Manchopper in….Blacon

Result: Blacon Youth 1-2 Lostock Gralam (Cheshire League One)

Venue: Cairns Crescent (Saturday 4th May 2019, 3pm)

Att: 70~

As the first weekend of May rolled around and the May Day Bank Holiday came upon us, I had something of a dilemma on my hands. With an early start the following day over to the City Ground and Nottingham Forest vs Bolton Wanderers for their 12.30pm last-day kick-off, I didn’t really want to travel too far and so looked local for a game to go watch. As luck would have it, the very game I was aiming for when I ended up at Saltney Town a couple of months back between Blacon Youth and Lostock Gralam still looked to be a promotion/title clash in the Cheshire League 1, and so off to Cairns Crescent I headed.

Arriving into the county town of Cheshire yet again for around midday, I would be joined by blog-regular Paul a little later in the afternoon and so I did have a little time to pop-in a couple of places until he arrived from Merseyside. As such, I first ended up visiting the Old Harker’s Arms in an old canal side mill and began the afternoon with a pint of Hoegaarden (£3.80) and even picked up a piece of paper outlining the pub’s creation from derelict mill to the fine, bustling place it is today. Fair play to the guy who did it!

Looking down the canal to the Harker’s

Cornerhouse

The Cellar

From there I popped back up to street level and visited the Cornerhouse which is, surprisingly, located on a corner and found this to be the sister-arm of the pub that me and Paul planned to meet in just over the way called the Cellar. As it was, they did have a flat cider in a box (I’ve sold that well, haven’t I?!) by the name of Seacider (£4.50) and, due to the pun more than anything else, went for that. I was pleased that I did too, bloody good stuff. Paul was due not too long after, so after drinking up I crossed over for the Cellar and after purchasing an Erdinger (£4.80), met him watching the Spurs (again!) game down on the south coast in Bournemouth. The highlight of the game during our stay was either the blatant pen that wasn’t or Son’s lash out from nowhere. Crazy.

I told Paul about my plans for the day which included going around the old city centre pubs I’d missed out on during my New Year’s Day 0-0-fated trip to the Deva Stadium and he was happy to go along with it and, as such, next up was the Old Queen’s Head where we both opted for something we had yet to have a try of – the Guinness brewery’s Old Gate pilsner. Decent enough too and fairly priced at £3.80, so can’t complain all that much. Finishing up, we decided to play it safe and not risk the lottery of the bus network and instead made our way over to the bus station, via Poundbakery where I inherited a sausage and bean bake or something though its innards mostly fell out into the bag. Thankfully, the bus arrived shortly after to whisk us on up to Blacon and we got there about 25 minutes before kick-off. Just enough time to pay a visit to the local Waggon & Horses, we thought!

Queen’s Arms and celebratory bus!

Heading through Chester

Waggon & Horses. Paul seemed desperate!

Blacon is a large suburb just outside the city of Chester and adjacent to the border with Wales and was, at one time, considered one of the largest council housing estates in Europe, but this area is now partly privatised. In the past, Blacon was originally named Blakon Hall and was owned by the Marquess of Crewe before the Parish of Blacon-cum-Crabwall was founded in 1923 with the majority of this, in turn, being transferred to the Chester County Borough in 1936. The area transformed from its small farming village beginnings into a larger, more suburban, area through the 1950’s with the old army camp close by being built upon as the estate expanded. The camp itself was in use from just before to just after WWII and contained both aircraft and PoW’s – with areas being visible for a while afterwards. Indeed, the southern part of Blacon is still referred to as ‘The Camp’ by locals, apparently!

With time against us, I opted for a Dark Fruits (£3~) to ensure I’d be finished in good time to make it to the game without missing any – after all, I wasn’t chancing anything after Hanley! Anyway, all went down in good time and we arrived at the gate of Cairns Crescent around a minute into the game and hadn’t missed anything…..though we were given a mini heart-attack each on arrival as a guy there said to us it was a 2pm kick-off! It quickly became apparent it was indeed an hour later and all was well once again. Phew. Not a whole lot to say about the ground really, it’s barred off all around, has a small club cabin in the corner alongside sturdy dressing room blocks and a dugout sits on each side of the pitch. That’s the ground and this is the story of Blacon….

History Lesson:

Blacon Youth Football Club was founded in 1964 as two local men, Bob and Len Evans, began a side and entered them into the local Chester & District League. With little information at hand about their time here, the club joined the West Cheshire League in 1981 and took a spot in Division 2 where they would finish a creditable 6th at the end of their first season. They remained there right through to 1997 (winning the West Cheshire Bowl in 1993) when they finished runners-up and achieved promotion to the Division 1.

Founders’ Memorial Gates.

A memorial bench too.

The club would spend four years in the West Cheshire League’s top-flight before being relegated in 2001 whereupon they returned to Division 2 where would remain for the next half-decade prior to again finishing as Division 2 runners-up in 2006 and again being promoted. Their return back to the top-flight was a struggle with Blacon largely battling the drop and indeed finished bottom in three consecutive seasons between 2009-2011 – though were spared the drop on each occasion.

They would climb off the bottom for the next four seasons, though still were down at the wrong end of the table and 2016’s three-point deduction rounded off a relegation season, and indeed their final campaign in the West Cheshire League, as Blacon switched to compete for a season in the Chester & Wirral League Premier Division, which was won, before moving up to join the Cheshire League instead – being placed in League 2. This proved an inspired decision, as the club were immediately promoted to the League 1 last season, after finishing in 3rd place, and look in fine shape to repeat the trick this time around to reach the Premier Division in no time. Not a bad turn around!

With the match ongoing, we continued on around a lap of the ground, anti-clockwise for the interested (i.e no-one!) and it was the visitors, Lostock Gralam, who were beginning the stronger of the two. Indeed their #11 Robbie Hatton struck the post not too many minutes in but the game wasn’t too open – which I guess was pretty understandable with what was riding on it. Not too long after though, #9 Jack Woolley headed narrowly over as Gralam continued to hold the front foot.

Early threat

Match Action

As it was, they would get their reward around the half hour mark. Winning a corner on the right, the ball was swung in and met by #5 Alex Wilson who climbed highest to power a header beyond the home ‘keeper and the Grey Lambs bench were up and celebrating. They almost went two up soon after too as Hatton saw his effort deflected narrowly wide of the upright.

Blacon would eventually find their feet and began to wake from their (perhaps enforced) slumber and their first true chance of the game saw a curling effort well kept out by the visiting ‘keeper. and this was followed up by #11 cracking one just wide of the upright. That was the end of the action on the outside pitch, but on the inside pitch, it was just getting going….

Match Action

Match Action

Table football in the clubhouse!! It started well as I stormed into a 1-0 lead, but soon slid into a 4-1 deficit with Jamie Carragher clearly posessing one of my centre halves as he netted two own goals. Then some of the Black kids asked to get involved and that gave me an excuse as I went on to a final result of 10-1 to Paul. Luckily, the game outdoors was getting back underway and so he had little time to gloat over his success!

Just minutes into the second period, Blacon drew level as #7 played in #10 Omar Ramo and the forward duly found the net to draw his side level and now it was the home bench who had thoughts of the title rekindled. Lostock responded forcing the Blacon ‘keeper into a fine stop of his own to keep the scores level for the time being. But Blacon would again gain the upper hand over their opponents and after going close on a pair of occasions- #2 heading just wide of the upright and #10 with firing wastefully straight at the ‘keeper, before Robbie Hatton hit a fine effort into the back of the net to again send the Lostock bench up and down and all around the pitch.

Watching on intently….

Lostock Gralam celebrate their second!

Surprisingly, with about 25 of minutes still to play and plenty of huffing and puffing from Blacon as they tried to level it up once more, nothing else would really be created of note (though this may be a lie as I sort of forgot to carry on noting things down) and that would be that. Lostock Gralam effectively won the title bar a crazy turn of events, but their promotion was a definite and they thoroughly deserved the celebrations through the few times I’ve seen them this season. Congrats to them and Blacon still seek that second spot, battling it out with Broadheath Central to join the Grey Lambs in the Premier Division next season.

Post-match, our bus back came about around ten minutes or so after the game and despite Paul’s ticket meeting a needlessly violent death at the hands of the driver, the short hop back was uneventful, though I did get to spy the old Blacon station site which, unfortunately, I didn’t know existed. As it was, we ended up back in the city centre, paying a visit to a couple of pubs up in the old rafters of the buildings along the main street – namely the Victoria and the Boot Inn, both truly old taverns and equally superb. The former did feature a hen party and a random guy whipping his top off on a few occasions though and we were swiftly out after finishing off our respective Amstels (£4.10 ea)! (NB: the hen party were all the calm ones!).

The Victoria

Sunny Chester

To The Boot

The Boot was a Sam Smith’s which duly meant a cheap pint of Taddy Lager (£2.50) which is always a great way to round off any trip and upon our return to the station, I bid Paul farewell as he made use of “girlfriend taxi” and headed off for the train into Liverpool where I’d catch my connection home from. Well, it should have been that smooth, but I was soon joined by a fairly rowdy, but fun, group of younger locals en route, though one guy decided to rat them out to the guard and got responders going, because reasons. I can’t abide those kind of people and I like my quiet, so that says a lot! I then missed my connection by mere seconds as I arrived on the platform to see it pulling away leaving only one option for the next half-an-hour. Spoons!!!

I eventually caught the next train and got home without further issue and that ends off the first trip of the May Day weekend. It had been a good one too, as it had been a fair while since I’d been joined on a trip anywhere and the game was watchable and what with it having something on it, always kept the interest peaked and congrats to Gralam on their deserved promotion. The ground was as to be expected for the level for the most part and a good crowd added to the atmosphere and it was a bonus to finally get these few drinking holes in that kept trying to keep me out. I bet they’re not the only ones, I just hope Nottingham is kind….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 4

Food: N/A (cold snacks on)

Programme: N/A

Table Football: 10

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Crewe (Crewe F.C.)

Result: Crewe 1-3 Eagle Sports (Cheshire League Premier Division)

Venue: Cumberland Arena (Saturday 20th April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 25 (approx.)

The second of the three game days of Easter saw me heading to the town of Crewe and the Cumberland Arena for the second time this season, although this would only be the first successful venture of the dual goes I’d attempted. I awoke surprisingly fresh after the previous day’s exploits at Field Mill and the surrounding area however I was quite thankful, for the couple of extra hours of rest during the morning to get everything together for the short hop through the Cheshire countryside.

After stopping at pretty much each an every stop on the slow route to Crewe, I finally arrived at a little before midday and after completing the fifteen minute or so walk from the station, arrived into the town centre which the Cumberland Arena is pretty much right next door to. After finding the Duke of Bridgwater closed, I continued further into town and eventually came across the decent looking Albert’s Corner, whilst trying to located where the much lauded Hops Belgian Bar was over a pint of Moretti (£3.70).

Albert’s Corner

Old church across from….

….Hops!

I eventually located it a short walk back on myself just across the way from a ruined, yet quite intact, church which provided something of a village feel to the outskirts of the centre. The cottage like buildings within what the Hops bar is located also give off this impression and, once inside, I opted to try the Sparta lager (£3.40) which was very decent and a nice pint to enjoy out front in the balmy Cheshire sunshine. Soon enough, though, it was time to head back into the hustle and bustle of the centre proper.

Following on from a swift visit to the war memorial, I headed for the nearby trio of pubs – namely the Cheese Court, Crown and Grand Central. They were all solid, if unspectacular affairs, with the former two being traditional style boozers, whilst the latter was more widespread inside and had one of the stranger “beer terraces” I’ve been on, with it pretty much just being an iron walkway. A pint in each, Amstel & Coors (both £2.50) and Dark Fruits (£2.70) as the refresher were supped away, before it was time I made my way a little more towards the ground. But not before a couple more stops, of course!

Crewe town centre

Cheese Court. Football & beer – a good duo

Crown

A short walk away from the centre is the duo of the Borough Arms and King’s Arms, whereupon I opted to maintain my now cider-related focus by having a Thatcher’s (£3.70) in the former whilst having a bit of a chat with a local propping up the bar here, prior to crossing the road to the King’s for a second Dark Fruits of the day, this one setting me back £2.75. Not too shabby, all in all!

On my way to the ground via the roads opposite, I came upon Tom’s Tap hidden somewhat within an unassuming industrial estate. Inside I came upon a small, narrow bar area and a few taps on. With time at something of a premium and actually being somewhat sensible for a rare moment, I opted to just have a half of the Mango Cider (£2.10) out front in the beer “garden” before finally completing my walk to the Arena, where I paid in my £2 entry and was duly allowed entry.

Grand Central

Borough Arms

King’s Arms

Sadly, the programmes here were long gone and I made do with a couple of pics of the team sheets that were kindly offered and, even though I’m not that anal in that respect, I felt it rude to say no. The Cumberland Arena is little more than an athletics track, though does have a smart pavilion building with food and drink on offer. The area within the track is roped off, meaning you are pitch side rather than miles away, which is always a bonus. Not much more to say, so here’s the history of Crewe’s ‘other’ club….

History Lesson:

Crewe Football Club was founded in 1998 and immediately joined the Mid-Cheshire League, where they have spent  their entire existence to date. Their second season saw the club achieve promotion as Division 2 runners-up to the Mid-Cheshire League’s Division 1 and remained there until 2005 when they were relegated after finishing up bottom. A return to the top division would have to wait until 2012 when Crewe again finished as Division 2 runners-up and they have since gone on to stay in the division through its name change to the Cheshire League Premier Division in 2014, though they have faded a little over the past two seasons after a strong start to their return in the previous couple of campaigns – the 2014-’15 season seeing Crewe record their best finish of 4th.

Arriving at the Cumberland Arena

Last time out they finished up in 13th position out of 16 and this season has been a story of two-halves, an underwhelming start was rectified around the turn of the year and they look to have a decent shot at equalling that best finish of 4th place, behind the runaway title rivals Pilkington, Alty Reserves and opponents today, and rivals for 3rd place on the day, Eagle Sports.

The game got underway in the balmy temperatures us in Crewe were being treated to and it quickly looked to be set to be an open contest with both sides looking to gain the points, the visitors knowing a win would secure third-place, whilst Crewe had to win to keep in the race for the position. Indeed it took only a few minutes for the deadlock to be broken and it was the visitors who grabbed the opening goal as Chris Quirk fired in. Quirk then nodded just wide shortly afterwards and it looked like the hosts had ended the season a little early.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Crewe did grow into the game slowly and after both sides had seen sights of goal blocked off by each’s respective defence, Eagle ‘keeper Liam Marlow had to be sharp to keep out an effort by (I think) Crewe’s unreal form man, and captain, Nathan Southern. Eagle would again go close through dangerman Quirk who beat the offside trap before firing over the bar and they were made to pay for this miss as skipper Southern fed Nathan Tickle and the latter bent an effort off the post and beyond Marlow to level up the scores.

That was pretty much that for action during the first half and, at the break, I ventured inside the pavilion building to have a peruse, having seen that there was some refreshments on the go during my pre-match visit. Indeed I soon found that there was some hot food on which was a welcome sight and I opted for a hot-dog (£1) thanks to it being pointed out by a board outside. Decent enough and thanks to the leagues at this level not being fond of lengthy half-times, we were soon back underway.

Inside the pavilion

The second half was largely dominated by the visitors and it began strongly for them as Quirk latched onto a long ball and managed to knock the ball beyond the ‘keeper and into the net to ensure the lead was Eagle’s once again. Despite being on top, though, there wasn’t a glut of action in the second period and if it had been a mid-winter’s game, it would likely have been quite a struggle to keep somewhat attentive to the action!

Match Action

Match Action

However there was a chance as the half wore on, but again the effort on the home goal went awry and over the bar from a good position, but Eagle would be given the golden chance to all-but secure the points as a clear trip in the area was duly penalised with a point to the spot by the man-in-the-middle and skipper Adam Coleman duly stepped up to confidently fire home and secure the win and third-place for his side. Full-time came around shortly afterwards without any further real action of note and the score remained as 3-1 Eagle.

Coleman converts from the spot

The Rising Sun

Vics represented!

Post-match I headed off to the Rising Sun (which seems to serve as the unofficial Crewe F.C. clubhouse) for a pint of Stella (£3.50~) and, I was told, fish and chips would be around too. Sadly the latter would end up coming a bit too late for me and I left the Eagle lads to finish up their hospitality and returned back to the station – though I did end up accidentally boarding the stopper service in my haste to jump on a train bound for Manchester, though I was able to rectify this via a change at Wilmslow onto an express service to get me home earlier and without any further issue, thankfully!

As for the day as a whole, it had been a surprisingly decent one with the town centre of Crewe being somewhat a more pleasant experience overall than the parts around Gresty Road in my opinion. The weather allied with a decent game was an added bonus and the hot dog at the ground was fine as well. Onto Monday and I finally complete a league with a second visit to Stoke in as many weeks. Scenic….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 4

Food: 5

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Hartford (Hartford Sports Village)

Result: Lostock Gralam 5-1 Middlewich Town Reserves (Mid-Cheshire District FA Cup Semi-Final)

Venue: Hartford Sports Village (Saturday 16th March 2019, 1.30pm)

Att: 40 (approx.)

The day began with me heading into Crewe on the basis that the long-standing Crewe vs Eagle Sports Cheshire League clash had somehow survived the weather. However, I was just approaching the end of the road leading up to the Cumberland Arena when the message came through. Game OFF. It was indeed too good to be true. So began the process of looking to find a replacement game (this is why I’ve started getting places early, honest) and eventually reckoned that Crewe Alex would be the safe bet – with Middlewich Town just a little too far off.

But just as I had returned to the station a thought hit me. The other semi-final which would decide Middlewich’s opponents in the final a few weeks later was being played at Hartford Sports Village, a ground not used above u21 level as far as I can determine and, as luck would have it, the train to Hartford was due in a few minutes allowing me to get to the high school it’s situated behind just in time for the 1.30pm kick-off. This was a welcome fact too, as the weather was fairly blustery and the odd sleet shower was never too far away.

Arriving in Hartford

Hartford church

Lostock Gralam itself is a village and civil parish located in the centre of the Cheshire Plain and its main street follows the route of the famed Watling Street Roman Road that linked Manchester and Chester. Transport-wise, it hosts its own station and the Trent and Mersey Canal. The area also includes the neighbouring hamlet of Lostock Green. Hartford, meanwhile, is another village and civil parish in Cheshire West and Chester within the ceremonial county of Chester and forms part of the Weaver Vale constituency. It lies on the West Coast mainline between Liverpool and Crewe (Hartford station itself dates from 1837 and also has Greenbank right next to today’s venue) and the intersection of the A559.

Recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, Hartford was the manor of Gilbert de Venables and part of the Barony of Kinderton. Prior to the reign of Edward III, it was held by a family who assumed the local name and it passed through numerous families thereafter. In 1644 and during the English Civil War, a battle was fought at Hartford Green when the Royalists of Chester met the Parliamentary forces of Northwich. The village church, St. John the Baptist, dates from 1875 and is on the site of a former chapel (c.1824) which was replaced as the village grew and rendered it too small. Hartford was originally a township split into two ancient parishes – the greater belonging to Witton chapelry of Great Budworth and the smaller to Waverham-cum-Milton. It also formed part of the Eddisbury Hundred prior to being designated as a civil parish in 1866 and later became part of the Northwich rural sanitary district in 1875.

A bit of Hartford history

Hartford

After a short hop over on the train opposite a toilet that seemingly had seen some unsavoury happenings at some point judging by the reactions to it, I arrived into Hartford village at a little before 1pm and a slow walk had me arriving at the school gates with around 5 minutes to kick-off. Walking down the road the leads through the numerous buildings that make up the campus, I eventually navigated my way around the tunnel….well, taped off area with some cones, and into the cage where the game was just getting underway. The cage itself features a standing area that runs 3/4 the length of the near side, but not much else bar floodlights. Lostock Gralam finished last season in 6th place in the Cheshire League 1, whilst Town Reserves recorded a 5th position in the Reserve Division. The sides currently sat 1st and 6th respectively in the same divisions, as the latter looked to meet their firsts in the final. Would that even be able to happen?! Either way, let’s get onto the game…. (NB: For those who are interested, Lostock Gralam’s history can be found on my blog about my visit to the Park Stadium here).

Arriving at the ground & “tunnel”!

The game got underway with the ‘hosts’ quickly going on the attack, though the first twenty minutes or so was, on the whole, very quiet as both sides got used to unfamiliar surroundings. Eventually, it would be the hosts who would break the deadlock as Jack Woolley finished from around the penalty spot. Strike-partner Robbie Hatton almost doubled the advantage soon afterwards with an almost identical chance, but his effort flew over and into the cage behind the Town Reserves goal. Speaking of the visitors, they responded to this early set back and #11 sliced wide from a promising position, but it looked as though they’d gone two down moments later when Woolley nodded home but was adjudged to have been in an offside position. He looked on to me though.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

The Witches began to grow more into the game more after the half-hour and had a pair of decent sights of goal, with #4 clipping an effort narrowly over the bar from a corner and #8 followed this up shortly afterwards with a drive that flew just wide of the mark. Their best chance came with around ten minutes to the break, when a miskick in the Gralam defence allowed #9 in, but he would be denied by a fine stop by the Grey Lambs’ keeper Dane Rigby in his first real action of the game. This proved to be a vital moment because, with a couple of minutes remaining before the whistle, a ball though split the Town defence and Hatton fired home to give Gralam the comfort of a two-goal lead at half-time.

An uneventful short half-time came and went, the game getting going again with an immediate third and it was Gralam who would grab the game’s decisive strike. Just a couple of minutes into the second period, Hatton was tripped in the area, the ref duly pointed to the spot and Jack Woolley netted his second of the day to seemingly wrap up the Grey Lambs’ place in the final. However, Town would continue on with their spirited challenge and after #8 had seen his, admittedly weak, effort saved when well-placed, “home” stopper Rigby than evaded a red when bringing down a forward who was advancing towards him one-on-one. However, with his touch taking him wide and defenders likely to have duly covered in time as a result, the resulting yellow was JUST the correct call, in my view.

Match Action

Woolley grabs his second from the spot

On the run….

It would be another ‘keeping error that would result in the game’s fourth goal and it was a totally avoidable one at that. A weak effort crawled towards the visiting ‘keeper, but he somehow allowed it to creep under his body in a Massimo Taibi-esque manner and full-back Connor Hooks was on hand to knock the ball over the line after a highly opportunistic run to much fanfare from his teammates! The Witches’ Reserves wouldn’t go down with a whimper though and, to their credit, continued to fight on and really deserved a consolation for their efforts. After Town had forced the Gralam defence into a pair of last-ditch blocks, Matthew Cann curled just over the crossbar in something of a prelude to what he would do minutes later when he drifted a free-kick, likely wind-assisted admittedly, over the ‘keeper’s head and into the far side-netting. There was their goal.

But it would be Lostock Gralam who would stamp their mark on the game last and head into the final in emphatic fashion as they grabbed fifth with around ten minutes to play, when pressure on the defence forced them into a mistake and  sub Myles Wadey capitalised on the weak clearance to finish and that was that. Woolley had a late chance to secure a hat-trick, but drove his shot over as the Grey Lambs advanced to meet the Middlewich Town first-team in the final in a few weeks time. Full-Time, 5-1.

Post-match I returned back to the village via the new-build housing route I’d taken to get there and dived out of the rain and into my first stop of the day – Relish, a smart café-bar type of place. Not only did it give me a welcome respite from the elements, but it also had Blue Moon on draught (£4.95) and I was more than happy with myself and my decision making at that point! Just across the way from the village church, it sits not far from a pair of neighbouring watering holes – though they are a fair bit different from each other when it comes down to it. Anyway, more on them later on.  Upon the rain’s abatement, I headed off down the road and out of the centre – heading for the Hartford Hall, an 18th century former nunnery. It was pleasant enough too, and surprisingly on the cheap side, with a pint of Amstel coming in at £3.65. Not too shabby.

Relish and the much-seen road junction

Hartford Hall

I headed off before the remainder of the guests for the party that were beginning to arrive did so and once again retraced my steps, this time back past the grand “White Hall” (unsurprisingly, a large white hall) and an old schoolhouse which had a claim to fame I can’t remember off the top of my head) before again reaching the junction at the church and this time peeling off and beginning to head towards Hartford station, via the two places I mentioned earlier. I reckoned I’d pop into the first of the two, Chime, just to be safe, and found it to be as I expected from the exterior – a food-centric place with a selection of gins and cocktails aplenty, it seemed. Not having any of that was I, instead opting for a Hop House (£4.50) before heading next door to the far more traditional Red Lion for a San Miguel (£3.90).

Chime & the Red Lion

The Coachman

Finishing up in the Red Lion, I set off on the ten-minute-or-so walk back to Hartford station and this was completed with little issue. It mercifully stayed dry for once throughout this leg of the trip, allowing me to get to the station-neighbouring Coachman for a final pint of Amstel (£4.35) where I could take a bit of time to recoup and await my train back to Crewe for the change onwards to Manchester and home. This all went easy as and I even had time to pop into the Crewe Hero on the station for a Desperados for the train home (though this wasn’t exactly the shrewdest option I’d made, so I retract my earlier self-congratulation) and this set me back just under a fiver. It’s nothing short of daylight robbery that, is it?! Anyway, best that than losing it somewhere along the way and so I boarded my train back the short hop to Piccadilly with little in the way to cause any problems…..

Well, look at that. Something had happened up the tracks somethwere and we were turfed off at Wilmslow, only to be immediately re-trained and told that we were actually now continuing on as the “issue” had been cleared away. None of us had any idea what had just happened and it turned out that I hopped back on along with a couple of Wycombe fans, Mark and Paul, who’d been watching the Chairboys’ away game at Shrewsbury. We swapped a couple of stories and the like during the short time we had whilst trying to make sense of the swiftest cancellation/reinstatement known to man, before we finally pulled into Manchester in one piece. However, this travel-related problem would be dwarfed by next week….

A good day on the whole and one that had continued on my recent run of pocket-friendly trips. The game had been a decent one despite the one-sided scoreline as this wasn’t fully reflective of the whole game’s story. A bonus also to get Hartford in during a senior game too (though I’d guess Hartford FC themselves may pop up sooner rather than later in the Cheshier League or something). That’s that for this cut-back bite-size issue and it’s on to next week and ground #300. Let’s hope it’s not too grim….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 2

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….St. Helens (Pilkington F.C.)

Result: Pilkington 2-0 East Villa (Liverpool County F.A. Cup Semi-Final)

Venue: Ruskin Drive (Saturday 9th March 2019, 3pm)

Att: 65 (approx.)

As the stormy and unsettled weather began to well and truly strengthen its grasp on the country, it began to become apparent that the 3/4G joker cards would begin to have to be played. As my planned game in Keighley expectedly fell foul of the conditions, I was then left with the dilemma of just where I was to end up instead and, to be honest, there was little in the way of attractive options – with many of the grounds not being too enticing at the worst of times, never mind the best.

Eventually I was swayed by a game at the Cheshire League’s Pilkington’s Ruskin Drive as they were due to welcome Liverpool County League side East Villa in a semi-final clash in the Liverpool County FA Cup and so to St. Helens I headed for the first time for non-league football since visiting Knowsley Road over a decade ago (I feel so old) – but not before having been remembered in the Hourglass due to my out-of-the-ordinary ordering of Boddies at pro-11am! The lad who said as much said his style of customer service does tend to cost custom and cause himself trouble…..and that’s definitely the case with me now…..nah, can you imagine if you take that seriously?!

Arriving into St. Helens

Swan Hotel

The George

I eventually arrived into St. Helens at a little after 11.30 and having not initially realised just how far removed St. Helens Junction actually is from the town itself, decided to grab the bus that stops immediately outside and head up to Central station instead. Now if this had worked, I may have realised the pub opposite there was shut and so not left myself with a rather lengthy wait on the way home, but instead I missed my planned disembarking point and instead was off at the bus station instead. What did this do, though, was alert me to the existence of the Swan Hotel – something that didn’t show up on Maps for some reason – and so I dived in there to begin the day with a pint of Coors being the order of the early part of day at £3.10.

From there I continued on into the centre of the town and my second stop of the day :- the George, helpfully located on George Street. Obviously this was pretty easy for me to remember (which is always handy with my track-record) and after a Grolsch (£3.10) in here it was off through the pedestrianised area and to two pubs opposite each other – the Market Tavern and the Nelson. The Market Tavern is sort of one of those ‘Wetherspoons without being a ‘Spoons’, though does maintain something of its own identity where others do not in fairness. It was cheap too, an Amstel coming in at just £2.50, with the Nelson being just as pocket-friendly as its predecessors – the pub/chippy duel establishment seeing a Dark Fruits setting me back around £2.90.

St. Helens

Market Tavern

Nelson

Continuing my heading towards the ground, next up came the Sefton Arms, not all that far way from the previous two and helpfully within sight of my final planned stop of the Lamb. The Sefton was decent enough and again saw a cheap Amstel being attained (£2.50) before the Lamb had very little in the way of choice on draught, so much so that I sought refuge in a bottle of Becks (£2.50). I also got talking to two ladies in here by the name of Carol and Cath who were very friendly and humourful and the time passed through far quicker as such, so much so that I was pushing kick-off time with the walk still to come as I said goodbyes and exited on to the home of both Pilkington and St. Helens Town, the latter playing in the evening as part of the Counties groundhop.

In the Sefton

Looking at the Lamb

St. Helens Town Hall

A ten minute walk later had me at the gates of the sports complex and after passing by the cricket pitch and its adjoining pavilion and bar arrived at the ground and was faced with a small kiosk. It transpired it was free to get into the football, so I guess the rugby being played alongside on the second pitch must have been a pay-to-watch double-header contest, though I did pick up a programme from the rugby that was on offer, what with me not having to give anything to the club itself, I thought I’d help out where I could at least. The ground itself is basic but tidy, a sole at-cost covered seating stand runs about three-quarters the length of the near side, whilst the remaining two spectator accessible areas are open, hard standing. The far side hosts the dugouts – but is otherwise just the cageside. That’s Ruskin Park and this is the story of Pilkington FC….

History Lesson:

Pilkington Football Club was founded in 1938 officially, though this date is actually supposedly 1933 with five years added to make up for the lack of playing years during World War II. However, football within the Pilkington Glass factory dates back almost as far as the factory itself, beginning well within the 19th century with teams believed to be made up from workers from each individual works, such as the Sheet Glass Makers side of 1907. The teams from the St. Helens factory were eventually amalgamated together to form a unified Pilkington Amateurs AFC in 1933 before the above change to history was made.

There is little known about the club’s early years from thereon, with in being known the club played out of Crossley Road and competed within both the Liverpool Business Houses League and St. Helens Combination League. The club was also drawn to play Liverpool ‘A’ at Anfield in a game that drew over 2,000 supporters. Pilkington moved to their current Ruskin Drive site in 1948 and they entertained an Irish League XI in 1957 at City Road ground in the town before competing in the Liverpool Combination League throughout the 1960’s, steadily finishing in mid-table during their tenure here. In 1970 the club toured Portugal and drew many a local to their games as due to Pilkington being touted as Recs Pilkington de Liverpool, many believed it was THE Liverpool who were around.

Spot the ground?!

Pilks would depart the Liverpool County Combination in 1983 and join the Mid-Cheshire League where they would largely struggle for the most part and were relegated to Division 2 in 1991, thus meaning their Reserves were deprived of their own Division 2 spot after just one season. They narrowly missed out on an immediate return and again the following year – finishing 4th and 3rd respectively – as well as losing out in two Cheshire League Cup Finals before 1998 finally saw Pilkington return to the top-flight though they would finish their first season back bottom of the table though were reprieved from the drop due to the loss of AFC Zeneca.

The early 2000’s saw success for Pilks as they lifted the 2001 Liverpool Junior Cup and finished 3rd in the Cheshire League that same year. A second Liverpool Junior Cup title was won in 2005, with a League Cup final appearance in 2007 ending in defeat to the double-winning Middlewich Town. Another 3rd placed finish was recorded in 2008 before they would suffer heartbreak in 2011, missing out on the Cheshire League Division 1 title on the final day on goal difference alone. Many of the side would depart at the season’s close and the Pilks dropped down into mid-table and they only staved off the drop in 2014 due to the resignation of Cuddington from the League.

Pilkington’s Ruskin Drive complex

2014-’15 saw the club make a strong start to the newly named Premier Division and lead the way early on before falling down the table as changes on-field took their toll and they were eventually relegated at season’s end back to Division One for the first time since 1990. 2017 saw the club lift the Cheshire League President’s Cup and finish up 3rd before making their return to the Premier Division after finishing as runners-up last season with their new-look home seemingly proving a welcome change. This year has seen the club make the move up to the Prem easily and they are currently challenging for the title as the season draws to its conclusion.

Having been re-instated shortly before the game due to another side falling foul of the “ineligible player” curse, Pilkington set their sights on the final against a strong East Villa side who I’d seen at the start of last season and tipped for a successful near future. Both are challenging for their respective titles and so it was to be expected this would be a closely fought contest. Chances were few and far between following an early chance for Graham Boylan, whose shot was saved by the Villa GK and from then on, very little happened during the first 45 minutes.

Match Action

Match Action

At close quarters

An early effort flew wide for the hosts and an East Villa header was comfortably saved down the other end and it was truly hard to see where the opener would come from. But just before the break, Pilks’ Adam Dixon almost got that elusive strike on two occasions – first going close in seeing his shot curl just wide before the visiting custodian tipped his back-post header against the crossbar. Half-time arrived shortly afterwards and I headed to the bar in a vain attempt to seek out some food. The queues at the bar itself were not worth bothering with for crisps.

The second half began and turned out to be a marked improvement on the first, largely helped by the fact the deadlock was finally broken just five minutes or so after the whistle had blown. A corner was met at the near post by the onrushing Boylan who nodded in from close-range and the decently sized crowd were largely pleased with this happening! Pilkington continued to have chances, their left-back firing in a pair of long-range efforts either side of the goal which both flew off-target and they deservedly doubled their advantage when some poor defensive play allowed #8 Luke Sephton to latch onto a poor clearance by the ‘keeper and knock home. 2-0, and it looked all over.

Match Action

Boylan heads Pilks in front!

View from the stand

To their credit, however, East Villa seemed to be spurred on by the fact they now had absolutely nothing to gain from being conservative and made a few fair chances at goal in the final twenty-five or so minutes after Pilkington’s second strike. First, the #10 pounced on poor defensive work by the home defence on this occasion only to be denied by the home ‘keeper Sammy Tickle’s legs and as the half wore on towards its conclusion, the #16 headed wastefully wide when well placed after a fine ball in.

Late on saw both sides have chances to add to the score-line, East Villa seeing their striving efforts come to nought as #14 shanked horribly wide after great work to chase down the ball and pull it back to him and #10 headed wide from a good position. Opening scorer Boylan then really should have added the gloss to the score with pretty much the final meaningful kick of the game, but the Villa stopper kept him out with another good stop but it mattered little in the grander scheme of things and Pilkington took full advantage of their tournament reprieve to advance to the final. Full-time, 2-0.

News Room

Running Horses ‘Spoons. Smart.

Post-match I headed onwards back towards the town and for the easier to reach Central station – stopping off at the fine, compact News Room on the way down for a pint of Timmermans Strawberry (£4.50), before finishing up at one of the town’s two ‘Spoons outlets the Running Horses – which derives its name from a far older tavern that previously occupied the site – for a quick Hooch (£2.25) prior to heading to my planned ending visitation of the Royal Alfred, only to find it had clearly been closed for some time. As such, I was left in the station for a good fifteen minutes with not being worth the rush to spend six minutes or so walking to the other nearby ‘Spoons and after missing one connection that wasn’t pointed out to me by any of the apps, the planned one I had was caught problem free and the transit through Wigan went problem-free too, and I was home nice and early for once.

The day had been an ok save, the game wasn’t great admittedly, the ground isn’t all too interesting either, but it was at least a semi-final with all that comes with it and the tour of St. Helen’s had been fun…and easy on the pocket as well, especially so when you factor in the free game! Can’t complain too much that being said and, little did I know, this would be almost followed the next weekend as the stormy artificial card would be played again….

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 5

Food: N/A

Programme (rugby-based, of course): 7

Value For Money: 8

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