Result: Lostock Gralam 0-3 AFC Macclesfield (Cheshire League 1)
Venue: The Park Stadium (Monday 1st May 2017, 3pm)
Att: 20 (approx.)
With the season drawing to a close, it was time to delve back down into the lower levels of the pyramid. As such, a fine choice looked to be Lostock Gralam of the Cheshire League’s League 1 and so, after some deliberation, it was to their Park Stadium that I was headed for.
Heading into Manchester before midday, I had a good half-hour before my train down to Lostock Gralam. So, with me deciding it’d be a waste of 30 minutes otherwise, I headed for Piccadilly Station’s Hourglass Bar for a pint of their Löwenbrau beer. Despite its £4.80 price tag, I’m always more than happy to indulge in its fineness.
After having it brought to me after an issue with the pipes, I spent the half-hour I had watching the departure boards and watching my train head closer and closer to the top of the screen and, eventually, my train headed to within the final ten minutes to its departure and I headed down to the platform and onto my borderline prehistoric rattler down to the Cheshire village.
I eventually arrived at shortly after 1pm and headed immediately for the first pub of the day , the Watermead. The Watermead was your standard new-build Marston’s pub, so there was little to get the pulse racing. This was accentuated by the £3.90 pint of Shipyard. Oh, ‘Spoons, how I yearn for you and your cheap beers. Anyway, bar this, there was little to complain about, but I soon got a bit fed up and headed back up the road towards the ground.
Sadly, the ground neighbouring Slow and Easy was closed pre-match and so I headed for the ground directly through the car park. Again, with a good hour until kick-off, I soon got restless here and scouted out a wine bar close by. I assured the guy at the gate I’d be returning after he asked “Are you leaving now?!”, and headed back out onto the road. Unfortunately, I was denied a further pre-match beer by this place being shut-up and so I turned back, tail between my legs, and returned to the Park Stadium. Despite this un-fruitful detour, I did get to snap a couple of pictures of the town’s canal moorings. You’ve got to find the positives somewhere, eh?!
I ended up back at the ground with a good half-hour to kick-off, though this passed fairly quickly due to weather being on the warm side for once! So it wasn’t long until the sides headed into the dressing rooms ahead of kick-off, with one player from the home side claiming that “(the pitch) suits us more than it does them”. Would he be correct? Well, you should know by now. If not, then the drama has just been upped.
As for the Park Stadium, well, it’s simplistic. That’s not to say it’s not a lovely ground though. The far end is an open, grassy area, so probably not too friendly come rainy days. In fact, the whole ground lacks hard standing, but there is some respite in a small, covered standing area towards the far end on the near side touchline as you enter. The pub end is populated by the modern changing rooms/refreshment bar (plus a few tables) with a grass mound running the length of the far side of the pitch. With that out of the way, here’s a bit about Lostock Gralam’s story…
Lostock Gralam FC was founded in 1892, thus making the club one of the oldest in the county of Cheshire and the club have played at the Park Stadium for over a century. The club also helped to establish the Mid-Cheshire League upon its formation in 1948 and have continued their presence within it since.
The club won the Mid-Cheshire League in 1951, ’52 & ’53, completing a hat-trick of league titles, but had to wait a decade for their next triumph. However, they would go on to record a further trio of consecutive titles between 1966 & ’68, before bowing out of the league at the close of the ’74-’75 season, not reappearing until the ’93-’94 season, after almost a twenty year hiatus.
Following a Division 2 title win in 1997, and subsequent relegation in ’99, In recent years, the Grey Lambs (with perhaps one of the sweetest club badges of all time) won the Cheshire League’s Division 2 in 2010 to return to the league’s top-flight. They remained here through until 2014 when they were promoted to the Division One once more, but were relegated again the following season back to Division 2 and finished fifth, before being awarded a place in the newly formed “League 1”, the second tier of the newly created three-tier system in the Cheshire League.
The game got underway and it quickly became apparent that the visitors would be the dominant force during this fixture. Despite there being little in terms of pure action during the first period, it was Macclesfield who took the lead, Lee Quinlan managing to force a header from around 12 yards beyond the Gralam GK, despite him getting a decent hand to it. So the visitors led 0-1 and looked fairly comfortable.
Slightly earlier on, I had overheard someone mention the name of Paul Dickov. Now, I hadn’t thought much of it, past his involvement in the charity game on the coming Sunday (7th May) against AFC Macc. But, on the quintessential lap of the ground, I spotted the City play-off legend watching the contest on the far side. So, having got somewhat used to seeing Mancunian footballing legends at lower league levels (see my Prestwich Heys blog for another), I headed over to try to secure a snap with the former Oldham and Doncaster manager. Dickov couldn’t have been more courteous and after a quick chat, I left him to watch the team his son competes for net their second of the afternoon.
Having mostly dominated the first half, in terms of the final third, it was unsurprising that Macc would go on to double their lead as the ball was forced in by #9 Jay Burgess whilst he was lying on the ground and surrounded by a couple of defenders in a similar position. It was a pretty scrappy goal, but they all count. Two-nil to Macclesfield and half-time was quickly upon us. I headed for the refreshment bar and purchased a mug of tomato soup for just £1 to accompany me through the break.
The second half got underway and it was certainly more open and entertaining than the first. Lostock had their chances, though these came through their set-pieces. Firstly, they came oh so close to forcing their way back into the game with their #5 having an effort cleared off the line following a corner, before Macc went straight down the other end and forced a great chance to end the game as a contest, the ref pulling the game back for a spot-kick.
Up stepped the #11, but his kick was comfortably saved by the home custodian, though Macc’s disappointment was fairly short-lived as they would soon add their third, Jack Banister stealing the ball from a defender in the corner of the pitch before advancing into the area and finishing confidently; Nil-three and the points were, almost certainly, heading back to Macclesfield. Well Woodley, but you know.
The action wasn’t to finish there, though, as Lostock lost their sub to an apparent elbow, before skipper #5 again went so close to grabbing a consolation, seeing his 20-yard free-kick come back off the upright with the visiting ‘keeper beaten. Here endeth the action on the whole and Macc saw out the remaining fifteen minutes in comfort to secure the points.
Following the game, I headed for the Slow and Easy which had, mercifully, opened during the first half and thus spared me a good forty minute wait at Lostock Gralam station. Having headed inside, I was denied a pint of Staropramen’s Praha and so settled for Carling’s Cider which was ok. What was decent, though, was the fact I was allowed to dip into the post-match chips laid on for the players in here, courtesy of one of the Grey Lambs’ staff, so thanks for that.
Sadly, there wasn’t many of either side that took advantage of the post-match food, bar a few of the visiting side, and so it was soon time to head out and away from the Bank Holiday favourite ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ on the TV. I arrived back at the station just as the train back to Piccadilly rolled in. Timed to perfection once again!
My journey back was spent reading the Non-League Paper I’d picked up en route to the game and the Farsley Celtic programme from the prior Saturday, as well as marvelling over Knutsford being the capital of the world, considering how many had got off on the way and then got back on as I returned. (K)nuts!
Bar the crazy Knutsford popularity, the journey back was largely uneventful, though all my connections worked like clockwork (a rarity) to allow me to get back a good hour earlier than I expected.
So, a good day was had in Lostock Gralam. Yes there isn’t much to the village, but it’s a pleasant little place and ground, with the added bonus of it being on the airport flight path to add to my sadness! The game was decent enough and meeting Paul Dickov, scorer of one of the goals that has stuck with me from my earlier footballing memories made it all the more worthwhile. Next week sees the penultimate weekend of my 2016-’17 season. Writing this at almost 10pm, you have as much of an idea where I’m headed as I do!
Food: 3 (Soup)
Value For Money: 7