FA Cup Third Qualifying Round
In photographic terms, Christchurch Meadow, home of Belper Town in Derbyshire, is a one-shot stadium – but what a shot. The majority of the pitch perimeter is either open or lined with modern stands but behind one corner loom the striking North Mill and Christ Church. The mill (which I visited earlier) forms part of a complex originally built in the 18th century by Jedediah Strutt, most famous for inventing a way of making stretchy socks that stay up. The church was built in 1850 by his grandson.
If the TV cameras ever come to Belper the commentator will have all sorts of pun fun: “divine intervention”, “trouble at mill” or even “pull their socks up” if he’s done his homework. Then there’s Belper’s nickname to play with, The Nailers, reflecting the town’s history of making blacksmith’s nails. The TV scene would be completed by youths peering over the iron railings at the end of the footpath alongside the church and other freeloaders watching from the houses on the hillside behind one of the goals.
Prescot Cables (from Liverpool) have their own industrial heritage too. ‘Cables’ replaced ‘Town’ in the club’s name in 1928 in an early form of sponsorship when BICC Cables donated a stand. The firm’s first insulated cable was amber and black which also determined the club’s colours.
The match kicked off a minute before the church clock struck three. I was checking my watch again 20 minutes later when Belper opened the scoring with a fizzing free-kick. Two minutes earlier and I’d have won the Golden Goal competition. Practically on the chimes of four at the start of the second-half Prescot equalised when Belper failed to clear a corner. Belper regained the lead with a shot that took a wicked deflection and were similarly lucky when a Prescot clearance richoted back into the goal. The Nailers secured victory just before the final whistle. Two Prescot lads were sent-off but it wasn’t clear what for.
So, the leaves are falling, the competition steps up a gear and Belper are into the Fourth Qualifying Round for only the third time in their history. Tragically I won’t be joining them as I’m away at a family gathering but I will at least be back for the climax of the Cup three weeks afterwards – and, you never know, perhaps that fantasy Match of the Day Live (or whatever ITV call it).
Programme notes: Great line in the manager’s notes in which he chastises away supporters in a previous fixture for throwing a cup of tea over the Belper goalie as he was taking a goal kick. Elsewhere young Nailer Aaron Pride lists his ‘toughest opponent faced’ as “Michael Ricketts’s nephew”. Is he trying to impress us? Disappointingly, the only other old pro connection today was Karl Connolly, ex-Wrexham and QPR, who played for Prescot. No: I don’t remember him either.
In the book: I’ve just bought an excellent book by a Dutch photographer of lower league football matches and their settings. And, would you believe it, one of the pics shows a ground overlooked by a church (see below).