Result: Maine Road 1-0 1874 Northwich (North West Counties Premier Division)
Venue: Brantingham Road (Saturday 3rd January 2015, 2.00pm)
Another wet day of football beckoned for me as I began the short trip into Chorlton-cum-Hardy for the first weekend game of the year. Maine Road’s Brantingham Road, or St.Margaret’s Playing Fields, was my destination for today as they entertained the high flying 1874 Northwich.
Maine Road, who’ve, without wishing to be disrespectful in any way, overachieved in the last few seasons in challenging in the upper echelons of the table with a largely young side, have descended into the mid-table as they lost a number of players to the likes of Glossop North End & today’s hosts alike, but the players who’ve stepped into the first team are getting to grips with the demands of the league well now.
So, I stepped off the 23 bus in the middle of Chorlton Cross, which isn’t far at all from the town’s other club, West Didsbury & Chorlton. I decided, with around an hour and a half to kick-off, that I would shelter from the rain in the Royal Oak pub. Once inside the large, whitewashed building, I made my way to the bar and then to the TV, which was just about to show the Edinburgh derby, Hearts vs Hibs. So, I settled in, with Strongbow in tow, to watch the feisty clash.
By the time I had exited the establishment around an hour later, the weather had improved and was beginning to brighten up ahead of today’s game, which was a 2pm kick-off (due to lighting issues). Anyway, despite the ground looking as though it is just down the road, it is in fact a fair bit longer, as you have to half-circumnavigate the ground to get to the entrance. So, I chose to grab the 85 to drop me off at the Sikh Temple, which serves as a landmark for the ground’s location.
5 minutes later and I was arriving at the ground, where you are left in no doubts you are at the right place with a large board stating “St. Margaret’s Church Playing Fields, The home of Maine Road FC”. Walk past this and a disused 5-a-side cage and you arrive at the turnstiles where I handed over my admittance money, the standard £5 and a further £1.50 for the programme. “You’ve come prepared!” was the response when I could give the exact monetary value owed. (Badges are usually available on turnstile).
Now inside, I was meeting with Dan Watkinson, who lives close by, so Maine Road now serve as his “local team”. As a result, he is now a regular down at their games. He was situated on half-way in the long, small covered stand that runs almost the full length of the far touchline. Inside it are benches that serve as seats and it was here that most of the large travelling contingent from 1874 had decided on watching the game from. Opposite this is a small covered terrace on the other touchline, which was as full as I’ve ever seen in all my trips to Road before. Then there is the Sunday Pink stand. Sadly, both stand & paper don’t exist any more, but the remnants are still there to the left of the surviving terrace & two dugouts. Behind both goals is open, the near end, behind which you enter the ground is a small open terrace, the far end is open, with hard standing and a large grassy area running towards the houses bordering the ground. The clubhouse/dressing rooms are set back from the pitch and reached by either tunnel or adjoining pathway. Brantingham Road has a capacity of around 2,000 with 200 seated in the “Main Stand”.
With the teams already on the pitch and the coin toss taking place, now seems as good a time as any to have a look at the history of the club known simply as “Road”.
Formed in 1955 as City Supporters Rusholme as a Sunday League side, it wasn’t until the late sixties when the club played in the Manchester Amateur Sunday League and now based at Maine Road Social Club hence the name change to Maine Road FC.
After some success in the Sunday Leagues, the club were prompted to switch to Saturday football & the Manchester League. The club immediately won a stack of honours, a treble of Manchester Amateur Cup Manchester League Division 2 and Murray Shield arriving in their first season of competing in Saturday football. The division 2 title and Murray Shield were defended the following season before a pair of Manchester Intermediate Cups were lifted in 1975-’76 & ’76-’77. The Manchester Challenge Cup was added to the trophy cabinet in 1983, before the club finally settled on a home at Brantingham Road following a nomadic existence.
The club lifted four consecutive Manchester Leagues between 1983 &’86 as well as cup success in the Gilgryst Cup, Manchester League Open Trophy and Manchester Challenge cup. The Challenge Cup was successfully defended in 1987 along with the Open Trophy before the Manchester County FA’s new complex was built at Brantingham Road enabling Road to enter the North West Counties, a long standing ambition.
After achieving a cup win at the end of their first season at Counties level, the Manchester Premier Cup, to ensure Road became the first club ever to win all five County Cups. The remains a unique achievement. Road finished as NWCFL Division 2 runners-up the following season. After being denied promotion due to ground grading, these requirements were filled and the club won the Division the following season to be promoted to Division 1.
This was the end of silverware for a long period for Road, and they were relegated back to Division 2 in 2001, the first, and so far last, time they have been. They returned to the top flight in 2004, after finishing third, and they won the North West Counties League Challenge Cup in 2008 under Ian Walker. The combined management of Chris Thomas & John Morrey oversaw the recent upturn in League form for Road, including the club finishing runners-up last season, before Lee Bennett was installed following the pair’s departure at the end of last season. He didn’t last too long, however, and Derek Barber, long time manager in the late 80’s-90’s, was installed as Caretaker Manager with Road beginning to pick up results once again.
Now sat alongside Dan in the Main Stand, the game was underway. It was Northwich who made the early play with Road ‘keeper Ryan Livesey keeping out a well struck free-kick. It was a sign of things to come from Livesey later in the piece. However, Northwich were granted a great opportunity to open the scoring when a rash challenge by a Road centre-back on 1874’s Stuart Wellstead gave ex-Maine Road skipper Neil Chappell the chance to net against his former club. But he couldn’t do it, as he blazed over from 12 yards.
Road seized their chance and made Northwich pay for Chappell’s error. Just four minutes later, the ever impressive Connor Hughes rifled into the top corner from just outside the area, leaving ’74 custodian Matt Conkie rooted to the spot. It was a fantastic strike. 1-0.
Northwich continued to have the better of the play for the remainder of the half, hitting the woodwork direct from a corner, but were unable to break down the Road defence, so the score remained at 1-0 at the break. I headed for the clubhouse and the indoor food hut, where I bought some Chicken Curry for £1.50. It’s well worth getting too. What I did recognise, though, is that Maine Road’s clubhouse must be the only one within a rather large radius to feature church pews as seating inside a clubhouse. Anyone else seen anything as such before?
After finishing the curry, Dan and myself headed back outside for the Second Half, but first we had to pay our respects to the departed Sunday Pink Stand. A moment of silence, please. Sad times.
Back to the football now, and stood behind the goal Northwich were attacking this second half on the open terrace, and we had a great view of the award of the second penalty, when Livesey was adjudged to have brought down a Northwich forward, and the referee had no hesitation in, correctly in our opinion, pointing to the spot. This time it was Mike Duckworth who stepped up, could he break the Northwich penalty hoodoo?
NO! 4 missed in two games! Livesey dived to his right to palm away the spot kick, which had also seen Road down to ten-men as Mike Shenton received his marching orders after continuing to be wound up by some crafty sportsmanship!
Northwich were pressing desperately now and Steve Foster thought he’d equalised in the 89th minute, only for his strike to be ruled out, correctly, for handball, before Livesey again came to Road’s rescue by superbly palming away a fierce shot right at the death. The corner came to nothing as the Road ‘keeper claimed, as the ref blew up (not literally) to signal a big three points for the hosts and a huge dent in Northwich’s already thin title hopes.
After a quick chat with Stuart Wellstead, whom I know from Eagle Sports & bidding goodbye to both him & Dan, it was straight home after the game with the weather as it was, so not much to write about here, you’ll be pleased to know. Still, it was a good day at a good club who are always worth a visit if you are in the area. The club play the right way and give young, local players the chance to enter into a good level, and with their Man City links and results over the last few seasons, they’ve begun to add support. And flags, I noticed. They must follow the road….
My Maine Road M.o.M.- Ryan Livesey.
My 1874 Northwich M.o.M.- Daley Woods.
Game: 6- Nothing particularly special, but entertaining enough.
Ground: 5- Simple, good playing surface.
Programme: 6- For the most part, it’s a standard issue. No manager’s piece or original content. Lots of reports though.
Fans: 6- No particular reason behind this rating.
Food: 7- Not bad, all the better as it was cheap!
Value For Money: 8- £4 fare, £5 in and £1.50 programme.- Cheap day out.