Another Disrupted Weekend
Another weekend, another day of strikes by the train workers.
Now we also have the Felixstowe port workers, barristers, and postal workers joining in on the ‘fun’. It does feel like we could well be heading towards the first General Strike in the UK since 3rd May 1926.
Let’s hope we can get some order restored and workers get to see a fair pay rise to help with the soaring cost of living that is hitting us all hard.
This was a special weekend for me, as I was going ‘home’ to see my family for the first time in quite a while.
Despite the travel chaos, we had a smooth-ish journey down to my home county of Staffordshire on Friday, sandwiched between two strike days. We managed to grab two seats on the train from Durham, which became standing room only before it left the station.
After catching our connecting train from Derby, we were off the train in Uttoxeter by 13:10 to be met by my son. We lasted a record time of two minutes 13 seconds before our first disagreement about what time to meet in the pub later that day (I jest… sort of.)
My mother’s house would be our base for the next three days and it was great to see everyone again.
Friday afternoon/evening was spent in the Old Talbot pub in Uttoxeter market place and pretty soon my son and I were singing Steel Panther’s ‘Community Property’ and a terrible rendition of Sweet Caroline on the Karaoke. Mrs Hopper also got a valuable reminder not to leave her phone lying around as she later found these photo’s on it…
With Day One in the can, we can focus on the reason you are reading this article, our trip to Leek to watch an FA Cup Preliminary Round game between Leek Town and Atherstone town.
Leek – Pre-Game
Saturday morning and it’s game day, my favourite time of the week!
We caught the Hanley bus from Uttoxeter, got off at Cellarhead crossroads, and from there caught a bus into Leek.
Strangely, despite living in Staffordshire for almost all of my life, I had never visited Harrison Park, home of Leek Town. I’m glad to say I have now put that right because Leek is a fabulous place in the heart of the beautiful Staffordshire Moorlands. Great pubs, quirky shops, and friendly folks abound.
We walked a very short distance from where the bus dropped us off, into The Spout which has a great 4.8 rating on Google. It has more of a cafe/bistro feel about it than a traditional pub but apart from that, the food and beer we ordered lived up to the Google billing.
I ordered a Big B.E.R.T, which was basically a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with a couple of eggs on too, in toasted sourdough bread. Mrs Hopper had a B.R.U.C.E. (avocado, parmesan, eggs, chilli oil and roast tomato). Both were excellent and washed down with a Pilsner for me and an IPA for Mrs Hopper.
I’d be happy to recommend The Spout to anyone who is looking for good drinks and food in a non-traditional pub setting.
From here we took a leisurely stroll in the vague direction of the ground and came across a wondrous place tucked between antique shops, pet supplies and kitchen utensil shops. This was something that looked like it would be far more at home in Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
A very unassuming black-painted facade led into a place that felt more like an attraction under the Madame Tussauds banner, than a Staffordshire Moorlands shop.
Inside Raven Black House, is a treasure trove of mystical items and exhibits. Ouija boards, dolls with pentagrams on their foreheads, crystals, pendants, dragon skulls, gemstones and so much more but what really makes it special, is the atmosphere. It is dark, lit mostly by candles and small lights and music plays from speakers in the same style that you get in horror films or games. As you wander around, you wonder what the next room will hold.
Down some narrow stairs, there are more items for sale along with tanks containing large spiders and small snakes. The owners also do paranormal investigations, give tarot readings, reiki healing etc.
Now, I’m not a believer in anything of that nature but I do believe in supporting small businesses that offer such a unique place for people to discover and for this reason we bought a goats head, pentagram candlestick made from resin. We hope our small contribution helped and we left feeling that we had experienced something completely weird and different, with a smile on our faces.
We were already big fans of Leek by this point.
Leek Town – The Stadium
We continued our walk and were pretty soon on Macclesfield Road, where stands Harrison Park.
We started by walking to the left of the stadium, past a faded and worn turnstile area that seems to once have been designated for away fans. As far as I’m aware, everyone now enters the ground from the other side of the stadium and these turnstiles seem to be unused.
Further up this side street, you can get a decent view inside the stadium and I also noticed there were a couple of people taking advantage of this free viewing point during the game later on.
We tried to walk further around the ground but the area behind the trees that stand at the back of the goal is a dead end, so we walked back the way we had come and around to the other side of the ground. A couple of security men at the gate asked if they could check our bags and I joked that all we had was a goat’s head Wiccan candlestick and a couple of ceremonial daggers.
They laughed and waved us on our way and I still don’t think they believed I was actually telling the truth (not about the daggers, obviously!)
We showed the digital tickets that I had purchased while still on the bus to Leek via their online ticketing service (£10.00 per adult) and walked into Harrison Park.
That was when we realised the programmes were outside, where the security guards had been and we managed to buy one through the gate priced at £2.00. Unfortunately, there were no pin badges available, either at the ground or on the website, but I have since managed to purchase one on eBay for £2.50.
To the left of us lay the main stand that runs around half the length of the pitch, beyond this are the snack areas, social club bar and toilet facilities. To our right, behind the goal, lay a low-roofed terrace, which was mirrored at the Macclesfield Road end. Opposite the main stand is another low terrace that is partially covered on the far side of the halfway line. Presumably, this area would have once been the away end as it is the area where the old turnstiles lead into (The Grace Street Paddock).
Overall, Harrison Park has a great old-school feel about it, terraced on three sides plus below the seats in the main stand. The playing surface is another example of the growing trend (particularly in Scotland) of 3g artificial surfaces. There are also blue markings on the pitch that look as if they could mark out three separate five-a-side pitches for training, or maybe hired out to the local community.
In the research I did for my FC Edinburgh write-up, I did find an article about the potential harm that 3g pitches can or may cause and it would be remiss of me not to say the same thing here because, during the course of the game, I saw the same black rubber crumbs spraying up off the surface that I had first noticed at Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh.
Read this article and decide for yourselves.
There were a good number of Atherstone Town fans in attendance among the 355-strong crowd and quite a few of them were taking advantage of the social club bar while the players were warming up on the pitch.
Leek Town – Stadium Gallery
Leek Town – Pre-Game Video of Harrison Park
Leek Town – View from the Main Stand Plus Kick-Off
Leek Town – The Game
Having decided we would watch the game from the main stand, we made our way to our seats and settled down to watch the game.
Coming into the tie, Atherstone Town sits in the Midland League Premier Division. Ironically, the same division as my home town team of Uttoxeter Town! This is level nine of the football pyramid system.
Leek Town meanwhile, are in the Northern Premier League Division One East, or level eight of the football pyramid. This made Leek the favourites going into the game, especially with the home advantage.
The game started according to plan, with Leek looking like the livelier team and dominating the early possession. Indeed, they almost took the lead when a header from a free-kick flashed just wide of the post. However, this is football and as we all know it is a very unpredictable and fickle lover.
In the 13th minute, it was Atherstone who took the lead on the counter-attack. The ball was switched from the left flank to the right side of the box and when the subsequent cross was put in, Josh Beeson powered a header into the roof of the net. The goal was met by surprisingly loud cheers and this was when I realised that the away support may just outweigh the home support inside the ground, or maybe they were just a lot noisier…
0-1 Atherstone Town!
The second goal, in the 23rd minute, was a direct result of some calamitous defending as Leek’s defenders gave the ball to the opposition three times in quick succession, the third time resulting in a nice finish from the edge of the box by Ryan Quinn.
0-2 Atherstone Town!
The third came just ten minutes later, in the 33rd minute as a series of corners for the visitors culminated in a flicked header falling to the feet of Mitch Piggon. Piggon drilled his shot into the same corner as the second goal, this time from just inside the penalty box.
0-3 Atherstone Town!
Things didn’t get any better for Leek as the half wore to a close and Atherstone got their fourth just a minute later, with yet more calamity defending from the home team. The ball was played in front of the three onrushing players in the penalty area, two defenders and Chris Cowley of Atherstone. The two Leek players collided with each other and left Cowley with the simple task of pivoting on the spot and lashing the ball home.
0-4 Atherstone Town!
Leek Town momentarily had hope when they managed to scramble the ball into the net, only for the linesman to dash their hopes with his raised flag. The home side also hit the bar with a header before the whistle, but the half came to a conclusion with the lower league team firmly in command and a four-goal cushion that they must have only dreamt of the night before.
Leek were much improved in the second half but it was too little, too late to salvage their hopes of a cup run. Indeed, Atherstone made it five in the 76th minute when Mitch Piggon bagged his second of the game after a cross-field pass found him at the left-hand side of the penalty box. More lacklustre defending allowed him the freedom to close in on goal and fire his shot into the roof of the net.
0-5 Atherstone Town!
Leek finally found the back of the net in the 78th minute after some nice work down the right-hand side by Lucas Baker, who jinked past the defender to reach the by-line and put a low ball across the box where Will Saxon slotted it home.
1-5 Atherstone Town!
By this stage, the goal was about as useful as a chocolate kettle but it did at least raise a cheer from the home faithful who had hung around to see it. It was the last serious action of the game.
For those of you that would like to read a full match report, you can do so here.
Attendance – 355
Entrance Fee – £10.00
Programme – £2.00
Leek Town – Match Highlights
Leek Town – After the Game
Despite me secretly wanting Leek to win this game, as a ‘neutral’ I had been entertained for the majority of the 90 minutes and my cap is doffed to the players, staff and supporters of Atherstone Town, who came, saw and conquered. I hope they get a big money tie at some stage of their cup run. They deserve it after this performance.
We followed the crowd out of Harrison Park and made our way up the long, steep hill back into Leek town centre to catch our bus home. The journey went pretty smoothly and we were back home at my mother’s house before too long.
Leek Town is a place I would definitely recommend to any Hoppers who haven’t been yet and if you do make the trip, be sure to take in some of the fabulous pubs in the town and check out that Wiccan shop!
Apologies to those who have been waiting for this article to be published. As well as not getting home until Tuesday, I also had work to catch up with, which made my writing take a back seat until now.
Next week, we are hoping to get back over the border and into beautiful Scotland once more…
Onto the next!