Curzon Ashton had overcome Ashton Athletic, Marine and Lancaster City to get to the Third Round Qualifying stage of The FA Cup. Stourbridge were the next obstacle standing in the way of reaching the First Round proper. It was a great day in the West Midlands and The War Memorial Ground certainly ranks as one of the better non-league venues that I have visited.
I had been booked on to the Curzon Ashton coach, so that meant traipsing across to the other side of Manchester before the day had even started. It was organised chaos as nobody knew how many people were meant to be getting on the coach, or how many players would be picked up in Knutsford en route to Stourbridge. Eventually somebody said that enough was enough and we set off.
The pub car park in Knutsford was rammed. Curzon players had parked their cars there, as had a load of Kendal players who apparently always meet at Knutsford before heading to their matches. The landlords must have been puzzled as to why there were a multitude of cars outside, but no customers.
We arrived in Stourbridge at 12:45. By this stage, boredom had taken over on the coach. Joe had brought along a book full of football trivia questions and he ensumed the role of quiz master. Meanwhile, at the front of the coach one young fan had decided to dress up as club mascot Super Nash. He sat in the front passenger seat, waving to the people of Stourbridge as we winded down the roads. The look of horror on some people’s faces was fantastic.
Stourbridge is found south-west of Dudley, meaning that it was one of the furthest distances I had travelled down south to watch non-league football. The town is famous for it’s glass making industry, which the local tourist board claim is “recognised as amongst the finest in the world and has been used countless times as gifts for royalty and visiting dignitaries to the UK”. Whilst the glass making is all very good, Stourbridge did let themselves down in recent years when they allowed Nigel Reo-Coker to reside there. Those of you who know me will know my thoughts on the former Bolton Wanderers captain who led us to relegation, before then stating he was leaving us to go to a bigger club. Sevilla were interested according to his equally deluded agent, but he ended eventually ended up signing for Ipswich Town… who in fairness are probably better than Bolton these days!
The War Memorial Athletic Ground is home to both the local football club and cricket club, a bit like Matlock Town but in a far more co-operative manner. The cricket club is the first part of the ground that you will see when you walk underneath the large arching entrance. A huge pavilion and pitch encroaches on to the neighbouring football pitch. This means that the football ground is only three sided and you can’t do a full circuit.
Stourbridge FC were founded in 1876 as Stourbridge Standard before being renamed in the early 1880’s. The club has been host to a couple of impressive FA Cup runs in recent years, and the 2013/14 season was no different, eventually going on to play away at Stevenage. In 2009, the Glassboys welcomed League One side Walsall to the Memorial Ground, a match which saw the non-league subsequently dispatched.
They fared better in 2011, when they again reached the First Round of the cup. This time they were drawn away to Plymouth Argyle. With the odds stacked against them, Stourbridge drew 3-3 at Home Park before beating the football league side 2-0 in the replay.
As you enter the ground, match day programmes are being sold outside the club house. The club house was very impressive, with hundreds of fans crammed into the room all enjoying a drink before the match. I say before the match, they in fact supped beer throughout the duration of the afternoon as they were able to watch the game from behind a barrier close to the cricket pitch.
Plenty of food was available in the hut at the near end of the ground. Unfortunately, by the time I went to get something to eat a lot of it had gone. I settled for chips with curry sauce; something which I had never seen sold at a football match. With my chips in hand we settled down for the first half. As we were by far the minority in the crowd, some of the home fans began to single us out but the vast majority of the Stourbridge fans were fantastic and easy to get along with.
Both sides were doing well in their respective leagues, with Stourbridge 5th in the Southern League, whilst Curzon would go on to be crowned champions of the Evo-Stik Division 1 North. That of course meant that the home side were a division above Curzon in the football pyramid, and it did show on the pitch.
The home side took the lead after just three minutes and this set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Curzon were dispossessed as they moved forward and The Glassboys were soon on the attack. A through ball found it’s way through to Curzon goalkeeper Hakan Burton who failed to keep hold of it. The ball spilled out and Ryan Lowe passed the ball into an empty net.
Minutes later Stourbridge missed another chance as they threatened to win the game in the opening minutes. Curzon settled into the match after a shaky opening period, but they found it hard to penetrate the Stourbridge defence.
Matty Warburton had the visitors best chance just after the ten minute mark, but his header at the near post went just wide from Sam Walker’s corner.
Stourbridge hadn’t mustered much in the away of an attempt on goal since they took the lead, but on 25 minutes they found themselves two goals ahead. A corner was sent in from the right hand side and Jamie Oliver was on hand to direct the ball past Burton.
The home side nearly made it three moment later but Dale Minor cleared off the line and Burton saved well from Ben Billingham. Curzon were holding on to their place in the cup. Warburton came close to a goal once again but his shot was directed straight at the keeper following a good series of passes in midfield. The striker was at the centre of action again just before half time, but he saw his goal ruled out for being stood in an offside position.
For the second half, we moved to the far end of the ground, standing in the covered terrace with fans from a host of football league clubs who had come down for the afternoon. There were Wolves fans and West Brom fans who I assume must float around Stourbridge for bigger matches as they really didn’t grasp the polite mannerisms that tend to go with non-league football.
The home side started the half by keeping possession at the back. They could afford to play it safe, making the Manchester based side come at them. Curzon were getting into the match as time progressed and they had another goal ruled out for offside on the hour mark. Ryan Watson this time adjudged to have moved forward too quickly.
With the visitors still looking to pull a goal back late on, Stourbridge capitalised and further extended their lead when they broke on the counter attack. The ball was played forward to Luke Benbow who beat Andy Watson. Benbow carried the ball into the area and comfortably finished past the advancing Hakan Burton.
The full time whistle went, and Curzon trudged off the pitch. It had been a bad day at the office for them. An early mistake allowed the home side to settle and it allowed them very little opportunity to get anything from the match. We all made our way to the clubhouse after the match, where again, it was full. It was fantastic to see. Every non-league club should have fans who arrive early to socialise, and then stay long into the evening to do the same. Presentations and food followed before we made our way back to Manchester.
I was won over by Stourbridge. A fantastic little ground, great clubhouse, a wide range of food and great fans. Fortunately for us northern lot, they have been transferred to the Evo-Stik Premier for the 2014/15 campaign due to the withdrawal of Worksop Town. This, coupled by Curzon’s promotion means that the sides will be in the same league. Could another trip to Stourbridge be on the cards? I wouldn’t rule it out.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 87 miles
- ADMISSION: £5 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2