AFC Telford 3 Gainsborough Trinity 0 (26th April 2014)
Having chuckled at the Scottish man in front of me in the tea bar queue struggling to put across that “two teas” is not the same as “a cheeseburger”, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when my own request for a coffee and a cheeseburger came back as “a coffee and a tea?”
The fact that this incident (notwithstanding a painfully slow detour through an atrociously designed one-way system in a retail park near Telford’s ground to get some cash) was about as bad as the day got, shows it was a good trip.
I’d gone up a little early to visit the Iron Bridge at Ironbridge, just south of Telford. It’s quite a picturesque little riverside town, although the people who stay at the guesthouses must wonder what exactly they are going to do once they’ve spent 20 minutes looking at the 239 year old bridge from every angle. There are several museums about, it has to be said, but the tile and pipe museums don’t exactly sell themselves.
I didn’t really see much of Telford, but the rebuilt Bucks Head ground is in an older part of town, with plentiful street parking, or at least there was when I turned up shortly after two. Queues were already forming at the turnstiles for this anticipated game – where a win would guarantee the Conference North title and promotion.
The queues might have been lessened had they opened more turnstiles, but they stayed resolutely shut on two sides of the ground, something confirmed by a fruitless walk to the far end of the ground to try to get in there, only to be directed back. At least I was less distressed than a stray dog that whimpered upon not be allowed access to AFC Telford Learning Centre, part of the boxy block of offices behind one terrace of the ground. Harsh as that may have been, for the dog to promptly take a dump on the grass opposite the entrance was taking its protest about their entry policy a little too far.
My own entry into the ground was through an “aged 16-19” turnstile, which on this day was allowing in anyone. A complete lack of coins for change saw me being ushered through at concession price of £10 too. I’d like to think it was also because she thought I can’t have been that far over 19, but I’d also like to think I have a fair chance of dating Maria Sharapova too, and that doesn’t touch on reality either.
Bucks Head is a modern ground, built on the site of their old ground, but it’s actually a very good modern build. Best is probably the new main stand, with seats for 2200 and executive boxes at the back. Strangely this new stand does not include the changing rooms or tunnel, with the players emerging from the corner between this stand and the end terrace at the southern end of the ground.
Both end terraces are proper steep terraces, covered with a curving roof, and offering a good view. If the northern end of the ground was more popular with the fans, the southern end seemed to be popular with the local pigeons, leaving enough deposits splattered across the terraces to mean that if the club ever gets into financial difficulty again, they’d be able to pay their debts by guano farming.
The final side is an open terrace with the offices/learning centre block at the rear. Sadly it makes this side look a bit unfinished, but the other three sides are so smart that you hardly notice. And with the weather, after pre-match bout of indecision, deciding to stick with sun rather than rain, the side was a popular viewing spot.
The 30 or so Gainsborough fans who made the trip opted, as did I, for the emptier southern end of the ground. As a mid-table team with nothing to play for, against a team needing a win to go up, they can’t have travelled with too much hope of a good end to the day.
To be fair, they were no mugs throughout, never giving up, and always looking to play rather than to just stifle. In fact in the opening stages they gave almost as good as they got, forcing a few corners,and getting the odd shot away – although “away” is about the kindest description of a few of them.
It was clear though that Telford definitely had the edge, and that extra determination. They used the width of the pitch, and played off the ball so well to get into good positions that it looked only a matter of time until the opener. A very slippery penalty box wasn’t really helping either side though. With one fine turn and shot into the bottom corner being disallowed for offside, one of these slippery scrambles looked bound to end in a goal eventually. One resulted in the ball breaking free about a metre out from goal, at an angle. With 1-0 looking certain, the fired in shot somehow bounced up from a combination of keeper/defender and post, to ricochet up and away to safety.
Eventually one ball just had to drop kindly, and a blocked shot presented itself six yards out for a 25th minute tap-in. Had the goal not come then before too long a few nerves might have started spreading, but this, you just felt, was the start of the party.
It really ought to have been too. For the rest of the half the Gainsborough goal led a charmed life, somehow repelling attack after attack, with more “how did that not go in?” moments than a drunken date with a girl with suspiciously large hands. Had the half ended 5-0, Gainsborough could not have had any complaints. Telford were creating openings at will.
Telford probably didn’t want half time to come, as it gave Gainsborough a breather and a chance to regroup. Trinity started the 2nd half with a greater will, and again forced a few corners. If they thought they might get something from the game after all, they were undone by one rash tackle in the 53rd minute. With a Telford player offering no direct danger as he ran into the box at the side, an attempted clearance found man rather than ball, and the ref pointed to the spot.
The kick was calmly buried into the bottom corner, and the little bit of tension that had started creeping in was lifted. It was only 2-0, but if felt a very big lead against a Gainsborough team who, despite their best efforts, didn’t really look like scoring.
The clock ticked down, the singing got louder and louder, especially with news of near neighbours Shewsbury’s impending relegation filtering through. With a few minutes left the stewards starting fanning out in front of the terraces, to theoretically try to prevent the customary promotion pitch invasion from the fans already starting to gather at the front of the terraces. The message came through though to just let them on, and not to be Cnuts holding back the human tide.
What the stewards maybe hadn’t bargained for was Telford, with the pressure off, going for the grandstand finish. One minute to go and another good through ball found a Telford forward in the clear, to wrap up the game with a shot into the far corner. Cue bedlam as the fans run on to celebrate it being absolutely certain, even if they were unfashionably early for the party.
Once they’d cleared the pitch it was a case of playing out time before everyone could run on, properly this time, and the party could truly begin.
With Telford favourites for the title on this day, the Conference North trophy was at the ground, and once the pitch was cleared, it would be presented to the Telford team in the centre circle.
On an emotional day, the PA guy changed the mood slightly to dedicate the title and promotion to Georgia Williams, a 17 year old girl who was a volunteer and 50/50 ticket seller at the club, who was tragically murdered last summer. He was clearly choked adding “this is for you, Georgia”, but there was pride in his words, not just sadness.
All that was left was for the team to receive the trophy and medals, and do the lap of honour. With it being over 60 years since Telford (as United rather than AFC) won a title, it’s no surprise they milked it for all it’s worth. Such days don’t come around too often. Well, not in these parts anyway.