Worcester City 0 Nuneaton Town 1
Sunday 18th October 2015, National League North
Day two of the West Midlands double header didn't get off to the best of starts when Daz's new kitten Oscar decided to hide his wallet down the back of the sofa during the night. The 20 minute hunt that followed, mixed with some hefty M6 traffic meant that I walked through the turnstile at Aggborough with two minutes to spare before kick-off. If I wasn't in such a rush, I might have noticed that parking at the ground itself cost a mere £1, rather than the £2 I was charged to park near a pre-school much further away by man who on reflection may have just been some guy in a high-viz rather than a steward.
Worcester City, like most of the clubs featured on this blog come to think of it, have fallen on tough times in the last few years. On the plus side results have held up and they continue to play in the sixth tier, their highest ever position. This is thanks in no small part to a reprieve they received in 2010 due to a number of clubs going bust. On the negative side they no longer play games at their original home St George's Lane in Worcester. Instead fans must now travel 15 miles to the nearby town of Kidderminster to the home of Kiderminster Harriers, Aggborough.
How did they lose their home you ask? The club sold it in 2013 to a housing developer in order to fund the building of a brand new 6000 capacity stadium. Which sounds great but they sold it for less than their project ended up requiring. Ouch.
Despite this setback, Worcester have been having a lot of success in the FA cup of late, making it to the 2nd round last season, beating Coventry at the Ricoh in the process and only going out after a replay against Scunthorpe 14-13 (!) on penalties. At the time of writing Worcester have beaten national league Gateshead away to qualify for the first round for the current season. A doff of the PB cap to them.
Nuneaton Town are a club I'm more familiar with after Bristol Rovers met them last season in the conference and recorded two convincing wins in a season that would see Nuneaton relegated. They've existed in three incarnations, for a while going by the name Nuneaton Borough. Conference National is the highest they've ever played but they did beat Stoke City in the 2000-01 FA cup.
Having to groundshare in a different city can never be too fun but all things considered I don't think I'd feel too hard done by if I were a Worcester supporter by coming to Aggborough every other week. I wish I'd bothered with more away trips with Rovers last season so I could have seen it sooner.
I'd describe it as the (in my world at least) the ideal lower-league ground: close to the action, a terrace behind each goal (there should always be at least one terrace behind a goal) and a large seated stand with the team name spelled with seats (always love that). The ground was only about a quarter full so we could have sat anywhere but we went for some front row seats on the stand in front of the clubhouse for easy half-time access.
We had to dip into the clubhouse straight away to get programmes and a scarf. I had to pry myself away from a man selling historical programmes and badges because I only had enough on me for a scarf and lunch. The kindly old lady who sold it to me joked about how I would need it to get on the coach to Gateshead next week an 8-hour round trip. Don't tempt me madam. The clubhouse was as nice a place to be, despite the swarm of kids running between their anxious pint-carrying elders and offered excellent pitch-side views for the chilly/hopeless alcoholic punter. The first obligatory quirky non-league feature presented itself in the form of this trophy shelf, which was at least a head taller than Daz and I rendering it's contents unreadable. Perhaps Kiddie and Worcester aren't too proud of their silverware to date.
|There's a Champions League medal in there somewhere I'm sure of it...|
Back out in the stands, I noticed something I'd never seen at football before. Between the pitch-side and in programme advertisements for pies and boiler servicing there appeared to be a political throw-down going on between the local Liberal Democrats, UKIP and Conservative parties:
I know politics and football have been bedfellows throughout history but this was a funny little window into solidly Conservative rural Worcestershire. Maybe in the Harriers' heyday ultras carried banners demanding the downfall of modern football and the immediate cutting of the deficit and the public sector but I digress...
A surprising number of household names have washed up in the ranks of Worcester and Nuneaton, including Pompey, Wednesday and Derby mainstay Deon Burton, former Hammers and Forest star and petite-Heskey Marlon Harewood and Lee Hughes, who has come full circle since leaving the criminal line-up at Forest Green Rovers returning to where he began his career with Kidderminster.
|The big man|
The first half passed by without much to excite, no one looked like scoring but at least it was nice and open. The only thing I can remember is some woeful crossing from Nuneaton, who narrowly had the better of the attacking chances.
Half-time provided me with an opportunity to try one of the much-vaunted Aggborough pies and my stake and kidney with actual puff pasty lid (!) kept me happily distracted throughout the first ten minutes of the second half.
Luckily I'd just about finished munching away in time to catch the main entertainment of the afternoon, namely: the worst fucking refereeing I've seen in my short groundhopping career.
Worcester captain Ellis Deeney gave away a free kick on the edge of the box in the 56th minute, which to me looked very suspect but that's unprovable either way now. The ref took his time about booking Deeney and forced the Worcester wall back a number of times, all the while being unaware of Nuneaton placing the ball yards back from where the foul took place. While the ref was stood in front of the wall, the shot, which was taken without a whistle being blown, hit a Worcester player's arm resulting in a penalty which Nuneaton scored.
As if that wasn't enough, Deon Burton was booked after complaining about the lack of action taken by the ref after Daniel Nti was pushed off the ball, which everyone in the stadium witnessed except from, it would seem, the officials. Finally Sean Geddes was shown a straight red for dissent just to top off Worcester's afternoon.
I've got to say seeing a referee just completely lose control of a game from a neutral point of view is actually quite fun. The ref, who I shall now name and shame as Darren Strain continued to infuriate the Worcester players by refusing to let them take any of their own free-kicks quickly. One that was in a particularly decent attacking position was de-fanged spectacularly by ol' Dazza blowing the whistle several times before the home team could take advantage of the situation, which ultimately came to nothing as the Nuneaton goalkeeper gathered it up. During this exchange Alex Gudger slipped over in the box; or possibly dived judging by the reaction of Jordan Keane, a Nuneaton defender who was in his face seconds later, resulting in him being sent-off. As the ball was still in-play at the time of this sending-off, the City players appealed for a penalty, which wasn't given. Nuneaton had a player sent off the pitch for a foul in the box which didn't result in a penalty. Darren, take a fucking bow my son for you are a troll of galactic proportions.
|There's a man in there somewhere who just wants it all to end.|
Staggeringly, most Worcester fans remained fairly placid throughout this whole ordeal with comments such as: "Well, it's only a game at the end of the day..." and "He [Strain] was quite good in the first half..." which I overheard, open-mouthed.
One man who was getting upset was a large bloke sat behind us who was throwing out every clichéd nugget of ref abuse he could think of as loud as he could, until he was told to calm down by an old lady.
With only ten minutes remaining, both teams were throwing everything they had for a share of the points. Marlon Harewood came on for Nuneaton to waddle around looking lost for the duration; to my delight performing the touch ground, make cross on chest and kiss hand thing as he did. You can take the player out of the EPL...
Right at the death the Worcester keeper came up for a corner and his head managed to connect with it for an easy catch for the opposition goalie. Which was a shame as I was on my feet and right behind the home team by this point.
At the end of the game, the crowd gathered by the dressing rooms to clap Worcester off, this turned into a delightful North Korean-style mass booing of the ref, who if he'd had any sense would've sprinted right off.
I felt bad for Worcester but to be honest they never looked like scoring, in this round of shithouses vs. donkeys, the shithouses came out on top but that's National League North for you: just terrible refs, amazing pie and super Marlon Harewood.