I can think of a handful of unforgettable ‘I was there’ moments in my twenty years or so watching football writes The Underdog Blog’s Carl Jones.
Gazza’s famous goal against Scotland. Sheringham and Solskjaer combining to win the Champions League in injury time. Sergio AAGGGGUUUEEEEEERRRROOOOO! I wasn’t actually there for any of those, of course.
I watched them all from the comfort of my living room.
On Saturday 13th August 2016, though, I was at Church Lane, home of New Mills AFC. And it definitely was an ‘I was there’ moment.
The buzz of the first game of the season was unmistakeable. Granted, the previous weekend’s 3-0 defeat at Congleton in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round had been disappointing. The subsequent postponement at Maine Road two days later had only added to the anti-climax. But there was no doubt this opening league game marked the beginning of the Millers’ campaign.
That excitement subsided somewhat at 3:09pm when Cammell Laird 1907 opened the scoring. It had all but evaporated by 3:19pm when New Mills found themselves 2-0 down.
Despite what the scoreline might have suggested, the Millers looked a different side to the team that had surrendered in Cheshire just seven days earlier.
That game, my first as a guest supporter for the season, had looked like eleven players still scarred by the previous season; still hungover from the criticism that reached national levels for all the wrong reasons. In truth, things looked ominous.
Here, on my first visit to Church Lane, New Mills had dominated the opening period and still found themselves 2-0 down. The all-too familiar grumbles were rearing their ugly heads in mid-August. That’s when the magic started to happen.
Heads didn’t drop. They stuck to their gameplan. Within five minutes it was 2-2, thanks to a 25-yard free-kick followed by a composed finish as Haydn Foulds bagged an impressive brace. “Goal of the season on the opening day,” says the chap next to me about the former. “We never score two!” he jokes in response to the latter.
The Millers would go behind again just a few minutes into the second half. Once again they rallied, with Will Wareing’s deflected effort and Foulds’ completing his hattrick to turn the game back around with more than half an hour still to play. It’s hard to recall tension quite like it between that moment and the full-time whistle.
Getting the season off to a winning start is important for any club – it had surely never been more important than at Church Lane. New Mills had matched the previous season’s points total in an hour and a half of football.
As August ends, the Millers sit comfortably in mid-table. Seven points from the opening six games represents a solid start and there’s been no shortage of entertainment as anyone who witnessed the 6-1 demolition of Barnton can testify.
Garry Brown’s men are playing attractive football and head into September with one defeat in four home games having already scored twelve goals at Church Lane.
It was a real thrill to witness that first win and it’s been a pleasure to be in and around this fantastic club full of dedicated volunteers and a developing team of determined young footballers.
There could finally be something to sing about in this corner of Derbyshire under the guidance of Garry Brown, Paul Williams and their excellent support team. There’ll be no more easy pickings at Fortress Church Lane.
Carl is writing a book (and is open to offers…) about New Mills AFC to be released next summer.