Tuesday 3rd December 2019 ko 19.45
National League North
LEAMINGTON AFC 3 (Edwards 16 Mace 57 Carline 77)
I think you’d have to have a footballing heart of stone not to have a soft spot for the Brakes. This is the club who lost their old Windmill ground in April 1988 to a property developer and didn’t kick a football in anger for 12 and a half years. A group of fans continued to meet at the Windmill pub close to the site of the old ground and continued to pay the Birmingham FA the fees each year to keep Leamington’s registration going and the name alive.
Those fans also fundraised tirelessly and over those twelve years raised £30,000 to purchase a plot of 6 acres near Great Harbury and build a new ground. The ground was, and so some extent still is a wonderful mismatch of bit of footballing furniture recycled from old grounds. The floodlights came from Halesowen, a small stand from Stratford College and turnstiles, seats and the PA from Oxford United’s former home, the Manor Ground. As an Oxford United fan, I’m bound to say the PA worked better here than it ever did at the Manor! There was also the added bonus of Chesterton Windmill providing a nod to the past.
The revived club entered the Midland Combination’s Division 2 in 2000 , then a nominal 7 steps from the Football League and a far cry from the club’s (as AP Leamington) heyday in the Alliance Premier League, now the National League Premier. I saw them in 2004 in the Premier Division playing the now defunct Massey Ferguson, and it was clear that with the levels of support they were getting that they wouldn’t be playing local football for much longer.
These days the club seems to be too big for the Southern League but struggles in the lower division of the National League. You can see why, and its got nothing to do with facilities. It’s all to do with geography, can you imagine how long the Darlington players and fans took to get home after this game? After all, at this level this meant to be a part-time game!
The great beauty of the New Windmill Ground is that everything you see and use has been earned by the club and it’s volunteers. It’s mish mash for different facilities but a glorious one nonetheless. But the issue now facing the club is that the ground is a good 5 miles from central Leamington Spa and the ground is at the limits of what can be achieved. It must be a real wrench for them, but the club are looking to move to a proposed new stadium at Gallows Hill, to the south of Leamington. That hopefully wills allow the club the opportunity to progress.
The proposed 5,000 capacity stadium is clearly influenced by AFC Fylde’s new Mill Farm development. There would also be a gym, bar, café and community facilities and the development would be in part funded by Leamington Council acquiring the current ground and converting it to a Gypsy and Traveller site.
You hope that the sense of everyone pulling together can be transferred to Gallows Hill, as for me that’s what makes a trip here so special. The game was an eventful oddity. Two sides struggling at the wrong end of the division were both misfiring with both shots and passes going astray. But then poor Darlington defending allowed Edwards’ header to loop over the visiting goalkeeper’s head and from then on the Brakes pulled away for what was in the end a straightforward win. All credit to the coachload of Darlo fans for undertaking a beast of a journey on a cold evening.
I’ll watch Leamington’s progress with some interest even though these days I live just than little bit too far to make attending games a regular occurrence. There’s is one of football’s great Cinderella stories and I hope the new stadium will allow those wonderful fans who kept the club’s name live for 12 long years the happy ending they deserve.