Ground Nº 104 – Community Drive
Saturday 20th Aug 2005
FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round Norton Utd 1 Alvechurch 0 HT 0-0 Att: 60
It was in July that I was made aware of the local club to where I live. For some time before I had noticed some fierce spotlights occasionally shining out of a dense urban area in Smallthorne. I guessed it must be some posh leisure centre with a floodlit five-a-side pitch. It somehow seemed unlikely that a football team big enough to warrant a floodlighted ground would be in the middle of an inconspicuous housing estate. I had twice diverted down some side streets on the way home from work to try to locate this place but had failed both times.
I then found out that it was a football ground and there was also a cricket pitch next door. This was thanks to Google Earth! I figured it must have been like Dr Who’s TARDIS to have fitted all that in the middle of an urban sprawl. The football team were Norton Utd (Norton is the next area north of Smallthorne). I actually lived up the road in Norton Green so could properly claim the team for myself. I was delighted. They had only been around since 1989 but since their inception had twice won the Staffordshire league and were now in the Moore & Co Solicitors North West Counties League Division 2. Big time indeed.
I found out about them after looking into details of another club – FC United of
Manchester – the breakaway club set up by Man Utd fans disgruntled with the Glazier takeover. FC United were accepted into the NW Counties League and it was looking at their fixtures that I saw Norton Utd. Looking at Norton’s fixtures I saw that they were in the FA Cup and that for them it started in August! They had a Extra Preliminary round match at home to Alvechurch FC of the Midland Alliance. They were one step up the pyramid from Norton as the Midland Alliance was at the same level as the North West Counties League, of which Norton played in its second division. I was looking forward to getting back to grass roots football. I couldn’t wait to see what a non-league ground so far down the pyramid would look like. I figured Norton were five divisions below the conference. Their root up, should they become more successful, would be via the NWCL 1st Division, the Unibond Division 1, then Premiership, and up through the Conference North to the Conference proper.
Their ground was situated down a side road of Community Drive, which turns off the main road through Smallthorne. After entering through the car park and some gates there is indeed a huge area of land, which you wouldn’t believe possible in the built up area of Smallthorne. As you walk in there is a big pub restaurant-cum-cricket pavilion on the right with cricket pitch to the front. I bought a pint in a plastic cup so I could take it down to pitch side to watch the game – I was seriously starting to like this non-league thing! You walk along the path to the left of the cricket pitch to get to the football ground on the left, which was on a lower level, so you approach it about 20 ft above the playing surface.
A man in a little hut asks for £3 and you’re in, standing more or less level with the centre circle on an elevated grass bank. To the left there is an elongated bus shelter type stand housing about 60 seats in 2 rows of 30.
This is the only stand in the ground. Behind the goal to the left are some council houses separated by a wall. The other two sides are just the perimeter bar, but the trees surrounding it make it easy on the eye.
Community Drive must be one of the highest grounds in the pyramid and standing atop the natural grass bank gives you an impressive vista of the city of Stoke-on-Trent (see below). I don’t know the exact altitude but it must be above 500ft.
This is the small ginnel behind the other goal:
The attendance of 60 included a handful of away fans, stood near me down the steps set in the bank, against the perimeter bar with the stand on our left. One Alvechurch fan arrived late and in a panic, breathlessly telling his fellow fans that they’d run out of programmes. He looked grief stricken, the poor chap. I was very tempted to donate mine to him, but I’m a bit of a collector of keepsakes such as programmes myself – the geek inside me won over the good Samaritan.
It was an even game, with both teams quite tense. It was won by Norton in the 78th minute thanks to a lovely move and strike. The ball was crossed in from the left to a player running into the box who stuck his foot out to slide it under the keeper. A mild upset with Alvechurch being one step up the pyramid.
I decided to follow the Wembley trail from this point (well ok, the Millenium trail).
It went thus:
Prel. Deeping Rangers 0 Norton 0
R Norton 1 Deeping R 0
1 Q Staveley MW 2 Norton 1
2Q Cogenhoe 3 Staveley MW 2
3Q Cogenhoe 1 Chasetown 1
R Chasetown 4 Cogenhoe 3
4Q Blyth Stpartans 2 Chasetown 2
R Chasetown 1 Blyth Stpartans 0
1 Chasetown 1 Oldham 1
R Oldham 4 Chasetown 0
2 Oldham 1 Brentford 1
R Brentford 1 Oldham 0
3 Stockport 2 Brentford 3
4 Brentford 2 Sunderland 1
5 Charlton 3 Brentford 1
QF Charlton 0 Middlesbrough 0
R Middlesbrough 4 Charlton 2
SF Middlesbrough 0 West Ham 1
F West Ham 3 Liverpool 3