Result: Clitheroe 0-5 Stocksbridge Park Steels (FA Trophy Preliminary Round)
Venue: Shawbridge (Saturday 8th October 2016, 3pm)
As the third of the FA’s major club competitions got underway, so attentions turned to its first round of fixtures. A selection were thrown up, but having just come off the back of a day down in Tottenham the previous weekend, I wasn’t really too keen to spend a mint on a game for this one. As such, the choices were soon whittled down to a pair and the choice of Witton Albion vs Brighouse Town or Clitheroe vs Stocksbridge Park Steels was given to the great Twitter community.
The people chose the latter, of course or you wouldn’t be reading this blog with this very title, and so come Saturday morning I was travelling up from Manchester & Salford and down Lancashire’s Clitheroe line, which ends in the very town that is the subject of this blog.
So, having disembarked with all and sundry during a fine, sunny afternoon, I quickly navigated my way to the town centre and onwards to the castle, which I’ve long targeted for a quick visit. Having ensured it was indeed free to visit (separate charge for the museum etc.), I made my way up the set of steps and eventually onto the crest of the hill that the castle keep sits upon. From here, you have commanding views over the town and to Pendle Hill in the distance. Is that a ground I spot too?
With this part of the cultural mission over, it was time for the second phase which is, of course, to find and seek out the best of the bars and pubs around just for you because, clearly, I’m not that interested….no, really. Honest. Anyway, after heading down from the castle, I found myself at the foot of what seemed more of the historic high street, with this point being driven home my the man playing the flute on the pavement. Novel. Next to him, though, was the old carriage entrance to a hotel/pub by the name of the Rose & Crown.
There wasn’t too much to report in here, with a Corona costing a town-standard £3.60 and so I decided just to head over the road to the next coaching inn, the Swan & Royal. In here, the apparently haunted establishment seemed to take a sinister twist, as my ordered bottle of Corona proceeded to explode all over the unfortunate barmaid. With replacement bar staff in place, the next bottle was much more behaved and in-possessed and all was well, ‘Wooooo’. Spooky.
Beer issues over and no more encountered, it was time to head a little nearer the ground, with the clock reaching the top of the 14th hour. At the top of the road leading down toward the ground, I found myself with a dilemma. The Ale House, which seemed a bottle-shop/bar combo, or the White Lion, more of a regular pub. Being on the side of the latter, I plumped for here. The decision was, well, a bit ‘meh’. It wasn’t bad nor was it anything notable, though a drunk-looking guy stumbling out of the Ale House for a cigarette made me feel a little more comfortable with my choice…
Approaching 20-past two on the watch, I decided it was a decent time to head for Shawbridge and having been at least three previous occasions during the period I was watching Trafford, I was pretty confident I wouldn’t get lost. That was, until I found myself passing a Tesco and heading into a more industrial area. This wasn’t right and indeed a quick check of Maps proved this was indeed the case. Yes, getting lost has returned to these pages after a surprisingly fair while! Luckily, it was only a short back-track that was needed and I was soon heading up the short entry way to the turnstiles.
£8 entry handed over and I was back into Shawbridge once again. A further £1.50 was given to the lady in the small booth just behind the turnstiles. Now don’t hesitate, as you need to evade being cannon fodder to the barrage of wayward shots from the substitutes that rain down upon you as you sprint to the bar. There is netting for most of the way around the entrance, but the further away you get, well, not so much!
Shawbridge is a great little ground, that is already one of my more favourite ones I’ve visited. Overlooked by the castle, it is a quintessential old-school non-league ground, with its all-seater “Main” Stand sitting at the far end of the left-hand side touch-line as you enter. Here, it is joined by the changing rooms, facilities and food hut along with a small covered terrace, that is quite hard to spot! The opposite side is home to a touch-line-long terrace, with 3/4 of it covered right up toward the far end, where another covered area stands behind the goal. A further covered standing area is located just to the left of the turnstile as you enter, with the bar to the right. And lo, your tour of Shawbridge is complete. Now, it’s time to delve into the history of Clitheroe Football Club…
Clitheroe FC was formed in 1877 under the moniker Clitheroe Central FC, formed at the (I presume) aforementioned Swan Hotel. After initially competing in local leagues, the club moved into the Lancashire Combination and dropped the Central suffix from their name whilst doing so. Clitheroe’s first major silverware came in the form of the Lancashire Junior Cup in 1893, though they would have to wait almost a century to win it again! (as the Challenge Trophy in 1985).
Apart from the two World War enforced breaks in the sport, Clitheroe maintained their place in the Lancashire Combination right up until the end of the 1982-’83 season. Despite this, they found success hard to come by, winning only the 1935 Lancashire Combination Cup and the League title in 1980. Along with relegations in 1953 & 1959 to the Combination’s second tier, the club did win the Division 2 title in 1960, the earlier re-promotion coming as runners-up.
Clitheroe became founder members of the North West Counties League in 1982 and were placed in the lowest Division, Division 3. This was won at the end of their second season in the NWCFL and the club went on the rise quickly, winning Division 2 the following season before completing a hat-trick of divisional titles with the Division 1 title at the end of the ’85-’86 campaign, though promotion wasn’t attained.
The club remained in the NWCFL through until 2004, winning the ’99 Floodlight Trophy along the way as well as reaching the FA Vase final at Wembley, but Clitheroe fell at the final hurdle, bowing 3-0 to Brigg Town. They also reached the semi-finals in 2001, but lost out of two-legs to Taunton Town. After narrowly missing out on a double the previous season, the Blues won the league title for a second time in 2004 thanks to a three-point deduction being awarded to Mossley and were promoted to the Northern Premier League, thanks largely to ground updates funded by the sales of players, none more so than record sale Carlo Nash.
Competing in Division 1 through their time in the NPL, Clitheroe stayed for three seasons before the Division was regionalised with the club being placed, unsurprisingly, in the Northern section. They have remained in the Division 1 North right up to the present day, with the club solidifying themselves as a largely mid-table outfit, with the odd good & poor season here and there. Last season, they recorded a highly respectable 7th place.
After a quick sojourn in Lordy’s bar, it was time to head out for kick-off, with the teams already lining-up for their pre-match handshakes. The game got underway and it quickly became apparent just who the dominant side was going to be, as they had a goal ruled out inside the first 10 minutes.
Stocksbridge really were taking the game to their hosts and it was little surprise when, in the 17th minute, they forced a penalty after a clear trip. The finely-named Harrison Biggins smashed home the penalty via the underside of the crossbar to give the Yorkshire side a fully deserved lead. Following this opening goal, Clitheroe had their best spell in the game, with the pacey Dimitri Tuanzebe causing problems down the left and Harry Pratt forcing a good stop out of visiting ‘keeper David Reay, but soon Steels were back on top.
The difference in quality, on the day, between the two sides was quite remarkable when you consider there are only two places between the two in their respective league placings (Clitheroe 9th; NPL North vs SPS 7th; NPL South). Indeed, as I headed round towards the food hut and was debating whether to head inside or not, the choice was made all the easier as the Clitheroe #4, who struggled throughout the game and was generally out-muscled in the middle of the pitch for me, lost possession and the through ball released Scott Ruthven who rounded the GK and slotted home.
In the food bar, I settled an argument over the true score-line between the young match mascots, as clearly I’m a very trustworthy person. A fine Steak Pie bought as recommended by, I presume, Clitheroe fan Richard on Twitter and half-time arrived with 2-0 remaining on the scoreboard and so I returned to the bar, as to avoid being hit by any wayward shots during the 15-minute break.
The second-half was soon underway, with the hosts straining to get back in the game. Despite creating a couple of half-chances, their chances were put to bed by the goal of the game. A long ball forward was targeted towards the general vicinity of the impressive Steels #9, Joe Lumsden, watched the ball onto his boot before unleashing a stinging volley past the helpless Chris Thompson and into the corner of the net. Fine goal.
It was soon four, as Nathaniel Crofts raced away from the offside trap, rounded Thompson and ended the game as a contest. This seemed to settle Stocksbridge’s attacking intent somewhat, with chances becoming increasingly few and far between. The unfortunate home #4 was subbed off soon after the fourth following shouts of “get him off!” (that was the most friendly) from the home support who were far from impressed. Personally, I never think it’s helpful to shout it audibly, especially at 4-0 down(!). Passions may run high, but he’s not a full pro after all.
Back to the game and Thompson was keeping the score down with a couple of fine stops; first from Crofts when one-on-one and another to tip over a good effort. Down the other end, the largely unworked Reay, who by this point was shouting to his team about mental strength and seemingly desperate for a clean-sheet, matched his fellow #1 by tipping over a fiercely struck shot from close-range. But number 5 eventually arrived in stoppage time, Steels sub Adam Hinchcliffe’s free-kick finding its way through the wall and in to end a shocking day at the office for the hosts, but a fine one for the visitors who go on to the First Round and now host a strong Lancaster City outfit.
Following the game, I quickly beat a hasty retreat from Shawbridge and the majority of downbeat fans and headed back to the station. With an hour to play with, I decided to head into the bustling Maxwell’s Wine Bar. After nursing a final Amstel for the final 45 minutes of my stay in Clitheroe, it was time to head onto the train back to Manchester Victoria, before undertaking the cross-city walk to Oxford Road for the train back.
So ended another good day in one of my favourite grounds and probably towns I’ve visited. Clitheroe, in both forms, is well worth a visit and for more than just the game if you get the chance, as my almost whistle-stop journey showed. It was also a great bonus that the day was a fine one and that lent to not having to run for cover! First step on this road to Wembley is done. So, where to next?
Value For Money: 7