Manchopper in….Fleetwood (Fleetwood Town Youth)

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Result: Fleetwood Town Youth 1-4 Wythenshawe Town (Friendly)

Venue: Highbury Stadium (Sunday 10th August 2014, 2.00pm)

Att: About 50 (hc)

Another summer’s day, another downpour of rain. I was being given a lift to Wythenshawe Town’s home ground of Ericstan Park to get to their coach through the late morning deluge, and after making a short cut through Tesco’s car-park (dodging any dodgy Parking Eye fines, seriously watch for them) I jumped out of my Dad’s car and headed past he coach where the driver advised that everyone was meeting in the club’s smart clubhouse, which had to be reached by skirting around the outside of a large puddle in front of the car park. I affectionately named this Ericstan Water. This is becoming something of a feature in my blogs this season, large water features, so I may have to keep this going. Sad this isn’t it?

Anyway, having entered Town’s somewhat plush clubhouse, emblazoned with large club badge and penchants hanging over the bar from a mixture of clubs, we eventually set off around an hour later than scheduled due to late arriving players. The scourge of many non-league managers, and one I’m sure they all know too well.

As the rain continued to fall steadily, the coach made it’s way up towards the Lancastrian coast, skirting past Blackpool before reaching the town of Fleetwood. On arrival in the town, the coach skirted down a side street before turning onto the narrow lane leading up to the ground, which is somewhat hidden until you round the corner. It’s exactly the sort of setting you’d expect a North West Counties club to be situated in which of course, just a decade ago, Fleetwood were just that. Not any more though, as stands dominate the surrounding areas.

The coach parked up at the reception, whereupon the players made their way in towards the changing rooms, after their later than scheduled arrival, and a few of the youngsters where whisked off for a tour of the Highbury facilities. I wondered if they knew of the ‘other ‘ Highbury, which once stood and graced any of Europe’s leading lights.

The remaining few made our way round to the far side, where we entered beside the “Memorial Stand” and the “Highbury Stand”. The young Fleetwood players were, by this time, already into their pre-match schedules, so after a short spell of -poor photography, I made my way inside “Jim’s Sports Bar”.  The bar is built into the bowels of the Memorial Stand, and is very, very smart. A large mural of last season’s promotion side from League 2 dominates the room, which features a number of booths all with two small TV’s in each. There are even TV’s in the toilets. Amazing stuff!

After buying a large portion of decent chips for £2.50, I made my way outside to find I’d missed the early stages along with  a few others, as the game had started only a few minutes late.  But it was a rip-roaring start, as Wythenshawe, attacking the near side Memorial Stand end, won a penalty for a handball, which was a fair call. The number 9 stepped forward and confidently thumped the ball into the bottom corner. Their lead didn’t last all that long, though, as Fleetwood’s attackers broke clear and the ball found it’s way to their 11 who fired into the roof of the net from 10 yards to level the scores.

At 1-1, it looked as though Fleetwood Town’s full-time youngsters were gaining the upper hand, with Town’s ‘keeper making a couple of good stops, and he was rewarded as his side retook the lead. It  came from a corner, and after a goalmouth scramble, the ball rebounded to the #10 who had smartly gambled on a rebound and duly received the ball and finished confidently. The young Fleetwood goalkepper pulled off a couple of good saves of his own, before Wythenshawe Town added a third before the break, as the ball fell to the #11 from a right wing cross and he coolly slotted inside the near post.

With the score standing at 3-1 at the break, I had made my way into the top row of the smaller seated stand, the Highbury Stand. The Main Stand is the larger of the two, also housing all the amenities for players and officials as well as corporate boxes. The two ends, the Memorial and The Percy Ronson, named after a club legend, are covered terraces, with the former also featuring a plaque of sorts exclaiming “6 promotions in 10 years, before giving details of said promotions and ending with “…..?”, showing the club’s continuing ambition. Normally, I am not a fan of money being pumped into club’s, but you have to think Fleetwood have paid their dues in the lower leagues, and undergone a few rebirths in their time, so I can’t begrudge them or the drive of the chairman, Andy Pilley, who kept to his local roots by inviting Wythenshawe Town to his club for a friendly, which is a great gesture.

With rolling subs being employed, the game did become a bit bitty in the second half, with driving, heavy rain also becoming a feature in the latter stages, forcing both benches to vacate the dugouts and take advantage of the empty main stand’s cover above them! A rather rash challenge on Wythenshawe’s 16 by Fleetwood’s 9 and the resulting reaction from Wythenshawe’s 14 resulted in the latter two being ordered off to be subbed by the referee, who’s experience at higher levels was clear to see throughout the game, before Wythy’s 12 scored the goal (or fluke?) of the game when his right wing cross flew over the Cod Army Youth goalkeeper and into his top corner. 4-1 was how the game finished, and it was back to the Sports Bar to watch the second half of Arsenal’s 3-0 Community Shield triumph over Manchester City (what a goal by Giroud, by the way!).

After a quick chat with Wythenshawe’s player-manager Lee McGregor, who had kindly made his way over to have a talk off his own back about the team for the day (a mix of reserves and youth teamers for the most part, which made their win all the more impressive) and about the club’s ambitions going forward, and also offered to gain me access to a game in the future for free. As kind as this offer was, at just £2 for entry anyway, I’d rather help out a local club in this small way, rather than take money away from them (he’d also offered to pay my travel fees for the day previously, but I couldn’t accept!), Soon it was time for us to leave, picking up a few pieces of kit that were making a bid for freedom on the way to the coach!

On the way back, I had a chat with a couple of people connected with the club and had a go on a name card, which I didn’t win on (again!) and after seeing a prison van-turned Ice-Cream shop truck parked in a service station, we had arrived back in the Tesco’s car park in Baguley at around 7pm, where I quickly made my way to the bus stop for the 18 back to Stretford, before the 255 home. Of course, by this time, the rain had once again began to teem. Speaking of team, Wythenshawe Town are a great club, with great ambitions. Their own ground is definitely one of the best not currently in the pyramid structure, and who knows, before log they may just be in that pyramid. The next Fleetwood perhaps? Who knows? One thing is for sure, if you do get the chance to get to Ericstan Park, do take it. You’ll find a great bunch of people there who’ll be more than happy to welcome you.

*Thanks to James Lobley (Twitter: @KickOffPhotos) for sorting out my travel arrangement for the day*. Great photographer too. 🙂

My Fleetwood Town Youth M.o.M.- The #8

My Wythenshawe Town M.o.M.- The #7


Game: 6- Not too bad, and 5 goals so can’t complain.

Ground: 9- A great ground, with a lot of character still remaining from it’s older days in Counties football.

Programme: N/A

Fans: 6- Think there were a couple, but mostly relatives of the young lads on the field.

Food: 7- Not bad, better in portion size than anything else.

Value For Money: 10- Day ended up at about £15. £5 coach, £5.20 bus, £2.50 food and £1 name card!

Referee: 10- Got every call right, even though it was just a friendly, he was clearly very good.

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