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Tuesday 1st December 2015 ko 17.45

Midland League Premier Division

LOUGHBOROUGH UNIVERSITY 2 (Webb 45 82)

HEANOR TOWN 2 (Debrouwer 39 del Genio 90)

Att 114

Entry FREE (Normally £5)

Programme FREE (Normally £1)

Every so often I see footage of collegiate football in the USA, and compare it to what happens here in the UK. Now I’ll ignore the obvious change of code, although there was an NFL-rules training session on a far pitch, but the differences between college sport in the US are still massive.

In the States a college game can be played in an enormous stadium in front of thousands of fans. There’s the trailer parties, the beer and the razzmatazz, while in this country student games tend to be played in front of friends and partners with a minimum of facilities and tend to look more like this, from Oxford University.  Now whilst the link between student sport and the professional ranks via the draft system is a massive reason for US collegiate sports’ popularity, you wonder what the potential is here for student sport.

There’s also the issue of town versus gown. My home city is Oxford and every time Oxford United play Cambridge United someone who doesn’t know better describes it as either “The Boat race,” or, “University” derby. It is, of course not a derby in any way shape or form. A university town has two existences, that of its university with its ancillary services, and the townsfolk with their separate lives. In Oxford the students drink in their pubs, and the locals in others, and the two sides of the city seldom mix. Oxford United once marketed a student season ticket at a heavily discounted rate and sold one. That was to me by the way, commuting back from university in London for games and getting my washing done at the same time! Here though if the university want to attract local support, they have Loughborough Dynamo and the Luffs, Loughborough FC to compete with.

So any university side will always tend to have a disadvantage if they wish to graduate from British Universities & Colleages Sports (BUCS) football, where games tend to look like and enter the adult game. At present only Loughborough are doing that, and let’s face it if any university is going to cross the Rubicon and get the kind of crowds to progress further, it would Loughborough. The place is the UK’s most famous educational establishment for sport, and as befitting that status the Holywell Sports Complex’s stadium is magnificent. Seating 300, and with a total capacity of 3,000 the stadium would grace leagues up to the 5th tier National League rather than the 10th tier Midland League find themselves in now.

Even worse than that, they’ve been told by the FA that this level is to be the limit of their ambitions, they are not allowed to be promoted up into the regional leagues, the Isthmian, Northern Premier and Southern. The rationale appears to be based on the FA’s experience with Team Bath who in 1999 were formed from the sports department of Bath University and reached the Conference (National League) South before folding abruptly in 2009 with the club’s financial arrangements being called into question.

Not that promotion is on the cards for this season. They’re comfortably sat just below mid-table and a game against second-placed Heanor looked like a tough test for them. Loughborough waived the cost of entry and programme since the original tie in August was abandoned due to floodlight failure.

Now I know and like Heanor, the club ran the Northern Counties East hop twitter account last season and their officials and fans were great company throughout the weekend. And there was an obvious contrast between the clubs, and not just in terms of the facilities.

When you get under the skin of non-league people there’s a delightful cynicism about them. They’re used to striving, failure, and to misquote Kipling, “Treating those two imposters just the same.” When no-one has heard of you, let alone cares how you’re faring you learn that every victory however small has to be celebrated. I didn’t pick up on any of that from the home people, was it that the hosts hadn’t built up the requisite bitterness? This incarnation of the club has only played in the open-age pyramid since 2007 after all, perhaps when they’ve endured a few slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that will come.

Heanor’s fans made up the majority of the attendance and added humour and colour to an evening where the crowd could have easily been swallowed up in the surroundings.

In the end the visitors stole a point with virtually the last kick of the game. Both sides will no doubt feel they could have, should have won the game, but the final word came from a Heanor fan as we were trooping back to the car park. He mused,

“Well I reckon we won this one on aggregate.”

He did have a point, Heanor were leading 2-1 when the game was abandoned….

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