Result: Irlam Steel 3-2 Westbury Sports Club (Manchester League Division 1)
Venue: Irlam Steel Recreation Ground (Tuesday 17th May 2016, 7pm)
Att: 20 (approx.)
As my season runs down to its end, it just so happened that one of the closest, and easiest to get to, grounds was still hosting matches at this late stage. Yes the Irlam Recreation Ground, home of Irlam Steel, was still one that had alluded me despite the fact it was a 10 minute train ride and a further 10 minute walk from there. Of course, when a venue is so close it tends to become one of those “I’ll go at some point, but not right now” places, but with Steel hosting Westbury Sports Club on a fine Tuesday evening in mid-May, all excuses had run their course.
So, after said short train ride, I arrived at Irlam around 5pm to join Matt and Aaron in the station’s 1923 café/bar. The bar sits in the old Irlam station house which, until 18 months or so ago, sat as a derelict eyesore. Now, it is restored to its former glory and hosts a museum too. Not a bad transformation. After a pint in here, Matt had wanted to take us on a jaunt into a proper Irlam pub and so to the White Horse it was.
The White Horse was exactly as he’d said, one of those where the locals look a bit “intrigued” by any visit of one outside the inner circle. With one woman hogging the jukebox and unveiling some dubious dance moves, we settled at the bar with Matt’s “Things usually happen at the bar” reasoning again proving true, as he and I began to be taken into dialogue by a parent of someone in his school. After, I felt, doing a decent job of feigning interest, we were joined by Gibbo and his mate Ollie. Before too long, though, it was approaching the magical 7pm and so we made a swift exit, the dancing woman exclaiming something as we did so.
Having been thwarted on a couple of occasions when I’ve planned on visiting Steel earlier this season, I was fairly familiar with the location of the ground, as was Aaron who’d ref’d there a couple of times in the past. So, upon arriving with little fuss (bar the others having some car related issues), we were rather put off by the fact that the gam was seemingly in full swing and began to (somewhat) worry that the game had been a half-six start instead. These fears were soon allayed, though, when another probable hopper was told he’d only missed a few minutes. Apparently, this was a good thing.
According to the mysterious Mr B, who’d set up shop in the big stand at the far end, the game had been rather dire during the early stages and we were lucky to have gotten away with not witnessing the first skirmishes. This certainly seemed to ring true as very little happened for the first 15 minutes we were there for either, with the stand looking like it was on fire (it was actually from a field just behind) and a hopper in the bushes being highlights. Anyway, before I get into the game in earnest, here’s a little about Irlam Steel AFC’s ground and history…
There’s a big stand. A very big stand. There’s also the cricket pavilion which serves as the changing rooms for the players. Other than some bushes, that’s pretty much it. The club joined the Manchester League four seasons ago and have competed in Division One in each of these years. They have recorded finishes of 5th, 5th, 9th & (eventually) 7th this season.
Prior to their stay in the Manc League, they competed in the Lancashire & Cheshire League, in whose Division 1, they were largely a mid-table side, until they won the Division in the season before switching leagues. A couple of weeks before this very blogged game, Steel lifted the Manchester Saturday Challenge Trophy, with a penalty shoot-out victory over the much-lauded Cheshire League side Wythenshawe Town.
Irlam Steel were chasing one of the two play-off places available in the Manchester League Division 1, but certainly looked to be second best in those early minutes, with their lowly rivals Westbury, who do the “reverse Boreham Wood” in their name, with the place they hail from actually being West Bury, whereas Boreham Wood is actually Borehamwood as I’m sure you already know. Interesting, eh?
Anyway, with Westbury starting off so well and taking the game to Steel, it was little surprise when the visitors struck first with a through ball finding the striker who slotted home comfortably, though not without some suspicions of offside! There was also a comical miss from the Westbury side too, who somehow cocked up a three on two chance from 15 yards but it remained 0-1 at the break.
Most of the entourage headed over to the bar which sits back on the road and well away from the ground during half-time, but with myself having been used to the workings of the Manchester League and their five minute half-times, I stayed in the vicinity of the ground along with “B” and was rewarded for doing so almost immediately, as Irlam broke clear and the forward finished off from the centre of goal easily. 1-1.
After a text alert was sent out to the absentees, they soon returned with beers in hand and took advantage of the cricket outfield onto which the football pitch adjoins. The second half saw Irlam in the ascendancy and they took the lead through a barnstorming strike by the, I think, #7 who lashed home a half-volley from 20 yards that left the ‘keeper with no chance. Even the Irlam Steel tracksuit-clad guy was surprised by the strike stating that he “usually clears the trees”…
2-1 and the game was really livening up now, as games at this level tend to do during the second periods, and the visitors soon found themselves winning a right-wing corner down at the far “new build housing estate” end. The corner itself was floated in and met by a commanding header from close range, that found its way over the line via the upright. 2-2 and game on once more!
The last goal, though, was to reflect the ebb and flow type of contest the game had become, with the home side grabbing it. After spotting the corner taker placing the ball about 5 yards outside the quadrant, we proceeded to let him know his plan had been spotted. Of course, the referee didn’t care and neither did anyone else, apparently. This didn’t stop the winger from whipping in a good ball which was eventually bundled in from close range which he seemed very pleased with, judging by his celebration, as were we for some strange reason as we all cheered as though life-long Steel fans!
Soon enough, the referee brought the game to a its terminus and after a short debate to what the plans were next, Gibbo and Ollie headed back from whence they came, whereas Aaron and I took on Matt’s suggestion of the Ship Inn, the closest establishment to the ground. With 40-50 minutes to our respective trains back and with an apparent bikers meeting going on, it seemed like an interesting choice.
There were no bikers, really, to be found inside despite a large banner claiming their presence. After being quite intrigued by the bottle of “Jager-like” Messer Schmit spirit in the fridge, it was thought better of as we stuck with the tried and tested amber nectar. After stories of Crewe, prior Wembley trips, trying to figure out where our respective 92 totals now stood and Matt’s questionable, occasional Snapchat friend’s postings(!), it was time to head off for the train back home. After bidding goodbye to Aaron, whose train departed a little later than ours, Matt and I headed into the drizzly Salfordian evening comparing our respective knowledge of flags of the world. This, dear readers, is what I reduce the “cool” hoppers to….
Game: 7- A slow burner, but it exploded eventually.
Ground: 6- Mostly due to the big stand! Nothing else to speak of really.
Fans: 5- ……
Value For Money: 8- Free game, cheap travel, just “extras” were paid for.