Wednesday, 20 January 2016

19/01/16 Review: Sporting Khalsa vs Stafford Town

Sporting Khalsa 8-0 Stafford Town (J.W Hunt Cup Second Round)
The Aspray Arena

Mid-January football, a time where non-league football across the country is a rare sight. If your team's match isn't postponed because of a flooded pitch, then it may well be postponed because of frozen turf or gale-force winds. Either way, the chances are that the game will be postponed. With a low of -3 degrees during this game, I was amazed that this match managed to run it's course. Especially after last week when I had planned to attend Cammell Laird vs Macc in the Cheshire Senior Cup, a game which was announced as cancelled mid-afternoon. Failing that, I had then decided I'd go to Port Vale's League match instead, which also was announced as cancelled. Once it got to the crunch time of leaving to go somewhere, I headed off to Telford vs Hednesford, however an ice-related crash on the dual-carriageway halted my trip and I had to turn back. When getting home, I saw on Twitter that the match had also been cancelled last minute. Previously before that night, I had hoped to attend a match at Market Drayton and surprise, surprise, it had been called off too. Being a non-league fan isn't as glamorous as one may think.

My destination tonight, The Aspray Arena
So I took the risk and headed off for the 76-mile round trip to Willenhall, near Wolverhampton. Leaving at 6pm I expected to catch the back-end of the M6 rush-hour, something which is enough to put anybody off. Nonetheless, it wasn't too bad of a drive and I made it to the ground in very good time. I had heard little of the home-side tonight until I started to notice them in their FA Cup run this season, coming up against Conference North side FC United in the latter Qualifying Rounds. Since then, I had looked them up online and was fascinated by the progress Sporting Khalsa were making both on and off the pitch. After being formed in 1991, the Asian club had started off as an Amateur club and always aimed for the sky. In 2005 they became the first Asian club in England to own a football ground, which eventually (5 years later) provided them with the chance to move to a new location and in 2010 the foundations for The Aspray Arena were well and truly laid. Following promotion from the West Midlands Regional League last season, the Khalsa are yet again thriving as a newly promoted team who are looking for promotion again as they take on teams like Hereford United and a team I've previously visited, Brocton.

Where it all began for Sporting Khalsa
Tonight's opponents, in a match labelled by both teams solely as a "Cup" match, were Stafford Town. Sitting bottom of the West Midlands Football League with just 8 points and 2 wins, Town were struggling on the pitch for results, and off the pitch to secure the quality of players they needed to get results. After suffering an 11-0 defeat in a December Cup Match, which came in the middle of a 10-game losing streak in the league, the biggest positive for Stafford Town has been an away draw at Leicester Road in their only game of 2016 so far (which technically had made them unbeaten so far this year!). Despite this, a cup match against a very strong Khalsa side would be a chance for them to prove that they are an improving side and try to get a respectable result against the side who they were in the same league as last season.

Could a Cup Upset be on the cards?
My first image of the ground upon my arrival was one of confusion, as the car park was full of parents waiting to collect their children. At this point I started to fear that the match labelled as a "Cup" match was actually for Sporting Khalsa Under 10's or something ridiculous like that. These suspicions deepened as I approached the mini pitches, all taken up by youngsters having a kick-about with Sporting Khalsa staff. Having spotted the "442 Lounge" I assumed that I should head in and ask where, and if, the match was going ahead. I stepped into the entrance and was hit by the sensational smell of Indian cuisine, which was followed by the spotting of a menu outside. Safe to say that after some of the ground's I've visited having nothing more than a tea lady in a shed, that Khalsa were going to rank very highly in terms of facilities! I entered the lounge and the rumours I'd heard were true- this football club has a Punjabi Restaurant built on the side of their ground!

WARNING: Do not eat your dinner before attending a match at The Aspray Arena
I was in heaven! I had a mooch around the bar and at this point I had forgotten that I was here to watch a football match. The smell of curries and the sight of locals tucking into a pre-match beer were a true "Pint of Football Moment" which I won't forget any time soon. I quickly headed to the bar and asked the staff where I would need to go to view the football. After being pointed in the direction of the ice-cold outside, I was in two-minds whether to go out and watch the game or stay inside and watch FA Cup Replay action on the big screen with a Pint and a Tikka. Needless to say that I chose to go out into the cold and risk frostbite watching non-league football, but in my defence the match on the big screen was Aston Villa (and I wanted to watch proper football!).

Back outside in the cold, brrrrrrrrrrr!
I still had no idea where I was going, what "Cup" match I was watching, or even if the match would go ahead. But, I had a beer in my hand and I knew that a post-match curry was on the cards, so I was feeling unstoppable. I made my way around to a turn-style and found a chap to buy a ticket from. I spoke to the man for a minute or two about how cold it was and also about which "Cup" it was- he didn't know either. I then headed through the gate and I was in the ground, and it looked frozen. Upon further inspection, I was almost certain that the match could not possibly go ahead at fear of the frozen mud slicing up the players' knees. I was one of five people in the ground at this point so I decided to take a wander around to see where everyone was hiding, although in my mind I knew that those were stupid enough to come out to watch a game in these conditions would probably be in the "442 Lounge" until 7:44pm. I did find one man on my travels, one of the 12 co-owners of the club, who I ended up having a good chat with. In one of those "small world" moments, he enlightened me that he had just bought an Estate Agents across the road from where I work. I told him that his new building was also the Emergency Meeting Point for staff at my work.

A Digging Fork, for digging
With kick-off looming, I purchased a scarf (in memory of Partizan Bristle's Tom, who wished he was there) and took my seat. Thankfully, the attendance of 5 had rose to around 20- and once half a dozen or so of the co-owners had joined us it didn't seem too empty in the main stand. Having very little knowledge of the two teams, or the competition they were playing in, I made my pre-match prediction based on Stafford's poor-form and the assumption that Khalsa would be at full-strength. 4-1 was my prediction. With that, the sides came out and as quickly as possible the game began. Khalsa, playing in Yellow and Blue, started strongly and took instant control. Before the 10-minute mark, a home-side corner was met by a header and the goal-fest was under way. Khalsa 1-0 Stafford. From then on, I assumed (rightly) that the goals would keep on coming, but as the half went on it seemed that Stafford Town wouldn't go down without a fight. Firstly, the home Keeper scuffed a kick into the path of a Town striker and had it not been for the striker's poor control on this occasion, it could have been 1-1. The striker for Town, who had a similar playing-style to Luca Modric (probably an overstated complement) showed skill and managed to break away from the Khalsa back four, forcing a good save from Khalsa's number one. Astonishingly, no corner was given, and so the typically horrendous non-league refereeing decisions began.
So far so good, all smiles for the Khalsa boys.
With his side 1-0 up, you may wrongly assume that a manager would be happy. Not Khalsa's Ian Rowe, though. He wanted this game dead and buried by half-time and he was in full vocal force with his players and the officials alike. Now, I am sure that I must've misheard what he said to the linesman at one point, but it sounded as though he approached the lino and said "it's our throw, you fucking blind newt!". Within the next few minutes, Rowe kept running up and down the stand to speak to various staff and owners from the club, before heading back to his technical area to witness his side going 2-0 up. Midfielder Brad Lawley ran into the box unmarked and tucked the ball into the net of the away side. Khalsa 2-0 Stafford. With only 5 minutes until half-time, Town would have been hopeful of surviving the onslaught until the break, but the home-side, in truth, were still only playing in second gear.

Names of goalscorers verified by the Twitter page, aka probably the guy behind me. 
A comedy moment within the match came from the Khalsa subs bench. Every time the pacey winger on the right ran with the ball, the bench began to make "vrrroooooooooom" noises as he sprinter past anybody in his way- in fairness, he was incredibly quick! Just before half-time Khalsa won a free-kick and had the chance to have one final crack at the away goal. The cross came in from the left and headed straight into the keeper's hands- and then out of his hands and into the goal, oops. Khalsa 3-0 Stafford. Half-time was called and I rushed off to grab a drink, after visiting the toilet. Following the comedy-gold I'd seen at Fratton Park's toilets, I was amazed to note that the doors folded in half and one of them was detached from it's frame. I decided to put in down to a cultural difference rather than a knackered loo, and went into the café.

I have never seen this before, even in IKEA
After grabbing a drink I walked out to the goal and watched the sub keeper training with the coach. The coach was hitting some shots at the keeper and upon rifling a shot into the goal from no more than 12-yards out, the coach looked at his goalie and said "in fairness, that was quality." as if to commiserate him by stating his true shooting ability. After a brief chat with another one of the owners, I found out that the club is still building. With long-term plans to build a car park and add another stand, I was really impressed by the drive of the club. I will in future refer to the Indian owners as "The Punjabi Class of 91'". Just after the second-half commenced, I went over to retake my seat. I was there just in time for a fourth goal, which came from a guy nicknamed as "Ginner" (10 points for guessing where that name came from). The red-headed winger charged into the box and bundled the ball over the line with his ball-sack! Khalsa 4-0 Stafford. 

Whereas the other goals were greeted with a minor cheer, this goal was celebrated with raucous laughter as the goalscorer laid on the goal-line in exhilarating pain. He limped off the pitch to allow the game to continue, before re-entering the game minutes later. 10 minutes later Stafford Town collapsed on themselves and the striker from Khalsa robbed a sluggish Town centre-back before tucking in the fifth goal. Khalsa 5-0 Stafford. There was no going back now for Town and the counter-attacks they had managed in the first half were nowhere to be seen now. I did feel bad for Stafford Town, who were clearly not in the game any more, and with it being so cold I wanted the game to end for their sake. With 15 minutes left on the clock, 5 became 6 and the substitute striker hit a nice finish home. Khalsa 6-0 Stafford. The seventh shortly followed, as striker Craig Bannister grabbed himself a goal for his hat-trick. Khalsa 7-0 Stafford. And within the next couple of minutes a bullet header proved to be the final nail on the Away team's coffin. Khalsa 8-0 Stafford. There was no more action on the pitch to follow but I did finally, after many matches attended across the country, have my first experience of being hit by the ball flying out for a throw-in. Luckily, on this exceedingly cold night, I saw it coming and palmed it away with my hand.
Full-time, 8-0
So with the game over, I darted back to the "442 Lounge" and placed my order in the cosy, sensational smelling, bar with the chef. Curry, Rice and a Beer, the perfect way to warm up. I swiftly demolished the curry and even ordered some papadums to take with me as a souvenir of an absolute classic. A great ground, a goal-filled game and a truly pleasant experience, meant that I'd had an almost perfect night in Willenhall. To top it off, I finally had my burning question of the night answered as I saw a man at the end of the game wearing a "J.W Hunt Cup" jacket! Ahh, closure.
That'll do for me
I was soon joined by the players, as one player asked the chef "what have we got tonight?", she replied with "have a guess".

A good way to celebrate a well-earned win 
I left the guys to it and set off on my journey back home. Certainly a ground I would recommend to any football (or food) fan and with a good team being built alongside a good stadium, I will look forward to another visit to the Aspray Arena in the near future.

Post-match debrief with the club's co-owners- keep up the good work, lads

No comments:

Post a Comment