Stamford are moving at the end of the season, meaning that I needed to get to the ground or forever live with the fact that I missed out on yet another traditional setting for football. I had been begging both Joe and Aaron to drive me there for a match all season, but both were reluctant to travel that far. A quick look on National Rail’s website showed that it would be £65 return on the train, and that had practically priced me out of a trip to Lincolnshire.
The weeks passed by, and still I had no idea if I would ever be able to visit Wothorpe Road. That was until another look at the fixtures revealed that they would be hosting FC United in a weeks time. I wasn’t working, so it was perfect. All I needed to do now was to find someone nice enough to either let me have a seat in their car, or I had to see if I could get on to an FC United supporters coach.
I posted on the Northern Premier League Facebook Group begging for a lift of some sort. That’s when I was contacted by an FC United official who said “Coach is £17. You can get on at Chorlton Street in Manchester or TGI Friday’s. Let me know if you want a place”. So there we had it, a quick post on Facebook and I was on my way to Stamford. Who says social media is a bad thing?
I was due to go out in Wigan on the Friday night for my mates 18th birthday, but with a 10:00 departure from Prestwich I unfortunately had to opt for an early night. I woke up and looked out of the window to find blue skies, no clouds and one of my neighbours walking around without a top on – which to be honest is a regular occurrence. Surely it was going to be a lovely day, after all I was going down south!
It took only 15 minutes to get to Prestwich and the coach was there waiting. It was the nicest coach I had ever been on. Wooden floors, comfy seats and plenty of leg room. People were questioning whether we had boarded the wrong coach, but it was soon confirmed that we weren’t off on a SAGA organised excursion to Rhyl, we were off to a non-league football match. A quick pick up at Birch Services followed and we were soon on our way to Stamford.
We got into Stamford at around 12:30, meaning I had more than enough time to stroll around the town before heading back to the ground for the match. There was very little space for parking around the ground, and it soon became evident why a move or redevelopment was necessary if the club is to move further up the pyramid.
Three volunteers were perched underneath the infamous Stamford AFC sign selling programmes as FC United fans came and went. By the time I had taken photographs of the ground I had lost everybody else who had been pointed towards the town centre, so I opted to take my chances and head off in my own way. It soon became evident that I had totally underestimated just how nice Stamford is. I had only heard of the place in the last couple of years, thanks of course to the football club and more recently after becoming a fan of E4 hit series My Mad Fat Diary which is set in the town.
For those of you who don’t know about My Mad Fat Diary it is set in Stamford in 1996 and follows the life of 16-year-old, 16 stone girl, Rae Earl. It describes the tribulations of being a boy-mad, overweight Morrissey fan living in a council house in Stamford with her mother and her mother’s Moroccan boyfriend.
Now, from that description – like myself – you probably aren’t expecting much from this town which sits just North West of Peterborough. How wrong could I have been? One of the members from Girls Aloud is from Stamford, albeit the least talented and least attractive one but the famous band still have a bit of Stamford in them.
I turned the corner from the ground and saw a father and son wearing pink chinos. I liked it and then wondered if I could get away with wearing the same items at college in Wigan. I came to the conclusion that it would be laughed at and my sexuality would be questioned by the locals. Anyway, enough of Wigan. Stamford is mostly 17th century stone buildings accompanied by five medieval parish churches. It is described by the local tourist board as the “finest stone town in England” and regularly features in The Sunday Times ‘best places to live’ shortlist. More importantly there were numerous pubs; but finding one that looked cheap was a bit of a problem. A lot of the FC United fans disappeared down a back street somewhere and found the Stamford Beer Festival which was on at a pub called The Green Man. I was still recovering from my Thursday night out in Leigh and opted to go for somewhere a bit quieter.
After winding through various cobbled streets and alleyways I found an opening called the Sheep Market. Here was a pub called the Golden Fleece where a few FC fans were congregated. All beers were £3.50 and I was happy to pay the extra money to enjoy a nice pint in the sunshine in a lovely setting. The locals were stood around, wondering why on earth so many football fans had descended on their quiet tranquil village – and you cant blame them, especially when one threatened to “piss all over the windows of the Colin Bell corner shop” which was opposite us.
Stamford is beautiful and I could live there in my old age, but I was a bit concerned at the lack of amenities. There wasn’t a McDonald’s in sight nor was there a Burger King or KFC. I wasn’t the only person who was thinking of the pros and cons of living in the place. I was strolling through the park when I heard a couple behind talking about how nice the place was. The husband said “It’s beautiful here. Lots of 17th century buildings. Lovely park. River. Tea rooms. I’d definitely live here” to which his wife replied “I was thinking about this in the tea rooms. So I googled it. The nearest big town is Peterborough and there’s no Primark there!”. At least that proves that the women of Manchester have their priorities sorted.
I could hear the music from the ground filtering through the neighbourhood and soon the floodlights came into view. The lights at the ground are constructed of stone and have been sandblasted, probably a rule set by the local council when they were erected. I arrived back at the ground with around 30 minutes to go until kick off and there was a reasonable queue at the turnstile. As I waited to enter the place it didn’t feel like a football ground, I can’t describe how it felt, but I loved it.
Wothorpe Road was the original name of the ground until it was changed to Kettering Road. For the final season at their original home, local retired building contractor Vic Couzens has sponsored the ground as part of his number of donations of sponsorships of grassroots football in the area.
Football has been played at Wothorpe Road since the 1870’s and has a claim as one of the oldest grounds in the country. The current football club was formed in 1894 and is nicknamed The Daniels; after one of the town’s more infamous figures. Daniel Lambert was born in 1770 and was given the label of Britain’s heaviest man (52 stone 11 pounds). The man who once fought a bear in the streets of Leicester, died in Stamford at the age of 39. His burial is claimed to have seen 20 men spend half an hour dragging his wheeled coffin into a sloped grave in a church yard close to the ground.
When through the turnstiles you find yourselves at the back of the main stand, greeted by raffle ticket sellers who are stationed above you to the right. This is in the older section of the main stand that was built in the early 1900’s. Connected to this by the roof is an extension which was added to the ground in the 1970’s.
Opposite this is a covered shed which runs around half the length of the pitch, with the railway line found in a slight valley behind it. This shed once ran the length of the pitch but half was demolished due to health and safety concerns. Behind the goals there is hard standing with a grass area behind both where children were enjoying their own games of football. There is also a clubhouse in the corner of the ground which I didn’t even attempt to go in as it looked extremely busy with many FC United fans opting to stay in there drinking for the whole match.
Stamford had won their last three matches (all away from home) ensuring that they would be staying in the Evo-Stik Premier Division for another season and sat in 15th place going into the match. They were 13 points clear of Frickley Athletic who look doomed, set to follow Stafford, Stocksbridge and Droylsden down a division. FC on the other hand were playing their part in what is set to become one of the most entertaining end of season promotion challenges in recent memory.
Chorley were top of the pack on 90 points, closely followed by FC on 87, Fylde on 87 (with a game in hand) and Worksop on 84. Although the mood was somewhat subdued amongst FC fans regarding promotion, they were certainly more buoyant at the final whistle.
The ground was slowly but surely filling up as the sun continued to shine. The ice-cream van behind the goal was pulling in brisk trade and a carnival end of season atmosphere was palpable. The Daniels were in their home kit of all red, whilst United were in their away kit of white and black.
Neither side had any time to settle into the match before the deadlock was broken on three minutes. Ryan Robbins was set free down the right hand side and beat the FC defence comfortably with his pace. Robbins then cut inside, dancing past three defenders before curling his shot into the left hand corner past Dave Carnell.
My photographers instinct kicked in and I went up the other end of the ground, thinking that FC would get a goal back at some stage in the half. I positioned myself in an available slot just behind the goal and got chatting to the man who was to my left. He informed me how he had travelled from Cambridge for the match as his mate supports FC United.
I had a feeling I recognised him from somewhere, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was then that he informed me that he’s “more into pea shooting than football”. Then it clicked. He was the World Pea Shooting Champion. You’ll wonder why on earth I recognised him… well, he once appeared as the mystery guest on Russell Howard’s Good News. He seemed pleasantly surprised that I recognised him as we discussed the world of pea shooting. He also once made tabloid headlines for the wrong reasons when he trimmed a hedge in his garden into the shape of a penis, receiving a visit from the police who informed him that he was committing a public order offence.
Anyway, enough of peas and phallic shaped hedges and back to the match.
Mike Norton looked to have been fouled in the penalty area on 15 minutes, but the referee who was subjected to abuse throughout the afternoon waved claims away; much to the disbelief of the travelling United faithful.
FC were by no means at their best, but they began to pass the ball around and reward came on 36 minutes. Lee Neville floated a free kick into the centre of the area where Norton rose and headed the ball into the top right hand corner of the goal. He ran off celebrating in front of his fans who had congregated in the shed for the first half.
A draw would have been a fair result heading into the half time break, but The Daniels nudged themselves in front again a minute before the interval. A free kick found it’s way to Nabil Sharriff who smashed the ball into the net from close range.
Knowing that a win was necessary if they were to keep their automatic promotion hopes alive, FC’s manager Karl Marginson made a triple substitution at half time. Lewis Lacy, Callum Byrne and Jerome Wright came on from Lee Neville, Astley Mulholland and Dean Stott.
The two teams were on level terms within a minute of the action restarting. Again, the goal came from a free kick. Liam Brownhill’s curling effort bounced in front of the goalkeeper. A plume of dust shot up and somebody got a touch to it. It has gone down as a Matty Wolfenden goal.
From then on it was all FC. They had the slight gradient and the wind with them, along with hundreds of fans who had crammed behind the goal in which they were attacking.
On 67 minutes, Tom Greaves was denied by Stamford goalkeeper Richard Jones before Lacy went close with a headed effort. Mike Norton came agonisingly close to putting FC in front a couple of minutes later when he brought down a high ball, turning with his first touch and hitting it on the half valley. It rolled just wide of the post, but you sensed it would only be a matter of time before Marginson’s men took the lead.
Then the goal arrived. With just six minutes on the clock, Norton controlled another long ball before slotting it calmly into the net. The scenes were incredible as all of the FC players piled into the corner of the pitch, joining in the celebrations with their fans.
The final whistle went. Pyro was set off and it was now time for the FC United fans to see how their promotion rivals had faired. Leaders Chorley could only gain a point from their trip to Whiby, whilst AFC Fylde lost 2-1 at home to Grantham and Worksop Town beat Blyth Spartans 3-2. All of which meant that there’s just four points separating the top four teams as we head into the final two matches of the season.
I strolled back to the coach, taking in one last look at what will go down as one of my favourite football grounds. I had only known the place a matter of hours, but it had already won me over. Yes it probably helped the fact the weather was nice, but I could see myself quite happy going down there on a cold Tuesday night in January. The people who run the club are lovely as are the fans who popped up occasionally in amongst a sizeable crowd.
The World Champion Pea Shooter also seemed to enjoy himself, and that’s the main thing.
Stamford are due to move into their new ground in September if all goes according to plan. It will be two miles over the other side of the town, and will be part of a development which sees a new college built. It is expected to cost around £5 million and will see Kettering Road demolished, soon to be replaced by housing.
If you do nothing else this season, get to Stamford v Blyth on Saturday for what is likely to be the last ever league match at their home of 120 years.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 147 miles
- ADMISSION: £6
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2
- PIE: Still on a diet