The Garden Walk Stadium
One of the Black Country’s many distinct townships, Gornal is an intriguing little place, officially split into three with Gornal Wood, Upper Gornal and Lower Gornal, whilst the area is very much amidst the industrialised conurbation, Gornal Wood in particular retains the feel of a village with its narrow twisting lanes and small centre/High St giving it a unique feel. It’s here where the charmingly named Garden Walk Stadium is situated, although Gornal Athletic who inhabit it, were originally known as Lower Gornal Athletic, so the boundaries are very much open to interpretation...
The history of the club at present is still largely unknown. According to the programme, in their current form they can trace it back to 1945, however Gornal teams date back way beyond that to the late nineteenth century when the villages were dominated by the coal and nailmaking industries. Surprisingly, the club takes its nickname from neither of these, instead calling themselves the Peacocks, for unexplained reasons.
Locally, the ground is quite famous for its extensive terracing, so it was one I’d been looking forward to visiting for some while and with the summer evenings upon us then I decided that a night game was perfect, with their fixture with Wednesfield circled as the best to go to.
Working less than a mile away should have been a good thing, but it actually proved a bit of a hindrance, with a couple of hours to take up before the game being not quite long enough to go home and back, but a trip to Merry Hill soon passed them by and I was back in Gornal ready for the game by 7pm. Unfortunately whilst myself and a number of other fans were there, the gateman himself wasn’t! A pint in the clubhouse later and we were still waiting, eventually being let in 15 minutes before kick-off, going in and rushing round to take a few pictures before the fading light eventually gave way to night.
The clubhouse and turnstiles are located along the near side of the ground, right at the top of the huge bank of terracing, which stretches from the near corner up to the opposite penalty box, with a grass bank running around the far corner, and gradually descending behind the far goal where hard standing is provided for fans. The terracing itself is in mixed condition, the parts nearer the corner overgrown with grass and weeds, whilst the central part has some seating and two small shelters covering the rear few rows. The near end is hard standing with a small training pitch behind it, whilst a small stand sits on the far side, running for about a third of the pitch length, and features yet more of the dilapidated pink seats that used to call Molineux’s John Ireland Stand home, and can still be seen in numerous locations around the Midlands (it’s a bit of a side hobby of mine to spot these given they’re where I watched my first game of football from!).
Having taken some pictures and started to chat to another Tim who was there for the game, then the match got underway. The first half was largely forgettable, with few chances of note thanks to some decent defending and an eagerness by players on both sides to go for glory instead of passing to teammates in better positions. It was the 68th minute when the hosts eventually broke the deadlock. A ball had split the defence and put Gornal’s number 10 through, who poked home whilst Wednesfield’s players appealed for offside (with some justification from where I was standing). If they felt aggrieved by that, then it wasn’t for long, equalising almost immediately from the restart, when attacking down the right, a low cross into the area saw number 4 slam the ball home. Gornal seemed to be the most adventurous of the two teams after that, and they looked to have won it late on when their number 3 took several players on, before slamming the ball against the bar from all of 25 yards, but despite their efforts, they were made to pay when on the break, a Wednesfield striker saw his shot saved by the onrushing Gornal ‘keeper, only for it to come out to number 12 who tapped it home from the edge of the area to wrap things up in injury time (which the ref somehow found 8 minutes of, despite few stoppages of note).
After leaving, I made my way home, glad to have come. The ground is certainly worthy of its reputation. The scale of terracing is impressive for any level of non-league, but the rest of it helps add to the feel, with a decent clubhouse and a great setting then it will be a shame to see it go if the clubs plan of selling up and moving to a new location ever comes to fruition.
All material copyright © T.S. Rigby, 2009