This is the Coach and Horses pub at Dronfield. If you are 71 years old and use a walking stick, it is 15 minutes walk from my home. The pub is owned by Sheffield FC, the oldest football club in the world. It is next to the Club ground which also used to be called the Coach and Horses, but in these days of sponsorship has been renamed the Bright Finance stadium. It is commonly known as the Stadium of Bright, which appeals to me as a Sunderland supporter.
At Sheffield FC home games the crowd are encouraged to patronise the pub at half time and after the game. I need no prompting. You aren't of course able to bring beer back into the ground with you, except in your bladder.
On match day, I need to leave home 40 minutes before the kick-off to give me time for a pre-match pint. This is then supplemented at half-time and sometimes at full-time. I am, however, happy to forgo my third pint if Tom is present and offers me a lift back up the bank. For it is tough walking back up hill and it gets me back home in time for the announcement of the Premiership results.
The Coach and Horses is a fine refurbished (but unspoilt) pub, which serves five fine Thornbridge Cask Ales drawn from its total of seven possibles. I have learnt from experience that it is a mistake to have a full three pints over the period of my football visits if they are serving my favourite, St. Petersberg. It is potent and makes the walk back up the hill more of a problem than usual.
There is then the difficulty of judging when to dash for the pub at half-time. For I neither wish to miss the football, nor get to the back of a huge queue. So this involves a delicate judgement based on the estimated size of the crowd, on when to commence my mad dash for the gate propelled by my walking stick.
The attraction of the Coach and Horses is that it is entirely unlike being at the bar at a League Club, as it does not serve unknown beer from a transparent plastic container.
There is a fine article in the current issue of "Dronfield Miscellany" (Issue Number 14, Autumn/Winter 2007, £2.50 from the Old Dronfield Society) entitled "Sheffield Football Club (1857-2007) and the Coach and Horses" which was written with the help of the late and great Derek Dooley and Dave Wickens. The author Denis Clarebrough states -
"The ground became the home of Norton Woodseats FC, a leading Sheffield amateur club in the early 1930's. Their finest season came in 1939 when they reached the semi-final of the Amateur Cup, losing by a single goal to Willington, a team from County Durham. The name of the club was changed from 1884 to 1991 to Dronfield United but, unable to meet the rising rent required by the brewery company (Whitbread) who owned the ground, the Norton Woodseats club folded at the end of the 1993-94 season. The Sheffield Club took over the lease and it became their ground and they have since taken over the ownership of the Coach and Horses."
On April 24th Denis is due to address the Old Dronfield Society on "Sport In Dronfield" following the Society's AGM at the Peel Centre, High Street, Dronfield. It costs £1 for non-members to attend his talk. As the centre is only about 300 yards from my home I hope to attend. Luckily it does not clash with a Sheffield FC game. They are due to play Spalding Town at home the evening before.
Four Match Reports Rolled Into One
I have failed to report on the last four games I have attended. I will, therefore, give a synoptic coverage of the lot. If you are crying out for the details of Vill Powell's two fine goals against Carlton Town (or similar classic events), then you need to turn to the Club's Web-Site.
All four games have been closely fought. Two were 3-2 victories and the other two were draws. The pattern of play in each, was similar. The first half tended to belong to the opposition, then Sheffield FC moved in to take an increasing control of the game.
Crowd sizes (and hence my half-time estimate of when to dash to the pub) have varied considerably. 580 turned up for the visit of League leaders Retford United, whilst only 106 made it to a mid-week cup game against Brodworth Welfare.
The status of the opposition has mattered much less then I would have anticipated. Whilst high flyers Retford United were tough opposition, it was Sheffield FC who were looking for the winner near the close of a 1-1 draw. Yet in the cup game, Brodworth Welfare who are in the bottom half of the League below us were a tough nut to crack. We eventually ran out 3-2 winners, only after making three substitutions on the hour.
In fact I am increasingly of the opinion that in the third, fourth and fifth Steps of the Non-League Pyramid there is more disparity inside each League than there is in the general standards between these Steps. Retford United were promoted as League champions last season and are again top in their Unibond Division. We came up in second place and (with games in hand) can now finish third or so. And when we have played teams in the Step above us in cup games, we have never been outclassed.
Like Brodworth, Carlton Town lost 3-2. But they were full of impressive running and only tired towards the end. Yet they had a perfectly good goal unrecognised when it came back into play after scrambling over the goal line. It took those two fine second half strikes from Vill Powell to sink them - although they came back with a shot that equalled Vill's.
In each of the games against Brodworth and Retford play was held up for 20 Minutes. Against Brodworth it was due to a floodlight failure and as it was a cup game we also had the prospect of extra time and a penalty shoot out. Luckily we didn't need these and got home well before midnight.
The hold up at the Retford game was towards the end of an exciting match, when their striker was seriously injured in a freak accident. He was eventually stretchered off and taken to hospital. Luckily he was realised that evening.
One of the people who dashed onto the pitch to help was a "Street Doctor". He had earlier appeared in the crowd being sponsored and filmed by the BBC. At least it gave him a mission. I don't think he picked up much trade in the crowd. In fact, Tom's response (well before things turned serious with the accident on the field) was "Oh! If you are a Street Doctor you are just the man. I need the pot-holes mending in our street." Well, anything seems funny after a pint of St. Peterberg.