Result: Abbey Hey 3-2 Warrington Town (The FA Cup Preliminary Round)
Venue: The Abbey Stadium (Saturday 29th August 2015, 3pm)
THE FA CUP IS BACK!!!! Well, for me anyway. Best of all, you won’t here me mentioned any sort of sponsor’s name around here. The FA Cup with Budweiser was just about acceptable, but now….
With that out of the way, it’s back onto the day at hand and the game itself. To be honest, quite how I’d contrived not to have blogged Abbey Hey until this very day is something of an error. Hey has always been a club that I have found to be most welcoming, with ground improvements steadily going on, as well as on pitch performances growing over the past few seasons. So, when the Cup draw gave Hey a home tie against last season’s giant-killers, Warrington Town, who famously knocked out Exeter City at Cantilever Park, it was a no-brainer where I was headed. To The Abbey Stadium!
Come the day of the 29th of August, I was at Urmston Station ready to board the 12.20 service to Manchester. having renewed my Railcard for the next 12 months, therefore ensuring cheaper passage for the season, I was looking forward to “starting afresh” as it were. But, not if Northern Rail had anything to do with it. With the Manchester Pride festival on in the city centre, the midday service rocked up full. And, before long, there were passengers backed up to the doors, with me amongst those left stranded for at least a further half-hour. A 2-carriage train was to suffice? Not a chance. Poor and unsafe, in my view.
Eventually, I was on board the train an hour later, but the delay had unfortunately robbed me of the chance to visit the World Monuments Fund Watch List of 100 most Endangered Sites in the World-list (thanks Wikipedia) featured Church & Friary of St Francis, better known as Gorton Monastery. It shares the above list with places such as Pompeii, the Taj Mahal and the Valley of the Kings. Illustrious company! (thanks, again, Wikipedia!).
Eventually, I had transited through Manchester Oxford Road and Piccadilly and was passing by the monastery before disembarking at Ryder Brow station, which is about a five minute walk from Abbey Hey’s home. Walking straight on down the road, you come up upon the ground on your right, where you are met by a gate, which is manned by a few guys doing the usual jobs: taking money, marking down attendance and programme sales, the latter two within small hutches. The entrance is also the way into the ground for cars, which are parked around the clubhouse side and near-end goal, with one Merc looking decidedly in harm’s way!
Upon entry, the ground sits on a plateau like area, slightly raised above the road level. The brick-build clubhouse/dressing room structure sits on the half way line, joined by the two benches in front of it. Opposite, the only stand in the ground runs the majority of the touchline and is a mix of benched seating on two sides, sandwiching a standing area. Both ends are open, hard standing. With this set out and me arriving about a half-hour before kick-off, let’s delve into the history of the Hey.
Abbey Hey F.C. were formed in 1902, under the moniker of Abbey Hey W.M.C. During the periods of wartime, the club disbanded and reformed a number of times. The club started out in the Church Sunday Leagues before progressing up through the Manchester Amateur Leagues during the years between the conflicts, but the club really began to gain a foothold in the 1960’s upon taking players in from the Admiralty Gunning Engineering Dept. following its closure. They went on to win the 1964-65 Manchester Amateur League & two South East Lancs League titles (’66-’67 & ’68-’69) as well as the 1966 South East Lancs Shield and the Manchester United Memorial Cup. Hey also lifted three Manchester Amateur Cups in 1964-’65, ’67-’68 & ’68-’69.
In 1978, the club decided to apply for the Manchester League. Their application was successful and the following season, Hey began playing in the Manchester League Second Division, winning promotion in their first season at that level. Having achieved this, Hey had to find an enclosed ground to host the games at. Due to this, their home became St. Werburgh’s Road in Chorlton. After a deal with a local car company led to the club agreeing to install ground improvements, the company backtracked on the agreement, leading to Hey becoming homeless once again.
After a local councillor had donated land to the population of Abbey Hey, the club took the land as their home for the next 18 years. At this point, the club were informed that they were no longer able to use Godfrey’s, despite doing the ground up from a derelict state and being assured that as long as they were solvent, they would be able to use it. After a short stay at the old English Steel ground in the area, the club acquired the current Goredale Avenue site, with the aid of the council, who were going to make the land part of a compulsory purchase order. As such, the club’s offer was accepted.
After more success in the 80’s and 90’s, including five Manchester League Premier Division titles and a Gilgryst Cup, in 1997 the club applied for the North West Counties League, which was duly accepted for the 1998-’99 season. They immediately achieved promotion from the Second Division as runners-up and after installing floodlights and constructing the dressing rooms/clubhouse structure, they were all set for Division 1.
In 2010, the club were relegated from the Premier Division, as the 1st Division was now known, but did win the NWCFL Challenge Cup. After just three seasons, Hey were again promoted as runners-up, back to the Premier Division in 2013. last season, Abbey Hey finished up in 14th place in the Premier Division.
Back onto the day’s big FA Cup contest, now, and Hey were looking to giant-kill last year’s famed side, the yellows of Warrington Town. Both sides came out to a good ovation from the, relatively healthy, crowd in attendance down at the Abbey Stadium, including the vocal Warrington fans in the stand, who gave a rendition of most of their players’ songs. With their Swedish flag now joined by a Brazilian and Polish one, they definitely looked a colourful bunch and with the occasional blow of bubbles floating away from the area.
The game got underway, and it was the visiting Wire who had the better of the opening exchanges with Scott Metcalfe, who gained rave reviews for his performance in that game against Exeter on TV last season, proving an effective outlet for them, whipping in a number of dangerous deliveries, but to no avail. On my way around the ground during the first period, I bumped into Scott’s dad, Ray, whom I know well from Scott’s time at Trafford, back in the day. Always a pleasure to talk to him and good to see you again, if you do happen to see this!
As it was, Warrington looked rather slow up front, pumping balls up to the tall strike force, but Hey coped pretty well and then broke clear quickly. With Town light on the right side of the play, a ball was whipped in and #10, Sam Hind, converted a free header at the back post, before wheeling away in delight. 1-0, and an upset on the cards, perhaps?
Hey grew in confidence after their opener and began to look as though they may score again when, slightly against the run of play, Warrington grabbed an equaliser. A left wing corner was whipped in and skipper Craig Robinson, brother of MK Dons’ manager Karl and hero of the game against Exeter, glanced a header inside Hey ‘keeper Jonny McIlwaine’s left hand post. 1-1.
It looked as though it was two on the stroke of half time to the Wire, when McIlwaine appeared to drop the ball into his own net from another left wing corner. Despite there being no obvious foul to my, or indeed many other, eyes the referee decided he’d seen an infringement on the ‘keeper, much to the bemusement and anger of the Warrington players and management, including Shaun Reid, who stormed into the dugout to vent his frustration!
But, it was one-a-piece at the break and I headed upstairs to the clubhouse, where a pie, cider and copy of the 2nd edition of Non-League Magazine was purchased for a total of about £8.50. Pie was very good and quickly disappeared from the plate, before the second period was about to get underway and I headed back down to pitch level for the next stanza. And there was immediate drama as Warrington struck the crossbar soon after the restart, when a fizzing drive cracked off the top of the bar and over.
But, again, it was Abbey Hey who’d take the lead, when a good, quick move ended with pacey #9, Ashford Blake, coolly placing the ball beyond Town ‘keeper Karl Wills. This prompted Hey’s manager to ask how long they’d played, which he was disappointed to learn was only 10 minutes! But there was some relief when the assistant pinged the ball across the pitch, prompting one on the bench to shout “You’ve not kicked one like that in your life!”
5 minutes later, it was three. A horrible moment for Town defender James McCarten saw him and Wills have a miscommunication, and his pass back roll beyond the glove-man and into the bottom corner. 3-1 and the underdogs definitely fancied it now!
But, they were pegged back soon after, when sub Steven Gillespie seemed to have an age to nod home via the underside of the crossbar for 3-2, and it was game on once again! It was now that I met twitter legend Breezeblock, who I was told very helpfully by football spoon that he resembled a building block. As it was, he didn’t, and I spent the remainder of the game chatting with him along with the occasional input of McIlwaine.
Despite late pressure by the visitors, including having the ‘keeper up for a late corner, McIlwaine didn’t really have a save to make, and Hey greeted the final whistle with scenes of jubilation, with manager Luke Gibson running onto the pitch to embrace his players. I bid goodbye to breezeblock and headed back inside to wait until it was time to head home.
After getting another Strongbow and speaking football to a couple of Abbey Hey committee members and congratulating and commiserating Hey’s Sam Freakes, who’d had another good game as he usually does (and no, I’m not giving him preferential treatment as I know him previously!) and Warrington pair Metcalfe and Ally Brown, who again I know from his time at Trafford. Good to see all the lads again before I left for Ryder Brow station and learning of some, rather amusing, shenanigans elsewhere!
I then had the best of return journeys possible, straight into Piccadilly, over to Oxford Road and making the train home a half-hour earlier than I should have. Makes up for the Fail’s troubles en route, I guess. Thanks to Abbey Hey for a good day yet again, down at the Abbey Stadium. Plan to see you again at Thackley in two weeks!
Game: 8- Entertaining cup contest with an upset too.
Ground: 6- Simple, but very tidy.
Fans: 6- Decent backing.
Programme: 5- Average for the level.
Food: 7- Pretty good and decent priced.
Value For Money: 8- Cheap day overall, £11 in clubhouse, £5 in, £1 programme & £2.60 travel.