Result: Rochdale Sacred Heart 2-3 Bolton County (Manchester League Premier Division)
Venue: Fox Park (Saturday 6th October 2018, 2pm)
Having all but promised to get over to Fox Park over the past year and a bit but seeing my attempts spurned by weather and other means here and there, this weekend finally gave me the opportunity to head up to Rochdale and visit Sacred Heart’s home. With the weather seemingly set fairly….well, fair, all looked good for the trip to finally be undertaken. Come the morning, the morning rain hadn’t fully materialised in the way it had been forecast, and so all roads led to Fox Park for their Manchester League game with Bolton County.
Arriving into the town centre via the mediums of buses and trams, my plan was initially to begin at the Sam Smith’s Corporation Inn, but I soon reckoned it might be best to have a scout of the Nelson Hotel up the way first. This proved a fruitful endeavour, the pub open with its early punters already dotted around the place. It was a nice enough, old-school pub too, the main take-away for me being the rather humourous sign behind the bar banning all “foul language”. However, the customers seemed to not take too much notice of said instruction, not to mention the (I assume) landlord too! All good fun, but I was soon having to head back on myself and having reset my traversing of Rochdale’s station area to grab a bus from outside the Eagle pub, next up was the second Sam Smith’s option of the day, the aforementioned Corporation Inn. As with the Nelson, a pint of Taddy Lager came in at the very pocket-friendly £2.30. I also had a chat with Manchester United fan Gary in here too about where it was going wrong and what would come of the game later in the day. Needless to say, neither of us predicted a comeback from 2-0 down (a 2-0 loss was more likely, tbf!).
Finishing up my drink in here, I bid goodbye to Gary and continued on the short walk past the station and to the Eagle Hotel. Again, this was a Sam Smith’s place, though I’m not sure why the brewery is so prevalent in this part of town. Either way, a third Taddy Lager was had here at, yet again, £2.30, prior to me grabbing the bus up a little closer towards the ground and the Crown and Shuttle, where the most interesting/weird happening of the day (and likely season so far, despite Darwen) would occur. Having polished off my pint of Dark Fruits (£3.50) in here, I exited the door thinking that the Rod Stewart soundtrack would be the most interesting take-away from my brief stay, only to hear a shout of “Excuse Me!” from behind. Thinking I’d left something or whatever, I turned to see what was up only to be asked if I was from around there as I looked familiar. That was fair enough, but I answered to the negative, only to then be asked if I ‘…was on a gay website’ as the fella and his partner had thought they’d seen me somewhere before. Chuckling, I informed him that he was very much mistaken and he was fairly mortified. Pretty funny, and I assured him there was no issues, shaking hands before grabbing the bus slightly onwards down the road for a bit of thought gathering and to truly take in if I’d just had that conversation. This bloody hobby, eh?!
Having figured out the Hopwood pub wasn’t actually around here as shown on Maps, my next drinking hole stop would instead be the Bobbin, and this one is slightly more interesting to me, as it shared its name with a Wetherspoon’s close to me by the name of the Tim Bobbin until recently, when it dropped the first name of the satirical poet otherwise known as John Collier who died in Milnrow in the 1700’s. This was a comfortable pub in which to spend a while, spacious yet feeling close-knit at the same time, somehow. A pint of Amstel (£3.30) kept me company in here for the next half-hour or so while I wasted away the time through to the bus which would drop me back at the bottom of the road I’d take to Fox Park.
A short walk up the main road from the bus stop near to where I had my interesting interaction sees you at a small side road, which will lead you up over a small bridge and to the ground entrance. Upon arrival, you are greeted with a very smart clubhouse/other facilities building which takes in all that’s required at a ground, whilst the remainder of the ground is largely open, hard standing, though a little at the far end of the right-hand side of the pitch is grassy. The pitch itself is fully fenced off, apart from the grassy bit, with the benches to the left and a balcony atop the clubhouse providing some raised views for a privileged few! That’s Fox Park then and this is the story of Rochdale Sacred Heart….
Rochdale Sacred Heart Football Club was founded in 1955 (I assume as a sporting arm of the nearby church of the same name) and have played in the Manchester League since 1987, having presumably taken part in local leagues through to that point. Despite not showing much in the way of challenging for the First Division title for their first run there, they would be promoted to the Premier Division in 1994 after finishing as runners-up, though struggled over their two seasons in the higher division, finishing 15th and 16th (bottom) respectively, being relegated upon the latter finish in 1996. Returning to Division 1, the club were more of a fixture in the higher reaches of the table, finishing 5th and 7th in the next two campaigns, though did drop to 11th in 1999, ahead of coming back strongly for the millennium season, winning the Division 1 title in 2000 and a second promotion to the Premier Division, where they finished their first season back in a solid 10th, which would be the last season the club would be known as simply Sacred Heart F.C.
Becoming Rochdale Sacred Heart for the 2001-’02 season, they spent a further two seasons in the top division prior to suffering the drop once more in 2003, having finished 15th (second bottom). 2005 saw the club again return to the Premier Division as Division 1 runners-up but again struggled in their five-season stay back there, with points deductions in each of 2005-’06 (3pts), 2007-’08 (6pts) & 2009-’10 (6pts) not helping their cause in remaining, the latter eventual being a fatal blow, resulting in the drop back to Division One being suffered once again as they finished 18th and last. 2013 would see Sacred Heart take their second Division One title, but this time they would be much more of a force upon a return, finishing 4th in 2016, before the next campaign would end in the club becoming the first from Rochdale (apparently) to lift the Manchester League title, whilst they also added the league’s Gilgryst Cup to their cabinet, defeating the recently departed AFC Monton, securing a double. They would also beat the same opposition in the Norman Noden Trophy (league vs cup winners/runners-up as applicable) midway through last season. Last season saw Sacred Heart drop back down to the higher mid-table, finishing up 7th out of the 15 competitors.
The game was underway shortly after my arrival and it didn’t take long for the first goal to arrive, and it went to the hosts – a cross in was eventually met by #11 Kris King and he turned the ball into the net. Rochdale kept up their strong start and almost doubled their advantage through #8 Josh Woolley, who was unfortunate to see his powerful header come back off the bar. The two respective managers were, by this point, not seeing eye-to-eye, shall we say, though this proved to be something of an amusing side-plot to proceedings, rather than anything too OTT.
Back on the pitch, Bolton County began to gain a foothold and they went mighty close to levelling up the scores with around fifteen minutes or so to play in the first half. First, #8 saw his effort blocked out by a Sacred Heart defender, before an even better last-ditch slide would be enough to deny the follow-up shot and the third attempt by #4 would fly wide of the mark. The latter should have done better shortly afterwards too, but could only fire wastefully wide following a corner. The hosts would have the last chance of the half, with #9 hitting a shot straight at the ‘keeper, but there was to be no addition to the scores before the break and the sides headed into the dressing rooms with just the single goal between them.
After a quick tour of the facilities, I ended up in the bar where I partook in a steak & kidney pie which, for £1.50, wasn’t bad at all. Wasting away the ten minute-or-so break in the clubhouse, the teams eventually re-emerged from the bowels of the building and were ready to go once again shortly afterwards. It was Bolton who began the stronger of the sides, going close when the Sacred Heart ‘keeper could only parry a shot out but the visitors just couldn’t force the ball over the line. The #11 then saw his cross-cum-shot come back off the crossbar as they strove to get back level, but were made to pay for their wayward finishing shortly afterwards when Rochdale doubled their advantage through #9, who met a fine cross from #3 to nod home from close range.
To be honest, at the time, that looked to be that, as you could definitely see Bolton grabbing one back, but two looked to be something of an ask. Indeed, that exact thought went through my head just after the second had been scored. As it turned out they would get their goal with around fifteen minutes left on the clock when #10 Tom Aspen fired in from the edge of the area. However, they would prove me wrong almost immediately, when the same player met another fine ball in, this time from County’s #6 to again nod in from close range . Two-a-piece and we were set for a grandstand finish!
It would be Bolton who would go home with the points as they completed a remarkable come back as we entered stoppage time and it would be that man Aspen once again who would be the hero as he would hit something of a speculative drive, which took a wicked deflection off a defender and flew into the bottom corner. 3-2 and full-time, which cued a further touchline disagreement! Either way, I was to meet up with Sacred Heart boss Danny McWilliam post-game as he’d attracted me in with an offer of beer (am I joking?!) and I eventually was able to ascertain his location. It turned out I’d completely missed him coming off the field. After a quick chat, I headed off upstairs to wait, whereupon I was soon in possession of a lovely pint of Boddies. Cheers, Danny, it’s very much appreciated.
I would soon be off and headed backwards from whence I came, but this time I would head down the neighbouring canal path and to the tram stop at Milnrow. I was shortly on a service back to Manchester, where I would change onwards towards Altrincham before grabbing a bus home for a few more once again, with the view of staying up until 6am as to stave off the inclination of sleep ahead of the Japanese GP. I made it to 6.11am, only to give in as it was starting. Ah.
So there we have it. As for the day as a whole, well the ground was definitely smart (with the clubhouse being especially so) and the food and drink during the day all went down well, especially with regards to the pricings! Travel all went smoothly enough, despite the best efforts of the railways once again and the weather was far better than was forecast, so I can’t have too many complaints overall. Onwards to next week, and it’s another local revisit, as dictated by those railway scamps. Bloody hell….
Value For Money: 9