Adventures in Football #17: War Memorial Athletic Ground (Stourbridge FC)
August 16, 2021
STOURBRIDGE FC vs. HEDNESFORD FC
The history of many UK based teams is simply remarkable. Stourbridge were founded in 1876. 1876! Dubbed the “Glassboys”*, Stourbridge were traditionally a major fixture in Birmingham and Midlands leagues over the years. More recently they’ve been competing in the Southern League, alongside the likes of Hemel Hempstead, Hitchin, St Albans City and Kettering Town. Basically all the teams around where Mike lives in Luton. In 2014 they got moved to the Northern League competing against the likes of Altrincham, Farsley Celtic, Rushall Olympic and Stafford Rangers. They currently play in the same division as Bromsgrove, Alvechurch, Redditch etc. If you’ve followed Stourbridge you’ve probably covered quite a few miles on away days.
*Stourbridge, as you can probably gather, is famous for glass. They have a museum and everything, opening in 2022.
Recently they’ve done quite well in the FA Cup too. Making the first round in 2009-10 for the first time before losing to Walsall. They followed that up by knocking out Plymouth the next season before losing to Stevenage in R2. They were ousted in R2 by Stevenage again in 2013-14. They made the second round again in 2015-16 losing to Eastleigh before finally making the third round in 2016-17 where they lost to Wycombe after eliminating Northampton. For a team that’s been around for over a hundred years they’ve only recently developed a cup pedigree. Six times into the first round since 2009 after zero appearances before that dating back to their first entry in 1896.
Gary Hackett moved on as manager in 2019 after 16 years in charge, which saw all of those cup runs take place. So, the team is going through changes during a pandemic but we’re here for the history. They’ve played association football here since 1889, in this very ground. 132 years in the same ground.
I like that the main attraction here is the bar…and also a football team.
Come the day of the fixture I spend most of my prep time nailing ethernet cable to the walls up the stairs because my daughter is moving back in after a stint in London. I had been using her room as an office but now I’ve moved my set up into our lounge and I’m sat in the corner like a chump. It’s off to Droitwich first, going in the wrong direction thanks to our brilliant rail network, before taking the slow train into Dorridge, which happens to call at Stourbridge. I meet Josh on the train and he’s either got a serious moth problem or he’s wearing girl’s jeans with massive holes in the knees. He spent most of the game complaining of chilly knees. Lesson learned? Well, probably not.
We arrive at Stourbridge Junction and it’s a nice night so we walk to the ground, deciding against the Stourbridge Shuttle, a bizarre single carriage train that goes backwards and forwards to Stourbridge Town around a mile away. The roads in Stourbridge are all terrifying. There seem to be no sensible places to cross them and traffic belts through Stourbridge in a hurry to get somewhere else. There’s also a load of fast food places. Down one road alone is McDonald’s, KFC, Dominos and Greggs. It reminds me of America.
To the ground itself and there’s a lot of old brick work. The area behind the Glassboys bar, the bar itself, and the toilet section feels very, very old. Like walking through history. They’ve also added to the ground back there with an outdoor bar, with no queue, and a food place with a massive queue. The food looked good, the pint of Fosters…less so. Faggots, chips and peas is £4.50 if you get there early enough to beat the other punters to the front of the line.
We start out (above) stood behind the goal during the warm ups but quickly move after nearly being struck by a ball. Stourbridge’s shooting leaves a lot to be desired. We end up moving to (below) stood in the corner where there are barriers to put your drinks on. It’s the best part of the ground in my opinion. I go on to think of it as “Grumbler’s Corner”.
Stourbridge FC was originally a cricket club and not much has changed in that regard. The pitch is still attached to the cricket one and as a result only has three sides. There are two stands. One to our left, which is the only seating area and one at the far end, which is a massive shed with chicken wire down the middle to keep the away fans in their place.
Jason Cowley, the non-league Messi, moved to Stourbridge from Bromsgrove over the summer and he scores four minutes in. Later in the game I hear a Stourbridge fan lamenting “we were good for two minutes”. After that Stourbridge are simply outplayed by a better Hednesford team. As a viewing experience it’s much better in the first half, with Hednesford attacking our end, despite being blinded by the sun. The pitch is a bit wonky and there’s a slight slope up towards the corner flag, which is clearly struggling to stay upright for unknown reasons. One of the officials tries to sort it out at half time but the flag just goes back to slacking off again.
The accents around us are creeping towards Black Country and I love how miserable people from this part of the Midlands get when their football team isn’t playing well. “This is shit aye it” asks one. On the upside there’s a dog wearing the club shirt. Sadly I only see him once and can’t get a photo. There’s 864 in attendance, which is good for this level. The fans are passionate but quiet. Subdued by a disappointing home performance. People are constantly walking past us, to and fro from the bar area.
In the second half it starts to get cold. The game starts to get edgy. The Hednesford manager is dismissed after a reckless tackle right in front of him. Hednesford score a second penalty, this time top bins from #10 (Montel Gibson). Stourbridge commit some shocking defensive errors towards the death and can have no complaints about losing. It could have been worse.
Going to Stourbridge reminded me a lot of my youth on the terraces at Bromsgrove Rovers. Fans from the West Midlands have a natural inferiority complex and seem perfectly at home moaning and complaining about their team. It’s part of the experience. For years and years I just thought all fans were like that. It’s not the miserable experience some people might think it is. Everyone knows each other at Stourbridge. For them it’s a nice social experience regardless of performance. Who needs success when you can grab a pint, chips with curry sauce and have a nice old whinge about the team.
If you’re wondering where Josh’s dumb moment came from today; it was on the train journey back south. Where he said to me, and I’m quoting him verbatim, “I know Celtic play in Glasgow but where are Rangers from?” Are you seriously asking me where Glasgow Rangers play football? Kids.