Football, groundhopping, GroundhopUK, Hillfield, JCB, Non League, North West Counties League, NWCFL, Rocester, Sandbach United
Saturday 4th March 2023 ko 11:00
North West Counties League Division One South
SANDBACH UNITED 4 (Tatters 22 Fitzpatrick 44 Cope 48 Barton 85)
I should start by answering the two most frequent questions asked about Rocester; it’s near Uttoxeter and its pronounced Roaster! We set off from Stafford knowing that we had 4 completely different grounds to visit. On a personal note, I knew 3 of them, and I fully expected Rocester’s to be my highlight, at least on architectural grounds.
You are very much on planet, J.C.B. in this part of the world. The Plant company has its’ global HQ here, and the factory yoiu can see behind the goal is the firm’s training college, but was originally built for Richard Arkwright, the inventor of the water powered spinning frame. The ground lies on the site of a former Roman Fort, which gives the club its nickname of “The Romans” with the ground’s name of Hillsfield being a portmanteau of Don Hill (a former chairman) and field.
Once again it was time to catch up with friends. Many now know that the roots of this hop lie with a Twitter conversation I’d had with Joe Gibbons, then of Atherton Colleries. It’s hard to believe that conversation, and drifting snow at AFC Emley was 10 years ago. It was good to see Joe, who seems to have hidden the years better than I have and was also more successful in getting an Oat Cake from the serving hatch.
Rocester do seem to be on the border of wherever football chooses to place its boundaries. They’ve variously played in the Staffs County League, the West Midlands League, the Midland Alliance, the Southern League, the Northern Premier League, and the Midland League before being switched to the North-West Counties League for the start of last season. Given they only left the Staffordshire County League in 1987, you do wonder whether the constant league changes have led to the Romans’ current predicament.
Put simply they were rock bottom of the table here and as I type this are mathematically down. We saw little to suggest that they’d be able to buck that trend, particularly with Sandbach United comfortably in a playoff spot. It was a case of Sandbach breaking through at all the important junctures and Rocester not having the wwhere with it all to do much about it.
I genuinely felt sorry for Rocester as it all finished. They were good, welcoming hosts but I found myself comparing them to another club we’d seen on this hop, Ashton Town. Then as now a friendly host club found themselves relegated and, staring County football in the face. Perhaps Rocester can take heart from the fact that Town did return to pyramid football at the earliest available opportunity; all the best to them.
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