Thursday 1st January 2009

Sheffield FC 3 Retford United 2
Unibond League Division 1 South
At: Bright Finance Stadium
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1-50 (52 pages)
Attendance: 760
Weather: cold, dry
Duration: first-half: 45:45; second-half: 51:20

The cold snap which greeted the New Year ruined my initial plans on the first day of 2009 though the treat that was this game at Sheffield more than made up for missing my orienteering. I had hoped to compete in the Laurie Bradley NYD Score in Sutton Park followed by a game at either Causeway United or Sutton Coldfield Town (both were off). Long before Big Ben had chimed midnight and the fireworks went off, I knew I needed an alternative. The positive noises of Retford United’s website gave encouragement and I was delighted when, around 11-30 am, came the message: ‘After an inspection - the Referee has confirmed that the game will definitely (sic) be ON’.

Sheffield FC can rightly boast to be the world’s first football club having been founded in 1857. In more recent times, they reached the FA Vase Final in 1977, losing to Billericay Town in a replay at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground, and played home games at Abbeydale Park in Sheffield. They moved to the Don Valley Stadium (where I saw them host Winterton Rangers in December 1992) and then to their present home in 2001. The Bright Finance Stadium, previously the home of Norton Woodseats FC (aka Dronfield United), is also known as the Coach and Horses Ground because of its location behind the public house of the same name.

The Bright Finance Stadium, located in Dronfield between Sheffield and Chesterfield, was easily accessed from the roundabout at the northern end of the town’s A61 bypass. It was on the right down the hill towards the town centre. Almost all the facilities were near the entrance which is in the south-east corner of the ground close to the Club Shop and tea bar. Behind the near goal was a neat seated stand while on the near touchline was an area of covered terrace. Covering the bank on the far touchline was a large advert for the sponsors with a scoreboard in the far top corner.

Programmes (£1-50) were available from the Club Shop and line-ups were read out on the tannoy at least twice. I was pleased that Sheffield’s former Stafford Rangers striker Vill Powell was in the starting line-up for the first time since suffering a long-term injury at the start of the current season. Things didn’t work out for him at Stafford a few years ago but he certainly had a prolific scoring record for Retford in the past and more recently with Sheffield. The visitors had a couple of players with a Stafford connection though as a foe rather than friend. Manager Peter Duffield and striker Mick Godber were feared opponents playing for Alfreton Town a few years ago.

Retford (41 points from 19 games) went into this game as Division 1 South leaders while Sheffield (17 points from 14 games), on the other hand, went down in 17th position in the 20-team division though with several games in hand on the teams immediately above.

With both Sheffield clubs and Chesterfield all having the day off, it was nice to be part of the bumper holiday crowd which flocked to the game. I opted to watch the game on the far touchline towards the corner of the ground with the scoreboard. In fact, the size of the crowd meant that the covered terrace looked pretty full and touchline vantage points were mostly taken.

Sheffield, who got the game underway, opted to defend the southern end and took the lead in the 11th minute through Marc Newsham. Retford levelled things up in the 25th minute when Lee Whittington fired home the equaliser. However, Sheffield hit back to stun the league leaders by regaining the lead in the 28th minute through Newsham who completed a hat-trick three minutes later.

Half-time arrived with Sheffield still 3-1 up.

The Retford drummer had been down the far end of the ground but moved, unsurprisingly, to the goal nearest to me because, stating the obvious, his side were now attacking that end.

Most of the action continued to be in my half of the field with Retford working hard to get back into the game. Home keeper Leigh Walker produced a fine save to keep out Ryan Ford’s header just before the hour mark but couldn’t prevent the visitors halving the deficit in the 63rd minute. Neil Harvey turned inside a populated area and shot home, only to receive a straight red card before play resumed for his part in an incident also involving the keeper Walker.

I think I chose my position well as I continued to get a good view of the key action. Retford were awarded a penalty in the 69th minute for a foul by Paul Smith on Ford. However, Walker produced a fine save to keep out Chris Bettney’s spot kick to keep his side in front.

Sheffield made a third change in the 74th minute with ‘12’ replacing ‘10’. Having already got a player wearing ‘12’ on the field – who turned out to be Jordan Eagers – the linesman on the near side attracted the attention of the ref who ordered the new ‘12’ to change his shirt. Eagers ended up being sent off deep into stoppage time at the end for a second booking.

At the end, to celebrate the win, the tannoy blasted out the theme from ‘The Apprentice’ followed by the Kaiser Chiefs’ ‘I Predict a Riot’.

"It was a game that had everything," was a comment I overheard while leaving the ground and I couldn’t disagree.

Despite the defeat, Retford remained on top of the Division 1 South table while the three points lifted Sheffield a little further up the lower reaches.

Sheffield FC (red/black/red): 1. Leigh Walker, 2. Lloyd Gelsthorpe, 3. Paul Smith, 4. Gavin Smith, 5. Greg Wright, 6. Jack Muldoon, 7. Matt Outram, 8. Steve Hawes (capt), 9. Vill Powell, 10. Marc Newsham, 11. Steve Woolley. Subs: 12. Jordan Eagers (for Gavin Smith, 34), 15. Janusz Lipka (for Outram, 51), 16. Chris Dolby (not used), x. Mick Goddard (for Newsham, 74).

Retford United (black and white stripes / white / white): 1. Ross Turner, 2. Stuart Ludlam, 3. Thomas Cowan, 4. Ryan Ford, 5. Ben Chambers (capt), 6. Michael Simpkins, 7. Chris Bettney, 8. Matt Fisher, 9. Lee Whittington, 10. Neil Harvey, 11. Paul Grimes. Subs: 12. Daniel White (for Cowan, 71), 14. Liam Nelthorpe (for Fisher, ht), 15. Peter Duffield (for Whittington, 55), 16. Adam Oldham (not used), 17. Chris Kingston (not used).

Referee: N Smith (Chesterfield).

1-0 Marc Newsham (12)
1-1 Lee Whittington (25)
2-1 Marc Newsham (28)
3-1 Marc Newsham (31)
3-2 Neil Harvey (63)