This year's North West Counties League Groundhop took place in the county of Staffordshire, with all the matches across Saturday and Sunday played within the First Division South.
Staffordshire is a landlocked county in the West Midlands, which borders Cheshire to the northwest, Derbyshire and Leicestershire to the east, Warwickshire to the south-east, Shropshire to the west and Worcestershire to the south.
The cathedral city is Lichfield and the largest settlement in Staffordshire is Stoke-on-Trent, which is the home of the pottery industry and obviously known as “The Potteries”. Formerly a primarily industrial urban area, it is now a centre for service industries and distribution centres.
Saturday 4th March 2023
The Groundhop got underway at Ellsmere Rangers on Friday night, but I travelled with Katie & Lee on Saturday morning, heading off at 6.20 to catch the bus before getting picked up close to the motorway. The first leg of our journey was a 180 mile drive to Rocester, arriving in Staffordshire in good time for the first of our six games.
Rocester 0-4 Sandbach United
Rocester Football Club was formed in 1876 and played in various local leagues including the Stafford Amateur League and Uttoxeter and District League, until they became founder members of the Staffordshire Senior League in 1984.
Staffordshire Senior League 1984-1987: Champions 1985-86
West Midlands (Regional) League 1987-1994: Division 1 champions 1987-88
Midlands Alliance 1994-1999: Champions 1998-00
Southern League Western Division 1999-2003
Midlands Alliance 2003-04 champions, winning promotion to Northern Premier League Division One but The Romans were relegated after one season.
Midlands Alliance/Midland League 2005-2021
Joined the North West Counties League Division 1 South in 2021
Mill Street, Rocester, Uttoxeter, Staffordshire
The club moved to the Hillsfield ground in 1987, on the site of a former Roman fort which gave rise to the club's nickname of The Romans. The ground is situated adjacent to an imposing mill built in the 1780s by Richard Arkwright, inventor of the spinning frame. It was originally named Riversfield but renamed after Don Hill, a former club chairman. The turnstile entrance is in the corner, with the clubhouse, changing rooms and a covered seated stand on one side. On the opposite side is a covered stand, with open space behind each goal.
Sandbach United 4(Tatters 22 Fitzpatrick 44 Alley 48 Barton 84)
20th v 4th
The away side went ahead midway through the first half when a good right wing cross from Chapman was headed home by Stan Tatters. Sandbach extended their advantage with a goal either side of the break, with Liam Fitzpatrick and Keiran Alley both striking from the edge of the box.
Rocester made a decent fist of it at 0-3 but couldn't muster a goal back, with the visitors wrapping it up through Brian Barton late on.
Foley Meir 0-1 Maine Road
The second match was a 15 mile drive west to Foley Meir FC on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent. The club was founded as Foley in 1947 by ex-servicemen, originally playing in the Longton League Division Two.
Midland League 1996-2005: Division 2 champions 1996-97
Staffordshire County Senior League; 2005-2022
The club was admitted into the North West Counties League Division One South at the start of this season
Whitcombe Road, Meir, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire
The club played at The Open Holes in Fenton, before moving to the current ground in 1982.
The ground seems to be a work in progress, with the main stand, clubhouse and changing room block down one side. There's banking standing behind the entrance goal and the dugouts.
Foley Meir 0
Maine Road 1(Keyworth 67)
Att.303 (ground record)
Maine Road were reduced to ten men after just 13 minutes when their "keeper squared up to the Foley centre-forward and was shown a red card for dissent. The man disadvantage didn't make any difference, as they clinched the win with a Joseph Keyworth header in the 67th minute. The home team will be disappointed not to have properly tested the stand-in goalkeeper, who easily maintained a clean sheet.
Abbey Hulton United 0-0 Cheadle Heath Nomads
The next match was just a short 6 mile drive north to Abbey Hulton United. The club was established in 1947, joining the Longton League, before moving on to the Burslem & Tunstall League, finishing Division Two runners-up in 1973–74 and Division One champions and the League Cup winners in 1978–79. Abbey Hulton then joined the Fenton & District League, winning the Division One title, League Cup and the Charity Cup in 1982–83.
North Staffs Alliance League 1985-1987
Staffordshire County League 1987-1998: Division One champions 1997–98
Midland League 1998-2005: League champions 2003–04.
Staffordshire County Senior League 2005-2017: Premier Division champions 2016-17
864.Drayton Beaumont Park
Birches Head Road, Birches Head, Stoke On Trent, Staffordshire
The club played on a site owned by the council for 15 years then moved to Bucknall Park in 1962. United secured a 99-year lease on land at Birches Head Road in 1985, where they built a clubhouse and established their current ground, which has two seperate diminutive stands on one side, which the other ends open. The clubhouse, refreshment bar and changing rooms are behind the goal at the entrance.
Abbey Hulton United 0
Cheadle Heath Nomads o
10th v 13th
The Hi-Viz derby saw Nomads make a good start and should have taken an early lead but for some fine saves by the home goalie. Both teams showed plenty of effort but lacked a cutting edge.
Eccleshall 2-1 Barnton
The final game of the day was a 17 mile drive south to Eccleshall FC. The staff at Eccleshall Secondary School formed the club in 1971, originally named Eccleshall Old Boys. They joined the Mid-Staffordshire League, winning the Division Three Cup in 1974, gaining promotion to Division Two. In 1974–75 the club won the Division Two Cup and adopted its current name.
Staffordshire County League 1979-1984:Premier Division champions 1983-84
Staffordshire Senior League 1984-1994: champions 1989-90
Midland League:1994-2003: champions 2001-02,2002-03
Chester Road, Eccleshall, Staffordshire
The club initially played at Eccleshall Secondary School, before buying a four-acre site at Pershall in 1981, which opened two years later.
In the same year a small stand was erected, becoming known as 'the Shed. There's also a covered stand behind the goal in the corner with more covered seats in front of the clubhouse.
Eccleshall 2(Pickup 82 Stanton 90+2)
Barnton 1(T.Turkington 71)
14th v 15th
This looked to be heading towards another goalless draw before breaking into life in the final twenty minutes.
A fabulous 30 yard effort from Tom Turkington gave Barnton the lead in the 71st minute, then a corner kick eventually fell to Ryan Pickup to knock in the leveller some ten minutes later.
Moments after the equaliser a mass brawl broke loose which resulted in each team receiving a red card, with goalscorer Turkington and Luke Lewis dismissed. With time running out Eccleshall grabbed the winning goal, when a ball in from the right met Ethan Stanton who fired home from close range.
Sunday 5th March 2023
We stayed overnight at the M6 Travelodge just outside Stafford, where we departed at 9:30am for today's double. We had breakfast at The Picture House and I nipped into The Butcher"s Bell for a pint before the first game of the day at Brocton, just outside the town centre.
Brocton 1v0 Stockport Georgians
Brockton FC was formed in 1937 by Arthur Mayer, landlord of the Chetwynd Arms pub, who asked the local lads to form a football team. They won the Rugeley & District League in 1946-47 and again the following season, then moved on to the Cannock Chase League. The club were champions of the new league in 1954–55, before going on to win the title again a further six times. The Badgers stepped up to the Staffordshire County League (South) Division One, winning promotion to the Premier Division in 1984, where they finished as runners-up in 1985–86.
Staffordshire Senior League/Midland League 1991-2003
Midlands Combination 2003-2014 :champions 2013-14
Midlands League (new) 2014-2021
NWCL - 2021-present
866.Silkmore Lane Sports Ground
Silkmore Lane, Stafford, Staffordshire
The club originally played at the Chetwynd Arms Ground in Brocton, before moving to Rowley Park Stadium in Stafford. They relocated once again in 2002 to the Cannock Sports Stadium because it had floodlights, but left in 2004 after the Council failed to confirm their tenancy. They groundshared at Heath Hayes for two years before settling at the Old Police Sports Ground, obtaining a 30-year lease on Silkmore Lane.
The ground has two stands, sitting on each side of the halfway line, one with 100-seats and the other a covered terrace. The clubhouse and changing rooms are in the top corner, next to the adjacent second pitch behind the dugouts.
Brocton 1(Smith 61)
Stockport Georgians 0
3rd v 7th
Att.457 (club record)
A tight match was decided on the hour mark when a free kick from the edge of the box was fired into the bottom corner by Reggie Smith. The away side were reduced to ten men after a second yellow for Sam Corbishley fifteen minutes from time.
Stafford Town 2-1 Abbey Hey
The final match of the weekend at Stafford Town was just five minutes up the road from Silkmore Lane. This allowed time to call for a pint at The Spittal Brook, so I just walked in between the grounds. The club was founded in 1976 as Stafford FC, joining the Midland Combination Division Two for the 1977–78 season, which they won at the second attempt. They changed their name to Stafford Town in 1981 and were briefly called Stafford MSHD at the start of the 1990s.
Midlands Combination 1981-82
Staffordshire Senior League 1984-1993
West Midlands League 1993-2000/2004-2012: Champions Division One 1993–94 Premier Division 1999–2000
Midland Alliance 2000-2004
Midland Combination/Midland League 2012-2018
NWCL 2021 - present
Off Fairway, Stafford, Staffordshire
The stadium is named after chairman Gordon Evans and was turned into a 3G facility in the summer of 2016, with a joint partnership with the Stafford Borough Council. There's a 550 seated stand on the entrance side with team dugouts opposite, both of which were added in Autumn 2022.
Stafford Town 2(Simcox 27,55)
Abbey Hey 1(Kirkland 90+2)
18th v 9th
A Josh Simcox brace gave Town a much needed win. He fired them into the lead midway through the first half, then capitalised on a 'keeper's mistake to chip home his second on 55 minutes.
Abbey Hey grabbed a late consolation when a deep free kick from Dillon Kirkman ended up sailing straight into the net.
Current NWCL grounds visited 35/60
Not the greatest feast of football I've ever seen but nevertheless, an enjoyable weekend catching up with like minded folk. Special thanks to Chris and the Groundhop UK team for organising another successful event.
Lee's navigation and Katie's skilful driving got me back home at 8.20pm, so also many thanks to those two for putting up with me all weekend.