Ground No. 231
Visited - Saturday 16th 2011
Result - Stafford Town 3-2 Redgate Clayton
Competition - Pre-Season Friendly
Attendance - 36 (h/c)
When a club moves ground, it’s normally the case that you go out of your way to rush to get it done before it disappears and then at some point in the future tick them at their new ground as well, but it’s not often that it happens the other way around!
Formed in 1976, Stafford Town started life out playing on a field next to the cricket club in the centre of town, but in 1993 they decided to step up to the higher level of the West Midlands Regional League, and as a result, needed better facilities, moving a few miles down the road to the local council owned Rowley Park Stadium. Not only having the disadvantage of an athletics track around the pitch, as part of their rental agreement, the club were never able to charge admission, so in 2010 after years in the planning, they finally moved back adjacent to the cricket club and into a brand new ground of their own called Evans Park. A great facility for Step 6, I’d visited it in the 2010 pre-season for their game against Stafford Rangers, and had been impressed with the set-up, albeit a bit annoyed to have missed out on Rowley Park. Fate was smiling though, and so when they announced that they’d be playing their first 2011 pre-season game there, then that was enough to get me rushing out of my way to do it!
Situated in the southwest of the town, despite never ticking it for a match, then it was a ground I had been to previously, having run in athletics meetings there in my younger (fitter!) days. That said, my memory of it was hazy at best, so I was looking forward to it and set off for the first game of the new season in a good mood, the journey up to Stafford taking little time.
Whilst the stadium itself only dates back to around the 1960s, the name goes much further back, from the 13th Century when several families settled in the area, naming it Rowlowe, which translates as ‘rough land’, and walking in via the adjacent council estate you get the feeling that that description could still apply, albeit for slightly different reasons! The ground is situated in a park which shares the same name, and has facilities for bowls, rugby and hockey, and is open to the public, which explains why the club could never charge rent. With banking and trees/flowerbeds on all four sides, then it isn’t an unpleasant location, built into the side of sloping land, with the track on the one side situated at the top of the bank which you have to climb to get to pitch level, whilst the other side climbs up offering an elevated view over the pitch which makes the track slightly less of an issue, with views of the action being fairly good. Unfortunately though, the facilities themselves aren’t fantastic, there being no stand as such, the dressing rooms and refreshment room on the elevated side, with stepped paving providing supporters a place to sit/stand, albeit with no cover except for the overhang of the roof next to the dressing rooms. It’s a council facility without any doubt, low maintenance and low cost, and you can understand why the club moved.
The reason that this game was actually back here was because Evans Park was having its pitch re-laid, and the club had decided not to play any football on it this summer to aid its recovery from the harsh winter. The visitors were Redgate Clayton, who play one level below Stafford, in the Staffordshire County League, and it didn’t take long after kick-off for the difference in quality to tell.
Stafford looked more composed and disciplined on the ball in comparison to their visitors, and they took the lead in just the sixth minute thanks to their number nine who rose highest to meet a corner and head home to put them 1-0 ahead. They continued to make most of the play, but after the goal the visitors seemed to strengthen themselves, and what hinted at a possible avalanche never came to play, unlike the weather which had been hinting at a downpour, everyone darting for the little amount of cover midway through the first half when it become torrential for 10 minutes. Its cessation was the cue for the home side to increase the lead, in the 33rd minute, when their number 10 had chased a long punt forward only to collide with the goalkeeper with the ball running free to the back post where their number 7 tapped home, turning to celebrate with a look on his face that he expected the ref to bring the play back instead of point to the centre circle!
After the break, Stafford should have been 3-0 up when their number 10 was played beautifully into the box with a slide rule pass, only the goalkeeper to beat before blasting it over. He did it again six minutes later, skying a similar chance where it looked easier to score, and in the 58th minute the home side were made to pay when Redgate got the goal back that their resurgence either side of the break had deserved. The rest of the half was played out at a slower pace than the first hour had been, and the game looked to be wrapped up in the 85th minute when another through ball had found Stafford’s number 7 running through, onside, with only the keeper to beat before he did a cheeky Ronaldinho-esque turn past Redgate’s number one and slotted into an empty net. That wasn’t to be the last bit of action though, and if Redgate’s keeper had been left red faced by the opposition, then his opposite number at the other end of the field was to feel the same but this time for his own mistake. A long, hopeful ball forward was idly chased by Redgate’s number 4, (notable for wearing bright blue socks when his teammates were all wearing black ones), who slowed down when the keeper came to make a simple clearance and boot up field, only to miss it, leaving the Regdate midfielder the chance to nip around him and tap it in to make it 3-2. In an exciting end to the game they had another chance as well, on the break, with just the keeper to beat for the equaliser, but a lob from 20 yards dropped just the wrong side of the bar, with the ref blowing his whistle as soon as the ball had gone out of play.
With that then I made my way home, getting back with no problems, having had the chance to stop by at Stafford RUFC’s Newport Road ground a bit further up the road on the way.
Overall, whilst I’d been looking forward to visiting the ground, having had memories of a good sized sporting arena (not quite Crystal Palace or Don Valley, but a decent facility all the same) then it was a shame to see that it wasn’t quite as big as I’d remembered. Despite that though, I was still happy to tick it for an actual game, and it’s only coming here that has really made it obvious how great a move it’s been for the club to now call Evans Park home. It’s not often a team leaves and ends up with not just a better ground, but a far better site as well, closer to the town centre with all the facilities they could wish for at this level of the game. You can only say they’ve done well, and the pride about the ground from speaking to people and reading the programme last season is fully justified.
Welcome to Rowley Park!
Rear of the Dressing Rooms
The Near Side
The Near End
Seating/Terracing for Fans
The Far End
The Far End
The Near Side
The Far Side
Ready for Kick Off
The Near End
The Far Side
The Dressing Rooms
Rowley Park Panoramic