Stafford Town
Evans Park




Ground No. 214
Visited - Saturday 31st July 2010
Result - Stafford Town 2-3 Stafford Rangers
Competition - Pre-Season Friendly
Attendance - 235 (h/c)

When it comes to drawing up the boundaries of non-league football, the arguments can be endless, yet for all the whys and why not’s, surely there’s no greater anomaly in the country than that of Stafford, where the borders of the Midland Combination and West Midlands Regional League meet at Step 6 level, splitting the town into two with Brocton on one side in the Combination, and Stafford Town on the other in the WMRL.

Barely a mile separates the two clubs, yet they haven’t played a competitive league match between each other since 1993. Instead, for their nearest fixtures, Town have to travel to Wolverhampton, with journeys of up to 75 miles away to face the likes of Ledbury, whilst Brocton have a similar story, with Walsall Wood being their closest opponents at just over 14 miles (it’s big for this level!).

Despite this though, both clubs have been looking to move forward by building new grounds (which if rumours are to be believed is the reason why each league has been reluctant to lose them from their territory). Brocton moved into their new Silkmore Lane headquarters in 2008, and after visiting last season I’d been relatively impressed, even if it did lack a little bit of character. Stafford on the other hand had had a more prolonged wait, not moving to Evans Park until 2010 after delays with building, but since it was opened, reports had been promising, so I was looking forward to visiting, choosing the annual Stafford derby, against Rangers to make the trip. 

Town started life in 1976, becoming a feeder club for Stafford Rangers initially, playing mostly in the Staffordshire Senior League, before moving up to the West Midlands Regional League in 1993. Their progression since that time was swift, which prompted a ground share with Rangers at Marston Road when they won promotion to the Midland Alliance in 2000. Having first played on a pitch adjacent to the local cricket club, they’d moved to Rowley Park athletics stadium in 1993, and after relegation from the Alliance in 2004, this is where they returned to until March 2010 and the move to the new ground, which was a homecoming of sorts, with Evans Park being built adjacent to the cricket pitches, albeit on a different part of the site to the first pitch.

Setting off at midday, I arrived into Stafford in a good mood, spending some time in the town before heading down towards the ground. Named after the founder and chairman of the club, Gordon Evans, it’s part of a wider sports complex on the edge of the town centre, with cricket, hockey and rugby also catered for. It’s visible from the road, however the driveway around to it runs nearly the full circumference of the cricket pitches, which is a slight annoyance, and with games going on, then a sneaky shortcut across the grass was out of the question! Still, once there then you can’t help but feel impressed by it. The Main Stand sits on the near side as you enter, and runs for about half the length of the pitch, centred on the halfway line. It contains the dressing rooms and clubhouse inside, with a cantilevered roof jutting out providing cover for the seats below, in what is becoming an increasingly familiar design in new builds below Step 2 level. Still, this does have an unusual feature in that the seats are only in the centre, with covered standing spaces either side, looking like they might intend extending it in the future. With 198 seats in now, you suspect that might be enough for the time being, and with steep steps then they provide a good view of the action. The other three sides are hard standing, with a smart, bright red rail surrounding the pitch, whilst the only other thing of note is that there are no dugouts, the substitutes being provided with two rows of seats in the centre of the stand either side of the tunnel, Wembley style. With a leafy exterior to the ground, then it’s quite a pleasant scene, and helped by the summer weather and a sizeable crowd gathering then everyone seemed in a positive mood as 3pm neared and the players came out.

After kick-off, for the first quarter of an hour it looked pretty even, both sides tentatively testing the opposition with a few corners each, but on 18 minutes Rangers opened the scoring with a superb long range effort by Levi Reid, who slammed it home from 20 yards out. Three minutes later and it was 2-0, Andre Francis heading home at the near post to put the visitors in full control. Come the end of the first half and it looked like a question of how many Rangers could get, as the Step 2 sides superior strength and fitness levels came to tell, and they were rewarded with a third right at the death when Fabrice Kasiama lobbed the ball over the goalkeeper right into the far corner from a good 25 yards as they forged forward on another attack.

Despite the friendly status of the game, it was clear the hosts weren’t happy to be handed a routing on their home turf, and in the second half they came out with a renewed vigour. Within seven minutes of the restart they’d pulled one back, with an almost carbon copy of Rangers’ third, from almost the same spot when Matt Buckham showed that what his opposing number 11 could do, he could do equally as well. Town got a second on the hour mark, with a great goal from Ishmale Reid (brother of Rangers’ Levi) who controlled a long punt up-field from his goalkeeper, turned, and under pressure evaded a number of chances to stroll into the area and poke home. It was turning into an entertaining afternoon, and when Kasiama thundered a shot off the underside of the crossbar and back out, there were wry calls from behind the goal for technology to be introduced from fans who had found themselves having to correct their shouting all afternoon “Come on Stafford, er, Rangers…”! Both sides had chances after that, Town finishing the brighter side, but there were no more goals to come, and so the whistle was finally blown with the majority of the crowd going home happy.

Afterwards, then I made my way home, glad to have made the journey for the annual derby. It’s a great setup that Town now find themselves with, and you feel gives them a base to build on and push up the leagues. Compared to the similarly new development across town at Brocton, then this does have a better feel to it, albeit perhaps the weather and crowd helped on that front, but with the location and facilities, it gives the club a real chance of regaining the Midland Alliance status they lost six years ago, and perhaps at last a competitive fixture with their near neighbours.





Welcome to Stafford


Entrance to the Ground


Rear of the Main Stand


The Main Stand


The Far End


The Far Side


The Near End


The Far Side


Ready for Kick Off


The Far End


The Near End


The Main Stand



Evans Park Panoramic 1


Evans Park Panoramic 2





 

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