An Afternoon with the Nomads
Jonathan Baker kicks off the new year with a 10-goal thriller down the road in Cheadle Heath
Tuesday 17 January 2023
One of my favourite articles on The Scarf My Father Wore so far was published back in November, when Jonathan Baker aka Geordie Hatter spent an afternoon watching Stockport Georgians. Well, he’s back today with more groundhopping adventures, and I’m delighted to bring you his fantastic piece from a recent trip to Cheadle Heath Nomads. That’s two of the four Stockport-based teams in Division One South of the North West Counties League ticked off. I’m sure if we’re nice to him we can persuade him to take his pen and paper to Stockport Town and Cheadle Town as well to complete the set. After that, who knows. Possibly the delights of Wythenshawe Amateurs or New Mills.
There’s not long to go until ‘A Curry with Colin Woodthorpe’ - our first live event of 2023. It’s taking place at Last Monsoon in Stockport on Monday 30 January at 7.30pm. Come and join us for an entertaining evening with one of Gary Megson’s first County signings ahead of our first season in Division One in 1997-98. Colin’s an absolutely lovely bloke, and having made 171 appearances for County, he’s got some fantastic stories from his five years at Edgeley Park.
You’ll also get poppadoms, mixed starters, curry, rice and naan breads. As well as a full colour souvenir programme. All for just £20. Fancy it? Send me a text or give me a call on 07816 111150, or you can email email@example.com
Finally, today’s edition is sponsored by STUDIO26 Haircare. A big thank you to Aaron and the rest of the team in Hazel Grove. County season ticket holders can get a 20% discount at STUDIO26 Haircare throughout January.
TARGET 500! We’ve currently got over 300 subscribers on The Scarf My Father Wore, and I’d love to kick off the new year by getting to 500. It’s completely free to subscribe. All you have to do is click this button, to receive quality writing on County, football and Stockport in your inbox.
This December, as has become traditional, our household’s countdown to Christmas started on the first Monday teatime of the month straight after work, with me and Charlotte cracking open in the kitchen a newly-purchased bottle of Cheadle Hulme Lidl’s finest sherry (Tio Nico, £9.99 - a snip!), before clinking together in celebration the fancy little glasses that we only get down from the shelf for the special occasions. The (only slightly tipsy and treacherous) lowering of the Christmas tree from its perch in the loft space followed later that evening, and by Thursday morning, Ayra the cat had already enthusiastically clawed off half-a-dozen of its more attractive baubles, including the one with the hand-drawn image of Sam Minihan that remains my own personal favourite of the homemade ‘County Christmas Selection’ that our Hatters-mad son, the then-14-year-old Frankie, crafted for us at the festive mid-point of the 2017-18 season.
Now, that same boy - except in his new guise as a fully-fledged actual man, if you don’t mind - was due back with us from his first term at Stirling University before the month was out; and if that bare fact was not exciting enough, then the father-and-son Cheadle End tickets I had secured for the sold-out Boxing Day fixture, which would mark our first game together since we dropped Frankie off up there in the sunshine of late Autumn, were very much the icing on our familial Christmas cake. All - it very much seemed - was going according to the holiday season plan.
Well… so much for plans. That so-long-awaited Crewe game had come and gone without us - the first diary casualty of some hideous North-of-the-Border flu variant that the boy (sorry: the man) had inadvertently packed, it would seem, along with his Christmas presents, and which had seen the three of us hit the ground sweating and moaning with the surefire succession of stricken dominoes. Frankie had come and gone also - a cruel shift pattern for the student seasonal workers at Stirling TK Maxx having whisked him back up north before he could even properly recover from the grasp of the virus - and with my own return to work set for the Tuesday morning, I was feeling, well, very sorry for myself indeed. What a fine holiday season this had turned out to be. I turned over again on the beanbag, and, as the County posters and various ephemera adorning Frankie’s walls edged in and out of my consciousness, I resigned myself to another afternoon of broken, depressed slumber.
It was at that point - desperate and horizontal in the last-chance saloon of the deep-winter afternoon’s fading light - that I made a couple of decisions. First of all, no way was I going back to work tomorrow, even if I was feeling better. I’d not even properly had a holiday, so the buggers could wait. And secondly, I was going to the football this afternoon, because you know what, I was going to get to a bloody game before this holiday was over, even if it killed me. Reaching for my phone, I logged onto Google and typed in the only words that could possibly save the weekend: ‘North West Counties League: Today’s Fixtures’.
The list I find is sparse, but the footballing Gods have evidently chosen to smile on me, with one of the afternoon’s pair of games taking place just a five-minute drive away. By half past two I have the pyjamas off, the coat (and the thickest and bluest of my several County scarves) on, and that familiar, pre-match swing in my step. My impromptu destination for an afternoon in the comforting bosom of local non-league action? The ProSeal Stadium, where Cheadle Heath Nomads, 16th in Division One South, are set to host fellow stragglers Stafford Town, lying just two places below. A tightly-fought encounter is surely on the cards, and I am very much on board with the prospect.
In reality - as I reflect while hastefully parking up the Aygo and jogging the last few yards under the railway bridge and towards the single turnstile - the title of ‘Stadium’ may be slightly over-glamourising the venue for the afternoon’s entertainment. ‘Quite Well-Appointed Suburban Recreation Ground’ would be nearer the mark. But it’s a tidy little setup they have packed in here between Cheadle Heath Morrisons and the criss-crossing trainlines of SK3, for sure - its handsome iron entrance gates opening out onto an expansive car park, a purpose-built bar, a caged six-a-side pitch hosting a permanent impromptu kickabout among the neighbourhood’s scallies, a mobile unit dispensing coffees and snacks, and not one but two full-size pitches. These matching oblongs of dreams are each bordered by cleanly-painted railings, and one of them - the centrepiece of the grounds and the habitual home turf for the Nomads’ home fixtures - is further adorned by towering floodlight pylons rising from all four corners, a modern brick-built set of changing rooms, and matching stands either side of the dugouts to the far touchline, each of them the approximate size and capacity of large bus stops. As I wander up the near railing and find a free spot just one side of the halfway line, the 22 players for this afternoon’s 3pm kick-off are in position. Immediately, the referee’s whistle sounds, and the game is underway.
My hastily-planned arrival has meant that pre-match research has been less than minimal, so my first five minutes are spent attempting to work out which team is which, based purely on the reactions of the two-hundred-or-so strong crowd to the game’s early manoeuvres. The team in grey is playing the ball around prettily on the ground, so based on an appreciative comment I had overheard a bloke making to the turnstile operator as I handed over my six quid - “He’s got them knocking it around nicely, this new gaffer” - I decide these must be ‘our’ Nomads, and settle in to encourage them along - even essaying a couple of early claps, as a half-dozen geometrically intricate quick-fire passes from this seemingly well-drilled outfit momentarily open up a fissure down the near flank. At that moment, the other team - clad all in bright yellow and similarly one-dimensional, it would seem, in their approach to the game - rudely take possession of the ball and launch it forward to the edge of the penalty area to our right, at which signal their very pacy centre-forward effortlessly outstrips the grey-clad backline, before steadying himself just for an instant, looking up, and planting an assured right-foot finish into the bottom corner of the net. Around the railings and in the bus stops, all but a handful of those present shift their feet on the spot, shout once, and offer a quick-fire ‘clap-clap-clap’ of goal appreciation. An announcement from the tannoy attached to the roof of the changing rooms removes any remaining doubt as to where my loyalties should correctly lie for the afternoon: “Nomads 1, Stafford 0 - your scorer, number nine, Adama Sidibeh!”
The opening goal has set a pattern which the play follows for the rest of the first half, with the visitors’ pretty passing moves serially foundering on the rocks of their own infuriating over-elaboration and their hosts’ dogged tackling - such midfield exchanges typically ending with the Nomads launching an uncomplicated assault on Stafford territory led by the opening goalscorer Sidibeh and his partner up front, the equally quick and even more well-built number 11 Rueben Dass. After just seven minutes the home team’s advantage has been doubled, and, as we restart, the advice bellowed out to his teammates by the visiting captain and centre-half Seydou Bamba - “Just keep doing what we’re doing lads!” - sounds like either misplaced confidence in the Men in Grey’s pre-match tactical masterplan, or an attempt, highly courageous in the circumstances, at Irony-Based Gallows Humour. Perhaps it is both. Whatever it is, it is in vain. The Luminous Nomads continue to break the thread-like backline of their drably-attired visitors at will, with one of the many shots that pepper the goal to our right ending up with the match ball spiked, like the head of a captured soldier in a Western, atop the National-Rail-issue fencing separating the recreation grounds from the Northern train line running behind the goal. The Nomads’ ascendancy is such that they can afford such gruesome profligacy - as well, it seems, as a replacement match ball, which is duly dispatched into the opposition netting twice more before half-time. The visitors reply with one of their own, but it's a fluke against the run of play, following a rare slip in possession by the home centre-half, and already has the appearance of a mere consolation. As the referee blows for the interval, we’re in trouncing territory already at the Proseal: Nomads 4, Stafford 1.
The low winter sun which had cast its malevolent view-impeding glare directly at us from behind the far touchline during the first half finally gives up the ghost for the day during the interval, and by the time the players re-emerge from the brick changing rooms the field of play forms a theatrically spectacular rectangular oasis of bright green light within the now-otherwise-pitch-dark grounds. The body language of the opposing teams presents a contrast of similar starkness: the Nomads bursting onto the newly-illuminated stage as one singularly-purposed and energised body, while the visitors troop back onto the turf in bedraggled groups of two and three, each individual looking for all the world like they’d be grateful for a total and catastrophic floodlight failure, so that they might take advantage of the ensuing confusion and make a quick dash for the car park. With no such stroke of fortune transpiring, the pattern of play established during the opening 45 is quickly re-affirmed - except now with added and increasingly comical disarray within the ranks of the visiting defence, which with 30 minutes still left on the clock has been breached on a further two occasions, the pace of the Nomads frontline and the sharpness of their interplay (with the elegant approach work of Harrison Bickerton at number ten to the fore) simply too potent for their sorry opponents to handle.
The gulf in quality between the two teams seems to belie the narrow gap between their league positions and I make a remark to this effect, addressed generally to all and sundry. “That would be the new signings,” replies the bloke beside me, “they’ve made all the difference. Those two forwards, for a start.” As if on cue, Sidibeh runs onto another slide-rule through pass from strike partner Dass, before beating the advancing goalkeeper with an unerring near-post finish that brings him a hat-trick and leaves the Nomads 7-1 in front. “And of course, they’re playing with confidence, that makes all the difference as well,” adds the bloke. As if to prove this further point, the now rampant Nomads are back in possession almost immediately following the restart, and embark on a fine passing move involving a half-dozen players (Bickerton, of course, among them), which ends with another low finish, this one to the far corner, by substitute Sam Deering. “I’ve got this joke going on with my lad that I’m always seeing games with 10 goals in which he never gets to,” chuckles the bloke. “You’ve got another chance here, mate,” I reply, “that’s your nine, and there’s still 10 minutes left.”
The bloke - it turns out - is a County fan, and a committed one at that, having made the long trip to Grimsby on New Year’s Day (“Bloody awful game; I knew as soon as I saw the state of the pitch!”). As Stafford launch a desperate rearguard action to keep their arrears in single figures, we exchange views on Challinor’s side’s current form (“They all looked knackered the other day and so did he - give them a week though, they’ll all be fine”); famous away days of recent memory (“Barnet in the cup, now that was a day out”); and favoured options for following County on the road (“Barrow - now that’s a bloody long way away, no matter how you do it”). Just as we are discussing the merits of road and train travel to that particular Cumbrian outpost, the visitors quite unexpectedly launch a late raid on the Nomads’ right flank, which ends with an accurately-driven cross firmly headed home from point-blank range past the lunge of their hitherto-unoccupied goalkeeper. “That’ll be your 10, right there!” I remark to the bloke. Beaming, he replies: “Aye - my lad will be bloody fuming!”
With the last seconds now upon us, we are joined pitchside by a smartly-dressed middle-aged woman and her younger companion - a daughter, I am thinking - who stride smilingly from the car park area and enquire of us as to the score. On learning the away team is losing 8-2, the older lady exclaims “Oh Dear!”, and reveals she is the mother of the visiting full-back; the young lad who has just at that moment essayed a brave sliding tackle on the touchline just in front of us. “Ah, he’s had a decent game,” I remark - and I’m not just saying it to be kind; the young lad really has caught the eye with some telling interceptions down our near flank, but for which the scoreline might have been even more embarrassing for the defeated outfit. “Ah, thank you!” says the lady. At that moment the final whistle blows, and our two visitors disappear once more towards the pitch-dark of the car park, my County companion for the afternoon following not long behind.
Myself, I stay on for another couple of minutes to applaud off the last remaining competitors, then for a couple more minutes just there on my own, for no particular reason at all, other than that it now suddenly seems very much like the End Of The Holidays, and I’ve got no particular desire to rush off back home to the impending reality of workaday life - even if I already know that tomorrow I’ll be phoning in sick, regardless of what remnants of this awful flu-like ailment may remain in me. I can’t stay by the pitchside railings for too much longer though, or they’ll end up locking me in the grounds, so I troop back under the railway line and get back into the Aygo for the five-minute drive home. I’ll be back another time, though; the ProSeal Stadium may not be a stadium in any proper sense of the word, but it’s an eminently reachable venue for an escape from the humdrum regularity and occasional unbearableness of everyday existence, and that will do me, whether they can guarantee me ten goals a game or not, and even if I don’t get to meet the visiting full-back’s mother during injury time. A County fan or two to chat to in breaks of play next time, though? Oh yes, I’ll take that. That I would like very much indeed. Cheers and thank you, one and all.
Stockport Photo of the Day
Pop Side, Edgeley Park
RIP to this little fella, found on the Pop Side at the Northampton game on Saturday. Probably been there since dying of boredom watching one of our games under Rusk. Either that, or there’s a big scandal about to come out over what really went into that Christmas Dinner in a Cup.
Today in SK
🎹 Owen Parr (piano), Joel Goodwin (drums) and Sean Blake (bass) have come together to form a jazz trio like no other. The trio will be appearing at Bask tonight, playing everything from traditional standards to modern original songs. 7pm. Free entry.