Notts County face Kings Lynn Town in a first ever league meeting tonight but I remember back a few years and the day when bottom side Hucknall Town took on the top team and Champions-elect in the Evo Stick NPL First Division South… And won.
Hucknall Town had seen better days. The 2005 FA Trophy Final against Grays Athletic the highlight of a miraculous rise, played at Villa Park in front of 8,000 plus in a game that would go to penalties.
Sadly it wasn’t to be, the fall from grace would shortly follow. Just four years later the yellows were relegated from the Conference North, the sixth tier of English football, not bad for a side that in 1987 were still known as a Colliery Welfare.
By 2011 Hucknall were down again, relegated from the Northern Premier League, tier seven of the football ladder, a year later they finished eleventh in the southern section of the NPL, by January 2013, they were bottom.
That’s where I found and left them, briefly, November 2012, I received a call from then Manager Ian Robinson who wanted some ‘help’ around the place. Delighted to ‘chip in’ I said ‘yeah’, why not.
I went to work, straight from my office job to make a Doodson Cup tie on a Tuesday night against Brigg, stuck in the 6pm traffic down Hucknall Road in the cold dark and wet, I got to the ground at Watnall Road and parked up, walked through the tight turnstile and into the portacabin changing room, doors falling off the hinges, mud graffitied walls with punch marks holed into them, a damp smell with crumbling old tables between the wooden benches and a ghetto blaster that I had not seen since the 1990’s… Welcome to non-league football.
We got beat 3-0 that night in front of around 30 people. I remember the left back James Leggett looking out of his depth and Alton Rennalls turning up late, around 30 minutes in, to be told by the gaffer to ‘get a kit on’.. For a side I had seen on numerous occasions on the vidiprinter of Soccer Saturday, it wasn’t exactly showbiz.
The team had won just two games and were bottom of the table by some distance, but Robbo, and his joint-manager, a club legend and one that still lives in the town, Gary Sucharewycz, were trying frantically to get new players in, by hook or crook, to get the side back up the league.
The following Saturday we went to Market Drayton and made five changes with four new signings of high quality. Centre back Matt Millns was one that knew the level, Triss Whitman once of Doncaster Rovers, the man that scored the goal to get them back in the football league in fact, two loanees from Grantham Town in Emeka Nwadike and a young Kark Demidh, all better than what ‘we’ already had.
Despite the wholesale changes (which included dropping the left back), we played some beautiful stuff on a lovely winters’ day in Shropshire, won 4-2 and at times on a fantastic surface, played Drayton off the park. A strike-force of Demidh (who scored on debut) and Alex Ford on loan from Ilkeston, Triss floating in a free role, netted a beauty, Rennalls scoring a fabulous chip with Warren Hatfield getting the other. We were full of confidence ahead of top of the league the following weekend.
Kings Lynn Town were flying and it was going to be tough, we arrived early at Hucknall’s ground on the Saturday morning to get the team bus, Dawn did us and the five travelling supporters bacon and sausage cobs, enough to go round everyone, they were wrapped in foil and cold but it didn’t matter, what a nice touch from an incredible lady, a woman who has the football club engraved in her soul.
We were buoyant but realistic, a three-hour road trip to the leagues’ best team, Kings Lynn were paying big bucks, we weren’t, but we’ll have a go and see what happens. Eleven v Eleven. Anything can happen.
After what seemed an endlessly slow journey in the winter sun, down the roman roads of Norfolk and behind many tractors too, we turned up at what was a leafy part of the town to what looked like a stadium, not just a football ground, one fit for the Conference, I remember a few of our younger players faces light up, getting off the bus which was parked behind the goal, you could peep over the fence to see the lush green playing surface, to the left a huge stand which wouldn’t look out of place in the football league.
We got off the bus, a couple in team tracksuits, most in hoodies and jogging bottoms with all sorts of various coloured clobber, a right rag tag and bobtail outfit we looked like with not enough kit to go round, we walked through the modern main glass doored entrance where we were guided to our changing room. I don’t like to brag but I’ve played at Wembley, I’ve sat in the away team dressing room at St James’ Park, I’ve seen the City Ground and Meadow Lane home and away changing rooms too, never have I been so surprised to see how impressive an away changing room was, then I was at Kings Lynn.
Nonslip blue flooring, painted yellow walls a magnetic tactic board in pristine condition, modern wash room facilities, it was as if we had walked into the home dressing room by mistake.
I remember taking a walk for a ball pump and entered the boot room where a kind gentleman helped me air up some Evo-Stik sponsored balls, he led me to a huge sink in the tunnel where I could fill my bottles of water, underneath a modern Lucozade sponsored fridge full to the rim. This was not Watnall Road and the damp, cold, aged portacabin beside the pitch, this was a table topping team and on this evidence, one that won’t be here for long…
We were just there to enjoy ourselves, have a day out, play a bit of football, Kings Lynn were professional, did things right, had a touch of the ‘we’re better than yous’ about them… Which inadvertently lead to their downfall.
We knew ourselves we weren’t the team that had been bottom of the league all season. We were a new team, one week old, Alton Rennalls was suspended so James Leggett came back into the fold and Warren Hatfield injured, so another new player was given a start in Julian Topliss.
We had James Martin in goal, the only surviving player of the 2005 FA Trophy finalists Ali Asher at right back, Leggy was left back with Matt Millns and Tommy Hannigan at the heart of defence. Rob Austin, Nwadike (or Macca for short), Topliss and Whitman both out wide. Fordy and Demidh up front, hot to handle with pace, skill, tenacity and talent in attack.
I don’t think Kings Lynn expected us to be as good as we were, we destroyed them in front of near 600 spectators, played even better than we did at Drayton, and after coming in at half time with a 2-1 lead (thanks to Millns & Demidh) we added two more goals within ten minutes of the break to go 4-1 up. Ford and Topliss doing some further damage, they were both brilliant on the day.
The home side did pull one back before player Manager Scrabs came on to add experience with Jermaine Hollis to both sure things up late on. We walked off the park having given the best team in the league at their home patch, a right good thumping. Lynn had the best two wingers in the league, one of them, George Thomson recently destroying Notts County, scoring at Wembley en-route to becoming football league status with Harrogate Town. My pre-match concern over our left back well and truly vanished, Leggy was superb, so were all the back four, in midfield we were terrific and up front, it felt like we had a non-league Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch.
We got back into the changing room and still to this day, I have never seen or felt a cheer of emotion quite like it. The whole place erupted, bouncing, singing, hugging, we came and conquered, this is what football is all about.
The only look of disappointment I felt, was at the club secretary, Tony, whilst others were huddled together bouncing around, he was smiling, alone, standing beside the changing room door, but you could tell troubled, worried, something wasn’t right…
Two days later we received a phone call, the club had pulled the budget for the season, no more money, in dire straits of financial difficulty the club couldn’t afford to pay the players we had their wages, it came at fortunate timing for us, because a vacancy at Grantham Town had just come up, alerted luckily by our recent success, but that Hucknall team built within a week, of two successive away victories, would be the last of that level to gain such glory. The team would go on to finish bottom with 171 goals against. Kings Lynn, well they won the league with 92 points, losing just six games along the way, one against us. Bad timing for them perhaps, a minor blip before bigger things would come, but that day at the Walks, they’ll never take that away from us. 13 players, 2 managers, a coach, a secretary, Dawn and five fans. Oh how that ride back to Notts was a joy!
*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).
*Main image @OfficialKLTown the Walks is a fantastic venue to play football.