There’s nothing like a club with a bit of history steadily moving on up – it’s the kind of redemptive story that lower-league football thrives on. And, in the Derbyshire hills, Glossop North End are climbing once again.
It’s a far cry from the peak of 1899 when Glossop became the smallest town in England to host top-flight football. The flirtation with the first division lasted just one year, and yielded a meagre four victories (albeit over luminous names like Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest, Burnley and Blackburn Rovers), but the record books still list the cotton town’s sporting achievement.
Today, though, the Surrey Street ground – reckoned to be the third highest in England behind nearby Buxton and famously frosty Tow Law Town – is home to Evo-Stik Division 1 (North) football, the fourth tier of the non-league game. It’s a handy climb for the Hillmen, who faced collapse in the early 90s.
That was a sorry tale of a chairman selling the ground and then leaving the club in debt. Painstaking work from the incoming board of directors kept the team afloat and steered them back into the Northwestern Counties League first division. Two trips to Wembley followed, with FA Vase Final losses against Whitley Bay (2008) and North Shields (2015) before promotion handed the club its first crack at the FA Trophy in 2015.
Which brings us to a visit for the game against Spennymoor Town, another club on the up. A decent travelling following from County Durham and a scattering of groundhoppers boosted the crowd: one visiting Brentford fan, busily completing his Step 4 set, happily shared stories of a footballing trip to Moscow where divine intervention had helped him navigate the Cyrillic-signed streets. His stories, and the imposing backdrop of the hills, proved more memorable than the teams’ hard-fought 1-1 draw.
Not that there aren’t things to love about Glossop. The ground is a classic, much-loved, ramshackle affair. A good playing surface, despite the high altitude, and decent facilities behind the scenes ensure that ground gradings aren’t a problem. The gigantic industrial chimney, standing proudly alone in the midst of an adjacent building site, offered a handy landmark to help find the ground as Glossop’s own redevelopment continues. Happily, though, the refit of 2011-12 did not spell the end of North End’s charmingly down-to-earth main stand, a corrugated iron and breeze-block affair that is very much the architecture of the ‘find-a-way’ ethos of the non-league game.
And yet, Glossop’s history could have been so different. The single season of top-flight football was never to be repeated, although the Hillmen did manage an FA Cup quarter final in 1909, losing to Bristol City in a replay. In the early years, the team was bankrolled by chairman Samuel Hill-Wood. If that surname sounds familiar, think of Arsenal; in 1929, 15 years after quitting the Glossop hot seat, Sir Samuel, a distinguished former MP, became chairman of the Gunners. His descendants are still involved with the London club, who sent a team to commemorate Glossop’s centenary in 1986 and offered the use of the London Colney training ground ahead of those Vase finals. The ties between the two are something of a historical curio today, but things could have been very different for both teams were it not for World War I.
For Arsenal, the outbreak of war, the club’s relocation to North London and the post-war enlargement of the top flight handed the Gunners a controversial reprieve from relegation to the second tier. For Glossop, failure to win re-election to the Football League in 1913 led to Hill-Wood – who was by now also the local MP – leaving the club.
Upwardly mobile Arsenal left struggling Glossop behind. The Derbyshire team – no Bank of England club – bumped along in local football between the wars and embarked on its own relocation in 1955 when the old North Road ground was abandoned for the current Surrey Street home. While Arsenal dream of adding to their 13 championship titles, Glossop’s hopes for this season are less exalted, but no less challenging: the team is going hard for a place in the Evo-Stik Division One play-offs and a promotion to the third-highest level of its history.
Surrey Street, Glossop, England
FA Trophy Preliminary Round, Oct. 3, 2015
Glossop North End 1 (Stott) Spennymoor Town 1 (Frost)