The old stand

Saturday 14th September 2013
March Town United 0 Great Yarmouth Town 4
Thurlow Nunn League Division One
At: GER Ground, Robingoodfellows Lane
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: free (32 pages)
Weather: sunny spells

‘The obvious focal point of the GER sports ground is the superb wooden main stand,’ wrote The Itinerant Football Watcher Peter Miles while Kerry Miller in the History of Non-League Football Grounds described the view from the old structure as ‘a maze of poles, pylons and tannoys obstruct the view of the pitch which is some 15 yards from the stand’.

Both Peter and Kerry are referring to March Town United’s famous 90-year old wooden stand which was arguably the main reason for today’s 250-mile round trip to the fenlands of Cambridgeshire. On the grounds of progress, it may not be around for too much longer.

Kerry describes the GER Ground in detail and the large grassed area on which the current pitch sits has in the past been used for a multitude of sports including cycling, tennis, skating, cricket and greyhound racing. The current wooden stand was erected around 1923 and once sported a blue and yellow striped decor.

So with such a build-up, you can imagine how my heart sank on arrival to see puddles on the car park and a team carrying kit bags walking AWAY from the ground. Thankfully, a small group of officials standing by the refreshments building eased my concerns by saying the game was DEFINITELY ON!

What’s in a name? March Town United are unusual by having not one but two suffixes – for a very good reason. March Town, founded in 1886, moved to the GER ground vacated after the War by March GER United, another local side which began playing during the early 1920s and folded less than 20 years later. ‘United’ was added to ‘Town’ in 1950 and retained ever since.

A stop on the way at what I call my ‘lucky’ McDonalds on the A14 near Rothwell and the relaxed drive up the A141 from Huntingdon via Warboys delayed my arrival. Still with time on my hands, a quick trip to the museum on High Street, with collections of railway memorabilia and cameras amongst other things, provided some background on the town I was visiting for the first time. The ornamental fountain, erected in 1911 to commemorate the coronation of King George V warranted more than a quick glance as did the interior of Wetherspoons in what was the Hippodrome Cinema.

Once inside the ground [free programme and raffle tickets available by the turnstile], my trip from Staffordshire aroused plenty of interest and the Chairman kindly gave me a tour of the stand. Team lineups were displayed on a large Thurlow Nunn branded teamsheet.

Having travelled a long way to see it, I just had to stand watching the first half from the stand despite the obstructions between my ‘seat’ and pitch. A well-known groundhopper, who I only know as the ‘March Hare’, and his trusty four-legged companion, filled me in on the season so far. In the 19-team Division One table, March (six points from seven games, two wins and five defeats) stood in 14th position while further up the table, visitors Great Yarmouth (11 points from seven games) occupied eighth behind leaders Swaffham Town.

Surprisingly, the game wasn’t preceded by fair-play handshakes and March (in amber and black) got the action underway attacking the Town End, right to left in relation to the stand.

The game turned out to be Mitch Forbes’s match as the Great Yarmouth forward scored all of his team’s four unanswered goals.

Not long after March were forced to replace injured central defender Lewis Cook, Forbes struck for the first time in the 17th minute. Joe Bryanton cross into the area from the left hit the bar via a defender’s head and Forbes forced home the rebound.

The lead was doubled shortly before the interval. An accurate throughball gave Forbes a clear run on goal and easily beat the helpless March goalkeeper Ben Collett with a low shot. By this time, I’d moved from the stand to a position behind the March goal and got a decent view of this second goal.

“We don’t concede this half,” was the instruction given to the Bloaters and they went in for half-time 2-0 up and very much in charge.

Then came a real bonus. The winning raffle number of “green 992” matched one of the five numbers on my lucky strip!

Facing an uphill task simply to gain a point, March faced a determined Yarmouth side told “don’t give them any hope, clean sheet important”.

The friendliness of the March officials made me hope they’d mount a comeback in the second half. Alas, those hope were all but ended in the 52nd minute when the Bloaters netted a third goal. The assistant put his flag across his chest to signify a penalty after David Jackson tripped Robin Andersen inside the area. Forbes buried the ball in the net past Collett to score his second hat-trick of the season.

March rallied and Bloaters goalkeeper Danny Cable needed to be alert to block Ash Blanchflower’s shot with his boot. With march continuing to show plenty of improvement and urgency, the visitors or rather Forbes ended any hopes of a dramatic comeback by scoring a fourth goal. The striker latched onto Alex Formoso’s throughball and confidently fired past Collett.

Late on, Forbes almost scored his fifth goal by thumping a pass from Joe McCabe against the bar.

Almost forgetting to buy a club label badge, I found them on sale at the tea bar and rounded off a superb visit to the GER Ground with a slice of Victoria sponge. Yummy!

I can’t praise March Town United enough for the welcome I received today. By the time I next make my way up Robingoodfellows Lane, whenever that may be, the view of the blue stand behind the fence will probably be much changed. Sadly, but in the interest of progress, the old stand is set for demolition next summer to make way for a modern clubhouse and new stand. I'm sure, however, the awaited facilities will play a big part in a new and exciting era for March Town United.

Happy memories!

March Town United (amber with black sleeves / black / black): 1. Ben Collett, 2. Gary White, 3. Ben Lemmon, 4. Marc Hipwell, 5. Lewis Cook, 6. Jon Gibbons, 7. David Jackson, 8. Lewis Thompson (capt), 9. Aaron McKenna, 10. Sean White, 11. Sam Darlow. Subs: 12. Ash Blanchflower (for Jackson, 64), 14. Stuart Dunlop (for White, 79), 15. Paul Richardson (for Cook, 14), 17gk. Alex Forest.

Great Yarmouth Town (sky blue with white V / white / sky blue): 1. Danny Cable, 2. Shaun Bartley, 3. Robin Andersen, 4. Alex Formoso, 5. Ady Ager, 6. Jordan Forbes, 7. David Grandao, 8. Joe Bryanton (capt), 9. Mitch Forbes, 10. Scott Woodcock, 11. Leighton Crux. Subs: 12. Joe McCabe (for Woodcock, 56), 14. Charlie McAra (for Grandao, 70), 15. Josh Thomas (not used).

Referee: Gerald Daish
Assistants: Peter Allen and Iain George

Attendance: 35
Duration: first-half: 46:19; second-half: 49:32

0-1 Mitch Forbes (17)
0-2 Mitch Forbes (40)
0-3 Mitch Forbes (52 pen)
0-4 Mitch Forbes (79)

March: Gary White (YC, 27), Lewis Thompson (YC, 54)
Great Yarmouth: none