Manchopper in….Ashton-in-Makerfield (Ashton Athletic)

Result: Ashton Athletic 0-1 Chorley (FA Cup Third Qualifying Round)

Venue: Brocstedes Park (Saturday 30th September 2017, 12.30pm)

Att: 602

As the “proper” rounds of the FA Cup approach ever closer, the eyes of the clubs still remaining in qualifying are drawn to the prize of an appearance against the “big boys” of the Football League. Of course, there still stands two games between them and it and the Third Qualifying Round is duly one of them. As for my own Cup run, this would continue with a visit to just outside of Wigan and to Ashton Athletic’s Brocstedes Park.

Having missed out on their previous best cup run the prior season, I figured it’d be rude to miss out on their newest and most successful campaign in the oldest cup competition in the world. So, on a intermittently wet afternoon, I set off into Manchester, before missing my intended connection thanks to the wonders of the city centre tram system. A good start.

After a further twenty-minute wait, I was eventually en route to Wigan, but again behind schedule. There was an outside chance I could still make up time and make my initially intended train, but this was looking ever more unlikely. Somehow though, the train made up a few minutes between Manchester and Wallgate station, enabling a jog across the road and through North Western sufficient to be back on track. After arriving at Bryn station at just before 11am, it was straight onwards to the ground to secure a couple of programmes (on account of the expectation of a large crowd) before heading back to the high street. Well, that was the plan anyway!

Arriving in Bryn

Gates to the ground

No misbehaving…

Following a fifteen minute walk which involved just about avoiding the puddles on the neighbouring field, I bypassed the junior pitch outside the Brocstedes boundary wall and headed towards the turnstile only to see the ground was already filling up nicely. As such, I made the decision to stay put and quickly re-routed Dan (who was joining me on a venture for the second week in a row) who would join me not too long afterwards. After paying in at the slightly raised price of £8 (still not bad all things considered), I purchased the vivid-yellow programmes at £2 a pop before grabbing some early cuisine – namely Pie, peas and gravy – for around £2.50. With everything sorted for before midday, all that remained for me to do was await Dan’s arrival and the start of the game. Oh, and keep an eye on the brooding skies above…

Brocstedes Park is a fairly basic ground that consists of two stands, both of which stand on the touch-line where you enter and sandwich the clubhouse/dressing room/food area. The larger, older stand runs the far half of this and consists of three-quarters seating (about three rows deep), with the remainder being covered standing (some of which isn’t that solid!). The other stand is on the at-cost scale and is a small all-seated variety. The remainder of the ground offers narrow, hard standing areas, with the remaining surroundings being grass which was obviously fairly boggy today. The clubhouse is very smart and was, unsurprisingly, pretty full today considering its size. It offers a slightly raised view from the patio area out front. The food area today was under a tent and located outside, though I reckon this isn’t the norm.

As the BBC cameramen went through their preparations, Dan arrived before also going off to sample the very decent food on offer, plumping for the meat and potato over my choice of *something* and onion. After the raffle prizes were read out, with third prize being revealed as “two Everton balls”, the players made their way into the “tunnel” and onto the pitch with Chorley backed by a large travelling support which numbered two coach loads alongside those driving and experiencing the joys of the public transport system. With kick-off upon us, and myself completely dry of alcohol in a blog game for the first time in quite some time would there be a third straight upset for me (after Haughmond & Shildon)? First, here’s the back-story to Ashton Athletic….

History Lesson:

Ashton Athletic F.C. was founded in 1968 and initially competed in the Wigan Sunday League. After winning every division in successive seasons, the club switched to Saturday’s and the Warrington & District League. Further success here saw Ashton move into the Lancashire Combination in 1978, but they began to struggle at this new level, finishing bottom twice – in 1979 & 1982 – and finishing no higher than 14th, before the league merged with the Cheshire County League in 1982 to form the North West Counties League, with Ashton Athletic taking a spot in the bottom division, Division 3.

Brocstedes Park

The club continued to struggle, finishing bottom of the table in 1983, ’84 & ’86 (around a fourteenth spot in 1985) before failing to meet ground grading and being expelled from the league at the end of the ’85-’86 season. This meant the club found themselves in the Manchester League, continuing to struggle in the bottom half for the most part, before finishing up bottom of Division 1 in 1990, following this up with a further last place in 1995.

After nineteen seasons plying their trade in the Manchester League, Ashton finished fourth in the Division One and applied to re-join the North West Counties League. This was accepted and Ashton joined Division Two, completely bypassing the Manchester League’s Premier Division in doing so. Their first silverware back at NWCFL level came in the form of the local Atherton Charity Cup competition. After a third place finish in 2008, Athletic were promoted to the newly designated Premier Division.

AAFC

After finishing up bottom in 2011, the club were reprieved from relegation due to the promotion of New Mills and demotion of now-defunct Formby. They’ve since gone from strength to strength and lifted the 2014 League Challenge Cup with a one-nil win over Maine Road. Last season saw the club take the Lancashire Challenge Trophy after defeating NPL outfit Radcliffe Borough, whilst embarking on a then FA Cup-best run to the Second Qualifying Round earlier in the season, where the club would bow out to eventual Conference North play-off winners, FC Halifax Town. They’d end up in a solid 9th position at the end of the NWCFL Premier Division campaign.

The game got underway with both sides looking to strike an early blow, the visiting Magpies trying to assert themselves on the tie and Ashton looking to create panic in the ranks of their Conference North opponents by striking early and making an upset all the more likely. Unfortunately, neither would manage to find the net and it certainly wasn’t going to be one of those games that rains goals. Speaking of rain, those brooding clouds I mentioned earlier decided to chuck the proverbial cats and dogs down onto a sodden Brocstedes instead.

Match Action

Tipped away

Match Action

For the most part, the better of the chances were created within the ever worsening conditions fell to Ashton. First, Joel Brownhill saw his effort palmed away by Chorley ‘keeper Matt Urwin. Chorley would reply soon after, with a trio of consecutive shots being charged down by Ashton bodies, before the Urwin was again called upon to keep out an effort from close range. The sharing of chances continued with the dangerous Nick Haughton seeing his shot from a fair way out comfortably saved by Martin Pearson in the home goal.

Dan and I then decided to wimp out for the final five minutes or so of the half and take cover in the clubhouse as the rain began to teem down ever heavier and from here, and with the aid of TV, we saw Ben Johnstone whistle a pile-driver beyond Urwin, but also past the upright. Half-Time arrived the score remaining goalless, with us spending the break slowly drying off as the precipitation slowly eased off outside.

The second half got underway with the higher-ranked visitors looking to seize the initiative. But, to be honest, there wasn’t much in the way of clear-cut chances and the game looked to be marauding towards a replay. But, in the 83rd minute, a pull-back from the left-flank found Haughton around twenty-two yards out and the on-loan Fleetwood man unleashed a rasping drive that flew past the despairing Pearson to spark jubilant scenes around the ground, not only from his Dad (who I think Haughton got booked for celebrating with), but also from the large flock of Magpie supporters. Puns.

A bit soggy

Match Action

That proved to be that, with the response from Ashton not being enough to find the goal they needed. As such, Matt Jansen’s side took their place in the fourth round and could sit back and see who they fancied from the three o’clock victors. As for Ashton, their performance on the day definitely warranted at least a replay, but at least they got to showcase themselves on something of a national stage. A good game for a one-nil. So that was that and Dan and I reckoned that we definitely needed something to help our dry throats. Honestly.

The nearby Bath Springs would be our first stop-off and a couple of cheap pints in here would prove to be the standard for the rest of our trip down into Ashton-in-Makerfield itself. We finished off our pints in here as the pub began to fill with away fans, heading down the road for twenty minutes to explore Ashton. Our first stop-off would prove to be the Robin Hood, which quickly came into favour with me for having Hop House 13 on draught and for around £3 (I reckoned), this is easily the cheapest I’ve found this at. Lovely stuff.

Bath Springs

Ashton-in-Makerfield

Robin Hood

Before long, our rain dodging found us diving into the Red Lion Hotel. This was a busy, popular pub full of punters watching football, racing and rugby all in situ. As for us, we settled in with pints of Foster’s and Tuborg respectively (guess which was mine?) to watch some of the United-Palace game before becoming fans of the horse “Bearly Legal”. Great name, though the horse didn’t fare too well. On that note, it was off over the road to the large Golden Lion, where our visit ended with a skirmish behind us involving some lads and girls. Nothing too serious (though it certainly livened up our slowly tiring selves) and I definitely wasn’t leaving until I’d finished! Nice enough place otherwise.

Red Lion

Golden Lion

Our last stop-off was a brief visit to tick-off the town’s Wetherspoon’s: the Sir Thomas Gerard, named after an attempted rescuer of Mary, Queen of Scots who ended up imprisoned in the Tower of London. The now staple Punk IPA proved a nice finish to the day, as I bid goodbye to Dan who headed off on the buses, as I made my way back to Bryn station for the train back through to Wigan and onwards to Manchester to end off the day by trying to help out with a domestic. A very colourful day!

In summary, the day had been a good one. The game was easily watchable and the ground was ok enough. Ashton proved a cheap day beer-wise and the pubs were decent too. With travel ending up being simple, there can’t really be any complaints. As for next week, it could be anywhere!

 

 

Manchopper in….Runcorn (Linnets)

Result: Runcorn Linnets 5-0 Winsford United (NWCFL Premier Division)

Venue: Linnets Stadium (Friday 25th August 2017, 7.45 pm)

Att: 396

I was absolutely relieved…nay delighted, to see the Friday night lights shining brightly over the outskirts of Runcorn!! Why was I so excited by this you may be thinking? Well, let me enlighten you…

I set off for what was, in theory, a simple trip to the Cheshire town at a little after 5pm, with the journey seeing me arrive near the Linnets’ home around an hour before kick-off. With plans all set, it was just down to the joys of public transport to not let me down. Alas, here the plans unravelled. First, my train was delayed by around twenty minutes, meaning my connection would be a lot tighter than it ought to have been. No worries though, all looked to still be in hand.

That was until my connecting train broke down en route. Could this get any worse? A quick survey of my options saw me decide a switch in Liverpool was the way to go and this was thankfully done with little issue, though a quick sprint was required to make it! I was relieved to see Runcorn come into view not too long after, but now a new challenge reared its head. I needed to find a bus to take me to the ground. Problem was, I had no idea of the whereabouts of anything in Runcorn, never mind bus routes.

Runcorn Marina!

The pure drama (don’t deny the tension) continued, as I finally found my way to the bus station with a solitary minute to spare, only to find no evidence of the bus I was supposed to be getting. Luckily, I was given an out as another lovely carriage turned up with “Murdishaw” emblazoned on the front and so I took a shot in the dark and decided that would have to do. Kick-off was only a 45 minutes off at this point and the driver summed up the tumultuous journey with the words “If it’s not the right one, it’s your fault!”. Cheers for the confidence!

To my pure relief it was the correct route and I eventually debussed a short five-minute walk from the ground. As I was getting off, Runcorn supporter Mal and (I gathered) his wife gave me some tips on how to get back in the best way possible, while warning me it was easy to get lost in the very same-y housing estate that stands nearby, especially in the inevitably approaching darkness.

Finally arriving at the ground.

After thanking them for their help, it was off to the turnstiles where I handed over my £6 fee, plus a further £2 for a programme to the right of the clubhouse/food bar/big room with tables in. The programme was a decent enough effort without being too breath-taking, but I was more interested in finding some variety of alcoholic beverage at this point in time to really care too much. A Strongbow (£2 can) soon dealt with the parched-ness of my throat.

Soon enough, the clock was heading around towards kick-off time and so I bid goodbye to Mal again, who’d found me in there to give me some extra possible travel routes, and headed outside to find the pitch still unpopulated by players, bar those going through their pre-match routines. It soon became apparent we would have a slightly delayed kick-off, but this only proved to be five minutes later than advertised.

Clubhouse & food-y place: the Linnets Den

What about the Linnets Stadium then? Well, it’s a ground still in the process of renovations, with a shiny new clubhouse still being built closer to the pitch than the current structure and alongside the covered “terrace” stand which sits behind the goal from which you enter. To the right-hand side is the “Main” Stand which is the only seating stand in the ground and straddles the half-way line. Opposite are a pair of “bus-stop” style covers (which do look a lot like bus stops actually), one at each half. The far end is open, hard standing and this was largely populated today, with the cover, for once, not being a necessity. As for Runcorn Linnets’ story…

History Lesson:

Runcorn Linnets FC was founded in 2006 following the demise of the previous club, the awkwardly named Runcorn FC Halton, whose existence spanned from 1918. Runcorn FC Halton (seemingly not a fan of attractive names) formed as Highfield & Camden Tanneries Recreation Club and became members of the Lancashire Combination, winning a cup in their first season, before taking on the Runcorn FC moniker, becoming a founder of the Cheshire County League for 1919 and winning its first championship title. They’d win it again in 1937 in a league & cup double.

Later, Runcorn FC would become founder members of the Northern Premier League in 1968, which they’d win in 1976 & 1981. They’d lift the 1973 Cheshire Senior Cup and, after promotion to the Alliance Premier League (the forerunner of the Conference), would go on to win it in 1982. However, they’d be denied a place in the Football League election process due to “league requirements”. Who knows how history would have played out had things gone differently?

Bits & Bobs

New clubhouse is getting there…

After a final chance at major glory in 1994, losing in the FA Trophy Final for the second consecutive year (and third time overall), things began to subside. Season 1993-’94 saw serious damage to the ground suffered, beginning with a wall collapsing during a game against Hull City. Later that season, a roof would later blow off one stand and the Main Stand would be destroyed by fire. This caused major issues for the club, who’d be relegated in 1996 for the first time and they’d sell their Canal Street home in 2000, moving to the Halton Stadium in Widnes and taking on the name they’d exist as until their folding.

After a brief promotion to the Conference North from the NPL due to restructuring in 2004, the club would depart the Halton after their relegation back to the NPL after one season at CN level, sharing at Southport and Prescot Cables. Relegation at the end of their final season signalled the end of the road as Runcorn FC Halton became no more and, having already been in something of an existence by that point, it was the beginning of the tale for Runcorn Linnets.

Linnets began life in the North West Counties Division 2 and began groundsharing at Witton Albion. After ending their inaugural season as runners-up, the club were promoted to Division 1 (now the Premier Division). 2010 saw Linnets move into their purpose-built home at the appropriately named Linnets Stadium, though despite strong showings, the club have remained in the NWCFL Premier since their promotion, with their only other honour being the 2013 NWCFL League Cup. Last season, Linnets finished up in 4th place, having finished runners-up the previous three seasons.

Ron Corn!!! Worth the admission himself.

After an appearance of the legendary mascot “Ron Corn” during the pre-match handshakes and a minute’s silence, we were underway. The first half-hour was largely uninspiring, with the visitors probably having slightly the better of any action that there was. That’s not to say the game wasn’t watchable, but there wasn’t too much to get excited about from my viewpoint. The Blues’ best chance fell to Brandon Moores, who drilled a fizzing drive straight at Linnets’ stopper Terry Smith.

From then on in, it was all Linnets. After Paul Shanley had been denied by a good stop from Michael Langley in the Winsford goal, a scramble near the goal-line was eventually cleared by ex-Wisla Krakow and Poland u18 defender, Damian Skolorzynski. But, these warnings weren’t heeded by the visitors and, on 36 minutes, a low ball in was slotted home by Callum Lucy.

Winsford have small numbers for some reason…

Match Action

Match Action

After a trip to the food bar for a decent offering of pie, peas and gravy (£1.90), Lucy doubled both his and Linnets’ tally on the stroke of half-time, firing in a rising effort beyond the helpless Langley. Two-nil to the hosts and that looked to be it. Half-Time duly arrived and, with little to do during the break, I decided to look at the train times back, thinking the worst must be behind me. Oh, how wrong I was! A twenty-minute delay was on the cards and my connection had had it once more. Nightmarish.

Anyway, the second half would distract me from my transport woes and it would all be because of Linnets. Winsford’s spirit looked crushed after the second goal and they never got going. Langley did well to keep the score to two soon after the restart, denying Lucy his hat-trick before smothering substitute Stuart Wellstead’s follow-up at his feet. But the latter would get his goal within seconds, jabbing in from within the six-yard box.

Winsford looked well and truly beaten at this point, though Chris Middleton showed some fight to clear the dangerous Wellstead’s effort from off the goal-line after he’d rounded Langley, but found the angle was somewhat against him. Instead it fell to his fellow sub Anthony Hickey to net the fourth for the home side, finishing off a good piece of play down the right.

View from the “ultras”. My camera doesn’t do nights…

Under the lights

Four-nil it looked to be staying as the clock ticked over into stoppage time but then, with the last kick of the game, Wellstead nabbed his brace. Linnets took advantage of the extra space afforded them by a late injury to Perry Bircumshaw, which left Winsford a man light, to find their way into the area, and a pass into the forward led to him finishing off smartly to enable cheers to sound out the shrill of the full-time whistle. Full-Time, five-nil.

Post-match, I was afforded a lift off 1874 man Mark who dropped me off at the station where I now had a good 20 minutes to wait out in the midst of nothing but bungalows. Eventually the train did roll in and I was off onwards home. Finally. So ended my visit to the Linnets Stadium and it was a good job the game was a decent one after all the stresses of actually getting to and from it! It’s a decent ground (bar the inevitable at-cost stands) and the crowds lend a big-match feel to their contests. So, outside of the journey, a good evening was had. Onwards to Barnsley next…

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 6

Food: 7

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

 

Manchopper in….Charnock Richard

charnockrichardBarnoldswick Town FC

Result: Charnock Richard 3-1 Barnoldswick Town AET (FA Vase 2nd Round)

Venue: Mossie Park (Saturday 22nd October 2016, 3pm)

Att: 178

As the earlier rounds of the FA Cup came to an end the previous week, it comes down to the FA’s two non-league competitions to keep the majority of non-league sides still dreaming of a trip to Wembley. Or Boston, if that’s a bit more realistic. Anyway, with the Vase still in full swing, I decided that, having spent a fair amount over the few previous weeks, I’d stay a little closer to home and so perused the fixtures looking for an interesting place to head for.

To be honest, the options were pretty few and fair between but one name leapt out at me more than others and that name was Charnock Richard. The village, famed for being home to the first M6 service station, now plays host to a North West Counties team with the Mossie Park-based outfit having made the step up from the West Lancashire League at the beginning of this season. Also, their striker Carl Grimshaw was even considered worthy of an FA article prior to this round of fixtures and so where else was there to go? Nowhere, that’s where and so to Mossie Park I headed!

Having got the train into Manchester and bought tickets for the upcoming FA Cup game between Westfields and Curzon Ashton (having watched the latter at York in the last round), I was left with a 45 minute wait until the next connection up to Euxton. Having never been in the Hourglass bar in the station’s food hall section, I decided to break that duck and head up there. This proved to be a decent, if fairly costly, idea with the beer costing £4.50, but it was a good pint. There were also some people clad in Wolves tracksuits enjoying the hospitality up here.

The Hourglass

The Hourglass

Eventually, the clock ticked round to past midday and I made my way for the Edinburgh-bound service through to Wigan. This service also had some star power, in the shape of Coronation Street’s Todd. Or at least I think it was him, to be honest I’m not too sharp on soap actors. Anyway, this was as exciting as this journey got and having gotten off at Wigan along with a number of Brighton fans, the train to complete the short hop to Euxton arrived and it was next stop Mossie Park. Well, with a few pit-stops along the way that is…

With a 45-minute walk ahead, I had scouted out only two drinking holes on the way there, so was surprised to be, almost immediately faced with the Euxton Mills pub. A quintessential, traditional-style pub, there was only one punter to be found in here and after a swift Desperados (which has been side-lined somewhat of late), I was back on the march up the long, winding road heading through the fields.

Eventually I came upon the second stop, the Bowling Green, which is a carvery pub, so emanated some pretty welcoming aromas from within. Obviously, it would have been rude to ignore, so in I headed and was soon in possession of a pint of Joseph Holt’s Crystal Gold, priced at £3.30. There was some drama before I had a pint in hand, however, as I was almost served a pint of Coke by the barmaid, much to my horror. After desperately making sure this had been corrected to something stronger I sat down to calm my shaken self.

Euxton Mills

Euxton Mills

Still a fair way off though...

Still a fair way off though…

The Bowling Green

The Bowling Green

With the clock nearing 2.15, I decided it was time to head on over to the ground. With a reported 15-20 minutes still left on my travails, I thought I’d ignore the ‘Baku Lounge’ on the way there despite the interesting name. To be honest, it was a good idea, as the place looked shut-up at the time and the smashed glass on the opposite side of the road didn’t give off the best signs. Also, it was now the boring, generically named ‘Red Door’. The oil funding must have run out or something…

After passing a couple of old churches, I began to see the tell-tale sign of a ground in the midst of nowhere-ville. Cars. To be honest, there wasn’t many cars around apart from this small area, so I took it as proof of Mossie Park having been located. For once I was correct and having spurned the clubhouse, on account of having had a fairly heavy evening the prior night, I headed straight for the turnstile, where I was relieved of £5 and soon had a glossy programme in my possession for a further £1.50.

First sighting of the village. Finally.

First sighting of the village. Finally.

CRFC

CRFC

Flag

Flag. Nice.

The ground itself is a bit of a weird one, as it is fenced in on all sides by those green, metal cage-like structures you see on artificial surfaces all over the country. Luckily, the only 3G here is the phone signals, with the pitch looking in good touch, if a bit sandy. The ground is a simple one, with open, hard standing at both ends and on the far touch-line, with the ground’s only stand sitting to the right-hand side of the pitch, as you enter. The dressing rooms sit adjacent to the turnstile and the building also plays host to the food hut and other facilities. A tidy ground overall. Now, for a look into the story of Charnock Richard FC…

History Lesson:

The current Charnock Richard Football Club was formed in 1955, following in the footsteps of another club with the same title, who competed during the years 1933-’49. The Villagers spent the vast majority of their initial existence in local leagues around the Chorley area, but joined the higher level West Lancashire League in 1993. The club’s old pitch, Mossie Close, is still there too, sitting opposite the new ground and alongside the clubhouse.

Mossie Close ground & clubhouse

Mossie Close ground & clubhouse

Following two promotions within their five years in the league, Charnock found themselves in the Premier Division. They won their first Premier Division title in 2003, going on to repeat the feat on a further five occasions over the span of seven seasons (2009, ’12, ’13, ’14 & ’15). Following a runners-up placing last season, the club’s application to join the North West Counties League was accepted and the club are currently top in their first campaign.

An unfortunate start.

An unfortunate start.

Pre-match pleasantries

Pre-match pleasantries

The game got underway but not before the referee having to pick the match ball up off one of the biggest abominations in football today, the plinth. God, I hate those plinths. Anyway, Charnock Richard’s first ever home Vase tie was a slow burner initially, with little to speak of during the early stages. However, this all changed on the half-hour when a solidly hit drive looked destined for the top corner, only for Barlick’s ‘keeper Jordan Gidley to make a fine save, with the strike looking destined for the top corner.

It then looked like Charnock would take the lead against the side from a division above, as Anthony Hough broke through the defence, rounded Gidley, but his shot was tremendously blocked on the goal-line by a sliding defender. Charnock, the Division 1 leaders, really should have been ahead at the break, but Barlick held on to keep the game all-square as the sides headed in and I headed for chips, a pretty decent portion for £1.20 too, with the food even being brought out to me. I could get used to this royal treatment.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Midfield battles.

Midfield battles.

Second half underway and it was Barnoldswick who came out of the blocks the quicker, with striker John Beckwith firing in a shot that left the ‘keeper beaten, only for the ball to cannon back off the post. From then on, it was the hosts who took the game by the scruff of the neck and again looked the most likely to break the deadlock, with Grimshaw looking dangerous…and angry throughout, but not as angry as the kid with the crutches who, when questioned by a Charnock-badged man, said he’d hit him with said walking-aid. The challenge was welcomed. In jest of course!

Just before the hour, the Villagers were denied on the line once more as, following another fine stop by the impressive Gidley off his own initial effort, the pacey Oliver Evans’ follow-up was blocked and eventually cleared. Barlick were still dangerous on their own forays forward too, with Gidley’s opposite number Adam Halton proving just as good when he palmed away Harry Thompson’s drive.

The game entered the last 10-minutes, with pretty much everyone in the ground, I’m sure, thinking the same as me. HOW IS THIS 0-0?! This was made even more surreal when, from a corner, an overhead kick saw Gidley somehow scramble to his right to claw the ball behind. The mercurial Grimshaw was then denied, once again by a goal-line block as the minutes ran out, but not before Spencer Bibby was, for me, unfortunate to receive a red card. It was a fairly strong tackle but there looked no real malice or threat in it however Bibby was back in the showers earlier than he’d have wanted. Well he was in the doorway spectating, but you know.

Great clearance!!

One of Four!!

Dugout action

Dugout action

Match Action

Match Action

Following the now standard goal-line clearance in the last minute to again deny Grimshaw and one Barlick player remark to his team-mate “How’ve you not been sent off yet?” following a challenge, the referee brought the ninety to a close. 0-0. God knows how, but that was the best 0-0 I’d ever seen. Luckily for all of us paying punters, there was another 30 to go!

Goals, many goals! That was the story of extra-time. Well, actually, the last ten minutes of extra-time, but we’ll get there! Both sides spurned decent early chances during a fairly quiet first period before, finally, the deadlock was broken and it was that man Grimshaw. The “local celebrity” broke clear of the static visiting defence, and slotted beyond Gidley for 1-0. The players, along with the Charter Lane end, went mad!

Scenes.

Scenes.

He's sneaking back on. Slowly.

He’s sneaking back on. Slowly.

Then, Gidley had the moment that can happen to all goalkeepers. Having had an outstanding game up until the 117th minute, he fluffed a clearance which looped up to the opportunistic Grimshaw and he had the simplest of tasks to roll the ball into the empty net. But, Barlick weren’t done as they went immediately down the other end with sub Joe Gaughan receiving the ball around 25-yards out before curling a fine shot into the top corner, leaving Halton no chance. The words don’t really give the strike justice, so hopefully these do for the final, game clinching one.

With Barlick straining for an equaliser, the ball broke out of defence and fell to the feet of Mark Adams. Adams then proceeded to run from his own half, right through to Gidley’s area. Faced with the advancing gloveman, Adams stayed cool, rounded him and with many in the crowd, myself included, expecting him to square it to Grimshaw alongside to allow his hat-trick, he was having none of it and finished a fine solo goal with aplomb. A great goal to end a fine game. 3-1 full-time.

Post-match sign action!

Post-match sign action!

The Talbot

The Talbot

So, having undertook the walk back under the setting sun, I arrived back in Euxton with a good half-hour until the train back and having been underwhelmed earlier in the day by the Euxton Mills pub, decided to look for somewhere on the “other side of the tracks”. Here, I found the large The Talbot and inside was buzzing with many in for the football and a few players from the town’s own club Euxton Villa drinking to either celebrate, or forget, their game today. A quick half of Amstel saw me through to the departure time, before I was back on the platform with the strains of the Match of the Day theme song blaring out from an ice cream van. In late October. That’s optimism.

After a police-riddled train back to Wigan was negotiated, it was plain sailing back home to end the day. A nice ground played host to a great game and you couldn’t have really asked for more for a fiver. A great day’s entertainment was had and ground 195 is done. With 200 fast approaching, where could be a good venue to head for? I’m open to suggestions. Anyway, thanks to Charnock for a good day and all the best in their Vase campaign and, indeed, for their title ambition.

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Manchopper in….Irlam

Irlam_F_C__logoSelby_Town_FC_logo

Result: Irlam 1-0 Selby Town (FA Vase 1st Qualifying Round)

Venue: Silver Street (Saturday 10th September 2016, 3pm)

Att: 75

The FA Vase quest got underway on this fine Saturday for the vast majority of teams up and down the nation. For me, the venue was to be one of the more local clubs to my HQ, yet one that had eluded these pages up until this point. However, as Irlam were to take on Selby Town, whom I had a good day out watching during the mid-part of last season. So, with decision made early on and with little in terms of planning required, I looked forward to one of the easier trips, if not the easiest, of this season.

With the trip being so local, it meant that I had time to watch the first half of the Manchester Derby at home before heading over to catch the train to Irlam. A short 10 minute ride later and I found my way heading down the lengthy access road from the station to the main road heading through the town. Having already blogged the majority of the centre pubs of Irlam during my Irlam Steel FC blog, I decided, therefore, to embark on the 1.5 mile walk towards Silver Street and stop off at the only pub near the ground, according to my Maps sources, the Tiger Moth.

Arriving in Irlam

Station museum/café-bar

Heading to Irlam

Heading to Irlam

Tiger Moth

Tiger Moth

The Tiger Moth sits just round the corner from Irlam’s ground, around a 5-minute walk away, so is very convenient as a stopping off point. Unsurprisingly its location within a housing estate, means the Tiger Moth is a decent rough and tough boozer. With it being Derby Day, the pub’s punters were split into two rooms, one full of the blue persuasion and the other the red. I picked the correct one, though the set-up was still unbeknownst to me at the time and spent the last 10 minutes of the game along with a £2.50 Bud.

If I’d had spent long enough in there, my stamp card would have meant a free drink eventually. I did decide to bail out before the end, just in case of shenanigans and headed over to Silver Street ahead of the bigger game of the day. Unbelievably, there was little sign of an FA competition being in town, which is always a shame, especially considering the club had attracted 200+ on the previous Friday evening. Of course, the derby would have had a large effect on this, but it’s always a shame when the majority of locals can’t spare a bit longer for their real local team.

Irlam FC

Irlam FC

Turnstile

Turnstile

Anyway, high and mighty statement out of the way, I arrived at Silver Street with around a half-hour to kick-off. Arriving this early also meant I was able to grab one of the small amount of programmes, situated on the opposite side of the turnstile from the guy collecting the entrance fee. A little thing I always like about Irlam is the fact that, upon handing over your money, you are always thanked for your support. It’s the small things!

I headed straight for the clubhouse and having not eaten yet prior to arrival, I figured this would be a good place to start. Indeed there were pasties & sausage rolls on offer, and I plumped for a sausage roll for £1 and not the 70p which was advertised. This would have been more of a fitting price too, as there really was nothing to it and it was finished off within a minute. I did, however, meet Selby’s twitter-meister Elliot again in here, though the lack of beer on draught wasn’t much to his liking. There was some on offer, though in cans or bottles (I can’t remember which) and this sufficed as we headed out into the sun-bathed ground.

Clubhouse

Clubhouse

Silver Street is a simple ground, and its construction is a bit on the strange side. This being because the two stands and facilities are all located in one corner of the stadium. The “Main” Stand is a combination of seating and standing, with the small covered terrace situated nearer the clubhouse & changing rooms/tunnel. The seating area runs towards half-way and is flanked by a small amount of open terracing behind the dugouts. Behind the goal is a larger covered standing area, with the far touch-line and behind the far goal being open hard standing. As for Irlam’s story….

History Lesson:

Irlam FC was formed in 1969 under the name of Mitchell Shackleton FC, as a works team of engineering firm Mitchell, Shackleton and Company. This club is not connected to the former NPL & Counties side Irlam Town (folded 1995). Mitchells originally competed in the Eccles & District Amateur League in 1970, financed as part of the larger Mitchell Shackleton sports club, but upon the social club’s closure, the football side became a self-financed entity by the time they entered the Manchester League.

The club won Division 3 in 1974 and Division 2 the following year as they swiftly advanced through the ranks of the Manchester Amateur League. Following a league restructure, the club were placed in the interestingly named “Industrial ‘B’ Division”, in which they were runners-up in 1980. 1984 saw the club finish as Industrial Division ‘A’ runners-up, but did win the league’s Gosling Cup. After finishing as runners-up again in 1986, the club moved into the Manchester League for 1989-’90.

After gaining promotion from Division 1 to the Premier Division at the second attempt, the Mitchells remained in the Premier Division until their eventual switch into the North West Counties League in 2008, over a spell of 17 years, only flirting with relegation on three occasions (’94, ’98, ’06), the latter the final year under the club’s then moniker Irlam Mitchell Shackleton, which the side had been known as since 2001. The club was even stripped of the 2003 title due to player issues.

2004 saw the club lift the Manchester Challenge Trophy and after changing their name to their current title in 2006 and an 8th placed finish in 2007-’08, the club made the switch into the pyramid system. A respectable 8th placed finish was attained and from then on, Irlam continued to consolidate their position in the Division 1. Last season saw Irlam achieve promotion as runners-up, coming ever closer to their (sort of) predecessors high point.

Handshakes

Handshakes

Terracing

Terracing

The highlight of the game came before the start as the Selby Town players were making their way off the pitch and one player decided this was the time to unleash his fine pre-match speech “Don’t start f*****g slow, Don’t start f*****g…..” before realising there was no word he’d readied, so after an awkward silence came up with “sh*t!” After seeing me finding this highly amusing, he shrugged and admitted something along the lines of  “I had to say something, otherwise it was going to be slow again!”

With that out of the way, the players returned to the field ready to do battle. Unfortunately, the battle was more of a skirmish and never really got going throughout the 90 minutes. Selby edged the first half on the whole, getting the best of the early changes, none more so when a ball across the area looked destined to be knocked over the line from a few yards, only for the forward to make no contact with the ball whatsoever and the chance was gone.

It continued to look as though the lower ranked side from Yorkshire would be taking the lead, as they forced the home keeper into a pair of good saves, but Irlam’s first real chance, in the 35th minute, showed what can happen when you have an uber-confident striker, Christian Lawlor pouncing upon a loose ball in the area to knock home from around eight yards, much to the chagrin of the Selby defence, who felt that the final through-ball meant Lawlor was in an offside position. The officials didn’t agree and the goal stood. 1-0.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

As I was heading around the ground, I bumped into former West Didsbury & Chorlton boss and all-round footballing legend, Andy Nelson, who was watching the game in an “unofficial” capacity today. This was a good thing for the visitors as if geographical laws fell apart to allow this fixture to be a North West Counties league game, then the cursing between the ranks of the Robins, in particular a couple of players, would have seen them landed in some hot water! As you can probably tell, the fact these things are notable enough to go in the blog shows how little action went on in the game, as the half came to an end with the score remaining 1-0.

The second half was even more uneventful than the first, though this period saw the home side marginally on top, forcing the Robins’ stopper into a couple of decent stops early on. But as was the story of the game, chances were at a premium and little happened for Selby’s webmaster Elliot to keep everyone abreast of on the many media outlets. Selby did have more luck as the game progressed into the latter stages, with Irlam looking to see out the match.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Visitors Represent!

Visitors Represent!

Despite this, they couldn’t fashion any true opportunities and Irlam had a couple of chances to seal the victory in stoppage time, but on both occasions Selby’s impressive ‘keeper Dave Bramley kept them at bay to keep his side in with a slim chance, but it mattered not as Irlam kept their clean sheet intact to ensure their place in the next round, despite the worst excuse for a “fight” on the pitch as one of the home players ran off with the ball, forcing two Selby players to chase him and scrap. Horrible scenes.

Anyway, upon the final whistle, I bid goodbye to Elliot and apologized for my repeated bringing of bad luck on his side (two losses, out of two) and headed off back towards Irlam for the train back. Luckily, the day ended in much easier fashion as Andy pulled up and offered a lift back home, which I gladly accepted. Cheers Andy!

Closing Thoughts: So ends the first step of the Vase venture this season. Next stop sees a return to the Cup trail next week. As for this game, as I said earlier, Irlam is a good club and one that I always like to see have success, I think because I’ve known of their existence for a while, having passed their ground numerous times on the motorway prior to finally visiting for the first time a few years ago. Selby, of course, are a club I like too, having had one of my better all round trips, especially with it being on the fly somewhat. Hopefully, though, the next games will be more action packed…

R.I.P. Dan Wilkinson.

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RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 6

Programme: 5

Food: 3

Value For Money: 8

 

Manchopper in….Winsford

Winsford_United_CrestBarnton_FC_Logo

Result: Winsford United 2-2 Barnton (North West Counties League Premier Division)

Venue: Barton Stadium (Monday 29th August 2016, 3pm)

Att: 230

Bank Holidays are, of course, a hot bed of football. Therefore, it was quite surprising that the fixture list was pretty vacant around the North West Non-League scene. However, one game that stood out from the “crowd” of the North West Counties fixtures, namely the Cheshire derby between Winsford United and Barnton. It would be a fourth visit to the Barton Stadium for myself, having been twice while watching Trafford in addition to an 1874 Northwich game a couple of years ago.

After a train journey through Liverpool South Parkway, I arrived into Winsford around an hour earlier than expected, due to the surprising efficiency of the train services! After almost knocking a cyclist off a bike while avoiding glass on a footpath (who’s at fault in that circumstance?), I arrived outside the, still deserted, Barton Stadium while heading to the main road. Unfortunately, the neighbouring pub was shut, so I set off down the fairly steep hill to the canal-side Red Lion.

Floodlights

Floodlights

Red Lion

Red Lion

Canal side

Canal side

After eventually settling on a pretty pricey pint of Rothaus at around £4.80, I headed out onto the outside seating area to bask in the, rarely sighted, Bank Holiday sunshine. It was here that my plans changed and I decided I couldn’t really be bothered moving on to any more pubs and thus decided to remain where I was for the better part of my two hours pre-match. There wasn’t really much to speak of in here, other than it is a pretty pleasant place, so let’s move the clock onwards toward 3pm shall we?

After heading back up the incline, I arrived back at the Barton Stadium turnstiles, which had a few people still heading through. One of these was a Barnton committee man, who turned down the chance to pay for me when given the chance by the operator. Boo. So, I was left to fend for myself and £6 (plus £2 programme) later and I was into the Barton for the fourth time.

Top of the hill

Top of the hill

Turnstiles

Turnstiles

Beginning to fill up

Beginning to fill up

The Barton Stadium is one of those grounds that I like due to its sort of traditional/different clash. The stands are of the old-style appearance, with the Main Stand being all-seater and being perched around the half-way mark. It also houses the bar, shop (railings) and café. The opposite covered terrace area runs the majority of the length of the pitch, though will challenge tall(er) people with its small roof, though warnings are given! Both ends of the ground are set back a distance, due to the ground being a former greyhound racing venue, though the track & its floodlights are now gone.

Does the history of the club feature a lot of…Wins? Get it? Wins as in Winsford? Oh, I’m wasted… Anyway, here’s the history of Winsford United:

History Lesson:

Winsford United FC was formed in 1883, first playing as Over Wanderers and competing in the Welsh Combination Football League. After a few years, the club changed its name to the current title and moved to its current location, then the Great Western Playing Fields. Their early honours came in the form of 2x Cheshire Amateur Cups (1901 & ’03).

After producing a few players to Football League clubs, Winsford United folded, but reformed fairly swiftly in 1913, though the reformation was short lived due to the outbreak of WWI. After the war’s end the club, under Mr R.G. Barton (from whom the current stadium’s name is derived), became a founder of the Cheshire League, winning the 1920-’21 title.

WUFC

WUFC

After a period of little success leading up to WWII, the period afterwards saw Winsford pick up regular silverware, with crowds in Non-League regularly numbering in the thousands. Televised football is bad. The regular silverware was picked up in the form of the Cheshire League Cup, which was won on four occasions up to the 1960’s (’50, ’56, ’60), the 1958 -’59 Cheshire Senior Cup (vs Ellesmere Port Town in front of 12,000 at Gresty Road) & Winsford became the 1960-’61 Inter-League Champions.

The 1970’s-early ’80’s saw further success on the pitch, with a second Cheshire League title arriving in 1977. In addition, a further four Cheshire League Cups were won (’77, ’79, ’80 & ’81 ), along with a second Cheshire Senior Cup (1980). 1982 saw Winsford become founder members of the North West Counties League before, in 1987, they joined the Northern Premier League’s new Division One, following a 7th place finish.

Mind Your Head

Mind Your Head

Success in the later 1980’s eluded the club, though, but the 1990’s proved a happier hunting ground, with more trophies featuring in the cabinet, namely three Mid-Cheshire Senior Cups (’92, ’93, ’95), a third Cheshire Senior Cup in ’93 too. 1993 proved particularly successful, with the two aforementioned Cheshire Cups being joined by the NPL Challenge Cup and President’s Cup. Their 2nd place also meant promotion to the NPL Premier was attained.

Their first season was successful, with Winsford finishing as runners-up but, from then on, it was more of a struggle and they were eventually relegated after finishing bottom in 2000. Their drop continued as they were immediately relegated from Division One and after just two years back in the NWCFL Division One, they found themselves back in Division 2 for Season ’03-’04. The decline was arrested here and Winsford went on to win back promotion, as Champions, in 2007.

Despite fluctuating league form over the last few seasons, the club have continued to have recent success in the Mid-Cheshire Senior Cup, winning it in 2008, 2013 & 2014 along with the 2011 NWCFL Challenge Cup. Last season, the Blues recorded a 14th placed finish.

Handshakes

Handshakes

Underway

Underway

Retail

Retail

The game got underway after a minutes silence for a long-term Winsford fan, though a couple of guys decided their conversations were more important. I’m pretty sure they were of the Blues persuasion too which was strange and also a bit of a shame and I wasn’t the only one of this thought, as a few shushes were given out.

Anyway, the game itself but was something of a slow burner through its early stages, with both sides testing each others flanks, finding some joy but not coming too close to the target. The first real chance of the game fell to Barnton and their, only recently, former Winsford player Jon Jones, but he was denied by a good save from the advancing Michael Langley.

Jones again spurned a great chance soon after as the visitors put the pressure on the hosts, but the Blues grew into the game as the half wore on and came agonisingly close to opening the scoring when Winsford skipper James Rothwell collected a poor clearance by Barnton ‘keeper Matt Conkie, but his chip from range smashed against the crossbar, much to the disapproval of his own #1!

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Open Terrace

Open Terrace

Eventually a goal did arrive, with the opener coming around five minutes before the break. I had just exited the café with my portion of chips (£1.50 and decent too) to see Barnton forming up to attack a free-kick. I thought to myself “It would be a good end to the half if this ends in a goal”. Needless to say, my Nostradamus-esque thoughts came true and the free-kick ended up within Chris Smith’s vicinity and he knocked the ball over the line to give his side the lead at the interval. 0-1.

Following a quick visit into the clubhouse for no other reason than wanting to go back in there during a Winsford game for the first time in around four years, the game was soon back underway and with the sun now blazing down with a fair amount of heat, I decided to sit in the stand and enjoy what will soon be gone, replaced with snow and minus temperatures. Don’t you just love it?

Clubhouse

Clubhouse

View From Inside

View From Inside

Home custodian Langley was again the busier of the two ‘keepers during the early stages of a half, denying two good chances as Barnton sought to secure their lead. He was, eventually, beaten for a second time, as Lee Vaughan found himself clear of the defence and he slotted beyond Langley and into the bottom corner. At this point and 2-0 down, it looked like curtains for Winsford.

But, just as it seemed all over, Winsford began to get a focus on the game again, with the half mirroring what had gone before somewhat. This time, though, the Blues would find the net with Steve Jenyons nodding on a free-kick from the left-wing. 1-2 and game on once more!

They did need a little luck to remain in the contest though, as a Barnton forward rattled the crossbar when he probably ought to have netted and a fine goal-line clearance denied a certain goal, but they took full advantage of the misses by going right down the other end and a trip on the marauding runner gave the referee no option but to point to the spot. Kyle Riley stepped up and confidently drove the ball into the bottom corner, sending Conkie the wrong way in the process.

Match Action

Match Action

Jenyons nets

Jenyons nets

Searching for the winner

Searching for the winner

From then on in, it was all Winsford with Barnton, who looked on to take all three points just 20 minutes earlier, now struggling to hold on for one. But, despite chances coming their way, all were spurned and the game ended in a share of the spoils. Having a train leaving at five past five, I was indebted to the referee for keeping good time throughout the contest and giving me just enough time to rock up back at Winsford station and head back to Liverpool(ish) and the train onwards home.

Once again, this journey went pretty faultlessly, though having to stand in a sweatbox wasn’t the most welcoming of happenings. Luckily, this only lasted for one stop as it turned out and it was business as usual on Northern, as the delay racked up nine minutes by the time I got off back at Urmston. Ah Northern, it had to happen didn’t it? Anyway, I was able to join my parents for a trip-ending drink in the Bevano Lounge (which is something of a second home on a fine day…or not it doesn’t really matter) and that was that. So….

Closing Thoughts are that Winsford as a town seems a nice place, despite the fact I only saw a little part of it. The weather was finally good for a Bank Holiday Monday and the game was more than decent to go with it and the result was probably about right on balance. It was also good to see the ex-Eagle contingent at Barnton once more. Now, it’s onwards to the FA Cup, once more, this Saturday….

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RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 7

Programme: 7

Food: 6

Value For Money: 6

 

Manchopper in….Padiham

Padiham_FC_logoteam_northumbria_rgb

Result: Padiham 1-0 Team Northumbria (FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round)

Venue: Arbories Memorial Sports Ground (Saturday 6th August 2016, 3pm)

Att: 141

Football is back!! Yes, I realise I said pretty much that exact same exclamation last month, but it truly is now and what better way to start off the season than with some North West Count…what….FA Cup? Oh that sounds like a fine idea FA *claps slowly with a hint of sarcasm*.

Ok, personal feelings to the season beginning with the FA Cup out of the way (I can’t promise there won’t be more), it’s onto the blog at hand. The two sides who I was going to witness take each other on in their first competitive game of the season, *shakes head in disbelief*, were to be the Storks of Padiham FC and Team Northumbria, a university side from, unsurprisingly, the North East who compete in the Northern League Division 2.

Finally within Padiham's boundaries

Eventual destination

Upon arriving into Rose Grove station, I was then faced with getting my bearings, which always seems more of a challenge to me than it really should be. See my Newcastle Town blog for proof in the pudding of that. Eventually the correct pathway was worked out and set and I was soon on the march for the 2 mile trek over to Padiham. Now I’m sure that while heading towards Lowerhouse CC, I could actually spot the football ground over to the left, slightly raised up. I may be mistaken, but it made it seem a bit closer. ‘Twas nothing but wishful thinking.

After heading past the aforementioned cricket club, who were just getting underway, an abandoned building which looked like a hospital or school perhaps(?) and the Rose Grove FC pitch, which had a juniors game in full flow, I eventually came within sight of Padiham Town. Of course, after a long-ish walk  I was pretty parched so justifiably, I’m sure you’ll agree, I went in search of a drink and came across The Bridge, which became my first port of call.

Padiham

Padiham

The Bridge

The Bridge

The Bridge was pretty quiet as I entered, with canines equalling the amount of human punters within. Still, it seemed a nice, traditional boozer and I figured a Strongbow was a good bet, as I reckoned some of the more exotic bottled options may not go down too well. That and it was sunny and cider always goes together with the bright thing in the sky.

The atmosphere, though, was quite dead and so I quickly downed it and headed onwards towards the uphill section of Padiham, where the ground is based. After passing over the River, complete with shopping trolley decoration and up the incline, I eventually found a small signpost pointing me in the direction of the ground.

My original plan was to go around to the adjoining Padiham CC clubhouse for a final drink before heading for the football. But, it looked a bit of an extra hike (going round the block) that I couldn’t be bothered with, so I made the divert to the Hare & Hounds which sits at the foot of the small access lane that leads to the ground.

On the right path...

On the right path…

...but the calling is strong

…but the calling is strong

The Hare & Hounds is, again, a nice enough drinking place, with a snug, country feel to it, though I’m not much of a fan of the stuffed animals as décor. Never have been, never will be. Anyway, back to the beer and I plumped for a Czech Lager that I didn’t find out the name of, but only went for a half, just to be sure it was ok. Yes, a bit of a wimp-out, but there you go.

As it turned out, it was pretty decent, but the animals were putting me off with their staring eyes and so I quickly made a retreat to the outside and up to the turnstiles, which sit on the side of the….cricket field. Not too difficult to get to after all, but I headed straight for the bar in the club, £7 lighter after entrance & programme.

The Arbories is a good ground, featuring five stands. The “Main” Stand is the only area of seating in the ground and sits alongside the clubhouse, situated on the half-way line. Neighbouring it, towards the far end, is a covered standing area, of which there are a further two, almost conjoined, to the far side and the cricket ground/entrance end. The far side also features a mound, now partly obscured by the seemingly newer covered area, whose rule of “Standing on the Mound is Strictly Forbidden” was being strictly enforced today. It was. The other stand is a very small covered standing area, to the left of the clubhouse, again behind the cricket ground end goal.

Approaching the ground

Approaching the ground

Decent combination

Decent combination

With the ground still empty with a good 45 minutes to kick-off, I headed to the clubhouse at the Arbories to beat the queues and a Peroni would prove a fine sidekick for the next three-quarters of an hour. Not too long after taking a seat, I was joined by fellow hopper Sam who’d decided to join myself in taking in this game after being in the area on quizzing duties. After a catch-up on all things football and more, it was time to head outside for the true beginning of the season. But prior to the big kick-off, here’s a bit of background to Padiham FC….

History Lesson:

The original Padiham FC was formed in 1878, becoming one of the earliest created clubs in Lancashire, attracting around 9,000 fans to their original Calder-side home at times during the late 19th century. During the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Padiham were playing intermittently in the Lancashire Combination. Despite this, the club were one of the first to support the legalisation of professional football, though this came back to bite Padiham as they failed to follow in the footsteps of the likes of their neighbours and ultimately folded in 1916.

1949 saw Padiham resurrected and the new club called the Arbories Memorial Sports Ground its home. Their opening Lancashire Combination fixture drew over 1,500 fans. Despite a long stay in the league, honours eluded Padiham for the most part, with only a promotion in 1961 to show for their efforts, before a drop the next season preceded them dropping out of the Combination in 1968.

After joining the West Lancashire League, their first honour here arrived in the shape of the 1971-’72 Division 2 title. Following an apparent relegation, they won the honour for a second time in 1977 and re-joined the Lancashire Combination for another spell. This stint lasted for a further four seasons, until 1982 saw the club become founder members of the North West Counties League, with the Lancs Combination being amalgamated with the Cheshire County League, though the Storks only remained in the league until the turn of the decade.

Today's Game

Today’s Game

Honours

Honours

After a 10-year hiatus, which featured a West Lancashire League Division 1 title (1998), they returned in the millennium year following major ground upgrades and went on to be promoted from the lower division of the NWCFL in 2009, before achieving promotion from the Premier Division to the NPL four years later. For what it’s worth, the club also won the 2010-’11 NHS Bird Cup.

After being promoted for the 2013-’14 season, Padiham performed pretty well, securing their status for a second campaign with a place finish, but were relegated back to the North West Counties at the culmination of their second season at Step 4. They finished last season in a solid mid-table spot: eleventh.

The game got underway with both sides trading early blows, but nothing too serious as to leave a mark on their opponent. Both sides were mostly limited to shots from range, though Padiham did have a penalty shout turned down mid-way through the first half. It looked a decent shout, but we were down the far end so didn’t exactly have the best of views.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Holding it up

Holding it up

As it was, the game continued on goal-less, but still a good game to watch, with both sides unabated in their attacking intent. But, neither side really had a cutting edge where it mattered and so the sides went in at the break still all-square and with it all to play for in the second 45. As for Sam and I, we’d completed our standard ‘lap’ and the food bar called to us, with Sam having mentioned he’d heard good things about the pies here, so he was a little disappointed at Hollands & the meat and potato filling, being a cheese & onion man. No such issues for myself, mind you, as I hate the latter concoction.

With the food finished up and with a home substitute in front of us being employed on dog care duties, we made our way back towards the far end and the covered terrace we’d inhabited during the earlier stages of the tie. This was to prove a good decision.

Just five minutes into the second half, Alex Murphy picked up the ball 35-yards from goal. With his back to the target initially, there looked little danger, but Murphy turned on a penny before unleashing a glorious strike into the top-left corner, with Team Northumbria’s custodian Steve Mundy left rooted to the spot. Brilliant. I stated “If that’s the only goal today, it’s worth the entrance fee alone!” Sam was, unsurprisingly, in agreement.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

From there, Padiham looked to see out the game, but the Northumbrian side came at them and really pushed to get themselves back into it. Despite their pressure, they only really forced Michael Donlan in the Padiham goal into one real save, a low stop to his right, but with 10 minutes left on the clock, the visitors were awarded a soft-looking penalty, following a trip in the box. There seemed to be little in the way of protests, though, so maybe there was more contact then it looked initially.

As it was, the spot-kick was well saved by Donlan and any possible controversy was averted. Team Northumbria kept throwing players forward late on, having another penalty shout waved away and winning a few late corners. The ‘keeper was thrown up right at the death, but he couldn’t force anything to save his side and so Padiham progress through to the Preliminary Round and applauded the fans on their way from the field. A nice touch.

Donlan with the heroics!

Donlan with the heroics! Just in sight.

Fans squaring up

Fans squaring up

After the game, there was a slight rush on, but nothing too mad, to ensure making the train back. As such, I bid goodbye to Sam and headed off back downhill to the station. Eventually, I rocked up with around five minutes to go. Perfect timing. Well, it would have been, if this train actually went the correct route I required. So, it was off to find respite for the next 40 minutes or so. Faced with a short walk back up the road to the carvery-style pub on the main road, I began to head for there, only to spy a fading pub sign down a side road opposite the station. Hoping amongst hope it was open, I made a beeline for it and, thankfully, the open door signalled good news and The Junction came to the rescue.

A good sign...

A good sign…

Final stop

Final stop: The Junction

The Junction was another old-style pub, with only a handful of people in and with a pint of Carlsberg purchased, I settled in while watching the Olympics coverage amongst some…different observations from the two guys at the bar. Eventually, though, it was time to head out and back to the platform ready for the train I’d ensured, this time, was the correct one. Indeed, it was and after a couple of drunken lads in the carriage settled down a bit (one fell asleep & one disappeared somewhere around Todmorden), it was a fairly bog standard journey back to Manchester Victoria.

On arrival, the rush over to Deansgate was on. 15 minutes I had from train to train and I was going to have to put in some effort. I could have waited for an hour and had another drink, but being on more of a budget this year and having had a few already over the previous day, I wasn’t too up for it. So a sprint down the majority of Deansgate ensued, being egged on by the doorman at The Deansgate pub, who shouted “Go on me mukka!” as I rushed past, eventually making it with seconds to spare. I apologize profusely to all around me on that short journey for my sweaty self.

Closing Thoughts are that Padiham seems a nice enough place, the ground was even better. The views down onto the town and into the hills from the far side added to the ground’s appeal and it’s certainly up there with the better ones I’ve visited of late. Big tick for the Arbories.

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RATINGS:

Game: 6- Very watchable game, few chances and brilliant goal. Good pen save too.

Ground: 8- See above. Nice ground, good facilities.

Food: 6- Standard pie, gravy ok with it, but nothing to complain about.

Programme: 7- Decent amount of articles in it, good info etc. Well worth a purchase.

Value For Money: 7- £7 in, £3-ish on food/programme. Not too bad, even with “Extras” & travel costs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manchopper in….Widnes

Widnes_Football_Club_logoWarrington Town

Result: Widnes 2-1 Warrington Town (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Halton Stadium (Tuesday 26th July 2016, 7.30pm)

Att: 233

My first midweek game of this 2016-’17 season saw me head towards Merseyside and to one of the easier grounds for myself to get to that I’d not yet visited. This very arena was the Halton Stadium in Widnes, the home of the town’s rugby side, the Vikings, alongside their ground sharing partner and stars of this very blog, Widnes FC. Widnes did use the Vikings suffix during their first season as a North West Counties side, but dropped it with the intention on being more of a separate entity (if I remember correctly).

After the short 35 minute train ride through Warrington and the surrounding areas, I was soon setting foot in Widnes for the first time and immediately set my sights upon visiting the town’s Wetherspoon’s, which sits in the town centre and about 15 minutes from the ground. I figured I’d take a slight detour through Victoria Park on the way, just to escape the usual concrete jungle routes which are so often traipsed down en route to games all over.

Victoria Park

Victoria Park

Victoria Park looking summery

Victoria Park looking summery

Waypoints

Waypoints

After passing by a Butterfly House, which was somewhat unexpected, I found myself heading into the town’s shopping hub. With the time approaching half-six, the place was akin to a ghost town, with all the shutters down and only a few stragglers dotting around the pathways. It was a little unnerving to walk through, for some reason, though I imagine it’s quite a pleasant place when it’s really buzzing. Alas, tonight was not that time and I was happy to escape to the sanctuary of ‘Spoons.

The Premier is a former picture house and it’s differing look is striking compared to its neighbouring structures. Inside, the place is quite comfortable to stay in for a while but with kick-off looming ever closer, the ever dependable Punk IPA was finished up and I made for the Halton Stadium, where I was due to meet with fellow groundhopper (and reluctant blogger) Paul.

The Premier

The Premier

Widnes

Widnes

Arriving at the ground

Arriving at the ground

However, upon making our respective ways towards the ASDA, we ended up crossing paths there and then and after a further pit stop to the green-clad supermarket, we both headed for the ground with only a matter of minutes remaining before the local derby friendly between the Vikings and the newly promoted Warrington Town. After getting slightly stuck around the perimeter fencing off the stadium, we eventually navigated our way to the car park and the turnstile, which was hidden away from view. £1 later and the Halton became ground #186.

The Halton Stadium is a very stereotypical all-seater ground, with there being very little to differentiate three of the stands from inside of the ground, other than the wording displayed within the seats of them. The East Stand, behind the goal, is slightly smaller than the others but does house the Widnes rugby museum. The stadium, though being a fairly recent development, stands on the same site as the original ground (from 1895) on Lowerhouse Lane and currently features an artificial surface. As for Widnes FC….

History Lesson:

Widnes FC was formed in 2003 under the name of The Dragons A.F.C. They later added the Widnes prefix to the name to become Widnes Dragons and competed in the West Cheshire League. The club moved into the Halton Stadium in 2012 and became the Widnes Vikings FC as part of the Vikings brand, though this only lasted for 2 years until the club decided to move away from the brand to become a more separate identity under the current name.

Widnes Vikings

Widnes Vikings

By this time, the club was competing within the North West Counties Division 1, which Widnes joined in 2013 and have been consistently in the lower half of the table during their tenure so far, though they did register their best finish, 13th, last campaign.

Not too soon after we’d taken our seats alongside the vacant posh seats, we were underway with Widnes being surprisingly dominant over their higher placed opponents. Widnes were playing some good stuff and it was little surprise to anyone, not even the vocal Wire fans, that they took the lead after just five minutes, Kevin Towey firing confidently home from the spot following a trip on in the area.

Just ten minutes later and Widnes were two up, this time the rapid Darrhyl Mason, who’d won the earlier penalty, running at the defence and finishing well into the far corner of Karl Wills’ net. The Warrington defence were strugging to cope with Mason’s pace and direct play and he almost had his second before the break, only to see his effort bounce back off the post with Wills beaten.

Towey fires home

Towey fires home

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Warrington did finish the half on the front foot as they began to get to grips with the pitch, but they couldn’t find a way to breach the Widnes defence before the break and thus the half-time score read 2-0. Half-time saw a couple of the kids teams from the club put on a good show. Eventually, we were underway again for the second period and Warrington had the ball in the net almost immediately, but Ben Deegan was ruled offside.

Just before the hour, Warrington did have the ball in the net again and this time it was above board. A good move approaching the box saw the ball fed to the impressive Lewis Codling and he placed the ball wide of ex-Wire ‘keeper Richie Mottram and into the bottom corner. This prompted Town to dominate the remainder of the game, with the Wire fans pulling out the Icelandic clap (which I maintain shouldn’t be seen anywhere outside Iceland) but despite this and James Dean hitting the woodwork, they couldn’t level and Widnes saw the game out to secure a good-looking victory.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

On the way out

Quizzical looks…

With the game finished up, Paul and I headed back off towards Widnes station, famed for allegedly being the inspiration behind Paul Simon’s Homeward Bound of course (though it should probably not be as celebrated if Simon’s quote is to be believed). Paul’s penchant for the PokémonGO craze was a large feature of the walk as he proceeded to catch a few on the streets of Widnes as we approached the The Crown. With my train a further 50 minutes away, we went our separate ways with Paul heading for his train along with some loud Warrington fans, and me for a Heineken in the aforementioned pub.

That was pretty much that then, and it was good to finally tick off Widnes’ home which had become one of those which keeps being put off time and again. Next Saturday is still up in the air, as my plan was probably to head to nearby Halebank and to another Widnes game (now cancelled), so fixture lists are again open….

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