Worcester City 0 Halifax Town 1 (8th Dec 2012)
While those without lentils for brains might not be troubled by the Mayan calendar “predicting” the end of the world in less than two weeks, and end of an era is rapidly approaching in Worcester, with St George’s Lane in its final ever season.
True, St George’s Lane is unlikely to be destroyed by volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves and meteor impacts, unless that is Carey’s Homes have radically changed their demolition methods, but it will be a sad day when the place is reduced to bare earth.
It was with that in mind that I took a two-hour chugging train through the Cotswolds, keen to see one of the few remaining proper old style grounds before it’s also gone forever. It’s also a fine little city as well, with plenty of old Tudor buildings and a cathedral to give the place a lot of character. It was just a pity that at the cricket ground, a fine old stand with enough gables to get a committed ground-hopper salivating into his notebook, had been partially demolished for redevelopment.
If there are two things that get me into an anorak state of mind, it’s full-length stands and proper corner pylon floodlights. St George’s Lane has both, creating more furtive visual joy than a top-self magazine tucked inside a newspaper. I see lights on pylons, and not only does it feel like a “real” ground, I’m transported back to a kid reading my 1982 Shoot! annual, and grainy black & white pics of grounds within. For those going to grounds in the past, those four boxy sets of lights were the first thing you saw over the rooftops as you approached. To those who lived nearby they were probably just an eyesore, but to me they are about anticipation. They also usually marked a distinction between League and non-league football, crucially giving the look of a place that hosts four rather than three-figure crowds.
The “full length” stand, it turned out, didn’t quite run the full length of the St George’s Lane side of the ground, but I’m not going to quibble about that. It was a fine old-style stand with seats and a thin – virtually anorexic – paddock in front, where three-deep crowds would be a squeeze in parts. The seven rows of seats proved a popular vantage point for most spectators, even on this virtually cloudless day. The seats themselves were a variety of vintages. At one end were bench seats, worn smooth by several decades of buttocks over the stand’s life. More centrally were wooden tip-up seats, while other blocks featured rather dirty-looking pale blue plastic seats, which looked like they might have possibly been salvaged from Highfield Road’s demolition – after demolition – or maybe they are just very old indeed.
Beneath the seats, in a beery humid fog, the club bar does a roaring trade in local and not so local brews, especially when the kick off is delayed due to the Halifax bus breaking down en route to the stadium.
The Halifax fans, despite only numbering about 100, were deemed enough of a threat by someone to necessitate segregating them into the Canal End of the ground. This is a thin open terrace of just a few steps, weirdly raised a couple of feet or so higher than the pitch, hemmed in by the canal behind. The canal boats moored behind might have been a quicker option for the Halifax team than the coach company they chose.
The opposite end, also open, is roughly triangular in shape, like a piece of cheese. One corner is no more than a footpath, while the other opens up in a rather irregular wavy rise, towards an incline in which the changing rooms/function rooms are housed. To call this corner building a pavilion would be rather grand, as it looks more like two whitewashed cheaper-end-of-town semis that have been knocked through.
The terrace opposite the main stand is perhaps the most popular part of the ground, other than the main stand itself. For two-thirds of its length it is a fair-sized terrace, offering a decent view, if very few crush barriers – no doubt a big reason why the place is limited to just over 4000 fans now, when it once hosted over 17,000.
The final third, nearly twice as deep and covered, is surprisingly unpopular with the home supporters, few of whom ventured up the crush-barrier free steps even when Worcester were attacking that end of the ground. The back wall of this terrace, sees presumably club-sanctioned urban graffiti fighting in mortal combat with the infiltrating ivy, more luxuriantly bushy than a 70s porn starlet.
In truth, little things such as that, the areas fenced off with dented corrugated sheeting, and the tea bar roof weatherproofed with what looks like a bin-liner, do hint at the ground having seen better days, but the question was how many more of them there’d be. Officially it would be 12, counting today’s game, with tickets for the final match in April due to go on sale this month. Unofficially, if they make the play-offs, one or two more could be added to that.
To make that happen though they’d need to get results against the likes of today’s opponents, Halifax. Halifax were a point behind, but had four games in hand, and had only let in 10 goals in the league all season, while hitting 28 in 13 games at the other end. They seldom showed why they’d hit 28, but it was soon obvious why they’d only let in 10.
It was a very open game, but it was definitely box-to-box rather than end-to-end, with Halifax in particular looking very adept at snuffing out any threat, much to the annoyance of the home crowd as the game wore on. The final ball from both sides, it has to be said, wasn’t of the highest standard. Perhaps the best passing move of the game put a Halifax striker through on goal 15 yards out, be he was just offside. Just as well as his little dink past the keeper beat the far post as well as the man, although he probably knew he was off by then.
Worcester, despite one long-range low shot that was turned wide, and one badly mis-hit effort that the Halifax keeper somehow spilled, looked to have settled on a game-plan of set-pieces. They certainly got enough of them, but seemed to have less hope finishing than a stammerer narrating war and peace. Their best chance was on the stroke of the very late half time, when a City player had time in the box, probably too much time, and very precisely spooned a shot over the crossbar.
With the game kicking off late, and several minutes of first half stoppage time added for various injuries, the rapid darkening of the sky in the 2nd half maybe caused the home players to think the game had much less time left than it really had. All too quickly they were playing like it was the last 10 minutes, and the frustration was beginning to show. As these things tend to do, the frustration was just about to get worse.
A Worcester player on the break was seemingly scythed down on the halfway line, only for no free kick to be awarded. Within seconds the ball is on the edge of the Worcester box. Another challenge, and this time it is given – to Halifax. Worcester protests about that free kick are amplified by the protests about they one they didn’t get seconds earlier, and just to really rub it in, the free kick is nodded in from close range to give Halifax the lead with 10 minutes left.
Sometimes such events spur a team on, but this wasn’t to be one of those days. The nearest Worcester came was a shot that was hooked badly wide, and it’d be a stretch to say it was genuinely near. Still, I enjoyed by visit to the ground, and the city of Worcester in general, and there’ll no doubt be happier days at St George’s Lane. It’s just a shame there won’t be that many more of them.