Belper Town: The resilient non-league club that booted away the bruising of Babet

The clubhouse at Belper Town's Raygar Stadium.
The clubhouse at Belper Town is now a lot drier than it was in October. Photo: Jolyon Wright

Although Belper Town’s 2023/24 season is over without the prize of promotion, they are proud of how they have emerged from a stormy season with plans for improvement across the club.

“I am disappointed. I do not like to say it, but I am,” said Ian Woodward (57), Chairman of Belper Town Football Club.

“But it has been enjoyable; it has been great. Lee Attenborough has done a great job and brought some great lads in.”

Belper Town finished sixth in the Pitching In Northern Premier League East with teams like Stockton Town, Dunston, Pontefract Collieries and Carlton Town beating them to the playoffs and the chance to join Hebburn Town in promotion.

“After the disaster in the Northern Premier League last season, when we were not ready, to finish sixth this season is a good turn around. But we want to achieve more.”

Woodward is referring to their rock-bottom finish in 2022/23 where the team only collected 30 points from 42 games.

“When you have played football, you do not like losing. I do not like losing tiddlywinks let alone anything else!”

The Nailers started this season well, winning six from their eight games across the first two months of the campaign.

But, despite the bounce-back from the season before, Mother Nature had other plans.

Storm Babet tore through the whole of the UK between October 18-21, causing extensive damage. This was particularly the case in Belper, which is not unaccustomed to flooding.

“I have been here for five years and there have been four floods to cope with.

“It came at a bad time in October as it was more disruption and then our minds go elsewhere trying to get things sorted.

“Again, everyone rallied round to get the work done.”

Belper Town's ground flooded after Storm Babet in October.
Over a meter of water covered the ground at its worst, including throughout the building. Photo: Belper Town

Dave Laughlin (74), a director at the club, recalled the worst of the damage:

“It was about half a meter of water, throughout the club.

“All the power points had to be moved higher up the walls, we redecorated across the entire building and needed some new joinery work.

“We have a very good relationship with the Football Foundation, where they were able to make some emergency funding available to put a new floor in the main function room. The only caveat was that they said it had to be a hard surface as they would not fund a third carpet in five years.”

The most incredible aspect was the support of the community at a time when everyone was dealing with the storm as well as a cost-of-living crisis.

“The supporters came down and spent a few days mopping and clearing and getting rid of sludge. But there was considerable damage caused.

“We managed to get a crowdfunding scheme going which raised £17,000 pounds, of which most has been and will be spent on the all-weather pitch.

“Water got under the surface and rippled it, but the funded work over the summer will help us install clamps that should stop that from repeating.

“Thanks to the Football Foundation and the goodwill of supporters, we were able to ride the storm this time.”

And Belper continue to ride on.

The club have plans for improvements around the ground, starting this summer with the artificial turf and refurbishment of the first team pitch.

“After October, we realised that we cannot go on like this. We have resubmitted for planning permission to extend the clubhouse upwards,” said Woodward.

“It will cost a lot of money, but the first step is to get permission. We can worry about the money later.

“We are adding a terrace on the other side of the ground where I have recently made a deal with a local construction company to supply the concrete while I supply the labour.

“It will be another great feature for the fans to see next year.”

On the pitch, you can expect Belper to put up another fight, guided by manager Attenborough and coach Matt Swain once again, after the club eventually find out which regional league they will be placed in.

“We have met with Lee, and he has a list of players that he wants, and we are quite happy to sign these players, but it all depends on what league we are in.

“Like we always have done at this club, we will back the manager. We will get them whatever they want.

“We have to hope that he will find the right players and people to get us over the line next season. But he has out support, he is a great lad.”

And so, after a flooding and missing out on promotion, Belper Town seem as unfazed as after relegation last season.

In the last week, they have announced multiple signings as they look to shape a squad talented enough to battle for top spot, no matter the league.

Under the guidance of Woodward, Laughlin and colleagues, with the community support they have, the Nailers can knock away anything.

“Sometimes you hear things about other clubs, but we genuinely want to succeed here at Belper.

“I think that is where the ‘disappointment’ word comes in,” Woodward reflected.