Thursday, 29 October 2015

27/10/15 Review: Brocton vs Port Vale

Brocton 1-3 Port Vale (Staffordshire Senior Cup First Round)
Silkmore Lane Ground

Another Tuesday night with football beckoning can only mean one thing- a rainy night out in Stafford, this time to watch the Badgers take on the Vale in a Staffordshire Cup match. After crossing off one of Stafford's three grounds two weekends ago, I knew that I had to follow-up and visit Brocton and Stafford Town at some point too, and a rare Tuesday daytime shift at work meant that I would have the perfect opportunity to head on over to see the first ever visit of Port Vale to the Silkmore Lane Ground. It is worth noting early in this entry that Port Vale, unsurprisingly, were not fielding a first team for this game against their Level 9 opponents. Sitting 17th in League One, Port Vale would clearly have bigger fish to fry than the Staffordshire Cup and therefore it was seen as a great chance to give the youngsters a run out against a team who themselves were 19th in the Midland Football League Premier Division.

Silkmore Lane Ground, the home of the Badgers
After exiting a roundabout I just about noticed a sign in the darkness which led me into the thin road into the ground. The notable plus-side of the ground was it's on-sight free parking and the tickets being purchased via a very odd style of drive-through in which a man approached you, sold you a ticket, sold you a programme and then showed you where to park- all from the comfort of your car seat, which due to the rain was quite a nice touch. The down-side to the ground was that despite the parking being free, it was on a wet grassy area and upon parking up, another car instantly was directed to park behind me and therefore I was blocked in until that person decided to leave.
Drive-through football, it's like looking into the future
Once I had taken the 3 second walk from the car park to the stand I took a moment to absorb the surroundings which awaited me for the next couple of hours. At first glance, it looked like it could well be the training ground for the Vale, with enough seating to just about get into triple-figures, a high-quality pitch surrounded by netting and of course, the lack of people. After a quick head-count I spotted about 30 people at this early stage, with an even spread of Vale fans who were presumably here to support their friends and family who were playing in the team today, mixed with the Brocton faithful who were probably under the illusion that former LA Galaxy midfielder Chris Birchall and the rest of the Vale first-team would have made the trip out to this cup match. I asked one spectator if I could get a drink and some food and I was directed to follow the concrete pathway towards the Portacabin. I had already heard murmurs from people at work that the ground offered little in the way of hospitality, so I headed round to hope that they weren't right. Turns out they were. I firstly approached the cabin and saw, through door number one, an injured player sat on a stretcher having a brew, before moving on to door number two, the director's suite, which was stocked amply with tea and biscuits. So far, seemed positive. I then made it to the end of the cabin and saw a sign which read that refreshments were available. Despite the sign, there was no real indication on where they were located and even when I looked around the corner it wasn't obvious. I walked into the darkness and approached a window, which followed with a greeting from a lady who was offering the promised refreshments. I had headed towards the window with dreams of a burger and a pint, alas, what was instead on today's specials was a bag of crisps and a can of coke.

Good job I hadn't eaten since lunch
With a minute or so to spare before kick-off, I wandered around to the seating area and took my place just in time to hear the pre-match announcement, which was done by the man sat behind me. The announcer was almost certainly a big Badgers fan, with many biased announcements splurging out of the tannoy, such as: "Welcome to Silkmore Lane, officially the best ground in the Midlands League." and the humorous "80p for a tea in a proper china mug. You wouldn't get that at Vale Park." A light chuckle spread across the ground, just in time for the sides to come out. On a more serious note though, the game was about to commence and I really didn't know what to expect. Upon study of my programme I noted that at this stage of last season's competition the Badgers had been dumped out in a home-tie against Leek Town, by a scoreline of 8-3. So with this in mind, I predicted a big win for Vale's understrength squad, 6-1.

The ground's announcer- looking up stats for the match, or playing Football Manager? 
The game had no sooner kicked-off than the first goal came. With roughly 30 seconds on the clock the struggling home-side were behind after the Vale's front-man tucked the ball into the net. Badgers 0-1 Vale. A child responded to this by shouting out random scores, "20-1, 12-1, 30-1", at least he always had faith that the Badgers would get one. Within a few minutes, they almost did, too. A corner from Brocton bobbled around in the box and a big man for the Badgers pulled off an acrobatic bicycle-kick which floated on to the crossbar. After 20 minutes of pressure and hard-work from the home team they were rewarded with a penalty of Vale's own doing. Firstly, the keeper played a risky ball to his defence and following a failure to clear their lines, a Brocton cross was intercepted by the arm of a Vale defender. The ref looked over to his assistant, the assistant looked back, and after a moment of indecisiveness he pointed to the spot. Up stepped the right-back to calmly place the ball into the net. Badgers 1-1 Vale. With the scores level, I was surprisingly pleased at the Brocton display so far and I was particularly impressed with the left-back's darting runs down the side. There wasn't too much more to offer in the first-half and despite a couple of half-chances from both sides, they went in level. Usually I would use the interval to check out the clubhouse, but as there wasn't one I decided instead to walk around the pitch and try to stay warm.

The kop end, aka Brocton's 12th man
Another thing that Silkmore Lane had offered was the cheapest Programme of my travels so far, at just £1 it was true value for money. Granted, for a pound there isn't much you can complain about, but I did notice one particularly poorly put together section of the booklet. The page which was about the history of Port Vale had a spelling mistake which in Stafford could arguably be deliberate. At uni, we were always warned that Wikipedia was the most terrible, useless, incorrect way of gathering info, a lesson which the Brocton programme writer had never been taught. But even worse than that, Wikipedia was spelt incorrectly.

Rumour has it that the inmates of Stafford Prison write the Programmes
With that I took a place near the Vale goal, ready for a second-half in which this goal would hopefully be peppered with goal-mouth action. Brocton started well and another goal-keeping blunder from the Bruce Grobbelaar inspired keeper allowed a shot to hit the bar, for the second time, before falling to the right-back for a chance of a second goal. A terrible miss however, meant that the Badgers weren't able to go ahead for the first time. I slowly walked around towards the undercover standing-area where the Vale fans were. It was quite fun standing and observing the Vale fans, trying to guess which player they were a friend or family member of. Needless to say that this wasn't the sort of game where chanting, cheering and other audience-based gestures were on display, but it was still easy to tell who was supporting who because of the surprising amount of club merchandise being worn by the 79 in attendance.

"Stand up, if you love the Vale"
Back on the pitch it was certain that the part-timers from Brocton were becoming fatigued. The subs came on for the Badgers and the fouls were coming thick and fast, with players deciding to make a foul rather than use their last 10% of energy to chase down the pacey Valeites. Eventually there wasn't enough gas in the Badgers tank and the defence was unlocked. The quick-witted striker at the spearhead of Vale's strike-force managed to run into the box to meet a cross with less than 20 minutes to go. Badgers 1-2 Vale. The sting had truly been taken out of the Badger's tail and despite attempts to press forward with the ball, the lads simply didn't have the stamina or quality in the latter stages to break Vale down. A booking was given to a Vale player for the amount of abusive language he used, but the ref clearly didn't hear the words spewing out of the Badger's left-back near the away fans. Thank goodness that he wasn't the son of one of the sets of travelling mum and dad duos. With little time left on the clock, the home-side took a final blow and a simple finish was offered and taken gratefully by the Valeites attacker. Badgers 1-3 Vale. Brocton had one more chance, as they won a free-kick in injury time. The strike was blasted straight through a weak wall, but luckily for the cocky keeper, the ball fell straight into his grasping arms. The man of the match awards were announced, to which one Vale fan said "That's nice. They've given a home and away man of the match", to which his mate replied with, "Yes, and they've also waited until the end of the match to announce it". And soon enough the match was brought to an end. I quickly darted back to my car to try to escape before the queueing commenced, but then I remembered the pre-match issue.

There is no escape from Silkmore Lane
Despite the 3-1 scoreline, the game wasn't the greatest and you could certainly sense that a midweek fixture was more of a distraction for Brocton, who have now lost 6 out of 7 matches in October and conceded a whopping 22 goals. Even after their 4-1 win against Shepshed Dynamo three weekends ago, the Badgers were on poor-form and they now needed to use their 11-day break to regroup. With players like Ablewhite, Holland and club-legend Gary Fife, who struck a hat-trick against Shepshed, the Badgers certainly didn't have a bad team, but there was at lease a few gaps in the squad which would help to understand their current struggle. I left the match with yet another Midlands ground ticked-off my list, and now with just Town left to visit in the Stafford trio I will probably take a break from non-league action for a while... with "probably" being the optimum word.

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