Cold Tuesday Night In Basford
Basford United 1-0 Hednesford Town (Southern League Central Division)
On Monday night, Basford United’s under 18’s team reached the FA Youth Cup first round proper after beating Lincoln United. The wife went to watch her boy play down the A46 and came back all excited with the win, but couldn’t believe how card happy the Ref was, she also said the music coming out of the away teams dressing room after the match was terrible. I was bloody dog sitting, and even worse, had to endure watching Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa in what was an awful Monday night football’s viewing on the TV.
A day later, it’s payback… My turn to watch Basford United, her turn to dog sit (he’s a lockdown dog, we can’t leave him on his own), this time the men, the first team are in action against Hednesford Town in the Southern League Central Division.
It’s been a big last couple of weeks for Basford (pronounced Base-ford, rather than Bass-ford, as their matchday e-programme states), they saw off Boston United over two matches and needed a penalty shoot out to reach the FA Cup fourth qualifying round for the first ever time, where they’ll play Solihull Moors of the National League on Saturday. They also beat Harborough Town on penalties at the weekend to reach the next round of the FA Trophy. In the league they’re sitting comfortably in mid-table, whilst Hednesford, I surprisingly scroll down to on my live score app, are second bottom and are fighting relegation (badly) on just five points from ten games.
I’m making a Gousto meal before I go. All plated by 6pm I’m fuelled and washing the pots within 15 minutes, but I need to leave sharpish as I’ve got to be at the ground an hour before kick-off.
I race out the house with two coats and a bobble hat in hand, not sure yet, what to wear, I’m on the A52 and flying down the ring road as fast as I can.
Turning left onto Nuthall Road I pop into the Esso Garage as I need some cash for paying the £10 entrance which my bosses tell me will be fully reimbursed. Out of order is the cash machine so I give it a good smack before moving onto the next one.
I end up at a Londis Garage near the ground that thankfully has an ATM, which is equally thankfully, in service, grabbing a quick £20 out for good measure, I’m driving up Bagnall Road, leaping over the speed humps, before turning right onto Greenwich Avenue.
I’m not sure of the costs on parking inside the ground, which does have a huge car park, so instead stick the Merc outside on the street, my thinking is I’ll getaway quicker without any queues, I needn’t had bothered, It’s certainly not Silverstone.
On walking through the gates, I ask the young stewards if they do charge for parking? ‘No it’s free’ they reply, I think to myself 'I'll consider that next time' whilst marching over the gravel towards the turnstile, which has moved since my last visit? These days behind the goal instead of in the right-hand corner, the place in general has hugely evolved since I first started coming here.
Back when I were a lad, playing Basford was a regular occurrence for me, I actually remember playing them at the Old Mill Street, which is now a housing estate, before moving to their bigger premises with multiple pitches on the banks of the River Leen.
You can go back as recent as fifteen years ago when the club were playing in front of one man and his dog, the main pitch had nothing bar a couple of dugouts, a wide slightly sloped grass surface always in good nick… The changing rooms over the way and upstairs, the showers never working, punch marks in the doors.
These days, you walk in through the turnstile and the place is unrecognisable, modern, 3g, 4g, I never know the difference? To the left a low seated stand behind the net, in the corner a tea & coffee bar frying up some chips, to the left of that, another low roofed stand, the dugouts are there, upgraded with club logo, but nothing much beyond that far side, on your right, a low roofed stand with seats, large clubhouse, club shop, bar, I’m not sure whether it feels sentimental to me, having been plenty and even played here over the years, but I feel it’s certainly got character, for what is a relatively new, purpose built, all weather, cash generating, football venue for everyone, which certainly plays a big part for the football community of Nottingham, cup finals are played here often, in fact, the pitch is very readily available for hire, at an affordable price, quoted by Chairman Mr Munroe.
I’ve had my coffee which helped ease slightly my struggles with the bitterly freezing Autumnal night temperatures, I’m perched up against the barriers, standing against the elements near the away team dugout, smoke coming out of the players mouths as they warm up, before action is finally underway, it’s an underwhelming crowd tonight, put off by the cold I presume? Perhaps they’re saving themselves for Saturday and Solihull?
It's a feisty and gutsy start, the match goes from end to end without much quality, high tempo with the odd-neat pass out wide before an overhit cross from the away team’s point of view. Basford are more direct, up to big Gregg Smith who’s neat in possession, and awkward to mark, he looks for his strike partner Anthony Dwyer but can’t thread his pass through, it’s a frustrating night for ‘Neilo’ who’s been firing them in all season.
Ben Starkie offers glimpses of pace and technique as he tries to carry the ball forward from his left-wing position. The Tanzania international is the first United player to win a call up for his country, having made his debut for the African nation as recently as March this year.
I look at the away side, and am pretty impressed with how they play, they’re certainly no mugs and I wonder how they’re down there, so distant from the rest, but for their play, and their endeavour, they perhaps struggle in the final third. Leroy Lita is their player-coach. He’s 37 now and although has eight goals this season, has certainly seen better days. In fact, during what is a pretty drab, all be it competitive first half, the highlight is when Gregg Smith shouts to Lita “Shurrup you Mongol”.
I’m dancing around at half time to keep warm. It’s not a night for me to chat rubbish or make an effort with people, watch the match, do my job, get home, I’m relieved when the second half starts and the kid’s kicking football’s behind me finally piss off.
A few minutes into the second half Starkie comes off with an injury, which leads to Mark Clifford, Basford’s manager, bringing on Luther Munakandafa, who’s on loan from Notts County. It’s my first viewing of a player I’ve heard good things about, and it’s soon evident he has some quality with pace and power, and technique, still only 19.
It’s he who creates the best opportunity of the night, and the best moment of the match by far, for me. Dribbling into the area he takes a few touches to wiggle some space away from defenders before smashing the ball as hard as he possibly can for a certain goal, but goalkeeper Tiernan Brooks, who ironically is at Hednesford on loan from Notts County, and is an actual young team-mate of Munakandafa’s, well he’s not letting his mate score past him… Diving to his right with a huge right arm to punch it wide for a corner, I shout loudly in sync with the guy next to me “what a save”.
Brooks has further work to do, it’s clear that he’s not the reason for Hednesford’s struggles this season, the Pics are up against it as Basford knock at the door, Gregg Smith goes close with a shot from outside the box which might have hit the bottom of the upright, it’s hard to see as I squint against the floodlights.
A number of opportunities are wasted for Basford who press with successive corners, but they seem leggy late on, maybe the recent cup exploits have taken their toll? It certainly feels like it could be one of those nights.
As the game wears down to the closing stages, Hednesford become more and more involved in the attacking third, getting it out to their number eleven Adam Livingstone is for me, their best chance of creating, left back Harvey Portman is constantly coached by his dugout, told to get forward, he looks a decent young player but shouldn’t be told so much what to do, it should be instinct. Livingstone has ability, but his final product is woeful. Shots off target, wrong choices, Kieran Preston in the Basford goal is rarely troubled all night.
The clock thankfully ticks ninety and as folk head to the exits to beat the rush… (Or just get home to quash their boredom), a hopeless looking ball from the left is played into the box by Corey Grantham where Hednesford centre half Keith Lowe, who’s looked awkward all night, swings a leg at it, and the leather sphere changes trajectory as it cannons into the back of the net for an unlikely winner for the home side.
There’s still time, as United goalkeeper Preston shouts ‘defend it for a minute’ but the away side get a final corner, which is swung in and headed towards goal, cleared off the line, shouts are for handball, the Referee promptly blows his whistle for full time as he’s surrounded by Hednesford players asking for a penalty. No VAR in the Southern League Central Division, celebrations are sparked by the Basford players who you can hear singing loudly ‘freed from desire’ in their changing rooms of a now empty ground, as I walk out and into some warmth, immediately switching on the heated seats of my car to level three.
It’s certainly a night when defences were on top but not largely down to the quality of defending on show, instead perhaps the lack of quality shown by both sides in the final third. Hednesford goalkeeper Tiernan Brooks catches the eye with a couple of fine saves in particular, his opposite number Kieran Preston kicks well and starts things off quickly from an attacking perspective, he does everything he’s asked to do perfectly.
Ben Starkie threatens in spells prior to injury before Munakandafa shows he has ability and power, which put together can help you forge a decent carving in the game. It’s an off night for Anthony Dwyer who you can tell, thrives off good service, his attacking partner Gregg Smith, a player who I know from my days with him at Grantham, well he’s always been a handful and is better on the ball than he’s given credit for.
Whilst Hednesford can certainly knock it about, a lot of their play coming through number ten Kyle Bennett, they do seem to lack a Starkie, or a Munakandafa, which on the night, might have been the difference needed for them, to be instead going back to the West Midlands with all three points.
Basford United is really starting to become a community club, for Nottingham folk to head to when the likes of Nottingham Forest or Notts County, aren’t playing. It’s a club growing in fan base, and capturing the imagination locally, one that does its bit to help out the football community, and is a ground that although, surfaces my pet hate in Astro-technology, is still one that feels like an old non-league venue, with its mish-mash of stands and portacabins, one of which housing a very bright red lettered scoreboard, the feel is if you go there, you know it won’t be for the last time, and it’s a place certainly which will gladly have you back.
Whilst it wasn’t the best game I’ve seen recently, perhaps I was due a bad one, the players on show for both clubs were at least competitive and hungry, and the current crop that the home team have, might even be enough to create some sort of history, whether it be in the league or indeed the cup, some of these lads could become even better known than they already are to us non-league nerds, as they enter a very special weekend in the clubs history.
As for Hednesford, an FA Trophy winner this side of the Millennium of course, a great old club, who play at a great old ground in Keys Park, well I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear of them, a stumble on the road, it may be a season to forget, but if they can forge a decent attacking threat, and keep a lot of what they already have, it won’t be too long before we see them competitive again, and climbing up the leagues.
Basford United: Kieran Preston, Owen Betts, Josh Barnes, Seth Patrick, Dom Roma, Stern Irvine, Courey Grantham, Adam Chapman (Riece Bertram 89), Gregg Smith, Anthony Dwyer (Tyreace Palmer 87), Ben Starkie (Luther Munakandafa 53).
Hednesford Town: Tiernan Brooks, Lewis Ludford-Ison, Harvey Portman (Ryan Nesbitt 80), Ben Bailey, Keith Lowe, Chris Clements, Joe Cuff (James McQuilken 89), Todd Parker, Leroy Lita, Kyle Bennett, Adam Livingstone.
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 11th October 2022, Greenwich Avenue, Nottingham (att 254).