Ground #: 153
Ground: St George’s Lane
Competition: Blue Square North (Level 6)
Kick Off: 3pm
Cost: £8 (concession)
Worcester City 3
Symons 3’, Morris 37’, Khan 65’
Oxford City 2
Pond 31’, Stanley 79’
For a while on everyone’s “must visit grounds list”, there has been one that has stood out from the rest. Mainly because at the end of the season the ground would disappear. Yet also, if groundhopping did porn, this would be it. St George’s Lane is a classic and had been on my “must visit” list for quite some time. Using the excuse of Easter Monday to get out of London, it was time, finally to see the Lane.
Worcester is a city and county town of Worcestershire in the West Midlands and is some 30 miles southwest of Birmingham. Occupation of the site of Worcester can be dated back to Neolithic times, a village surrounded by defensive ramparts having been founded on the eastern bank of the River Severn in around 400 BC. The position was used in the 1st century by the Romans to establish what may at first have been a fort but which soon developed into an industrial town. Roman Worcester was a thriving trading and manufacturing centre for some three hundred years, though by the time of the Roman withdrawal from Britain in 407 it had dwindled considerably in size. By late medieval times the population had grown to around 10,000 as the manufacture of cloth started to become a large local industry. Worcester was the site of the Battle of Worcester in 1651, when Charles II attempted to forcefully regain the crown but was unsuccessful. The Royal Worcester Porcelain Company factory was founded by Dr John Wall in 1751, although it no longer produces goods. A handful of decorators are still employed at the factory and the Museum is still open. During World War II, the city was chosen to be the seat of an evacuated government in case of mass German invasion. The War Cabinet, along with Winston Churchill and some 16,000 state workers, would have moved to Hindlip Hall and Parliament would have temporarily seated in Stratford-upon-Avon. Today, the factory of the world famous Lea and Perrins still is in the city and is worth a look should you visit Worcester.
Worcester City FC was formed in September 1902 following the liquidation of another local side, Berwick Rangers. They took over Berwick's fixture list in the Birmingham & District League. Three years later they reached the first round of the FA Cup, losing 6–0 at home to Watford. In 1924/25 they won the league for the first time, and the following season reached the FA Cup first round again, losing 2–0 to Kettering Town in a second replay. The club won back-to-back league titles in 1928/29 and 1929/30, and continued their good FA Cup form, reaching the first round in 1928, losing 3–1 at Walsall. In 1938 they joined the Southern League but during World War II the club returned to the Birmingham & District League for two seasons. After the war Worcester rejoined the Southern League and floated around in midtable. In 1958/59 the club had their best FA Cup run to date. After dispatching Chelmsford City, Millwall and Liverpool they qualified for the fourth round, where they lost 2–0 at home to Sheffield United. After floating around the Southern League, in 1979 they became founder members of the Alliance Premier League, finishing third in their 1st season. However, they were relegated in 1984/85. The club remained in the Southern League Premier Division until 2004, when a fifth-placed finish earned them a place in the newly established Conference North. Despite a brief spell in Conference South, the Blues have stayed at this level since.
St George’s Lane is easily walkable from both Foregate Street and Shrub Hill rail stations and is worth the walk for when you finally arrive. I make no apologies for saying how much I loved this ground and my record 42 pictures on my Picasa album for this game probably shows it. There is a main grandstand that has the classic wooden seats and columns to hold it up. Opposite this stand is a large covered standing terrace with some cracking graffiti on the wall underneath it. The rest of the ground is large uncovered terraces which are housed in by the residential houses surrounding the ground and a few trees too. This is quite simply a brilliant venue to watch football and considering Worcester had been at the ground since 1905 – it is steeped in history too. The ground had 3 games (including this one) to go as the board had sold the ground around 2008 to a housing developer without having a firm plan of their new ground. Oops. From next season, they will be playing at Kidderminster – a nice 30 mile round trip for their fans.
They did have a plan for next season, and that was to set a season ticket selling target of 1,500 so only £100 could be charged. Considering their average attendance was c.500, this probably was a tad ambitious but bravo for trying something different when things didn’t look so good. On the field, Worcester were having a good season, right up until February when it all started to go wrong. They were coming into this game having lost the last 8 league games and hadn’t even scored in the last 6. Danny Edwards consolation goal at Harrogate Town back on the 16th Feb was the last time they had scored. Unsurprisingly this lack of form had sent Worcester tumbling down the table and they came into this match in 14th place. Just one place behind and one point behind (albeit with 5 games in hand) were their opponents Oxford City. Having seen the bigger Oxford side on Good Friday, it was only fair I saw their smaller brothers for this. They have had a steady season (their first at this level) and being well away from the relegation zone is a good sign of success.
I’ll also be honest I say now, I was only here for the ground. As the game kicked off as I stood in front of the Main Stand, I was expecting another dreadful Level 6 bore but was pleasantly surprised to see two teams go for it. With Worcester desperately trying to score, they watched Adam Learoyd flash a header wide before going up the other end to take the lead. They got a little lucky, as the ball broke nicely to Mike Symons when Worcester rushed forward but he took has chance well and crashed it past Nick Townsend. That ended 639 minutes without a Worcester goal and the local were delighted with it. The game was a tad spicy before Matt Breeze launched an Oxford player into his bench next to the touchline, which obviously went down a treat. Some handbags and a yellow card to Breeze later the game had a more tense edge to it. Worcester had a couple of more chances to add to their lead before on 31 minutes they were done by a sucker punch. A nice counter attack down the right found Darren Pond in the box and his low shot took a deflection off Tyler Weir and in. Oxford started to have a little spell in the game and so it was no surprise to see them go 2-1 down soon after then. Oxford gave a daft free kick away and Tom Thorley’s delivery found Keiron Morris all alone at the back post to fire home. The referee started losing a control and fired out some more yellow cards before the HT break, but this was a compelling watch.
The 2nd half, thankfully saw more of the same as Worcester were on top, but you always felt Oxford would be dangerous on the counter-attack. That being said, Worcester looked to have won the game on 65 minutes. Thorley had a long range effort that was flying in until Townsend made a fantastic save to tip it over. From the resulting corner, nobody decided to mark Shabir Khan who powered his header in. Easy. Oxford now looked ragged and were beginning to come 2nd to every ball. Symons just chipped the ball over the bar and Worcester even had a 4th ruled out when Lee Ayres headed home a free kick, but was called offside. As I’ve seen many times before on my travels, when a team is playing so well, they normally go and concede. Oxford went on a rare counter attack through Nick Stanley and nothing looked on. He beat his defender on the edge of the area and managed to get a low shot into the bottom corner as a suddenly nervy Worcester would have to see out an uncomfortable last 10 minutes. Worcester went for a 4th, mainly through long range efforts as Oxford began to push forward and launch it quickly. They did have one final chance in injury time as Jamie Cook forced Matt Sargeant into a great save but Worcester squeezed through to pick up their first home win of 2013.
After this game, St George’s Lane only had two games left, as 828 saw them beat hapless Hinckley United 3-1 before a full house of 4,075 watched the very last game at the Lane. Champions Chester FC picking up a 1-0 win to leave the Blue Square North on a high. That meant Worcester finished in a reasonable place of 15th, although 25 points behind the playoff places suggests there is work to do. Oxford City have also had an interesting time since this game as their league finish of 10th was a result of a good end of season run in. However, they have been invested in by Thomas Anthony Guerriero who describes himself as “one of the most successful and influential people around the world.” With many reports about his previous dealings easily accessible on the web, look out for AFC Oxford City at a Hellenic League ground near you soon.
St George’s Lane was a brilliant ground and I was delighted that I managed to get here to see a game before it went. I do hope Worcester can get back to playing in their city ASAP – however bland the new ground may be compared to this. Otherwise they are in real danger of becoming another Gloucester City (I know their move was due to completely different reasons) and struggling off the pitch. With their 1,500 season ticket plan a bit of a failure (only 306 season tickets were sold) it remains to be seen what they can do in the short term. Good luck to them though, they were a really great club to visit.
- Match: 7/10 (Blue Square entertainment shock)
- Value for money: 5/10 (pushing it a bit)
- Ground: 9/10 (brilliant, will be missed)
- Atmosphere: 6/10 (decent atmosphere made by both sets of fans)
- Food: 6/10 (normal stuff on offer)
- Programme: 6/10 (ok, but have had better for same price)
- Referee: Daniel Meeson – 5/10 (lost a bit of control)