Result: Skelmersdale United 0-3 Marine (Northern Premier League Premier Division)
Venue: Stormy Corner (Monday 17th April 2017, 3pm)
Easter Monday had arrived and I was set to round off my Easter weekend with a good old-fashioned Bank Holiday derby fixture. Originally, this game had been planned to be Ilkeston vs Mickleover Sports, on account of Ilkeston’s apparently iffy future, but this was then unfortunately upstaged by the goings on with regard to Skelmersdale Utd and their “dismissal” from their Stormy Corner ground under a cloud of implausible, unreasonable-seeming goings on. So, feeling a bit for the club and wishing to help them out somewhat in their quest for survival, I reckoned my money would be better off spent there.
So, I set off having no complete plans of how to actually get to the ground via public transport, other than getting the train to Orrell and a bus from just up the road in Upholland. The first bit accomplished, I was then left with a good hour in the latterly mentioned self-proclaimed “historic” town. No worries, I thought, I’ll just go find somewhere to wait it out.
First pub: closed. Second one: in darkness. Third: similar. Fou….well you get the picture by now. Yes, Upholland was a ghost town during the late morning/early afternoon with nowhere open anywhere. So, I was left to trek up and down the road to pass the time which, I’m not going to lie, got a little soul-destroying after a while. For once in my life, I couldn’t wait to board a bus. That’s how desperate it got.
Eventually my carriage of refuge arrived and for £5.50 I was whisked up and into West Lancashire, passing by numerous now-open pubs en-route, just to rub it in a bit. After heading through the town centre of Skelmersdale, I remained on board to get a little closer to the ground, as there was three pubs to choose from within a ten-minute walk of Stormy Corner. No problems foreseen, I disembarked after the forty-minute journey to find…another ghost town. Brilliant.
First pub…nowhere to be found. Second: closed until later. Third: see second. The groundhopping Gods weren’t helping me out today, for sure! So with little choice left (all avenues had been exhausted), I decided to head to the ground a whole hour-and-a-half before kick-off, negotiating back-alleyways and roundabouts as I went, before eventually arriving at the scenic industrial estate which Stormy Corner is nestled within.
Arriving at the ground shortly afterwards, I paid my £9 dues at the turnstile, later returning to the box next door for a programme costing £2. It wasn’t worth it, though I do feel this may be down to cost-cutting as, on my previous trips, I’m sure I remember them being more full of articles and info? Anyway, I’m not one to complain too much about programmes, so I headed off for the bar for a much-needed pint, after the shenanigans of the day so far!
Upon entering Skem’s fine, memorabilia-filled clubhouse, I decided upon a pint of Lees’ Lager, which wasn’t the greatest I’ve ever had if I’m honest. A bonus, at least, was I was permitted to charge my phone to a reasonable level after it having to help out in the on-the-fly planning of my routes and in-vain hopes of finding pre-match pubs. Luckily, the Carlsberg I had secondly was a far better choice. The familiar options.
Soon enough, reluctant blogger Paul arrived having been on the Marine supporters’ bus and was in a far less neutral point of view today, Marine being his local and now #2 side. As proved by his sharing of words with another guy during the first half! (NB: I may be overblowing this for dramatic value). Soon enough, though, it was time to head outside for kick-off of the attractively named M58 derby!
Stormy Corner is a decent, if unspectacular, ground. Its “Main”, all-seater, Stand sits on the far touch-line from where you enter and offers a slightly raised view of the action. Behind the goal, and in front of the clubhouse/food bar, turnstile etc., is a covered standing area, which runs the majority of the way behind the goal at that end. The opposite end and the near-side touch-line are both open, hard standing, though both do have mounds which, sadly, are now off-limits to spectators. Health and Safety. Anyway, before I get into a rant over that, here’s the story of Skem Utd…
Skelmersdale United FC was formed in 1882 under the name of Skelmersdale Young Rovers, the side having been created of a team of players brought together by teachers of the town’s Wesleyan Day school. When the name was changed to Skelmersdale Wesleyans (under new headmaster- won’t see that much nowadays), the minister wasn’t too impressed with the change and so the team took the moniker “Skelmersdale United” and 1891 saw them join the Lancashire Combination.
Their first major silverware came in the form of the 1915 Lancashire Junior Shield, a victory over Portsmouth Rovers seeing the trophy head to the Skem trophy cabinet. 1909 saw the club join the Liverpool County Combination and it was here they lifted their first league title in 1911. They would remain in the LCC through to 1955, during which time they would lift a further nine titles, eight Liverpool County FA Challenge Cups and five (plus one shared) George Mahon Cups.
Their first season at White Moss Park in 1955 saw the club move back into the Lancashire Combination, taking a spot in the Second Division and immediately winning it. In 1961, Skelmersdale was given the designation of a “new town” and the club itself went on to greater success on the national stage, Skem reaching the FA Amateur Cup Final at Wembley where they came away with a creditable 0-0 draw with Enfield. However, they would go on to lose the replay 3-0 at Maine Road.
The following year saw the club reach the FA Cup first round, where they lost to league side Scunthorpe Utd and repeated the feat the following year, this time bowing out to Chesterfield. The ’68-’69 season also saw Skem depart the, recently downgraded, Lancashire Combination for the Cheshire County League, which they won on both of their first two seasons, also adding the Cheshire Challenge Shield on both occasions, the 1970 Cheshire Jubilee Cup, the 1970 Lancashire Challenge Cup and the same season’s Lancashire Floodlit Cup for good measure to start the decade off on a high note.
After a further two semi-final appearances, 1971 saw the club finally lift the Amateur Cup, defeating Dagenham 4-1 at Wembley, as well as securing promotion to the Northern Premier League come season’s end. The club also lifted a second consecutive Lancashire Challenge Cup at the end of the season, making the 1970-’71 a highly successful one for the BlueBoys.
After lifting 1971’s Ashworth Cup and Lancashire Challenge Cup, 1971-’72 saw the club again vanquished in the FA Cup first round, this time by Tranmere Rovers, though they did lift the interesting European Amateur Cup Winner’s Cup (defeating Monte Belluna 2-1 on aggregate). After winning two successive Liverpool Senior Non-League Cups (’74 & ’75), a sharp decline for Skem was to follow. By 1976, the club found itself back in the Lancashire Combination and, following the amalgamation between the Combination and the Cheshire League, Skem took up a place in the newly formed North West Counties League’s Division 2 for 1982.
1987’s league restructuring saw Skem take a place in the Division 1 of the NWCFL, but they remained here for just three seasons before being relegated. However, 1998 saw promotion back accomplished and 2000 saw the NWCFL League Challenge Trophy arrive. 2002 saw the club make the move from their long-term home at White Moss Park, moving to their current home at Stormy Corner and 2006 saw Skem achieve promotion to the NPL after finishing as NWCFL runners-up.
2008 saw the club lose out in the play-off final to FC United and lost out again to eventual winners Newcastle Blue Star the next year, salt being added to the wounds by the fact Blue Star then folded during close season. After further play-off semi-final defeats in the following years, 2013 finally saw Skem promoted, as champions, to the NPL Premier Division. 2015 saw Skem win the Liverpool Senior Cup but this has been, to date, the last silverware the club have won and with relegation back to the First Division already confirmed, the club have also been saddled with the news they will be forced out of their ground at the end of the season, Skem having to ground-share next season.
My, surprisingly, first NPL game of the season got underway and it took just three minutes for the first goal to arrive. And what a goal it was. Marine’s star-striker, Danny Mitchley, netted a superb strike. Mitchley advanced into the right-hand side of the area before cracking a thunderbolt into the top-corner of the opposite side of the net past the helpless ‘keeper and it looked like another long day was in the offing for the already relegated Blues.
To be honest, Skem’s only real threat in the early stages looked to be from striker Bevan Burey but he had little coming from wide areas, in terms of supply into the box. Plus with only one option on the bench, they were pretty hamstrung in what they could do to change things up. Matt Hamilton and Florian Da Silva, whom I took a strong liking to for his quick, direct style of play both went close to extending the visitors lead, as Marine continued to dominate.
Skem’s Remirez Howarth, on loan from Blackburn Rovers, was another bright-spot for them as he, on occasion, was able to fashion chances for himself, forcing a couple of decent saves out of veteran ‘keeper Paul Phillips in the visitors’ goal. But it was to be the visitors who would double their lead when, on 36 minutes, Hamilton rose up highest to power a header into the net from close range. That pretty much signalled that for the first half and I headed to the food bar where I eventually came away with a cheeseburger, which the lady inside already had in her hand and looked a bit lost with. Not bad for £2.50 either.
After spending the whole of the break in the queue, I completed an early lap of the ground before re-joining Paul and the Marine supporters down on the side of the pitch, their “youth” congregating behind the goal. However, Skem came out of the blocks strongly and were then awarded a bolt from the blue (forgive the sort-of pun); yes a penalty. Handball was given by the referee, but the resultant spot-kick by Steve Irwin was comfortably saved by Phillips who immediately 180’d to direct a fist-pump to someone in the stand behind!
This proved to be the end of Skem’s chances to get anything out of the game as Marine swiftly made it three, Florian chasing down the goal-keeper to block his clearance, with the ball eventually falling to Mitchley to knock home his second of the game and consign the basement club to a derby-day defeat. Their day was summed up with fifteen minutes to play, when a high-tackle by skipper Phil Mooney was, unsurprisingly, punished with a red-card that Mooney hardly complained about. Two other players, one from each team, were lucky to got off with just a yellow, with both raising hands in the resultant clashes.
Skem did continue to go at Marine and almost grabbed a consolation late on, Irwin clipping the top of the bar with a looping header, but it wasn’t to be and Marine came away from the game with the three points and the bragging rights. Though, it’s good that they’ll be able to have any sort of bragging rights next season after what Skem have had to endure in recent weeks. I hope it all resolves in the right way for them soon. It’s always a shame to see such a historic club threatened.
Post game, it was to the clubhouse for the final time (probably more so than just in the day, of course) for a quick pint of Guinness, before a pic with the legend that is Florian was had along with Marine fan Rob, who had been had just prior to it by Lyon-native Florian’s deadpan-joke delivery of saying he was Dutch when announced as a Frenchman. Bantz.
Anyway, it was soon time to leave, on account that Paul had almost missed the bus and I headed off on the short ten minute walk back to the bus stop for the return journey, though I decided I may as well go via Wigan this time and get the express back to Manchester from there. All this went smoothly and I was soon on the train back from there, with the journey a hell of a lot easier than it was getting there!
So, all in all, the trip up to Stormy Corner for what appears to be the final time, was a good one. The game was a bit of a non-event, though this wasn’t much of a surprise in all honesty and the area around the ground was a massive let down and that’s putting it nicely. As I say, it will be sad to see Stormy Corner (possibly) go and, once again, all the best to Skem in their quest to get back on-track soon, with the club ground-sharing at perennial landlords Prescot next season. Next week sees a return to the NPL for the final weekend and a first game in the North division this year. The place? It has a mill that isn’t….
*Shout out to the charitable walkers from Marine who, I was told after writing, trekked between the two grounds.
Value For Money: 5