When Chasetown were drawn away to the winner of Wednesfield or Rocester in the FA Cup Preliminary Round, I was in no doubt who I wanted us to face. This was partly because we were already going to be playing at Rocester in a pre-arranged pre-season friendly, so that wouldn’t be a new ground for me. But, truth be told, it was mainly because I was told that Wednesfield had a goat who lived behind the goal at their ground.
When my dream came true and Wednesfield put paid to Rocester in the Extra Preliminary Round, I became increasingly excited about this goat. I asked a few people about it and was told in a matter-of-fact fashion (like this was normal!) that, yes, there was a goat but, no, they didn’t know any more than that. I was determined to get the story behind the goat. Non League Dogs are exciting enough but a Non League Goat is another level altogether!
As this was a relatively local match, on the way to Wolverhampton, I had a nice lie-in before heading towards The Scholars Ground for my lift to the match. Having arrived way too early in my state of excitement, I stopped for breakfast in Chasetown. The Bakery came recommended and did not disappoint. I enjoyed a ten-piece breakfast, a massive mug of tea and a banana milkshake, seated outside the cafe watching the world go by and taking in a chapter of my latest read: Sam Allardyce’s autobiography. As Sam is a former Blackpool manager, I was looking forward with interest to the chapter on his season at the seaside. I was forced to take shelter inside the cafe during a torrential downpour but that soon passed and I was able to continue on my merry way to the match.
We arrived early at The Cottage Ground and I set off on my customary stroll around the ground to get my bearings and decide where I was going to sit/stand. The weather couldn’t decide what it was doing, flitting between heavy rain and sunshine – but I’m not one for letting the weather dictate what I’m going to do (plus you know I like being out in the rain and wind). Hence I decided to stand by the dugouts in the open, as opposed to sitting in the covered stand opposite.
Having completed my circuit of the pitch, I headed back to the pre-match hub of people and introduced myself to the Wednesfield (and match) officials and generally made myself at home as I tend to do at away matches (all football grounds are home to me because football is home). I sought out the club chairman, Darren, and, after polite introductions, the conversation went something like this:
“I’ve been hearing about the goat that lived here. Are you able to tell me the story behind that?”
“The horse? We did have a horse that survived a fire and was left homeless, so we took him in. He used to live behind the goal over there. He helped to trim the grass.”
“Nice story! But I heard from a few people that you had a goat here?”
“Oh I don’t know about a goat, but I can tell you who might…”.
Thus my investigations continued. I wasn’t leaving without finding out about this goat.
I headed into the clubhouse (nice little set-up) and grabbed a seat opposite a man who, it turned out, used to manage Wednesfield back in the day.
“I’ve been hearing a lot about the goat that used to live here. Can you tell me about him?”
“Oh, the goat, yes. He used to live behind this goal here. He helped out the groundsman by trimming the grass. He died a few years ago but he’s buried there now. The groundsman dug a hole for him – it took some digging as he was a sizeable goat. He escaped once…”
I was gaping with shock at this point. I hadn’t been expecting a zombie goat story. Had the goat come back to life? Was he alive all along?
“Yeah we had to call the police. He was found half a mile away in someone’s front garden eating their roses. The groundsman went to pick him up. When the goat – Billy, his name was – saw him, he ran towards him and butted him, sending him flying.”
I now realised that the burial and escape were unconnected incidents and couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. Still, Billy sounded like a great character and I was sorry to have missed out on meeting him – although I was pleased to have heard his story.
Someone I did meet today, however, was a friend from Twitter (The Groundhopper @StickyPalms), who had chosen our match for his day’s adventure. I had never met Nick before, but I have enjoyed reading about his groundhopping adventures for some time. I found him and his partner, Sue, to be most agreeable and spent the first half chatting with them as we watched the match. I relayed my goat story in the hope it would make his blog. It didn’t (though I did).
The FA Cup never fails to produce magic and, despite a disappointing result on the day (2-2), I left happy that I had finally got my goat story. I am a firm believer that there are always smiles to be found in football – even if it does take a little digging to find them sometimes. RIP Billy.