Fields of Dreams and Broken Fences lifts the lid on the little-known world of non-league football.

From being hours away from folding in the Essex Senior League and turning semi-professional because of YouTube to dropping out of the Football League and trying to find a way back, this book shines a vital spotlight on clubs from various levels of the National League System and shares their stories.

The tales include the dramatic null-and-void decision of the 2019/20 season, Chichester City making history in the FA Cup, Leyton Orient and Notts County battling to get back into the Football League, Hashtag United turning semi-professional and Steve Castle, the former professional player, returning to the lower levels to pursue a career in management.

Filled with compelling stories from multiple sides of the game, Fields of Dreams and Broken Fences brings non-league football to life as it delves beneath the surface of the lower levels of the English game. This book is written for the love of football.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. February 2022. Paperback: 256 pages)

2014/15: Pre-season Friendly – FC Halifax Town v Notts County

The 1991/92 season was the last of the ‘old’ First Division prior to the advent of the Premier League and saw West Ham United, Luton Town and Notts County relegated. How different would The Magpies future have been if they have been part of that inaugural Premier League season? Instead since that time, County have bounced around the lower divisions of the Football League, with their League One status only retained last season after winning six of their last eight games.

Teams prior to kick-off

FC Halifax Town have fought their way from the Northern Premier League Division One North in 2008/09 to the verge of promotion into the Football League last season. Unfortunately The Shaymen couldn’t clinch a return to the top 92 clubs in the country as they lost 2-1 in the Play-off Semi-Final to Cambridge United.

Still a new season brings new optimism and on a blindingly hot day, FC Halifax Town hosted Notts County at The Shay. Prior to kick-off, the sizeable travelling contingent of fans from Nottingham mixed with the home fans in the bar; where the news that ex-Manchester United keeper Roy Carroll was starting in goal for The Magpies was the main talking point.

In truth this was a poor ninety minutes, which may have been down to the extremely hot conditions (which necessitated a drinks break in both halves), but was also due in part to numerous substitutions that are a feature of pre-season games. The opening forty five minutes contained very few memorable moments in a goalless first-half. Town’s best chance fell to Matty Pearson as he forced Roy Carroll in tipping his effort over the bar. County though had the best of the opportunities and they had the ball in the net through Garry Thompson, but the effort was ruled offside. An even better chance fell to trialist Akwasi Asante, but his shot from six yards out was magnificently saved by Halifax keeper Matt Glennon. Then just before the break, Zeli Ismail had a long-range effort for The Magpies which hit the post.

Corner to Notts County

Both sides made various changes before the start and during the second-half. The most impressive player was Halifax trialist Jamie Jackson who proved to be a constant threat to the County defence and he scored the deciding goal with a jink and fine strike which fizzed past Carroll with nine minutes remaining.

For Notts County their mixed bag of pre-season results continued, whilst for Halifax it was a case of five wins out of six. However, both management teams will claim that these results mean very little and of course that is true and in reality it will all be about where these sides end the 2014/15 season. Will the experience of Alan Smith, Hayden Mullins and Roy Carroll keep The Magpies away from the relegation zone? How will The Shaymen manage without last season’s leading scorer Lee Gregory after his transfer to Millwall?

Bring on the new season!

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Top Ten Football Fiction Review: The Match by Alan Sillitoe

The Match by Alan Sillitoe is a short story contained within a collection titled, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. This anthology contains nine short stories, which besides the collection’s title story and The Match, includes, Uncle Ernest, Mr Raynor the School-teacher, The Fishing-boat Picture, Noah’s Ark, On Saturday Afternoon, The Disgrace of Jim Scarfedale and The Decline and Fall of Frankie Buller. The book was first published in 1959 by W. H. Allen & Co. Ltd.

The Match opens at a game between Notts County and Bristol City. It is a cold and misty winters day and hints that County are having a bad season, as the crowd “…hope of at least one home-team win before Christmas…”. Lennox a forty year old mechanic is at the game with his young, recently married neighbour, Fred. Lennox asserts that he knew before the match that County would lose, “…because he himself, a spectator, hadn’t been feeling in top form…”. The home team do indeed lose as Bristol City get a second half goal to gain a 2-1 victory.

Sillitoe creates some wonderful images of the match, such as one description of a home attack when the “…Notts’ forwards were pecking and weaving around the Bristol goal…”.  Another is the detail surrounding the build-up to Bristol scoring, which captures the feeling of incredulity and inevitability by fans, when you know your opponents are going to score. “…Suddenly the man with the ball spurted forward, was seen to be clear of everyone as if, in a second of time that hadn’t existed to any other spectator or another player, he’d been catapulted into a hallowed untouchable area before the goal posts…”.

Despite the lambasting of the home team by Lennox and others in the home crowd that supporters of any era will recognise, the modern reader is left in no doubt that this is a game from a bygone era. The dress code of Fred, “…done up in his Saturday afternoon best of sports coat, gaberdine trousers and rain-mac, dark hair sleeked back with oil…” is in contrast to the army of replica wearing masses that attend games today.

However, the football match is the  back-drop to a larger picture that Sillitoe portrays. He provides the reader with various clues about the respective lives of Lennox and Fred.  Lennox is a man not happy with his lot, whether it be the fact that his football team has lost, the problems he has with his eyes, his work  (the threat of losing his job) or indeed his marriage. Fred is younger, newly married and more concerned with, “…a chunk of hearthrug pie…” than by County losing a football match. He is as Lennox mockingly describes, “…living on love…”.

The reader sees more of the despair of Lennox existence once he returns home after the game. There is no greeting by him to his family (or indeed vice-versa), instead Lennox utters a complaint that the parlour smells musty and orders his eldest child to light a fire. Another damning part of the domestic situation is established when Sillitoe details Mrs Lennox, “…she was forty, the same age as Lennox, but gone to plainness and discontented fat, while he stayed thin and wiry from the same reason…”. Lennox continues to treat all those around him with rudeness, arrogance and aggression, with even the family cat not safe from his behaviour. Mrs Lennox frustrated by her husband, argues back but pays the price as she is struck three times by Lennox until she falls to the floor. The closing image is of the house left quiet as Mrs Lennox and the children leave “…for the last time…”. The reader is left to ponder whether Fred and his young wife Ruby will eventually go the same way as Lennox and his wife, or will the Iremongers’ break the chain?

Finally, in order to consider The Match in a modern day context, in March 2011 The Guardian published an article about the violence that coincided with the Rangers v Celtic games in Scotland, which highlighted that, “…Strathclyde police claimed domestic abuse rates doubled after Old Firm games, while there were more than 200 crimes of violence and disorder in the area after an earlier Rangers-Celtic game in February [2011]…”

Fact and fiction – where does one begin and the other end? Fifty years on and The Match still holds an uncomfortable truth.


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Book Review: I Had A Wheelbarrow by Luke Williamson

Prior to the summer of 2009, Notts County were probably most well known for being the Oldest Professional Club in the World. However they shot into the consciousness of the country on a wider scale when it was announced that the club was to be the recipient of a huge financial investment. Within weeks ex-England boss Sven Goran Eriksson had arrived and there was ambitious talk of Premier League football and ultimately European participation from the new Board at Meadow Lane. Expectation amongst the County faithful was sky-high. That 2009/10 season saw the Magpies get promoted into League One. Therefore you would assume that the promised investment had had its desired effect and the first stage of the master plan had come to fruition?  If only it was that simple.

Luke Williamson, a Notts County fan since childhood, like many that summer in 2009, couldn’t quite believe what was going on at his beloved club. So feeling that something special was about to happen, he embarked on a journey to record the events of the 2009/10 season which have been captured in the book, I Had A Wheelbarrow. For those wondering the relevance of the title below is the explanation used by the author.

“…On 17th April 1990 as Notts trailed 2-0 away at Shrewsbury, the home fans started singing “On Top of Old Smokey” in their strong West Country accents. Mocking those fans for the way they spoke (or sang) the Notts following began to mimic the song with the following words:

I had a wheelbarrow, and the wheel feel off,

I had a wheelbarrow, and the wheel feel off,

I had a wheelbarrow, and the wheel feel off,

I had a wheelbarrow, and the wheel feel off,

County, County, County, County…”

Notts ended by drawing that game and went on an unbeaten run which saw the Magpies triumph at Wembley in the Play-Offs. The song is now very much part of County folklore.

Of the book itself, the first thing to say is this is no run of the mill diary of a season. The author weaves details of the Magpies 2009/10 title winning season and the controversy off the field, amongst football memories of his childhood and the bittersweet experience of relationships. What is refreshing is that whilst the book runs chronologically, it does not take the reader game by game through the season in a dry match report style. Instead key dates and key matches are featured and County game details sit side by side with those from a trip to see England v Croatia in a European Championship Qualifier and those of CSKA Carnabys, the Sunday League team that Williamson is player-manager of. Williamson also has garnered interviews with Colin Slater, BBC Nottingham’s legendary commentator as well as Notts County Chairman Ray Trew and the Board which help add insight to the drama at Meadow Lane during 2009/10.

The passion and commitment of the writer to all things football and especially Notts County is evident. Readers get the authors view on such topics as post-Sky football in England and looks to the game beyond the confines of Nottingham. Indeed the book captures how football for many is engrained into their psyche and the impact it has throughout their lives and on family and friends. The tales of getting to away games, the feeling of belonging amongst your own supporters, the thrill and disappointment of wins and losses are all described with an authentic manner that will be familiar to football fans the world over and not just those within the confines of NG2.

More than that though, Luke Williamson has produced a book which allows the reader into the writers personal life in an intimate yet frank manner, with an engaging conversational style. There are moments of reflection that are shared with the reader in respect of his relationships, of family and friends that have real pathos.

The book ends with the 2010/11 pre-season friendlies just starting. As we know now, County survived in League One on the last day of the season with a 1-1 draw against Champions Brighton, with a backdrop on and off the field that mirrored the drama of 2009/10. I hope that Luke Williamson has recorded this season events as I’d willingly read his take on them.

Any good book leaves you wanting more. I Had A Wheelbarrow does exactly that.

Book Details

I Had A Wheelbarrow

(a fan’s story of a Notts County adventure)

Luke Williamson

Pure Phase Publishing

The People’s History of Football Series #2

ISBN: 9780956114440 


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