Result: Northwich Victoria 1-1 Darlington (Evo-Stik NPL 1st Division North)
Venue: Valley Road (Saturday 15th March,3pm)
Today wan’t one of those last minute decisions, as many of my games this season have been. No. This one was planned way back since October, and it was mostly down to the chance to see the former league club, sort of, Darlington. The fact that Northwich Victoria, today’s hosts, were in such good form leading into the fixture was an added bonus, and one that led to the belief that a good, entertaining game could be in the offing.
Darlington arrived in the Woodsend area of Flixton in 2nd place in the table, having been on a decent run themselves despite slipping up against fellow play-off chasers Lancaster City a few weeks prior, whilst Northwich came into the contest on the back of two straight goalless draws coming, curiously, against bottom side Ossett Albion the previous Saturday, and then leaders Curzon Ashton two days later.
I had previously arranged a meet up with Dan Watkinson at the game, and whilst he got there earlier, it was still too late to secure a programme, a good 40 minutes before kick-off, the reason being that only one box of the ordered two had turned up. Not good, and surely a decently large loss of revenue of the club. Upon my arrival, I witnessed something not seen at Valley Road for quite some time. A queue. And quite a significant queue at that, leading from the corner of the car park leading up to the turnstiles, which adjoin the rather smart clubhouse, which is still adorned by a sign bearing the name of the now, sadly, defunct Flixton F.C.
After paying my £7 entrance fee, which is about right for the level, I had entered the ground to find a large, but not too large, number of Darlington fans already spread out around the Valley. I met Dan on one of the park benches situated outside the clubhouse’s french doors, and awaited the kick-off, whilst deciding that, due to the rather blustery conditions which graced us today, the far side ‘bus shelter’ style stand would be our abode for the first half.
If you have not yet read my blog on Vics’ sister outfit Northwich Flixton Villa, allow me to introduce you to the ground. Valley Road is home to two stands. One is the aforementioned ‘bus shelter’ which houses the dressing room areas, and runs the vast majority of the length of the far touchline as you enter, and a small, refurbished (in Flixton’s latter days, you were in serious danger of suffering a lacerated leg or death), seated stand straight ahead of you as you enter, to the left of the clubhouse which is on your right. Both ends behind the goal are open, and this is where the four floodlight pylons are situated, a pair at each end.
Obviously, Northwich Victoria, a Cheshire town’s club, playing in Flixton, a suburb of Manchester, may seem strange to those of you not in touch with the ins-and-outs of Non-League Football, but the history bit may just explain it to you little better!
Formed in 1874, officially, though some say 1870, Northwich Victoria played their first challenge games in the former year, under both football and rugby codes. In 1876, they played an away game at Farnworth & Appleton F.C. (now Widnes Vikings RLFC) under rugby code, then a home game under association rules, and won both. The first competition entered was the Welsh Cup, which was open to clubs near the Welsh border too, reaching the final twice, but losing on both occasions (1881-’82 & 1888-’89). In 1880, they entered the inaugural Cheshire Challenge Cup (CSC) (now Senior Cup), and won it for the first five seasons, beating Hartford St.John’s, Birkenhead, Crewe Alexandra (twice) and Davenham. They also won it again after four years in 1888-’89. In 1890, the club became founder members of the second incarnation of the Combination, and finished their first season as runners-up.
The club took a step forward by becoming founder members of the English Second Division in 1892, which saw the Trickies turn professional, and finished 7th in their first season, their highest finish ever recorded. During this season, Vics’ Tommy Scanlan scored the first ever penalty-kick in league football, the kick being introduced for that season, and they also signed Manchester City/United’s Welsh legend Billy Meredith. However, despite notable results against Newcastle United (5-3) and Woolwich Arsenal (2-2), the club finished bottom and as a result of the financial implications of pro football, decided not to apply for re-election and dropped back to the Combination as amateurs until 1898 when they left to join the newly formed Cheshire League, finishing runners-up in their second season.
As a result, the club switched to the Manchester League for the 1900-’01 season where they achieved immediate success, finishing runners-up in their first season in the league and won it eventually in 1902-’03 season, before leaving in 1912-’13 for the Lancashire Combination 2nd Division, where they finished their first season fourth, achieving promotion to the 1st Division.
In 1919, the club became founder members of the Cheshire County League, but only won the league title once in their stay (1956-’57) and two runners-up places (’24-’25 & ’47-’48) until they departed in 1968, although they did win a further four CSC’s (’28-’29, ’36-’37, ’49-’50, ’54-’55).
In 1968, Vics were one of a number of clubs to leave the Cheshire League for the newly created Northern Premier League (NPL), but with little success, Vics missing out on the title on goal difference in 1976-’77 to Boston United, but did win the NPL Challenge Cup in ’72-’73, a further three CSC’s in ’71-’72, ’76-’77 & ’78-’79 and a Staffordshire Senior Cup (SSC) in ’78-’79 .Their stay was relatively brief, leaving in 1979 to form the Alliance Premier League (latterly the Conference), where they won cup silverware immediately, a further SSC and the Conference League Cup. In 1983 the club reached the FA Trophy final, but lost 2-1 to Telford United. However, this was avenged the next season when Vics defeated Welsh club Bangor City by the same score line in a replay at the appropriately named Victoria Ground in Stoke. The original tie at Wembley ended 1-1.
The following season saw a 14th Cheshire Cup lifted, but this was their last success until 1989-’90, when the club’s third SSC was won. In 1993, a cup double arrived in the shape of the Conference League Cup & Drinkwise Cup and the next season saw the 15th CSC success but that was to be their last success of the decade, although they did reach the FA Trophy final again in 1996, losing 3-1 to Cheshire rival Macclesfield Town.
But the troubles were to soon begin. After departing Drill Field, their long time home, the club moved into Wincham Park, home of bitter rivals Witton Albion. In 2003-’04,Northwich avoided relegation (brought on by restructuring) due to the demise of Telford United, the demotion of Margate & Hucknall Town not meeting ground grading, and as such stayed at Conference level. During ’04-’05. Vics entered administration. Deducted 10 points, the club still stayed up, but then didn’t as they were demoted anyone on legal grounds.
’05-’06 appeared to be a turning of a corner for Vics, as they reached the FA Cup Third Round, and beat Stafford Rangers 3-0 to achieve promotion back to the Conference Premier. The club again almost entered administration in 2007, before being taken over by Jim Rushe, who maintains ownership to this day, but with safety equipment being removed to help with a business involved in the consortium in receivership, this meant the ground was not up to standard and the club was forced to play temporarily at Altrincham’s Moss Lane.
2009 saw Vics enter administration for the second time in five years, with £50,000 in unpaid bills. They were threatened with a double relegation to the NPL, but won an appeal to be placed in the Conference North, but this lasted a season as ongoing financial problems forced the club to drop out of the Conference North to the NPL, but did achieve a little relief in the shape of the first CSC in 15 years.
In 2010, Vics played Unirea Urziceni in a friendly at the Victoria Stadium, the club’s purpose built stadium, losing 1-0. Urziceni are no more unfortunately, the Romanians gaining popularity competing in the Champions’ League in Manchester United’s group.
In 2012, it was announced Vics would be evicted from their own ground as an ‘unknown buyer’ (later revealed as the neighbouring chemical company) had purchased the land, the club forced into becoming nomads before settling for a time at Stafford Rangers’ Marston Road. After a managerial merry-go-round the NPL announced in April 2012 that Vics had been expelled from the league. On appeal, the FA ruled the punishment excessive and the club were instead demoted a division to the Division 1 South, and for the first time ever local rivals Witton Albion began a season in a higher division. After one season in the South, finishing eighth, the club switched to the North for this season.
The club have also had a distinguished history in the FA Cup, in 1883-84, they reached the quarter-final, before being beaten by Blackburn Olympic. In 1892, they beat Liverpool in the Reds’ first ever competition, therefore becoming the first club to eliminate them from the Cup. 1976-’77 saw Northwich reach the Fourth Round in arguably their best Cup run. After beating Rochdale (after two replays), Peterborough United and Watford, they drew Oldham Athletic. With the game being moved to Maine Road, the game drew over 29,000 fans, their largest ever attendance, where they lost 3-1. They have also reached the Second Round on many occasions, in ’79-’80, ’82-’83, ’84-’85, ’87-’88, ’88-’89 ’00-’01 and ’09-’10, when the club’s games at home to Charlton Athletic (a 1-0 win) and Lincoln City (a 3-1 loss) were televised. There was a further third round reached in there too, when they drew Premiership Sunderland, away, in ’05-’06 where Northwich lost 3-0.
After that marathon history effort, back onto today’s game, and it began with Darlington on the front foot, and it was little surprise when they drew first blood. In luminous Pink (or would they prefer Coral?) Steve Thompson outpaced the home defence to fire hard and low past Vics’ ‘keeper Tim Deasy.
Deasy was called into action soon after, when former Durham City danger man David Dowson force him into a stop, and the game settled down somewhat afterwards, with Darlington still on the front foot, with Amar Purewal and Thompson especially looking dangerous, and it was the former who almost doubled both his and his side’s tally, when he rifled in an effort from 20 yards that cannoned back off the crossbar with Deacy beaten. Half-time arrived, with Darlington looking the more likely but Northwich weren’t out of it yet, despite not having a real clear chance in the first period at all.
Half time, and a trip for chips was called for. The kitchen, which is the old clubhouse entrance with a hot serving trolley in it, wanted £1.50, which was a decent price, for the decent portion received. After a quick trip into the clubhouse to catch up on the scores, or the Six Nations, your choice, the second half was soon underway, whereupon we decided the best place for this was to be in the sun with the Darlington fans in behind the goal.
With the Vics defence, ‘keeper and referee all being heckled in a fun manner by the Darlo photographer, the home side, now under new-ish manager Jim Gannon, began slightly stronger with a goalmouth scramble ending in a melee of legs and a goal-line clearance by, I think, Joe Tait on the post but this was to deny the inevitable as Vics grabbed a deserved equaliser, when the influential Brian Summerskill, took a corner forced by the tall, powerful substitute Aboubacar Sanogo, and Gary Burnett finished from close range to level the scores.
From here, Vics seemed happy to waste time to the best of their ability, with Deasy quite enjoying riling up a few of the travelling support behind the goal, by strategically standing just under the net so the ball, when thrown would go nicely over his head. Very shrewd! As he endured (or enjoyed I’m not quite sure) a 10-minute rant, which was quite humourous to many, but it should’ve been the fans having the last laugh as Purewal was kept out splendidly by Deasy, and Nathan Fisher, off the bench, blazed wildly over when one-on-one. The game ended in a flashpoint when the visiting star man Thompson was un-ceremonially taken out by Marc Joseph who, quite rightly, received his marching orders.
But, with this being pretty much on the whistle, there was no effect on the game, and both sides ended with a share of the spoils, which on the say was definitely the correct result. I have to say, I was surprised by the lack of noise from the Darlo contingent, maybe due to a lack of travelling numbers for this game(?), but the hardcore ones who made the effort to travel seemed really good, with no airs and graces which was a good thing to see. Vics also seem to be in a false position, and if that side stays together, expect a strong challenge next season, as they look to rise back up the pyramid!
My Northwich Victoria M.o.M.- Brian Summerskill
My Darlington M.o.M.- Stephen Thompson
Game: 7- Good quality, on a good surface. lack of chance holds it back slightly though.
Ground:7- A 10 to how it was a couple of years back!
Fans:6- There aren’t many travelling from Northwich, but there are some. Think there may have been more neutrals/locals.
Programme: N/A- Who knows?
Food:7- Tasty chips, and a decent sized portion as well.
Value For Money: 6- Not a terrific open game, and only two goals to show.
Referee:7- Had a decent game & got most things right. Was lenient with time wasting tactics though!
NORTHWICH VICTORIA: 1.Tim Deasy, 2.Chris Smalley, 3.Ryan Schofield, 4.Marc Joseph(sent off), 5.Danny Meadowcroft, 6.Jordan Hadfield, 7.Danny Wisdom(c), 8.Brian Summerskill, 9.Gary Burnett(1), 10.Michael Clarke, 11.Scott Harries. SUBS: 12.Aboubacar Sanogo(p), 14.Callum Henry, 15.Matt Greenwood(p).
DARLINGTON: 1.Mark Bell, 2.Stephen Harrison, 3.Terry Galbraith, 4.Joe Tait, 5.Gary Brown(c), 6.Jordan Robinson, 7.Nathan Fisher 8.Jonny Davis, 9.Amar Purewal, 10.David Dowson, 11.Stephen Thompson(1). SUBS: 12.Steve Johnson, 14.Adam Mitchell, 15.Dale Hopson(p), 16.Lewis Wing, 17. Peter Jameson(GK).