Result: Altrincham 1-0 Macclesfield Town (FA Carlsberg Trophy First Round)
Venue: The J Davidson Stadium (Moss Lane) (Saturday 13th December 2014, 3.00pm)
As soon as the draw for the FA Trophy’s first “proper round” had been made and the balls pulled out of the bowl at HQ, one game stood out for me, and made my decision for which FA Trophy tie to attend all the easier. Altrincham had been drawn out at home to their fierce rivals, Macclesfield Town, in what was to be their second meeting this season, following on from the league fixture, also at J Davidson Stadium, which was settled by James Lawrie’s late, late strike to secure the hosts a vital 1-0 win.
This game was to feature many parallels with that previous clash, and as I set off towards Altrincham on the 245, Arriva, service. On arrival at the shiny, new Altrincham Interchange, the transport hub of the town, I hopped off whereupon I could hear singing coming from somewhere nearby. I had already chosen my first stop, The Station Hotel, which stands opposite the Interchange. As I opened the door, I was hit with the same wall of noise, which quickly became apparent was being made by a rowdy bunch of Silkmen followers, though their cause wasn’t helped by the “Frozen” shopping bag on the floor.
Having ordered a pint of Strongbow (just £2), I remained near them to listen to their array of songs, including honouring Matthew Tipton, manager John Askey and just what they thought of Alty as well as a few songs about past events…
After a while, they made their move and headed for the ground, so I remained in there as the fallout began amongst the Alty residents. With 30 minutes remaining until the stroke of three-o’clock and kick-off, I decided to undertake the short walk, 10 minutes or so, to Moss Lane. To do so, you head up a small alley at the bus station, over the bridge, past the Tesco & Ice Rink, home of the Manchester Phoenix Ice Hockey Team, and down Moss Lane itself. Soon enough, the ground looms into view with a turnstile immediately awaiting you. It was here that I parted with £14 for the terraced areas, and entered inside.
It’s a wonder it has taken me so long to do a blog on the Robins, considering how I’ve been a rather regular visitor to their ground. This should have been done on the play-off final (vs Guiseley) that resulted in their promotion via Greg Wilkinson’s last-gasp strike, with his first touch. So much for being a specialist penalty taker!!
After a further £2.50 was relieved from my wallet as I purchased my copy of “Robins Review”, which is always a good read, and well worth the price. From here, I made my way in front of the covered standing terrace which runs the length of the goal-end that you enter behind, if you come in by this turnstile. It was here that a wayward warm-up shot hit a step in front of me and rebounded towards me. Once I had the ball under control, I looked up to see the legendary Efe Sodje, who competed for Nigeria in the 2002 World Cup awaiting the return of said ball. It’s the first time I can think of that this has happened! What a start to the day!
I continued to the far side of the ground, where the fairly strange looking covered terrace runs the vast majority of the pitch. It’s strange looking, as its roof goes up and down, due to the TV gantry being housed in the middle of it, where the cameras and radio press are housed. Opposite this is the Main Stand, all seated and covered and, to the left, the Family Stand, which is a small covered seating area which also houses hospitality areas. To the left is the brand new Community Sports Hall, which will be open by time of publish. Behind the far end goal is the “Carole Nash Terrace” which is usually employed as the visiting area, and today was no different. So, now seems like the best time, as usual, to delve into the history of Altrincham F.C.
Formed in 1891, Altrincham Football Club have gone on to be one of the most successful non-league clubs of all-time and, arguably, the most successful never to play League Football.
They competed, with little in terms of success, in the Cheshire League for the vast majority of their early existence until the 1960’s when Jackie Swindells somehow managed to net 82 goals in 63 games to take Altrincham to their first title in 1966 which was followed by a successful defence the next season. In 1968, Altrincham joined the Northern Premier League (NPL) as founder members.
After 11 seasons, the Robins joined the new Alliance Premier League (now Conference), winning the first two titles. Despite this, due to the election system then employed by the Football League, the club failed to reach that level and, to date, never have.
In 1985-’86, Altrincham reached the 4th Round of the FA Cup, the furthest they’ve progressed in the competition. They have had many other cup runs and have earned a reputation as famed “giant-killers” throughout the country along with their conquerors this season, Blyth Spartans.
In 1997, Alty were relegated to the NPL, the first time in their history they dropped out of the “top-flight” league. They began somewhat of a yo-yo existence, winning the title two years later, only to last a single season back in the Conference before returning to the Unibond League. In the meantime, the club achieved a required position to be placed in the new “regionalised” Conference leagues. As such, it took Alty a further five years to once again achieve promotion from their relegation, which they achieved via the play-offs when they defeated Southern side Eastbourne Borough in the North vs South final.
From here is where Altrincham’s somewhat legendary reprieves kicked in. After being reprieved from relegation three times in as many seasons as other teams faltered and folded, the club were awarded a fourth straight reprieve in farcical circumstances. The Robins finished 18th, out of the drop zone, but it was discovered that an ineligible player had “earned them” 18 points. As a result, they were deducted that amount and thus relegated.
This wasn’t the end of the story, though, as Canvey Island resigned and Scarborough F.C. folded to ensure Altrincham remained a Conference side once again! The next two seasons saw on-field improvement with the club posting respectable mid-table finishes, before the struggles returned and they were finally relegated at the end of the 2010-11 season, which had cost long-term boss Graham Heathcote his job. Had Altrincham finished one place above their 22nd position, they would have again been reprieved due to the demise of Rushden & Diamonds. But, it was finally the time for the dreaded drop door to claim them.
**Interesting trivia. Former Australian cricket captain, the legendary Ricky Ponting, became a major shareholder of the club, having become good friends with then-chairman Geoff Goodwin whose coach firm,
Go-Goodwins, has the contract to transport the ECB and the tourist teams during the English summer.**
Alliance Premier League Champions: 1979–80, 1980–81
Conference North: North/South playoff winners: 2004–05
Promotion Final winners: 2013–14
Northern Premier League Champions: 1998–99
Cheshire County League Champions: 1965–66, 1966–67
Manchester League Winners: 1904–05, 1906–07
FA Trophy Winners: 1977–78, 1985–86
Northern Premier League Challenge Shield Winners: 1979–80
Northern Premier League Challenge Cup Winners: 1969–70, 1997–98
Cheshire Amateur Cup Winners: 1903–04
Cheshire Senior Cup Winners: 1904–05, 1933–34, 1966–67, 1981–82, 1998–99, 2004–05, 2008–09
Bob Lord Trophy Winners: 1980–81
Cheshire League Cup Winners: 1932–33, 1950–51, 1963–64.
Onto today’s game now, and it began with a bang. On just two minutes Alty won the ball in the midfield and quickly worked the ball into Damian Reeves. Reeves, who is as deadly a marksman as you’ll find, turned on a penny, ran through the Macc Town defence and fired high into the roof of Richie Branagan’s net. 1-0.
It promised much to warm the cockles on a chilly day. Alas, there was very little in terms of goalmouth action for the remainder of the half, with only Ryan Crowther spurning two decent positions, before being forced off with an apparent hamstring issue. Macc began to come into the game after the opening half-hour, but despite Arthur Gnahouha looking relatively dangerous, they rarely threatened Dave Parton in the home goal, although he did make a fantastic claim of a long ball into his area.
At half-time I headed for some food at the food bar located just to the left of the turnstile I entered by. I envisaged that the food would get me through half-time, but in fact it was the queuing that did. I think this is an issue that perhaps will be addressed in the future, as I think the ground could do with one more refreshment area, as it struggled horribly to cope in the play-off final, and clearly demand is high. Obviously, it all comes down to cost but I think it could help, though I would think the new clubhouse/community hall will ease the strain a fair amount. The current bar, under the main stand will probably become surplus to requirements now, I presume?
Second half, and with chips and gravy (which is wonderful as usual) being devoured, the game again remained cagey and rather devoid of overall innovation to light up the event. Macc were to be dealt a huge blow to their chances when sub Danny Whitaker, who had been on the field for no more than 15 minutes, was given his marching orders for denying a goal-scoring opportunity. Or, in lay-man’s terms, the last man. I have since seen it back and agree with a Silkmen fan’s comment I heard on my way out of the ground “It was a shocking decision. He was never the last man!”. It really was a bad call, but you only get one chance to call it as a ref, but it ought to have only been a yellow.
Down to 10, Macc gave it a go but still struggled to create and were almost killed off when Tom Marshall’s innovative effort smacked the bar, following a left wing corner. Macc applied late pressure, with sub Matthew Barnes-Homer giving some decent forward momentum to their play but despite getting into decent positions, a combination of good defending & poor finishing ensured Alty’s progression to the next round (Kidderminster Harriers away). In fact Parton, in the Robins goal, didn’t have a gave to make all game as Town failed to muster an effort on target.
So, with the home fans going home happy, I headed to the neighbouring King George pub, which had “Soccer Saturday” on and a small dog roaming around the bar area. After nursing a Kopparberg for half an hour and watching the early stages of Arsenal vs Newcastle, I made my way back towards Altrincham Town Centre and past the away end, which I’d previously neglected to see from the outside. Sad I know.
So, my day came to an end back at where it had begun, he interchange, which is rather more brighter and smarter than its predecessor. Another thoroughly enjoyable day at a great club I always enjoy watching. Thanks to them and their staff for their friendly service and, of course, it won’t be ling until I am back.
My Altrincham M.o.M.- Sean Williams
My Macclesfield Town M.o.M.- Scott Barrow
Game: 5- It was a dull affair for the neutral.
Ground: 7- A ground I always like, pitch immaculate too.
Programme: 8- A good read, as I said earlier. Well worth a purchase.
Fans: 8- Always vocal, and get behind their side at the moment. Though I’ve only ever seen them lose once (at Barnet).
Food: 9- Always good food at Alty, well worth getting some. Chips & gravy was £2.50 for a decent portion.
Value For Money: 6- Just on the basis the game was rather poor.
Referee: 5- Terrible decision for the red card.