Ajax of Erewash
Ilkeston Town 1-0 Bamber Bridge (Northern Premier League)
It’s the start of a busy week of football where I’ll be cramming in a game a day until Friday. To compromise I told the wife I would keep it local today. Ilkeston is only ten miles from my house and I’ll be back home in time for Strictly.
Whilst the Robins have been a regular watch over the years it’ll be my first ever viewing of Bamber Bridge. A team based near Preston, Lancashire and one with links as far back as the nineteenth century but one who were established more recently in 1952. In fact, their current corporation is much more modern than that, after merging with Walton-le-Dale in 1974 ‘the Brig’ who we know today have been in the Northern Premier League since the early nineties. A staple in step 3 since 2018 when they secured promotion to the Premier after winning the Division One North playoffs beating Prescott Cables 1-0 in the final. They play their football at the Tom Finney Stadium, named after the Preston Plumber following his death in 2014, a legendary England winger of the 1950’s.
My last visit to Ilkeston was last season, then under Chairman David Hilton, a man who’s been in the news recently, he took the chance to bail out Scunthorpe United, but it doesn’t look to have gone to plan… I’m sure he wishes he was back here sitting in the Clock Stand where he trickled along underneath the radar. The Athletic don’t usually cover these parts in Erewash.
It’s 1:30pm and I’m cruising down the Nottingham Ring Road before taking the A52 at the QMC towards Derby and the back of Wollaton Park. I’m up Wollaton Vale and heading over the fiveways crossing into Trowell ahead of the Ilkeston town centre bypass and the A6007 before sliding past the back of Tesco on Granby Street and onto Awsworth Road.
Same spot as usual? I pull up on the left of the industrial looking Awsworth Road opposite the club’s enclosed car park before walking over towards the turnstile. Zapped in for £12 on card I’m early, I’m standing behind the goal where I notice the pitch these days made of plastic, a lot higher than it used to be in grass format, to level the surface it seems they filled it up rather than by digging down, I’ve never noticed it before it's higher than the walkway around the perimeter, the serene relaxed scene at the calming of the storm is of a loan Bamber Bridge player running up and down the pitch in attempt to pass a late fitness test.
Ready for a brew, I take a walk around towards the clubhouse, a low roofed brick building large which has a few tables outside, there’s a queue five or six deep at the kiosk hatchet which stinks of fried food, but I remember from last time a spot in the corner near a portacabin which plays host as the sponsor’s lounge.
There’s only one in front, he’s having some pulled pork and stuffing on a cob with some apple sauce on the side. I’ve only came in for a brew but can’t resist. £5.50 for drink and some grub, it’s bloody lovely as I take a bite whilst standing under the roofed terraced behind the goal as the rain starts to drizzle down quietly tapping on the tinned top as I’m on my lonesome enjoying the peace.
Fed and oiled I’m walking around the back of the goal as a player has a kickabout with his lad on the pitch, teams not yet out, fans not yet flooding in, I’m walking over the carpet of the players tunnel in the corner of the pitch to head up the open steps to the back of the Clock Stand, the quirky tall seated area in one corner of the venue, its few press seats are right at the top and open to the elements but the wind and rain blowing sideways means I’ll be sitting a few seats inwards today.
As the two teams walk out for kick off under the grey drizzly skies of Derbyshire, I can’t help notice the kit of Ilkeston, red centred white sleeves and sides it’s a touch of Ajax of Amsterdam, Bamber Bridge in more of an Oxford United yellow.
The game’s early doors are nothing to shout about, both teams try and play it and I’m perhaps more impressed with the away side whose midfielder Michael Potts is pulling strings. He’s quick footed with a bit of experience, looking for the thread of a needle ball splitting the Ilkeston centre halves where sizeable right sider Harry Scarborough makes runs coming in off the full back as he aims to play off the shoulder of his marker.
Top scorer Scarborough’s having no luck and can’t get into the game as I become more impressed with Ilkeston’s own hot shot up top, Jamie Walker is the leagues top scorer, a tall slender number nine with the touch of Marco van Basten’s to keep it with the Ajax theme… He’s got guile and is neat with his approach play, can mix it with defenders and plays back to goal and front to goal equally as impressively.
That said it’s a half of few chances, neither side unhappy of going in at the break scoreless, although neither side could say they deserve to be in front as they battle between themselves in the rain.
Ilkeston have started the second half well. Ian Deakin’s side are on the front foot and a back pass is picked up by young goalkeeper James Pradic (on loan from Preston) to leave little choice but for the Referee to award an indirect free kick inside the box.
Walker lets fly as the ball is tapped to him, but his effort is deflected over, the resulting corner crossed onto the head of Luke Cox and the ball nestles home and sets the Ilkeston drummer boy off as the fans sing loudly “he’s one of our own”.
That goal allows the Robins to sit back and say to their opponents ‘come and get me’… They’ve done little as an attacking force have the Brig but number ten Danny Edwards, a youngster on loan from Fleetwood is getting more on the ball, his tricks and flicks starting to rub off as he finds deep pockets of places making him hard to pick up, a substitution sees the insignificant Harry Scarborough replaced by Sam Billington which almost immediately pays off, the ginger haired Billington has time and space inside the Ilkeston area but his low shot is saved well by Yates.
In fact, that save by Yates has him announced as early as the 75th minute as the sponsors home team man of the match. A slight shock of silence in the crowd as his name is heard so early on in the game, but credit the sponsors, perhaps they knew something we didn’t.
Yates thereafter held everything and made an even better save when closing down the angle as the away side came forward, by now there centre half and skipper Macauly Wilson is kicking out on the sly and going down covering one eye as he looks to use good old fashioned ‘shithousery’ to get striker Jamie Walker into trouble… Walker’s not having any of it but isn’t afraid to lead with his elbow either, he’s done by the Ref almost every time he goes up for a header and it’s an intriguing battle between two players who seem to be enjoying it.
Late on the goalkeeper Pradic is up for corners as Bamber Bridge throw the kitchen sink but a defence well marshalled by captain, former Premier League player James Perch, comes out on top and Ilkeston hang on for a big three points which takes them to third in the table.
Jamie Walker might have had a quiet game but he looks like a player who leads the line by example, sometimes elegant, sometimes frustrating, but you feel as long as he’s on the pitch he has the ability to get you a goal. His choice of passing wise, he’s shooting attempts never far off.
For Ilkeston the busy Ben Starkie besides Walker always looked a menace, in midfield I was particularly impressed with Declan Erratt-Thompson who’s growing with age, he looks a tad like Jordan Pickford but is a real gutsy warrior. The sort of credentials that’ll see him play at the level (or even higher) for a very long time.
For Bamber Bridge I really liked the look of Fleetwood loanee Danny Edwards who picked up the pockets as a typical number ten. Whilst Harry Scarborough didn’t get in the game I can certainly see how he gets his goals, perhaps key to many of them would be through Michael Potts, a terrific midfielder who’s very neat on the ball.
Besides Potts in midfield the physical Danny Forbes certainly put himself about, whilst captain Macauly Wilson is that typical sort of non league centre half that you just love to hate. Mouthy but gutsy he put one huge tackle in which even had the Ilkeston fans applauding, but he did quite a bit off the ball which the officials never saw, that would work on many players far more hot headed than Jamie Walker, who certainly on the day, gave as good as he got.
After a start to the season of turmoil now on their third Manager in only two months, Ilkeston suddenly find themselves up there and having a go amidst some real top candidates for promotion. In Deakin and co they have a real good management team for the level, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this season they don’t have a real good go at going up.
Bamber Bridge shouldn’t be too far behind. Ex Everton and Blackpool midfielder Jamie Milligan is a decent coach, he’s got a well drilled, well organised outfit who’ll be middle of the pack at worst. If they can turn possession into goals it may even be better than that.
Ilkeston Town: Matthew Yates, Taylor Anderson, Sam Parker, Callum Minkley, James Perch, Luke Cox, Zak Goodson (Cieron Keane 66), Declan Erratt-Thompson (Jordan Hallam 71), Jamie Walker, Ben Starkie, L’Varn Brandy (Henri Wilder 86).
Bamber Bridge: James Pradic, Christopher Churchman, Jack Baxter, William Squires, Macauly Wilson, Danny Forbes (Jordan Butterworth 80), Harry Scarborough (Sam Billington 64), Michael Potts, Louis Holt, Danny Edwards (Mark Cullen 80), Harry Benns.
3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 31st September 2023, The New Manor Ground, Ilkeston (att 650).