Match Details: Handsworth 1 – Hallam FC 0 (NCEL D1)
Pre-match build up: It’d been a big weekend already in the NCEL – first Hemsworth Miners Welfare saw their game against Louth Town postponed after the referee found shards of glass on the pitch (which had apparently got mixed in with the top soil the club had applied to it over the summer). Then came news from the Askern Villa v Shirebrook Town game of one of the Shirebrook players being made to remove his underpants mid-match by the referee, due to their black colour showing through and clashing too much with the opposing team’s similarly-coloured shorts! Not having been able to make any of the Saturday games, I was pleased when Handsworth announced that due to accommodating the end of the cricket season, their own opening day game would take place on Sunday. Throw into the mix their opponents being newly-relegated local opposition, Hallam FC, and I was pleased to be able to join a packed crowd at Olivers Mount to see whether Handsworth could build on last year’s impressive first season in the NCEL which saw them finish in fourth place.
Destination: Olivers Mount, Handsworth, Sheffield, S9 4PA
Competition: Northern Counties East League, Division One
Kick Off: 3pm
Attendance: 297* (*official figure – though the actual attendance appeared to be around a hundred less than that)
Programme: £1 (pretty basic first issue of the season: 12 pages / 1 of adverts)
Directions: Handsworth play at the Olivers Mount complex, which is situated next to Tinsley Park Golf Course about three miles east of Sheffield. It’s not far off Juntion 33 of the M1, with Meadowhall shopping centre and the Don Valley Sports Arena also close by. The nearest rail station is in the neighbouring suburb of Darnall, and is around 10-15 minutes walk away. Alternatively, from Sheffield City Centre, get the number 52 (Woodhouse bound) bus from outside the Millennium Galleries on Arundel Gate (a couple of minutes walk from the rail station), which runs every 15 minutes at peak times. This will take you to where Handsworth Road joins Olivers Drive, with Olivers Drive then leading into Olivers Mount. For car users, there is a decent sized car park at the ground. Or if you need a quick getaway, then I would suggest street parking just before the ground, as there does tend to be a bit of a slow crawl at first to get out after the game.
Off The Pitch: Surf’s up in Handsworth, with the club currently riding atop the crest of a wave that has seen them go from junior club, to senior club, to step 6 of non-league within the space of a decade. The senior side was formed in 2003, primarily as a stepping stone for former juniors who wanted to progress to a senior level. The club joined the Sheffield County Senior League, progressing from Division Two to the Premier Division by 2008, and then making a successful application to go straight from here to the NCEL in 2010 (and thus bypassing the more usual route at this level of going through the Central Midlands League first).
For a club at this level of football, Handsworth appear to have a really neat set up at their disposal – decent facilities, multiple pitches, and plenty of room for development. As the club adapts to life at this higher league level, next on the agenda is the building of some new pitchside changing rooms – as at present, the only ones available in the complex are up top by the cricket pitch a couple of hundred yards away. Presumably, once this is done the club will also be able to secure the enclosure better, so that there is just one entrance/exit point. Like several other people today, I managed to wander in via the first entrance I got to, and after finding myself pitchside already, then had to go and find the pay booth in order to hand over my three quid entrance money – the cynic in me imagines not everyone might bother to do this though!
Elsewhere in the ground, the main change for this season is that 50 seats have been installed into what was previously a standing-only enclosure by the halfway line (see above pic). As the seats take up almost the entire space of this structure, I presume that some separate covered terracing is also on the future agenda. The opposite side houses the dugouts, and a small amount of hard standing along its entire length. Behind the goals, at one end is a fence with no spectator standing provision (effectively making it a three-sided ground – see pic below), with more hard standing behind the other goal at what is nicknamed the railway end.
Todays game drew in quite a few groundhoppers and other neutrals who jumped at the chance of a rare Sunday game at this level. Though this swelled the crowd to around the 200 mark, it was certainly nowhere near the 297 figure which was officially recorded afterwards – either someone misread the figure somewhere down the line, or Handsworth have an unusual way of counting the crowd! An independent headcount of 180 was reported midway through the first half by someone on the Non League Matters forum, and as I was a bit puzzled by the official figure, I’ve also done a rough estimate by looking at the photos I took at one point when the crowd was at its peak (being a three-sided ground this was fairly easy to do), and would say that 200 was the absolute maximum present – which would include officials of both clubs in that total.
On The Pitch: The most disappointing thing about today was the game itself – a pitch still hard from its summer drought, a frequent swirling wind, and two teams which never really found a rhythm to their play all conspired to make this a match high on competetiveness, but lacking in memorable moments. Handsworth nicked all three points thanks to a decent finish from early substitute Sam Smith when clean through on the right side of the penalty area just after half-time. He cooly sent a low cross-shot just inside the far post which gave Lewis Naylor in the Hallam goal no real chance of stopping it. Hallam applied some increasing pressure late on, but never really looked like getting anything from this game. A good start for Handsworth then, who continue the rich vein of form with which they ended last season, though both teams will hope to improve on today’s performance as the season beds in. Brian Cusworth (who has recently played for Sheffield FC and ended last season at Frickley Athletic) was notable making his Handsworth debut up front, and should do well at this level while also providing good experience to go alongside the club’s thriving younger element.
Post-match analysis: Handsworth have an impressive and currently evolving overall set up. Due to their continued success, I believe they are on the lookout for more matchday volunteers at the moment – so please do get in touch with the club if you live locally and could help out. I found a warm and friendly welcome on this particular visit, and with it being fairly easy to get to, look forward to a return visit later on in the season. With the team having finished last season very strongly, it will be interesting to see how well they can keep this progress going through the current campaign. To date, they have certainly proved that their elevation from Sheffield Senior League to NCEL has been well within their capabilities, making the move a success all round.
Update 18/8/2011: By special request, here’s a few more pics from the game (the last two is the Handsworth goal being scored)….