Result: Mersey Valley 4-2 Club AZ (J.A. Walton Challenge Cup First Round)
Venue: Mersey Valley Sports Club, Banky Lane (Saturday 29th September 2018, 3pm)
Att: 8 (eight)
With the rail strikes continuing unabated for yet another week, my tour de local area continued with a return to one of the more local grounds to me. I was back off to Banky Lane, where I’d seen Sale Town on a couple of occasions, but there was a new kid on the block this time around. Having formed their own side a few years back, Mersey Valley Sports Club took on full usage of the ground under their own name and introduced Mersey Valley F.C. into the Cheshire League fray. Though only a fairly new entity, the club has established itself in the Cheshire League’s lower to mid reaches so far and looks to have a decent set-up to push on from. Anyway, enough about the past and future, let’s get back onto the present, shall we?
Grabbing the bus into Sale at just before 11am, an easy, swift journey had me in the (don’t mention Greater Manchester) Cheshire town for just about half-past. Upon arrival, I attempted to begin down the back of the canal somewhat at the Railway Tavern, only to find it still shut through to midday, so instead opted to begin my circuit at the King’s Ransom on the canal side. Entered by heading down a flight of stairs (disabled access is available), a further couple of lots finally spit you out in the bar area, where I was swiftly purchasing a pint of Amstel (£3.70) to begin the day. However, it was in a Carling glass and I’d like to stress that it definitely wasn’t. In an added bonus, it isn’t often you get to sit on a barge-like construction actually on the water and watch a number of rowers go on past, possibly a few preferring to be where I was rather than going through all that. Soon enough, it was time to continue onwards over the way to the pub-with-no-obvious-name, though it used to be the Steamhouse, so no idea if that’s still the case.
Either way, my first two options of Bootleg IPA and a cider were off, so I settled with a pint of Menabrea, which was alright, but is one of the minority that is better in a bottle in my opinion. It did grow on me slightly as I worked on through it, somewhat helping the £4.40 price tag be a little easier to swallow, if you pardon the pun. From there it was back off to the Railway Tavern which was now thankfully open and a quick pint of Heineken was had before heading back up to the main road and past the metro stop to the town’s Wetherspoon’s: the J.P. Joule. An ok if largely uninspiring ‘Spoon’s offering, I had my “refresher” of a Hooch in here for the usual £2.19, though I didn’t much welcome the cheers emanating from the top-tier of the pub when West Ham United netted their second against a more local side with that suffix. Not that is was too surprising, of course, but the less said about that the better….
Sale is a town historically in Cheshire as determined by the River Mersey, the historical border between Lancashire and Cheshire. A flint arrowhead found gives indications of possible pre-historic inhabitation of the area, though there is nothing else to back this up. The Roman-era gives the first true findings of activity in and around the Sale area, and the A56 (Cross Street) largely follows the old Roman road linking the fortresses at York and Chester via the fort at Manchester. The Anglo-Saxon invasion prompted Sale’s name to come to fruition, it deriving from the Old English word salh, meaning “at the sallow tree”, with Ashton-on-Mersey meaning “village or farm near the ash trees”. Although neither Sale or A-o-M were mentioned in the Domesday Book, this may be because only a partial survey was taken. The settlements did pop up in 1199 & 1260 respectively and were largely crop and cattle farming centric areas through the Middle Ages, though were described as townships rather than manors, again suggesting an Anglo-Saxon heritage for the two.
Sale would pass through the local de Sale, de Carrington and de Massey and later their descendants – the Holts and Masseys – with Sale Old Hall built for the latter’s in 1603 and though demolished for the most part in 1920, a couple of buildings remain, notably the lodge at Sale Golf Club. In 1745, the 14th century Crossford Bridge (the name by which Old Alts’ ground is known) was demolished by the government to delay the Jacobite invasion, though it was rebuilt by the Scots and a small force was sent into Sale and Altrincham to try to deceive the opposition into believing they were headed for Chester. This worked and the invading main army instead went by Cheadle and Stockport. 1765 would see the Bridgwater Canal reach Sale, stimulating the town’s growth and changing its rural surroundings into a more urban location. Later, Sale Moor was brought into use as cultivation for food during the Napoleonic Wars, with the area later becoming a village in its own right, along with Brooklands – the latter taking its name from the local landowner. Sale Moor would be the poorer area for a long while due to poor soil, but upon the introduction of the railway in 1849 and Sale Moor’s close location to it, Sale Moor suddenly turned the tables to become the most affluent and desirable part of the growing commuter town, Sale later merging with Ashton-on-Mersey in 1929.
During World War Two Sale, interestingly enough, was never evacuated, this despite its close proximity to Manchester and Trafford, with it even taking in evacuees. The town would, obviously, end up being hit and despite numerous previous raids and the 600 bombs dropped on the town during the Manchester Blitz, miraculously no-one was killed, though the town hall was severely damaged. Sadly, there would be a couple of wartime fatality nearby, as a Wellington Bomber went down in nearby Walton Park whilst taking part in a training exercise, killing the captain and bomb-aimer of the six man (one RAF and five RAAF) crew. More recently, the 1970’s saw the town centre redeveloped and largely pedestrianised in an attempt to grow trade in the town, whilst the construction of the M63 (now M60) allowed for greater and easier travel connections from and to Sale, whilst also contributing to the construction of Sale Water Park, from which the gravel for a nearby embankment on which the road would be built upon to minimise flooding was extracted, and the area then made into an artificial lake and water sports centre. Sale also played host to Sale Sharks at Heywood Road for a long part of their history, prior to their move to Salford, with Sale FC still taking up residence at the old ground, with Sale Harriers also a notable sporting club from the town.
Finishing up quickly, I walked through the largely pedestrianised high street to the Bull’s Head on the main thoroughfare to Altrincham, Cross Street. It was pretty packed in here with punters of many persuasions watching the game, with a pint of Coors being joined by a free raffle ticket which tied in to minutes goals were scored which would equal free pints in some way. I couldn’t really hear the whole explanation, but it seemed a cool touch to add. Watching the game through to the third Hammers’ goal through Arnautovic, I decided enough was enough and it was high time to watch a couple of teams who’d hopefully put on a better performance than the Reds could muster.
Grabbing the bus just around the corner from the large, former bingo hall, I hopped off near the Mersey Farm pub and reckoned it’d be wrong not to pop in, especially considering the fact I still had a good 45 minutes-to-an-hour to get to the ground which was just over the dual-carriageway just behind the pub, though you do have to circle around the nearby church somewhat. Anyway, I opted for a pint of the Thatcher’s Gold in the Farm and wasted away the remaining time, before undertaking said ten minute walk over the footbridge and down a couple of flights of tree-lined steps which lead you pretty much to the ground, though the access gate is slightly further down the small, rural Banky Lane. Arriving just as the whistle went, there isn’t all that much to the ground in truth. It’s a three-sided barred off pitch with no hard standing around the pitch itself, bar the patio area out the front of the clubhouse itself. The clubhouse is a smart construction, containing all the facilities including a small kitchen serving hot dogs – which I partook in during the half-time interval, and a bar. The dugouts are out front too, though you do have to cross the home one to do a “lap”, interestingly enough! The far end is also open with no barrier, but no-one seems to fussed as long as you don’t intend to streak. So that’s Mersey Valley’s home in a very brief explanation and this is the short story of the club’s history so far….
Mersey Valley Football Club was founded in 2014, evolving from the pre-existing Sale Town Football Club who previously used the venue on Banky Lane in Ashton-on-Mersey Village. Taking a spot in the newly formed Division 2 after Sale’s second-bottom finish in the previous season’s Division 1 (same level), Mersey Valley would go on to finish a strong third in their first season, just missing out on promotion. A sixth-placed finish followed in their 2nd campaign, before the league again re-designated their league names, with Valley being placed in League One, the middle division behind the Premier Division and ahead of League 2. They would go on to cement their place as a solid mid-table outfit, placing 7th in 2017 and lifting the Altrincham & District Senior Cup at Altrincham’s Moss Lane, prior to finishing up 8th last time out, out of the 15 teams in the table and reaching the semi-finals of the J.A. Walton Cup, bowing out to Vulcan. So far this season, having returned to League 2, they look to be following the usual script league-wise, sitting 7th out of the 14 competing clubs.
With the game having just got underway, it quickly became clear that Mersey Valley had a ten-year-old, occasional Trafford FC partnership up front in the form of Troy Hayder and Scott Barlow, so my interest was immediately peaked somewhat. However, they weren’t given too long to try to give the side the advantage as, around half a minute into the contest, some awful defensive mistake I completely missed allowed the ball to find the net with those of a Valley persuasion being perplexed by what had just occurred, whatever that was. It was Beau Gatwood who took advantage of a poor clearance apparently (thanks to the Club AZ twitter for that!). Things quickly got worse for the hosts as a blatant trip in the box gave the ref no alternative to point to the spot and despite not making the cleanest connection on the spot-kick, Josh Pilley’s effort evaded the home ‘keeper, who will feel he ought to have done better than just getting something on it. 0-2 and it looked like only one side were going to win this game.
Valley did get themselves back into the game somewhat against the run-of-play, when Hayder beat the offside trap despite the protestations of the AZ players and went on to finish tidily. The complaints continued after the goal, but AZ soon got back on it and #7 forced the home stopper into a fine stop, before he did even better to somehow deny the #9, after a half-volley from a left-wing free-kick. The chances continued to come along at some pace, Hayder spurning a good position by only mustering a weak shot, but Dan Jones would draw the hosts level just after the half-hour, neatly tucking the ball beyond the AZ glove-man. The visitors would respond to this before the break with the ‘keeper redeeming himself after an initial mistake as he again showed his shot-stopping prowess in tipping #14’s effort onto the upright, before the ever-dangerous Hayder had the chance to put his side ahead going into the break, but took too long over the ball and the danger was eventually cleared by the visiting defence. Half-time duly arrived shortly afterwards and, as is usual in the lower steps, it’s a thankfully short affair.
Hot-dog in hand, the second period was soon underway and it was Valley who would have the first chance just as I exited the building, the skipper, #4, seeing his header come back off the crossbar. But they would soon grab the lead as Jones got in down the left-flank and advanced into the area before pulling back for sub Bilal Afzal to tap home from close-range. A fine come-back, but this was soon put in some jeopardy as Scott Barlow was shown two quick yellow cards in succession, a first for dissent and the second for a….rash challenge. Down to ten were the hosts and it just so happened I was chatting to his partner, Corinne (apologies if spelt wrong), as it happened. Ah.
As it was, the sending-off seemed to affect Mersey Valley very little and they almost immediately added a fourth to extend their lead and complete the switcheroo to their own two-goal advantage, as Hayder fired home. It was that close in fact that the dismissed Barlow hadn’t even re-emerged from his early bath by that point! Spending the remainder of the game likely annoying the pair with many a question and what not, the game began to fizzle out as AZ looked to wilt somewhat, though almost grabbed a consolation with the last touch of the game, as #6 headed narrowly over, but that would be that and it was the hosts who would advance in the J.A. Walton Cup and I also advanced….back to the pubs. This time, it was to Ashton-on-Mersey itself and to the village’s pair of pubs, which handily sit across the way from each other. That’s kind of them!
After a short ten-to-fifteen minute walk, I arrived at the village and decided to pop in the Old Plough first, before heading over the way to the Buck Inn from where I could take the adjoining road to the bus stop. A pair of Amstel’s in the pair kept me going for the next hour-and-a-bit through to the next service, with both hostelries being worth the detour. Eventually, it was time to leave for the bus, which actually turned up on time (what is this sorcery?) meaning I got back in great time, even being able to pop home first for some dinner prior to heading back out for the evening…..and much of the early morning. Somehow, I was still able to remember all the next day, though did miss the start of the F1 in my recovery, though that turned out to not be such a bad thing!
The day in full then? Well the game was all go and a very entertaining contest that had pretty much a bit of everything in it. The ground is simple, yet works fine and the nearby areas and their pubs all went down well too, not being overly dear in the pricing, which is always welcomed on these pages. So that’s pretty much that and it’s onto next week now and, guess what? There’s still strikes on. Great. Luckily, there happens to be a helping hand from a higher-powered heart that is able to come to the rescue….
Value For Money: 8