AFC’s FA Cup Home Debut Win Takes Shine Off Shiners’ Cup Hopes

In swirling winds and weather that couldn’t decide if it was August or November, AFC Mansfield eventually showed their superiority by beating near neighbours South Normanton Athletic by two goals to nil in this Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round tie.

AFC, who play in the 5th tier of the non-League pyramid in the Northern Counties East League’s Premier Division, a step above their opponents from the East Midlands Counties League, were the better team throughout, although with glaring chances missed in the first half, including two comical ‘sitters’, it wasn’t until the second half that their higher calibre showed with two well taken goals.

Athletic, going in level at half time, must have felt they had a chance to cause a slight upset in this Notts versus Derbyshire Derby at AFC’s Forest Town Arena, just 25 minutes up the road and over the border.

The wind was the leveller in this game, causing mayhem with long balls floating out of play or holding up in mid-air, with players trying to second guess where the ball would fall. It certainly made for an entertaining affair.

But, with the wind now in their favour, AFC dominated the entire second half and deservedly took the lead on 69 minutes and increased it a few minutes later giving Normo no chance of clawing their way back into the game.

In fact only a horrible skied effort from just 10 yards out from an AFC marauding defender, reacting on a rebound after Normo’s keeper had saved well with his feet to deny their striker, kept the scoreline respectable.

AFC will now themselves face tougher opposition in Stratford Town, who ply their trade in the Southern Football League in level 4 of the pyramid.

The game will be only the second ever FA Cup game at the Forest Town Arena, Saturday’s tie being a history-making home debut in the competition for AFC.

So I now switch my allegiance for the first time in this season’s FA Cup Quest, and will return to the Arena on September 3.

Talking of the ground, it’s a strange one. The facade is very much miners’ welfare, with a spacious function room with a bar on your right as you walk in, and pool tables and TVs for entertainment when there’s no game on.

To get pitch side, you head towards the bottom of the room through the door. Sitting beyond this is a guy sat at a desk taking your admittance money. You walk out onto a raised area just above the uncovered seated area. The pitch is about 25 feet below street level, giving it a sunken look.

The pitch is also surrounded by what looks like the remains of a running track, giving it an almost European feel. The far side of the pitch is inaccessible to supporters, making it a three-sided ground in terms of viewing.

I choose to stand (with a pint, plastic cup of course) just above the seated area – the best vantage point, and where most supporters tend to congregate it seems, even when the weather turned towards the end of the game. In fact, the small covered seated area was hardly used despite the threat of rain.

See my pictures for further evidence of the layout.

It’s certainly a pleasant ground to watch a game, which is handy as I’ll be returning next month, oddly enough on my sixth wedding anniversary. I offered the wife the chance for pool, beers, Jeff Stelling and an FA Cup tie but she simply replied with “Just be back at a reasonable time, we’re going out!”.

You can’t win ’em all I suppose.

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