Manchopper in….Widnes (Ford Motors FC)

Result: Ford Motors 2-0 Grappenhall Sports (Cheshire League 1)

Venue: Jaguar Land Rover Sports Club (Saturday 17th November 2018, 2pm)

Att: 10~

With a weekend with nothing set in stone on the horizon, I thought I’d let the decision on where I’d end up on this, the third Saturday of November, rest with the good folk of the twitterverse. With a few options on the table, the Grappenhall Sports retweet seemed to be the catalyst for the eventual victor. Unsurprisingly, it was swayed the way of their own game at Ford Motors in the North of Widnes and so it was to there I’d be headed for. With the trains being on their seemingly never-ending, much-maligned strike – which is also much to the chagrin of those brought in as replacements from other organisations – as I learned from someone who had been tasked with doing so with some ungodly shifts going around too by his account. They would also mean that I would be starting earlier than was ideal once again and after catching the train at just after 9am, I was arriving into Widnes station (made (in)famous by the Paul Simon legend regarding ‘Homeward Bound’) a little over 45 minutes later. With a fair amount of time to waste, I got my bearings of the area (despite having already been before), prior to making my way to the ‘Spoons to start the day.

Arriving at Widnes Market

Widnes High Street

The Premier – through a strange statue

Imperial

Waiting over my Punk IPA (£2.99) for ten minutes until my 11am allowed start time (yes, I really am that pedantic), I wasted away some time in the old cinema building named the Premier before heading a few doors down the road to the Imperial, one of those ‘Spoons-styled free houses. It wasn’t too bad here either and the prices were agreeable as well, a pint of Bud Light coming in at just £2.50 whilst I got talking to Tom, a Liverpool supporting ex-firefighter who also has the wide-ranging family issue of the blue/red split! After he apologised for boring me (that’s usually my fault) which certainly wasn’t the case, I left him to finish up his drink whilst I made up a plan of action for the rest of the pre-match tour de Widnes, starting with the Bradley Arms, on the corner of the same road and just at the top of the high street. A pint of Coors in here cost a fairly normal £3.50 before a walk through the aforementioned high-street – which is mostly pedestrianised, I should add – had me at the Derby, which stands at the mid-way point. The Derby also had the early-kick off on too, which was handy, and so I settled in for a while and watched the majority of the first half whilst supping at a Moretti (£3.50).

Completing the walk down the high-street’s more car dominated bit, I came to the Simms Cross, a pub that stands opposite the large Asda and not far from the Vikings stadium. Still working my way away from the ground at this point, this was actually all a plan with sense of you’ll trust me for once! A quick Dark Fruits, at £3.50 once again, was had here prior to crossing the road and along past said Asda to the Grapes, which would be my final pre-match stop, with the bus up to the ground leaving from just outside of it. This was probably the most odly-wordly pub of the day and was nice enough, a pint of Strongbow (due to lack of real options) being opted for though at £3, I couldn’t be too fussy. After wasting away the remainder of the time through to the bus in here, it was off to the ground, where I was due to arrive at around ten-to-2 and just in time for kick-off. You’d expect something to go wrong now, wouldn’t you?

Bradley

The Derby on the left

Simms Cross

Inside the Grapes

Well….it didn’t!! Not only did the bus come early, but I ended up at the Jaguar Land Rover Sports Club right on cue. Lovely. Straight into the ground it was and with little time to wait, I had a swift peruse of my surroundings. The near end, from which you enter, is home to the clubhouse/social club and with it all the usual footballing facilities, a small bit of cover to the front of said dressing rooms and a paved car park providing hard standing. To the far side is a nice stand, consisting of a few rows of benched seating, and this runs most of the length of the pitch and is flanked by hard standing. The opposite side also features hard standing, whilst the far end is home to little more than some catch-netting, though no-one is too bothered if you go around it seemed. So that’s the ground in a nutshell and this is the story of Ford Motors…..Luckily, not the car company….

History Lesson:

Ford Motors Football Club was founded in 1962 and would later go on to join the Lancashire Combination a decade later. They would struggle initially, before becoming a more solid, mid-table outfit ahead of a switch into the Cheshire County League Division 2 as a founding member in 1978, where they continued this trend. The Cheshire County League later merged with the Lancs Combination to form the North West Counties League in 1982, with Fords again becoming a founder member, where they would remain for the next four seasons, prior to being relegated in 1976 after finishing second-bottom. However, they would spend just one season in Division 3 as it was absorbed at the end of that season into Division 2, and after one further year in the NWCFL, the club left to join the Liverpool County Combination Division 2 for the 1988-’89 campaign.

After finishing runners-up and being promoted to Division 1 at the end of their first season there, Fords would remain in the First Division through to 1999, as the league ran with a single division for the following two years, before returning to a two-tier system for a year in 2002, before reverting back to its one division approach through to its eventual merger with the I Zingari League to create the Liverpool County Premier League, Fords having finished a best of 5th (in 1997) during their time in the LCC. Immediately placed into the Premier Division of the new league, Fords established themselves back into a solid mid-table side, before eventually recording a 3rd placed finish in 2011, prior to returning back down into the midst of the middle of the league for their final two seasons there. The club would depart the Liverpool County Premier League in 2013 after finishing second-bottom of the Premier Division and switched to join the West Cheshire League’s Division 3 instead.

Arriving at the ground

The clubhouse building

View from the Main Stand

Motors would contest three seasons in Division 3 of the West Cheshire League, finish 5th, 10th and 4th respectively, before taking up the opportunity to join the expanding Cheshire League for season 2016-’17. Placed into ‘League 2’, the club immediately found the new surroundings of the Cheshire League more to their liking, finishing 4th at the end of their first season here, before lifting the Cheshire League 2 title last season and being promoted to ‘League 1’ for this campaign. On a side-note, the club have also competed in the FA Vase during their tenure in the NWCFL, and made the 4th Round in 1984-’85, beating Graham St. Prims, Linotype, Staveley Works and Guisborough Town, before eventually bowing out to Newcastle Blue Star. Their last game in the competition to date was against Salford in 1990, where they went down in the extra-preliminary round by 2-1 at (a rather different looking than the current one!) Moor Lane.

The game got underway and, in truth, it was a real slow burner. There was very little action in the first half and by half-time I was wondering if my 0-0-less run was going to end just a couple of weeks short of a year. The few highlights that did come along during the first 45 minutes favoured Fords, with the hosts going close early on, when the Grappenhall ‘keeper was forced to tip over an effort, before Sports responded by going close twice in quick succession – first the #10 capitalised on a ‘keeping error but could only fire wide, before the #8 shot wide of the target shortly afterwards.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

However, just before the break, Grappenhall were reduced to ten-men, when one of the defenders was adjudged, pretty fairly in my book, to have been the last man and in denying a goalscoring opportunity when bringing down the attacking Fords man. He was off for an early bath, though Fords wouldn’t be able to take advantage in the last few minutes through to the half-time whistle, with the game remaining steadfastly goal-less and only the red card seemed to offer any real chance of it not ending as such.

The half-time break came and went quickly and with little of note to report on, we were soon underway once more. And wouldn’t you know it, just a few minutes into the second period the deadlock would be broken by the home side when good play by #7 resulted in him playing in the #9, Cameron Chambers, who fired high into the roof of the net. This seemed to simultaneously breath extra life into Fords, whilst draining it from Sports and it was Motors who almost added a second not too long afterwards, but the shot came back off the upright.  However, the second would eventually arrive and it would come from the spot. A foul by the ‘keeper resulted in a certain penalty for me and #4 Connor Tagoe stepped up to confidently convert the kick and give his side, almost certainly, the points.

#4 nets from the spot, despite the big dive!

Match Action

View from the ‘stand’ in front of the dressing rooms

Later, as the game went on into its final quarter of an hour, Chambers almost grabbed his second of the game but was denied by a good stop with his legs by the Grappenhall ‘keeper, before they were given some sort of hope in the last five minutes, when Fords themselves were reduced to a man light, rather harshly in my view on this occasion, when the #12, David Worsley, was dismissed for (I assume) what was thought of as a bad challenge. As I said, it didn’t look too bad from my view, though those of a Sports persuasion didn’t seem all too happy, so maybe I missed something. As it was, this didn’t effect the game at all and after a late chance for the hosts when the #7 found himself one-on-one with the ‘keeper, only to wastefully shoot wide, the whistle blew and I made a hasty exit for the bus which was due, got there in time, only to not be able to find my ticket and so I let the guy drive on whilst I strove away to find it….in my pocket. Damn, though its not a day out for me without something going slightly awry, now is it?!

Getting a bus some twenty minutes later, I was soon back in Widnes and decided to pay a visit to the far end of town and then make my way straight up the main road towards the station, a route that just so happened to have a couple of pubs on the way. I know, what were the odds on that? After an initial visit to the Kingsway Hotel, which I found a very friendly and busy place (Dark Fruits at £2.75), the Doctor’s pub opposite looked shut up and so I beat my retreat back off towards Widnes station, via the medium of the two pubs passively aforementioned – namely the Horse & Jockey and the Crown. A further Dark Fruits was had in the former (£3.20~) prior to visiting the Crown for a second time, after my visit to Widnes FC a couple of seasons back. It was far fuller this evening than it had been on that Tuesday night and I took my time over an Amstel (£3.75) whilst awaiting the time to the train to elapse.

A square I came across somehow

Kingsway Hotel

Horse & Jockey

Rounding off in the Crown

Eventually it did and off I headed back to the station for the train home, though this did come via Warrington, which is always slightly irritating (the stop-off, not Warrington!!). Anyway, I was soon off home in earnest to round off the day, which had been, to borrow something of a footballing summary – solid, but unspectacular. The game had been alright, the ground better than most in and around the level Fords are at, and the pubs around town had been ok on the pocket. Travel went smoothly enough (bar the minor hiccup) and that’s that for another week. Just the one to go and I’ll have made a full year without seeing a goalless draw. Wherever I eventually end up….DON’T YOU EVEN DARE!!!!!

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 6

Programme: N/A

Food: N/A

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Sale (Mersey Valley FC)

Result: Mersey Valley 4-2 Club AZ (J.A. Walton Challenge Cup First Round)

Venue: Mersey Valley Sports Club, Banky Lane (Saturday 29th September 2018, 3pm)

Att: 8 (eight)

With the rail strikes continuing unabated for yet another week, my tour de local area continued with a return to one of the more local grounds to me. I was back off to Banky Lane, where I’d seen Sale Town on a couple of occasions, but there was a new kid on the block this time around. Having formed their own side a few years back, Mersey Valley Sports Club took on full usage of the ground under their own name and introduced Mersey Valley F.C. into the Cheshire League fray. Though only a fairly new entity, the club has established itself in the Cheshire League’s lower to mid reaches so far and looks to have a decent set-up to push on from. Anyway, enough about the past and future, let’s get back onto the present, shall we?

Grabbing the bus into Sale at just before 11am, an easy, swift journey had me in the (don’t mention Greater Manchester) Cheshire town for just about half-past. Upon arrival, I attempted to begin down the back of the canal somewhat at the Railway Tavern, only to find it still shut through to midday, so instead opted to begin my circuit at the King’s Ransom on the canal side. Entered by heading down a flight of stairs (disabled access is available), a further couple of lots finally spit you out in the bar area, where I was swiftly purchasing a pint of Amstel (£3.70) to begin the day. However, it was in a Carling glass and I’d like to stress that it definitely wasn’t. In an added bonus, it isn’t often you get to sit on a barge-like construction actually on the water and watch a number of rowers go on past, possibly a few preferring to be where I was rather than going through all that. Soon enough, it was time to continue onwards over the way to the pub-with-no-obvious-name, though it used to be the Steamhouse, so no idea if that’s still the case.

Arriving in Sale

King’s Ransom (and barge thing)

Pub with (possibly) no name

Either way, my first two options of Bootleg IPA and a cider were off, so I settled with a pint of Menabrea, which was alright, but is one of the minority that is better in a bottle in my opinion. It did grow on me slightly as I worked on through it, somewhat helping the £4.40 price tag be a little easier to swallow, if you pardon the pun. From there it was back off to the Railway Tavern which was now thankfully open and a quick pint of Heineken was had before heading back up to the main road and past the metro stop to the town’s Wetherspoon’s: the J.P. Joule. An ok if largely uninspiring ‘Spoon’s offering, I had my “refresher” of a Hooch in here for the usual £2.19, though I didn’t much welcome the cheers emanating from the top-tier of the pub when West Ham United netted their second against a more local side with that suffix. Not that is was too surprising, of course, but the less said about that the better….

Railway

‘Spoons

Sale is a town historically in Cheshire as determined by the River Mersey, the historical border between Lancashire and Cheshire. A flint arrowhead found gives indications of possible pre-historic inhabitation of the area, though there is nothing else to back this up. The Roman-era gives the first true findings of activity in and around the Sale area, and the A56 (Cross Street) largely follows the old Roman road linking the fortresses at York and Chester via the fort at Manchester. The Anglo-Saxon invasion prompted Sale’s name to come to fruition, it deriving from the Old English word salh, meaning “at the sallow tree”, with Ashton-on-Mersey meaning “village or farm near the ash trees”. Although neither Sale or A-o-M were mentioned in the Domesday Book, this may be because only a partial survey was taken. The settlements did pop up in 1199 & 1260 respectively and were largely crop and cattle farming centric areas through the Middle Ages, though were described as townships rather than manors, again suggesting an Anglo-Saxon heritage for the two.

Sale would pass through the local de Sale, de Carrington and de Massey and later their descendants – the Holts and Masseys – with Sale Old Hall built for the latter’s in 1603 and though demolished for the most part in 1920, a couple of buildings remain, notably the lodge at Sale Golf Club. In 1745, the 14th century Crossford Bridge (the name by which Old Alts’ ground is known) was demolished by the government to delay the Jacobite invasion, though it was rebuilt by the Scots and a small force was sent into Sale and Altrincham to try to deceive the opposition into believing they were headed for Chester. This worked and the invading main army instead went by Cheadle and Stockport. 1765 would see the Bridgwater Canal reach Sale, stimulating the town’s growth and changing its rural surroundings into a more urban location. Later, Sale Moor was brought into use as cultivation for food during the Napoleonic Wars, with the area later becoming a village in its own right, along with Brooklands – the latter taking its name from the local landowner. Sale Moor would be the poorer area for a long while due to poor soil, but upon the introduction of the railway in 1849 and Sale Moor’s close location to it, Sale Moor suddenly turned the tables to become the most affluent and desirable part of the growing commuter town, Sale later merging with Ashton-on-Mersey in 1929.

Outside the Town Hall

During World War Two Sale, interestingly enough, was never evacuated, this despite its close proximity to Manchester and Trafford, with it even taking in evacuees. The town would, obviously, end up being hit and despite numerous previous raids and the 600 bombs dropped on the town during the Manchester Blitz, miraculously no-one was killed, though the town hall was severely damaged. Sadly, there would be a couple of wartime fatality nearby, as a Wellington Bomber went down in nearby Walton Park whilst taking part in a training exercise, killing the captain and bomb-aimer of the six man (one RAF and five RAAF) crew. More recently, the 1970’s saw the town centre redeveloped and largely pedestrianised in an attempt to grow trade in the town, whilst the construction of the M63 (now M60) allowed for greater and easier travel connections from and to Sale, whilst also contributing to the construction of Sale Water Park, from which the gravel for a nearby embankment on which the road would be built upon to minimise flooding was extracted, and the area then made into an artificial lake and water sports centre. Sale also played host to Sale Sharks at Heywood Road for a long part of their history, prior to their move to Salford, with Sale FC still taking up residence at the old ground, with Sale Harriers also a notable sporting club from the town.

Finishing up quickly, I walked through the largely pedestrianised high street to the Bull’s Head on the main thoroughfare to Altrincham, Cross Street. It was pretty packed in here with punters of many persuasions watching the game, with a pint of Coors being joined by a free raffle ticket which tied in to minutes goals were scored which would equal free pints in some way. I couldn’t really hear the whole explanation, but it seemed a cool touch to add. Watching the game through to the third Hammers’ goal through Arnautovic, I decided enough was enough and it was high time to watch a couple of teams who’d hopefully put on a better performance than the Reds could muster.

Bull’s Head

Mersey Farm

Through the trees

Grabbing the bus just around the corner from the large, former bingo hall, I hopped off near the Mersey Farm pub and reckoned it’d be wrong not to pop in, especially considering the fact I still had a good 45 minutes-to-an-hour to get to the ground which was just over the dual-carriageway just behind the pub, though you do have to circle around the nearby church somewhat. Anyway, I opted for a pint of the Thatcher’s Gold in the Farm and wasted away the remaining time, before undertaking said ten minute walk over the footbridge and down a couple of flights of tree-lined steps which lead you pretty much to the ground, though the access gate is slightly further down the small, rural Banky Lane. Arriving just as the whistle went, there isn’t all that much to the ground in truth. It’s a three-sided barred off pitch with no hard standing around the pitch itself, bar the patio area out the front of the clubhouse itself. The clubhouse is a smart construction, containing all the facilities including a small kitchen serving hot dogs – which I partook in during the half-time interval, and a bar. The dugouts are out front too, though you do have to cross the home one to do a “lap”, interestingly enough! The far end is also open with no barrier, but no-one seems to fussed as long as you don’t intend to streak. So that’s Mersey Valley’s home in a very brief explanation and this is the short story of the club’s history so far….

History Lesson:

Mersey Valley Football Club was founded in 2014, evolving from the pre-existing Sale Town Football Club who previously used the venue on Banky Lane in Ashton-on-Mersey Village. Taking a spot in the newly formed Division 2 after Sale’s second-bottom finish in the previous season’s Division 1 (same level), Mersey Valley would go on to finish a strong third in their first season, just missing out on promotion. A sixth-placed finish followed in their 2nd campaign, before the league again re-designated their league names, with Valley being placed in League One, the middle division behind the Premier Division and ahead of League 2. They would go on to cement their place as a solid mid-table outfit, placing 7th in 2017 and lifting the Altrincham & District Senior Cup at Altrincham’s Moss Lane, prior to finishing up 8th last time out, out of the 15 teams in the table and reaching the semi-finals of the J.A. Walton Cup, bowing out to Vulcan. So far this season, having returned to League 2, they look to be following the usual script league-wise, sitting 7th out of the 14 competing clubs.

Arriving at the ground

With the game having just got underway, it quickly became clear that Mersey Valley had a ten-year-old, occasional Trafford FC partnership up front in the form of Troy Hayder and Scott Barlow, so my interest was immediately peaked somewhat. However, they weren’t given too long to try to give the side the advantage as, around half a minute into the contest, some awful defensive mistake I completely missed allowed the ball to find the net with those of a Valley persuasion being perplexed by what had just occurred, whatever that was. It was Beau Gatwood who took advantage of a poor clearance apparently (thanks to the Club AZ twitter for that!). Things quickly got worse for the hosts as a blatant trip in the box gave the ref no alternative to point to the spot and despite not making the cleanest connection on the spot-kick, Josh Pilley’s effort evaded the home ‘keeper, who will feel he ought to have done better than just getting something on it. 0-2 and it looked like only one side were going to win this game.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Valley did get themselves back into the game somewhat against the run-of-play, when Hayder beat the offside trap despite the protestations of the AZ players and went on to finish tidily. The complaints continued after the goal, but AZ soon got back on it and #7 forced the home stopper into a fine stop, before he did even better to somehow deny the #9, after a half-volley from a left-wing free-kick. The chances continued to come along at some pace, Hayder spurning a good position by only mustering a weak shot, but Dan Jones would draw the hosts level just after the half-hour, neatly tucking the ball beyond the AZ glove-man. The visitors would respond to this before the break with the ‘keeper redeeming himself after an initial mistake as he again showed his shot-stopping prowess in tipping #14’s effort onto the upright, before the ever-dangerous Hayder had the chance to put his side ahead going into the break, but took too long over the ball and the danger was eventually cleared by the visiting defence. Half-time duly arrived shortly afterwards and, as is usual in the lower steps, it’s a thankfully short affair.

Hot-dog in hand, the second period was soon underway and it was Valley who would have the first chance just as I exited the building, the skipper, #4, seeing his header come back off the crossbar. But they would soon grab the lead as Jones got in down the left-flank and advanced into the area before pulling back for sub Bilal Afzal to tap home from close-range. A fine come-back, but this was soon put in some jeopardy as Scott Barlow was shown two quick yellow cards in succession, a first for dissent and the second for a….rash challenge. Down to ten were the hosts and it just so happened I was chatting to his partner, Corinne (apologies if spelt wrong), as it happened. Ah.

Managerial stances en point

Up For It

As it was, the sending-off seemed to affect Mersey Valley very little and they almost immediately added a fourth to extend their lead and complete the switcheroo to their own two-goal advantage, as Hayder fired home. It was that close in fact that the dismissed Barlow hadn’t even re-emerged from his early bath by that point! Spending the remainder of the game likely annoying the pair with many a question and what not, the game began to fizzle out as AZ looked to wilt somewhat, though almost grabbed a consolation with the last touch of the game, as #6 headed narrowly over, but that would be that and it was the hosts who would advance in the J.A. Walton Cup and I also advanced….back to the pubs. This time, it was to Ashton-on-Mersey itself and to the village’s pair of pubs, which handily sit across the way from each other. That’s kind of them!

Ashton-on-Mersey Village

After a short ten-to-fifteen minute walk, I arrived at the village and decided to pop in the Old Plough first, before heading over the way to the Buck Inn from where I could take the adjoining road to the bus stop. A pair of Amstel’s in the pair kept me going for the next hour-and-a-bit through to the next service, with both hostelries being worth the detour. Eventually, it was time to leave for the bus, which actually turned up on time (what is this sorcery?) meaning I got back in great time, even being able to pop home first for some dinner prior to heading back out for the evening…..and much of the early morning. Somehow, I was still able to remember all the next day, though did miss the start of the F1 in my recovery, though that turned out to not be such a bad thing!

The day in full then? Well the game was all go and a very entertaining contest that had pretty much a bit of everything in it. The ground is simple, yet works fine and the nearby areas and their pubs all went down well too, not being overly dear in the pricing, which is always welcomed on these pages. So that’s pretty much that and it’s onto next week now and, guess what? There’s still strikes on. Great. Luckily, there happens to be a helping hand from a higher-powered heart that is able to come to the rescue….

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 5

Food: 6

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Garswood

Result: Garswood United 2-3 Newcastle Blue Star (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: The Wooders (Friday 27th July 2018, 7.15pm)

Att: 55 (approx.)

The first of what was supposed to be a midweek double, prior to Helsby’s game the next day being switched without obvious prior notice, saw me heading to just outside Wigan and to the small village of Garswood. Here, I’d be visiting the home of the town’s Cheshire League outfit, Garswood United, the Wooders but, before I could get there, I would have to brave the unpredictability of a Friday evening Northern service. As such, the first question was whether the journey would work out, or would I be thwarted by those pacers.

Fortunately, I was only subjected to a six minute delay, which was nowhere near enough to make anything go awry and, after a walk through the warm late-evening Warrington sunshine, I was soon headed from Bank Quay up towards Wigan, where I’d catch the electric service which would deliver me the short distance down the track to Garswood. This all went smoothly enough, the highlight of the trip coming whilst sat on the stationary rattler at North Western, when a train passed through full of timber. Never seen that before. After reading that sentence back, the only thought that went through my mind was “God, am I that boring?!”…..

Arriving at two railways!

An interesting climbing frame

Obviously the answer is yes, and so let’s move on before I send you to sleep. After completing the ten minute or so hop over to Garswood, the station access road led straight to the haven of a pub, namely the Railway. In here, I opted for a pint of Hop House 13 which came in at a round £4. Heading out to make the most of the seemingly never ending sunshine, I came across a climbing frame in the shape of, what I assume was, Stevenson’s Rocket in the beer garden. An interesting touch for sure, but that was really the only thing of note and so I swiftly polished the pint off and continued up the slight incline and to the Stag. This was another decent boozer, with the pint of the fruity Boon Doggle Ale turning out to be a fine choice, made all the better by its £2.80 price tag. Bloody lovely!

The Stag

Simms Road Inn

Leaving the rugby shirt adorned pool table area to the rear, I set off on the ten minute walk from here towards the ground. As luck would have it, there is another pub just a few seconds from the gates of the Wooders, and this would prove to be a great little stop-off to wind away the remaining half-hour before the game. Getting in an Amstel for £3.60, I settled in whilst watching the WRC Rally of Finland (something I can’t ever remember seeing in a pub before) and also came across this interesting bit of the building’s history while doing so:

Bit of history…

Speaking of history, Garswood was firstly a farming before also becoming (perhaps unsurprisingly when looking at the above) a largely mining community in the past, the last drift mine closing in 1992. Opencast mining has taken place in more recent times and still continues to this day.

Soon enough it was time to cross the road with kick-off now imminent. After getting a beep from a car behind me whilst aimlessly wandering in between the middle of the gates (though the driver’s car-pool mates reckoned he was a “dick”(!)), I headed through the front of the stand/clubhouse/everything else and waited for the side’s to finish up their pre-match preparations and get underway. As I say, all the Wooders’ facilities are located in this main building adjoining to the car-park and behind the near-end goal. It houses a small area of covered terracing to one side of the clubhouse door, and a few rows of benched seating to the other.

Arriving at the ground

The Wooders

The tunnel stands between the “terrace” and car-park. Elsewhere, the ground only has a thin strip of open, hard standing surrounding the pitch, with a pair of dugouts on the right touchline for both sides to use, and an older one still remaining standing on the opposite touchline. It was the latter that the Blue Star boys would choose to make use of, which seems to be the way in most grounds set out this way for some reason. Anyway, we were soon all set to go but, before we get onto the game, here’s a bit of history with regard to Garswood United….

History Lesson:

Garswood United Football Club was founded in 1967 and initially played at the no-longer standing RAF camp at Haydock. They soon set their eyes on their current Simms Lane site (despite warnings the land wouldn’t take to grass growth), and the residents decided to take on the task of improving it. There’s little else I can find about the club’s formative years, though they won numerous local cups and joined the Liverpool Combination at some point (these seemingly centred in the 1970’s and ’80’s from the slightly faded honours boards) and remained there through to 1988, their final season in the Combination’s Division 2 seeing them finish 12th out of 16 teams. After that year, the club moved to the Mid-Cheshire League and took a spot in their Division 2, which they won in their second season and were duly promoted to the Division 1. They would remain there for the next six campaigns before becoming champions in 1996 and achieving promotion to the North West Counties League’s Division 2.

Honours….

….and more!

After spending two seasons in the Counties, finishing 3rd and 8th respectively, they voluntarily returned to the Mid-Cheshire League’s top division. Garswood would go on to stay there for the next nine years through to its re-christening as the Cheshire League, finishing a best of 3rd in their return year before slipping into mid-table for the majority of the remaining years, though did win the Wigan Cup and the league’s Division One Cup in 2006. Upon the re-naming, they finished 6th in 2008 and regained the Wigan Cup before again falling away and finished bottom of Division 1 in 2010 (despite winning a third Wigan Cup), but avoided relegation. The next two seasons showed little in the way of progress, with 11th and 14th positions following, but a resurgence in form saw a fourth-placed finish attained in 2013, before United took the Division One title in 2014, alongside another Wigan Cup, and were promoted to the league’s Premier Division. They would go on to spend the next three years in the top division, finishing 7th and 13th in their first two seasons, but 2016-’17 would see them end the season bottom and thus return to ‘League One’, where they finished 13th out of the 15 teams last time out.

The game got underway and it was a very tight affair for the opening fifteen minutes. There was hardly a chance created in earnest, with both sides fashioning what can only be described as a half-chance each. After a good seventeen minutes or so, the deadlock was broken by the hosts. A fine through ball was latched onto by the tall striker wearing the #9 shirt and he coolly slid the ball beyond the Newcastle ‘keeper for one-nil.

Garswood take the lead

Match Action

Match Action

Newcastle Blue Star hadn’t really got into the game by this point, but they did grow into it after the half-hour and began to be the more dominant force. However, their best chance came just before the break, when a corner from the right led to a spell of disarray in the middle of the box, with a couple of efforts blocked out, and a free-header being spurned – the ‘keeper making a more comfortable save than he really ought to have been allowed to. As it was, that was that for a rather quiet first half, the sides heading in with just the solitary goal between them.

I headed for the clubhouse at the break and after initially not spotting any hot food on the go, I opted to give the club some money in the form of a bottle of Corona. This magically turned into a Desperado’s, though the guy at the bar offered some words that I’d definitely agree with “Well, it all goes down the same way!”. Indeed, it does and I wasn’t at all fussed as, let’s face it, it’s something of an upgrade. £3 less in the pocket, I took in a lap of the room, looking at the number of shirts and honours boards dotted around which eventually led to me spotting the pie oven in the corner. Lovely stuff! Handing over a further £1.50, I opted for a minced beef and onion offering which was really good too. As soon as I reached the door, the players were all set to get the game underway once again.

Clubhouse

Garswood again began the half in the ascendancy, though their rise was put to an end around ten minutes into the half, when their #17 was adjudged to have been the last man when bringing down the NBS forward and was sent-off for his troubles. Now, when I say sent off, it’s usually one of those “go off and sub him” but, no, he was actually red carded! It’s been a long-while since I’ve seen one of those, if ever, and it certainly breathed more life into the game in my eyes at least! A few minutes later, Blue Star were level when the #11, Richard Coulson, hit an effort from just outside the area and his shot took a slight deflection which took it beyond the ‘keeper and into the bottom corner. One-a-piece!

Newcastle were now playing with confidence against the ten-men of United and they soon forged ahead when a fine, swift move saw #19, Dave Parker, get in down the right-side of the area and he stayed calm and finished nicely to send his side ahead. However, the lead didn’t last all that long as Garswood soon levelled, when another good move forward saw “Ste” play in “Scotty” and the latter rounded the ‘keeper to make it two-each. It was all action now, and both teams went close to netting a third, the Garswood #9 seeing his half-chance well blocked out by a Newcastle defender, resulting in a comfortable save for his ‘keeper, and Newcastle’s Parker had a chance to double his tally, but a unfortunately timed bounce saw him only able to slice well wide.

View from the seats

Match Action

Match Action

After helping to locate a wayward ball that had found its way into the roadside undergrowth beyond the clubhouse building, the game looked to be meandering through to the end as we entered into stoppage time. But then, the touring Blue Star side grabbed the winner when something or other happened which allowed #17, Kurt Blacklock, to nod home from a couple of yards to send the visiting bench into scenes of jubilation/shock (delete as appropriate), before the biggest cheer of the night came just before the kick-off as their manager brought himself on for the last few seconds. They were definitely enjoying their first game of the weekend and why not? Full-time soon arrived and an entertaining contest ended up 2-3.

A swift return to the station saw me beat the rain and I was quickly back into Wigan where, for once, delays played kindly into my hands. A short wait saw me catch the Manchester-bound Trans-Pennine service, which took away any questions on whether I’d be able to make the earlier connection home. A good start to the weekend, but that was as good as it got, both football and transport-wise! Ah well, onto the “proper” season now and a trip down to the South Coast’s famed military port city….

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 6

Food: 8

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Malpas

Result: Malpas 4-0 Eagle Sports (Cheshire League Premier Division)

Venue: The Oxhays, Malpas Sports Club (Saturday 20th May 2018, 3pm)

Att: 35~

Yes, they’re still playing! After the terrible weather we’ve seen strike the footballing calendar all season long, there haven’t been many leagues struck harder than the Cheshire League. Indeed, they won’t have finished up until the 30th May, leaving players to have 2-3 weeks, tops, off over the summer before reporting back for pre-season. I suspect there may be a few latecomers and, to be honest, you couldn’t blame them. Anyway, to be fair to the teams in the league, there haven’t been too many of the much-maligned walkovers despite the late finish to the season and, as a result, I saw the opportunity to tick off one of the more outlying outposts of the league, Malpas FC’s Oxhays ground, out towards the Welsh borderlands. It did once have a station, but that unhelpful bastard Dr. Richard Beeching put paid to that. Dick.

The weather was bloody good yet again as we rolled into the latter part of May and so I set off over to Warrington where I’d catch the connection down to Chester, before completing the journey out to the village by bus. The trip to Chester went smoothly, and I arrived at just after 11am. With half-an-hour in hand, I paid a visit to my usual Chester drinking hole the Town Crier, which stands opposite the station and was where the bus would leave from outside of. With a pint of Strongbow in hand (cider always seems better on a warm, sunny day doesn’t it?), I awaited its arrival.

Eventually the #41 service pulled in and, after paying a tick over £5 for a return ticket, I was off en route through the city centre’s narrow streets before heading out through the picturesque countryside and small villages of the southern end of the county, heading out towards its border with Shropshire. After passing through the likes of Tattenhall and Christleton (known to me via my soon to be rekindled summer cricket tours), the bus eventually dropped me in the centre of Malpas at just after 12.30pm. When I say the centre, I basically mean the road that goes through it. Malpas is only a small, quaint little village with the sort of shops and other buildings you’d expect, along with the war memorial cross, seen widely in these sorts of places. There was also a nice church and an old fire station that had been converted into a café-bar. No prizes for guessing where I was off to first!

Malpas (“Bad Passage” in Old French) Facts

Malpas

Fire Station bar

Malpas is a small town on the Shropshire/Wales border likely dating from the Mercian era around the 10th century, though does host the old Roman Road to Whitchurch which passes through it. Later, it was mentioned under the name of Depenbech in the Norman “Domesday Book” of 1086 as belonging to Robert Fitzhugh, Baron of Malpas, an ancestor of the Cholmondeley family who still live in the castle that carries their family name. Malpas also once had its own castle, the remnants of which lie in the grounds of the 14th-century St. Oswald’s Church, though there is little obvious to the eye to suggest it existed remaining.

The market town still maintains the medieval layout it had when it received its market charter and was a part of Wales during the late 13th century and has thus avoided major redevelopment. It was also a fairly important place during the Tudor & Stuart eras, with Sir William Brereton (chamberlain of Chester & groom to Henry VIII) beheaded upon a suspected affair with Anne Boleyn (though it’s more likely to have been politically motivated). A second Sir William would then become a key figure in the defeat of the Royalist Irish reinforcements during the Civil War. The local wartime importance continued into the more present times, when the exiled Czech army was encamped in the nearby Cholmondeley Park.

Indeed, first up was the fire station bar, where I met a rather large dog on the way in before ordering a bottle of Amber Ale from Wrexham’s Magic Brewery, which came in at £4.25. With much in the way of time in hand, I remained here for a good 40 minutes or so, whilst watching the end of the “Royal Wedding”, with the bar itself getting into the spirit of things by decking out in some bunting, faces of Princes behind the bar and one of the staff wearing a crown. Another nice couple of touches were the old bucket and helmet located upon the display cabinet behind the bar, harking back to the building’s former life, of course!

Eventually finishing up in here and with the pomp and ceremony at Windsor beginning to wind down, I headed onwards down the road and back towards the cross where, to my horror, I found one of only two remaining pubs in the town shrouded in scaffolding. It couldn’t be shut, not with an hour and a half to kick-off! Luckily, it hadn’t gone the way of the old Red Lion opposite and it was well and truly open for business. A nice pint of Hop House 13 (£3.85)went down nicely, though I think it may be the first time I’ve sat alongside a pub sign indoors!

Polishing that off, it was off up the road and a little closer to the ground. On the way there you find the Vaults, a pub opposite, but below, the village church. Inside I found an unexpected display of football shirts & scarves decorating the rear part of the hostelry, whilst also being slightly in awe of the cabinet displaying a collection of model F1 cars and other memorabilia, including a Kimi Räikkönen one that I was very jealous of. Indeed, I had brief thought of asking how much it’d take to prize it away, but decided against it. I also made acquaintance with the large black dog from before again too, who came over for a couple of strokes and what have you, before leaving for the far more attractive proposition of treats….

Malpas High Street

In the Crown. A fitting stop!

The Vaults’ collections

After finishing my pint of Symonds Cider (£3.50) whilst listening to a soundtrack full of Michael Jackson’s many hits, I set off towards the ground, making a quick detour off up the steps and through the churchyard, just to be nosey more than anything. After passing by a few quaint, old cottages and a field full of horses, I arrived at the gates of the Malpas Sports Club, where the Oxhays ground lies at the rear beyond the cricket pitch which is located immediately outside of the clubhouse/pavilion building. Having spotted a guy near what seemed to be a pay-box, I asked if he was taking for the match, which he was and was given a programme for “free” in return for £3 (effectively £2 in and £1 for the paper). A nice issue and it’s always a pleasant surprise at Cheshire League level to pick one up. From there, I popped into the clubhouse for a pint of Coors (£3.75) to watch some cricket and waste away the remaining time before kick-off, as the footballers warmed up away in the distance.

Church

More quaint things

Pre-match cricket action!

The Oxhays is a in a pleasant setting, alongside fields that run off from the back of the club’s grounds and has view extending out over to the England/Wales border in the distance. It hosts no hard standing, and is only a roped off pitch but, interestingly, does have a decently sized seating stand just to the right of half-way on the near side as you enter. A small grass mound is located off to the side of that, further towards the far end, and there is a slightly raised grassy area off on the far side too. One I’d recommend to leave for a day like today as it looks resplendent in the sun, and with cricket in full flow next door. That’s the Oxhays at Malpas Sports Club then and this is the story of Malpas F.C….

History Lesson:

Malpas Football Club was founded in 1901, but I can’t find anything out about the club prior to them joining the Mid-Cheshire League in 1985. They started off comfortably enough, finishing in mid-table for the first two seasons of their stay here, before the league expanded to become a two-division competition and Malpas were placed in Division 1. Here they began to struggle and finished second bottom twice with the latter occasion, in 1991, seeing them relegated to Division 2.

The club would spend the next two seasons in the Second Division before being crown as 1992-’93 champions and returning to the top division. However, they again struggled upon promotion and finished 11th, 15th, 15th and 16th out of the 16 First Division teams, with the last-placed finished resulting in a second relegation in 1997. This began a long spell in the second level of the Mid-Cheshire League which saw them remain there right through to 2007 and the league’s dropping of the “Mid” part of the name, becoming simply the Cheshire League. By that time, Malpas were again really struggling and had finished second-bottom of the last two-seasons, despite having a brief upturn in form in the early part of the millennium which saw them record a 4th and 3rd place finish in consecutive seasons; 2001-’02 and ’02-’03 respectively.

Malpas Sports Club

Memorabilia

When the Cheshire League split into three divisions in 2014 (consisting of the Premier Division, League 1 and League 2), Malpas were placed in League 1 having finished 4th at the end of the previous season, a distinct improvement on recent campaigns. 2014-’15 saw them immediately promoted from the League 1 as runners-up and they duly took their place in the Premier Division, where they remain to this day. Having finished towards the wrong end of the 16-strong division for their first two years – finishing 12th and 13th, they are looking at their highest ever league finish, with 3rd looking likely, but the runners-up spot looking more than a possibility also.

After having a chat with the Eagle player-manager, Rob, in the loos (the first time I think that’s ever happened to me) where I was told to expect them to have a bit of a struggle, the players made their way around the boundary of the cricket field and under the rope surrounding the football pitch. After engaging in the usual pleasantries and observing a minute’s silence for the late manager of Cheshire League side Egerton FC, the ex-Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers and former England international defender JLloyd Samuel, who was tragically killed in a road accident a couple of days earlier.

With a somewhat sobering atmosphere still hanging over the Oxhays despite the sun beating down, the game got underway, with second-place chasing Malpas quickly hitting their stride against the under-strength visitors. Indeed, they were two-up within the first ten minutes, the first coming courtesy of the #9, skipper Alex Hughes, who took full advantage of some poor defending to fire in, despite the ‘keeper getting a fair bit on it. The second arrived following another piece of dubious defending, which saw an awful mix-up seized upon by Hughes and he lifted the ball over the ‘keeper nicely to give the hosts a comfortable early advantage.

Match Action

Match Action

Leaving my early spot on the pitch-side mound and heading off on a lap of the ground, I would only witness further domination by the strong Malpas outfit. Hughes went close again after the referee awarded a good advantage following a likely foul and this gave the striker a great chance to grab his second of the game but, on this occasion, he scuffed wastefully wide. This seemed to stir the Eagle side into life somewhat and they began to come into the game around the 20 minute mark and saw two quick-fire chances go begging. Firstly, a low ball in found player-manager Hope whose effort crawled wide of the mark, before a good ball from the left-wing found the Eagle #9 who met it pretty well but saw his header end up also going wayward.

Penalty is converted by Parry

Match Action

The visitors were punished for these missed chances to get back into the game not long before the break when the Eagle ‘keeper brought down the Malpas attacker and the penalty was duly awarded with little in the way of complaints coming the referee’s way. The spot-kick was confidently dispatched by Ben Parry to send the sides in at the break with the hosts looking comfortable and odds-on to take another three points.

As I was in the stand during the break, I was approached by a guy who asked if I was ‘at the East Manchester game a couple of years (ago)’. How he saw me, never mind remembered me from that game, given the horrendous weather endured there which saw the all-weather pitch begin to get waterlogged, was beyond me! Anyway, after agreeing that our respective soakings would never be forgotten, I spoke to Mark for the remainder of the break and the beginning of the second half too, which duly saw Malpas continue to dominate the game against their youthful-looking opponents.

The ever-dangerous Hughes beat a challenge and forced the Eagle ‘keeper into a stop early on in the half, before his strike-partner, wearing the #10 shirt, chipped narrowly over the bar. However, the two would link up for the fourth goal shortly afterwards, when the latter played in the former to finish nicely and complete his hat-trick (he’s since made it four hat-tricks in three games) after a swift counter-attack saw the visiting defence overwhelmed. From there, though, the game would settle down somewhat and chances would begin to dry up somewhat. I reckoned I should leave Mark in peace for a while(!) and went over to the far side to say a quick “Hello” to Mark and Colin on the Eagle bench before continuing on around towards the cricket pitch and the exit.

Match Action

Benches watch on intently

‘Keeper keeps his clean sheet intact

Malpas almost netted a fifth late on, which brought a decent stop out of the visiting ‘keeper “Aaron” (I deduced that from the shouts afterwards) Lee, before Eagle almost grabbed a consolation late-on in the play, when the under-worked home ‘keeper was alert enough to pull off a pair of decent late stops, the latter denying the #9 again from close range following a corner, to preserve his and his side’s clean-sheet and put the cherry on top of a fine performance from the hosts. The full-time whistle blew shortly afterwards, to put an end to a testing day for Eagle.

As I was heading back towards Malpas and trying to figure out the best place to spend the next hour or so before the bus home, a “beep” from behind caused me to stop. It turned out to be Mark who offered to drop me at a station on the way back, which ended up being as far as Wilmslow, with it being not far from his home. This duly made things a hell of a lot easier, though provided the unfortunate opportunity to hear Chelsea score their eventual winner in the FA Cup Final. Such is life!

Mark dropped me right outside the station and refused to take any money for his troubles and I can only thank him for doing so (so if you do by chance find and read this; Cheers!), though I then messed up by overhearing a train to Piccadilly was due in as I arrived and so jumped on without taking a minute to think of where it was going. It only went via the Airport with a 15 minute stop there, whilst the trains I looked at getting were all but direct back to the city. Damn.

Back in Manchester (Doll not pictured!).

Upon arriving into the Airport station, I then found I had a couple of connections I could catch to swiftly get back. Unfortunately, one pulled out just as I arrived and the other seemed to be out of reach, with the bridge over only seeming to be accessible via a one-way escalator system. With signage proving less than helpful in my quest, I soon got lost and ended up returning, tail between legs, to the train I’d just got off. What. An. Arse. Anyway, I eventually got back to Piccadilly, though did miss my connection in the end and thus was left with an hour to wait and this obviously meant a call into the Piccadilly Tap was called for. The highlight of this little sojourn? The sight of a PCSO being made to have a picture with a naked doll by a hen party. I shared a look with a punter opposite and the doorman too. No ideas were offered up!

So there ends yet another trip and the season is FINALLY almost at it a close. Two weeks remain, with a trip to North Wales up next, followed by my first ever trip down to Wembley the following year and a possible bonus game that same weekend too. As for this trip, well, Malpas is a delight. A really nice little place that is almost a throwback in time to a point. The pubs are decent, the village is pretty, the only real issue is the transport in getting there isn’t the best if you don’t drive. But it’s not all that bad, I guess. The game was a little boring on account of it not being too competitive for long periods, the ground was fairly basic (unsurprisingly), though a stand and a programme is more than many have for the level. The weather just topped the whole trip off, making it all the more enjoyable. Anyway, that’s that for this venture and a trip to the seaside is on the horizon….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 6

Food: N/A (cold snacks in clubhouse/pavilion)

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Denton

Result: Denton Town 3-3 Eagle Sports (Cheshire League Premier Division)

Venue: Whittles Park (Monday 7th May 2018, 3pm)

Att: 28 (hc)

After a pair of costly and longer-range trips over the previous two days of the Bank Holiday weekend, I was looking for somewhere a little cheaper and closer to home to round off the three days of football. As such, when I came across the fact that Denton Town were welcoming Eagle Sports to their Whittles Park home on the Monday afternoon, the decision was made all the more easy. So on a fairly sweltering late morning, I boarded a bus into Manchester, before catching the connecting service from Piccadilly Gardens over towards Denton, not far from Hyde, in the Eastern side of the city.

Dan would be joining me also, though he would be arriving slightly later than me. This was probably for the best too from his point of view, as I made the fatal error of sitting at the front of the bus there, thus baking in the ever-rising temperatures and ending up something resembling a melting ice-lolly come my eventual arrival into the centre of Denton after a 35 minute sauna session. Luckily, I had a pair of pubs standing immediately opposite, the first of which, the large George Fitzpatrick, had bottles of the fine Hooper’s alcoholic Dandelion & Burdock in chilled bottles. With ice on it, it was the perfect tonic. Don’t have tonic with it though, I stress.

The famous Denton Rock

Denton

First two stops (right)

With the day starting off on a cheap note (the travel and first drink coming in at around £7.30 combined), Dan joined me in here before we headed across the way shortly after his arrival and into the very traditional Red Lion. In here, I found the lesser-spotted Boddington’s on offer and, being not too far from the former Boddy’s brewery, decided I ought to indulge in the nectar. At just £2.10 for a pint, it was a bloody bargain!

From here, we caught the bus from outside the pub and travelled a few stops down the road to the end of Prince Edward Avenue, the road to take to reach Whittles Park. The ground is signposted off of the main road too, so there’s little chance of getting lost, as long as you follow the road. After a short walk of around ten minutes or so, we arrived at the gates of the ground and upon heading in for no charge (free entry, not a blag), we took up a spot in the ground’s “stand”. Now, you may have noticed I’ve put stand there in quotes. That, dear reader, is because the “stand” is more a few tree stumps in a concentrated area! Alongside is the patioed, smart clubhouse that was re-constructed a few years ago, shortly after my first visit here. It’s certainly brighter and more airy than its predecessor, and is adorned by pictures, trophies and other paraphernalia from the club’s almost 100-year history.

En route

Arriving at the ground

Bar a little bit of paving to either side of the clubhouse area, the remainder of the ground is surrounded by grassy areas only, meaning it’s probably best to make sure to visit on a day like today, rather than a soggy one, though most of the ground isn’t exactly too easily accessible, with long grass towards and behind the far end being almost impassable. The far side isn’t much more pruned either, though is something of an improvement. The near end doesn’t really exist and backs onto a fence almost immediately after the goal, with a sharp dip down into a field behind giving views down the hill towards the northern end of Hyde and Dukinfield. The pitch is barred off on both sides, with the far end open and the other, as said earlier, just a fence. So, that’s Denton Town’s Whittles Park in a nutshell, and here’s a bit of back-story to the club….

History Lesson:

Denton Town Football Club was founded in 1920 as Bradford Parish F.C. by the rector of Christ Church in the Bradford area of Greater Manchester, close to where Manchester City now play, with some of the Bradford Colliery seams now covered by the City of Manchester Stadium itself. During their inaugural season, the club competed in the Manchester YMCA league and with an average age of just 17, became League and League Cup winners in their first year, whilst playing at the David Lewis Recreation Ground also known as, far more interestingly, Donkey Common.

The following year saw the club join the Openshaw & District League and went undefeated during the league season, taking the title whilst also lifting the league’s League Cup, securing a second double in both of their first two seasons, no mean feat. They then went on to join the Lancashire & Cheshire Amateur Football League in 1922 and entered the lower ‘A’ (later 2nd) Division. Again, the club enjoyed immediate success, winning their divisional title whilst also taking an astonishing 17 coachloads of (apparently around 800)supporters to Urmston for the league’s Rhodes Cup Final, where they also defeated West Didsbury, securing another double for the club.

Wall of history

The following season saw the club in the L&C First Division, which they immediately won and defended their Rhodes Cup title successfully, meaning yet another double, keeping up their record of winning one in every season of their existence. They soon lost this record though and after winning the Hellawell Shield & Clayton Charity Competition Cup in 1926, would be made to wait until 1933 for their (sort of) next silverware, being joint winners of the Manchester & Salford Medical Charities Cup, but really until 1937, with that coming in the form of the Wray Cup and this was their first honour at their new, enclosed, Ashton Moss Athletic Ground. 1938 saw the doubles return, with the club lifting their second L&C Division 1 title whilst also achieving their third Rhodes Cup win. These would be their final successes before the outbreak of WWII.

The club would soon be forced to leave their new home due to bomb damage come the end of the war and move into the Melland Playing Fields in Gorton. However, they still won the title in both of the first two seasons post-war and 1950 saw another Rhodes Cup won with 1953 seeing a Cup double in the form of the Wray Cup returning for a third time whilst Bradford Parish also won the prestigious Lancashire Amateur Cup at Accrington Stanley’s Peel Park, overcoming Morecambe GSOB by 3-1. 1954 saw them defend the Wray Cup and a hat-trick of these was secured the next season. 1956 saw silverware continue to arrive at the club, in the form of their fifth L&C league title and also their first S.E. Wooley Aggregate Trophy success. This latter trophy was won for a second time in 1959 and the following 1959-’60 season rounded off the decade as it had been all the way through, with a sixth L&C Championship being won.

Clubhouse

The Sixties began well, with 1961 seeing their seventh (but what would turn out to be penultimate) Lancs & Cheshire title being won, whilst the Whitehead Cup was won for a second, but final, time. The next season saw the Wray Cup & Rhodes Cup again be lifted by Parish, with the decade seeing two more of the latter (1965 & ’66) and one of the former (1967) arrive before a spell without success would finally be experienced.

Only a single Rhodes Cup (1982), S.E. Woolam Aggregate Trophy (1982) & Wray Cup (1991) would be won in the years leading up to Bradford Parish’s name change to Denton Town F.C. in 1994 and the newly named club moved to their current Whittles Park home the following year. Their first silverware at the new ground arrived immediately, the end of that ’95-’96 season saw the ninth Rhodes Cup be won, but that would be it for a further decade, until 2006 saw the S.E. Woolam Trophy lifted for a fifth time and the Whitehead Cup a third. The next campaign saw the double wins return, with another undefeated league season seeing them lift their eight and last Lancs & Cheshire League title whilst also attaining a tenth Rhodes Cup.

Outdated honours list

After winning yet another Wray Cup in 2008, Denton signed off from the Lancashire and Cheshire League and joined the Cheshire League, playing in the Division 2 after a successful application. Here, Town finished 12th in their first season, before rocketing up to 3rd in 2010 prior to lifting the 2011 title and achieving promotion to Division 1. They have remained here ever since, through its name change to the Premier Division in 2014 and despite struggling for the majority of their spell there (finishing third-bottom in 2014 & ’15 & second-bottom in 2016), things again took an upturn last year, as they finished 3rd. Alas, there was to be no repeat of their Division 2 title win afterwards, the club guaranteed to finish bottom come the end of the season, though restructuring of the pyramid will likely see them retain their spot in the top division.

The game got underway and after just three minutes or so we had our first goal and it was the bottom side, the hosts, who took the lead with a barnstorming strike from 25 yards by Godfred Amankwaa flying into the top corner past the helpless Eagle ‘keeper who could do nothing about it and, indeed, didn’t even attempt to. One-nil to Denton and it looked like that goal-fest I’ve been waiting on for quite a while could finally be on the cards!

It looked to be the case even more so soon after when Eagle grabbed themselves an equaliser. A ball through the defence found its way to Ged McAllister and the striker coolly slotted the ball beyond the ‘keeper and into the net. One-a-piece in around ten minutes and it was game on once more and both sides continued to trade chances, with Denton seeing a big rebound head towards the Eagle goal, which was eventually required to be cleared off the line, with the visitors responding with a low ball across goal that just evaded McAllister once again.

Match Action from the “stand”

Match Action

Match Action

But it was Denton who would begin to gain control of the game from around the 20 minute mark, and Amankwaa would net his second goal of the game mid-way through the half from right out on the side of the box, his low drive somehow squirming its way through the Eagle ‘keeper and into the far corner. They looked to have all but sewn the game up shortly before half-time, when a long-ball over the top, allied with some slack defending, allowed Antonio Din Chin to steal in at the back-post and nod the ball over the line. Three-one going in at the break and for Dan and I, it was off to the bar! It was….”smashing”.

Getting a Magners each for just £4, we awaited the second half in the comfort of the very smart Geoff Gable Lounge, whilst also grabbing a couple of the cardboard leaflets that were put out on the tables as a sort of programme. Sadly, pies were a no-go today as, apparently, I was told by the guy who seemed to be doing pretty much every job under the sun (no pun intended) today, “It’s the first time he hasn’t put any in all season” as we looked at an empty pie oven forlornly warming air. Ah well, the football was soon getting started up once more.

It was Denton who again started the stronger of the sides after the break and almost made it four when a free-kick took an awkward bounce in front of the visiting gloveman, who recovered just enough to block the ball with his legs and it was eventually cleared by his defenders. This proved a crucial moment too as, around half-way through the second period, the ever-threatening McAllister found himself one-on-one after latching onto a long ball forward and he again showed confidence to lift the ball over the advancing Town number one to reduce the arrears to a single goal once again.

Shorts action

Match Action

Match Action

Ryan Bishop then forced a decent stop out of the home ‘keeper with a rocket of a shot from all of 30 yards, the rebound just evading the hat-trick seeking McAllister, and Eagle now found themselves well and truly on the front-foot and almost levelled in pretty cheeky circumstances, knocking a quick-free kick towards goal with the ‘keeper recovering in the nick of time to control the ball on the line before it crossed.

In between the few water breaks here and there, the Sankey-based visitors were now all over their hosts and thought they had levelled in stoppage time, when a long-ball forward saw McAllister and the ‘keeper jump for the ball together, the ball evading both and ending up in the net, but the referee adjudged that the striker had jumped into his opponent rather than against him, and awarded a free-kick to Denton.

However, he then went from zero-to-hero in the eyes of the Eagle team when a trip was committed in the area and the referee had little option to point to the spot and award the penalty. Of course, it was McAllister who would be stepping up with the chance to complete his hat-trick and the Eagle comeback to secure an away point with what would be the last meaningful kick of the game. He did just that, sending the ‘keeper the wrong way and unerringly finding the bottom right-hand corner to earn his side a share of the spoils, much to the chagrin of the hosts after the whistle, who felt hard done by, apparently due to previous happenings going against them too it seemed. Be that as it may, they couldn’t have many complaints with the awarding of today’s penalty and that was that. 3-3, full-time.

McAllister completes his hat-trick

A great game and Eagle player-manager Rob Hope invited us pair of hangers-on to the Fletcher’s Arms for a post-match pint, though this one would be definitely more responsible than other occasions….

Anyway, after being given some directions by a couple of locals, Dan and I headed off towards the pub, though came across Cock first. No, I mean the Cock Inn, deary me. Anyway, a quick pint of Moretti (£3.30) was had in here, before abuse was aimed at me specifically out a red/burgundy Jaguar car just on the corner by a few players from a football team from somewhere. Good job I couldn’t work out who they were….!

Colin (Rob’s Dad and Chairman, Treasurer and groundsman at Eagle) soon dropped the rapscallions off at the Fletcher’s before kindly returning for us and taking us down there, saving a good ten minute walk. After enjoying a pint of Beck’s (by far the dearest of the day at £4.10) in the carvery-style pub’s beer garden with a few of the lads, where I learnt a number of the team weren’t available having been the worse for wear after a day at the Welsh Cup Final the previous afternoon (plus a few that played were too….Robbo?), it was time to return back towards Denton town centre and its many watering holes. Helped out by a seemingly non-timetabled bus turning up on our walk there, we headed up to the pairing of pubs that came along first, the Carter’s Arms and the Chapel House. The former didn’t look any great shakes and so to the larger, Edwardian-style Chapel House it was, where a pint of Holt’s Crystal Lager came in at the strangely priced £2.73. Why always Holt’s?!

Cock Hotel

Fletcher’s Arms

Chapel House

From there, it was a short walk down the road to the next one up, the Toll Point. This was a nice enough little pub too and a quick pint of Dark Fruits (£2.70) was had in here before a final pint was had in the Gardener’s Arms back opposite the bus stop. In here, I had the horror of finding that I’d pretty much exhausted my cash and not really wanting to dip into using my card asked what I could get for about £2.50. “Foster’s” was the answer. I went cold. But, beer is beer and I went for it anyway. It wasn’t too bad either, though the fact it was my eighth beverage of the day may have helped matters somewhat!

Toll Point

Gardener’s Arms from across the square

The bus back into Manchester was easily taken before a trip back home for a couple more was had to round off the day in style. So, what of Denton? Well, the ground is tidy enough (if you ignore the overgrown grass at the far end) and the town is bloody cheap when it comes to the (in Father Jack voice) DRINK! The game had been a fun one and the ground being on the flight path to Manchester Airport always appeals to my geeky side too. Can’t complain about the weather either! So, that rounds off the early May Bank Holiday weekend, and it’s onto next week for another pair of games, which will likely see me at a title-deciding game (or something alike) somewhere, before heading down to the “Smoke” for the final time this season and to Selhurst Park. Got to get there before the bane of my life that is ground “improvements” begin….

RATINGS:

Game: 9

Ground: 5

Food: N/A (chocs and the like were on, pies usually too)

Programme: 2 (Not really one, just a basic history card, free)

Value For Money: 10

 

 

Manchopper in….Orford

Result: Orford 1-1 Windle Labour (Cheshire League 2)

Venue: Orford Jubilee Hub (Saturday 6th May 2017, 3pm)

Att: 35 (peak, hc)

With the season now rapidly approaching its conclusion, my penultimate Saturday saw me staying pretty local. This was originally chosen by one of my random draws, but became even more attractive as a money-saving option, with me discovering Halifax’s play-off semi with Salford was being played on the following afternoon. With a double-header all set up, it was off to the outskirts of Warrington.

Having had the rarity of being able to remain at home almost into the afternoon, I set off for the station, meeting a former colleague of mine as I went. Of course, not wishing to be anti-social, I stopped for a quick chat though soon had to dash to enable me to actually make kick-off!

I arrived into Padgate at just before 1pm (Padgate seems to be the centre of the non-league football world around these parts!) and headed in the general direction of Orford. I say general direction; this actually means that I went the wrong way and, shockingly I know, got lost in the process. Only slightly though, thankfully, and I was soon back on track and heading for my first stop of the day: the Famous King & Queen pub at the foot of the first part of Padgate Lane.

Beer & football is a known quantity by now…

I headed in and had a short wait for service as the bar seemed unattended, though I was able to keep myself from any thoughts of self-service, just about! Eventually the staff arrived back and my Greene King IPA’s price of £2.75 made the wait all the more worthwhile. It’s not a bad pint either, so I’m a bit surprised it is so cheap. Not that I’d recommend upping it mind you…

After watching the blue side of Manchester storm into a commanding lead in their game with Palace, I headed back out onto the streets and for the fifteen minute or so walk onwards up to the Orford Hotel. The issue here came when I was still walking five or so minutes after I should have got there. Once again, my directional sense had failed me and I found myself backtracking, eventually finding myself on the right track and outside the Orford Hotel shortly afterwards.

The Orford is a real throwback sort of pub, split into a number of rooms and set in quite an old building it seems. Anyway, with racing punters in here having a keen eye on their betting slips and, in turn the TV, I instead opted to head into one of said side rooms with a pint of Kronenbourg (£3.30) and stayed for a short time, all the while being watched by portraits on the wall.

The Orford Hotel

Final Stop: The Blackburne Arms…

After exiting here with a couple of goodbyes as I went, I found myself actually knowing where I was going. Yes, yes, calm down, I know it’s a mighty rare occurrence. Anyway, my final stop was the Blackburne Arms which sits at the side of Orford Park where, for all intents and purpose, the ground is located. There is also a cut through onto the pathway to the hub by the side of the pub just to make things easier. This was taken advantage of as was the barrel of Coors in the pub, again at £3.30. Not too bank-breaking around here.

After wasting away some time in here, what with there being next to nothing at the hub to keep most entertained (unless you bring swimwear), kick-off time was soon upon me and so it was back through the park, which was today hosting a funfair and onwards to the ground.

Now, I do use the term “ground” loosely. As I alluded to earlier, with it being located at the rear of the park, there is little more to it than a couple of dugouts bearing the name of the club and a roped-off pitch.  However, there is some hard standing afforded by the Jubilee Hub itself at the near touchline, but that’s pretty much it. I have read somewhere that Orford may move to a different, fully railed pitch for next season, but I don’t know if there’s truth behind it.

Funfair that sound tracked the match

Some wood fitness stuff. I passed.

Orford do, however, issue a small programme (free of charge) which is a rare touch down at this level, so that’s a nice touch and a decent crowd had turned out down at the pitch for this match, which had the added importance of it being a possible title-winning game for the visitors Windle Labour. The team, who play at the same complex as Pilkington and (soon) St. Helen’s Town, needed just a point to secure the Cheshire League 2 in just their first season at that level. Not a bad achievement. Before we get onto the game, here’s a bit of back story to Orford FC…

History Lesson:

Orford Football Club was founded in 1975 as a juniors football club, progressing into open age football once the 3/4 teams the club ran went through the age groups of the Warrington Leagues to reach men’s football. Once the final junior side had made the step, the decision was taken to concentrate solely on open age football from 1989 onwards.

Known as Orford Youth Club the open age side benefited from the full attention winning promotion through the Warrington Sunday League on five successive occasions, winning one championship along the way, until 1996 saw them make the step into Saturday football. This was a successful switch as Orford would go on to win promotion from Division 3 of the Warrington & District League, along with lifting the Depot Cup.

Nice bridge. Didn’t lead anywhere though.

2005 saw the end of a thirty-year stay for the men’s teams at the Orford Youth Club, the club making the move to Orford Park, where they remain to this day, seeing the expansion of the club back into junior football as well as extra open age outfits. 2011 saw Orford become “primary partners” in the redevelopment of Orford Park, with the club making the switch into the Cheshire League for this season, having finished 4th last season in the Warrington & District League’s Premier Division. They currently sit 3rd in the Cheshire League 2.

So, the first half of this game was…well it wasn’t very good. In fact, I can’t think of anything major that happened off the top of my head and it looked the most nailed-on nil-nil you’d ever see. According to Orford’s match report, there was a volley that went over, so thanks for giving me something! Anyway, half-time duly arrived, the nil-nil scoreline still stood and I duly got lost in a men’s changing room while looking for the facilities. Great scenes here.

Match Action

Match Action

View from the covered area

The second half, thankfully, was a far more watchable affair. To be fair, the game hadn’t been helped by a dust bowl of a pitch more akin to something seen on a cricket field in the sub-continent. The dust was flying up at regular intervals, but both teams did their level best to deal with the conditions the best they could to contrive a decent footballing game out of it.

To be honest, there were two actual chances in the game and they both ended up in the back of the net. Firstly, Ryan Cooke broke clear through the centre of the home defence and he strode into the box before confidently finishing across the Orford GK, into the far side of the net. The visitors had that crucial goal they were looking for.

Windle now had the wind(le) in their sails and almost doubled their lead immediately, the #16 getting into the box and looked to have been taken out before he could force the ball into the net. The referee, however, was not having any of it and pointed for the goal-kick, with the visitors still appealing. Despite this, the title was looking ever more secure.

Battling.

Match Action

Orford FC. And some disposed corner flags.

Orford, though, had something to say about it and levelled soon after. The green-clad hosts won a free-kick around 25 yards out from goal. Liam Moran’s set-piece headed straight into the hands of the Windle keeper, but the visiting custodian’s juggling skills let him down, the ball slipping from his grasp and over the line with Orford’s #8 making absolutely sure on the line. However, the ball had crossed the line before his telling touch.

Following some post goal shenanigans on the touch-line, the game continued on but without anything else of note in truth and the game came to an end with the visitors cheering ringing out above the sounds and shouts of the funfair. Windle Labour were Cheshire League 2 champions and Orford’s own impressive first season at Cheshire League level had fallen just short of a promotion place.

After the game, I headed back for Padgate, just missing out on the earlier train back. Alas, I was forced into a final drink and headed for the nearby Jolly Falstaff, having already visited the station neighbouring Stocks a couple of weeks back. The Jolly Falstaff was another cheap place, with a pint of cider in here setting me back less than the magic £3.

The Jolly Falstaff

Eventually my time in the Warrington area was over once more and a ten minute walk saw me back at the station for my train back down the line. All in all, the day had been nothing more than I’d expected really. A simple, park-based ground, a close game which wasn’t helped at all by the pitch conditions, some decent ‘places of interest’ (or pubs if you prefer) around and a title win too. Congratulations Windle. Now it’s onto another game with a fair amount riding on it. The Shay awaits…

 

RATINGS:

Game: 3

Ground: 3

Food: N/A (vending machines available in foyer)

Programme: 5 (bonus point for just issuing!)

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Lostock Gralam

Result: Lostock Gralam 0-3 AFC Macclesfield (Cheshire League 1)

Venue: The Park Stadium (Monday 1st May 2017, 3pm)

Att: 20 (approx.)

With the season drawing to a close, it was time to delve back down into the lower levels of the pyramid. As such, a fine choice looked to be Lostock Gralam of the Cheshire League’s League 1 and so, after some deliberation, it was to their Park Stadium that I was headed for.

Heading into Manchester before midday, I had a good half-hour before my train down to Lostock Gralam. So, with me deciding it’d be a waste of 30 minutes otherwise, I headed for Piccadilly Station’s Hourglass Bar for a pint of their Löwenbrau beer. Despite its £4.80 price tag, I’m always more than happy to indulge in its fineness.

After having it brought to me after an issue with the pipes, I spent the half-hour I had watching the departure boards and watching my train head closer and closer to the top of the screen and, eventually, my train headed to within the final ten minutes to its departure and I headed down to the platform and onto my borderline prehistoric rattler down to the Cheshire village.

I eventually arrived at shortly after 1pm and headed immediately for the first pub of the day , the Watermead. The Watermead was your standard new-build Marston’s pub, so there was little to get the pulse racing. This was accentuated by the £3.90 pint of Shipyard. Oh, ‘Spoons, how I yearn for you and your cheap beers. Anyway, bar this, there was little to complain about, but  I soon got a bit fed up and headed back up the road towards the ground.

Lostock Gralam

The Watermead

Sadly, the ground neighbouring Slow and Easy was closed pre-match and so I headed for the ground directly through the car park. Again, with a good hour until kick-off, I soon got restless here and scouted out a wine bar close by. I assured the guy at the gate I’d be returning after he asked “Are you leaving now?!”, and headed back out onto the road. Unfortunately,  I was denied a further pre-match beer by this place being shut-up and so I turned back, tail between my legs, and returned to the Park Stadium. Despite this un-fruitful detour, I did get to snap a couple of pictures of the town’s canal moorings. You’ve got to find the positives somewhere, eh?!

Shame the canal side bar was shut

Arriving back at the ground

I ended up back at the ground with a good half-hour to kick-off, though this passed fairly quickly due to weather being on the warm side for once! So it wasn’t long until the sides headed into the dressing rooms ahead of kick-off, with one player from the home side claiming that “(the pitch) suits us more than it does them”. Would he be correct? Well, you should know by now. If not, then the drama has just been upped.

As for the Park Stadium, well, it’s simplistic. That’s not to say it’s not a lovely ground though. The far end is an open, grassy area, so probably not too friendly come rainy days. In fact, the whole ground lacks hard standing, but there is some respite in a small, covered standing area towards the far end on the near side touchline as you enter. The pub end is populated by the modern changing rooms/refreshment bar (plus a few tables) with a grass mound running the length of the far side of the pitch. With that out of the way, here’s a bit about Lostock Gralam’s story…

History Lesson:

Lostock Gralam FC was founded in 1892, thus making the club one of the oldest in the county of Cheshire and the club have played at the Park Stadium for over a century. The club also helped to establish the Mid-Cheshire League upon its formation in 1948 and have continued their presence within it since.

The club won the Mid-Cheshire League in  1951, ’52 & ’53, completing a hat-trick of league titles, but had to wait a decade for their next triumph. However, they would go on to record a further trio of consecutive titles between 1966 & ’68, before bowing out of the league at the close of the ’74-’75 season, not reappearing until the ’93-’94 season, after almost a twenty year hiatus.

Shiny new clubhouse

LGFC

Following a Division 2 title win in 1997, and subsequent relegation in ’99, In recent years, the Grey Lambs (with perhaps one of the sweetest club badges of all time) won the Cheshire League’s Division 2 in 2010 to return to the league’s top-flight. They remained here through until 2014 when they were promoted to the Division One once more, but were relegated again the following season back to Division 2 and finished fifth, before being awarded a place in the newly formed “League 1”, the second tier of the newly created three-tier system in the Cheshire League.

The game got underway and it quickly became apparent that the visitors would be the dominant force during this fixture. Despite there being little in terms of pure action during the first period, it was Macclesfield who took the lead, Lee Quinlan managing to force a header from around 12 yards beyond the Gralam GK, despite him getting a decent hand to it. So the visitors led 0-1 and looked fairly comfortable.

Slightly earlier on, I had overheard someone mention the name of Paul Dickov. Now, I hadn’t thought much of it, past his involvement in the charity game on the coming Sunday (7th May) against AFC Macc. But, on the quintessential lap of the ground, I spotted the City play-off legend watching the contest on the far side. So, having got somewhat used to seeing Mancunian footballing legends at lower league levels (see my Prestwich Heys blog for another), I headed over to try to secure a snap with the former Oldham and Doncaster manager. Dickov couldn’t have been more courteous and after a quick chat, I left him to watch the team his son competes for net their second of the afternoon.

Match Action

Match Action

Meeting Paul Dickov. Top Guy!

Having mostly dominated the first half, in terms of the final third, it was unsurprising that Macc would go on to double their lead as the ball was forced in by #9 Jay Burgess whilst he was lying on the ground and surrounded by a couple of defenders in a similar position. It was a pretty scrappy goal, but they all count. Two-nil to Macclesfield and half-time was quickly upon us. I headed for the refreshment bar and purchased a mug of tomato soup for just £1 to accompany me through the break.

Half-Time refreshment!

The second half got underway and it was certainly more open and entertaining than the first. Lostock had their chances, though these came through their set-pieces. Firstly, they came oh so close to forcing their way back into the game with their #5 having an effort cleared off the line following a corner, before Macc went straight down the other end and forced a great chance to end the game as a contest, the ref pulling the game back for a spot-kick.

Up stepped the #11, but his kick was comfortably saved by the home custodian, though Macc’s disappointment was fairly short-lived as they would soon add their third, Jack Banister stealing the ball from a defender in the corner of the pitch before advancing into the area and finishing confidently; Nil-three and the points were, almost certainly, heading back to Macclesfield. Well Woodley, but you know.

Mound action. Only suitable for dry days.

Nice stand here. Love that stand.

View from said stand

The action wasn’t to finish there, though, as Lostock lost their sub to an apparent elbow, before skipper #5 again went so close to grabbing a consolation, seeing his 20-yard free-kick come back off the upright with the visiting ‘keeper beaten. Here endeth the action on the whole and Macc saw out the remaining fifteen minutes in comfort to secure the points.

Following the game, I headed for the Slow and Easy which had, mercifully, opened during the first half and thus spared me a good forty minute wait at Lostock Gralam station. Having headed inside, I was denied a pint of Staropramen’s Praha and so settled for Carling’s Cider which was ok. What was decent, though, was the fact I was allowed to dip into the post-match chips laid on for the players in here, courtesy of one of the Grey Lambs’ staff, so thanks for that.

Badge emblazoned door

In the Slow and Easy

Sadly, there wasn’t many of either side that took advantage of the post-match food, bar a few of the visiting side, and so it was soon time to head out and away from the Bank Holiday favourite ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ on the TV. I arrived back at the station just as the train back to Piccadilly rolled in. Timed to perfection once again!

My journey back was spent reading the Non-League Paper I’d picked up en route to the game and the Farsley Celtic programme from the prior Saturday, as well as marvelling over Knutsford being the capital of the world, considering how many had got off on the way and then got back on as I returned. (K)nuts!

Bar the crazy Knutsford popularity, the journey back was largely uneventful, though all my connections worked like clockwork (a rarity) to allow me to get back a good hour earlier than I expected.

So, a good day was had in Lostock Gralam. Yes there isn’t much to the village, but it’s a pleasant little place and ground, with the added bonus of it being on the airport flight path to add to my sadness! The game was decent enough and meeting Paul Dickov, scorer of one of the goals that has stuck with me from my earlier footballing memories made it all the more worthwhile. Next week sees the penultimate weekend of my 2016-’17 season. Writing this at almost 10pm, you have as much of an idea where I’m headed as I do!

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 5

Food: 3 (Soup)

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 7