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The Gingerbread Derby: Market Drayton Town v Grantham Town

March 10, 2011

The live football bug has really caught me this season. Last week, after the realisation that I had nothing to do on the Saturday, my search for a game to go to was on. My transport options combined with a wanting to save finance left my options strictly local. Shropshire doesn’t advertise too well in terms of games being played and as the county’s leading lights Shrewsbury Town were on a trip to Northampton Town whilst AFC Telford were away to Guiseley, options would need to come from further afield. After ruling out an adventure out of the county to watch Wrexham take on Forest Green Rovers, lower leagues were calling and after a quick search beneath the mainstream sports media radar, Market Drayton stepped out from the shadows to claim my attention. They were to host Lincolnshire’s Grantham Town in the Evo-Stik Division 1 South League. While Market Drayton had beaten Grantham Town back in the reverse fixture, Grantham Town found themselves in the hunt for a play-off place while the Shropshire club were fighting off the threat of relegation to the Midland Alliance, a league they had won some 2 years ago. To cement the decision, the game would be a clash between two teams who share an intriguing nickname, the Gingerbreads.

From the direction of Shrewsbury, when approaching Market Drayton, you are greeted by the sight of the Muller factory that looms over the county town both in impressions on out-of-towners and physically. After a detour through the town itself and following several alternate directions, the way to the Greenfields Sports Ground became obvious. Following the turn in, you’re greeted by the car-park on the left-hand side and on the right-hand side is first the Market Drayton Rugby Club’s pitch (on this occasion, a women’s football match was in full-flow). After a short walk round this and a turn left, what appeared to be a shed turned out to be the turnstile and the entry way for what I was looking for. I had very little to go on in terms of expectation as I had grown up in the market-boom of English top flight football and this was to be my first experience of non-league football. Entering through the turnstile and turning right, I would be presented with my first view of a non-league ground. Weather-wise the setting was quintessentially British i.e. overcast with the omnipresent hint of more rain to come. It had been raining throughout the journey and had luckily stopped upon entering the ground.

I opted to not go the complete traditionalist route and chose to sit rather than stand. This would then lead to a further decision upon reaching the seats: bright red plastic or weathered dark metal. To make a compromise on my decision regarding sitting as opposed to standing, I decided to pick the more aged and visually more appealing rustic metal offerings. I wasn’t expecting many people but I was pleased with the mixture of people in attendance (it wasn’t just the stereotype of well-dressed old men complete with club scarves, though there were a few). What surprised me more was that the bulk of the 160 in attendance were not here for the local side but were here supporting the Lincolnshire variant of Gingerbread on offer. The Grantham contingent were in various corners, one group complete with “Forza Gingerbreads” banner moved at half time so they would be at the end Grantham would be attacking. This would prove to be a good choice as the away team would dominate the game high up the pitch. 22 minutes of the game had passed before the Lincolnshire side took a deserved lead as their right-back stabbed them in front following a goalmouth scramble. Just 9 minutes later and Grantham doubled their advantage and took firm control of the contest. As for the play the teams were producing, it was nothing short of enthusiastic. Taking into account the conditions, lunges were aplenty and I’m sure higher up the English football pyramid there would have been much more in terms of cards issued than the four yellows that would be shown over the course of the tie. The officiating was rather impressive and while some tackles were excessive in force, the game would be played in good spirits. In the second half, the admittance from the referee that he had called back a quickly-taken free-kick because he was not ready was a particular highlight.

With Grantham in front in somewhat comfortable fashion at the half-time break, I turned my attentions to the matchday programme. Packed with advertising but nevertheless charming, the foreword written by the programme editor had made the score prediction of 2-2. While I hoped the Shropshire Gingerbreads would make a game of it in the second half I had my doubts given the gap in quality evident in the first half and this would indeed continue until the final whistle. Grantham had a plethora of good chances with the woodwork and goalline clearances preventing the away side strengthening their advantage further. Grantham continue to pepper the home side’s goal until the 79th minute where Market Drayton’s net would finally bulge for the 3rd time. That would be the end of the day’s goals but 3-0 was not a disservice to Grantham’s dominance especially going forward. Market Drayton struggled to create anything, the only notable effort was before half-time where the upright was struck by the home side. A higher scoreline in favour of Grantham would not have flattered the Lincolnshire club who with this victory moved into the play-off places while their hosts slipped down a position to 19th. Two teams are relegated from the Evo-Stik Division 1 South but the Shropshire Gingerbreads are highly unlikely to be one of them given the occupancy of those places by Shepshed Dynamo and Spalding United. Drayton hold a 9 point advantage over Shepshed (12 over Spalding) and have 4 games in hand over the bottom clubs.

The chants provided by the small group with the banners (for this game, I’d labelled them the Grantham Ultras) were usual fare but nonetheless a marked contrast to the home support. The occasional singular shout of “come on Drayton” had no match for Grantham’s match-closing chant “We are Grantham, no one likes us, we are Grantham, no one likes us”. For me this chant couldn’t be further from the truth in my eyes. After now developing a personal fondness for the two sides, should Grantham Town be unsuccessful in their bid for promotion, I will definitely witness next season’s Gingerbread Derbies.

On the journey home, I couldn’t help but think of the match as a personal eureka moment for me. While my passion for football is obvious to all, as of late, I had questioned as to whether it was more about the role of the media and the associated ephemera of national and international football that I cared for so much and that this had actually killed the enjoyment of the game of football. I now knew that was not the case and it took a while for the smile this discovery had given me to leave my face. Football is alive after all.

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