Manchopper in….Stone

Result: Stone Old Alleynians 0-1 West Didsbury & Chorlton (NWCFL Division 1 South)

Venue: Yarnfield (Saturday 18th January 2019, 3pm)

Att: 64

The weather affected weekends returned for this one, although I can count myself somewhat fortunate to have found my way out of a situation that, usually, would have become sticky rather quickly. Upon arriving into Manchester Piccadilly and ensuring my seat for the next week down to the Big Smoke (I’m supposed to get the damn train, C. J.), I had a bit of a brainwave to double check that my planned game was, indeed, still going ahead. NOPE. Game off, and just in the nick of time too – my train down to Congleton for Staffs Victoria vs Wyrley Titans was just five minutes from departing….

Over a pint in the station’s Hourglass, I perused the fixtures in search of a viable alternative – one that would still allow me to make use of my southbound ticket and so not set me back too much extra. I was floated the ideas of the likes of Sandbach, Mossley and, as an obvious last resort, Euxton as alternatives and a first revisit to Sandbach since their Cheshire League days looked on the cards until I got (all but) confirmation that Stone’s home game with West Didsbury & Chorlton (not just West Didsbury – that’s a completely different club!) was going ahead as planned. Good stuff and after buying a ticket onwards to the North Staffordshire town, I was all set.

Arriving into the station after a change in Stoke – which also allowed me to discover a new station bar there – the short hop one stop down the line to Stone was completed with little issue and, all things considered, my arrival time of a little after 12.30pm was decent. With the station a short distance out of the town centre, ten minute walk soon had me there and, more specifically, the Crown and Anchor. By far the oldest looking pub around these parts, the inside was sadly far more modernised for my liking, although the layout was still original looking. Anyhow, after an Estrella (£4.35) whilst watching a smashed window be replaced at the speed of sound, I was heading off down the pedestrianised High Street which plays host to my next couple of stops; namely the Crown Hotel (yes, another “crown” based place) and the Red Lion a little further on.

Arriving in Stone

Crown Hotel

The Crown looks good from outside, but this pales in look when you see what the hotel hosts within. The wooden decor is effervescent and gives a ton of character to the hotel that some can lack. The Praha (£3.50) wasn’t bad either! The Red Lion, thereafter, was your more traditional pub, though still fine within itself. A popular choice for many in the area, I’m sure I may have forced a few away with my sneezing fit, whilst attempting to polish off my pint of Amstel (£3.65)!

I had planned then to visit both the canal-straddling Star Inn and the road-level Swan Hotel pre-match, as the bus leaves from outside the latter, but it soon became apparent that it would be a ‘one and done’ situation, as the buses aren’t exactly frequent, shall we say. The Star looked to be the better option for the moment, the former butcher’s (yes, really) not showing much in the way of signs from its former use. Having said that, it has been a pub for over a century, so there’s little surprise there! A nice place and a good welcome too, although I did waste a good five minutes at the wrong bar. I’m really, really stupid sometimes* (*most times).

Red Lion

The Star

Stone is a market town and civil parish within the county of Staffordshire, around half-way between Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford. Previously being both an urban and rural district council, it became a part of the Borough of Stafford in 1974 and likely dates back to around the Bronze Age, with a ring ditch at Pirehill suggesting prehistoric occupation of the area. Stone (stān in Old English) lies within the lands once home to the Iron Age Celtic tribe known as the “cornovii” (meaning “people of the horn” – likely pointing towards a geographical feature or horned god), and has gained its own medieval myth, concerning the murder of two 7th century Saxon princes by their father, the Mercian king Wulfhere, who reputedly had his centre in Darleston (Wulfherecester). The two slain princes, killed due to their conversion to Christianity, were then interred under a cairn of stones, thus giving the town its name. However, this 12th century story has since been shot down as “historically valueless”.

A church was built on the site in 670 and remained until the 9th century, when it was destroyed by the Danes. Its Augustinian replacement then stood from the mid-1100’s until Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and later collapsed in 1749, with the present St. Michael’s church built in 1758 to replace it. All that remains of the original site is the undercroft, which now lies below the town’s Priory House. Stone gained its market charter in 1251, courtesy of Henry III and duly went on to cement its market town status – later going on to become an important stagecoach stop and turnpike by the mid-19th century, on the road between London and Holyhead. Many of these old coaching inns are still standing – many named on this page! Many Romano-British sites lie around the area, and it was perceivable that Stone gets its name from a bridge, milestone or waypoint on the Rocester-Blyth Bridge Road, or even a megalith. It could also be that it is, more basically, named after a rock/geographical feature or a place where Stone was obtained – a Keuper sandstone outcrop being located to the north of the town. Also, a huge stone was once sited on Common Plot and it could even be from this that Stone derives its name from.

“Stone Brewery”

Stone under lights (and Crown & Anchor)

Incidentally, Common Plot was the site of the Duke of Cumberland’s winter camp and fortifications, with signs of these still visible upon the landscape. The reasoning for this was to bring the Duke’s army down from the freezing Peak District and Staffordshire Moorlands, where they’d been stationed with the aim of stopping the transit of Jacobite cargoes and any possible advance on London or into Wales by the rebels. However, they too soon retreated back north of the border. The River Trent, which had been used for transport since Roman times, allowed for transit inland, but only smaller vessels could be used from thereon. With land transport slow and laboured, the Grand Trunk Canal now the Trent & Mersey canal) was mooted, and later built, to link the Rivers Mersey and Trent and this eventually ran through to Burton-on-Trent, with both Stone and Burton going on to become brewing strongholds for a time. To celebrate their new Star Lock, a cannon was fired to signal its opening….only for the shot to hit the lock and require a replacement to be built. Brilliant.

The railways arrived in Stone in 1848 and shoeworks became a stronghold for a time, though soon declined upon taxation by main importers, Australia. The brewing industry in Stone dated back to the Augustinian monks, with the most notable being Joules’, whose name is still carried on numerous pubs in and around the area. However, it was then bought by Bass Charrington in 1968 and closed in 1974, with Bent’s following shortly afterwards upon an “aggressive takeover” by the Burton-based brewers. The industry continues to this day, though, through microbreweries such as Lymestone – fittingly based in part of the old Bent’s brewery building. Notable people from Stone include a comrade of Lord Nelson, the 1st Earl of St. Vincent, John Jervis, the once world’s oldest living person Eva Morris and St. Werburgh – an Anglo-Saxon princess who was beautified due to her body’s remarkable preservation when viewed again some eight years after her death. A major player in the reform of convents in the country, she became a widely venerated saint and the patron saint of Chester.

Finishing up my time-constraint orchestrated Dark Fruits (£3.60 ~), I popped out and over the road to the bus stop, where the no.14 turned up in short order. For around a fiver return, I was dropped in Yarnfield village itself, with no stop nearer to the ground. Somewhat annoyingly, you actually bypass the ground to get here too, and even then, the pub here is closed early on, it seems. At least it was today, and so this led me to get lost somehow, having just got off the bus. I’m stupid sometimes* (*most times*). Yes, I’ve repeated the “joke”, please enjoy.

I eventually rocked up back at the Yarnfield gates at around 2.30pm and headed in through the doorway declaring itself as the home of “Stone Dominoes”. Awkward. Almost more awkward was heading down the players’ walkway (which I was oblivious to) and getting to the end whilst having bypassed the gate. Now, I could have been an awful person and snuck inside and nicked a programme whilst I was at it, but there’s none of that in these quarters! The guy soon arrived and I paid in my £4 entry, plus a very fair £1 for the programme, prior to returning back outside to the clubhouse, where I waited out the remaining time over a steak pie. Not bad.

This pub spurned me….

In Yarnfield village

Arriving at Yarnfield

With 3pm approaching and having been accosted for a go on the Golden goal (on which I got an awful time, which shall remain anonymous), I returned back out and into the ground the proper way this time. Don’t worry, I didn’t have to pay twice! Yarnfield itself is a tidy, if unspectacular ground; one which is fine for the level as it stands, but will require further additions to continue to move on, I’d guess. All spectator cover is located within the one pitch-length stand, which houses standing areas at either end of a group of seats in the centre. The remainder of the ground is open, hard standing, though there is an off-limits, somewhat uneven, grass mound if you fancy being a rebel. That’s all there is to say about the ground, so let’s move on to the story of the Alleyne’s old boys….

History Lesson:

Stone Old Alleynians Football Club was founded in 1962 as a team of both former and current pupils and staff at the town’s Alleyne’s Grammar School. They began playing in the Stafford Amateur League, just prior to its name change to the Mid-Staffordshire League, following a first season which was truncated by poor weather. However, they would have success in their first full year there, winning promotion from the Division 4, as well as just missing out on the 1964 Staffordshire President’s Cup, prior to achieving two further consecutive promotions, with the latter resulting in the club’s first honour – the league’s Division 2 title – in 1965-’66. Now in Division One, Stone would win the league again in each of 1972, 1975 and 1979. This period also saw the Alleyne’s win a number of cup titles; these being, namely, the Stone Charity Cup in 1969, 1974 and 1975 (beaten finalists in 1973), as well as the Pageant Cup in both 1975 & 1976. The first of these two triumphs ensured 1974-’75 was a treble-winning campaign. The Division One Borough Cup success of 1979 rounded off a silverware-filled decade for the Old Alleynians, this being their third attempt at the final, having been beaten finalists in both the 1973 and 1976 editions.

Trophies aplenty

Clubhouse

Switching into the North Staffordshire Alliance in 1980, immediately after their would-be promotion back to the Mid-Staffs Division One, the club were beaten finalists in the Alliance’s League Cup at the close of their first season there. They continued to go close to adding to their trophy cabinet throughout the 1980’s, but ultimately fell just short on each occasion, being runners-up in the Uttoxeter Cup in both 1982 & 1984, the Pageant Cup in 1984 (allied to the 1974 & 1979 competitions), but were “relegated” to the Alliance’s newly-created Division 1 (a Premier Division was created to head up the league) upon its inception, though soon returned to the top-tier as Division 1 runners-up in 1988. Upon the Alliance League’s 1995 folding, the first team returned to the Mid-Staffordshire League, but success ended up being thin on the ground, with the club’s only true notable performance during the next decade being their losing effort in the “Bourne Sports” Trophy of 2005.

The dominoes still stand

Heading to the “stadium”. You can see why I went wrong!

2007 saw Old Alleynians make the move into the West Midlands League, competing in Division 2. They remained here through to 2010, when they achieved promotion to Division One, though did suffer some disappointment that year in being defeated in the Staffs FA Cup final by Kidsgrove Athletic. After a five year stay in the First Division, Stone were promoted, once again, as runners-up and duly took a spot in the Premier Division for 2015-’16, but cup silverware continued to narrowly evade the club – that season’s JW Hunt and Staffs FA Vase both being missed out on in final appearances. The club continued to slowly cement themselves in and around mid-table over the next few years, before Stone were switched into the North West Counties League’s newly-founded Division One South, along with town rivals (and groundsharers) Stone Dominoes, who’ve sadly (seniors, anyway) gone to the wall again at time of writing. An impressive first season yielded 3rd place, but this wasn’t quite enough to ensure promotion to the Premier Division, but Stone are again having a crack at doing it second time around.

The game got going with a pretty uneventful first few minutes, but soon burst into life when the visitors were awarded a penalty after just seven minutes of play, a defender adjudged to have handled the ball. Stephen Hall stepped up, only to see his spot-kick kept out well by Stone ‘keeper Adam Alcock; although it was at a nice height to aid him in getting to it. West would go close again shortly afterwards, George Blackwell chipping over the bar from a decent position, whilst Stone responded through Jack Tomlinson’s low shot which flashed across goal, but, eventually, just wide of the mark.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

West would take a deserved lead on the half-hour as Hall, having received the ball on the edge of the area after some good build up play, made amends for his earlier penalty miss. The West forward lobbed the onrushing home gloveman Alcock who, despite getting a hand on it, could only watch on as the ball nestled into the net. The last fifteen minutes passed by with little in the way of further action, and the sides headed in still separated by the odd goal. After a largely uneventful break, it was back outside and into the chilly Staffordshire afternoon for the second half.

The second period began with Stone putting pressure on the visitors’ defence and they had a chance to truly test West ‘keeper Andy Jones for the first time in the game early on, but a deflection allowed the save to be far easier than it ought to have been otherwise. Stone forward Matt Thomas ballooned over when well placed after a well worked corner, but he looked all set to equalise on the hour mark, when, just seconds after a Jones had pulled off a fine stop from another deflected effort, he directed a header downwards towards the bottom corner, leaving Jones rooted to the spot. But unfortunately for him, he was a few centimetres off and the ball ricocheted back into play off the upright, leaving Thomas with his head in his hands and cursing his luck.

Watching closely….

Ball goes space-shuttle mode, post-pen

From the seats, late on.

As Stone pushed on and began to throw a little more caution to the wind, West took advantage of the spaces left by them as the minutes rolled on. First, Blackwell shot straight at Alcock when he ought to have done a little better with the chance, before they were given a golden chance to secure the points, courtesy of a second penalty, this time due to a messy foul on substitute Reece Coley. Callum Jones had the responsibility either handed to him, or chose to give himself it, but whatever the case, it didn’t go well – his powerful kick lacked direction and cannoned over off the crossbar. Two missed kicks from 12 yards; could Stone grab a late equaliser to gain something from the game?

The answer would, unfortunately for them, with only a low Sean Kinsella effort – which forced Jones into a comfortable stop – going close to getting them a share of the spoils. Full-time, 0-1.  Post-match, I unfortunately had a good 50 minutes until the bus back, and so I waited the vast majority of this out in the clubhouse whilst watching the few remaining final scores roll in from around the country. After a chat and thank you from the (I assume) Stone secretary (whose name escapes me, sorry) and a later free sausage on a roll (neither a sausage roll nor true hot dog) I returned down the initially darkness enshrouded Road back to Yarnfield village. Annoyingly, the pub had been opened by this point, having looked pretty dead in the water upon my arrival earlier in the day.

Back in Stone….to the Swan!

‘Spoons

Royal Exchange

Last stop: The Talbot

The bus soon rocked around the corner and I was back in Stone within fifteen minutes or so and to the Swan I headed. Standing room only! A pint of the fine Blue Moon (£4.66) was my tipple of choice in here, before I returned centre-wards to visit the Wetherspoons for a swift bottle of Kopparberg, prior to continuing on station-wards, this time via the doors of the Titanic Brewery-filled Royal Exchange (half of Steerage at £1.60) and the Talbot (Corona £3~) which, usefully, stands proud at the foot of the road leading to the station. Finishing off both in good time as to allow a five minute stroll down there and over the footbridge, my service back to Stoke soon came into view and a short connection as per the outward journey had me back in Manchester in simple fashion.

No problems with the remainder of the trip and there we finish up this story which, you could say, was set in Stone. I’m so sorry. Overall, the day had been decent, especially if you consider the fact that this was all largely planned out “on-the-fly”. Yes, the game and ground weren’t the best or most interesting respectively, but the club at Old Alleynians seems great and the town itself was a pleasant surprise, with regards to its pub offerings. That’s that and, as alluded to earlier, it’s off to the capital next week – it’s Hammer Time.

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 5

Food: 7 (plus extra point for the free hot-dog!)

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Congleton

Result: Congleton Town 2-2 Longridge Town (AET, 1-1 after 90 minutes) (FA Vase 3rd Round)

Venue: Ivy Gardens/Booth Street (Saturday 30th November 2019, 3pm)

Att: 225.

As another weekend rolled around, my intended plan to continue on with the FA Cup rounds fell apart pretty early on during, as the contracting of one of the many colds flying around largely did for me. As such, visits to the likes of Cheltenham & the Posh were off limits and I instead turned to the FA Vase fixtures. There was a few worth considering, but one stood out more, despite being a revisit. The fact being that (brace for a real shock) my previous blog to Congleton had missed out the vast majority of pubs in the town, and I’ve long since wanted to put that right. This Vase fixture against Longridge Town ticked those boxes and so I was off to Beartown once again.

Not without issue, however. Having queued for a good four minutes or so at the ticket office, I was then issued with a wrong ticket and told to buy on the train instead. First issue, no conductor was available on the journey into Oxford Road, and I hadn’t had time to put in for a “Promise to Pay” notice, as the train was about to leave. “No bother, I’ll buy at Oxford Road as I’ve done countless times before”, I thought – but OH, WHAT A MISTAKEA TO MAKEA! Making my way to the ticket office and still with the correct fare in my hand, that wasn’t good enough for the Northern jobsworth, and I was soon in possession of a penalty fare notice. Great. My own notice to Northern is….I’m not paying; it was already issued wrongly as I was allowed to start the journey by one of your employees. Check your T’s&C’s!!

I needed one in here. Not the best, though.

Arriving in Congleton centre

Beartown Tap

Anyway, all that idiocy was soon out of the way and I was arriving into Congleton without further issue. I began with a brief visit to the Railway for perhaps the second flattest pint of Amstel (£3.60) I’ve ever had (a pub in Manchester owns that, ahem, distinction) before heading off on the short 15 minute walk into the town centre. I decided to make the Beartown Tap my second stop of the day, with the barman being quite pleased with my answer of “Anything, really!” to the question “What do you like to drink?”! I eventually opted for a Berliner Pilsner – lovely stuff too, at £4.40!

Congleton is a town and civil parish within the unitary authority of Cheshire East – part of the wider ceremonial county of Cheshire. The first more recent reference to the town’s name was made in 1282 when it was spelt as Congelton and it is theorised that the name of the town may derive from the Old Norse kang, meaning “bend”, and the Old English word tun, referring to a settlement. However, the area has history dating back to the Neolithic era, with both Stone and Bronze age artefacts having been discovered around the town, whilst the thought that Congleton grew up during the Roman occupation has since become less likely to be true. Instead, it became a market town upon the destruction of nearby Davenport by the marauding Vikings. Godwin, Earl of Wessex, held the town during the Saxon-era, and the town was mentioned in the Domesday Book as Cogeltone: Bigot de Loges upon the arrival of the Normans, with William the Conqueror giving the lands of Cheshire to his nephew, the Earl of Chester.

Congleton

Christmassy Congleton

A castle was added in 1208 and the de Lacy family who came to own Congleton during the same century granted the town a charter to hold a market and fairs – whilst also being allowed a mayor, behead criminals and have an ale-taster. I know which one sounds the more attractive proposition! 1451 saw Congleton gutted by the flooding caused by the River Dane and the resultant recovery saw the river diverted and the town rebuilt upon higher ground. It was during the 1600’s that Congleton’s links with bears came into being, with the unfortunate “sports” of bear-baiting and cockfighting becoming popular with the locals, though crowds soon became lower due to the lack of aggression in the town’s bear and the lack of funds to purchase a more ferocious beast. The bear/bible trade legend comes from this, with bible funds collected being used to purchase a bear instead, with the fund replenished upon the bear’s arrival drawing larger attendances! So, it was not to actually purchase a new bear directly, as per the tale. The town’s nickname “Beartown” is duly derived from this folklore.

The Civil War involved Congleton indirectly, as the town’s former mayor, John Bradshaw, became the sitting President of the court that condemned Charles I to the hangman’s noose in 1649 and his signature, as Attorney General, was the first upon the King’s death warrant. The White Lion Hotel is said to have been the location where the articles where served by Bradshaw. After the return of the monarchy and under King Edward I, Congleton was granted permission to construct a mill and this allowed the town to become a centre of textile making – particularly leather and lace – in addition to its older silk-making mill from the 1700’s and despite steadily declining, the industry remained in the form of silk labels right through until the 1990’s.

The town has been home to a Saint, Margaret Ward, who was executed by order of Elizabeth I for enabling a priest’s prison escape, the great-great-great grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II, Robert Hodgson, Cpt. Percy Wilson MC (WWI flying ace) and Victoria Cross recipient G.H. Eardley VC MM. Olympic gold-winning couple Ann Packer and Robbie Brightwell have also lived in the town, as have their sons; ex-footballers Ian and David Brightwell. Other older footballers include Hugh Moffat (ex-Burnley and Oldham Athletic), Bill Fielding (Manchester Utd, Bolton Wanderers, Cardiff City) and George Cawley (Stoke City, Southampton, Manchester City), along with the far more recent England international striker, Daniel Sturridge.

Young Pretender

Prince of Wales

Olde King’s Arms

White Lion

From the Tap, I continued back towards the high street, bypassing another pub bearing (sorry) the Beartown name, this time the Beartown Cock (a pub, not an unfortunate nickname) for the moment and instead diving into the rather easily missable Young Pretender- somewhat fitting considering my visit to Dumfries the previous weekend. Another continental pint here, this time Flensburger (£4.10), went down well, before I began to visit the more historic, listed offerings Congleton has to offer. The first of the three that are in close formation with each other was the Prince of Wales, a Joules’ pub, which of course offered up the usual Joules choice of mine – the Pale Ale (£3.40). With time beginning to run short after popping into the small, yet striking Olde King’s Arms for a San Miguel (£3.80) , the White Lion was ticked off the list via a bottle of Corona (£3.20), before I headed on the few minutes walk up to Booth Street – or Ivy Gardens, whichever you prefer!

Paying the £6 entry at the gate in the corner of the ground, you have to climb a couple of steps to get up to pitch level, where you quickly come across the programme hut. Another £2 was paid here, prior to a visit to the food hut (for a fine portion of chips, peas and gravy) which is connected to the clubhouse, and situated in behind the ground’s all-seater Main Stand that straddles the halfway line. Between this and the turnstiles, there is a small club shop and a covered terrace area, with another one at each end too – the latter of these being the most recent addition to Booth Street. The other side of the field is home to another, fairly recent, covered standing area, which is neighboured by the dugouts out front, interestingly across the field from the dressing rooms/tunnel. The remainder of the ground is open, hard standing, with the old banking still in situ at the far-end, now flanking the new stand. That’s the ground in a nutshell, and this is the story of Congleton’s footballing bears….

History Lesson:

Congleton Town Football Club was founded in 1901 and originally joined the Crewe & District League, which they went on to win in each of their first three seasons, alongside the 1904 Crewe & District Cup, prior to joining the North Staffordshire & District League in 1906. They finished runners-up in 1915, before ceasing playing during WWI, returning for one post-war season there, whereupon they became 1919-’20 champions. They subsequently joined the Cheshire County League where they lifted a first Cheshire Senior Cup in 1921, whilst finishing 2nd to Winsford United in their first campaign there. The club remained in the league through to 1939, winning their second Cheshire Senior Cup a year earlier, whereupon they spent a sole season in the Macclesfield & District League, finishing as equal-winners in the table prior to defeating Bollington Cross in a title-play-off to be crowned champions.

After the end of World War II, the Bears returned to the Cheshire County League, but struggled for the most part, finishing bottom in 1948 and never getting out of the bottom-end of the table during the next decade. They again finished bottom in 1965, and so joined the Manchester League instead, where they spent three seasons before joining Mid-Cheshire League. Finishing runners-up in each of 1970 and 1972, 1974 saw Congleton win the league and they repeated the feat two seasons later. They again finished 2nd in 1977, before winning their third Mid-Cheshire League title the next year (alongside the 1978 Cheshire Saturday Cup), a win which preceded their move back up to the Cheshire County League for the following season, where they became champions in the league’s final year, 1981-’82, prior to its merger with the Lancashire Combination to form the North West Counties Football League, which Congleton duly became founder members of.

Arriving at Booth St.

A bear clubhouse

Playing in the new league’s Division One, the Bears finished runners-up in 1986, missing out on the title on goal difference alone, before they joined another newly-formed division – the Northern Premier League’s Division One – in 1988. When here, Congleton made the First Round of the FA Cup, defeating Witton Albion in the 4th Qualifying Round before going down to local Football League side Crewe Alexandra 2-0. However, for the most part they struggled, and after finishing bottom in 2001, the club was relegated to the NWCFL Division One once more. Interestingly, the club lost the 2002 Mid-Cheshire Senior Cup final to Northwich Victoria, despite the Trickies having subbed their final penalty-taker during the match. Despite this, the result was allowed to stand and Vics remained the…ahem…victors, although the Bears got their day in the sun in 2007, when they did lift the trophy. The club have remained in the Counties’ top-tier, through its 2008 name change to the Premier Division, to this day, finishing last season in 3rd position under manager Brian Pritchard.

After a minute’s silence for a number of reasons which I couldn’t quite catch due to being in the queue for the food bar, we were underway in this all-North West Counties Vase clash. Longridge began slightly on top with marginally the better of the play, but it was the hosts who created the better sights of goal. Dan Cope would go close on a couple of occasions, before the same man then thought he’d broken the deadlock with a finely taken, acrobatic effort, only for his strike to be ruled out by the linesman’s flag. The dangerous Cope then saw his header held on the line by Longridge stopper Lee Dovey, and the visitors responded to this with Finlay Sinclair-Smith forcing Bears ‘keeper Riccardo Longato into a fine stop – the debutant gloveman tipping his drive onto the post.

Match Action

Match Action

Getting darker….

After going close again through Scott Harries, Longridge then also found themselves on the wrong end of the offside flag, a George Thomason finish from close range being ruled out by the other assistant, but it was Congleton that almost grabbed the elusive opener, Cope once more being denied by a fine stop in the latest chapter of his battle against Dovey. That was largely that for the first half, a half that had been highly watchable, but despite having seen the ball hit the net at either end, still remained goalless. Half-time saw me and Richard (the other half of non-league dogs) come across each other during what I assume was a lap of the ground and this thankfully, considering the cold that was beginning to envelop the Booth Street ground, was to keep me entertained for the next 45, so cheers Rich!

Anyway, the second half got going with the visitors this time seeing largely the better of the play, though there was less in the way of overall chances for both sides, compared to the first period. Indeed, it took the best part of fifteen minutes for the first one of note to come around and even then it was one made out of nothing. Tom Ince advanced forward into the hosts’ half before meeting a loose ball and unleashing a fizzing, rising volley that cannoned off the crossbar and over onto the grass bank behind Longato’s goal. As the half wore on, Congleton centre-back Josh Ryder saw his headed effort cleared off the line and Longridge were again denied by Longato and after Cope had gone close yet again for the Bears, Tom Ince looked to have won it five minutes from time, when he calmly slotted into the bottom corner from just outside the area.

Match Action

50/50

It looked like the Bears’ Vase run would end on this chilly Cheshire evening, but Bevan Burey had other ideas. On 92 minutes, the striker, who’d come on half-way through the second forty-five, reacted quickest to Kyle Diskin’s low shot being tipped onto the bar, to slot beyond the helpless, luckless Dovey and send the home fans into raptures. Extra-time it was and the first 15 yielded a second Longridge goal, as Scott Harries fired in after 102 minutes of play to become the second player from the Lancastrian side to seemingly be sending them through to Round 4. But again, the hosts wouldn’t go down without a fight, and the final quarter-hour saw them again draw level, Cope finally seeing one of his strikes find the target without issue – the forward latching onto a free-kick at the back-post to knock home.

Extra-time, from the stand

The ball in for the leveller

Dramatically, Kieran Brislen almost won the tie for Congleton with the last meaningful kick of the game, but saw his shot fly narrowly wide of the mark, and that would be that, the 2-2 draw meaning both sides would meet again in midweek to settle the score once-and-for-all (Longridge would take it 2-0 back up Preston way). Post-match, I returned back through the frosty, slippery back-streets and towards the centre once more, paying a visit to another of the town’s elder statesmen, the interestingly named Lion & Swan Hotel. A pint of Estrella (£4.20) was had in here as I took in a very enjoyable warm (though was chilled by a “ghosthunting” poster I spotted, before continuing on to the town’s Wetherspoon’s offering, the Counting House, where I tested out the Monkey Mango cider. This was a very decent pint and you can’t go far wrong with the price at £3.09 anyway, can you?

Lion & Swan

Counting House

After returning to the Beartown Cock for a Berries & Cherries Old Mout offering, I headed back uphill to the station, nicely in time for the train back to Manchester. No issues here, though the next two trains home were then cancelled (oh, the irony – I wonder if the penalty fare ties in, perhaps) and so it was a bus job instead….which included a jog down to Piccadilly Gardens to give me any chance of catching it. Thank God nothing can keep to timetables is all I can say!!

So that’s that for my third visit to the home of the Bears. A good game which had been a highly entertaining watch, regardless of it being goalless for almost the whole 90. Congleton is a great little town in my opinion, and the ground has the rustic charm that is often missing nowadays. Richard’s company kept the cold off somewhat during the second-half although, as he said later, I’m sure the replay was even colder still. So another week is done, a small courts visit may still be on the cards at time of writing, so there’s another new experience peering over the horizon! Footballing-wise, it’s off to somewhere that brews up quite a fair bit, but not trouble, I’d hope….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Programme: 6

Food: 8

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Birkenhead (Cammell Laird 1907 FC)

Result: Cammell Laird 1907 1-2 West Didsbury & Chorlton (NWCFL Division One South)

Venue: Kirklands (Saturday 28th September 2019, 3pm)

Att: 107

With the weather deciding to be as much of a polar opposite to the previous week, I went from basking in the late summer heat around the dales of Derbyshire to sheltering away from heavy rain showers whilst looking for somewhere to go that was a fairly safe bet. Only in Britain, I swear. Anyway, as the minutes rolled on and the half-hours passed by, my laziness began to grow – even to a point where I was half-considering binning off football for the day and just going out drinking instead. One out of two ain’t bad, after all! However, through the bleak Saturday morning came a beacon from the Wirral peninsular. Cammell Laird was on. Confirmed. My destination was set. Confirmed. To Lairds I headed!

Boarding the train at a little before 11am, I rode straight through to Liverpool’s Lime Street station before making my way down into the depths of the Merseyrail system for the train ‘over the water’ (well, under to be more factually correct) along the Wirral line and towards Birkenhead. I had a ticket for Rock Ferry, the nearest station to Kirklands, but decided to hop off at Conway Park in the town centre instead, as that was the train that was coming in first. What I didn’t know, however, was the lovely surprise that awaited me on arrival. “99 steps to the street” declared the sign over the doors. I could make a 99 problems joke, but that’s surely dead by now, no?

Arriving in Birkenhead

Crown Inn

I survived my Everest climb and headed on out through the gates, despite their best efforts to deny me. Turning to the right over the left, I soon spotted the Crown Inn just across the forecourt of a Mecca Bingo and so reckoned I’d set-up stall in there for the moment and see what else was around. As I approached, I saw a side entrance, peeling paint from all sides and a black-board outside still advertising St. George’s Day deals. Many might be a bit put off, but not this madman, oh no! I headed in and….well, bloody hell. A lovely, traditional bar area immediately greets you and is rather grand in its ways. I was enamoured; a hidden gem, you might say. Yes, the beers weren’t quite wide-ranging, but I’m not one to overly complain – Stella at £3.10 was far from bad either!

Soon after a pair of ladies stated to a guy there that they would be “back for a quickie” (a drink, get your minds out of the gutter) after bingo, I figured I’d best head off too and made my way back past the station to the Stork Hotel, only to find this shut; as a result, I took a cut-through I remembered from my trip to Tranmere last season and was soon back on a route that would take me to what was my intended third-stop, this being the Firemans’ Arms. Again, this is probably a place that would see the exterior (and likely just the overall location) put people off, down a back road side-street and with shutters down on some windows. It did look shut from the angle I approached, but I soon spotted it was not the case and ventured in. A small bar stood across the way, along with a couple of TV’s that, like the Crown, were unsurprisingly showing Liverpool’s early kick-off. Again, not one that would strike someone who is not too used to the region as overly welcoming, but it was indeed, with guys moving out of the way of their own accord to allow me to get to the bar; not something that happens readily elsewhere, so something nice. The Coors was a nice pint here too, the price being a nice aside at £2.70.

Fireman’s Arms

George & Dragon

A soggy Wirral

Just around the corner was the George & Dragon and, out of the three I’d visited to that point, looked the least likely to be the vocal, sweary, crazy story place. However, this would be the jackpot for all three! It was pretty humorous as I sat in and caught the remainder of the first-half in a similar bar area set-up to the Crown, but a bit more open-plan overall, and I decided to go for a Strongbow (£3.10) in here as I wasn’t quite sure of my plans overall in heading over more towards Kirklands itself. What I did know, though, was that I was going to pay a quick visit to the Waterloo just across the road, prior to heading on past the Cammell Laird shipyard itself – which was, of course, complete with the newly-christened Sir David Attenborough (or ‘Boaty McBoatface’) in a case of a result that wasn’t upheld….but I’m not going there!

A swift Dark Fruits (£2.90) was had in good time, as I dodged another blustery shower that blew in prior to continuing on down the main road and retracing many of my steps to Prenton Park. On this occasion, I would make a divert off to a pub just off the side and alongside an old rail bridge by the name of the Lord Napier – a pub I’d missed out and so put in the memory bank, from my aforementioned visit last season. Inside, there was no football, shockingly, and instead they had a points thing going on which was completely over my head – though it looked to be fairly competitive between the two guys in and around the TV.

Whatever the case, I polished off my Amstel (£2.90) and continued on the short distance to Kirklands, where I arrived some ten minutes later. I arrived to find that the old, art-deco, lovely clubhouse had gone and was now a building site with horrendous new-builds popping up (yes, I don’t like change too much, can you tell?!) and if that wasn’t bad enough, NO PROGRAMMES!!!! Now, this wouldn’t usually be too much of an issue on a revisit, but with doing a write-up that includes rating one, and the fact that this is a ‘new’ Laird club, I did kind of want one.

Waterloo

Lord Napier

As it was, I paid my £5 entry and was pointed in the direction of Kate in the tea bar – who then passed me along to her dad, the Lairds secretary, who took my name and £1.50 for the issue to be sent on when picked up. Hopefully, this works out better than my £3 paid at South Shields which ended up being a digital issue instead. That all sorted, I reckoned I may as well get the food in now too, and so chips and gravy was had and polished off nicely – despite the dribble of gravy that found its way to my jeans. Ah well, they were already fairly wet anyway!

Cammell Laird shipyard came about after a merger of Laird Brothers of Birkenhead and Johnson Cammell of Sheffield, with the former having been started out in 1828 by William Laird, who’d also started the Birkenhead Iron Works, before passing onto his sons after his passing. The latter brought the rail side of things from Yorkshire and both ships, boats and rail stock began to be built by the new Cammell Laird company. These included London Underground trains (the 1920 stock being the first tube cars to run with compressed air doors, though these were being powered by 1906 vintage French motor cars), warships (including two HMS Ark Royal, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney and, of course, HMS Liverpool and HMS Birkenhead, as well as a couple for the Confederate States of America), mail ships (such as the second RMS Mauretania) and passenger coaches for use in the Indian subcontinent.

The Sir David Attenborough at Lairds

In 1929, the rail stock part of the business was spun-off as an aside company whilst, ship-wise, the company totalled over 1,100 vessels launched by 1947 – including the first all-welded ship, Fullager, and the quickest-built significantly sized warship, HMS Caroline. The company was nationalised as with the rest of the country’s shipbuilding industry as part of British Shipbuilders in 1977, but returned to private sector ownership in 1986 as part of Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering of Barrow-in-Furness. The two yards were the only ones in the country capable of producing nuclear submarines and produced HMS Unicorn, now named HMCS Windsor, in 1993 before the yard was closed despite much opposition. Part of the Laird yard was purchased by Coastline as a repair facility, though they retained the traditional name and grew to take on other yards in Teesside, Tyneside and Gibraltar, though after a contract pull-out, the business entered receivership after financial issues and folded soon after – with A&P Shiprepair Group buying the Britain-based yards in 2001.

Birkenhead

It was sold again in 2005 to another repair and building company – Northwestern – in 2005 and then to Peel Holdings in 2007 as part of the wider business – with Peel purchasing and re-using the Cammell Laird name for Northwestern from 2008. It then got contracts to build the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, and car ferries for Western Ferries too, whilst then gaining the construction contract for the British Antarctic Survey’s new Royal Research Ship – the RRS Sir David Attenborough – which you can see below! Lairds also entered into an agreement with BAE Systems to construct frigates for the Royal Navy from 2017 and 2018 saw Red Funnel decide to give the shipyard the task of building its new cargo ferry, the MV Red Kestrel, whilst the MoD has awarded it a further contract for four new RFA tankers – in addition to maintaining the nine already in service.

Kirklands, much like Causeway Lane last week, hasn’t changed much, if at all, since my last visit, if you discount the clubhouse’s death, that is. An all-seater stand made up of four rows or so runs the majority of the near-side, and is flanked by open hard standing on both sides, whilst the turnstiles, and the hospitality area, tea bar and dressing rooms all lie in between it and the near end, which too is open, hard standing, much like its opposite end; though both have a large grass expanse behind. The far end houses a covered standing area and another seated stand that together, all but take-up the full run of this side and a Hurst Cross-style wall toilet is hidden away behind it and the neighbouring Stagecoach bus depot. Also, the old concrete pitch wall surrounds have gone, which I was pleased about, having seen a bad one avoided a number of years back now. Anyway, without going off on a tangent, that’s Kirklands in a nutshell, and this is Laird’s story….

History Lesson:

Cammell Laird Institute Association Football Club was founded in 1907 as, perhaps unsurprisingly, the works team of the shipbuilding yard of the same name. Their first game came against neighbours Tranmere Rovers, prior to the club joining the West Cheshire League Division One for their first season. They would finish that year in 10th, before the club finished bottom in 1910, though would avoid the drop to Division 2. Post-WWI, the club was taken back in-house as the works team of the shipbuilding yard of the same name and a company league was set-up, with a representative Wirral Football Association cup side also introduced to take part in outside cup competitions and they would win their first silverware in the form of the 1921 Shipley Cup. 

In 1922, they would enter the Birkenhead and Wirral League’s Division 2, and return to the wider football landscape as Kirklands Football Club. After adding a second honour to their list in the shape of the 1924 Wirral Minor ‘B’ Cup, Lairds would lift the Birkenhead & Wirral League’s Division 2 title in 1925 and remained in Division One (presumably) through to 1939, winning the 1927 Regents Cup whilst there, before they disbanded due to the outbreak of World War II. Post-war, the club returned as Cammell Laird A.F.C. and re-joined the Birkenhead & Wirral League for the first couple of post-war years before moving back up and into the West Cheshire League’s Division 2, where they were promoted to Division 1 from in 1951 after a fourth-placed finish. However, they would stay in the Division 1 for just the sole year before being relegated.

Cammell Laird 1907

They would then win the Division 2 title in 1958, though despite not being promoted on that occasion, they were the next season upon successfully defending their title win. Season 1968-’69 saw Cammell Laird win the First Division title without suffering a league defeat and after winning a second title in 1971, they then went on to dominate the latter half of the decade – winning five successive West Cheshire League titles between 1975 & 1979. A runners-up placing ended their dominance, but only briefly, as Lairds then proceeded to take the next four championships (1981-’84), another in 1987, and another four-in-a-row between 1989 & 1992. Their success through this period was also added to with eight WCL Pyke Challenge Cups between 1970 & 1994, six Cheshire Amateur Cups (1973-’94), the 1958 West Cheshire Bowl and nine Wirral Senior Cups (1972-’95).

Their West Cheshire League success continued rather unabated through into the mid-1990’s, as the Shipyarders won a further two titles in the decade – 1994 & 1999 – and started off the new millennium lifting the 2000-’01 championship. However, this would be their final league win in the West Cheshire League, as 2004’s runners-up placing saw them take promotion to the North West Counties League’s Division 2; however they did continue to add further cup successes to the above list, with an additional two Pyke Cups being won in 1999 & 2002, two Cheshire Amateur Cups in 2001 & 2003 and two more Wirral Senior Cups in 2000 & 2002. The Division 2 Counties title was immediately won at the first attempt as part of an immediate NWCFL treble, with the NWCFL Challenge Cup and Division 2 Cup joining the league in the trophy cabinet at Kirklands.

A few people have entered here with the hump

Lairds then proceeded to go straight through the Division One, winning that too, and achieving promotion to the Northern Premier League Division One, allying this with a run to the semi-finals of the FA Vase, where they eventually were convincingly knocked out by Nantwich Town, 5-0, over two-legs. Their first season there saw success continue, with a strong season ending in a runners-up finish and qualification for the play-offs, along with a first ever Cheshire Senior Cup triumph, but after winning their play-off semi-final against Colwyn Bay, they would be bested by Eastwood Town in the final.

League re-organisation for Season 2007-’08 saw Lairds placed in Division One South (as opposed to North) and they again finished as runners-up, this time achieving promotion to the NPL’s Premier Division on account of champions Retford United failing ground-grading, though this would come to bite at Lairds too at the end of the next season. Kirklands was found to not be up to Step 3 standard and so Lairds would be relegated on ground-grading. They returned to Division One South for a season, before being switched to the North Division for 2010-’11, where they went from one extreme to the other – finishing bottom but avoiding the drop in 2012, before making the play-offs the very next season. However, it would be the first of the two campaigns that would end in slightly more pleasure strangely, as the play-offs ended in heartbreak of the Wirral side as, having overcome Mossley in the semi-finals, they would lose out to Trafford on penalties following a goalless draw in the final – a game at which I was (at the time) a staunch supporter of the Manchester side.

The old-school toilets

After finishing 11th the next season, Cammell Laird A.F.C. was disbanded (due to, if I remember rightly, off-field issues) and replaced by the current 1907 outfit. The ‘new’ club began life back in the North West Counties and finished as runners-up, earning promotion to the Premier Division from Division 1. However, unlike their predecessor, 1907 would find life a little more tricky in the Counties’ top-tier and would be relegated back in 2017 having finished bottom of the table. 2018 saw Lairds make the Division 1 play-offs, where they defeated Sandbach United in the semis, but were defeated in the final, 2-1, by Whitchurch Alport. The next season saw the league enter a Division 1 regional split, North/South, with Cammell Laird 1907 placed in the Southern section. They finished last season there in 15th place.

The game got underway in a similar vein to that of last weekend’s game at Matlock, in that very little would happen in terms of goalmouth action early on. Both sides jabbed at each other, akin to an early boxing round, with no-one able to get in close enough to deliver a meaningful blow. However, from nowhere, Lairds would break the deadlock after the first quarter-hour had been played; a long ball over the top saw the onrushing West ‘keeper make an error of judgment on the flight, and the home striker wearing #9, Kyle Sambor, nipped in to finish off rather simply.

Match Action

Tipped over

View from the ‘Main Stand’

West, who have started the season strongly despite a couple of recent slip-ups, began to get back on terms with their hosts who had began slightly the brighter on their home turf, and after a looping header from Matt Eckersley had been well tipped over by Lairds ‘keeper Richard Cowderoy, he was powerless to deny the visitors an equaliser on 37 minutes, when a ball Ben Steer, ahem, steered the ball across goal, the ball just avoiding the grasp of Cowderoy and dropping over him and into the far corner. One-a-piece and that was pretty much that for the first-half action – a half which had only really seen two chances, and both of which ended up in the net. Not a bad conversion rate!

The second-half was far more watchable as a contest and both teams looked to stamp their authority upon the game from the outset. Lairds began by seeing some good play by Sambor allowed his strike-partner Luke Blondel a sight of goal, but his shot ended up being straight at West stopper Andy Jones. Meanwhile, down the other end, West’s Lee Grimshaw, who’d gone close right at the beginning of the half, made full amends when he received a fine through ball, got clear of the defence and slid past Cowderoy for 1-2.

From the seats

Match Action

Match Action

West’s James Cottee went close soon after this, as he showed good persistence to chase the ball down, keep it in, before cutting inside and getting a shot away that the ‘keeper could only parry; his defenders completing the clearance. Lairds Dominic Murphy spurned a presentable chance when being played in by #9, his shot seeing Jones allowed a pretty routine stop, before Grimshaw really should have added a third with around ten minutes left to play but, he too, would only fire straight at a grateful gloveman. A late bit of handbags threatened to ruin my avoidance of the horrific sin-bin, but the ref, who’d had a good game in my eyes, thankfully decided not to employ it. Full-time followed shortly afterwards, with West heading back to south Manchester with the points in the bag.

Post-match, I headed back past the overlooking church as the West choir continued singing and turned left on this occasion, crossing the bridge over the dual-carriageway and down what looked to be a kind of old hall approach road, before finally arriving waterside at the refreshment rooms. A restaurant/bar, (oh God, I’ve just remembered it’s split, isn’t it?), I headed in and got a San Miguel (£4.40), before sitting at the only table I’d spotted without a ‘reserved’ sign on it….only to be turfed out after about a minute as it turns out it was!! I was told the one that did say ‘reserved’ was actually ok for the moment and was given that. All this makes sense in hindsight – I was really in the wrong side I’d say. Anyhow, they only had to put up with my thickness for around 15 minutes, as I had my train to Lime Street to catch.

Late on

A low-key beach (and a bit dead boat)

Refreshment Rooms

No problem with that hop and I was back in Liverpool in good time for my train back home. This journey was also uneventful, apart from a couple of beer-fuelled guys trying to fight with another guy for no reason (they weren’t happy at being called ‘Mancs’; yes from their own mouths) and the driver coming out of the cab to object about the term ‘Scouse Bastard’ being thrown about. Ah, Northern….well, I’d say never change, but it’s probably best for everyone that you do. Anyway, some of the group went back to chatting up girls instead – though I’d say it seemed a little like a one-way situation!

As for me, I was soon off for a couple more back in my parents bar in Urmston (‘The Three Barrels’ it’s called, pay me for THAT ad) to round off a good day. The game was ok, the ground is nice in a rustic kind of way – it has its own look to it – and the food there was decent too; hopefully the same can be said for the programme when it’s in situ. Pubs also were better than expected, which was a nice bonus. Another week, another FA Cup round to come. Now, where to go….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: Forthcoming

Value For Money: 7

 

Manchopper in….Cheadle Heath (2)

 

Result: Cheadle Heath Nomads 0-8 Stockport County (Pre-Season Friendly)

 

Venue: The Heath (Saturday 6th July 2019, 3pm)

Att: 1,005

As pre-season rumbles (or maybe crawls is a more appropriate word) on, I was on a quest to discover somewhere local for a revisit for this weekend as I wanted to be on something of a tighter budget ahead of the following week’s trip over to Scarborough. This resulted in a trip into town to meet regular ‘hopping accomplice-in-chief, Dan, to sort out a final destination. Over a pint in Piccadilly Gardens’ Wetherspoon’s outlet, options such as Hindsford and Stockport Town, amongst others, were floated, but were discounted for varying reasons before we settled on a Father Ted-inspired visit to Crilly Park for Atherton LR vs a Witton Albion XI. So we were off to Atherton….

Or so we thought! Moments before we were to set off, Dan had a check of the NWCFL website and discovered the game was postponed (it actually wasn’t as it turns out, so no idea what was going on there) and so back into the pot of grounds we dipped, deciding on one of those options already mooted – Cheadle Heath Nomads vs Stockport County. Splitting our transportation routes to suit our respective needs and budgets, Dan headed for the bus station whilst I was off back uphill towards Piccadilly station for a service the short way over to Stockport – deciding this was an easier option than waiting for one bound for the closer stops of Cheadle Hulme or Davenport. Indeed, the plusbus would see the onward bus journeys be a breeze anyway….or so I thought; but more on that later!

Anyways, for the moment, all was running smoothly and I headed into and out of Stockport in quick time, arriving into Cheadle Heath for a touch after 1pm. With Dan still en route via the joys of Greater Manchester’s bus system, I reckoned I might as well squeeze a pre-Dan pint in before returning to our pre-planned meeting point in the Cross Keys. So upon disembarking at said Cross Keys, I instead took the short-ish walk around the corner and within five-or-so minutes was arriving at the March Hare, which is set back quite some way from the road itself and is accessed by its own, rather lengthy, access lane which is lined by old-school lights all the way down, giving it a quaint look. The pub itself was pretty too and a warm welcome was received which is always a bonus.

March Hare

Foxy

With a pint of Amstel (£3.50~) in hand, I settled into the largely timber-framed inside and was pleasantly surprised to hear the dulcet tones of Dawes over the stereo system; this had been a decent start to proceedings! With that said and Dan’s arrival becoming ever more imminent, I finished up and headed out on up the lane back to the main road only to, at that moment, catch a fox with its cub in the middle of the road. The cub soon made its exit into the vacant lot alongside, whilst the adult gave me a long, watchful stare before joining its youngster the other side of the wall. A definite first for me doing this….at least I think so!

Cheadle Heath is a suburb of Stockport within Greater Manchester, eight miles to the south east of the city centre, and has and still is home to numerous engineering companies. A large factory was built in Cheadle Heath by Henry Simon in 1926 and its distinctive tower went on to be used for testing of experimental flour milling equipment, whilst it has also been home to large oil equipment manufacturers and underwater sonar companies too. The town did have a railway station through to 1967, but this has gone the way of many a football ground and is now a Morrisons.

Cross Keys

Micker Brook

Park

I arrived at the Cross Keys once more soon after and waited only a short while for Dan to join me whilst supping a pint of Holsten (cheap at £2.75). Our initial coupling would be brief though as he headed off to the ground a little earlier so to enable him to not rush, whilst I (being quite happy and rather used to last minute arrivals by now) headed for a final pre-match beverage in the Micker Brook Smokehouse a short walk down the road. Not much to really report on here though and upon swiftly finishing my pint of Heineken (£3.80) I cut through the park on the opposite side of the road, to the bus stop to catch the carriage the few short stops up the way towards Nomads’ home – The Heath.

With the bus running a little late (shock, horror!) I had to do a short jog to ensure my arrival at the ground in time for the game’s beginning – well within earshot of the whistle anyway. The clubhouse building, set back a fair way from the pitch itself, was still rather busy with people finishing off their own last bits of respective drinks ahead of making their way to the turnstiles – a new addition since my previous visits here in the Cheshire League. A nice touch was when, upon handing over my £5, I was pulled up to ensure I awaited my match ticket, which it turned out was actually a free pass to a game at any point later in the Nomads’ season. A good idea too, considering they’ll likely pick up some extra numbers on the attendance figures here and there.

Tunnel vision

Heading on in….

Whilst league surroundings have changed for the Nomads, so their ground itself has changed a bit too. Along with the pre-existing, but itself rather recent, changing room building, the ground now plays host to a covered standing and all-seater at-cost-style pair of structures at its far side which, on myself and Dan’s last visit here was not much more than a sodden swamp, so that’s quite the improvement, for sure! The pitch is fully-railed and is open, hard standing for the majority of the remainder, with a small food bar to the rear of the dressing rooms, between it and the turnstile, whilst another barred-off pitch lies behind the near-end goal. A railway runs right behind the other end too, for those who like that sort of thing, whilst the Manchester Airport flightpath allows excitement for those of a aluminium-based avian variety persuasion. That’s The Heath in a nutshell and this is the story of the Nomads of Cheadle Heath….

History Lesson:

Cheadle Heath Nomads were founded in 1919 with the club’s founders later purchasing land which would become the present Sports Club site in 1921. The club went on to join the Lancashire & Cheshire AFL soon after and bar a brief stint away in 1927, remained as members of the league right through until 1994 – a period which saw their pre-WWII season’s become a struggle money-wise, resulting in an enforced kit change to all-white, with all players having to supply their own tops! Post-war, Nomads took on their claret and blue kit which has become their regular scheme, although a switch back to their original yellow and green kit has been introduced for this, their centenary season.

Cheadle Heath grew stronger in the aftermath of the Second World War and the 1950’s produced a somewhat golden-era for the club and the expansion of facilities at the sports club as a whole. Springing forwards to 1994, and after maintaining regular strong showings in the Lancs & Cheshire League, the club finally undertook the much-mooted move to the Mid-Cheshire League after the pitch-clash with the cricketing outfield was solved by the demise of the leather and willow section. They immediately won the Second Division title at the end of their first season in the league and they remained in the First Division there through the best part of a decade prior to the club merging with fellow Mid-Cheshire outfit, Linotype, based in Timperley – a move which saw the Linotype name remain in the league (they were struggling to ensure their home at the Silver Wings Club) and enabled Nomads own struggles were somewhat abated.

At The Heath

Nomads

Competing as Linotype/Cheadle Heath Nomads, the side maintained a place in the First Division through a league name change (to the Cheshire League) and a divisional name swap (to the Premier Division), finally winning the league title in 2014-’15, a season which allowed Nomads to maintain a place in the upper echelons of the table for the next few seasons, with them just missing out on a successful defence of the title the next season, eventually ending up as runners-up. Attentions soon turned to aiming for the North West Counties League and swift ground improvements allowed for entry upon the league’s expansion ahead of the 2018-’19 season – with floodlights, further spectator cover and improved pitch barriers all being installed, with the second pitch also being spruced up. They finished last season, their first at Step 6, in a highly creditable 9th place.

County’s first pre-season outing ahead of their long overdue Conference return started off well for the Hatters as they struck to open the deadlock just a few minutes in. Nomads’ centenary-season special colours of canary-yellow and green did little to aid them against their illustrious neighbours as Ash Palmer got up highest to guide a header beyond Cheadle Heath ‘keeper Aaron Tyrer. Around quarter of an hour into the game and it was two when Frank Mulhern’s powerful long-range drive burst the gloves of Tyrer and hit the back of the net; the keeper surely feeling he ought to have done better.

Match Action

Match Action

However, he was pretty helpless just a couple of minutes later when left one-on-one against Elliot Osborne, with the County man rounding Tyrer and slotting home, before it was four on 25 minutes when Mulhern hit one across goal on the turn, the ball hitting the far corner beyond the beleaguered Nomads gloveman. The dangerous frontman then clipped the top of the crossbar as he searched for a double-quick hat-trick and was denied by a fine Tyrer stop from a well struck free-kick, but it wouldn’t be for Mulhern and instead it would be Jake Kirby who would make it five on the half-hour as he knocked the ball home after a corner wasn’t cleared. The rest of the half was largely uneventful outside of my visit to the food hut (well, the BBQ next door) for a cheeseburger; though was denied access to the chips being cooked as they were bound for those with the blue blood (no pun intended).

A much-changed County line-up emerged for the second half which seemed to be made up of a number of younger players, but this didn’t seem to dampen their forward forays. First, Michael Elstone hit a low drive which Tyrer was able to get down well to and push behind, though he would beat the Nomads stopper at the second attempt soon after when, after a cross was only half-cleared, a calm pull-back was fired home from the edge of the area. A couple of further Stockport chances came and went but the game was beginning to fizzle out at this point in truth – though Cheadle Heath did eventually get a sight of goal well into the second period when Jake Wright’s low drive was saved comfortably by the long-serving County stopper Ian Ormson.

Corners

Match Action

It’s all black and white

The hosts began to fashion a couple of chances against the ever-changing Stockport on-field personnel with a couple of chances coming and going – Andy Simpson nodding narrowly wide of the mark, but the Hatters would finish strongly and add a pair of goals late on. Number seven would come courtesy of Elstone’s second strike of the game – a close range knock home from a low cross – and Szymon Czubik added the eighth seconds later after charging down Tyrer’s attempted clearance in the flank. Eight-nil it would finish to a strong-looking Hatters and Cheadle Heath can take heart from the fact that County have since gone on to tonk Stockport Town for ten without reply and also defeated Curzon Ashton. Of course, friendlies are notoriously unreliable when it comes to a season’s predictions and outlooks, but the Hatters will be hoping that this isn’t the case for them!

Post-match I came up with the plan to undertake the walk in the opposite direction from whence we came, towards Cheadle and the Farmer’s Arms. Dan didn’t take too much in the way of encouraging to tag along(!) and upon arriving we were soon in possession of a pint of Boddington’s and a Carling…..bet you can’t guess which one is mine. The round was only £6.25 though, which wasn’t too bad and certainly not as bad as the attendance at the Women’s World Cup 3rd-place play-off on the TV, that’s for sure. We soon headed on out for the bus back towards Stockport only for a different one to turn up immediately meaning we jumped on. Of course, in my haste, I couldn’t find the plusbus ticket, but the driver allowed me on nonetheless. Despite much checking of all nooks and crannies of my bag, the ticket still wouldn’t show up but, to be fair, the guy said he’d give me the benefit of the doubt and only charged a quid to get back – which was decent of him, to be fair. Of course, I then found it almost immediately.

Farmer’s Arms to round off with

When I was getting off though, the driver actually apologised for charging me an extra £1 which was good of him as he’d actually done me a good favour anyhow, and I arrived at Stockport station to find all trains in disarray once again – though one was just pulling in much delayed which helped me at least, though I’m sure many more weren’t as lucky. A few minutes later and I was back in the sprawling metropolis of Piccadilly and took a sojourn to the Piccadilly Tap, a place I’ve been a stranger from for far too long. A pint of Budvar was enjoyable here (£4) before heading back to the station and the couple of connections through town and home to round off week two of 2019-’20. Goals galore, one-sided games aren’t my favourite, but in pre-season I couldn’t care less if I’m honest. It’s always nice to visit the Heath and I’ll be certain to make use of my ticket later this season. Food was good, the pubs were too and the programme was a fine edition, though I’m not sure quite what the regular size will be as this covered all PSF’s. Anyway, up next is Scarborough for football – but not at a football ground….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 5

Food: 7

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Hanley

Result: Hanley Town 0-4 Congleton Town (NWCFL Premier Division)

Venue: Potteries Park (Monday 22nd April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 117

I rounded off my trifector of Easter fun with a second visit to Stoke in just about as many weeks. Having visited City’s Britannia Stadium home the Saturday before the Easter weekend, I returned once more via the medium of the twittersphere, though not quite as clear cut as it ought to have been admittedly. The original winner, Market Drayton, was unreachable by any reasonable public transportation options and so the runner-up was promoted. Off to Hanley I was.

Grabbing the train from Manchester, I arrived into Stoke-on-Trent station at about 11am and set about on the short walk up to Hanley, passing the university buildings as I went. After paying a visit to Hanley Park for a bit of culture, I made haste for the more pleasurable part of the trip to date. Pubs. Did you expect any less?! Having been given some tips of where to try out from Stoke native Dave on twitter, I had some expectations of what was to come, though my first sighting was to be the Coachmakers Arms – and it was here that history was made….

Hanley Park

Coachmaker’s Arms

Down Piccadilly to the Bottle & Tap and Unicorn

ID?! I exclaimed incredulously and it was only my answer that prompted the question of my age. Yes, at 27, I had finally been ID’d for alcohol. Madness, but I’m not complaining, especially when you are feeling the aches and strains at this point! The guy was apologetic for some unknown reason and felt a bit embarrassed. I assured him he had no reason to be as he’d already made my day! A pint of Mango cider (£3.70) was had before I set off the short walk around the town hall towards Piccadilly – though this one was a fair bit more serene than its brethren in Manchester & London, that’s for sure.

Hanley is a constituent town in Stoke-on-Trent and was first incorporated as a municipal borough in 1857 and then became a county borough in 1888. In 1910, it merged together with another five towns:- Burslem, Longton, Tunstall, Fenton and Stoke-upon-Trent to be federated into the new county borough of Stoke-on-Trent (see here for a little more on that), and after a bit of a struggle, Stoke finally became a city in 1925 via royal intervention with the six towns continuing to make up the area. Hanley became the de facto city centre and is home to most of the retail and other commercial businesses and outlets. Piccadilly, here, hosts an annual Sanity Fair and a French market and the town is also home to Stoke’s LGBTQ pride events.

Hanley Town Hall

Hanley

It derives its name from either “haer lea” (high meadow) or “heah lea” (rock meadow) and was once a large coal mining area, with the town’s deep pit being the deepest in North Staffordshire at a depth of around 1,500ft. It closed in 1962 with much of the pits left in situ before finally being cleared away in the 1980’s and being turned into Hanley Forest Park. The miners of Hanley and Longton became the focal point of the General Strike of 1842 and the Pottery Riots associated with the strike. The town is home to a main bus station and is connected elsewhere via the canal waterways of the Trent and Mersey Canal and the Cauldon Canal and in-keeping with the water-based theme, it was home to the RMS Titanic’s skipper Edward Smith whilst, away from that side of things, Sir Stanley Matthews is the town’s vaunted sporting son, a statue of Matthews stands in the town centre.

On my arrival at the Hanley version of Piccadilly, I set my sights on one of Dave’s recommendations, the Bottle & Tap – so named as it sells bottles and has taps, I assumed. What I hadn’t assumed was that the pint would cost me a cool £6.30, though on the basis I was asked, it wasn’t actually listed as a pint and the fact the Wylam & Deya Orange Wit was bloody gorgeous, I’ll let it slide. Great place too, and well worth a visit. Just choose smarter that me if you are tight on a budget!! After going on a fruitless foray to a closed up pub near a theatre, I returned to Piccadilly for the Unicorn where another surprise awaited.

Unicorn

Auctioneer (Market Tavern opposite)

‘Spoons

I entered the old building and rounded the corner only to be met by a lady wielding a magazine around the doorway. “I almost got you then!” was her response to my appearance and after an apology and the fact that it was the flies she was after and not me (Father Ted-type reference there) I settled in over a pint of Heineken (£4) whilst keeping a close eye on the magazine rack.

I left the friendly pub and continued on the crawl over the way to the Auctioneer & Market Tavern which stand just across the way from each other. Both were alright but nothing much to shout about and after a couple of Dark Fruits, at £2.40 & £2.65 respectively (time was against me and I wanted to recoup some cash after my earlier minting), I paid a swift visit to the neighbouring Wetherspoons for a quick bottle of Hooch as I planned on grabbing a bus to the ground or, failing that, it wasn’t too far. Oh, how wrong I was. No bus, the walk was further than it looked and I eventually arrived around 7 minutes in and had missed a goal. Superb. I should also add that I had jogged to the ground from the centre too and I don’t recommend it! At least I’d saved a programme. Got to look at the positives, however little they are.

Potteries Park, Hanley’s home, is a tidy little ground, it’s turnstiles are located behind a pair of atcost style stands on the near side of the pitch, whilst an older covered standing area stands opposite. Both ends are open, though the clubhouse to the left side sits in the corner and has a few seats and tables around it. It also houses the bar, food hut and dressing rooms etc. That’s the ground in a nutshell and this is the tale of Hanley Town….

History Lesson:

The original Hanley Town Football Club was founded back around the early 1880’s with the club later going on to join the Combination in 1894 for a single season before leaving and subsequently folding in 1912. The name wouldn’t reappear until a Sunday pub side known as the Trumpet took on the town name in 1966 and switched to Saturday football, entering the local Longton League and winning the title at the first attempt. Playing on a pitch on Victoria Road he club moved up to the Staffordshire County League after this success and went on to achieve swift success there too, taking the Division 2 title, again at the first attempt, and being promoted to Division One which was also won first time around. A decent start to life for the new Hanley Town outfit.

HTFC

In the Premier Division of the Staffs County League for 1969-’70, Hanley lifted the league’s Premier Cup that same year and went on to finish runners-up in the league too. They would finish second for a further two consecutive seasons before finally taking the title in 1973 and then again in 1976 this latter season leading the club to take the step into the Mid-Cheshire League’s Division 2 and also saw them move to their new Potteries Park home, after spells at Trentmill Road (with Eastwood Hanley) and Leek Town’s Harrison Park. Again they saw silverware arrive quickly, their first season seeing them win the 1977 Division 2 Cup with a win over Knutsford and a third-placed finish come the end of the following campaign saw Hanley promoted to Division One. They would win the title in 1983 but it was here they eventually hit a road-block – the North West Counties refusing entry due to ground-grading issues – and after a few years in mid-table, the club finished bottom of Division One in 1994 and dropped into junior football for a couple of years.

Returning to the Mid-Cheshire League in 1996 and again joining in Division 2, Hanley would this time spend just two seasons competing there before making a switch to the Midland League instead. They would win the Midland League title in 2005, becoming the league’s final ever champions after the league subsequently merged with the Staffs League to create the Staffordshire County Senior League from then on. Hanley also then claimed the honour of being the new league’s first champions, taking the Premier Division championship in 2006 before then just missing out on defending their crown the next season, ending as runners-up.

Memories….

The club would go on to finish as runners-up once again in 2011 but would then take successive titles in both 2012 & 2013 which led them to take promotion to the North West Counties League for 2013-’14. The latter season was hugely successful for the side as they achieved a quadruple via also lifting the Staffs County Senior League Cup, Leek Cup and Staffordshire FA Vase. Joining the Counties’ Division One, the club finished fourth in 2015 and thus qualified for the First Division play-offs but after defeating Holker Old Boys in the semis, they lost out to AFC Darwen in the final. However they would go one better next time around, winning the Division One the next season and being promoted to the Premier Division, where they finished a highly creditable 8th last season, though have battled the drop this time out.

As I said earlier on, I’d arrived a little late and with the score already at one-nil there was little surprise that Congleton were on top. As it turned out, the away fans I spoke to during the first half informed me of the opener’s details and, of course, I’d missed the best goal of the lot. John Main was the man who grabbed it, apparently finding the net with a fine curling effort from just inside the area. I wouldn’t have to wait long to actually see a goal myself though, luckily and it was the Bears who would double their advantage as Tom Morris was played in and coolly finished past the Hanley ‘keeper Dane Jackson.

Match Action

Match Action

Signed.

The visitors would add a third to all-but kill off the game within the first half-hour as tall frontman Saul Henderson fired a free-kick beyond the home stopper from around 20 yards. The Bears continued to be well on top through to half-time, with Hanley barely mustering an effort of note to work Craig Ellison in the away goal, whilst Congleton would go close on a couple more occasions and it could have easily have been five-nil at the break. Speaking of which, the whistle must have come as a welcome shrill sound to ears of those of a home-team persuasion. 3-0, half-time.

During the break and over a fine portion of pie, chips and gravy which really was some of the better food I’ve had the pleasure of feasting upon over the previous couple of months at least, I got talking to a Hanley committee member (whose name escapes me at this later date of writing, so I do apologise but it was great speaking to you)who’d offered me a seat at the table so I could get on with devouring the food in my grasp and speaking about the football scene here and there more than passed the time through to the second-half getting going once again. Back on with the show!

The beginning of the half saw a response of sorts from the hosts as they forced Ellison into action early on in proceedings but despite being on top for the first fifteen minutes or so they couldn’t find a goal to give them any kind of hope going forward. As such with around twenty minutes or so left on the clock, Congleton were awarded a corner and despite the delivery not being the best, the ball eventually fell to Billy Hasler-Cregg and the wide-man side-footed home off the inside of the post.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Despite this, Hanley didn’t give in and went about searching for any kind of consolation which may have turned out to be crucial in their battle with the drop as you just never know what might pop-up before the season’s end. Indeed, they really ought to have recorded at least one goal, with an Ellison double save and a fine defensive block in quick succession denying them first time around, Jake Alcock then firing over when well placed and Serkari Ahmadi striking across Ellison but also against the foot of the far post in the last real action of the game, as Congleton held on to the clean sheet by the slimmest of margins. Full-time, 0-4.

The post-match trip back to Hanley was a little more serene and after popping into the (Dave informed) newly reponed and rather impressive looking Woodsman’s Arms for a second Lilley’s Mango cider of the day (£3.60) I continued on to my final stop, the Albion back opposite the town hall for a Strongbow (£2.40) whilst a DJ did his thing to a small audience. The trip back was uneventful and I was home nice and swiftly. Thank God for that!

Woodsman’s Arms

The Albion

The day as a whole had been decent enough with Hanley proving decent enough on the pub front, whilst the ground and game were both on the positive side of things too, though the ground more so as the game was rather dead as a contest for the most part. Transport was easy, programme and food decent and excellent respectively and, all in all, it had been a good round off for the three games in four days extravaganza. Back to normality for a week and a trip to Sutton Coldfield for a play off vs relegation clash, before the May Day holiday provides more multiple options. Excitement doesn’t come close….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: 8

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Keighley (Steeton AFC)

Result: Steeton 6-1 Daisy Hill (NWCFL Division 1 North)

Venue: Cougar Park (Saturday 6th April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 96

Another month, another attempt to make it to the fine old girl that is Cougar Park, however I’d not be going for its primary purpose. No, I’d instead be heading to the home of Keighley Cougars to watch football of the more circular variety, as groundsharers Steeton welcomed divisional strugglers Daisy Hill in the First Division North of the North West Counties. Incidentally, it had also been a year since I’d visited Steeton at their traditional, and ever so slightly less sizeable, Doris Wells Memorial Field home too, so quite a nice fit there.  Anyway, I set off bright and early during the morning to enable me to catch a quicker connection through to Leeds which all went smoothly and by the time I’d jumped on the carriage that would take me across to Keighley, the time had barely passed 10am.

40 minutes or so later, I was arriving into the station alongside the ever welcome sight of an old steam train on the local heritage line, its smoking, proud locomotive and plush carriages a far cry from the pacers and the like that are still running. Even the new ones won’t be as impressive, but technology beats all, I suppose. Shame. Anyway, I began my day in the station bar that is, somewhat cleverly, named Café Choux Choux where, upon entering, a lad at the bar proceeded to regale me about his trials and tribulations regarding his two-day hangover and bemoaning the passing of time. At the other end of the spectrum (for now at least) I began on a pint of Amstel (£3.90) and settled into one of the window-side sofas to plan out the rest of the day’s journey.

Arriving in Keighley

Café Choux Choux

Next up along the way would see me head right across to the far side of town before back-tracking steadily towards the ground. As such, my second stop was planned to be the Royal Oak but with its opening times not being all that obvious on the board outside, I chose to leave that for the one just around the corner by the, again smartly titled, Percy Vere – see what they did there?! In here I opted for a pint of the Saltaire Brewery’s Blonde Ale and also gave a bit of change to a fella that came around for donations for a charity walk across to Skipton. Fair enough, especially considering the pint here was only £2.70 too! Heading back towards the centre of Keighley once more, next up was the Albert Hotel, a large, old building with a horse-shoe style bar. A nice enough place for a quick pint of Carlsberg (the options weren’t all too exotic overall and £2.80 wasn’t bad) before continuing on around the corner to the interestingly named Red Pig. Why is it red? Nobody knows.

Anyway, this pub is the survivor of two neighbouring hostelries, with the adjoining Commercial being shut down at some point in the not too distant past it seemed and the pint of Staropramen in here was decent too, especially so when it set me back just the £3.50 and my next stop wasn’t too far away once again either. In fact, it was just across the road this time, situated alongside the imposing church it neighbours and seemed to be one of, if not the oldest pub still standing in the town. The Lord Rodney would be home to by far my dearest pint of the day, the Peroni setting me back £4.60, but it wasn’t as if it wasn’t a pleasant place and I certainly don’t mind that sort of price considering some of the trips I’ve been on have shown me the worst side of beer prices, here and there!

Percy Vear

Albert

Red Pig and the closed Commercial

Keighley is a town and civil parish within the City of Bradford in West Yorkshire at the confluence of the Rivers Aire and Worth. Historically in the West Riding of the county, Keighley is home to the terminus of the Keighley and Worth Valley Heritage Railway and itself dates from back before the Norman Invasion, its name meaning Cyahh’s farm or clearing, with it having gone through many different spellings throughout its years. It was granted a market charter in 1305 by King Edward I as he allowed Lancastrian knight Henry de Keighley the right to hold one in the town and it remained as a market town through to the industrial revolution when the market was joined by the advent of textile mills and the like. In the meantime, the Union stage coach departed from the town’s Devonshire Arms and which linked the area to surrounding towns. The textile industry was largely made up of wool and cotton and lasted through to 2008.

The town was incorporated as a municipal borough in 1882 and in 1938, its civil parish boundaries were expanded to take in the areas of Haworth, Oakworth, Oxenhope and Morton from the recently abolished Keighley Rural District and a small part of the Bingley urban district. In 1974, Keighley became a part of the City of Bradford Metropolitan District in the newly formed county of West Yorkshire, with this apparently causing disapproval with the Keighley residents who weren’t exactly keen on becoming part of the city. Civil Parish status was restored in 2002 with Keighley once again having its own town council in place. Despite losing many historic buildings over the years, a few Victorian and outlying manor houses do remain. There was also a case when the Hindenburg airship flew over the town, a package was dropped and two boys picked it up. It was a small cross and flowers for a German POW who’d died in the area and it still remains there to this day.

Keighley

Keighley Church (and Lord Rodney)

Toby Carvery

After stopping off in Steeton sponsor the Boltmaker’s Arms for a quick half of Warsteiner (I’d visited there last year too) I decided it was high time I got near the ground a little more and so made a beeline for what seemed to be the only real pub in the area immediately around Cougar Park which was one of your generic-style Toby Carvery’s and you all know what comes with the scenery there. It was fine enough, the pint of Stella coming in at £3.70 and upon finishing up, it was finally time to go and get the elusive old ground ticked off. Arriving at the ground, I handed over my £5 entry fee and £2 for the programme before sorting out my pre-arranged and agreed pictorial tour of the ground, which pretty much meant a high-vis jacket was all that was required, though this wasn’t all that much for one security guy who still had to go check I was allowed to be doing this, as though I’d pre-planned all of this for some evil means, even going as far as to turn up in a ground-specific bloody high-vis. Sometimes.

Cougar Park is as great as it looks and it’s just a shame it was, as expected of course, rather devoid of numbers on the day. It’s large bench-seating stand dominates the ground it towers over and it’s traditional style is pleasing on the eye. On the opposite side of the pitch is the large, sprawling expanse of an open terrace that runs the length of the pitch, whilst a further, rather deep covered terrace is located behind the goal. The near end plays host to a similar sized terrace, but this one is open to the elements. The dressing rooms, tunnel and press box are all located within the Main Stand, the box right at the rear (which I visited to grab my aforementioned, not quite clear enough for some high-vis), with the clubhouse and other buildings located to the left of it and down off behind to the rear. That’s the ground in a nutshell and I won’t truly go into the history of Steeton here (having already done so last season) and so will just say they have made a good fist of things at their first season at NWCFL level after taking 3rd place in the WRCAFL last time out.

In the clubhouse

After I made a swift visit to the clubhouse for a steak slice (£2), the game got underway and it was a rather turgid start, especially so for the hosts and they were stunned after around 15 minutes when their lowly visitors took advantage and went ahead, Nick Hepple getting in and sliding beyond Steeton stopper Fletcher Paley. This did seem to awaken Steeton from their early match slumber and they quickly began to assert themselves upon the Cutters of Daisy Hill (great nickname, btw) and when Ben Clarkson had forced Joe Leather into a pair of fine stops – with the first being especially good – they drew level when centre-half Sam Rooke headed home from a fine delivery from a free-kick.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Daisy Hill almost responded immediately and a close-range chance was spurned, and this proved costly just a few moments later as the Chevrons would forge ahead. A ball through found forward Angus Maney, the #11 duly finishing with aplomb, and they then still had time to wrap up their final fifteen minute comeback by putting daylight between themselves and the blue-clad visitors when another fine ball from another free-kick was nodded in by Clarkson, showing that third-time lucky was alive and well within the open expanses of Cougar Park on this sunny, fresh West Yorkshire afternoon. Despite a couple of late chances for Daisy Hill, they couldn’t quite reduce the deficit before the break and so we reached half-time with the score-line of 3-1.

Following my swift shift as a ball boy as steward Bryn had to go off and retrieve one of the balls that flew off over the stands, the half-time break saw me relinquish my high-vis without any further questionings and I decided to camp out within the Main Stand for the second half and get a couple of different viewpoints of the action from up high above the field of play. Speaking of play, the sides were soon back out there and we were about to get started once again.

The second period began with a quick kill-off by Steeton as they swiftly added to their tally twice in the opening moments. Firstly, Clarkson ended a swift attack with number four as he duly added his second, before Jack Richardson then added number four, finishing off beyond the beleaguered Leather, who’d pulled off an initial stop from a close-range volley, after a spell of pinball within the box. This really did end the game as a contest, unsurprisingly, and there wasn’t a whole lot of action in the next half-hour or so.

Match Action

From the stand

Cougar Park

What action there was saw Clarkson denied his hat-trick by a fine goal-line clearance from Jordan Hussey, whilst the Cutters responded with Clarkson’s opposite number at #10 not quite connecting perfectly with his attempt and seeing it kept out by Paley. Then, with a few minutes left on the clock, Richmond would join Clarkson in recording a brace as he latched onto a long ball from the back to deliver an excellent finish, smashing beyond the unfortunate Leather, who I don’t think really deserved to have beaten six times.

Post-match, I headed back into Keighley and first paid a visit to the town’s Wetherspoon offering, the Livery Rooms, for a Punk IPA whilst Tiger Roll wrote himself into National history, before I continued on past the war memorial across the way and to the little and large neighbouring watering hole duo of the larger Cavendish for a second Carlsberg of the day (£2.80) whilst I opted for a Strongbow (~£3) in the smaller Volunteer before walking the short distance back to the station for the train back to Leeds and an easy journey back in the company of a few women and a dog. No, an actual canine – I’m not like that!

‘Spoons

Heading to the final two….

So there ends an entertaining trip to Keighley and to the friendly Steeton. It’s always enjoyable to get in a “tick” at an unusual venue and especially so when it is as historic as Cougar Park. It is certainly a different proposition to Langtree Park in St. Helens that’s for sure! The town is decent and the beer is cheap, whilst the ground is superb and it’s good to see goals though it’s always a bit of a shame when it becomes an early dead rubber and the interest wains somewhat. Steak slice and programme was decent too, so really can have no complaints. Onto next week and to the city of five towns….

 

 

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 9

Programme: 7

Food: 7

Value For Money: 9

Manchopper in….Eccleshall

 

Result: Eccleshall 0-0 Cheadle Town (NWCFL Division 1 South)

Venue: Pershall Park (Saturday 19th January 2019, 3pm)

Att: 56

A trip down to rural Staffordshire was on the cards as the twitterverse once again had the opportunity to decide my footballing fate. Extra responsibility was put upon them too, as it would be my first meet up with fellow hopper Paul in over a year but a draw would be the result for a second consecutive week – Lex and Eccleshall coming out on top. A meeting of our minds (or lack thereof in my case at least) was had and an executive decision made. To the, slightly tricky to get to, town of Eccleshall we would be off.

Grabbing the train into Stafford, I had a short wait, until Paul’s train from Liverpool would arrive and so I set about getting some of my Pontefract blog done because, you know, that’s definitely normal. Anyhow, Paul was soon setting foot in Staffordshire too – tales of a loaded guy paying out £118 to get to Southampton being the highlight of his trip down – as we caught the bus from outside the Lamb Inn (which I visited on my visit to Stafford Town a few weeks back) to the outlying market town.

Eccleshall

Eccleshall

Little George and its Barber Chair

After travelling through the midst of seemingly nowhere, a few villages and farmhouses being the only signs of civilisation on that route, we eventually pulled into Eccleshall. Disembarking, we quickly set about what we’d come here for. Pub…er, I mean a rest before the football. Definitely that. Unfortunately, we could only find pubs, along with a barber shop with a Carling pub board outside it, and so with the clock just approaching 11.30 (the buses were two-hourly, don’t judge us) we headed for our first stop of the day:- the Little George. The Little George wasn’t all too small in truth, a sizable bar aside a hotel with a fair amount of craft beers and the like on offer. Being a Bent’s tap, we each opted for a pint of their 30J’s which came in at a decent £3.70 each.

Sorting out our bets and the like in here alongside an interestingly placed barber’s chair at our table, we finished up and returned back up towards the bus stop and to the King’s Arms – a pretty old establishment, especially when it came to the kitchen/outdoor area. A pint of Warsteiner each was the order of the day in here (£3.90 pp) before we settled in within the beamed hostelry. From there, we began to work our way groundwards. After popping into the Bell for a pint of Sharps Atlantic each (£3.30 pp), that was still the intention, until I spotted a sign taking us down a narrow road and to the slightly out of the way Eagle.

King’s Head

The Bell

Eagle

A “Sports Bar” (it had a pool table and a few TV’s of racing/football) we had a quick bottle of Marston’s decent Resolution, bringing back memories of our visit to Alfreton (yes, I remember things like that), before swiftly returning to the town’s main streets and a pair of pubs standing on either side of the road from each other. First up came the Joules tap by the name of the Royal Oak where I coaxed Paul into having a Lakota-which I think he ended up being happy with – before, with a bit of time in hand, crossing and backtracking slightly to the Belgian Bar which was what you might expect from a bar with that name. With time beginning to conspire against us, just a half of Hell (it wasn’t Hell luckily) was had whilst Paul sampled the other type from the same brewer that was on offer before proceeding to almost bleed to death after making the mistake of locking the toilet door. Get the paper towels out…. 🙂

Eccleshall is a market town in Staffordshire and was mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book as a small village of around 100 inhabitants. The church that currently serves the town dates from the 12th century, eventually being completed by the 15th, though stone found on the land surrounding it suggests a chapel may have stood on the site from around the 10th century, with a cross stood outside the church dating from this time. The church is also host to the tombs of no less than five Bishops of Lichfield, with the slightly later castle being the Bishops’ Palace, with the estate having been given to the Bishops in the few centuries preceding the Norman Conquest.

Eccleshall had become an important market town from the mid-1100’s when it was granted the right to host a weekly market from 1153, eventually growing to gain “Borough” status by the early 1200’s and would go on to become a largely agricultural-based area. Land was apparently given originally to St. Chad and this would later pass onto the Bishops of Lichfield, with Geoffrey de Muschamp granted a licence to build a castle in 1200 by King John and the land on which this was built would go on to be in regular use by the Bishops through to the mid-19th century. However, 1867 would see the Bishop of the time decide to sell off the castle to distant relatives of Jimmy Carter (who’d later become U.S. President, of course) due to, amongst other things, the lack of railway access. Things haven’t improved much on this front, with the nearest station, Norton Bridge, rarely, if ever, used.

The old church and cross

Important dates

The castle ruins that our visible today are actually from a slightly later construction, dating from 1305 and the Bishop William Langton, who would later go on to become Chancellor of England. The impressive stronghold would later play a role in the Wars of the Roses, when it became a base of operations for Queen Margaret of Anjou and her Lancastrian troops ahead of their eventual defeat at the 1459 Battle of Blore Heath. Later, the castle would again feature in a civil conflict, as the Civil War saw it besieged by the Parliamentarian forces led by Sir William Brereton who camped out around the church. The Royalists held out for a good two months until late August of 1643, when it eventually fell – the Roundheads finding the Bishop dead from a heart-attack whilst many of the defenders were either drunk, or had abandoned the fight to drink in the town. My type of guys. The castle was sacked and the remnants becoming a prison for the Royalist high-brow.

As the years rolled on, Eccleshall has spells being a glassmaking area (when Bishop Overton brought French family glassmakers over) for a short period from 1580-1615, before later going on to be an important leather and shoemaking centre through to the late 1800’s when the industries in the town had largely died out on account of the growing machine-based factories in the nearby county town of Stafford. It also spent time being an important stop-off point for travellers on the main route between Chester and London as coach travel and road improvements began to improve and become more widespread and favourable. The largely Georgian high-street is a conservation area and the town regularly is placed in the Britain in Bloom competition. The market continues as a farmer’s market and is held bi-weekly, whilst an annual Eccleshall Show is held on the town’s Sugnall Parks.

Royal Oak

Belgian Bar

Arriving at Pershall Park

Finishing up and with the blood still pouring like he’d been shot, we headed onwards up the winding country road, eventually arriving at the Pershall Park gates with around ten-fifteen minutes to kick off. Programmes had sold out by that point (only around 10 were printed apparently), though I was lent one for a while by the gateman. £5 in, we headed to the bar for a warm before kick-off where I decided to see if I could get any extras printed out. I was pointed out Anthony, and on getting to him, Paul found out a couple had been kept back per our request and, with debts cleared, we headed out for kick off.

Pershall Park is quite a quaint, smart little ground and consists of three stands. As you enter from the car park in the corner of the ground, you have the bar/tunnel/food hut building on your immediate right and this has a few rows of covered seating out front. Behind the near end goal is another bit of covered seating and standing, though some of the latter is currently home to some deckchairs, giving you that holiday feel! The far side features a small covered terrace that straddles the halfway line, whilst the far end is open, hard standing, as is the remainder of the area around the pitch. That’s Pershall Park and this is the story of Eccleshall FC….

History Lesson:

Eccleshall Football Club was founded in 1971 as Eccleshall Old Boys by members of the town’s Secondary School. The club would join the Mid-Cheshire League’s Division 3 and went on to lift the Division 3 Cup in 1974, whilst finishing as runners-up in the league and so were promoted to Division 2. The Division 2 Cup was won in 1975 and, soon afterwards, the club changed its name to, more simply, Eccleshall. Eccleshall joined the Staffordshire County League in 1979, playing in Division 1. Promoted to the Premier Division in 1981, they lifted the League title, Premier Division Cup and May Bank to complete a 1983-’84 treble.

Eccleshall FC

This would prove to be the club’s final season there too, with the team becoming founder members of the Staffordshire Senior League – becoming champions in 1990. In 1994, the league was renamed the Midland League and Eccleshall remained here through to 2003 when, after winning their second successive Midland League title, alongside that year’s Staffordshire FA Vase, the club were promoted to the North West Counties League Division 2, which became Division 1 in 2008 upon the “old” Division 1 becoming the Premier Division. They have remained there to this day, though silverware has dried up in the meantime.

The game got underway with the visitors starting the stronger, Matty German going close with a headed effort, before Eccleshall somehow survived a goal-line scramble in blocking out two consecutive shots from Rhys Clooney and Callum Knight prior to ‘keeper Louis McCarthy keeping out Connor Naughton’s own follow-up. Eccleshall would respond soon after and were awarded a spot-kick on 27 minutes when Tom Wakefield was brought down in the area. Up stepped Luke Walsh, but his shot was at a perfect height for Dan Whiting in the Cheadle goal to palm away to safety.

Match Action

Whiting saves from the spot

Match Action

Both teams would have a late chance each at the end of the half – Knight being denied by McCarthy for the hosts and David Neligwa firing wide but the teams would go in still deadlocked at nil-nil, whilst I managed to get the penultimate pie, one of the steak variety, along with peas and gravy too. Good stuff too for £3.

Back underway soon after I’d finished up and with Paul getting ever more distracted by Liverpool’s score, the game was a fair bit poorer during the second period than the first. Eccleshall did find the net after ten minutes, but Walsh was well offside. Namesake Isaak Walsh then had a shot creep narrowly wide despite Whiting seemingly deciding it was safely covered off, before Cheadle responded with a shot from range that McCarthy was forced to tip over.

Match Action

Match Action

Lesser-spotted half-way line flag!

The game continued to wind down and the spectre of another goalless draw began to loom large as Cheadle were reduced to ten men with a couple of minutes left when, seconds after a bit of a kerfuffle between the two, Oliver Hatfield-Banton needlessly pushed Brad Carr over off the ball. After a slight scuffle, the red card was brandished. However, this made little difference to the closing stages as Cheadle dropped in to secure their point.

The game finished up with a draw being fair and the final whistle meant that, after going 81 games and thirteen months without one, I’d now seen two nil-nil’s in the space of five games, over 18 days. Unbelievable. By this point, Paul had reappeared safe in the knowledge the Reds had secured a vital three points and we had kindly been offered two lifts back into town to save us from certain death. We accepted both, just in case something went awry along the way, but eventually our original offerer Malcolm returned to drop us back at the Eccleshall clock.

Old Smithy. The planned final stop!

Thanking him for doing so, we bid goodbye to him and the younger lad Elliott in with us before heading around the corner and to what should have been our final stop, the Old Smithy. A pleasant restaurant/bar, we settled in to await our carriage back, me with a £4.20 Moretti. We headed out to the bus stop where I spotted an issue. The bus seemingly didn’t exist. As such, I headed up to the top of the road to see if I could shed any light as Paul assured me that was the correct stop. Then the bus came around the corner. Only problem was it was on the wrong side and past it went. Cab? I asked.

The answer was to the affirmative, as was Paul’s suggestion of waiting somewhere a little warmer. On account of the fact the (I assume) landlord of the Bell had put the football on for us in the back room off his own back, I thought it’d be nice to head back to wait out there. They rang us a cab, we had a pint (more Moretti for me) and we were soon rocking and rolling back to Stafford a fair bit quicker than the bus would have allowed us to do. £13.80 too wasn’t too shabby for a twenty minute trip. Back at the station, we said our goodbyes and headed for our simultaneously arriving trains, a now normal nap on the way back allowing the hour-long journey to pass smoothly. Well, bar the mates’ attempted scuffle behind me just after I’d awoke! I tried to offer some help, but was called off, probably fairly, by one of the group, though did talk to one to lessen any tensions. It’s all fun and games in this world!

So that ends another trip. Bar the nil-nil result, it had been good one. Eccleshall is a very pleasant place to visit, as is Eccleshall as a club too. Nice people and places are what I’ll take away from my visit, I can’t recommend it enough. The only issue is getting back in truth of you’re not of a driving persuasion. Aside from that, beers were good, food at the ground fine and the game was decent considering it was goalless. That’s that and it’s off to the seaside to see the seagulls….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 7

Food: 8

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 8