I would guess that for most of the 789 in attendance, Tuesday night was their first peek at the facilities at our new home. Curiosity perhaps mingled with apprehension – just how basic would it be? I admit to being unsure how I would feel about the experience, but I began to warm to the place immediately.
Approaching the ground, there was for the first time since Rockingham Road a sense that we were back in familiar surroundings – semi home territory at least, and people were approaching on foot rather than car being the only option. A queue snaked to the turnstile block, adjacent to a clubhouse that looked inviting, and inside there was something of a reunion atmosphere as the Poppy fraternity gathered in greater numbers than expected.
Along what I guess we’ll call the Pop Side, the little stands add character and the temporary one at the end provided a reasonable view, with space to replace it with a larger one if there is sufficient demand. With the tents in between, the waft of cooking and spectators clutching pints it felt a bit like watching a festival cricket match – no bad thing. Obviously a warm summer evening is a far cry from a wet night in November but it was possible to imagine how the facilities could be improved before the weather turns – a bit more cover, and maybe a walkway behind the stands before the grass gets churned up by more pairs of feet than LP is used to.
In the longer term, I wonder if anything can be usefully cannibalised from Rockingham Road, before the wrecking ball moves in. Could there be a viable covered end from the materials that make up the ‘Mark English Stand’? Are the Cowper Street slabs reusable, or the tea huts? It would be nice if some part of RR could be transplanted – even if it is just the clock!
After the experience of the last two years, playing at grounds that though well appointed and modern never felt remotely ‘ours’, this ramshackle arena, backing onto houses not industrial units or fields, is closer in spirit to scruffy old Rockingham Road. A few hundred spectators lining the pitch on three sides will feel like a crowd, rather than being exposed in the wide open spaces of Nene Park or Corby. This is our home for the foreseeable, and it’s ok, it’s intimate and relatively accessible. Most importantly, it’s a place to regroup and see where the future takes us.