Result: Bootle 4-1 Padiham (NWCFL Premier Division)
Venue: New Bucks Park (Saturday 23rd December 2017, 3pm)
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
Value For Money: 7