Tipton Sports Academy

Ground No. 79 (return visit)
Visited - Wednesday 30th March 2011
Result - Bustleholme 1-1 Stafford Town
Competition - West Midlands Regional League: Premier Division
Attendance - 45 (h/c)

Whilst Bustleholme describe themselves as a West Bromwich based team, the irony is that since joining the West Midlands Regional League in 1996, they’ve never actually played in the area, groundsharing first at Bilston Town and since 2007 a bit nearer to home at Tipton. The club were formed in 1975 as a youth side, and it wasn’t until 1993 that an adult team was set up, so as clubs go, they’re fairly young in the grand scheme of things, but their progress on the field has been steady, gaining promotion to the West Mids Premier in their first year, where they’ve remained ever since, enjoying their most successful season to date in 2009/10 with a fourth place finish that ranks as their highest ever to go alongside winning the Premier Division League Cup.

I’d previously visited Tipton Sports Academy back in 2005, so was in no major rush to get back there, but having planned to complete the West Midlands Premier before the end of this season, then it needing ticking, and with travelling no problem, then I’d decided to wait until the evenings had lightened up a bit and save it for then instead of wasting a Saturday when I could get somewhere further away! In the end the game with Stafford Town seemed most suitable, coming just at the right time with the clocks having gone forward the weekend before.

Sitting just north of Tipton itself, close to the Wolverhampton border in Princes End, the ground dates back to the late 60s when Tipton Sports Union, together with the council turned what was a rubbish tip into a leisure centre for multiple sports. Tipton Town moved here in 1970, and it’s where Steve Bull started his career in the early 80s before moving up the ladder to Albion and then up another few rungs ;) to Wolves! That said, it was a very different ground back then with a football pitch and small stand, which was replaced in 1998 when Sandwell Council redeveloped the arena into ‘Tipton Sports Academy’, adding a running track around the pitch and building a new 212 seat stand with changing facilities incorporated to bring it up to scratch. John Prescott was the guest to open it following its £3.1m rebuild.

Unfortunately I don’t have one jag, let alone two, but even with leaving work late, the journey over from Kingswinford went by smoothly, one bus into Dudley and another out of it without too much waiting around, arriving with about 20 minutes to go to kick-off. The first impression was that not a lot had changed since the last time I was here six years previously. Steep grass banks run around the far end and side giving it a bit of an enclosed feel, whilst Astroturf pitches and leisure buildings sit at the near end, with the stand in the centre of the near side. On closer inspection though, it was notable to see that an extra row of seating had been added to the front of the stand, presumably for Tipton to meet the ground grading requirements of 250 seats to play at Step 4, should they gain promotion at any point.  

The extra seats weren’t needed tonight though, even with a healthy crowd of 45 (headcount) having turned up on what was a pleasant, warm early summers night. I’d seen Stafford not too long before, against Wellington, where they suffered a heavy 6-1 defeat, and from the off, whilst they looked more solid than on that occasion, they were up against a rugged Bustleholme attack who seemed determined to get something early, with Matthew Jukes going closest when he lobbed the ball over the keeper from close range, only to see it return off the woodwork instead of dropping into the net. As it turned out, it was the visitors who took the lead, against the run of play, but with a great goal after some good work down the right saw a deep cross played to the back post where Rhys Baker had time to steady himself and lash the ball into the net on 15 minutes for 1-0. 12 minutes later though and Bustleholme were level, thanks to full back Connor Scott, who bundled the ball in from a corner to make it 1-1, which is how it stayed until the break, despite both sides having chances to go ahead. The less said about the second half, probably the better! Most of the action came late on, starting in the 86th minute when goalscorer Scott showed some great skill to go past two men down the left hand side to pull the ball back to John Willets who thundered it against the bar from the edge of the area, and deep into injury time Stafford were down to 10 men, when their goalscorer Baker got himself sent off for a rash challenge on Willets for his second bookable offence in the space of a few minutes. It wasn’t to make a difference though, with the reduction in numbers too late to make any telling advantage for Bustleholme, who would have been more unhappier with the result than Stafford assumedly were.

Leaving the ground, I made my way home, wishing I had one of Prescott’s jags, with the busses playing up, meaning I didn’t get back until late (albeit taking the chance of missing one bus to briefly stop off in Wolverhampton to sample what Wetherspoons real ale festival had on, not being disappointed with the Banana Bread Beer from Wells). Eventually though, I got back, glad to be one step closer to completing the league.

Overall, whilst the ground will never be a favourite amongst ‘hoppers, for clubs and players alike it offers a good standard facility that meets their needs. Even with the running track, to be fair, the view isn’t awful thanks to the stand being quite steep, so it could be worse, although the addition of a clubhouse is surely a must for Tipton especially as they look to progress, but also for Bustleholme themselves if they want to build up a revenue stream off the pitch, and perhaps one day return to their roots in West Brom and find a ground of their own.

Welcome to Bustleholme!

The Turnstiles

The Near Side

Looking across the Dave Edwards Stand

The Far End

The Far End

The Far Side

The Far Side

The Dave Edwards Stand

Ready for Kick Off

Tipton Sports Academy Panoramic

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