Result: Radcliffe Town 4-3 Croftlands Park (Lancashire FA Amateur Cup 1st Round)
Venue: King George V Playing Fields/Outwood Road (Saturday 14th September 2019, 2pm)
Att: 8 (hc)
It was the weekend of the FA Vase once again, but with little overly exciting pulled out of the hat during the draw, and a want to stay local, it soon became apparent that the Vase wouldn’t be the competition for me this time around. However, there were a multitude of other, local competitions around and one of these was the Lancashire Amateur Shield – a competition that includes teams from around Cumbria as well as the Lancastrian stronglands and Manchester too; and it was this spread that made this game all the more attractive. Radcliffe Town, of the Lancashire Amateur League would be entertaining Furness Premier League side Croftlands Park and so a decision was made. To Radcliffe!
I would be meeting blog regular Dan somewhere within the Radcliffe area during the day, but I would be arriving first to have my usual peruse of the town centre and sample the local ‘delights’. Having bought a bus/tram ticket to cover my daily travel, I caught both transportation methods and arrived in Radcliffe within an hour of setting off. Not too bad. Disembarking at Radcliffe tram-stop at a little before midday, my early arrival drink options were fairly limited and so I decided to head off into the centre and have a little look at the sights which, to be honest, aren’t all too plentiful, though the area around the bridge is pleasant enough – although it had been tinged with sadness due to the events of a few days earlier – floral tributes lining one side of the bridge.
However, my planned route did take me more back out and beyond the tram-stop as I wanted to take in a swift look at the Radcliffe Tower and an old barn that remains strangely out of sync with its surroundings. Anyway, this led me towards the old church just beyond the town centre and a pub named the Morning Star just before it. Nothing much to report here really, other than my trope of choosing a beer that isn’t on returned once more and so I settled on a recommended Coors and it was pretty good too, tbh. A nice taste to it, so can’t complain and especially so at just the £2.75 a pint.
After watching a bit of the Test Match here, I continued on through the rather neglected church grounds and through to the main road, passing under the tram/rail bridge and passing by the New Swan and Old Cross pubs before finding the tower and barn I’d been searching out, as well as another old church hidden away beyond another playing area adorned with ‘Radcliffe Juniors FC’, though this doesn’t seem to be the same place that the Manchester League side play at, so must be the actual site of the NPL outfit’s junior teams. Away from that, let’s get back onto the important stuff – PUBS!!! Whilst Dan was having bus issues (i.e. doing a me and going the wrong way), I popped into the Joseph Holt’s branded Old Cross for a Crystal Gold (£2.96), with the dog in here being not much more than a huge, black mop! Honestly, you couldn’t see anything other than its coat and nose. A lovely big thing he was, though he wasn’t too interested in me and preferred to save his energy to play with the kids who came in a little later.
Radcliffe is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Bury, Greater Manchester. Historically a part of Lancashire, the town lies in the valley of the River Irwell and just a few miles from both Bury and Manchester at either side, whilst being somewhat conjoined with Whitefield. There has been evidence found suggesting activity back to the Mesolithic period (6000 BC), as well as Roman and Norman footprints – a Roman road having run along the current border between Radcliffe and Bury, whilst the town was mentioned in the Domesday Book as “Radeclive” (deriving from the Old English words read and clife – meaning the red cliff or bank) and became more of a parish centre within the High Middle Ages – its Grade I Listed St. Mary’s Church and Radcliffe manorial tower being central in this. It has also been known as Radclive and Radeclif, with the Radcliffe name hailing from here.
The aforementioned Roman road linked the forts at Mamucium (Manchester) and Bremetannacum (Ribchester) and during the Norman conquests, Radcliffe became a parish and township in the hundred of Salford and county of Lancashire, made up of the hamlets of the, more central, area of Radcliffe and the Radcliffe Bridge crossing of the Irwell. It was also held as a Royal Manor by Edward the Confessor before transferring to the Normans and William de Radeclive and later came under the ownership of the House of York-supporting Pilkington family during the Wars of the Roses. They owned much of the land and areas around the parish, with Thomas Pilkington being lord of many an estate in the Lancashire area. However, upon Richard III’s death at the Battle of Bosworth, Pilkington was attainted and thus had his lands removed, with Earl Thomas Stanley being handed the areas of Pilkington and Bury as a reward for his support; though Radcliffe would later fight on the side of the Parliamentarians, alongside Bolton, against the Royalists, who included Bury in their ranks.
In the 1600’s, woollen weaving became the first acknowledged industry in Radcliffe and the first mill was added in 1780 by Robert Peel, though poor conditions and an outbreak of typhoid within the staff and child workers led to the Factory Act being enforced, the mill turning around its fortunes in this regard. Coal had been long-sourced in the area, with Adam de Radeclyve fined for digging on common land nearby in the first instances of coal getting in the North West of England in 1246, but steam power within the industrial revolution transformed the area and as many as 50 collieries sprung up, though all but a couple were closed by the end of the 19th century. Textiles continued to be a force in the town too, with guncotton being produced through the First World War, whilst paper became a latter stronghold, with the East Lancs and Radcliffe Paper Mills popping up – whilst ensuring much needed employment for the local workforce, with the cotton famine affecting the town, as well as the coal sources drying up.
In later years and during World War II, Radcliffe became a centre for making munitions, aircraft parts and other military hardware, whilst other civilian transports were also made here, as were foundries and other machinery makers who continued to move into the area. Chemical makers soon followed before much fell into decline, the textile industry falling away by the 1950’s and the paper mills battling on into the early 21st century, though this deindustrialisation has led to an increase in population However, the town’s joining the municipal borough of Bury has, apparently, led to some seeing this as Radcliffe losing its independence and identity. It is served by metrolink (the old Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway line) and regular buses to Manchester and Bury, as well as surrounding areas, though many old rail lines and former canal routes have long since closed and/or been abandoned. Local alumni include Pvt. James Hutchinson VC, 1936 Olympic Bronze medallist cyclist Harry Hill, three-time World Snooker champ John Spencer and, perhaps most famously, Oscar-winning film director, Danny Boyle.
Finishing up in the Old Cross after watching the early stages of the Liverpool-Newcastle game, I back-tracked to the New Swan (probably the older of the pubs I visited) for a Boddington’s (£2.60), whilst arranging to meet Dan on the other side of the bridge at the Lock Keeper. This is around a 10 minute walk which takes you past the old East Lancs Paper Mill gates in a small garden square and under the rail arches once more, before a cut-through of the centre and crossing of the bridge gets you to this pub, which sits at the foot of the road and hill that leads to the ground. I found Dan taking in the rare sunshine of recent times on one of the tables outside, whilst being occasionally entertained whilst supping at Coors and Carling (both around £3.50) respectively. You should be able to guess what I was on by this point. If not, seek out the answer!
From here we crossed the main road that runs up to Bury and uphill, arriving at the ground via a dirt path (and climbing an incline) a couple of minutes into the game. Accruing information that the current score was still goalless from those (few) spectators who’d arrived for kick-off, I relayed this to Dan before we could settle in for the game ahead. The main King George V playing fields pitch is fully barred-off and is open, grass standing all the way around, though half of the far end is inaccessible due to bushes. There’s a dugout on each side, one for each team, whilst another pitch sits alongside and was hosting the Town Reserve side today. That’s pretty much all there is to say about the ground and so this is the story of Radcliffe Town FC….
(A rather short) History Lesson:
Radcliffe Town Football Club was founded in 1935 although information with regards to anything about the club, up until recent years anyway, is hard to come by. By the early part of this millennium, the club was already playing in the Lancashire Amateur League’s Premier Division, though would rarely break out of the bottom half of the division – finishing a best of 3rd in 2004-’05 and were eventually relegated in 2011 after finishing bottom of the table with just seven points, twenty adrift of their nearest rival.
Things didn’t improve for Town and 2013 saw them finish second-bottom in the Division One and were duly relegated to the Second Division, being reprieved from a bottom-placed finish by a points deduction alone. This relegation then saw them bested by town rivals Radcliffe St. Mary’s, who went onto take a promotion spot that season, however they would gain success in 2017, as they lifted the Lancashire Amateur League’s 1st XI Cup with a penalty shoot-out victory over Old Mancunians, following a goalless draw in the final at the Lancashire FA’s County Ground, Leyland. In doing so, they became the lowest-ranked side to lift said trophy!
A strong league campaign would follow the next season, as Town secured a runners-up placing in the Division 2 table to secure promotion back to Division One – the club missing out on the title on account of (what I have been informed was) goals scored, with themselves and Chaddertonians tied on both points and goal difference. Last season saw the club maintain their place there via a strong 4th placed finish, which bodes well for a shot at a return to the Premier Division after an absence of almost a decade. They currently sit in 6th place early in the 2019-’20 piece.
The game was just a few minutes old when we arrived and little happened in the first few minutes we watched, but the first goal wasn’t too long in coming, this going the way of the hosts as a shot from their #10 looped into the net. They then doubled their advantage just a matter of minutes later, when his strike partner #9 fired home. Town continued to dominate the game and it looked like there was a gulf in quality between the two teams, and not long after Radcliffe’s #7 went close to adding a third within the first half-hour of play, #8 bent in a fine effort from a free-kick to seemingly set the scene for a bit of a drubbing.
However, Croftlands Park would awake from their slumber and the Cumbrian side would begin to find their forward strides. First, a good headed effort was well saved by the home ‘keeper, before the gloveman repeated the trick just moments before the break to deny Park’s #7 and the visitors a way back into the contest. Half-time arrived at 3-0, before the wonderous 5 minute half-times that dwell in these footballing depths came and went in the fine Lancastrian sunshine.
Croftlands continued to take the game to their opponents, obviously seeing that they had nothing more to lose at that point. #10 saw a shot go narrowly wide of the mark soon after the resumption of play, before Radcliffe responded and ought to have gone four-up when a two-on-two situation allowed #9 a sight of goal, only for him to horribly shank wide. But horror would turn into magnificence within a handful of minutes. With the ball a good 40 yards away from goal and, seemingly, with little action in the immediate future, #8 (I think) has a long range crack and connected beautifully, the ball flying though the air before dropping over the ‘keeper’s head and between the sticks. What a strike!
Radcliffe would soon be dealt a seemingly small set back though when, after hitting the post and having a shot hit a team-mate on the line in an initial attack whilst chasing a fifth, they allowed themselves to be caught open on the counter, and Park netted to reduce the arrears. Still, there looked to be little excitement to go along with this, but a few moments later, they grabbed a second from a corner when, after an initial shot had been well kept out by the Town ‘keeper, the resulting corner was nodded in at close range. 4-2 and suddenly you could see a bit of panic sneaking into the previously confident home team.
This panic would only be increased with just over five minutes left on the clock, when Croftlands netted a third to set up a grandstand finish out of nowhere. Winning a free-kick just outside the area, on the right-hand side, the defensive positions weren’t exactly filling me with confidence in behind the goal, and my feelings were proved correct. The ball was whipped in with quality and met by the head of one of the two centre-halves who powered beyond the rooted Town stopper for 4-3 and it was suddenly all to play for in the last few minutes. What a game this had been – and all for free!
Alas for Park, they couldn’t quite complete a fairytale comeback, and Town held on for what was, on balance, a deserved win – but full credit to the visitors for their stirring comeback. After the game, we headed back down and the hill and retraced our steps (though I did lose Dan to a pub door as his sat-nav went awry one more) before arriving back in the town centre and paying a visit to the Bridge Tavern; no prizes for guessing how and why it gets that name. Here, with not too much on offer in truth, we both took a pint of Carslberg’s ‘new’ Pilsner (£2.60) and settled in to watch the final scores from around the country roll in. As we drank the last of our pints, we debated on where we should end the day – in the nearby Royal Oak, or pop into Whitefield – one stop away – and have one there instead. The latter won out as it was a fair bit easier all around and so we ended up at the Northern Crafthouse – a foodie pub on the road leading through from Manchester towards Bury.
Again getting the same pint in (I think it was Coors again at £4.20), we timed it nicely to grab the tram back from the Whitefield stop (a short walk away) and were soon back in Piccadilly Gardens, where Dan left to head homewards, whilst I carried on back through the other side of town and home. That was that and, overall, this had been a surprisingly far better day than I think either of us had expected – Dan’s travel problems notwithstanding. The game ended up being a brilliant, if slightly bizarre, contest, whilst it was nice to see around Radcliffe itself finally, having never actually been there despite visiting Borough’s Stainton Park on numerous occasions. A late start and easy travel is always a nice bonus to enjoy every now and again, these ‘early’ starts begin to catch up with you sometimes! Back onto the FA Cup trail again next week and it could just be time to enjoy a spa and, who knows, perhaps even a nice bath….
Value For Money: 8