Lye’re on fire

Dave Woodhall visits a Black Country football club on the up.

Lye is one of those Black Country towns that grew up during the Industrial Revolution, and although they grew together they all managed to keep their own identity and industries – in Lye’s case it was historically nailmaking, although in recent years the town’s cultural focus to those in the know were a plethora of curry houses and the most archetypal grassroots football team in the region. If you follow non-league round here you know all about Lye, and in particular the unique barrel roof that seems to have stood behind the goal forever, defying the elements and sheltering a few of the fifty or so who used to watch the team in the lower reaches of the pyramid.

These days the culinary delights that made Lye the Black Country equivalent of Ladypool Road have gone the same way as its Brummie counterpart and Lye Town aren’t the same, either. Almost without notice they’ve managed to get into the play-off places of the Northern Premier League midland division. Why they’re in the northern version of step four when their bigger neighbours Stourbridge and Halesowen Town, a couple of miles in either direction, are in the Southern League is a mystery known only to those who run football at this level. So with the Villa yet again playing on Sunday I went down to The Lye to see what all the fuss is about.

First, and the only drawback of the afternoon, was that the late, lamented Sadler’s brewery next to the station hasn’t been replaced so Lye is a worse place than it use to be. Everything else, though, was non-league football at its best. Ten quid to get in, and it was cash at the turnstile. There are clubs at this level who’ve gone down the street food route. Lye aren’t one of them – you can get burgers and chips but a cheese & onion cob and a bag of scratchings from the bar was much more appropriate. The ground is as it always was – the roof is still there, and it’s even had a lick of paint. There’s a stand that it’s fair to say has seen better days and a side that’s shared with a cricket ground.

Lye were playing Gresley Rovers, themselves towards the bottom of the table and in truth the visitors had the better of most of the game, only to let in a goal midway through the second half and another in stoppage time. Lye are still on course for the play-offs, where promotion could see them rubbing shoulders with clubs such as Macclesfield and FC United, whose resources vastly outweigh a team where the attendance on Saturday afternoon was 160, and that was higher than usual. That is, if they can get the ground grading sorted out, because talking to supporters on Saturday afternoon there’s still a risk of Lye getting relegated back to the Midland Football League regardless of where they finish in the table if they can’t make the necessary improvements in time.

That, though, is another worry for another time. On Saturday afternoon the sun shone, the Lye won and anyone disenchanted by the mercenary greed and avarice of football at the top level might have got a reminder that at a lower level the game still hasn’t gone.