Saturday 27th July 2018 ko 19.45

United Counties League Premier Division


DEEPING RANGERS 1 (Simpson 17)

Att 285

Entry £6

Programme £1

There seemed to be more than simply geography involved in the coach trip from Sutton Bridge to Sleaford. We’d spent the rest of the day watching 3 games in the company of the Peterborough & District League, but were moving 2 promotions up to the top flight of the United Counties League. The level we’d be watching would attract a largely different type of hopper to this game- and that would be one who took a far greater notice of what facilities would be on offer.

Eslaforde Park has been Sleaford Town’s home since 2007 and was very much built to allow the club firstly to continue in the UCL, and to allow the club to seek further promotions. And therein lay both what attracted a certain type of hopper, and repelled a few others.

On one hand just about everything you’ll see as Eslaforde Park, you can see at another ground. The architects went for the tried and tested approach, and the covered spectator accommodation comes straight from the “Arena” catalogue. Those stands are about as unpopular as they can be in groundhopping circles due to their poor sightlines and the fact that so many grounds feature them.

But that view is to do Sleaford’s home a disservice. Look closely at it, as it’s supremely well thought out. Look at the hatches in the club house and outside walls allowing the food and drink sales to move 2 queues at once. Look at the dugouts placed opposite the main stand so every seat has a reasonable view. You think something so obvious as not placing the dugouts in front of the stand is a given? Try visiting Chinnor….

Then have a look at a large car park and the space available for expansion. Yes, this ground may look a little like Harborough Town but there’s space for the club to add to what they’ve got. Perhaps they’ll look to Stadium Solutions and the CB Hounslow model if they go down that route, I hate Arena stands as much as many others!

So while Eslaforde is a functional ground rather than a pretty one, it is an excellent home for a notably friendly club who make it work of for them. I did find myself comparing the place to East Fife’s New Bayview Ground if only for the backdrop being a power station! In this case the station is eco-friendly straw-burning one, rather than the now-demolished coal slurry burning plant that blighted Methil’s seafront.

I enjoyed Sleaford’s hosting, and not just for the sausage casserole that sold as fast as people could eat the stuff! It was the quiet competence of it all that I fell in love with- the fact that whenever I looked to see that something was being done it was. I wonder whether they’d asked visitors Deeping Rangers for advice. They were the first hosts on the first UCL/PDFL hop and had that same air of quiet competence about them too.

They’d also done it just after the tragic loss of chairman Hayden Whitham, in fact I remember him asking me the kind of searching questions I like a month or so earlier at the hop planning meeting. It is to their great credit that they gave us such a memorable evening.

This game probably won’t linger long in the memory. There was nothing wrong with either side, but on this particular evening they managed to almost completely cancel each other out, with just one early Deeping goal settling the tie.

We picked our way back to Peterborough along darkened roads. On our travels GroundhopUK will undoubtedly visit quirkier, more characterful grounds than Eslaforde Park, but wherever we visit, those hosts could learn much from friendly, decent Sleaford Town.