A Lovely Club
Barwell 2-1 Stratford Town (Southern League Central Division)
It was a week before Christmas 2013, we’d just got beat 5-0 at home to Nantwich and at the end of the game it all felt a little bit sombre in the dressing room, we shook hands with every one of our players after an emotional speech, wished them a happy Christmas, and that was that…
A few days later we got the phone call, it was on Christmas Eve when I found out, that we’d been sacked, and we were no longer needed as part of Grantham Town’s management team for the Boxing Day clash at Barwell.
I suppose it allowed for another bottle of red wine, or two, on Christmas Day, but that’s the nearest I ever got to going to Barwell, until today.
It’s roughly 50 minutes from my door in the Rushcliffe borough of Nottingham, I kiss goodbye to the wife and dog, before leaving shortly after 1pm, another mild, bright, October day, the hoody is on, the gillet is on, a bobble hat on top of my balding scalp, but in fairness, I probably don’t need any of it.
Heading towards the county of Leicestershire, I’ve ironically got Leicester City v Manchester City playing on the radio, as I drive towards the A46 before passing the turn off for the Foxes spanking new training ground, directed on the A47 by my ready programmed route guidance, I’m driving down the Sacheverell Way on the outskirts of Groby as Kevin De Bruyne gives his team the lead with what sounded like a stunning strike, over the M1 and through Ratby, which doesn’t look a bad place at all to live, before passing the Head Office of Poundstretcher, and through further villages of Desford and Kirkby Mallory before finally reaching Barwell down the single track bouncy country roads.
I’ve gone around the houses, missed my turnings three times, I’ve even driven straight by the football ground, little wonder I’ve never been here before, it’s harder to find than a toothpick in a haystack. The middle of bloody nowhere.
I’m backing up the car, unimpressed with my in built sat nav which has failed me not for the first time, I switch to google maps on my phone, turning around on Kirkby Road, I pull up outside a park on my left, a hardware store on my right, before a sign a little further ahead, saying Barwell Indoor Bowls Club, as well as cricket and football, also the home of Hinkley AFC, this must be the place.
I grab my laptop bag, hop out the car and walk up past the sign for the sportsground where there’s a pub on the right nicknamed the barn, I’m walking through a car park in front of a lovely looking cricket pitch glistening in the sun, beyond that is the quaint looking football ground, behind a Pavilion which boasts the name of Barwell CC.
I find the gate and make the turnstile operator jump, £10 cash but they do take card, walk into the venue and head straight to get a cup of tea. The players are already out on the pitch, warming up, the Stratford lads in bright orange, the Barwell lads in lime green, no trouble in seeing these sets of players today, although telling the difference from them and the stewards may pose a problem?
The café is to the side of the main stand, a covered seated area which hogs halfway, there’s other roofed terracing on the same stretch but the far side of the pitch and two ends behind the goals are narrow open aired walkways, fences to the back, with netting high up, to stop stray balls wandering into the adjacent gardens.
The Stratford manager says ‘hello’ as I walk confused towards their changing rooms, the café almost outside the doors of the players and officials’ lockers, I grab a tea for a pound, it’s hot water and a budget tea bag, I stew it myself, add milk and make a quick phone call to a friend who wants some investment advice.
As I’m chatting, the sun is shining, players limbering up low intensity on the synthetic surface, which was I’m told, only installed last year at a whopping cost of £700,000, it’s perfect conditions for football, so I take a seat high up in the stand and get ready for the main event.
It’s a bit of a relegation shoulder scrap this, neither side has started the season well and both teams are hovering dangerously near to the bottom two.
As I’m seated on the back row, a good ten or fifteen up from pitch level, a Referees Assessor from Leicestershire FA joins me, he’s chirpy, is a regular at the club and from the sounds he’s been involved in football a bloody long time.
I know little about either team and it’s my first viewing of both so am pretty open-minded as to what I’m about to see, predicting a close encounter on form, Barwell slight favourites with home advantage but the smart money would be on a draw.
Within three minutes though, the away team goalkeeper is letting a back pass bounce on the edge of the eighteen-yard box, he doesn’t know whether to come or stay, the ball holding up on the sticky Astro, by the time he’s decided it’s too late, Beck-Ray Enoru is quick, so quick he’s nipped in, beat him to the ball, before calmly walking it into the net.
There’s more shenanigans early doors as the same goalkeeper then kicks a short goal kick out for a corner, trying to play out from the back, he misses his centre half who’s standing three yards away and puts it behind, you wouldn’t expect it at a girls under eights game.
Despite their goalkeeping troubles, Stratford don’t look bad in possession, the game is fast paced and end to end, but every now and again the away side get it down and play, the home team rely on their pace on the break which gets them in dangerously a couple of times.
With number seven on his back, Enoru looks like a young Raheem Sterling, lightweight, technically he has some ability, sharp feet and an awful lot of pace, positional sense isn’t his stronghold, Captain Brady Hickey is having a go at him “Push further up, you should be up there, you’re playing up front” as Hickey pushes him forward, a poor goal kick lands at the wingers feet, he cuts inside and blasts a shot inches over, I think if that went in, it would have been completely down to his poor starting position, and the fact his skipper pushed him with two hands into place.
The Stratford keeper does make some sort of amends with a decent save from Jahvan Davidson-Miller who’s also a handful up top, and despite the visitors looking better on the ball, more umph and gumption comes from the home team who are unlucky to only be one up at the break.
I ponder if they’ll rue missed chances during the interval, as I see Steve Chettle with his wife, sitting, scouting, perhaps, the former Nottingham Forest player and ex-Manager of Basford United, still works for the Southern League club as head of their academy who have an FA Youth Cup game v Derby on Monday.
The second half is dominated by the away team, a couple of guys sit in front of me, they’re Barwell regulars and can see it for themselves, the dominance in midfield comes from Ashley Sammons who’s a cracking footballer, sitting in front of the back four, ticking the team along.
Up front they have another player who really impresses me, Andre Wright’s hold up play has been sensational, he’s a number nine with good feet, good strength, he’s not gave the ball away all game, he’s not looked like scoring either, then suddenly he picks the ball up twenty five yards out and curls one into the top corner.
I question if it’s a good thing for Barwell, still with 25 minutes remaining, they sat back too early from the break and haven’t started playing yet this half, they’ll have to go out and win it again, and have plenty of time to do it, which takes all of two minutes to put right.
The home side push immediately down the left wing, I think its Deen Master who puts in an excellent centre and there is Brady Hickey, heading home, guiding it into the top corner after a late run into the box, a proper goal from a player who has elegance in wearing that number ten shirt, armband wrapped around his right bicep, it was he who scored a double in midweek, one of which an eightieth minute leveller at fellow strugglers Hednesford, from a good forty yards or more out.
That goal allows Barwell again to sit back and defend their lead and this time, they do it properly, a couple of half sniffs for Stratford who seem to lack that bit of bite which Barwell do have in attack, in fact the home side might have added more, Enoru, electric and undefendable at times, it’s been a tough afternoon for the Town back four, who are probably relieved when the whistle is blown to end the game.
A real rough diamond is Beck-Ray Enoru, a player who certainly has progression still to make just twenty years young, at one time told off by his strike partner Davidson-Miller who blurted “pass the f*cking ball” to summarise that his decision making isn’t always the best, but the frustration you sometimes get with the diminutive wide attacker is potentially going to be outweighed by the sheer pace and technical ability he has in his game to beat an opponent, the threat on the counter-attack is one that could certainly keep Barwell in this division, although mumbles in the crowd suggest that ‘keeping him’ would be a tough ask alone, especially should he continue to produce performances like that.
Whilst centre half Kyle Rowley headed and kicked everything from danger, left back Deen Master played well and Enoru’s fellow forward Davidson-Miller was also a threat with pace and strength having a good all round game, the attacking substitutions for the home side were also exciting with young Jack Deakin (on loan from Mansfield Town) and Tiago Nassunculo looking very useful too.
For Stratford, they reminded me a little of St Ives Town, in the way they play, which was nice, a little of Hednesford Town, in the way they lack getting numbers forward, which is not so nice, I believe they’ll be down there most of the season, but should have enough, especially if they keep the talented Andre Wright, who at 25 has already more clubs than Tiger Woods.
Left back Taylor Morrison looked thick set and solid, coming up against his worse nightmare in a nimble speedster of a winger, but didn’t do too bad defensively considering such difficult opponent, Ashley Sammons was another standout, and for me is one of the better players in his position that I’ve seen in this league.
As I left the quaint village venue of Barwell and back up through the winding country roads of Leicestershire to my home in Notts, one conversation I had today, stood out, when before the game, the Referees Assessor I was sitting beside, told me “this is a lovely club” and that, I cannot argue with at all.
The people that run it, the folk in the stands, talkative, friendly, and warming to others, me especially, who they had only just met, their side not at all bad, a plucky decent attacking team that will surprise a few with that pace in attack.
I aim to head over to Stratford in good time and will look forward to seeing whether Andre Wright is still there when I get around to paying them a visit, if they do keep him long term, they should have enough to stay in the division, because he does have some real star quality, I just worry about his staying power with sixteen clubs already in his career, from Coventry City and Brighton & Hove Albion to Sligo Rovers and Kettering Town, if he can stay in Stratford, and enjoy his football over a genuine period of time, he could be the player they need, to keep them comfortably in the division.
Barwell: Andrew Wycherley, Micah Edwards, Deen Master, Roger Lee, Kyle Rowley, Sidney Kerr, Beck-Ray Enoru, Melis Bushaj, Jahvan Davidson-Miller (Tiago Nassunculo 75), Brady Hickey, Shaquille Master (Jack Deakin 53).
Stratford Town: Louis Beresford, Daniel Vann (James Molyneux 85), Taylor Morrison, Ashley Sammons, Jack Turner, James O'Neill, Samuel Wilding (Josh Hawker 61), Daniel Lafferty, Andre Wright, William Grocott, Dexter Walters (Jack Storer 60).
3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 29th October 2022, Kirkby Road, Barwell (att 214).