Northern Premier League Premier Division – 25th April 2015
Ground #48 – The Weaver Stadium, Nantwich, Cheshire
- Entrance: £10.00; Programme: £2.00
- Chips, pie, peas & gravy: £4.50; Tea: £1.50
- Mug: £6.50; Pin Badge: £3.50
On the previous Thursday to the game it was St. George’s Day, where Englishness and England is celebrated to the full (and should be a bank holiday alongside St. David’s and St. Andrew’s Days). A Welshman like myself would never celebrate such a day, mainly because I have St. David’s Day for that, but I decided that it would be an ideal time to head back into the English league pyramid for a change. I toyed with a couple of possible locations but I opted for the non-league third-tier Northern Premier League Premier Division (or the Evo-Stik North under their sponsorship deal) as their league was coming to a conclusion that Saturday afternoon. One fixture in particular peaked my interest as playoff chasing Ilkeston were heading to a club I had wanted to visit in a while. Therefore it was off over the border into deepest Cheshire and to Nantwich.
Nantwich is a market town in the borough of Cheshire East and the historic county of Cheshire, with a population just under 18,000 people. It is located on the Cheshire Plan and on the banks of the River Weaver which flows through the town. Its location is approximately four miles south-west of Crewe and 20 miles south-east of the county town of Chester. The famous Shropshire Union Canel runs to the west of the town, with the Nantwich Basin proving to be popular mooring spot.
For those readers of a Welsh disposition, you might have noticed that the town as a Welsh-origin name. “Nant” comes from the Welsh for brook/stream, whilst “Wich/Wych” are names used to denote brine springs or wells (although the Welsh called Nantwich “Yr Heledd Wen“). This would tie in with the town’s history as historically Nantwich had been heavily involved in the production of salt, originating since the Roman times when it provided salt to the garrisons at Deva Victrix (Chester) and Stoke-on-Trent. The salt industry peaked in the mid-16th century when there were around 400 salt houses in 1530, but had almost died out by the end of the 18th centry with the last salt house closing in the mid-19th century. With salt being produced, it helped the encouragement of the cheese making and tannery industries, with its salt traditionally used in the production of Cheshire Cheese. It is because of this that the town hosts the International Cheese Awards in July every year.
In addition to the salt production, other significant events to occur in the town was when a majority of the town burnt down in December 1583, whilst a major English Civil War battle occurred when the Parliamentarians broke the Royalist siege in January 1644.
Nantwich Town are the local team of the town and apply their trade in the Northern Premier League Premier Division (now there’s a mouthful) and play at the fantastic Weaver Stadium. The Dabbers (the nickname of the club) were founded in 1884 and have spent nearly all of their history either in the Cheshire Leagues or the North West Counties League. They were founder members of the Cheshire League and played in that league during the interwar period, before joining the Mid Cheshire League after the Second World War. Nantwich rejoined the Cheshire League in 1968 and then became founder members of the North West Counties League in 1982. They stayed in the NWCL system until the 2006-07 season when they were promoted to the NPL Division 1 South, and then gained another promotion the season after up to the NPL Premier Division, where they have played since.
The Dabbers have good cup pedigree, winning the Cheshire Senior Cup on four occasions with the most recent victory coming in the 2011-12 season. However their greatest achievement was their FA Vase victory in the 2005-06 season when they beat Hillingdon Borough 3–1 in the final, which was held at Birmingham City’s St Andrews stadium. Their cup success was built on a solid defence as Nantwich kept a clean sheet in 8 out of 9 ties.
This season Nantwich were having an average season as they were situated in the mid-table of 14th position, however it was an improvement to the previous season where they had finished 19th place. Weirdly they were on fewer points this season (54 points) than their previous season (56 points) but the league is a lot tighter this season with a number of teams within a few points of each other. In the past 5 games prior to this fixture they had won three and lost two, with their previous game resulting in the 1-2 away defeat to Rushall Olympic. However their last home fixture resulted in a 2-1 win over Whitby Town, and considering their season the Dabbers had a superior home record than their ventures away from Nantwich. With not a lot to play for in this game, with 13th position being the best they could achieve from the afternoon, the pressure was off for Nantwich. The same could not be said for this afternoon’s opponents though.
Derbyshire-based Ilkeston F.C. were situated in 5th place in the NPL table and occupying the final playoff spot. However they were under pressure from FA Cup heroes Blyth Spartans, who would overtake the Robins should they better Ilkeston’s result. Therefore it was imperative to Ilkeston that they won or at least equalled what was happening at Croft Park. However their form going into the final round of fixtures was not promotion standard as they had lost three and won three in their last six league games, with their previous game being a heavy 0-3 defeat to playoff rivals Workington A.F.C. Plus with it being Ilkeston manager’s Kevin Wilson’s final match in charge of the Derbyshire club before he leaves in the summer, the pressure was on for them to produce a happy ending and reach the NPL playoffs.
With something to play for in this game, I was excited that we would see a decent finale and not a typical damp squib end of season match. So myself and regular groundhopping accomplice Simon made the near-hour drive eastwards from Holywell to the Weaver Stadium.
The Weaver Stadium is located to the north-west edge of the town, situated in the area between the Shropshire Union Canal to the west and the River Weaver (hence its name) to the east. The ground is newly built and was opened in 2007 to a cost of £4 million, and replaced the Dabbers former ground of Jackson Avenue. The ground can hold a capacity of 3,500 spectators with 300 covered seats available. The ground has two stands with the main stand being the Baker Wynne & Wilson Stand (which I will call ‘the main stand’ for the duration of this blog) located to the south of the pitch, which houses the seats as well as the club shop and bar and food facilities. On the north side is the Whitby Morrison Ice Cream Vans Stand (which I will name ‘the north stand’) which can hold 295 covered standing supporters, and is the home of the more vocal Nantwich support. At either end there is no development other than concreted paths but there is space for the club to develop these areas in the future should they progress upwards.
Simon and myself managed to avoid the A55 traffic successfully and arrived at the ground just before quarter past 2, with the stadium in full view on the left-hand side as you approach on the main road. The weather wasn’t the best considering the week prior has been scorching and warm, with the sky overcast and a cold wind whipping in from the north-west. As you would expect from a newly-built stadium, there were plenty of parking spaces with a load of spaces behind the main stand and another area just outside the ground’s boundaries on the opposite side of the road (and brook running past the ground) leading into the ground. Here the visiting buses could park, and was also used by local shoppers during the week. It would be in this car park where I parked up The 94th Minute Auto as there were plenty of spaces and it would be easier and quicker to leave the ground at full time.
There were signs around the car park suggesting that I had to pay for parking, but on further inspection the parking fees were for the shoppers during the week, with free parking available for all supporters on the Saturday. With that issue solved, it was a short walk over the brook and towards the main stand and into the club shop. The entrance to the club shop can be clearly seen from the car park as the entry is surrounded by a green border and flanked by pictures of a couple of Nantwich players decked out in the home and away kits enticing supporters to buy merchandise. Seeing an opportunity to add to the ever growing football mug collection, I ventured inside to see if they were available.
The club shop is a good size which sells the club’s kits, training kit and merchandise and was really busy when I went inside. In the far corner of the shop was what I was scanning the place for, a Nantwich Town mug for £6.50. It might seem a bit costly but the design is very impressive compared to what I had bought at previous clubs so I didn’t mind too much. There didn’t seem to be any fridge magnets available so I bought myself a pin badge, which were in a tub by the till, for the price of £3.50.
Whilst queuing up to pay for my Nantwich merchandise, the mascots for today’s game were waiting in the shop and looked excited to be venturing out on the pitch by the agitation and noise they were making ha! I paid my money for the items to the shop manager and waited for the change. Whilst the shop manager had the till open, one of the mascots looked over and shouted, “WOW! There’s loads of money in there!!!” Needless to say it made me chuckle out loud. With the newly bought Nantwich branded pottery in my inventory, I made a quick dash back to the car to put the items into it, and then we both headed towards the open turnstyle which was located to the right of the main stand.
Entry cost £10 which I expected for this level of non-league football. Once we got through the turnstyle we bought a programme from the programme stall which was directly in front of the entrance. The programme cost £2 and it was decent value for the money with plenty of information about both teams as well as Nantwich’s season as a whole, with plenty of colour photographs and statistics to keep every groundhopper happy. Rather conveniently the snack bar was next to the programme stall, situated into the side of the main stand. The snack bar had a great selection of hot food including a number of pie varieties which I enjoyed. Having glanced through the menu on the wall, I went for the special ‘Dabber Deal’ of chunky chips and steak pie with mushy peas and gravy (as I was absolutely starving) for the cost of £4.50 = bargain. With Si buying himself a tray of chips for £2.00, we sat down on the benches by the snack bar to enjoy our food.
I have to say the food was brilliant and well worth the money as you got loads of chips for your bucks, plus the pie was top quality. Plus the hot food was especially ideal because as soon as we started to tuck into the bwyd, the weather turned against us with the cold wind whipping up to winter levels and the rain was coming down heavily. Cue the strange sight of two lads from North Wales wolfing down gravy drizzled chips in the rain – I suppose it’s the classic British seaside holiday scenario ha!
If you thought that was an odd sight, the away fans had arrived in full force and dressed as various characters. Considering the weather some of the fancy dress costumes on show certainly trumped our chip devouring oddness. As with modern tradition for the final game of the season, the Ilkeston fans had arrived at the Weaver Stadium in fancy dress hoping to enjoy the conclusion to a gruelling but potentially successful season. There were plenty of costumes on show with a Crayola, Pinhead from Hellraiser, Sloth from the Goonies and others making the trip to rainy Cheshire. My full respect goes to the man who had arrived in sombrero, sunglasses, t-shirt and Bermuda shorts, he must have been absolutely freezing!!
Once the food has been quickly consumed in the cold April rain (not quite the Guns N’ Roses hit and with no guitar solo – plus it’s at this point when I realised I might have a groundhopping addiction…), I bought two teas for us both to help wash the food down and we ventured into the relative sheltered comfort of the main stand to sit down. However once we got there, and I took a few pictures, we decided it would be better to walk across to the opposite stand and watch the game from there. As the cold win was directly blowing into our faces and it would more comfortable to be standing in the wind shelter of the North Stand, plus we would be nearer to the action.
Initially we stood at the east end of the stand as it was empty but it soon filled up with fancy-dress clad (and some half-cut) Ilkeston fans. As the away fans enveloped our position and started to sing their songs about outgoing manager Kevin Wilson, we thought it might be best if we headed to the other end of the stand where it was less packed and get better photos ha.
As soon as we moved to the other side of the stand, both teams filed out onto the pitch in preparation for the game. Once the pre-match formalities had been completed, there was a minute’s silence in memory of the 56 supporters who had died in the horrendous Valley Parade fire that occurred 30 years that weekend. The minute’s silence was impeccably respected by all the supporters there remembering those who never came back from watching a football match. With the minute completed, it was time for the game with the Ilkeston fans initially making the most noise and eager for their team to secure a playoff spot. The referee blew his whistle and Nantwich’s final game of the 2014-15 season began!
Nantwich Town were in their home kit of all green, whilst Ilkeston were in their home strip of scarlet and blood red hooped shirts, white shorts and blood red socks.
The Ilkeston fans were very vocal from the start and they would be cheering loudly within the first couple of minutes of the game as the Robins started off the brighter. Within the first minute James Reid broke towards the area but was brought down in a clumsy challenge just outside the penalty area. He then stepped up and whipped the free kick past the Nantwich wall into the corner of Terry Smith’s goal to give the visitors the lead after just two minutes played.
Nantwich Town 0 – 1 Ilkeston FC
The early goal gave the Robins the start they craved and put strengthened their position for both the game and for the race for the play offs. It also threw the Dabbers plans into completely disarray as they now had to go onto the attack to quickly reduce their arrears at the soonest opportunity. However the home side almost found themselves two goals down on five minutes when Rob Duffy had time to get a shot on the Dabbers goal after an overhit cross was recycled back into the box. Alas for the visiting fans, Duffy saw his shot deflected wide for a corner and the chance was gone.
After the initial shock of Ilkeston’s early goal, Nantwich composed themselves and started to play their way into the match, and had their first shot on goal after 10 minutes from Nicky Platt. It looked as if he was going to level things up with the Dabbers first chance on goal but the Robins defender on the line managed to deflect the shot off the line. Nantwich were starting to see opportunities early in the game and eventually their pressure would pay off when they found an equaliser after 15 minutes. A through ball from midfield found former Northern Ireland international Steve Jones, who jinked past Jordan Smith to draw the Dabbers level.
Nantwich Town 1 – 1 Ilkeston FC
Just as with Ilkeston’s opening goal, Nantwich could have scored a second goal straight after they opened their account on the afternoon. Once again Steve Jones had a great chance on goal but an excellent save from Ilkeston’s keeper Jordan Smith ensured the score stayed level.
Worried that the game was starting to get away from them, the visitors went on the attack looking for a second goal and stop any nerves being frayed from all those involved in the Derbyshire team. Firstly Eli Bako’s half chance was successfully cut out by Nantwich’s defender Ben Harrison, and then their keeper Terry Smith managed to get safe hands on Akil Wright’s powerful shot from outside the area. The Dabbers defender and keeper combo was starting to ruin the Robins’ playoff bid! However the visitors did possess a majority of the ball possession during the first half.
With Ilkeston pushing men forward looking for a decisive second goal, it allowed Nantwich to catch them out on certain occasions. Firstly PJ Hudson saw his chance headed straight in Smith’s direction, whilst Harry Clayton saw his penalty shout fall on deaf ears from the official after he was seemingly brought down in the box. Steve Jones saw his effort easily saved by Smith whilst Nicky Platt almost made it 2-1 just before the half-time interval but Jones hit his cross beyond the former Salford City player.
Just as the first half was coming to a close, the PA came on the tannoy hoping to announce any additional minutes declared by the officials but it ended up being quite a humorous moment:
“The officials are indicating…”
“..ha that it’s half time!”
It was a good first half with both teams looking like they could score again, with Ilkeston having a slight superiority in possession but Nantwich having the better chances. There were some interesting chants from both sides aimed towards their opposing fans. Ilkeston were loud and made a good atmosphere in their section of the North Stand whilst the Nantwich fans became increasing vocal throughout the first half. One harsh Nantwich chant towards the visiting fans was “Your club’s in debt, so change you name…” – a reference to Ilkeston being a phoenix club to the former Ilkeston Town who were liquidated by the courts in 2009 after owing £150,000 to the Inland Revenue. I did see a couple of occasions were tempers flared up between the opposing fans but thankfully the stewards were on hand to it stamp out quickly and calm things down.
HALF TIME: NANTWICH TOWN 1 – 1 ILKESTON FC
During the half-time period, the results of the other football games going on in the league were read out. Rather happily for the visiting, fancy-dress wearing fans, they found out that Blyth Spartans were losing 0-2 at home to Marine meaning that any result at Weaver Stadium would be enough for them if the Blyth result stayed the same. This cheered them up as they walked around to the snack bar although I am sure they kept one eye on events going on at Croft Park throughout the second half.
Myself and Si didn’t move from our position during the interval, with Si spending his time checking up on the Premier League results and replying back to his other half, whilst I spent my time sending pics on Whatsapp and Snapchat of the stadium and my fetching flat cap ha! Remember #NoFlatCapNoParty! J
The second half started at the same pace as the first half with both teams looking to take the lead and score the afternoon’s third goal. Ilkeston’s James Reid almost secured his side’s playoff chances when he came close to scoring from a set piece, but could only see his direct effort curl wide of the post.
With the result that Blyth were still losing to relegation threatened side Marine, the tempo of the game started to falter. Ilkeston were more eager to not concede any further and seemed happy for the draw as they didn’t want to commit as eager as before. With the visitors settling for the result for the time being, this promoted the home side’s resolve as they went looking for a second goal and a happy end to the season.
Steve Jones, alongside PJ Hudson, was causing huge problems for the Robins defence as he was becoming more influential in the Nantwich attacks as a result of Ilkeston settling down. He managed to win a corner for his team when he played through by Hudson but Jordan Smith managed to put the ball out of play. From the resulting corner, he almost managed to score from a goalmouth scramble but hit his shot at the keeper
The Dabbers stepped up their pressure on the Ilkeston defence in the final 20 minutes as the momentum was fully in their favour. On loan midfielder Sean Cooke, who was playing in his final match in his spell away from AFC Telford United, almost broke the deadlock when he struck a venomous free kick from about 30 yards out which was on target. It forced Smith to have to deal with the effort by punching the ball clear of the goal. The home side had another chance to score when substitute Liam Shotton connected on the end of a cross into the danger area. Unfortunately for the former Leek player, his shot deflected off Jones and looped up for the Robins keeper to easily claim, despite fellow substitute Brandon Mighten lurking with intent and ready to pounce had Smith fumbled his catch.
The Ilkeston defence stayed resolute despite the constant pressure although they were aided by Nantwich’s failure to convert their chances in front of goal. Firstly Jones was guilty of spurning yet another chance when he managed to fire his shot wide of goal. Then Mighten had a great chance to open his account when he forced Smith into making a superb save, and keeping the status quo in the scoreline. Towards the final few minutes of the game, the home side had a couple more corners that they could manipulate to force a winner but the Robins were able to successfully clear their lines at every opportunity.
With Nantwich pushing for the winner, they almost found themselves caught out by a crafty counter by the playoff chasing Robins. Reid looked to finish the game how he had started it and bookend the game nicely with a late winner, but Smith was equal to his chance and made a splendid save to keep things level right at the death.
It would prove to be the final chance of the game as the full time whistle was soon blown by the official a short time afterwards to end the contest and Nantwich’s season.
FULL TIME: NANTWICH TOWN 1 – 1 ILKESTON FC
With both teams’ players shaking hands with each other, it became a nervous wait for the visiting team and fans wondering if they had secured that final spot in the NPL playoffs. Their wait would be put at an end as the result was announced over the PA system that Blyth had lost 1-2 to Marine confirming Ilkeston’s place in the playoffs, where they would be playing the league runners-up Workington AFC. Cue celebrations from both sets of supporters – Nantwich happy their decent season had come to an end and Ilkeston’s season set to continue for at least another match. At the end of the game both teams came over to our stand to show their appreciation for their constant support all season and applauded their most partisan fans in the North Stand.
It was a good point to end our visit of Weaver Stadium and the pair of us made the walk back to the car whilst the players were applauding their supporters whilst being hailed as heroes from their fans. A great sight to see at the end of a gruelling season and I was happy that both teams were content with the draw in the end!
Overall it was a decent game with Nantwich unlucky not to win the match in the end considering the number of chances they had. However the result at Blyth certainly had an impact to Ilkeston’s efforts and had the Spartans been winning their tie, then I am confident the Robins would have given a completely different level of effort in the second half. All in all, Ilkeston did just enough to get over the line and came away from Cheshire with no injuries or suspensions for the playoff semi-final game.
Finally the Weaver Stadium was a really impressive stadium to visit and I would highly recommend coming on a visit as the views from both stands were excellent and the place had a good atmosphere. If nothing else, come for the chip-pie-peas-gravy combo deal!! It certainly had the aura of a club that are looking to the future and pushing onto higher goals in the years ahead. Plus the stewards we came into contact with were really helpful and friendly and made us pair of groundhoppers feel welcome. The Ilkeston fans also added to the day, and their array of fancy dress costumes and chants certainly added to the spectacle and they should be commended for their efforts!
I would like to wish both teams all the very best for next season, and pass on good fortune to Ilkeston in the playoffs this season. Any team who suffers the pain of liquidation deserves some decent luck and I wish them all the best in their hunt for promotion!