Adventures in Football #27: Damson Parkway (Solihull Moors)
September 14, 2021
SOLIHULL MOORS vs. TORQUAY UNITED
Solihull Moors are the Birmingham conurbation’s #6 team. They’ve only been in existence for 14 years and came about when Moor Green and Solihull Borough merged. Moor Green had been one of the Midlands most successful non-league sides anyway but had stadium issues after their Moorlands stadium was burned down in an arson attack in 2005. Damson Parkway was the home of Solihull Borough. Solihull Borough were less successful but had a ground and financial stability so the two clubs decided to merge and entered the National League North, taking Moor Green’s spot in that league.
The merger may have frustrated a few Moor Green fans, who were planning on creating a phoenix club but seem to have discovered how financially difficult that is, but the merger has been successful. They were promoted to the National League, tier five, in 2016 and in the 2018-19 season finished second and almost made it into the football league under the stewardship of former England goalie Tim Flowers. They’re currently managed by former Wimbledon midfielder Neal Ardley (the man who took Notts Co into non-league).
I know I don’t normally talk about the away team much, but Torquay have two things I want to mention. One is they also play in yellow and blue, which means a rare appearance for their away kit today. Second is the manager is Gary Johnson, a legendary lower division journeyman manager. I saw his Kettering team play at Bromsgrove in 1995. He’s now a pensioner and is clearly shrinking as he gets older. I’m certain he’s 5’ 3”*.
*Google tells me he’s 5′ 6″. I don’t believe them.
Now, the tale I’m about to tell you is entirely true. It details the miserable nature of going to Solihull at the moment. I left work, in Worcester, at 5.45pm and I’m glad I left that early for what should have been a routine 45 minute trip. The weather is wet but not to the point where it’ll cause issues. If you’re planning on going to Solihull the train isn’t a great option as an alternative to what I’m about to describe. You basically have to go to International (Birmingham Airport) and get a bus, or suffer a lengthy walk.
There is parking at the ground. However, you need to pre-book it. I was all cocky thinking we’re in non-league, how busy is it going to be? The steward helpfully directed us to a nearby NCP car park. Now, normally when a steward directs you to a nearby car park it’s because they’ve got an arrangement with said car park and you can actually park there. NCP is 0.7 miles from the ground and, as we discovered, you can’t park there. Solihull is 90% car parks but you can’t use any of them! Our woes are complicated by Maria missing her turning into the NCP car park and we have to drive around.
When we do get to the NCP car park we’re told it’s only open to people wanting to get a COVID test. It’s a fucking airport car park! And it’s empty! We’re recommended to go to another car park next door, which is only for Travelodge guests. This is three car parks we’ve been turned away from! It would have been easier to go knocking on local resident’s doors and asking if we could park in the driveway for a tenner. We ended up ringing Maria’s friend Elena, who happens to live in Solihull, and going to park on her driveway. The walk from there? Four fucking miles. Luckily Elena was happy to drop us off at the ground and picked us up afterwards. Thus saving the final nail in the Solihull coffin with me ready to just give up and go to the pub.
As we entered the car park, on foot this time, I see the steward from earlier and the urge to tell him he’d made a right fucking mess of his job was palpable. I decided we should just get in and find our seats as by this point as it was nearly kick off time. The turnstiles were an easy traverse. They were manned so the woman behind the counter scanned our QR code thing and then let us both in. Which was an improvement over having to scan separate tickets at the Hawthorns. In front of us is the bar, with what appears to be a club shop at the back, and to the right is the ground.
With time rapidly approaching kick off we went to find our seats and discovered the Damson Parkway has a bit of a ‘unique’ seating plan. So, we’re in Block B. Seats 132 and 133. We walk along the front of the stand, the “Damson Homes Stand” and I literally can’t decipher the code. There are different rows of numbers on each row. So it starts 1, top left hand corner and goes all the way along the back row. We get to the end and find seat 131. Where the fuck is 132? It’s not there. Instead 132 is at the start of the third row, just underneath seat 1. In between is seat 73. In front of me is seat 164. Just thinking about the seating layout is giving me a headache.
We sit down and we’re sat right slap bang behind this post. At this point my mood has taken a turn for the worst and I get up to use the toilet and that’s where my mood absolutely bottoms out. I can’t even get into the toilet. There’s a queue. When I get in there it’s tiny. It wouldn’t have been able to open during social distancing. I’m inches away from people at all times and honestly, that’s not ideal in a toilet at the best of times let alone during a pandemic. I finally get to take a piss and I go to wash my hands. There’s no soap. Under different circumstances places like this could be considered ‘charming’ perhaps? The old English notion that nothing works and, haha, aren’t we all quaint and silly. The ground desperately needs better facilities. It’s not fit for purpose.
Speaking of not being fit for purpose…what the fuck is this supposed to be? This is advertised, on the club’s website, as “covered away seating”.
Lads, you’ve missed a bit. 2/5ths of that stand is not covered and for what purpose? Anyway, the ground! As mentioned before we’re in the Damson Homes Stand, which feels like a temporary stand, or it folds away at night or something. It’s a rickety aluminium deal and the seats are a cheap plastic. Opposite it us is the Airport Stand, which has mostly covered seating courtesy of a series of little hut structures. To the right is the Jerroms Stand, which despite being a low level shed for standing only still has obstructed views. It’s quite remarkable. Finally off to the left is the Draintech Stand, which houses the Solihull Ultras in the first half, at loggerheads with the visiting Torquay supporters who are jammed into the corner.
I’m sat right next to the end of the stand so you can see how it looks like someone just cobbled it together. It looks like they borrowed a temporary stand for this season. At this point, I hate the ground and everything in it. A couple of lads walk past carrying Doom bars and heading behind the goal to the left. Why on earth is the club allowing GLASS that close to the pitch? I’ve never seen anything like it. If this was a league ground the club would be fined and both those lads would be going to jail for three months. Keep in mind Solihull play in tier five of the football league pyramid.
Anyway, the game is 30 minutes old and I’m thoroughly pissed off but then Solihull score a really good goal. They attack down the right side and Andrew Dallas fires home from a tight angle into the top hand corner. It’s the pick-me-up I needed and while I didn’t even celebrate the goal I did appreciate it. One of the knobheads behind the goal sets off a smoke bomb and gets kicked out. At least he got to see a goal.
Again, this is the kind of thing that shouldn’t be brought into a ground and under league rules this person could be prosecuted. I personally quite like smoke bombs as they add to the atmosphere but due to fires at grounds (and the Moors should know this better than most) fireworks are forbidden among supporters.
Here’s another look at the stand I was in. Those big beams randomly interfering with the view all the way down the side of the pitch. At half time they had one of those big extended blue tunnel gimmicks. You can just about make it out here as it’s a darker blue than the rest of the stand. The ground emptied during half time with people heading to the bar. I dread to think how bad the bogs got.
The second half got underway with a bang and Torquay got caught on the counter with Joe Sbarra finishing off a tidy three man move with Dallas and Danny Newton. Torquay had the feel of a beaten team and I found myself actually enjoying the game. The triple whammy of parking, toilets and view had worn off and now I was relaxed and the beam in front of me was no longer a cause of irritation but rather a fun activity for me and my wife to lean around. As the ball was passed through midfield and by the beam we lean one way to see the pass and then lean the other way to see where it went. It ended up being funny.
The game rockets towards a conclusion as well with Torquay grabbing one back on 80’ through Kladi Lolos after a goal mouth scramble. The Torquay goalkeeper, Mark Halstead, develops a case of “oops, butterfingers” and starts dropping every cross that comes into the box. The Torquay fans have been out here all game chanting “Yellow Army” despite playing in their away kit. I guess “Turquoise Army” is harder to chant. It feels bizarre though because Solihull play in yellow. We get drama towards the finish with chances at both ends and a Torquay player being denied a penalty as the ref decided it was a dive.
I know I’ve slated Solihull Moors here and they deserve the abuse for various inadequacies the Damson Parkway suffers from. If we weren’t dealing with COVID maybe I’d laugh at some of the shittier aspects of the ground and say they were “quirks”. I’ve seen worse facilities this season but not at this level. Racing Club Warwick has unbelievably bad toilets but they’re not in the National League. They also have nowhere near the level of attendance. Solihull had 1,232 for this game versus a few hundred at Warwick.
In spite of the shortcomings of the Damson Parkway, I did actually enjoy myself. I was in a great mood for most of the second half and the clouds of the first half eventually lifted. Were all of the shortcomings the fault of the club? I should have checked parking ahead of time but if a steward advises me where to park away from the ground, I expect that car park to be open. Should I have better timed my toilet break? Probably but the toilets are too small for the number of people that need to use them. Did the beam badly effect my enjoyment of the game? Not especially and it ended up being quite funny.
Overall, you need to plan to go to Solihull Moors. Just turning up isn’t going to cut it. Demand for parking space has outstripped the actual space and until COVID testing goes away the nearest public car park isn’t open for business. You need to plan this trip, especially if you’re coming in from some distance away. The facilities are on the club but with the pandemic damaging income they’ll probably need a promotion to league football or a mouth-watering cup tie to get the cash to improve the ground. As a match day experience it was only fine once the game got underway. Everything else was an issue.