Result: Boston United 0-1 Altrincham (National League North)
Venue: York Street (Saturday 11th March 2017, 3pm)
As the season begins to enter its business end and teams begin to discover just what they are to be fighting for, it’s also the case that most games have something riding on them one way or another. Sadly, this one wasn’t one of them, as it appears Boston are, more than likely, safe and Alty, sadly, seem destined to take up a spot in the Northern Premier League for next season, as their sad decline continues unabated. Regardless, there was something important around this game for myself. That “thing” being Boston’s home: York Street. With only a few weeks remaining of the old ground’s life, it didn’t take much to persuade me to make a visit.
So, come the morning of this very Saturday in question, I was kindly given a lift into Sale where I would be picked up by Altrincham’s supporters’ coach for the trip over to Lincolnshire. This method of transport was chosen due to the obscene price of the train journey to get there otherwise (around £41 for me) and with the bus being a full £14 cheaper, the decision really was a no-brainer.
With the mini-bus arriving nice and early, I was welcomed onto it by Alty supporter John and his wife (I say very much hoping this is the case, if not I may be in trouble!) and we were soon underway, with the latter of the pair not impressed by the uttering of the name “Stockport County” from the driver! All in jest of course. Anyway, after a further couple of swift stops to pick up the remaining travelling band of hardy Robins supporters, the journey down to South-East Lincolnshire began.
After a largely uneventful journey to our stop-off point in Blyth (no, we weren’t that off course, this was the one near Worksop), it was somewhat surprising to find a large RAF presence at the services as we arrived. Just what do they get up to around here?! It turns out it was nothing more than a quick caffeine stop for the lads in uniform before they pulled out in convoy and off to one of the many bases around the former bomber command stronghold county.
We soon followed them back out of the services and an hour or so later were arriving into Boston, greeted by the sight of a pair of ducks taking a leisurely stroll down the pavement., before the towering old-age floodlights of York Street came into view and I was quickly taken by them. When it comes to these sort of things, you can almost…and I stress ALMOST get how people fall in love with inanimate objects. Phwoooar!
As we arrived outside the gates of the Pilgrims’ home, we were soon all off the bus and after a quick programme purchase, I quickly headed off towards the large church steeple that dominates the surrounding area. I figured that this must be where the town centre was and, for once, I was right! Yes, I didn’t get lost after following my own hunch, get the bunting and balloons out!
A quick sightseeing trip to St. Boltoph’s Church (apparently the largest parish church in England) and it’s “stump” later and things turned towards more important cultural things. Namely, surprisingly, beer. The first stop was a nearby Tudor-period-looking building which I could only tell had a bar by peering in the door and seeing the line of illuminated pumps including the brilliant Hop House Lager, which is often overlooked by myself, sadly, but when I do remember just how good it is, it’s worth the wait. £4 a pint in here, but nice surroundings to go with it, with the interior split into many small rooms all kept in period style.
Unfortunately, I was on a bit of a whistle-stop tour of the town and so had little chance to truly enjoy my short stay before I was heading back towards the market place and to a pair of pubs, namely the Britannia and the Stump and Candle. On walking past the former, it looked a little on the full side, so I decided to miss it out for now and head for the Stump, named after the church spire which stands behind it.
On entering I found two guys in here. One was there watching the TV with a pint as per normal. The other…well, was going on to himself wittering on about nonsensical things and toasting the spirits behind the bar after reciting a story to himself. He was a decent enough chap, though, so no qualms there. There was some qualms held by the guy behind the bar, though, who was less than impressed as the fella walked over to the jukebox to get it going, forcing him to go off and switch it on, negating the sound of the rugby on TV as a result. All quite humorous!
As for the other guest in here, I decided that, with time against me, I may as well quiz him on which pubs were best around Boston. It turned out the guy was from up in the North East and didn’t really know the answer, but did give me the locations of a few to try out en-route back to the ground. With ‘Spoons sitting just the other side of the river, it seemed silly not to tick another of these off too so, after bidding goodbye to the trio, headed over the River Witham to the Moon Under Water. Yes, another one.
The Moon was a fairly decent ‘Spoons but nothing too special, though I did cause some confusion for the girl serving by ordering a Punk IPA and then having to help them locate it within the fridge. A good lesson to have learned, I’d say! Anyway, I wasn’t wasting much time in here and it was off back over the River to the Ship Inn, reached down a small passageway.
The Ship seems a favoured haunt of Pilgrims fans with it pretty full of gold and black scarves and shirts. The Bateman’s Gold Ale seemed to be going down well too, though I figured having had a few in quick succession, I’d steer clear for now and plumped for a Strongbow instead, which set me back a further £3+. Not much to report on here and with the clock rapidly approaching 3pm, I decided to head round to York Street.
Cutting back through the neighbouring Matalan car park, I then found myself with a dilemma. Turn right and spend 15 minutes on the terrace doing nothing, or turn left and sample a quick local ale in the Coach & Horses. Now, if you read these blogs regularly enough (and if you do I’m sorry, but thanks!), I think you can probably work out what I chose.
A quick half of Bateman’s XL was had but with less than five minutes to kick-off, I swiftly headed back to the ground, where I handed over my £13 entrance fee for a place in the away section. The teams had just entered the pitch, with York Street looking just fine.
It’s Main Stand, to the right of me, is all seater, with a couple of pillars supporting its roof. The opposite touch-line plays host to the Spayne Road Stand, a covered terrace which runs the length of the pitch. The far end is populated by the Town End terrace, which is largely covered, bar a small amount of standing on each side. The York Street end, where the travelling fans were housed today, is probably the most interesting of all stand at the ground, with the raised seating area of the stand reached by climbing stairs from the small terrace below. Now, here’s a bit about the story of Boston United…
Boston United Football Club was formed in 1933 as successor to a previous club who competed as Boston Town. They initially competed in the Midland League during their formative years, but achieved little initial success, outside of numerous Lincolnshire Cup wins (now numbering fifteen in total), achieving a runners-up spot in 1956 with this being their highest placing. 1959 saw the club move to the Southern League’s ‘North Western Zone’.
Following a third placed finish, Boston found themselves in the Premier Division, where they remained for the next two seasons, before the club were spared relegation to Division 1 by leaving the league altogether and taking a year out. They had added an East Anglia Cup to their cabinet by that point, though (1961).
1962 saw the Pilgrims re-join the Midland League, but remained for just two seasons before departing once more. A further year’s sabbatical followed before Boston popped back up in the United Counties League in 1965 which they immediately won to move up into the West Midlands Regional League Premier Division which was won twice in succession over the next two years, prior to a switch into the newly-formed Northern Premier League for 1968-’69.
Following a runners-up placing (and an Eastern Professional Floodlit Cup win) in 1972, Boston went on to win the NPL title in four of the next six seasons (’73, ’74, ’77, ’78), added a pair of NPL League Cups (’74 & ’76) alongside four NPL Shields (’74, ’75, ’77, ’78) and were twice ‘Non-League Champion of Champions (’73 & ’77), though they were surprisingly overlooked for election to the Football League in favour of ’78 runners-up Wigan Athletic.
Instead, Boston became founder members of the Alliance Premier League in 1980 and reaching the semi-finals of the FA Trophy that same campaign. 1985 saw the club end up as Trophy runners-up (vs Wealdstone) before a drop off in form saw the club eventually relegated to the NPL in 1993.
After finishing as NPL runners-up in 1998, Boston re-joined the Southern League’s Premier Division and after finishing runners-up in their first season back, went one better in 2000, going on to win the title and, therefore, a place in the Conference. They then went on to immediately win the Conference at the end of their first campaign back at that level, taking up a spot in the Football League’s Division 3, going fully professional in the process.
After financial issues saw the club enter administration, the 10-point deduction proved to much of an obstacle to overcome, with the Pilgrims relegated back to the Conference in 2007, but were made to bypass the Premier Division and take a spot in the North Section of the league. Things got even worse in 2009, with Boston demoted to the NPL Premier Division.
However, here they stabilised, with a third-place finish in 2010 seeing them take a place in the play-offs, where they overcame Bradford PA in the final. The Pilgrims also added a third NPL League Cup as they bid farewell to the league and returned to the Conference once more.
Back in the Conference North, Boston have somewhat found their level for the time being, having spent the last seven campaigns here, with an eighth looking more than likely. This season has been something of a disappointment for Boston, having come off the back of two play-off placings in the last two years, they currently find themselves in 15th place in the, currently titled, National League North.
After a minutes applause to remember former Boston player Steve Martin who sadly passed away recently, the game got going with a fairly even start, both sides sharing a couple of half-chances each, but it was the home side who came closest to taking the lead with around twenty minutes played, Harry Vince clipping the outside of Stuart Tomlinson’s upright. This was followed by the impressive Lewis Hilliard driving a shot across goal and just wide, as it looked set to be a long day at the office for the visiting Robins.
Tomlinson, the Alty stopper, was in his second outing since returning to football after a spell in WWE’s system, thus it was quite amusing when he was serenaded with a “You fat bastard” shortly into the contest. I can only imagine this wasn’t repeated after one of his action shots was passed around the terrace. (Disclaimer: This probably didn’t happen…)
Anyway, impressive physiques aside and Boston were to rue their early miss when, on 32 minutes, Elliott Newby was released and he strode into the area before firing beyond the Pilgrims’ custodian Ross Durrant. The bottom-of-the-league Robins led at Boston and anywhere else this would have been seen as a shock. But not at York Street where this is a familiar tale for the Pilgrims who, unbelievably, have failed to win a Saturday home league game all season. Crazy!
This goal seemed to rattle Boston and settle Altrincham in equal measure, with Alty almost going in at the break two-up, only for the linesman’s flag to deny Simon Richman’s “goal” from standing. Half-Time soon arrived and I headed down the steps to purchase portion of chips for just £1.20, before retaking a place up in the benched seats for the second period.
During the first half, I had met up with Alty fan Martin, who had sort of replied to my tweet to NonLeagueMag earlier in the week regarding which games everyone was off to. As such, I decided to disrupt his peaceful viewing pleasure of the game for the second half too. Sorry, Martin! With one particularly vocal Alty fan doing his level best to shout support from the terracing (perhaps with the help of some alcoholic beverages?!), both sides began to do battle once more.
The second half, though, was a very scrappy affair, with Alty understandably sitting back on their lead and United seemingly lacking the cutting edge required to break them down. Their cause wasn’t helped when, with twenty minutes remaining, their centre-back and skipper Robinson seemingly suffered a hamstring issue and with all three subs used by the Pilgrims looked destined to leave his side one short. However he battled on, forced up front as a makeshift, immobile striker.
The last ten or so was all one way traffic, with the hosts throwing desperate attack after desperate attack at the visitors, but it wasn’t until the 91st minute that they finally found a way to truly trouble Tomlinson (oooh nice alliteration there, eh?!). With Boston now on all-out attack mode, they finally got clear but found the imposing figure of “Hugo Knox” in outstanding form as he pulled off a miraculous double save to deny, firstly, Alex Simmons’ low drive before flinging himself to his right to block Jay Rollins’ follow-up with his legs to secure the points. Full-Time, 0-1! and a great, deserved win for the Robins!
After the game, I bid farewell to Martin and the very happy, chanting fan before heading out of the ground and meeting up with John and the rest of the bus load for the journey back up to Altrincham. After a journey back which largely included people’s experiences of the Stump and just how far the town centre was from the ground, we were back in Cheshire much quicker, it seemed, than was the case on the outbound leg.
After bidding goodbye and thanks to those on board, it was to the Vine Tavern for a quick pint whilst waiting for the bus back home. Damn you time, forcing me to drink… After meeting a couple in here who were aware of our bar (I should start charging for these ads), it was time to go and bring to an end a fine day out.
I really enjoyed my short time in Boston and look forward to returning to either United’s new ground or to Boston Town, both of whom are, sadly, not as central as the tremendous York Street. With regards to United’s new home, it’s always a shame when a club moves out of a town-centre location. Of course, it is all part and parcel of the new breed of community complex-based stadia but from a personal (and rather greedy) point of view, it lessens the overall experience and ease of access. Good luck to them on the move, but York Street and its tremendous, glorious floodlights will always be the one for me…
Value For Money: 7