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Wednesday 11th March 2013 ko 19.45

West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division

CRADLEY TOWN 2 (Hill 85 Devlin 87)

BEWDLEY TOWN 0

Att 40

Entry £3

Programme £1

If like me you’re 40-plus and from Oxford, the Black Country town of Cradley equals Speedway. I remember watching the likes of Erik Gundersen, Lance King and Gert Handberg at Dudley Wood Stadium and being vaguely disturbed by a poster of former great Bruce Penhall in the bath, with far too few bubbles to preserve his modesty!

Speedway ceased in Cradley Heath in 1995, but of course Cradley and Cradley Heath are two different places, albeit adjacent. The football club has been in existence since 1948, and share the hammer logo, a nod to the town’s past as a manufacturer of chain. The chains for the Titanic were made here, and the one thing that is obvious from a trip here, is that in the Black Country things are made to last.

Just look at that stand behind the goal with the massive steel girders holding it up. I spent a few happy minutes during the warm-up amongst the iron, steel and yes ivy. Eventually I took my place in the much smaller centre stand (padded seats no less!) for the game.

There’s a vibrancy about the Beeches, whether its the café, or the club shop lovingly curated by Andrew Timberlake. I loved having the type of conversation you only get in non-league, about Chinese-takeaway style programmes! Andrew disappeared back into his shop and produced an example, Glastonbury Town from 1975! Believe me you don’t get that at Old Trafford.

Despite a wet night the pitch played beautifully and the game proved to be a question of would Cradley be able to find a route through a stubborn Bewdley defence. That defence was expertly marshalled by goalkeeper Tom Hunt who’d commented during the warm-up that with a wet ball he’s punch everything. In practice he caught everything and was his team’s best player by far.

It took time to beat him and his defenders, and the game was all the more engrossing for it. Eventually Martin Hill’s fine shot beat Hunt, then less than 2 minutes later Scott Devlin burst through a tired defence to double the lead and give a more realistic view to the score. That was no reflection on the excellent Hunt.

It wasn’t difficult to develop a soft spot for Cradley. How can you fail to enjoy the company of a club that complains that it’s still in the shadow of the Speedway team, and they haven’t existed for 10 years! Well gents, this is one visitor who will think of Cradley for nothing other than football.