Manchopper in….Droylsden (2)

 

Result: Droylsden 1-1 Tadcaster Albion (FA Trophy Preliminary Round)

Venue: Butcher’s Arms (Saturday 13th October 2018, 3pm)

Att: 167

Non-League Day rolled around once again and with the seemingly never-ending train strikes continuing on unabated, another local revisit was on the cards for this week; the only question being “Where?”. Well, my regular accomplice on these pages, Dan, had already told me of his want to get to the Butcher’s Arms, home of Droylsden FC, the only “major” local ground he’d never made it to by this point. As such, the decision was a fairly simple one, made all the more attractive by the game in question being a tie in the FA Trophy. The visitors would be Tadcaster Albion, whom I’m sure had visions of less of a bloodbath at the Butcher’s than what happened just down the road from them at the Battle of Towton.

Setting off at just after half-ten, the easy bus journey into Manchester saw me able to grab an earlier than planned service into Droylsden. My original starting point was still shut up at this point, so I instead diverted back to the brilliantly named Lazy Toad, just on the edge of the town centre. It was here on New Year’s Day, that I had received the bad news of the late postponement of the Bloods’ game that day and I even repeated the trick almost as a whole, sitting in the same seat at the same table, though did mix things up beer-wise by opting for a pint of the Pravha, which came in at the quite astonishing price of £2.70. Considering I’ve seen how much it can cost whilst on my travels, this was a fine start! A nice welcome was had too as I got to the bar, which never goes unnoticed. Wasting away the extra-time I now had in here on account of my earlier than planned arrival, I planned out my itinerary for the day, which would see a slow and steady crawl along Market Street’s few offerings and up to the ground. Next up, the Silly Country. Some great pub names around here! (NB: This is apparently derived from a nickname given to the town by the Mancunians, relating to a legend that grew about the people of Droylsden putting a pig on a wall to watch the annual carnival and other festivities).

Arriving in Droylsden

Lazy Toad

Droylsden Square

Droylsden is a former mill town located between Manchester City Centre and Ashton-under-Lyne, just within the borough of Tameside. Originally settled in 900 AD, it would later grow in the mid-19th century to become a mill town, where the world’s first machine woven towel would be produced at Fairfield Mill under the name of W.M. Christy and Sons, with Queen Victoria being a regular user of their business and their newly created product, derived from the looped Turkish versions. Sadly, as with many places, the site is now a Tesco. Droylsden would latterly grow into an overflow housing area for the workers in and around Manchester around the 1930’s and was also the apparent host of Britain’s first ever Speedway meet in 1927, the sport then being termed simply as “dirt track racing”. More recently, during the mid-to-later-2000’s, the town became home a Marina just off the canal, which appears to be well used, though the predicted building and facilities don’t seem to have fully come to fruition.

The Silly Country is a recently opened ale/craft/bottle shop kind of place, and I arrived just prior to the place emptying out on account of the place having a tour of a brewery on the go. Regardless, I opted to be sensible(!) for now and went for a pint of the Brazilian lager beer, Cruzcampo which, at £4.40, would be by far my dearest choice of the day. Not that I minded whatsoever, as the Silly Country is definitely a nice place to enjoy a pint in if you’re into the above side of things. Anyway, after watching the world go by from its prime position at the corner of the town’s clock square and seeing a kid lose his hat on two very swift occasions by the hand of the apparent “Storm Callum”, I finished up and continued up the way, the Beehive Inn being just a few doors down. The Beehive is definitely my sort of place. A seemingly older pub than those around it, its interior is very timber-orientated and is nicely decorated with varied paraphernalia too – a real traditional kind of place. Split into two parts, it was still fairly quiet upon my arrival and I took up a spot in the corner whilst overhearing (unintentionally I can assure you) stories of drunken exploits from the night before, which were more than entertaining….especially when you can relate!

Trying to take up as much time as possible (the time hadn’t quite reached half-one by the time I was half-way through my pint) over the Boddington’s in front of me, I fell into the trap of clock-watching, a decision which never helps when you’re wishing the time away as I’m sure you are all well aware. Eventually, though, the clock did tick on round to ten-to-two and so I supped the final dregs and again headed on a few doors away, across the road from the large retail park and to the King’s Arms, complete with a large image of local hero Guardsman Tony Downes, the soldier from the town who was sadly killed in action whilst serving in Iraq. He also has an office building named after him too, which is a further nice touch of remembrance. I guess from the statement on said poster that he had links to the pub at the very least. Passing Tony with a nod, I headed in and was soon in possession of a pint of the fine Bootleg Brewery’s IPA at the ever interesting Holt’s price of £3.03. Dan arrived shortly afterwards to join me in taking up the remaining time leading up to kick-off, opting for a pint of Diamond Lager whilst bemoaning a lack of Carling – I don’t know what else I can do to solve this issue….

The Silly Country

The Beehive

King’s Arms

Eventually, it was finally time to head to the Butcher’s Arms and, after taking a pic of the ground’s perimeter from where the pub of the same name once stood up to its demolition almost a decade ago now (God, I feel old writing that) we headed for the turnstiles, paying our £8 entry, plus a further £2 for a programme, which I’d missed out on my other blog visit a few years back, when the Bloods took on the recently “Class of 92’d” Salford City in abhorrent weather conditions. A quick peruse of the teamsheet, which is helpfully on display as you enter, showed the likes of ex-Football League and Premier League academy players Liam Dickinson (ex-Leeds & Derby), Febian Brandy (ex-Manchester United & Wolves) and Javan Vidal (ex-Manchester City) lining up for the Bloods. Sadly, there’s no Jonathan Greening these days to compliment them from Taddy’s side. After heading around to pitchside, a twenty-minute wait faced up prior to kick-off, which allowed a look around the ground. The far end is open, hard standing, whilst the opposite end is host to a sizable, covered terrace. A small, older terrace is located on the far side, and has recently had a smarten up out front, with a big red sign proclaiming “Droylsden Football Club” across the field. The large “William Pace” all-seater Main Stand is right in front of you as you enter and offers decent views over the action, whilst a small amount of terracing is located out front. The clubhouse is right alongside to the left as you enter, with the usual food bar there too, though this was out of action today and replaced by a trailer. That’s the Butcher’s Arms in a quick summary, and this is the story of the Bloods….

History Lesson:

Droylsden Football Club was founded in 1892 at the invitation of the landlord of the Butcher’s Arms pub and thus played behind said establishment. After spending their first two decades going in and out of existence whilst playing in local league’s and playing friendly fixtures – including winning the Ashton & District League in 1914. Post-war, the club would emerge as the village’s sole surviving team and became members of the Manchester League, whilst also adopting their now familiar red and white strip. They won the 1923 Manchester Junior Cup, gaining revenge on local rivals Hyde United who beat the Bloods in the 1921 final, whilst the 1930’s saw club legend Ernest Gilibrand net an astonishing 275 goals over four seasons, helping Droylsden to the Manchester League title in both 1931 & 1933.

1936 saw Droylsden successfully apply to join the Lancashire Combination and the club became a “nursery” side for Manchester City’s surplus players, though this link ruled the club out of the FA Cup. They would remain in the Combination through to the outbreak of WWII, with the Bloods joining the wartime Cheshire League and finished runners-up in 1945-’46. However, things went downhill quickly and the club failed in their re-election bid just four years later and also lost the lease of the Butcher’s Arms to Belle Vue F.C. who then renamed themselves as Droylsden United. Common sense would prevail from prior experience, and the two clubs merged in 1952, after the Bloods played a short time at the Moorside Trotting Stadium, affectionately known as “Pork Park”.

The Butcher’s Arms, via the site of the pub

In 1952, the Bloods returned to the newly rotated ground at the Butcher’s and began to see silverware on a far more regular basis than before. During their stay in the Lancashire Combination through to 1968, they won four Manchester Premier Cups (1947,’52,’ 60,’65) prior to returning to the Cheshire League, after they’d lost sides due to the formation of the Northern Premier League. The club didn’t see too much in the way of success in the league, though would add a further Manchester Premier Cup (1970) & three Manchester Senior Cups to their honours board, these coming in 1973, ’76 &’ 79. They also managed to reach the FA Cup “proper” on two occasions, losing to Grimsby Town firstly in 1976, before defeating Rochdale in 1978 prior to bowing out to Altrincham.

After another Premier Cup win in 1981, fortunes would again take a turn for the worse in 1982, when Droylsden finished a distant bottom of the Cheshire League, though remained at the level after the merger with the Lancashire Combination to form the North West Counties League, with Droylsden placed in Division Two of three. They would win the Second Division in 1987, though would bypass Division One after successfully applying for the newly created NPL Division One, gaining an effective double promotion in the process. 1990 saw Droylsden finish as runners-up and achieve promotion to the NPL Premier Division. They would spend six seasons in the loser echelons of the division, winning another Manchester Premier Cup in 1993, prior to being relegated in 1996 and being on the wrong side of the fastest FA Cup hat-trick in history, when conceding three in 2 minutes 28 seconds against Nantwich Town.

DFC

After lifting the NPL’s Division One title and President’s Cup in 1999, an eighth Premier Cup in 2000 would follow. This time they were more competitive in the Premier Division and finished high enough in 2004 to receive an invite to take up a spot in the newly formed Conference North. They would also win that year’s NPL League Challenge Cup and the Manchester Premier Cup for a ninth time. Finishing the inaugural season in third, they narrowly missed out in the following season’s play-offs – losing in the final to Stafford Rangers on penalties. 2007 saw the Bloods notch their tenth Manchester Premier Cup with victory over the sadly departed Flixton, before defeating Harrogate Town three days later to win the Conference North and achieve promotion to the Conference National. However, they would be relegated after just the one season. The 2008-’09 season saw the Bloods reach the FA Cup Second Round after beating Darlington in the First Round. However, it would become somewhat farcical come the Second Round as it took three matches to overcome Chesterfield, after fog, floodlight failure and an eventual 2-1 win, with Sean Newton netting both Bloods goals. However, it was then discovered he was ineligible and Droylsden were duly expelled from the competition. Crazy.

They would share the Tony Downes Memorial Trophy with Chester City in 2008, and added two more Manchester Premier Cup titles in 2009 and 2010, and again reached the FA Cup Second Round in 2011, when they took Leyton Orient to a replay at Brisbane Road and led two-nil, only for Orient to storm back and avoid the upset, winning 8-2 after extra-time. After missing out in the play-offs to Fleetwood Town in 2010, things soon dipped for Droylsden and they were relegated back to the Northern Premier League in 2013 after finishing second-bottom, prior to suffering something of an annus horriblis the following year as they finished a distant bottom with just nine points and were duly relegated to the NPL Division 1 North, where they have spent the last four seasons, finishing up 13th on both of the last two occasions.

The game got underway and, unfortunately, it was very much a slow-burner. True action was at a real premium in the first half-hour, with only Taddy’s Casey Stewart looking a constant threat, though Febian Brandy would occasionally show glimpses of his talent here and there throughout those first thirty minutes too. Stewart had an iffy penalty shout waved away by the referee mid-way through this period, whilst Brandy saw his attempted cross become more of a threat to Taddy ‘keeper Michael Ingham’s goal than intended, the stopper having to tip the ball over the bar, whilst Domaine Rouse wastefully placed a free-header wide of the mark from the resultant corner.

Match Action

From the back of the terrace

The old & the new covered terraces

Brandy would again pose a threat on the right flank, forcing his way into the area before firing a low cross-cum-shot across the face of goal, the ball evading both a Droylsden foot and the far side-netting on its way wide, before Taddy again saw a stronger penalty shout turned down as Stewart was played in before being clipped from behind, though his attempts to stay up probably went against him. Eventually losing his footing and going down in the area, his pleas fell on deaf ears. However, the visitors really should have been one, if not two, up at the break, as they spurned two glorious chances in the lead up. First, Lamin Colley was played in by a nice through ball, but his shot from the angle was tipped onto the post by Bloods ‘keeper Chris Thompson, before Aiden Savory would put it on a plate (sorry!) for Stewart to run onto around thirty yards out. Beating the offside trap, he advanced to the edge of the box and, with only Thompson between him and the net, he curled the ball against the outside of the post. Goalless at half time, it was off to the food trailer for some cheesy chips (£1.50). Lovely.

The second half began with Tadcaster again being the more dangerous side overall. Billy Whitehouse saw his own low ball just evade Savory at the back-post, before they deservedly took the lead when Colley advanced into the area and saw his effort well kept out by Thompson, only for the ball to land at creator-in-chief Savory’s feet once again and this time his ball to Stewart resulted in the striker placing the ball into the rather unguarded net from six-yards. Droylsden responded by replacing the largely ineffective Dickinson with another ex-Manchester United youth player, Phil Marsh, whilst also replacing skipper Brewster and, latterly Brandy with his replacement being Brandon Zibaka, a player whom, on our arrival, I’d stated to Dan I’ve always rated….

Match Action

Match Action

Zibaka was introduced in the 81st minute and, just four minutes later, he’d drew his side level. A cross in from the left by Rouse found the tall target man Sefton Gonzales in the box and he manoeuvred himself well to chest the ball into the path of the newly arrived Zibaka who drilled his effort beyond Ingham and into the net. At that point, all the momentum looked to be with Droylsden and they appeared to be pressing on to get the win but there was little truly created towards the end of the game and the sides would have to do it all over again on Tuesday night in Yorkshire. As it was, Droylsden would go on to triumph 2-0 in the replay, taking them into the First Round where they will travel to another White Rose County side, Pickering Town.

Post-match, there was time to pop in to the Church Inn right next to the bus stop we’d need, which was quite the amusing experience. Again, made to feel welcome, it was good to spend the final twenty minutes or so of our day in here, though it did end up being third-time lucky on beer option, after my first two choices were off. Eventually settling on Heineken (£2.10), Dan was in his element, having seen Carling. I’ll never understand how he manages to get that excited. Anyway, we eventually finished up and headed out just as the bus was rolling into the bus stop a little early, meaning we could jump straight on and be on our way. 20 minutes later we were back in Piccadiily and another quick connection was made to take us homeward.

Church Hotel

So ends the day and it had been good to finally do Droylsden properly, especially when considering the forecast weather looked to be similar to my first blog visit! Game was decent enough and I always enjoy a visit to the Butcher’s Arms. Pubs and food were all good and the travel was no issue whatsoever. Onto next week and MY GOD, I CAN USE A TRAIN! WHAT IS A TRAIN?! I’VE NO IDEA!!!! The FA Cup is back on and it’s a return to a club who have a pretty new home on the Farm….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 7

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Lancaster

Result: Lancaster City 1-3 Stockport County (FA Trophy First Round)

Venue: Giant Axe (Saturday 16th December 2017, 3pm)

Att: 578

As the Christmas season gets ever closer, so the football season begins to turn up a notch. Fixture lists get ever more congested at this time of year, as the traditional festive dates are added to the regular weekend games and these, combined with cup competitions, mean a less than quiet yuletide beckons for players, officials and supporters alike. Nonetheless, the attractiveness of the FA Trophy – and a prospective Wembley appearance – is little to be sniffed at and so it was that those affiliated with both Lancaster City and Stockport County (along with other interested neutrals such as yours truly) headed to the Giant Axe in not so balmy conditions, the lure of the Trophy proving to overcome the icy conditions on the terracing.

Now when I say icy terraces, I say so without any sort of dramatic effect. For indeed the areas around the Giant Axe pitch were, we were warned by the PA system pre-match, still under the effects of frozen water and this would only prove to worsen as temperatures fell towards the close of the tie. But before any of that, I had a tour of a number of Lancaster’s fine hostelries to enjoy and having arrived in Lancashire’s county town (city?) at just before midday, I headed slightly out of the centre and to the canal side, where I’d visit my first scouted pub of the day, the Water Witch.

Lancaster Station

Water Witch

White Cross & Cathedral Spire

The Water Witch was still fairly empty at this early part of the afternoon, but most of those who were in were enjoying some of the food on offer which, I must admit, was giving off a more than attractive aroma. But I was more distracted by the offerings at the bar and plumped for a pint of Rosie’s Pig cider. A cloudy, still offering, it went down well at £4 a pint. However I soon had other places to see and so continued onwards down the canal towpath towards the towering spire of Lancaster Cathedral. Just before getting there though, I came across the White Cross, located within a large ex-warehouse, again by the side of the frozen waters. In here I plumped for a pint of the Blood Orange IPA. A nice pint.

Following a quick diversion to the Cathedral, which appeared to be devoid of people, ’twas to the city centre I set course. Upon arriving at a statue of Queen Victoria outside the town hall, I next visited the neighbouring Borough Hotel. The Borough has a lovely bar area that was well populated today, again with families enjoying a hot meal and those partaking in both coffee or something a little stronger. As for myself, I decided on playing safe and so a Kingstone Press was had here, whilst sitting under the watchful eye of a shape-shifting picture. On one side a man, the other a demonic-like entity. I’d seen the picture somewhere before, though, so wasn’t as perturbed as I might have been otherwise!

Lancaster

The Borough

…..yeah.

Anyway, I soon finished up in here and began on a more linear route to the ground, though this did include a final stop-off in the Tap House, a place I’d been roped into visiting by the offering of Punk IPA on draught. Of course, the pint wasn’t cheap, coming in at £4.80, though some people not as used to this may share the expression of one of the trio of women’s pictures in the gentlemen’s….

Soon enough, it was time to head to the Giant Axe itself. Heading back over the railway bridge, I made use of the cut-through across the adjoining field and arrived at the turnstile, which I would soon discover read “Away fans only”. I was surprised by this apparent segregation, as I’d not seen anything suggesting this was going to be in place. Having handed over my £8 fee (decent for the level, fair play Dollies) and a further £2 for the quality programme, whose front cover design hasn’t changed since my first visit almost nine years ago, I soon discovered that there indeed was no separating of fans in place and all were left to mingle freely. This also meant a circuit round to Dolly’s Diner was made all the easier, and chips and gravy (~£2.50) were soon being demolished, in the way that the much-missed (to me anyway) Dolly Blue was. Good times.

The Giant Axe is one of my favourite grounds around. Though my expectations are now somewhat skewed compared to what they were, the Axe is still a great ground to watch a game at. Alongside the turnstile stands a large open terrace that affords raised views of the action behind the car-park end goal. To the left stands the Main Stand, a fairly sizable covered and all-seated affair, which is flanked at its far end by the aforementioned Dolly’s Diner. The far end plays host to a covered terrace area, though of a smaller size to that opposite in terms of height (possibly due to housing behind), still runs the length of the pitch too. This terrace is named after City’s former skipper, the late Neil Marshall, who sadly passed away just over a year ago aged just 31. The ‘Neil Marshall Legend’ End is a fitting tribute. The castle side is all open, hard standing, though plays host to a bar/hospitality area or whatever it is these days, along with a manually adjusted scoreboard which, at one point pre-match read City 0-5 Visitors. They were feeling optimistic then!

Lancaster Priory

Arriving at the Giant Axe

Before long, both sides were in the tunnel down by the Main Stand and we were all set to go soon after. But before we get onto the tie at hand, let’s delve into the annuls of Lancaster City F.C….

History Lesson:

Lancaster City Football Club was founded in 1911 as Lancaster Town F.C, following the previous losses of Lancaster-based outfits Skerton (resigned during 1899-1900) & Lancaster Athletic (resigned during 1910-1911). The latter played in the West Lancashire League, but the new Town club would instead join the Lancashire Combination, of which Skerton where a prior competitor in.

With no connection to either team, Lancaster Town were therefore allowed admittance to the Combination, and began plying their trade initially in Division 2 until the Combination became a one division league following WWI. The club finished as 1919-20 runners-up and went on to apply for the new Third Division North of the Football League after the following season, but were unsuccessful in their application. Instead, Town would go on to win the Combination (and Combination Cup) in 1922 and following a pair of successes in the Lancashire FA Trophy (1928 & ’29)  rounded off the decade with a 1929 FA Cup First Round appearance, where they lost out at home to Lincoln City .

The following season saw the Combination won for a second time (and a third Lancs Trophy success), along with a second Cup First Round appearance, but this again ended in defeat, this time to New Brighton F.C. However, the league continued to be successful for the club, with back-to-back titles arriving in 1935 & ’36, (the first seeing yet another Lancs Trophy adorn the trophy cabinet) prior to Town becoming City in 1937, after Lancaster was awarded City status as part of King George VI’s coronation celebrations.

Castle overlooking the ground….

Continuing in the Combination following WWII, the club finally progressed to the FA Cup’s Second Round in 1948, with victory over Spennymoor United. They would also gain some further cup silverware in the familiar form of the Lancashire FA Trophy in 1952, but 1970 saw City depart the Combination for the Northern Premier League. Here, the club would again reach the FA Cup’s Second Round in 1973 (bowing out to Notts County) prior to again lifting the Lancashire FA Trophy in 1975. However, following a 17th placed finish in 1982, City resigned from the NPL and dropped into the North West Counties League but financial issues gripped the club and forced City to fold prior to an immediate reformation. Things didn’t improve much and, three seasons later, City were relegated to the NWCFL Division 2. However, they were to get something of a break in 1987 when, despite only finishing up 13th, the club were accepted into the newly formed NPL Division One.

1995 saw NPL success finally arrive in the form of the President’s Cup, City’s first trophy in two decades, before the club would go on to win the Division One title the following year and, as a result, were promoted to the Premier Division. Remaining here through to 2004 and lifting two NPL League Cups along the way in 2000 & ’01, an eight placed finish enabled Lancaster to take up a spot in the newly created Conference North, the new Step 2 of the non-league system. This proved a successful time initially for the club, with good league performances and four further FA Cup First Round appearances being enjoyed but financial issues soon returned to haunt the club and 2007 saw the club fold for a second time after entering administration earlier in the season. Another summer reformation saw the club return to the Northern Premier League for 2007-’08 and took a spot in Division One North.

…and Giant Axe under lights

2010 saw Lancaster reach the Division One North play-offs, where they were defeated by Colwyn Bay.  However, regular managerial changes saw the club never quite make the play-offs again, with ex-Newcastle United & Blackburn Rovers defender Darren Peacock being the biggest name to take the reins during this period. After Peacock left the club in 2015, Phil Brown (no, not that one) took the reigns and led the Dolly Blues (the nickname apparently derived from the clubs kit being identical in colour to the dolly blue washing tablets manufactured in the town/city in the early 20th century) to the Lancashire Trophy final, where they would lose out to higher-ranked opposition in Chorley. But, Brown’s first full season in charge saw him lead the club to promotion, with City taking the 2017 NPL Division One North title and taking a spot in the Premier Division for this season.

The first competitive game between the sides at Giant Axe for over 80 years got underway with County quickly gaining most of the play during the early stages. Despite this, the contest was a bit of a slow burner, with little of note occurring within the first twenty minutes. However, it would take just a further seven minutes for the deadlock to be broken and it was County, pretty unsurprisingly, who got the opener. A fine ball in from the right flank saw Jason Oswell arrive to tower above the City defenders and head across City ‘keeper Josh Powell, the ball nestling in the top corner.

By this point I’d got talking to Colin & Ash whilst standing on the open terrace at the City end of the ground. Colin is a Scouse fella who watches Lancaster on a fairly regular basis, whilst Ash, it turned out, is the brother of County stopper Ian Ormson. As such, it was good to be getting a view from both camps whilst the game was going on and getting something of an inside track on how both had been performing, and playing, so far this season.

Match Action

Fully focussed fans

Match Action

The game continued on at a fairly serene pace, with County still maintaining their hold on the vast majority of possession, with City somewhat struggling to get much joy out of their sole striker, through no real fault of his own, whilst the supporting midfielders never really got the chance to get into any position to manufacture an attack on the County goal during the first half. This became more of an issue when, around five minutes before the break, Stockport doubled their lead. I somewhat missed the goal as I’d looked away in the opinion there was little to no chance of anything going on. But a roar soon alerted me to look up and see the ball settling in the bottom corner courtesy of Gary Stopforth. Apparently, a ‘keeping error had allowed Stopforth in and County now had an advantage that you couldn’t see them spurning. Half-Time, 0-2.

Following a spell of attempting to get Ash to visit one of the numerous portaloos in the most efficient time possible, the sides reappeared for the second half. What had also reappeared was the white settling upon the pitch. The temperature had begun to drop markedly and the pitch and the surrounding area had begun to be affected once more. Indeed, as I’d later find out, the paving area around the turnstile had begun to get rather lethal, so much so that I felt I best alert the steward to the fact before the final whistle.

Anyway, the second half began with Lancaster coming out of the blocks the quicker and taking the game to their higher-ranked visitors. This did, however, leave them susceptible to the County attackers and Powell had to pull off a good stop to deny Darren Stephenson. On 53 minutes, Lancaster introduced Ryan Winder into the fray and 60 seconds later he was placing the ball on the spot. Penalty! Winder’s first meaningful (if not actual first) touch was to send the spot-kick into the corner of Ben Hinchliffe’s net and spark the home side’s chances of at least grabbing a replay into life.

Match Action

Match Action

Indeed, Winder was soon denied a second by Hinchliffe, before County began to wake themselves back up somewhat and begin to snuff out the remaining attacks that the hosts could muster. With a few minutes left on the clock, I said my goodbyes to Colin and Ash (I may have disrupted their viewing more than they may have wanted!) and headed for a quick word with County’s skipper Harry Winter, who’d been subbed off a little earlier in proceedings. Whilst having said chat with the ex-Trafford midfield dynamo (and occasional reader of these pages, apparently!), Bohan Dixon forced his way into the area before firing through the hands of Powell to secure the Hatters their place in the Second Round. City, meanwhile, felt the Axe fall upon them. Sorry.

Post-match saw me head back into the City centre and to Merchants bar, a cavernous-like place just by the castle. I indulged in some festive drinks, plumping for a Mulled Cider on account that it was bloody cold at this point. After finishing up in here, a further, final stop was undertaken in the form of the Robert Gillow (not a Wetherspoon’s surprisingly), where I decided on a bottle of Birra Morena. Now, if this was indeed over £3.50 as I remember…well, that’s certainly a fair bit more than we sell it for…

Merchants

Robert Gillow

Alas, it was only the final act that was a dampener and I was soon back at Lancaster station for the train back to Manchester. I’d contrived to grab the express on the way back, which got me back into Manchester in good time for my connection back. All had gone well so far. However, after a fifteen minute wait at Oxford Road, those dreaded words flashed up on the timetable…CANCELLED. Shite. There was only one thing for it. Yes, I had to get a bus home. The things you have to endure for this “hobby”…..

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 7

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Altrincham

Result: Altrincham 4-1 Ramsbottom United (FA Trophy 2nd Round)

Venue: Moss Lane (Saturday 11th November 2017, 3pm)

Att: 781

After the previous few weeks of traversing some of the larger grounds in the country, this weekend saw me end up middling somewhat and returning to familiar territory. After again offering my fate up to the twittersphere, a late influx of voting saw Altrincham’s match-up with Ramsbottom United pull away from Lancaster-Stratford and thus off to Moss Lane I headed once again.

With Alty’s home being just a short bus ride away, this meant I was afforded the rarity of a somewhat later start than usual. Hopping on at just after 11am, I had arrived in the Cheshire town around the stroke of midday, my timekeeping helped out by the large clock stationed outside the interchange, with Alty being accessible by numerous modes of transport, including train, tram and bus. It only lacks its own airfield…

I first decided to scout out possible places to watch the F1 qualifying later in the day and found the Orange Tree to be the most likely place, the pub neighboured by the old town stocks. Unfortunately this wouldn’t end up being visited, but there’s still the lure of the Manchester League’s Altrincham-Hale to bring me back! With me planning on leaving here until post-match, my first stop of the day became the Old Roebuck, just off the main road. An old-looking pub, it was pretty cosy, but also empty within at this early hour, with more punters seeming to end up in the larger Market Tavern over the way. The Moretti in here was good, though pricey as per.

Altrincham

Stocks

Old Roebuck

Now £4.50 lighter, I set my sights on the town centre itself and the market area of Altrincham. The market was filling up nicely as I arrived, though there didn’t seem to be much to attract me there, within the mix of veg and fruit and varying pieces of paraphernalia. Instead, I was more taken by the few “crafty” bars in the immediate vicinity. The first I came across was the Cellar, but this didn’t really attract me too much and so I headed for the nearby Mort Subite, located in a basement just around the corner. Unfortunately, I arrived to find this shut until 1pm and so, stranded, I needed a safe port of call for the next half-hour or so. Luckily, the neighbouring Belgian Bar (that’s its name, not just a vague description of the place) came to my aid, though only after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing on my part, I admit.

Originally, I plumped for a pint of the advertised Belgian (I assumed) beer, but something made me quickly reckon I should try it out first. This proved a shrewd idea, as I found it bloody awful and so opted to stay safe and go for a known quantity in Krombacher. Again, at £4.60, this didn’t come cheap and I was soon thinking that one of the closer trips of mine may still end up being one of the more costly ones come the end of the day! Not that I hadn’t seen it coming, mind you. No Carling here, please…

Having milked away the time in the Belgian Bar, the clock ticked over to the one and so I headed a couple of doors down to find the door open but it seeming fairly quiet. That is until a guy came up from the depths to put the sign out, seemed surprised to find me lurking up on top of the stairs before saying I’d be ok to head down as “she should just be finishing up”. At the bottom of the stairs, I headed through a curtain to find a skeleton staring back at me. Where had I ended up, I thought to myself and was I about to end up with that fate?!

Market area

Belgian Bar (on the right)

Morte Subite

Of course, the skeleton was just a part of the décor of the place, being that Mort Subite was (as I was later informed by Colin, who gave me tips on where to head for later on) the former mortuary for the hospital just across the road. After a quick scan of the menu I was handed upon entering, I opted for the half of Liefman’s Mixed Fruit offering for a further £3.50, though I did receive some free cheesy nibbles to accompany it. Mort Subite is definitely worth a visit if you’re out and about here, a great little bar though apparently one for the bustling evenings rather than the quiet early afternoons.

It was soon time for me to go onwards, so I paid my dues and bid goodbye to Colin and headed just around the corner to the more shop-centric part of the centre. In the midst of all these retail places sits the traditional-looking Bricklayer’s Arms, which looks totally out of place in the midst of the apparently more modern developments around it. After a greeting from a guy having a cig outside, a quick pint of Grolsch (cheapest of the day at well under £3) was had before I reckoned I really should be closer to the ground than I was. Problem was, I’d been given a tip by Colin to visit Costello’s Bar in the Goose Green area and with this being en route to Moss Lane, I figured it’d be wrong of me to miss it out.

Heading past the statues of a couple of Geese guarding the small square which consisted of a few other shops and bars, I headed into the modern-style bar for a quick pint of Amstel before giving up on getting to the ground at all early. As such, I asked Alty fan Jonny to grab a programme for me, you know,  just in case, and settled in for a little longer whilst intermittently overhearing a conversation about who’d been barred recently and if it was indeed a surprise or not….

Bricklayer’s

Goose Green

With twenty minutes or so to kick-off, I set off on the short walk down to Moss Lane. After skirting around the park, I arrived within sight of the large main stand and was soon at the turnstile. Handing over my £10 entry, I headed past the usual (as far as I remember) programme selling place which seemed devoid of bibles and up into said main stand where I found Jonny and Danny in situ. Handing over my £2 with thanks, kick-off was imminent.

Arriving at Moss Lane

Moss Lane has not changed all that much, unsurprisingly. The Main Stand is all seater and offers a raised view of the action, with a small “family” stand being located to the left. This stand also plays host to some hospitality areas. Both ends are terraced, with the “home” end being covered and stretching a good few rows back. The “away” (normally and if segregated) end gives a more raised view of the action at the rear than that from the terrace opposite, but is open to the elements, though this wasn’t an issue today. Between the two ends and opposite the main stand is a long terraced area, which is covered for the vast majority (but I find doesn’t give too great views unless right at the front and at pitch-side). The other side of the Main Stand is populated by the new Community Centre construction, which also serves as the clubhouse and the food bar is adjoining. Now, here’s the story behind Altrincham F.C….

History Lesson:

Altrincham Football Club was founded in 1891 by a Sunday League and took the name of Rigby Memorial Club. They soon merged with local side Grapplers to form Broadheath F.C. and became founder members of the Manchester League in 1893, with their first match here – against Hulme – ending in a seven-nil defeat. Things didn’t get much better for the fledgling side as they finished bottom of the table come the close of the first Manchester League season.

After stints at various grounds around the Broadheath, Timperley and Altrincham area, the club moved to Pollitt’s Field in 1903 and took on their current name, Altrincham F.C. and this name change proved a lucky one, as the club won the Cheshire Amateur Cup at the end of the first season as Alty before taking both the Manchester League and Cheshire Senior Cup titles the following season. After a second Manchester League success in 1907, the club went on to move to their current Moss Lane home in 1910. 1911 saw Alty join the Lancashire Combination and join the Division 2, finishing as runners-up at the close of their first season here, missing out on the title on goal average. They were still promoted to Division 1, though, and remained here through to the outbreak of WWI.

When football resumed after the cessation of hostilities, Alty became founder members of the Cheshire County League where they would remain through to the outbreak of the Second World War. Whilst in the Cheshire League, the club won the Cheshire League Cup in 1933 and finished as League runners-up on two occasions (1935 & ’36). They also reached the FA Cup’s First Round for the first time during their stay in this league, this appearance seeing the club lose out to Gainsborough Trinity during the 1934-’35 season.

Steward….or sub?

After missing the first season of post-war football, Alty recommenced playing in 1946 and re-joined the Cheshire County League. Little in the way of immediate success was to follow, with the club taking just a sole Cheshire League Cup win – in 1951 – prior to their mid-1960’s upturn in form. After a third and final Cheshire League Cup win in 1964, the club began to become more competitive. Jackie Swindells was a key player in this turnaround, with Swindells scoring no less than 82 goals in his first season at the club. Unsurprisingly, this helped Alty to their first post-war league title and the first of two consecutive ones at that (’66 & ’67), though he did notch somewhat less during the second campaign, ending up with an impressive 120 goals over the two title-winning seasons, whilst helping the club to a third Senior Cup win too (1967). After a runners-up placing in 1968, the Robins would go on to be a founding member of the Northern Premier League that close season. They’d go on to lift the NPL’s Challenge Cup for the first time in 1970.

The 1976-’77 season saw Altrincham reach the FA Trophy semi-finals whilst also applying for the Football League for the first time. Of course, this was unsuccessful, with Wimbledon getting the nod. The following year saw them go one better in the Trophy, winning the final at Wembley with a 3-1 win over Leatherhead. 1979 saw the Robins finish as NPL runners-up (along with lifting the NPL Challenge Shield) and again apply for the League. Despite getting the largest number of votes for a non-league side, Halifax Town were instead voted in to remain in the League after finishing bottom. This fruitless effort meant Altrincham instead joined the Conference’s forerunner, the Alliance League for which the winner would be the sole possible non-league nomination for a place in the League system.

The Alliance’s first season saw Alty win the division (along with the Bob Lord Trophy), but elation turned to further dismay as the club missed out on election by one vote to Rochdale with, apparently, the Alty-bound votes of Grimsby and Luton not being cast due to the former being at the wrong side of the room and the latter being late. As such, Alty remained in the Alliance and retained their title the next season, but again lost in the voting to Halifax. This proved to be the final time Alty would get truly close to the League, with the club managing the highs of four consecutive top-five finishes at best between 1984 and 1987.

Alty FC

The club was still successful in the cups, winning a further Cheshire Senior Cup in 1982 and the FA Trophy still proved a decent hunting ground too, with Alty being beaten finalists in 1982 but returning to lift the silverware in 1985 after overcoming Runcorn by a single goal. 1986 would then see the club knock top-flight Birmingham City out of the FA Cup, defeating the Division 1 side 2-1 at St. Andrew’s in Alty’s most famed “giant-killing”.

Playing in the newly named Conference, Alty finished third in 1991 before falling away into mid-table for a few seasons before recovering back to fourth in 1995. However, this was something of a false dawn, with the club finishing bottom two seasons later and being relegated to the Northern Premier League’s Premier Division. The club would spend two further seasons in the NPL, winning a second Challenge Cup (1998),Challenge Shield (1999) before returning as champions, but only lasted a single season back in the Conference, being relegated after finishing second bottom, despite some silver-lining being provided with yet another Senior Cup win.

A twelfth placed finish in 2004 saw Altrincham take a place in the newly created Conference North, where they finished fifth at the end of the first season and took a place in the play-offs, where they’d defeat both Nuneaton Borough and Kettering Town prior to defeating Eastbourne Borough in the North/South clash to decide the promoted team. Their penultimate Senior Cup to date would add to the glory that season. It appeared their stay back in the Conference would last just one season, an 18-point ineligible player deduction seemingly putting paid to their survival hopes, but Canvey Island’s resignation and Scarborough’s demotion saw the Robins reprieved.

This began a few seasons of a similar story, with Alty continuing to struggle but be reprieved from relegation. The following year saw Boston United demoted, then Halifax were liquidated the season after that. A couple of seasons of normality followed (bar Aussie cricket skipper Ricky Ponting becoming a shareholder, that is), with mid-table finishes (plus a final, at time of writing, Cheshire Senior Cup win in 2009) keeping Alty clear of the drop, but the club were eventually unable to avoid the trap door in 2011. A defeat in the 2013 Conference North play-offs was followed by success the next campaign, with Alty defeating Hednesford Town and Guiseley (I attended a game in both of these stages) to achieve promotion back to the Conference National, a last-minute winner avoiding penalties in the final played at Moss Lane. A two season stay back in the National division was ended in 2016, but disappointment didn’t end their as Altrincham went straight through the North division last season, finishing adrift at the bottom of the table and taking a place back in the NPL’s Premier Division for this season.

Following the impeccably observed silence for Armistice Day, the action began in this first ever meeting between the two clubs and it took just two minutes for the first goal to arrive, with the visiting Rams grabbing the opener against their higher ranked hosts. A poor ball in the Alty defence resulted in the ball ending up at the feet of Sam Heathcote and Heathcote – who carries a name synonymous with the Moss Lane outfit – netted against his former club, firing low beyond Thompson. A possible upset on the cards?

Watching on

Match Action

After a Greg Daniels effort had been kept out by Tony Thompson in the home goal, Alty found their feet after a slow opening ten minute spell and equalised after a quarter of an hour. A whipped in corner met the head of the unmarked Jordan Hulme, the Robins forward making no mistake with his short-range header, which left Rams stopper Danny Taberner with no chance of making the save. One-a-piece.

John Johnstone – adding to the alliterative names on the Alty team-sheet – was the main threat down the flank and the majority of chances being created by the hosts was coming from him, including one effort which forced Taberner into a low stop. However, with ten minutes of the first half remaining, Hulme would again be the one to find the net, seizing the ball within the box, before turning swiftly and firing a rising shot into the roof of the net from around twelve yards. As I left Danny and Jonny to have a quick lap of the ground, further chances followed for the hosts as the Northern Premier League leaders further asserted themselves over the tie, but it was Heathcote who’d come closest to levelling up the scores, seeing his free-kick tipped wide by Thompson. No further goals followed and the teams headed in with Alty still holding their slender advantage. 2-1 at half-time.

Match Action

12th man

Match Action

The break saw me head to the food bar some fine chips and gravy at a fine portion size too. I think it was £2.50, but I can’t actually remember that part as it’s, shockingly I know, not too memorable. The memorable part went to meeting up with the Trafford (and occasional Kartel Sports) legend that is Scott Barlow at half-time, with the former 40-goal-a-season striker, who was down watching with his son, stopping me as I almost walked straight past in my quest to return to the stand. As such, the first part of the second half was spent over a pint of Kingstone Press, courtesy of Scott, in the clubhouse while watching the game on TV. I still managed to pretty much miss ex-Rammy man Hulme’s hat-trick goal, though, but thankfully the Alty match report is on hand to tell me that “Hulme turned well inside the box and his shot hit a defender and looped into the net”. Cheers media people!!

After finishing up my drink, I bid goodbye to Scott and his group and headed back out to re-join Jonny and Danny who were now located over in the far end of the stand, doing the opposite switch to what most fans do in accordance with which side their team is attacking (I’m told this is due to getting a better view of the goal Alty are attacking!). Anyway, chances were few and far between in the second half, with only long-range efforts and a few blocked chances coming anywhere close to adding to the score-line.

Under the lights

Late on…

That is until, on 85 minutes, one of those longer-range efforts was unleashed by James Poole, with the ball, on this occasion, evading the diving frame of Taberner and squeezing beyond him and into the back of the net to seal Alty’s progression in what was a comfortable enough game for them, but wasn’t without a couple of scares along the way as the Lancastrian side put in a good shift. The final score-line was a little harsh on the visitors, but four-one it was.

After leaving Danny & Jonny, I headed back out the ground and off towards the large Tesco which dominates that side of the town, along with the Silver Blades Ice Rink, which plays host to the Manchester Storm Ice Hockey side –  having previously hosted the Manchester Phoenix, whom hosted my only experience thus far of Ice Hockey as, despite being entertaining, it’s pretty overpriced in my opinion – and swiftly ticked off the Altrincham branch of Wetherspoon’s, The Unicorn. Yes, I know, I’m one of those guys, but not too religiously, I stress! Punk IPA was, of course, the chosen one.

I soon discovered that I’d missed the F1 and, as such, the final drink in the Orange Tree was cancelled. I was also beginning to flag a bit and reckoned a smarter move would to be to head back home and have a bit of a splash-and-dash, with the “splash” being a few winks and the “dash” being a final drink. Both of these were ultimately highly successful, despite me trying to nod off on the bus (which is never a good look I might add), and there endeth this story.

All in all, yes it was another trip to the Moss Lane ground that I’ve visited multiple times, but this one was different as I’ve never really explored Alty as a town, outside of the area around the interchange. The place has some cool places and is well worth the trip even if it is a little on the pricey side. The game itself was decent enough too, with the game not being truly ended as a contest until that last five minutes and a few goals thrown in for good measure. Can’t really complain. So onwards to next week and that rare thing that is called a non-league league game! Not seen many this year, so will be something of a novelty. Off to a house for that….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 8

Programme: 5 (seemed cut back?)

Value For Money: 6

 

Manchopper in….Nantwich

Result: Nantwich Town 1-1 Kettering Town (FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round)

Venue: Weaver Stadium (Saturday 14th October 2017, 3pm)

Att: 760

With the FA Cup’s qualifying rounds reaching their conclusion, so it was that those clubs remaining had the chance to make the promised land of the first round “proper” and with that the possibility of securing a tie with a Football League club. Having been attracted to this tie with the lure of visiting the lovely town of Nantwich upon the drawing of the round’s games, I latterly sorted out details with fallen blogger Paul and we had our headings set. To Nantwich it was.

With the Liverpool-United match on beforehand, Paul had wanted to get there bright and early to watch. This suited me and I arrived into the Cheshire market town prior to midday, with the quest of seeking out somewhere to watch the game. After passing the town’s stocks and navigating the already bustling town square on a couple of occasions I was finding that options around here were fairly few and far between. That was until I, by chance, spotted the Wickstead Arms down a side-street and it was to be here that we’d spend the first half of the anti-climactic North West derby.

Nantwich

Players would be hoping to avoid these!

Nantwich

Paul joined me just before kick-off, with us soon realising we shouldn’t be greeting each other with pleasantries at this point. Luckily, we were becalmed with the goings on at Anfield and soon looked for a change of scenery for the second half. This would come in the form of the Vine, which was certainly the popular choice for the town’s people of Nantwich, the place offering standing room only, and a fine pint of Erdinger soon proved why. Lovely, but not cheap!

The clash continued on its way to its obvious nil-nil result (which I had predicted some twenty seconds in, on account of the stupid build-up it had been afforded by the media in the lead-up), whilst we finished up our drinks before thankfully leaving in the hopes of finding a more entertaining contest at the Weaver Stadium. Crossing the River Weaver on our way to the ground, we were passed by the jogging duo of Chris and Dave Ellis – two Poppies fans Paul and I had met last season at Leek – with Chris narrowly avoiding falling foul of the deadly Nantwich kerbs!

Wickstead Arms (plus a badly posed Paul)

The Vine

Arriving at the Weaver

Arriving at the ground, we were welcomed with a pre-match bag check before heading through the turnstiles in exchange for £10. Once through, a further £2 gave us an issue of the programme entitled “The Dabber”, with a bee-line to the bar following where a pint of Heineken would see us through to kick-off. After a swift meeting-up with the Ellis’, they headed out to join the ranks of the well-numbered travelling support within the covered terrace at the far side of the Weaver. The Main, all-seater, Stand (the bar is located at the top of the stairs) stands opposite, alongside the turnstiles), with the remainder of the ground being open, hard standing. Now, it’s time for everyone’s favourite part, and mine….

History Lesson:

Nantwich Town F.C. was founded in 1884 as Nantwich F.C. and derives its nickname from the town’s leather-related tanning industry. The club’s formative years were spent playing friendly and cup matches, prior to it joining the Shropshire & District League in 1891, where Nantwich finished runners-up at the end of their first season. This prompted a move up into the stronger Combination league for the following season, with Nantwich also welcoming Liverpool to the town in the Reds’ first ever FA Cup tie, the future 5-time European Cup winners going on to win the game 4-0.

Prior to WWI, the club had short spells in numerous leagues, including the North Staffs & District, Crewe & District, Manchester League and Lancashire Combination, with England rugby and cricket captain A.N. Hornby holding the role of club President and occasional player. Post-war, Nantwich became founder members of the Cheshire County League where the club tended to struggle, bar a 6th placed finish in 1922. 1933 saw the Dabbers finally lift silverware, with the Cheshire Senior Cup being lifted after victory over the attractively named ICI (Alkali) in front of 8,ooo fans. This coming after a 1921 tie (versus Winsford United) at Kingsley Fields (on the current site) which was played out in front of over 5,000. Imagine that nowadays!

After WWII, Nantwich joined the newly founded Mid-Cheshire League and entered the inaugural FA Youth Cup in 1952, falling to a narrow 23-0 defeat to Manchester Utd’s youngsters (featuring the likes of Duncan Edwards) at the Cliff. However, this proved to be no reflection on the next decade, with the club going on to achieve regular success throughout the 1960’s, with ’63-’64 seeing a treble of Mid-Cheshire League, League Cup (adding to a 1962 win) and Cheshire Amateur Cup won. After a short spell in the Manchester League (promoted from Division 1 in 1966 and Premier runners-up in 1967), 1968 would see Nantwich re-join the Cheshire League, adding the “Town” suffix in 1974. In 1976, the Dabbers took the Cheshire Senior Cup with a 5-4 triumph over Northern Premier League Champions Runcorn.

NTFC

Nantwich would go on to win the Cheshire League in 1981 – defeating runners-up Hyde United in the penultimate game to do so – and after a final year in the league, would join the newly created North West Counties League in 1982. However, the club would finish bottom of the league’s first season and were relegated to Division 2, where they would remain (bar a sole campaign in Division 3 in 1986) until 1989, when they were promoted to Division 1 once again. 1995 would see Town win the NWCFL League Cup, which would be their final silverware for over a decade, prior to their triumphant FA Vase campaign in 2006 when the Dabbers defeated Hillingdon Borough at St. Andrew’s, with Andy Kinsey netting two goals before dislocating his shoulder in celebrating securing his brace.

2007 saw Town finish third, securing promotion to the NPL Division One South in the process. The club also signed off at their former home Jackson Avenue at the close of that season, defeating Squires Gate in their final game there prior to moving to their new ground, the Weaver Stadium, named after the nearby river. Their first season at the new home was a success, Nantwich finishing up 3rd in the NPL Division One South, which meant a place in the play-offs. After defeating Grantham Town in the semis, the club would go on to beat Sheffield F.C. on penalties in the final to achieve promotion to the NPL Premier Division. This was added to by another Cheshire Senior Cup win in 2008.

Terrace

A further Cheshire Senior Cup was added to the trophy room in 2012, a season which also saw Nantwich’s only (to date) appearance in the FA Cup’s First Round. After knocking out Nuneaton Town in the 4th Qualifying Round, the club drew MK Dons away, which resulted in a heavy defeat. After battling relegation during their earlier seasons at Step 3, Nantwich began to stablise in mid-table, though struggled to 19th in 2014. 2015-’16 saw Nantwich embark on a successful FA Trophy campaign, the Dabbers reaching the semi-finals (after defeating Dover Athletic in the quarters), bowing out to eventual winners FC Halifax Town 6-4 on aggregate. Last season saw the club finish up in fifth in the NPL Premier Division, reaching the play-offs, but a 2-0 loss to eventual winners Spennymoor Town put paid to their hopes of Step 2 football.

The final hurdle before the first round was soon underway, with Kettering having slightly the better of the opening exchanges, though they never really troubled Will Jääskeläinen – son of Jussi – debuting in the Dabbers goal for this game. As such, the first real chance of the game fell to the home side, with David Forbes drive being well saved by Poppies keeper Paul Wright.

Match Action

Match Action

Sean Cooke looked to be the main threat for Nantwich going forward, though wasn’t having too much joy in this respect early on and it was this lack of true penetration that meant the tight game would lurch the way of the visitors just before half-time. As Paul and I were waiting in the slow, slow food line (despite having got there fifteen minutes before the break, we left five minutes after the whistle), the ball was knocked over the line by Michael Richens to give the game a much-needed goal. Sadly for me and lucky for him, only Paul was in position to see it, as I saved our space. 0-1, half-time!

With the remainder of the break being taken eating a pie that was hardly worth that wait (Paul’s meat and potato had something of the Chicken Balti about it too),  we were back underway with Nantwich searching for the equaliser to keep their FA Cup adventure alive. They started off well too, with Harry Clayton seeing his shot saved low down by Wright and Forbes scraping the woodwork with an effort just after the hour.

Despite these chances, the game remained a tight one, with Kettering looking to attack on the break, the wingers getting some joy in this without creating too much to speak of. This inability to kill off the game would come back to haunt the visitors, as their defensive second-half display would soon be ruined by a magnificent free-kick and, unsurprisingly, it was that man Cooke who provided the magic. Cooke stood over the set-piece around twenty-five yards out and as soon as the ball left his foot, you knew it was destined for the net. The flying Wright, taking a leaf out of his American namesakes Orville and Wilbur, couldn’t get near it and the Dabbers were level with around fifteen minutes left and it all to play for once again.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Well, it appeared that way but, sadly for us of a neutral perspective, both sides looked content to try their hands again during the coming week and take the replay. The whistle duly arrived to confirm this game would need a second go, which Nantwich would go on to win and set up a tie away at Stevenage. Not a bad reward. As for Paul and myself, we were off to explore a little bit more prior to our train back.

First up came the Tudor-era Black Lion, which is a tight, fairly snug pub complete with roaring fire-place. It does have an outside bar window too, according to Paul, so it definitely caters for all seasons! Anyway, having finished up in here we now had a dilemma. Head for the Red Cow another Tudor pub which I spotted on my pre-game recon, or head of the dominating Crown Hotel in all it’s splendour. Paul, probably smartly, decided the Crown was best on account of it being on the way to the station.

Black Lion

Crown Hotel

After meeting a couple of the local canine population in here, it was off to the station via a quick visit to the Railway for a couple of pricey Beck’s bottles for the train back (£3.60). Paul had a much more troublesome trip back than me, heading off via Crewe and Chester before finally landing back in Liverpool, whereas I was en route straight through to Manchester. Trains, eh?

So, there ends the FA Cup’s qualifying rounds. Now the big boys come in, and it’s around three rounds left until most of the interest drains away from the competition in my eyes. But for now, there’s a number of attractive looking First Round ties on the horizon to choose from and who knows where will be next up? Certainly not me, which may be an issue. Anyway, next up is a trip North of the border and to a ground that is more used to balls of a different variety…

 

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 6

Food: 3

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Farsley

Result: Farsley Celtic 4-2 Ossett Town (AET) (Northern Premier League First Division North Play-Off Final)

Venue: Throstle Nest (Saturday 29th April 2017, 3pm)

Att: 829

With the majority of the Step Four leagues in the books, attentions turned to those clubs who’d earned the right to extend their seasons for a late shot at success. Yes, the play-offs had been in full swing over the last week and, for me, it was to the Northern Premier League’s Division 1 North’s Yorkshire derby promotion clash between Farsley Celtic and Ossett Town.

With both clubs overcoming stern opposition in midweek (Farsley defeating Colne; Ossett ousting Scarborough), all roads pointed to Farsley’s Throstle Nest ground, with the Celts having finished as runners-up and therefore securing home advantage throughout their short play-off campaign. Ossett Town had come through an away trip to Scarborough, having secured their place after avoiding defeat to Trafford in the final day’s showdown clash. So who was to take the glory? If you’ve somehow missed the result spoiler, allow me to leave you in suspense!

After heading into Manchester, a quick connection over to Victoria station was undertaken before grabbing the train onwards to New Pudsey, the stop around a fifteen/twenty minute walk from the ground. I’d originally planned to meet with blog regular Paul on this very train, however delays from Liverpool saw him unable to make it and therefore he was stuck on a shiny Transpennine service up to Leeds, rather than his preferred, bone-shaking pacer option.

Heading into Farsley

Big flags are in vogue here!

Bay Horse

Heading up and through West Yorkshire, I arrived into New Pudsey station at just after midday, Paul arriving around ten minutes after myself. Of course, all eyes were set on Farsley’s small centre and so we made haste for there and started off the usual crawl through the pubs, beginning with the one at the far end, namely the Bay Horse.

Upon entering, I was pretty surprised to find it devoid of punters, what with it being fairly full on my last visit here last season to view Albion Sports in their cup game against Bradford Park Avenue. Anyway, in we headed and after getting the beers in, were allowed to have the big York City vs Forest Green match on TV. Well the first half anyway, as we soon bored and headed onwards up the high street to the New Inn for a couple of games of pool which I definitely didn’t fluke wins in…

Village’s alcoves

Farsley represented in the Old Hall

Following my second dominating victory, the walk back towards Throstle Nest continued, punctuated by stops at the brilliant Village Wine Bar, complete with rocky alcoves and the Old Hall hotel at the foot of the small lane which spits you out within view of the ground. This is probably a slightly longer walk, but does allow you to cut off the uphill walk back up the high street you’d face otherwise. Anyway, we soon came within sight of the Throstle Nest floodlights and, before long, were arriving at the ground.

After heading past the numerous signs leaving you in no doubt this is Farsley Celtic’s ground, we headed through the turnstile, handing over a fair £7 entrance fee, before paying a further £2 for the decent programme. With a good half-hour to kick-off, Paul and I headed for the clubhouse for a final pre-game drink, though the plastic glasses you do get allow you to take them out with you, so there’s no need to rush. However, I did drink the vast majority of mine before heading out and was soon happy I’d done so, as my finger got stuck within the rims of the doubled-up glasses and pulled it to the floor. Hmmmm…

Many signs…

…and even more.

Anyway. Throstle Nest is a nice enough ground, featuring just the two stands. The all-seater Main Stand sits on the near touch-line and directly in front of you as you enter and offers a slightly raised view of the action on the field. The second stand is a covered terrace which is located to the left of the turnstile as you come into the ground (the clubhouse/food bar on the right). This stand does offer a few seats too, but with these not in use today, it seems these are only for when segregation is in use at the ground. Otherwise, the rest of the ground is open terracing, bar the far end goal which is just hard standing. With loose ground description out of the way, here’s the story of Farsley Celtic…

History Lesson:

The current incarnation of Farsley Celtic FC was formed in 2010, however the club traces itself back to the original Farsley Celtic side of 1908. After playing in the local leagues around Leeds, the club eventually joined the West Riding County Amateur League in 1926, their best showing here being a runners-up placing in 1937.

Post-WWII, 1949 saw Farsley join the Yorkshire League’s Division 2, which they won in 1952, being promoted to Division 1 as a result. Following two consecutive runners-up placings in 1958 & ’59, the club won the Yorkshire League title in 1960, winning a second title in 1969 after establishing themselves as a force around the top of the table. Further runners-up spots in 1971 & ’72 followed and 1975 saw Celtic reach the FA Cup First Round for the first time, the club losing at “home” to Third Division side Tranmere Rovers, the game played at Elland Road in front of 11,000 fans.

However, a swift slump followed with the club relegated to Division 2 the following season, but they were immediately promoted after just the one season back in the second tier of the Yorkshire League, but their yo-yo-ing between the divisions continued as they again suffered the drop after just one year back in the First Division. They would go on to remain in the Division 2 for a further three seasons, before achieving promotion back to Division 1 in 1981.

Segregation

1982 saw the Yorkshire League merge with the Midland League to create the Northern Counties East League, Farsley being placed in the Division One North. They would remain here through until 1985, when they lifted the title and were promoted to the Premier Division. Just two seasons later, the Villagers were promoted as runners-up in Division 1 to the newly formed Northern Premier League Division 1, where the club would stay for the next seventeen seasons.

Eventually finishing in third place in 2004, Farsley finally departed the NPL’s First Division in the right direction. Taking a spot in the Premier Division, their first season ended in controversy, with Spennymoor United folding and leaving Celtic as champions. But, the FA would go on to overrule the league, awarding each team who had yet to play Spennymoor three points for each non-played game, meaning both Hyde United and Workington moved ahead of Farsley in the table, thus denying the Villagers promotion, never mind the title. Rubbing salt in the wounds, Celtic would have their appeal denied and would go on to lose in the play-off final to the Cumbrian outfit.

2006, however, did see Farsley take a place in the Conference North, defeating Marine and then North Ferriby in the play-offs to achieve promotion. After a second appearance in the FA Cup’s first round, a second consecutive promotion followed, with a fifth-placed finish at the close of their first season at Step 2 meaning a spot in the play-offs was secured. Again the play-offs were friendly to Farsley with Kettering Town and Hinckley United this time being vanquished, as Celtic found themselves in non-league’s top-flight.

Clubhouse at Throstle Nest (prior visit).

Their stay at the top table was to last a single season, though, Farsley seeing themselves relegated come the end of the 2008-’09 season. However, worse was to follow, as Celtic were to fold mid-way through the following year, the club failing to see out the season, being expelled from the Conference North and disbanding in March of 2010, reforming for the following year as Farsley AFC and taking a place in the NCEL Premier Division.

After immediately achieving promotion, Farsley were back in the Division One of the NPL, where they would remain through until this day (perhaps?), despite achieving a place in 2012 play-offs. 2015 saw the club revert to using the Farsley Celtic name, with 2017 seeing the club finish runners-up after narrowly missing out on the title to Lancaster City, instead ending up in this season’s play-offs, where they defeated Colne 4-0 in the semis to reach the final.

Before too long it was time to head back out onto the terraces for the match and were greeted by the sight of both teams already lined up and ready to go. We were underway and it soon became apparent that the first half was going to be one of those cagey, tight affairs where neither side, understandably, wants to give any real sniff to their opponents, Ossett’s centre-back pairing of, the ever impressive, Tyrone Gay and Isaac Assenso being particularly solid.

Match Action

Match Action

A busy Throstle Nest

So, with little to keep us entertained Paul and I headed off on a lap of Throstle Nest, encountering many, many friendly dogs as we went: TJ, Zak, Poppy and Pippa were just a few of those in attendance!

On the field, the turgid contest continued with only one real chance of note for both teams. For the hosts, James Walshaw fired off-target while it took until the stroke of half-time for Ossett Town to muster a chance, but they came close to breaking the deadlock with it. Ossett striker Danny Frost, who’d go on to have a major impact later in the game, took the ball on the turn before firing in a fine effort towards the top-corner that Farsley stopper Graeme McKibbin was equal to. So, half-time arrived with the game still goalless.

The whole of the break was spent in the queue for food and, unfortunately for us both, we arrived at the service hatch at the most inopportune time of the game at that point. Just a few minutes after the restart, Farsley forced a corner on the right. Lewis Nightingale, who is a firm non-league favourite of mine, drifted the ball in and his delivery was met by the head of Adam Clayton who powered the ball beyond the Ossett ‘keeper Leigh Overton. I have to thank Farsley’ report for that description, as I was in the process of putting in my order for chips, peas and gravy as Clayton found the net and Paul was also not invested at that very time!

Engrossing stuff for the humans…

…though not so much for dogs…

…and certainly not for TJ!

So Farsley were ahead and the early goal meant the rest of the half was a far more open, entertaining affair. Both sides were looking for the crucial second goal, Ossett to get back to level terms and Farsley to attempt to kill off their opposition and secure a spot in the NPL Premier Division for next season.

However, it was Ossett who took the initiative and they equalised with around twenty minutes remaining, the aforementioned Frost evading the defence and firing a low shot beyond McKibbin to send the visiting support behind the goal into raptures. Of course, with the scores level and the visitors on the front foot, Paul recommended we accelerate our lap to join their ranks for the latter stages. It proved to be a shrewd idea.

Following an injury to the referee and his eventual replacement – in what would prove to be an unlikely key moment – just three minutes of normal time remained on the clock when that man Frost looked to have sent the team from near Wakefield into the Premier Division. Frost broke clear once more before delivering a delightful, chipped effort over the onrushing ‘keeper, which just dipped under the crossbar and we were joining in the celebrations with the visitors!

GOL!!!

It was all going well at this point…

Late action

However, their joy was short-lived when, after two of the seven additional minutes had been played, Farsley again forced a corner-kick. This, again, proved the Reds’ downfall as a defender knocked the ball against his own post, but his relief didn’t last long as Richard Marshall pounced upon the pinball-ing football to fire home and this time it was the Villagers’ fans who were up and cheering. I also got excited by this happening, exclaiming “He’s done it, they’ve done it!”, receiving some dirty looks from the away support in the process!

So it would take extra-time to separate these Yorkshire rivals and it proved a bridge too far for the visitors. Farsley dominated the following half-hour and had the game sewn up within the first fifteen of the extra period. Clearly hampered by the forced withdrawal of Assenso, their defence looked far less secure and definitely more leggy then their opponents’ and it was little surprise when Ryan Watson sent Farsley back ahead, his 25-yard drive flying beyond the despairing Overton and into the top-corner, albeit via a deflection and Overton’s outstretched hand.

Farsley celebrate. Ossett despair.

Extra-time action

Farsley would go on to make it certain soon after when, following Ossett’s gamble by throwing Gay upfront, James Walshaw would take full advantage of the extra space afforded to him, cutting inside from the right and fizzing a low drive beyond Overton and into the far corner. The second period proved to be nothing more than the hosts protecting their lead in relative comfort, before the sub referee’s whistle signalled that Farsley Celtic would be back at Step 3 for next season!

Everyone on!

Farsley lift the trophy. And red tape. And a bottle.

After joining the controlled pitch invasion, Paul and I got some pics of the Villagers lifting their play-off silverware before beating a hasty retreat to New Pudsey station (via a swift stop at an off-licence en-route) before getting to the platform for the train back to Manchester with around a minute to spare. I call that good timing! The journey back passed without anything of note, before we went our separate ways back at Victoria and I headed over for my connection.

Upon reaching the station, I would be collared by Cappy, who’s featured here and there on these pages (especially the Berwick trip) and so I joined him for one back near us as he regaled me with stories about his trips to Ireland during his youth, with some interesting results! So, there ends the trip to Farsley. Always a nice place to visit and it’s good to see them a step close to the leagues they competed in before their demise a number of years ago now. As for Ossett, they must be proud of how far they’ve come within a year or so and they look good to continue on strong if they keep their side together. As for the rest of my Bank Holiday? More villages are to be visited…

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Stalybridge

stalybridgecelticCurzon_Ashton_Khai

Result: Stalybridge Celtic 1-2 Curzon Ashton (National League North)

Venue: Bower Fold (Monday 26th December 2016, 3pm)

Att: 558

It’s the morning of the 26th December. Christmas is done, the year is, thankfully, coming to its end, yet the football season is still in fine fettle and still going strong. This is somewhat surprising, considering how the recent winters have decimated the fixture lists of many a league around the country each year. But with this Boxing Day’s weather playing ball, thus it meant that others could too on many respective pitches and for me, there was none more important than my festive destination: Bower Fold, home of Stalybridge Celtic.

Having had my attendance confirmed at the unleashing of a pair of Daniel Bryan ‘YES!’ gifs (one per club) the previous evening, I soon realised that the journey wasn’t all that simple. By no means was it terrible, but the restricted public transport meant that there was, obviously, no trains. Having already planned for that, my intention was to jump a bus through Manchester and onwards to Stalybridge. Alas, the Stagecoach route planners decided that Stalybridge didn’t need any contacts with anywhere else on Boxing Day and so all buses terminated at Ashton. Thus leaving me with a 50 minute walk between the two Tameside towns. Lovely.

Not one to be put off too easily, I decided this was well within the boundaries of acceptable and thus, come the morning, I was on my first bus of the day and heading to Ashton via the medium of Stockport. Upon arrival, I quickly got my bearings via the, for once, useful bus station map and thus headed off towards Stalybridge, buffeted by the bracing winds.

Having gone slightly off track and almost arrived at Hurst Cross, I eventually arrived into Stalybridge two-and-a-half hours after beginning my journey. Take into account I can usually get there within 45 minutes, you see why it was a bit more of a ball ache than usual! Anyway, having passed by the deserted station I was soon arriving into the bustling centre of Stalybridge. Okay, when I say bustling I may be…slightly overstating.

Stalybridge

Stalybridge

Armentieres

Armentieres Way

Shutters down everywhere and only an occasional soul in sight gave me the thoughts that, perhaps, Staly Vegas wasn’t the place to be on a Boxing Day afternoon. On the plus side, I did see a whole square and street named after the town’s French twin, Armentièrers so there was small graces. I guess. There was also the dependable Wetherspoons to provide a bit of hope, including the sight of a couple of Celtic shirts but The Society Rooms didn’t provide me with much interest, bar the knowledge that the wartime song “It’s a long way to Tipperary” was penned in the town. Anyway, the Blue Moon beer was quickly downed. However, the ‘Spoons had given me the sight of Harmer’s bar opening up just down the pedestrianised street, so it was to there I headed next.

Except for the large group of lads who entered seconds before me, there was, again, little to excite in here. It was comfortable enough and fine for a quick one before I decided that, with the time headed towards 2pm, I might as well head towards the foot of the road leading to Bower Fold. There also happened to be a pub there, you know, by pure coincidence.

'Spoons

‘Spoons

Harmer's

Harmer’s

Armentieres Square

Armentieres Square. Almost like France.

After making a conscientious effort to head through Armenitères Square alongside the canal, I headed through the equally cultural Tesco car-park and up the steps onto the road once more. From here I spotted The Organ (no snickering please, children), which was the place I was alerted to via Maps. But, what the app hadn’t informed me of was the existence of the Old Hunters’ Tavern, which sits next door. I headed towards there under the instruction I’d have a half in both and a quick check in the window confirmed to me that here was where half the Stalybridge population were hiding. Once I’d begun on the pint of Veltins, I could understand why! Yes, the instructions didn’t get followed too well…

The Hunters’ was a nice, friendly place and probably one of the better places I’ve been to this year overall, but with time against me I was soon next door and into the Organ (come on now). The Organ was bustling, with the lone barmaid going at full pelt to serve all around, so props for that. A was soon in possession of a pint of Coors with this being the easiest pint to drink quickly I find. There seemed to be a few more Celtic fans in here too and the scarf above the bar gave off the impression that this may be one of the strongholds(!).

The Organ and The Hunter's

The Organ and The Hunter’s

Good Park name that...

Good Park name that…

After traipsing uphill along Mottram Road, I arrived at the gates of Bower Fold for the second time, but for my first Celtic game. My first trip had been to an FC United FA Cup tie a few years back so, in my mind, I hadn’t truly done Bower Fold and a revisit was a necessity. After skipping past some information collecting people outside, I handed over my £12 before entering the ground just minutes before the teams entered the field. A programme was swiftly purchased from the rear of the stand at the Town End for a further £2.

Dating from 1909, Bower Fold has a mix of traditional-style and modernisation within it. It is also, apparently, the only active ground in the country with a perfect North alignment, which is an interesting little side note. The stands are all fairly recent structures, with the raised seating Main Stand dating from 1996 and the terraced Joe Jackson Stand from ’94. The Lord Pendry all-seater stand is the most recent, dating from 2004, with the Mottram End terrace being the oldest stand being in situ from the mid-1980’s in its current guise. There is further uncovered terracing located around the rest of the pitch. As for Stalybridge Celtic themselves….

History Lesson:

Officially formed in 1909, there is a case for saying that Stalybridge Celtic FC can trace its roots back to 1906 and the formation of an amateur club carrying the same name in the town. They first played in the Lancashire & Cheshire League for two seasons before joining the Lancashire Combination. Here, Celtic became Second Division champions at the first attempt in 1912 and followed this up with a short spell in the Central League. They then, somehow, found themselves joining the Southern League in an attempt to progress quicker.

This didn’t go so well, though and the club were soon back in the Central League for 1919-’20. However, following another two season spell here, Stalybridge became founder members of the Football League’s Third Division North, but resigned after another two seasons with support issues cited, despite crowds numbering 2,000 more than near-neighbours, Rochdale. They did, however, lift the 1923 Manchester Senior Cup to improve matters somewhat.

Bower Fold

Bower Fold

From here, the club went on to join the Cheshire County League whereupon they found a steady base and remained for the next 60 years. Despite this long foray, they managed to win the title only once, this success coming in 1980. They did, however, also lift two Challenge Shields (1955 & 1978), a Cheshire Senior Cup (1953), two Intermediate Cups (’58, ’69) & the 1978 Edward Case Cup during their time here.

Upon the league’s merger with the Lancashire Combination, Celtic became founder members of the North West Counties League in 1982, winning the title in 1984 (along with the NWCFL Super Cup) and again in 1987, with the latter meaning promotion to the Northern Premier League was achieved. Stalybridge ended the decade by lifting the 1989 Lancashire Floodlit Cup.

1992 saw Stalybridge lift the NPL title (along with the NPL’s Peter Swailes Shield) and thus took a place in the Conference, where they were to remain for the next six seasons before suffering the drop after finishing up bottom of the table. 1999 saw silverware return in the form of the NPL Challenge Cup and 2001 saw a big upturn in fortunes as the club won a treble of Cheshire Senior Cup, NPL President’s Cup and NPL Premier Division. This, in turn, meant Celtic were given another shot at the Conference, but this time their stay lasted a solitary year.

Today's contest.

Today’s contest.

Following their final lifting of silverware to date in the form of the 2003 NPL President’s Cup, 2005 saw Celtic become founder members of the Conference North and they have remained at that level to this day. 2008 saw the club reach the play-offs after a 3rd place finish, but ‘Bridge lost out to Barrow in the final. After a yo-yo few years which saw a few good and a few bad years mixed in together, the most recent few seasons have been ones of struggle for the most part, though last season they achieved a solid 12th place.

With the game underway, I said a quick hello to Curzon fan (and many other things too) Aaron, before watching the early stages of the Tameside Derby clash along with the travelling support, which now includes a bugle as well as a drum. Orchestral. Anyhow, the first chance of the game saw a fine save, despite me claiming it wasn’t, by Curzon’s Cameron Mason, who tipped a rasping drive from Celtic’s debutant striker, Lee Gaskell onto the post.

Good pub quiz question.

Good pub quiz question.

Match Action

Match Action

Flag action

Flag action

With the light fading and Celtic becoming the more dominant side in the game, I decided that I’d head around the ground and get a few pics in while I could. Now, I’m not claiming that my placings in a ground influence the game, but from then on Curzon went on to grab a pair of quick goals. Come to think of it, maybe me moving did change everything…?

First, Curzon won a free-kick out on their right flank and the resultant ball in was met by the Nash’s talismanic striker, Niall Cummins, who thumped his header past Grant Shenton in the home net. 0-1 and the visiting support were sent into raptures, which soon became something just short of delirium when a corner from the same side wasn’t cleared from the box and Jamie Stott forced the ball beyond Shenton to double Curzon’s lead.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

View from the Main Stand

View from the Main Stand

From then on, the sting seemed to go out of the game for the remainder of the first period (too Bob Bradley-esque?), with little happening on the pitch and thus I headed back around the ground for the food hut. After a lengthy wait in the queue, I eventually got to the front before coming away with a decent chips, peas & gravy for, I think, another £2. This despite the warnings on posters around the hut stating those dreaded words “NO chips today”.

By the time I’d retaken my place pitchside, it was time for the action to restart and, once again, it was Stalybridge who came out the stronger and they grabbed a goal back when Aiden Chippendale knocked home at the back post. From now on it was all to play for and Celtic would go on to dominate the final 20 minutes or so, but this could have been all different had either of Cummins or James Baillie managed to force home from close range during a goalmouth scramble, which included a goal-line clearance.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Calling Cards

Calling Cards

After seeing a few strikes clear the target with some ease, Celtic forced a corner down their left wing. From the set-piece, Alex Honeyball rushed onto the floating delivery but crashed his header against the crossbar from 12 yards. There was still time for Mason to pull off another fine stop with pretty much the final action of the game and this secured his side the points as they took the spoils in the first of the clubs’ double clash over the festive period.

After bidding goodbye to Joe and a couple more of the Curzon contingent I’ve met along the way this year at York and Westfields, I headed out into the dark Tameside night, faced with the traipse back to Ashton in ever colder conditions. But by some sort of miracle, a Christmas miracle maybe(?), I managed to arrive back within 45 minutes, thus saving me an hour’s wait and meaning I could jump straight on a bus back to Manchester. Lovely.

All in all, I had a decent day in and around Stalybridge, even if it didn’t start off too hopefully! The town seems like it offers a little more on a normal weekend (a small taphouse bar was shut, much to my chagrin), but it still was decent enough. It was good to “properly” do Bower Fold as well and to actually see Staly play at their ground. As for the last day of the year? Well, it’s to the third Manchester club and a rekindled name from the past…

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Manchopper in….Witton

160px-wittonalbionfckettering-town-fc

Result: Witton Albion 2-1 Kettering Town (FA Trophy Second Round)

Venue: Wincham Park (Saturday 12th November 2016, 3pm)

Att: 339

After missing out on the last round of the Trophy whilst roughing it in hospitality at Old Trafford a couple of weeks back, it was back on the true football trail with a trip to, well, where? The decision fell to the twittersphere (all 37 of them), with their big decision being between Kidsgrove, Nantwich or Witton. After a fairly close battle, it was the latter of the trio that came out on top, so a revisit to Wincham Park for Witton Albion vs Kettering Town it was!

It would also be the second time this season I’d have seen Kettering, with the prior time being at Leek Town during the early rounds of the cup. That game saw late drama, so more of the same for this game wouldn’t go amiss I thought, as I rolled into Manchester Piccadilly to await my connection down to Northwich. Once more, I decided to await my train in the Hourglass along with a quick drink. Before long, it was time to head for Cheshire.

After an hour-long journey, elongated by the loop round to Altrincham, I arrived into the traditional-looking Northwich station, from where you don’t actually see much of Northwich, lest you actually go into the town. Instead, you head away from it and head towards the village of Wincham where, somewhat unsurprisingly, the ground is located. Pub-wise, it’s a fairly sparse route with the only option being the Chesterway pub. Obviously, being a food-y pub, the prices are a little lofty, as shown by the £3.50-plus price for a Sol. I was quickly headed for the ground.

Northwich

Northwich Station

The Chesterway

The Chesterway

Way to Witton

Way to Witton

The navigating of the long and winding road complete for the first time, I arrived at a sign welcoming me to Wincham. After giving some vague directions to, I presume, a Kettering director due to his smart-looking outfit, I found the access route down to the ground and was soon within the clubhouse/shop. Despite not being a darker ale drinker of any description, I found myself torn between a lighter-looking ale and the interestingly named ‘Yeti’. I did think to myself that I couldn’t really pass up the Yeti and when the two guys next to me ordered their next round of the Tatton Brewery’s finest, I decided I should really join them. It wasn’t all too bad either, though it’s not converted me yet.

Anyway with kick-off fast approaching, I headed for the normal pre-game places before spotting Kettering fans Chris and Dave Ellis whom I’d met after the Leek game. After a quick greeting and a few tales of fellow fans’ misfortunes whilst on their respective ways to the game, with trains and cars both causing issues. Well, the latter was more alcohol related as a car was left stranded in Stoke of all places, but still…

Witton Albion FC

Witton Albion FC

Wincham Park

Wincham Park

Clubhouse

Clubhouse

With the clock now approaching three, the clubhouse began to empty en masse and to the turnstiles went the crowds. £9 later and it was into Wincham Park for, what I think was, a third time. Having already purchased a programme in the bar for £2, I could bypass the table where they were being sold, but this only made it possible for me to hear someone’s conversation end with “Well, everyday alive is a bonus”. A very easy way to get the juices flowing for the contest!

Wincham Park is a smart ground, with its former standing as a Conference ground still very obvious. It’s four stands are spread evenly around the ground, with the all-seater Main Stand being housed on the right-hand touchline as you enter, the clubhouse sort of underneath. A large covered terrace sits on the left-hand side, with this structure matching the Main Stand in stretching for most of the length of the pitch. There is a little uncovered terracing to the left of the roof. Behind both goals are further, slightly smaller, covered terraces with both very similar in size to each other. Before we get into the game itself, here’s some backstory to Witton Albion FC…

History Lesson:

Witton Albion Football Club was formed in 1887 and initially played in the local Northwich & District League. They also competed in the Crewe & District League, Cheshire League, The Combination (3 seasons), Manchester League and the Lancashire Combination during their earlier years. They won the latter’s Division 2 in 1914, with their stay in the league’s Division 1 stopped by WWI’s outbreak. 1920 saw the club become founder members of the Cheshire County League, winning three titles following WWII (1949, ’50, ’54), including the double in 1954.

After the formation of the Northern Premier League in 1969, Witton were denied entry initially and so stayed in the Cheshire County League, eventually earning their place in the NPL in for 1978-’79 as Cheshire County League runners-up. The sale of their then Central Ground to move to Wincham Park was completed in 1989 and in their second season at Wincham, Witton won the NPL title by 16 pts, meaning promotion to the Conference was attained.

The new home

The new home

WAFC

WAFC

The financial costs did mean that this was a struggle for them and the club suffered their first relegation in 1994, with a second following in 1997 as the club dropped into the NPL Division 1 for the first time. 2004 saw the biggest achievement as then skipper Brian Pritchard was sent-off for tripping a streaker in a Cheshire Senior Cup tie vs Woodley Sports.

Having been put back in the Premier Division of the NPL via league restructurings, Witton missed out on promotion by one goal in 2007 and they subsequently lost out in the play-off final. 200s aw them again miss out on promotion to Fleetwood Town and then in the play-offs for the second season running, but the following season of managerial upheavals saw Witton relegated to the NPL Division 1 South. This lasted until 2010-’11, when the club were switched to the Northern Section.

2012 saw Witton achieve promotion back to the NPL Premier Division, defeating Curzon Ashton in the play-off final. The following year, the club reached the Prem play-offs, but lost out in the semi’s. However, this was as good as it got, as struggles followed and 2015-’16 saw Albion back in the Division 1 North. Last season, Witton finished up in 11th place, before again being transferred to the South Division for this current campaign.

After a minutes silence for Remembrance, the game got underway with Southern League outfit Kettering on top. Therefore, it was little surprise when, just ten or so minutes in, a good move ended with a Spencer Weir-Daley through ball finding Liam Canavan who slotted past Witton GK, Dan Roberts. The away end, including Dave’s brothers Phil & Dan,  who I’d been invited to join for the afternoon, went into raptures.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Further chances were to follow for the Poppies, quite the appropriate nickname considering the weekend, but after dominating the first half of the first half (if that makes sense), they began to be outdone in the midfield by Albion. Despite their gaining of momentum, Witton struggled to really make any real chances bar forcing Town ‘keeper Dean Snedker into one stop. After I’d headed round to get some chips and beat the crowds, I took a seat in the stand for the dying moments of the half. This proved to be a decent shout, as I then had a good view of Witton’s equaliser.

After a fair bit of pressure, including Snedker saving well from Hopley and Prince Haywood (not a real Prince) shooting just wide, a free-kick was conceded out on the right flank. The resulting ball in landed on the head of Rob Hopley, with Snedker’s fine push onto the post being in vain as the rebound fell back to Hopley who fired home. That was pretty much the last kick of the half and gave something of a forewarning of what was to come.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

From the Main Stand

Kettering fans

Kettering fans

The half-time was uneventful, bar the groundsman having to dodge occasional efforts from the Kettering subs as he went about his business in tending the goalmouth, before the sides emerged once more from the tunnel and we were back underway. It was Witton who continued where they left off and began the half on top, a position that they never really relinquished. Kettering’s best early chance came through Weir-Daley, who almost took out us in the crowd, but Chris’ ‘football in slippers’ skills came to the rescue.

As shenanigans kicked-off on the terraces, nothing really did so on the pitch. Chances dried up and only the ever more wound-up Kettering fans were keeping any sort of entertainment going on, not that they’d consider it as such, I expect. The referee, though, did his best in trying to liven up the game, by not really booking challenges when he ought to and therefore planting the seeds to allow him to lose most of his control over the game. Both sides were feeling fairly put out by some decisions and the players’ frustrations reflected this.

Match Action

Match Action

Bright lights of Wincham

Bright lights of Wincham

But, as the clock passed into the 96th minute, Albion forced a corner on the left. The resulting set-piece was half-cleared, but probably to a distance and a situation that most would have considered safe. This was shown as one Poppies fan muttered “All this way for a replay”, only for his companion to reply Nostradamus-esque “It’s not done yet” as Wes Benjamin unleased a fizzing drive that whizzed into the top corner of Snedker’s goal. STUNNER! No chance for him & the Town fans views towards their boss became even less enamoured. Full-time, 2-1 and once again the three-time semi-finalists Witton had scored with the last real kick of the half! That was also to be Benjamin’s last Witton action, as he left for Clitheroe a few days after.

Witton celebrations after the late winner!

Witton celebrations after the late winner!

So, with the Town fans unleashing their frustrations, I bid goodbye to Chris & Dave and headed back from whence I came, reaching the station in good time for the train straight back. Despite East Midlands’ trains best efforts to ruin my journey back from Manchester, Northern came to the rescue with their own late service, thus meaning all’s well that ends well, so it was off to Urmston and to my parents’ very own bar for some birthday drinks for my sister with some more family. Remember, The Three Barrels, check it out if you’re in the neck of the woods!…

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RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 9

Food: 7

Programme: 9

Value For Money: 7