Manchopper in….Cheadle

Result: Cheadle Town 7-1 Hartlepool (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Park Road (Saturday 14th July 2018, 2pm)

Att: 28 (hc)

After a week’s hiatus from the silliness of these pages whilst England continued their run through to the semi-finals of the World Cup via victory over Sweden, it was back on the road once again with a return to Cheadle Town’s Park Road. It would be my third visit to Town’s home but this one was a little more attractive of a proposition. With a North-East side providing the opposition, a tour of the town in the offing and the sun shining (which was certainly a little different than my last visit here!), all was set fair for another good trip to begin the new season with.

After heading into Manchester during the late morning, my intentions to sort out tickets for the first few weeks of the season “proper” were spurned by large queues within the ticket office, so it was off to the platform for a slightly earlier train over to Gatley station instead, Gatley being easily the closest stop to reach the ground by if travelling by rail. With the short journey taking just around fifteen minutes, I was soon somehow managing to get lost despite, as I said earlier, having visited twice before. Things never change, do they?!

Eventually found it!

White Hart, with wedding next door

After going the right way, then the wrong way, then the right way again, I eventually found myself at the foot of Cheadle ‘village’, with the bells of the 16th century (Henry VIII) Tudor-era church ringing out over it as a bride and groom entered, having struck lucky considering the weather! As for me, I was bound for next door, which just happened to be, by pure chance of course, a pub by the name of the White Hart. Who’d have thought it? The Robbie’s filled pub had a decent range of ales on and I opted to sample the local brewery’s finely (yet also quite poorly punned) named Obi-Hops Kenobi. No, me neither.

On Cheadle itself, the area can trace its roots way back to pre-historic times, with tools and evidence of occupation dating back to the Iron Age Celts, who occupied Britain at the time. Later, Cheadle also saw itself become home to the Brigantes (a large Northern English tribe centred largely in Yorkshire) before the Roman colonised the area within the first millennium. This period also saw the area begin to gain the basis for its current name, when St. Chad visited in the seventh century to preach to the people of the area. A stone cross dedicated to him was unearthed close to the nearby meeting of the Mickerbrook and River Mersey in the 19th century, with the area becoming known as Chedle, a corruption of Chad Hill.

Prior to this, the area was noted in the Domesday book as “Cedde” (from the Celtic for wood) and was held by the Saxons who would become the de Chedle family. The area was later split into two, with Chedle Bulkeley (now Cheadle) to the North and Chedle Holme (now Cheadle Hulme) to the South. The town later played host to the armies of the Scot “Bonnie” Prince Charlie, as his forces marched through the area upon his uprising before becoming growing largely in becoming an important Industrial Revolution stopping point for travellers heading into Manchester. However, the ‘village’ did lose its own train station in 1964, when the Cheshire Lines Committee station was closed (now a pub which you can see a little later on) with another having been closed earlier in the twentieth century, having previously stood near the still-standing railway bridge within the village centre.

Cheadle

Not sure who this guy is! He’s pretty wooden though…

I spent a fair amount of time in here whilst trying to come up with something of a plan of action with regards to which pubs to visit when, before continuing on just across the way to the surprisingly spacious Crown Hotel. I say surprising as you’d never think it was anywhere near as big inside as it appears from the narrow exterior. It’s not huge by any means, but certainly wasn’t cramped with space freely available with only a handful of punters in at this early part of the afternoon. A pint of Amstel (£3.50) kept me company in here whilst watching a bit of the cricket, where another wedding was entering its first stages. Aw, it must have been in the air!

After a stop off in the café-bar Lounges chain by the name of Brezo Lounge for a pint of their session Goose IPA (of which I’d already braced myself for the £4.85 price tag) where the staff were really friendly, so props to them, I continued the zig-zag nature of the crawl down the main road through the village, popping into the James Watts which, surprisingly considering the name, wasn’t a Wetherspoons. Instead, it was something of a crafty bar with a good range of ales and the like on, though with time beginning to go against me, I played safe with a Thatcher’s Haze and headed up onto the rooftop terrace out back to take advantage of the sun. A good spot to see some of the arrivals into Manchester Airport too and no I’m still not sad, ok?!

Crown Inn

Brezo Lounge

James Watts

From there, it was off to Park Road where I was to meet regular blog appearance maker, Dan, making his season’s debut. Speaking of Dan, he even had the experience of seeing a pure doppelgänger at Alty the following midweek too which may already be giving an indication that another strange season is on the way! Anyway, without wishing to get sidetracked, we met up at the turnstiles and handed over our £5 entrance fee as Dan finally got the Park Road “local ground monkey” off his back. No Hartlepool pun intended.

With kick-off already imminent as the clock struck 2pm, we headed up into the fairly unique stand the ground plays host to, which is also the only covered area. The remainder of the ground is open, hard standing only, with a small 3G pitch to the far side of the stand and the clubhouse/food bar and other club buildings standing in the gap between it and the turnstiles. The changing rooms are located within the stand with the players entering from underneath, on the half-way line. Interestingly, the ground has previously played host to the Portuguese national side during the 1966 World Cup and also hosted a ‘soccer school’ run by the Brazilian legend, Jairzinho. Anyway, that’s Park Road in a nutshell and this is the history of Cheadle Town FC….

History Lesson:

Cheadle Town Football Club was founded in 1961 under the name of Grasmere Rovers, their formation can apparently be traced to a 14-year-old asking a neighbour to help him and his friends form a side. Crazy. Anyway, this all came to fruition and the club took their original name after the street they lived on. They originally competed in the Sunday afternoon Manchester Junior Football League (on account of the lads’ ages, of course) which they won in 1968 prior to moving into Saturday football and the Manchester League in 1972 and winning the Manchester and District Cup in season 1972-’73. The club had moved from their original home in Belle Vue to Glossop North End’s Surrey Street ground and were growing ever stronger, becoming a force in the Manchester League which eventually saw them lift a quadruple of the Manchester League Division One, the league’s Gilgryst Cup, the Manchester County Amateur Cup and the Derbyshire Junior Cup all in season 1979-’80.

Today’s game!

After finishing runners-up in each of the following two seasons in the Manc League’s Division One, Grasmere Rovers moved to Park Road for the 1982-’83 season and, rather interestingly, the club played Al Sadd in their first ever game at their current home, with the Qatari side running out 4-1 winners. The end of that season would also see the end of Grasmere Rovers, as they became Cheadle Town F.C and joined the North West Counties League for the 1983-’84 season, taking a spot in Division 3. 1987 saw this division absorbed into the Division 2, with Cheadle going on to spend much of their existence since within that division, the highlights of their first stint before promotion being runners-up finishes in the 1990-’91 Lamot Pils Trophy and the 1995-’96 NWCFL Division One Trophy.

Upon the 1998 promotion to Division One after a 4th placed finish, Cheadle went on to spend three years in the top division before being relegated back to the Division 2 again in 2001, after finishing bottom. Since then, the club have failed to escape the Counties’ second-tier, though are now a Division One mainstay since the “Premier Division” rebranding in 2008. They are still to win further silverware since their golden 1979-’80 season, with a final appearance in the NWCFL Division One Trophy for a second time in 2010 again ending in disappointment. The reserves have lifted the Stockport DFA Cup since then though (when they also finished runners-up in this competition), winning it in 2013 and 2017. Last season, Cheadle Town finished up in 12th in the Division One, prior to its regionalisation split for this coming season.

CTFC

On a side note, Cheadle Town are a well-known touring side when venturing abroad. Under the name of AFC Manchester, they have travelled over 200,000 miles whilst competing in 96 games covering 30 countries. They have played seven national sides, became the first (and, apparently, to date only) English side to play in and against Cuba in 1975 whilst having also graced the turf of the legendary Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. They also own the infamous honour of being defeated 0-22 by a touring Russia u-19 side as the Russian youngsters warmed up for a game against their Northern Irish counterparts at the Mottram Hall Hotel where, incidentally, I watched Cheadle entertain Dinamo Bucharest a few years back now too.

We were soon underway and it was soon apparent that Cheadle were going to be on top. They quickly stormed into a two goal lead, the first arriving courtesy of Luke Hincks who met a Chris Sherrington cross to head past the Hartlepool GK Elliot Coils. The second came via the boot of that famed journeyman A. Trialist (later found to be Rhys Webb), who finished nicely, tucking the ball away in the corner. A strong start by the North West Counties South outfit against their Wearside League opponents.

View from the stand

Guinness & football. Not a bad combo!

Smart clubhouse

Hartlepool did grow into the half as it went on and grabbed a goal back after around half an hour when striker Jamie Tumilty – last season’s Wearside League top scorer don’cha know – took a good touch, turned and swept the ball into the corner from twenty yards. However, they would soon find themselves two down again before the break when Webb added a third, his shot from the edge of the area finding its way underneath the Coils for 3-1. The ever busy Hartlepool ‘keeper did pull off a good save soon after but, just before the whistle, the fourth Cheadle goal arrived via Luke Cotton before the sides headed in. Meanwhile, I headed off to the BBQ out the front of the clubhouse for a burger. Really good too, so kudos to the chef(s)!

After Dan and I had watched the very early stages of England’s ill-fated 3rd-placed play-off against Belgium in the clubhouse, the teams were back out onto the field and were back playing once again. A few subs had been brought on here and there, but this did little to disrupt Cheadle’s flow and they swiftly added a fifth through the second trialist of the day. Through a bit of digging, I’ve found this may have been Jake Ambrose, but whatever the case may be, it was certainly another member of Mr. and Mrs. Trialist’s extended family.

Match Action

Webb (aka A. Trialist) secures his hat-trick

Late on….

Cheadle’s domination of the game continued unabated as it continued on past the hour mark and they added two more strikes before the end of the game, Webb converted a corner at the near post to secure his hat-trick (though it may have easily been the one before that he scored, I don’t know) before Tom Ratican rounded off the scoring, arriving at the back-post to finish a good ball across goal. So it was seven-one with a good ten to fifteen minutes to go, but that was to be that in terms of goals, though both sides did have late chances to add to the score-line. A very entertaining but, fairly obviously, not close game came to its conclusion with the hosts running out easy winners, but as we all know, it’s not about the result in pre-season….unless you win I guess! Fair play to Hartlepool though, who continued to play against what I assume is still a higher-ranked side, but just couldn’t fashion as many chances.

Post-game, Dan and I re-traced our steps back along Park Road itself, passing by the adjoining cemetery and the park at the end of the road once more prior to heading over the road and into the Red Lion for a bottle of Bud and a pint of San Miguel respectively. We took advantage of the long-term sunshine of the day and took a table out on the decked area to the rear before continuing on back the short distance to the centre of Cheadle and the George and Dragon, a pub that has one of the more impressive pub signs I’ve seen in a while! I’d scouted this out as the best place to watch the remainder of the England game and it definitely seemed to be the case, giving an opportunity of an easy journey back our respective ways afterwards. A round of Moretti and Foster’s came in at around the £6 mark, so not too bad at all to be fair.

Red Lion

George & Dragon w/ great sign.

As England well and truly saw their World Cup campaign come to an end, so did Dan’s first visit to Cheadle Town. He headed back for his bus back home, whilst I continued on up the road back towards East Didsbury station, via a stop off in a bar within an old station house by the name of the Cheshire Line Tavern, the name reflecting the long-gone line the building once served. This visit was slightly delayed, however, as I came across the Ashlea pub just underneath the railway bridge and I reckoned it’d be rude to miss it out. However, the £4 bottle of Corona made me think it may have been for the best after all.

The pub was decent though, so I wasn’t as aggrieved as I might have been, though my stay was a short one as I wanted to get up there in decent time to hopefully still catch the train at just after six. A fifteen minute walk later saw me descending the steps from the road down to the ex-station where I was soon handing over a cool £4.50 for a pint of Heineken (I was less bothered at this as it was at least an interesting place) prior to again taking the opportunity to sit out front on the large patioed area. An extra bonus came along soon after when, having resigned myself to missing the aforementioned train, a check on the lifeline that is Maps revealed that the walk was a fair bit shorter than I thought and so I swiftly finished up before making haste towards Parrs Wood to close off the day with the connections going oh so smoothly. I hope that’s a sign of things to come too!

The Ashlea….

….and the Cheshire Line Tavern to end with.

So there ends the first true game of the new season, and the last home Cheadle game with this badge (they have a shiny, new one with a bull on it and have gone all red). It had been a good one too, with a hatful of goals being seen and a nice day in Cheadle being enjoyed (bar the getting lost for a half-hour bit). All was priced ok I guess – helped out by knowing what to expect, whilst the ground and food were all good too as my last visit to Park Road had been before the upgrades to the clubhouse. They had a caravan instead (which you may have seen in the other blog linked to earlier on). So the pre-season period rolls on into another week, whereupon I’ll be enjoying a large Lancastrian windmill. No, not like that. Honestly…..!!!!

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: 8

Programme: N/A (see other blog for (I assume) a fairly reflective rating)

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Bootle

Result: Bootle 4-1 Padiham (NWCFL Premier Division)

Venue: New Bucks Park (Saturday 23rd December 2017, 3pm)

Att: 121

The penultimate weekend of the year saw me heading for Merseyside and one of the closest grounds I had yet to visit. Indeed, I was off to the midst of an industrial estate between Aintree and Litherland but the ground I was to watch at doesn’t host a team (neither of them) carrying either place name.  Instead New Bucks Park plays host to Bootle F.C. )alongside tenants City of Liverpool F.C.) of the North West Counties League and it was the Bucks I was here to watch.

Having set off at shortly before eleven on a misty morning in the North West, I arrived into Bootle at half-twelve and set about exploring the port side town. Deciding on concentrating on the area around the New Strand shopping centre, my first stop was the Jolly’s Sports Bar around a five-minute walk from the station. The Jolly’s was quiet as I entered, with only two or three other early birds enjoying El Classico whilst waiting for the imminent Everton game. In joining them, I decided on the Dark Fruits first up, allying this with a small bag of chilli nuts for just a tick over £3. Not shabby at all.

Bootle

Jolly’s

Wild Rose

The Jolly’s was ok and welcoming enough, but I soon felt I was a little out of place within the regulars and so I finished up here and headed onwards just around the corner to Bootle’s own Wetherspoon’s outlet, the Wild Rose where someone had left a dog tied outside, much to many punters (and mine) chagrin. The weather wasn’t exactly conducive to a long spell outdoors I might add. Despite this, there was no allowance from the staff to let the poor thing stand just within the doors and in some semblance of warmth which, whilst obviously part and parcel of their rules, definitely lacked some common sense. Anyway, a quick bottle of Erdinger later and I was out of there.

After a quick peruse of the Yates’s next door, being asked for money by a bit of a character and a rejection of another nearby pub, I decided to begin to head nearer towards the station at the far side of town, Walton, where I would grab my train onwards to Aintree. However, I went a bit wrong somewhere and came upon the large Merton Inn pub; I know, I know, what a shame. I had to visit now, obviously, and so another Dark Fruits was had as time was of the essence and I had one last place on my list and one that holds something of a family connection. So a ten minute walk later and I found myself outside the “Blobber”, the Laburnum.

Merton

The Laburnum

Once inside, I did find the toilets out of use, but was allowed the usage of a certain other gender’s facilities instead, on account I was to buy a pint of course! Indeed I did and soon got talking to the landlady and after I’d explained who I was, she confirmed she did remember my Aunty especially, before getting Facebook on and being about to message them as is the way! Anyway, I sadly had little time to stay in here and was soon having to make my way over to Walton, whilst getting lost on the way, of course!

Having found my way back onto the right track (no pun intended) I was soon passing the large prison here and had a short wait for the service a few minutes down the line. With no real-time pressures with regards to ensuring a programme (with blog regular appearance maker Paul having kindly picked one up for me upon his arrival), I had no reasons to rush around to the ground and so having disembarked at Aintree, I headed over the dual carriageway and into the mass of buildings making up the business park. With the ground visible at the end of the road, there was luckily no chance of getting lost in the maze! Upon arrival, I paid my £5 dues for entry at the turnstiles and headed inside before finding Paul within the smart, large clubhouse. With programme stowed away, we headed back outside and onto the decking area to the front of the clubhouse with kick-off due imminently.

Going the right way for once!

Following the crowd!

Arriving at the ground

New Bucks Park is a smart little ground and consists of three stands. Upon entering, you have the food bar to your immediate right and the Dodge Kop behind the near end goal. This covered terrace runs the majority of the width of the pitch. The far side is open, hard standing, though also plays host to a couple of artificial, caged pitches which gave us two apparent grown-ups much fun in trying to hit the five-a-side crossbar during a couple of down-times during the game! Past the clubhouse to your immediate left are some derelict cabins which have definitely seen better days and beyond the far end goal are a couple of small seated stands, though the one nearer the far side also has a small area for those wishing to stand undercover. So, before we get into the game, here’s the story of the Bucks of Bootle F.C….

History Lesson:

The current Bootle Football Club was founded in 1953 as Langton F.C., however the club can trace its history back to the 19th century and the original town club. Formed in 1879/’80, Bootle F.C. played adjacent to the cricket club in the town and won their first silverware in the form of the 1883 Liverpool Senior Cup (also won in ’88 & ’89). However, they lost out to Everton for a place within the Football League upon its creation, as only one side from the area was permitted to join. As such, Bootle instead became a founder member of the Football Alliance in 1889 and this in turn became the Football League’s Second Division in 1892 meaning Bootle would eventually take up a spot within the League’s system. During that initial 1889-’90 season Bootle would finish as Alliance runners-up and reach the FA Cup quarter-finals where they were to eventually lose out to Blackburn Rovers. After the 1892 merger between the Alliance and the Football League, Bootle took up a place in Division 2. However, after finishing 8th that season, the club would be forced to drop out due to financial issues whereupon they were replaced by another local club: Liverpool.

After this initial club had folded, the town was left without a “town” club until 1948 when, upon seeing the local talent within the area, the decision was taken to reform the side. Taking a spot in the Lancashire Combination for the 1948-’49 season and playing at the Bootle Stadium, the club again adopted white colours as to show their neutrality with regards to the city’s red/blue divide. Bert Trautmann was also apparently overlooked for the team as he was German and may not be taken kindly to after the heavy attacks the area was subjected to during the war. Of course, Trautmann would go on to make a career with St. Helen’s Town and, arguably most notably, Manchester City. After winning the Division 2 of the Combination at the first attempt, Bootle would struggle in the top-flight and soon folded during the 1953-’54 season.

Bootle F.C.

That same year had seen the current club form. Playing as Langton, the team were a highly successful Liverpool County Combination side after initially competing within local Bootle leagues. After winning the Liverpool Combination title on nine occasions (1964-’65, ’66, ’68, ’69, ’70, ’71, ’72, & 1973), a Liverpool Challenge Cup in 1965, two Liverpool Amateur Cups (1966 & ’68) and a sole Lancashire Amateur Cup in 1970, Langton changed its name to Bootle in 1973 and won a further Liverpool Combination and Amateur Cup in 1974, their first honours whilst carrying the Bootle name, prior to a switch into the Lancashire Combination.

After a league and cup double in 1976 saw both the Combination and Liverpool Challenge Cup lifted, the Combination was retained the following year as the “new” Bootle started their stay in the league strong. However, they would soon move leagues again, this time joining the Cheshire County League and taking a place in the Second Division. This was won at the close of the club’s first season here, along with a third Liverpool Challenge Cup. After remaining in the First Division through to 1982, the Bucks joined the newly created North West Counties League that year, following the merger of the Cheshire County League with the Lancashire Combination.

The Bucks

After being relegated to the NWCFL’s Second Division in 1992 after finishing bottom, the club spent just one season in the league’s second tier, being promoted immediately as runners-up. After lifting the NWCFL Floodlit Trophy in 1994, the club were again sufferers of the drop in 1997 but again bounced back immediately, despite finishing in 7th place. Two further seasons would follow back in the top-flight of the Counties before relegation would return to haunt Bootle once more. This time there was to be no immediate return, as Bootle spent the following two seasons in Division 2 before returning to the Liverpool County Combination for a four-year stint, following the closure of the club’s Bucks Park ground. However, after a third placed finish in 2006, Bootle would return back to the NWCFL fold, now playing at their current Vesty Road home.

After their return, Bootle spent three seasons in the second tier prior to winning the newly designated Division 1 title in 2009. They have remained in the Premier Division ever since, finishing third at the close of their first season at the current Step 5. They won the 2013 Liverpool Senior Cup (their first for 124 years) and finished up last season as runners-up though, sadly, no promotion was forthcoming on this occasion for the Bucks.

The game got underway with Padiham storming out of the blocks and making the hosts look less than ordinary. Indeed, it was little surprise when the Storks won a penalty after ten minutes of play, a clumsy challenge at the far side of the box seeing the visiting forward going down. Clear penalty and up stepped the skipper, Mark Ayres, to fire confidently beyond the home ‘keeper and send a small ripple of applause around those of a Padiham persuasion, of whom there seemed to be very little on this occasion.

Ayres nets from the spot

The Kop. A bit smaller than its famed cousin.

Match Action

From then on, there was little to truly get excited about, though Padiham continued to control the game through the first half-hour. I even commented to Paul just how poor Bootle looked to be and he agreed that their team looked short of confidence. However a switch seemed to be flicked within the Bucks from 31 minutes onwards as the hosts went on to pretty much dominate the remainder of the game, with their first half renaissance seeing a long-range shot bounce down off the bar with the ball adjudged to have landed just short of crossing the line (it looked in from distance), whilst a “goal” was also ruled out for some misdemeanour, whilst Paul and I were busy removing rubber pellets from our footwear, courtesy of the artificial pitches. After buying a very decent cheeseburger (£3) on the recommendation of Runcorn fan (and general local connoisseur) Kenny, half-time arrived with Padiham still holding onto their slender lead, 0-1.

After a brief sojourn to the warmth of the clubhouse, the second half was soon getting started. After going close on a few occasions, including seeing Carl Peers strike the upright during the earlier part of the half, the best chance fell to centre-half Joel Powell, who fired wide when only a matter of yards out. However, the Bucks soon got themselves deservedly level when, on 64 minutes, that man Powell made amends for his earlier wayward finish by towering high above the Padiham defence to meet a free-kick and send the ball into the far corner, sending those populating the Dodge Kop wild(ish). From there on, it was all one way traffic.

Indeed it only took sixty seconds for the hosts, in their slightly Wimbledon-esque kit, to forge ahead with the returning Carl Peers seeing his effort from range take a wicked deflection off a Storks defender and drift into the net. Then, around ten minutes later, the win was seemingly signed, sealed and delivered wrapped in wrapping paper and with a ribbon on top and Peers again was the man at the heart of the play. After cutting inside his man, the Bootle forward hit a fine looping effort that found its way perfectly into the top corner and the Dodge Kop was rocking once again.

It’s a stand-off…

Match Action

Match Action

With the game meandering towards its conclusion from that point, there was still one minor question. Could Peers manage to grab a hat-trick on his second debut? The answer? Of course he could. Bootle’s own (sort of) prodigal son raced clear from around half-way and continued on into the area before coolly slotting beyond the beleaguered Dane Smith for 4-1 to round off a fine comeback and one that the visitors could have no true complaints with. Full-Time duly arrived and Paul and I set off back to Aintree for the train back towards Liverpool.

Paul soon departed a couple of stops prior to me as I was headed for the shops for the last touches of Christmas. I soon had them sorted despite a bit of a mad rush through Liverpool One and reckoned I definitely deserved a final couple as a reward for my troubles. Don’t judge! So, after a quick mulled wine in the Beehive within the City Centre, I swiftly moved onwards towards Lime Street station and ticked off a couple of the multiple Wetherspoon’s that Liverpool has to offer – namely the Richard Blackler and the station-based North Western. From there it was onwards home to end off the day.

Liverpool Lights

On the whole, it had been a solid, if unspectacular, day. Bootle was ok, if a little rough around the edges, whilst Bootle’s ground was tidy enough. The game too was decent, with the burger definitely being a high point. So that leaves just one weekend of 2017 to navigate….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 5

Programme: 4

Food: 8

Value For Money: 7

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

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 (Runcorn Linnets FC)

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.

dsc03191

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