Moving house is often considered to be one of the more stressful responsibilities that faces people during their lifetime. I had spent so much time messing about with football I had failed to realise that I had just five days left to move out of my student flat in York and into a new house. Fair enough, five days is still plenty of time, right? Wrong. I was reminded by my Mum that I was going down to Wales for a few days at the end of the week, leaving me just two days to move everything out and hand my keys back.
Setting off from Atherton to York at 08:00 in the morning with my Dad, I was determined to move everything over as quickly as possible allowing me enough time to get to a football match in the evening. It was slightly reminiscent of the day that I moved to York, and within an hour of picking up my keys I was off to watch Selby Town v Hall Road Rangers.
Using common sense, which people like to say I display none of when it comes to organisation and planning, I could have chosen to go to any number of grounds throughout Lancashire and Yorkshire. Instead I opted to do something a bit dafter and I raced down from York to get to Nuneaton v Crawley Town; a fixture that I really couldn’t have cared less about. What made this decision seem even more bonkers was the fact I was up at 06:00 the following morning to get the train down to Cardiff from Manchester.
Having dumped everything into my new house – which is handily located near Bootham Crescent for the upcoming season – I got in touch with Joe and Aaron who would be joining me on the trip down to Nuneaton. After going through various logistical solutions as to how best to meet, my Dad dropped me off at Birch services close to Oldham. Joe was already waiting and we soon pressed on to Warrington where we met Aaron, changed cars and drove down to the Midlands.
This was a trip that I came close to making back in February, with the possibility of a double header. Nuneaton were hosting Kidderminster Harriers in a live televised fixture at 12:45, while Bedworth United were taking on Barton Rovers at 15:00. I would have definitely ticked off both grounds that day if I wasn’t otherwise lured in by a double header in Scotland that saw me head to Albion Rovers v East Stirling and then Queens Park v Berwick Rangers.
Nuneaton is found nine miles north of Coventry and 20 miles east of Birmingham. Ken Loach – who directed one of my favourite films Looking For Eric – is from the town. Then again, I don’t claim to be a film buff and never will do; I just like the FC United shirt that appears a few times. Other notable people from the town include Nottingham Forest striker Matty Fryatt and Cardiff City stalwart Peter Whittingham.
The town is home to two football clubs, with Nuneaton Town – who will play in the National League North this season following last season’s relegation – and Nuneaton Griff who play in the Midland Football League. Nuneaton Town were founded in 1889 as Nuneaton St Nicholas, changing their name to Nuneaton Town five years later.
They played until 1937 when they were disbanded. The football club wasn’t gone for long, as just two days later Nuneaton Borough were founded. This name remained until 2008 when the club fell into liquidation and suffered a two league demotion.
Starting life in the Southern League Division One in 2008, the phoenix club were named Nuneaton Town but having visited the ground they seem to refuse to acknowledge that name, opting to plaster the stands and shirts with the word ‘Boro’.
Liberty Way Stadium didn’t really do a lot for me. Shoved at the end of an industrial estate next to the local rugby club, it was soulless. You wouldn’t even know it was there. It shocked me to find that the ground only opened in 2007 following the move from Manor Park, as it did not look new. It looked to be struggling a bit like Scunthorpe United’s Glanford Park. The only saving grace for this ground were the two sizeable terraces behind either goal and the fantastic bar.
We parked up in the car park next to Crawley fan Craig who had driven up with Tom and Laura. Everybody was in desperate need of food, but for some stupid reason the ground was not yet open. There were a number of stewards strolling around with fluorescent jackets, clipboards and walkie talkies. Completely over the top, ridiculous and typical of a club who have played in the Conference and now think they are big time.
After 20 minutes of being stood outside the turnstiles, we were finally allowed in. No student prices in operation, which didn’t surprise me given the attitude of the club so far. Who are these clubs that find it acceptable to charge full price for students? The money making machine was in full swing as we went in search of food to find items such as a Double Bacon Cheeseburger for £5.50. Ludicrous. By this stage I was beginning to wonder whether this club was serious. I had had enough of giving money to a bunch of arseholes so I couldn’t bring myself around to paying £3 for a matchday programme.
Surprisingly, the bar was quite reasonably priced but there was a sign up saying Under New Management which suggested to me that the bar isn’t even owned by the club. I had a pint with the handful of Crawley fans who had made the journey for the evening, eight in total, with Joe, Aaron and I included. It still wouldn’t have surprised me if the club had put segregation in for us lot, they seemed like the type to do so. I joke about that, but one steward spent the whole of the first half watching seven of us. He didn’t even turn around to watch the match once. This was not non-league football, or at least not the sort I am used to.
This match which attracted a grand crowd of 292 was arranged last year when Lee Fowler went on loan to Crawley Town from Nuneaton. The midfielder subsequently played 18 times for Crawley in a campaign which saw them relegated into League Two, with Fowler now at Wrexham ahead of the upcoming season.
For this match Crawley handed a debut to goalkeeper Freddie Woodman, who completed his loan move from Newcastle United the afternoon before the match. Trialist Brian Van De Bogaert remained in the team from the win over Reading, but only lasted a matter of minutes after picking up an injury. The Belgian defender had driven from Belgium earlier in the week to go on trial with Crawley.
Nuneaton’s starting lineup included former West Ham and Aston Villa striker Marlon Harewood who I had last seen play for Hartlepool United last season.
The home side’s goalkeeper Jordan Smith made the first save on 12 minutes, denying Lewis Young after the Reds had made good progress down their left.
Smith made another good save on 20 minutes, blocking skipper Sonny Bradley’s effort from a half-cleared corner as Reds continued to move the ball around well in the early stages.
The home side tried to play a passing game too with midfielders Shane Byrne and Callum Chettle good in possession. They won a couple of corners before Woodman was called into action on 27 minutes when he pushed an angled drive from Aaron Williams onto the post.
Seconds before the break Crawley were awarded a penalty when Jon Ashton was fouled by Marlon Harewood. The striker, who signed for Nuneaton last month, bounced to his feet and started screaming at the referee in an extremely embarrassing manner. It reminded me of a John McEnroe rant as he shouted “Oh my God! You’re joking!” as the referee set everybody up for the penalty. Simon Walton stepped up and sent Smith the wrong way from the spot.
Half time arrived, and what had been a rather unmemorable half of football came to a close. We took the large Crawley Town flag over to the other end of the ground, while another fan jogged to his car to bring out his own banner which when unrolled read Tinpot and Proud. That was the difference between the two clubs; Crawley didn’t take themselves too seriously while their hosts appeared to think they were a Champions League club.
After the break Jimmy Smith came on for Simon Walton before Gwion Edwards replaced Lewis Young on the hour mark. The younger brother of Ashley, the Manchester United attacker, had impressed me during his time on the pitch.
Crawley doubled their lead after 15 minutes of the half when Nuneaton failed to clear Smith’s left-wing corner. The ball broke in the six-yard box where Joe McNerney turned to fire home.
Reds got a third on 63 minutes. Conor Henderson’s free kick from the right was met with a powerful header by Matt Harrold that gave Smith no chance.
When the match ended we headed back to the bar where we stayed for at least an hour. I was a bit annoyed with the showing from Nuneaton Town as a club as I sat there waiting to go home, but then the non-league spirit shone through. The girls behind the bar were having a good laugh with us, and the club chef offered to feed us all as he had some food leftover. It put a smile on all of our faces, and sent us back home with at least one nice memory of our evening in Nuneaton. In fairness, the fans of the club all seemed pleasant enough and wished us a safe journey back to Crawley too… we couldn’t be bothered explaining we lived in Manchester and Warrington respectively.
Suitably filled with food ahead of our long journey back up north we said goodbye to Craig, Tom and Laura. It was 01:30 before I got home thanks to a number of strange road closures and diversions. All of which meant I had five hours to pack and get some sleep before heading off to the Valleys for a few days.
I don’t like going to grounds and moaning afterwards, I always try to see the best in all clubs but I will not be visiting Nuneaton again. I wouldn’t say it was a waste of time, as I have wanted to go for a while now, but I’m glad I did it during the week and didn’t waste a whole day there. In hindsight perhaps I was just grumpy after a long day on the road?
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 121 miles (from York)
- ADMISSION: £7
- PROGRAMME PRICE: N/A