Manchopper in….Daisy Hill

Result: Daisy Hill 0-2 Seaham Red Star (FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round)

Venue: New Sirs (Saturday 15th September 2018, 3pm)

Att: 54

For the second week running I found myself out in this part of Lancashire. Having been at Atherton Colls fruitless FA Cup clash with Kidsgrove the previous weekend, this Saturday saw me just a couple of stops down the line at Daisy Hill. Of course, with the trains still in mayhem, this would be another journey undertaken by that fine medium that is the bus. If you can’t tell, I was being sarcastic….!

Anyway, I was indeed off to Daisy Hill for their FA Vase meeting with Seaham Red Star of the Northern League, a league which always prompts thoughts of a difficult tie for any club a member comes up against, so I was expecting goals as I caught the bus back to the Trafford Centre (a la last week), but this time headed off via Bolton on the express service, prior to catching the bus onwards 25 minutes or so to the far end of Westhoughton high street, where I would be having the majority of my pre-match bevvies today, what with there being very little in the immediate area around the ground and the fact the club once carried the town’s name.

Daisy Hill is located within Westhoughton, a town which was traditionally a coal producing, cotton spinning and textile making area during the Industrial Revolution. However, it does date back to around 1210, its name deriving from West and the Old English for “haugh/halh” – meaning nook or corner of land, and “‘tun” – farmstead or settlement. Starting out in 1210 as Halcton, it then became Westhalcton in 1240, then Westhalghton 1292, Westhalton ten years later and finally Westhaughton and Westhoughton through the 16th century.

Westhoughton

Memorial Garden

Westhoughton High Street

In 1315, a group of men including Sir Adam Banastre, met in the Wingates area the town now occupies, the meeting would go on to organise violence against Sir Robert de Holland of Upoholland and, indirectly, the Earl of Lancaster. This would go on to become the Banastre Rebellion, but wouldn’t end well for most of the protagonists, as they would wind up meeting their maker. During the Civil War, in 1642, Lord Derby’s Cavalier forces met the Parliamentarian army, with the latter 163 men forced into surrender by the 1,000-plus Royalists. It is also believed that it was in Westhoughton that Prince Rupert massed his troops ahead of the attack and massacre of Bolton in 1644. Further activity is believed to have occurred at the nearby Hunger Hill and Chew Moor areas.

During the Industrial Revolution, Westhoughton Mill was burned down by Luddites, the leading perpetrators sentenced to death and duly hung at Lancaster Castle. 1910 saw one of the worst mining disasters take place at Pretoria Pit as 344 men and boys lost their lives in an explosion. This is the third worst mining accident in history, behind only the Barnsley Oaks and Senghenydd Colliery disasters. It now has its own town council, which was achieved in 1985.

Beer School

Robert Shaw

Victoria

Having arrived in the shadow of a church and alongside a mining memorial garden, I found the first pub along shut for what I later found out was a refurb, so instead headed on a few doors down to the Beer School – I just wish those were actually real, back in t’day! This was very much your modern real ale/craft beer place, complete with bottle shop, so all bases were covered! I opted to start off with a pint of the American Pale Ale that was on, which came in at £3.30. Not a bad start either. With the bar over the way also still shut, I finished off in here and made haste to the Wetherspoons here, the Robert Fuller. A modern, fairly boring affair, there’s little to report. Punk IPA was had and I was out of there and found the Victoria a few doors further down.

The Victoria was….a local’s pub, shall we say. It did seem to be one rarely visited by those from outside the local area, but it wasn’t a bad place overall. However, XFactor repeats being on TV weren’t conducive to my idea of a good time and so it was quickly onwards and over the road to the final pub on the High Street, the White Lion. This was a really traditional pub, with the bar being so low you have to duck under the stained glass windows running over the top to get served, if you’re tall enough anyway. A pint of Crystal was on the cards in here, whilst watching the Spurs v Liverpool game and getting regular updates on Lancashire’s ill-fated T20 semi-final from a table who’d set up their phone to have it on too. A cool place, and well worth a visit, in my opinion. From there, it was off around the corner and to the bus stop, though it did turn out there was one right outside that was used, so that went well…..

White Lion

Rosehill Tavern

Arriving into Daisy Hill village

Having got the bus down to Daisy Hill station, I hopped off for a final one in the Rosehill Tavern, which also allowed me to catch the end of the game at Wembley in the company of a pint of the Bootleg IPA, one of my favourites (take a note everyone :)). Soon enough, though, it was time to continue onwards to New Sirs for the game, the ground located around five to ten minutes on from the station, depending on your speed. Being a fairly quicker walker, I was soon at the turnstiles and, after handing over my £5 entrance fee, was onto the ground to meet Dan, who’d arrived bright and early (well, around 45 minutes earlier) which allowed me more time to drink. A good man, is he!!

New Sirs is a fairly simple ground, but is also a quintessential non-league ground that sits nicely between Counties and Manchester League standard. It comprises 2 stands, a largely all seated affair behind the goal, which also plays host to the food bar, clubhouse and changing rooms, whilst the other is a small, covered terrace, where you really do need to watch your head, or you will knock it, as Dan found out to his cost! The rest of the ground is open, hard standing, bar the far side, which is out of bounds anyway. That’s New Sirs in a bitesized amount and this is the story of Daisy Hill FC….

History Lesson:

Daisy Hill Football Club was founded in 1894 and joined Wigan & District League, winning the title in 1897, prior to adding that year’s Westhoughton Cup to their unbeaten, double-winning campaign. By World War One, the club had moved into their current home at New Sirs, though had moved into Sunday football at the point, taking part in the Leigh & District Sunday School League. They moved back into the Saturday game in the Westhoughton League, winning a number of honours during their period here, though the original club would fold at some point pre-World War Two, reforming in 1951.

Arriving at Daisy Hill

New Sirs

Returning to the Westhoughton League in that year, Daisy Hill found themselves playing at a new venue, namely the St. James Recreation Ground, where they shared with a local cricket side. They would return to New Sirs in 1957, acquiring the ground’s lease and entering the Bolton Combination, where the club enjoyed considerable success over the next two decades, winning two Lancashire FA Amateur Shields in 1962 & ’72, four Bolton Combination titles (1963, ’73, ’76 & ’78) & also added four of the Combination’s Premier Cups to their cabinet, these coming in 1960, ’62, ’72 & 1973 respectively. After their final Bolton Combination title, Daisy Hill moved into the Lancashire Combination, where they remained for the next four seasons prior to the league merging with the Cheshire League to form the North West Counties League. Daisy duly took a spot in the new league’s Division Three, upon which a clubhouse was added to the ground and 1986 & 1987 both saw silverware lifted, in the form of the Bolton Hospitals Cup and a third Lancashire FA Amateur Shield respectively. The latter season also saw Hill finish up fourth in Division 3, with the division then merged with Division Two at the close of the following season.

1989 saw the club begin a short stint under the name of Westhoughton Town, though the name change brought little success and they reverted back to Daisy Hill come 1994. The club would go on to remain in the Division Two for the next 14 years, only “leaving” when it was re-designated as Division 1 in 2008. The club did finish in a relegation spot in 2014 and were due to drop into the local leagues, but were reprieved as Leek CSOB and Formby both handed in their resignations from the league. Last season, Daisy Hill finished up bottom of the Division One, but were again given a reprieve as the league added to its numbers overall, adding a second, regional division to its ranks.

New Sirs

The game got underway and, to be honest, it was a very dull first half. Despite that, Seaham were the dominant force, having a strong penalty shout turned down, before the resultant shot was saved. The visitors followed this up by finding the net, only to be denied by the offside flag. Seaham continued to be on top for long periods of the first half, Paul Gardiner firing well over from around 10 yards and Lee Hetherington hitting his effort straight at the ‘keeper, though Daisy Hill grew into the game during the last 10 of the half, Nick Hepple firing over after an effective counter attack, before his strike partner, Ryan Farnworth, clipped the outside of the post just before the break. Half-Time duly arrived, the score remained goalless and I headed for the food bar for a very fine pie.

From the stand

Match Action

The second half was soon underway and, just a few minutes in, a fairly clear trip on a Seaham player resulted in a penalty, with Daniel Wilson duly converting from the spot to give his side what was, in truth, a deserved lead. His own striking partner, Vincent Gash, then went close, forcing the Daisy Hill stopper into a low save, before he doubled his side’s lead on the hour, getting clear of the defence and rounding the ‘keeper to slip home. 0-2. Daisy Hill did respond with some late pressure in the last 20 minutes or so, and did find the net through Adam Owens, only for his goal to be cancelled out for offside. Jack Iley then fired just wide and sub Alex Guest hit the bar, but it just wasn’t to be for the hosts, the visitors running out deserved winners over the 90 minutes and progressing to the next round.

View from the seats

Match Action

Grey Man

Post-match, it was off to to the pub again surprise, surprise, but this time it was off to the Grey Man, a pub just off the beaten track, accessed first by cutting down a small alleyway and then through a housing estate, of sorts. The Green Man is then found just on the left of a crossing, which is handy enough, without even mentioning the fact that there’s a bus stop right outside which takes you back to Bolton. Heading in, I opted for a pint of Stella, whilst Dan went for the very exotic option, Carling. Deary me, he just won’t learn that boy….

Afterwards, it was back off to the bus stop and to Bolton. Upon returning, a swift one was had in Spoons before we popped over to the bus station once again for the express service which again proved a fruitless endeavour as it proved to not exist at such a time. As such, it was another hour long trek home via the long route. A couple more were waiting for me there, though and so it was tolerable!

That was that in terms of the day then. It had been a decent one too, with an OK enough game being preceded and followed by some decent drinks. The day had been pretty cost effective too and the trip wasn’t too bad, ignoring the extended journey home. All in all, it had been good to get back to New Sirs for a second time, and it was off to Glasgow the following Saturday. Well, that was the plan anyway!

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 5

Programme: 5

Food: 7

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Alsager

Result: Alsager Town 1-2 Vauxhall Motors (NWCFL Division One South)

Venue: Wood Park (Monday 27th August, 3pm)

Att: 51

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.

Arriving at Alsager

Alsager

Bank Corner

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.

Alsager town centre

Arriving at Wood Park

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…..

History Lesson:

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 Bullets

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.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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.

Match Action from the Stand

Match Action

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.

Park

Church

Mere Inn

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.

The Lodge

Railway Inn

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….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 5

Programme: 5

Food: 8

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Darwen

Result: AFC Darwen 3-1 Barnton (FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round)

Venue: Anchor Ground (Saturday 11th August 2018, 3pm)

Att: 89

Once again, it’s time for the FA Cup dreams to return to clubs up and down the country, with the aim of, perhaps, reaching the “proper” stages and welcoming one of the big names to their respective home. Whilst, if we’re being realistic, this may be slightly off the radar for the sides entering at the first couple of hurdles, the prize money on offer is always a huge incentive, as is the likes of a possible tie with a local Conference rival and with it a bumper crowd, later on in the competition. For now, though, both AFC Darwen and Barnton had one aim alone, and that was to claim the £3,000+ cash on offer and progress to the preliminary round, where NPL side Trafford would be waiting to visit the victors.

As for myself, the Anchor Ground had always been one of those grounds where something had come up to stop me from getting there on numerous previous occasions. Indeed, it looked like the curse would again strike, as replacement bus services dominated the area north of Bolton and so it appeared that Darwen’s home would again fall on the back-burner. But I was given a glimmer of hope…but not from the source you really want. Bus. I hate our local buses and avoid them wherever I can, but for this one day, I would go into the Twilight Zone. Hopping on the first bus (which was shockingly delayed), I missed my connection by a matter of seconds, a jog to reach the other stop proved in vain and I was duly left with an hour’s wait for the next one….which was late. No trip up to Darwen’s Jubilee Tower now. Ah buses, how I’ve missed you.

Eventually, the carriage rolled in to take me and a few others on the express 25-minute motorway journey from the Trafford Centre to Bolton, where I’d then catch the ‘Lancashire Way’ service headed for Blackburn. Fireworks greeted my arrival (there wasn’t much need for the celebration, Bolton, honestly) before I was eventually en route on the half-hour trip up to Darwen itself. The journey (day ticket for £6.70) was uneventful and we rolled into Darwen town centre at a little before 12.30pm to find the place absolutely buzzing with activity. I’d already noticed a large amount of Union Flags fluttering from houses and businesses on the way in, and now a stage was set up alongside the market area of the town. What was going on, I wondered? Well, two guys in full US Army uniform sitting on a jeep, made things even more stranger, until a poster revealed all….it was 1940’s day. I’m not sure why it was, but there we are!

Darwen

Spitfire memorial

Anyway, after a failed attempt at getting to the Wetherspoon’s bar early on, I instead headed off towards the ground, with the intention of getting in a few of the pubs on the road leading down to the Anchor. After going past a Spitfire memorial to a pair of pilots who’d flown the “Darwen Spitfire”, I popped into The Cock for a quick pint of Moretti (£2.95) and to plan out the remainder of the trip. It was a bit dull in here, so I finished up in quick fashion and continued on my way down the road and towards the British Queen. This Thwaites’ pub was a real traditional mid-1900’s-style boozer, but with lagers at a premium (I wasn’t fancying ales much today), I opted for a bottle of Peroni (£3) to keep me company for the short time I was in here.

Locally known as (apparently) “Darren”, the Lancastrian town straddles the devil’s favourite road, the A666, which runs from the outskirts of Salford up to Blackburn. It stands upon the River Darwen, quite literally, as the waterway is underground within the centre of town, it only being visible towards the outskirts. The area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age and the remains of a 2000BC barrow have recently been partially restored nearby, with artefacts found at the site now residing in the town’s library. A Roman road used to run nearby during their time in the area and, more recently, Darwen became industrialised, with the textile industry being the main exhibit of this, with rail and canal links to the cities following. Indeed, Samuel Crompton, inventor of the spinning mule, lived in the town for a few years.

The town grew to, largely, its current size between the mid 1800’s to early 1900’s and was also one of the first places in the world to have steam trains running through it. It is currently home to Crown Paints (located just down the road from the Anchor Ground) Lucite International (formerly ICI Acrylics) which made Spitfire canopies and thus cementing Darwen’s link with the famous aircraft.

The Cock

British Queen

Spitfire & Hurricane (zoom likely required!)

With time continuing to conspire against me, I was soon outside the Darwen Tap, but not before we’d all been treated to a fly past of a Spitfire and Hurricane in perfect situ. There was also a Lancaster Bomber at some point too, but I missed out on that one, sadly. After a quick pint of the interesting, yet very nice, Strawberry & Rhubarb cider in the Tap (£3.20), I reckoned I’d be best served going to the ground and getting a programme in bright and early, with 25 minutes still to go before kick-off. I would then return to the Anchor Hotel (from which, I assume, the ground gains its name) to finish up my pre-match tour of Darwen. This all went smoothly, the programme costing £1.50 from the girl at the turnstile, who must have been wondering who this sad bastard doing this was! Anyway, I turned back on myself for a quick one in the aforementioned Anchor, getting in a pint of Coors (£3.25), I realised I only had about ten minutes in which to drink it and get my arse into gear.

Darwen Tap

Anchor

Arriving at Darwen

Getting into the ground just as the ref got the game underway, I headed straight for the terracing behind the near-end goal, whereupon I realised I was missing something. Yes, I’d left my jacket in the Anchor. Great. A quick call had it all sorted out though and it was safely stored at the bar for after the game. Anyway, the Anchor Ground is a quirky one with its three old, crumbling terraces combined with a smart, modern all-seater (though a little standing does exist, admittedly) stand and smart clubhouse/food bar area, complete with outdoor patio. The three sides of terracing are all open, hard standing, though the few steps to the rear of the far touchline terrace have been reclaimed by the grass. Signs ask you to not go on said grassy knoll, though I only realised this after I’d breached the rule (sorry, Darwen). Both ends number only a few steps each, though go back a fair way at the top. That’s pretty much that for the Anchor Ground, then, and this is the story of AFC Darwen….

History Lesson:

AFC Darwen was formed in 2009 as a phoenix club from the ashes of the original, historic, Darwen Football Club. The original club dated back to 1870, and was a pioneer of the professional game in the North of the country, having adopted association rules in 1875, having previously played rugby and cricket. They played what is believed to be one of, if not the, first floodlit games in 1878 when they welcomed a Blackburn representative side to their then home at Barley Bank. The club reached the FA Cup quarter-finals in 1879, causing controversy in the process, following their signing of two professionals from Scottish side Partick FC, with the two players believed to be the first instance of pros in the English game. 1880 would see the club lift the first ever Lancashire Cup, defeating Blackburn Rovers in the final. Cup success continued somewhat into the next season, with Darwen reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup, beating Romford 15-0 in the quarters.

1890 saw the club become founding members of the Football Alliance, before the next year had Darwen elected to the Football League upon its expansion to 14 teams and they went on to gain the dubious honour of the largest top-flight defeat, a 12-0 hammering at the hands of West Bromwich Albion. They duly finished bottom at the end of their first season and were relegated to the newly formed Second Division, with the club becoming the first league side to be relegated. Ironically, their bottom placed First Division finish remains Darwen’s highest! A third-placed finish in 1893 would see the club promoted back to the First Division via the test match route, but their stay would only last one year once more. They would remain in Division 2 through to 1899, when Darwen decided to not re-apply and duly dropped out of the League, having set a record (still standing to this day) of 18 consecutive defeats and a record 141 goals conceded. The club went on to join the Lancashire League and this also saw them move into their current Anchor Ground home.

AFC Darwen

1902 saw the Lancashire League won with Darwen remaining unbeaten throughout the season en route to the title, before they would switch to the Lancashire Combination’s First Division two years later, where they would compete for the next 70 years. After being relegated to the Division 2 in 1909, they would recover post-war to win the title in both 1931 & 1932, the latter season also saw Darwen defeat league club Chester City at the Anchor Ground in front of 10,000 fans and were rewarded with a trip to reigning English champions, Arsenal. They would lose 11-1, but were awarded an Arsenal strip in recognition of their sportsmanship, and the colours remain worn to this day. They also lifted a further trophy the following year, in the form of the 1933 Lancashire Junior Cup.

Darwen were relegated to the Combination’s Second Division for a second time in 1963,but the drop was a short-lived one, with the club returning after three years. Unfortunately, their return would prove to be even briefer, just a sole season was experienced before the dreaded drop was again suffered. They would bounce back immediately though, being promoted as 1968 Division 2 runners-up, before growing in strength to win the title a further two times, in 1972 & ’75, whilst just missing out on the 1974 title on goal average. 1976 would see Darwen join the Cheshire County League, with this leading to them becoming a founding member of the North West Counties League in 1982.

Anchor Ground

They would struggle here initially though, being relegated to Division 2 in 1984 and avoiding a further drop to Division 3 the next season after Padiham had two points deducted. Things did improve, promotion back to Division One was enjoyed in 1987 and they remained there through to 1998, when the club was demoted due to ground grading issues. They would remain in the Division 2 through to their folding in 2009, upon which AFC Darwen came into being, taking a place in the West Lancashire League. The Salmoners finished 8th at the end of their first season and this was enough to see them promoted to the North West Counties, taking over from where the old club left off. 2015 saw them win their first honour, in the form of the Division 1 Trophy, after a 3-1 triumph over Atherton Collieries, and finished 3rd in the First Division, earning a spot in the play-offs. This went well too, with victories over Hanley Town and Chadderton seeing them earn promotion to the Premier Division of the Counties. 2016 saw the Martin Vizzard Memorial Trophy also arrive in the cabinet, but last season would see relegation suffered for the first time as the phoenix club, after finishing 23rd and bottom of the NWCFL Premier Division and duly returned to the First Division for this season.

The game, as I say, had just got underway as I arrived and, well, if I’d have popped up on 43 minutes, I’d have missed absolutely nada. Nothing. Outside of an early Barnton tap in being ruled out for offside and a fairly comfortable stop by Darwen ‘keeper James Whittingham from Barnton’s experienced striker Chris Smith, nothing else of note truly happened up until the stroke of the break.

Match Action

Match Action

View from the balcony

As we entered first half stoppage time, a goalmouth scramble resulted in Danny Taylor sweeping the ball into the bottom corner with the last meaningful kick of the half to send the hosts in at the break with all the momentum they could have asked for. As they say, there’s not a much better time to score. Having already popped to the food bar for a small portion of chips (£1.50), I decided to do something I often don’t and head to the clubhouse for a drink. A Corona looked the best bet for an easy one and, for £3, I was in possession of said drink. Well, most of it, as a quarter went over the bar. Ah.

The second half was soon underway and I spent the majority of this in the stand, not really fancying another mooch around. However, on account of the goal, the game was now a far more open affair and this seemingly played into Darwen’s hands. They pretty much dominated the second-half and went close to adding a second three times early on, but each time the impressive Barnton ‘keeper, Aaron Lyons, was equal to the attempts, none-more-so when he pulled off a fine double stop to deny the initial close-range headed from the hosts’ Corey Harrison, before getting up swiftly to block the follow-up shot by sub Liam Cole.

View from the stand

Match Action

Match Action

He would be beaten eventually though, when a good, swift move saw Darwen get in down the right, with Taylor crossing for the Jamie Edwards and he, in turn, played it back to the feet of the #4, Adam Heaney, who fired home from just inside the area. This seemed to really demoralise the Barnton side and it was the red-clad home side who continued to look the most likely to net again, the ever-dangerous Taylor seeing his shot saved by the legs of the visiting ‘keeper, but he would get his revenge soon after, latching onto a loose ball and slotting in. Three-nil and game over.

A further few chances came and went for the hosts before Barnton did strike with a couple of minutes left, Smith bending a fine effort beyond the helpless home stopper to deny him a clean sheet, but this wouldn’t affect the end result too much as Darwen progressed into the Preliminary Round where they will again have the home advantage and will be eyeing up a “giant-killing”. Well, if you can call it that at this stage!

Post-match visit #1

‘Spoons to round off the day

Post-match, I recovered my jacket before yet another prolonged wait for a bus was endured (on account of Rovers fans having boarded en masse from Ewood), but I eventually got into Darwen in time for another couple. I totally forgot about the decent looking 39 brewery tap sadly, but did get to pop in a small, locals pub by the name of the Entwistle, tucked away between the houses and church to the rear of the centre. This was a “true” pub if you like, and a Coors was duly had in here for just the £2.70 prior to a very swift visit to the Spoons to end off the day, though the rush would end up to have been in vain, as the bus I thought was turning up to go through to Bolton was in fact the one that terminated in Darwen. A twenty-minute wait was on the cards. I hate buses…especially so as my phone had died and I now couldn’t block out the horrific noise and conversations that pick away at your sanity.

So that’s that. The journey back went as well as it could have done considering it was by bus (did I mention I don’t really like them?) and I was home for just before half-past eight. Not too shabby. Outside of transport issues, the day had been a good one. The game (eventually) and ground were both very decent, Darwen as a town was fun, with the added novelty of the ’40’s day celebrations and the Hurricane/Spitfire fly past was a huge bonus too. It was also cheap on the pocket (much-needed with the few weeks surrounding it) so can’t complain there either. Next up comes a drop down into the local football ranks, with a visit to a town straddling the border between the roses counties….

 

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 5

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 7

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