Result: Fleetwood Town 2-3 Peterborough United (EFL League One)
Venue: Highbury Stadium (Sunday 17th December 2017, 3pm)
Following on from my first game of the weekend the previous afternoon, at Lancaster City’s Giant Axe, a rare Sunday outing saw me heading over to the North West corner of the Fylde coast to Fleetwood and, more specifically, to Fleetwood Town’s Highbury Stadium, where the Cod Army would be playing host to the ‘Posh’: Peterborough United.
Prior to the growth of the fishing trade in the town and the subsequent expansion as a port, the West Lancashire coastal town was initially intended as a railway transfer point for those travellers heading over the border and up to Scotland from London Euston, but despite this trip being undertaken on at least one occasion by Queen Victoria, the line would soon be usurped by the mainline route, leaving Fleetwood’s intended rail purpose in tatters. In something of a link to this, I would be arriving in Fleetwood, not by rail, which was removed in 1970 (though plans do apparently exist to re-open the line from Poulton), but by the tram system that runs from the bright lights of Blackpool, which itself dates from the latter part of the 19th century. Interestingly, the trams share the main street through the town with cars, regularly causing small queues at stops.
That is not to say that was the case today, mind you. Having headed up to Preston through a dank and drizzly Sunday morning, I then had to endure the dreaded rail replacement service over to Blackpool North, due to the long-term rail improvement works that are being undertaken on the lines through to the coast. Having said that, the bus journey up was a fairly comfortable one, with little in the way of issues encountered on the tidy service and we arrived in the shadow of the tower at around half twelve. Not that there was much in the way of shadows being produced today, the tower itself shrouded in the low-lying cloud cover.
Having undertaken the short five-minute or so walk from the station to the front, I then had a small wait at the North Pier tram stop for the service through to Fleetwood Ferry. For the princely sum of £5, I was in possession of a 24-hour ticket which enabled travel for a day’s period on all tram and bus services within the Blackpool Transport service area. Not bad. This also usefully meant I could now navigate my way through the town that little bit easier, so I first jumped off at the Stanley Road stop and followed one of the Town players towards the Cod Army’s home. One ticket was soon secured (£22), along with the £1 programme, and I set my sights on heading to the Northern extremities of the town.
Jumping back on the regular (ever 15 minutes or so), purple-liveried tram, I soon arrived at the Fleetwood Ferry stop and, after a quick peruse around the area – including the lifeboat house, nearby lighthouse (one of three in the town) and the sobering memorials to those lost from the port, and the later helicopter tragedy – it was to the grand-looking hotel by the name of the North Euston. As you may have figured from the name, the hotel is a grand remnant of the town’s brief existence as the rail stop-over, with the 1840’s vintage building being used to house those staying over in between their connections. The hotel’s bar, the Victoria, was my first port of call, a pint of Dark Fruits setting me back a decent £3.50. Sadly, I only had about fifteen minutes or so until the next tram back into the town centre (around a three-minute trip away), so this was quickly finished up and onwards I headed.
De-tramming(?) at London Street, I decided to ignore the ‘Spoons offering for now and instead plumped for the unassuming-looking Bug. With a name like that, how can you not go in?! Inside was pleasant enough and I decided to stick with the Dark Fruits for now. I watched the beginnings of the West Brom-Manchester Utd game in here too, before deciding it was a little too quiet and continuing on up the main street to the nearby King’s Arms.
This old-school pub was far busier, with the majority of locals seemingly choosing this as their port of call, but I had little time to spend in here now, what with the clock quickly heading round towards half-two. However, this also had the game on and so a little longer than usual was squeezed out in here. A third swift Dark Fruits was finished off before I headed off on the ten-to-fifteen minute walk to Highbury.
After cutting through the neighbouring Memorial Park, I arrived at the turnstiles with around ten minutes remaining to kick-off. With little in the way of searches required, a quick entry was had and I was soon taking up a spot at the rear of the covered Memorial terrace which, unsurprisingly, backs on to the park. Highbury itself is a tidy ground, housing two terraces and two all-seating stands. The Main Stand, to the left of the ground from my viewpoint, is the largest of the four and is also the most modern of the structures here, dating from 2011. It also houses the boxes, tunnel etc. The curved style of the stand also gives it a different look to other new-builds. Opposite is the Highbury Stand, a far smaller affair consisting of around six rows of seating. It runs about three-quarters of the length of the pitch, until it meets the pre-existing (I assume anyway) Highbury Social Club. Still standing to the rear of the Highbury Stand is the old “Scratching Shed” stand, a hark back to the club’s time in non-league. The gap allowing the new stand to be built between the Shed and the pitch was created by a former Speedway track having existed at the ground pre-2008, which hosted the town’s teams: the Fleetwood Flyers, and latterly the Knights.
To the left of the Highbury Club and behind the far end goal is the Percy Ronson terrace – named after a former Fleetwood F.C. player – which today housed those Posh fans that wished to stand, with those that were to be seated located at the side of the Main Stand closest to said terrace. The terrace’s off centre positioning is a little strange. Then comes the Memorial Stand which, unlike the Percy Ronson stand, runs the length of the pitch and also houses Jim’s Bar (and player’s guests area) to the rear. As for Fleetwood Town themselves….
Fleetwood Town Football Club, in its current form, was founded in 1997, however the town’s initial club dates from 1908. Fleetwood F.C., as this club was known, initially played at a ground near the aforementioned North Euston Hotel prior to moving to Highbury in 1939. Fleetwood played in, and were a one time champion of, the Lancashire Combination, winning the title in 1924. They would also finish runners-up on two separate occasions, these occurring in 1934 & 1935. The club, who are considered a part of the current club’s history (at least by Wikipedia anyway) also registered a hat-trick of Lancashire Combination Cup wins during their existence, these encompassing 1932-1934.
Remaining as a member of the Combination for almost 60 years, the club became a founder member of the Northern Premier League in 1968, where the club placed 10th at the close of their first season. Their first silverware at this level came in the form of the 1971 NPL Premier League Cup but things soon turned awry and, after finishing bottom in both 1975 & 1976, Fleetwood F.C. folded, but the town weren’t without a team for long as 1977 saw the forming of the first incarnation of Fleetwood Town.
Town were initially placed in the Cheshire League’s Division 1, but, after five years, the club would take a spot in the newly formed North West Counties League. Competing in Division 2, it took the club two seasons to achieve promotion to Division 1 and the following year saw Town reach the FA Vase final at Wembley, where Fleetwood would go on to lose out to Halesowen Town.
After a further two seasons in the Counties, Fleetwood were soon taking a place in the newly created Northern Premier League Division 1 where they became inaugural Champions in 1988. Three seasons later, the club had moved on to be finishing as high as fourth in the NPL’s Premier Division. But, by 1996, Fleetwood Town would also fold. However, just as following the first club’s demise, the town was left without a club for just a year or so, with Fleetwood Wanderers now coming into being.
The new club was placed back in the North West Counties Division One and a sponsorship deal with the near by shopping centre saw the club re-named as Fleetwood Freeport. For once, a sponsorship name-change that works for the better name wise! 1999 saw the club promoted to the NWCFL’s top-tier once more, prior to their renaming as Fleetwood Town F.C. in 2002. A year later, Andy Pilley would take over as chairman and this put into motion Fleetwood’s impressive rise. Incidentally, my Trafford supporting pal Cappy likes to regularly tell the tale of the time he and his Dad shared a cab with Pilley to the ground from the town centre around this time. Not sure that’s commonplace quite as much now?!
Successive promotions (in 2005 as Champions of the NWCFL Division One and 2006 as runners-up from the NPL Division One) saw the club back in the NPL top division. But just two seasons were spent here, both of which saw silverware arrive at Highbury. First, 2007 saw the NPL League Challenge Cup won, before 2008 saw the club attain promotion to the Conference North after winning the Premier Division title. However, a sticky spell saw Town bottom of the Conference North table early in 2008-’09, but a managerial change saw things change on-field and the club’s appointment of Micky Mellon also signalled the club’s first full-time manager. The season also saw Fleetwood reach the F.A. Cup First Round for the first time, though they were defeated by Hartlepool United.
2010 saw promotion almost get away from the club when they had points taken from them after the demise of Farsley Celtic. An appeal against this failed and Fleetwood eventually ended the campaign a point behind close rivals Southport, having lost three more than them as a result of the respective points deductions. Despite this disappointment, the club would go on to achieve what they would have seen as justice, winning promotion through the play-offs after defeating Droylsden (on penalties) in the semis and Alfreton Town in the final.
2011 saw the Fleetwood players join their manager in turning professional, though this also signalled the departure of a few, including the then club captain, who didn’t wish to make that commitment. The first season was fairly successful, Fleetwood reaching the Conference Premier play-offs, but losing out to AFC Wimbledon in the semi-finals. The following year would see the club reach the F.A. Cup Third Round for the first time, losing out to rivals Blackpool, with (the soon to be returning with Leicester City) Jamie Vardy netting the club’s only goal in a 5-1 defeat. The league campaign, meanwhile, saw Town go on a 29-game unbeaten run which led to the club winning the Conference title with two games remaining and, as a result, promotion to the Football League for the first time.
After Vardy joined Leicester for an initial £1 million (a big story at the time), a good start to the season saw Fleetwood challenging for the promotion spots in League 2. However, Mellon soon left after a disagreement and things fell away, the club eventually finishing mid-table under Graham Alexander. 2013-’14 saw another successful year for the Highbury club, Town reaching the Football League Trophy area final and just missing out on automatic promotion, finishing up 4th. However, another successful play-off campaign saw the club beat York City in the semi-final prior to defeating Burton Albion 1-0 at Wembley to send Fleetwood to League One. Here they’ve remained to this day, despite 2015-’16 seeing the club flirt with the drop prior to Steven Pressley (appointed after the departure of Alexander mid-season) guiding them to safety. Last season saw Uwe Rösler take the reins after Pressley’s resignation at the 2015-’16 season’s end, and the German led Town to 4th place and the play-offs at the end of his first season where they were ousted in the semis by Bradford City.
We were soon underway with the game quickly turning into a slow burner. It was watchable, with both sides regularly getting at the opposition’s defences, though clear chances were at a premium. After an early injury to Gwion Edwards, that forced the winger from the field, his replacement, Danny Lloyd, quickly became a focal point. For both good and bad reasons. The good being that he was a constant threat to the home defence. The bad? Well he, along with team-mate (more infamous for these reasons) Marcus Maddison, spent a lot of time falling to the floor under ‘minimal contact’, shall we say. One where the latter rolled away in “pain” before recovering in double-quick time was particularly embarrassing.
Anyway, Lloyd was definitely the lesser of the two at fault and he created the first true chance of the game, firing a low shot narrowly wide of Alex Cairns’ upright. However, this was to be punished soon after, when Fleetwood full-back Amari’i Bell was give the ball just inside the area by Devante Cole and the home #3 evaded Posh’s ex-Newcastle United man Steven Taylor to fire across Jonathan Bond and into the Posh ‘keeper’s far corner. 1-0 and I saw my chance to beat the queues at the food bar then and there. A box of chips and gravy was purchased (£2) and were pretty decent too. They certainly helped me through the remainder of the half, which somewhat fizzled out into a bit of stalemate. Half-Time, one-nil to the Cod Army.
After a short, swift rain shower had blown across the Highbury pitch, we were back underway for the second half. And it didn’t take too long for the visitors to get themselves level with their hosts. Maddison, this time, showed his better side to deliver a sweet cross onto which Michael Doughty ran and the midfielder placed his header beyond Cairns. One-a-piece.
After Fleetwood went close to restoring their lead shortly afterwards, a low shot avoiding the post as I was distracted by something else, the contest, again, somewhat levelled out for a fair period from then on in. But Maddison almost netted a spectacular goal to liven things up in the midst of the half, sending a dipping effort from all of 40 yards onto the crossbar with Cairns seemingly beaten. He’s a really fine player at this level, if only he’d iron out the overzealous play-acting (and, yes, I’m aware of how old I sound!).
Despite the efforts of the young band of home support within the middle of the Memorial Stand to drive their side onwards, it looked as though the game was going to meander through to a draw as we entered the final ten minutes. But, with seven minutes remaining, it seemed their efforts had paid off when the home side forced a corner. The resulting ball in wasn’t cleared and the rebound from the skipper Nathan Pond’s header found its way to Cian Bolger and Pond’s fellow defender lashed the ball home to send the youths, and the rest of the crowd of a Cod persuasion, into raptures. They almost went 3-1 up seconds later, when Jack Sowerby’s curled free-kick from close range struck the bar. All things pointed to Town finishing the stronger.
But then it all went wrong. On 88 minutes, that man Maddison again sent the ball sailing over the defenders who looked all at sea (sea-related puns aplenty!) and seizing upon the ball was Jack Marriott, who kept his cool to dink over the onrushing Cairns and into the net to jubilant scenes in the away end. If that wasn’t good enough for the Posh fans, then a couple of minutes later it got all the better. A free-kick was won around 23 yards out. Maddison’s initial effort was fired straight at Cairns but, to his dread, the ball escaped his grasp and fell kindly for Lloyd to slot home and wheel away in front of wild scenes within the small band of travelling Posh supporters in the opposite terrace.
Despite a late chance for the much-maligned Devante Cole (at least it seemed this was the case on the terraces, with one guy shouting something along the lines of “P*ss off to Sheffield United”), who struck the woodwork in the final minute with a point-blank header, the Posh would take the points back to Cambridgeshire with them, even going close themselves with the last meaningful touch of the game seeing Lewis Coyle hit the bar himself. After the final whistle, a traipse back through the park and to the tram stop was undertaken, with a quick couple back in Fleetwood being the plan.
Back on the tram less than 10 minutes after the whistle, I decided to remain on the main street and firstly headed to the second of the larger pubs on the road, namely the Royal Oak. The blue-and-white-clad pub was a decent little boozer too and another bonus was the appearance of Hop House 13 on draught. A further plus was the price, it coming in at around £3.50. After finishing off this and a swift stop off in the Spoons opposite the tram stop, it was time to head back to Blackpool for the lovely bus replacement service onwards. After navigating a couple of people asking for cash, I was soon on the coach and heading for Preston. Again, all went well (including passing a fracking area with, thankfully, no protests to hold us up) and the train back through to Manchester and home was completed with no problems, unlike the previous evening.
So there ends the double-header weekend. It’s now onwards to the Christmas period, where four games in seven days is the plan, starting at Bootle and ending in Salford, whilst encompassing Wigan and Billinge. Be jealous. Anyway, as for the day as a whole. The game was decent enough without its supercharged last fifteen or so which meant it got oh so much better. Highbury’s a nice enough ground to watch the game from, so no problems there and I quite liked Fleetwood’s unique charm too. Bootle up next and, if I don’t get that one done prior to the day itself, a very Merry Christmas to all (but a few)!
Programme: 5 (extra point for cheapness)
Food: 9 (extra for the gravy!)
Value For Money: 8