Manchopper in….Cambridge

Result: Cambridge United 2-1 Crawley Town (EFL League 2)

Venue: Abbey Stadium (Saturday 2nd November 2019, 3pm)

Att: 3,538

For the first time this season, I would finally be adding to my total of the EFL’s ’92’ with a trip down to one of the ground’s I’d most wanted to get to for quite some time – never mind the city itself being a place I’d always fancied paying a visit. Thankfully, the previous week’s issues with flooding and overall rainfall had subsided somewhat, and this meant my trip down to Cambridge was pretty smooth sailing. Catching the train from Manchester to London, I listened to those far more rugby-inclined than I, reacting to England’s seemingly dismal final performance against the South African Springboks, before arriving into the capital at around 11am and walking through the drizzle to King’s Cross. From here, a train through to Cambridge was direct, and though high winds seemed to be a factor elsewhere, these hadn’t quite reached their peak in this part of the country. Thank God!

I arrived into Cambridge just before 12.30pm and, as anyone who has been this way will know, the station is annoyingly placed within touching distance of the city centre, but also outside of comfortable distance. Missing the bus from outside made my mind up to save a little money for the time being (more on that later) and so I embarked on the half-hour-or-so walk through the initial parts of Cambridge, bypassing the Wetherspoons offering for the time being (I intended, though never got round to returning) prior to making my way towards the maze of thin streets weaving their way through numerous churches and sprawling colleges of the universities. Eventually, I arrived in the historic centre, and was immediately faced with a pair of pubs named the Eagle and the Bath House – a few doors separated from each other. The rather uninspiring Brewdog stood opposite, somewhat juxtaposed against its surroundings.

Arriving into Cambridge

On the way to the centre

The Bath House would be my first stop of the day and it was here that I’d come across my first experience of Cambridge’s rather strange monotony of available beers (it seemed, anyway), especially when it came to Amstel; not that I was complaining in that regard. Quite honestly, this made it easier to make up some time around the city’s drinking holes, as no less than my first four pints would all be the Dutch lager that does have a bit of a hold on me from their advertising of the Champions’ League growing up! Thinking about it, perhaps I should have seen these drinking habits coming all along….

First Amstel done (£4.30), I continued the said few doors down to the Eagle which is, apparently, the oldest pub still standing in the city. Also, rather fittingly considering the time of year, it is complete with an ‘RAF bar’ which, despite its name, is more of as USAAF bar, with graffiti from many a thirsty airman decorating its ceiling – and it really is superb to see this kept in situ, whilst being added to over the years by other visitors continuing the brave legacies of these fine aviators from many a-country (and ground crew, I suppose). Anyhow, surrounded by loads of stickers bearing the logo of numerous squadrons, I again polished off an Amstel (£4.75) before continuing away from the ground towards the river. However, there would be another stop before I got there!

The Bath House

The Eagle’s “RAF Bar”

I had a choice of two watering holes, in fact, with both the Mitre and interestingly named Baron of Beef. However, the more historic pub won out and the Mitre it was and, lo and behold, an Amstel (£4.60) was again the drink of choice in this rather popular pub, before I headed over the River Cam itself, via a bridge no less(!) and to the much-lauded Pickerel. This was another of the older, traditional pubs which I’d been seeking out on this trip and, after watching out for a rather small doorway near the bar area on a couple of occasions that I assume has seen a few inebriated heads meet it’s beams over the years, a final Amstel – for the moment at least – was had (£4.70), prior to me finally making my way back towards the Abbey Stadium.

Cambridge is a university city within (unsurprisingly) Cambridgeshire, of which it is the county town, and is a non-metropolitan borough. Evidence of settlements dating back to prehistoric times have been uncovered around the area, whilst an Iron Age settlement was discovered upon Castle Hill, dating back to the possible arrival of the cultural differences brought in by the Belgae peoples around the 1st century BC. A small, Roman-era fort named Duroliponte also stands on Castle Hill and is located nearer to the original village populated by the early British people, whilst further Roman farmsteads and the like have been discovered around the wider area. The withdrawal of the Romans in 410 AD saw the site likely become Cair Grauthe, one of the Britons’ 28 cities, and the Anglo-Saxons would see its importance later in the century, also seeing value in populating it. Their settlement, in and around the same Castle Hill area, would become known as Grantbryscge (Granta-bridge) and, by the Middle Ages, it, alongside the larger surrounding area, was known as Cambridge.

In the RAF Bar – graffiti on the ceiling

The Corpus Clock (the gold thing on the left)

It became a fairly important place for trade links to hard-to-travel fenlands, though did fall into disrepair – according to an account by Bede – who noted it was a “little ruined city”, that contained the burial place of Etheldreda. It stood upon the borders of the old kingdoms of East and Middle Anglia respectively, and grew up on both sides of the river after which it derives its name. The arrival of the Vikings in the 800’s AD also saw Danelaw applied and they grew the city up around their trading links, which the Saxons prospered from, following their reclamation of Cambridge following the Danes’ departure. Two years after his conquest, William The Conqueror built the namechecked castle upon the hill and thus Cambridge fell under the rule of the Normans. The 1100’s saw Cambridge gifted its first town charter by Henry I, recognising the town’s monopoly of waterborne traffic and hithe tolls, whilst also recognising the borough court there. Indeed, the city’s Round Church dates from this period, the University being founded in 1209, by students escaping hostile Oxfordian locals!

After almost having its population wiped from the map during the 1349 Black Death, a suggestion was made that two parishes should merge together due to a lack of parishioners and further colleges were founded to train clergy. A revised town charter was given to the town to show its loss of privileges due to Cambridge’s participation in the Peasant’s Revolt, though these were then gifted to the university anyway, so didn’t move all that far! The city’s famed King’s College Chapel began being built in 1446 and its construction lasted almost 70 years, overseen by numerous monarchs through the years of the Wars of the Roses and being completed during the reign of the Lancastrian Tudor king, Henry VIII. The area went on to be a wartime stronghold, becoming an Eastern Counties Association HQ for the East Anglian army, which would go on to become a mainstay for the Parliamentarian forces, prior to the formation of the New Model Army. Control of Cambridge was given to Parliament by Oliver Cromwell (who’d been educated there), though despite coming close, the Royalists never tested the town’s defences.

Cambridge

Cambridge

In more modern times, Cambridge expanded rapidly due to improvements in agriculture and supplies to the markets it held, whilst Inclosure acts saw its boundaries increased to take in more land to expand onto, whilst the arrival of the Great Eastern Railway only increased this, the link to the capital meaning building industries also grew in the town. During World War II, Cambridge was an important part of the Eastern defences of Great Britain, and became a military centre and RAF training camp. Indeed the town’s largely escaping of bombing raids allowed for a secret meeting of the Allied military leaders, in which the foundations of the 1944 invasion of Europe would be laid. It was granted a city charter in 1951 on account of its historical and administrative importance, though does not have the historic requirement of a cathedral – though isn’t exactly short of steeples. It maintains strong rail, bus and road links, whilst also being host to its own airport – not far from the Abbey Stadium. Indeed, the Cambridge Rules that played a part in the influence of ‘association football’ rules came about on the grassy fields of Parker’s Piece’ – both being played there first (apparently). It was also used for first-class cricket during the 1800’s, though Cambridgeshire is now a minor counties side, whilst the university team does compete in regular pre-season games against the major sides.

Of course, Cambridge has been home to many a famed name, the likes of the late Richard Attenborough, Grease actress Olivia Newton-John, St. Trinian’s creator Ronald Searle, and singers Charli XCX and Muse frontman Matt Bellamy – amongst a sizeable list of people I’m not schooled enough to recognise! Sporting-wise, footballers Luke Chadwick and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Touring Car driver Tom Blomqvist, Tommy Pryce, winner of the first post-war Speedway World Cup, Paralympic sprint star Jonnie Peacock, Winter Olympic Gold Medallist Amy Williams and cricketing great Jack Hobbs all have hailed from the city. Of course, many great minds have schooled in Cambridge too, such as Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Alan Turing, Sir Francis Bacon and DNA biologists Crick and Watson. Also, literati figures Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare collaborator John Fletcher, Lord Byron and Samuel Pepys all studies there, as well as actors/presenters like Stephen Fry, Ian McKellen, Sacha Baron-Cohen and David Attenborough, and numerous royals, politicians and historical figures – including the (largely recognised) first British PM, Robert Walpole and signees of the US Declaration of Independence.

The Mitre

Looking down the river….

….before visiting the Pickerel!

Passing through the Christ’s Pieces green area of the city, I came upon a few pubs nestled out of way all close around each other. Unfortunately, with time at a premium, I had to choose just one and the Free Press, on account of its overall rather strange history (having produced one paper for , came out on top – although both the Cricketers and Elm Tree looked fine options too and will be on the list come another visit at some point in the future, all being well. What the Free Press did do – apart from another having an apparent ban on phones – was to allow me to escape from this Amstel purgatory I’d found myself in, though Beck’s (£4.90) wasn’t quite as far removed as some might have been! Anyhow, I polished this off and gave myself good time to get to the bus stop to catch the bus along Newmarket Road and to the ground itself in time for the remembrance ceremonies that the U’s had planned out. Well, we’ll see how well that went right now….!

I made my way back to Christ’s Pieces and after spending around a minute at the stop, I felt something wasn’t quite right. As is the norm with me – IT WASN’T THE RIGHT ONE!!! “Ok, no panic, the other stop is just there, around the corner”, I thought to myself, “I have time to get there”. I was correct too, though the problem was I was five seconds too late and I turned the corner just as the bus was pulling out and heading off into the distance. Cue profanities emanating from my lips, but I soon came to peace that I had a mission ahead of me. A mile in twenty-five minutes, plus needing a ticket and all that comes with these pages…let’s do this!

Free Press

Finally at the Abbey

I arrived at the Abbey’s gates as the minute’s silence was ongoing and had a ticket in hand from the office outside, as the Last Post sounded out over the sullen ground as it has done around the country and battlefields many a-time before. The usual kick-off roar came around soon enough to break the silence and the game was on. Luckily, everyone was already in the ground pretty much by this time, and so I could head straight in with no issue, my decently priced £18 ticket gaining me entry and it was soon joined by a programme (£3) from one of the sellers alongside the terrace behind the goal, where I’d opted to settle for.

The ground itself was well-attended, the grand, traditional-looking main stand adds the character that is much needed in many new builds all over the country. That’s not to say the newer areas of the Abbey aren’t decent too, and its newer bits, as with Tamworth’s Lamb Ground the previous week, certainly add nicely to the ground’s overall image. An all-seater stand is located behind the far goal and today housed the band of travelling Crawley fans, whilst an older covered terrace runs the length of the other side of the pitch to the all-seater Main Stand. The terrace I was in is a more-modern construction compared to its neighbours, but the old floodlights which tower over all may just trump the stands themselves…lovely stuff – a real throwback that is sadly becoming more and more threadbare as the years pass. Such is progress, I suppose. Anyhow, with the game in progress, here’s the story of the U’s of Cambridge….

History Lesson:

The current club was founded in 1912 as Abbey United, derived from the district of Cambridge in which the club is located. There had been a short-lived Cambridge United (from 1909) side prior to the current club’s forming, with Abbey taking on the mantle in 1951. Before that, however, Abbey began life in local amateur leagues and took up residence at numerous grounds during their more formative years, prior to settling in at the Abbey Stadium in 1932. After the end of WWII, Abbey joined the United Counties League and turned professional in 1949 and upon their re-naming to Cambridge United, they joined the Eastern Counties Football League and remained there through to 1958, when a runners-up placing saw them promoted to the Southern League’s South Eastern zone. After a further three seasons there, they then secured promotion to the Premier Division as runners-up and remained there through to their Football League election in 1970, winning the league title in both of their last two seasons there, whilst also lifting the 1969 Southern League Cup to secure a double, alongside their first title success.

Replacing Bradford (Park Avenue) in the league ranks, Cambridge took a spot in Division 4 and quickly justified this by being promoted in 1973 – although they would be relegated back after just the sole campaign in Division 3. However, they soon rose up again as, under Ron Atkinson (and John Docherty completing the job), the U’s won successive promotions to reach the Second Division for 1978, but unfortunately for Cambridge, things would take a turn for the worse a few years later. After being relegated in 1984 and setting a record for most successive league games without a win (which wasn’t surpassed until Derby County’s ill-fated 2008 Premier League sojourn) in the process, the next year saw the U’s drop back in the Fourth Division, a season which saw them setting another unwanted record in the process; this time equalling the then record for most defeats in a league season, and then had to apply for re-election after a third consecutive poor season – finances also taking an understandable hit.

Finally at the Abbey

The 1990’s saw a change for the better once more for the U’s, as promotion from Division 4 was secured in their first professional appearance at Wembley Stadium, via a play-off final triumph over Chesterfield, Dion Dublin netting the only goal of the game to see Cambridge get promoted for the first time in a dozen years. That year, and the one following, both saw United make fine cup runs to the FA Cup’s quarter-final stage, whilst the latter campaign also saw them achieve promotion to Division 2 once again, this time as Third Division champions. They then continued their strong run with a 5th placed finish, although defeat in the play-offs would mean Cambridge missed out on being a founding member of the Premier League. That 5th placed finish technically remains the U’s best to date, although they did spend a year in the newly-designated First Division, this seeing United’s form desert them as they were relegated to Division 2, now the third-tier, despite a run to the Football League Cup quarter-finals.

Two seasons later, Cambridge found themselves dropping into the Third Division ranks once again, and although they would return to the Second Division in 1998 as runners-up, they would again suffer the dreaded drop in 2002 – despite a run to the Football League Trophy Final at the Millennium Stadium, which ended in a convincing 4-1 reverse at the hands of Blackpool. If this wasn’t bad enough, 2005 saw disaster at the Abbey, with Cambridge relegated from the League for the first time since their admission 35 years earlier. Now in the Football Conference, the Amber-clad side would have to fight off administration and a threat of the drop in 2007, before finishing up 2nd in 2008 and making it to the play-off final at Wembley where, after seeing off Burton Albion in the semis, the club would miss out on a relatively quick return to League football, losing 1-0 under the arch to Exeter City. They then repeated this unfortunate trick the next year, another runners-up spot and semi victory – this time over Stevenage Borough – led them to Wembley Way once more, but again they would come unstuck, at the hands of Torquay United, on this occasion.

Famous Names

A bit of upheaval both on and off the field led to Cambridge again flirting with the drop zone in 2011, but things soon settled with the U’s again making the play-offs as Conference runners-up in 2014, but this time they would be successful in their quest to return to the Football League – defeating FC Halifax Town and Gateshead respectively in the process – a case of third time lucky for Cambridge! Ending their nine-year absence, they soon celebrated this fact even further upon their Wembley return, seeing off Gosport Borough 4-0 to lift that year’s FA Trophy. Their return to FA Cup action as a League club saw Cambridge force Manchester United into a replay after a goalless draw at the Abbey, although the U’s would eventually succumb 3-0 at Old Trafford, whilst Cambridge have since largely cemented themselves as a rather solid mid-table outfit, finishing 9th in 2016, although they did have to fight off the threat of relegation to the National League last season, finishing up 21st come the season’s end.

The game got underway as I entered the Abbey Stadium’s turnstiles, though there was very little true action early in proceedings. Most of the danger came via Crawley’s outlet on the wing, Panutche Camara. His pace threatened the Cambridge defence on a few occasions, with him setting up Nathan Ferguson to fire wide, shortly after Bez Lubala had also missed the target for the Red Devils. Cambridge would respond with Marc Richards’ shot evading the upright on its way the wrong side of the woodwork from a U’s persuasion, before Crawley forced the first save of note in the game out of United stopper Dimitar Mitov, Reece Grego-Cox’s low effort being kept out in fairly routine fashion.

Match Action

Match Action

Chance?!

Mitov was also tested by Ashley Nathaniel-George shortly afterwards, before the game again settled into something of a bitty contest, with neither side overly troubling the other. I missed little during my trip to the food truck behind the stand for some chips and curry (£2.50), before I returned in time to see Camara go close this time, his drive flying over the bar. That would be largely that in terms of first-half action, and I was already in some fear that my 0-0-less run was in danger of ending. The break was taken up by a pair of former United players embarking on a kind of lap of honour, before the present day players entered the field once again for the second period.

As in the first half, it was the visitors who came out of the blocks the stronger, with the direct play of Grego-Cox and Camara proving fruitful once again. The former cleared the cross-bar from the edge of the area moments after the whistle, whilst a Tom Dallison header from a set-piece was denied by Mitov between the Cambridge sticks. Speaking of the sticks, it would actually be Cambridge who would go the closest to breaking the deadlock in the 70th minute – Sam Smith meeting a low ball in and directing the ball goalwards – only for the ball to be deflected onto the woodwork. A close call and, for me, some hope that a goal was on its way!

Half-time band action

View from the Terrace

 

George Maris then really should have done better when released by a fine back-heeled ball into his path, but he wastefully drove a shot straight at Crawley ‘keeper Glenn Morris in what was his first real test of the game, and after Grego-Cox had again gone close down the other end, the game suddenly burst into life in the final ten minutes, pretty much out of the blue (or red, I suppose). A ball into Lubala allowed him to advance into the box, whereupon he smashed the ball beyond Mitov at his near post, to send the Crawley fans behind the goal into raptures. The home fans didn’t have to suffer being behind for all that long though – just the three minutes in fact, as the previously unfortunate Smith was gifted a second chance by Elliot Ward’s fine ball across to him. Smith showed a good touch to make space for the shot, which fizzed along the ground and just beyond the outstretched hand of Morris on its way into the far corner.

1-1 from out of nowhere and, if that wasn’t crazy enough, what would prove to be the winner was quite fitting for the overall game as a whole, when it came to the attacking third. Cambridge cleared long from a Crawley corner, with the ball ending up half-way between the box and the touchline out on the left-side. Morris rushed out to meet it, but arrived at the same time as the gambling Paul Lewis, and his persistence was awarded when the attempted clearance cannoned off him and flew agonisingly (at both ends of the spectrum) into the unguarded net – nestling centimetres inside the post. 2-1 to the hosts and Crawley’s players, officials and supporters could be afforded their shock.

Darkness descends as United level!

Late on

The U’s safely saw out the remainder of the match to secure the points that, to be honest, no-one really deserved on the day. Anyway, post-match, I swiftly made my exit and headed back city-wards, though found the nearest pub to the ground that I saw, the Wrestlers, between opening times and going about re-opening as I got there. I didn’t have time to spare and so continued on back towards the city itself and to the Corner House instead, a place I’d planned on getting in anyway, as I had no idea the Wrestlers existed before I’d actually seen it with my own eyes. The Corner House was a decent little boozer too and got me back on the Amstel path (£4.20), before I headed off station-wards, but not before paying a visit to an old centre of Cambridge’s transportation past. This was the Tram Depot, so named because it used to be the depot for Cambridge’s old tram network, back in t’day. I know, shocking that isn’t it?!

The (barely visible) Corner House

and slightly better Tram Depot

Aaaaanyway, after finally gaining entry, I popped over to the bar for a Peroni (£5.10) before returning back to the station for the train back into the capital which, delays notwithstanding, would deliver me back into London nicely in time for my train back up North. Indeed, this went like clockwork and after walking between the two termini, I boarded the Virgin service to Manchester a few minutes before its departure, the journey passing nice and quickly thanks to a bit of nodding off on the way. However, the toileting facilities weren’t exactly working like clockwork, with two or three being completely out of order and the one I found open, I soon discovered, had its flush operator broken. Fantastic scenes that obviously forced me into a drink in the Piccadilly Tap upon arrival in Manchester, before I caught the bus back home, an hour’s wait one I couldn’t be arsed with.

So ends off the day and finally my 64th ground of the ’92’ is done. Cambridge didn’t disappoint – it is a bloody lovely place – and the ground, too, was characterful, especially under the lights. The pubs were great, the Amstel dominance helping me in gaining back lost time through the day and the programme and food on offer back at the Abbey were of good quality too. Transport was easy and allowed me to practice out other trips I’d have to do at some point, as I’d never been to Cambridgeshire (as far as I know) before and so was stepping on new ground, as it were. Anyway, I’m rambling and it’s back on the FA Cup trail next week as I search for a cupset. A solid Wall of all would be useful to secure or deny this….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 8

Food: 7

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 7

 

Manchopper in….Tamworth

Result: Tamworth 4-0 Leiston (FA Trophy 1st Qualifying Round)

Venue: The Lamb Ground (Saturday 26th October 2019, 3pm)

Att: 385

Another weekend of action in the FA competitions rolled around, with this one seeing the FA Trophy version of the ‘Road to Wembley’ move on a step closer to finals day under the arch. But this weekend’s weather would throw all plans out of the window – even going as far as to threaten any chance of seeing a game at all. However, persistence pays off on occasion and this, thankfully, was one of those days. Although, this would be a plan made on the fly and all quite last minute at that, as flooding, delays, cancellations and postponements all played their part in one way or another.

Eventually deciding to play it safe and make headings to Tamworth’s 3G Lamb Ground pitch, on account of the likelihood of a call off of my planned game at Radcliffe (which soon came to fruition), I made my way into Manchester and jumped on one of the delayed, rammed trains headed for Euston. My plan was to get to Crewe and then grab the connecting service down to Tamworth and, with a good twenty minutes in hand, my split ticketing theory (which saved about a fiver) would all go smoothly. I did catch the train without issue, though the delays reduced that 20 minute bracket down to just four – a sprint through the station underpass seeing me catch it just in the nick of time. Regardless, I was on my way, safely, to Tamworth where the flooding, that had apparently been prevalent earlier in the morning, had now seemingly subsided.

Arriving into Tamworth

Looking past the Globe towards the King’s Ditch

I arrived into the station’s lower-level platforms at a little before 12.30pm and after traversing the steps up and down again from the high level station, I made my way towards the town centre’s hostelries, whilst making a note of the Albert pub, not too far from the station entrance itself, as I went. I arrived at the narrow high-street-like area ten minutes walk later, and first came upon the small, unassuming taphouse by the name of the King’s Ditch. The downstairs area is more akin to a small front room, though now complete with tables and a bar in the corner, whilst the barrels are shown on a screen, so you can watch your drink being poured ‘while you wait’; different! I opted for a pint of the Shipley Brewery’s Harvest Muse Pale Ale (£3.60) before heading over the way to the Globe….though not before a few guys in with me blamed my exit on their acquaintance’s ‘boring conversation’!

The Globe was packed full, with quite a number seemingly having been out and about watching England make the World Cup Final a few hours earlier, and space was definitely at a premium. Unfortunately for me, I arrived just at the point where another guy was seemingly buying a round for half the place, but my wait wasn’t extortionate if I’m honest and I settled in to watch the remainder of the first half of City-Villa over a pint of Hop House 13 (£3.90). Thankfully, the rain began to abate during my brief abode in the Globe, which meant my hopes to pay a visit to Tamworth Castle just across the town centre were definitely becoming more positive as the minutes went by. As such, I bypassed the other couple of pubs in the centre and continued castle-wards before coming across the interestingly named ‘Crafty Two’. However, upon entry, I found the small bar to be rather bare, with not much on tap or draught to choose from. As such, I opted to sup at a bottle of Blue Moon (£3.70ish) and it was as I took it into my grasp that I saw the blackboard outlining all the options they did have along the way. The lesson here is to always take in your full surroundings.

Inside the Crafty Two

White Lion

Tamworth is a Borough and large market town in Staffordshire, standing to the North East of Birmingham and derives its name from the River Tame that flows through it. Upon the arrival of the Romans, the area around Tamworth and the Trent Valley was already home to the British Coritani tribe, and evidence of Roman building materials in the area suggest it held some importance, lying close, as it did, to the Roman Wartling Street Road and larger town of Letocetum. Following the Roman departure, the area fell under the rule of Anglo-Saxon peoples, likely the displaced Angles. The flood victims found their way to an “open meadow by the Tame” and christened it as such – Tomworðig, whilst also creating an enclosed estate named Tomtun, which was fortified by palisade walls. These people then named themselves as the Tame settlers, or Tomsaete.

They became more wealthy and Tomtown became ever more fortified due to their fighting tendencies, though their success led them to become the dominant force around the Midlands. This later would become the Kingdom of Mercia and Tamworth became the Royal Centre under King Penda and then the capital under King Offa, due to its far larger size and importance over any other nearby settlements. It was the ideal place for trade too, with it standing at the meeting point of the Tame and Anker rivers,but this also led it to attract unwanted attention and it was sacked and left a ruin by the invading Viking Danes in 874AD. It remained in this state through to 913, when Lady of the Mercians Eathelraed, daughter of King Alfred the Great, rebuilt the town and constructed a burgh to defend it from further raids. This proved successful and she remained there until her death.

Tamworth

Tamworth

An 11th century Norman castle was later constructed on the probable site of the earlier Anglo-Saxon Fort, with Tamworth becoming a market town during the 1300’s and being granted Royal charters to hold fair celebrations due to its history as the Saxon seat. Sadly, much of the town burnt in a 1345 fire, but was soon rebuilt once more. James I, the first Stuart King, visited Tamworth Castle in 1619, though this was later besieged during the English Civil War by Parliamentarian forces in 1643. Capturing it, the order was given to destroy, though this was, for whatever reason, not carried out.

The next few centuries saw Tamworth continue to grow in size and stature and the railway arrival of the 18 & 1900’s only proved to aid this, with both mainlines meeting there, and it was linked to the canal system by the Coventry Canal. Victorian PM Sir Robert Peel was MP of the town and later came up with the modern idea of the police force – lending his name to the “Bobbies”. In more modern times, Tamworth switched from its 19th century gas lighting to electric in 1924 and continued to grow around wartime as an overspill for influx of peoples in the West Midlands. It became home to the Reliant car factory, famed for its three-wheeled Robin, and the more racy Scimitar.

On to the Market Tavern….

….and then the Brewing Co.

Heading to the Castle

The drizzle returned once more as I departed the Crafty Two and so I dove into the nearby White Lion, which lies on the road junction just a couple of minutes down the road from the castle and its surrounding gardens. This seemed to be one of the cheaper places on offer in the town, a pint of the ‘new’ Carlsberg Pilsner coming in at the wallet-pleasing £2.50, though my stay would prove brief, as time began to go against me.  Following this, I arrived into the market area of the town which housed a couple of my target pubs – a Joules’ place, the Market Tavern and the Tamworth Brewing Co. – where I indulged in a Joules’ Pale Ale (£3.60) and rather large bottle of Aspalls Cider (£5) before finally making haste ground-wards….but not before a visit to the castle, of course. Going up and down as swiftly as the Grand Old Duke of York, I then navigated the gardens below and crossed the rather swollen Tam before the Lamb Ground’s floodlights began to come into view.

Soon after crossing a dual carriageway, I found myself arriving into a sprawling car park and leisure centre complex and couldn’t find my way out of it. Shock, I know. As it was, I found a few guys with football shirts on and thought I’d follow them to the ground….until I spied what I thought, in my unequalled wisdom, was a shortcut across an area of grass. Now, considering how much rain there’d been and the length of the grass that lay just the other side of the waterway bridge, there really should have been an appropriate amount of warning signs there to point out that this was probably not the smartest idea. However, my brain thought differently to any relatively smart person and I soon found myself wading (no exaggeration) through what seemed like shin-like hidden puddles within this waterlogged piece of hell.

 

Passing through the castle gardens

Down the river….

I’m seeing double….and penguins….I’m worried!

Finding a bit of refuge in the tarmac jungle of another underpass, I soon came upon the main entrance of the Lamb Ground and I made my way to the club shop where I’d seen that programmes were on sale. This visit also gave me the opportunity to try and get some sympathy for my watery misadventures, though they didn’t seem all too sincere….if they existed at all! Anyway, I digress; after picking up a ‘bible’ for £1.50, I made my around the other side of the ground and to the turnstiles at the bottom of a street I’d come across on Maps during my peruse of possible ‘ticks’ during the week. This all went fine and dandy and after paying £12 on the gate and receiving a paper ticket in exchange, I entered into ground 323 – Tamworth’s Lamb Ground home, which is a mix of both old and new, though even the newer bits actually lend themselves to its overall charm.

Both ends house terracing, though only the ‘near’ end is covered, the larger ‘far’ end being left open to the elements. Down one side runs a covered standing area, onto which the clubhouse/food bar backs onto, the entrance to both found at the far side of it – in the gap between this stand and the open terrace. Meanwhile, an all-seater stand runs the majority of the opposite side, with a small bit of open standing on either side, the tunnel, dressing rooms and other amenities) including an additional food trailer located around here too. The 3G pitch does take away from the overall look and feel of the ground as a whole of course, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives – especially so on days like today. As with Buxton, you feel these will become the norm at some point in the not-too-distant future and, to be honest, they play far, far better than their predecessors ever did. Grass is always preferable, of course, but I don’t have the resistance to the artificial surfaces that some others do, indeed a number of higher-level pitches are already (as I understand) hybrids of the two. Anyway, before I fully ramble, here’s the story of Tamworth FC….

History Lesson:

Tamworth Football Club was founded in 1933, following the demise of predecessor Tamworth Castle, with the new club originally taking up residence at the Jolly Sailor Ground prior to moving to their current Lamb Ground home after just one year at the Jolly Sailor. They began playing in the Birmingham Combination from their formation, where they won their first silverware in the form of the 1937 Bass Charity Cup (which, incidentally, Castle had won a decade earlier) and went on to join the West Midlands League (re-named the Birmingham League in 1963) during the 1950’s. The following decade saw Tamworth win two Birmingham League titles – in 1964 & ’66 respectively – whilst the club would also add the West Midlands League Cup (1965,’66), Birmingham Senior Cup (1961, ’66 & ’69) and Staffordshire Senior Cup (1959, ’64, ’66) to their honours roll during the same 10-year span. 1972 saw Tamworth promoted to the Southern League, though their stay here would only yield poor attendances and financial issues, with these eventually leading to the club returning back into the West Midlands League once more in 1985.

Arriving at The Lamb

The club had seemingly not been helped by being moved around from the Southern League’s Division One North to the Northern Premier League in 1983, and back to the Southern League’s Midland Division four years later, but a change in ownership saw fortunes (no pun intended) change for the better. The club again won the league in 1988 to return back to the Southern League ranks, where 1997 saw the Lambs take the Midland Division title and win promotion to the Premier Division, a position they’d hold through to 2002 (despite a near miss the year before) and their achieving promotion to the Football Conference as Southern League champions. That season also saw the Lambs end as FA Trophy runners-up to Burscough. Before that, however, Tamworth had added their first major cup silverware to their cabinet in the form of the 1989 FA Vase, the club overcoming Sudbury Town 3-0 in a replay at London Road – after the original game at Wembley had ended 1-1, lifted two further West Midlands League Cups – in 1986 & 1988 respectively – and two Harry Godfrey Trophies in 1994 & 1997.

The clubhouse/food section

After a spell of two matches with Paul Merson in the playing squad ahead of his 2006 retirement, Tamworth were spared the drop at the end of that year due to Canvey Island’s demotion, though didn’t make the most of this sparing, the club being relegated the very next season to the Conference North – though the FA Cup proved a somewhat happier hunting ground, with the Lambs reaching the 3rd round in both seasons. A poor initial season in 2007-’08 yielded only a 15th place finish, though the next campaign was far more successful and ended with Tamworth returning back to the Conference Premier as Conference North champions. They would go on to spend five-years back in non-league’s top-tier, and despite another 3rd Round FA Cup appearance at Everton in 2012, relegation back to the Conference North was suffered in 2014. Here they remained through to 2018, when relegation back to the Southern League saw the club in the ‘Premier Central’, where they finished last season in a seemingly disappointing 12th position.

The game began with Tamworth quickly asserting themselves as the likely dominant force going forward. A few chances came and went during the first ten minutes, with Tyrell Waite being the main threat, his best sight of goal being a shot that deflected wide off of a centre-half. Despite their dominance, it would take until the stroke of the half-hour for the hosts to finally break the deadlock; James Fry becoming the creator moments after firing narrowly wide. On this occasion, he advanced into the space in front of him before sliding in Rhys Hoenes who gleefully rounded Leiston ‘keeper Charlie Beckwith and slotted home. 1-0 the Lambs.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

As the half continued on into the final 15 minutes, Leiston were finally able to attempt some kind of threat to the Lambs’ goal, but stout defending saw the shot cleared before it troubled Jasbir Singh between the sticks. This then allowed Tamworth to double their advantage as I awaited my chips and curry from the food trailer, when Waite used his pace to rush on through the visiting back-line and wrongfooted Beckwith, rounding him and sliding into the net via the desperate lunge of a defender on the line. Joe Magunda also went close just before the break, when he headed over at the back-post following a corner, but the score remained 2-0 through to the break.

Following a visit to the clubhouse for a dual case of a warm and dry, it was soon time to head back out onto the terraces for the second half, which again Tamworth began on the front foot. The impressive Waite fired over after good walk by #10, before Dan Creaney made it three, when he met a Jordan Clement free-kick in the inclement conditions (eh?!, eh?!….oh, ok then) and directed his header into the net via the inside of the far post. Waite was mightily unlucky soon after, when his fizzing drive cannoned over off the crossbar, whilst fellow winger Hoenes was denied by the upright after he’d executed a quick free-kick and one-two.

Match Action

From the trailer terrace

From the ‘Main’ Stand

Bilal Yafai’s curiling effort was kept out by an acrobatic Beckwith, whilst the experienced Singh was eventually forced into some kind of action as the clock ticked on, the Lambs’ ‘keeper having to be watchful in the conditions to keep out Mason Sinclair’s long-range drive. But it would be, rather fittingly considering the gulf in the play, Tamworth who would add gloss to their victory late on; Waite’s replacement Delano Reid seeing his ball in met by Creaney, who diverted the ball past Beckwith for number four. Full-time arrived shortly afterwards with the game as one-sided, if not more so, than the score-line suggested. That’s not to say Leiston were hammered, though, they just never really made an impression on Tamworth’s back five.

Post-match, I returned back to the high-street area and to the first of two pubs I’d earmarked on my way ground-wards. I’d been spurned first time around by the Sir Robert Peel due to it being closed past its usual opening time, though it was in full flow by the time my second attempt had come around. Probably the nicest in the way of traditional pubs I visited during my Tour de Tamworth, the Bobby Peel yielded a swift Dark Fruits (£3.70~) as time remained at a premium, before I returned station-wards to the Albert I passed on my arrival earlier in the afternoon. A bottle of Desperados (£3.60) was had prior to the train, which was a little delayed anyway as it turned out, so the rush wasn’t as needed as I’d expected. A bit of a doze back to Crewe passed the time on that leg of the return trip, with the connection at Crewe being swift and easy, and I was back in Manchester by a little after 8pm and home half an hour later or so.

Back to the Centre and the Sir Robert Peel

The Albert to round off the day

Can’t complain with the day as a whole in the end, though the game was rather one-sided and the weather a bit….well, shit, the Lamb Ground itself was nice to finally tick from my ‘wanted’ list and Tamworth a decent little town too with a number of nice drinking holes to visit. Up next is my first addition to my ’92’ quest of the season (in November, no less), as I come down to a bridge, although I’m not certain that’s quite in the correct tense….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 5 (Cut-back issue, I guess?)

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Barrow

Result: Barrow 0-1 Solihull Moors (FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round)

Venue: Holker Street (Saturday 19th October 2019, 3pm)

Att: 1,523

It was a late call on venue for this, the final round of FA Cup qualifying of the 2019-’20 edition of the old competition, though it wasn’t without a bit of unintentional swapping and changing. You see, having agreed at some point during the week to visit Tamworth’s Lamb Ground with blog-regular Dan, I’d later worked out a plan with another regular accomplice, Paul, to head a little more northwards – to the Furness Peninsula no less! As such, after a quick bit of working out during Friday, things were all set for the following morning; the three of us were off to Holker Street!

I was due to meet Dan on the train at Manchester, but ticket machine issues for him meant I began the journey alone, meeting Paul en route at Wigan. The remainder of the trip up to Barrow went without little incident, outside of passing the now familiar line-side grounds of Galgate and Lancaster City, before a strange excitement arose with a brief sighting of Dalton United’s home nearer to our destination, which we reached after bypassing Furness Abbey; of which I’d wanted to grab a swift picture of but ended up on the wrong side of the carriage to do so, being left with only a brief view of “a little bit of the abbey”. I told you I’d get that line in, Paul!

Picture of Paul taking a picture of Emlyn

The Harbour

Arriving into Barrow at a tick before midday, and via a quick visit to the Emlyn Hughes statue just across the way, we headed off towards the far side of town where the Harbour Inn is located, with the intention of working our way back ground-wards, whilst Dan would meet us a little later on….but not before a tour of the town! Anyway, as it was, we decided on a brief stop-off in the Robin Hood en route, just to ensure we actually were on the right track. We were and with this stay here yielding a Coors (£3.60) each in a traditional boozer-type, we continued on to our original destination. The Harbour was a decent little place too – as I’d earmarked it during planning – and it even came complete with zombie-butler-fied Roy Hodgson; and another Coors (£3.20). With this lack of choice, I wasn’t sure which was the scarier!

With Dan’s arrival nearing, Paul and I returned back centre-wards and popped into the first of two neighbouring pubs across a roundabout from each other. The Globe was first up and was solid enough and the second consecutive place to already be decked out in Hallowe’en décor, though Coors (£2.80) continued to be a mainstay – though things could have been oh, so different, had we actually took the time to recognise that Staropramen was hidden behind a price sticker. For the same price as Jean-Claude’s favourite too. Bloody hell.

Zombie Woy

Heading to the Albion

Barrow-in-Furness in a town and borough on the tip of the Furness peninsula in Cumbria. Historically part of Lancashire, Barrow was incorporated as a municipal borough in 1867 and merged with Dalton-in-Furness Urban District in 1974 to form the municipal borough of Barrow-in-Furness. The area has been settled, on-and-off, for several millennia, with evidence of Neolithic settlements having been found on Walney Island, though despite wide-ranging Roman activity within Cumbria, no evidence has, to date, been discovered to suggest they ventured to the peninsula themselves. However, the Furness Hoard discovery of coins and various other artefacts in 2011 gave evidence of a 9th-century Norse settlement; indeed “Barrow” and “Furness” have their roots in Old Norse language. The Domesday Book recorded the local areas of Hawcoat, Roose and Walney.

In the Middle Ages, Cistercian Monks founded the Abbey of St. Mary of Furness – more commonly known as Furness Abbey – that now stands ruined in the old Vale of Nightshade area on the outskirts of present-day Barrow. The abbey was constructed on the orders of King Stephen during the 12th century and the discovery there of iron ore laid the foundations for many centuries of economic growth for the Furness area. The mining of this, along with the fishing and agriculture there, saw the abbey become the second richest Cistercian abbey in the country, with only Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire trumping it. A wooden tower was built by the monks on Piel Island, though this was raided twice by the Scots during the 1300’s, before a motte-and-bailey castle was approved by King Edward III in 1327 to replace it. Growing from a hamlet in Dalton-in-Furness, Barrow benefitted from the founding of the Furness railway by iron trader Henry Schneider and the first section opened to aid in the transportation of ore.

Barrow, close to the Robin Hood

Barrow

The railway later purchased the link across Morecambe Bay between Carnforth and Ulverston to allow for further expansion, from the Ulverston and Lancaster railway and docks grew up between the mid-to-late 1800’s, with Devonshire Docks being the first to open in 1867, with PM William Gladstone stating his belief that Barrow “…would become another Liverpool”. The Dukes of Devonshire and Buccleuch aided in keeping the iron ore business running smoothly and the improved links to the Cumberland mines meant steel industry became prominent for the town to become a main area of shipbuilding and rails, as the Industrial Revloution took hold. Indeed, at one point, the steelworks of Barrow Hematite was the largest in the world during the 19th century. Barrow became a planned town to accommodate the influx of workers into the area, with settlements planned out and added around the existing sites during the later part of the 1800’s, making Barrow one of the oldest in this respect.

The shipyards continued to grow in importance and construction increased, meaning it was later bought by the Vickers company before the turn of the century and they constructed Vickerstown on Walney Island – based upon Cadbury’s Bourneville. The shipyard became an important stage for the Royal Navy, the first submarine built in 1901, whilst Barrow/Walney Island airport was also added; but, whisper it, the ill-fated airship debacle also took place here, with the first one being wrecked by winds. Vessels such as the Russio-Japanese war flagship Mikasa and HMS Invincible were constructed here, as well as the later nuclear-powered subs beginning with HMS Dreadnought, though this led to Barrow being targeted during WWII by the Luftwaffe, with heavy damage and losses suffered, a Vickers ammunition factory giving out many armaments for the army and navy during both world wars. With the subs etc., BAE systems remains a focal point of Barrow. Alumni include Dave Myers, of Hairy Bikers fame, Glenn Cornick, of Jethro Tull, ex-England and Liverpool football skipper Emlyn Hughes, the Gardners of Rugby League, cricketers Mike Burns (ex-Somerset captain), Len Wilkinson (three Tests for England) and Liam Livingstone (Lancashire & England) and William Forshaw VC.

As we were finishing up, Dan eventually appeared from the complete wrong direction than he should have, later informing us that, for some reason only beknownst to him, he’d followed a bus app to aid him in his walk – thus adding a good twenty minutes to his trip. Just to rub it in, I showed him that all he had to do was to pop up the road from the station and he’d have been there in around five minutes tops….because I’m nice like that sometimes. Anyhow, Paul and myself could finally break the hold that Coors had on us, as I opted for an Amstel (£2.60), which made a more than pleasant change!

King’s Arms

The Kill One, next to Barrow RLFC

From there we continued ground-wards, though dropped Dan en route as he preferred to grab a bus there and arrive in safe time. As such, it ended up being just the pair of us once more that came up to the final pre-match stop, that being the rather different appearing (and named) The Kill One. Just one? Damn….oh, er, ignore that! Inside what seemed to be something akin to a small office-like building the bit of it that was now a pub appeared to be more like a social club, though we were soon back on familiar ground with a pint of Coors (£3) in hand. Absolute scenes aplenty. Catching the final throes of the early kick-off between Everton and West Ham here, including Sigurðsson’s late beauty, it was eventually time to truly make our way to Holker Street.

Heading on around a nearby park and past a large, strangely-placed coat of arms, we arrived at the turnstiles where Paul, who’d sorted out our tickets online for £13 apiece, arranged our entry, after he’d been spurned at the clubhouse bar pre-match. Despite the set-back, we still had positive thoughts for the tie going ahead. I headed to the food….lodge(?) at the top of the bit of open terracing in the corner of the ground, before being directed to a programme seller hidden away behind the stand on that side where I bagged one for each of us, not knowing Dan had already sorted his out. We eventually met him near the Main Stand opposite, where he’d made it to despite having somehow managed to enter in the away end, an away end that we were lucky had segregation to keep the wild 26 Moors fans in check!

The coat of arms thing

As I’ve alluded to there, Holker Street is a true throwback ground and it is bloody brilliant because of it. From the clubhouse end where we entered, there is a small-ish amount of open terracing that runs off around the right-hand corner of the pitch and around to where a cover meets it to make a covered terrace running the majority of the side, before further uncovered standing runs right around from here and behind the far end goal. The opposite side houses the all-seater Main Stand, with flat standing flanking either side, whilst the tunnel, changing rooms and clubhouse are all squeezed into a small area alongside the aforementioned entrance we had made use of. That’s Holker Street in short and this is the story of Barrow’s former league club….

History Lesson:

Barrow Association Football Club was founded in 1901 and spent their first eight years of existence playing at the Strawberry, Ainslie Street and Little Park grounds. During these times, Barrow had begun life by being accepted into the Lancashire Combination’s Division 2 in 1903 and would win promotion to Division One five years later, prior to moving into Holker Street, a year later, in 1909. They would remain in the Lancs Combination through to the outbreak of World War I and returned upon the end of hostilities and resumption of the sport, whereupon they would win the league title there in 1921. This title win came just at the right time for the club too, as it made their placing in the newly-formed Football League Third Division North all the more likely for the following year.

This duly came about and Barrow would begin their half-century-long stay in the League system as a founding member of said division, however they would become somewhat (and I’m sure unwanted) notable for achieving very little in the way of overall success throughout their first tenure through to the starting of World War II; their best result being a 5th-placed finish in 1933. As a result, post-war, Barrow remained in the Third Division through to re-organisation winning only the Lancashire Senior Cup of 1955 in the meantime, whereupon they placed in another newly formed bottom tier, this time the nationalised Fourth Division, in 1958. That season saw one of Barrow’s most notable ever results, however, this coming in the FA Cup, as the Cumbrians defeated Football League champions Wolves 4-2 at Holker Street.

Barrow’s clubhouse entrance

1967 finally saw another Barrow promotion come around, as the club made the move up into the Third Division, after finishing up in 3rd position in the Fourth Division table. The following year saw the club achieve their highest league position to date, 8th place in the third-tier, and also topped the division for a day during the campaign, this being the highest position ever held by Barrow. Sadly for them, the success wouldn’t be sustained and they were relegated, after just one more season there, in 1970. By now, Barrow were beginning to struggle financially and these issues saw them require re-election in both 1971 and 1972, and despite being given a stay of execution first time around, they weren’t so lucky in ’72, and they were replaced by Hereford United after 51 years as a League club. Reasons such as strong United showings, geographical locations and ground issues (Barrow had installed an ill-advised and short-lived speedway track which had gone by 1974) were noted as likely influences.

The club returned to the non-league ranks and took a spot in the Northern Premier League for 1972-’73, on the basis that the track be removed, which it duly was in the year mentioned above. They would struggle initially as financial woes continued, but these eventually abated enough to allow Barrow to join the new Alliance League in 1979, the first nationwide non-league divisional competition. 1981 would see Barrow lift another Lancashire FA competition, this time the Junior Cup, but league disappointment would follow in short order, with relegation from the Alliance League suffered in 1983; and despite returning at the first attempt as Northern Premier League title-winners (and winning the league’s league vs cup winners Peter Swales Shield), the drop would be suffered once more in 1986.

After a couple of near-misses and losing out after two replays in the semi-finals of the 1988 FA Trophy to Enfield, Barrow were promoted back to the newly-titled Football Conference in 1989 and under boss Ray Wilkie and record scorer and appearance-maker Colin Cowperthwaite, went on to enter a strong era. They would achieve their first major non-league silverware in the form of the 1990 running of the FA Trophy, defeating Leek Town in the shadow of Wembley’s twin towers, and they were rewarded for the 3-1 success with an automatic placing in the FA Cup first-round for the following season’s competition. Here, they would take advantage to reach the Third Round, where they bowed out to Bolton Wanderers. 1991-’92 saw Wilkie forced to step-down due to health problems, before he passed away later that year aged just 56. He is remembered and celebrated with the road outside the ground now named in his honour.

Arriving at Holker Street

Following involvements with some much-maligned owner(s), the club entered administration and liquidation proceedings commenced in early 1999 and despite remaining solvent, the club was expelled from the Conference at the end of the season, though to their credit, did avoid on-field relegation. Eventually allowed to return to the Northern Premier League after much wrangling, Barrow welcomed Winsford United on the 30th December 1999, a game which is recognised as the last ever game, pro or semi-pro, in the UK during that millennium. Continuing to maintain their place in the league despite their continuing off-field issues, fortunes slowly began to turn with promotion narrowly missed out on in both 2004 & 2005, and Barrow celebrated their upturn with a pair of NPL President’s Cup wins, their second in 2004 (following their initial 2002 success) coming over local rivals Workington, following an enthralling 6-6 aggregate draw, over two-legs – Barrow lifting the cup on away goals.

Missing out on the 2005 promotion the Conference National meant a place in the new Conference North was taken by Barrow instead. 2008 saw the club promoted, a change of management seeing a rise up the table ending in a fifth-placed finish and a place in the play-offs; during which wins over Telford United and Stalybridge Celtic in the semis and final respectively saw them promoted back to the Conference after nine years away. The next season saw them achieve their first win over League opposition since their own exit from it, a win over Brentford in the FA Cup’s 2nd round seeing this fact recorded. They bowed out in the 3rd Round to Middlesbrough at the Riverside, and did so again the next season away at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. However, the FA Trophy would prove a fruitful path and 2010 saw the Bluebirds lift the trophy for the second time, overcoming Stevenage Borough to become the first and only, to date, club to win it at both Wembley stadia.

Things would suffer on field fairly swiftly afterwards though and after staving off the drop in 2011, 2013 saw Barrow relegated to the Conference North but a change in ownership saw things take a turn for the better once more and Barrow were back in the, now titled, National League as North Division champions of 2015. A few swift changes in management have followed in recent times, but under current boss Ian Evatt, things seem to have settled down somewhat, the boss having signed a new contract just before this tie. Last season, Evatt guided Barrow to a more-than-solid 10th place in the National League.

Not much of interest early on

The game got underway fairly slowly, with the first ten minutes or so only seeing an early chance for the visitors created, this being when Lee Vaughan’s curling attempt was comfortably kept out by Barrow stopper Joel Dixon. Down the other end, Lewis Hardcastle fired wastefully over from the edge of the area and John Rooney saw a free-kick tipped over the crossbar by Moors ‘keeper Ryan Boot, as the hosts well and truly began to assert themselves as the dominant side in the game. Although, having said that, it wasn’t as if they were peppering Boot’s goal non-stop and the game wasn’t all that exciting for us neutrals.

However, the Bluebirds really should have been ahead before the interval, when, from the resulting corner following Rooney’s free-kick, Sam Hird was denied by a quick, reaction stop by Boot after the loose ball had fell kindly at his feet. It began to feel as if it might be one of those days, and the remaining minutes passed by with little in the way of true action, before, on the stroke of half-time, Hardcastle came the closest of anyone. The forward rushed through the Moors defence and fired low, beyond Boot, only to see his effort rebound off the upright and the ball was eventually cleared by the Solihull defence.

Match Action

View from the covered steps

Controlling his area

The half came to a close and I headed out back through the turnstiles and to the bar to meet Dan and Paul, who’d exited early to beat the thirsty rush. The second half was soon upon us, heralded by the sight of players through the glass overlooking the field and we quickly returned pitch-side to see what it had in store and who would be still in the hat come Monday evening’s First Round Draw. Our first signs of an answer came along just over five minutes into the second period, when the visitors won a corner and the resulting ball was delivered into a scrum of bodies, where it was met by the head of Liam Daly, and he planted the ball home from close-range. 1-0 to the Moors, last season’s National League runners-up.

They almost went two-up immediately afterwards, when the ball escaped the grasp of Dixon and fell at the feet of Danny Wright, whose shot was brilliantly blocked on the goal-line by a defender, before Barrow, their fans, and ourselves, thought they may have got a leveller, when a cross from the left-flank drifted into the hands of a stretching Boot, whereupon he was forced over the line by a challenging Dion Angus, the ‘keeper’s body – complete with ball – ending up over the line. Cheers went up, confusion reigned for a few seconds, before it became clear the decision was NO GOAL!! Usually, these things only go one way – the keeper’s, but this did seem a real 50/50, though the ref was probably right to play it safe.

Match Action

Grey skies over Holker St.

What sport again?!

Barrow came on strong as Solihull looked to sit back on their lead in the final 20 minutes or so, Hardcastle firing over into the clubhouse exterior wall, Rooney seeing another set-piece kept out low down by the impressive Boot, who must have pleased boss Tim Flowers with his performance, and late on, they almost forced the equaliser from close range when Josh Kay was denied by the ‘keeper, the rebound falling to Hird, but he could only shovel the ball over the cross bar. Moors would hold on to secure their spot in the First Round to the delight of their twenty six-strong away following!

Post-match, Paul bid us goodbye to make a swift return to Liverpool for some boxing later in the evening, whilst I dragged Dan back to a few drinking holes close to the station. Well, that was the plan anyway, though Dan ended up being side-tracked just after leaving the Furness Railway Wetherspoons – where I’d opted for a draught Strawberry and Lime Kopparberg (£2.49), to be able to squeeze in the remaining planned stops. The first of these was the Derby, where I got lost on entry, finding the bar populated only be stools lying sideways in some kind of reflection of how some peeps must end up leaving! As it was, the girl smoking at the door pointed me in the direction of the other pair of doors, whilst looking at me like I was a bit of an idiot which, to be fair, I was if you’re used to the layout! The closed, fairly solid doors soon gave way to a rather colourful bar area, and I opted for a Dark Fruits which broke the cheap record of the day – a prediction that Paul had made and was proud of keeping up; his departure leaving it, pretty much, intact.

Furness Railway

The Derby

Duke of Edinburgh

Polishing off the Dark Fruits (£3.70) in quick time, I made my way a few doors down to the station neighbouring Duke of Edinburgh, though I’d rather overestimated the time I had remaining and had Dan awaiting me outside, with phone calls leaving him a bit hamstrung and deciding to play it safe and cut his losses. A smart move in hindsight, as I only really had time for half-to-three quarters of the Amstel (£4.25) I’d got in before I had to cave in to the pressure of time and grab the train to Lancaster, where we’d change onwards back to Manchester. A fairly well-trodden path.

This all went without any problem and we were back where we’d set out in good time for my connection on home for a couple more ‘nightcaps’. The trip on the whole had been solid, if unspectacular. Barrow itself is ok, though the Coors-centric (don’t even mention Carling, Daniel) choice didn’t help their causes in myself and Paul’s eyes. However, Barrow’s ground is brilliant and has to be on anyone’s must-visit list – it really is a throwback to times gone by and, as a bonus, still maintains one of its old floodlight pylons, which seems to now be used for a signal mast. Sadly, the game was pretty terrible but that’s the case sometimes, and you can’t really fault Solihull for going up and doing a job to near perfection. Their success meant a place in the First Round “proper, where their reward is another tie they’ll likely see as winnable – away at Oxford City.

DISCLAIMER!!!! MINI RANT INCOMING!!!! It was probably a good job that they didn’t get the bye and so avoided the vitriol Chichester received for celebrating their “luck”, as to most unschooled “fans”, they haven’t earned it. Have a look at their fixtures – they have. These so-called fans well and truly piss me off; do a little research and get some actual knowledge on the competition. It begins in August, not November. I’ll leave it there before I go off on a proper rant; it’s not about being high and mighty and saying “ooh, look at these places I go, you’re not a REAL fan”. It’s more a case of do yourself a favour, before having a go at a hard-working club who’ve earned a break. All the best to them, and the others, in their remaining adventure….

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 9

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 5

 

 

Manchopper in….Chasetown

Result: Chasetown 3-0 Coleshill Town (FA Trophy Preliminary Round)

Venue: The Scholars Ground (Saturday 12th October 2019, 3pm)

Att: 232

A first FA Trophy trip of the season saw a few options thrown up; these including a few revisits and new grounds too. But there was one long-term target of mine that kept on creeping to the forefront of my thinking each time I had a scan of the fixture list – that fixture being at The Scholars Ground, home of Chasetown. I’d wanted to visit since watching their live FA Cup games a decade (Jesus!) ago and so it was a long time in coming around, that’s for sure. As such, come the morning of the tie, I was heading through Manchester and onwards to Crewe, where I was due to catch a connection onwards to Lichfield.

However, I arrived a little later than advertised and ought to have duly missed said train. But, luckily for me, it was still in and disaster (not really a disaster but, you know….) was averted. It soon became apparent that this was due to someone being hit around the Euston area and we were informed that the delay was indefinite. I began to consider what my alternatives would be, only for the train to depart moments later, so clearly not affected too much by whatever was going on down the line. Pulling into Lichfield around a half-hour later, I made my way across the road and to the bus station where I’d catch a service over to the Chasetown area that borders on Cannock Chase.

My bus ticket wasn’t optimistic weather-wise

First stop – the Wych Elm

The 10A would be my carriage for the day and a twenty minute journey took me to just outside my first stop of the day – the Wych Elm – due to it seeming to be the only local place open anywhere near the route I was taking during the morning. On entering, I found the place to be decently busy considering it was only just striking midday, and I settled in with a pint of Budweiser (£3.10) whilst planning out the remainder of my pre-match trip around Chasetown. This saw me target the nearby Sankeys Tap just the other side of the nearby roundabout but, on arrival, I found it still closed despite its 12pm opening time and so instead made haste to the bus stop where, luckily, a bus was due that would drop me in the centre itself.

I passed on through the trio of watering holes within metres of each other in the high street, instead continuing on just around the corner to the Miners Arms, a Joules’ pub. A pint of the brewery’s fine Indian Pale (£3.60) was had in here, whilst I made the acquaintance of the pub’s ‘guard cat’, before I cut back on myself a little and headed up to the out-of-the-way Cottage of Content. Whilst it may not look the most attractive from a distance, the people within were superb and in Roxy the dog, I made a friend for life….well for the 20 minutes I was there anyway, until she abandoned me when I waved goodbye. I was also kind of ID’d too, which is what shaving does for me! Coors (£3.25) polished off, I returned back towards the central three pubs.

Miner’s Arms

Feeling threatened….

The Cottage

Chasetown is a village within the wider town of Burntwood in Staffordshire and is split into the civil parishes of Burntwood and Hammerwich. It grew up during the 19th century around the mines of the area and was known as Cannock Chase, due to its proximity to said area. It became Chasetown in 1867 and houses, churches, pubs and businesses all began to be added to the area as the years went by and more mines were sunk. Incidentally, St. Anne’s Church within the village was the first church in England to receive electric lights – quite something when you consider its location in the wider scheme of things. Around World War II, Chasetown was added to with the addition of the Oakdene estate and continued to expand despite the last mine closing in 1959, as it became an overspill area for those in the Black Country. Thus, the green spaces that existed between Burntwood and Chasetown were gradually reclaimed and developed, virtually merging the two areas.

The area shows little sign of its mining past, with the Cannock Chase Collieries covered by recent developments such as the Burntwood Rugby Club, though the Chasetown reservoir still remains, harking back to the times it was required to syphon its waters to the surrounding canals. These were essential to enabling the movement of coal to Birmingham and the Black Country, whilst the Chasewater Light Railway has been restored for heritage/leisure use. The likes of Dalian Atkinson, Gary Cahill, former ref Alan Wiley, 1980 Olympic bronze-winning athlete Sonia Lannerman and road/track cyclist Paul Manning MBE, all hail from the wider Burntwood area.

Chasetown

Chasetown Centre

Memorial Park

The first of these three pubs, found just across the way from the Memorial Park, is named of the Junction (it’s on a road junction, crazy, huh?), but first I continued on just beyond it and to the Crown – where I imbibed on a pint of Marston’s 61 Deep (£3.15) before returning a few doors back to the Junction and a second pint of Bud (£3.65) for the day. The ground sits just up the road to the right from here and it just so happened that the Uxbridge Arms sits on the corner of this road and so provided a final pre-match stop. The Uxbridge is a fairly oldie-worldy kind of place inside and a pint of Aspall’s (£3.70~) in the smaller bar area (which also has a bell for service) was enjoyed before I made my way up the aforementioned street and towards the Scholars Ground, where Coleshill Town would be providing the opposition for the Scholars themselves.

A few minutes later, I was arriving at the gates of the ground and, having paid my £8 entry, I headed on through and secured a programme (£2) before making my way down to the far end to visit the ground’s food outlet – a portable trailer – for some chips and gravy which, to be fair, were highly decent. I also made use of the chairs laid out on the grassy area just in front as the sun broke through on a regular basis as this part of the Midlands continued to avoid the rain showers that seemed to be lashing down all over the country. From there, I took in the ground and it’s certainly one unto itself.

Junction

Uxbridge Arms

Arriving at The Scholars

An open terrace runs the length of the far side, with a bit of it covered by a roof around the half-way mark, whilst running for most of the length of the field, whilst another seated stand – to which the clubhouse backs onto – is located to the right of the turnstiles opposite, and fills up the final third of that side. A block of blue portakabins take up the other side of the turnstile towards the far end, complete with covered terrace and a small, uncovered seating stand, and the in-situ food trailer, whilst a kind of tented, covered seated stand, almost akin to those at the Memorial Ground in Bristol, is located behind the near end. That’s a very brief description of the Scholars Ground, and this is the story of the side that shares its name….

History Lesson:

Chasetown Football Club was founded in 1954 as, the rather long winded, Chase Terrace Old Scholars Youth Club and initially began life as a youth side in the Cannock Youth League prior to moving into adult football in 1958, joining the Lichfield & District League. They would finish as runners-up in one of their three years here prior to switching into the Staffordshire County League in 1962, prior to another move in 1972 – this time into the West Midlands (Regional) League – which also saw the name change to their current title. The club would go on to spend eleven seasons here and, despite the rather impressive feat of never finishing outside of the division’s top four, would only secure the one title – this coming in the 1977-’78 campaign. This title win wouldn’t see promotion achieved, as the club’s ground (a park pitch) would fail the required grading.

The move to the Scholars Ground from the Burntwood Recreation Ground came around in 1983, with entry secured for a move into the Premier Division along with it. Struggling for the most part during the remainder of the decade, in the league, the 1990’s would begin with that year’s WML League Cup, which was successfully defended the next year, and they followed this up with the Walsall Senior Cup title, with this success being repeated in 1993. 1994 saw Chasetown become a founding member of the Midland Football Alliance, though this brought little in the way of silverware the club’s way and 2001 saw the club avoid the drop only on the account that no club was promoted from the division below. Fortunes changed soon after and 2005 saw a third Walsall Senior Cup lifted and a runners-up league placing secured, before Chasetown would begin to achieve national recognition, via the FA Cup.

Chasetown FC

Starting the season with (I assume) defeating previous year’s double winners Rushall Olympic in the league vs cup winners Joe McGorian Cup, 2005-’06 saw the Scholars reach the First Round for the first time and it was a successful debut, the club defeating Blyth Spartans to secure a meeting with Oldham Athletic in the 2nd Round. They secured a replay against the Football League’s Latics, though would eventually succumb to a 4-0 defeat at Boundary Park. However, they would be back once again in 2007-’08 and once again they would attract the cameras to the Scholars Ground. Before that, though, in the same year as their initial cup run, Chasetown would stage an amazing rally to reel in the Alliance Championship leaders Malvern Town’s 20-point advantage over themselves and take the title – thus gaining entry to the Southern League Division One Midlands.

2007-’08 saw Chasetown return to the “proper” rounds of the Cup, as they again defeated higher non-league opposition in Team Bath to advance to Round 2, and an away meeting with local ‘rivals’ Port Vale. The club recorded a 1-1 draw at Vale Park, before taking the scalp of Vale 1-0 at home to reach the Third Round and the prospects of getting one of the country’s big boys. Alas, this wouldn’t come to fruition, although Cardiff City weren’t too bad a result and this proved to be on the pitch as well as off, as Chasetown battled hard to lose out 3-1, the lowest-ranked side to go that far in the competition had certainly not disgraced themselves and gave the Bluebirds a slight scare in going one-up early in the tie. This game resulted in Chasetown being invited to be the first opposition Cardiff would face at their new home upon its 2009 opening.

Clubhouse

Being switched into the Northern Premier League’s Division One South for that year, the club would finish runners-up, meaning they would have to settle for a place in the play-offs, where they progressed to the final and defeated now-defunct Glapwell 1-0, to go up to the NPL Premier Division. How different things could have been over 90 minutes of history for Glapwell and Chasetown?! 2010-’11 saw the club embark on another cup upset run, this time in the FA Trophy, as they saw off Kettering Town, Grimsby Town and Eastleigh to make the quarter-finals, where they would eventually fall to Mansfield Town after a replay at Field Mill, following an initial 2-2 draw.

But 2012 would see the Scholars relegated back to the Division One South, though they missed out on an immediate return, losing in the play-off final to Stamford. They have stayed at the same level through to today, though the last two seasons have seen the club compete in two differently titled divisions, due to the NPL’s ever changing boundaries. Last season’s one-year-wonder, the Division One West, saw Chasetown finish up in 13th, whilst they now compete in what is known as the Division One South East for this year.

The game got underway with little in the way of action during the early stages, aside from an early George Cater drive just drifting the wrong side of the upright, from his persuasion. But, when it did finally spark into life, it did so with the opening goal; Chasetown’s Cater receiving a square ball from striker Kieran Brown around 10 yards out, and placing the ball beyond Coleshill ‘keeper Paul Hathaway. Down the other end, Cater’s namesake George Washbourne then saw a low drive palmed behind by Curtis Pond.

Cater opens the scoring for the Scholars

Match Action

Match Action

Again, the game settled into a lengthy stage of sparring, with both sides not making much in the way of chances and it took until around ten minutes before the break for another to roll around and, once more, this ended up in a goal. This time, Cater would turn provider for Brown when, after a procession of corners, he delivered one for the Chasetown #9 to meet and drill a header past Hathaway, via a slight deflection off a Coleshill defender. 2-0 it would remain until the break, with Coleshill’s one real remaining chance of the half ending in Pond’s comfortable denying of Giovani Dainty.

A visit to the clubhouse took up the 15-minute off-period, before the sides re-entered the field. As in the first half, the play began rather turgidly and once again the first real chance ended with the ball in the back-of-the-net. On this occasion, it would be a free-kick on the hour mark that would provide the opportunity for the hosts – Lewis Riley-Stewart’s delivery not being cleared by the visiting defence, which duly allowed Brown to slam a volley home for number three, and his second of the day.

Coleshill responded and really ought to have got one back, but centre-back Keenan Meakin-Richards somehow guided his header wide at the back-post when he looked destined to score and Brown almost had his hat-trick all wrapped up just after the hour, but an eventual fine block made up for the initial poor Town defending. Luke Brown then forced Pond into a fine stop in order to keep his clean sheet intact whilst the final minutes of the game saw a flashpoint when a 50/50 saw a player from both sides end up booting each other, with one of the two involved instigating what would proceed to become a 20-man “brawl”….well, more of a congregation, but brawl sounds far more interesting, no?!

The clubhouse stand

Match Action

From the covered terrace

Back to Burntwood….

…and Sankey’s

Both players received a yellow for their trouble and after a late chance came and went for the hosts to add further gloss to the score, the final whistle blew to confirm Chasetown’s Trophy progression. Post match, I made a quick exit and marched back up the road to ensure I caught the bus in time to allow for a visit back at the Sankeys Tap I’d tried earlier in the day. This went well and I was soon disembarking back near the TESCO whose car park it neighbours. Opting for a pint of the ABK Pilsner (£3.50), I supped away at that for the 25 minutes until the next service back to Lichfield was due and this safely returned me to the station and the train back to Crewe. Once there, I was able to catch a delayed Virgin Train to Manchester, which was a bonus, and took care of any possible misdemeanours that the railways might try and serve up.

The connection was duly caught and that was that for another fine day. Chasetown is a nice area that seems to fly under the radar somewhat. The ground is interesting, which is always good, and though the game itself wasn’t the most enthralling, it was decent enough, despite the fact it was over as a contest fairly early on. Pubs were decent too, so all in all a good trip. Next up, it’s back on the Cup trail for the final time prior to the “proper” rounds beginning. Let’s get to it….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Buxton (2)

Result: Buxton 1-2 York City (FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round)

Venue: Silverlands (Saturday 5th October 2019, 3pm)

Att: 901

The FA Cup inches ever closer to, what is for many clubs, the promised land of the First Round and all the possibilities that come with it:- TV coverage, boosted gates, increased coffers and all the extra publicity amongst a number of other bonuses. For Buxton, a few of these would come a little early in the shape of the former Football League stalwarts York City, the Minstermen now plying their trade just a division above the Bucks. However, a home win would still be seen as something of a giant-killing – and with Silverlands now having a 4G pitch down, this had the possibility to be another added wrinkle to proceedings.

I headed off towards the Derbyshire spa town fairly early during this first Saturday morning of the first weekend of October, with the intention of hopefully getting around any kind of mass congregations of support and perhaps the introduction of the dreaded plastic pint cups. They send shivers down my spine just thinking of them….but luckily, the journey on through Manchester was silky smooth and I passed on through towns including the likes of Whaley Bridge and Chapel-en-le-Frith (yes, I’ve been to both in these silly pages) before arriving into Buxton station, the end of the line, around 50 minutes after leaving Piccadilly. Not bad.

Big train, little train, plastic box.

The Fan Window

Buxton

Having got in for a little before 11.30am, I decided to go on a sight-seeing walk around the town early on. As such, I paid visits to the rather grand fan window at the station itself, the famous Buxton spring, opera house, pavilion and its gardens and the hill on which the war memorial stands upon before heading back on down station-wards to my first stop of the day – this being the Buxton Brewery’s Tap House. A really nice setting that mixed the normal tap house setting with a kind of Mediterranean feel, it was a great place to begin with and the German-style Kellerbier wasn’t bad either, and the choice to play out the full track listing of Elbow’s Seldom Seen Kid album was another tick to their boxes!

From there, I decided to head back towards the steep incline up to the higher part of town, where the square hosts a number of drinking holes, but first you come up to the 53° North café/bar in one of the buildings towards the top of said hill. Given a welcome on entering and getting an Estrella (£4.30) from the bar, though the highlight was given by the puppy, Harley, that came in with double-dad (human and canine), as it decided to ‘relieve’ itself in front of the bar. Class stuff, though I thought it’d be looked on differently if I’d have done so. Double-standards, no? Finishing there, I said a goodbye to the dads and dogs and completed the last bit of the climb and into the town square area, which is complete with King’s Arms, New Inn and the Eagle. Now, having been to Buxton twice before and tested the former two on both occasions (along with the Old Clubhouse near the Opera House), I thought I’d miss them out on this occasion and instead go for the Eagle – which proved to be solid, if unspectacular.

Buxton Brewery Tap

53 Degrees North

Looking towards the Eagle

Buxton is a spa and market town within the county of Derbyshire and is known as the ‘Gateway to the Peak District National Park’, although it lies outside of the National Park boundaries. It is the highest market town in England by elevation and was a municipal borough in its own right through to 1974, when it was merged with other localities, i.e. Glossop, to form the district and borough of the High Peak. The Romans first settled in the area, creating the settlement of Aquae Arnametiae (spa goddess of the grove) and coins unearthed around the town indicate that Buxton was inhabited throughout their occupation. However, from where its current name derives is uncertain, though may be from the Old English for Buck Stone or Rocking Stone, though this (to me anyway) seems unlikely.

Having been initially developed by the 5th Duke of Devonshire from profits derived from his copper mines in the area, the town was built in the spa town-style of Bath and would continue to grow up around its geothermal springs, morphing into the spa town it is known as – with the water from the springs being funnelled out to St. Anne’s Well, a medieval shrine that stands opposite the Crescent and Bath House. Victorians were drawn due to the alleged healing effects of the waters and the later Dukes of Devonshire did little to discourage them travelling there! Earlier, in 1569, their ancestor, Bess of Hardwick, took her husband (one of four no less), the Earl of Shrewsbury, to Buxton to “take the waters” after becoming the gaoler of Mary, Queen of Scots, who herself was taken to the town five years later and stayed at the site now taken up by the Old Hall Hotel. Mary noted Buxton as ‘La Fontagne de Bogsby’.

Pavilion & Bandstand

Boardwalk

As the years rolled on into the 19th century, Buxton continued its growth in the Victorian-era, gaining recommendations from philosopher and Grandfather of Charles Darwin, Erasmus Darwin, who pointed Josiah Wedgwood I (founder of the Wedgwood potting company) in the direction of Buxton and would then regularly visit with his family, before two of the later generations of the Darwin family would move to the town to reside there. Of the early settlement, only St. Anne’s Church remains of the majority limestone-build town, whilst most of what now stands is made of quarried sandstone from the 18th century and a nearby River Wye-carved limestone cave known as Poole’s Cavern contains unique ‘poached egg’ stalactites, as well as the largest stalactite in Derbyshire. It was handed its title due to a local, notorious highwayman of the same name.

St. Anne’s Well

Opera House Area

The town has also hosted the Buxton Festival since 1979 and its allied ‘Fringe’ festival, as well as being widely known for its bottled mineral water. Meanwhile, Buxton counts the likes of footballers Les Bradd (all time leading scorer for Notts County), Frank Soo (the first mixed-race professional player to represent England) and Mark Higgins, motorcycle trials champion Mick Andrews, BDO darting siblings Lorraine & Dean Winstanley, DJ Dave Lee Travis, Disney director Robert Stevenson (Mary Poppins etc.), as well as ex-Coronation Street actor Bruno Langley, or Todd, as most may be more familiar with!

With the “new” Carlsberg being pretty cheap at £3.10, I plumped for that to cut my prior losses before moving on through the neighbouring market area towards the Ale Stop; which was also complete with doggo action in the form of Obi – a lovely thing he is too. After sitting with me for long enough for a regular to remark that he was quite happy with me, he soon abandoned me for crisps. What betrayal….though if I had that choice, I’d go for the crisps too, to be fair. In a state of despair, I polished off the last of my half of Tatton Brewery’s Best (a half, who’d have thunk it?!) and despite planning to pop up to Silverlands then and there to grab a programme early doors (I’d missed them on both previous visits), a quick calculation found it better to have a quick one in the neighbouring The Vault first.

Vault & Ale House

Cheshire Cheese & first post-match stop, The Swan

London Road Inn

Opting for a Strongbow (£3.60) in here, I saw the toilets sign near the stairs, but also near enough to the rear part to cause a bit of confusion and give flashbacks to my unintended trespass in Mill Hill a couple of years back. As it was, it was fairly obvious when getting there and having all that cleared up, I made haste up to Silverlands to grab a programme at £2 though, for whatever reason, I kept trying to pay more than that – first £3 and then £2.50. “I’m too generous sometimes” I said to the guy on the gate, before being handed said bible and returning down the road and back towards the far end of the town’s main thoroughfare. Here, I found the London Road Tavern that had been closed minutes earlier when I passed en route to the ground, was now open and fairly well populated, and so I made the decision to pop in there on my way back after visiting my intended stopping place, the Cheshire Cheese.

With time becoming a factor and wanting to pretty much complete Buxton centre’s pub offering, I decided to go on bottles and a Corona and Peroni in each of the two named above (at £3.00 and £4.00 respectively) saw me having spent up all my pre-match time and so it was back to the Bucks’ home once more, this time for a fairly more extensive time. Arriving to a decent amount of queues on the gates, I handed over my £10 entry and entered into the ground in one corner, between the raised, all-seater (formerly of Maine Road) Main Stand and clubhouse building. A food bar actually sits between the stand and turnstiles, with a sizeable covered terrace located right in front, behind the near-end goal. The far side is populated by a long, covered largely standing area, though also has a small amount of seating available, though it is at a premium, whilst the far end is open, hard standing – as are the corners of the ground too. That’s the highest ground in England, Silverlands, in short and this is the story behind the Bucks of Buxton….

History Lesson:

Buxton Football Club was founded in 1877 as an offshoot of a local cricket club and played their first match later that year. After spells groundsharing with the cricket club at the Park, before venturing out on their own to grounds on Cote Lane, London Road and Green Lane, they moved into long-term home Silverlands in 1884 – the first match there being a Derbyshire Senior Cup tie against Bakewell that Buxton came out of as 2-0 victors. The club later joined the Combination in 1891, though didn’t experience much success and indeed finished bottom of the league table in 1896 prior to leaving the Combination altogether in 1899. Switching to the Manchester League for the new century-spanning season, Buxton finished as 1904-’05 runners-up but spent most of their initial time there in the lower half of the table prior to its 1912 disbanding. Re-joining the League upon its re-forming in 1920, the club considered applying to join the newly-created Football League Division 3 North the next year, but thought better of it.

This led to them edging up to being title contenders in the Manchester League as the years went on – including winning the Manchester League’s League Cup consecutively in 1926 and 1927 – and after finishing as runners-up in both 1929 and 1930, they finally lifted the title in 1932 and joined the Cheshire County League for the following season. They remained there with little in the way of silverware success (though did win their first Derbyshire Senior Cup in 1939) through to World War II, and post-war they re-joined and finished as 1946-’47 runners-up and lifted their second Senior Cup, winning both the last pre-war and first post-war tournament. 1951-’52 saw the club’s first notable foray in the FA Cup, as the Bucks made the First Round for the first time, whereupon they thumped Rawmarsh Welfare 4-1, before going on to face League opposition in the form of Aldershot Town. The Silverlands would see a cup shock as the Shots were, ahem, shot down 4-3 with Buxton’s third-round reward being a tie with Second Division side Doncaster Rovers – who put an end to any fairytale in a 2-0 win at Belle Vue.

Arriving at Silverlands

Two Cheshire League Cups were won in 1957 & 1958, before 1958-’59 saw the First Round reached again, though they this time experienced polar opposite results when, having defeated Crook Town 4-1, they were thrashed by Accrington Stanley 6-1. 1962-’63 yielded a third first-round outing, this time ending at that stage in a loss to Barrow, and the season saw some more slight disappointment in the Cheshire County League, with the club finishing as runners-up. Despite winning the League Cup for a third time in 1969, it would take Buxton a decade from the runners-up placing to finally lift the Cheshire League title, 1973 seeing them achieve promotion to the Northern Premier League and they remained there through to 1987, winning the 1982 NPL President’s Cup along the way, when the NPL gained a second (First) division, with Buxton handed a spot in the Premier. Their spell there lasted another decade, fending off the drop in 1996 on goal difference alone, before being unable to stave it off the next year, after finishing bottom of the table, and things only got worse for the Bucks the next season, as their first outing in the First Division of the NPL ended in a second consecutive relegation.

Being placed in the Northern Counties East League’s Premier Division, Buxton found it a rather difficult task to haul themselves back up into the NPL ranks, but 2006 finally saw them achieve promotion as NCEL champions, along with successfully defending their NCEL President’s Cup title (won in both 2005 & 2006), following this up with an immediate promotion from the NPL Division One the next year, in a pretty much complete juxtaposition to the seasons that saw them drop out of the league’s sphere. They also won the that year’s NPL President’s Cup to cap off a fine season in 2006-’07. They finished their first campaign back in the NPL Premier Division in a strong fifth-place, which saw them qualify for the play-offs; beating Witton Albion on penalties in the semi-finals, the Bucks were vanquished in the final by eventual Conference side Gateshead.

Clubhouse

They have remained in the Premier Division right through to the current day, with some seasons being more of a ‘hit’ and others a rather sizeable ‘miss’; last year was more of the former, with a 5th placed finish again seeing a play-off place achieved but, alas, this again ended with Buxton missing out on a Conference North place. On this occasion, the Bucks instead were defeated in the semi-finals 4-2 by South Shields up in the North East. They have gone on to win a total of ten Derbyshire Senior Cups to date, spanning from their first in 1939 through to 2012.

After a visit to the food bar for some chips and gravy, the game got underway with York coming out the stronger early on, though both sides would create little more than half-chances during the early skirmishes – Buxton’s Liam Hardy looping a header onto the roof of the net and York’s Kyle McFarlane driving an effort straight at Bucks stopper Grant Shenton. But it would be the hosts who would grab the first strike of the afternoon on eleven minutes, when the exotically named Diego de Girolamo, a former City player, nonetheless, pounced upon a knock-down in the area to slot home at the back post. 1-0 and the shock was on!

Match Action

Match Action

View from the Main Stand at ‘Tarmac Silverlands’!

More glimpses of goal would come and go, as the sides looked to extend and level up the scoring respectively, and went close through Warren Clarke’s fizzing drive, before Ryan Whitley had to be alert to keep out Bucks hotshot Liam Hardy when one-on-one with the hosts’ main scoring threat, following a long ball over the top. The half ended off with Adriano Moke testing Shenton with another effort from a fair way out, but that would be that as the sides headed in for the break. However, I’d seen enough to suggest that York would turn it around in the second half, as I’d stated to City fan Ben, so my reputation was on the line!

Indeed, the second half began much like the first, with an early strike seeing City duly level in similar circumstances to Buxton’s opener. After around five minutes of play, a ball into the area caused mayhem around the six-yard line, the ball eventually deflecting into the bottom corner. It looked as though York’s #9 may have got a touch en route, but it would be later credited as an own goal. With momentum at their backs, York now looked to assert the dominance their league placing should suggest. #5 headed over from a corner, before Buxton responded, a pair of shots from Hardy and the #9-clad de Girolamo (as opposed to, I assume, brother Nico) kept out by Whitley, with this enabling a swift counter down the other end, where a brilliant double save by Buxton ‘keeper Grant Shenton kept his side level. Keeping out the initial effort, with the loose ball meeting the head of Jordan Burrow, who looked destined to score, only for Shenton to fling himself across goal to block out the effort. Tremendous stuff, and it’s important to focus on the brilliance that goalkeepers pull off sometimes, as they certainly take the flack for the smallest of errors.

From the terrace

Match Action

Match Action

York continued to press onwards, though after #9 had seen his free header once again brilliantly saved by Shenton, it looked as though the Bucks were on course to at least secure a replay. But with ten minutes left on the clock, disaster struck for the hosts as a cross to the back-post was met by young full-back Nathan Dyer, whose looping header came back off the woodwork but fell kindly for a team-mate, who knocked it back his way, and this time the defender made no mistake – opting for power and thumping the ball into the roof of the net. The Buxton players looked broken, though their spirit was not and, with some sorts of trouble beginning to kick-off in the stand behind the goal, seemingly involving ‘fans’ of both sides, they almost got a late, late leveller.  Just after Nico de Girolamo had headed over, and introducing Martin Pilkington surprisingly late in the day, a clever low free-kick by Aaron Chalmers looked to be rolling into the bottom corner, but agonisingly came back off the foot of the upright, the Minstermen’s defence clearing the ball and securing their face in the final quali round.

CORNERS!!

As the authorities and ambulances began to arrive at the gate and enter the ground, the final whistle blew with a fine on-field contest being unfortunately overshadowed by the antics off the pitch. If the sparse info is indeed correct, I wish the young girl who was struck by an object the very best and not to be put off returning back to the terraces quickly. Buxton look a very strong side, and I expect their rise up the table to start quickly and them to be challenging for the higher places come the end of the season, if they continue these performances. York, meanwhile, look to have the steel they have seemingly lacked in recent times to grind out results, which should stand them in good stead as they seek to get back, firstly, into the Conference. Dyer looks to have all the attributes to go far as well; I was surprised to find he’s only 18, as he seems far older in his play and build.

Post-match, I joined the rush of people heading out of the ground as the sirens wailed around (it wasn’t quite as dramatic overall) and was soon back where I’d ended my pre-match tour, but this time on the other side of the road at the Swan. Having been unable to peruse the offerings overly in here, I opted for a pint of Stella (£3.50~), which I wasn’t planning on at the time – but having been informed that my parents were out and about back in their bar, I reckoned “free” drinks were better than me paying and decided to hop on the train back an hour later – meaning Spoons was sacrificed. It mattered little in the long run and so, after brief visits to the nearby Old Sun and Queen’s Head for more bottled goodness (at a surprisingly costly £4.20 a pop), I returned back down the steep hill (much more favourable) and back to the station in good time for the train back, which was about to pull in ahead of its return trip.

Old Sun

Queen’s Head

The remainder of said journey went smoothly and, making the connections in Manchester easily enough, I was back home by 7.30pm, which isn’t bad all things considered. As for the day, it had been a decent trip overall, despite the shenanigans from a few fools who blighted the names of both clubs – regardless of their following….though I doubt highly that either are anywhere close to being a fan of either in the real sense of the word. Silverlands is a great ground to visit (though the 4G does take a little of the essence off it) and Buxton is a brilliant town. The game itself was a highly watchable tie and Buxton were unfortunate to not grab a replay out of the contest right at the end, with York not at their best. Anyway, it was the Minstermen who took their place in the hat for the final qualifying round, where they drew fellow League former members Stockport County. What a tie. As for me, I likely won’t be at Bootham Crescent for a final visit that day; but I will be somewhere….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Birkenhead (Cammell Laird 1907 FC)

Result: Cammell Laird 1907 1-2 West Didsbury & Chorlton (NWCFL Division One South)

Venue: Kirklands (Saturday 28th September 2019, 3pm)

Att: 107

With the weather deciding to be as much of a polar opposite to the previous week, I went from basking in the late summer heat around the dales of Derbyshire to sheltering away from heavy rain showers whilst looking for somewhere to go that was a fairly safe bet. Only in Britain, I swear. Anyway, as the minutes rolled on and the half-hours passed by, my laziness began to grow – even to a point where I was half-considering binning off football for the day and just going out drinking instead. One out of two ain’t bad, after all! However, through the bleak Saturday morning came a beacon from the Wirral peninsular. Cammell Laird was on. Confirmed. My destination was set. Confirmed. To Lairds I headed!

Boarding the train at a little before 11am, I rode straight through to Liverpool’s Lime Street station before making my way down into the depths of the Merseyrail system for the train ‘over the water’ (well, under to be more factually correct) along the Wirral line and towards Birkenhead. I had a ticket for Rock Ferry, the nearest station to Kirklands, but decided to hop off at Conway Park in the town centre instead, as that was the train that was coming in first. What I didn’t know, however, was the lovely surprise that awaited me on arrival. “99 steps to the street” declared the sign over the doors. I could make a 99 problems joke, but that’s surely dead by now, no?

Arriving in Birkenhead

Crown Inn

I survived my Everest climb and headed on out through the gates, despite their best efforts to deny me. Turning to the right over the left, I soon spotted the Crown Inn just across the forecourt of a Mecca Bingo and so reckoned I’d set-up stall in there for the moment and see what else was around. As I approached, I saw a side entrance, peeling paint from all sides and a black-board outside still advertising St. George’s Day deals. Many might be a bit put off, but not this madman, oh no! I headed in and….well, bloody hell. A lovely, traditional bar area immediately greets you and is rather grand in its ways. I was enamoured; a hidden gem, you might say. Yes, the beers weren’t quite wide-ranging, but I’m not one to overly complain – Stella at £3.10 was far from bad either!

Soon after a pair of ladies stated to a guy there that they would be “back for a quickie” (a drink, get your minds out of the gutter) after bingo, I figured I’d best head off too and made my way back past the station to the Stork Hotel, only to find this shut; as a result, I took a cut-through I remembered from my trip to Tranmere last season and was soon back on a route that would take me to what was my intended third-stop, this being the Firemans’ Arms. Again, this is probably a place that would see the exterior (and likely just the overall location) put people off, down a back road side-street and with shutters down on some windows. It did look shut from the angle I approached, but I soon spotted it was not the case and ventured in. A small bar stood across the way, along with a couple of TV’s that, like the Crown, were unsurprisingly showing Liverpool’s early kick-off. Again, not one that would strike someone who is not too used to the region as overly welcoming, but it was indeed, with guys moving out of the way of their own accord to allow me to get to the bar; not something that happens readily elsewhere, so something nice. The Coors was a nice pint here too, the price being a nice aside at £2.70.

Fireman’s Arms

George & Dragon

A soggy Wirral

Just around the corner was the George & Dragon and, out of the three I’d visited to that point, looked the least likely to be the vocal, sweary, crazy story place. However, this would be the jackpot for all three! It was pretty humorous as I sat in and caught the remainder of the first-half in a similar bar area set-up to the Crown, but a bit more open-plan overall, and I decided to go for a Strongbow (£3.10) in here as I wasn’t quite sure of my plans overall in heading over more towards Kirklands itself. What I did know, though, was that I was going to pay a quick visit to the Waterloo just across the road, prior to heading on past the Cammell Laird shipyard itself – which was, of course, complete with the newly-christened Sir David Attenborough (or ‘Boaty McBoatface’) in a case of a result that wasn’t upheld….but I’m not going there!

A swift Dark Fruits (£2.90) was had in good time, as I dodged another blustery shower that blew in prior to continuing on down the main road and retracing many of my steps to Prenton Park. On this occasion, I would make a divert off to a pub just off the side and alongside an old rail bridge by the name of the Lord Napier – a pub I’d missed out and so put in the memory bank, from my aforementioned visit last season. Inside, there was no football, shockingly, and instead they had a points thing going on which was completely over my head – though it looked to be fairly competitive between the two guys in and around the TV.

Whatever the case, I polished off my Amstel (£2.90) and continued on the short distance to Kirklands, where I arrived some ten minutes later. I arrived to find that the old, art-deco, lovely clubhouse had gone and was now a building site with horrendous new-builds popping up (yes, I don’t like change too much, can you tell?!) and if that wasn’t bad enough, NO PROGRAMMES!!!! Now, this wouldn’t usually be too much of an issue on a revisit, but with doing a write-up that includes rating one, and the fact that this is a ‘new’ Laird club, I did kind of want one.

Waterloo

Lord Napier

As it was, I paid my £5 entry and was pointed in the direction of Kate in the tea bar – who then passed me along to her dad, the Lairds secretary, who took my name and £1.50 for the issue to be sent on when picked up. Hopefully, this works out better than my £3 paid at South Shields which ended up being a digital issue instead. That all sorted, I reckoned I may as well get the food in now too, and so chips and gravy was had and polished off nicely – despite the dribble of gravy that found its way to my jeans. Ah well, they were already fairly wet anyway!

Cammell Laird shipyard came about after a merger of Laird Brothers of Birkenhead and Johnson Cammell of Sheffield, with the former having been started out in 1828 by William Laird, who’d also started the Birkenhead Iron Works, before passing onto his sons after his passing. The latter brought the rail side of things from Yorkshire and both ships, boats and rail stock began to be built by the new Cammell Laird company. These included London Underground trains (the 1920 stock being the first tube cars to run with compressed air doors, though these were being powered by 1906 vintage French motor cars), warships (including two HMS Ark Royal, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney and, of course, HMS Liverpool and HMS Birkenhead, as well as a couple for the Confederate States of America), mail ships (such as the second RMS Mauretania) and passenger coaches for use in the Indian subcontinent.

The Sir David Attenborough at Lairds

In 1929, the rail stock part of the business was spun-off as an aside company whilst, ship-wise, the company totalled over 1,100 vessels launched by 1947 – including the first all-welded ship, Fullager, and the quickest-built significantly sized warship, HMS Caroline. The company was nationalised as with the rest of the country’s shipbuilding industry as part of British Shipbuilders in 1977, but returned to private sector ownership in 1986 as part of Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering of Barrow-in-Furness. The two yards were the only ones in the country capable of producing nuclear submarines and produced HMS Unicorn, now named HMCS Windsor, in 1993 before the yard was closed despite much opposition. Part of the Laird yard was purchased by Coastline as a repair facility, though they retained the traditional name and grew to take on other yards in Teesside, Tyneside and Gibraltar, though after a contract pull-out, the business entered receivership after financial issues and folded soon after – with A&P Shiprepair Group buying the Britain-based yards in 2001.

Birkenhead

It was sold again in 2005 to another repair and building company – Northwestern – in 2005 and then to Peel Holdings in 2007 as part of the wider business – with Peel purchasing and re-using the Cammell Laird name for Northwestern from 2008. It then got contracts to build the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, and car ferries for Western Ferries too, whilst then gaining the construction contract for the British Antarctic Survey’s new Royal Research Ship – the RRS Sir David Attenborough – which you can see below! Lairds also entered into an agreement with BAE Systems to construct frigates for the Royal Navy from 2017 and 2018 saw Red Funnel decide to give the shipyard the task of building its new cargo ferry, the MV Red Kestrel, whilst the MoD has awarded it a further contract for four new RFA tankers – in addition to maintaining the nine already in service.

Kirklands, much like Causeway Lane last week, hasn’t changed much, if at all, since my last visit, if you discount the clubhouse’s death, that is. An all-seater stand made up of four rows or so runs the majority of the near-side, and is flanked by open hard standing on both sides, whilst the turnstiles, and the hospitality area, tea bar and dressing rooms all lie in between it and the near end, which too is open, hard standing, much like its opposite end; though both have a large grass expanse behind. The far end houses a covered standing area and another seated stand that together, all but take-up the full run of this side and a Hurst Cross-style wall toilet is hidden away behind it and the neighbouring Stagecoach bus depot. Also, the old concrete pitch wall surrounds have gone, which I was pleased about, having seen a bad one avoided a number of years back now. Anyway, without going off on a tangent, that’s Kirklands in a nutshell, and this is Laird’s story….

History Lesson:

Cammell Laird Institute Association Football Club was founded in 1907 as, perhaps unsurprisingly, the works team of the shipbuilding yard of the same name. Their first game came against neighbours Tranmere Rovers, prior to the club joining the West Cheshire League Division One for their first season. They would finish that year in 10th, before the club finished bottom in 1910, though would avoid the drop to Division 2. Post-WWI, the club was taken back in-house as the works team of the shipbuilding yard of the same name and a company league was set-up, with a representative Wirral Football Association cup side also introduced to take part in outside cup competitions and they would win their first silverware in the form of the 1921 Shipley Cup. 

In 1922, they would enter the Birkenhead and Wirral League’s Division 2, and return to the wider football landscape as Kirklands Football Club. After adding a second honour to their list in the shape of the 1924 Wirral Minor ‘B’ Cup, Lairds would lift the Birkenhead & Wirral League’s Division 2 title in 1925 and remained in Division One (presumably) through to 1939, winning the 1927 Regents Cup whilst there, before they disbanded due to the outbreak of World War II. Post-war, the club returned as Cammell Laird A.F.C. and re-joined the Birkenhead & Wirral League for the first couple of post-war years before moving back up and into the West Cheshire League’s Division 2, where they were promoted to Division 1 from in 1951 after a fourth-placed finish. However, they would stay in the Division 1 for just the sole year before being relegated.

Cammell Laird 1907

They would then win the Division 2 title in 1958, though despite not being promoted on that occasion, they were the next season upon successfully defending their title win. Season 1968-’69 saw Cammell Laird win the First Division title without suffering a league defeat and after winning a second title in 1971, they then went on to dominate the latter half of the decade – winning five successive West Cheshire League titles between 1975 & 1979. A runners-up placing ended their dominance, but only briefly, as Lairds then proceeded to take the next four championships (1981-’84), another in 1987, and another four-in-a-row between 1989 & 1992. Their success through this period was also added to with eight WCL Pyke Challenge Cups between 1970 & 1994, six Cheshire Amateur Cups (1973-’94), the 1958 West Cheshire Bowl and nine Wirral Senior Cups (1972-’95).

Their West Cheshire League success continued rather unabated through into the mid-1990’s, as the Shipyarders won a further two titles in the decade – 1994 & 1999 – and started off the new millennium lifting the 2000-’01 championship. However, this would be their final league win in the West Cheshire League, as 2004’s runners-up placing saw them take promotion to the North West Counties League’s Division 2; however they did continue to add further cup successes to the above list, with an additional two Pyke Cups being won in 1999 & 2002, two Cheshire Amateur Cups in 2001 & 2003 and two more Wirral Senior Cups in 2000 & 2002. The Division 2 Counties title was immediately won at the first attempt as part of an immediate NWCFL treble, with the NWCFL Challenge Cup and Division 2 Cup joining the league in the trophy cabinet at Kirklands.

A few people have entered here with the hump

Lairds then proceeded to go straight through the Division One, winning that too, and achieving promotion to the Northern Premier League Division One, allying this with a run to the semi-finals of the FA Vase, where they eventually were convincingly knocked out by Nantwich Town, 5-0, over two-legs. Their first season there saw success continue, with a strong season ending in a runners-up finish and qualification for the play-offs, along with a first ever Cheshire Senior Cup triumph, but after winning their play-off semi-final against Colwyn Bay, they would be bested by Eastwood Town in the final.

League re-organisation for Season 2007-’08 saw Lairds placed in Division One South (as opposed to North) and they again finished as runners-up, this time achieving promotion to the NPL’s Premier Division on account of champions Retford United failing ground-grading, though this would come to bite at Lairds too at the end of the next season. Kirklands was found to not be up to Step 3 standard and so Lairds would be relegated on ground-grading. They returned to Division One South for a season, before being switched to the North Division for 2010-’11, where they went from one extreme to the other – finishing bottom but avoiding the drop in 2012, before making the play-offs the very next season. However, it would be the first of the two campaigns that would end in slightly more pleasure strangely, as the play-offs ended in heartbreak of the Wirral side as, having overcome Mossley in the semi-finals, they would lose out to Trafford on penalties following a goalless draw in the final – a game at which I was (at the time) a staunch supporter of the Manchester side.

The old-school toilets

After finishing 11th the next season, Cammell Laird A.F.C. was disbanded (due to, if I remember rightly, off-field issues) and replaced by the current 1907 outfit. The ‘new’ club began life back in the North West Counties and finished as runners-up, earning promotion to the Premier Division from Division 1. However, unlike their predecessor, 1907 would find life a little more tricky in the Counties’ top-tier and would be relegated back in 2017 having finished bottom of the table. 2018 saw Lairds make the Division 1 play-offs, where they defeated Sandbach United in the semis, but were defeated in the final, 2-1, by Whitchurch Alport. The next season saw the league enter a Division 1 regional split, North/South, with Cammell Laird 1907 placed in the Southern section. They finished last season there in 15th place.

The game got underway in a similar vein to that of last weekend’s game at Matlock, in that very little would happen in terms of goalmouth action early on. Both sides jabbed at each other, akin to an early boxing round, with no-one able to get in close enough to deliver a meaningful blow. However, from nowhere, Lairds would break the deadlock after the first quarter-hour had been played; a long ball over the top saw the onrushing West ‘keeper make an error of judgment on the flight, and the home striker wearing #9, Kyle Sambor, nipped in to finish off rather simply.

Match Action

Tipped over

View from the ‘Main Stand’

West, who have started the season strongly despite a couple of recent slip-ups, began to get back on terms with their hosts who had began slightly the brighter on their home turf, and after a looping header from Matt Eckersley had been well tipped over by Lairds ‘keeper Richard Cowderoy, he was powerless to deny the visitors an equaliser on 37 minutes, when a ball Ben Steer, ahem, steered the ball across goal, the ball just avoiding the grasp of Cowderoy and dropping over him and into the far corner. One-a-piece and that was pretty much that for the first-half action – a half which had only really seen two chances, and both of which ended up in the net. Not a bad conversion rate!

The second-half was far more watchable as a contest and both teams looked to stamp their authority upon the game from the outset. Lairds began by seeing some good play by Sambor allowed his strike-partner Luke Blondel a sight of goal, but his shot ended up being straight at West stopper Andy Jones. Meanwhile, down the other end, West’s Lee Grimshaw, who’d gone close right at the beginning of the half, made full amends when he received a fine through ball, got clear of the defence and slid past Cowderoy for 1-2.

From the seats

Match Action

Match Action

West’s James Cottee went close soon after this, as he showed good persistence to chase the ball down, keep it in, before cutting inside and getting a shot away that the ‘keeper could only parry; his defenders completing the clearance. Lairds Dominic Murphy spurned a presentable chance when being played in by #9, his shot seeing Jones allowed a pretty routine stop, before Grimshaw really should have added a third with around ten minutes left to play but, he too, would only fire straight at a grateful gloveman. A late bit of handbags threatened to ruin my avoidance of the horrific sin-bin, but the ref, who’d had a good game in my eyes, thankfully decided not to employ it. Full-time followed shortly afterwards, with West heading back to south Manchester with the points in the bag.

Post-match, I headed back past the overlooking church as the West choir continued singing and turned left on this occasion, crossing the bridge over the dual-carriageway and down what looked to be a kind of old hall approach road, before finally arriving waterside at the refreshment rooms. A restaurant/bar, (oh God, I’ve just remembered it’s split, isn’t it?), I headed in and got a San Miguel (£4.40), before sitting at the only table I’d spotted without a ‘reserved’ sign on it….only to be turfed out after about a minute as it turns out it was!! I was told the one that did say ‘reserved’ was actually ok for the moment and was given that. All this makes sense in hindsight – I was really in the wrong side I’d say. Anyhow, they only had to put up with my thickness for around 15 minutes, as I had my train to Lime Street to catch.

Late on

A low-key beach (and a bit dead boat)

Refreshment Rooms

No problem with that hop and I was back in Liverpool in good time for my train back home. This journey was also uneventful, apart from a couple of beer-fuelled guys trying to fight with another guy for no reason (they weren’t happy at being called ‘Mancs’; yes from their own mouths) and the driver coming out of the cab to object about the term ‘Scouse Bastard’ being thrown about. Ah, Northern….well, I’d say never change, but it’s probably best for everyone that you do. Anyway, some of the group went back to chatting up girls instead – though I’d say it seemed a little like a one-way situation!

As for me, I was soon off for a couple more back in my parents bar in Urmston (‘The Three Barrels’ it’s called, pay me for THAT ad) to round off a good day. The game was ok, the ground is nice in a rustic kind of way – it has its own look to it – and the food there was decent too; hopefully the same can be said for the programme when it’s in situ. Pubs also were better than expected, which was a nice bonus. Another week, another FA Cup round to come. Now, where to go….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: Forthcoming

Value For Money: 7

 

Manchopper in….Matlock

Result: Matlock Town 1-2 Kidsgrove Athletic (FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round)

Venue: Causeway Lane (Saturday 21st September 2019, 3pm)

Att: 377

Yet another FA Cup weekend came up on the footballing world and with summer biting back for likely the final time this year, I reckoned I might as well make the most of it and join the tourists in one of the more popular inland areas up in t’hills. This would entail a rather irritating journey to get there, but I figured it would be worth the while in the end. As such, Matlock was the chosen destination and, having only visited the Gladiators’ ground once some six years back, I was looking forward to the trip.

Passing through Manchester on the way, I caught the train to Alfreton where I would make a change of transport method for a bus onwards to ex-New Zealand Test Cricketer Iain O’Brien’s abode, Matlock. The bus, helpfully, leaves from the station’s front entrance and so allowed for a small delay, though I did only have around seven minutes or so in hand, or I’d be stranded for a couple of hours and looking for alternatives on the fly. Luckily, these wouldn’t be needed, the bus arrived in good time (£5.30 day ticket) and I was soon rolling onwards towards Matlock Bath, though the journey wasn’t exactly peaceful – a couple of excitable kids putting paid to that – and that’s coming from someone who deals with this on a daily basis!

Arriving in Matlock Bath

Fishpond

Toads & Tails

The journey included a hareum-scareum trip down a narrow road as a diversion, though this did mean we encountered a convoy of a few Caterhams and an old, mid-1900’s bus on the approach to Crich – the latter complete with one guy and a huge, life-size panda teddy as passengers for some ungodly reason; I prefer not to consider too hard. I eventually arrived a good twenty minutes later into Matlock than planned, meaning my stay here was forcibly truncated due to bus timings and the like, as mentioned earlier. I did still have time to have a couple of sunsoaked pints on the pleasant-looking main street through it though – first in the Fishpond freehouse just across the way from the spa building itself, and an interestingly named alehouse called Toads and Tails. Both were fine and I decided to go local in my ales, opting for a Derby Pride Pale Ale (£3.70) in the former and a Matlock Brewery Illuminations (£3.40) in the latter. I preferred the Derby personally, though that’s not to say the Matlock one wasn’t good.

Soon enough, it was time to grab the bus up the road and to Matlock itself, sadly having to bypass the Cottage and Midland pubs as I did so. I originally planned to get off at the stop that would allow me a cut-through to the Duke William, but missed this due to not being attentive enough – the stops aren’t exactly easy to spot if you’re not used to them. However, this allowed me to instead head straight into the centre of town and proved to be a far better way of doing the day overall – well, if you don’t count not finding the aforementioned cut-through and getting lost in a churchyard, but more on that later. The Remarkable Hare just opposite the bus stop was first up for a pint of Atlantic Pale Ale (£3.30), whilst I went about setting out a tour of Matlock’s, surprisingly few, hostelries.

Outside the Remarkable Hare

Matlock

Matlock

Matlock is (apparently) the county town of Derbyshire (yes, I thought it was Derby) and is located at the south-eastern edge of the Peak District, and is part of the Derbyshire Dales district. The former spa town has the resort of Matlock Bath lying just to the south and Matlock’s urban district is considered to take in Wirksworth, Darley Dale, Tansley and Hackney. Its name derives from the Old English mæthel, meaning assembly or speech and āc meaning ‘t oak tree’ – so Matlock or ‘moot-oak’ is ‘oak tree where meetings are held. Recorded as Meslach in the Domesday Book, by the mid-1100’s it had become Matlac. Built upon the River Derwent, the town’s industries were thus taken from this, with hydrotherapy and cloth milling growing up along it and its tributary Bentley Brook.

Originally a group of villages within the Wirksworth Hundred – that of Matlock Green, Bath, Town, Bridge and Bank – until the 1698 discovery of thermal springs, the hydros that were being built became ever more popular and so the area grew with both residents and tourism eventually leading to the villages pretty much linking together. The Derbyshire County Council HQ currently resides in the largest hydro that was built and lasted over 100 years until closing its doors for a year in 1955 before re-opening in its current guise. The town council of Matlock also takes in Riber, Starkholmes and Hurst Farm as well as its ‘Matlock’ grouping.

Matlock Bath

Former tram cover

A cable tramway was used until 1927 to get around the issues of Bank Road, with the area’s earliest settlements around Bentley Brook at Matlock Green, eventually growing up the hillside, though the tramway was eventually usurped by buses and cars. The rail line through to Manchester (via Buxton) was closed in 1968, with Network Rail’s subsequent thoughts of re-opening the route not yet coming to fruition, though the line has been kept free of overgrowth with it still possibly having a new re-purposing. The town centre’s Hall Leys park houses a Victorian bandstand, an old tramway shelter, sports areas, café, a footbridge over the Derwent with river-level markings (its part of the flood defences), as well as a miniature railway and boating lake. The bridge and war memorial neighbour it, alongside a wishing well. Matlock is also one of the smallest towns in the country to host two bus stations. Exciting.

Bandstand

Bridge & Flood Heights

From there, I took a stroll on over the bridge and through the neighbouring gardens (no market as there was on my previous visit though), passing by the Wetherspoons before arriving at the modern, and kind of showroom-looking Tipsy Toad. A very modern/craft-style place, this was all very rustic inside and a pint of Rattler cider was had to fit in with the theme. Rattlesnakes and taverns go together, right? The pint here was £4.50 and is always a good one (though it had been a fair while since I’d sampled it – since Exeter, in fact if I remember rightly) and set me up nicely to brave the ‘Spoons. With time beginning to run a little on the short side, I opted for a Kopparberg Mixed Fruits (£2.75) before again taking a slight detour to the gardens and paying a brief visit to the ground to grab a programme on my way over to the Red Lion, just beyond the cricket ground at the far end. Again taking advantage of the outdoor seating in the sun here, I decided to milk a Dark Fruits for the twenty-or-so minutes through to kick-off time.

Tipsy Toad

Heading to the ‘Spoons

Red Lion

Returning back to the gate, I paid my entry dues of £10 and was allowed into Causeway Lane for a second time. The ground hadn’t changed from what I could remember, with the near side being populated by a covered terrace/seating dual stand that runs the length of the pitch and a covered terrace area at the near end. The Main, all-seater, Stand is located on the opposite side and straddles half-way, whilst the clubhouse area and food bar flank it to either side, the clubhouse standing between it and the off-limits far end, which is the cricket outfield. There is also a small amount of uncovered terracing just between the food bar and the covered standing area too, making for a super little ground. That’s Causeway Lane in a nutshell and this is the story of Matlock’s Gladiators….

History Lesson:

Matlock Town Football Club was founded in 1878 as Matlock Football Club and initially played at a ground on Hall Leys before moving into Causeway Lane. They began entering the FA Cup from 1885, though wouldn’t manage to win a game in the competition until 1890, the year when the club joined the Derbyshire Senior League as founder members. They would win the inaugural championship that year and defended it successfully the next too, this preceding a switch into the Midland Amateur Alliance for 1892. However, this would prove to be the Alliance’s final season – the league disbanding and leaving Matlock to return back to the Derbyshire Senior League once again. They would later attempt to move up to the Midland League in 1894, but this would prove to be something of a disaster, Matlock recording a bottom-placed finish at the end of their first season, before somehow managing to go one worse the following year, losing out in each and every one of their 28 league games.

This horrific campaign led to Matlock returning back, once more, to their safe haven of the Derbyshire Senior League, but things hardly improved on the field, and the club finished bottom of the league here too, in 1898. A period of un-noticeable seasons leading up to World War I came and went and, after the end of hostilities, the club returned to the field as Matlock Town; the club clearly hoping to start afresh. They would move from the Derbyshire Senior League to the Central Alliance in 1924, but the club again proved to be something of an ‘Alliance grim reaper’, as they competed in a second alliance league’s final season (1924-’25) before, yet again, finding refuge in the familiar surroundings of the DSL. They finished as league runners-up in 1927 before moving to compete in the Central Combination for two seasons from 1933, seemingly folding.

MTFC

However, Matlock Town would return once more as a post-war side, joining the Chesterfield & District League in 1946 for a season prior to the Central Alliance also returning. Upon a divisional split in 1950, Matlock maintained a place in the top division, Division One, though avoided the drop two-seasons later, despite finishing bottom. This happened again in 1956, but the club were benefactors of further league re-organisation – this time a regional North/South Division One split. This proved to be for the better as Matlock won the Division One North title in 1960 and also reached that season’s FA Cup First Round, losing out in a replay to Crook Town, by the odd goal. Their league turnaround would continue the following year, with the Gladiators successfully defending their league title and thereupon again decided to try their hand up the leagues; their destination this time coming in the shape of the reformed Midland League.

The club lifted the league title at the first attempt (1962) and took their second championship in 1969, which subsequently saw Matlock promoted to the Northern Premier League. 1975 saw a second FA Cup First Round appearance for the Gladiators end in a 4-1 reverse to Blackburn Rovers, but a Wembley appearance would be forthcoming that same season; Town making it to the FA Trophy Final where they thumped Scarborough 4-0 to lift the prize – a feat which also saw a bit of history in that three of the Town side were brothers; the only occasion this has happened in a final at either the ‘old’ or ‘new’ ground. This success would lead to an automatic qualification for the FA Cup’s First Round for the next season, but they would again be bested by 4-1, this time by future Cup winners Wigan Athletic.

Clubhouse

Before Wigan’s future heroics though, Matlock would get their revenge in the next staging of the famous competition – besting the Latics 2-0 – and beating eventual Third Division champions Mansfield Town 5-2 at the Stags’ home, taking their first Football League scalp in the process, before eventually bowing out to Carlisle United in the Third Round. An NPL Cup double would be achieved in 1978, as the Challenge Cup and Peter Swales Shield arrived at Causeway Lane, and Matlock entered the 1978-’79 Anglo-Italian Cup, finishing a creditable 2nd in the English section. The Gladiators finished as NPL runners-up in 1984 and three years later, became a member of the NPL Premier Division when the league gained a First Division too. They remained there through into the new decade, winning the 1989 Floodlit Trophy, whilst 1990 saw yet another First Round FA Cup appearance end in a 4-1 loss, this time at the hands of Scunthorpe United.

Causeway Lane, MTFC

Despite starting the decade with the 1991 Floodlit Cup, Matlock would suffer relegation to the NPL’s First Division in 1996, finishing bottom, and would remain there for eight seasons before finishing as runners-up and earning promotion back to the Premier Division. They followed this success by winning the next season’s (2004-’05) NPL Challenge Cup, the second time they had won this silverware, and 2008 saw Matlock earn a shot at a place in the Conference North when making the play-offs; Witton Albion would, however, prevail 4-2 in the semi-finals, consigning Town to another year in the NPL. They have since finished a best of 7th (coming in 2010), whilst consolidating themselves as a solid mid-table outfit, year-on-year, finishing last season in 15th place. They have also lifted the Derbyshire Senior Cup on a total of ten occasions – their first in 1975, and most recent coming in 2017.

The game got underway as I got talking to Matlock and Leeds fan Gary, about all and sundry with regards to different things in the world of football and the like. It was a good job there was something to distract me (at least from my perspective) from the on-field action…or the lack thereof; it was bloody horrendous early doors. It really isn’t a stretch to say that the first twenty minutes or so saw next to nothing in the way of goal-mouth action – or 18-yard action even – truly be created – a shot from over the half-way line being the closes we came to an opener. Even then, it wasn’t really that close. The first real chance eventually came the way of Matlock’s Dan Bramall, his shot being deflected wide, before Ant Malbon responded for Kidsgrove – however he could only tamely hit straight at Jon Stewart between the Gladiators’ sticks.

View from the dual stand

Match Action

Footie & Drink!

That would pretty much be that for the first half it seemed, but, right on the stroke of half-time, the hosts grabbed a slightly deserved lead on the overall balance of play. Having just visited the food bar for something that involved chips (I can’t remember what else – its been over ten days…), I headed over to the clubhouse entrance in anticipation of the whistle, when a free-kick was met by James Williamson at the back post and his header nestled in the net. 1-0 Matlock at the break, a break which was spent watching the half-time scores come in from around the country, as a rather sizeable queue formed at the bar.

The second half was soon on the go and Kidsgrove came out like a house on fire, intent on getting themselves back on level terms, clearly having been stung by conceding so late in the first-half, Malbon volleying over the bar in their best chance early doors. Having said that, this approach gave Matlock the space to attack too and they also went close, Marcus Marshall firing narrowly wide in search of a second goal that would have likely clinched Town’s place in the next round. Kidsgrove, however, would have other ideas and the impressive Kingsley Adu Gyamfi went close on a pair of occasions as Athletic strove to get back level.

Through The Crowds

From The Stand

Terraces

They would achieve this goal with around twenty-five minutes left on the clock; skipper Ant Malbon latched onto a loose-ball, after James Butler’s header had been cleared off the line but no further, and he calmly finished – showing all his experience in doing so. The wind was well and truly in the sails of Kidsgrove now and, with their band of supporters in the terrace behind the goal still coming to terms with their leveller, their joy became jubilation moments later. All but straight from kick-off, the quicksilver Gymafi picked up the ball just inside the Matlock half, beat a couple of challenges in advancing forward, before lashing a drive across goal that flew past Stewart and into the back of the net. What a strike it was and Gyamfi enjoyed it just as much as the Grove faithful did!

A stunned Matlock did seem shell-shocked by the sudden turnaround and despite seeing Williamson and Luke Hinsley denied by Kidsgrove ‘keeper Kieran Harrison, even the coming up of Harrison’s opposite number Stewart for a final minute corner couldn’t force an equaliser and the NPL South visitors held on to seal a “Cupset” and head into the Third Qualifying Round, the magical First Round place and all the possibilities that come with it edging ever closer. However, I’m still left with just the one ‘keeper goal live – Greg Hall’s place in my ‘Hall of Fame’ (NB: a note) as sole member in that category is safe. In fact, I’ve seen him score as a ‘keeper, midfielder and striker. So, yeah.

Late on…

Small bridge & stream. Quaint.

After the game, I made haste up the steep incline to the Duke William, which should have been my starting point upon my arrival into Matlock proper. This had also been the scene of one of my rare darts wins which, I must admit, came in my more sober days!! Upon entering into this throwback public house, I plumped for a pint of Heineken (£4.30~) and wasted away a fair bit of the hour-and-a-bit or so I had until the bus back to Alfreton. This was all going well until….well, you remember that “getting lost in a churchyard” bit, yeah? See that and add ‘a private road’ and could I find this place? Could I hell. As such, I decided to follow the paths from whence I came and got back to the Remarkable Hare in good time for the bus….which was then delayed by a good twenty minutes, meaning a later train back was now on the cards. Walking through Alfreton, I decided it was time to employ my ‘trump card’. What was that, you ask? I think you know….!

Duke William

Back in Alfreton at the Prospect Micropub

Since visiting Alfreton with fellow hopper Paul a few seasons back now, a small micropub in an unassuming side road has opened up judt a few minutes walk from the station entrance. Going by the name of the Prospect Micropub (on account of said road it is on), it was always going to be a place of refuge is something went a little awry, and so it came to be. Unfortunately, for some reason, I sounded like a pure drunk on my arrival there and could barely string the sentence I wanted together, though maybe wasn’t as bad as I suspected, as the guy there seemed to know what I was on about. Or maybe he guessed?! Either way, I ended up choosing another Rattler at £4.70 and wasted away the remaining time lazing on a couch. Lovely stuff.

Eventually I had to rouse myself from the sunken sofa and back out onto the streets of Alfreton, which by now were bathed in darkness and illuminated only by the streetlights glaring down upon them. Hello darkness, my old friend. Winter is coming. Any other puns; I can’t see me thinking of anymore. Sorry. Anyway, no other problems were seen and via a welcome doze on the train back into Manchester, I was there in quick time, though wasn’t in the mood to stick around the best part of an hour for a train; instead I opted to part with a couple of quid extra to grab a bus and get home a half-hour earlier. I fair trade I think. That ended another good trip to another lovely town. Of course, I knew what to expect out of Matlock (less so its pubs), but I hadn’t been to its Bath-y neighbour before and that was the bonus. Both were great and, of course, Causeway Lane is, as I’ve already said, a top ground – even without the dramatic backdrop up to Riber Castle. Next up….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 9

Food: 7

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7