Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Dronx

Dronfield Town  1  Shirebrook Town  2

Northern Counties East League – First Division

I can remember the first day I started work in Dronfield very vividly.

I walked into my new office, with eyes burning into my back from the renowned manager, a small yet powerful woman who had the capacity to reduce mere mortals to dust with a lash of her tongue.
She followed me down stairs, and I fell into the trap that had been carefully laid.

“Would you like a cup of coffee Neil?”

“Yes Please”, was my response, she didn’t seem too bad after all….

The coffee cup hit the desk with a force that caused the contents to fly in all directions, she sat down slowly, folded her arms, and with a quiet yet assured voice, it was made it very clear what the landscape was going to look like going forward. With a gulp and a nod I accepted the terms, it was without doubt 1-0, and an equaliser was nowhere to be seen…

“Oh, and that cup of coffee, it’s the first and last you are going to get, understood?” was her parting shot.

Yes, welcome to Dronfield. Now as you can imagine, as is often the case, as we got to know each other we ended up getting on like a house on fire. In fact on the day she retired, I was asked to re-tell the coffee story to the audience, who were in hysterics. Tears were shed, hugs all around, she wasn’t that bad really, and I suspect over time she concluded I wasn’t so bad either.

Dronfield was my place of work for over ten years, I got to know it well, and I got to know it’s people, but I never could quite get it’s football?

Yes, like most places with an S postcode, it was split United and Wednesday, but it was also a big town, 21,000 inhabitants, so why was it off the radar?

Historically, the football ground in Dronfield was the Coach & Horses which sat on the North side of the town, and for many years the team that played there was Norton Woodseats. A Yorkshire League side who ultimately formed part of the Northern Counties East League when it was created. Both Norton and Woodseats are areas of Sheffield, so in 1983 the decision was taken to rename the club Dronfield United, no doubt to encourage local support and indeed sponsorship.

Fruits Of Their Labours
They kept the Dronfield name until 1991 until deciding to revert back to the former name (the change obviously didn't make a difference), and by now the club were in the Central Midlands League. That lasted for three seasons, and then after a spell in the Sheffield County Senior League, they disappeared from the map in 1999.

The Coach & Horses sat empty until April 2001, when accompanied by a huge fanfare, Sheffield Football Club, the somewhat nomadic Oldest Football Club In The World, finally found a place they could call home, in Derbyshire!

Ok, it was senior football at last, but, it wasn’t Dronfield, this was a Sheffield club, followed by Sheffield people. I won’t dwell on the Sheffield FC story since, but in all fairness, they have harnessed a decent support base from Dronfield, and that is something that is probably a little bit frustrating for the indigenous clubs such as AFC Dronfield, and of course, Dronfield Town.

So, Dronfield Town FC, this is quite a story. After a couple of name changes and incarnations, the current club was formed in 1998 and played at the Pioneer Ground. They moved into the Hope Valley League, breezed through that and found themselves in the Midlands Regional Alliance. Further success in terms of promotions and championships followed, which meant in 2009 they were elected to the Central Midlands League.

Dronfield after all of the years since Dronfield United (who arguably were a Sheffield club anyway), finally had a team of their own playing senior football.

Now That Is A Fence!
It didn’t stop their either, a Premier Division runners-up spot saw them elevated to the Supreme Division, and following restructuring they were placed in the Northern Division, which they won in 2012-13. That meant promotion to the Northern Counties East League where they remain.

Life has not been easy at Step 6, a best finish of 14th, but also two fourth from bottom finishes have probably been a little too close for comfort. However, what the club have done while trying to maintain their status, is develop the Stonelow Road Ground into a neat and tidy arena.

Adjacent to Coal Aston Cricket Club, they used to share the facilities but over recent years they have developed their own clubhouse and refreshment area forming part of the changing facility. Floodlights have been installed and seats have been put in the small stand. The pitch has been a problem over recent seasons with waterlogging, but money has been spent on that and now it looks fantastic, and I guess when the rains do come, it will tell us whether that investment has been worthwhile.

Crowds are averaging 73 this season, with a high of 157 and low of just 38, however for tonight’s game against Derbyshire rivals Shirebrook Town, a healthy away following saw 110 pay their admission fee.

Dronfield started the game strongly and took a deserved lead from a well worked goal in the 25th minute from Daniel Wood. However, the fancied visitors under the leadership of Cliff Richard Thomas (I refer you to the FC Bolsover blog from last year), came back strongly in the second period and scored two cracking goals in the space of space of a minute from Tom Cooke and Kieran Watson.

Not A Puddle In Sight
The goals certainly settled down the vocal Shirebrook supporters who up to that point had decided anything in an officials kit or indeed a Dronfield shirt was to blame for their own teams shortcomings. Shirebrook and political correctness are not bedfellows!

A red card for a Dronfield player late in the game didn’t help the cause much and in the end as much as they toiled, an equaliser didn’t look likely. They sit in 18th place in the league, and ironically the bottom two are Brigg Town and Retford United, two former champions and Northern Premier League clubs in recent seasons.

So what does the future hold? Part of me wonders whether Sheffield FC could have a say in that. They do have plans to move to a ground in Sheffield, and that would potentially do two things, it would leave the Coach & Horses empty, and it would also possibly put off some of the Dronfield based support who simply don’t fancy the travelling. Could that be to Town’s advantage?

Anyway, an enjoyable night, spent in the company of fellow blogger Martin Roberts and also the Webster’s (Ben & Pat), who are ironically Sheffield FC Fans. I did manage a quick pint in the bar before the game as well, and guess what, it wasn’t slammed onto the bar in front of me, and neither was it followed by a tongue lashing!

I promise you, the welcome in Dronfield is absolutely nothing like the one I got all those years ago, and that’s why I would love to see the football club get better support than they do, come on residents of ‘The Dronx’, there’s more to life than Owls, Blades and Club…… 

The Bit That ALWAYS Waterlogs!

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