Tuesday 24th September 2019 ko 19.45
National League Premier
MAIDENHEAD UNITED 1 (Whitehall 62)
DOVER ATHLETIC 2 (Cumberbatch 19 L’Ghoul 77)
When Robyn moved to Oxford 3 years ago, it gave me the perfect excuse to revisit some of the more interesting grounds near her new home. It was hardly surprising the likes of Marlow and Metropolitan Police got quickly visited and the process got dubbed as a “Robyn Revisit” but a complete mystery was why Maidenhead’s York Road took so long for me to return to?
The ground is, with the agreement of both the Football Association and FIFA, to be the oldest association rules football ground in the world in continuous use by the same club. Maidenhead moved into what was originally Maidenhead Cricket Club in 1871 and played their first game here against Marlow on 16th February, and have played here ever since.
Now that statistic made me immediately think of Hallam (the world’s second-oldest football club) and their ground Sandygate which is recognised as the world’s oldest football ground, dating from 1860. The important distinction here is the phrase, “In continuous use” as Hallam didn’t use Sandygate between 1933 and 1947 with the likes of Crookes Working Mens’ Club and Fulwood using the ground in those years.
It’s my experience that clubs with long histories like Maidenhead often seem to have slightly troubled existences, look at the financial problems Oxford City have had, or Cray Wanderers’ attempts to build a home of their own. Maidenhead seem to have avoided all of that, just the inevitable tides of footballing fortune, but in recent years a upward trend in fortune, even if Robyn did remind me of one of our earliest dates, a soaking and a quite amazing game away at Truro City!
York Road has has to be adapted for Maidenhead United to gain that precious “A” grade needed for the National Premier. Largely that was achieved with the construction of the new stand on the railway side, and by segregation gates (not used for this game) at the Bell Street end. Bell Street is now the entrance for away fans.
But what makes York Street special hasn’t changed, it’s still an old-style ground tucked way in the the community it represents. Yes, its old but the charm here isn’t so much antiquity, rather the atmosphere a town-centre ground under lights always provides its visitors. You stroll round, you take it all in, and then you pick your spot for the game.
The game was unusual in that it pitched two part-time clubs in the highest tier of non-league. I’m not sure though there was any diminution of playing quality when compared to the bottom-end of the full-time game. I remember my team playing full-time football at this level, more than once a player turned us down because he could earn more playing part-time and continuing with his non-footballing career!
It was, by anyone’s standards a good game to watch with Kurtis Cumberbatch’s piledriver for Dover being equalised by Danny Whitehall’s clever free kick from the edge of the box. I suspect both sides would have settled for a point but Nassim L’Ghoul profited from Freddie Grant’s error to lash home to take all the points for Dover.
Of course the great advantage of being a neutral is that you can visit somewhere without being emotionally attached- I know people involved at both York Road and the Crabble. But as Robyn and I dashed back to the car, trying unsuccessfully to avoid the heavy rain, it was clear that the remarkable part on this evening was York Road, the historic, iconic, football ground of Maidenhead.