Back when Eddie Hemmings and Franklyn Stephenson were at Nottinghamshire CCC my dad used to play for Arnold Cricket Club who’s ground (officially named King George V playing field) backed onto the old home venue of Arnold FC at Gedling Road.
It was like the County Ground at Northampton but much smaller. An open public space mainly for cricket in the summer but in the far corner a three-sided pitch for football during the winter.
I used to take a ball with me everytime I watched dad play and in between innings or after he’d got out of bat I would go with him for a kickabout on the pitch.
We would race down to the far end in front of a three or four row seated stand that ran the width of the goal line and I would take shots at him in his full whites before sitting myself in one of the seats and soaking up my first proper non-league football ground.
A little roofed standing area on the half-way line to my left with good old fashioned concrete dugouts, and to the right, a brick-built clubhouse painted white in front of a kids play park. I wasn’t interested in the park.
I remember during that same time numerous visits to Nottingham Castle and seeing on show a small section of pretty much crap football memorabilia including an old Arnold FC programme from an FA Cup run they once had in the past. I seem to remember asking my dad “were Arnold ever in the league?” “No”, he replied, “but they had a couple of good FA Cup runs over the years and played against league sides”.
By 1988 aged nine and a half, I already ‘knew’ Nottingham had three clubs, not two. Forest, County & Arnold FC.
But despite the allegiance my family had with the cricket team, for some reason I never went to see Arnold play football as a kid. My dad told me stories of him frequently going when he was a teenager, meeting first in the Friar Tuck Pub then strolling over for kick off in his claret and yellow scarf. “They had good crowds back then” he said.
I had to wait instead until the turn of the Millennium for my first taste of live football at Gedling Road and to this day I remember it well.
15th September 2001 just four days after the Twin Towers in New York got tragically hit on 9/11. I was early twenties and kicking about in the Notts Amateur League on Saturday afternoons when we were supposed to play HMP Sherwood on what would have been my first (and only) visit to prison.
Back then the prison team would be allowed to play local league football with the only rule being that their home and away games were both played at home. We had to go through security with kit bags checked prior to playing but on this day something different meant that we couldn’t even get inside.
Due to 9/11 there was an Amber Terror Alert imposed by the Government which meant the Prison Officers wouldn’t let us in, we couldn’t play… ‘Sorry’ said Security… ‘Not today’…
We stood outside leaned up against our cars and said ‘what do we do now?’ Andy, an Arnold boy born and bred said “Arnold Town are at home in the FA Cup today… Let’s go see that”… So we made the short trip from Sherwood Prison to the Friar Tuck and drank a swift pint before kick-off.
Rushall Olympic were the opponents in what was an early round during the qualifying stages in the world’s oldest knock out competition. I remember it being a bright day and walking through the tight turnstile from the car park in Arnold Town Centre and smelling the burgers as Andy brought me milky tea in a polystyrene cup.
We stood in front of the clubhouse midst what looked to me a healthy pack of football anoraks (195 in total) and watched a fast-paced physical game of ping pong which ended in an entertaining 2-2 draw.
Few things I remember from the day, Lee Broster in goal (of course), the slick Nathan Fletcher at the back, the silky Giorgio Vitale out wide, a former Red in Bryn Gunn (must have been 40 something) coming off the bench as sub.
Manners & Maddison (thanks to Mick Gretton) I’m told were the Arnold scorers, and in the replay, it was a young Stuart Coke who twice netted to star the show in a 3-0 win that would send the Eagles through.
These days it seems memories like that for Arnold seem so far away. Long gone is Gedling Road, the residents eventually got their way. Eagle Valley, the new home of the football club rarely attracts crowds in three figures. Modern and spacious but shoved to the outskirts of the town it seems as distant now as the times of glory of years gone by. 2014 was the last time the side featured in the FA Cup… A 4-1 home defeat by Basford United. Last week I echoed memories of Basford (which you can read here) before their resurgence up the leagues. Both Basford and Arnold are to this day well ran football clubs with rich and proud history, both have been backed past and present by magnificent, supportive, and dedicated people.
However one now is now trying to gain promotion to the National League (just two steps away from going fully professional) whilst the other is just trying to survive it’s amateur status in the Central Midlands League. Who’s to say in another twenty years’ time it won’t be roles reversal? Because that’s how the funny old game of football has always seemed to work. But my only hope in twenty years plus, regardless of leagues that Arnold are in, is that this great football club, etched in so many memories locally, and remembered by me and many others my age and older growing up, will still be going strong for us all to enjoy.
*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).
*Main image @Alhetron.com a view from behind the goal at the old Arnold Town Ground.