Result: Witton Albion 2-1 Kettering Town (FA Trophy Second Round)
Venue: Wincham Park (Saturday 12th November 2016, 3pm)
After missing out on the last round of the Trophy whilst roughing it in hospitality at Old Trafford a couple of weeks back, it was back on the true football trail with a trip to, well, where? The decision fell to the twittersphere (all 37 of them), with their big decision being between Kidsgrove, Nantwich or Witton. After a fairly close battle, it was the latter of the trio that came out on top, so a revisit to Wincham Park for Witton Albion vs Kettering Town it was!
It would also be the second time this season I’d have seen Kettering, with the prior time being at Leek Town during the early rounds of the cup. That game saw late drama, so more of the same for this game wouldn’t go amiss I thought, as I rolled into Manchester Piccadilly to await my connection down to Northwich. Once more, I decided to await my train in the Hourglass along with a quick drink. Before long, it was time to head for Cheshire.
After an hour-long journey, elongated by the loop round to Altrincham, I arrived into the traditional-looking Northwich station, from where you don’t actually see much of Northwich, lest you actually go into the town. Instead, you head away from it and head towards the village of Wincham where, somewhat unsurprisingly, the ground is located. Pub-wise, it’s a fairly sparse route with the only option being the Chesterway pub. Obviously, being a food-y pub, the prices are a little lofty, as shown by the £3.50-plus price for a Sol. I was quickly headed for the ground.
The navigating of the long and winding road complete for the first time, I arrived at a sign welcoming me to Wincham. After giving some vague directions to, I presume, a Kettering director due to his smart-looking outfit, I found the access route down to the ground and was soon within the clubhouse/shop. Despite not being a darker ale drinker of any description, I found myself torn between a lighter-looking ale and the interestingly named ‘Yeti’. I did think to myself that I couldn’t really pass up the Yeti and when the two guys next to me ordered their next round of the Tatton Brewery’s finest, I decided I should really join them. It wasn’t all too bad either, though it’s not converted me yet.
Anyway with kick-off fast approaching, I headed for the normal pre-game places before spotting Kettering fans Chris and Dave Ellis whom I’d met after the Leek game. After a quick greeting and a few tales of fellow fans’ misfortunes whilst on their respective ways to the game, with trains and cars both causing issues. Well, the latter was more alcohol related as a car was left stranded in Stoke of all places, but still…
With the clock now approaching three, the clubhouse began to empty en masse and to the turnstiles went the crowds. £9 later and it was into Wincham Park for, what I think was, a third time. Having already purchased a programme in the bar for £2, I could bypass the table where they were being sold, but this only made it possible for me to hear someone’s conversation end with “Well, everyday alive is a bonus”. A very easy way to get the juices flowing for the contest!
Wincham Park is a smart ground, with its former standing as a Conference ground still very obvious. It’s four stands are spread evenly around the ground, with the all-seater Main Stand being housed on the right-hand touchline as you enter, the clubhouse sort of underneath. A large covered terrace sits on the left-hand side, with this structure matching the Main Stand in stretching for most of the length of the pitch. There is a little uncovered terracing to the left of the roof. Behind both goals are further, slightly smaller, covered terraces with both very similar in size to each other. Before we get into the game itself, here’s some backstory to Witton Albion FC…
Witton Albion Football Club was formed in 1887 and initially played in the local Northwich & District League. They also competed in the Crewe & District League, Cheshire League, The Combination (3 seasons), Manchester League and the Lancashire Combination during their earlier years. They won the latter’s Division 2 in 1914, with their stay in the league’s Division 1 stopped by WWI’s outbreak. 1920 saw the club become founder members of the Cheshire County League, winning three titles following WWII (1949, ’50, ’54), including the double in 1954.
After the formation of the Northern Premier League in 1969, Witton were denied entry initially and so stayed in the Cheshire County League, eventually earning their place in the NPL in for 1978-’79 as Cheshire County League runners-up. The sale of their then Central Ground to move to Wincham Park was completed in 1989 and in their second season at Wincham, Witton won the NPL title by 16 pts, meaning promotion to the Conference was attained.
The financial costs did mean that this was a struggle for them and the club suffered their first relegation in 1994, with a second following in 1997 as the club dropped into the NPL Division 1 for the first time. 2004 saw the biggest achievement as then skipper Brian Pritchard was sent-off for tripping a streaker in a Cheshire Senior Cup tie vs Woodley Sports.
Having been put back in the Premier Division of the NPL via league restructurings, Witton missed out on promotion by one goal in 2007 and they subsequently lost out in the play-off final. 200s aw them again miss out on promotion to Fleetwood Town and then in the play-offs for the second season running, but the following season of managerial upheavals saw Witton relegated to the NPL Division 1 South. This lasted until 2010-’11, when the club were switched to the Northern Section.
2012 saw Witton achieve promotion back to the NPL Premier Division, defeating Curzon Ashton in the play-off final. The following year, the club reached the Prem play-offs, but lost out in the semi’s. However, this was as good as it got, as struggles followed and 2015-’16 saw Albion back in the Division 1 North. Last season, Witton finished up in 11th place, before again being transferred to the South Division for this current campaign.
After a minutes silence for Remembrance, the game got underway with Southern League outfit Kettering on top. Therefore, it was little surprise when, just ten or so minutes in, a good move ended with a Spencer Weir-Daley through ball finding Liam Canavan who slotted past Witton GK, Dan Roberts. The away end, including Dave’s brothers Phil & Dan, who I’d been invited to join for the afternoon, went into raptures.
Further chances were to follow for the Poppies, quite the appropriate nickname considering the weekend, but after dominating the first half of the first half (if that makes sense), they began to be outdone in the midfield by Albion. Despite their gaining of momentum, Witton struggled to really make any real chances bar forcing Town ‘keeper Dean Snedker into one stop. After I’d headed round to get some chips and beat the crowds, I took a seat in the stand for the dying moments of the half. This proved to be a decent shout, as I then had a good view of Witton’s equaliser.
After a fair bit of pressure, including Snedker saving well from Hopley and Prince Haywood (not a real Prince) shooting just wide, a free-kick was conceded out on the right flank. The resulting ball in landed on the head of Rob Hopley, with Snedker’s fine push onto the post being in vain as the rebound fell back to Hopley who fired home. That was pretty much the last kick of the half and gave something of a forewarning of what was to come.
The half-time was uneventful, bar the groundsman having to dodge occasional efforts from the Kettering subs as he went about his business in tending the goalmouth, before the sides emerged once more from the tunnel and we were back underway. It was Witton who continued where they left off and began the half on top, a position that they never really relinquished. Kettering’s best early chance came through Weir-Daley, who almost took out us in the crowd, but Chris’ ‘football in slippers’ skills came to the rescue.
As shenanigans kicked-off on the terraces, nothing really did so on the pitch. Chances dried up and only the ever more wound-up Kettering fans were keeping any sort of entertainment going on, not that they’d consider it as such, I expect. The referee, though, did his best in trying to liven up the game, by not really booking challenges when he ought to and therefore planting the seeds to allow him to lose most of his control over the game. Both sides were feeling fairly put out by some decisions and the players’ frustrations reflected this.
But, as the clock passed into the 96th minute, Albion forced a corner on the left. The resulting set-piece was half-cleared, but probably to a distance and a situation that most would have considered safe. This was shown as one Poppies fan muttered “All this way for a replay”, only for his companion to reply Nostradamus-esque “It’s not done yet” as Wes Benjamin unleased a fizzing drive that whizzed into the top corner of Snedker’s goal. STUNNER! No chance for him & the Town fans views towards their boss became even less enamoured. Full-time, 2-1 and once again the three-time semi-finalists Witton had scored with the last real kick of the half! That was also to be Benjamin’s last Witton action, as he left for Clitheroe a few days after.
So, with the Town fans unleashing their frustrations, I bid goodbye to Chris & Dave and headed back from whence I came, reaching the station in good time for the train straight back. Despite East Midlands’ trains best efforts to ruin my journey back from Manchester, Northern came to the rescue with their own late service, thus meaning all’s well that ends well, so it was off to Urmston and to my parents’ very own bar for some birthday drinks for my sister with some more family. Remember, The Three Barrels, check it out if you’re in the neck of the woods!…
Value For Money: 7