Result: Whitchurch Alport 0-5 Eccleshall (NWCFL Division 1)
Venue: Yockings Park (Saturday 6th February 2016, 3pm)
My birthday weekend game was supposed to be oh so easy to reach. It had been agreed previously through the input of “Lost Boyos” Matt Harrison and Joe Gibbons (Gibbo’s 92) that Eccleshill United, near Bradford, was the place to be. To be honest, I’d never heard of the place before so had no idea what I was letting myself in for.
Alas the great British weather would have different plans and a further week-long deluge would see the three of us meeting in a Starbucks in Manchester Piccadilly and spend a good hour browsing over options and watching games fall by the minute. After names and clubs at all different levels were floated (some in jest, others not), it was decided that I should have the casting vote as it were, on account of it being my last day as a 23-year-old.
So, despite having been before and not being wholly stuck on the ground as a whole, I settled on Nantwich Town vs Stourbridge, mostly on account of the game rather than the ground, with the pair facing off in the FA Trophy. So, tickets bought, Belgian lagers bought by Matt (cheers for the two freebies) and fruit juices almost proving lethal in Matt’s case, we hopped on the train over to the “definitely on” Dabbers game.
Around 40 minutes later and having disrupted Paul the actor’s script learning via the means of “favourite acids” and what David Blunkett and John Prescott would look like while doing the YMCA and what member of the Village People they’d likely be we left the train and walked into a damp, but not too wet, Nantwich town centre. Matt and Gibbo both took the opportunity to have a picture in some “stocks” that had a very small third hole *sniggers*. Okay, it was where it looked like the head really should go. Gibbo mused that everyone in Nantwich must have small heads, which a local woman found hilarious as she walked past to the chip shop. We declared Gibbo a comedy genius and continued on.
On my prior knowledge, we headed to the Crown Hotel’s bar, which I’m sure is famous for something. Nothing more interesting I’m sure than the story I told about the time I previously visited and bought a pen. Astounding, I know. Anyway, I plumped for something or other while Matt had the last half of a Liefmans fruit lager and Gibbo a pot of tea. I guess one of us had to look the part alongside a guy playing a piano and a ballroom. Not to mention a bunch of urinals where a mirror opposite meant you could watch you do your thing.
We were coming to the end of our respective drinks (bar Gibbo) when Matt suddenly drained of colour and looked ashen, though this may have been dramatized somewhat. Then came the dreaded words: “Game’s off”. The spectre of a football-less birthday weekend for the second year in a row loomed large. Luckily, a saviour loomed large from the mist; Whitchurch Alport FC. So to the train station it was for the two stop, 20 minute, journey.
As the train arrived, a Warrington Town fan got off, to whom Gibbo informed the game was off. He mumbled something incoherent and continued toward the ground. However, the guy we indirectly informed had about 5 seconds to decide his next step: get off the train for no reason or join us, three groundhoppers heading to a game that wasn’t 100% on anyway. He chose the latter and so Stourbridge fan Mark joined our crew.
After the conductor on the train happily waived our fare on account of our predicament (seriously), we detrained at Whitchurch. Upon seeing the lights not too far from the line, we headed past the sign declaring “Walkers are welcome in Whitchurch!” and out into the town itself. After finding the, sadly closed, Railway Inn we needed a pub and found the Wheatsheaf. In the Wheatsheaf, we found a warm fire and a warmer welcome from the barmaids and a fellow groundhopper who’d travelled up from London for God knows what reason and made us toast the Queen.
After Matt had deeply offended the barmaid, who Gibbo later discovered was named Steph as his lothario side came out after a trip to Loughborough Uni was taken off the cards earlier on, his Wrexham Lager-Titanic themed jokes, we were soon ready to depart en masse to the ground, where we were directed by Steph on account of her previously playing for Alport’s Women’s section. 10 minutes later, Yockings Park was upon us.
After a short walk up the access road, the turnstile comes upon you to the right and after handing over £5 for entry and the programme together, it was into the ground itself for the first time. Yockings Park is quite a simple ground, but one that looks more than fitting at North West Counties level. It’s main stand is quite beautiful and the clubhouse homely, a fine place to spend a couple of hours. They stand on the right hand touchline with a covered terrace opposite. Both ends are open, with a small mound at the far end. As for the club’s story….
Whitchurch Alport was formed in 1946 and the suffix derived from the home farm of local player Coley Maddox, killed in action during WWII. RIP Coley.
They initially joined the Shewsbury & District League and won it in 1948. They then stepped up in standard to the Birmingham League, but then the Mid-Cheshire League was muted, a clubman heard of it and Alport became founder members of it instead. The club won the league title in 1970 and won the Shropshire Senior Cup. After just missing out on a treble, the club was afforded a civic reception!
1974 saw Alport become the last English side to win the Welsh Amateur Cup, beating Cardiff College and this is the highest honour the club have achieved so far (the programme notes words, not mine!).
For the seasons ’83-’84 & ’84-’85, the committee took the decision to play only local players. This didn’t go well as they finished bottom on both occasions. A change of manager saw this change and fortunes also turned for the better. The manager then, Peter Wainwright, is a “Mr Alport” and has held numerous posts, from groundsman to current President.
In 2012-’13, the club took the decision to switch to the Mercian League, mostly made up of Shropshire based sides, the county in which Whitchurch is situated. After an initial struggle, things changed and eventually Alport applied for the NWCFL. After being accepted by the league for this current season, the FA turned them down only to overturn their own decision on appeal. Good (that is my personal opinion, not that of the programme notes!). They currently sit bottom, having played 22 games, no less than eight more than Eccleshall.
To the game at hand now and the fact that we were seemingly guaranteed football and at a new ground was something out of the ordinary on a day like such. But we were and it got underway with both sides being quite well matched. That is until Eccleshall, who I saw got tonked 6-0 at Stockport Town on the Tuesday night previous, took the lead. The ball had come out to Dan Counter and from 20 yards, his shot squirmed under the GK and into the back of the net. It looked more a case of poor ‘keeping than a great effort but it was 1-0 all the same.
This began a game-long dominance from the visitors who sat one place above their hosts in the battle of the bottom. Sounds a bit like something that happens after a dodgy curry…Anyway, as I say, Eccy had dangerman Angelo Errico strike the bar an the Eagles went close on a couple of occasions after that too, but at the break the scoreline remained at 1-0.
In the clubhouse, I ordered chips at the economical price of £1.20 and on account of how cheap, hot and downright tasty they were, ended up going back for seconds during the second half. Well worth purchasing here, as was the pre-match Corona I should add. After a catch up with Jeff Stelling’s gang on TV, it was back out into the damp Shropshire air for Round 2.
Within 4 minutes, the Eagles had doubled their advantage. A ball across the area found Steve Hughes at the back post and he couldn’t miss with his headed effort. If this wasn’t bad enough, Alport then saw ‘keeper Spencer Martin forced off after a slightly wild challenge from the Eccleshall forward, who ran fully 40 yards and took him out. The ball was there to be won, but it just looked a bit OTT. For poor Martin it was game over.
The gloveman duties fell to Will Hopkins, who was duly beaten twice in a minute not long after taking the job on. First, Dean Twigg converted his effort after beating the offside trap, before Hughes added his second with a close range prod. A fifth was added within five minutes and what a goal it was. But for, mostly, the wrong reasons.
A poor throw out by Hopkins fell to the feet of Eccleshall’s Twigg who looked up to see the unfortunate deputy in no-man’s land. He went for the Beckham-esque chip, only for the ball to fail to achieve much elevation, yet find an angle to drift past Hopkins regardless and into the bottom corner. Quite something, 5-0.
It then became a case of “How many will they get here?”. But not for Hopkins, who proceeded to become a one-man wall denying two efforts at close to point blank range with fine stops and denied Jordan Elcock late on before the latter had the ball in the net right at the death, but it was ruled out for an offside. So, full-time: 5-0.
Mark headed off for an earlier train just before the end and after a further brief stop in the bar for us, it was off back to the town and more pinpoint, to the Wheatsheaf where we’d promised to return to after the game on account of the promise of free tequila. Unfortunately, the tequila wasn’t forthcoming, however I was bestowed the honour of a free pint and later a Jagerbomb and account of it being my birthday. Cheers!
After Matt had discovered train troubles, he decided he’d like to see more of Whitchurch and put the poser to the Wheatsheaf staff. Where else? The answer: Percy’s. Percy’s is…well, different. There’s a moose head, airline seats, Nimrod seats, dentist chairs, cinema seats a temporary war grave cross (it still bears the name and date of the man who I hesitate to publish the name of and where you sort of have to take a moment) and a funeral home window. Yeah, different. After a quick one in there and a chat with the friendly barman on why the toilet is hidden behind a Danger sign “It stops people from just coming in and using it.”, we headed off for the delayed train back to….no, not Crewe again…
On the platform we found our Queen saluting friend once more. I think his name was Fred and he was good company on the way back to Crewe. Here, he left us and headed off for London. Fair play to him. As for us, we were soon boarding our old faithful, a Northern Rail service, back to Piccadilly and giving Gibbo some not overly flirtatious texting advice. Though, to be honest, considering my something of a record stint of singleton-ness (is that even a phrase?), I did ward him off listening, though by then I think he’d shut his ears and was only listening to the dulcet Welsh tones from opposite.
Soon, it was back in Manchester and I bid goodbye to Matt and Joe, who both headed off into Yorkshire for varying reasons, though they weren’t to know what was to come for them on their journeys. I won’t ruin that here though, see their own blogs for the details, you won’t regret it (links first paragraph). As for the day, it had certainly matched Emley for randomness and the Warrington guy turned up at half-time….
Game: 6- Quite one sided, but at least goals were prevalent.
Ground: 7- Quite basic for the most part, but I was quite fond.
Programme: 6- A fair effort for the level. Bonus point for being free.
Food: 8- Star of the day, behind the stand. Take that guy at Garforth.
Fans: 5- Can’t particularly remember now, so in the middle…
Value For Money: 8- Having somehow not paid more and ended at a cheap match and getting beers for free!!