Sunday, 18 October 2015

17/10/15 Review: Stafford Rangers vs Rugby Town

Stafford Rangers 4-0 Rugby Town (Evo-Stik First Division South)
Marston Road

Round one of the long-awaited (by us!) football weekend was finally here, as Partizan Bristle came to town for as much football as we could cram into 48-hours. Today's Midlands feud would take place at Marston Road, home to the leaders of the Evo-Stik First Division South pack, Stafford Rangers. Having already attended a lot of local grounds in Staffordshire, I had specifically held off visiting this ground so that Tom could experience a stadium that he had, for some reason, been so thoroughly looking forward to. Whilst I have been enjoying my local teams such as Leek Town, Alsager Town, Newcastle Town and Kidsgrove Athletic, Tom had been doing the rounds at his nearest and dearest, with Bristol Manor Farm, Shirehampton, Henbury FC and Hallen AFC all getting a Blog Entry with Partizan Bristle. Whilst I had been at Macclesfield doing my bit for Non League Day, Tom had been enjoying the scenes at one of his favourite non-league grounds, as Manor Farm faced Gillingham Town in the Western Football League Premier. So it was no surprise that with our continuously growing love for the oh so beautiful non-league game, that we would eventually meet up to tick off another couple of grounds together. So, following a trip to Stafford's top pub for a pre-match pint or three (for me only, as Tom is not drinking for the noble cause of Stoptober), we headed off to the ground. Upon arrival we were hit with the mayhem of parking! It was partially a mayhem because of the terrible parking of other fans which blocked most routes, exits and entrances, but also partly due to Tom's stalling whilst trying to navigate towards a space. In the end we parked somewhere which may not have been a proper space, but after some of the other parking we had witnessed, we didn't care.

Velma on tour
We had arrived in good time to have a good look around the ground. Before buying a ticket we headed in to the clubhouse, which was one of the best I've come across. From the well-presented foyer, to the spacious rooms and large hall area, there was a lot of evidence to suggest that the Rangers should be a Conference level side. In particular the VIP area, which we accidentally walked into and stayed in for a few minutes before being asked to leave, was a stunning little room which had a nice window view of the pitch- which also looked to be in a very good condition. I wasn't sure what to expect from the pitch as I knew that it hosted local football tournament finals, and even my workmate Wes Carter claims to have scored a screamer on this very pitch- alas, it looked in good fettle. The bar area kept up with the high-standard and was equally fitting of a club in a much higher league, a league in which Stafford Rangers would hope to get back to. Having played in the Conference Premier less than 10 years ago, I could already sense the mixed feeling of frustration and pride amongst the fans. The frustration would be due to the fact they had been to the top of the non-league and come back down, with the pride coming from the reminders of the former success and also the hope and expectations of getting back there.

In 1979 Rangers got their big day out at Wembley- and won!
As I browsed these pictures from back in the day, one fan approached and told us that there was 32,000 there that day. I jokingly asked what today's attendance was likely to be like, he simply looked at me and said "it'll be closer to 32." and with that we headed off to get our tickets. The pleasant lady who was rushed off of her feet on the turnstile hastily sold us our tickets and then momentarily later appeared in the second hole in the wall to sell us our programmes. As we still had a good ten minutes or so until kick-off we had a wander around the ground, taking in the high's and low's which all non-league grounds have. One high point for me was the fundraising board located inside the ground, which the club was running to save money for a new shed.

£10,000 for a shed? It better be a good 'en
And moving around we came across the low's, too. A bird's nest in the toilets, some rusty barbed wire around the gates and a few mouldy SRFC flags, which had probably been there since my workmate Mark Elkin was ball-boy for the Rangers, were just as much a part of the ground as the nicely-kept terraces. One already constructed shed housed the Merch Shop, which Tom was eager to visit and buy a scarf. Still with enough time to spare before the match started, we went to go and see how the away fans were doing, whilst watching them hang their own, non-mouldy, banners.
How many Rugby Town fans does it take to put up a banner?
We walked back around to find a standing space for this top-against-bottom match. Stafford Rangers, also known as Boro, are currently sitting pretty in 1st place in the league, meanwhile Rugby Town were only one place above the bottom. Rangers haven't had the best of times in their last two games though, drawing 0-0 with Newcastle Town midweek and losing 0-2 against Shaw Lane Aquaforce in the 1st vs 2nd crunch match last weekend. The strikers weren't on form and unfortunately they aren't in a position to use the International Break as an excuse. Despite this, I was expecting Boro to get back to winning ways and I had predicted that they would win comprehensively with a solid 4-0. Partizan Bristle's prediction was 5-2. So as the teams came out, we were pitch side and ready to see what the game would bring.

Hopefully the match wouldn't be as dull as the sky above
As expected, Rangers began on the front foot, hoofing the ball up top as quickly as possible to try and get an early goal. Rugby didn't seem too uncomfortable though and they dealt well with the oppositions threats, whilst also looking to catch the Rangers on the counter. For the opening 10 minutes fans were still flocking into the ground, making this game look to be the highest attendance I'd seen at this level. One eye-catching feature of the match was Lisa Rashid, today's referee. She was impressive in the way she took control of the game from the offset and even offered a little something for the fans to have a look at, by the sounds of some of the comments we were hearing from around us. Her linesman on the other hand, proved to be the most incompetent person ever to wave the flag and at one point even had to be reminded by a fan about where to stand during a goal-kick. In the final fifteen minutes of the first-half the clouds parted and the sun was shining, which seemed to spur on the away side. The Valley rallied themselves and actually seemed to be on the verge of the opener when a couple of shots were placed over the bar. One of the balls from the formerly mentioned shots ended up sitting nicely upon the roof and just before the half-time whistle a formally dressed gent appeared on said roof to grab the ball, saving one of the young ball boys from risking death by fall. Rashid blew the whistle and it was all-square at the break, with a good game on display but no goals to shout about. A lot of the fans plodded straight off to the clubhouse to warm up, but we decided to go and give the burger van the once over instead.

A good, albeit aged, crowd in today
Once we had made our way to the front of the queue I was met by yet another friendly employee of Marston Road. After serving up a large, onion-filled hot-dog I asked her where I could grab a pint from, to which she replied with, "I don't know, but if you find anywhere then feel free to share." Tom awaited his coffee and we took a minute or two to analyse what we'd seen so far. After expecting goals from the home-side, we were in agreement that Rugby's tenacity was mixing well with Boro's striking flaws and this had so far produced an evenly fought match. The other main point was the continuous blunders from the lino, who truly was having a poor game. Tom could only assume that he was either officiating in his first match today, or that he was one of the fans who had been asked to cover. As half-time came to an end we decided to be sneaky and take a seat in the main terrace near the dugout, even though we hadn't surrendered an extra £1 for the privilege.
I wish those two guys in front of us would sit down
The seats we picked, right at the front, were so close to the subs bench that every time the managers shouted over for players to warm-up, I looked back to see if they were talking to me. As though we didn't feel apart of the Stafford Rangers family already, we were then asked by one of the subs what score Villa was as we checked the live updates on our phones. Unluckily for the lad, Villa were 1-0 down. On the plus side though, Rangers had started very well and it wasn't too long before the bench were on their feet. One player who had pulled the strings from midfield in the first-half was Nathan Rooney and it was his finish that broke the deadlock after 50 minutes. Rangers 1-0 Rugby. It was a lovely feeling to share this goal with the manager and subs from such a short-distance, especially after how even the first-half had been. A man, who seemed to be doing a write-up of the game, turned to Tom and asked him who had scored. In an attempt to not seem like an out-of-place Bristolian, he answered with "Erm, Nathan Someone I think?".

He doesn't go here, would you believe?
Following a couple of minutes, we were on our feet again. The man upfront, who had been threatening rarely, managed to add to the Valley's woes with a proper strikers finish. Rangers 2-0 Rugby. This second-half start from the Rangers had took us by surprise and it seemed like we were looking more likely to get the goals we hoped for and predicted would eventually come. Rugby continued to cave in and just after the hour mark it was the midfield maestro, Nathan Somebody, who rattled in yet another goal. Rangers 3-0 Rugby. We leaped up to shout out "Rooney, Roooooooney!!!" as a sign of appreciation for a nice finish. The subs started to roll on from the Rangers side and we came close to receiving a high-five from one player who had come off. The referee continued to impress, showing that she wouldn't take any messing around as she doled out a yellow card to one player for a bad tackle. Of course, this was met by one token comment from a fan behind us who called her a "silly cow". Despite some of the decisions being unpopular, I would probably go as far as to say that had it not been for her bumbling linesman that it was probably one of the better officiating displays I had seen. Tom referred to her as being better than most League Two ref's he'd had the chance of viewing during Bristol Rover's return to the League. The booked player came off and was replaced by what I would describe as a classic non-league sub player. Before coming on he did about 20% of a warm-up, then sat on the bench and listened to where he would be playing and what would be expected of him, and then finally mocking the manager's decision to play him as a holding-midfielder once he had walked away. Either way, he went out to the field and did his job in helping the lads consolidate their victory. Meanwhile, back on the bench I overheard some small-talk from a few of the substitutes who were discussing today's referee. I didn't catch the whole conversation, but I did hear one player ask another if they would ask her to wear her uniform and have her cards with her. The mind boggles.

Rugby's keeper hadn't played out of this world, despite wearing his silver moon suit
As the game came towards it's end, there was one final word to be had from Boro and it was through the speedy substitute striker that the game was sealed. he ran in from the right hand-side and popped one into the top of the net. Rangers 4-0 Rugby. Without much more fuss it was game over and Stafford had brought a fine second-half performance to it's end with a very positive result. With over 500 fans enjoying this scoreline, me and Tom headed away knowing that we had seen a very good side, with a very good ground. It must surely be a positive time for Stafford, searching for a way out of the Evo-Stik First Division South, as they showed how a bit of quality can make all of the difference when you are struggling against a Rugby side who showed moments of quality, grit and defensive capabilities. We quickly rushed back to the car aiming to get ready for the Tetris-style escape out of the car-park, whilst also knowing that we had a second game to look forward to on the following day, as we would drive out to Kidderminster to watch Worcester City and Nuneaton Borough lock horns. Part-one of the Pint Of Football/Partizan Bristle bonanza had been a massive success.

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