Result: Athersley Recreation 0-5 West Didsbury & Chorlton (FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round)
Venue: Sheerien Park (Saturday 5th August 2017, 3pm)
For the second straight year, my season would get underway on the way to Wembley. Yes the FA Cup was again getting a number of non-league sides’ campaigns underway and I would be watching one clash that pit the two old Roses together, namely Barnsley’s Athersley Recreation & Manchester’s West Didsbury & Chorlton, if you’re willing to put the current county boundaries aside!
Hitching a ride upon West’s coach (for a £10 charge), I was joined by Cappy who has featured a few times on these pages now – none-more-so than in the Berwick trip a couple of seasons back – and his son Oliver. Also present were a number of the travelling West supporters including one “Barca Jim”, an exiled Scotsman with Celtic tendencies. Under his guidance, we were dropped off by the coach within central Barnsley, not far from a fine row of outlets that offered Taco Bell and KFC alongside a British Heart Foundation charity shop. Ah, the subtle warnings.
As the team headed onwards to the ground, so we headed for the pub, with Barnsley native Josh being designated guide. First up was the Old No.7 and what a place this was! Unfortunately, I was still suffering some effects from the Test Match day out the day before (at least that’s what I’m putting it down to) and so decided to be somewhat sensible and have just the one Yorkshire Cider in here. Whilst in here, Cappy also got into an interesting conversation with a guy (whose name escapes me sadly), who regaled us with tales from the miners’ strikes, through his times watching Barnsley and playing, albeit briefly, for Emley. A real interesting fella to talk to and a fine way to pass the time here.
Upon the close of his story about the Dickie Bird statue and the numerous things presented upon his erected finger, it was time to head out and over to the Wetherspoons. The other members of the crew (bar Bolton fan Elliot, who remained behind with us) left just before us as Cappy finished up his 3 1/3rd pints, before we too joined them next door. It was a good job he had too as he was soon to be royally disappointed by the lack of real ale within the ‘Spoons, whilst I settled upon a Punk IPA (shocker), I know, courtesy of Elliot’s cash.
After a short spell outside in the small beer garden, with West fan Matt trying desperately to frame Barca Jim with his tin-foil FA Cup, time was quickly approaching kick-off and so taxis were ordered to take us up. Three of them, no less. After finishing up (though Elliot was told he couldn’t drink outside as we waited, despite a table and chairs being readily available there) and getting in ours, it soon became apparent the driver had no idea what an Athersley was, nor where it is, despite driving a cab in Barnsley. Having pointed him in the right direction via the medium of technology, we were soon en route and arrived at the ground with minutes to spare. It’s not a cheap do at £9 for a fifteen minute journey though!
After heading down the sign-posted access lane towards Sheerien Park, we were greeted with a handshake by a Liverpudlian welcoming us to “The Rec”. Cappy commented how this was the first time he’d ever been welcomed to a ground in such a way and, after a quick check in my remaining memory, I concurred. A nice touch and it seems this happens for everyone, so god knows how he’d cope if Athersley ever get a fair way!
Anyway, after paying my £5 entrance fee, it was into Sheerien Park, though sadly programme-less at this point due to lack of numbers/too many in attendance (though we were given an e-mailed copy during the week). Programmes aren’t a huge be-all and end-all to me, but I do like to get one where possible and definitely at my opening game, so thanks to Athersley for doing this.
Sheerien Park is a smart little ground, hosting three stands. The stand behind the goal is covered seating, with the near touch-line hosting a covered standing area (which I term the Ryan White stand due to the 1,000-game veteran having a nice “mural” at the rear, along with a small stand combining both seating and standing, which proudly states it houses the “Rec-in Crew”. By the way, they love that pun here. The rest of the ground is open, hard standing and there is affair amount of space at the far end for possible further extensions. There is also a further barred off pitch at the far side of the ground from which you enter, but I don’t know to which level it’s used. All facilities stand behind the near-end goal, alongside the seating stand, with the tea hut and bar located through a gate in the fence. There is also a press box, though this is a shed.
Not too long after our arrival, the players were making their way onto the field and we were all set to go in the 2017-’18 season and the FA Cup. But, before we get to the contest at hand, here’s a little back story about the Penguins of Athersley Recreation…
Athersley Recreation FC was founded in 1979 as Athersley North Juniors, initially competing in the Barnsley Nelson League. After promotion in 1984 saw the club rise from Division 2 to Division 1, as runners-up placing in 1985 saw the club switch to the Barnsley Junior League for 1895-’86, finishing their first season here in Division 2 in third place and earning promotion to Division 1.
Renamed as Athersley Recreation in 1986, the club would go on to win the that season’s Barnsley Junior League Division 1 title and went on to join the Barnsley Association League’s Division 1, finishing runners-up and winning promotion at the close of their first season at that level. Back-to-back BAL Premier Division titles would follow in 1992 & ’93, followed by a further hat-trick of titles between ’95 &’97. After the latter of these title successes, the club would take a further step up to join the Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior League for the ’97-’98 season.
Winning the league’s Division 2 & League Cup in their first season, Athersley’s swift rise continued with a further promotion the next season as Division 1 runners-up and then a league title at the end of their first season in the Sheffield & Hallamshire’s Premier Division (2000). A second title would not arrive until 2004, but this would be a springboard for the Rec into more success, taking the title a further four times over the next eight seasons (’05, ’07, ’09, ’12), with the latter providing the club with a move into the pyramid system and the Northern Counties East League. They also added a further two League Cups during this period – these arriving in 2006 & 2009 respectively – and a Sheffield & Hallamshire Association Cup in 2008.
Playing in Division 1 of the NCEL, the Penguins had yet another successful first season, ending the season as runners-up and earning an immediate promotion to the Premier Division. This also gave the club more chances to compete in FA competitions, making their Vase bow in 2013-’14 and the FA Cup a year later. The club also lifted their first Sheffield & Hallamshire Senior Cup silverware in 2014, defeating Frickley Athletic of the NPL Premier Division at Hillsborough. Last season saw Athersley end up in a solid 10th place in the NCEL Prem.
The game got underway with both sides looking to steal on early march on their opponents. However, West soon got into their stride and deservedly took the lead. After forcing a corner, the resultant ball was headed against the upright, the rebound seeing the Athersley ‘keeper pull off a fine save, only to end up luckless as the ball fell to Kev McGrath at the back post, the centre-half sliding the ball home.
Athersley, though, could have levelled almost immediately. A poor ball in the midfield saw the home side gain possession and release Jack Briscoe, but the striker could only find the woodwork with only the ‘keeper to beat, the ball eventually finding its way into the visiting gloveman’s grateful hands. You felt that was a chance to grab the initiative, and this was soon to be taken, unquestionably, by the hummous-promoting visitors.
With twenty minutes played, the Penguins were the architects of their own downfall, as a mix-up at the back between ‘keeper and centre-half just outside the area allowed Tom Bailey to nip-in and lift the ball over the stranded home custodian and into the net for 0-2 and what looked to be game over, even at that early stage. West’s passage into the next round was almost sealed a few minutes later, but the impressive winger Carlos Mendes-Gomez was denied by a fine save by Ellis Halpine.
Athersley did begin to come into the game a little more as the half wore on, a couple of flash points seeming to serve to fire them up a bit. But, there was little to threaten the West goal and the half-time whistle went to signal a trip for some chips which, for £1.50, weren’t too bad. A further bonus was to actually be able to use the park benches flanking the bar, with the sun now shining unabated in this part of Yorkshire.
Halpine continued to keep his side in the contest at the start of the first half, pulling off another great stop to deny Nic Evangelinos, but the winger wouldn’t be denied his goal and curled a fine effort into the corner a couple of minutes later. A fourth followed just before the hour, newly introduced sub Joe Shaw drifting an effort across Halpine and into the far corner and that was that in terms of the result. But it certainly wasn’t in terms of the action.
To their credit, Athersley didn’t quit and Jason Paling’s rocket effort brought the best out of West’s Aaron Ashley who tipped the ball onto the crossbar whilst completely airborne. Then came the controversial moment in the tie as West skipper Mark Rogers saw a needless red following a pretty poor challenge. I didn’t see the actual incident that led to the red (nice Wenger), though I did hear a “headbutt” was the reason and this, via the grapevine, was confirmed!
A couple of further home chances came and went but, with 10 minutes left, it would still be the visitors who would add further gloss to the score-line, Bailey taking advantage of the Athersley defender’s misjudgment of a header to acrobatically fire beyond Halpine and into the net for five. Cappy was very pleased with himself for getting this goal on camera, though the score was very harsh on the ‘keeper who’d had a fine game, underlined by his late save to deny Evangelinos when one-on-one. Any fire was now out of Athersley and the time wound down to signal West’s progression to the Preliminary Round in an impressive display.
A quick drink from ‘The Rec Inn’ was had after the game before it was back to the coach for the journey back to Manchester and onwards home. The journey was sound-tracked by numerous karaoke renditions from the back of the bus, with Aaron Ashley’s version of James Blunt’s “Wise Men” going down extremely well, despite initial reservations and insults from those in attendance. A good day for him!
All in all then, it was a pretty decent day, if I ignore the first hour. A good game, a nice ground and a good atmosphere within the visiting clan. Next up is the beginning of the quest to add to the ’92’ before my railcard gives up the ghost. The spectre of time is forever looming….
Value For Money: 7