“Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to Stuart, Happy Birthday to me..” Ten days ago I turned 40 and CMF vowed 40 days and nights of celebration. Unfortunately our inability in this country to cope with any snow meant a number of events had to be cancelled. However, the snow wasn’t going to spoil a weekend away, sans children avec Northern Steve and CMFS. Northern Steve had turned 40 a few days before me so it was the sisters who set the agenda and booked Centerparcs in Sherwood Forest. Shamed into returning a favour, Steve and I set aside some beer money and paid for them to go to the Spa for a few hours, giving us a perfect opportunity for a cheeky football trip. Our first option was Retford United v Boston United but that fell foul of the weather on Friday, so I consulted the TBIR crystal ball and out popped Hucknall Town, which apparently was close by, but where exactly?
17 miles due south westish actually, sitting just inside the M1 north of Nottingham. Initially I was put off as I have a deep loathing of Simply Red, and that ginger haired Manc Twat who has ruined so many good songs over the years (Money’s too tight to mention, Holding back the years, Fairground, etc) and the fact that he hogs all the glory himself whilst the rest of the ground twiddle their thumbs. You may remember me introducing you to the laminated listconcept a few years ago. Well on the reverse side is a list of 5 people that if you meet them you should be able to slap without any reproach of legal or criminal action. Mr Hucknall is number one on my list. But what has that got to do with Hucknall Town? Absolutely nothing apart from whenever I mentioned it to anyone on Facebook or Twitter I received answers such as “Where’s Mick?”, “Is it a Fair sized Ground”, and “I bet you were “Holding up the beers”.
Apart from a slight Google Maps detour down a road that didn’t exist the journey was not problematic at all. There was no snow left in this part of the East Midlands, and after paying our £1 to park, and £8 to enter via a clever portakabin-cum-turnstile, who should be bump straight into – not only Dave Gamble, who was not unfortunately off to put a bet on, but into the board room, which was another portakabin but with Sky Sports. Hucknall Town were formed as Hucknall Colliery Welfare in 1945, and played under this moniker until 1987 when young children started to question what a coal mine or a colliery was. This area was once world known for its coal mines but today there is little evidence of any subterranean activity apart from the mole hills that littered the car park.
They had stints in the Midlands Leagues before reaching the Northern (now Unibond) Premier League in 1999, and five years later they won the league. Unfortunately their Watnall Road ground did not meet the new Conference National guidelines so they had to move into the newly founded Conference North. In 2005 came their greatest moment when after beating the likes of Southport, Northwich Victoria, Hereford United and finally Bishops Stortford they reached the final of the FA Trophy against Grays Athletic at Villa Park. Thousands travelled down the M1 and M42 for the game and despite holding the Conference side for 120 minutes at 1-1, Hucknall lost 6-5 on penalties. The last few years have been a bit of a struggle as they finished in the relegation zone in 2008, only to be saved by the demise of Halifax Town, but could not escape relegation last season.
So for the first time in their history they were relegated and dropped back into the Unibond Premier League to face the likes of Bradford Park Avenue, FC United of Manchester, Boston United and local rivals Retford United. This season has been a mixed bag for them. Great wins such as the 2-1 victory away at league leaders Retford have been tempered with home defeats to FC United and North Ferriby United. The league did initially start off as a 21 team league but Kings Lynn’s demise before Christmas has reduced it to 20, although with Durham City still hanging on by their fingernails it may reduce to 19 before too long (Durham have now Played 20 Lost 20 – see post here about their plight).
So we had a wander around the ground some fifteen minutes prior to kick off and counted 23 other fans, most of whom seemed die hard Hucknall supporters complete with flat caps (but no whippets in sight). The ground is basic but certainly has some unique features. A covered stand runs the length of the pitch with 5 rows of seats, and at one end a space has been cleared for terracing (where the home fans congregated during the first half). Behind one goal is a covered shallow terrace, and then at the opposite end is an open terrace of three rows. And then you have the other side of the ground. Here you had a series of connected portakabins, including one on top of the other and a ladder up which must have been the executive box – it certainly offered the best view of the house. There is no terracing or seats on this side, just a wide path – somewhat lacking in something.
Right on queue of the teams entering the arena, the home fans piled out of the bar in the corner of the ground, and it was game on!
Hucknall Town 5 Burscough 2 – Watnall Road – Saturday 16th January 2010
Our opponents for the day were Burscough. You could ask the same “Where is?” question to the visitors (and Northern Steve did) but being an expert at this level I knew – somewhere in Scouseland….well north of Liverpool but south of Blackpool to be precise. Did you know that it is illegal for a woman to be topless unless she works in a tropical fish store? Apparently it is so does that mean that lapdancing or “gentlemens” bars are outlawed? Anyway I digress….Burscough themselves had had their day in the sun when they beat Tamworth in the FA Trophy final at Villa Park in 2003. So we took our place on the open terrace, the referee blew his whistle, I took a sip of tea and it was 1-0 to the home team. From kick off the ball found its way back to the keeper who hoofed it long, the ball was flicked on and expertly drilled into the net by Tyeisse Nightingale (for some reason called TJ). Queue ridiculous dance routine to no one in particular in the corner.
It seemed obvious that neither team actually liked each other based on the “competitive” tackling going on. The 171 fans present winced on more than one occasion, and it was in the 7th minute when the first casualty, Matty Parry, had to depart (along with a yellow card) when Burscough’s full back was crunched. The First Aid team ran on and tried to assemble a stretcher that they obviously got for Christmas and had not read the instruction manual.
We took our place next to the away dugout and listened to the dulcit Scouse tones from the visitors bench. They were keen on “squeezing” which didn’t seem to mean anything, and they were in the linesman’s face as soon as any tackle went in. They weren’t happy with one particular challenge that went unpunished – “Linesman, your mate (the referee I assume) is as bent as Dale Winton” was the pick of the remarks. Apparently there is a rule that says only 1 person from the bench can stand in the technical area at a time. Burscough’s coach stood leaning against the dugout, and was told every minute or so by the linesman to sit down – “Calm down son” was the standard response. Of course at this level there is no Fourth Official to police the area.
Forty five minutes were up so we started wandering down to the bar for a well earnt pint. As we walked behind the dugout there was a muted cheer and it appeared we had missed Burscough’s equaliser. So I cannot tell you a think about that one. But I can tell you that Talk of the Town, Hucknall’s well appointed bar, is in fact Hucknall’s premier night spot. The bar could have been used as a double Sir Steve Redgrave suite in Phoenix Nights, but it served our purpose well. Pint of Strongbow for Northern Steve and a pint of Mild for me – in fact my first ever pint of Mild. And it went down a treat. So much so we delayed our re-entrance until the 47th minute. And what did we find? 2-2…2 bloody 2. Two goals in the first minute of the second half. One of the Hucknall fans told us that Adrian Hawes had put Hucknall ahead and then “some bloke equalised for your lot from kick off”…Good to see us blend in then!
Northern Steve has started a campaign which he has written to his MP about which will force football clubs to serve “Chips with Gravy” at all grounds. He believes it should be part of the Football Licensing Authority’s ground grading criteria. We had already seen that Hucknall did chips , as well as “Extras” which included Gravy. We had already warned our respective CMF’s (and CMN in Northern Steve’s case) that on no account they should ask for Extras at the Spa as it could lead to offence and possible ejection (rather than ejaculation fnaar, fnaar). But what they don’t know can’t hurt them…So we indulged, although we were disappointed to hear that there were no pies as “That lazy bugger thought the game would be off, and couldn’t be arsed to get out of bed early enough to get them out of the freezer”..not quite sure who they were talking about but I assume he was in for a kicking later. Chips with gravy yes…..overcooked french fries with gravy – a big no. The outer coating of the chips had formed a solid barrier which the gravy could not penetrate leading to some flicking accidents.
As we were trying to make sense of this chips and gravy dilemma, Hucknall only went and scored again. Two out of five ain’t bad Meat Loaf nearly sang after Antwon Bonnick scored. Talk about strange names of goal scorers – all it needed was for Reubens Wiggins-Thomas to score to complete the set and the lad obliged a few minutes later, slotting home from close range. I cannot see this lad making it in the Premier League with a name like that – the cost of getting his name printed on your back would be more expensive than the shirt itself!
So with the clock running down we wandered around the ground to near the exits ready for the final whistle rush. The Hucknall faithful were still keeping up their noise behind the goal and the two away fans that we saw earlier had long since departed. There was still time for a fifth as TJ Nightingale ended a fine move to score a seventh goal which matched the yellow cards issued.
A great afternoon, which on reflection had little in the way of goalmouth action surprisingly but it just went to show how much we had missed football. The girls had had a nice time too and were already tucking into a beer or two watching the football in the bar when we got back. All we needed for a perfect night out was for them to suggest an Indian, which they duly did…and that is why we all love northern woman…
About Watnall Road
Watnall Road is a typical non-league ground. Homely, with some old fashion charm that is lost in the Football Leagues. It has a capacity of around 3,000 with a seated capacity of 250 located along the side of the pitch in a shallow stand that has some terracing at one end. There is terracing behind each goal, with a covered stand at the south end and an open terrace of three wide steps at the far end. In the north west corner is the refreshment van which serves all the delights that you would expect.
At the south end of the ground you will also find the bar, which doubles up as the night spot – Talk of the Town, which is open to all fans before, during and after the game. The east side of the ground is neither a stand or a terrace but rather a wide walkway. Here you will find the club shop and first aid room in one of the portakabins and a strange double decker structure that appears to be the control room.
The ground is graded for Step 2 of the pyramid – which is currently Conference North but not for anything higher although it may be some time before the ground is ready for that next stage anyway.
How to get to Watnall Road
The ground is located to the west of Hucknall town centre and is easily reached from Nottingham. There is a regular tram that runs from Nottingham Midland station to Hucknall taking 35 minutes, or you can get the 15 minute train instead. Trent Buses run from Hucknall station to the ground. By car you need to head for the A611 which runs from Mansfield to M1 junction 27. The ground is next to the roundabout with Watnall Road. Parking is plentiful and costs £1.