Result: Atherton Town 4-2 St. Helen’s Town (Pre-Season Friendly)
Venue: Butler Park (Tuesday 2nd August 2016, 7.15pm)
Att: 45 (approx.)
As the clock ticks down to the competitive season getting underway, so it means that the pre-season friendlies come to an end and the teams should know their best line-ups. As such, this Tuesday evening signals the end to my pre-season programme too, with a return visit to Atherton Town’s Butler Park. Town were to be facing a St. Helen’s Town XI, with the Saints also sending a side up to Hesketh Bank on the same evening.
As for me, I set off at around 5pm, with the plan being having around an hour in Atherton prior to the game. Alas, the Greater Manchester public transport system was having none of that and having had two delays of over 25 minutes each, it was something of a relief to actually just arrive into Leigh at just before seven and be just a short bus route up to the ground. Unfortunately, this too went wrong with my Maps waypoint apparently being off and meaning I got off far too early and was now faced with a walk up to Howe Bridge Leisure Centre. Oh, the fun.
I eventually arrived at the entrance to Butler Park just as the referee’s shrill whistle signalled the beginning of the game and after passing underneath the “Atherton Town sign and past the food bar, I was through the entrance gap in the perimeter wall and into Butler Park. Atherton Town’s home is probably one of the better grounds in the Manchester League, i.e. it is fully enclosed and has a small amount of hard standing around the pitch. There is also a small bike hutch which serves as a stand.
Slightly truncated due to a distinct lack of easy to fins information, Atherton Town have a fairly long history in the Manchester League winning the Division 1 in 1993 and achieving promotion. They remained in the Premier Division until 2011 when they were relegated back to the Division 1, but this return to the lower echelon was a short one with Town returning to the Premier Division in 2014, as runners-up, after a three-year stint. They have been a lower half side during their current stay in the top-tier, with finishes of 13th & 14th (out of 16).
With the game already in its early stages and horses once more looking on through the gate from the adjoining fields, it didn’t take long for the first goal to be scored and it was the visitors who struck. A good through ball allowed Matt Davidson to be free from the defence and he rounded the stranded goalkeeper to slot into the empty net. 0-1.
St. Helen’s were dominating the early clashes, going close on a further pair of occasions, forcing the home custodian into a couple of saves but Atherton did begin to grow into the game as the half progressed and looked dangerous on the break, but were wasteful when it came to getting a shot away. Half-Time arrived and it was off for a hot-dog which, at just £1 was great value especially when it was decided to put two on the roll. Great stuff!
Hot-dog done and it was back outside and to Butler Park for the second half. If Atherton were guilty of being slightly on the iffy side in front of goal during the first half, then Connor Critchley was certainly putting that right during the first minutes of the second. First, he picked up the ball 20-odd yards out before hitting a fine effort into the top right corner, before repeating the trick moments later, this time rifling a low effort into the bottom corner of the same side. Game changer!
The youthful-looking St.Helen’s side were on the ropes a little through the first half-hour of the second period and weren’t providing too much of a threat going forward, but they did level with around 15 minutes to go, when a corner was only half-cleared and the resulting cross was tapped in from close range by Saints #3 Dean Curtis. But, parity was short-lived as Critchley completed his hat-trick almost immediately from the restart, nipping in when there seemed minimal danger, as I pretty much missed it, only seeing the ball hitting the net.
A fourth Atherton goal was added shortly afterwards. Tom Armstrong beat the Saints ‘keeper Liam Bowyer for the ball, which allowed him to tap the ball over the line for the final goal of the evening, though it could have been five late on, were it not for a fine stop by Bowyer. So, full-time arrived with Atherton Town coming out on top in what was a highly entertaining contest.
So, it was back off for the buses and hoping that they’d be kinder to me on the return leg than they were on the outbound journey. The first, short hop into Atherton was fine and the one back into Eccles arrived pretty much on time so all looked good and pretty easy. But, this wasn’t taking into account the pure and absolute snails pace that this driver wanted to drive at and as the minutes ticked on, it looked less and less likely I’d arrive on time for my final connection and be left stranded. Brilliant…
Yes! I thought, as I arrived into Eccles with a couple of minutes to spare only to once more trust the Maps on my phone which was an error with almost awful circumstances. The thing told me to go down this innocuous side road, which I did, but this looked less and less like the roads I imagined. Indeed, as I rounded the corner and over a bridge, I found myself faced with the M602 which definitely wasn’t where I should have been. By now, I was 5 minutes late and resigned to my fate and chuntering all the way back to the town centre (which I navigated to myself, shock horror), I came upon the bus stop only to find my bus rocking up late for a shockingly positive late arrival. Public Transport, don’t you just love it?…
Closing Thoughts:- Atherton Town looked a solid team, under new management, and look set for a decent season. St. Helen’s, of course, were a mixed side so I’m not really going to judge on them just yet. And buses are still sh*t.
Game: 8- Really entertaining watch, end-to-end with regular chances and a few goals.
Ground: 5- Simple ground, not too much to speak of, though the food bar is smart.
Food: 6- Normal hot-dog, cheap with extra point for the double up!
Value For Money: 9- £6.20 all evening. Can’t complain with that, can you?