Groundhop 1881 – Feckenham FC

Midland Combination, League Division 1
Feckenham FC v Archdale 73 FC
Thursday, 16th August 2012, 6.10pm
Studley Sports & Social Club
Entrance free, No Programme
Distance 123 miles, Attendance 38 (headcount)
 “Do you want a team photo?” enquired one of the subs enthusiastically. I pondered the question a while, trying not to appear too keen. In days gone by, I’d thumbed endlessly through my Panini Euro’76 album, staring awestruck at the great “on-pitch” team stickers. Do I want a team photo? Hmm… I looked out at the players limbering up on the Studley Sports & Social Club pitch, and then the Borussia Mönchengladbach team, and Lokomotiv Leipzig, then out again at the Worcestershire countryside. Grinning immaturely on the inside, I offered feebly in response, “Well if you don’t mind“.
After over a century playing at their spiritual home in the picturesque village of Feckenham, The Millers had moved to this ground in nearby Studley. It was a venue that couldn’t host weekend matches until September due to cricket commitments but, appeasing ground grading requirements of the league, the new ground provided them with better facilities. Floodlights or not, the officials were clear that this was one the better pitches in the league and had, under the careful eye of the very genial Club Secretary, Phil Tattersall, already checked it for “foreign bodies”.
The officials along with the Feckenham side were trying to keep warm. It was fifteen minutes after kick-off and Archdale 73 were nowhere to be seen. Of course, if more than seven (and I’d seen more than that) had shown their faces the ref would’ve signalled the start of the game, so they’d hidden in the changing room – foregoing any warm-up, stretches, or pre-match treats – waiting for ALL their team mates to turn up from work. It was a pretty obvious tactic but, considering everyone seemed to know each other, it was also a pretty poor one.
Once Archdale appeared, and kicked off, last season’s Les James Memorial Cup winners tore into them. For over half an hour chance after chance fell to Feckenham, but sadly all came to nothing. Near misses, strikes saved, shots parried, and goal line scrambles; nothing seemed to quite go to plan. Then ten minutes from halftime – from the odd Archdale corner – a miss hit shot landed at the feet of Lee Seldon. He done nothing much thus far, but managed to smack the ball home. Feckenham tried in vain to get back on level terms but – conceding a second from an Adam Blake own goal moments before the break – it clearly wasn’t going to be their night.
The second half was much the same. More good yet inconsistent play from The Millers, where unfortunately Sean Chance and Steve Roche – like Ian Heppinstall and Martin Keight in the first half – just couldn’t hit the target. Eventually Mark Grogan would score with a great low drive from the left but, in the meantime, Jamie Insall had already hit a third for the visitors. Arguing amongst themselves the disappointment was all too evident; at 3-1 the game was as good as over.
After a wonderful drive down from Colwyn Bay – via three Gold Post Boxes – I’d found a really beautiful village and a very warm welcome from another 1881 side. It was a match full of marginal errors, where the result hadn’t been what I wanted but the team were clearly better than I witnessed. There were blackberries growing behind one goal, subs keeping warm with a kick about with young children, and in Dan Nash there was one club member with huge Watford connections.
Back home again I looked at the “on-pitch” team shots I’d taken… the green shirts, one player not facing the camera, one wearing red and black, I knew I’d seen it before. Euro’76, sticker 96. Feckenham were obviously the Saint Etienne of the West Midlands.

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Initially appearing in this season’s Watford FC matchday programmes, consequently Groundhop 1881 reports will appear late on here. At the end of the journey, a book will be published telling the full story.
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