Matlock Town 1-1 Ashton United (Northern Premier League)
I was at a party Friday night. A few lads from back in the day, getting together at a mates pad, he cooked hot beef and pork cobs (a locally used variation of butty, roll, barn, or whatever you call a chunky piece of open faced bread in your part of the country), we had plenty of booze, cards, table skittles, a pool comp and even a pub quiz, needless to say, Saturday morning I’ve not had much sleep, am not feeling the best, but nothing a trip to the Derbyshire Dales and the fresh countryside air can’t solve.
It's my first visit to Matlock Town in some years, although I drove past the Proctor Cars Stadium on Causeway Lane a few weeks back, it’s a venue high up on the list of many groundhoppers, one much loved for being ‘quintessentially English’ with it’s character, position in the Derwent Valley and the fact it’s overlooked by the stunning Riber Castle, these days sitting derelict, high up on one of the many green surrounding Derbyshire hilltops.
Matlock, and in particular Matlock Bath, is a bit of a day trip retreat in this part of the world. It’s middle England’s version of the seaside with amusement arcades, ice cream parlours, sweet shops, fish and chips, cable cars, it even has a theme park called Gulliver’s Kingdom, I’ve been coming here since I was old enough to remember.
The wife’s out getting waxed and I’m dog walking before an 11am siesta ahead of her indoors coming home from town. She’s back for 12:30 having a go at me for not hoovering so I’m quickly out the door, I’m in cruise control in peace and quiet up to junction 26 where I opt to go on the M1 instead of straight up the A610, off at junction 28 and through the back end of Alfreton, past some lovely houses on the Wingfield Road which runs besides the impressive looking Alfreton Golf Club before endless winds of tarmac midst stunning countryside.
Newcastle v Man City is the early game of the day, I’m listening in as Sat Nav takes me towards places I’ve never been, the village of South Wingfield and past the Bluebell pub, I make the climb up Potters Hill as I get a stunning panoramic view East which looks as far as Mansfield in the distance.
Finally driving down the valley into Tansley on the A615 before a sign for Matlock and ‘guidance’ says ‘I’ve reached my destination.’ I’ve missed the turning into the cricket ground car park so double back before paying a steward a quid on the gate, I’m sure it’s for players and staff only, he’s just pocketing the cash from anyone who dares ask.
I’m walking down the Causeway Lane opposite a duck pond and a playpark where me mam on occasion took me as a kid, past a long high hedgerow on the right, before I spot a small looking house with one window, manakins in Matlock kits inside, it’s apparently used as the club shop, I’m in through the stone entranced turnstiles to the side where I’m charged £12, contactless, I ask for a receipt.
On entrance in the corner of the ground you get a real feel of beauty not just inside the spacious venue, but farther beyond, with its distant hills adding a spectacular backdrop to what is a pretty impressive three-sided, traditional non-league football home.
To the left a new set of apartments overlooking the pitch above a small roofed terrace, will soon offer some of the most expensive seats in the house, I’m told the Penthouses are going for near half a million quid, a box at Old Trafford would be cheaper.
There’s a lovely old stand to the right which runs most of the pitch and opposite that, the modern Twigg Stand, blue seated next to the brick-built clubhouse, behind the far goal is nothing more than a partition wall, separating the football club and cricket ground, beyond that, the spectacular hill with castle on top.
I’m starving, I’ve not eaten all morning and arrived deliberately early to get some grub, there’s a good hundred here already, mostly kids and parents, a good twenty-two mascots have arrived from a couple of local teams, you get the feeling of ‘community’ here, a proper football club in the heart of a thriving town, there’s not many left like it, great to see so many kids enjoying the occasion, many of them in blue hats and scarves with Matlock’s ‘Gladiator’ logo in stitched.
I’m sat down eating steak pie chips and gravy with a cuppa, tea bag left in the paper cup as I let it stew whilst downing my lunch with a plastic fork. I’m happy with the food, a seven out of ten, it’s cost less than a fiver and I’m now ready for the action to begin.
I’ve made it up to the tight cosy press box at the top of the Twigg Stand and had a chat with the stadium announcer who’s a really nice bloke, it’s he who tells me about the price of apartments behind the goal and the plan to have a retractable net to use on matchdays in a bid to stop the ball smashing into the huge glass windows of the impressive looking modern homes to be.
“There’s plans for a new stand” he says “there were even thoughts of building a pub on the main road” as not many make it around to the existing clubhouse which is furthest point from the turnstile, all the better for quickly grabbing a beer as I’m about to find out.
It’s gone 2:30pm and Ashton United have tweeted “team news running late, admin has just got parked” as a couple of lads turn up chirpy as anything, ones setting up laptops and entering the team news whilst he tells the other to grab a beer.
He’s come back with pints as one of them says “proper non-league this, beer in the press box”… Next minute he’s on the pitch strutting around with sunglasses on his head, as the two teams walk out, the lads finally sit down and it’s only then, I realise they’re radio commentators for the game.
I’m listening in as the head commentator announces ‘a new captain for Ashton today in Sam Baird’ before posing the question to his side-kick ‘how do you think the toss will go’ he replies “he’ll probably run off with the coin”…. I’m in stitches sitting beside them, pure pub banter live on internet radio with fans i'm told as far as Oldham and Tenerife, the best football commentary team I have ever had the privilege to listen to and although I’m not usually one for shameless plugging, I’m telling you even if you’re not a fan of Ashton United, to give their games a listen.
Matlock the home team impressive of late under Martin Carruthers are just outside the playoffs whilst Ashton are lurking above the drop zone, but it’s the away side who look the better of the two teams, all be it often struggling to get to grips with the bobbly surface, a few times their players slice passes out of play often to the radio commentator’s frustration, but they’re game and plucky have most of the ball, however don’t seem to offer much goal threat, which the home side do tend to have in their armour.
They’ve not created much, but a ball played into the box which looks to be going out, is headed back into danger by an Ashton defender and Karl Demidh capitalises, nodding home from close range as the goalkeeper Scott is caught out of position.
Ashton hit back and an overhead kick by Adams bounces off the post along the line, it looks to have gone over for a claim of goal but in the process a Matlock player has received a kick to the head, the official takes the easy option to award the foul.
The radio guys have gone for two more pints as the mascots and parents invade the pitch at half time to take penalties, some fella in a superman costume takes one, scores, suddenly something is kicking off, the Ashton Manager Steve Cunningham is going toe to toe with a Matlock fan in a bobble hat, apparently they’ve been dishing out some stick to the ‘former Buxton’ boss during the first half, he’s having a right go with stewards in-between “My son has to listen to that” he shouts.
Fresh with another pint of cider in hand I say to one of the commentary team “you’ve missed all the action” before explaining “the bobbles on the pitch are probably down to the stiletto marks from all the kids’ mums who’ve been on it”.
It's been an entertaining half time show, but the second half has kicked off and is more of the same from where we left off, Ashton the better team, most of the pressing, more possession, they deservedly level through Keilan Adams who I like the look of, the big number nine smashes home on the volley an hour in, the match opens up and it’s a proper ding dong front to back, Dale Whitham unleashes a thunderbolt twenty yards out, he smashes the post with a rocket straight as a cucumber which cannons out, Saul Deeney hasn’t moved.
There’s an injury and it don’t look a good one, 78 played and Matlock’s Dimaio is down, they’ve used all their subs, the stretcher is out, one of the Ashton commentators has nipped off for another pint and a wee, there’s only one on commentary now as play resumes, advantage the away team, nicknamed the Robins they usually wear red, today in yellow and black, they continue to press for a winning goal.
Matlock are holding out but Ashton are pressing, they’ve brought on Craig Hobson, a big unit who’s been around the circuit, now 35 he’s up top on his own and needs support, a breakaway from midfield gets Ashton in and Gladiators sub Robbie McNicholas, only on the pitch ten minutes, takes a lunge as the last covering defender, he’s off and Matlock are down to nine, at this stage, four minutes left (plus stoppages) you really fancy the away sides chances.
But fair play to the Gladiators, when the chips are down they show fight and in the end come away with a credible point, Ashton who would have took a draw prior to kick off, probably the more disappointed not to have won.
The home side shown ‘glimpses’ of quality but not often enough to deserve all three points, Alex Byrne looked decent down the right, John Johnston always aimed to beat a man on the left, Karl Demidh is a player I worked with many moons ago at Hucknall Town and Grantham, he’s filled out from his younger days and his play much smarter with age, still a goal threat, a natural predator who reminds me of an Ian Wright, Jermain Defoe kind of instinctive natural number nine who’s busy and a nuisance to mark, a bit of bite and aggression too.
The quick feet of Jerome Slew also dazzled off the bench whilst a special mention to Adam Yates at centre half who had a good old battle with Kielen Adams who was gutsy and a physical threat himself, eventually moving to right midfield to prove how robust and adaptable his teamwork play can be.
Harry Bunn in midfield for Ashton put a shift in, plenty of legs and good honest ethic, most of the lads on show having a terrific attitude, if often not having much quality, that can’t be said about Sam Baird however, who might have got the giggles off his commentary team early doors, but he was exceptional, reads the games superbly, and at 23 years old could still forge a career in the leagues above.
Whilst it’s two points dropped for Matlock, they’ll be happier it wasn’t worse having ended with two men light, that draw dents their playoff hopes, but doesn’t completely write them off just yet, here’s hoping injury to Connor Dimaio isn’t too serious, as they’ll certainly need him during the seasons run in.
For Ashton, it’s very much a point gained as they fend off relegation worries but they’ll be disappointed themselves it wasn’t even better, the game was a cracker and the ground is certainly one of the best for the old romantics of English non-league football to visit, and thanks to the lads on the Robins Radio Commentary team, who’s brilliant unscripted service was catastrophic, chaotic and genius at the same time, they certainly cured a hangover of mine and on a day where I was struggling to pick myself up to make the journey to this idylic Northern Premier League venue, in the end I didn’t want to leave.
Matlock Town: Saul Deeney, Jamie Sharman, Ethan Cartwright, Dan Bradley (Saul Milovanovic 73), Adam Yates, Ioan Evans, Alex Byrne, Connor Dimaio, Karl Demidh (Jorome Slew 59), Harry Wakefield (Robbie McNicholas 59), John Johnston.
Ashton United: Tom Scott, George Milner, Sean Newton, Carl Lonsdale, Sam Baird, Harry Bunn, Jason Gilchrist (Craig Hobson 67), Dale Whitham, Kielan Adams, Jack McKay (Nathan Lowe 59), Lewis Thompson.
3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 4th March 2023, Causeway Lane, Matlock (att 759).