pit bull Matt Hockley (now playing for Bideford) dived outside the box and the ref for reasons of sympathy gave us a late penalty. An unlikely point was gained in a season that was doomed from the start.
So before I get depressed about that it’s back to the near past. Off the same motorway I’d used the previous week to get to Burton. I came over the hill on the Alfreton Road through Tansley. I didn’t see the parking available in the cricket club and parked in the town centre instead. 4 quid? The robbing bastards. No change on me, so I had to nip into nearby Wilkinsons to buy a toothbrush (firm)! Change generated. Parking paid.
I walked the short distance back to the ground and arrived just in time to see a couple of Chester supporter’s coaches arrive and drop their payloads. The usual mix. Beered-up young lads with diamond ear-rings with fake tans in 8 year old’s t-shirts with espadrilles and aviator sunglasses, the more traditional Sports Direct clad lot, the usual die-hards and a large contigent of women wearing coloured wigs and Chester scarves making it look like that scene in Brassed Off when the band went on a fundraising day around the villages. No sign of Miss Glorious Tits though!
For a pseudo-southerner like me I love watching football in these parts. It’s great to see people of all ages, shapes and sizes standing at a football match with a pint in one hand and a pie in the other. I think on the day there must have been at least 600-700 odd from Chester in a crowd of 1,036. The raffle ticket seller was this old fella who dragged around his wheezing dog on a lead drumming up trade. The journey up from London had made me hungry so I had a nice burger, but declined the pie as I was making space for some chips a bit later on.
I took my place to the right of the goal and against a solid stone wall. The Chester keeper Matt Glennon was warming up with an already knackered looking goalkeeping coach. As he started to whack half volleyed shots at him, Glennon turned around to us and advised us to stand well back as “his half volleys could go anywhere”. The first four were fine but the fifth had to be retrieved from the Ford dealership next door! Glennon winked knowingly.
So onto the match itself. I though Matlock, who were a bit weakened by injuries and suspensions, just shaded the first half hitting Glennon’s crossbar and then bringing a good save out of him from the resulting rebound. By the second half though Chester started getting on top of things. I’d changed my position in order to get some different shots but I’d managed to stand next to a right pillock. Sports Direct clothing. Oakley wrap-around sunglasses, balding hair styled with chip fat. He was one of this new types of idiots at football who witter on to themselves aloud and use pseudo manager speak. Lots of “stand him up”, “win it”, Steve Evan’s type gesticulations (other than, brown envelope stuffing, pie eating and mascara applying). Call me old fashioned and maybe a be pedantic but if you’re standing on you own at a football match do really need to act in such a way? Some of the Chester lot had this “we’re much better than this shit” mentality which I saw amongst some of the more jacket potato intellect element at Torquay when we were in the Blue Square Premier. I still remember the no segregation policy at Eastbourne. I still can’t work out if our lot thought that Eastbourne hadn’t thought that they would need segregation because we weren’t considered a big enough team (it wasn’t needed anyway) and took offence or whether some of our lot feel safer goading home fans from the safety of an segregated area (probably).
Anyhow, as Chester came closer and closer, there were a few unnecessary verbal exchanges. A couple of daft Chester fans started mouthing away at Matlock fans for no particular reason (beer and some misplaced ego perhaps?). Matlock fans smiled and shook their heads in disbelief. One of the more robust ones did shout “Shurrup, yer village fookin’ idiot”. He was spot on.
Then the man of the moment came on for Chester. Last season’s top goalscorer Michael Wilde came on as a mid second half sub and within a few minutes the ball was dinked into the box, the Matlock keeper had a rush of blood and came steaming out only for Wilde to get a clumsy looking back-header on the ball and it looped into the net in relative slow motion.
Tubby Sports Direct Oakley Sunglasses man next to me got so excited that I thought he’d break the fence with his bulk. “Yeeeesssssssssss! Well done Wildy” and then a message for the manager “don’t ever fooking drop him again”. Then we had a few “we’ll never be back here” comments with a condescending “it’s like a fookin’ cup final for them”. Of course it is lads. League Two has certainly missed that giant of a club on the English/Welsh border but I think that Wrexham should go up this season anyway. #BusStopNearWrexham
At best it was just a bit of exuberance fuelled by a bit of ale. At worst it’s something that’s worth exploring in another blog post sometime in the future. I might’ve got it wrong. I mean, fair play to Chester, they’ve done very well to get themselves back into a position where they’ve made the first step back towards being a league club again but when Torquay were relegated I thought it was better to act with a bit of humility and dignity. Visiting a ground like Matlock’s should be a delight for anyone who has the true spirit of the game close to their hearts. Some of the Chester fans on display a few weeks ago ought to consider that as they progress through the leagues they’ll get to the stage when they won’t get a friendly welcome from the lovely old bloke on the turnstile who gave them directions to the clubhouse for a beer as they did in Matlock. Or as I was told last season at Morecambe as I drove up to the stadium more than an hour before kick off “you can’t park here and you can’t drink in the club bar”. Personally I prefer the Matlock approach.
On this occasion big time Chester made heavy weather of the situation. Goalscorer Wilde got himself needlessly sent off and Matlock gave it everything in the last ten minutes of a decent game played in a lovely ground with a fabulous backdrop of the huge Matlock Town Hall, terraced houses and a couple of chimney stacks on the hill behind the ground. A steep bloody hill is Bank Street. I wouldn’t like to stagger up there very often, full of ale or not.
So the game finished 1-0 to Chester. All the best to them. I had a lovely chat with a dad of one of Matlock Town’s players. Lovely bloke who travelled down from Scunthorpe to see his boy warm the bench. I hope FC United fans enjoyed their trip there today. I finished mine off by driving back through Belper and helping myself to large haddock, chips and curry sauce from one of the best chippies in Derbyshire. With food that good it didn’t matter that I ate it in the train station car park.