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Tuesday 6th February 2018 ko 19.45

East Midlands Counties League

STAPENHILL 1 (Gough 85)

KIMBERLEY MINERS WELFARE 3 (Bowen 32 Hassall 60 74)

Att c50

Entry & Programme £5

I sometimes wonder what a non-groundhopper makes of this blog. On one hand there are visits to some high-profile games such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s demolition of England in 2012 and games such as White Horse Abingdon where the attendance was me! People do seem to forget the commonality is that both are still football matches, but the question that isn’t answered by either is “What drives someone to drive through sleet and snow to watch over a 100 games a season?”

The answer is clubs like Stapenhill. It’s not important where in the footballing pecking order they play, it’s the fact that against all odds they are still around. If you don’t like football and you’ve never been to Burton-on-Trent chances are you’ve never heard of Stapenhill.

It is a largely subsumed village that in was mentioned in the Domesday Book as being owned by Nigel of Stafford. It grew during the Industrial Revolution around the Staffordshire clay brickyards. That saw rapid expansion that continued into the present day. You’ll find Maple Grove at the edge of one such estate. It’s the kind of place you’d never stumble across tucked as it is at the end of a cul-de-sac.

But like so many clubs struggling to get noticed in a world where nothing matters outside the Premier League there’s delights to be found if you can be bothered to seek them out. You won’t find plant pots made out of old footballs at Bayern Munich. Neither will you drive home after the game and arrive to find a message on your Twitter thanking you for coming.

If you don’t bother to find out you won’t know that the club nicknamed “The Swans” refers to the Swans that used to inhabit Stapenhill Gardens, and that the bowls club based at one end of the ground used to have its home at those gardens. The delight at this level of life us that there’s still plenty left to discover.

I was fortunate to watch this encounter with a real character of the non-league scene in the Burton area. Dan Bishop is secretary at Midland Regional Alliance club Moira United, and in the past has been variously secretary at Newhall United, election officer for the Monster Raving Loony party and is trying to complete an alternative version of the 92, applying for every single managers’ job and collecting the rejection letters… It goes without saying that that the Bard of Burton was on top form as normal.

But if you have been following this blog for a while you’ll be aware of my habit of jinxing clubs I watch, to the extent that I am thinking of renting myself out to watch clubs that other people hate. Imagine it, let’s imagine you’re a Nottingham Forest fan, so for a small fee, off I’ll trot to watch Derby County!

And once again I managed to catch a friendly club on an off-day, even if Kimberley Miners Welfare, now happily ensconced in the old Kimberley Town ground, are another notably friendly club. MW won, and won well in an encounter that on occasion saw some fairly hefty challenges. Referee Dave Constable had to act as his surname would suggest and police a fiery match.

But thankfully I was only present at a brief episode of the grand drama that is a football club’s life. Stapenhill have survived an arson attack that caused a brief departure from senior football, so it’s fair to say they’re strong enough to survive my malevolent influence. Good luck to them.

Dedicated to the memory of Dave West, photographer, groundhopper, Folkestone Invicta fan, and volunteer proprietor of Croydon FC’s club shop. Rest in peace Dave, one day I hope to take photos as good as yours.