Adventures in Football #6: Lye Meadow
May 31, 2021
ALVECHURCH FC 0 BROMSGROVE SPORTING 1 (RED RECRUITMENT TROPHY)
It’s been 11 years since I last set foot inside a football ground. During the COVID pandemic I developed an urge to change this. I’ve talked, at length, about where I want to go. About my ambitions regarding the famous “92 Club” (where you visit every league ground in England). I’m disappointed that in my lifetime I’ve only ever been to five grounds. At least there were so few I could literally write about all of them from memory. Well, it’s time to start making some new memories. I’m starting pretty close to home.
Lye Meadow is a very small ground. Alvechurch is basically a village team that’s way exceeding expectations. They currently play in the Southern League Premier Central, which is only three tiers under the football league. It’s a level that features many sides with a bigger catchment area. Here are some comparisons:
Bromsgrove; 29k population. Not including Bromsgrove district, which takes it closer to 90k.
Redditch; the district has a population of 85k.
Banbury; has a population of 46k.
Hednesford; has a population of 17k
Nuneaton; has a population of 90k
Stourbridge; has a population of 63k
You get the idea.
Alvechurch has a population of 6,564.
As a club they came into existence in 1929 and were very successful in the 60s. They reached the semi-finals of the FA Amateur Cup in 1966, taking 10,000 fans to Stamford Bridge for their loss to Wealdstone. 10,000! That’s double the population of the village! The club used to play at “The Meadows” before moving to “The Guants”, which was sold for housing. They’ve been at Lye Meadow since 1957. In the FA Amateur Cup run their had a home draw in the quarter finals and drew 13,500 for the game. When I post some pictures of the ground underneath this you’ll come to realise what a staggering number that is. Locals estimate that number was worked down too. It was likely to be more like 15-16k. That’s a Championship crowd level for a non-league team who play in a field with a fan catchment of less than third of that.
Alvechurch FC, aka “The Church”, has an interesting FA Cup record too. They made the third round in 1972/73 before losing to Bradford City. They also hold the replays record. They faced Oxford City in the 1971/72 season in the fourth qualifying round and the game went to five replays. The fixtures took place over a 17-day period before they eventually won at Villa Park (as replays needed to be at neutral venues). The six fixtures remains an FA Cup record that can never be broken as replays now end in penalties.
Alvechurch are currently a phoenix club. The initial Alvechurch went bust in 1993 following a collapse from their glory years of the 60s, 70s and early 80s. I’ve never know them be a decent club in my lifetime, until now. They won the Worcestershire Senior Cup in 2019, it’s their first win since 1977.
My wife, Maria, wanted to come to the game with me so she drove us over to Alvechurch. We live nearby so it was a short drive, less than 15 minutes. What did alarm us somewhat was the sheer number of vehicles parked along the Redditch Road outside the ground. We ended up pulling up to a sweet parking spot right by the gates that nobody had bagged. We were right by the ground. I had a quick look around to see if we were blocking something because it seemed a miracle no one had parked there. Alvechurch’s car park is really small so people park along the road. There are cars lining the road for half a mile in either direction. It’s insane.
We strolled up to the ticket booth, which is two sided. On one side you can buy tickets, on the other you present your e-ticket to get scanned into the game. That’s literally the only high-tech thing going on at Lye Meadow. As soon as we were in, I wanted to have a stroll around the ground and it’s rough. I don’t know if the pandemic has caused some of these issues but there’s long grass all around the back areas, weeds and piles of rubbish in the corner on the way in. The ground is surrounded by a six-foot-tall brown wooden fence. Although you can see past it from the road if you wanted to be cheeky and watch 90% of the pitch from there. We walked around by the ‘clubhouse’. They had a food truck set up selling burgers and such. There was also a beer tent around the back of the clubhouse. I don’t know if this is normal or whether it was just place because of COVID.
After having a walk around, we settled onto a spot at the Shed End. It seemed to be one of the least populated areas of the ground and we could have a sit down at any point as it was old fashioned stepped terraces. We ended up with a pretty good view and it’s only the second time I’ve watched a game from the end of a ground rather than the middle. We picked the right end as the goal got scored in front of us! Having been in Lye Meadow makes the 13,500-attendance game seem even more ridiculous. There was a lot of space at the Shed End but the opposite end was just a path with a fence behind it. You couldn’t get more than 3 deep there. I can only assume the fence is a new addition. The one stand has rows roughly 5-6 deep. It’s a small ground. They’re claiming capacity now is 3,000. I can see that… at a push.
The beauty of Lye Meadow is it’s basically in the countryside so the backdrop is gorgeous rolling hills. It’s so peaceful. I spent a good chunk of the afternoon admiring the view. I could see some sheep grazing in the distance. My intention for coming to Alvechurch for my first game back was to have a nice chilled out experience and it certainly was that. Until a group of travelling Sporting supporters showed up. Half a dozen or so teenagers almost constantly chanting. They would be the backdrop to the afternoon. They had a Bromsgrove Sporting flag with them that had “fuck Tamworth” in the corner, which popped me somewhat. They were led by a gobby teenage girl, unfortunately described as a “fat dyke” by one of the locals off to my right. Kick it out is working wonders lads.
The game kicked off and my wife’s decision to wear a sun hat immediately paid off. Meanwhile I got sunburnt to shit. One of the wonders of non-league is where shots end up when they miss the target. The first one in this game went flying over the Shed End and into a neighbouring garden. A perplexed ball boy could not locate it. The two teams included a few players I’m completely unfamiliar with. Even Sporting fielded a couple of players their club Twitter didn’t recognise. As a result the first half was a bit disjointed. Things improved after the break when Jason Cowley broke the deadlock with a screamer from way outside the box.
— Bromsgrove Sporting (@SportingFC) May 31, 2021
In case you’re wondering; I’ve circled where I was standing. You can see my wife there and my forearms, which are about to be shat on my pigeon.
The afternoon was sweltering and the teams took drinks breaks in both halves, plus made a bunch of substitutions. I was quite warm and ended up with very pink arms and a neck that was so warm I could barely get to sleep on the night. Oh, and a bird shit on me. That was fun. I have made a mental note to include a paper towel or something the next time I stand around outside where there are pigeons. After the goal, and the bird shit, there were still thrills and spills. Church hit the bar with a lofted shot over an isolated keeper. Cowley bulleted a header over the bar for Sporting and then promptly got sent off for a late challenge on the Alvechurch #6. He made a meal of it, fully aware Cowley had been booked two minutes earlier for some unknown offence. Anyway, Bromsgrove held on to win the prestigious Red Recruitment Trophy.
I’m left wondering if I’ll ever get a view this good again in my groundhopping days but hey, there’s always non-league if you want to be right in the front row. The games are usually a fun time too. I enjoyed myself at Alvechurch. It won’t be 11 years before I’m at another football ground. It’s likely to be as soon as July, if I can find a pre-season friendly to attend outside of my work hours. If you’re interested in going to a game with me please let me know by dropping me a DM on Twitter on either @arnoldfurious or @arn_fm. I’m interested in your football club, wherever it is!
NEXT: Wherever the mood takes me