Monday, 26 December 2016

26/12/16 Review: Uttoxeter Town vs Stafford Town

Uttoxeter Town 1-3 Stafford Town (Midland Football League Division One)
Oldfields Sports Ground

It's Boxing Day folks, which can only mean one thing- time for some festive footy! On a day which had traditionally been labelled as "Derby Day", today's big wigs at the FA no longer allow such a kind fixture list for some fans and with matches such as Swansea vs West Ham and Arsenal vs West Brom higher up the ladder, it was good to know that the Non-League still appreciate the joys of a good old local derby match. Primarily I had thought about making the trip to Tranmere to see the mighty Silkmen in another away day, but with the thought of sitting in traffic all day behind the angry families of people being led by animalistic Mums who are seeking out a Boxing Day deal, I decided to look local for a game that would also allow me to tick off another ground on my ever-growing list. Ground number 53 turned out to be the Oldfields Sports Ground, located just a stone's throw away in Uttoxeter.
And more importantly, it was a Midlands League Staffordshire Derby
With the sun shining it was a perfect afternoon to show support to a local club and as a Stoke-on-Trent resident I was soon at Uttoxeter's ground along with the many others who had come to see how the two sets of Staffordshire lads would get on. I parked up with time to spare and headed straight for the clubhouse. My first thoughts were that the car park was very busy and although the ground itself looked to be very basic from afar, the building to the right of the entrance looked to be a real feature piece of the home of Uttoxeter's Football and Rugby teams.

A Clubhouse worthy of the name
With half an hour to go until the big Midland Football League Division One cracker, I sat around in the bar with about 50 or so of the locals and enjoyed a splendid £2.50 pint! Some of the crowd were here for the footy, and others seemed to just be enjoying the beer- but either way, it was nice to see a large community of people all enjoying a festive drink together and cheering on the horses in the pre-match race on the big screen. The town of Uttoxeter is of course known for it's racecourse and the locals here were getting in the mood by cheering on a jockey called Sam in the 2:40 race on TV. Unfortunately he didn't win and this set the tone for some of the fans day today. As always, I sat and pondered my pre-match prediction, and with Stafford Town sitting second from bottom in the table I put my money on a home win and went for 3-2 to the 12th place team playing in yellow today. Whilst I was cracking on with that, one family were sat playing cards and showed no interest in the racing or the football that was due to start soon enough- I guess they were just there for the cheap pints, fair enough.

Next stop, pitch side
Outside of the clubhouse was the entrance into the rugby and football pitches and when I headed over to them I was greeted by a variety of seating. With two modern-style seating areas behind the far-side's goal being the main draw, I headed around to them to see how safe they were from the very cool winter breeze. Both seating around 50 people each, one of the stands was black and and the other- donated by "Stoke City FC Uttoxeter Supporter's Club"- was blue and yellow, so I took a seat in there as the players started to emerge ready for kick-off. I was joined by a total of four other people in the stand and two of those four were the partner and son of a Stafford Town player. The adorable youngster turned to his mum during the player handshakes and said "I think Daddy is number 8"- he was actually number 9, bless him.

As promised, two 50-seater stands
Before the match could commence, the players observed a minute's silence in honour of Bernard Holley (Uttoxeter vetran fan) who had sadly passed away, and then just after 3pm the ref got the game underway. The opening of the game saw some promising play from the away side and a fairly clumsy start from the hosts. Stafford Town threatened with a couple of decent half-chances early on and around before the 15 minute-mark they made it pay. Ryan Blagbrough had made a strong start on the right-wing and his snap shot on 12 minutes was a good strike. Mikey Allen in the home goal made an equally solid save, but the ball rebounded kindly into the path of Ryan Pace who slotted home the opening goal of the afternoon. Uttoxeter 0-1 Stafford. This strong start to the game from the Reds was a sign of things to come, and the match moved instantly up a couple of gears. With some aggressive challenges coming early in proceedings, the match already felt like a proper derby match and I started to get a feeling that I was in for a real Boxing Day treat! On 17 minutes Uttoxeter's number ten was slid in for a one-on-one chance, which in the end was very well saved by the on rushing number one for Stafford to keep their lead up.

The weather plummeted midway through the first-half, time to move to more cosy surroundings
After moving from the main stands over to the bus shelter-style I regained a bit of feeling to my face and by the time I got comfortable I was just in time to see the away side double their lead. More good play from Blagbrough eventually saw the ball fall to midfielder Dan Jones who lifted a stern finish over the keeper and in to the goal. Uttoxeter 0-2 Stafford. My prediction of a 3-2 home win was looking like a rank-outsider now and I must admit that for as good as the Reds had played, I was somewhat disappointed by the poor opening half from the hosts. With only 10 minutes or so left of the half, it was about time that Uttoxeter had a go at the Stafford defence and tried to get a goal back before half-time. This was not the case though, as Uttoxeter struggled to forge a way past the Reds very own Jaap Stam lookalike at one end, whilst also looking suspect to conceding a third in their own back-line.

All credit to Stafford Town so far, they were playing very well
The last and only time that I'd seen Stafford Town play up until today was my first match of 2016, where they were absolutely mauled 8-0 by a superior Sporting Khalsa side in a cup match back in January. So to see the struggling side playing well today was quite nice as they looked to kill the game off, even though I was hoping for a closer game. Just before the half-time whistle, Stafford did get the third goal and it was from a superb bullet of a cross. Uttoxeter failed to fully clear their lines and when Turner smacked the ball into the area for Stafford, the ball eventually came to Harry Bowers and the left-winger confidently applied the finishing touch. Uttoxeter 0-3 Stafford. That final goal of the half brought the final piece of action of a very entertaining first 45. With goals, chances, crunching challenges and some classic non-league nonsense, it was time to grab me another beer.

The sponsors had already made their way, maybe time to drown those first-half sorrows?

The packed clubhouse was soon dishing out the pints to many fans from both sides, but there were also just as many who were desperate for a coffee to help defrost their fingers after enduring 45 minutes of diminishing temperature. It's safe to say that the players had made it out to the pitch before most fans decided to saunter back out themselves. I made the most of this opportunity to head out early with my pint and take a seat in the more luxury of the bus shelters. With cushioned seating and wind-protection from both sides, it was quite possibly the best seat in the house- until two lads came out and stood almost directly in front of me!

Loving it in my little box!
With the highest-level of comfort obtained, I supped my pint as I watched the second-half unfold. I think that Uttoxeter's manager, Dean Arnold, must've given his side a better roasting than my turkey from yesterday because they came out looking like a different team completely. They pressed well in the opening exchanges and won themselves an early corner, which would lead to another key moment in the match. With more than half an hour still to play, the corner was nodded in by right-back Harry Price and all of a sudden it was game-on again. Uttoxeter 1-3 Stafford. For the rest of the game there was a lot of good build-up, a few chances for both sides and some more foul-play as the local rivalry started to bubble up again. Wayne "Jaap Stam" Bailey picked up a yellow card but it didn't stop his ruthless tackling style as he warned off any strikers who expected any time on the ball. The two lads who were stood in front of me had started to natter with Uttoxeter's keeper by this point, with the highlight being "keeper, I've just pissed on your towel." I would like to assume that they knew the goalie, but I could not be too sure.

As the night drew in, the game seemed destined to be without anymore goals
Within the final 20 minutes, Uttoxeter did have a good few chances and I feel that with a stronger finisher on the day they may well have come out of the game with a point. This wasn't to be today though, and they will now have to wait for the reverse fixture next week in another crucial league encounter. Some fans started to leave and it was at this point that I overheard a very interesting conversation. Without going into too much detail, one lad asked his mate which was the worst ground he'd ever been to. The other guy said that Hull's KC Stadium was the worst. The reason that this was so interesting to me was because they then went on to talk about other grounds they'd visited, which included Mansfield and they had obviously visited Oldfields on more than one occasion. I assume that they are Stoke fans, but I do wonder if they really believe that the KC is a worse ground than the one we were stood surrounding right now. Perhaps they don't even consider non-league grounds as grounds at all? I don't know, I'm just rambling now- but I do find it fascinating that wherever I go people have different views and opinions of non-league football. Yet they still seem to turn up.
For the record, I had a nice time today at Oldfields
Needless to say that the game ended 1-3 and Stafford Town were taking the spoils back to the county town today. I left fairly promptly to avoid the chill, but I must conclude that my outing to Oldfields was a good one. A good, meaty game of football, with a nice clubhouse and friendly fans, partnered with another Boxing Day outing to mark my second to last match of the year. I expect to be hitting one more ground in Essex or London before 2017, so stay tuned for one more review from Pint of Football.

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