FORMER Herald sports editor Mick Clewes looks back on a wonderful era in Stratford Town FC history…
Way back at the turn of the century, I had the pleasure of covering my first-ever Stratford Town game for the Herald.
The location was the wonderfully dilapidated Masons Road ground on a bitterly-cold December night.
Even battle-hardened Herald photographer Mark Williamson ducked that one — and he says he doesn’t feel the cold.
The opposition was Coalville Town, in the old Midland Football Alliance which Stratford were founder members of back in 1994.
With no disrespect intended, we then travelled to the likes of Cradley Town, Oldbury United and Bloxwich Town, clubs all of whom I had the highest regard for and very welcoming memories of my times there.
With just ten minutes to kick-off, the then secretary, stadium announcer and general go-to man, Rod Abrahams, retreated to the club office to announce the teams for the evening. Including yours truly, who was there as the local press correspondent, there were just 12 (yes 12) of us inside the ground.
Nevertheless, Rod dutifully went through his normal ritual of announcing the teams over the PA system and welcoming ‘spectators’ to the game.
When he returned to join the rest of us pitch-side, long-standing club volunteer Steve Tunnicliffe said to him: “What did you do that for Rod — you could have just told us!”
Fast-forward some 13 years or so and little Stratford Town reached the promised land of the Southern League.
Several managers, including the legendary Lennie Derby, had come agonisingly close to reaching that target before present boss Carl Adams led them to the MFA championship in 2013.
A new ground, a new fanbase and the opportunity to put Stratford on the football map had been achieved. “It’s not a football town”, people told me. Really? They are now plying their trade alongside such non-league luminaries such as Weymouth, Kettering Town and Cambridge City.
Can’t recall visiting any of them in the Black Country. It’s easy to forget your realistic targets of yesteryear.
We all get carried away with where our favourite team could end up. But the reality is that Stratford Town are still realising that dream.
They have retained their status in the Southern League Premier Division after a first season at that level and that is a magnificent achievement.
It may be that the goal has been reached. If so, Stratford can be proud of having a football team that holds its own at a level that hundreds of non-league teams aspire to.