The City Ground
Ground No. 126
Visited - Tuesday 8th May 2007
Result - Darlaston 7-0 Blackheath
Competition - West Midlands Regional League, Division One League Cup Semi-Final
Attendance - 69 (h/c)
With the season gradually drawing to a close, the opportunity to visit new grounds was quickly diminishing, so when I noticed that Darlaston were at home to Blackheath in a West Midlands Regional League, Division One League Cup Semi-Final, first leg tie (what a mouthful!) then I decided to take the opportunity to visit the ground, looking forward to seeing a new level of the game that I’d not been to before, with Darlaston sitting at Step 7 of the pyramid.
Formed in 1874, they’re one of the oldest clubs in the West Midlands, having spent most of their time in the WMRL. Despite this though, it’s fair to say that success has been, by and large, hard to come by, with their highest finish being way back in 1912 when they were runners-up to Aston Villa’s reserve team in the Birmingham & District League, albeit that in itself wasn’t an inconsiderable achievement given that clubs like Crewe, Shrewsbury and Wrexham were playing in the league at this time, with Stoke having won it the previous season before returning to the Football League. Still, it was to be another 60 years before they did lift some silverware, when in 1973 the club won their highest accolade to date, beating Leamington 2-1 in the final of the Birmingham Senior Cup, a success which unfortunately couldn’t be repeated the following season, when they once more reached the final stage, before losing 3-2 to Highgate United. In 1976, they came 90 minutes away from playing in the first round of the FA Cup, when they took Derek Dougan’s Kettering Town to a 4th Qualifying Round replay, after holding the Poppies to a 1-1 draw in the first game, the Northamptonshire side winning 2-0 back at Rockingham Road to seal a tie with Oxford in the first round proper. It wasn’t until the late eighties that the clubs next notable feat would come, when they had three successful seasons on the trot between 1990 and 1992, winning firstly the WMRL Division One title to gain promotion back to the Premier, having dropped out in 1982, and then they won the Birmingham County FA Vase two years running in 1991 & 1992. Since then, they’ve generally switched between the WMRL Premier and Division One, and had just finished this season top of the Division One table to regain their place back in the Premier, after another five year absence, so were hoping to top the success off with a double by winning the League Cup as well.
Darlaston itself is situated five miles east of Wolverhampton, with it being roughly the same distance to both Walsall and West Bromwich as well, leaving it right at the heart of the Black Country, and making the journey there fairly straightforward. The ground itself was opened in 1899, and for some reason is known as the City Ground, although quite how it got that name in what is a small town seems to have been lost in the midst of time! Still, it lies quite close to the town centre, a short walk from the ASDA which nowadays dominates what was once a busy High St. The main entrance to the ground on Waverley Road features some ornate gates, which offer a small opening glimpse of the Victorian charm that lies inside after having paid the £2.50 entrance fee to go in.
The side on which you enter is fairly basic, with just hard standing, interrupted by three dugouts at the halfway point. Originally there had been a small covered terrace running nearly the full length, but over time storm damage had meant it was gradually reduced in size until being entirely removed around the turn of the millennium. At the far end (the Slater Street End), is more hard standing, and a couple rows of terracing which give an elevated viewing position, in front of a fence which is both patched and propped up, looking like it can’t have much longer left of life, whilst the South side of the ground contains the changing rooms, and sitting on the halfway line, a small, wooden stand, named after former secretary Dave Powers, who passed away a few years previously. With 6 rows of bench seating, it’s quite an attractive blue and white design, offering the only shelter at the ground and could apparently have a claim for the oldest stand in England. Whilst it was built here in 1935, the club bought it from Kidderminster, where it had made up part of a larger stand in place at Aggborough since 1885. It’s not generally mentioned in debates about the oldest stand, but depending on how much of the original stand exists, then it makes for an interesting candidate as the oldest (generally accepted to be the Grandstand at the Bebbington Oval on the Wirral, which dates from 1888). Finally, completing the picture is the clubhouse end, which sits at the top of a huge slope (running lengthwise down the pitch towards the Slater Street End). This is another attractive building, with benches outside giving the best view of the ground. If looking from the other end of the ground, you can also see the local church spire towering over this end, helping add to the charm. Fully enclosed by red brick Victorian housing on three sides and a road at the far end, the ground gives the feeling of being built on a bigger scale than what in reality it offers with only around 50 covered spaces in the Main Stand and hard standing for the spectator.
Having had a look round, and going inside the clubhouse for a pint before kick-off, it was eventually time for the game to get underway. With Darlaston having recently won the league, and Blackheath finishing in fifth, a good, close fought game was expected, especially with the prize of a final in the offing, but the following 90 minutes showed why the hosts had finished a full 23 points ahead of their guests for the night, being notable for conceding only 14 times all season.
Whilst the home manager might prefer to credit it as the players, the advantage of the slope became instantly evident early on, with the Blackheath players were finding it difficult to cope with any back passes, allowing the Darlaston strikers in to capitalise on mistakes, in particular forcing a number of early corners. It was from one of these that they took the lead in the 17th minute when No.9 ‘Quilty’ headed home over the keeper. They were 2-0 up in the 26th minute when left winger no.11 chipped home, and that started a flurry of goals with Darlo being 4-0 up thanks to another headed goal, and ‘Quilty’ grabbing his second, which was as good as any I’d seen scored this season after the ball had been pulled back to the centre of the box, he spun and managed to do a backheel volley into the net from the near the penalty spot. The scores stayed the same until half-time, and if Blackheath thought they’d have the advantage in the second half, then they were soon mistaken.
The right winger, number 6 (who had been having quite a good game), made it 5-0 when he was sent free in the box, and had time to chip the ball up, and with his second touch lob the visiting goalie, and by the 71st minute it was turned into a rout, when the hapless Blackheath ‘keeper smashed a clearance straight against Darlaston sub, no. 15 who fired straight back past him to make it six! With the game evidently over, Darlaston were able to increase their advantage for the second leg when no.14 was able to round the goalkeeper to make the final score 7-0 to the home side and as good as seal their place in the final before the second leg had even been played.
Unfortunately, no programmes were produced for the match, however it had still been good to visit the ground, and get a corker of a match to boot. The slope on the pitch is something to be seen to be believed, and whilst it does feel like its had grander days, being so enclosed, and with the buildings and trees overlooking it on all four sides, then it’s a great ground to visit, and one I’d recommend to anyone.
Entrance Gates on Waverley Road
The Slater Street End
The Far Side
The Slater Street End
The Clubhouse End
The Dave Powers Stand
The Near Side
The Dave Powers Stand
(note the slope of the pitch)
Ready for Kick Off
Looking up the slope
The City Ground Panoramic