TT No.8: Andy Gallon - Tue 14th August 2012; Sherwood Colliery v Phoenix S&S; CML North;               Res: 0-2; Att: 105; Admission: £2; Programme: £1 (20pp); FGIF Match Rating: **



Matchday images (13)


My second pleasant Central Midlands League surprise in just three days. Having been unexpectedly charmed at the weekend by Linby Colliery Welfare’s Church Lane ground, I discovered to be equally delightful the Debdale Park home of their fellow league newcomers Sherwood Colliery. As a rule, any destination with ‘Mansfield’ in its title prompts me to prepare either for depressing urban blight or tacky (so-called) regeneration. Now, I’ll not pretend you should hastily programme ‘Mansfield Woodhouse’ into your sat nav and race off for the former Nottinghamshire coalfield. The village is ordinary enough, albeit (I imagine) a good deal cleaner and greener following the closure of Sherwood Colliery. Until the final shift in January 1992, the pit’s headstocks rose high above Mansfield Woodhouse’s rooftops. The site, prosaically, is covered with houses. Debdale Park, which I might describe fancifully as a glade in the sparse remnants of Sherwood Forest, is a legacy of the miners’ welfare and a hugely attractive set-up. Grounds don’t need hulking stands, towering floodlight pylons and acres of terracing to steal a hopper’s heart. But, then, we all know that, don’t we?


As with many a miners’ welfare, Debdale Park, 200 yards from the ‘Robin Hood Line’ (it used to be a coal-carrying artery) and Mansfield Woodhouse station, is a spacious, rambling affair. It consists of a cricket square, two football pitches, a floodlit all-weather training area and a collection of buildings (painted a fetching pink!) housing a serviceable social club, kitchen, loos, dressing rooms etc. Sherwood Colliery, formed as recently as 2008 and graduates of the Midland Amateur Alliance, play on the pitch in the site’s west corner. Its facilities are meagre. A suspiciously new wooden hut guards the official entrance (reached via a narrow flight of single-file steps shared - bizarrely - with the players), foundations for a planned stand have been laid on the near side, there are dug-outs on the far touchline and the pitch is railed off.


Banking on the near side, behind which is the second pitch, used previously by another club for CML football, gives an elevated view of the action. From here, you can see the tall headstocks of the defunct pit in Clipstone. There is barely room behind each goal, where the grass is overgrown and space at a premium, for a single line of spectators. The training area is behind the goal at the clubhouse end and a dense wood rises opposite. On the far side, beyond a footpath-cum-cycleway on which piles of dung indicate use by thoughtless dog owners who don’t clean up after their pets, trees have landscaped a reclaimed spoil heap picturesquely and effectively. You’d never know what they were growing in. The impression is of a rural hideaway. Can the mean streets of Mansfield really be so close?


This fixture, Sherwood’s second here since joining the CML, was a prime target for hoppers, who turned up in droves and stretched the match programme print run well beyond breaking point. Thankfully, I arrived early and secured my ‘paper’ very kindly reserved by one-time CML official Rob Hornby, who lives in Mansfield Woodhouse.


It wasn’t, I have to say, a patch on Saturday’s game at Linby. Two poor sides - both losers on the season’s opening day - look destined for a season of struggle and under-achievement. But at least it happened! Fifteen minutes before the scheduled 6.30pm kick-off, Rotherham-based visitors Phoenix could muster only six players, but their stragglers arrived in the nick of time having had problems finding a ground whose secluded location flummoxed some of the most hardened hoppers in the business.


Mainly because, on such a humid evening, I couldn’t be bothered tracking down the line-ups, the story of the game can be told quickly. For my money, Sherwood (in their Inter Milan-lite strip) were the better team in the first half. But they couldn’t finish for toffee, despite Phoenix fielding a giant of a keeper who had no end of trouble laying his hands on the ball. As so often happens in these situations, the visitors took the lead because of a mistake. Simon Hickey (thanks for the name check to a hopper more committed, or possibly cooler, than I) capitalised on the blunder and angled a shot beneath the advancing keeper and into the net from the right side of the penalty area.


With the sun finally dropping behind the trees, I swapped sides and joined the rest of the crowd (seriously, I’d been Billy No Mates alongside the home dug-out) who had spent the opening 45 minutes squinting painfully at the action. I know: I could see their facial contortions through my long lens! Chances came and went at both ends. When the game stalled, as it did at frequent intervals, I was kept entertained by the young lads next to me, who provided a unique insight into football, boozing and nightclubs in the Mansfield district. Blimey, they made me feel old! Sherwood somehow missed a sitter after the comical Phoenix keeper air kicked an attempted clearance in front of goal, and Phoenix made them pay when substitute Simon Eggington found space on the right side of the box to smash a glorious shot into the roof of the net. The game might have lacked overall quality, but the visitors’ two goals were taken superbly.


I’m now looking forward to hopping the ground of Holbrook St Michael’s, another club new to the CML for 2012-13. One of the assembled hoppers, a birder who records interesting species spotted at football grounds, told me it’s a gem. After sampling the delights of Linby and Sherwood, I’m quite prepared to believe him. 

contributed on 15/08/12