Stourbridge 5 Weymouth 0 (16th March 2013)
I’m not sure what hopes and anticipations Weymouth fans had before embarking on a three hour plus journey to the West Midlands. I appreciate that unlike myself, the chance to have a look at a restored 18th century warehouse and narrowboats and the end of the Stourbridge canal, just a couple of wild defensive clearances away to the south of Stourbridge’s ground, probably didn’t feature highly. Being a 2nd v 4th clash, they probably anticipated a close match though.
When you are a goal down after 22 seconds, and two down after seven minutes, it’s probably not going to be your best afternoon ever.
Queen Victoria was said to close the curtains on the royal train when it went through Wolverhampton, just 10 miles to the north, but Stourbridge, while unlikely to get a chapter devoted to it in the Lonely Planet tourist guides any day soon, was actually a fairly reasonable place. When some of the Weymouth fans decided to insert Stourbridge into the song “……. is a shithole, I want to go home”, the song that’s de rigueur for witless irony-free morons at football these days, it drew a solitary female’s response of “No it’s not. It’s rather nice actually, thank you very much.” Sadly it would have gone so far over their heads that it wouldn’t have even skimmed the roof.
The War Memorial Ground perhaps wouldn’t be at the very top of a list of Stourbridge’s rather nice parts, but there’s certainly enough about it to be interesting. Entering the ground through a brick archway, you find yourself heading towards a cricket pavilion rather than football stands, parking up beside the outfield half of the pitch that’s only used for the summer game. The pavilion itself, a Victorian-looked structure, all twee gables and park bench seating, had its style somewhat compromised by the slapping of several ugly solar panels on the roof.
For some reason, whenever football clubs share a cricket pitch, the football half is always the furthest side from the pavilion, as if the cricket lot will tolerate the presence of those not in white flannels, but only at a distance.
With spectators not allowed onto the cricket pitch itself, access first takes you towards the more pragmatically styled collection of relatively modern buildings that make up the bar and changing rooms. With these reaching no further down this side than just beyond the corner flag, a very narrow terrace of just three steps occupies this end. Behind this thin terrace is a small training pitch. It was used on this day by a group of children who’d no doubt draw hysterical howls from their mothers around the state of their clothes, after two hours of playing on its Somme-like muddy surface.
The other end, in contrast, was a fair-sized covered terrace that looked like it had escaped from the 4th division in the 1970s. About 50 yards long, and ten paving slab steps deep, it has the feel of a “proper” end, and it’s no surprise that those who wanted to make a bit of noise chose to stand under it ageing propped roof. The lack of a single crush barrier, and the papering over the cracks nature of the maintenance to it, rather showed that it was a long time since such a large terrace was actually required, but there’s nothing like such an end to really make a ground.
On the far side from the pavilion, just over 100 metres or so from that historic canal beyond the factories behind, three stands fill most of the side. In the centre is the only seated area in the ground. Thirty yards long, it’s brightly painted red, with a roof that curves down like a parrot’s beak, and rounded wooden pillars at the front. It feels you should wear a hat and smoke a woodbine or two to sit in it, among the several rows of scarlet old-style bench seats, worn smooth by decades or use.
Flanking either side of this stand are covered terraces of similar length. The upturned roofs on each somehow don’t jar quite as much as they should, perhaps because these more modern looking additions – more modern in the sense that The Beatles are more modern than The Glenn Miller Band – also feature enough pillars at the front to make it unlikely you could pass through them with your arms outstretched.
Opposite, only a temporary fence separates the football playing area with the other half of the cricket pitch beyond.
It was while walking through one of these terraces that the opening goal was scored. The first attack of the game saw debutant Ben Mackey, once Coventry’s youngest ever player, played through, and he finished to put the home side ahead.
If that was a good start for Stourbridge, not to mention Ben’s Stourbridge career, it got even better within seven minutes. After a couple of other danger balls into the box, another cut back cross from the left picked out Ben unmarked just to the side of the penalty spot. His side-foot shot wasn’t that firmly struck, but it was still enough to direct it past the Weymouth keeper to make it 2-0.
It wasn’t one-sided by any means, but the home side just looked a lot better going forward, so if the away team decide to give them an additional helping hand, it doesn’t help. The Weymouth keeper came out to claim a cross but managed to let it slip through his arms, and could only watch in dismay as it slipped with embarrassment into the corner. To make matters worse, it was probably going wide until his intervention.
It was very nearly 4-0 just before half-time. More terrible marking allowed Stourbridge to turn and shoot on the edge of the six yard box. A cleaner hit would have been a certain goal, but the lack of pace was just enough for the keeper to claim the ball at the second attempt, just as it was rolling towards the line.
As so often happens, with it looking “job done” for one team, and just damage limitation for the other, the second half was a bit flat. It normally takes something of a spark to bring such a game back to life, and one was provided with about 20 minutes left. For some reason a Weymouth player decided to hit out at a Stourbridge player as he ran past. It was seen by the linesman, and the straight red signalled the game going from bad to worse for Weymouth. The Weymouth bench, annoyed with the officials for spotting the offence, did not have the highest of moral high grounds to take.
Ben Mackey completed his debut hat-trick with 10 minutes to go, going round the keeper and passing into an empty net. And right at the death, the almost criminal amount of space Stourbridge were being given at the back was again exploited, with the exposed keeper given almost no chance of preventing a fifth goal going in. If only the Weymouth fans had given their team’s on-field performance as the reason for “wanting to go home”, it would have made a lot more sense.