Result: Sandbach United 2-3 Eagle Sports (J.B. Parker Challenge Cup)
Venue: Sandbach Community Football Centre, Hind Heath Road (Saturday 27th September 2014, 2.30pm)
Having been planning a trip to Sandbach United for a couple of years without success for one reason or another, this season I had been determined to make the trip, one way or another. When I had found out that my, seemingly adopted, Cheshire League outfit, Eagle Sports, had drawn the newly promoted side in the J.B. Parker Cup, my decision had been made & just after midday, I had transited through Manchester Piccadilly, which was just beginning to full with supporters heading to Old Trafford, and onwards into Cheshire.
Having rattled along through run down areas such as Alderley Edge, the train passed through Chertsey, which is effectively a platform in a field on one side, and within 40 minutes or so, I was walking straight up the road from the station which leads up to the ground.
Because of this, & having planned it out earlier I, for once, found my way to the ground with little trouble. I know, it’s a miracle! Having taken a right turn and then a left at a roundabout, I was then faced with multiple crossings to stay on pavements which disappeared on one side, rather inexplicably.
But, I then spotted both the Football complex & the cricket ground facing it. On the outside there was a sign informing anyone walking past about the game being played today. Though the lack of pavement provided this way & in general other pedestrians, makes this a somewhat futile gesture, at no fault of the club.
I made my way up the access road leading to the main pitch and smart clubhouse building. Upon reaching here, I was met by a man siting at a desk, and handed over my £2 entrance fee. Having known that Sandbach are one of a small number of clubs who charge for games at Step 7 previously, this came as no shock, and for £2, you can’t complain anyway. The standard is more than decent, and you, in effect, get a free programme, though I was encouraged to spend my £5 note “in the bar”, when I found the right change instead. Having been told that Liverpool had just taken the lead in the Merseyside derby, I headed inside to do just that.
The warm welcome continued once inside, at the bar, where the friendly lady serving was most engaging & I handed over my shrapnel in exchange for a bottle of Kopparberg as I awaited the 2.30pm kick-off. The clubhouse is rather plush, decked out with seating (comfortable, I might add, with the bar doubling up with a hot food serving hatch too. There is definitely scope for growth here, I thought, as a couple of Sandbach subs entered to watch the end of the game, though they were hastily returned once the game had begun by the manager, who seemed less than impressed!
As I say, the game had kicked off, so I made my way to the paved, patio-like, area directly outside the clubhouse and settled on a park bench to finish my cider. With little action going early on, I had a browse of the ground as I went on a photography stroll. Other than the clubhouse/changing rooms building and dugouts, there is little else, with one goal backing onto the car park, and the other onto further pitches. The far side is also backing onto other pitches, with one hosting a Sandbach Town game (which I was to see an equaliser in!) (NB: The exclamation shows how easy it is to get me excited football-wise!) With the start of the game being rather non-eventful, I reckon it’s a good time to explore the history of the hosts.
Sandbach United are a relatively new club formed, as they were, in 2004 after the merger of Sandbach Albion & Sandbach Ramblers. This partnership is reflected through the R & the A on the club’s badge. Even then, the two club’s had only been in existence for around a decade, Albion having come into being in 1994, and Ramblers a year later. Albion, previously known as Hays Junior FC, played at Albion Chemicals, but were forced from there on more strict Health & Safety grounds, thus moving to the cricket club. Though Albion had its own youth section, Ramblers were very much the academy focussed side of the two, their first team playing their one & only season as the current Ramblers in 8th in the Midland League 1st Division, and were one of the largest clubs of its type in the South Cheshire area, which is still the case today. There were four incarnations of Ramblers, but never won a title, bud did reach the 3QR of the FA Cup in 1975. The current facility has only been in use since its opening a few years ago, and is one of the better (if not the best) facility in the Cheshire League. They joined the Cheshire League in Season 2011-’12 from the Staffordshire County League, and achieved promotion from Division Two to the Premier (as it is now known after league reconstruction) at the third time of asking, having finished 5th, 6th & then runners-up to go up.
The game had been quiet, as mentioned, so it came as a surprise to me when the opener arrived, so much so that I missed it, for the most part. It was the Sankey-based visitors who broke the deadlock, Ged McAllister, who, apparently, controlled the ball well before firing a low shot into the corner.
After that, the game became a rather scrappy affair, with no real clear cut chances for either side. Eagle ‘keeper Neil McDermott was the busier of the two for the rest of the half, though his opposite number had to be alert on a couple of occasions to make two smart saves from Eagle breakaways.
After the break, and a catch up on the latest scores via “Final Score”, the game became a more open contest & the home side were to get a deserved leveller when the Eagle right-back diverted a low free-kick into his own net at the near post.
This seemed to stir the visitors into a response, and despite some dodgy offside calls from both assistants for both sides, including Eagle’s number 9 having a perfectly good strike ruled out for offside (I was right in line, and it was indisputably onside), they took the lead with around eight minutes remaining when the influential centre-mid Danny Nixon fed the left-winger, who saw his shot saved by the ‘keeper but, unfortunately for him, the ball fell to Lee Boardman who gleefully finished into the open net. 2-1, an it looked game over.
But, Sandbach came again, and looked more dangerous as the time ticked away. With “Cariem” and Josh Lane always looking a threat up top, especially the former, who was a strong, well built forward who looked a decent player. As it was, Sandbach won a couple of corners in added time, and it was from the second one that they looked to have earned extra-time, when the ball bounced around in the area before being dispatched at the back post by Cariem.
It looked as though my day would be extended by an extra 30 minutes, but McAllister had other ideas. Soon after the Sandbach ‘keeper had engaged in a game of head tennis with himself outside his area, Eagle broke down field at speed & James Maher threaded a ball through for the Eagle #10, who bested his opposite number and fired hard past the helpless glove man and into the back of the net to spark jubilant scenes from the visitors. The goal turned out to be pretty much the last kick of the game, and the whistle signalled Eagle Sports’ progression into the next round where they’ll travel to Crewe FC. It was slightly harsh on United, but, on the day, someone had to lose & whoever it was were going to feel unfortunate. It was a dramatic ending to a keenly contested cup tie. Well done to both sides.
After the game, I returned to the clubhouse and, with a second Kopparberg in hand, watched as the minutes ticked down around the country via Robbie Savage & pals. The Eagle players who, you may have noticed, I’ve had previous meetings and encounters with(!) made their way in & were rather impressed with the facilities & food that was laid on for them. I also got a lift back up to the station off Maher (thanks mate!), though I was almost kidnapped and held to ransom for Man of the Match awards! After a 40-minute wait, at a now sunbathed Sandbach station, I boarded the train back to Piccadilly and onwards to Oxford Road where I got to the train as it pulled out B***ard!! Cue an hours wait, just what everyone wants, and a lottery for a Southport bound train, which was announced at Platforms 5,4,3,then 5 again! Surely people missed it. My connection was, eventually, more straightforward!
A good day at a great club & a lovely ground. This is definitely one of those who join my list of planned returns in the near future!
My Sandbach United M.o.M.- “Cariem”.
My Eagle Sports M.o.M.- Danny Nixon.
Game: 7- Pretty entertaining, though the ending helps the overall rating. Drama at its highest!
Ground: 7- Quite picturesque & rural, a nice setting and great facilities for an “amateur” club.
Programme: 7- Full colour, a fair amount of original content (more than many semi-pro’s) & no pointless info.
Food: N/A (Forgot to buy some at Half-Time…)
Fans: 10- I’ll count the officials in this, and they were great. Superb club.
Value For Money: 8- Cheapish travel, low entry fee (free programme) & good ground.
Referee: 6- Wasn’t bad himself, the assistants (more the guy on clubhouse side) left a lot to be desired.