The Pride Of Staffordshire
Hednesford Town 0-1 Tamworth (Southern League Central Division)
For the second successive Tuesday night, I’m casting eye over Hednesford Town. After watching them play just eight miles from my home, unlucky to lose by a fortuitous last-minute own goal at Basford United seven days ago, this time, the Southern Central League table proppers have a local derby match against Tamworth, sitting top of the tree in the division, it’s first v last, an all Staffy affair, to be played at the Pitmen’s Keys Park Stadium, one of my favourite non-league venues.
It's supposed to be just over an hour from my door… A 50-mile drive that takes me down the A453 and out of Nottingham, onto the A50, I’m pratting about with my sat nav as I want to avoid the toll roads and the £7.60 charge on the M6… So much so, that I miss the turn for the A38 and now I’m heading for Uttoxeter, which puts another twenty minutes on my journey.
Luckily, I have plenty of time, listening in to TalkSport, who ask supporters whether minnows drawn at home should switch their FA Cup ties to more glamorous grounds of their opponents, one fan ringing in to remind us of the time Tottenham brought Rochdale a brand new pitch because they refused to play on such preposterous surface when drawn to play at Spotland.
I haven’t an idea where I’ve been re-routed, literally driving through villages I’ve never previously seen or heard of in my 43 years on this planet, one village, Abbots Bromley, apparently was voted best place to live in the Midlands by the Sunday Times newspaper, in both 2013 and 2016. I can see why! It has more pubs than houses, a lovely idyllic spot too, but I can’t help feeling landlocked, rather claustrophobic, I feel this is as far from the sea as anywhere I’ve been in England… Then suddenly…. Water.
I drive down a road which bridges straight through a huge open reservoir, it’s stunning, massive, serene, the bridge seems to go on forever, then back up the hill and out of sight, my first experience of what is apparently called Blithfield Reservoir…. I’ll certainly be back with my walking boots and flat cap.
The landscape soon changes though, I drive parallel to a huge goods train as I enter the ugly industrial back end of a town called Rugeley. It’s there I stop off for some petrol and a quick bacon double cheeseburger from a nearby Burger King.
Back on the road and fed, I drive through the sumptuous Cannock Chase before entering the equally rather green looking town of Hednesford. The ground is on the edge of town and off Keys Park Road, turning up into a new housing estate which I seem to remember was wasteland during my last visit in 2013.
As I pull up at the gate, the steward asks me ‘home or away?’ “Neither” I reply, as he finds me somewhere to park for my £3 cash.
Dark skies and floodlights on, parking up at the back of the stand all be it well lit, I wonder if I’m safe leaving my car behind a goal, the huge netting above hopefully saving my new Mercedes from any bumps and bruises of potential stray balls.
I walk over a nicely sanded surface towards the turnstile in the main stand, stewards keep asking if I’m ‘home or away’… As Tamworth are in town there’s segregation today, the away end expected to get rowdy, a West Midlands derby, an all Staffordshire affair, I’m whetting my appetite at a feisty nights viewing, hence getting in and through the gate before the hustle and bustle arrives.
As I walk out to a burger van where I request nothing more than a cup of tea, the ground, built in 1995 for the then princely cost of £1.3m, in fine nick, is exactly the same as it looked last time I visited.
Long roofed stands behind each goal, an even longer roofed terrace area over the far side, the Main Stand is large, all seated and hogging the middle of the pitch, the dugouts in front, tunnel in the middle, at the back of the stand, fifteen or so rows up, is the club bar, directors lounge, offices, overlooking the whole pitch with a panoramic view, it feels like a proper football stadium, a venue that could easily host league football, one that enjoyed (level 5) conference football in the late nineties, one that as recent ago as 2019, hosted England and Brazil under 18’s, where the likes of Cole Palmer and Fabio Carvalho faced a seleccao including Kaio Jorge who believe me, is a real star to come.
Not expecting to see any England stars of the future, certainly no Brazilians on show, I am expecting a Tamworth win, as the away side warm up, they look confident, but like they mean business, their tempo is good, if warmups are anything to go by, they look well drilled by Manager Andy Peaks and his staff.
As for Hednesford, well they drew at the weekend, and I felt they were unlucky against Basford in the match prior to that, their manager Steve Burr was recently appointed, and there’s obvious improvement, following their poor start to the season, but well-known talisman Leroy Lita is sidelined, concussion protocol after a head injury during the draw at Hitchin, he’s walking up the steps to sit the row behind me and says he’s fine, “If I didn’t feel ok I would say” he utters shrugged shoulders.
I’ve had a pound on golden goal tonight, I randomly pick the 14th minute out of an envelope which I think isn’t bad, the stadium announcer has four minutes and keeps asking if I want to swap, “I’ll let you know in the fifth minute” I reply.
By the time the two teams are out, the stadium, which holds 6,000 when full, has little over 600 spectators in well spread, which for a cold Tuesday night in October, at this level is not bad at all.
The Tamworth fans, stood behind the goal to my left are in full voice, they get behind their team by mostly singing ‘Hednesford’s a shithole, I wanna go home.”
Despite the Lambs noisy backing, it’s the home side which start, I believe, the better of the two teams, they look up for it, ready to battle against a side, the best in the division, who they hope, have underestimated them.
It’s pinging and ponging from front to back, neither side relishing possession for anything more than two passes, but its frantic, fast paced, ‘don’t do anything silly’ is what I presume, both sets of players have been told as they kick it from centre back to centre back.
Hednesford create the better chances in the first half. Set plays are where they can get in, a couple of headers from corners go wide, whilst Adam Livingstone on the left puts in a lovely ball across that is headed inches off-target by Nesbitt.
Livingstone frustrates, he produces moments of genuine quality, but these are more often followed by moments of underwhelming disappointment, he has attributes, but not consistency, he does have a good battle with Tamworth right back Matt Curley who I do like a lot.
In front of him, the Alice-band wearing Kyle Finn looks talented and skilful, a poor mans Jack Grealish? His flicks rarely pay off. Tamworth struggle to threaten as the home side edge the bout on points at the interval.
The second half is underway and within minutes Tamworth should take the lead, Grealish, no Finn, is through on goal, his weak effort easily saved by Brooks.
Hednesford have their own chances, but I’m starting to think if they don’t take one, they’ll regret it… Bennett curls wide before Singh fabulously tips over a rocket shot from Bailey. It’s opened up into a real classic, Bradley hits the crossbar for Tamworth but minutes later, from a corner initially saved well by Brooks, the ball falls to Dan Creaney who does what he’s known for at this level.
16 remain and the Pitmen undone.
The later stages see a significant difference in the two teams approach, Tamworth more confident, more solid, more likely to get another, the stuff you see from table topping teams, they’ll see out this no problem, Hednesford meanwhile, dejected, lacking ideas, sunken by a significant body blow of conceding that goal.. The inevitability is defeat, and although they huff and puff, the Lambs are prepared for any onslaught, and on the Referees whistle, the pyro party behind the goal begins.
On a cold night made for getting stuck in and heading back down the A5 with a result, more important than anything else for Tamworth, I’m impressed with the energy and work-rate, particularly in the second half of the away side midfielder Gift Musa. Also, after an injury to young centre back Ben Hart, the visiting teams rather weighty looking number six Liam Dolman came on after less than half an hours play, and it was a game perfectly made for him to head and kick anything that lay in his path.
For the home side, I love watching Kyle Bennett play, his elegance in midfield is sometimes over shone by the physicality of the game at this level, for large parts of the first half a passenger on the fringes often shoved off the ball, but in the second half, when things opened up, all the Pitmen’s best play came through him.
A shame that despite his intricate passing, that those on the end of his precision, do not have the quality to help lift the side off the foot of the table.
I still think Hednesford will come good… But wonder the longer it goes, the bridge, like the one over Blithfield Reservoir, might be a little too stretched for my liking… (nervously looking up to the skies I kept having dambusters premonitions whilst driving across it). The club, the fans, the stadium, the town, it really is a good place and deserves to be involved in a higher division of football, my feeling, it may even be in a lower division, by this time next year, but that said, still… They’ll bounce up if they do go down, because people will want to play for this club, these people, at this lovely venue and on this sublime pitch.
As for Tamworth, well come October 2023 their rivalry with Hednesford could have simmered due to the fact that they’ll be two leagues a part, they to me look like league winning material, and should be continuing to top the charts for sometime yet.
A derby day away win for them, keeps the Lambs on track to promotion target, and maybe in time, a return to those dizzy heights set previously, when playing in the Conference or National League, was a regular thing.
Hednesford Town: Tiernan Brooks, Lewis Ludford-Ison, Zac Hartley, Ben Bailey, Keith Lowe, Chris Clements (Luke Rowe 71), Joe Cuff, Todd Parker (Olamide Ibrahim 79), Ryan Nesbitt, Kyle Bennett, Adam Livingstone.
Tamworth: Jasbir Singh, Matt Curley, Callum Cockerill-Mollett (Adriel George 76), Gift Musa, Alex Collard, Ben Hart (Liam Dolman 28), Kyle Finn, Alex Bradley, Daniel Creaney, Ty Deacon, Luke Fairlamb.
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 18th October 2022, Keys Park, Hednesford (att 668).