Selecting a decent football destination has been difficult this mid-winter. I’ve found myself unable to face long journeys on the train – travelling across the country in the cold before heading home in the dark. But, thankfully, a solution to my groundhopping troubles appeared on Friday evening.
The girlfriend was flicking through Twitter and found The Shrew Is Away – an account that advertises matches taking place around Shropshire when Shrewsbury Town aren’t playing at home on a Saturday. There were plenty of options available but Ludlow’s clash with Coven Athletic in Division Two of the West Midlands (Regional) League had the most appeal.
Ludlow had already beaten league leaders, AFC Bentley, in January before conquering their third-placed local rivals, Church Stretton Town, as well. Wolverhampton-based, Coven, were sat in second-place before the match and Ludlow were aiming to complete a hat-trick of victories over the best teams in the league, while boosting their promotion hopes in the process.
A little look around Ludlow
Saffron and I have visited Ludlow before so we didn’t explore the town’s attractions too thoroughly on this occasion. We walked around the outside of the impressive 11th century castle that overlooks the River Teme and admired the foggy conditions which made the area very atmospheric.
We also enjoyed exploring some of the shops in the town centre which included a printing store, an establishment full of hippy paraphernalia, and an Oxfam with plenty of Moomin merchandise. Saff bought a tote bag from the latter and debuted her new Tove Jansson-inspired purchase at Ludlow Stadium.
Greeting us at the stadium entrance was a cheerful chap who let us in for a fiver in total – which we were about to discover was excellent value for money.
After just 10 minutes, we’d already seen three goals. Ludlow took the lead, Coven equalised and the hosts went ahead again straight after. One of the away coaches, who had been acting as a linesman, reacted by asking one of his subs to take over and quickly hopped around the ground to stand in the dugout.
His team didn’t improve, however, and Ludlow managed to score a further two goals before half-time, where the hot topic discussed between the locals regarded the home team’s number six, Owen Holdsworth.
Holdsworth shone during the opening half, which was no surprise to Saffron and I, as we actually watched him play and score for Church Stretton in October. His much-mooted transfer down the A49 seems to be a big factor in Ludlow’s upturn in form and he influenced the second half in the same dominating manner as the first.
A further three goals were scored by the hosts before they gave up a last-minute consolation. The 7-2 triumph featured braces for Holdsworth, Ryan Lewis and Daniel Griffiths, while centre-half and captain, Reece Williams, capped off an immense performance with a goal of his own.
For all of Ludlow’s great play, the most dominating presence during the game was from the touchline. The chap we met at the entrance, who everyone referred to as ‘Kev’, was taking on every matchday job possible.
As he paraded the spacious gangway in front of our seats, Kev managed to adequately complete the job of ball boy, mascot, steward and gatekeeper (opening and closing the gate entrance to the pitch). His constant interaction with the fans on the touchline, in the seats next to us and those in the balcony above our heads, also made him a superb host.
We’ve since found out that Shrewsbury Town In The Community are helping to nurture grassroots football at the Ludlow Stadium – providing the netting behind the goals, for example. Kev was wearing a Shrews badge on his gilet so I’m not sure if he’s a volunteer or not but he deserves a lot of praise. Seeing his passion and hard work added a lot of enjoyment to our day.
The only blemish of the afternoon came from the odd management of the referee. The man in black – who resembled Brian Blessed in the face and an AC/DC tribute act in the body – first starting acting up when he took an age to dish out a first-half yellow card. It must have taken five minutes and it wasn’t even close to a serious incident.
The biggest frustration came during the dying minutes of the match, though. With Ludlow 7-1 up, he gave a straight red card to Williams’ defensive partner as he fouled a Coven player just about to go through on goal. It definitely wasn’t a clear-cut red card offence – the foul was 20 yards away from goal, at an angle, and there were other players who could have stepped in to prevent a clear chance – so I think a bit of liberty should have been given.
A ridiculous amount of added-time was played as a result of all the refs actions, giving Coven their extra goal with the last kick of the game, and causing us to rush out of the ground in order to make our train home.
This game marked our second venture into grassroots football and the West Midlands (Regional) League Division Two, in particular. Like our first experience at Church Stretton Town – where a coach took a piss on the sidelines before giving his goalkeeper some instructions – this game had the pandemonium we were craving from Step 12 of the English football pyramid.
On this occasion, a supporter threw their beer at a Ludlow player from the balcony, the home team argued with their own player when he flagged a Coven forward onside during linesman duty, and there was a reserve match next door where a bib was being used in place of a linesman’s flag.
The stadium and its facilities were also decent. The ground’s main/only stand supplied chips throughout the contest from the snack bar in the corner, while there was also an inside bar with access to the quirky balcony viewing point.
I would highly recommend anyone around the Shropshire area to visit Ludlow for a match. And thanks to the work done by The Shrew Is Away, I now have plans to visit more local teams, such as Whitchurch Alport, Wellington Amateurs and Haughmond FC in the near future.
But I’ll also be keeping an eye on the race for promotion in the West Midlands (Regional) League Division Two, with Ludlow and Church Stretton still right in contention.
Coven Athletic 2
West Midlands (Regional) League, Division Two
Ground rating: 6/10