Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Bewitched By Nantwich

This is the Weaver Stadium, home of Nantwich Town FC.

Sheffield Of Derbyshire

On Saturday I had a fine day at Nantwich near Crewe. Although I was with fellow Labour Party activists Janet and Dave, we did not go to canvas for the Bye-election which has arisen because of the sad death of Gwyneth Dunwoody. We went to a football match instead. Our local team is the "Derbyshire-based, Sheffield FC", who were in a play-off with Nantwich Town to see who would be promoted to the Unibond Premier League.

Non-League Millionaires

Nantwich have an impressive new ground, which they moved to at the start of the season. It cost £4 million. They were assisted by a grant of over a million from the Football Foundation and sold their old ground for a housing development. I assume that Barratt's were the purchasers as they now sponsor Nantwich Town.

The ground is fronted by a huge car park, has a stand which seats some 400 and has all sorts of impressive mod-cons. The crowd of 1,342 was a record for the season. Although their post-war record is 1,536 last season when they were visited by the well-supported FC United of Manchester.

After travelling to Nantwich on a pleasant sunny day through captivating Derbyshire and Cheshire countryside, we had a pleasant pub-lunch and saw a chunk of the Manchester United - West Ham game on a large screen.

A One-Sided Draw

At the Nantwich ground in the blazing sun and with a refreshing breeze, we found a vantage point opposite one of the penalty spots. Unfortunately, much of the game was dominated by the home team. I gave my excuses to the locals. This was our 20th game in 8 weeks and some of our key players were out through injury. So it was no surprise when Nantwich took the lead just after the half-hour. Yet when we moved into first-half added time, Smudge (Paul Smith) produced one of his magical free-kicks to put us on level-terms. A pile of home supporters had by then made it into the club-bar, ensuring that the rest of us would be left outside. So Smudges curler was poetic justice.

Nantwich's continued domination put them back in the lead after 71 Minutes. But thanks to heroic work by both our goalkeeper (Jamie Holmshaw) and the woodwork, our hopes were still alive when 5 minutes added-time was announced after the 90 Minutes. Robert Ward our normal striker, had been drafted into central defence due to our injury crisis. He had played a solid game. But with the announcement that the game was approaching closure, he threw caution to the wind and rushed up the field and headed an equaliser. That put us into extra-time.

Paying The Penalty

Nantwich's spirits at last dipped and Sheffield did more attacking in extra-time than in the rest of the game put together. But an unlikely victory wasn't to be ours. It was 2-2 after extra-time and we were into the penalty shoot out, which occurred from the penalty spot opposite us. Yet the result had an inevitability about it. In cup games this season Nantwich had already won 3 penalty shoot outs. They now added their fourth, winning 4-1 from the spot.

So whilst the home supporters stayed behind to celebrate, we made an early break for the car-park. All the apprehension had been thirsty work so we stopped off for a pub-break. Now we watched most of the second-half of Bolton against my team Sunderland on the big screen, with the Mackem's losing 2-0.

Things Can Only Get Better

But the beauty of football is that it can always be better next time. So I am lined up for a visit to Hillsborough on Thursday when Sheffield FC play Worksop Town in a cup final. Then its on to the Stadium of Light next Sunday to see Sunderland change its fate against a top team. So far this season we have lost all the 9 games we have played against the top 5 teams. The 10th match is against the Arsenal. Smudge, Ward, Holmshaw and the woodwork have shown that anything is possible outside of a penalty shoot-out.

Added Here is a link to a report with photos. If you then click onto the photo of the penalty to bring up its large version and trawl to the right, then from right to left the last three people are Janet, Dave and me - honest.

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