Leek Town 0 Coalville Town 1 (19th April 2014)
It’s not often that overhead signs warning of long delays spanning three motorway junctions are treated as good news, but a chance to avoid a stretch of the M6 in favour of a drive through the Staffordshire countryside should always be a good thing. True, Stafford itself was designed by someone with a fixation for traffic lights, and you do get the impression that several members of Staffordshire Council must have shares in a company that makes speed cameras. Their ubiquitous nature, peppering the county’s A roads, is such that an alien visitor would no doubt think the yellow boxes on poles were an example of the region’s flora.
Get past that though (and past the odd tractor) and you get a fine sunny drive through rolling English countryside, with the brown stone buildings exuding a rustic charm. Even Leek itself looked nice place, full of half-timbered Tudor buildings jutting out, storey by storey over the town centre streets. OK, it might not exactly have UNSESCO world heritage status, but coming from a new town where the centre itself has just been aesthetically improved by bulldozing 40% of it, I’m a sucker for such stuff. Sadly a lack of time prevented a closer look.
A lack of time also prevented a detour up a hill overlooking one end of Leek’s ground, or a visit to the welcoming pub next door, but a beer and pie and chips in the club bar did just about suffice.
I have to say I was very taken with Leek’s ground. With cover on all four sides, and much visible beyond all round, it had a real sense of enclosure, so crucial is making a ground seem homely.
Both ends were covered low terraces, with two or three highs steps being sufficient for today’s higher than average crowd of nearly 600. Behind the southern end rose a steep hill, while opposite offered a factory as a backdrop. Not quite as picturesque, but almost anything visible beyond a ground’s walls makes it a more interesting setting. A roof fascia advert for a local company adverting itself as “a global leader is specialist chemicals”, hinting at a rather optimistic assumption of the number of football fans likely to impulse purchase a few gallons of Butyl Di Glycol Acetate.
The main stand is half the length of the pitch, and unusually is almost entirely in one half; the southern end. Its eight rows of seats are perched above club offices etc, with a steep and reasonably substantial terrace paddock in front. View-blocking front stairways for the seats probably make this terracing less popular than you’d expect, although with no extra charge to use the seats, anyone looking for that better view would use them instead.
The seats, as well as offering that good view of the pitch (near touchline excepted) also offer a view of the rising hills in the distance.
Opposite, only half covered, is another terrace. This one was partly closed off where a large sign appeared to have started collapsing. The wall on this side wasn’t the highest, with the result that a handful of cheapskate fans would watch from outside the wall, leaning in, beer bottles lined up for the afternoon session.
The reason for the earlier mentioned higher than average crowd was that not only did it pitch 3rd v 2nd in the table, the winners knew that if they won their two remaining games they’d all but certainly win the title. Earlier in the season these two sides had battled to a 0-0 draw, and the Leek manager’s notes had predicted another tight game.
He wasn’t wrong. While not actually a dull game, it was one of very few chances. Defences of both teams were very well drilled, swarming over attackers and smothering any danger. Anyone looking to put a cross in almost immediately found himself with two men to beat. And Leek were finding that even when they did put a cross in, the Coalville keeper was catching everything.
Coalville, looking for their 8th win in 9 games, just seemed to have an edge, and they took a crucial lead shortly before half time. A free kick to the side of the penalty area looked dangerous, but few could have been expecting a shot from there. It whipped past everyone, crashing in off the inside of the post to the delight of the Coalville team, and the noisy travelling contingent from Leicestershire.
The 2nd half was much the same story. More pressing from Leek, but finding very few gaps, and finding it difficult to even get a shot away, let alone threaten the Coalville goal. As a game, it probably needed a Leek equaliser to set up a finale where both teams needed that win, but I guess even in Leek, most would grudgingly admit Coalville deserved it. They’d also have to admit, barring a freak set of results, it’s a case of regrouping for the play-offs now as well.