TT No.107: Andy Gallon - Sat 16th February 2013; Holbrook St Michael’s v Clifton All Whites; CML South;         Res: 1-4; Att: 43 (h/c); Admission: Free; Programme: £1 (28pp); FGIF Match Rating: ***.




Matchday images (20)


Floating around in my head is a list (mental, obviously) of football grounds I’d like to visit. The contents - growing all the time, to the outsider in a fathomlessly haphazard fashion - include clubs as diverse as Benburb (Scotland), Glentoran (Ireland), Hastings United (England) and Rhydymwyn (Wales). Holbrook St Michael’s were added at the start of the season. Partly because they’d joined the Central Midlands League (a competition in which I take an interest owing to its relative geographical proximity and compulsory programmes rather than its facilities and football), but mostly because I’d heard the ground was part of a stately home. Something apparently so offbeat simply had to be worth a look!


I’m pleased to report the experience did not disappoint. Holbrook (translated from Saxon as ‘Badger Hill’) wasn’t new to me: I’d visited a decade previously when the Derbyshire village’s other senior team, Holbrook Sports, were members of the Central Midlands League. So, I knew it to be a charmingly rural backwater between Alfreton and Derby, in the lee of a ridge separating the scenic Amber and Derwent valleys. With the weather taking a hugely welcome turn for the spring-like, there was much to anticipate at what until 1920 was an important centre for framework knitting on an industrial scale. The village, once renowned for stockings made by handframers, boasts a number of pretty two and three-storey cottages that used to be knitting workshops. It is now a designated Conservation Area and very much a commuter community. How, with a population of just 1,700, it supports two football teams, I cannot imagine.


St Michael’s ground, Holbrook Park, is in the landscaped environs of Holbrook Hall, one of three large houses in the village. The main part of the Grade II* listed hall was constructed in the early eighteenth century by Samuel Bradshaw. It is attached to a seventeenth century cottage built by Henry Bradshaw. Slightly higher than the bulk of Holbrook, the football ground perches on the watershed’s plateau and is a platform for superb views. St Michael’s are tenants of the hall (now, disappointingly, a residential care home, though doubtless a pleasant place to dribble out one’s declining years) and have played here since 1936. The club was established in 1932 by the vicar of St Michael’s Parish Church (where would Britain’s sporting landscape be without enterprising clerics?) and started out in the Belper Sunday School League. St Michael’s progressed via five local leagues and finally stepped up, in the summer of 2012, to the Central Midlands League from the Midland Regional Alliance, of which it was the longest-serving member. The attractive church, built in 1761 as a private chapel for Holbrook Hall and rebuilt and enlarged in 1841, is also still going strong, despite serious damage caused by fires in 1891 and 1907. Much of this fascinating (to me, at least!) historical background was gleaned from the informative programme.


From the breezy heights of Makeney Road, one enters the hall’s park using a private drive that is forsaken almost immediately. Whilst the drive makes a beeline for the hall, the ground is on the left and has parking in a field behind the goal at this near (west) end. The hall, obscured partially by trees, is visible to the east. Setting is everything because the ground is barely more than an enclosed pitch. The playing surface slopes downhill towards the hall. What appears to be a small stand, positioned centrally on the south touchline, is in fact one large dug-out, shared by both teams. With the rival managers cheek by jowl, some of their verbal exchanges got a bit tasty! The dressing rooms are in a corrugated iron shack, shrouded by trees and painted a livid green, to the left of the east end goal. It looks like a scout hut. There is a portable block of seats either side of the dug-out and a bizarrely located area of cover, as tiny as they come, over a handful of seats in the north-east corner. Unlike Holbrook Sports, St Michael’s do not have floodlights. Compensation for Holbrook Park’s meagre facilities is provided by its surroundings: fields, trees, grazing livestock, open country. Lovely.


Given both teams occupied mid-table in the South Division of the Central Midlands League, I expected a close game. In the event, Clifton All Whites won easily - and were not flattered by their margin of victory. It could have been wider. The visitors from Nottingham scored in the 13th and 22nd minutes to take a firm grip on proceedings. Holbrook - known as the Saints - pulled one back with 17 minutes left, only for Clifton to go straight down the other end and make it 3-1, erasing any prospects of an interesting finale. Clifton missed a couple of sitters late on before adding a fourth goal in the last minute of normal time.


I should add that Holbrook St Michael’s are very switched on to hoppers. They’ll have had a few visit this season following their elevation to the Central Midlands League. The chap selling programmes introduced me to the club chairman, and they told me a blind hopper had come all the way from Norwich for this match. A Saints official very kindly gave him a running commentary - quite a commitment!


On returning home (isn’t it great to see the days lengthening?), I discovered the reserve team game scheduled for Holbrook Sports had been postponed owing to a waterlogged pitch. Seems I was lucky to get some action at St Michael’s, whose ground is a mere quarter of a mile away. Winter is not finished with us just yet!


contributed on 18/02/13