Saturday 6th March 2010

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Stafford Town 7 Shenstone Pathfinder 0
West Midlands (Regional) League Division 1
At: Evans Park, Riverway
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £4 including 28 page programme
Attendance: 65 (headcount)
Weather: mostly sunny, cold wind
Duration: first-half: 45:08; second-half: 45:07

Stafford Town played the first game at their new Evans Park ground and celebrated the occasion with an emphatic 7-0 victory. Paul McMahon and Rhys Baker both bagged a hat-trick for the Division 1 leaders with Matt Buckham also on target.

A front-page article in Wednesday’s Express and Star, followed by another in Thursday’s Staffordshire Newsletter, confirmed that the first game at Town’s new Evans Park would take place today – a day I’d previously decided to miss football to make other family members’ walking and ballet commitments a bit easier to fulfil. I didn’t want to miss the inaugural fixture so I now owe a few people a few ‘brownie points’!

Evans Park, on the same complex as Stafford Cricket club and a pitch previously used by Stafford Town, MSHD and Riverway FC, is an impressive venue build with promotion back to the Midland Alliance in mind. It is located on Riverway, a road off the A34 Lichfield Road and close to the white painted Lloyds TSB branch. A track leads around the cricket ground to the back of the pavilion to a large car park. The road continues through impressive gates to the ground and, inside, the pitch ran widthways parallel with the River Sow. To the left on the entrance on the neat touchline was a 192-seater Ariva T&D Community Stand, with individual tip-up seats, flanked by additional covered standing. Around the rest of the ground was hard-standing with four floodlight pylons down each side.

A refreshments bar, run by former Stafford and Doncaster winger Keith Mottershead, could be found in one of the hospitality rooms. The helpful Stafford secretary prepared a teamsheet which was prominently displayed outside by the stand.

Stafford Town can trace their roots back to 1976 when Gordon Evans founded Stafford FC and became a nursery side of Stafford Rangers FC. The new club had a spell in the Midland Combination prior to joining the Staffordshire County League North in 1981/82 when the name ‘Stafford Town’ was adopted. They soon joined the new Staffordshire Senior League, playing home games first at Burton Manor and then Riverway on the pitch close to and parallel with the main road.

Town merged with successful Sunday side MSHD under a new name of Stafford MSHD. They progressed into the West Midlands League and moved to Rowley Park before promotion necessitated a groundshare at Stafford Rangers’ Marston Road. As a Midland Alliance club, I remember them, now renamed Stafford Town, enjoying a memorable FA Cup run in 1999/2000 and covered their third qualifying round tie at Harrow Borough for the local press.

Stafford Town left Marston Road in 2004 and returned to Rowley Park, playing in the West Midlands League Division 1.

The opening of Evans Park, named after Chairman and founder Gordon Evans, is the culmination of a project that, according to the programme, has taken almost six years from the first meeting to first match.

Stafford Town (47 points from 20 games) went into their first competitive game at Evans Park as league leaders, one point clear of second-placed Hanwood United. Third-placed Wellington Amateurs were a further point behind Town with a game in hand. Visitors Shenstone Pathfinder (23 points from 19 games) were towards the bottom of the 17-team division in 14th position.

I opted for a seat in the stand on the back row and enjoyed the company of Peter Baker, who I’ve known for many years from Stafford Rangers, and his mate John Williams.

Stafford Town got the game underway attacking from right to left towards the cricket field and almost took an 18th second lead. Matt Buckham got down the left into the area and fired past the diving keeper Callum Heanan and inches wide of the far post. I wonder if any player has scored from the first attempt on goal at a new ground?

Shenstone’s John Branch, the experienced former Hednesford defender, took the Evans Park’s first throw in and it wasn’t long before the first goal was scored.

In the 6th minute, Paul McMahon’s initial volley was parried by Heanan and Rhys Baker hammered home the loose ball into the far left-hand corner of the net.

Referee Terry Holbrook awarded the first free-kick after 10 minutes for a foul on dale Anderson by Matt Dockerty and this led to the first corner, delivered by Branch.

Stafford doubled their advantage in the 12th minute. Baker found himself in space on the right and decided to try his luck and fired past the diving keeper into the far side of the net.

A 2-0 up after 12 minutes, even at this early stage it looked like just a matter of how many Stafford would score. However, Andy Baldwin sent a free header over the bar for the visitors.

Heanan produced a decent save to keep out a header from Paul McMahon and got a boot in the way of a close range shot from the overlapping Dockerty just after the half-hour mark.

Stafford’s third goal came in the 36th minute. Dave Woodvine put McMahon clear down the middle and the former Stafford Rangers striker cleverly chipped the advancing keeper.

Paul Burn in the Stafford goal had little to do during the first but remained alert to hold a header from Baldwin.

At half-time it was back to the Alstom Suite for more tea and in there was ‘Guppy’, Stafford popular retired doctor!

The back of the Shenstone net was bulging again within two minutes of the restart. A slip by Stu Fielding let in McMahon who set up a chance for Matt Buckham to hammer home.

It was again one-way traffic and twice the boot of Heanan prevented McMahon from scoring again. But the striker did add the fifth goal in the 59th minute, flicking home Dockerty’s near-post left-wing corner.

Baldwin’s long throw led to a rare moment of panic in the Stafford defence before McMahon completed his hat-trick in the 63rd minute. Buckham’s initial shot was parried and McMahon hammered home the rebound.

It was now a question of how many would Stafford would score and I was quickly shouting out “there’s the seventh” when McMahon sent a first time shot towards goal. But once again the boot of Heanan kept the ball out.

Stafford rung the changes and took off hat-trick hero McMahon and the dangerous Buckham. The way was clear for Baker to complete his hat-trick and he duly did in the 80th minute, volleying a right-wing cross into the roof of the net. Town were in seventh heaven!

I’ve never seen Stafford Rangers score more than seven in a game so with time left I was hopeful that Town would add an eighth goal, and they nearly did. Heanan kept out Mark Johnson’s close-range shot and a low drive from Hollinsworth flashed across the face of goal.

Shortly before full-time, the Stafford bench urged their side to “keep it tight, nothing away”. But no sooner had those words been said… Anderson got into the area only to be denied a clear shooting chance by Rob Tomlinson’s saving tackle.

All in all, a memorable afternoon at the new stadium and back home just after five with a round trip of just five miles!

Stafford Town (red/red/red): 1. Paul Burn, 2. Matt Dockerty, 3. Mark Johnson, 4. Adam Price (capt), 5. Justin Worthington, 6. Rob Tomlinson, 7. Carl Morris, 8. Dave Woodvine, 9. Paul McMahon, 10. Rhys Baker, 11. Matt Buckham. Subs: 12. Wayne Bailey (for Morris, 65), 14. Oliver Gore (for McMahon, 68), 15. Sam Hollinsworth (for Buckham, 72), 16. Matt Walker (not used), 17. Matt Bickley (not used).

Shenstone Pathfinder (white/blue/blue): 1. Callum Heanan, 2. Matthew Heaton, 3. John Branch, 4. Matt Jones, 5. Stu Fielding, 6. Steve White, 7. Alex Leonard, 8. Andy Baldwin, 9. Jay Dinham, 10. Adam Simpson (capt), 11. Dale Anderson. Subs: 12. Graham Heanan (not used), 14. Chris Whitehouse (not used), 15. Chris Caddy (for Jones, 64), 16. Steve Mercer (for Branch, 68).

Referee: Terry Holbrook.
Assistants: John Probert and Glyn Thomas.

1-0 Rhys Baker (6)
2-0 Rhys Baker (13)
3-0 Paul McMahon (36)
4-0 Matt Buckham (47)
5-0 Paul McMahon (59)
6-0 Paul McMahon (63)
7-0 Rhys Baker (80)

Stafford: none
Shenstone: none