TT No.5: Andy Gallon - Sat 11th August 2012; Linby CW v Blidworth MW; CML South;                      Res: 5-2; Att: 70 (h/c); Admission: £3 (incl 28-page prog); FGIF Match Rating: ****




Matchday images (16)


For a hopper, not much matches expectations exceeded. I travelled to Linby in fairly blissful ignorance of what lay ahead. It was, I believed, a former pit village on the northern edge of Hucknall, a town I knew from two experiences to be drabness incarnate. Central Midlands League grounds (and I’ve done a few in my time) are invariably mundane and their settings similarly unmemorable.


And yet what do I find? Simply this: Linby to be a charming community of pretty cottages and a stepped market cross; the football ground, dominated by a delightful church, one of the most attractive I’ve encountered; and not a slag heap (landscaped or otherwise) to be seen. Once inside the ground (with plenty of time to spare: ironically, Bolsover Castle fell below expectations), we found a carpet of lush grass beneath a shady tree and consumed our picnic whilst the players engaged in the comical choreography of their pre-match warm-up. These seem to get more complicated every season. Sometimes, I yearn for the innocent days in the early Seventies of my callow youth and low-key physiotherapy. Back then, I watched Doncaster Rovers trot out habitually at Belle Vue to the strains of the Match of the Day theme (original brass-accompanied version) and kick a couple of balls about desultorily for 10 minutes. No such thing as hamstring and groin strains then, either!


I digress. By now thoroughly engaged by my surroundings, I sought out the Linby Colliery Welfare secretary to shed light on the ground and the club’s history. He was extremely pleased to hear we had come down from York. The reason Church Lane looks like a cricket ground is because that’s exactly what it was. The footballers arrived in 1985, three years before the closure of the colliery, which was on the other side of the railway and is now an industrial estate. Linby’s first home, the Gateshouse Ground, where they played from 1946, was nearer the pit. The players changed at the pithead baths and walked down the railway line to the pitch. During the Forties and Fifties, crowds in excess of 1,000 were commonplace for Notts Alliance fixtures at a site which has been redeveloped. The record attendance at the Gatehouse was 6,835, established in 1950 when Gillingham, just starting their second stint in the Football League, visited for an FA Cup first-round tie and returned to Kent 4-1 victors.


The present ground is accessed via narrow Church Lane and a gate at the south end. One emerges into what feels like a cricket ground with a football pitch at the top end. A motley collection of buildings (some nicer than others) strung out along what used to be the near boundary houses the dressing rooms, toilets and clubhouse. There is a tiny car park, big enough only to accommodate the vehicles of early arrivals. The clubhouse, akin to a cricket pavilion (which it probably was), is a gem. Inside, there is a bar and kitchen, but the walls are the main focus of attention. They are covered with historic photographs and press clippings detailing the club’s not inglorious past. The montage includes an impressive shot of the clearly sizeable colliery.


The expanse of grass between this end and the football pitch has rudimentary lights and is used for training and the aforementioned warm-ups. The twelfth century parish church of St Michael, fashioned from limestone, squats in the ground’s north-east corner and overlooks a pitch that slopes noticeably down towards the clubhouse end. Two rickety ‘stands’ face each other across the halfway line, though that on the east side has been rendered useless by the positioning of a dug-out directly in front of it. The pitch is railed off only on the west touchline, along which hardstanding was laid during the close-season. The rest is roped off and provides softstanding on grass. Trees, always a pleasant ingredient, fringe the site and add to the bucolic atmosphere.


Linby Colliery Welfare plan major changes, however. With the aid of Football Foundation money, they want to shift the pitch south and level its surface. The north end goal will move to the present halfway line. New dressing rooms and floodlights are also on the agenda, assuming the club’s grant application is successful. I can see the sense in this. Moving the pitch south would provide enough room on the east side to build a proper stand. The distance between dressing rooms and pitch would be reduced also. To my mind, though, the work would detract from the ground’s essential character. The church, so much a part of the scene, would have its nose pushed out and the cricket dimension lost. But aesthetics, sad to say, seem always to be the last consideration nowadays.


This was a big day for Linby, who were making their Central Midlands League South Division debut. The club finished fourth in the Notts Senior League last season and aim to regain previous status among the county’s non-league elite. The match entertained - for various reasons. Seven goals are always welcome (that’s 23 in four games for me this season), but that was only one aspect of the action. The start of the second half was delayed whilst a hole (dug, apparently, by rabbits) which had appeared in the centre circle was filled in. And then there was the saga of the ‘lost ball’ treasure hunt, which dragged on for about an hour. A wayward clearance struck my partner on the leg, the ball ricocheted over the low fence fringing the west touchline and came to rest (goodness knows where) in the chest-high jungle of weeds comprising a no man’s land between the ground and the village bypass. Machetes and native guides were required (well, almost) before the ball was discovered. “Brand new an’ all,” a Linby official muttered, before revealing 15 had been lost last season in this Bermuda Triangle of Nottinghamshire. Earlier, whilst rising from an unsteady bench outside the clubhouse, I almost managed to unseat the lady tea-maker. “Sorry,” I said. “Did the earth move for you there?” Came the poker-faced reply: “It’s the only time it ever does these days.” You just cannot have this much fun at Old Trafford, can you?


As for the actual football, well, here’s how it panned out. Linby went ahead in just 28 seconds when Matt Murphy tapped home after keeper Michael Yates had parried a Damian Mann shot. The hosts, speedy, purposeful and precise, dominated. Curtis Holmes saved brilliantly from Craig Gould in a rare Blidworth (pronounced Blid’orth by the vocal visiting fans) attack. Linby then went straight up the other end and made it 2-0 in the 39th minute when Murphy raced on to a Jonathan Bradshaw pass and beat Yates in a one-on-one. Kyle McDermott really should have killed the game in first half stoppage time, but his badly scuffed effort was hoofed off the line.


With the pitch made safe, the second half got under way. Blidworth came more into the contest and pulled a goal back on the hour when the unmarked Carl Gould tucked away from close range a Ryan Meehan cross. Linby, always a step ahead, restored their two-goal cushion with nine minutes remaining. Yates blocked an Ash Winfield shot, Chaz Niblett’s follow-up was partially cleared, and Winfield managed to nod in the loose ball from a prone position. The Blidworth keeper dislocated his right elbow in the melee and had to be replaced by an outfield player. He was spotted later in a sling. Despite this body blow, the visitors reduced the deficit to 3-2 in the 85th minute. Curtis Holmes palmed up a Joel Smith shot and the loitering Josh Brentnall slid the ball into an empty net. Linby, wholly unfazed, responded with two goals in stoppage time to secure a rather flattering margin of victory. Niblett finished well in a one-on-one and McDermott bundled in the fifth after a Niblett effort was saved.


If you haven’t been to Linby, my advice would be to do so sooner rather than later. I don’t think Church Lane will be as appealing an enclosure once the revamp takes place. Here’s a conundrum for hardline hoppers, mind: if only half a pitch is ‘new’, does a re-visit count as a new ‘tick’ or not? 


contributed on 12/08/12