Lye Town 0 Stourport Swifts 1 (4th November 2017)
With it being my turn to drive, and the prospect of a long trip north next weekend, this was something of a wimp out option, with trips to Goole, Grantham, Corby and Rochdale dismissed in favour of this two-hour trip to Lye, next to Stourbridge in the West Midlands.
Vibrant! Impressive! Stunning! – these are all words rarely used to describe the central part of Lye that the football ground finds itself in, but the nearby pub was decent enough, even if it was a bit gastropubby, with a hipsterish oddly-dressed barman. A few years back I used to think ‘young’ was the age at which you still believed wearing low-slung jeans looked good. Now I’d say it’s believing misshapen trousers that are tight round the calf yet baggy round the hips, worn to expose several inches on sockless shin, is a style to aspire to. A player had turned up similarly attired at Lye’s ground earlier, with his tracksuit bottoms ridden up like he’d just awoken having worn them in bed, after a sleeplessly tossing and turning all night.
The fair-sized Lye club bar was free of such young trend setters, as is the norm for non-league football, especially at this level. It was also strangely free of the usual Sky Soccer Saturday on the TV, with Jeff Stelling being replaced by an episode of Foyle’s War on ITV3. It was homely enough though, and a reasonable place to read the Lye Town programme, which was about as good as you’ll get for a programme that costs £1 these days.
After a post-pint dash to the stereotypically cosy non-league club bar toilets, we ventured out just as the teams were preparing to kick off. Like Stourbridge up the road, Lye share their ground with a cricket club, so have a three-sided ground. Also like Stourbridge, perhaps the most notable feature is the fair-sized cover behind one goal. While not as big as the one at Stourbridge, this one had an old-fashion barrel rood, and its rust seemed very at home with the yellow and brown autumnal foliage on the trees and the floor below. A couple of park benches at the back provided a lazy option for those who couldn’t be bothered to walk round to the main stand for a seat.
The main stand itself was a bit of a mish-mash of terracing and seats, with a roof that had been cobbled together from scaffolding poles a few decades previously. It was showing its age, but at step 5 of the non-league pyramid, so are most of the spectators, so it fitted in well.
Behind the other goal was a raised embankment offering a great view. Being just grass, you do expect a health & safety harassed club steward to tell you that standing up there is banned, but the only club official we spoke to was a very amiable chap, rather than the kind that exist who missed their calling in life as a car park attendant. Only a handful of people went up onto the embankment, although one of the three dogs in attendance did venture up.
The other side was just a series of crowd barriers across the cricket pitch, with the cricket pavilion beyond. One solitary figure stood on that side, exhibiting a Greta Garbo style desire to want to be alone.
Looking at the stats, an away win always looked likely, despite both teams not looking far apart in the table. Lye had made a grade start to the season, taking 14 points from their first six games, but hadn’t won since. Stourport, after a poor start, had won eight of the last ten.
Stourport also looked on paper the more entertaining side. While Lye’s six home games had yielded just nine goals, Stourport’s eight away games had seen a ridiculous 37 goals fly in.
Sadly my hopes of seeing something approaching Southports 4.625 goals per games away average were dashed by neither side playing that well up front. Both teams were attacking though, and it made for a strange game that had few clear chances, but was still quite enjoyable.
Perhaps the most entertaining player was the Lye goalkeeper, who seemed to be permanently the most angry man in the West Midlands, constantly shouting abuse at all around him as if he had a severe Tourette’s affliction. You got the expected range of profanities, but now and then you’d get comments such as when the ref merely had a word with a Stourport player after a hefty challenge, of “F***ing hell ref. If you want to talk to him you could take him out for dinner.”
Admittedly, more typical were comments like the one where a Stourport player was complaining of rough treatment after sliding under a challenge into the advertising boards behind the goal. “Get up you little c***” was his comment then, which was odd, and a little unwise, considering the Stourport player in question was bigger and more hefty than him.
Lye’s keeper was understandably thrilled when the ref blew for a soft penalty to Stourport shortly before half time. He was fired up enough though to dive low to his left to keep the spotkick out, and it was hacked to safety to keep the scores level going into the break.
Half time came, but still no Jeff Stelling on the TV (I think Midsomer Murders now, instead) but news of the scores coming through were good. We just needed a goal to get this game started now.
It came fairly early in the second half. Lye tried to play offside from a ball chipped over and across the defence, and got it wrong. The Stourport striker steadied, and then fired a shot low past the keeper – a shot which joined my fine collection of photos of goals being scored where something entirely blocks the view of the ball – this time a fat bloke in a tracksuit. “Gosh, how unfortunate” said Lye’s ever-happy keeper, or words similar in meaning to that.
My camera wasn’t the only thing to miss the goal being scored. A Stourport fan was collecting his raffle prize of a bottle of wine (he’d thought it was whiskey and looked a little disappointed) from the directors’ bar nearby at the exactly moment the goal went in, and missed it completely.
Could this breakthrough lead now to a flurry of goals? No.
Stourport, despite their rather garish “yellow with black hoops round half of the shirt” kit, definitely deserved to be winning, probably by more than one goal, but could never quite find the composure, always need one touch too many. Lye, on the other hand, were looking every inch a team who hadn’t won in the league for two months, and rarely threatened.
It was one of those games where the rustic backdrop, and some angry clouds in the distance perhaps made the game seem a bit better than it was. Sometimes the occasions and the setting can make the day almost as much as the game does, especially at a friendly club like Lye, who deserve better than what they’ve clearly been watching for the last couple of months. They weren’t terrible by any means, even if the Lye keeper no doubt had a few words to say about the performance of the ten in front of him. I may have used rather more words, but at least mine had the advantage of being printable.