Matlock Town 1 Blyth Spartans 1 (23rd August 1014)
It’s probably not a good sign to be reviewing photos of the game I’d just been to, and finding there seem to be more of the surrounding landscape than of the match itself. It has to be said though, that Matlock Town do find themselves in a rather more picturesque setting than most.
Nestled in the undulating foothills of the Peak District, completely dominating the view at one end is a 200m high hill, topped by “Riber Castle”, a Victorian-built gothic-style residence, built by a local industrialist. It is, from many angles, enough to make you ignore the detail of the fact that that end of the ground is completely empty, backing direct onto the cricket pitch of Matlock Cricket Club, with the wicket just one over-hit lob away behind the goal. Dark stone buildings at the bottom of the slope complete the picture, even if the cars parked on the cricket outfield look slightly untidy.
At the other end, also rising up a hillside, even if not quite so dramatically, are the buildings of central Matlock itself. Dominating is the dome-topped building of Derbyshire County Council. Another proud stone structure, it started life as a hospital, before being bought by one John Smedley, the same industrialist who built Riber Castle. He converted it into a resort for the dubious treatment called “hydrotherapy”, which it remained until the 1950s, long after his death.
While Matlock’s Causeway Lane ground appears to have been one of the few things not touched by John Smedley, not least for the fact that the club didn’t form until a few months before Smedley died, it does at least have enough interesting details of its own.
The two oldest parts of the ground look to be the two stands built along Causeway Road, both slightly wonky with an awkward join, as they follow the line of the road itself rather than the pitch. Both were undoubtedly originally terracing, but one has been converted to seats, with just three rows of seats for those unwilling to walk round from the nearby turnstiles to the new main stand on the other side of the ground.
Next to this, looking even older, is a few rows of covered terracing. The numerous supporting pillars for even a structure this small somehow manage to also require further horizontal struts for support, giving an almost medieval look. Such an image is dispelled by the corrugated iron sheeting back walls, although these are at least painted white, with Matlock picked out in large letters.
At the town end of the ground, room is limited by a car dealership behind, but there’s just enough room for a sliver of covered terracing, reaching a giddying five steps in one half of the end. Two small crush barriers are deemed sufficient to keeps the crowds in this end in check. The views actually not bad from the back, but for non-regulars at least, your eyes will be drawn for to the hills beyond than the pitch.
The final side is much more modern. A six-row deep new main stand has seats for about 400 and changing rooms underneath. Only the requirement for erecting temporary building-site style fencing to separate players from spectators when entering/leaving the pitch detracts from the organisation on this side. Perhaps less organised was the tea bar, also new, where it didn’t seem to have occurred to anyone to put a price list in an area that could be seen from outside. In their defence, the pies were excellent.
On the other side of the main stand is the new club bar, before the ground drops off disconcertingly into the nothingness of the cricket pitch. In a ground where the final whistle is greeted by a tinkling version of the match of the day theme tune, as if played by an ice cream van (or maybe it was played by the ice cream van in the corner) quirky would certainly be the word.
As nice as the setting was, and as quirky as the ground was, a three and three quarter hour drive up through bank-holiday traffic seemed a less than worthwhile venture for much of the first half, which had a distinct whiff of “this’ll probably end 0-0” about it. Matlock have never beaten Blyth at home (and only once ever away) and looked to have all the confidence such a stat would give you. A few half chances were about the best Matlock managed – a header over the bar, a cross that was just reached by the keeper first, and a good cross that would probably have result in a goal if it had been headed, rather than trying to control it first.
Blyth, backed by decent support and looking more confident, weren’t exactly peppering the Matlock goal either. They did take the lead though, just before half time. A simple pass played a Blyth player in, and an almost effortless dink past the keeper steered the ball into the far corner. In a half where both teams to break down defences, the goal seemed almost impossibly simple.
Matlock clearly decided to get the ball forward quicker in the second half, posing much more of a threat, and it wasn’t a shock to see them draw level just 11 minutes into that half. Again it was another simple goal, with a deep cross to the back post being nodded back past the keeper.
From then on , unless Blyth could fluke a breakaway strike, there only looked likely to be one winner. Sadly, as the game progressed, no winner looked more likely. Blyth’s Indian sign over Matlock held firm, with the best chance for Matlock probably being another cross which just eluded a goal-bound contact at the back post, although one deflected shot that went wide could easy have gone in too.
News filtering through of Reading being hammered 0-4 down the road in Nottingham didn’t cheer me either. Even with the heavily decimated Reading squad seeming being made out of Chipsticks, such is their physical fragility, it was not a good day. Still, watching a game on a nice day, in a nice setting, Nottingham felt a million rather than 25 miles away, and not having to get stressed about the result is part of what seeing these neutral games is all about. How the Blyth fans felt, who’d seen their side blow a lead, or Matlock fans, who’d seen their team fail to capitalise on getting back into he game, is another matter.