Midland Football League - Premier Division
On Saturday, households, communities and workplaces will be divided, because at the City Ground Nottingham Forest take on Derby County in the battle for East Midlands bragging rights.
No place will be more divided than the border town of Long Eaton though. Situated right on the Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire border, footballing allegiances are very much split. It isn't just football though, geographically the town sits in Derbyshire, yet the postcodes are all NG (Nottingham). In fact, in political circles debate has rumbled on as to just where it belongs, and continues to do so as different bodies look to stake a claim to the town (thanks Wiki).
You could forgive the locals for having something of an identity crisis!
The 'Big Jim' Stand
Only those close to the club can tell you if that was the right move to make or not, but suffice to say 16 years later they found themselves back in the NCEL Premier, the league where they came from. There they stayed until until 2014 when they were moved to the Midland Football League, due to geography again, they were right on the border between the North and the Midlands in footballing terms.
Long Eaton has a population of around 35,000 people, and that you would think could warrant a football club playing at a higher level, indeed Alfreton has a significantly smaller number, yet sustains a club at Conference North level, albeit one man has a significant influence in that.
The ground at Grange Park, in my view is comfortably good enough to host Step 4 football and I would suggest it is better than several Step 3 grounds I've visited. They have a tremendous community involvement with Junior and Ladies teams, and judging by the number of advertising boards around the ground, they do have backing within local business. The infrastructure of the club from the outside looking in looks spot on, they just need success on the field to make that leap.
One name is synonymous with Long Eaton United, and that's Jim Fairley, and that might only be one name, but it's two men! Jim Senior ran the club for many years, whereas his son (Jim Junior) was a player, then Manager, before eventually becoming Chairman himself. It really is a football club that owes so much to the Fairley's, and that's why the main stand is named after 'Big Jim'.
Sporting Khalsa arrived in town tonight on the back of a long winning run. Having only reached senior football in 2004, they have come a long way in a short time. Now playing at the Noose Lane ground that was formerly used by Willenhall Town, they had a great run in the FA Cup last season, going out in the 4th Qualifying Round to FC United of Manchester, while this season they reached the Quarter Final of the FA Vase, losing to Coleshill Town.
Arguably one of the best sides in the league, and having beaten Long Eaton 5-0 earlier in the season, when they went 2-0 up pretty quickly, you couldn't help but fear the worst for the hosts who looked all at sea in defence. However, Khalsa missed a great chance to make it 3-0, then within a matter of minutes the game was level at 2-2, it was hard to understand from a Khalsa point of view how that happened?
By half time the two goal advantage had been restored though and the visitors went in with a 4-2 lead, it had been superb entertainment and well worth the £6 admission.
The second half was equally as dramatic, we got to 3-5, only for Long Eaton to be awarded a penalty in the closing stages, which was duly converted. At 4-5 you felt they had a chance, but throughout the game they had been playing catch up, and while Long Eaton battled hard, you always felt Khalsa were the better outfit, especially in the final third where they were quick and clinical.
A sixth goal did arrive as Long Eaton committed men forward, it was game over, 4-6, and a fabulous advert for non-league football. Both sides should be congratulated for contributing to a brilliant spectacle, played in a great spirit.
Long Eaton don't have a game on Saturday, that means the 0.3% or so of the town's population who watch the Grange Park Blues on a regular basis can focus their attentions somewhere else for once (I wonder where?), but they'll soon be back, especially with entertainment like this on offer. Maybe a few more might start to come along as well, it would certainly sort out the problem of divided loyalties in the town.........