South Kesteven Sports Stadium, Grantham

Evo Stick Premier Division, 19/11/16

Hip Hopping Yorkshire strayed from God’s own county for the second time in a matter of weeks as we made the hour long journey down the A1 to Lincolnshire to take in a big six-pointer for Frickley at the South Kesteven Sports Stadium in Grantham.

The Blues had picked up a couple of good results, the demolition of Stocksbridge followed up with a cracking win away at Ashton United. Unfortunately, the run was abruptly halted in the league cup against lower league opposition In Tadcaster Albion. Today the focus returned to the league and hopefully back to winning ways for Frickley.

The hip has started to give me a few problems over the last couple of days, I am due to see the consultant on the 30th of this month and it can’t come soon enough. I have had some rather good news regarding my care and a potential transfer so watch this space. As ever I sent a cheeky tweet to Grantham requesting a comfy, padded seat, nothing in the way of a reply. I was deeply upset at this lack of acknowledgement, maybe my trip would get better!

I had been pointed in the direction of Grantham by fellow blogger and non league lover Mr Dribbling Code at the recent game against Shaw Lane. The attraction was the stadium as Grantham play at the South Kesteven Sport Stadium, a pitch in the centre of a running track. I’m always up for seeing the different faces of non league and this would be a brand new experience at this level. I really enjoy visiting new grounds and new places, taking in the architecture of these community clubs. As previously blogged, Staveley was a cracking little ground, so unique but just wonderful. Contrast this with the nice little set up at Armthorpe with it’s backless benches and huge steps between levels. The great vantage point from the main stand at Nostell with its leafy backdrop, compared to the stone built ground at Stocksbridge. I was intrigued at how a Northern Premier League team would utilise a stadium that housed an athletics track, though it won’t be the first time that I have watched a game of football from such a stadium. The 8th October 2008 will live long in my memory, the huge Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern Area Second Round clash between Rotherham United and Leeds United. Leeds at their lowest ebb, I really believed that the JPT was a great chance to get to Wembley. Most Leeds fans looked at it as an inconvenience that evidenced how far the Whites had fallen but I disagree, similarly to the attitude on Tuesday vs Tadcaster I think that winning breeds confidence and players should win everything that they are entered for. The Millers had moved from Millmoor and relocated to Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium, I can honestly say it is the worst view I have ever had watching football at a stadium that was not conducive to watching football at all. Rotherham won 4-2 and incidentally went on to defeat current Premier League Champions Leicester City in the next round.

The topic of watching football at an athletics stadium is hot at the moment with West Ham leaving the magnificent Boleyn Ground and moving in to the London Stadium, I think the major problem there is off the field but fellow groundhopper Ian White was not overly impressed when he went down to that there London to strike ground number 88 of 92 off his list. I wonder how Grantham would compare to Stratford.

My morning was delightful as I met newborn Jack James, fresh out of the box and welcomed to the world on Friday 18th, straight from this it was dropping of a bottle of wine for my mother who was celebrating her 58th birthday. Ken was soon knocking on my door to whisk me away to Grantham, Nathan was with us after a hard fought U13s game against Dearne. The journey was just under an hour, pretty much one road to the A1 then one road off it. En route we put the world to rights about ‘Life Without Levels’, the new (old) assessment methodology adopted by the DfE.

Ken also informed me about the site of South Kesteven Sports Stadium, known locally as ‘the Meres’. Grantham’s answer to Hackney Marshes the fields played host to local football matches with the Grantham Town FC website stating that most locals will have graced the playing fields at some point or other. Grantham Town’s previous stadium, London Road closed in 1990 with the Gingerbreads playing their first game at the new ‘Meres’ in 1991, losing 5-1 to Ilkeston in the FA Cup. London Road was situated in the town centre but like most moves, the club now play on the outskirts, this is handy for a day tripper with a dodgy hip like me but isn’t for the fans or visitors that like to sample the town or city centre of their opponents.

I also queried the nickname ‘The Gingerbreads’, apparently a Grantham baker accidentally developed a new recipe for Gingerbread when he mistook one ingredient for another and produced a big hit for the travellers up and down the Great North Road in the 1600s. I thought Grantham was only famous for Maggie Thatcher.

We pulled up to the stadium to find the car park absolutely packed, I thought the locals were well up for this match but it turns out something was happening at the nearby sports leisure centre. Ken did some great reversing and we parked on a side road right opposite the stadium. Nathan was impressed at the main stand, it was hard not to be. From the outside there was signage for away supporters though the turnstiles weren’t in operation. A lonely programme seller was hanging about near the turnstile so we parted with two quid and purchased the Grantham Town Matchday Magazine. No idea why clubs want to call them match day magazines, you don’t go to a match day magazine fair do you? The programme was decent though, great quality and a far cry from the photocopied efforts of the NCEL. I like the polished look but there is something appealing about a few photocopied sheets of paper stapled together by a local volunteer the previous night. This one is probably the best we have seen so far on our travels with some decent articles and stats for prematch reading. Turns out Grantham let in loads of goals in the last half hour of games, will Frickley capitalise?

The lonely programme seller pointed us in the direction of hot food, up the stairs in the main entrance. img_1046

We walked past the Grantham Town Club shop, two elder statesmen having a good chat. I like the idea of having a presence on entry, and an option to purchase club memorabilia. Ken buys a team sheet for a nominal amount, we find out later that they are free if you buy a programme. Up a couple of flights into a decent suite serving food and drink, there was a lift but it was probably easier for me to do the stairs rather than wait. We go up to the bar to be told food is served in the next room, on to the next room we find it is served from a small hatch tucked away in the corner. I panic buy chips and cheese while Ken opts for the pie, I need to go up second then I probably wouldn’t make panic purchases all the time. A quick chat to Mr Dribbling Code who has a photographers pass today in order to get close to the action and we find a seat in the larger room. There are a load of young lads in the black and white stripes of Grantham Town, reckon they will be ball boys for today, I have heard stories of how the ball is off the field of play more than on it at this ground, also how the employ the multi ball system to suit their needs. A quick check of the team sheet sees Valentine benched again, not sure why as he has been the most consistent performer this season, I hope Moz and JK aren’t putting all their eggs in the Skelmersdale basket. Kuda Muskwe is starting up front for the Blues, the on loan youngster from Rotherham opened the scoring in the 3-1 win last week. Valentine aside this is a pretty strong line up, with Bailey Gooda out injured Jack Waters and Laurie Wilson make up the centre back pairing. Grantham are only four points above Frickley at the start of play so a decent result here would set us up for the Tuesday night is it from second bottom Skelmersdale.

With a few minutes to kick off we make our way back down the steps and outside to the turnstile, no chance of me, my hip and my crutches getting through this modern entrance so we ask the bloke on the turnstile if there is a gate I can use for my entrance. Unfortunately the gate is locked, what am I to do? I mentioned that I saw the directors entrance near the club shop, could I go through there? Reluctantly he sent me on my way, I will meek Ken and Nathan on the other side.

The Directors entrance is congested with the young lads clad in black and white, we wait for the players to make their way in from their prematch warm up then it is our turn. I am going down the players ‘tunnel’ on my crutches, if only my hip wasn’t screwed as I might get a game myself.

Inside the ground and I’m not sure what to make of it, the running track is its most prominent feature obviously and the pitch is set quite far in. The main stand is pretty impressive, two tiers of seating. Across the pitch is a smaller stand that is still impressive in its own right, this is terraced with crush barriers at various points in the stand. Neither end has terracing but they do have a banked grass verge, I can imagine sat watching the Gingerbreads with a nice loaf of bread, some strawberries and a glass of prosecco on a nice sunny day while relaxing on the verge. It is too cold for that today though so we choose to sit on the second tier of the main stand. Back up a load of stairs we make our ascent, there is a disabled lift on the top section of stairs. I’m guessing those spectators with mobility problems would exit stage right in the hot/cold food suite that leads to this floor. Up a few more stairs than down some into the stand, a lot for my poor hip to take but not as many as Stocksbridge. There is loads of leg room which is good for me so we sit midway down the stand, amongst the locals. Looking to the far stand terracing the Grantham Ultras have a few flags with one stating ‘Forza Gratham’, not quite  Napoli, Milan or Juventus but fair play for trying!

The main stand has a good ‘overhang’ so we are not too far from the pitch, it is much better than I anticipated. It is quite refreshing to have such a good view for a non league game and if the athletics track wasn’t there it would be first class. I send Nathan back down to get me some pictures, it is a pity he can’t run around the track instead walking round the path on the perimeter of the athletics track.

Out the teams come, lets go!

Frickley started on the front foot, almost going ahead after a couple of minutes after the ball was whipped into the area. The first five minutes were all in the Grantham half with Frickley pushing on and showing intent. It was Grantham however who took the lead after just seven minutes. Lee Shaw beating Stohrer on the left, cutting inside and neatly lifting the ball over Seb. Although the goal came early it was definitely against the run of play and again Frickley showed their vulnerability.

It could have been worse a minute later as a good challenge in the Town’s half was knocked out to Filipe Barcelos who was denied by a great save from Malkowski, the big Pole tipping it over his bar. The attack again came from Frickley pressure and Grantham turned defence into attack with a couple of touches.

On 10 minutes Tyler Williams turned in the area but shot straight at the keeper, hopefully the young winger is starting to show the form that he finished the season with back in May, this time his shot wasn’t quite there.

Barcelos was in agin for the Gingerbreads on 18 minutes as he beat the offside trap and held the ball up well before his shot was well smothered by the Frickley number one.

Frickley continued to press and on 22 Noel Burdett showed exquisite skill when he brought the ball down from over his shoulder, Burdett chose to shoot though rather than pass to the unmarked Kuda Muskwe, his shot going high and wide. Again Frickley came and on 25 the ball broke to Williams in the area who swung a foot and miscued. It was just a bit rash from Williams who must have had a rush of blood to the head, a calmer confident Tyler would have slotted that away to draw the Blues level.

Not for the first time direct from a Frickley attack Grantham almost doubled their lead. Rhys Lewis volleying a superb cross only for Seb to turn the effort over via the crossbar, from the resulting corner Lewis was up highest and Malkowski saved wth his feet. I think the second save was more luck than judgement but he had kept the score at 1-0.

The second did come on 34, this time Luke Shaw collected the ball on the left, jinked past Stohrer and in an almost carbon copy of the first lifted it over Malkowski – 2-0 and a mountain to climb for Frickley.

That mountain got even bigger on 38 as Blues captain Luke Hinsley was sent off for his second bookable offence. Now the first I missed, but it can’t have been a horrendous tackle, the second Hinsley went up with a Grantham player and was adjudged to have led with his elbow I reckon. Referee thought it warranted a red and the game was effectively over. I think the referee needs to have a think about his performance as it certainly wasn’t a dirty match, either offence could have been a warning for Hinsley. I am not saying that neither were fouls, it is subjective I suppose but the referee had now spoilt the game as a spectacle. Grantham were cruising and already two up but the ref had pretty much ruined the rest of the game. Frickley need to be a bit cuter with how they manage their game. The Grantham players were always at the ref, chuntering in his ear and going down all too easily, it was a miracle how they got up and ran after rolling around on the floor. It reminded me of the Buxton game and the ref had certainly fell for it. I’m not sure whether the people of Grantham have ever seen a challenge before as every time a Frickley player slid in or went shoulder to shoulder a collective gasp from the Grantham faithful could be heard. Cynical and horrendous were heard on numerous occasions and used to describe Frickley’s play. At one point the Grantham fanatics pulled the old ‘dirty northern so and sos’ chant out of the bag. Honestly, I have seen rougher crown green bowling games! I remember going to a Frickley game as a youngster when a home fan went mad at his own player for staying down after being scythed down by an opponent, “get up, thas a wet lettuce” or something similar was shouted at him. I suppose it is in the blood up here, I’d rather be that way out than moaning at the ref every time someone showed a bit of endeavour. That is one of the reasons I have turned away from league football as I think it is turning into a non contact sport at a higher level.

Back to the game, the Shaw’s were causing Frickley and in particular Stohrer all kinds of problems. This time it was Luke Shaw running at the back four and forcing another good save from a curling effort. Half time.

Ken and Nathan went for the brews and I decided to stay in my seat, too many steps for me to negotiate in 15 minutes. I turned to a couple of Grantham fans and had a rather pleasant conversation, particularly with an older gentleman who had been supporting the Gingerbreads for a long time. He said how he used to watch them at London Road and remembers encounters between Grantham and Frickley Colliery back in the sixties in the old Midland Legaue. He himself said that he felt sorry for Hinsley and said that the referee had ruined the game as a spectacle and I told him I agreed entirely. I don’t dispute that Grantham were well in control just that there was no need and a bit of common sense should have prevailed. Another couple of lads joined in with our conversation, one of the lads told me it was his first Grantham game and that he lives just down the road from the stadium. I hope he goes again, he did seem impressed with the et up and the quality of football on offer. Ken returned with the brews, the players returned and it was back to watching the footy.

Frickley brought Luke Mangham and Nathan Valentine on for the second half, part of me was glad Vallo didn’t start as his physicality surely would’ve brought a red card from this ref. It was Mangham who had the first effort in the second half, curling wide after a poor goal kick. Frickley changed their formation and went to three at the back with Stohrer pushing forward. The Grantham front three had played extremely well and were knocking it around nicely, looking dangerous every time they broke forward. The back four simply couldn’t cope with them so a change n formation was welcomed.

As the day got darker so did the pitch, the stadium has about three million floodlights (which is great for me!) but because they are set back the middle of the pitch seemed rather dark, my one real criticism of the stadium as it was a decent view from where we were perched.

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Seb kept the score down again as Grantham were holding the ball at the corner flag on 75 minutes, they drew the foul and the resulting free kick was whipped in and a great header brought a fantastic save from Seb. Again this resulted from a Frickley free kick in a dangerous area and a few touches down field turned a Frickley attack into nearly conceding a goal. The same happened again a few minutes later as a Frickley free kick was hit straight at the wall. Barcelona broke and gave it to Shaw he fired towards goal but it was Barcelos who made sure from about three inches.

The front three all went off and one of the substitutes nearly made it four with his first touch, Jeremiah Dasaolu crashing his shot against the post with Seb well beaten.

Jack Waters left the field after he had been struggling for about 15 minute, effectively Frickley playing the last 30 minutes with 9 men. 3-0 was how it finished, The Blues putting in a better performance in the second half without really causing too many problems. The match could have gone so very differently if they had capitalised on the early chances. The Skelmersdale game is even more important now, meanwhile Grantham take on league leaders Whitby Town.

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