There’s few more attractive towns to go and watch a football match than Stamford. It may be an A1 satellite, but it’s more like a Cotswold country town that’s lost its way and found itself on the road to the North. Until recently, it has also been one of Britain’s best kept secrets, largely due to its position on the map and the fact that mention, “It’s just off the A1” and immediately it gets associated with lesser, more gritty places that have been tainted by the poor-man’s motorway.
It must be hard for Stamford AFC to co-exist alongside the coffee shops, speciality boutiques and horsey-folk of this painfully pleasant-looking Lincolnshire town. It’s also a place that probably welcomes the oval ball more than the sport of the masses, or perhaps that is a misguided assumption.
A bright future?
But Stamford must have some good friends in the neighbourhood. Only this past week, the club’s new ground project, which has been in discussion for years and will cost £5million-plus, was rubber-stamped after local councillers changed an “access requirement”. The new ground, which will be ready for the 2014-15 season, is a joint project between the club, New College Stamford and the Burghley Estate. The club’s current “characterful” ground in Kettering Road, will be demolished when the new site is finished – for housing. Judging by a photograph in the local press, the new ground, off Ryhall Road, is on the outskirts of town, but looks excellent. It’s the sort of facility that modern-day sports cries out for, but undoubtedly, there are detractors who claim it is too far out of town.
This is often the dilemma for non-league football. Admittedly, if you live in central Stamford, you can walk to the Daniels stadium, but judging by the car park, very few people do just that. Stamford’s ground has one of the most attractive backdrops you’ll find in non-league football, but it is hemmed in by yellow stone neighbours who probably don’t care too much for football. The Daniels, named after Britain’s fattest man, one D.Lambert, who is buried nearby, are not one of the better supported sides in the Northern Premier, although Stamford is less populous than it looks at under 20,000.
Stamford AFC v Ashton United
Not even a third qualifying round FA Cup tie against fellow Northern Premier Leaguers Ashton United can send the good folk of Lincolnshire streaming up Kettering Road. Most of the traffic heading into Stamford was more interested in the “Craft and Food Fair” at Burghley House and it was open day at one of the town’s schools.
Ashton United was the club that spawned the eventual World Cup winner, Alan Ball. And another Everton legend, Dixie Dean also played for the Robins at the tail-end of his illustrious career. The club’s best FA Cup days had all but been forgotten, second round in 1883-84 and 1885-86. Stamford last reached the fourth qualifying round in 1968-69. Stamford know all about Wembley, though, having reached three FA Vase finals, the first in 1976 when they lost to Billericay and the second when they triumphed against Guisborough in 1979-80. The final occasion was in 1983-84 when they were beaten by Stansted.
Stamford caught the eye on the opening day of the season when they beat Frickley Athletic 6-4, but that may have been a statement about Frickley than evidence of Stamford’s strength. FC United beat David Staff’s men 6-0 a couple of games later and they have slowly drifted down the table since then. Before meeting Ashton, for the second time this season as they have already played in Greater Manchester, with Ashton winning 2-1, Stamford were 21st and Ashton 9th. A few days earlier, Stamford had beaten Buxton 1-0 to send them into this cup tie in upbeat mood. Interestingly, Stamford’s captain, Richard Jones (known as Jonah to his friends), noted in his “Skipper Scribbles” that if they were to beat Ashton, it would be a “mini giant-killing”. Stamford had already beaten Grantham and AFC Wulfrunians in the previous rounds, while Ashton had disposed of current Northern Premier leaders AFC Fylde and Witton Albion.
Stamford’s ground is one of those places that traditionalists like to visit, but the newer non-league element invariably look upon it as a stadium stuck in a time-warp. While it has a homely feel to it, it does belong to the past. The future clearly resides up at Ryhall Road.
But the Daniels Stadium did manage to create a stirring atmosphere for this FA Cup tie, which turned out to be much better than expected. It came to life in the sixth minute when Ashton took the lead with an outstanding strike from small wide-man Kayde Coppin, a 25-yard shot from the right hand side that took everyone by surprise. That silenced the home crowd, but once Ashton’s early dominance faded, Stamford did extraordinarily well to get back in the game.
The “Skip” had a lot to do with that. A classic centre-half, urging his team on, he was outstanding throughout the 90 minutes, coming to his side’s rescue on numerous occasions and winning every ball in the air – perhaps due to the neck muscle exercises he had promised to do in his programme column, after a suspect clearance in the last game.
In the 39th minute, Stamford equalised through Jordan Smith, a player who got better as the game went on. It was a goal that the Ashton defence should have prevented, but the home side deserved to be level. In first half added time, they took the lead and again, the Ashton defence should have done better. The ball rolled to Jon Challinor on the far side and he stroked his shot wide of Ashton keeper Paul Phillips.
Seven minutes into the second half, Stamford scored again, the impressive David Moyo turning and shooting all in one movement low into the net. Moyo, Smith and Shawn Richards then started to terrorise the Ashton defence, breaking fast and furiously on every available occasion and for a while, it looked as though Stamford would run up a very healthy score. Richard Wesley joined in, going on a tremendous run that nearly ended in a goal.
Eleven minutes from time, Ashton received a lifeline, Carlos Logan’s effort taking a deflection and going over the head of Stamford custodian Andy Stevens. It gave them a glimmer of hope, but in the 84th minute, Wesley slid the ball into the net after a good ball across from Richards. That wrapped it up at 4-2 and made the noisy Stamford fans sheltering in the stand very happy, particularly the very loud woman who continually called for the Daniels’ players to “pass to feet”.
So Stamford moved into the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup, knowing that one more win would give them a possible money-spinner of a tie against one of the big-boys. Apparently, they have made £ 15,000 from their FA Cup run this season. A big tie to end Kettering Road’s FA Cup history, perhaps?