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Eastbourne Borough fans celebrate - August Bank Holiday Monday 2003                                Photograph by Sam Hicks

The Mattlock Review
Newcastle Town FC

Newcastle Town vs Stoke City. Pre-season friendly.
10 July 2005

Having been in East Midlands for the weekend visiting family and friends, the trip along the A50 to the Potteries to see Newcastle Town v Stoke City in a Sunday afternoon pre-season friendly simply looked like a convenient fixture rather than one that necessarily appealed greatly. However, a combination of a really unusual stadium, glorious weather and a goal fest made it a most satisfying trip!

The Club
The club was formed in 1964 and took on its present format in 1986 after the merger of Parkway Clayton and Newcastle Town, after the original Newcastle Town hit financial problems. The club started in the Mid-Cheshire League moving up to the North West Counties League where they consolidated in Division Two, and gained promotion to Division One in 1992 after finishing runners-up.

The club have had a ‘nearly’ status ever since with ambitions to get promotion to the Unibond dashed on several occasions. The club narrowly missed out consistently during the end of the nineties, although they did enjoy some notable cup successes. In 1996-97 the club defeated three UniBond League sides on their way to the first round proper of the FA Cup and a meeting with Notts County. Town eventually bowed out at Stoke's Victoria Ground - one of the last Cup ties ever to be staged at the famous old stadium.

In 1998-99 the club narrowly missed out on promotion again, once again finishing second, this time to Vauxhall Motors; the same year a run in the FA Vase ended with semi final defeat to eventual winners Deal Town.

In 2003, the club yet again missed out on promotion to the Unibond, finishing only one point behind Warrington Town. In came a new chairman, Carl Birchall. Birchall had played for Parkway Clayton and was a regular supporter of ‘Castle and he could see a great potential within the Club. He appointed Nigel Gleghorn as Team Manager. Gleghorn had made over 200 League appearances for Stoke City along with spells at Birmingham City, Manchester City and Ipswich Town.

The Ground
Ground Capacity 4,000. Covered Accommodation 1,000. Seats 300

This extraordinary ground is situated inside a cycle track! Grounds inside athletic tracks (Croydon, Sporting Bengal, Walton & Hersham, Morpeth to name but a few) usually have a muted atmosphere as the fans are so distanced from the pitch. However within the cycleway with its steep banked corners this is much less the case. Obviously the ends are someway behind the goals (big enough in this case for a large hospitality marquee erected to host some private / corporate function) but the advantage is that a good view can be afforded from all areas of the ground.

The ground is in a large park land area on the edge of a pleasant, well-to-do residential estate. Although not far from the A34, A500 and M6 it really is a rather peaceful and charming location. There is plenty of car parking available.

Entering through one of two turnstiles that flank the main gate (there are also turnstiles to the sides of the ground) you enter an area where a number of function rooms and club houses are accommodated to your left. To your right are steps up a steep grass embankment that surrounds the near end of the arena. Beyond the club house complex is a large 300 seater stand with excellent views that sits opposite the far 18 yard line. It does look slightly out of proportion to the rest of the ground but presumably was designed more for the watching of cycle racing than the football. On the opposite touchline is a much longer covered wooden stand which is standing only but with a slight element of terracing to it. Both the curved ends of the grounds are uncovered, but due to the nature of the cycle track banking are elevated to a good height above pitch level.

Beer and drinks were available around the ground, the club officials very friendly and accommodating, allowing me a ‘pass out’ to collect some spare camera batteries from my car without hassle.

Food came from two mobile burger vans: one situated by the main gate in front of the clubhouse and the other behind the far stand. Despite the name ‘Superburger’ on the side of the vans I can assure you this is misleading – ‘super’ they ain’t. The club must have shifted enormous quantities of bottled water, pop and cans of lager that afternoon – it was scorching. With two and a half thousand thirsty Stokies to keep watered the club must have made a tidy profit for the day.

Directions
Exit the M6 at J15 and take the A500 towards Stoke. At the first roundabout turn left onto the A519 for Newcastle, cross the first roundabout on this road, through a set of lights and take the right at the next roundabout into Stafford Avenue. After ¼ mile turn left into Tittensor Road (the ground is signposted) and the ground is dead ahead as this road intersects with Lilleshall Road.

The Game
Newcastle Town played host to very near neighbours Stoke City (The Britannia is no more than a mile away). It was a fabulous hot afternoon and the Stokies were out in force. Although the official attendance (official attendance at a pre season friendly? That’s a first!) was given as 2,436 those around me agreed it was probably closer to 3,000.

Stoke played a number of well known names including goal keeper Ed De Goey, a slim looking Gerry Taggart and ex-Chelsea and Leeds United defender Michael Duberry, a player who when he was much younger I mistakenly believed to be ‘talented’ but who has sadly failed to rise to his potential.

The match was pretty much one way traffic, with Newcastle unable to do much to trouble De Goey in between retrieving the ball from the back of their own net! 4-0 at half time became 7-0 after 90 minutes, the last 2 goals coming very late as the heat of the afternoon took its toll. Stoke’s Mamady Sidibe got a couple on his debut, whilst Gerry Taggart, Darrel Russell, Lewis Neal and Martin Paterson (2) were the other scorers.

Out & About
Stoke is best known as the centre of the ceramic world, where there are visitor centres, museums and factory tours for Wedgwood, Spode, Portmeirion and Moorcroft. Stoke is the closest town to Alton Towers and has another theme park of sorts at Waterworld on Festival Park. Stoke’s “Cultural Quarter” is where to head in the evening for theatres, clubs and restaurants. Stoke actually consists of five towns, and these were described by novelist Arnold Bennett in a series of novels. The town of Burslem can be explored by following Arnold Bennett's "Bursley Trail". In Stoke town centre is Josiah Wedgwood's grave and the Courtyards at Spode, by following the Stoke Heritage Trail.

Since you ask …
With the sun still blazing hot as I left Stoke, the roof of the car down and the tunes turned up I figured that a Sunday afternoon coming down the M40 towards London might be slow but what did I care? However what I’d failed to take into account was that I’d meet 100,000 people leaving Silverstone after the end of the British Grand Prix. Consequently the traffic was shocking and the journey back much, much slower than anticipated…

NM

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