Harrowby United 3 Nettleham 2

Saturday 21st February 2009
Harrowby United 3 Nettleham 2
Abacus Lighting Central Midlands League Buckingham Insurance Supreme Division
At: The Arrows, Dickens Eoad, Grantham
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Attendance: 30 (headcount)
Weather: sunny, cooling wind
Duration: first half: 45:49; second-half 51:06

After what seems to have been a couple of months of awful weather, normality finally returned this week – at long last! For the first time since I finished my reporting stint in The Potteries, we were able to have a family day out, confident that my chosen game would have no weather problems. My mission was, therefore, to find a small/medium-sized town to occupy the family with a ground I hadn’t previously visited for me – Lincolnshire was the destination, Grantham the chosen town and Harrowby United v Nettleham the chosen match.

The town of Grantham is synonymous with Mrs Thatcher and Isaac Newton. The route in via the A52 from Nottingham took us past what was the grocers shop owned by Mrs Thatcher’s father, now a chiropractic clinic and holistic retreat.

Harrowby United are based to north-east of the town centre at the end of Dickens Road. Travelling away from town on Harrowby Lane, turn left into Edinburgh Road next to Mark Jarvis bookmakers and follow the road round to the left (into a mini one-way system). Turn right at the T junction then first right back into Edinburgh Road before turning left into Dickens Road. The entrance to the ground is at the end of the road to the right of the green railings. There is a short cut for those of foot by going right at the start of the one-way loop.

Programmes (£3 including admission) were sold at the entrance (north side) and the pitch ran length ways, orientated north-south. It had a post (red) and rail (white) all round the perimeter. Next to the near corner was the changing room / clubhouse building which incorporated a tea bar and had an area of covered standing attached next to the pitch. On the near touchline were the dugouts, close together either side of the halfway line. A stand on the opposite touchline, flanked by a row of conifers, contained a central section of seven rows of benches with further areas of standing at each end. Another row of conifers stood tall behind the near goal.

Visitors Nettleham are long-standing members of the Central Midlands League, having joined in 1987 and enjoyed an unbroken stint in the Supreme Division since the start of the 1990/91 season. In contrast, Harrowby, nicknamed ‘The Arrows’, are playing their first season in the CML. They were members of the United Counties League from 1990/01 until 2005/06 and spent their last three seasons in the Premier Division. A disappointing 2005/06 season saw them finish bottom with two wins from 42 league games with conceded 190 goals in the process, and they dropped down to local football. Last season they finished bottom of the Lincolnshire League yet successfully joined the CML which lost clubs due to the formation of the East Midlands Counties League.

Both sides went into the game near the foot of the Supreme Division table – Harrowby third from bottom and Nettleham one place above. So this game was a real ‘six-pointer’, especially for the home side. Since Christmas, Harrowby have suffered three heavy defeats but got back to winning ways with a 4-1 success at Rolls Royce Leisure last Saturday. In fact the victory was the first in the league for over four months. In his programme notes, the encouraged Harrowby player-manager hailed the performance at Rolls and wrote: “… an outstanding performance by the whole team which hopefully this week it will continue …”. Nettleham, incidently, won the reverse fixture 5-0 back in September.

I borrowed the team sheets from the helpful home Secretary and enjoyed a tea (50p) from the tea bar hatch before the action got under way.

For the first half, I opted for a standing position near the dugouts. Harrowby (red shirts, black shorts and black socks), attacking the far end, got the game under way but were soon under pressure. Nettleham (all yellow) won an early corner from which Rick Wheatley sent a header just wide of the right-hand post – “free header, we learn from that,” was the warning from the sidelines given to the home defence. Play was certainly end-to-end with both sides looking to get forward and Nettleham almost scored just past the midpoint of the first half. Chris Bennett produced a fine full-length diving save to keep out Darren Elding’s right-foot volley that was destined for the bottom-right corner.

Nettleham did take the lead in the 26th minute. Wheatley played a short pass to Steve Mason who sent a left-foot shot into the bottom-left corner. However, Harrowby got back on level terms in the 43nd minute. Jamie Gyoury-Hales cut into the area from the right only to go to ground after being caught by Callum Simmons. The referee, who I thought had a decent game, awarded a penalty which skipper Lee Winters duly converted, sending the keeper the wrong way.

It was certainly an enjoyable first half and nice to watch a game in sunshine without having to think about for how much longer I had to endure the cold.

Another tea at the interval, then a walk round to the other side to sample the view from the back row of the stand. Harrowby won a couple of corners at the start of the second half, and made their first change, before taking a 58th-minute lead. Defender Paul Chappell played the ball forward into the area from the right and Simon Bolland hooked it into the far side of the net. Could Harrowby hold on to win back-to-back league games? Nettleham didn’t want it to happen and they were urged to “step it up”. They went close to an equaliser. Javin Pillay got forward from the back and sent a dipping 30-yarder just over the bar.

Harrowby added a vital third goal in the 83rd minute and what a strike! Bolland sent an unstoppable 35-yard drive into the top right corner. The goal proved crucial as Pillay reduced the deficit two minutes later. Substitute Chris Charles propelled a long throw into the area from the right and Pillay ran in unchallenged to head home at close range.

Harrowby survived six minutes of stoppage time to earn a crucial win which enabled them to swap places in the table with the side they had just beaten.