Waldron’s On Fire
Rushall Olympic 5-0 Chorley (National League North)
I’m legging it to my car parked a good 500m from the Bescot Stadium but I’m out of breath by half way. I’m walking the last bits coughing up all sorts, this last year has been unkind to me. Now touching 45 I’m no longer playing football, not even five-a-side and other than dog walking the only exercise I get these days is a few stretches whilst singing in the shower. My wife keeps telling me I need to join a gym.
I’m frantically shouting to my sat nav, ‘direct me to Rushall Olympic Football Club’ it’s just gone 2:30pm and it’s a 14 minute drive as I aim to get from one game at the Bescot to the next at Dales Lane. Foot down through the roads of Walsall as I finally pull up opposite the Royal Oak on Bosty Lane which is now an Indian Restaurant, I hop out the car and run towards the ground entrance where I ask a steward if my names on the list.
“I’ve just been to the Villa match” I proudly tell him… “I’m knackered, I’ve ran here” as he responds “I hope it was worth it”.
There’s a good fourteen minutes until kick off so I’m quite proud of myself but I’m still out of breath. I’m walking around the ground, taking it slow to catch my second wind as the subs warm up on the playing surface below.
I do usually slightly detest these 4g surfaces but the last time I came here, with Grantham Town in 2013, the pitch was a mud bath, sloped hugely left to right, it’s flattened out somewhat but the ground has kept it’s quirky identity. Nobody ‘back then’ liked coming to Rushall, not many these days would be that keen. The low roofed stand across the length is elevated and has a steep bank below onto the pitch, a stand behind the goal ditto, in fact all sorts of quirky separate standing and seating arrangements are dashed here and there, it’s a bit of non-league football porn as a venue, put together with no thoughts for aesthetics but bustling with testosterone, ad hoc built, bit by bit as and when needed… This once huge sloping ground on a hill now with a flat(ish) synthetic pitch that has one side’s viewing facility much higher than the other, is a throw back place to watch a game of non league soccer. I walk down towards the dugouts opposite the low black roofed standing area that has Rushall Olympic Football Club written across its roof. I’m now standing lower than the playing surface at shin pad level on the concourse down from the home dugout which is on my left, as a guy next to me tells his mate “have you seen that new wooden cabin here? It looks more and more like Center Parcs every time I visit”.
He's on about a glass windowed wooden bar area which is built like a chalet in one of the corners of the ground. It looks to house ‘hospitality’ as there’s tables with people sitting and watching the game behind the windows. To the side of that the players changing rooms are in the same building as the ‘original’ breeze block built clubhouse behind the goal. It’s a real mosh pit of a non league football ground and although not the most pleasing on eye, certainly has lots of character.
The players are out and I’m closest to the action as I’ve been since standing along the touchline for a match last year at Loughborough Dynamo, it’s great to be close up and pitch side in the open air, you can sniff the deep heat and hear every word said on this right hand wing, you really feel part of the game, especially when Rushall's goalkeeper kicks out oh his hands, everytime the ball is launched you feel it's going to hit you.
Chorley in a jade number are having to battle with Rushall in yellow who put the ball on them early doors. It’s all very frantic and fast paced with no room to breathe, a cross is chucked into the back post which is headed home but the Assistant flags for the ball having previously gone out of play. "Are you sure" says one of the Rushall players to the linesman. Chorley centre half Wilson is down receiving treatment after landing funny. Another pet hate of mine on these pitches, no give. His days done, just five minutes played and he’s hobbling off. It’s a significant point of the match which sees the away side midfielder Mike Calveley forced to play at the back.
Calveley is a good tidy number eight but he’s no centre half, he’s tracking back treading rubber as a ball over the top finds Danny Waldron on 38.. The big number nine is running down the wing and is allowed to cut inside before smashing home on a tight angle. The stand in defender is at fault but take nothing away from Waldron who’s run and finish is brilliant.
That goal gets Rushall’s peckers up some more and after Maher is allowed to dribble into the area his low shot is palmed only into the path of Waldron who doubles advantage from close range. The better side two up at the break and flying. Celebrating right in front of us as the club photographer snaps away besides me.
At half time on loan Rushall sub Luther Munakandafa is warming up with a team mate as he talks to him about his parent club Manager Luke Williams at Notts County. “Whats he like” says Jake Gosling a former Bristol Rovers midfielder who has caps for Gibraltar, “I love him” says Munakandafa as the two play keepy-uppy together whilst chatting away... “Do all the lads love him” says Gosling... “Yes”..
I’m trying to listen in for more Notts gossip but the venue announcer is on the PA giving raffle numbers out, the two teams then reappear as the two subs continue their chat as they walk back to the dugouts ahead of the second half. “Notts County are a huge club aren't they” says Gosling.... “Yeah they got over 14,000 to break the National League record last year” replies Munakandafa. “They'll probably go up again” predicts Gosling.
It’s more of the same in the second 45. Rushall by now have Chorley on the ropes and when Maher squares it to Waldron to tap home a third that draws relief in the home team dugout that it’s pretty much match over.
One player who knows this is Mike Calveley who isn’t enjoying his time at centre half. He gets in a mess when trying to play a ball back to his keeper and Waldron nips in, the striker netting his fourth of the game as he beats Urwin comically and passes into an empty net.
There’s even time for a fifth. Munakandafa on as sub by now for his debut getting two bites down the left wing, his deflected cross nestling home with little more than ten to play.
With four goals and a fine centre forward performance Danny Waldron was undoubtedly star of the show. His first goal was brilliant, his second two ever satisfying for a number nine right place right time inside the six yard box which is his domain, he’ll have enjoyed his fourth all be it gifted, it was his dogged persistence that made the opportunity. A tall quick player good with back to goal, a man very much in form at 27 years old.
Making a couple of Waldron’s goals, left winger Ronan Maher was a lively threat off the flank whilst on the opposite side the equally diminutive Callum Coyle was almost as effective with his constant nibbling away. In midfield number eight Alex Moore, nicknames ‘Scholesy’ was spraying the passes around whilst the defence was well marshalled in particular by goalkeeper Jake Weaver who everytime he touched the ball had the crowd singing his name. "Weeeaver".
For Chorley, it couldn’t have been much worse. In the opening 45 I was really impressed with left winger Justin Johnson who had a good battle with Pics right back Kristian Green and even had Alex Fletcher on an early booking after fouling him in the corner. His game fizzled out as goals went in but his technique and pace didn’t go unnoticed. Jack Sampson looked like a neat number nine with good attributes but it really was slim pickings to name another player from Andy Preece’s side who did well.
Anyone can beat anyone in the National League North. No truer description than any league I’ve ever watched football in. Chorley despite defeat sit level on points for a playoff spot whilst that win takes Rushall out of the relegation zone. There was less between the two teams than you might think, just one fancied it much more on the day, the difference often at this level is 'who wants it' and Rushall from the off were a different beast more game, more up for it, more deserving, Chorley meanwhile will cross this off as one to forget.
Rushall Olympic: Jake Weaver, Kristian Green, Lewis Hudson, Alex Fletcher, Jourdain Nkalambi Masidi, Mitchell Clarke, Callum Coyle, Alex Moore (Tom Tanks 83), Danny Waldron (Tyrell Skeen-Hamilton 75), Andre Carvalho-Landell (Luther Munakandafa 77), Ronan Maher.
Chorley: Matthew Urwin, Adam Blakeman, Scott Wilson (Ollie Shenton 6), Mark Ellis, Jack Lewis Moore, Joe Nolan, Mike Calveley, Billy Whitehouse, Justin Johnson, Jack Hazelhurst (Josh Popoola 46), Jack Sampson (David Moyo 75).
3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 21st October 2023, Dales Lane, Rushall (att 350).