Result: Kidsgrove Athletic 2-0 Trafford (FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay)
Venue: Hollinwood Road (Wednesday 23rd August 2017, 7.45pm)
A first “proper” midweek blog in quite some time saw me heading into North Staffordshire for this FA Cup replay. Kidsgrove Athletic, based north of Stoke, forced a second go-around in this tie by holding Trafford to a 2-2 draw the previous Saturday and gain home advantage for a place in the First Qualifying Round.
Knowing there’s not much to Kidsgrove from other blogs and my own research, I was getting a lift straight to the game off Trafford fan Cappy, who has popped up in my blogs from time to time, the latest being in the round previous at Athersley Recreation vs West Didsbury & Chorlton. After being picked up along with other away fans Gaz and Paul, it was straight to Hollinwood Road for us.
After making good time in avoiding the usual trouble-strewn M6, we arrived at the gates of “The Grove’s” home at just before half-past seven. Being dropped off outside as Cappy went in search of a parking space (few and far between at that point), a quick entry (£8 in) plus grabbing a programme and a teamsheet off the lady within the closed off turnstile, saw me all set for the game. Gaz was most pleased by the fact he grabbed the last of the programmes on offer!
Before long, the sides were heading out onto the field with daylight still just about enough to mean the floodlights were not really required for the first half. As for the ground, it’s a pretty decent one, housing four stands with seating available on both sides and at both ends, largely orange-orientated, for some reason, despite Kidsgrove playing in blue and the older looking stand fitting in with this colour scheme. The ground also has a nice backdrop of trees at the far side.
Anyway, this older stand is split into two by the “tunnel” which protrudes through the middle of the seats, with the differently decorated “Phoenix Club” clubhouse & changing rooms to the rear. Alongside and towards the turnstiles is the food bar, with a few rows of covered seats separating it from said entrance way. The far side houses a newer, all-seater stand, with the near-end also playing host to something similar. The far end, though, plays host to a strange stand that has a couple of rows of seats at both sides, with covered standing also available within too. Ground description somewhat out-of-the-way, here’s a bit of back-story to Kidsgrove Athletic…
Kidsgrove Athletic FC was founded in 1952, after a group of disillusioned local players formed the club after the re-formed (after WWII) Kidsgrove United decided to use players from outside the area. United had been the town’s club pre-war. Athletic, meanwhile, began life in the local Burslem & Tunstall League, originally playing on the Vickers & Goodwin pitch near the A50, before taking a year out of football in 1961, with all efforts on developing a ground on the current site at Clough Hall, which may give a clue to their success in this venture!
The club returned to the playing field in 1962 and won the Burslem & Tunstall League that year. They’d go on to join the Staffordshire County League in 1963, winning the Division 2 title in their first year there before taking the Division One title in 1966. As a result of this, the ‘Grove switched into the Mid-Cheshire League for the ’66-’67 season, winning it on four occasions (1971, ’78, ’87 & ’88), along with lifting the Mid-Cheshire League Cup three times (1968, ’70 & ’86). 1990 saw the club take a further step up and enter the North West Counties League for 1990.
Promoted in 1991-’92 due to ground grading, the club struggled initially before finding its feet and winning the NWCFL title twice (1998 & ‘2002), the latter of which earned Kidsgrove promotion to the Northern Premier League. After struggling at the start of their stint here, they progressively moved up the table and they would eventually reach the play-offs of the now regionalised Division One (South) in 2010, but would lose out to, the sadly now defunct, Glapwell. After a period of managerial instability in recent years, the club ended up in a solid 12th place at the close of the last campaign.
The game was a tight affair during the first period, with neither side seemingly looking to push on, perhaps afraid of being caught as a result of doing so. Thusly, chances were few and far between, the visitors being restricted to a couple of long-range efforts and the influential, experienced frontman Anthony Malbon firing over when well placed with what was probably the best chance of the half.
Despite the lack of overall chances, the game was a watchable one on a good playing surface. Kidsgrove, with more width to their play, always looked the more dangerous and almost forged ahead on around the half-hour, but Trafford ‘keeper Grant Shenton held on well to a Ross Davidson strike, considering he looked to have seen it late. As it was, there was to be no breakthrough in the score-line and the sides headed in at the break in deadlock. At the recommendation of Gaz, my half-time snack consisted of chips & curry for £2 and they were well worth it. Really good stuff.
After a swift visit into the Phoenix Club for a look around (whereupon I came across its numerous Nepalese/Himalayan area décor), it was back out for the second period. From the off it became more apparent that Kidsgrove had the upper hand now, indeed Cappy stated at the break that Grove seemingly had a “second gear” to go into, and that definitely looked to be the case. Shenton got away with an early error, when a poor clearance was fired over but he was to be more unlucky soon after when Kidsgrove deservedly went ahead.
After Trafford’s Ally Brown had been denied by ‘Grove stopper Dave Parton, in the visitors’ best chance of the tie, Parton’s opposite number pulled off a good initial stop to deny Malbon, but the ball fell to the feet of Lee Cropper who unerringly did the rest, in calm fashion. You felt it’d be a long way back for Trafford from here, considering the lack of penetration they’d had to that point in the game, the forward line proving ineffective in breaking down the solid-looking home defence, marshalled well by the “gaffer”, player-manager Ryan Austin, the ex-Burton Albion man who was part of the side who played at Old Trafford in this competition a number of years back.
Indeed, 15 minutes later, it was game, set and match to the hosts. A long-ball downfield found Malbon who was adjudged onside and he left the vain appeals of the Trafford defenders behind him to coolly finish beyond Shenton for two-nil, to send the crowd and those in the raised hospitality box into raptures. Kidsgrove were heading for the next round and a date with Clitheroe.
Not much occurred during the latter part of the game, and the ‘Grove saw out the remainder of the tie to signal a fine win against the seemingly depleted visitors (they only had three on the bench). As for us, it was straight off via an initial stop off in the fine, thatched roof-style “Bleeding Wolf” Robbie’s pub. Cappy’s observation of the match was this: “Well, the pub’s better than the match!”.
It was packed within this old, carvery pub with standing room only in force, with a band relaxing at the rear having finished up their set. Nothing alcoholic for Cappy of course, but there was no such bad luck or responsibility for me and a pint of Stowford later (plus a read of the local legend regarding the pub, a huntsman and the King), we were headed back into the night for a second stop-off….and here’s where the silliness begins!
En route to Congleton, Cappy headed off for the Swettenham Arms , which cued us travelling along dark country lanes with no other souls in sight, bar the odd rabbit which would pointlessly risk its life by darting out in front of the car. Finally arriving in some sort of civilisation, we discovered the Swettenham was shut. No haunted pub for us…none at all it seemed. But then the Red Lion was remembered and off we went again. Shut. Ah. With all options seemingly exhausted, it was off home via the odd diversion. Until we got to a roundabout near Over Peover.
“There’s a sign for the Dog Inn”, I called to the rest of the car and thus we circled around said roundabout three or four times whilst debating whether we’d make the two miles in six minutes. Cappy decided to the affirmative for us and we arrived at the entrance to the Dog in some fashion, with my plan of action being put into force. That plan of action? The nearest to the door dives out and legs it in.
At one minute past eleven, we came to a halt, the door swung open and Paul sprung out to shouts of “GO, GO, GO!!!!”, with one guy walking past with his dog probably thinking he was about to witness the worst pub raid in history. After parking, we joined Paul within to find all things calm as…..it was open until midnight! Fun and games over, we settled in for the next half-hour (pint of the fine Portland in here) before setting off once more.
Apparently, my dramatized story pretty much came true. This is how things went: Paul jumped out the car, through the gate, threw open the pub doors as those inside turned to see what was going on, before asking if there was time to be served. He was met by the flat response “Yeah, we’re open until twelve.” I can’t do it justice in words, it was just pure craziness and a great way to end the evening, never mind the “Brian the mechanic” call-in show on the radio.
So ends this tale of an underwhelming footballing match transforming into a crazy pub search. But this is what the FA Cup does to people, I guess! Anyway, Saturday sees a return to the 92 trail, before the Cup returns a week after. However, before that comes around, it’s a trip to Runcorn and the Linnets….
Value For Money: 7