Every blade of grass was glistening silver in the early sunshine, with each step came a crunch and a footprint fixed into the frost. The pathways in the shade were lethal too. There seemed to be little chance of the game being on, especially if it was played in my front garden. When the usual suspects arrived, they reported dense fog in the valleys and were equally pessimistic. Suddenly the phone rattled, a tweet from Alfreton Town, “No need for a pitch inspection today, game on!”
Our journey south was brief, just 77 miles and we were there in under 90 minutes. The fog along the way was intermittent. One moment it looked like a glorious, hard, crisp January day, the next a pea souper. As luck would have it, we arrived at a point where it was just cold and dull with a mist in the air. The entire stadium was visible, but it was a struggle to see into the windows of the houses nearby.
It was just like old times revisiting Alfreton’s Impact Arena; their club shop is the envy of all around, with multiple tables lined up outside the cabin. Each were filled with row after row of football badges from around the country, there were piles of football books, scarves, and shirts available from inside on request. The tea hut was doing a roaring trade with cheeseburger and chips for only £4.50 or just chips for £1.50. No wonder Tesco Pete had a couple of goes at those prices!
The pitch had been covered overnight and looked well-worn but frost free. It slopes from one end of the ground to the other. The away fans are normally segregated at the top end of the ground amongst open terracing with a small tin shed right at the back. Down the side of the pitch are a few rows of covered seating with seats at the bottom goal open to the elements where most people stand to get a view of the goal line tight against the perimeter fence. The changing room side is a warren of different brick pens, each used for hospitality, press etc; you could easily get lost down there so we didn’t stay long. The whole ground looks like it needs a serious paint job, but the people are great, and we were free to wander unsegregated.
At half time it was one-one. The Shaymen took the lead, shooting downhill on 25 minutes, perhaps against the run of play. The gloom has started to descend too, and it was increasing difficult to see clearly at the far end. It looked like Alftreton’s equaliser came on the third attempt after Johnson had twice made some decent blocks. Most of the half was played at the top end of the ground, it was cold, damp and the nearby tea hut was doing a good trade throughout the first half.
As darkness fell and the second half started, we sought refuge in the stand alongside the pitch. A good number of times we thought the ball was in one part of the pitch only for it to appear in another. Conditions were much worse than at kick off as the fog blew over the top of the stand rolling amongst the floodlights. We could just about see the linesman on the far side and the conditions stabilized but it wasn’t a great game. The most excitement was at the final whistle, penalties, and a dash to get to the right end of the ground.
The Shaymen were already two penalties behind by the time we reached the back of the goals. Alfreton took the first and scored, followed by one of ours that rattled the bar and bounced down on the goal line. Their second one was also scored as the locals celebrated as we walked past. It wasn’t until we got back in the car that we were able to agree how many further spot kicks were scored or saved. Sam Johnson made a couple of good saves, one Alfreton penalty landed in Betty’s back garden and most of ours were scored. The 480 fans all stood together, each cheering their team’s efforts. Jack Senior finally scored the decisive kick and put us into the next round
Driving back and we slowly defrosted and thought we’d done well to get though, Alfreton had the best of the game but the Shaymen don’t often lose penalty shoot-outs these days.
Next up we’re off to the Royal Borough of Maidenhead and Windsor. I think we owe them one and they owe us one too.
Goals on the road 19, miles 5386, c’mon Shaymen!
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