The Cambridgeshire Barcelona
Ilkeston Town 2-3 St Ives Town (Southern League Central Division)
It's our lad’s 18th birthday and we're up in the dark, watching him open his presents at 7:30am before he goes to college. Grandma's coming over at 3pm with a cake before I'm asked to drive to Five Guys for some celebratory and slightly naughty looking tea. £48 for three burgers.
It’s a wet and miserable one outside. I'm home shortly after 5pm with the grub and back out of the house and down the ring road fully fuelled by 6pm. Off to Ilkeston tonight. They're playing St Ives Town in the Southern League Central Division.
The ring road is busy as usual... Traffic always seems worse in Nottingham on Tuesdays... I get to Raleigh Island and turn left through Wollaton and into Trowell before crossing the Derbyshire border where it’s a little less hectic.
After heading down the Chalons Way, windscreen wipers flicking on and off in the drizzle, I finally reach Awsworth Road, a narrow street of terrace housing which turns industrial as the lights appear of the New Manor Ground. I park up over the street to avoid the £3 official club parking charge. The car safely behind a flatbed lorry outside an MOT garage.
I walk over towards the turnstile and there’s a guy in a wheelchair who states ‘concessions to the left, adults to the right’… I joke “there’s no adults here” before walking into the wrong gate, I’m told to use the other entrance by the girl on the counter who's laughing at my error.
After paying £12 cash to get in, I take a walk from the corner of what is a relatively simple, spacious but nice-looking venue. Recently facelifted with a spanking 3g pitch, there’s kids packing up from their training session and moveable goals all over the place.
A good hour to go before kick-off, I walk down towards the iconic clock tower stand, a stunning looking build I think, erected in the early 90’s, which is a corner stand with a huge clock below a spire. To its right a low roofed behind goal terrace, to the left a low roofed seating area which also houses the players dugouts, opposite an open end that has a clubhouse/bar and members only section that is nothing more than an upscale glass fronted portacabin, which I walk towards for a quick coffee priced £2.30, an Americano with a splash of milk, green top, ‘help yourself to that’ says the girl who tells me ‘there’s some sugar on the side in a bowl.’
I’ve been on record saying previously I don’t like 3g pitches, but I completely understand the logic in a club like Ilkeston having one, and the revenue they bring. A lad who works in my office only last night was playing five a side at the very venue. To think that greats like Kenny Burns and John McGovern would once be emulated by Zak in sales from work on the hallowed turf of the New Manor Ground, synthetic or not, well that’s just how football has evolved.
Ilkeston Town are a decent sized club in these parts and have been for many years. Always held their own in the non-league system, hovering between steps 6,7 & 8 but often not without controversy. Liquidated in 2009 after owing a reported £50,000 they reformed as Ilkeston FC, liquidated in 2017 after owing near £15,000, they reformed again as Ilkeston Town.
Past players have included many ex-Forest and Derby legends, past managers remembered include Keith Alexander and Kevin Wilson, like Wilson, current player/manager Jamie Ward is a former Northern Ireland international who used to play for both Forest and Derby. The club has always attracted a decent quality of footballer with gates often above 400 which for the level, the seventh tier of English football, is always very good.
It’s my first viewing of St Ives Town, but I’m told they’ve always been a good footballing team. They beat Chasetown in the FA Cup on Saturday to earn a draw in the fourth qualifying round at Halifax and are above Ilkeston in the table.
I’m sitting at a newly added media section of the Clock Tower Stand as the tannoy guy tells me ‘It can be a tough squint to see the action over the far side’. Level with the 18-yard box I’m high up with a good view, but the elements hit as the wind and rain tickle my cheeks everytime I look right.
The first half is played at a snail’s pace, both sides happy to play out from the back, slowly, I think the pitch makes you do that, players who would usually stick a boot in and go long, trying to play because the surface is so flat and lush, inviting, opponents standing off, not wanting the burns on their skin which go hand in hand with sliding tackles on these surfaces. Every goal kick played the modern way, keeper to centre back, back to the keeper, who plays it to his other centre back, the ideas thereafter slowly run out.
St Ives draw first blood as a poor headed clearance is put back into the danger area where Jonathan Edwards calmly slots home.
Neither side play particularly great, but Ilkeston look dangerous out wide and are the enforcers looking most likely to score next, but for a couple of long-range efforts for the away side who give goalkeeper Oliver Battersby a full stretched diving scare.
Goalscorer Edwards, actually hobbles off with injury, defending a corner in his own box, another blame I lay on the pitch, he’s on crutches by the end of the match after what looks like a nastily turned ankle coming down on the hard surface.
By half time, Ilkeston are back level, Chris O’Grady, once of Brighton & Hove Albion and Nottingham Forest (to name two of a few), heading home from a set play. The goal setting up a tasty second half in the making.
I chat with a Cambridgeshire based media reporter at half time and we discuss the North/South non-league divide before action resumes, fully expecting Ilkeston to come out of the traps in hunt for a second, I’m disappointed that they lack urgency and continue to attempt play out from the back without no real game plan other than accidentally getting it wide left to their best player by far, the talented youngster Dempsey Arlott-John.
The young number eleven is sometimes unplayable, cutting in from the wing, jinking with plenty of hips movement, diminutive framed and pacey over short sprints, but more often than not, he’s out of the game as Ilkeston lack ideas and adventure in attempting to play him in, it’s actually St Ives who take the lead by scoring the goal of the game.
One touch passing, from back to front, ends with Tyrone Baker running in on goal to give his side the advantage. The reporter next to me labels them ‘the Cambridgeshire Barcelona’ before stating ‘it’s probably a bit long winded for the newspaper headline tomorrow’.
The visitors now clearly on top as the home team look ever more vulnerable, mumbles in the crowd echo ‘why is Jamie Ward not getting ready’. An injury then forces a break, and the Player Manager rushes off to the changing room where he races back kit-ready and enters the field of play alongside striker Remaye Campbell.
Shortly after, the ball falls to the boss who finishes from inside the area to level up, the Ilson crowd behind the goal sing his name to the tune of Oasis’s Wonderwall.
But St Ives are still the better side, and late on, left back Johnathan Herd curls home low from outside the box, a deserved winner that sends them to sixth in the Southern League Central table.
Former Leicester apprentice Arlott-John is the star shining light in Ilkeston’s defeat but right back Joe Wilson who was forced off with injury shortly into the second half looks most comfortable in possession. Declan Eratt-Thompson is also a live wire who aims to beat his marker and is an exciting prospect on the wing aged just 20. His game dwindling out around the same time that Wilson was substituted.
For St Ives they have Dylan Williams in midfield who’s one touch inventive passing catches the eye, as does the pace of Tyrone Baker and Enoch Andoh in attack. Jonathan Edwards who hobbled off, looked very much a typical number nine, and has football league experience with the likes of Peterborough and Accrington.
Ilkeston made a couple of statement signings in the summer and have so far flatted to deceive having parted ways with Manager Martin Carruthers in September. The club I believe will find it difficult to go higher this season, a tricky job for Jamie Ward who’s still better on the field than in the dugout perhaps, juggling the Player Manager role is never easy, but they should certainly be in a better position than their fifteenth place currently suggests with the quality they have, including Ward, in their side.
St Ives are nicey-nicey and perhaps too nice to trouble the likes of Tamworth and Nuneaton at the top of the tree, but they’ll be playoff candidates as they play good progressive football and have plenty of ability in the attacking third.
A trip to Ilkeston offers a warm welcome from the locals and is a ground in good condition, relatively modern looking. It doesn’t sit with some of those top proper football venues I’ve been to but is one which can create an atmosphere when full on a Saturday afternoon in particular, sadly on a Tuesday night verses St Ives who themselves brought very little following, it wasn’t quite the atmosphere that I had anticipated, and hoped, it might be, not helped by the persistent October drizzle.
Ilkeston Town: Oliver Battersby, Joe Wilson (Daniel Bradley 49), Reece Hutchinson, Jack Thomas (Jamie Ward 80), Marshall Willock, Kieran Fenton, Declan Eratt-Thompson, Babatomiwa Solanke, Chris O’Grady (Remaye Campbell 80), Alex Troke, Dempsey Arlott-John.
St Ives Town: James Goff, Kane Lewis (Owen Sheriff 81), Johnathan Herd, Michael Richens, Jordan Williams, Callum Milne, Tyrone Baker (Edmond Hotter 70), Myles Cowling, Jonathan Edwards (Ethan Johnson 18), Dylan Williams, Enoch Andoh.
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 4th October 2022, New Manor Ground, Ilkeston (att 442).