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?!”…..
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!
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:
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
Value For Money: 8