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Non League Football Under The Microscope

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

The Mattlock Review
Nuneaton Borough FC

Before reading Nick’s account of a surreal experience at Manor Park, you might like to view the article that was published in the local press subsequently

View article (external link)

Nuneaton Borough vs Lancaster City.  Conference North.
10 September 2005

Why does any fan leave a football match before the final whistle? This is a question that has long vexed me. OK, when you’re 5-0 down and your team are playing like spasmoids undoubtedly the embarrassment can be too much. Maybe you absolutely PROMISED the wife on pain of death you’d be back by 5.30 for the dinner party / kid’s birthday / whatever. Perhaps as an away fan sitting in the home end you felt discretion the better part of valour. Or maybe you’re watching the wretched ‘Milton Keynes Dons’. But I can honestly say in over 500 football matches attended I’d never left a ground before the full time whistle. I’ve seen 0-0 draws after 92 minutes end as 1-1 draws on 94 minutes (cheers, Swindon Supermarine, it was a lesson well worth learning). So why, on Saturday 10 September 2005 did I feel compelled to leave a ground after just 65 minutes? Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the sad, surreal, indeed Kafka-esque world of Nuneaton Borough - abandon hope all ye who enter…

The Club
‘Stadiasafe Ltd’ trade as Nuneaton Borough A.F.C. 1991. Clearly then this is a business rather than a football club, although their primary purpose would appear for you to feel very, very UNSAFE in their stadia. I feel this is perhaps slightly at odds with the company name, but then this probably only applies if like me you are merely an occasional travelling football fan. If however you are a major housing construction company you could probably feel very safe at Nuneaton, safe in the knowledge that you are going to bulldoze the stadia and put houses on it instead. Safe as houses, indeed.

In 1998/99 the club won the Southern League title and got promoted to the Conference, and 2 seasons later got relegated on the last day of the season despite not having been in the bottom 3 at any point prior to that day. I felt sorry for them at the time, not now. Ha Ha. God bless you Leigh RMI; Nuneaton undoubtedly deserved it.

So the story is at present (allegedly) - the club have sold Manor Park to main sponsor Bloor Homes (somehow the image of turkeys wearing ‘Bernard Matthews’ T-shirts springs to mind…). Manor Park is (indisputably) due to become a twee housing estate for whatever the Coventry jet set might amount to. The club have been ‘promised’ an alternative site, and, after a few false dawns, appeared to have found a new location by the town cemetery. However, some pesky local residents (one assumes living, rather than the dead or indeed the undead. The undead appear to be gainfully employed by the club already as stewards) have chucked a spanner in the works and Nuneaton may soon be on the sort of crash course death spiral of groundlessness that has sounded the funeral bell for so many football clubs.

The Ground
Under the circumstances of ‘what happened next’ it is probably best that I don’t describe Manor Park in anything other than the most basic and indisputably objective fact. Subjective description will be eschewed for fear of invoking litigation from the mentalists that run the place (in case you wonder, the term ‘mentalists’ is objective fact and not subjective description).

There is a large covered terrace behind the eastern goal. In front of it is a large paddock. Along the south of the ground is a terrace with a new-ish cover. In the south west corner is a big clock. Along the west end is an uncovered terrace. On the north side is a seated stand, either side of which are the dug outs; a food stall (‘The Filling Stop’); changing rooms and club offices – more of which in a minute.

The food is good, typical of the midlands you can get southern bready products (burgers) and northern pastry products (pies). You can also get a very fine pork & stuffing cob (‘bap’ to southerners) with apple sauce for good measure. The tea is drinkable (when you’re allowed to drink it). In the south west corner behind the covered terraces are the r*ll*rs and m*w*rs – but we better not mention them ... On page 11 of the club programme is an advert for an internet lingerie website with some saucy photographs! In colour! Phoar!

The Game
This was a Conference North game between Borough & Lancaster City in front of Boro’s lowest crowd of the season at that point, 716. I was clearly the only person who’d travelled up to the game from London, as, having left London in blazing sunshine and driven through progressively cloud, drizzle, rain and into torrential monsoon downpours, I was the only person in the ground (a) wearing shorts and (b) without a coat. I really didn’t need the intervention of the ground staff that day to make me feel anymore foolish than I already felt.

However, I enjoyed the first 45 minutes immensely. Boro came out of the blocks like men possessed and after a scrambled strike by Kevin Wilkin from a corner and a good header from Neil Moore from a free kick Boro were 2 to the good after 7 minutes. Lancaster tried to get back into it but a third for Boro from Martin Reeves on 35 minutes meant a home victory was all but secured. Lancaster never appeared to cope with the wet conditions (I’ve been to their ground, they ought to be used to wind and rain!) and were just not up for it.

I was stood in the covered terrace above the paddock chatting to a well informed and opinionated Boro fan about Boro, their ground issues, near neighbours Hinckley, and all issues non league in general. At half time I wandered round the ground to get some snaps of the place and got some food and a cuppa. I headed back to the terrace but took a position closer to the main exit.

Although the rain had kept off during half time after kick off it started to pour torrentially again. Although the terrace was far from packed I noticed 3 huge stewards carving their way across the terrace with real menace. ‘Crickey, someone’s in trouble’ I thought, as you do, turning back to watch the game. “Oi! We want a word with you” said a voice behind me. Oh Christ, the person in trouble is me! What the hell have I done? I know I paid the right money for my cup of tea, I haven’t dropped any litter, and I leave racist chanting to Aldershot fans. Can this be an amusing case of mistaken identity? Probably not, as I’m the only person north of the Thames wearing shorts today...”

“Have you been taking photographs?” says the biggest of the three goons surrounding me with menacing scowls and threatening demeanours. Now although the gorilla addressing me clearly possesses less than the intellectual qualifications needed to be a car park attendant, as my camera is still dangling very visibly around my neck, a smart-ass “no” here on my behalf just to bamboozle him will probably get me good thumping. I opt for honesty and brevity- “er…yes” I reply. “Who are they for?” continues the ape in chief, as his companions twitch about me, cracking their knuckles and grunting. Hate is visibly dripping from their slobbering chops. Tricky one this. “No one” I say, and immediately I realise I sound like a liar. “Me” I correct myself and realise I now sound like a very sad and pathetic case indeed. “Well sometimes I submit some to a website – it’s a fans thing, it’s completely non-commercial”. Me and my big mouth. If I’d just left it at ‘they’re only for me’ they would have let it be. Well, they might have poked me in the eye or given me a Chinese burn or something, they were clearly up for a rumble, but oh no! I had to go and make myself sound important. Besides, ‘Non-commercial’ has far too many syllables for this lot to understand.

“Come with us please Sir – if you don’t mind!” There is nowhere to run, although I know I could outrun this lot – I’m training to run a marathon in two weeks time, I know I’m fitter than these pot bellied oafs. Hemmed in and, frankly, terrified, I do mind. I mind a lot. The sudden use of a polite turn of phrase is unedifyingly disturbing. I remember how smiley and polite the mob were to Joe Pesci in ‘Goodfellas’ - just before they shot him in the back of the head. “Come with you where?” I ask, desperately looking for assistance from anyone in the crowd. Those around me are unimpressed. The nonse in the shorts is clearly going to get a good kicking, and since Boro took a 3-0 lead, the game is now less than entertaining. This is a new sport! “Just…come with us”.

Surrounded by 60 stone of pent up aggression encased in lurid fluorescent yellow I am lead shamefacedly off the terrace, for crimes unknown, punishment to terrible to consider. Still clutching my polystyrene cup of tea I am marched down the side of the ground in the torrential rain and told to wait and, while being guarded on both sides by Tweedledum and Tweedledumber, Tweedlebigfatanddum talks into his walkie-talkie radio. He is talking to a woman in an office not 5 foot away from him. Why does he need to use the walkie-talkie? Because he HAS one. What a spanner. I am made to stand in the pouring rain until my once half empty cup of tea is now full again with rain water. Suitably wet and intimidated I am ushered into the palatial* Portakabin home of the clubs Managing Director, one Clair Finnigan. (* This is the only word so far in this entire tale so far I may have used facetiously, the rest, so help me God, is 100% genuine. But it is at this point that my day starts to go seriously hat stand.)

A youngish woman who looks prematurely middle aged and short of stature, Ms Finnigan introduces herself to me and shakes my hand. Civility appears to be the best option, I reciprocate. Ten Ton Matey and the Chuckle Bothers remain in close attendance, invading my personal space. We are joined in the room by a further man mountain, evidently the Chief Steward. His benign smile leaves me in no doubt that I am still in a serious amount of trouble here.

“You’ve been reported as having been seen taking photographs – around the back of the ground. One of our supporters told us you were” says Ms Finnigan. Dear God, I hope this supporter never takes his family to Longleat Safari Park – they have monkeys that will sit on your car bonnet and pleasure themselves sexually there. Imagine what a scene that would cause. Me, I only took a couple of pictures of a flipping rusty lawn mower. What gives in Nuneaton? Have these people never seen cameras before? Maybe they thought I was stealing the soul of the lawn mower.

Ms Finnigan asks me why I am taking photographs and why I did not seek permission from the club beforehand to do so. I reply I had no idea I had to seek permission from a football club to take photos, and that I have been to over 350 different football grounds and have never had any trouble about taking photographs before. (This isn’t strictly true, back in the summer of 2000 I got into an awful palaver at the Hardturm, home of Grasshoppers Club Zurich about taking my £800 Nikon SLR into the ground. I suspect that as a lone travelling English fan they expected I was going to throw it at some Swiss bloke’s head, or cause any amount of English Football Hooligan related rumbustuousness with it).

Ms Finnigan countered that the other 350 clubs were all in the wrong and she was VERY surprised I hadn’t got into trouble before today. It was an FA ruling that ALL pictures of ALL football grounds must be approved in advance. I would have to delete the photos I had taken. “Make sure he doesn’t just format delete them” piped up one of the Chuckle Brothers behind me. “If he just format deletes them, he’ll be able to retrieve them later” he explained. Blimey, news to me that is. How do I do that then Einstein? I really must read the instruction manuals of the equipment I buy better than I do.

It seemed pretty clear that since the moment Claire and I had shook hands, he and his moronic companions were not going to get the sanction to dish out the sort of beating they would have relished. This was the sort of man however, who almost certainly had brought a specially purchased hammer along with him specifically for busting cameras with, and by God did he have an opportunity today to christen his special ‘Nonce’s Camera Bashing Hammer’.

Whilst the others nodded sagely at the technical input from the evil buffoon behind me, Ms Finnigan chose to quiz me about the web-site I contribute to (sorry David, I’m truly, truly sorry). I explained it was just for non league fans, gave illustrated ground guides, directions how to get to grounds, etc… it was about the quirky and unusual, there were sections on different designs of stands, or dug outs or machinery …

“What do you mean, machinery?” asked Ms Finnigan”

“Well, you know, rollers, mowers, rakes, that sort of stuff”

“You’ve got photo’s of that?”

“Yes, I know I sound like a lunatic, but I’ve got some photos of the mowers”

“We can’t allow THAT!”


“We definitely can’t allow you to show photo’s of that – ANYTHING but that” exclaimed a now visibly agitated lady Managing Director. Even the four big goons have backed off. My camera possesses an evil totem – captured in the pixellated memory card of my Olympus is a deep, dark evil – even the seven foot 25 stone Chief Steward has taken a pace back from me.

“Show me your photos” asks Ms Finnigan, and I, feeling that the balance of power has turned, gladly comply. “Listen” she says when I have run through my photos (slipping in a couple of shots of AFC Wimbledon v Kingstonian at the end for good measure, just to make the point that we in South West London are a little more laissez faire about these things) “I’ll give you permission to publish all your photographs – EXCEPT the mowers!”

She is deadly serious. “Except the mowers.”

She takes up a piece of A4 headed paper and starts to write out her letter of authorisation. The tension eases. Chief Steward smiles at his 3 goons and gives them an ‘It’s OK boys, the mower pictures are safe’ sort of look, and grins at me. Claire checks with me again the name of the web site, then seals her letter in a plain envelope and with great solemnity, hands it to me. She shakes my hand again, as does the Chief Steward. I turn and walk out of the Portakabin.

In case you don’t believe this - here is the letter

It is at this point I expect the real denouement of the episode, damn I should have spotted the chief steward’s obviously fake beard, his withered right hand and… of course, I must have been set up. Watch out, Beadle’s about! Which one of my mates did this? But no one knew I was going to Nuneaton today, it was a fairly last minute choice of game. These people are for real. This actually happened.

“Excuse me Sir – don’t you want your tea?” calls the Chief Steward. I get the impression he finds this whole episode as surreal as I do. “It’s OK” I say, strangely uninterested in a long cold cup of rain water, “You can have it.”

I walk back into the area in front of the main exit gate. The legend above it reads ‘Thank you for visiting Manor Park’. I remembered I had meant to take a photo of that before I left. I’m not going to bother now, I feel very unwelcome, my day has been completely ruined. I am wet, angry, utterly perplexed, I’m speechless. I’m still coming down from the adrenaline rush of terror that the 3 security guards filled me with. The crowd on the terraces I was standing on 15 minutes early groan as a Nuneaton shot flies wide. I have no interest in this game whatsoever, I just want to leave. I do. Nuneaton fail to score again in the second half and the game finishes 3-0. Apparently.

I think I might have these strange, bizarre people on a technicality - I am aware of the irony of a grown man who takes photographs of rusty mowers as hobby calling anyone else ‘bizarre’ but I think under the circumstances someone who employs 4 bully boy bouncers to stop someone taking photographs of rusting machinery … oh, you get my drift- anyway, she said I could use any pictures but those of the mower – however she said nothing about the roller did she? Ha! Got her. In fact on opening the letter it states “None of the mower or machinery shots should be used”. Damn.

There is nothing, however, to stop me drawing a picture of the mower. Better still, I shall get my 6 year old nephew James to draw a picture of it instead. “James can you draw me a picture of a stumpy little woman with short blonde hair pushing a lawn mower?” It will be framed – and put up alongside my hand written and signed letter from the Managing Director of Nuneaton Borough A.F.C. 1991, authorising the publication of my photos (but not the mower or machinery ones)

View James’ picture

Look, these people really don’t deserve your custom. Sad that Manor Park will soon be a housing estate, but believe me, this place isn’t worth the hassle of trying to find it.

Out & About
What is Nuneaton for? Long before even the sorry circumstances under which I departed Manor Park, I was thinking that this section of the report was going to be very hard to write up. There is no National Trust site within a 25 mile radius of Nuneaton. There is no ‘quirky’ tourist options described in my new found travel bible ‘B****cks To Alton Towers’ within a 30 mile radius of Nuneaton other than … Alton Towers.

Nuneaton deserves not one single mention in ‘I Never Knew That About England’, another indispensable guide book to our fair island home. It doesn’t even feature in the top 50 ‘Crap Towns’ in the book of the website of that name – clearly a major oversight. On the northern ring road leading out of the place is a ‘water feature’ in the middle of a roundabout that looks like a huge football. This is to remind the locals they should stand and admire the football shaped water feature in the middle of the roundabout rather than go and be threatened and bullied by the numbskulls running the local football club. I say again - what is Nuneaton for? I thank my mate Steve for this - it’s simply there to make Coventry look less dull.

Since you ask …
In the few days since this absolutely bizarre incident I’ve racked my brain as to why a supposedly intelligent human being would take such umbrage at a (clearly sad and inadequate individual such as myself) taking a couple photographs of a rusty old lawn mower. I assume Ms Finnigan to be intelligent as she is after all the Managing Director of a football club. She has headed Nuneaton Borough stationary with her name on it. Alternatively she might just be one of those dim blondes who inexplicably rise up through the ranks of commerce by back stabbing their way through the ‘human resources’  department, copying other people’s work and putting their own name on it and quoting spurious ‘Health & Safety’ legislation to get their own way. I do not know Ms Finnigan’s qualifications, I’ve just told it as it was. Still, I can’t help speculating as to why a photograph of a rusty roller caused such a kerfuffle. I have 2 theories so far…

Theory 1 – Desperate to head off the local resident objections to the new ground, the club realise that traffic, car parking, floodlit light pollution, crowd noise, congestion, or litter are not the stumbling block – the antiquated and noisy mower cutting the grass every Friday evening is what will really get the locals’ backs up. Therefore any depiction of this decrepit machine will really jeopardise any chance of the new ground application going through unopposed, therefore all images of the mower must be ruthlessly suppressed and censored.

Theory 2 is this – in a ‘Dirty Den’ type scenario the ex-manager of the Supporters Club social bar has been bumped off and buried in a shallow grave under some fresh concrete not thirty yards from the scene of the crime. Warwickshire Constabulary – still looking for that missing pub landlord? Here’s a tip – check under the mower at Manor Park! They even flattened the body down with the bloody roller! (Well of course it was bloody after they smacked him on the head with it…boom boom.) This theory is given further credibility by the fact that the chief steward was a dead ringer for ‘Minty’ off Eastenders.

Oh, and if you’re wondering – will I pay a visit to the new ground once built? No, I won’t be going back to Nuneaton - ever. I’m not bitter though - I just hope Bloor Homes leave them homeless and penniless!


Postscript Since this incident it would appear that Clair Finnigan has left the club

After the article appeared in the local paper I received the following email [sic] ...

hi my name is [name removed] and I live in nuneaton and im a photography student,  I read the article about one of  the photographers that go round to the matches take pictures for you . Got in trouble about some stupid image of a lawn mower,I would like to add that nuneaton has a whole is not to bad and the lady in question comes in my work and i can see how you would think she a witch, cos i do,but you cant judge people by their cars but she does drive bmw sports 4x4 brand new also i read that she wasn't allowed in the ground after the inccident for a match or 2 maybe she will think before she uses  bully tactics again.

Well i hope you will come back to nuneaton some day x

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