Result: Ashton Athletic 0-1 Chorley (FA Cup Third Qualifying Round)
Venue: Brocstedes Park (Saturday 30th September 2017, 12.30pm)
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!
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!