Result: Widnes 2-1 Warrington Town (Pre-Season Friendly)
Venue: Halton Stadium (Tuesday 26th July 2016, 7.30pm)
My first midweek game of this 2016-’17 season saw me head towards Merseyside and to one of the easier grounds for myself to get to that I’d not yet visited. This very arena was the Halton Stadium in Widnes, the home of the town’s rugby side, the Vikings, alongside their ground sharing partner and stars of this very blog, Widnes FC. Widnes did use the Vikings suffix during their first season as a North West Counties side, but dropped it with the intention on being more of a separate entity (if I remember correctly).
After the short 35 minute train ride through Warrington and the surrounding areas, I was soon setting foot in Widnes for the first time and immediately set my sights upon visiting the town’s Wetherspoon’s, which sits in the town centre and about 15 minutes from the ground. I figured I’d take a slight detour through Victoria Park on the way, just to escape the usual concrete jungle routes which are so often traipsed down en route to games all over.
After passing by a Butterfly House, which was somewhat unexpected, I found myself heading into the town’s shopping hub. With the time approaching half-six, the place was akin to a ghost town, with all the shutters down and only a few stragglers dotting around the pathways. It was a little unnerving to walk through, for some reason, though I imagine it’s quite a pleasant place when it’s really buzzing. Alas, tonight was not that time and I was happy to escape to the sanctuary of ‘Spoons.
The Premier is a former picture house and it’s differing look is striking compared to its neighbouring structures. Inside, the place is quite comfortable to stay in for a while but with kick-off looming ever closer, the ever dependable Punk IPA was finished up and I made for the Halton Stadium, where I was due to meet with fellow groundhopper (and reluctant blogger) Paul.
However, upon making our respective ways towards the ASDA, we ended up crossing paths there and then and after a further pit stop to the green-clad supermarket, we both headed for the ground with only a matter of minutes remaining before the local derby friendly between the Vikings and the newly promoted Warrington Town. After getting slightly stuck around the perimeter fencing off the stadium, we eventually navigated our way to the car park and the turnstile, which was hidden away from view. £1 later and the Halton became ground #186.
The Halton Stadium is a very stereotypical all-seater ground, with there being very little to differentiate three of the stands from inside of the ground, other than the wording displayed within the seats of them. The East Stand, behind the goal, is slightly smaller than the others but does house the Widnes rugby museum. The stadium, though being a fairly recent development, stands on the same site as the original ground (from 1895) on Lowerhouse Lane and currently features an artificial surface. As for Widnes FC….
Widnes FC was formed in 2003 under the name of The Dragons A.F.C. They later added the Widnes prefix to the name to become Widnes Dragons and competed in the West Cheshire League. The club moved into the Halton Stadium in 2012 and became the Widnes Vikings FC as part of the Vikings brand, though this only lasted for 2 years until the club decided to move away from the brand to become a more separate identity under the current name.
By this time, the club was competing within the North West Counties Division 1, which Widnes joined in 2013 and have been consistently in the lower half of the table during their tenure so far, though they did register their best finish, 13th, last campaign.
Not too soon after we’d taken our seats alongside the vacant posh seats, we were underway with Widnes being surprisingly dominant over their higher placed opponents. Widnes were playing some good stuff and it was little surprise to anyone, not even the vocal Wire fans, that they took the lead after just five minutes, Kevin Towey firing confidently home from the spot following a trip on in the area.
Just ten minutes later and Widnes were two up, this time the rapid Darrhyl Mason, who’d won the earlier penalty, running at the defence and finishing well into the far corner of Karl Wills’ net. The Warrington defence were strugging to cope with Mason’s pace and direct play and he almost had his second before the break, only to see his effort bounce back off the post with Wills beaten.
Warrington did finish the half on the front foot as they began to get to grips with the pitch, but they couldn’t find a way to breach the Widnes defence before the break and thus the half-time score read 2-0. Half-time saw a couple of the kids teams from the club put on a good show. Eventually, we were underway again for the second period and Warrington had the ball in the net almost immediately, but Ben Deegan was ruled offside.
Just before the hour, Warrington did have the ball in the net again and this time it was above board. A good move approaching the box saw the ball fed to the impressive Lewis Codling and he placed the ball wide of ex-Wire ‘keeper Richie Mottram and into the bottom corner. This prompted Town to dominate the remainder of the game, with the Wire fans pulling out the Icelandic clap (which I maintain shouldn’t be seen anywhere outside Iceland) but despite this and James Dean hitting the woodwork, they couldn’t level and Widnes saw the game out to secure a good-looking victory.
With the game finished up, Paul and I headed back off towards Widnes station, famed for allegedly being the inspiration behind Paul Simon’s Homeward Bound of course (though it should probably not be as celebrated if Simon’s quote is to be believed). Paul’s penchant for the PokémonGO craze was a large feature of the walk as he proceeded to catch a few on the streets of Widnes as we approached the The Crown. With my train a further 50 minutes away, we went our separate ways with Paul heading for his train along with some loud Warrington fans, and me for a Heineken in the aforementioned pub.
That was pretty much that then, and it was good to finally tick off Widnes’ home which had become one of those which keeps being put off time and again. Next Saturday is still up in the air, as my plan was probably to head to nearby Halebank and to another Widnes game (now cancelled), so fixture lists are again open….