Ground No. 222
Visited - Saturday 29th January 2011
Result - Massey Ferguson 0-3 Brocton
Competition - Midland Combination, Premier Division
Attendance - 30
At one time, works’ leagues were the backbone of football across the country, the amateur layer beneath non-league football that started the career of many a famous player, and even clubs. The general decline of British industry though, and loss of large scale factories that provided recreational facilities and sponsorship for their employees has seen many come to an end or change their status to wider community based amateur leagues, as is the case of the ‘Coventry Works Sports Association Football League’. Founded in 1934, it built on a number of existing competitions in the area such as the Coventry Combination, Bible League and numerous cup competitions, before changing its name to the Coventry Alliance in 1971, switching to the ‘Coventry Suburban and Football Alliance’ one year later and then back again in 1989 to the Coventry Alliance moniker, which it still exists as to this date.
One of city’s major employers whilst all this organisation and re-organisation was going on was Massey Ferguson, who had their headquarters based in the Tile Hill area. Thousands of people once worked in a factory that produced over three million tractors during its lifetime, but it’s gone the way of most major British industries now, with the site having been gradually reduced in size before new foreign owners completely abandoned it in 2002, with the land having been sold off for a major housing development.
As was de-rigueur for a factory of such a size, a football team was established in 1956, and they played games at the far end of the site where a field was provided for by the company. Starting off life if the Coventry Works League, they were founder members of the Alliance in 1971, winning the title (their records unfortunately not accurate (or available) enough to say when!) before deciding to step up a level and join the Midland Combination in 1993. They took to the more senior level of football like a duck to water, winning Division Two in their first season, and Division One the following year to climb straight up to the Premier Division, where they recorded a credible third place finish, their highest to date.
It was FA Cup 4th round this weekend, but with a local derby between Birmingham and Coventry, and both Villa and Walsall at home, then Wolves’ game against Stoke had been put back 24 hours by the police, raising the opportunity to visit a non-league ground instead. It was a tight call between Coventry Copsewood and Massey Ferguson, opting for the latter before setting out and getting to town before getting a call to ask where I was going and had I set off yet. It was good timing, about five minutes away from the train station and buying a ticket, so a lift arranged, and we were off!
The drive down to the ground went by without incident, the M6 being unusually quiet, and finding our way in through the winding country lanes that avoided a drive into Coventry, with Tile Hill sitting right on the edge of the western outskirts. With the exception of the large 16 storey office block, all of the old Massey Ferguson site has been razed to the ground, and in its place is rising a smart new housing estate, built on an impressively large scale, with a new row of shops to boot (including a fantastic chippie). The ground is situated right at the back of the site, so after coming across it we went in and parked up, expecting to be able to get a drink with about 40 minutes until kick-off, but with no clubhouse and the nearest pub some way away then it was back across the estate to make do with chips instead. Speaking to a club official, then part of the deal with the builders was for them to build the club a new block with changing facilities and a bar, but that would only happen when the housing development was completed, so it may be some time soon before that happens. At present, the players have to use portacabins to get changed in, the old changing rooms having burned down several years ago. Otherwise, whilst the initial impression when arriving at the gates is that it might be a tight, enclosed site, it’s actually quite expansive, with the main football pitch at the near end, overlapping with a cricket pitch, with a disused bowls green and further football pitches beyond. Concentrating on the football side, the entrance to the ground itself is in the opposite corner of the near end to where you come through the gates. It’s a slightly strange set up, as the changing rooms (portacabins) are outside this perimeter, presumably shared with the cricketers, and the players have to walk some distance to the pitch itself, with roped off barriers forming a snaking path to the pitch. Hard standing runs around the near end and side, with the Main Stand sitting in the centre of the near side, which is little more than a cover with a variety of seats placed inside. The far end is actually a public right of way, so is little more than a dirt track, people regularly passing through walking their dogs during the game, whilst the far side is roped off for the cricket pitch, albeit with fans still allowed to stand on this side. Because of the cricket pitch, unusually for this level you have four corner floodlight pylons instead of them bordering the touchline.
Sitting 16th in the league, then Massey hadn’t had a fantastic season to date, having conceded 22 goals in the previous six games, including a 7-0 thumping by Castle Vale JKS and losing their previous home game 6-0 to Nuneaton Griff. The visitors from Stafford, Brocton FC in contrast were one of the top scorers in the league, so it was also the chance of seeing some goals that had led me to choose this game over Copsewood!
Whilst its surface was immaculate, the pitch sloped notably downwards to the far end, and it was no doubt this that saw the hosts choose to kick-off in this direction. They looked the strongest, in the first half and had most of the opening chances, only to go behind in the fifth minute when Brocton were awarded a dubious penalty for a push on one of their players who went down rather easily. Number 10, Gary Fife had no problem sticking it in the bottom corner. Massey continued to press after that, helped by the slope, practically pinning the visitors in their half for most of the game, and they would have been level but for a goal being ruled as offside, which led to them getting caught on the break again, just before half time, with a fantastic effort from Fife who grabbed his second bang on 45 minutes, when he received the ball about 30 yards out, before turning on a penny to lose his marker and lob it into the corner from out of the blue to make it 2-0.
In the second half, the slope showed its advantage again, and Fife nearly had his hat-trick when 10 minutes after the restart he broke free from the defence, chipped the keeper only to see his effort cleared off the line by a Massey defender. Getting desperate, the home side started to press, but couldn’t find a way through the resolute Brocton defence, the closest they came was an effort cleared off the line, and with only a few minutes to go the visitors wrapped up the game when again on the break, Dan Lomas had broken free down the left before playing a wide diagonal ball to Gary Fife who unmarked was able to take his time and slam the ball home to complete his hat-trick as the home defence stood around berating the linesman that Fife had been offside (we were in line with it, he was a mile on!). It was harsh on the hosts who certainly didn’t deserve to beaten 3-0, but for all their pressure in both halves of the game it all comes down to taking your chances, and the visitors certainly did that.
After leaving, we made our way back, glad to have come and seen an entertaining game, the £3 entrance fee showing that you really don’t need to be paying upwards of £40 to watch Premiership football as though that’s the only level that matters.
Overall, the ground is probably best described as rustic, but standing on the cricket pitch side with your back to the expanse behind you then it does to an extent feel quite closed in with houses and trees hemming it in on the other two sides. After visiting, the news broke that it turns out that it might not be around for much longer, or at least Massey might not be playing there for much longer, with the football club and social club coming to heads about the ground improvements that they need to make to stay in the Midland Combination Premier. The management team have resigned over it, and the social club seem to be digging their heels in, so what happens remains to be seen, but if they do leave, then it would be a shame to see one of the final links with the former factory disappearing, just when a major housing development adjacent could be providing them with a new fanbase to sustain the club in the years to come.
Welcome to Massey Ferguson
The Entrance to the Ground
Looking across the Near End
The Near Side
The Main Stand
The Far End
The Main Stand
The Far Side
The Far End
The Near End
Ready for Kick Off
Bannerbrook Park Panoramic