There’s no doubt about it - when the New Manor Ground is packed to the rafters and the fans are in good form, it really is a great place to watch football.
It wasn’t entirely predictable just how many people would come to Saturday’s game with Racing Club Warwick, although four figures looked a very feasible target for starters.
When I arrived at the ground at 1pm, the car park was mostly full and the junior players and their parents were making the most of being given the NMG pitch to use as a curtain-raiser to the first team game.
In the end, the fact nearly 2,000 were present was fantastic and shows that there really is an appetite for football in this town and it was so important for those perhaps not as familiar with life under the new regime (or previous ones, for that matter) to come down and see for themselves that it’s well worth considering Ilkeston as an option if at a loose end on a Saturday!
The key thing now is bringing a good portion of those fans back to the NMG most weeks.
The fact there’s another home game straight away is a good thing as last weekend will still be fresh in many people’s minds and you’d hope that a gate of at least 6-700 is achievable.
Ilkeston winning and playing well was a bonus too, as in the past when there have been big gates the games and/or performances haven’t been up to much and those not yet converted to non-league football wouldn’t have been over thrilled by it.
There aren’t too many home games left but if between now and August, the Robins hierarchy can drum up good support on a regular basis, then no matter what division Ilkeston are in next season (most likely the East Midlands Counties League) there will hopefully be a solid core of fans there to watch them.
As for matters on the pitch, the title race remains very much in Walsall Wood’s hands even though they still have to face the Robins next month.
Even if Ilkeston won that game, Walsall Wood still probably need to lose four or five games to give those behind them a sniff of a chance. They’ve lost three all season so that’s unlikely, although they do have a fair few games to cram in.
As I write this, they’re about to host Heath Hayes on Tuesday night so could well be ten clear of the Robins with just the one game in hand by the weekend.
Either way, the aim for Ilkeston remains just to finish as strongly as possible and second place would be a great achievement.
It’s almost certain they’ll make the lateral move into the East Midlands Counties League next year which will mean far less travelling than this time around given their opponents will be mostly Nottingham, Derby and Leicester-based. With Blaby & Whetstone having withdrawn from the EMCL this week there’s a ready-made place available already and there are usually one or two movements/demotions/liquidations in the summer months so I can’t see there being a problem.
There are some good sides in the EMCL, the likes of Kimberley Miners Welfare and Selston among them, but I know the division fairly well and I’d be confident Ilkeston, with the necessary squad tinkering in the summer, will have more than a strong chance of winning it.
But for now, attention turns to the visit of Cadbury Athletic on Saturday, so I’d better get my chocolate-related puns ready to unleash...