Manchopper in….Southport

Result: Southport 2-0 Leamington (National League North)

Venue: Haig Avenue (Saturday 13th January 2018, 3pm)

Att: 848

My only completely undecided weekend of the month saw no lack of options on the table by the time it came to deciding where I’d be watching my football. Late Friday night saw the ninety-seven options whittled down to a handful and, between myself and regular blog appearance maker Dan, got it down to a final two; Ossett Albion or Southport; Queen’s Terrace or Haig Avenue. For Dan both would be a new venue, whereas only Southport’s home gave me another to add to the ever-growing list, having visited Albion’s home on about four occasions. Dan was happy with either and so to the coast it was.

This proved to be a pretty good decision too as it turned out, with trains from Liverpool being messed up come the morning by signalling failures. As such, this meant most of the express journeys towards Yorkshire were experiencing crowding problems whereas the trains heading to Southport had no such issues. However, I still had to come up with a contingency plan to get there myself, with my pre-planned itinerary going out the window. As such, I instead headed into Manchester, arriving in the nick of time to meet Dan on the train over to Merseyside…or Lancashire depending on who you ask!

A problem free journey whilst passing the grounds of Wigan Athletic and Burscough followed before we arrived within view of Haig Avenue itself at just before half-eleven on a windswept and fairly miserable day in the coastal resort. Not that there was much in the way of holiday makers today, mind you with the town being far emptier than it might be during the summer months. Anyway, after arriving into the station we set off around the town on a fruitless venture to try to find a pay-point for Dan, though he did manage to find some cough sweets, so there was something of a consolation prize in that. We soon abandoned this pursuit and instead decided to put our time to far better use. That use being drink!

Southport

Southport

Funland!

After heading up to the coast we popped into the large Victoria pub on the main coastal road where we’d plan out the rest of our tour of the town. A Moretti at £4 did for me whilst we watched the opening stages of the Cardiff-Sunderland game. Upon finishing up, we headed onwards over the bridge opposite and down to the pier where Dan decided he didn’t fancy becoming more exposed to the bracing winds (what with his cough and all) and so I made a dash up there solo. Not much to see, outside of a few people struggling to walk against the oncoming gale! I was more than happy to keep my stay brief and we quickly returned over the Marine Way bridge and onwards to the (at least self-proclaimed) “smallest bar in Europe”, the Lakeside.

“Shut until February” read the sign and “Bollocks” thought I. Luckily, our next planned stop was only a couple of minutes away in the form of the Windmill. The Windmill stands on land that has seen a pub on it from the 18th century (or the 1800’s) according to the menus on the table and the pub is certainly an old-school, welcoming one, complete with small windmill outside. A pint of Amstel was a good accompaniment as we shook off the cold prior to making the short walk back into the town centre and to the Wetherspoon’s named the Willow Grove which stands just off the main thoroughfare, Lord Street. A fairly standard ‘spoons offering, the Willow Grove was what you’d expect really and a bottle of Hooch was once again had in here (yes, I had the round in here) as we decided that we’d be better served catching the bus to the ground, or more specifically the foot of Haig Avenue itself. Though this almost went awry….

The Victoria

Up On The Pier

The Windmill

After almost getting the correct bus number, but the one heading in the wrong direction, we found the stop we wanted and was soon en route to Haig Avenue, eventually arriving with a good twenty-five minutes or so before kick-off. A five-minute walk later and we were at the gates of the ground which is dominated by its large all-seater main stand.

The Willow Grove

Approaching Haig Avenue

The strangely priced £13.50 entrance fee was paid and we were into the home of the Sandgrounders. Programme soon purchased (a decent offering at £2.50), I headed off in search of the bar, before soon realising that there was no way (that I could figure out anyway) of getting there once you’re inside the ground itself. So I instead grabbed some chips (£2.50) from the “away end” food trailer before completing a pre-match lap of the ground and returning to find Dan with far thinner chips than those I was just finishing off. Pros and cons in that, I guess.

Haig Avenue is a pretty smart ground and gives off a nice sense of character I felt. Outside of its classical Main Stand – which reminded me a little of Altrincham’s – the rest of the ground features fairly substantial terracing. Only one area of this is covered, however, with that being at the right-hand end, the closest end from where we had entered. This also gives a decent raised view of the action. The remainder is open to the elements but many weren’t too perturbed by this today, with the travelling support from Leamington, along with their impressive number of flags, taking up a temporary home opposite, behind the other end. The terracing is split up sporadically, meaning there is around eight separate areas around the ground with the covered terrace being joined by around three areas at the uncovered end and a further five on the far side of the ground, running the length of the pitch. So, ground description out of the way, here’s the backstory of Southport F.C….

History Lesson:

An original Southport Football Club was founded in 1881 initially as a rugby outfit before switching to association football after only a few months. 1882 saw the team compete in the FA Cup for the first time, recording a 1-1 draw with Liverpool Ramblers before the club merged with the Southport Athletic Society a couple of years later prior to a later amalgamation with another local side, Southport Wanderers. The club would retain the Wanderers name and moved to a new ground on Scarisbrick New Road, not far from their current Haig Avenue home.

After only a few months over the summer of 1886 retaining the Wanderers suffix, the club reverted to being known as Southport FC and they joined the Lancashire League upon its founding in 1888. Upon doing so the club again changed name, this time to Southport Central, and after an FA Cup 1st Round meeting with Everton in 1895, finished as league runners-up in both 1900 & 1901. The league title was eventually won in 1902 before Southport switched to the newly created Lancashire Combination for the following campaign. The Combination’s Division 2 was won at the end of the club’s first season here and Southport’s next season, their first in the top division, ended with what was to be their highest finish: third. After lifting their first silverware in the form of the 1904-’05 Lancashire Senior Cup, 1905 saw Southport move into Haig Avenue (then known as Ash Lane) and they have called the ground home ever since.

‘Copter action

1911 saw Southport move into another newly founded league, this time the Central League, where the club mostly had a struggle, finishing no higher than 15th. After a second-bottom finish in 1915, the outbreak of WWI put a stop on football for the next few years. Upon resumption in 1918, the club again had a name change, now being known as Southport Vulcan due to the Vulcan Motor Company’s purchase of the club and became the first team to have a “sponsor” in their name. This was short-lived, though, and by the time the club joined the Football League in 1921, they were back to simply being known as Southport.

Becoming a founder member of the Third Division North, Southport would remain here for the next 29 seasons finishing a best of fourth twice (1925 & 1939). They also reached the FA Cup quarter-finals in 1931, again losing out to Everton and won the Third Division North Cup in 1938. Their long Third Division North tenure ended with the creation of Division 4, which Southport would take a place in for the 1958-’59 season. 1967 saw the club promoted as Division 4 runners-up, though their stay in the now nationalised Division 3 was a short one, lasting only three seasons until their relegation in 1970. However, 1973 would see Southport return once more to the third tier as Division 4 champions but an even shorter stay was to follow, a sole season spent back there before returning to the bottom division of the League.

A swift decline was to follow and, after three consecutive second-bottom finishes between 1976 & 1978, the club was voted out of the Football League, their spot being taken by Wigan Athletic via the re-election system, with Southport becoming the final victim of this rule prior to the introduction of automatic relegation in the bottom division. This meant that the Sandgrounders would be playing in the non-league Northern Premier League for the 1978-’79 season.

Southport FC

A 15 season spell in the NPL was to follow, which encompassed the league’s “demotion” to a Step 2 competition upon the creation of the Alliance League (later the Football Conference). After lifting the NPL League Challenge Cup in 1991, Southport’s initial stint in the league was eventually ended in 1993 when the club were promoted to the Conference as NPL Premier Division champions. That season also saw the club reach the FA Cup’s Second Round for the first time since 1968. 1998 saw Southport reach the FA Trophy Final and take their first (and to date only) trip to Wembley. Unfortunately for them, it would end in a 1-0 defeat to Cheltenham Town.

After finishing fourth in 2001, fortunes changed and 2003 saw the club relegated once more to the NPL. A 6th placed finish at the end of the next season was enough to ensure Southport a place in the newly formed Conference North, the inaugural season of which ended with “Port” as champions. Promotion to the Conference duly followed, though their stay was brief, the club being relegated after two seasons of struggle, though 2006 did see the start of Southport’s fleeting attempt at going full-time (this ended in 2008). Three years were spent back in the Conference North, with 2009 seeing an unsuccessful play-off appearance before the club was again promoted as champions the next year, beating the ambitious Fleetwood Town to the title.

2011 saw the club finish in the relegation zone but were reprieved due to Rushden & Diamonds being expelled from the Conference. The following season saw a far more successful campaign for Southport, with the club just missing out on the play-offs in finishing 7th, their best league finish for a decade. Their yo-yo-ing continued with the 2012-’13 season seeing a narrow escape from relegation, though this latter happening was to become more familiar, with each of the next three seasons seeing brushes with the drop survived along with regular changes of manager. Last season saw their luck run out, however, as Southport were relegated back to the National League North after ending up second-bottom of the National League’s top-flight, with this season seeing a bright start replaced by a sharp drop in form resulting in the dismissal of manager Alan Lewer, with Kevin Davies taking the reigns in October. Southport have also won numerous local cup competitions, seeing nine (or maybe eleven?) Liverpool Senior Cups (1931, ’32, ’43, 63, ’75, ’91, ’93, ’99 & 2012) & eight Lancashire Junior Cups (1920, ’93, ’97, ’98, 2001, ’06, ’08, 2010) arrive at Haig Avenue.

As Dan and I finished off our pre-match feasts the teams were getting us underway on the pitch. We relocated to the covered terrace for the early stages and it didn’t take too long for the first action of the game to occur and that first action was to see Southport take the lead. Winger Adam Dawson, who’d go on to have an outstanding game on Southport’s right side, played the ball inside before it fell to Jack Sampson and the forward made no mistake in firing beyond Leamington ‘keeper Tony Breedon.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

This early goal may have given some an inkling that this was going to be an end-to-end struggle between two sides looking over their shoulders with some trepidation down towards the wrong end of the table. Unfortunately for us neutrals, though I guess very much welcomed by the Sandgrounders fans – the contest was to be a fairly dour and uneventful one on the whole. Leamington’s Daniel Udoh had the visitors’ one major chance, firing just wide of home ‘keeper Jon Worsnop’s goal whilst Dion Charles came close to doubling the home side’s lead on a few occasions, including clipping the top of the crossbar with a drifting effort. A goal-line clearance kept the Brakes a solitary goal behind after we’d took up a spot in the stand as the temperatures began to dip. The score remained unchanged as the sides headed in at the break. One-nil.

If the first half was quiet and it wouldn’t take much for the second half to be an improvement. Sadly, it wasn’t. Indeed, very little of note happened outside of the early excitement of a double helicopter take-off from a neighbouring school field until, with 20 minutes left on the clock, Jason Gilchrist sealed the win for “The Port”. A swift counter saw Dawson deliver a ball into Gilchrist and he finished comfortably.

Great Main Stand

Match Action

Dawson came close to adding a goal his performance deserved, firing over late on, as did the impressive David Morgan who was denied by Breedon, but this mattered little as Southport deservedly took the points and, on this performance at least, look to be heading in the right direction. Leamington meanwhile look to be in need of improvements. And quick. Dan was more than happy with the result and has made me have to say that his pre-match prediction was correct. So there you go, Dan!

After the game we headed into the Grandstand bar within the rear of the stand where another Amstel was had (~£3.50) and Dawson was given his richly deserved Man of the Match award (some Veuve Clicquot I think). From here I came up with the plan of, instead of traipsing back into Southport, we might as well get the train from the nearer Meols Cop station instead. There also happened to be another couple of pubs on the way. Who’d have thought such a coincidence might happen?!

Grandstand Bar

Dan loves pubs…

Thatch & Thistle

A further pint in each of the Richmond and the Thistle and Thatch were enjoyed before we headed through the night on the short walk up the road to the station for the train back to Manchester. Again this journey was completed with no issues and I arrived nicely for my connection homewards. There ends my trip to Southport’s home and it was a pretty decent day, weather removed. The ground’s decent, travel was cheap enough and the pubs were all fine and decently priced. The game could have been better, but no real complaints there. Onwards to next week and another tick off the ’92’ via one of the stranger ways you can enter a ground. Any guesses?!

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Salford

Result: Salford City 2-2 FC United of Manchester (National League North)

Venue: Moor Lane (Monday 1st January 2018, 3pm)

Att: 2,937

Another new year began as the traditional New Year’s Day fixtures rolled around once again. Having not attended a fixture last year – largely down to how the dates worked out – this year saw me heading the short distance and a return to what is something of a familiar venue: Moor Lane, the home of Salford City. But whilst it is familiar in many ways, the old ground has changed beyond recognition. Of course, the “Class of 92” and the income sourced from their (and associates) take over has led to a major revamp and overhaul of both ground and club since my last visit to Salford’s home.

Now, I have to admit that I have seen Salford a couple of times on their travels since their takeover (the last being the small matter of their play-off semi at Halifax), and also visited Moor Lane a few years ago, shortly after the change-up had begun so it wasn’t a completely new sheet of paper. But I considered this to be the first real experience of the fully fledged, no-frills, new breed Ammies. So, having been given a lift down to the Trafford Centre for a lesser spotted NYD bus, blog regular Dan was picked up en route and we were soon heading into Manchester, where we would go on to catch the tram to Heaton Park.

The weird and wonderful abounded on the Mancunian public transport system as we headed up on the Bury line and towards Prestwich. Arriving in glorious sunshine at a little after midday, I mentioned to Dan that I fancied a walk around Heaton Park. I reckon he thought I was joking, but he was soon to realise I was deadly serious about this…! I’ve noticed that, in recent weeks, I’ve been starting to walk through parks or gardens if there is one on the way to a game. I don’t think it’s a conscious decision as far as I can work out, so I’m just hoping I’m not reaching that age where this sort of thing becomes more attractive. I’m not ready for it just yet! Anyway, I’m rambling…

Heaton Hall

Lake and road train!

Having entered into the park, which was a little more serene than when ‘Parklife’ rolls around, we headed down the path and past the first of numerous dogs with all the dog owners of the area seemingly populating the park during the early afternoon; maybe still working off the excess over Christmas? Continuing on, our visit encompassed a brief stop within view of Heaton Hall, dodging a road train and a boating lake (minus boats, but plentiful in ducks and swans). With the sun still shining on, all looked set for the first day of 2018 to be a fine one with the forecast looking to be incorrect. But then again, if you live in either of the two adjoining cities, you know better than to discount the rain!

With the weather still on the bright side, we left the park and its numerous visiting canines behind and popped into our first pre-match stop of the day, the Royal Oak. In here, we were informed by the barman that there was 50p off every draught lager, which was somewhat well received!! A pint of Amstel for me was had (£2.70) as we watched the final few minutes of the Brighton-Bournemouth game on the TV. Little did we know that, outside, the weather had taken a turn and the clouds had rolled in. They would hardly relent for the rest of the day.

Royal Oak

The Ostrich. Full of Utd/City stuff in this room

After finishing up in here, we headed out and around the corner but not before Dan and I had spotted the looming threat from above. “I reckon we’ll beat that” I said. We didn’t. Soon caught in something just short of a deluge, it was lucky we were within a minute or so of our second and final pub, the Ostrich, which neighbours Ostrich Road. I reckon the pub came first, but I don’t know and, I guess, you don’t care! Anyway, in we headed, thankful for the cover from the ever worsening shower outside. The Holt’s establishment was a real old-school place (similar in some ways to the Royal Oak) and was split into a few smaller rooms including hosting a snooker room and dart board. Someone who had played on the board last was, according to the chalk writing left on the blackboard, apparently a tw*t.

Pints (and bottles in Dan’s case) polished off and it was time to brave the weather and head the 25 minutes or so down to Moor Lane. Heading through the house-lined streets, we eventually found our way to Bury New Road and from there it was five minutes or so up to the road whose name the ground carries. The ground sits slightly towards the opposite end of the road from this side and is surprisingly not much more visible than it was in its former guise. Upon arrival at the ground, it quickly became apparent the club’s turnstiles were struggling with the numbers arriving, and there was still a good 25 minutes to kick-off. With large queues at both home and away ends, it took a good five minutes in the home queue to finally get in, whereupon I learnt that the programmes had all gone. *Sigh*. Not a good start, Salford.

Some of the away end queue at Moor Lane

I was going to grab a teamsheet instead, but then decided I didn’t really care enough for one and instead returned to join Dan pitch-side. Here, we started off in the seating stand located on the site of the former small covered area that stood alongside the old grassy mound. This appears to be the Main Stand as it also hosts the hospitality areas. Opposite this and on the site of the old, classic (and isn’t it a shame it couldn’t be incorporated into the new design, cricket pavilion-style) Main Stand is a carbon copy of the stand we were sat in, minus the boxes at the rear, though it does play host to a TV gantry on its roof. Both ends play host to similar, if not identical, covered terraces, with both being well populated today, especially the away end which was crammed full with the travelling, vocal FC United support. As usual with FC games, the chant of “Bring on United” accompanied the final five or so minutes to kick-off and, before long, the two sides entered the field and we were ready to go in this derby clash. But first, here’s the story of the Ammies….

History Lesson:

Salford City Football Club was founded in 1940 as Salford Central F.C. and played in the local leagues around the area through to 1963 when the club made the step up to the Manchester League and changed its name to Salford Amateurs, taking on the nickname of the “Ammies”. The club came into its own in the 1970’s, winning three Lancashire FA Cups (1973, ’75 & ’77), two Manchester Premier Cups (1978 & ’79) and the Champion of Champions trophy also arrived in 1977. To close off such a successful decade, the club took more of a step towards securing its future, with the players and committee taking on the task of restoring the Moor Lane pitch and ground as a whole, with it being overgrown and derelict. This was all sorted in good time and the club was accepted for the Cheshire League in 1980, whereupon Salford Amateurs merged with Anson Villa to become Salford.

1982 saw the Cheshire League merge with the Lancashire Combination to create the North West Counties League and Salford took the chance to join the pyramid, taking a spot in Division One. Their stay in the top-flight encompassed their name change to Salford City (in 1989) and celebrating its 50th anniversary by entering the 1990 FA Cup, their first entry to the competition. The club ended up being featured on Grandstand, as part of the Road to Wembley feature. That season ended in disappointment, though, as City went down to Division 2, though league restructuring led to their return to Division One a year later. However, the club had to wait until 2006 for their next silverware when they lifted the NWCFL League Challenge Cup, though this led to the start of a strong few years, the following season seeing the club finish runners-up.

Salford were promoted in 2008 when they finished as runners-up to Trafford (which was the start of my 6-and-a-half season spell watching Trafford home and away) and took a spot alongside the latter in the Northern Premier League’s Division One North. Here, the club struggled year on year, with regular managerial changes taking place whilst one constant always remained. That constant was Steve Foster’s late season arrival before he’d fire ~25 goals to keep the Ammies up. This was a reoccurrence for a good three years! It proved a shrewd signing though, as this inadvertently kept Salford up in these tough, less spectacular times.

2014 saw the “Class of 92” take-over take place and this led to the club winning the NPL Division One North title at the close of the 2014-’15 season. The following season saw the club in the NPL Premier Division and they finished third and took a spot in the play-offs. There, Salford defeated both Ashton United (semi-final) and Workington (final) to achieve a second straight promotion and take a spot in the National League North for last season. They also reached the First Round of the FA Cup for the first time, where they defeated Notts County at home before bowing out to Hartlepool United in Round 2. They’d go on to have another successful season in their first attempt at the National League North, reaching the play-offs where they lost out in the semi-final to FC Halifax Town.

Handshakes

The game got underway with Salford looking to gain a measure of revenge over their visitors, as the Red Rebels had defeated the Ammies in the reverse fixture on Boxing Day. Both sides traded wayward chances early on, before the table-topping hosts stormed ahead in the 16th minute. After some fine play down the right by the diminutive Jack Redshaw, the forward played in a ball to strike partner Anthony Dudley who finished with a rising, close range effort before wheeling away in front of the FC fans, drawing the ire of the visiting ranks whom a few of decided the best course of action was to lob their beers at him. Dudley didn’t seem to bothered and neither did the ref, more surprisingly. On with the show!

Redshaw himself almost doubled Salford’s lead minutes later but was unfortunate to see his shot beat FC ‘keeper Lloyd Allinson, but crash back off the inside of the post, spinning back across the goalmouth and narrowly avoid crossing the line in doing so. This seemed to spark FC into waking from their post-festive slumber, but it was Redshaw who carried the most threat of anyone on the field, forcing Allinson into another pair of stops, while Ritchie Allen saw his cross-cum-shot drift narrowly wide.

By that point, Dan and I had relocated to the terrace behind the goal to shield from the now heavy rain that had surrounded Moor Lane. It was from here that we witnessed FC draw level after a half spent trying, for the most part, to remain in the game. With around ten minutes or so to half-time, Craig Lindfield picked up the loose ball within the area and drifted a shot across goal and into the far, top corner to spark jubilant scenes in the far terrace, while a guy behind me also let out a loud “YESSSSS!!!” as the ball nestled in the onion bag. I’m not sure if he was an FC fan, a Lindfield fan or just happy to have seen a goal close-up. Either way it was one-a-piece and I headed off on my first attempt to get some food as Lindfield did his best Dudley impression in front of us.

Match Action

Match Action

The rain starts to set in

This was quickly found to be near impossible in the short-term, as a fairly large queue had already formed at the one open portakabin food stall behind the stand. There was another for drinks only (it seemed), but this set-up was to later begin to fail under demand and the weight of numbers. For now though, it was back up into the stand to watch the final few minutes of the half which passed without much action, though had seen FC grab the initiative with a shot that looked goal-bound being blocked before it could truly trouble. The action was called to a halt with the score reading 1-1.

Back to the rear of the stand and to the ever-growing queue. Now, I arrived with what looked to be around twenty to twenty-five people ahead of me. Not all alone either, meaning it was around fifteen sales I had to wait for. But the queue didn’t seem to move and we continued to wait patiently in the deluge. Then the hot water ran out which added to the delay and by the time the second half was getting back underway (Dan had shrewdly returned to the stand), I still had a good seven or eight ahead. I reckoned I might have around five minutes or so to wait then and was happy enough to do so. But, five minutes passed, and I’d moved a foot. Then, to add to my misery and rising frustration, a roar emanated from within the ground. Salford had netted. In a huff, I gave up in my never-ending quest for food and returned to get a goal report from Dan. “A close range goal” was the gist of it. Indeed it was and it was Redshaw who’d deservedly grabbed it, poking home from a free-kick.

I was hoping beyond hope that that wasn’t to be the end of the scoring, as I’d have hated to have missed the winner. Dudley went close to ensuring it wasn’t, but saw the impressive Allinson equal to his drive. Midway through the half, Allinson’s opposite number, Salford stopper Max Crocombe, showed he was just as good on this day as he pulled off a fine low save to deny Lindfield a second getting down sharply to deny the FC man’s free-kick low at his left-hand post. The United fans had already started the cheers.

Match Action

Match Action

Getting under it

The rain continued to teem down as both sides battled on. The pitch stayed decent, though, and allowed the game to continue to flow fairly well, bar that problem area in the middle of one half that I seem to remember from the club’s time in the North West Counties! This enabled both sides to again go close as the game approached its final ten minutes, with United’s soon to be Salford-bound Tom Walker and Redshaw going close, the former seeing a shot whistle narrowly wide, whilst the latter was denied by a fine stop by the in-form ‘keeper, who palmed away the Salford top-scorer’s drive aimed at the top-corner.

Then with only a few minutes of normal time remaining, FC got their equaliser in fairly fortuitous circumstances, not that they cared! The fans had been growing in belief and getting right behind their side, even more so than normal (as opposed to the surprisingly quiet home support) and thus their side seemed to respond. A low drive from Steve Irwin (no crocodile jokes here, RIP) struck team-mate Zac Corbett and looped up and drifted agonisingly over the outstretched arm of Crocombe and into the net, sparking wild scenes in the away end and frustration in the home ranks. It almost got worse for the league leaders too as Crocombe dropped the ball under pressure late on but, thankfully for him, he grabbed it at the second attempt before a white shirt could take advantage. Full-Time, 2-2 and a bit of handbags for good measure!

Watching The Game In The Commercial

As for Dan and myself, it was a case of back from whence we came as we made a beeline for Heaton Park. Thankfully dodging any more rain from then on in, we arrived back at the tram stop but headed on straight past it. Where were we headed? Come on, you must have a decent idea by now. PUB! Yes, pub; namely the Commercial on the opposite side of the tracks to the other two. The neighbouring Parkside looked shut up today, so it was a sole Strongbow (£3.20) in here for me as we wasted away 25 minutes for the tram back into Manchester. This was all completed with little issue as I arrived for my connection onwards home with time to spare. What I didn’t look forward to was the forthcoming walk afterwards. Buses, eh?.

So that ends a slightly disappointing day. The game was fine and entertaining, so no issues at all with that, nor the ground itself really, which is smart, if unspectacular. The lights are a great touch though! The major thing for me was the apparent lack of readiness for this type of attendance(?) facilities wise (could have been taken by surprise by the record crowd I guess) that created a sense of let down at the overall experience (what with a lack of a programme and food which, of course, make up two of my grading criteria; boo, boo!) and what I’d imagine was a fair amount of lost revenue, with at least five or six people in front of me leaving the food queue, never mind how many behind plus those few more “bible” sales. Ah well, a second visit at a slightly less busy time shall be arranged. Onwards to Saturday and the FA Cup with a trip down to the “Big Smoke” arranged. Hope no-one follows my damn train, though….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: N/A (Not for the want of trying!)

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Bradford (Bradford Park Avenue FC)

Result: Bradford (Park Avenue) 3-0 Bradford City (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Horsfall Stadium (Saturday 8th July 2017, 3pm)

Att: 2,020

The pre-season fiesta continues on unabated and this second week of the “season” saw my first solo trip of the season already arrive. However, after visiting Manchester League side AVRO’s new home, the Whitebank Stadium, the previous week, there would be no new ground for me this Saturday. Instead I’d be heading back to West Yorkshire and, more specifically, Bradford for the city’s big derby clash between Bradford (Park Avenue) and Bradford City at (Park Avenue)’s host ground, the Horsfall Stadium. The brackets are highly important, by the way.

With my journey being taken away from the usual railways of the country by the train strikes, I would instead be traversing the coachways via the medium of National Express. Plus, having shelled out £10 for a year’s coachcard, I had a return ticket for just over £7. Not too shabby really and this got me to the interchange for just after 11-o’clock in a fine summer’s morning.

Bradford

Ginger Goose

To plan out my trip to the Horsfall, I decided I could do with being inside and headed for the nearby and unsurprisingly orange-signed Ginger Goose, whose advertisement of £1.70 pints within made it a very attractive proposition. This became even more so the case when I got to the bar to find pieces of A4 proclaiming pints of “guest ale” for the princely sum of £1.50. Not one to pass up a bargain, I happily indulged in the offer and settled in to route plan/watch some of the recently started Day 3 of the England-South Africa Test.

With my route seemingly sorted, I headed back out past the interchange and onwards up the main road. It was as I was about ten minutes along that I felt something was a bit off. Indeed, my internal compass had again gone haywire and sent me off down the wrong road and towards Wakefield, if I’d had continued on for long enough. Now, I knew enough to know this wasn’t quite right and a quick check soon put me back on the right path, but still a good hour’s walk off from the ground itself. However, I obviously had a few little “pit-stops” to encounter whilst en-route….

The first of these came up pretty much immediately as I came onto the correct road. This was the Station pub, which happened to be a small, traditional place, with just a bar, dart board and pool table for entertainment. A real hark-back and the £2.60 pint of cider went down well, though this may have had something to do with the fact I’d just come off a good half-hour’s walk, of course.

On track

The Station

Anyway, with little time to lose, my stay here was brief and I still had to head onwards up the road for another mile and a bit up until I arrived at a traffic island that seemed to also seemed to be pub central around these parts of Bradford. With the Top House and Red Lion being on the opposite side of the dual carriageway, I reckoned it’d be best to leave these for later and split up my walk back after the game. Somewhat. As such, I had the Woodman to fall upon instead, though I was soon concerned I’d not be served as I arrived at the bar to be asked within a heartbeat “Is your name Lee?” After confirming I was definitely not this “Lee” figure, I was allowed my second cider of the day. Fo any other Lee’s out there, it’s probably best you take some ID!

With me wanting to arrive early to ensure easy food & programme purchase (though BPA’s media man Joe did confirm there was loads of the latter, so no rush), I headed onwards to my final stop-off, the Northern, which sits a short walk from the ground. This also seems the more popular pre-match drinking hole for the punters and, as such, was fairly full with City fans enjoying the sun in the outside seating area, though this did leave them exposed to the heckles of the traffic. Well, that shouldn’t really be plural, as there was just the one shout from a passing white van of “Come on the Avenue!”. Ooh, it was on now.

The Woodman

The Northern

After polishing off my third Strongbow of the day so far (far more appetising when the sun’s out for some reason), I reckoned it was about time I headed for the Horsfall, what with the time now past 2pm. After this time going one road too far as opposed to one too early earlier on in the day, I eventually re-joined the stream of fans heading to the ground, whilst passing a pair of girls dressed in super-hero fancy dress as some sort of promotion(?). I didn’t know and, in truth, I didn’t really want to!

Eventually I arrived at the Horsfall Stadium after passing by the large cemetery which I hoped wasn’t not an omen for the game’s quality (though City fans may think this did fit their performance). After handing over my £8 entrance fee, I ventured inside and quickly asked a startled guy in smart dress to where the programmes were. After a swift visit to the club shop, where I’d been directed by said suited-up fellow, I purchased something I’d been looking forward to for a while, BPA’s chips and gravy with some peas on the side. Sadly, they weren’t up to the standard of my last visit and seemed somewhat overcooked. Or maybe my tastes have changed since then, but they weren’t as good as my memory made them out to be.

The crowds streaming in

The Horsfall Stadium

Alas, it’s on to the ground which has had a couple of little additions since my last visit. There are now a pair of new stands, though both are of the new, bog standard, boxed affair. One is a small terraced area that sits behind the near end goal between the pitch and the turnstiles/shop/everything else and is reached via fenced off route over the running track that surrounds the playing area. The other is a similar stand on the far touchline alongside the pavilion building, but this one is an all seater, though was caged off and not in use today. The aforementioned pavilion building houses the dressing rooms, with the ground’s crowning glory being the large grandstand that runs the majority of the pitch. All actual seats here are undercover, with just the benched areas that jut out from each side being open to the elements. The far end is home to an open grass bank that was in major use today, what with the game being a friendly which meant the usual, over sensitive health and safety rules could mercifully go out the window. The extra turnstile at this end was even being pressed into service too, with the 2,000-plus crowd filling up the ground nicely.

Now, with ground description out of the way, here’s everyone’s favourite part (it is, I know it is and don’t deny your love for it), it’s the history of Bradford (Park Avenue)…

History Lesson:

Bradford (Park Avenue) FC was originally formed in 1863 as Bradford Football Club (its traditional name) as a rugby football club and began to play association football from 1895, sharing the West Yorkshire League title in 1896 whilst also winning the catchy-named Leeds Workpeople’s Hospital Cup. However, the original football club would only last a further three years before folding in prior to the turn of the century.

1907 would see another attempt at association football at the club. This saw the majority of members decide to fully abandon the Union game for association football as part of what is known as, rather over-dramatically, the “Great Betrayal, while still playing at the original Park Avenue ground. After being spurned in their attempt to join the Football League, they instead joined the Southern League despite being 130 miles away from nearest rival Northampton Town. The bracketed ‘Park Avenue’ suffix was added to the ‘Bradford FC’ name to avoid confusion with Bradford City, though the club was usually published on fixture lists etc. simply as Bradford.

BPA

The next year (1908) did see Bradford FC elected to the Second Division of the Football League and they were promoted to Division 1 in 1914 as runners-up and finished ninth at the close of their first season at the top level. After WWI (in which player Donald Bell would sadly lose his life at the Somme, but would be awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery posthumously), the club entered a steady decline, never reaching their pre-war glory years again. After being relegated to Division 2 in 1921 and Division 3 at the close of the following season, a brief resurgence saw Bradford promoted back to Division 2 as Division 3 North champions in 1928, where they would remain through to 1950, when they dropped back to Division 3 and eventually Division 4 due to reorganisation in 1958.

Another promotion in 1961 saw a brief return to the Division 3, but this lasted just two seasons before a return to Division 4 was rubber-stamped. This was the beginning of the end for Bradford’s league football stay, 1970 seeing them replaced by Cambridge United after a number of difficult seasons. The club, resultantly, joined the Northern Premier League, selling their Park Avenue home in 1973 before sharing facilities with Bradford City, but fortunes only worsened and 1974 saw Bradford liquidate.

However the club immediately reformed in Sunday League and, after stays at a couple of other venues, returned to a redeveloped Avenue Road for one season for a final farewell before redevelopment saw the ground shut permanently. A new Saturday club was thusly formed for 1988-’89 and took a place in the West Riding County Amateur League, before switches to the Central Midlands League ‘Supreme Division’ and latterly the North West Counties League followed, the NWCFL season seeing BPA compete at various rugby league grounds.

History

The Sunday and Saturday sides merged as one entity during the early part of the 1990’s and BPA won the NWCFL in 1995, returning to the NPL and moving to their current home, the Horsfall Stadium. The club would win the First Division title in 2001 before going on to be founder members of the Conference North after finishing high enough in the NPL table to achieve a spot in the new division via the play-offs, where the club defeated Spennymoor Utd, Ashton Utd & Burscough. However, relegation followed after one season (after a 7th place), before they further subsided the following season back to the NPL Division 1 North, but won the 2006 NPL President’s Cup ahead of returning to the NPL’s Premier Division as Division 1 North as Champions in 2008.

Following a false dawn over plans for a new 20,000 seater stadium and a return to League football by 2012, the club did still achieve success that year by gaining promotion back to the Conference North after winning the NPL’s play-off final, defeating FC United one-nil after narrowly missing out the previous two seasons. They have since consolidated their place in the Second Step of the non-league system, finishing up in 16th place last time out in the National League North.

After a minute’s applause for young Bradley Lowery who, of course, sadly passed away during the week, we were underway. The first ten minutes or so were a fairly even affair with (Park Avenue) being more than a match for their  Football League neighbours. But it still came as something of a shock to the majority of the crowd on at the Horsfall when the hosts took the lead, new signing Nicky Clee firing in a fine effort from the angle of the box that flew across City keeper Colin Doyle and into the far side-netting where it sort of stopped dead. This almost resulted in chips flying everywhere, such was my reaction.

Match Action

Match Action

I made sure there could be no repeat threat of this happening again and instead headed off on the obligatory lap of the ground, briefly visiting the small stand behind the goal. It was from here that I’d see City’s best chances of the game come and go, whilst at close quarters. First, the sprightly Charlie Wyke saw his header saved by Drench when he ought to have done better, before Drench was forced to get down low at his right-hand upright to palm away a low Jake Reeves drive.

I continued on as the game settled down somewhat, with little happening until the last fifteen of the half, and it was then the second goal arrived. A trip inside the area on the full-back led to Nicky Wroe placing the ball on the spot before firing beyond Doyle and into the corner. As I continued onwards and reached the grassy mound at the rear of the stand, I decided to try and get the full ground in one shot. Whilst doing so, I was instructed by a kid to take a picture of his mum rolling down the grass mound as soon as he’d realised I had camera in hand. Not one to disappoint, I duly did so, which his Dad seemed pretty pleased about. He wouldn’t be quite as happy moments later due to on pitch reasons…

Wroe fires in from the spot

Keep rollin’

The Bantams, at this point, looked like the lower-ranked outfit and they went three down just minutes later. Some fine work down the flank by Oli Johnson saw him able to tee up Adam Boyes, who used his head to nod home from close range. It was the ‘3rd Avenue’ goal. Ah, that’s a bad pun. Quality wise too. Anyway, half-time arrived and with the home side and their numerous trialists (that got a fair snigger when they were announced pre-match) took to the field to warm-up ahead of the second half.

The second period got underway as I took up a place on the open benched seating at the far-end of the ground, before heading under cover for a while. To be fair, the second-half was very much one of those that is too punctuated by subs to really get going and, as such, there was little action to truly get excited about.

Match Action

Crowd basking in the sun

However, both ‘keepers did have one opportunity a piece to prove themselves once more, City’s sub-keeper, German Rouven Sattlemaier denying Boyes a second, before Drench had to be at his best once more to push away Shay McCarten’s drilled effort. McCartan also somehow failed to bundle the ball home from close range as the game entered its final throws, but there was to be no addition to the score-line as the Avenue held off to the final whistle to ensure a decent win and take some sort of local bragging rights, as well as a little silverware in the form of the ‘Tom Banks Memorial Trophy’.

As for myself, the charge was on to get back up the road to make the walk seem that little easier. As mentioned earlier, I stopped off in the Top House first, eventually sorting out how to get there after being lost in the subways, before heading into the nearby Red Lion. Two Carlsberg’s down, it was unavoidably time to embark on the 3 mile traipse back to the city centre.

Top House

Red Lion. Unsurprisingly with red sign.

Eventually arriving, I came upon Jacob’s Ale House and this was by far my favourite pub of the day. Lowly-lit and having the feeling of being underground, it is certainly one for those looking for something a little different from the usual outlets. Speaking of which, my final stop was in one of these “usual outlets” in the form of ine of the City’s Wetherspoon’s, the Turls Green which sits just around the corner from the interchange, in Centenary Square.

After wasting away the final half-hour of my day in Bradford over the now staple drink of Punk IPA, it was time to head back up for the coach back.

Jacob’s Ale House

Centenary Square & ‘Spoons

A quick, easy journey home followed and resulted in some decent money saving too, which will definitely be explored more so, now I have the coachcard and not long to go with the railcards. Overall, I’d enjoyed my first real visit to Bradford and look forward to returning at some point fairly soon for a visit to Valley Parade. The Horsfall is, for me, a pretty underrated ground that probably suffers from the running track around it in some people’s eyes, though this isn’t much of an issue to me usually. The game was decent, the weather was good, so next week’s going to be the opposite, isn’t it…?

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 4

Programme: 5 (not full issue)

Value For Money: 7

 

 

Manchopper in….Boston

Result: Boston United 0-1 Altrincham (National League North)

Venue: York Street (Saturday 11th March 2017, 3pm)

Att: 1,026

As the season begins to enter its business end and teams begin to discover just what they are to be fighting for, it’s also the case that most games have something riding on them one way or another. Sadly, this one wasn’t one of them, as it appears Boston are, more than likely, safe and Alty, sadly, seem destined to take up a spot in the Northern Premier League for next season, as their sad decline continues unabated. Regardless, there was something important around this game for myself. That “thing” being Boston’s home: York Street. With only a few weeks remaining of the old ground’s life, it didn’t take much to persuade me to make a visit.

So, come the morning of this very Saturday in question, I was kindly given a lift into Sale where I would be picked up by Altrincham’s supporters’ coach for the trip over to Lincolnshire. This method of transport was chosen due to the obscene price of the train journey to get there otherwise (around £41 for me) and with the bus being a full £14 cheaper, the decision really was a no-brainer.

With the mini-bus arriving nice and early, I was welcomed onto it by Alty supporter John and his wife (I say very much hoping this is the case, if not I may be in trouble!) and we were soon underway, with the latter of the pair not impressed by the uttering of the name “Stockport County” from the driver! All in jest of course. Anyway, after a further couple of swift stops to pick up the remaining travelling band of hardy Robins supporters, the journey down to South-East Lincolnshire began.

After a largely uneventful journey to our stop-off point in Blyth (no, we weren’t that off course, this was the one near Worksop), it was somewhat surprising to find a large RAF presence at the services as we arrived. Just what do they get up to around here?! It turns out it was nothing more than a quick caffeine stop for the lads in uniform before they pulled out in convoy and off to one of the many bases around the former bomber command stronghold county.

We soon followed them back out of the services and an hour or so later were arriving into Boston, greeted by the sight of a pair of ducks taking a leisurely stroll down the pavement., before the towering old-age floodlights of York Street came into view and I was quickly taken by them. When it comes to these sort of things, you can almost…and I stress ALMOST get how people fall in love with inanimate objects. Phwoooar!

Narrow streets

Boston and the River Witham

As we arrived outside the gates of the Pilgrims’ home, we were soon all off the bus and after a quick programme purchase, I quickly headed off towards the large church steeple that dominates the surrounding area. I figured that this must be where the town centre was and, for once, I was right! Yes, I didn’t get lost after following my own hunch, get the bunting and balloons out!

A quick sightseeing trip to St. Boltoph’s Church (apparently the largest parish church in England) and it’s “stump” later and things turned towards more important cultural things. Namely, surprisingly, beer. The first stop was a nearby Tudor-period-looking building which I could only tell had a bar by peering in the door and seeing the line of illuminated pumps including the brilliant Hop House Lager, which is often overlooked by myself, sadly, but when I do remember just how good it is, it’s worth the wait. £4 a pint in here, but nice surroundings to go with it, with the interior split into many small rooms all kept in period style.

Boston

St. Botolph’s Church.

Unfortunately, I was on a bit of a whistle-stop tour of the town and so had little chance to truly enjoy my short stay before I was heading back towards the market place and to a pair of pubs, namely the Britannia and the Stump and Candle. On walking past the former, it looked a little on the full side, so I decided to miss it out for now and head for the Stump, named after the church spire which stands behind it.

On entering I found two guys in here. One was there watching the TV with a pint as per normal. The other…well, was going on to himself wittering on about nonsensical things and toasting the spirits behind the bar after reciting a story to himself. He was a decent enough chap, though, so no qualms there. There was some qualms held by the guy behind the bar, though, who was less than impressed as the fella walked over to the jukebox to get it going, forcing him to go off and switch it on, negating the sound of the rugby on TV as a result. All quite humorous!

First stop of the day. Yes, it has a bar!

The Stump & Candle

As for the other guest in here, I decided that, with time against me, I may as well quiz him on which pubs were best around Boston. It turned out the guy was from up in the North East and didn’t really know the answer, but did give me the locations of a few to try out en-route back to the ground. With ‘Spoons sitting just the other side of the river, it seemed silly not to tick another of these off too so, after bidding goodbye to the trio, headed over the River Witham to the Moon Under Water. Yes, another one.

The Moon was a fairly decent ‘Spoons but nothing too special, though I did cause some confusion for the girl serving by ordering a Punk IPA and then having to help them locate it within the fridge. A good lesson to have learned, I’d say! Anyway, I wasn’t wasting much time in here and it was off back over the River to the Ship Inn, reached down a small passageway.

The Ship seems a favoured haunt of Pilgrims fans with it pretty full of gold and black scarves and shirts. The Bateman’s Gold Ale seemed to be going down well too, though I figured having had a few in quick succession, I’d steer clear for now and plumped for a Strongbow instead, which set me back a further £3+. Not much to report on here and with the clock rapidly approaching 3pm, I decided to head round to York Street.

The Moon Under Water ‘Spoons

The Ship’s passage….

…and the Ship itself!

Cutting back through the neighbouring Matalan car park, I then found myself with a dilemma. Turn right and spend 15 minutes on the terrace doing nothing, or turn left and sample a quick local ale in the Coach & Horses. Now, if you read these blogs regularly enough (and if you do I’m sorry, but thanks!), I think you can probably work out what I chose.

A quick half of Bateman’s XL was had but with less than five minutes to kick-off, I swiftly headed back to the ground, where I handed over my £13 entrance fee for a place in the away section. The teams had just entered the pitch, with York Street looking just fine.

A quick stop in the Coach & Horses

Arriving at the ground. Look at the lights!!

It’s Main Stand, to the right of me, is all seater, with a couple of pillars supporting its roof. The opposite touch-line plays host to the Spayne Road Stand, a covered terrace which runs the length of the pitch. The far end is populated by the Town End terrace, which is largely covered, bar a small amount of standing on each side. The York Street end, where the travelling fans were housed today, is probably the most interesting of all stand at the ground, with the raised seating area of the stand reached by climbing stairs from the small terrace below. Now, here’s a bit about the story of Boston United…

History Lesson:

Boston United Football Club was formed in 1933 as successor to a previous club who competed as Boston Town. They initially competed in the Midland League during their formative years, but achieved little initial success, outside of numerous Lincolnshire Cup wins (now numbering fifteen in total), achieving a runners-up spot in 1956 with this being their highest placing. 1959 saw the club move to the Southern League’s ‘North Western Zone’.

Following a third placed finish, Boston found themselves in the Premier Division, where they remained for the next two seasons, before the club were spared relegation to Division 1 by leaving the league altogether and taking a year out. They had added an East Anglia Cup to their cabinet by that point, though (1961).

1962 saw the Pilgrims re-join the Midland League, but remained for just two seasons before departing once more. A further year’s sabbatical followed before Boston popped back up in the United Counties League in 1965 which they immediately won to move up into the West Midlands Regional League Premier Division which was won twice in succession over the next two years, prior to a switch into the newly-formed Northern Premier League for 1968-’69.

BUFC

Following a runners-up placing (and an Eastern Professional Floodlit Cup win) in 1972, Boston went on to win the NPL title in four of the next six seasons (’73, ’74, ’77, ’78), added a pair of NPL League Cups (’74 & ’76) alongside four NPL Shields (’74, ’75, ’77, ’78) and were twice ‘Non-League Champion of Champions (’73 & ’77), though they were surprisingly overlooked for election to the Football League in favour of ’78 runners-up Wigan Athletic.

Instead, Boston became founder members of the Alliance Premier League in 1980 and reaching the semi-finals of the FA Trophy that same campaign. 1985 saw the club end up as Trophy runners-up (vs Wealdstone) before a drop off in form saw the club eventually relegated to the NPL in 1993.

After finishing as NPL runners-up in 1998, Boston re-joined the Southern League’s Premier Division and after finishing runners-up in their first season back, went one better in 2000, going on to win the title and, therefore, a place in the Conference. They then went on to immediately win the Conference at the end of their first campaign back at that level, taking up a spot in the Football League’s Division 3, going fully professional in the process.

Nice artwork

After financial issues saw the club enter administration, the 10-point deduction proved to much of an obstacle to overcome, with the Pilgrims relegated back to the Conference in 2007, but were made to bypass the Premier Division and take a spot in the North Section of the league. Things got even worse in 2009, with Boston demoted to the NPL Premier Division.

However, here they stabilised, with a third-place finish in 2010 seeing them take a place in the play-offs, where they overcame Bradford PA in the final. The Pilgrims also added a third NPL League Cup as they bid farewell to the league and returned to the Conference once more.

Back in the Conference North, Boston have somewhat found their level for the time being, having spent the last seven campaigns here, with an eighth looking more than likely. This season has been something of a disappointment for Boston, having come off the back of two play-off placings in the last two years, they currently find themselves in 15th place in the, currently titled, National League North.

Today’s Game.

The away end

After a minutes applause to remember former Boston player Steve Martin who sadly passed away recently, the game got going with a fairly even start, both sides sharing a couple of half-chances each, but it was the home side who came closest to taking the lead with around twenty minutes played, Harry Vince clipping the outside of Stuart Tomlinson’s upright. This was followed by the impressive Lewis Hilliard driving a shot across goal and just wide, as it looked set to be a long day at the office for the visiting Robins.

Tomlinson, the Alty stopper, was in his second outing since returning to football after a spell in WWE’s system, thus it was quite amusing when he was serenaded with a “You fat bastard” shortly into the contest. I can only imagine this wasn’t repeated after one of his action shots was passed around the terrace. (Disclaimer: This probably didn’t happen…)

Anyway, impressive physiques aside and Boston were to rue their early miss when, on 32 minutes, Elliott Newby was released and he strode into the area before firing beyond the Pilgrims’ custodian Ross Durrant. The bottom-of-the-league Robins led at Boston and anywhere else this would have been seen as a shock. But not at York Street where this is a familiar tale for the Pilgrims who, unbelievably, have failed to win a Saturday home league game all season. Crazy!

Match Action

Match Action

This goal seemed to rattle Boston and settle Altrincham in equal measure, with Alty almost going in at the break two-up, only for the linesman’s flag to deny Simon Richman’s “goal” from standing. Half-Time soon arrived and I headed down the steps to purchase portion of chips for just £1.20, before retaking a place up in the benched seats for the second period.

During the first half, I had met up with Alty fan Martin, who had sort of replied to my tweet to NonLeagueMag earlier in the week regarding which games everyone was off to. As such, I decided to disrupt his peaceful viewing pleasure of the game for the second half too. Sorry, Martin! With one particularly vocal Alty fan doing his level best to shout support from the terracing (perhaps with the help of some alcoholic beverages?!), both sides began to do battle once more.

The second half, though, was a very scrappy affair, with Alty understandably sitting back on their lead and United seemingly lacking the cutting edge required to break them down. Their cause wasn’t helped when, with twenty minutes remaining, their centre-back and skipper Robinson seemingly suffered a hamstring issue and with all three subs used by the Pilgrims looked destined to leave his side one short. However he battled on, forced up front as a makeshift, immobile striker.

Match Action

Match Action

The last ten or so was all one way traffic, with the hosts throwing desperate attack after desperate attack at the visitors, but it wasn’t until the 91st minute that they finally found a way to truly trouble Tomlinson (oooh nice alliteration there, eh?!). With Boston now on all-out attack mode, they finally got clear but found the imposing figure of “Hugo Knox” in outstanding form as he pulled off a miraculous double save to deny, firstly, Alex Simmons’ low drive before flinging himself to his right to block Jay Rollins’ follow-up with his legs to secure the points. Full-Time, 0-1! and a great, deserved win for the Robins!

After the game, I bid farewell to Martin and the very happy, chanting fan before heading out of the ground and meeting up with John and the rest of the bus load for the journey back up to Altrincham. After a journey back which largely included people’s experiences of the Stump and just how far the town centre was from the ground, we were back in Cheshire much quicker, it seemed, than was the case on the outbound leg.

The York Street end & happy Robins faithful

Alty players salute the fans

A final one in the Vine

After bidding goodbye and thanks to those on board, it was to the Vine Tavern for a quick pint whilst waiting for the bus back home. Damn you time, forcing me to drink… After meeting a couple in here who were aware of our bar (I should start charging for these ads), it was time to go and bring to an end a fine day out.

I really enjoyed my short time in Boston and look forward to returning to either United’s new ground or to Boston Town, both of whom are, sadly, not as central as the tremendous York Street. With regards to United’s new home, it’s always a shame when a club moves out of a town-centre location. Of course, it is all part and parcel of the new breed of community complex-based stadia but from a personal (and rather greedy) point of view, it lessens the overall experience and ease of access. Good luck to them on the move, but York Street and its tremendous, glorious floodlights will always be the one for me…

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….York

york_city_fc-svgCurzon_Ashton_Khai

Result: York City 1-1 Curzon Ashton (FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round)

Venue: Bootham Crescent (Saturday 15th October 2016, 3pm)

Att: 1,307

Back on the FA Cup trail after a round away, I found myself perusing the fixture lists once more…OK, that’s a lie because as soon as the draw was made and York City had a home tie, the decision was made. The game was all the more attractive by the fact that the Minstermen were to be hosting Curzon Ashton and by knowing a few guys with connections to the Nash, this meant that a day in the White Rose’s county town (city) was on.

Arriving into York at just after midday I escaped the queues attempting to get through the ticket checks on the doors and followed a hen-do out into the streets. Obviously these sights threw me, as I decided to head in the opposite direction to the one I’d already planned out beforehand, thus meaning a tour of the back streets of York was now a must. Eventually, I arrived at a bridge over the Ouse and arrived at the foot of the medieval Clifford’s Tower, part of the, now fragmented, York Castle.

York

York

River Ouse

River Ouse

Clifford's Tower

Clifford’s Tower

Eventually, I arrived at the welcoming doors of one of the city’s Wetherspoon outlets, this being the Postern Gate. This is by far the more boring of the pair as it sits below a Travelodge and resembles more of an office than a pub. Nonetheless, I swept inside and quickly drank the resplendent Punk IPA before heading off into the city centre in search of somewhere with a little more character. It couldn’t be too hard to accomplish this mission.

Indeed it wasn’t, as the haunted Golden Fleece became the second drinking spot. There were no ghosts in here today, luckily, but rather more unfortunate was that space was very limited due to the very small drinking room at the front, with the rear and upstairs reserved for those diners. So, having been forced to stand next to the bar and dodge the incoming and outgoing traffic to and from the back, the Fleece probably wasn’t quite as good an experience as it probably ought to have been. Get there early is my tip. The Estrella is pretty decent too.

So, with the Fleece and its ghostly inhabitants survived, I headed into the packed Shambles street and came across a small-ish bar/bottle shop. Ye Olde Shambles Tavern was another where the bar side of things seemed to be something of an afterthought, with the café-part seemingly larger, but the service, as in the Fleece, was of a really professional standard which, I guess, in York is a big plus point with so many bars in competition (I believe over 300). I decided to plump for a pint of the Jorvik Golden Ale, which was a good choice even if I say so myself, though it always sits a little heavy on me, as I’m not a huge ale drinker for the most part.

In The Postal Gate

In The Postern Gate

Golden Fleece

Golden Fleece

Into the Shambles

Into the Shambles

After watching multiple people pose in the street outside for pictures and the odd one fall off the kerbings before laughing with a tinge of embarrassment, it was time to head back outside and head towards the ground. Now, I knew the Minster was pretty much on the list of places to pass whilst en route and so it was to the cathedral I headed. Unfortunately, as is seeming to creep back into my visits and trips of late, I soon found myself book-ended at the end of the adjoining park and was lost. Surprise, surprise. Unbelievably, I was even asked by a couple if I “knew York” whilst staring in pure confusion at my phone. If I still look like I know what I’m doing when I clearly don’t, I’m fairly happy with that.

Anyway, having set off the wrong way slightly, before finding myself in another garden, I luckily found a pair of security guards strolling through the grounds of a ruined abbey. The pair seemed to keep abreast of the club somewhat, referencing their draw last week, before giving me some, easy to remember, directions as it turned out I was about 5 minutes away and the ground was basically around the corner. Bloody tourists, eh?

Ye Olde Shambles Tavern

Ye Olde Shambles Tavern

York Minster through the trees

York Minster through the trees

Another park, another old thing

Another park, another old thing

Following the guards instructions, I found myself at the foot of Bootham Crescent itself, before following the “crowd” down to the end of the road where the ground sprang upon me somewhat. After purchasing a programme early from the sellers at the main gate (just in case), I decided I could really do with visiting the pub across the way and with a large Curzon contingent hanging around outside, I figured I may just find some familiar faces inside. This turned out to be the case as I greeted Aaron, one of Curzon’s media extraordinaires, manager John’s son and verified twitter user. “Of course” was my answer to Aaron’s question of whether I’d be in the away end for this game, before having just a half of Carlsberg to accompany me through to the kick-off time, as I must be getting a little more safe in my age.

With the time to head for the turnstiles now upon us, the bar emptied and all and sundry headed out toward the away end. This, in turn, meant there was a queue outside which a few of the Curzon contingent found quite amusing. Eventually, it was my turn to hand over the cut-price £12 and I was into Bootham Crescent, the ground this time, as it was added to my list of visited ‘not-long-for-this-world’ grounds. After greeting Craig, Gibbo & Rob upon arrival, I took up a place within the crowds with my awarded, but slightly damaged, FA Cup on standby.

York City FC

York City FC

Queues...

Queues…

Bootham Crescent is a ground that really does show its age, both in a good and bad way. The facilities are a bit outdated, with the club even feeling the need to cover the food hut in a protective metal screen. The two touchlines are home to the seating stands, with the Main Stand located on the right-hand side from the away end and this affords raised views over the pitch. Opposite is an older, smaller seating stand, which doesn’t give too much in the way of a raised view. Both ends of the ground feature terracing, with the home end covered, but the away end left open to the elements, though a fair clump of the smaller seating stand was also available to the travelling support. Of course, with the weather being good, this option wasn’t taken by many with the (half) terrace nicely full. With kick-off imminent, let’s get into the history of the Minstermen, York City F.C.

History Lesson:

York City Football Club was first founded in 1908 with the original club playing in the Northern League and Yorkshire Combination before turning pro in 1914 and joining the Midland League prior to folding in 1917. Reformed in 1922, playing at Fulfordgate, York City competed in the Midland League for another seven season spell, before being elected to the Football League’s Third Division North at the expense of Ashington.

The Minstermen won their first league match, against Wigan Borough, then competed in the third tier of the League all the way through until 1959, when York achieved their first promotion. The club moved into Bootham Crescent in 1932, following the vacation of the ground by York CC. They reached the 6th Round of the FA Cup in 1938, before playing in the wartime competitions through the hostilities, winning the Combined Counties Cup whilst doing so.

Following the end of WWII, York were forced to apply for re-election in 1950 after finishing bottom of the Third Division North, but followed up just three seasons later with their best finish to that date, 4th. 1955 saw the club reach the FA Cup semi-final, losing out to Newcastle United in a replay played at Roker Park. In doing so, York became the first third-tier side to play a semi-final replay, though “relegation” was forced upon York in 1958 as the restructuring of the league meant their 13th placed finish caused York to drop to the new Division 4.

YCFC

YCFC

After finishing 3rd the next season, York were immediately promoted, though followed this with an immediate return to the bottom Division. The 1962 League Cup saw the club achieve their best run, reaching the 5th Round, where they bowed out to Rochdale. 1964, though, saw a second re-election needed to secure the club’s place in the Football League, but followed this with promotion the next year, following another 3rd place. This was the last success for a while, though, as York were relegated the next year and needed re-election for the following three consecutive years.

After another promotion in 1971, the Minstermen just avoided relegation from Division 3 for the next two years. However, thanks to the three up, three down method, York achieved promotion to Division 2 for the first time in 1974, after another 3rd place, but by 1977 they were back at the bottom rung. Further re-elections were secured in 1978 & ’81 as York struggled to maintain league status, though 1984 saw them again return to form with a Division 4 title, becoming the first Football League side to win with a three-figure total.

After notable results against 1st Division Arsenal (1-0) and European Cup holders Liverpool (1-1) during the early part of the ’80’s, York remained in Division 3 until 1988 when another relegation was suffered, but 1993 saw them back in the third tier, now Division 2, following play-off success against Crewe Alexandra. They also reached the Second Division play-offs the next season, but lost out in the semi-finals and in 1996 they knocked eventual Premiership & FA Cup winners Manchester United out of the League Cup.

Far Stand

David Longhurst Stand

1999 saw York drop out of the Second Division and finished bottom of Division 3 in 2004, meaning a drop into non-league for the first time in 75 years.  Losing out in the 2007 play-off semi-finals, York lost out in the 2009 FA Trophy Final as they were vanquished by Stevenage Borough. 2010 saw more play-off heartbreak, this time in the final but 2012 saw success in both the above competitions, with York overcoming Newport County & Luton Town in the Trophy and play-offs respectively. Despite reaching the League 2 play-offs in 2014, their stay back in the league was short, however, with the club returning to the Conference last season.

The game got underway with Curzon slightly on top, but when they conceded a penalty in just the ninth minute, following Hakan Burton’s bringing down of Shaun Rooney, it looked as though York’s league advantage may be a bit too much. Richard Brodie fired home, sending Burton the wrong way much to Craig’s chagrin, having not been too fond of Brodie from his time at Crawley, I took from it! With Curzon chasing the game now, it could be said it opened their play and game-plan up.

Though York had a few forays forward, they always looked shaky at the back, with one of my Football Manager hopeless signings, Clovis Kamdjo, becoming my target as I told all around me about my dealings with his simulated-self and his red-card record. Gibbo, therefore, unleashed a Clover ad-style chant to Clovis, which I definitely took part in. Nothing against the real Clovis, really, just the terrible FM one I had the misfortune to encounter…

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Curzon, though, continued to pressurise the back-line of the Minstermen and eventually they levelled when Niall Cummins collected the ball at the back-post following a low cross from Joe Guest and his shot hit ‘keeper Kyle Letheren and to my eyes went wide. That is until the cheers went up and the ball was clearly settled in the net, as Cummins wheeled away to celebrate his equaliser. 1-1. Game ON!!

Following a pair of decent chances that saw both shots fly off target for the visitors, the sides headed in for the half-time break, with the score-line remaining level. As for myself, it was to the food bar for a pie, though my superb memory has let me down here, as I can’t remember what I had. It may have been a chicken Balti, or it could have been a steak. Who knows? Anyway it was pretty decent, but for £3.10 it bloody well should have been.

Fairly pleased Curzon fans

Fairly pleased Curzon fans

Match Action

Match Action

The second half began with both sides trading chances, though neither troubled the respective sides’ goalkeepers. Curzon again went close, a fizzing drive flying just over the bar before York responded, again through Brodie, who blazed over from close range with the game winding down to its conclusion. Cummins forced Leveren into a decent stop, but York almost had one last chance when an attempted cross deflected up against the arm of a defender in the box but the referee, along with the Phil Mitchell-esque assistant (who loved all the chants by the way), turned down the claims much to the relief of the Nash support, who feared the worst. Full-Time, 1-1 and to a replay.

Following the game, I was invited along with the group heading back to Gibbo’s uni digs prior to the heading out and about for the night. My participation would be just for the early part of the evening, with my train ticket restricting. Anyway, the journey to the nearby Morrision’s (other supermarkets are available) was soundtracked by Craig’s Pied Piper-esque fluting skills, that is until the flute met its untimely end and ended up on a verge in multiple pieces and now added to the many ghosts of York. RIP.

Curzon Coach & pub.

Curzon Coach & pub.

More history...

More history…

Group Photo

Everyone in for the squad photo

Eventually, having passed through the shop and with beers for myself and both this and food for everyone else, we eventually headed back to the house where the very sensible games began. I won’t put names in here for those folk in jobs where this may be frowned upon! Soon enough, after Aaron had been given his birthday card for his 12th, having had it announced at the game earlier in the afternoon, I bid goodbye to the group and headed back through the streets, rocking up back at the station nicely in time for the train back.

Following the thankful departure of the Newcastle train, which had picked up a worse-for-wear group of women, including one who was on the floor for most of my time here, my train pulled in and whisked me back towards Piccadilly. Unfortunately, the delay made things interesting, with the train arriving in at 21.39. My connection was at 21.40, so a sprint up the stairs, over the footbridge and down the other set of steps got me to the train just as the guard was stepping back on to depart. Phew, and on that dramatic note, I’ll leave you to ponder the rant I’d have had if I’d been left for an hour…

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RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 6

Food: 6

Programme: 5 (cut price issue)

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Alfreton

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Result: Alfreton Town 1-0 AFC Fylde (FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round)

Venue: North Street (Saturday 17th September 2016, 3pm)

Att: 263

Following the last round in the FA Cup at Leek, myself and blog regular Paul decided we should continue our own cup run for another step along the “Road to Wembley”, following the dramatic contest at Harrison Park. For what is likely the final consecutive round of the Cup this season that I will watch a game in, we decided to head into Derbyshire and visit North Street (or Impact Arena), home to Alfreton Town FC.

After eventually locating Paul on the train after boarding on two separate occasions, I took the place of two, apparently, highly excitable Hollyoaks fans, who’d gone very OTT by the fact that an actor from the show who plays “Jack” was in our very carriage. The star quality was lost on us, however, and we were far more impressed by the odd pacer trains that flashed past, none more so than when we had to wait for one to pass as we headed for Sheffield. The excitement was far too much. Is he joking?

After passing into our third county of the day, we arrived into Alfreton at midday, immediately heading for the first watering hole we would encounter. The Station didn’t look the best of options, though and so we continued on with Paul recommending we head into the Plough for our first drinks of the day. This wasn’t to be the greatest of decisions, as Paul will attest to and so I was given the reigns for the rest of the journey through Alfreton, starting at the far end of town and the safe hands of Wetherspoons.

Alfreton

Alfreton

Waggon & Horses

Waggon & Horses

The town’s ‘Spoons, Waggon and Horses, was a fairly run-of-the-mill offering, with little to excite and so the “Wetherspoons News” kept us entertained, as we tried to match places respective outlets with their football clubs. Yes, this is the on-the-edge life we lead. Punk IPA’s finished off, we headed back into Alfreton town centre, passed by the arriving Fylde coach as we did so, before a burst of sound out of a pub drove us inside to discover just what was going on.

It turned out that the Blue Bell had been taken over by a group of Northampton fans, who’d, for one reason or another, chosen Alfreton over Chesterfield as their place for pre-match drinks and entertainment. This added some good atmosphere to our stay here, with the pint of Fox’s going down very well. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the better ales I’ve had. Tremendous. The barmaid here was also very helpful in going through each offering, despite the noise radiating from the maroon-clad mass, so added props for that. Upon their exit, though, it seemed the regulars had had enough of having their early afternoon drinks being interrupted, so we also departed, heading just up the street to the King Alfred.

In the previous establishment, I’d seen a bottle in the fridge by the name of Revolution and, being easily taken by attractive looking insignia and labels, reckoned I’d like to try one of those at some point. This wait proved a short one as, upon browsing the fridges in the Alf, my eyes once again focussed on the blue-clad bottle. Paul decided to join me in tasting the Marston’s offering. It was ok, but nothing more than that and with the clock approaching 2pm, we were soon heading for the Impact Arena.

Fylde arrive

Fylde arrive

Blue Bell

Blue Bell

King Alfred

King Alfred

An encounter with a door saw us head for an impromptu drink in Bluey’s Australian Bar, which sits at the top of the road, give or take, from where Alfreton Town’s home sits. Upon entering, it certainly seemed a good choice. Bluey’s struck me as a sort of sports bar and the barmaid was taken aback by us being quite impressed by us declaring the bar as “cheap”. After a chat in just what brought us to Alfreton, it turned out that her boyfriend is a player for Matlock Town and so continues the influence of non-league football amongst the population of the UK.

With our unplanned stop meaning the time was ever closer to kick-off, we swiftly headed off, finding the turnstile hidden away somewhat down a small dirt path and after paying £12 entry, ground 192 was entered. The excitement didn’t stop there though, oh no, as I bought the final programme for the match, denying the guy behind me a copy (sorry, not sorry), though the £3 price was a bit steep.

ATFC

ATFC

Impact Arena

Impact Approach

North Street is a differing ground from many in this country, by virtue of the fact it houses seats that are left open to the elements. This, to me at least, gives it something of a continental look to it at one end. The other three sides put this illusion to bed, though, with them being very regular views seen at grounds. The “Main” Stand is a small-ish construction, that houses the clubhouse, dressing rooms and everything else within, with only a few rows of seats, mostly toward the far end. The opposite side is populated by another all-seater stand, that is again only a few rows deep and, interestingly, doesn’t have a perimeter fence in front of it. The near-end goal features a fairly large terrace behind it, with the rear part covered by a roof. As for Alfreton Town’s story….

History Lesson:

Alfreton Town FC was founded in 1958, following the merging of Alfreton Miners Welfare FC & Alfreton United FC. The new club duly moved into a new ground (their current home) on North Street and initially competed in the Central Alliance’s Division 1 North, doing enough over their first two season to allow them to become founders of the re-formed Midland Counties League.

Following several good performances and close calls, Alfreton eventually took the Midland League title in 1970, before adding a further two titles to this throughout the decade (’73 &’77). The club also achieved three Midland League Cups during the same decade and were rewarded by being allowed to keep the very trophy they achieved this with. 1982 saw the Midland League merge with the Yorkshire League to create the Northern Counties East League.

The NCEL League Cup was won by Town in 1985 and the title was lifted in 1987. At the close of the following campaign, Alfreton took up a place in the newly formed Northern Premier League Division 1. Despite finishing bottom in 1991, league re-organization in Wales meant clubs left the NPL and this in turn gave a reprieve to Town, allowing them to keep their spot. After missing out on promotion in 1995, ’96 saw Alfreton promoted to the Premier Division of the NPL as runners-up.

Old crest

Old crest

From their, fortunes took a downturn and Town dropped back through the NPL levels to find themselves back in the NCEL by the ’99-’00 season. 2002, though, saw the title won once more, alongside the League Cup, President’s Cup and Derbyshire Senior Cup in a fine quadruple. The following season saw the club lift the NPL Division One title and defend their Derbyshire Senior Cup along the way as the club returned to the NPL Premier Division.

2003 saw Town lift the Derbyshire Centenary Cup in pre-season, before finishing the season in 4th place. This finishing position meant Town could take up a spot in the newly formed Conference North. The season’s highlight was, arguably, reaching the FA Cup First Round, where Town lost in a replay to Macclesfield Town. 2008-’09 saw Town reach the play-offs after being a largely mid-table outfit prior to this, but were defeated in the semi-finals and the club did an FA Cup PB in reaching the 2nd Round, where they bowed out to Scunthorpe United.

A second third place in 2010 saw Town again compete in the play-offs, this time reaching the final, but again were to face heartbreak, this time at the hands of the fast-rising Fleetwood Town, but 2011 saw Alfreton finally get their promotion as they won the Conference North by ten points. Despite equalling their FA Cup best in 2013 & after three mid-table finishes, the club were relegated in 2015 and finished last season, their first back at Step 2, in 10th place.

Today's Teams

Today’s Teams

Look at all those shirts!!

Look at all those shirts!!

Paul decided there was still time to head for the clubhouse pre-match with me opting out on a drink this time, as my mind worked in a sensible way for once. The clubhouse here is covered in memorabilia, with shirts adorning the walls and numerous scarves and more shirts covering the ceiling, featuring jerseys from all over the world. It’s certainly interesting but there was little time to be spent looking, as the sides were in the tunnel and ready to head out onto the pitch ahead of this tie.

The game got underway with free-scoring Fylde, 5-3 winners at North Street the month earlier, attacking their opponents’ defence at regular intervals, with a header going close to opening the scoring. But, it was to be Alfreton who were to take something of a shock lead, as they won a corner on the right and the resultant set-piece was volleyed in at the back post by Tom Allan. 1-0 and it looked as though goals were to be plentiful, as expected, once more.

Fylde still looked the more dangerous of the sides, with top-scorer Danny Rowe flashing a drive wide of the post, but the chances were at an extreme premium, with both sides looking more fearful of going out, than they did of trying to force their way into the next round. The best chance for the visitors came as Town ‘keeper Fabian Speiss (who I saw have a man-of-the-match performance for Boston at Fylde last season) collided with a team-mate but, despite a desperate scramble in the goal-mouth, the grateful Speiss found the ball return to his grasp once more.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

It wasn’t until we headed into the food bar next to the smaller of the stands that things began to kick-off. As Paul ordered his grub, he was met with a confused look from the girl serving and the phrase I’m sure many scousers get “I don’t understand”. So after turning translator and meeting no such issues through my accent, or lack of it as I was informed that I “didn’t sound Northern”, we headed back onto the terraces thoroughly entertained by this. Food was good too, so all positives!

Just before the break, I met with Alfreton fan/steward Ashley, who’d messaged me prior to the game, before I left him to his task for the moment as the whistle blew. Half-time, 1-0. Off to the bar once more we went, with two cans of San Miguel purchased, though the remainder of mine went missing just after the restart, as I stuck my head out the door to check on the game’s progress!

Paul rebelling

Paul rebelling

Very continental!

Very continental!

Back outside for the second period, Paul and I headed for the Spanish-end and took up a position within the seats and next to a group of home fans, though both sets were finding it hard to create any noise, despite having tried earlier in the contest. Though, with the lack of on-pitch action, this wasn’t all too surprising an occurrence.

Fylde continued to dominate the game overall, though Alfreton looked quite solid at the back which came as something of a surprise considering their overall defensive record so far this season, though Fylde haven’t exactly been top-notch in this field either. They again survived a 6-yard scramble, as the ball somehow evaded crossing the line despite the best efforts of the ever dangerous Rowe and Niall Dixon cleared off the line from Bohan Dixon.

Keepers!

Keepers!

Scramble!

Scramble!

Late on...

Late on…

Alfreton did have their odd moments too, with Fylde stopper Tony Thompson forced into a couple of saves by the Gibraltan international Adam Priestley and impressive on-loan defender Kallam Mantack, but Speiss was the man in this game, as he denied further chances for Rowe including the crowning glory of his performance in stoppage time, when he clawed away the former’s free-kick which was destined for the top-corner. WHAT A SAVE! With Paul chatting to a Fylde committee man who was full of praise for Town, while berating his own side’s lacklustre performance, the game came to a close with the surprising 1-0 score-line standing, but with Alfreton fully deserving their place in the 3rd Qualifying Round (at King’s Lynn Town).

Back into the bar for the final time we headed for a chat with a few Alfreton fans, including John (though I can only remember his name from twitter, sorry everyone else for my bad memory) and thanks to Ashley for buying me a post-match drink. Soon enough, it was time for us to leave and have a final drink in the pub at the top of the road, the Victoria. After bidding goodbye to all the above, the Victoria proved a decent enough stop-off point and a guy gave us a tip-off for something of a shortcut back to the station, with the journey back proving largely uneventful. A week off next week, before a return to the big leagues…

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RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 7

Food: 8

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Ashton (Curzon Ashton FC)

Curzon_Ashton_KhaiHednesford

Result: Curzon Ashton 3-2 Hednesford Town (Vanarama National North)

Venue: Tameside Stadium (Saturday 2nd April 2016, 3pm)

Att: 329

After being spurned earlier in the season a trip to Curzon Ashton’s Tameside Stadium home by the weather (a rarity, I know), this first weekend in April gave a second chance for the ground to be given a revisit. Having originally planned to head over to Lincoln for Moorlands Railway’s ground, I though better of the long trip being in neither the frame of mind nor the correct monetary position to do it and decided it just wasn’t worth the trouble. Yet.

So, having been further swayed by the allure of free entry to all via Curzon’s “Community Day” idea, I reckoned that there was no time like the present to return. Despite the weather again threatening to disrupt my best laid plans, it was spurned in its efforts and so I set off during the late morning and with the trains being off through Manchester Victoria, I had to make do with a bus. Which reminded it me just how much I hate them.

But having headed into and back out of Manchester Piccadilly Gardens, I was en route to Tameside, with the rain still falling from the grey skies above. Setting off as early as I had had meant, however, that I was now committed to this game, really, with no viable options to return to in case of a postponement. Luckily, though, the rain began to abate as I arrived outside The Snipe pub, my first stop off for the day.

Ashton

All roads lead to Ashton

The Snipe

The Snipe

Sheldon Arms

Sheldon Arms

The Snipe was rather empty, apart from the barmaids and two kids, who seemed to take great delight in sneaking up on me, having a look, before pegging it back to their starting place while getting told off for doing so. Not that it was bothering me in any way, as it actually meant something was going on as the pub itself was dead, so I wasted little time over my pint of Coors and headed back out and around the corner to the Sheldon Arms.

The one thing the Sheldon Arms did to me was to confirm that Ashton was far from a “cheap” place. It wasn’t overpriced, but it certainly wasn’t one of your cut price areas that you can occasionally find outside the city centre. Not to be stopped, though, I was soon in possession of my second pint. After a while of debating the issue with myself, I decided I’d be a bit lazy and miss out the Harvester in the retail park up the road and instead get the bus up to the road which the ground sits on.

Footballer

Footballer

Approaching the Tameside Stadium

Approaching the Tameside Stadium

Ashton's World Cup Winners

Ashton’s World Cup Winners

So, after doing the above, I made my way down past the cricket club and into the complex which the Tameside Stadium is housed within. I arrived at the gate and informed the guy manning it that I’d arranged previously with Curzon fan and gateman for the day, Aaron Flanagan, that I was ok to come in. “Oh, does Aaron run the club now does he?” came the reply. “Ok, well go and see him and ask him if he runs the club”. Not sure if this was in jest or if the gentlemen was indeed a bit peeved, but either way I did indeed go to Aaron and ask him the above question. It’s only polite, I guess.

Anyway, Aaron informed me there was something of an impromptu pitch inspection that was taking place on the far side, with the liner a bit concerned with the state of the line he was to be running. But soon enough, the ref came over with good news, GAME ON! The liner(s) had indicated they were happy to run the lines and skirt round the boggy patches, as long as no-one two-footed them. Good stuff and in the knowledge we had a game, I headed for the Nash Bar to buy a Kopparberg and watch the end of F1 Practice 3.

Not too long after I was joined in here by Dan who had also been attracted down by the opportunity of a free game at a good level. Unfortunately, the crowd was a disappointment I’d say at just under 330, meaning there was no real gain from the promotion with the weather not aiding the club in there task. Of course, I only speculate, but of course there was some profit to be had if those extras keep coming back. Let’s hope so.

Snack Bar

Snack Bar

Welcome

Welcome

With kick-off fast approaching, it was to the Snack Bar under the stand to purchase some chips for the cheap price of £1.40 before heading out on a lap of the Tameside Stadium during the first period. I was being something less of a neutral for one reason and one reason only on this day and it has nothing to do with the vast, vast majority of those involved with the men from Keys Park. But there is one and it appears the Curzon fans shared my view on this member of the visiting personnel later in the game, as it turned out. But that’s history now….oh…

History Lesson:

Curzon Ashton was formed in 1963 as Curzon Amateurs after the merger of local sides Curzon Road and Ashton Amateurs. They joined the Manchester League and after a period of consolidation, went on to become a real force, picking up 3x Manchester Intermediate Cups (1972, ’73, ’74) in the decade before founding the Cheshire League Division 2.

Curzon were immediately promoted as runners-up and the next season the club became the first North West club to reach the semi-finals of the FA Vase but lost out to Stamford. The 1980’s saw 5x Manchester Premier Cups won while Curzon went on the found the North West Counties League. Despite finishing up in a relegation position in 1986-’87 season, the club still founded their third league, the Northern Premier.

After avoiding relegation in their first season on account of league expansion, they were eventually relegated in 1997 and were placed in the North East Counties. No, me neither. After finishing second bottom in their sole season, the club moved back into normal territory and the NWCFL. Promotion from Division 2 was attained in 2000 and the club took a place in Division 1 for the season 2000-’01.

Cash Your Gold

Cash Your Gold

Curzon Ashton FC

Curzon Ashton FC

They moved from their National Park home of 20 years to the Tameside Stadium in 2005, which was something of a homecoming as their original playing fields stood around the ground’s current location. 2007 saw a second FA Vase semi defeat, to Truro City, but were promoted to the NPL Division 1 as runners up. 2009 saw Curzon’s famous FA Cup run where they vanquished Exeter City at the Tameside 3-2 and were defeated in the play-off final by Newcastle Blue Star, who then went bump.

Current boss John Flanagan took charge in 2011 and guided Curzon to second in the NPL 1North, only to lose to Witton Albion in the play-offs, but 2014 saw Curzon skip the play-offs and win the Division and with it promotion to the NPL Premier. They then went on to beat Ilkeston in the play-offs after only one season in the Division to shoot on up to the National North, where they sit in a solid mid-table place.

Anyway, the first half was pretty unspectacular. It was a pretty cagey affair with chances at a premium, but Curzon were the more threatening of the two in terms of build up play. Ryan Brooke had the better of the chances for Curzon early on, but his header was straight at Hednesford ‘keeper Dan Crane. Later in the half, the visitors had a goal ruled out for a foul on home custodian Cameron Mason and also saw Danny Glover’s free-kick strike the upright narrowly before the break. That was that for the first half, 0-0.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

After an uneventful half-time, Dan and I decided to head over to join the Curzon Ultra’s who were massed on the open terrace in front of the bar and which affords a side view of the pitch and the end they were attacking at close hand. It proved a good choice as the Nash flew out of the box and soon found themselves two-up. First, Jordan Wright pursued a loose ball and fired beyond Crane, before Ryan Brooke netted the second, neatly chipping the ball over the advancing Crane. It looked all over bar the shouting.

But Frank Sinclair’s double substitution seemed to turn the tide and I was especially pleased that the Curzon fans joined in with my cheering send-off as they seemed delighted to see one of their former players be one of those replaced! But, it definitely changed the team for the better and what a goal it was that saw them grab a lifeline.

Mason was pretty much minding his own business in his area, as any ‘keeper would, with the ball a good 35 yards out in the middle of the field and with little danger to his net. That it until Paul Ennis lobbed the ball over him and nestled it in the bottom corner! A quite outstanding goal and probably the best of the season so far for me. This spurred on Hednesford and they levelled a couple of minutes later as Jonathan Royle powered a header into the roof of the net to give the struggling Pitmen all the momentum going into the last 20 minutes or so.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Curzon fans celebrate the opener

Curzon fans celebrate the opener

Indeed, with Curzon also looking to go for the win by bringing on forwards Cockerline and Norton, this left them a bit less secure at the back and Hednesford spurned a pair of good chances before Joe Guest rattled in a fine strike across the helpless Crane to give Curzon the points. 3-2, full-time.

A fine game came to an end and after quickly thanking Aaron for sorting my ticket-less entry, Dan and I headed back out down the road for the bus back to Manchester. Though, the first plan was to head into the dank-looking Ring o’ Bells pub near the flats at the stop, but it was shut and so it was straight on the bus instead. Dramatic, hey? As for further drama there was none and hereth ends our tale. A good day at a ground that has grown on me as the years have passed, I’m sure ‘ll be back sooner than 2 years next time…

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RATINGS:

Game: 8- Good, entertaining game. Shame not more took advantage to see it.

Ground: 7- The strange “giraffe” stand still puzzles me. Why so high?!

Programme: 7- A good read.

Food: 7- See above. But change read to something foody.

Fans: 9- Vocal fans at Curzon was a massive change from my last visit and made for a good atmosphere.

Value For Money: 8- Good, free game and a decent day overall.