Non League Heaven Non League Hell

As the current season peters out to a conclusion we can now ‘look forward’ to a fifth consecutive season outside the Football League. Whilst I think that there may be some plus points in following football at this level there are, invariably some pretty awful ones too. Although I have attended all but a handful of games at EP at Conference national/north level I have been unable to get to that many away games so there will be an innumerable amount of people better qualified to pen an article on this theme than me. By way of balance I suggested to hedgegrower that I pen a separate article highlighting the plus points of none league football; However.... after he fell about laughing manically I got the message. So here goes:

The scene at EP 22 October 2011

Forest Green at Edgeley Park 22nd October 2011

The scene is set, several thousand people including the usual smattering of away fans and press assemble on time. One ingredient however is missing – the away side. Kick off is duly delayed by the match referee and the F G side arrive circa Of course given their delay they would have changed on the coach to enable a prompt kick off – well no actually. What they actually do is pick up match day programmes take a leisurely stroll around the perimeter having a read, a chat – really no rush at all you see. To accommodate this leisure time the referee delays the kick off time yet again. Fans return from the bars, lounges suites, Samaritans, to relish the now 3.45pm kick off. Thwarted again, The F G team, now changed, are having a warm up, socks rolled down, all really rather wonderful. In a scene from Dad’s Army the referee appears in the guise of Sergeant Wilson “I wonder chaps would you mind most awfully if we prepared for kick off” 

Referee for the day......

We duly did, close to 4 pm. Having arrived late, kicked off at a time of their own choosing, F G promptly win the game 1-0. Proving the fact that arriving late, choosing your own kick off time is a definite bonus. Wonder what the conference would meter out to us by way of punishment if we duplicated this farce.

Alfreton Town away 6th March 2012

I swear I dreamed this game. On a cool but pleasant evening my sat nav directed me towards Chesterfield, then a hangar right into Alfreton. I arrived at my usually ridiculously early time and parked a few strides from the away end. Think I may have even been the first in the ground. Friendly staff greeted I pounced on the snack bar and had the finest hot chocolate ever, hand made. Sadly as the away crowd grew so did the queue. People who had joined it at kick off I think are still there, poor skeletal creatures desperately clutching a few coins to purchase some sustenance. On to the game itself: refereed by one Sebastian Stockbridge, a name that would strike terror into us not just that night but several times into the future. 

Seb Stocksbridge in traditional pose.....

First minute a long punt into our box, Ormson races out to collect, decides the forward may get there first, backs off, but to no avail the forward has already launched himself into an Olympic winning dive best appreciated from 40 yards away where good old Seb gave the penalty from. It got worse as Seb hallucinated another penalty that nobody spotted including the home side and then he dreamed that a ball had crossed the line for another goal to Alfreton when it appeared to not have even got close.  As the 6 – 0 scoreline began to sink into my consciousness I did something I never ever do, I left a couple of minutes early. Ten strides to my car by the 6th stride a roar from the county end we had only scored – Justin Rose header I later learned. I drove home and woke up, dream over.

Alfreton Town Edgeley Park 11th August 2012

I really liked Alfreton...... nice drive, neat little ground, friendly people. This season opener defied those qualities big style. In nearly 60 years I must have witnessed a dirtier team at some point but cannot bring one to mind! This was all in wrestling with a touch of judo and boxing thrown in. Having witnessed some of the sending off’s that we have seen both for and against over the past few seasons it defied any sort of logic that the visitors kept eleven men on the park and had only three booked. Sam Sheridan stretchered off did not add to this statistic. Thankfully we won the game 1-0.

Not quite the prep needed........

Kidderminster away 20th April 2013

Barring a miracle relegation to the Conference North was nailed on. So with our directors and chairman banned from the game, no police presence,and the game not made all ticket with a large away contingent traveling....... what could possibly go wrong!  As Kidderminster romped to victory the goading from the home supporters got too much for some brain dead’s who invaded the pitch and took a swing at one of the Kiddy players.

 I hardly need document the rest of this sorry tale, although to be woken up by a relative in Zimbabwe to say he was watching our Millwallesque supporters on line was more than a little horrifying. Shame the press were not at Alfreton (them again) the week before where babies in prams featured in the away end, but there you have it. For Kidderminster’s part the crowd that day exceeded the licensed capacity of the stadium. 

Where home specs allowed in Away Specs designated  area !

Spaces reserved for away fans were given over to home fans, and sadly the theme of milking county’s relatively large (huge) following for every penny was and still is a constant theme.

Relegation to Conference North 2013

So, following the horrors of that (Kidderminster) game we finish fourth from bottom on 50 points and are relegated. But are we? You see I think it is an unwritten rule that only 3 go down. Fourth from bottom is a sort of badge of dishonour. Given the calamitous state of football at this level some club nearly always falls foul of some rule or other – administration, ground not up to scratch, club cat not catching enough mice, you get my drift. 

`Oh yes I do !'

However this is County, so no such lifeline granted as granted to Chester, Southport etc There was a sort of false hope in that Aldershot had gone into administration after they were relegated and a strict interpretation of the Conference rules meant that they could have being put straight into the Conference North. That would have been harsh and as I said this is County so it was never going to happen.

Tamworth away 16th August 2014

The Tamworth directors had taken it upon themselves to jack the prices up for visiting fans, putting us in a category that appeared not to exist for many if any other teams. Not to worry if the journey to Tamworth coupled with larceny puts you off you could always listen to Pure’s excellent radio coverage supporting the Wellspring homeless charity. Well no you could not. Tamworth had that one covered and banned Pure’s commentary. Only after last minute negotiations and message board mayhem did Tamworth relinquish and the commentary went ahead. 

Jamie Milligan celebrates his winner !

To cap the afternoon off County won with a last minute totally undeserved winner. Bliss.

Gainsborough Trinity away 17th January 2015

I’m sure most teams must experience it: the ref from hell. I don’t just mean the normal things not going our way think, the dodgy free kicks, yellow/red cards, penalties or none penalties, I mean  truly a performance of mind boggling ineptitude. I find these tend to only truly occur every 10 to 20 years.  Anybody remember Peter Willis at Old Trafford in 1978? The game Steve Bruce refereed at Birmingham City in the 90’s. I don’t even class Mr Ellery’s best efforts in this category although Burnley at Wembley came close. Paul Marsden a latter day Seb Stockbridge but with menace, was clearly desperate to join this elite clique. 

A seemingly innocuous punt into County’s penalty area sees Jordan Fagbola and a Gainsborough forward track the ball which was really going nowhere when the Gainsborough forward collapses in heap to the ground – these seems to be a tried and trusted trick in this league and clearly one we must master. From a distance better served by a radio telescope, Mr Marsden awards a penalty, and sends Jordan off. Not content with this handiwork he penalises a studs up display by Greg Wilkinson in the same manner. I say studs up, that’s what he did...... showed his studs, he didn’t actually connect with anybody but that was enough for Mr Marsden.

Mark Lees seeks ,in vain, to council common sense to the officials.

 Following a clutch of other bizarre decisions we lose the game 2 nil and just for added measure Mr Marsden is spotted after the game in the home social bar surrounded by his adoring fans – Gainsborough players, management and supporters.

Hyde AFC away 28th March 2015

Nice and fresh this one. Thousand plus away fans, felt a bit like County of old. Hyde ‘s website gave detail regarding access to Hyde’s social club and turnstile opening times none of which turned out to be remotely true, but no matter, once they were opened and access made into the ground, feeling a bit peckish I chanced my arm at the burger van. Always a little wary since I was poisoned by a ‘Tranburger’ at Prenton Park on New Year’s Day many years ago I studied the menu and chose a hamburger and a cup of tea. The man was working on his own and despite a none working generator he came up with the goods and I survived. The game, well, not that great. I thought County just did enough to shade it, and despite Matthew Todd’s sending off Hyde were not really threatening much. Then in a scene reminiscent of a Noah’s Ark tribute act, the rain started and carried on and on. Our referee Mr Jonathan Hunt seemed happy to let the game continue despite the deluge and as both sides and managers were voicing no objections to this a 90 minute game seemed well within grasp. Oh no it didn’t, at 87 minutes and 30 seconds Mr Hunt brought proceedings to a halt and commenced a live debate with all and sundry on the situation. 

A bit wet......

At what would have been past the 90 minute mark both sides were led off. Something unintelligible came out the PA system – probably water, and we all left in a state of limbo. Around 12 minutes later Mr Hunt appeared with a small entourage and a ball and proceeded to drop it in probably the driest bit of turf for miles around, it bounced beautifully and, realising his gaff, Mr Hunt corrected himself and located the deep end of an adjacent swamp, and to order.... the ball went splat. 

Ref is too....and  heads for home.......

Mr Hunt triumphantly gestured to the changing rooms and we started to troop off. Credit to Mark Lees who came over to the away following (not for the first time this season) and tried to explain what had occurred.

Hyde AFC away 14th April 2015

Some delusionists seemed to think that the powers that be would award the game to the Hatters...... it was never going to be the case. Of course given that the previous game was now null and void, dead, devoid of life, a none game, it would make sense that any bookings or sending off’s would also be null and void, wouldn’t it. Apparently not ......young Todd’s sending off stands, we are told, and he will serve a three game ban. So that’s clear then ,thank goodness for that, so now Glover can treat this as his one game ban can`t he...... simples. But no..... the game did not exist you see so Glover cannot treat it as his banned game. Isn’t justice wonderful?  So part two commenced and the chosen referee was none other than our very own ref from hell Paul Marsden. Hyde treated us to some Vegas style Bellagio water works with the sprinklers and a group of home fans dressed in spec savers ponchos throwing as many as they could at the county players as they were wearing. 

Teams try to avoid artificial deluge this time!

Little improvement on the quality of the game from version 1 although I thought Hyde looked a little brighter. A penalty area melee resulting in Chris Churchman booting the ball clear only for a Hyde player so overcome by this he collapsed to the ground. Mr Marsden lucky not to dislocate his arm from its socket such was the speed he pointed to the penalty spot, the kick promptly missed. In fact Mr Marsden must have really hurt himself because into the second half when Kyle Jacobs was left free in Hyde’s penalty area and quite blatantly tripped he could not raise his arm anywhere near the penalty spot, poor man. So there you have it...... the powers that be have now found a way of depriving us of a win even when we err win.

The Rest – well some of it

The aforementioned Seb Stockbridge ended up giving 5 penalties against us in 3 games. Who could forget Neil Ashton for Wrexham risking a riot by gloating in front of the Cheadle End after he scored one penalty, no action taken by Seb until Ashton scores again and celebrates in front of his own fans in the railway end which earned him his marching orders.

Stalybridge away this season, championed by ex SCFC directors they roar into a 3 nil lead and we peg it back to 3-2. A handbags free for all kicks off with a certain ex player throwing a fist into the melee and then running off to the far side of the pitch. Ref books Milligan and later sends him off for totally missing his tackle and a Staly player. Didn’t connect with the player either but hey ho.

Ed :  the food was good though !

Rotund assistant referees red faced, sweating. zooming up and down the touchlines 20 yards behind play missing any offside’s. The poor man who gave an offside from a throw in and then had to be reminded by the ref that this cannot be. Sharing spectator areas with sheep, precarious balancing acts in dangerously unstable portaloos (Ramsbottom)....yep that was Conference North !

Loos with an added wobble factor!

It’s different. I am not saying none of the above doesn’t occur in the Football League and I suspect that I have only pricked the surface but let’s brace ourselves for more of the same.



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