Venue: Victoria Park (Monday 6th April 2015, 3.00pm)
The third of the trio of Easter games saw me once again pull out the box of destiny. In went the teams, and after 42 teams had been drawn, it was down to two. Burscough & Marine. Two clubs from Liverpool (just about) to fight to host a Mancunian groundhopper. I bet they preferred if the fight was to keep me away. In any event, Burscough was the last team in and it was the Linnets whom I was off to visit at Victoria Park on Easter Monday.
Having once again set off to Manchester Oxford Road, I was quickly on board the train direct to Burscough Bridge station. After passing through Salford, Atherton, Wigan, et al, I pulled into the town’s main station at just after 1pm. It was a rather dreary, overcast day, so I sought out a pub to waste away some time in. Luckily, the Bridge pub sits right next to the station, so this would do me.
I was pleased to see pictures of MotoGP and Formula 1 feature on the walls of the pub as I walked in, and was quickly greeted/examined (delete as applicable) by one of the dogs in situ there. I paid my dues for a Corona and took a seat to watch the Watford vs Middlesbrough top of the table clash in the Championship. After nothing of note really happened, I finished off my bottle, watched the last remnants of he game before heading out on the 3 minute stroll to Victoria Park, reached by circumnavigating a large TESCO’s which blots the immediate landscape of the ground somewhat. Not to be dissuaded, I entered the very slimline turnstile, which a lady in front of me commented on to say “You have to be slim to fit through here don’t you?!” No chance, then, for the person who once searched “Can fat people fit through the turnstiles at Altrincham FC?” prior to last season’s play-off Final!
As for me, I paid my student discounted fare of £4 and entered inside. Then, I noted something strange. There appeared to be no programmes anywhere in sight. I enquired to their whereabouts, only to be informed that ….”the guy who usually sorts them out is away and the one who should have picked them up has forgotten.” I also heard it observed by someone that the forthcoming fine is probably more beneficial than losing money on printing costs. That is a very sad observation isn’t it?! Hopefully there’s a cheaper supplier out there?!
Anyway, onto Victoria Park itself. It’s an old ground, as is outlined by the centenary banner in the far corner. It features an old-style raised seating main stand, with tunnel and dressing rooms underneath. Opposite is a newer, modern covered terrace, flanked by the Baron’s club, which serves as clubhouse, with the far end goal being accompanied by an older covered terrace. The turnstile end hosts hard standing, club shop and food hut in the corner alongside the Main Stand. I will have more on the Food later on in the piece. Actually, I’ll get it out of the way now. The programmes I can forgive as an Easter oversight. Ok, mistakes happen. But to run out of food at either just before or right on half-time isn’t great at all. In fact, it’s not good enough at this level of football. I don’t wish to be harsh, but this has to be better. Again, perhaps this is an Easter problem and it can happen, but still should have been foreseen if so. Ok, don’t last the whole game, but surely a crowd of 214 doesn’t warrant such a quick sell out? With that out of the way, let’s explore the history of the Linnets…
An original Burscough FC was formed in 1880 lasting 20 years in the Liverpool & District League before folding at the turn of the last century. 5 years later, Burscough Rangers formed and moved to the present site on Mart Lane in 1908. They won the Liverpool Combination three times during the 1920’s and bought a grandstand from Everton FC, erecting it on Victoria Park. However, success soon stalled, the club failed financially and folded in 1935, whilst competing in the Lancashire Combination.
Following WWII, the present Burscough was founded in 1946, starting life in the Liverpool Combination. In 1947-’48, they won a treble of Lancashire Junior Cup, George Mahon Cup & Liverpool Challenge Cup. Two years later, the club regained the Junior Cup and also won the Combination for the first time. In 1952, a second Liverpool Challenge Cup followed. In 1953, the club joined the Lancashire Combination, immediately winning the 2nd Division. Two seasons later, they won the First Division and reached the First Round of the FA Cup in 1959. The club won a third Junior Cup in 1967 before completing the decade with a second Lancashire Combination First Division Title in 1970.
The 1970’s saw the club join the Cheshire County League upon their previous title win, finishing as runners-up to Rossendale United. The following season featured a Liverpool Non-League Senior Cup win, followed by the 1975 Cheshire League Cup. In addition, the club reached the First Round of the FA Cup on three more occasions. 1981 saw Burscough become founder members of the North West Counties League (NWCFL), and won the first ever title competed for. A new grandstand replaced the 60-year-old one in 1986, but the club were relegated in Division Two in 1990.
1991-’92 saw the club promoted back to Division 1 before the Linnets also lifted the 1994 NWCFL Challenge Cup. The club also added a further covered terrace to the ground for the ’95-’96 season and this season saw Burscough win the NWCFL Challenge Cup again and added the League vs Cup Winners Trophy to this, both were achieved with victories over Flixton. In 1998, the club finished runners-up in the Counties to earn promotion to the Unibond League NPL Division 1. They finished off a superb season by adding the League Floodlit Trophy.
In 1999-’00 the Linnets were promoted to the NPL Premier Division after losing only twice all season but only as runners-up. The following season saw the club achieve their first Liverpool Senior Cup. Shaun Teale then took the reigns in 2002 and took the club to its highest honour to date, the FA Trophy via a 2-1 win over Tamworth as massive underdogs. Teale, though, was sacked just six weeks afterwards! After a 2004 play-off defeat, the club were denied a place in them the following year as the League awarded all clubs three points per game for those not yet played against Spennymoor United who’d folded. In 2006, the club reached the FA Cup 2nd Round after beating Gillingham 3-2 at Victoria Park, before eventually bowing out to Burton Albion. The following season, they won the Premier Division of the NPL and won their first Lancashire Junior Cup for 40 years. A last day win over Telford secured the league title over their opponents to achieve the win on a goal difference of one. They added the Peter Swales Shield to these successes by beating First Division Champs Buxton.
They lasted two seasons in the Conference North, before dropping back to the NPL in 2009. The following year, they were reprieved a second straight relegation as Ilkeston Town went bump, but this only was a short reprieve as they eventually dropped to the Division 1 North in 2012. Here they remain, finishing last season in 14th place.
Back to the game in hand now though, and it was play-off chasing Bamber Bridge who got off to a flyer. They were all over the hosts in the early stages, having a goal wrongly ruled out before they did break the deadlock through striker Darren Green who, wearing number 3, converted from close range just a minute after the disallowed strike via the inside of the post.
Paul McKenna, the ex-Preston North End man was having an influence in midfield, having already got an assist and he continued to cause problems for the Burscough defence and create opportunities for the three pronged attack. Ali Waddecar, the star man at Brig was largely nullified, though and as Burscough began to settle, they looked more and more dangerous and eventually they levelled. A quick free-kick was played into Mark Beesley who turned on a dime and fired low into the net past Lee Dovey. A fine goal, 1-1 and that’s how it remained until the break.
Half-time saw the food issue, so I ended up plumping for a tomato soup for 50p, which is rather cheap I have to say and kept me sufficiently warm as Burscough remained blanketed under clouds as the rest of the region enjoyed the sun. As I walked round to the far side terrace from my first half vantage point of the Main Stand, I noticed a prone floodlight on the ground and I vaguely remember something about one collapsing at some time? I may be wrong, but still not something you see every day.
The second half was soon back underway, but nothing of note really happened, though the referee did his best to keep everyone entertained in a good natured way, by answering the crowd with humour and explaining decisions. Though he may have been a little too lenient at times, the fact that he refereed in a relaxed manner kept everyone on the pitch in a decent mood, with little backchat. I think the only time I heard any was right at the end for a disputed throw-in. So, well done to the ref.
Full-Time, and 1-a-piece was a fair reflection of the game. Brig had the better of the chances, but Burscough’s stubborn defensive work earned a point. A stroll back to the station was all that was needed, and after a short wait, I was on the way back into Manchester. Unbelievably, I got back on time, meaning I had just a two minute wait for my connecting train home, 2 MINUTES! Also, I didn’t get lost once over Easter, that must be some sort of record for me! Sadly, the games weren’t the most entertaining, neither was the quality all that great, but two new grounds and one that may not be long for this realm keeps me quite happy with my work. Eggs-ellent. Sorry….
My Burscough M.o.M.- Mark Beesley.
My Bamber Bridge M.o.M.- Paul McKenna.
Game: 6- Far from the worst, but didn’t build on a good start.
Ground: 7- One that I like a lot, an old-fashioned type of venue.
Fans: 6- No comments really, though they were friendly.
Food: 1- Bog standard soup doesn’t really count.
Value For Money: 7- Cheap travel & entry £10, plus £4.50 refreshments.