Result: Croston Sports 1-4 Nelson (Pre-Season Friendly)
Venue: Croston Sports Club, Westhead Road (Saturday 28th June 2014, 3pm)
Att: About 50
For my first trip of the season, I was heading up into Lancashire and to the small village of Croston. Croston lies to the south of Preston, and is on the one-line West Lancashire Railway with one train running back and forth from Ormskirk to Preston. I had originally been planned for the game between Ladybridge & Digmoor, but on discovery of the fact Ladybridge play on a field with no defined pitch (i.e. has to be barred off at least), I was forced to look elsewhere for some entertainment. (I WAS LATER INFORMED LADYBRIDGE DO INDEED HAVE A BARRED OFF PITCH WITH CLUBHOUSE AND GREAT FACILITIES. AND I MISSED A 9-1! DAMN OUT OF DATE GOOGLE MAPS!!)
Luckily, Nelson’s twitter account came to my aid, with the news of a friendly with aforementioned Croston Sports, which was to be played at the village’s Sports Club. I was sorted and was soon planning my journey.
Croston Sports are members of the West Lancashire League Division 2, which is four levels below the North West Counties (NWCFL) Premier where Nelson currently reside following their promotion last season. It had been a fair while since I had seen Nelson play, in fact I think the last time was in 2008, when Trafford visited their Victoria Park home on the way to the title that year. I had not seen Croston play before, so I was looking forwards to the trip.
I set off at just before midday and headed into Manchester Oxford Road for my connection onwards towards Burscough, where I would be required to take a short walk through the Merseyside town, from Burscough Bridge Station to the rural Burscough Junction, which is part of the one-line West Lancs Railway.
After boarding the train bound for Southport, I was soon in Burscough, and soon found myself looking at the floodlights of the familiar venue of another Victoria Park, this one the home of Burscough FC, towering above a TESCO. After continuing onwards to Burscough Junction, I was faced with a dilemma on arrival, as a train pulled in showing “Ormskirk”. Now, being one-line, I thought this may be my train but knowing I was supposed to be heading to Preston I thought against it. I didn’t want to be lost again and in a similar situation as a group of girls who’d got off at the station and were now lost.
As the train came back in still showing Ormskirk, confusingly, I had to check with the driver who gave me a muffled answer to my question of “Does this train go to Croston?”, although that was probably because he was thinking, “There’s one line, figure it out dumb-arse!”
Anyway, after alighting at Croston station at three minutes to three, I was faced with a march along the “Station Road” leading towards the best named Caravan Park I’ve ever heard of, the “Royal Umpire”. After hearing of this, I couldn’t shake images of Prince Charles standing on a rural cricket field in Lancashire giving a small overweight 50-year old his marching orders. After making a turn down a rural looking road, I soon saw a pub-like sign declaring “Croston Sports Club”. It turned out I had only missed two minutes of the game, so I wasn’t too late and hadn’t, more importantly, missed a goal.
Croston’s ground is your typical amateur ground. It is barred off, with a small set of dressing rooms behind the far end goal. Bordered behind the near side goal by a hedge guarding a cricket ground, there is no real hard standing, but there are a few paving slabs dotted here and there, and a truck tyre. A Goodyear truck’s tyre. No idea why, but there it was. The car park runs alongside the pitch, and you enter along the lane leading to it, with both cricket and football pitches being set behind the Sports Club itself, the football club at the rear.
Croston Sports Club joined the West Lancashire League in 2004, and finished as runners-up in their second season. This earned them promotion to Division 1 where they remained for five seasons before being relegated to Division 2 once again. Last Season, they maintained their place in Division t2 comfortably enough, and lifted the annual Danny Birch Memorial Trophy, defeating FC Adlington 4-1 at Chorley’s Victory Park. The retained the trophy in the third running of the event, which is run in memoriam of Danny Birch, who played for both Adlington and Croston, until he tragically passed away aged just 23.
Back onto the clash this blog is about, and through the early stages, Croston more than held their own aginst what was, I learned a mixture of Development Squad, trialists and a few first teamers, until about 20 minutes in when Nelson’s Jonty Maulin sent a forceful header flying into the top corner. the Croston ‘keeper was the busier of the two number 1’s and had to make a few good saves to keep his side in the game as Nelson began to shake off the cobwebs and assert their authority. But they almost conceded just before the break, as a Croston forward burst towards the box, before curling just over the bar from 18 yards.
But it was to be Croston who’d concede late in the half, as they seemed to switch off as “A Trialist”‘s ball in was converted from close range by Liam Boswell.
For the second half, I decided to take a tour of the ground, and was down the wrong end as Nelson added a couple more to their tally. Again it was the influential A Trialist who worked his magic and his low cross struck a Croston defender and past the wrong-footed goalkeeper.
The journeyman A Trialist, who seems to play for numerous clubs every pre-season since the dawn of time, soon grabbed another assist as he crossed low and hard and after a goalmouth melee Jonny Hession poked the ball over the line. Why A Trialist hasn’t got in a World Cup squad yet is beyond me!
The game was disrupted a bit through the second half, as the inevitable changes took place and Croston grabbed what I thought was a deserved goal. They launched a quick counter after winning the ball, and their left winger hit a cross-cum-shot which fell to the unmarked #10 and the striker rolled the ball easily into the net.
Croston’s ‘keeper pulled off a wonderful save late on, when he palmed away a curling effort which looked destined for the top corner, but it mattered little, as Nelson kept their hosts at bay to record a 4-1 win, and they look good for their return to the NWCFL Premier Division.
After the game, I had to miss out the Sports Club itself to get back to near the station, but I did have time to make a stop off on the way back in “The Crown”, which looked rather nice as I walked past it on my way to the game. On entering, the pub is decorated in a modern, yet traditional fashion, and has a really comfortable, welcoming atmosphere to it. After buying a Kopparberg for £3.50, I watched the early stages of Brasil v Chile, whilst listening to a few entertaining stories being shared by a group of men from Leeds and the barmaid.
After finishing my bottle, I was soon on my way back to the station, where I boarded the train headed for Preston and then onwards back to Oxford Road despite many delays on the planned routes. Some over half an hour late. The looks on the faces of those still awaiting their rattler were not those of enjoyment. But, for me, it had been a pleasant visit to Croston, and one that I would encourage you to make, if you like your lower league football in quaint villages.
My Croston Sports M.o.M.- The goalkeeper ( I don’t know his name, sorry!)
My Nelson M.o.M.- Liam Boswell.
Game: 6- Pre-Season friendly, but was pretty good.
Ground: 6- Not much to it, put the pitch looked very good from the side.
Fans: 5 Hard to judge if they had ‘fans’ for a friendly ( I heard a couple shout for Croston though), but a few had come down to watch the team and a few from Nelson.
Value For Money: 7- Free entry, so only travel to pay, at about £8. New ground is always good too!
Referee: 7- Doesn’t really matter in a friendly, but he did alright.