Manchopper in….Runcorn (Runcorn Town)

150px-Norton-United-Logo

Result: Runcorn Town 2-5 Norton United (FA Cup with Budweiser 3rd Qualifying Round)
Venue: Pavilions (Saturday 11th October 2014, 3.00pm)
Att: 215

A new weekend, an old competition. It was the return of the FA Cup “Qualifying” Rounds, and having previously announced to Runcorn player Mark Keddie that I would be at their next Cup tie (after Town’s superb 1-0 win at Conference side Barrow), when I saw they had been drawn at home to Evo-Stik South side, the newly-promoted, Norton United on the Monday after, my mind was made up. Pavilions it was!
Having played each other over the past couple of seasons as rivals in the North West Counties League (from where Norton progressed last season), the sides were rather familiar with each other. And further incentive for a cracking cup tie was provided by the opportunity for one of these two sides to have a real opportunity to make the First Round “Proper” and, who knows, perhaps a televised clash?!

So, after dragging myself out of my house at just before 1pm on Saturday afternoon, I made my way to Urmston Station for the train onwards to Liverpool South Parkway for the connection onwards to Runcorn itself. A little interesting non-league connection for you: Did you know that South Parkway Station stands on the site of Holly Park, formerly home to South Liverpool FC in their glory days? This was also the ground where the first game in the UK was played under ‘permanent’ floodlights in September 1949 with “South” entertaining a touring Nigeria side, who competed barefoot and drew 2-2! The great Hungarian Ferenc Puskas also took to the field at this lost ground, so next time you transit through South Parkway, just think, you are treading the same steps as Puskas did almost 50 years previous… (Look into the story of how it came about, it’s truly wonderful!)
After pondering this thought and how I was to include it in my blog somewhere on the trip to Merseyside, I hopped off one train and a short walk to the neighbouring platform was all that was required. That is until the platforms were changed and the waiting passengers were forced to trudge up the steps and over to Platform 1, the other side of the tracks…
No harm done, however, and after five minutes I was on-board a London Midland service headed for Birmingham. My destination was somewhat closer, in fact, the first stop of the journey. So, with the painted cows on the platform greeting me, I entered Runcorn and made my way through the glorious sights of the industrial estate that neighbours the ground, Pavilions itself, being a gem within bleak surroundings.

Runcorn Town FC

Runcorn Town FC

But, knowing what awaited me at the end of my journey, I trudged on, Captain Scott-like, over the Expressway and past the factory that dominates the immediate area. After a fair while, and a full circuit of the ground, I arrived at the long drive leading back to the ground(s). Grounds meaning the, sadly, now derelict former home of Runcorn Albion that sits next to the main club. On my last visit, two years earlier, the ground was still in use, and, indeed I saw a bit of a match on there. Alas, the ground lay silent, overgrown and sullen as it faded away, its sole stand showing the neglect it was being afforded. It’s almost enough to bring a tear to your eye isn’t it?

The old Runcorn Albion ground.

The old Runcorn Albion ground.

Not that this has any connection to Runcorn Town, I stress, so I made my way past the large Pavilions social club and to the turnstiles, where I paid my £5 entrance fee (bargain). I had already made sure of reserving myself a programme via the wonderfully helpful Runcorn Town twitter account, and this seemed a shrewd move as they appeared to have all gone. I was told to head towards the tea hut known as “Here’s The Tea Hut” (I can’t help but see the connection with Runcorn regular and quality blogger Uwdi Krugg’s “Where’s The Tea Hut” blog!)

Can you spot the Tea Hut?

Can you spot the Tea Hut?

I made my way to said tea hut, and enquired to whether my programme was indeed there. “George, is it?” I was asked and, having answered to the affirmative, I was handed my programme for the standard £1.50. It’s not a bad read, and worth picking one up.
Anyway, no sooner had I got the bible in hand, than the players were making their way into the coliseum to do battle for the Emperor (or Greg Dyke’s Cup competition, if you prefer), so before the all-action contest gets underway in my memory, now seems a good time to delve into the history books of Runcorn Town FC.

History Lesson:
Only founded in 1967 (as CKD), the club began life as a Sunday League side in the Runcorn Sunday League. They changed their name to Mond FC. Here they remained until 1974, when the club tried their hand at Saturday football instead…
Having been accepted into the Warrington & District League (WDL) for the ’74/’75, Mond merged with ICI Weston to become Mond Rangers. They remained in the WDL until 1984, when they were elected to join the West Cheshire League Division 2, and the club established a reserve outfit in the league they’d just departed.
Mond Rangers were a mid-table side during their early years in the West Cheshire League, and it took them until 1992 to win their first silverware, the West Cheshire Bowl. The following season they were losing finalists in the Bowl, but regained it a season later.
1994-’95 saw promotion attained via a runners-up spot, and the club also reached the Final of the Cheshire Amateur Cup, but lost out to Poulton Victoria at Prenton Park. The club struggled for the most part during their tenure in Division One, and were relegated in 2002.
2004-’05 saw Rangers bounce back, with promotion attained once again, as well as silverware being lifted in the shape of the Runcorn Senior Cup, and a further final appearance in the Bowl.
2005-’06 and the club changed its name to the Runcorn Town and the club set its focus at joining the North West Counties League (NWCFL). But, these targets were dealt a blow as the club were relegated at the end of that same season but, happily, this was only a blip as the club bounced back immediately as Division 2 champions. 2007-’08 was the most successful in the club’s history. Town won the Runcorn Cup, were runners-up in the Pike Cup and finished third in the Division 1.
In June 2010, and with floodlights now installed a their Pavilions home, the club applied to join the NWCFL, and received approval from both the league and the FA for this step to be taken, and joined for the following season, playing in Division 2. They won their first “semi-pro” game 5-1 (vs Abbey Hey) before going on to finish as runners-up and achieve promotion at the first attempt. The club also achieved an impressive 2 defeats from their 34 league games (including a run of 25 games unbeaten).
During their first season in the Premier Division, the club finished an impressive runners-up, behind eventual winners, Ramsbottom United and took part in the FA Cup for the first time, winning their first game, a home tie against Brighouse Town from the Northern Counties East League, before bowing out to Trafford, who went on to be promoted from the Evo-Stik 1st Division (the last game I attended here!). Last season, Town achieved a highly respectable fifth placed finish in the NWCFL Premier Division, with today’s visitors, Norton United, going on to win the title and promotion.
Honours:
1x NWCFL Premier Division Runners-Up (2011-’12)
1x NWCFL Division One Runners-Up (2010-’11)
1x West Cheshire League Title (2006-’07)
2x West Cheshire Bowls (1991-’92, 1993-’94)
3x Bill Weight Memorial Trophies (1995-’96, 2005-’06, 2007-’08)
3x Runcorn Senior Cups (2004-’05, 2005-’06, 2007-’08)

Back onto today’s contest, and with drizzle now falling as the coin toss took place, I decided to get my ground look around thing done quickly. Pavilions features five stands. Sort of. Four are covered terraces and one is a seated main stand straddling the half-way area. You enter the ground behind the near goal, with the Tea-Hut and neighbouring covered standing area and Main Stand on the left touchline. To the right stands one small covered standing area towards the far end goal, another behind the dugouts on or around halfway, and there’s a sneaky one just to the right of the hospitality/dressing room areas to the right of the other stands as you look. I’ve no idea why it’s there, it just is and, just for novelty value, I had to stand in it. This was made all the better by the first goal of the afternoon arriving while I was in there. In the second minute, the Runcorn left-back whipped in a free-kick towards the back post, where Norton defender Niall Green tried to deal with it, couldn’t, got the ball trapped under his feet and poked it into his own net. Horror for him. Glee for the home side. Was the fairytale to continue?

Two of Pavilion's stands & dressing rooms, seen from the Main Stand

Two of Pavilion’s stands & dressing rooms, seen from the Main Stand

The near end, with fifth "stand" right in the corner.

The near end, with fifth “stand” right in the corner.

Well, Norton seemed spurred on by this early setback and took the initiative, forcing Runcorn goalkeeper Stuart Plant into a couple of top drawer saves before he was eventually beaten. Norton’s #8, Kyle Diskin, picked the ball up 20 yards out, after a free-kick had rebounded to him after some desperate defending and expertly curled the ball into the top right-hand corner of Plant’s goal, leaving the ‘keeper rooted to the spot, helpless.
One-a-piece, and Norton continued their onslaught towards the Town goal, with Plant pulling off a string of tremendous saves to keep his side in the contest, none more so than a brilliant one handed save from a free-kick that looked destined for the top corner all day long. Unfortunately for him, it looked only a matter of time until Norton doubled their advantage, and the Stoke-based side did just that seven minutes before the break when Lee Cropper netted a real poachers goal arriving at the back post to touch home after great persistence by his strike partner to set him up.
2-1 at the break then, and I had already purchased some chips and gravy for £1.50, which were okay. Knowing from my previous visit that trying to run back to the Pavilions bar was somewhat futile during the half-time interval, I remained in the intermittent drizzle and awaited the players impending return.
It came soon enough. I took my seat in the Main Stand, with seats bearing plaques after seemingly being purchased with help from Burnley, Aston Villa and Preston(?) (not sure about the last one).

Progression was  the treasure at the end of the rainbow

Progression was the treasure at the end of the rainbow

With the rain falling harder and with both sides raring to go, it was the home side who began the brighter and were soon back on level terms as #3 Chris Lester ran clear of the visitors defence, before thumping past the Norton custodian, who was beaten for pace. 2-2.
Could Town stage another upset? At that stage, it looked on. But, it was Norton’s class that shone through, and especially their number nine, Cropper, though his second had more than an air of fortune about it. His whipped in free-kick from the right flank evaded all comers in the middle and nestled in the far bottom corner. 2-3.
But, the goal for Cropper’s hat-trick had no luck about it. It was pure quality. The ball was played into him, chest-high, on the edge of the box. The front man controlled the ball, turned on a dime, before rifling a volley into the top corner, unerringly, and celebrated like Alan Shearer in his heyday. It was certainly a goal the Geordie marksman would be proud of! WHAT A GOAL! 2-4, game over.
Game over, indeed, and this was even more the case when Runcorn’s Jack Webb was dismissed for dissent shortly before the end and Norton’s triumph was given added gloss in the 93rd minute, when a trip in the area presented the visitors skipper, Tom Fogg, with the chance to get his name on the score sheet. He duly delivered, though his penalty wasn’t the best, it was good enough to add a fifth and secure his side’s place in the 4th Qualifying Round draw (they eventually drew Shildon of the Northern League, who beat NPL Stourbridge via a replay, at home).

Sides doing battle

Sides doing battle

Main Stand & Tea Hut terrace with Virgin Atlantic Dreamliner flying over

Main Stand & Tea Hut terrace with Virgin Atlantic Dreamliner flying over

After the game, I headed over to Pavilions Club, paid £3-odd for a Kopparberg and stood outside, where I had a nice chat with a Runcorn fan named George (great name), who told me about his travels, his missing of the Barrow game (a rare missed game, apparently!) and his falling out with the pro game, and subsequent falling for the non-league style! After greeting both Keddie and Chris Lawton, whom I both know from their times at Trafford, I bid farewell to both George, who made his way home a little before me, and to both Mark and Chris, before also chatting to Lee Cropper who was stood near me outside, and who assured me it was definitely his hat-trick, as the second had been given, in some quarters, to the player in the middle, who would’ve been offside if he’d touched it. Fine margins!
So, I left Pavilions in the now bright and, surprisingly warm, sunlight up the hill leading back towards the station in the more picturesque direction towards Higher Runcorn, and with the sunshine setting behind the Runcorn bridge, it somewhat befitted the actions of the game. The sun setting on Runcorn’s cup dreams for another year, but leaving gold thoughts in the memory (as well as gold in the bank!).

The Pavilion's Club where I met George.

The Pavilion’s Club where I met George.

Runcorn Bridge from the hill

Runcorn Bridge from the hill

My Runcorn Town M.o.M.- Stuart Plant
My Norton United M.o.M.- Lee Cropper

RATINGS:
Game: 8- Entertaining cup tie, with both sides going for it. Slightly one-sided at times, but no less effort.
Ground: 7- A tidy ground, with lots of character to it. Like the small stand. Shame the far end is still unable to be opened.
Fans: 9- Really friendly fans, as are the people who volunteer. Everyone I came across was very welcoming and a credit to their club.
Programme: 7- A decent read, with a fair amount of original content in there to keep me interested.
Food: 6- The chips were okay, nothing I’d rave about, but nothing I’d pull down either.
Value For Money: 10- £5 for an FA Cup tie, under £10 travel £1.50 programme, £1.50 food and £1 for football card (club were so friendly, why not help them out a bit more I figured. They could’ve let me win though…:)
Referee: 7- Thought he had a pretty decent game on the whole. A couple of mistakes first half, but ok.

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