Lincoln United
Ashby Avenue

Ground No. 170
Visited - Saturday 6th December 2008
Result - Lincoln United 3-4 Willenhall Town
Competition - Northern Premier League, Division 1 South
Attendance - 120

“Going to Lincoln? You’re mad aren’t you? There’ll be so many people there”

A conversation I overheard on the train to which I thought pah! It’ll just be a bit busy with Christmas shoppers, what’s the fuss? The fuss turned out to be the world famous Lincoln Christmas Market, although apparently the world doesn’t include the Black Country as I’d never heard anyone mention it before! Despite that, the warning seemed to be quite apt. 250,000 people visiting a city with a population of 87,000. Whole streets had been turned into a one way only system for people, never mind traffic. Stewards and police were on hand to direct crowd flows and it really was a case of not being able to move other than with the crowd for large parts of it. Think Wembley Way after a game but on the scale of an entire city centre! 

I’d first visited Lincoln just over four years ago to see City’s second leg play-off game against Macclesfield, which they won 1-0 to go on to the Millennium Stadium (where they lost to Southend). I’d really enjoyed going there then and had been itching to get back for a while, but having already visited Sincil Bank, then I wasn’t overly motivated for a return (not that I didn’t like the ground, but I always prefer going somewhere new), so when noticing that Willenhall were due to be away at Lincoln United on a weekend I wasn’t sure where to go, then that made my mind up and a return to the city was pencilled back in.

Setting off just after 8am the journey up there was a bit hit and miss. After getting off in Birmingham I just managed to see the train pulling away from the other platform, but jumped on one to Derby, knowing there’s always a long wait there to Nottingham. Once again though, it was eluding me, pulling off just as we got in ahead of schedule. After that, there was a bit of a wait there and in Nottingham as well, before catching a train onwards to Lincoln, sitting in first class after they’d declassified the train, which made up a bit for being later than planned!

We arrived into Lincoln just after 12pm, and one place I did want to go to was the site of the old racecourse. Ground fans and regular travellers of the A57 out there will know why, but for those who don’t, then just on the outskirts of the city, facing the road sits the old grandstand, now home to the local golf club. It’s quite an extraordinary sight, built in 1897 it’s a listed building, with the former racecourse itself sitting the other side of the road, largely grassed over now. If you’re wondering why there’s a busy trunk road running through the middle of it, apparently that used to be closed off on racedays, but as it was last used in 1964, then you can’t imagine them doing the same now with the increased amount of traffic there (although apparently there are plans to look into it). With two tiers, and a roof featuring three gables it’s a fantastic example of 19th century sports architecture, although it’s a bit sad to see the seating/terracing part of the stand fenced off with just plain building site fences, when something more ornate would perhaps be appropriate. Anyway, after taking a few pictures I went back into the city, joining the crowds and having a walk up to the Cathedral, which dominates the local skyline, sitting atop a very steep hill (the road up to it is called Steep Hill, which doesn’t quite describe the 45 degree angle that you have to walk up to get to it!) Vaguely reminiscent of the castle at Prague with its prominence over the city, it’s a beautiful building, probably one of the finest in all of England and if you ever come to Lincoln, then worth checking out, but with time getting on I had to make my way away from the centre.

Unfortunately I had somewhat misjudged the distance from United’s Ashby Avenue ground to the city centre, and with the crowds considerably slowing me down, not to mention the level crossing on the High St, which is a pain, then it had just gone 3pm when I finally arrived, but after going in I was pleased with what I saw. The ground is signposted as part of a ‘sports complex’, although in reality that just means there is a cricket pitch next to it that you have to walk past before getting to the turnstiles. Coming in at the near end, then there is a strip of hard standing which has the changing rooms directly behind the goal, with a cover propped up over it. Strangely there is also mesh fencing, giving a caged in feel reminiscent of continental grounds, and slightly restricting viewing. Going round to the right is more hard standing, before the dugouts, which have a small box situated on top of them, what for is anyone’s guess, it looks like a press box, but certainly doesn’t sit very high above the pitch. Beyond that is the Arthur Simpson Stand, which has two rows of bench seating, and runs nearly up to the far end where the Claudine Morley Stand sits, which is a small terrace, running nearly the full width of the pitch. On the near side is more hard standing and the Main Stand sitting in the centre, with seating for roughly 250. Both of the last two stands were built in 1994, and help give the ground a good balanced feel to it, with cover on all four sides.

With winter setting in ever more, the sun had already started to go down when I got there, so there wasn’t much time to take pictures, watching the game whilst having a walk around. It was the visitors who seemed to be doing most of the early pressing, and they went ahead in the 19th minute thanks to a great goal from Naveed Arshad who was played in one on one with the keeper, before rounding him and poking into an empty net. Lincoln came back at this and just 9 minutes later they found themselves level when Gio Carchedi scored from the penalty spot, following a debatable handball decision from the ref. The rest of the half was fairly even, the home side perhaps shading it, but in the second half Willenhall, despite maybe having less possession, really put the hosts to the sword with some clinical finishing in front of goal. There was a let off for Lincoln early on, when a poor clearance fell to Lee Chilton who showed some sublime skill to get into the area before slamming the ball against the crossbar. It wasn’t to matter though and the Lockmen were 2-1 up on 61 minutes when Justin Nesbitt put the ball past the keeper in a crowded area. Still buzzing from hitting the bar, it was Chilton who made it 3-1 just two minutes later, heading home from Nesbitt’s cross. This seemed to really stir the home side into action and they got a goal back in the 67th minute when Brendan McDaid pounced on some sloppy defending, but whilst looking for an equaliser they were made to pay for having too many men forward when a long clearance fell to the impressive Nisbett who raced from the halfway line, showing his pace to escape the pursuing defenders before coolly slotting home after getting into the area with 10 minutes to go. At 4-2 the game looked over, and the noisy dozen or so followers from the Black Country were enjoying themselves until the last couple of minutes when Carchedi grabbed his second to make it a tense finish, but despite this Willenhall ran out 4-3 winners in a game well worth the £6 entry fee.

After leaving, I decided to catch a bus back into town, not fancying the 3 mile walk again, but that ended up taking just as long thanks to the traffic in the centre, and I had no luck finding a pub showing the QPR-Wolves game, with hardly any pub in the city centre having Sky, and those that did rather predictably showing Man Utd against Sunderland. With this, after grabbing some food and a drink in the Wetherspoons, I made my way back home, joining the shoppers on a packed train back to Nottingham and beyond, getting back just before 10pm.

Overall, it had been a pretty good day out. With QPR charging Wolves fans £30 to watch a second division televised match, then the £6 here really shows the difference in value with this being by far the more exciting game judging by reports from Loftus Road. The ground itself is a good one, fully enclosed and with cover on all four sides then it’s more than suitable for Step 4 football and one I’d recommend going to. Just probably heed the advice of the woman on the train and try to avoid it around the time of the Christmas Market!

Lincoln Racecourse and the A57

The Disused Track

The Grandstand

Rear of the Grandstand

Welcome to Ashby Avenue

The Clubhouse

The Turnstiles

Restricted view from the Dressing Rooms End

The Dressing Rooms End

The Far Side

The Dugouts

The Arthur Simpson Stand

The Claudine Morley Stand

The Near Side

The Main Stand

Second Half

Ashby Avenue Panoramic
(click here for full size picture)


No comments:

Post a Comment