Adventures in Football #51: The Coppice (Highgate United)
April 23, 2022
HIGHGATE UNITED vs. LICHFIELD CITY (Midland Football League Premier Division)
While walking to work the other day, I had an idea and when an idea like this worms it’s way into my brain there’s no escaping it. I wanted to know how many football grounds I could realistically walk to from my house. I live in Bromsgrove so Bromsgrove Sporting’s Victoria Ground is one I’ve already walked to many times. I’ve also walked past Fairfield Villa so that’s two. With my Saturday suddenly getting freed up at short notice I decided to slap ‘nearby fixtures’ into Futbology and see what happened.
11.7 miles! That is…quite far. Google has provided me with three tantalising potential routes. The blue one takes me through Alvechurch, which is my preferred route because the Weighbridge (a fine public house) is literally on that route. Routes two and three both take me up Pikes Pool Lane towards Burcot. Which is my dad’s old stomping grounds. I can take a shortcut on route two back onto route one if I change my mind. Route two goes down actual paths instead of little country lanes. Route three takes me through Blackwell and Barnt Green.
A little bit about the club then; Highgate United were formed in 1948 and, according to the club’s website, by “a group of orphans” who got reacquainted during the war. They’ve played all their history at various regional levels currently existing in the Midland League Premier alongside such luminaries as Romulus, Stourport Swifts and Racing Club Warwick. This is also the league Worcester City play in.
Highgate are currently in P16 (of 19 teams) and should probably consider getting a result today in order to avoid relegation. Unfortunately for them they face Lichfield City, the team in third who’ve scored more goals than any other team in the league. After a gander at the FA’s website I discover Highgate are already safe and I should probably have walked to Wolverhampton as the Casuals are in danger of being relegated by Bewdley Town.
Lichfield City also can’t get promoted so this is a dead rubber. Google maps tells me I need to allot four hours for my walk to Highgate United, 11.7 miles from my house. It starts out ok, I stroll down the local roads and head out of Finstall and my first issue kicks in up Tutnall Lane. The road has been resurfaced and every time a car goes past I get hit in the shins by small chips of rock. Which is ok, until Tutnall Lane turns off into the countryside and the pavement disappears.
Now I’m trudging along over the resurfaced road, which is fine for a couple of minutes but two miles later it’s a bit of a chore. However, I’m in the countryside so here’s a picture of a sheep.
This is down Stoney Lane after I’ve been trudging for quite some time. The resurfacing project has continued down here and, frankly, lugging myself over loose chips is starting to seriously lose its appeal. I could have turned off just after that but saw some horses and foolishly kept going. I was rewarded by god, as I got to see a farmer lose control of his paperwork. Him yelling “bloody hell” as the wind took hold of a green sheet of A4 and watching him chase it around his property was properly entertaining. Thank you big G.
I continued along Stoney Lane for around 17 hours while Land Rover’s bombed past at 60mph, clearly disregarding the posted “SLOW” and “LOOSE CHIPPINGS” signs. The joys of the countryside. I walked up Cobley Hill and finally escaped the loose chippings but discovered my legs no longer enjoy walking up steep gradients. I consider knocking on various farmer’s doors and asking them to drive me into Alvechurch but then I see some lambs and everything is ok.
I arrive at Alvechurch Marina at 11.20am. Just under 2 hours after departure time. I feel good about having walked around 5 miles and a little sit down by the canal watching the boats recharges my batteries. My original plan was to go to the Weighbridge for a pint but it’s not open until midday. I re-load maps to see how far I’ve got left and it bizarrely suggests I hurdle the canal and walk down the towpath on the other side. I’ll take the bridge, Google, cheers though. I appreciate your belief in my physical prowess.
I have a nice walk into Alvechurch itself and pop into the Co-Op for supplies. A chicken and mushroom pasty and a bottle of orange Lucozade. I intend to consume them on the pleasant walk from Alvechurch to Weatheroak but it turns out the entire walk is on a road with no path so I’m constantly dodging oncoming traffic and the speed limit is 60mph so I have to keep my wits about me. Get fucked, Radford Road. I cross the A441 and manage to not spit on the cars passing below. See, teenagers, it is possible. Just before heading into a tunnel that takes me under the M42 I spot another horse and this one wants a chat.
Hello mate! He stands staring at me for a bit and I think he’s considering eating my phone. On my messages my wife has sent me one telling me to look out for local dangerous wildlife like, and I quote, “gorillas and anacondas”. I send her a picture of the sheep from earlier and she confirms my worst fears. It is, in fact, a flesh-eating monkey (presumably in disguise) and I made a narrow escape. Radford Road continues to terrify with blind corners and national speed limits. I am thankfully not murdered by a car although I have to make some strategic road crossings and luckily don’t encounter any boy racers.
I make it to Weatheroak Hill’s brewery, located within the Coach & Horses, and enjoy a pint. I’ve been here before and they do good beer. While I’m drinking it, I see two horses and one American. It’s now 1pm and I have 4.1 miles left to go. As I’m walking away I remember the pasty and at least get something to eat before the pavement disappears again. Hill Lane ends up being the most punishing part of the journey. The grass verge alongside is a foot higher than the road and I have to jump onto it every time there’s traffic, which is constant. It’s slow going but I eventually escape onto the Alcester Road and civilisation. My days of no footpaths are over. I make a point of urinating on Hill Lane just before I leave it. It had it coming, the bastard.
On leaving the countryside I find myself in Wythall, which is a posh place with golf courses, rugby clubs and farm shops. I’m glad I don’t need to urinate in Wythall as the locals would almost certainly consider this a faux pas. I head out of Wythall on Tilehouse Lane and the ground is getting closer. I can hear football noises. I can also feel brambles tearing at my flesh as I accidentally stumbled off the path. A right turn just before Whitlocks End and I’m there. I have made it to the ground. 11.7 miles. Conquered.
You can tell it’s the end of the season and nobody gives a fuck anymore because they’ve not even put the fixture details on the blank board under the sign. The Gate (Highgate’s nickname) stayed up last week so everyone is ‘on the beach’ already. I walked 11.7 miles for this lads.
There are four football clubs inside a quarter of a mile of here. Shirley Town’s ground is opposite the station. Highgate is down Tythe Barn Lane and to get there you have to pass Leafield Athletic (a ladies team) and Wychall Wanderers, a youth team. Including the rugby club, which is basically next door, there are 11 pitches on about half a square mile. The fella on the door charges me £7 to get in and I realise I’ve left my change at home. Always take change to non-league. No exceptions.
On arriving you have to cross a car park, go past the club house and pass another pitch just to get to the ground. Look, I’m tired. I just want to sit down. Above you can see the club’s only stand. It runs the length of the pitch but only half of this is used. 95% of the crowd is in there.
This is the view from my seat. I don’t think seating is in any way designated but I end up amongst Lichfield City supporters, including the guy who updates their social media. His name is Shaun Webbley. His write-up of the game calls it “ridiculous” and doesn’t help me in explaining what happened during the game.
Notice how the seats have little drainage holes in them? I thought that was cool until I’d been sat on the seat for over an hour. It’s pretty fucking uncomfortable.
Across from me are the dugouts and a little weird commentary hut that appears to be levitating between them. I was going to go and have a look but…11.7 miles. Sorry about that.
This is my “I’m tired but at least I haven’t been hit by a car yet today” look. It also gives you the opportunity to admire the paintwork at the Coppice. The stand shakes every time the wind blows and I’m not convinced it would survive a storm. The stand has a gap in the back, which is covered by a fence, which is held in place by rope. This allows the wind to blow straight through it and after 20 minutes I’m fucking freezing.
During the course of the match I’m not sure if the assistant referee is really small or really far away. This picture of the line ups confirms the former. The refereeing team for this game is the worst I’ve ever seen and I’m not convinced the ref understands the rules of football. In fact, I’m not sure I understand the rules of football after watching his performance. It’s thrown everything into doubt. The other lino, who looks like Jonjo Shelvey, squatted in mid-match and couldn’t run properly afterwards, causing fan speculation that he had, in fact, shat himself. I cannot confirm or deny this rumour.
The pitch is surrounded by woodland and nobody has thought to put nets up so every time there’s an errant shot a photographer/fan/goalie has to go and get the ball. In this close up you can admire how flat the pitch is and how beautiful the beautiful game can look if you don’t get astroturf fitted like a horrible sell-out.
And here’s the goalkeeper having to wander off into the woods to retrieve the football. Honestly, that’s the only thing that happened in the first half, which is one of the worst 45 minutes of football in the history of the professional game.
In all fairness there was also an argument between this fella and the referee as to whether you can elbow your opponent in the side of the face. The referee won and he was booked. In fact everyone in every picture I’ve taken so far was booked during the course of the game, including myself. I did learn that physio’s can’t get booked as they’re medical staff so if you’re a physio, feel free to call the referee a cunt because there’s nothing he can do about it. Put that cocky bastard in his place.
The game was so bad I resorted to watching weeds grow through the cement around the ground and actually missed the only shot on target in the first half because I was taking pictures of said weeds. It quickly becomes apparent that the only source of entertainment today is the Lichfield City supporters. Half time arrives and the guy who took my ticket goes in goal while the lads from the floating commentary position take pot shots at him.
This is objectively better than the first 45 minutes because I get the see the ball actually go in the net. Some of the older local chaps talk about attendance and I learn, from a head count, that it is 77. It’s a good number because you could form 7 teams and have a knock out tournament instead of playing the second half and it would be preferable entertainment.
The second half kicks off and there’s an actual shot on target and I capture it for posterity as I am a noted sports photographer. @HighgateUtd, please credit.
The drama mounts as the wind knocks over the halfway flag and it’s left poleaxed on the side of the pitch for several minutes. I consider calling the FA and asking for advice but the linesman puts it back, therefore getting at least one thing right during the course of the game. The referee starts making rules up and putting players in the sin bin in some weird ice hockey mash-up. I’ve seen games at this level since the rule was brought in but never seen it actually enforced. You get ten minutes in the sin bin for dissent. Due to the referee’s staggering incompetence Lichfield City finish the game with eight players. Only one of them was actually sent off. Presumably for calling the referee a cunt and not being a physio.
If you ever see these men near a football ground please discourage them from entering. They are not fit for purpose. As with the first half there’s more fun in the stand than on the pitch. Apart from a free kick on the half way line that hits the bar. That was pretty dope. The best banter comes from Lichfield again with one gentleman getting particularly irate at a Highgate supporter calling Lichfield a town. “WE’VE GOT A THREE SPIRED CATHEDRAL” he screams. Duly noted. I spent most of the second half giggling and yelling at the referee. Which is how football should be.
Final Score: Highgate United 0 Lichfield City 0
All that’s left is my arbitrary rankings system to see where I file the Highgate United experience in the big footballing scheme of things.
You don’t expect much from 77 people. I think a few of them were pissed up and that helped. A decent amount of yelling and banter but no chants or anything to speak of. **
It was £7. I can’t remember what I paid to get into Romulus or Racing Club Warwick, who are in the same division, but I think it was around that. I paid £2 less to watch Arundel and West Brom W and those were both significantly better games. ***
Fuck off. ½*
EASE OF ACCESS:
I didn’t drive or take public transport because I’m a lunatic and walked 12 miles to watch the game. It is right next to Whitlocks End. Like, 2 minutes walk, and traffic was ok as I left via car. Plus the car park at the ground was pretty big. ****
I like a lot of the old rickety aspects of the stands. I also enjoyed being in the midst of the friendly rivalry by sitting with the Lichfield fans. I didn’t enjoy how uncomfortable the seats were nor the gale force wind blowing through the middle of the stand. *½
11 points puts Highgate in between league rivals Old Wulfrunians (I saw Wolves W there) and Racing Club Warwick. I kinda expected it would fall in quite low but I have no major complaints. It was an end of season nothing game and both teams approached it half-heartedly. I got to have a nice walk in the countryside and I saw some animals so who’s the real winner?