Ilkeston FC vs Solihull Moors FC
FA Cup Second Qualifying Round
Saturday 27th September 2014
New Manor Ground, Ilkeston, Derbyshire
I’m generally quite late for things. From simple doctor’s appointments to several holidays, I’ve been known to frequently recreate the famous opening sequence of Four Weddings and a Funeral, with additional expletives and far-fetched promises that I’ll leave earlier next time.
Of the many things I’ve been late for, the most recent is an FA Cup Second Qualifying Round match in Ilkeston. Only, this time, it wasn’t my fault.
I arranged to meet my friend Francis in Ilkeston town centre at 2pm. Running late on his bus from Nottingham, I had time to grab a sandwich and sausage roll and explore my surroundings.
Ilkeston is a former mining town on the Derbyshire side of the Nottinghamshire border, and situated close to Nottingham. As I wait in my car, two women leave the bakery I’ve just bought lunch from, and one exclaims “this is an absolutely lovely bloody flapjack”, which both warms and amuses me in equal measure, not least because of the placement of the word ‘bloody’ in the sentence.
Francis arrives around 2.35pm and I trust him to guide us to the ground which, obviously, must be in the near vicinity, given that this was his suggested meeting place.
Fran is a Nottingham Forest supporter. We met a few years ago on the comedy circuit. He’s a lovely bloke who is almost impossibly upbeat all of the time. This includes when we see each other and realise we have almost the exact same shirt on.
A brief embrace occurs and I follow him through the busy marketplace and out of town ‘towards’ the ground. After several minutes chat, I ask him if we’re heading in the right direction. We appear to be wandering around the edge of several housing estates and past an out of town retail park.
An ice cream van passes and turns down a street across from us, playing the theme tune to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as it goes; Fran checks Google Maps as I contemplate buying a 99 and a Colt 1851.
From where we’re stood, lost, it’s a 21-minute walk to the ground along a canalside path, which is located beneath the bridge we’re stood on. It’s 2.52pm. We make our way down to the water’s edge and, on another unseasonably warm afternoon for FA Cup football, begin jogging.
I don’t do much jogging generally, and running alongside a canal makes me feel like I’m an extra in Taggart. We both tire quickly, and Fran tells me he’s had a chest infection recently. I promise him that, should he collapse, I’m in the perfect location and mood to dispose of him, continue jogging and claim he never turned up.
As we coast past the half-mile point of our journey in a time that Roger Bannister wouldn’t sniff at, the unmistakeable sound of a whistle indicating kick-off blows in the distance. We spot the large main stand and make our way towards the New Manor Ground. We’re two minutes late and the programmes have sold out, but we push through the turnstiles for a very reasonable £9 each.
The stadium holds over 3,000 when full and is the impressive home of the reformed Ilkeston Town FC, who were liquidated in 2010. Wound up by the courts and owing £150,000 to the Inland Revenue, it looked to be the end of a football club in this corner of Derbyshire.
Step forward Dave Mantle, an entrepreneur in specialist learning. Mantle invested in the Club and created a five-year plan to take Ilkeston to Conference North level, investing in youth and spending £100k on building classrooms within the ground along the way, to benefit the scholars who were unlikely to make a full-time career in the game.
Ilkeston find themselves one division away from their projected five-year target, with a decent young side who look comfortable in the seventh tier. The second qualifying round draw would provide them with a good test of how far they’d come.
Visiting Solihull Moors are firmly established in Conference North, finishing 8th last season. They sit some 20 places above Ilkeston in the league ladder going into the game. Formed in 2007, by the merging of Solihull Borough and Moor Green, their most recognisable name is former Jamaica international Darren Byfield.
We stand by the corner flag of the goal Ilkeston are attacking during the first half. Two noticeable aspects are the sheer size of the Solihull backline and the positioning of goalkeeper Tony Breedon, who appears to relish the ‘sweeper keeper’ role, and spends much of the afternoon on the edge of his box, encouraging a high line for his 6ft-plus back four.
Francis spots Forest legend Steve Chettle on the touchline, and now managing the Academy here, alongside manager Kevin Wilson. Chettle Junior, an 18-year old midfielder, is instantly recognisable in the middle of the park with a similar look to his dad. He was born shortly after Euro ’96. Bloody hell.
We discuss the phenomenon of our generation of players’ offspring now making their way into the game. Steve Chettle, Danny Blind, Peter Schmeichel…
“Andy Cole’s son is on loan at Barnsley”, I mention, and we briefly wonder whether his lad made it through school without anyone finding out about his dad’s ill-advised rap career. No wonder he goes by ‘Andrew’ these days.
Solihull lose possession before clearing long down the field and Breedon, kitted out in bright orange, screams his disapproval from the edge of his area: “Keep the f***ing ball!”
“Oi! ‘Keeper!” objects one fan behind the goal, in a thick Derby/Notts hybrid accent. “Do you want to mind your swearing? There’s kids here.”
Ilkeston win a corner in the 19th minute, and the ball is delivered dangerously into the box. It’s the first real chance the home side have created after soaking up pressure from their opponents for most of the early part of the game.
The home side find themselves on the back foot again, though, a few minutes later, as Solihull twice hit the bar before the ball is cleared. Sweeper keeper clenches his fists in disappointment; it’s clear how much a run in the cup means to the individual players.
A small gathering of Solihull fans spring into life in the terraced stand behind the Ilkeston goal: “Come on you Moors! We are Solihull, say we are Solihull”.
It appears to be a wake-up call to Ilkeston, who begin to find their way into the game. Another teenager, Che Adams, is dangerous down the left and always looking to attack. On the opposite flank, Kane Richards’ blistering pace is a threat.
I first saw Richards in 2012 as a young lad on loan at Matlock from Derby County. Those few years have seen him move permanently to this level, but seven goals in the early stages of the season certainly suggest he has the potential to make it a little higher up the league ladder.
Ilkeston almost break the deadlock with a fortuitous goal in the 32nd minute, as a cross from the right gets a clear shout from Breedon to claim. Instead, his defender clumsily chests the ball beyond him, and narrowly into the side netting. A disgruntled look and a pat on the back of his teammate says all the Vanarama Conference North’s answer to Hugo Lloris needs to.
Solihull’s high line is beginning to get pushed back as they clear two balls out of the ground, and in the general direction of the canal, in quick succession. We wonder if the Chairman sits thinking “there goes another £30” as each ball flies over the low stands and into the surrounding streets.
The turning point comes in the 37th minute. Kane Richards, beginning to see more of the ball, is clattered by Reece Fleet. He stays on the ground, writhing in pain, as Fleet holds both hands up in apology and admission before checking on the youngster.
“That’s a yellow” says the bloke next to us, and we agree. So it’s with some surprise that the referee produces a red card, and Fleet heads for an early bath. We’re shocked, although I’m distracted by how quickly the players regroup with barely a hint of protest to the officials. It’s depressingly rare to see almost no remonstrations, especially given that the tackle looked ‘amber’ at worst.
“Switch on now, lads”, screams Breedon. He soon becomes a target for the fans behind the goal, petulantly refusing to knock the ball towards the corner flag following an Ilkeston attack soon after.
“Oi, keeper, it’s a corner! Play it back! You idiot. Youuuuuu idiot!” screams one fan. Breedon is unaffected. Abuse from the fans is universal at all levels, it seems, although you do run a more considerable risk of being nutted in non-league. (NB I hereby trademark ‘Nutted in Non-League’ in case Danny Dyer ever makes a documentary about semi-professional football)
A last ditch clearance before the break sees Solihull on the counter-attack or, as Sky Sports appear to be trying to rebrand it, ‘on the turnover’. I think back to the woman from earlier and imagine her leaving the bakery with “a lovely bloody turnover”.
The half time whistle blows, and we take a walk around the pitch. Francis has his picture taken with the FA Cup (sort of) and we bump into someone he knows from the comedy circuit, a chap called John who goes to every home game and quite a few away ones too.
I mention that I think Ilkeston have a good chance in the second half, but he doesn’t seem overly confident. It seems that the side sometimes struggle under the pressures of playing in front of the home fans, and this is backed up by a pre-match call from the manager to get behind the team to fire them into the third round.
He tells us about the Club’s nickname, The Robins, and how the chairman bought the hairy red mascot’s outfit by chance while on holiday in France. We tell him that we missed this as we were jogging along a canal path at the time. For a moment, I think he studies this information alongside our matching shirts and internally questions whether or not we’re a couple.
We stand with John behind the goal that Breedon is now defending for the second half (“Have you come dressed as a traffic cone, keeper?”) after Francis is denied a beer. They stopped serving them during half-time (see FA Cup; Budweiser, Sponsored by).
“Come on Ilson, come on Ilson!” sing the fans. I later discover this is an intentional shortening of their name. Only outsiders pronounce the ‘k’, apparently. The fans are in full voice now, and clearly smell blood, as another red attack makes its way towards us and is halted by a cynical shove.
“Have a word ref! Animals!” screams a man to our left. I’m beginning to realise that I take great enjoyment in supporter overreactions like this. I suppose it was a bit like a lion taking down a gazelle in the wild, but the Solihull player stopped short of ripping out the windpipe of his opponent, which would have surely seen the visitors reduced to nine men.
Ilkeston continue to attack, with Richards and Adams involved down both flanks, and top scorer Duffy holding up play. His work was beginning to create chances for the midfield, where former Nottingham Forest man David Morgan was pulling the strings to great effect.
‘Ilson’ clip the crossbar and the pressure from the fans starts to build; I can see what John means. On the pitch, it’s becoming clear that Solihull are now looking for the replay with a quarter of the game still to play.
Breedon controls an aimless Ilkeston long ball and dribbles it to the back edge of his area, forcing Duffy to run him down and force his opponent to pick up and kick long: “That’s embarrassing. You’re embarrassing yourself”, says the veteran striker, as he makes his way to the ball.
“He hasn’t got too many sprints like that in him”, says John. “Sometimes he’s that knackered on 80 minutes, he just lays down.”
Another attack on 80 minutes creates the breakthrough Ilkeston have deserved. Che Adams beats his fullback once again and is tripped on the edge of the box. His claims that the foul was inside the box are dismissed, but with a delivery like David Morgan’s, it becomes irrelevant. His superb ball lands on the head of Ilkeston skipper Joe Maguire two yards out, and he firmly guides the ball into the back of the net.
The brother of Hull City’s Harry Maguire, Joe has made over 100 appearances for the reformed Robins, and recently received a call-up to the England ‘C’ squad. He’s looked good today, and his delight as he wheels away is contrasted by Breedon, who remains on the floor, shattered with the disappointment of the seemingly inevitable.
Duffy almost wrapped the game up in style in the final minutes, slotting home before being ruled offside. Solihull throw everything forward, and are almost rewarded in injury time, as Breedon, finally fulfilling his true potential by making his way up the field and 80 yards outside of his own box, helps to create confusion from a long throw.
A superb last ditch tackle from Kieran Wallace, timed to perfection as a chance appeared to be opening up, secured the win at the death and ensured Ilkeston advanced into the next round.
It was a breathless finish, but the final whistle was greeted with cheers as the home side applauded their fans. Solihull received their post-match debrief on the pitch, Phil Brown style, as Robins defender Jack Lane signed autographs for young fans.
Fran and I made our way back up the canal path, under his guidance, at a more leisurely pace towards* Ilkeston Town Centre to watch the North London derby. After two rounds, it’s two wins for the underdog. Where next?
* After half an hour of walking somewhere between ‘the general direction’ and ‘the wrong direction’, we found ourselves over a mile away from Ilkeston town centre and ended up calling a taxi. A nice man dropped us off at The Spanish Bar (highly recommended) for £2.80 where we missed our second kick off of the day and Francis bought me a packet of bacon bites to make up.
After the match, I left Francis in Ilkeston. To my knowledge, he’s still there.
The Underdog Blog Record 2014/15
P 2 W 2 D 0 L 0 F 3 A 0 GD +3
FA Cup Second Qualifying Round
Saturday 27th September 2014
New Manor Ground, Ilkeston, Derbyshire
Ilkeston FC 1 – 0 Solihull Moors FC
Ilkeston: 1 Jordan Smith, 2 Luke Shaw, 3 Kieran Wallace, 4 Akil Wright, 5 Joe Maguire (c), 6 Jack Lane, 7 David Morgan, 8 Callum Chettle, 9 Rob Duffy, 10 Kane Richards (Jake Mulraney 89), 11 Che Adams. Subs not used: Matt Baker, Mike Williams, Eli Bako, Danny Gordon, Ashley Hunter, Aaron Myles
Solihull: 1 Tony Breedon, 2 Michael Nottingham, 3 Dominic Langdon, 4 Reece Fleet, 5 Liam Daly, 6 Rob Elvins (c) (Aaron Brown 82), 7 Darren Byfield (Jay Denny 46), 8 Junior English, 9 Omar Bogle, 10 Ryan Beswick (Aitor Espoja 46), 11 Darryl Knights. Subs not used: Deale Chamberlain, Richard Taundry, Jordan Gough, Keenah Rosser
REFEREE: M Salisbury (Lancashire).