By Shaun Webbley
“What are we thinking today, Shaun?” Ivor Green, Lichfield City’s energetic manager says as soon as I enter the ground, I’m in shock about the speed of the question. I freeze and can’t decide if it’s a joke or not, I stutter and Green answers for me as he discusses a crucial game against AFC Wulfrunians.
It’s a brisk, warm Saturday afternoon in Lichfield, it’s possibly even warm enough to not wear my coat, but I feel compelled to wear my officially branded Lichfield coat, with S.W on it. The team are on a high, Lichfield got sweet revenge in the week, in a dominant 4-1 win over Whitchurch Alport, payback for the reverse fixture a few months back which also finished 4-1, but to Whitchurch.
Assistant manager Wayne Chapman is sweeping the floor to get rid of the mess from the dressing room. I saunter in with Green and Chapman leading, I take my designated seat near the door, as the players filter through. Chapman baulks at the suggestion of a cup of coffee with sugar when he sees the colour of the sugar in the tin: “I’m not having that sugar, it’s changed colour Iv (Ivor)”.
Pete Clough the kit man as prompt as ever arrives and begins setting up the shirts and shorts for the players to wear. The dressing room jokester and left-back Joe Haines, who reached his 100th appearance against Wulfrunians, wanted to play a practical joke on goalkeeper James Beeson.
Beeson typically wears a purple goalkeeping kit, Haines decided to take Beeson’s pair of shorts and hide them, so that meant he would have had to wear a pair of gleaming yellow shorts, much to Beeson’s obvious dismay. “Don’t follow the pros,” Haines says to me as he almost surgically removes the goalkeeper’s purple shorts. Beeson strolls in with his relaxed demeanour and looks over and notices the yellow shorts.
“I’m not wearing these,” Beeson says with disgust painted on his face. A brief look at the culprit Haines was a picture, as poker faces go this may have been one of the worst I’ve seen. If Haines ever plays Texas Hold ‘Em and gets a royal flush, you’ll know about it as soon as he does.
The atmosphere was convivial, suspended centre-back Jamie Elkes arrives in support of his teammates, after his dismissal in the defeat to Chasetown. Green rockets into the changing room at 1:50 pm ready to give his pre-match address.
“There have been times this season where we’ve done silly f**king pirouettes (Looking at Haines as he glares at the changing room floor) and you can look down all you like – you know I’m talking about you,” Green says to a guilty Haines as the squad laughs at the full-back being hounded out for his pirouettes near the penalty box. Green is talking about a risk-averse approach, and he specifically doesn’t want any pirouettes, as mentioned previously.
The game albeit is a poor showing in the first half, the hosts run out 3-0 winners despite some harsh words being said at half-time, the win was crucial.
As I amble my way to the clubhouse, the TVs are on and the players instead of celebrating they’re all huddling around watching the Grand National. A club sweepstake had taken place, the drama was nearly as intense as the 90 minutes we had just witnessed, Luke Childs celebrated as it was he who won the cash, much to his delight and everyone else’s ire.
Tuesday 12th of April
I begin to trudge on what was described to me as a “difficult pitch”, which I think was an understatement. It’s another match day, this time in Dudley against Tividale, the changing rooms are located in a building which you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a detached house, which seems to puzzle a few of the players when we arrive.
The usual pleasantries are exchanged on another massive day for Lichfield, a win here, on such a tough pitch to play on would do wonders for the team’s confidence on a windswept Tuesday night. After my interview with Scott Goodby, I return to the changing room, moments after Green and his gang come in and the management team looks serious, the team talk begins.
As I was getting into a position to hear the team talk, I was expecting a positive chat after the Wulfrunians win, but the look on Ivor Green’s face tells a different story.
“The first 20 minutes (against Wulfrunians) was a f**king disgrace,” Green begins as you could hear a pin drop in the confined room. “For everything you’ve gone through, the work you’ve put in, for that performance early on it was s**t. There were a lot of things that went wrong early on, so I don’t want to see a repeat of that today.”
As the plan of action is set out to Green’s men, the eyes are looking downwards as the players decipher the manager’s formation and set-up. The players collectively, as they so often do, clap their hands together and leap out of their seats to make their way out for the warmup, in the horrible conditions.
Green, Chapman, physio Dan Martin and I stay behind as everyone departs, and the discussion centres around former Manchester United and Atherstone player Andy Rammell.
“I’ve got a picture at home of Rammell with Sir Alex Ferguson signing the contracts at Atherstone,” Chapman says to my utter disbelief. The fee for Rammell was £40,000, which funded their new home stadium, and a stand was renamed after the striker.
As I was processing that information, the back and forth between the pair is something you have to admire, the Batman and Robin of football. The pair agree on practically everything, it’s almost a tennis match of opinions, my eyes go from right to left as they both speak so passionately about the game they love.
Coats are on, hoods are up, and they make their way to the pitch. A frenetic and exhilarating 3-2 win follows in the wind and the rain of Dudley. The full-time whistle blares, Joe Haines makes his way near the touchline, as he greets his grandmother and his father who have travelled down to watch and were leaving me in hysterics with their comments about the game.
I slowly begin to walk to the clubhouse, I get a lesson in Tividale from one of the Tividale staff members, “We gave a good account of ourselves,” he says and it’s hard to disagree. You To Me Are Everything is blaring from the visiting changing room once again, which sees me poke my head through to congratulate them, but they are in their own world.
Four games in the space of seven days will be very tough for anyone, the pressure is on but you wouldn’t know it from these players’ demeanours. This season is a rollercoaster and they’re loving the ride.