Result: Alsager Town 1-2 Vauxhall Motors (NWCFL Division One South)
Venue: Wood Park (Monday 27th August, 3pm)
After a weekend that had seen a long trip down to Plymouth completed and me walking out on drinking buds at around 1am after “a few” pints on the Sunday, Bank Holiday Monday was planned out to be a local one, with a hop down to the North Staffordshire town of Alsager being the most probable destination. This then became the only POSSIBLE destination, as I duly awoke from my drink-induced slumber at just after 11am, a resultant rush out seeing me on the train into Manchester before midday. A swift walk over to Piccadilly Station saw me jump on the train I required in the nick of time, meaning I could have a little time pre-match too, before heading home post-game following a couple more drinkies, Alsager style (whatever that means).
Transiting back up from Stoke, I arrived into Alsager at just before 2pm, and after heading up to Town’s Wood Park home to secure a programme (which looked to be a good decision on my return), I back-tracked into town to see what I could find. Not much was the answer, with only the Bank Corner pub seemingly in the nearby area. This was one of those sprawling Wetherspoon style places, with not a whole lot to it, though it was ok for a swift one, a bottle of the fine Menabrea going down well prior to re-passing the Asda and undertaking the now familiar walk back to the ground.
Alsager was recorded in the Domesday Book as Eleacier, though nearby areas show evidence of Bronze Age habitation. It remained a small farming village right through to the 19th century, when its rail connections saw it become a home area of choice for many potteries managers from the nearby “Federation of Six Towns”, now Stoke-on-Trent. During WWII, a large armaments factory was built just outside the town, the area expanding as such for the workers. Also, a training camp for the Royal Marines was added soon after, under the name of H.M.S. Excalibur. This latterly became a refugee camp for persons from Eastern Europe, whose countries had been incorporated into the Soviet Union. Little Moreton Hall is also situated nearby.
Handing over my £6 entry to the friendly gateman, it was onwards down the steps and past the hospitality rooms and to the edge of the “Main” stand which you enter behind. This stand is all-seater, with benched seats being the main form of this, though there is also a small amount of red seats to the left of said stand, near to what I assume was once a press box, which I guessed must have come from one of Stoke or Crewe’s grounds at some point in time? A covered terrace combined with a small amount of further benched seating stands directly to the left of the Main Stand, with a further covered terraced area across on the far side of the ground, which is where the dugouts are also situated, the benched players having to make their way down another flight of stairs and through a gate before crossing over the field to get there.
Behind the right-hand goal is the facilities, made up of bar area, food hut and medical centre, with the opposite end being open, hard standing, with an old wall still remaining, seemingly pointing to the fact the ground had been extended – ever so slightly – at some point in time. That’s Wood Park in a nutshell, and this is the story of the Bullets – Alsager Town F.C…..
Alsager Town Football Club was founded in 1965 after the merger of Alsager Institute and Alsager United, under the name of Alsager AFC and purchased Wood Park in 1967. However, they didn’t play until 1968, however, making their bow in the Crewe League. They played there for three seasons before switching into the Mid-Cheshire League in 1971, changed their name to Alsager Town two years later and then remained in the Division One from when the league was split into divisions from 1975 and 1983. In 1985 they apparently folded (as per the programme history), though a team called Alsager United continued on in the Mid-Cheshire League, being renamed as solely Alsager FC in 1987 and finishing runners-up that season (this is when Wikipedia gives their folding as happening). The club reformed after a season out and retaking a place in the Crewe Premier League in 1989 with a youth outfit. (The club’s history in the programme seemingly disputes the above by a couple of years in and around the 1985/88 folding).
They re-applied for the Mid-Cheshire League in 1991 and took a place in the Division 2, where they remained through to 1998 when they took a place in the Staffs County League, where most of the teams in the area were competing in. Just pipped at the post by Norton in the title race, the club finished runners-up and applied to join the North West Counties League. They were duly accepted and finished 12th in their first season in the league’s Division Two. Promoted as runners-up in 2002, they competed in Division One through to 2006 when they were promoted again to the Northern Premier League after finishing third on account of restructuring. However, their stay in the NPL Division One lasted just two seasons, the Bullets relegated in 2008 from the South section on account of ground grading issues.
The club returned to the Counties top-tier (now named the Premier Division), where they remained through to 2016, a stay which took in a fire which destroyed much of the facilities in and around the clubhouse. They narrowly avoided the drop 2014 but the 20th placed finish in 2016 saw the dreaded drop suffered. A few strong starts over the next few seasons saw flirtations with promotion/the play-offs, but no progress league-wise has been made and Alsager remain in Division One for this season, having finished 7th and 8th respectively over the two seasons of their return to the NWCFL’s second-tier.
The players had just entered the pitch as I arrived, with the game getting underway shortly afterwards, if you could believe that(!). The visitors Vauxhall Motors – recently returned from the West Cheshire League – were on the front foot early on, and it was little surprise when they took an early lead, the ball played through by the impressive #10, Damase Kiwanda, with Ben Holmes running onto it and sliding his shot beyond Rhys Bills in the home goal.
One quickly became two, when a Vauxhall attack down the left flank ended with a low ball into the middle of the area, where Holmes gleefully finished off accurately. The visitors continued to dominate the first half-hour, though chances were at something of a premium as it went on, with only Kiwanda seeing his goalbound shot blocked out, with the resulting rebound seeing an attempted header being kept out on the line by the Town ‘keeper.
Alsager began to come into the game in the last fifteen minutes of the half, and grabbed a goal back when a long ball over the top was latched onto by Dominic Smith and, despite loud appeals for offside from the Wirral side, rounded the ‘keeper and slotted home. This spurred on the hosts and they went close to grabbing a leveller, when good work by Jack Edwards out on the left led to him crossing for David Neligwa, who then pulled it back for Kyle Goodwin to have a pop, but his shot went way off-target. Vauxhall then spurned a chance to restore their two-goal cushion with the last action of the half, but Kiwanda’s skill and resultant cross was put on a plate for Holmes to grab a first-half hat-trick, but this time his radar was off and his header flew high.
The break saw me devouring a rather large portion of pie, peas and gravy (for just £2 too), the sides re-entering the field duly as I was finishing up. Very good of them, that. I decided to camp out in the Main Stand for the second half, one because I couldn’t be bothered climbing my way over the seats and disturbing people, and also because I was just pretty lazy. Either way, the second period was a disappointing one for the most part, both sides seeing only one real legal chance go anywhere near the goal, a free-kick which flew well off target for the hosts, whilst Motors #8 saw a volley deflected just wide of the upright.
#15 then headed wide for Alsager, but Vauxhall began to control the game as it wore on, a dive in the box being punished by the expected yellow card and, after Holmes had seen a free-kick drift against the bar, the ball was retained by Motors, with the resultant cross finding the #4, Matt Carlin, who somehow side-footed wide from a matter of yards when unmarked.
Kiwanda then went close on two occasions to getting the goal his performance deserved, his initial effort being well saved by the legs of Bills, before the rebound was fired wide. Holmes then ended the game with a final chance to secure the match ball, but his shot from the angle of the box flew far over the crossbar and into the public park out beyond the ground. Full-Time duly arrived, with Vauxhall holding out comfortably for the points, controlling the game very well in doing so. Alsager looked ok for the most part, but just didn’t make much in the final third to truly trouble their visitors.
As for me, it was off on the walk I’ve completed more than any other watching football in recent times, prior to heading back into the few hostelries Alsager has to offer. Checking back in on the still disappointingly shut Kraftwork, it was instead onwards to the Joules Brewery Tap offering by the name of the Mere Inn. This is a lovely little pub/restaurant, traditional yet still seeming somewhat modern, somehow. The bar is also a bit of a throwback in some respects. Anyway, I opted for a pint of Joules’ Arizona Pale Ale (£4) which was very decent, before continuing up the road for a very swift pint of Aspall’s (£3.60) in The Lodge, where I was given the option of a straight glass, or a goblet. I left the decision up to the lady serving, the goblet being the result.
I did want to squeeze in the 19th century Railway Inn just round the corner from the station before I left, so after a march down the road and back over the level-crossing, I popped in for a quick bottle of Peroni (£3.30) before heading out for my train with a couple of minutes in hand. But, then, I saw a problem. The crossing gates were down and I had no chance of getting across for the train back. Shite. But then, I had a brainwave and remembered that I was, in fact, heading in the opposite direction and so needed the platform that the train just next to me had been waiting on for the last couple of minutes. A quick jog along said platform had me rescuing the situation and I was soon off to Crewe which, for once, I was happy to see! The remainder of the trip went easily. Phew.
So there ends another trip. Alsager was decent enough I guess, with the pubs being all ok in their own way. The game was alright, the ground also, with the journey going easy enough, bar the couple of little blips! Back off on the long-haul Saturday and a return to Devon for the county’s “other” league club and the fine city of Exeter. Should be decent one….
Value For Money: 7