Walsall Wood FC
Ground Number: 666
Tuesday 24th January 2016
Walsall Wood 1-2 Highgate United
Midland League Cup Quarter Final
WALSALL WOOD FC - A BRIEF HISTORY
The club were formed in 1915 under the wonderful name of WALSALL WOOD EBENEZER PRIMITIVE METHODISTS. They changed to their present name in 1986, but not before they merged with Walsall Sportsco to become Walsall Borough. Upon that merger, which happened in 1982, the club joined the Midland Combination, remaining there until 1992 when they joined the Staffordshire League for a season. The following season saw them joined the West Midlands Regional League, and the first season was a successful one with them finishing 5th and earning promotion to the Premier Division. However, they struggled and they were relegated back to Division 1 in 2003. Results were a lot better and in 2006 they rejoined the Midland Combination. They were champions in 2013 and joined the Midland Alliance, staying there for a season before it merged with the Midland Combination to become the Midland League. Since the 2014/15 season, they have been in the step 5 Premier Division and after decent finishes of 6th, 4th and 7th they sit in a mid-table placing of 10th prior to tonight's game.
In the FA Cup, Walsall Wood's best ever run came in 1988. After beating Louth United and Matlock Town, they lost to local rivals Dudley Town in the 2nd Qualifying Round. The last few seasons have seen a couple of notable runs in the FA Vase. The best of there saw them reach the quarter-final in 2012/13 when they took Guernsey to a replay before bowing out 3-1, though they had to battle through 9 games to get that far. Local cup honours include the Walsall Senior Cup on five occasions, the Wednesbury Charity Cup twice and the Staffordshire Challenge Cup.
For ground number 666 I was hoping to do something devil related, although nothing jumped out as obvious. Despite the cold January weather, there were a wealth of options available when I looked at the options during the weekend, with 21 possibilities in total. Due to the weather, it was going to be left till on the day to decide where I was heading. I had the day off, as per usual and did my usual routine of walking down town and getting a lift back with my Dad. Upon my return I expected to see at least one of my options called off, but the only news was that Lydney Town was definitely on. However, it was another part of Gloucestershire that I'd be heading off to in Brimscombe & Thrupp after negotiations with fellow hopper Anwar. It was a tad risky with there being no backups, but as long as we kept an eye on Twitter, we'd be able to make alternative plans en route.
I spend the couple of hours before I left relaxing at home. I would have used the time to research Brimscombe & Thrupp FC and food options for the local area but with a 3PM pitch inspection announced, I didn't want to waste my time if it was called off. They still hadn't decided when I left, but as soon as I pulled up to meet Anwar the bad news came that the game was off due to a frozen pitch. We decided that the one to do would be Walsall Wood who were playing Highgate United in the Midland League Cup. The traffic was slow getting out of Aylesbury and on the M42 but apart from that it was fine. We got to the ground at 6.30 and walked past a KFC and Chinese to the Mermaid Fish Bar. This turned out to be pretty decent and I had Jumbo Sausage and Chips for £2. In keeping with the local area, the chips were orange. The food tasted great, although I could have done with a bigger portion. From there we made our way back to the ground, getting in at 7.10. We paid £6 to get in plus £1 for a decent looking programme.
We had a walk around the ground and sat in the stand while we waited for the game to start. The first half was awful, two teams constantly on the referee's back, whining at every decision and not mustering a chance of note until Highgate hit the post from a free-kick, right on half time. The game livened up a little in the second half. On the hour, hosts had Ricardo Ricketts dismissed for bringing down the last man after an untidy challenge. The resulting free kick was smartly tipped over by the Wood keeper and from the resulting corner a stooping header was bundled in by Lei Brown to give Highgate the lead. Going down to 10 actually improved the home side and they fought back around 15 minutes from when Joey Butlin finished smartly after being played in for a decent ball. It was soon level on players too as Highgate's tall number 5 saw red for a very high tackle that was nowhere near the ball. The visitors won it 7 minutes from time when Josh Hawker drilled a low shot in from the edge of the area. Try as they might, Walsall Wood could only muster half-chances and there were no further goals.
We'd been chatting to some Hednesford Town and Wolves fans as they provided good company and were amused to find out that this was my 666th ground. It had been a fairly combative game, with both sides giving it their all, both in terms of tackles and getting at the referee. The visitors were slightly the worse, and could possibly have had another sent off. This, as I discovered later, Twitter storm in response to Highgate's tweet confirming the result. Generally, the referee did well in trying circumstances though. Elsewhere, myself and Anwar were pleased to discover that Wycombe had won 2-1 in the Checkatrade Trophy up at Mansfield. A tinpot competition it mat be, but the £50k prize money is most welcome to the club's coffers. In another game in the competition, Oxford United's game with Bradford City was called off right on kick-off. It might have been 'just one of those things' that were unavoidable, but it does affect the overall worthlessness of the competition though. The journey home was a decent on, though very thick fog and temperatures of -3. meant that our progress was not as quick as it could have been. The journey was made to the soundtrack off the ill-educated and misinformed thoughts of TalkSPORT's 'Sports Bar' with their views that anything outside the top 10 of the Premiership was 'dross', but there wasn't much else to listen to. I dropped Anwar off at 11.30, getting home myself shortly before midnight. I couldn't get to sleep until 2am, and with me up at 4 I was pretty tired and needed a sleep to catch up the following afternoon.
OAK PARK is an old fashioned non-league ground with just the one stand. This is all seated with benches and supporting pillars, but the view is not too bad. The rest of the ground is open, bar a small area of cover in front of the bar. There is also, unknown to me at the time, a club shop selling a great range of merchandise behind the bar, you can view the range online HERE.
Talking of the bar, this offers a few real ales including one specially made for the club. For cider drinkers there is Strongbow plus Kopparberg and Rekorderlig in bottles. Food wise there is a burger van with burgers, sausage and bacon rolls. Locally there is a KFC, a Chinese, two Indian restaurants and a chip shop as well as a few pubs. The Mermaid Fish bar is excellent, doing the local delicacy of chips cooked in orange batter whose prices are very reasonable.