Result: Altrincham 4-1 Ramsbottom United (FA Trophy 2nd Round)
Venue: Moss Lane (Saturday 11th November 2017, 3pm)
After the previous few weeks of traversing some of the larger grounds in the country, this weekend saw me end up middling somewhat and returning to familiar territory. After again offering my fate up to the twittersphere, a late influx of voting saw Altrincham’s match-up with Ramsbottom United pull away from Lancaster-Stratford and thus off to Moss Lane I headed once again.
With Alty’s home being just a short bus ride away, this meant I was afforded the rarity of a somewhat later start than usual. Hopping on at just after 11am, I had arrived in the Cheshire town around the stroke of midday, my timekeeping helped out by the large clock stationed outside the interchange, with Alty being accessible by numerous modes of transport, including train, tram and bus. It only lacks its own airfield…
I first decided to scout out possible places to watch the F1 qualifying later in the day and found the Orange Tree to be the most likely place, the pub neighboured by the old town stocks. Unfortunately this wouldn’t end up being visited, but there’s still the lure of the Manchester League’s Altrincham-Hale to bring me back! With me planning on leaving here until post-match, my first stop of the day became the Old Roebuck, just off the main road. An old-looking pub, it was pretty cosy, but also empty within at this early hour, with more punters seeming to end up in the larger Market Tavern over the way. The Moretti in here was good, though pricey as per.
Now £4.50 lighter, I set my sights on the town centre itself and the market area of Altrincham. The market was filling up nicely as I arrived, though there didn’t seem to be much to attract me there, within the mix of veg and fruit and varying pieces of paraphernalia. Instead, I was more taken by the few “crafty” bars in the immediate vicinity. The first I came across was the Cellar, but this didn’t really attract me too much and so I headed for the nearby Mort Subite, located in a basement just around the corner. Unfortunately, I arrived to find this shut until 1pm and so, stranded, I needed a safe port of call for the next half-hour or so. Luckily, the neighbouring Belgian Bar (that’s its name, not just a vague description of the place) came to my aid, though only after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing on my part, I admit.
Originally, I plumped for a pint of the advertised Belgian (I assumed) beer, but something made me quickly reckon I should try it out first. This proved a shrewd idea, as I found it bloody awful and so opted to stay safe and go for a known quantity in Krombacher. Again, at £4.60, this didn’t come cheap and I was soon thinking that one of the closer trips of mine may still end up being one of the more costly ones come the end of the day! Not that I hadn’t seen it coming, mind you. No Carling here, please…
Having milked away the time in the Belgian Bar, the clock ticked over to the one and so I headed a couple of doors down to find the door open but it seeming fairly quiet. That is until a guy came up from the depths to put the sign out, seemed surprised to find me lurking up on top of the stairs before saying I’d be ok to head down as “she should just be finishing up”. At the bottom of the stairs, I headed through a curtain to find a skeleton staring back at me. Where had I ended up, I thought to myself and was I about to end up with that fate?!
Of course, the skeleton was just a part of the décor of the place, being that Mort Subite was (as I was later informed by Colin, who gave me tips on where to head for later on) the former mortuary for the hospital just across the road. After a quick scan of the menu I was handed upon entering, I opted for the half of Liefman’s Mixed Fruit offering for a further £3.50, though I did receive some free cheesy nibbles to accompany it. Mort Subite is definitely worth a visit if you’re out and about here, a great little bar though apparently one for the bustling evenings rather than the quiet early afternoons.
It was soon time for me to go onwards, so I paid my dues and bid goodbye to Colin and headed just around the corner to the more shop-centric part of the centre. In the midst of all these retail places sits the traditional-looking Bricklayer’s Arms, which looks totally out of place in the midst of the apparently more modern developments around it. After a greeting from a guy having a cig outside, a quick pint of Grolsch (cheapest of the day at well under £3) was had before I reckoned I really should be closer to the ground than I was. Problem was, I’d been given a tip by Colin to visit Costello’s Bar in the Goose Green area and with this being en route to Moss Lane, I figured it’d be wrong of me to miss it out.
Heading past the statues of a couple of Geese guarding the small square which consisted of a few other shops and bars, I headed into the modern-style bar for a quick pint of Amstel before giving up on getting to the ground at all early. As such, I asked Alty fan Jonny to grab a programme for me, you know, just in case, and settled in for a little longer whilst intermittently overhearing a conversation about who’d been barred recently and if it was indeed a surprise or not….
With twenty minutes or so to kick-off, I set off on the short walk down to Moss Lane. After skirting around the park, I arrived within sight of the large main stand and was soon at the turnstile. Handing over my £10 entry, I headed past the usual (as far as I remember) programme selling place which seemed devoid of bibles and up into said main stand where I found Jonny and Danny in situ. Handing over my £2 with thanks, kick-off was imminent.
Moss Lane has not changed all that much, unsurprisingly. The Main Stand is all seater and offers a raised view of the action, with a small “family” stand being located to the left. This stand also plays host to some hospitality areas. Both ends are terraced, with the “home” end being covered and stretching a good few rows back. The “away” (normally and if segregated) end gives a more raised view of the action at the rear than that from the terrace opposite, but is open to the elements, though this wasn’t an issue today. Between the two ends and opposite the main stand is a long terraced area, which is covered for the vast majority (but I find doesn’t give too great views unless right at the front and at pitch-side). The other side of the Main Stand is populated by the new Community Centre construction, which also serves as the clubhouse and the food bar is adjoining. Now, here’s the story behind Altrincham F.C….
Altrincham Football Club was founded in 1891 by a Sunday League and took the name of Rigby Memorial Club. They soon merged with local side Grapplers to form Broadheath F.C. and became founder members of the Manchester League in 1893, with their first match here – against Hulme – ending in a seven-nil defeat. Things didn’t get much better for the fledgling side as they finished bottom of the table come the close of the first Manchester League season.
After stints at various grounds around the Broadheath, Timperley and Altrincham area, the club moved to Pollitt’s Field in 1903 and took on their current name, Altrincham F.C. and this name change proved a lucky one, as the club won the Cheshire Amateur Cup at the end of the first season as Alty before taking both the Manchester League and Cheshire Senior Cup titles the following season. After a second Manchester League success in 1907, the club went on to move to their current Moss Lane home in 1910. 1911 saw Alty join the Lancashire Combination and join the Division 2, finishing as runners-up at the close of their first season here, missing out on the title on goal average. They were still promoted to Division 1, though, and remained here through to the outbreak of WWI.
When football resumed after the cessation of hostilities, Alty became founder members of the Cheshire County League where they would remain through to the outbreak of the Second World War. Whilst in the Cheshire League, the club won the Cheshire League Cup in 1933 and finished as League runners-up on two occasions (1935 & ’36). They also reached the FA Cup’s First Round for the first time during their stay in this league, this appearance seeing the club lose out to Gainsborough Trinity during the 1934-’35 season.
After missing the first season of post-war football, Alty recommenced playing in 1946 and re-joined the Cheshire County League. Little in the way of immediate success was to follow, with the club taking just a sole Cheshire League Cup win – in 1951 – prior to their mid-1960’s upturn in form. After a third and final Cheshire League Cup win in 1964, the club began to become more competitive. Jackie Swindells was a key player in this turnaround, with Swindells scoring no less than 82 goals in his first season at the club. Unsurprisingly, this helped Alty to their first post-war league title and the first of two consecutive ones at that (’66 & ’67), though he did notch somewhat less during the second campaign, ending up with an impressive 120 goals over the two title-winning seasons, whilst helping the club to a third Senior Cup win too (1967). After a runners-up placing in 1968, the Robins would go on to be a founding member of the Northern Premier League that close season. They’d go on to lift the NPL’s Challenge Cup for the first time in 1970.
The 1976-’77 season saw Altrincham reach the FA Trophy semi-finals whilst also applying for the Football League for the first time. Of course, this was unsuccessful, with Wimbledon getting the nod. The following year saw them go one better in the Trophy, winning the final at Wembley with a 3-1 win over Leatherhead. 1979 saw the Robins finish as NPL runners-up (along with lifting the NPL Challenge Shield) and again apply for the League. Despite getting the largest number of votes for a non-league side, Halifax Town were instead voted in to remain in the League after finishing bottom. This fruitless effort meant Altrincham instead joined the Conference’s forerunner, the Alliance League for which the winner would be the sole possible non-league nomination for a place in the League system.
The Alliance’s first season saw Alty win the division (along with the Bob Lord Trophy), but elation turned to further dismay as the club missed out on election by one vote to Rochdale with, apparently, the Alty-bound votes of Grimsby and Luton not being cast due to the former being at the wrong side of the room and the latter being late. As such, Alty remained in the Alliance and retained their title the next season, but again lost in the voting to Halifax. This proved to be the final time Alty would get truly close to the League, with the club managing the highs of four consecutive top-five finishes at best between 1984 and 1987.
The club was still successful in the cups, winning a further Cheshire Senior Cup in 1982 and the FA Trophy still proved a decent hunting ground too, with Alty being beaten finalists in 1982 but returning to lift the silverware in 1985 after overcoming Runcorn by a single goal. 1986 would then see the club knock top-flight Birmingham City out of the FA Cup, defeating the Division 1 side 2-1 at St. Andrew’s in Alty’s most famed “giant-killing”.
Playing in the newly named Conference, Alty finished third in 1991 before falling away into mid-table for a few seasons before recovering back to fourth in 1995. However, this was something of a false dawn, with the club finishing bottom two seasons later and being relegated to the Northern Premier League’s Premier Division. The club would spend two further seasons in the NPL, winning a second Challenge Cup (1998),Challenge Shield (1999) before returning as champions, but only lasted a single season back in the Conference, being relegated after finishing second bottom, despite some silver-lining being provided with yet another Senior Cup win.
A twelfth placed finish in 2004 saw Altrincham take a place in the newly created Conference North, where they finished fifth at the end of the first season and took a place in the play-offs, where they’d defeat both Nuneaton Borough and Kettering Town prior to defeating Eastbourne Borough in the North/South clash to decide the promoted team. Their penultimate Senior Cup to date would add to the glory that season. It appeared their stay back in the Conference would last just one season, an 18-point ineligible player deduction seemingly putting paid to their survival hopes, but Canvey Island’s resignation and Scarborough’s demotion saw the Robins reprieved.
This began a few seasons of a similar story, with Alty continuing to struggle but be reprieved from relegation. The following year saw Boston United demoted, then Halifax were liquidated the season after that. A couple of seasons of normality followed (bar Aussie cricket skipper Ricky Ponting becoming a shareholder, that is), with mid-table finishes (plus a final, at time of writing, Cheshire Senior Cup win in 2009) keeping Alty clear of the drop, but the club were eventually unable to avoid the trap door in 2011. A defeat in the 2013 Conference North play-offs was followed by success the next campaign, with Alty defeating Hednesford Town and Guiseley (I attended a game in both of these stages) to achieve promotion back to the Conference National, a last-minute winner avoiding penalties in the final played at Moss Lane. A two season stay back in the National division was ended in 2016, but disappointment didn’t end their as Altrincham went straight through the North division last season, finishing adrift at the bottom of the table and taking a place back in the NPL’s Premier Division for this season.
Following the impeccably observed silence for Armistice Day, the action began in this first ever meeting between the two clubs and it took just two minutes for the first goal to arrive, with the visiting Rams grabbing the opener against their higher ranked hosts. A poor ball in the Alty defence resulted in the ball ending up at the feet of Sam Heathcote and Heathcote – who carries a name synonymous with the Moss Lane outfit – netted against his former club, firing low beyond Thompson. A possible upset on the cards?
After a Greg Daniels effort had been kept out by Tony Thompson in the home goal, Alty found their feet after a slow opening ten minute spell and equalised after a quarter of an hour. A whipped in corner met the head of the unmarked Jordan Hulme, the Robins forward making no mistake with his short-range header, which left Rams stopper Danny Taberner with no chance of making the save. One-a-piece.
John Johnstone – adding to the alliterative names on the Alty team-sheet – was the main threat down the flank and the majority of chances being created by the hosts was coming from him, including one effort which forced Taberner into a low stop. However, with ten minutes of the first half remaining, Hulme would again be the one to find the net, seizing the ball within the box, before turning swiftly and firing a rising shot into the roof of the net from around twelve yards. As I left Danny and Jonny to have a quick lap of the ground, further chances followed for the hosts as the Northern Premier League leaders further asserted themselves over the tie, but it was Heathcote who’d come closest to levelling up the scores, seeing his free-kick tipped wide by Thompson. No further goals followed and the teams headed in with Alty still holding their slender advantage. 2-1 at half-time.
The break saw me head to the food bar some fine chips and gravy at a fine portion size too. I think it was £2.50, but I can’t actually remember that part as it’s, shockingly I know, not too memorable. The memorable part went to meeting up with the Trafford (and occasional Kartel Sports) legend that is Scott Barlow at half-time, with the former 40-goal-a-season striker, who was down watching with his son, stopping me as I almost walked straight past in my quest to return to the stand. As such, the first part of the second half was spent over a pint of Kingstone Press, courtesy of Scott, in the clubhouse while watching the game on TV. I still managed to pretty much miss ex-Rammy man Hulme’s hat-trick goal, though, but thankfully the Alty match report is on hand to tell me that “Hulme turned well inside the box and his shot hit a defender and looped into the net”. Cheers media people!!
After finishing up my drink, I bid goodbye to Scott and his group and headed back out to re-join Jonny and Danny who were now located over in the far end of the stand, doing the opposite switch to what most fans do in accordance with which side their team is attacking (I’m told this is due to getting a better view of the goal Alty are attacking!). Anyway, chances were few and far between in the second half, with only long-range efforts and a few blocked chances coming anywhere close to adding to the score-line.
That is until, on 85 minutes, one of those longer-range efforts was unleashed by James Poole, with the ball, on this occasion, evading the diving frame of Taberner and squeezing beyond him and into the back of the net to seal Alty’s progression in what was a comfortable enough game for them, but wasn’t without a couple of scares along the way as the Lancastrian side put in a good shift. The final score-line was a little harsh on the visitors, but four-one it was.
After leaving Danny & Jonny, I headed back out the ground and off towards the large Tesco which dominates that side of the town, along with the Silver Blades Ice Rink, which plays host to the Manchester Storm Ice Hockey side – having previously hosted the Manchester Phoenix, whom hosted my only experience thus far of Ice Hockey as, despite being entertaining, it’s pretty overpriced in my opinion – and swiftly ticked off the Altrincham branch of Wetherspoon’s, The Unicorn. Yes, I know, I’m one of those guys, but not too religiously, I stress! Punk IPA was, of course, the chosen one.
I soon discovered that I’d missed the F1 and, as such, the final drink in the Orange Tree was cancelled. I was also beginning to flag a bit and reckoned a smarter move would to be to head back home and have a bit of a splash-and-dash, with the “splash” being a few winks and the “dash” being a final drink. Both of these were ultimately highly successful, despite me trying to nod off on the bus (which is never a good look I might add), and there endeth this story.
All in all, yes it was another trip to the Moss Lane ground that I’ve visited multiple times, but this one was different as I’ve never really explored Alty as a town, outside of the area around the interchange. The place has some cool places and is well worth the trip even if it is a little on the pricey side. The game itself was decent enough too, with the game not being truly ended as a contest until that last five minutes and a few goals thrown in for good measure. Can’t really complain. So onwards to next week and that rare thing that is called a non-league league game! Not seen many this year, so will be something of a novelty. Off to a house for that….
Programme: 5 (seemed cut back?)
Value For Money: 6