Manchopper in…Congleton

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Result: Congleton Town 0-0 Salford City (FA Cup with Budweiser Preliminary Round)

Venue: Booth Street (Saturday 30th August 2014, 3.00pm)

Att: 286.

FA Cup day once again, and the list of games to choose from is a long and difficult one to cut down. After cutting my options down to a final five, I decided that I would be making an overdue return to a favourite of mine. Favourite meaning both town and ground, that of Congleton and it’s team “The Bears” Congleton Town.

Setting off towards Manchester Piccadilly at a little before 12.30, I was soon transiting through the rail hub of the city and onwards through the Cheshire countryside en route to Congleton. After a largely uneventful trip (the highlight being a magpie landing upon a sheep), the Northern Rail service bound for Stoke-on-Trent pulled into the leafy town at around 1.30 in the afternoon.

I had visited Congleton Town for a match once before, when they had entertained Padiham, I think. So, with a vague previous experience of where to go, I would finally get somewhere without getting lost along the way, right? Wrong!

But, before I was to get lost, I headed down a long downhill road from the station and in towards the town centre. AFter passing a pub named “The Beartown Cock”, advertising a quiz entitled “The Big Cock Quiz” which I am sure you could only get away with if your establishment has the word “Cock” in its title!

Sadly, this pub looked rather empty, so I went onwards passing some shops and cafes before arriving at the Phoenix Tap pub. It looked quite nice inside, but having spotted some older looking pubs just up the road, I went to have a look at them. It appeared they didn’t have the game on, which it had occurred to me I could watch (Burnley-United), so went back to the Tap where I got a Kopparberg and watched as a terrible 0-0 draw fizzled out. The Phoenix Tap is a nice, smart, welcoming pub, and has wooden décor on the walls. Recommended.

The clock now read 2.30 so I decided I should set off in the unlikely event I got lost. I did, of course, somewhere near the centre of the town,  though, so not too bad this time. After walking through the centre itself, and past the Wetherspoon’s and a large, Tudor facade hotel, I was soon on the familiar roads leading past the cricket ground and towards the ground, the floodlights of which were peeking above the trees.

On previous experience, I had reserved a programme as they have ran out before, but I was slightly put back when, on arrival, I was informed that there was no programme saved on the gate, apart from the “one for my mate”  as said the gateman. No matter, and I paid £8 to get in and was told to ask the guy selling the programmes in the hutch just past the turnstile. I intended to do so, but found it all shut up. Not good! Anyway, I got onto the Congleton twitter account, and whoever runs it did a sterling effort into finding the whereabouts of my book, eventually come the second half. This was made all the more worthy of a mention by the fact they weren’t even at the ground! So, thank you very much to that man/woman! It’s what non-league is about!

Congleton were playing host to the newly famous Salford City, who with the likes of Danny Webber, Jason Jarrett & Gareth Seddon in their ranks, boasted a formidable threat. Booth Street is a very smart ground, with four stands about to be joined by a fifth. The Main Stand is directly in front of you as you enter, and is all seated. It is joined to the right, as you look, by a newer terrace which is covered, and behind the near goal, to your left as you enter, is a long covered terrace. Opposite the main stand, on the far touchline is another covered stand, again a terrace, which stands behind the dugouts. The stand still in progress is behind the far goal which is currently a grass bank end. Hard standing has already been laid and iron stations put in place. Booth Street has a current capacity of 1,450.

History Lesson:

Formed in 1901, Congleton Town initially joined the Crewe & District League and were crowned champions in their first three consecutive seasons.  They soon moved onto the North Staffordshire & District League from 1905 up until World War One, with a best placing of runners-up. On the league’s restart in 1919, the club played in the one further season finishing as league champions. They then moved on to the Cheshire County League, finishing as runners-up in their first season. In 1939-40, The Bears competed in the Macclesfield & District League for a sole season, finishing in joint 1st place and beating Bollington Cross in the title play-off.

After WWII, the club re-joined the Cheshire County League, but struggled throughout their time here until they joined the Manchester League in 1965. After three seasons, Congleton joined the Mid-Cheshire League, winning the title in 1973-’74 & 1975-’76 & lastly in 1978 before re-joining the Cheshire County League after their last title success. They won the last ever Cheshire County League Title in 1982, as the league merged with the Lancashire Combination to form the North West Counties League (NWCFL).

In1986, the club missed out on an inaugural title on goal difference before they joined the newly created Northern Premier League (NPL) Division 1. In 1989-90, the club reached the first round of the FA Cup where they lost out by 2-0 to near neighbours Crewe Alexandra. On the whole, their time in the NPL was a struggle and culminated in relegation in 2001.

Back in the NWCFL, Congleton remained in Division One (now Premier Division) throughout their tenure leading up to the present day. Last season, the club achieved a 10th place finish With Jim Vince currently in charge, the team look set for a top of the table challenge this time around.

The club have also achieved a few local cup wins in the shape of two Cheshire Senior Cups (1920-’21 & 1937-’38), a Cheshire Saturday Cup (1977-’78), a Crewe Cup (2003-’04) and a Cheshire Amateur Cup  (2006-’07).

Back onto the present day, and the teams entered the field of play, Congleton in their black and white striped shirts, Salford in their new dark red shirts, which have replaced the familiar Tangerine colours following the Class of 92’s takeover of the club. The side’s crest has also changed, with the lion now facing forwards (as opposed to rampant) to reflect the club’s ambitions in looking forwards & progressing.

The crest is also visible on the back of the Ammies’ shirts, not that the Congleton players would’ve been too aware of that as they were facing a fair few Salford attacks in the early stages as the all-star front pairing of Gareth Seddon & ex-Manchester United frontman Danny Webber looked potent as did Sam Madeley. But in the 13th minute, Congleton almost took the lead against the run of play, when the dangerous winger Paul John Hudson showed great persistence to beat his man and cross for Tom Rutter to fire narrowly off target.

Craig Ellison, in the Bears’ goal, showed glimpses of the heroics to come, as he beat away a couple of well struck Madeley efforts and later kept out a stinging effort from Seddon with a smart low stop. But it was Congleton who had the best chances late in the half. First, Scott Barlow, the former Trafford dangerman, had a looping header tipped over by Salford’s gloveman Tom Stewart, who was the hero when, with the last kick of the half, Ryan Allcock’s low effort was kept out well by the City stopper.

Half-time, and I decided to make my way to the clubhouse/refreshment bar to get some food, where I got  Pie, Chips, Peas & Gravy for £3.50. It was a great deal for a more than good portion which tasted superb too!

If the first half had belonged to Salford, then the second was to belong to the Bears, who will wonder how they didn’t get the win.  However, it was Salford who began the half on top, with Webber twice going close, before the heroics of Ellison seemed to turn the tide. He first saved point blank from Seddon’s placed low shot then kept out a stinging follow up that was behind him when he got his hands to it and finally a second follow up effort was palmed onto the post & away from danger. Incredible stuff, and the best piece of goalkeeping I’ve seen live. It drew a round of applause from all in attendance and rightly so. You’ll do well to ever see better!

From then on, Congleton put pressure on the Ammies’ backline, with Hudson the architect-in-chief. But they were in danger on the break, and were almost caught out twice. But once again Ellison came to the rescue, saving twice from close range. He seemed unbeatable. Stewart, Ellison’s opposite number then did his bit to upstage him by firstly tipping a header away then acrobatically saving a shot from 20 yards which looked for all money as though it was destined for the top corner. And they almost won it, again with the last kick when sub Simon Thompson was kept out by Stewart’s legs when one-on-one.

The whistle blew with both keeper’s stars shining brightly, and a replay at Moor Lane looming on the Tuesday (ending 6-4 aet in Salford’s favour!)

After the game, I went into the plush clubhouse/social club where there is a bear (or more an anteater in the corner). I presented Scott Barlow with his “Trafford FC 100 goals” flag from both of our previous lives, before saying my goodbyes and heading off from  whence I came. Due to a double cancellation of Northern Rail services from Stoke (thanks!) , an unscheduled stop off at the Queen’s Head Hotel was added to the itinerary. This is located just down a small lane near the ticket office at the station from the car park and under the road bridge over the railway. Inside, it was packed with fans watching the Chelsea game, with City and Stoke fans in there  after Stoke’s win at the Etihad earlier. I got myself a Kopparberg, again, and wasted away the time at the bar watching the game and having a bit of a chat with those in there who enquired about the programme and the newly famed Salford, before just beating the rain back to the platform, to head back towards Manchester & home. It had been a good day out at Congleton again. A great Town, club, ground and people and it won’t be long before I return once again.

My Congleton Town M.o.M.- Craig Ellison.

My Salford City M.o.M.- Nicky Platt.

RATINGS:

Game: 7- Great game for a nil-nil, could so easily have been a goal fest if not for two great keeping performances.

Ground: 8- Maintains its character & history whilst having a modern look to its improvments.

Fans: 8- Get behind their team vocally and give a bit of banter out too, all in good nature.

Food: 10- Wonderful, you have to get some if you go.

Programme: 8- One of the better Counties programmes, better than many NPL 1 ones too.

Value for Money: 8- Decent £5 entry and just £1 for the programme(!). Well worth it plus £8 travel.

Referee: 5- A few strange errors (the throw in anyone), an average performance on the whole.

TEAMS:

CONGLETON TOWN: 1.Craig Ellison, 2.Nathan Hynes, 3.Lee Jackson, 4.Andy Alston, 5.George Whiteoak, 6.Lewis Killeen (c), 7.Scott Sephton, 8.Ryan Allcock, 9.Tom Rutter, 10.Scott Barlow, 11.Paul John Hudson. SUBS: 12.Simon Thompson(p), 14.McCauley Booth, 15.Brandon Moores(p), 16.Rhys Jones, 17.Arron Kirk, 18.Louis James, 19.Martin Pearson.

SALFORD CITY: 1.Tom Stewart, 2.Phil Edgehill, 3.James Moss, 4.Jamie Rother, 5.Chris Lynch(c), 6.Paul Linwood, 7.Ash Dunn, 8.Nicky Platt, 9. Danny Webber, 10.Gareth Seddon, 11.Sam Madeley. SUBS: 12.Aaron Walters, 14.Josh Messer, 15.James Kirby, 16.Phil Marsh(p), 17.-, 18.-, 19.-.

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