Ground Nº 112 – Stan Brown Stadium
Saturday 6th Jan 2007
Unibond League Division 1 Kidsgrove Athletic 1 Buxton 2 HT 1-1 Att:325
Tom and I had whittled our choice of venue today to either this match or Stafford Rangers v Stevenage. This was the more tempting proposition, though, as Buxton were the runaway leaders of the Unibond First, ten points clear, heading for back to back championships having won the Northern Counties Eastern Division last year. Kidsgrove were also on fine form; in their last seven games they’d won five and drawn two and were scoring for pleasure. On boxing day they beat Alsager 4-3 in a local derby watched by 453. A few days later they thrashed Chorley 5-2 away. They average exactly four goals a game and their leading scorer Michael Lennon was also the division’s leading scorer with 30 in all competitions.
I had seen Buxton a few weeks previously making short work of Brigg Town at Silverlands. I was quite taken with the club, their ground and their supporters and was keen to see them again. I might even follow them next year as a cheaper and probably more rewarding alternative to watching Brighton. It’d be a good way to polish off a lot of Unibond venues, too.
Kidsgrove Athletic were founded in 1952. They were formed as a local side for local people. Like Arsenal, they have never been relegated. They joined the Staffordshire League in 1963, having achieved success in Burslem and Tunstall Leagues. They later left to join the Mid-Cheshire league amidst boos and opprobrium from Staffordshire. The eighties saw much improvement to their ground, the last year of which saw them finally accepted into the North West Counties League. A further twelve years and some tweaks to their stadium saw them elevated into the Unibond. They finished bottom in 2004 but thanks to restructuring stayed put, thus avoiding their first relegation.
I drive through Kidsgrove on the way to work each day. I hate the name – Kids Grove, a grove of kids? I find it semantically repellent for some reason, less so than I used to, though. I wondered if the name literally sprung from it being home to small goats in times of yore. Then I saw their club crest which indeed depicted three little billy goats gambolling in a field betwixt two trees, or in a ‘grove’ I guess. So unless the club have just presumed at the name derivation, like me, I guess it’s as simple as that.
The town of Kidsgrove is a pleasant enough, sleepy town, next to the famous Harecastle Tunnel, designed by Thomas Telford. (The canal in Kidsgrove, by the way, has a distinctive orange colour, apparently due to large amounts of ochre from previous mining.) Like the two towns south of it, Tunstall and Burslem, it has the appearance, or maybe just an aura, of needing a damn good wash. It has a definite blackened aspect and hue to it, as if the whole town has gone down t’pit and forgotten to wash. The main drag through the town past the ornate town hall doesn’t do it justice, to be fair. A left turn at the lights and you’re in a leafy surburbia with nice semis, and if it hadn’t rained constantly for the last 40 days, probably the sound of lawn mowers.
The Stan Brown Stadium had a lot of seats. Exactly 1000 according to their website, which is impressive for step 4. It also has four covered sides, which is probably getting on for unique in this division.
As you come in there is a very welcome pub/social club that has Sky Sports results service showing on a TV in a corner. A much more urbane environment than the utilitarian concrete concourses on offer at league venues. Nicely sedated from a nice pre-match Guinness and we come out onto the side with a hundred or so pew-type wooden seats, next to which is a small stand for VIPS and staff, that has the more traditional bucket seats.
Walking round the ground to the right you get to a covered stand with four rows of orange seats, maybe 400 or so in total. Most people were standing down at the front rather than sitting.
Along the other side is another covered stand 2 or 3 rows deep and about 60 long, either side of which is one step standing.
Behind the other goal is another covered stand/terrace with just one row of seats stretched along the back. I estimated about 135 seats.
The crowd of 325 was the best of the day in the Unibond 1 (in fact it was the best in the whole of the Unibond, including Premier), swelled by a large travelling contingent from the peak. There were at least 70/80 visitors, maybe more than 100, judging from the throng that stood behind the goal Buxton were kicking into, in the second half. Both sets of fans were very vocal from the start making for a good atmosphere. The singing Kidsgrove fans behind the goal were banging away on the corrugated iron stand, too, adding to the general noise and ambience. They had reason to sing very early too, when the rapacious goal merchant Michael Lennon scored in the second minute. A corner came in to him in the box, where he did some nifty footwork before placing it high in the corner.
Their christmas form was continuing into the new year. Both teams were playing good football but Buxton responded quickly when a cross was fired over the grove defenders to an unmarked Walker, who directed a bullet header into the far top corner from eight yards. Nice finish, shame about the defending.
The good football and atmosphere continued, although to my chagrin the goals didn’t carry on at such pace – I had my heart set on a 5-4 classic after seeing two in the first six minutes. It stayed 1-1 until half time with both teams creating chances. As is quite common at this level the hardcore supporters of each team switched ends so they could be behind the goal they were kicking into. Buxton now now occupied the ‘big’ stand.
The refreshments at half time were excellent. There was so much choice of food it was like a cafe menu, more specifically a chip shop menu. The chips were delicious and the coffee good (70p). Fully satiated and set for an exciting second half. Buxton took the lead on 53 when a cross swung in from the right and Reed headed it perfectly over the keeper. That turned out to be the winner in an excellent game of football, though the second half saw less chances on a heavy pitch, saturated with the recent rains.
We stood with the Buxton hardcore in the second half, who were all standing despite the proliferation of orange seats behind them. It reminded me a little of Gay Meadow, albeit a smaller version. I think it was corrugated iron stand stood in a small throng of away fans on a cold afternoon, with trees surrounding the ground. It brought back memories of watching the Albion at Gay meadow.
The Stan Brown stadium is just what you want from a football ground – a hodge podge of different stands, different type seats(including the colour) all pieced together over the years. With only 325 supporters there was still a good atmsophere aided by loud acoustics from the covered stands, all in a picturesque woodland setting.
and click here for Hobo Tread’s charming account of Kidsgrove Athletic