Twenty four years ago I was in my first ever serious relationship. A lovely Welsh lass who lived opposite my school who was a year older than me and on a year out before going to university. What made the relationship perfect was her Mum taught at my school, so I knew exactly when she would be about and co-ordinated my absence from school accordingly to maximise my discovery time. I could wax lyrical about the whole affair, that lasted until I was at least 18. But you have come here for some football chat and football chat is what you will get.
The reason for the slight detour into my past is to prove a point that in twenty four years a lot can change. I’m now married to the wonderful CMF and whilst my love of the Welsh fairer sex is never in doubt, my life is very different to the one I was planning in Easter 1997. And so too is that of Retford United. Back in April 1997 they were the figment of the imagination of a group of chaps in the Half Moon pub in Retford, a small market town on the borders of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.
Just a few months later they had formed their own football team, naming themselves Retford United and gained a place in the Gainsborough League. From small acorns grow great oaks and the club slowly moved up the leagues, reaching the Northern Premier League (aka Unibond and now Evostik) structure in 2007. They won the Division One South in their first season but were denied promotion due to ground grading issues (because an extra 20 fans would have caused a huge problem). Undeterred by letting red tape get in their way they won the league again the following season as well as the Nottinghamshire Senior Cup, to take their place at the big boys table in the Unibond Premier League, just three steps below the Football League.
To put that in context it would be like me trading in my 17 year old Welsh girl for a stunning early 30’s part time model (hang on, I did?). All was looking rosy in the Cannon Park garden. Their first season in Step 3 of the Non League structure saw them lead the pack for some periods and as the bad weather descended on England they were still hanging on to the hope of automatic promotion to the Blue Square Bet North. Unfortunately a fixture pile up meant they missed out on the play offs by one spot. Still they dusted themselves down to fight again this season.
Only things have gone a bit awry. The 17 year old has turned into a right old munter with six kids by six different blokes and enough ear rings to open her own branch of Elizabeth Duke. In other words the money has run out and the team are suffering. Is suffering the right word for a team that were relegated some weeks ago and have shipped over 100 goals in forty games so far this season? Ouch. As if things couldn’t get any worse last weekend the players returned to the dressing rooms at Bradford Park Avenue to find they had been robbed.
A Retford club official said “The season has been one to forget on and off the field, cumulating in our relegation, this is the last thing the players wanted at the end of a difficult campaign. The players have given their all throughout the season and it’s awful that they have to suffer this at this level of football.”
How’s your luck!
And what relevance was all of this? Well guess where I ended up on Good Friday? Hold up – don’t jump the gun back there. I was actually down the road in Newark (the only place in UK which is an anagram of the word Wanker btw) with my in-laws. Much as I love my Mother-in-Law, the thought of the re-runs of Emmerdale leave me cold so Northern Roadtrip part 2 was born. And Retford were the lucky recipients of my hard earned money for the day.
I was quite impressed as I drove through the leafy avenues of Retford. I knew the football ground was out of town but when the trusty SatNav took me out of town and into the yellow laden fields of oil seed I had to stop and turn around and head back into town, assuming I had missed the ground somewhere. But TomTom was right. A good mile out of town, with no footpaths or sign of public transport lies Cannon Park, home to Retford United and Evostik rivals Worksop Town.
With the sun shining the location couldn’t have been more picturesque. I would imagine in the midst of winter on a cold and wet Tuesday night it is a horrible place to watch a game, but for today it was perfect. And being the last home game of the season what a nice touch from the club, entry was just £5. So with a pint and a pie my total outlay for the afternoon was approximately a sixth of a ticket for West Ham v Sunderland in a month’s time.
Retford United 0 Burscough 2 – Cannon Park – Friday 21st April 2011
After 11 minutes on the clock all of the talk around Cannon Park was whether Burscough would get double figures. To say that Retford started the game poorly would be like Sullivan and Gold actually took any interest in what us West Ham fans said. They were dreadful and found themselves 2-0 to goals from Carl Gornell in the 8th and 11th minutes. This was after he had already missed two good chances. Retford’s keeper Darwent summed up the thoughts of the home fans as he bent down to pick the ball out of the net again:-
“For fook sake. Can we not just defend properly for more than 10 minutes in a game this season”
To be fair the goals shocked Retford into action. They were on a six game pointless run since they were relegated last month and had pride to play for after a difficult season that had seen most of the players out of pocket in more ways than most after they were robbed at Bradford Park Avenue last week whilst the game was going on. On twenty two minutes the referee called a halt to proceedings for a drinks break. A drinks break? It’s not bloody cricket! For the remainder of the half Willis in the visitors goal was the busier of the two, forced to make a couple of good saves.
Life is hard for Retford's stewards
As I have mentioned, it is rather rural around Cannon Park, with low fences all around. Non League players aren’t subtle when it comes to clearing the ball so the ball spent more time out of the ground than it did in play. Still it kept the stewards busy for most of the time.
The second half saw more effort from the home side. The best chance fell to Turner who skipped around the visitors keeper in the 60th minute and then planted a shot with such power that when it hit the post, it rebounded out of the penalty area without bouncing. The miss caused one of the Burscough players to drop his pies and peas, an event the unfortunate fan said was like “shagging a girl only to find out she played bingo with your Gran”. That scouse wit!
Despite their efforts, Retford couldn’t get that goal their play deserved. With a dry and dusty pitch and the sun beating down, you can understand that their short passing game was not working. Time was up for another season for Retford at Cannon Park. This season they had welcomed big name visitors such as FC United and Halifax Town. Next season it would be local derbies against Carlton Town, Lincoln United and Glapwell.
We all remember what it was like to be 17 with so many options in the world, but the reality is that when you are 41 you will take whatever you can get.
More photos from the lovely sunny afternoon can be found here.