Manchopper in….Altrincham

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

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

Att: 781

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

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

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

Altrincham

Stocks

Old Roebuck

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

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

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

Market area

Belgian Bar (on the right)

Morte Subite

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

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

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

Bricklayer’s

Goose Green

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

Arriving at Moss Lane

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

History Lesson:

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

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

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

Steward….or sub?

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

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

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

Alty FC

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

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

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

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

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

Watching on

Match Action

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

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

Match Action

12th man

Match Action

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

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

Under the lights

Late on…

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

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

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

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

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 8

Programme: 5 (seemed cut back?)

Value For Money: 6

 

Manchopper in….Shildon

Result: Shildon 1-0 Altrincham (FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round)

Venue: Dean Street (Saturday 16th September 2017, 3pm)

Att: 345

With the qualifying rounds of the Cup moving closer to their end, the 2nd Round Qualifying draw pit potential giant-killers against famed giant-killers of the past. Shildon play in what is arguably the strongest Step 5 league around, the Northern League, and therefore aren’t quite as far away from those clubs a division or so higher. As such Altrincham – who are well known for their cup exploits in upsetting higher league outfits –  would need to be on guard to avoid becoming the Goliath to Shildon’s “David”.

My journey began by jumping on the Altrincham supporters’ coach in nearby Sale at just before 10am, before heading on past the Robins’ Moss Lane ground. After a couple of further pick-ups, we were well and truly en-route to the North East. Following a very uneventful initial part of the journey, we soon pulled into Wetherby services which was full of other fans (especially those of QPR in their vivid purple) heading here and there. As for us, a short stop off was had here, though it did afford the chance to catch up with Alty fans Jonny and Danny, who were also on the bus but, due to its fullness, weren’t too close to myself. After a brag from Jonny about them getting the journey for free (contacts and that), we were back on the road. It’s all right for some!!

A further hour-and-a-bit’s drive later and we were pulling within sight of Dean Street’s floodlights. Sadly, due to the late-ish arrival, my initial plans to go and have a look at the railway museum (which is free for anyone so inclined) and the visiting Flying Scotsman were now no longer on the table. So, I was forced into a tour of Shildon’s pubs totally against my will. An incredulous Jonny asked “No pub visits today?” as I made a quick dip into the ground to secure an early programme (£2), but I confirmed there was no such departure from the norm and it was onwards to the main street (helpfully named Main St.) and to the first hostelry of the day, the Timothy Hackworth, named after the railway engineer who was the superintendent for the first locomotive on the Stockton and Darlington Railway. I plumped for  a pint of Kronenbourg in here, but did feel somewhat out-of-place in a locals’ pub, though that’s not to say it isn’t a nice little place. Anyway, I finished it up and headed back uphill to the town centre.

Timothy Hackworth

Shildon

Shildon

With a wedding just getting started in the church, the nearby Red Lion would provide my next altar (bar). A pint of Strongbow in here as one guy quoted Forrest Gump’s “Life is a box of chocolates” monologue in a decent impression was enough before I got lost looking for my next stop, the Three Tuns, despite it being pretty much opposite. Classic stuff.

The Three Tuns was probably my favoured pub of those I visited, with it having the lesser-spotted Woodpecker cider on draught too. It also was proudly displaying the match-day poster alongside the door into the pub, which is always good to see. There wasn’t a whole lot going on in here really, though the circa-1990’s corded phone in the corner was a nice throwback! Soon enough, though, the time was moving onwards towards that magic 3pm stroke and so my intention was to move on back past the church and visit the nearby Royal George (this name also derives from the railway, named after an early train). Sadly this was shut, but standing pretty much opposite was the Shildon Working Men’s Club. Any potential entry issues were soon allayed with a blackboard outside the door displaying “Altrincham fans welcome” and so I reckoned to miss it out would be rude.

The Red Lion

Three Tuns showing support

WMC

After being talked off the “slow pouring” Woodpecker in here, I instead went for a Mixed Fruits Kopparberg as something of a refresher. Soon after, as I was sitting in and minding my own business, I was asked by the guy behind the bar if I was an away fan. “Sort of!” I replied, before the response came “Well, that’s two of you then, good job we didn’t get extra staff in. We were expecting more.” That sounded a real shame, but at least the slight bit of extra custom wasn’t wasted on an extra pair of hands! Anyway, it was time for football!

Arriving at Dean Street

Heading back up to the Dean Street turnstiles (whilst passing the finely named Primitive Street), I paid in my £7 entrance fee and entered into the ground once more. Having seen the superb stand earlier on, my reaction to it was somewhat subdued, but what a great stand it is. It has the supporting tiers along the front of the stand and a pagoda-like roof on top, providing cover from the occasional shower that was blowing across the ground from time-to-time. Alongside the 1923-vintage Main Stand, are the food bar and hospitality area which are located nearest the turnstile end. The clubhouse is to the bottom of the stand, down the player’s tunnel! Opposite is a covered terrace which runs the majority of the length of the pitch, with a little extra open terracing at either side, though this is becoming quite overgrown. Both ends are open, hard standing. As for Shildon FC’s story…

History Lesson:

Shildon A.F.C. traces its roots back to 1890 and Shildon Town. This club joined the Auckland & District League two years later and, in 1894, the club merged with the finely named Rangers & Heroes F.C. to become Shildon United prior to folding in 1900 when playing in the Northern League’s Division 2, along with the division as a whole.

A re-formed club began life in 1903, taking a place in the Northern League once more and took on the moniker of Shildon Athletic. This club later joined the semi-pro ranks and the North Eastern League in 1907, prior to taking on the name of Shildon A.F.C. in 1923. Here, the club would record a best finish of second place in 1933 and be promoted back to the Northern League (along with reaching the First Round of the Cup for the first time in 1927), which the club would go on to win four times consecutively (between 1934 & ’37) in the lead up to World War II. 1937 also saw the club reach the Second Round of the FA Cup, prior to their penultimate Northern League triumph in 1940 before war affected the game.

SFC

What a Stand!

1985 would see Shildon eventually relegated in 1985 to end their stay in the top division of the Northern League, but their stay in the second division would last just two seasons, as the club were promoted back. However, this began something of a yo-yo existence for Shildon, as the club would go on to be relegated in 1992 for just the one season and again in 1999 for three further seasons.

The Railwaymen would go on to win the Northern League’s Second Division in 2002 and lift the league’s Challenge Cup the following year. After surviving financial issues in 2004, the club avoided relegation and rebuilt into a solid outfit, ending up as Northern League runners-up in 2010 and missing out on a Wembley trip after losing in the 2013 FA Vase semi-finals. 2014 saw the club lift the Durham Challenge Cup for the first time and this was successfully defended the following season, along with a further runners-up placing, before they’d finally end a 76-year wait for a title with the 2016 Northern League. Last season saw the Railwaymen end up in 4th place.

The players soon made their entrance to the field and we were underway in the FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round. With chips in hand (£1.50 for a small-ish portion), I watched the initial stages of the tight contest from alongside the stand, leaving moving into it for the second half. Of course, first came the obligatory lap. Very little in the way of action was to occur during the first half, however, with neither side looking to give anything away too early.

Match Action

View from the covered terrace

Match Action

For what chances there were, Altrincham had the better of them their best chances seeing a shot saved by the home ‘keeper and  the alliteratively named John Johnston’s shot flying across goal, but wide. Shildon responded with ex-NPL era Durham City man Billy Greulich-Smith seeing his effort kept out by Robins gloveman, the just as alliteratively named Tony Thompson. As I arrived in the stand for the closing stages of the half, the rain began to come down to give a summary of what we’d just seen. Half-Time, nil-nil and little to get excited about. My mood wasn’t helped by the bustling clubhouse meaning I decided to spurn a visit, despite a glowing recommendation from “Mr Nobody”.

The half-time period did alert me to the attendance of Shrewsbury fan and groundhopper Lee, who’d undertaken the long journey up during the morning. After finding the “pie-juggling” Lee (as he described himself), the second half had gotten underway already. As the action failed to improved markedly, talking points turned instead to the previous round and my visit to a local club of Lee’s, Haughmond FC, who did their own “giant-killing” in taking out Matlock and forced Boston United to a replay, which they ultimately were to lose. Lee was also disappointed he’d missed out on the Flying Scotsman, which isn’t doing much for the image of us groundhoppers!

Match Action

Match Action

With little of note occurring outside of an Alty free-kick rippling the side netting, it was a massive shock to the system when the ball ended up in the net after 70 minutes, but the home side’s celebrations were cut short by the referee’s whistle. A foul on Thompson was the reason for the “goal” being chalked off, much to the chagrin of those around us. It looked as though the game was meandering to a replay, as Lee and I began to come to terms that a nil-nil was about to occur. But then, drama as stoppage time arrived.

Shildon advanced down the left and into the area. James Jones lost his footing and handled the ball and despite the Shildon man going on and firing wide the referee, quite rightly, pulled play back for the spot-kick. Jones was given his marching orders and up stepped Greulich-Smith to take the kick. However, it looked as though Thompson had come to the rescue of his side as he beat away the poorly placed pen, only for the rebound to fall onto the head of sub Cameron Fenton and he judged his looping header to perfection, the ball drifting into the far corner to spark scenes of jubilation from three sides of the ground. The Altrincham fans were left dismayed and staring an upset in the face.

Blurred, but that’s the winner!

After what must have seemed a lifetime, the referee blew for Full-Time to signal Shildon’s passage into the Third Round of qualifying. Altrincham, meanwhile, now have to settle on the Trophy for FA competition success. After bidding goodbye to Lee, a long, uneventful journey back was had while the coach driver kindly dropped me off as far towards the Volunteer pub in Sale as she could. With an hour to wait until my bus back, a pint of Holt’s Crystal Gold was enjoyed before the final stage of the trip was completed.

So, there ends another round of the Cup and another upset! Shildon definitely deserved their win, having competed pretty comfortably with Altrincham throughout. They remained solid and took their chance (eventually) when it arrived. Altrincham, however, just didn’t really look up for it from the off and showed the levels they can reach the Tuesday after in dispatching Farsley Celtic for six. But, it was the Railwaymen who have the money in their pockets and with a trip to Banbury of all places in the next round, they definitely need it! As for me, it looks like a trip over the border for next week. Cymru awaits….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 7

Food: 5

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 5

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….Timperley (Altrincham FC Reserves)

Altrincham FCIrlam_F_C__logo
Result: Altrincham Reserves 1-4 Irlam Reserves (Cheshire League 2)

Venue: Clay Lane (Wednesday 14th May 2015, 7pm)

Att: 35 (hc)

I wasn’t really planning on attending a game during the week if I’m honest, despite having toyed with the idea of going to this very match when it was to be played at the hosts usual home at Banky Lane, Mersey Valley Sports Club. But, on the Tuesday evening, I saw the game had been moved to Clay Lane and, upon further inspection, I noted the ground met my requirement of a barred off pitch, thus constituting a “ground” in my book. So, I was away and to the beaches.

Well, the beaches may not have actually existed, but I was determined, nonetheless, to do this ground. This determination was tested when I lost my bus ticket and had to buy another one just for the travel tonight. But, as all hardened groundhoppers will attest to, this is nothing but a minor issue and not enough to stop a venture in its tracks, dear friends, oh no.

After Dan had also confirmed his attendance, I boarded a bus and changed onto an Altrincham bound one upon arrival at Stretford Arndale and treated myself to a tour of Stretford’s subway system. Lovely. On exiting, I boarded a rather packed bus for the majority of my journey. Half way to the destination, I decided to check up on Dan’s progress, the last time I’d done so, he’d informed me he was stuck in traffic en route. This time, he informed me he’d arrived in Sale. Then it dawned on me that I too was in Sale and upon turning my head 90 degrees, it turned out we were on the same bus without either of us realising. This didn’t bode well for the rest of the trip…

Arriving at the ground

Arriving at the ground

As it was, after a further connection from Alty to around the corner from the ground, we took a Google Maps identified short cut. Of course, as usually happens with my shortcuts, a fence put paid to it and consigned us to he full 15 minute walk round the ground, which we arrived upon by a see-through fence. To our pleasure, the game hadn’t got underway at 6.30 (as previously advertised on Full-Time) and it was obvious that a 7pm start time was taking place. With the late evening sunshine beating down on both sides and a lone female jogger doing laps of the pitch, Dan and I took our place to the rear of the near end goalmouth, nearest the car park. This will be known as the “hedge end” due to a hedge being there. Imaginative, I know.

Soon enough, the sides were ready to go, as was the official. Note, official, as linesman  are definitely lesser spotted this low down in the system. Indeed, this season was the first of the reformed Altrincham Reserve side, with none gracing hallowed turf since 2007. But it has been a successful one, with the side finishing as runners-up in the league to the all-conquering Wythenshawe Town and taking the second promotion spot in doing so. There is a dedicated page to the Robins’ Ressies on their site, with all the appearance stats for the side listed here: http://www.altrinchamfc.co.uk/reserves.htm. A big congratulations to the management team of Craig Malbon and Chris Rowley and all the players on this achievement.

Football or Centre Parcs

Football or Centre Parcs?

Adhere to the rules

Adhere to the rules

The ground at Clay Lane is basic, bar the changing facilities, it would seem, with just the barred off pitch being flanked by a pair of dugouts, one on each side, and grassy areas to stand on. The whole ground is open, so best to leave this one to a nice, dry day. Of course, as stated earlier, this isn’t the usual home of Alty’s Reserves, nor any club as far as I’m aware, so look out for it with a hawk-eye. Bar this, the pitch is towered over by the Hale Country Club, in whose grounds it stands, and is located opposite Bowden RUFC, for those interested in the egg chucking game. As you may have guessed from that, I’m not one.

For now then, the actual football game got underway, with Irlam storming out of the blocks, with the sun providing an assist to their efforts, glaring into the face of the Robins’ keeper. But, you can’t solely blame the sun for Alty’s apparent lackadaisical start to the game. Irlam Reserves swarmed them and were quickly two up, their #9, John Main and #11, Kyle Davies, both scoring from close range. First, Main got a shot away, neatly tucking one just inside the far post. Almost immediately, Davies doubled the advantage, breaking clear and rounding the ‘keeper before having the easiest of tasks presented to him as he slotted into the unguarded net.

If this was bad for Alty, it got even worse a couple of minutes later. Main again was the main man(oh dear), as he took full advantage of a defensive mix up to nip in ahead of the ‘keeper to claim the ball, before again having the pleasure of a gaping onion bag presented to him 3-0, game over you felt.

Blinded by the light

Blinded by the light

Keeper's kicking off

Keeper’s kicking off

After this mad start to the match, it settled down somewhat, as Alty got to grips and Irlam were happy to sit back on their 3-goal advantage, and this was how it remained at the break.

The second period got underway, and Dan and I set off on a lap of the ground. Well, almost, as it turns out the far side near the road isn’t the easiest to gaian access to, although we did find a member of Curzon Ashton’s memorable campaign just gone, Matt Warburton, making his way out. I remember Matt from his days as a 16-year-old in Trafford’s reserve side and I always thought he was a talent. Never really given a chance at the club, he plied his trade in local football, before gaining his break and pushing on with Curzon. A top player and lad, it’s just a bit of a downer that he’s been out for most of the season after suffering a bad injury during a Curzon home game. Anyway, after a chat with Matt, the ball going behind the net gave him a perfect excuse to escape my grasp(!) and we went on our way round.

Feeling Tyred

Feeling Tyred

Across the pitch

Across the pitch

Passing a few truck tyres dotted here and there, we made our way to the far end and, by now, Alty had grabbed one back, the #10 finishing off a move, slotting into the net. They almost had another too, when the Irlam GK’s kick failed to reach safety and a shot from midfield drifted over him and appeared to be going in. This was definitely the thought going through the mind of one player who exclaimed “YESSS!”, just as the ball bounced up off the bare goalmouth and over the bar. No-one was quite sure how, but 3-1 it remained!

Match Action

Match Action

(Lack of) Match Action

(Lack of) Match Action

As the match was coming to a close and Alty’s dominance of the second period waned, #14, substitute Gaz Meredith picked the ball up just past halfway. He had a look up and pinged one from 35-yards that looped over the ‘keeper and just under the bar. WHAT A SUPERB GOAL! One that his namesake Billy would’ve been proud of! It was a strike worthy of winning any match, even if this one was just adding gloss to an already secured three points.

The referee ended the game soon after and both sides just looked happy to have gotten a bit of a dead rubber out of the way, especially Alty. Irlam, though, will feel they have proved a lot going into next season and I’m sure they will be right up there for the title. On the basis of this performance, they deserve to be. So, we set off on the mile and a half walk back towards this season’s title winners Wythenshawe Town’s ground, where I bid a good evening to Dan who headed off for town, whereas I faced a 25 minute wait for my bus back and a further connection after that, finally getting in at 10.30pm, such is the life eh?

My Altrincham Reserves M.o.M.- I give it the #10 for scoring!
My Irlam Reserves M.o.M.- John Main

wpid-20150513_200903.jpg

RATINGS:

Game: 7- Entertaining game, good quality too.
Ground: 5- Very basic, open.
Fans: 3- Just because there aren’t any “fans” really.
Food: N/A
Programme: N/A
Value For Money: 8- If I hadn’t have paid for 2 tickets, it’d have been 10, but you know….

Manchopper in….Broadheath

Result: Broadheath Central 1-0 Sale Amateurs (Altrincham & District Amateur Football League)

Venue: Viaduct Lane (Wednesday 15th April 2015, 6.15pm)

Att: 15 (approx.)

A blog that should have been done 12 months ago, Broadheath was one that was neglected due to the fact I left last year’s game early. No such decision had to be made this year, as I made my third visit to Viaduct Road. Coincidence meant that the two sides who played in the 6-0 last year were the same pair who faced each other in this evening’s game. Not only that, but the later game I was planning to catch the second half of also featured the same two sides who met each other on the same day as this game the previous season, when I made the same journey, that being Northwich Flixton Villa & AFC Darwen. Weird, huh?!

Talking to a brick wall...

Talking to a brick wall…

As it was, I got the 245 service heading towards Altrincham at just before 6.30, and it was on said bus that I met the acquaintance, in person, of fellow groundhopper/FCUM/Carlton Town supporter Sam Hodkin. After much musing over the travails of relegations and possible reprieves, which I’m sure had others around us nonplussed, we disembarked at the Broadheath Retail Park stop and after a minute’s walk, we arrived onto the grassy park, and barred off pitch area that serves as Broadheath Central’s home. As it seems obvious, there is pretty much nothing to the ground, though there is a slightly raised pathway/viewing area down the left hand touchline, under the trees. There is a coffee shop, signed at least (I’ve never seen it open) at the rear of the ground, and I am told there is a clubhouse on the other side of the old railway viaduct which lends its name to the ground and one was part of the Broadheath-Warrington railway, with the viaduct arches being one of the last remaining remnants of the line.

The coffee shop

The coffee shop

Raised area

Raised area

There are some further details of the line, if you are inclined or interested, here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadheath_(Altrincham)_railway_station

With not much else to speak of, and with kick-off delayed due to a late arrival/lack of players Sam and I headed off on a lap of the pitch before settling behind the “coffee shop end” goal. Luckily, some additional Sale players sprung up from nowhere and we were all set to get underway. Here is a brief history of Broadheath Central FC:

History Lesson:

Broadheath Central joined the Mid-Cheshire League in 1991, but a previous incarnation of a Broadheath side served as a forerunner to Altrincham FC, prior to 1903. The current side joined the Mid-Cheshire Division 2, winning the title in their first season. They remained in Division 1 for the next 5 seasons, before being relegated in 1997. A further tenure of four years were played in Division 2 until they were again promoted, again as winners, in 2001. Relegated again in 2004, they remained in the Division 2 until 2008, when they resigned from the league after finishing bottom of the, now named, Cheshire League Division 2.

The club resurfaced in the Altrincham & District AFL, where they have been an ever familiar name at the sharp end, winning the title on two occasions since their change of league, and finishing runners-up to AFC Quarry last season. This season, it’s the same two sides competing for the title, with Quarry leading the way, but Broadheath having a game in hand to go top.

Well, this game was something of a non-event. It was a good job that Sam was there to chat with about all manners of football grounds, games and cricket matters, and indeed it was something of a shock when a goal arrived a couple of minutes before the break, Broadheath’s #8 finishing off a cross at the back post. 1-0, and I guess it was deserved on balance.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Hoof

Hoof

After half time, it was a case of wasting time by having another couple of laps, whilst more nothing happened on the pitch bar a guy removing some dog waste, and the game, mercifully, ended with the score at 1-0. Oh, the Sale ‘keeper did make a good save, I can remember that, a low one-handed stop to his left. A really class save that would grace any ground or top game. Sadly, it took place in this one. If you don’t believe me and my account of the game, then just ask Sam. I’m sure he’ll try and blank it from his memory, but I’m sure he’ll back it up.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Waste removal

Waste removal

After the game, it was a planned walk back to the bus stop and a change at Stretford onwards to Valley Road for me. Of course, as you usually see, there was a group of teenagers with a ball and one standing on the bus stop roof. Why, I’m not quite sure. But each to their own, I guess. Luckily for me, it turned out my parents, who’d been out for the day just happened to be driving past, so I was offered a lift up to the ground directly, so I bid farewell to Sam, whose bus had just arrived, so it wasn’t being rude not offering one. Honest! The least said about the game the better, and in case you were wondering, the second half of NFV-Darwen was just as dull. It must be me. The curse remains….

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Man of the Match?…No idea who played. #8, just for the goal, can get it.

RATINGS:

Game: 2- Really dire, dire.

Ground: 3- Not a ground as such, just a park pitch with a bar around it.

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Fans: 2- I think fans can count just for people turning up. Or dogs.

Value For Money: 4- It wasn’t worth the journey money, really, but oh well.

Manchopper in….Kidderminster

Result: Kidderminster Harriers 0-1 Altrincham (FA Trophy 2nd Round)

Venue: Aggborough (Saturday 10th January 2015, 3.00pm)

Att: 1,204

After a passed pitch inspection at 10.30, it was approaching midday as I arrived at Manchester Piccadilly and walked along the bustling concourse looking for my connecting train onwards to Wolverhampton. Some confusion was caused as the train showed the destination as Exeter rather than the advertised Bristol, with even the train manager forgetting the line was shut for engineering works past Bristol, and that this was, indeed the terminus.

So, after that little mishap, we were on our way. I had grabbed a, not all that exclusive, plug socket to ensure my phone had a sufficient amount of juice for the day as I headed into the Midlands, passing Edgeley Park & the Britannia Stadium as the train continued to whizz through a mixture of green fields and towns on its way to the Black Country.

I arrived in said place at just after 1.30 and had a 15 minute wait for the one stop connection onwards to Smethwick Galton Bridge station. Happily the train rolled in 10 minutes early, which gave some welcome protection from the rather blustery conditions affecting the larger percentage of the country today. On arrival at SGB, I noticed that it was quite a task to find how to cross the tracks to get to the other side, Platform 1. It was this same task that a man with a suitcase was undertaking when he asked me how to do the exact thing I was trying to figure out. Luckily, I had just noticed a sign to a lift in the darkest corner of the maze-like station, so seemed the seasoned traveller.

After my new commuter friend had pulled down the “shithole” of a station, we got our way onto our required platform after figuring out that the “2” in the lift signified floor “1” and not floor 2 as there was no floor 2, as there was only two floors. Confused? I certainly was.

To be frank, I was rather relieved when I was able to leave the station, as it certainly hadn’t left me with the best impressions. After traveling onwards for a further 25-or-so minutes, and passing stations loaded with West Brom fans heading to the Hawthorns for their match with Hull City, I arrived in Kidderminster after a trouble free (!) journey. After hopping off the London Midland service, I crossed the footbridge and made my way towards the town & more importantly the floodlights, which were visible from the station.

Looking towards Kidderminster.

Looking towards Kidderminster.

After missing two clearly visible pubs (as I noted on my return journey),I made the decision that there wasn’t any in the near vicinity of the station or the railway museum and so, I tagged onto some people heading to the game who directed me through a modern housing estate to the ground, Aggborough. After climbing a slight incline, with the minster clearly visible to the rear, Aggborough  came up with little warning on the left hand side. After a few pictures were taken, I made my way around to the away end where I would spend the 90 minutes of action with the Altrincham fans.

Turnstile

Turnstile

Today's Game...

Today’s Game…

Kidderminster Harriers F.C.

Kidderminster Harriers F.C.

As I made my way through the turnstile for the away end terrace, there were around 30 minutes to kick-off for the FA Trophy tie between Altrincham & their hosts today, Kidderminster Harriers. But first, a little description of Aggborough itself, for the benefit of those with flash photography, sorry, I mean who haven’t visited there as of yet. Aggborough is made up of four stands, two seating, toow terraces. The seating stands run the length of the pitch with the terraces running the vast majority of the width of it. This is unsurprising, as a decade ago Harriers were plying their trade in the Football League. The Main Stand houses the hospitality area and has the ticket office and the adjoining Harriers Bar in the rear of it too. The opposite stand is the larger of the stands, however. All in all Aggborough has a capacity of 6,250 with 3,140 able to be seated.

The Main Stand

The Main Stand

The home terrace

The Home Terrace

The Visiting Terrace

The Visiting Terrace

History Lesson:

Formed in 1886 as a continuation of an existing athletics & rugby union football club, Kidderminster Harriers took on the mantle of football club as the “Kidderminster Harriers & Football Club” switched to association rules.

They won their first game, before entering into a local rivalry with start-up Kidderminster Olympic. Both sides were strong, and accused by others of professionalism and illegal payments. Before their merger in 1890, the two regularly attracted crowds of 2-4,000 with 7,000 turning out for local derby clashes.
Now known as Kidderminster FC, the new club joined the Midland League, but lasted only 12 months, despite reaching the FA Cup 1st Round. They lost 3-1 to Darwen, away. They complained about the pitch. Their complaint was upheld. They lost the replay 13-0. Ouch.

After being wound up in 1891, the club reformed as an amateur club in the Birmingham & District League under the name Kidderminster Harriers. However, it took the club until 1938 to win the league, whereupon the club made the switch to the Southern League, but played just two matches before WWII ended their campaign.

After the cessation of hostilities, the club re-joined the Southern League for 1948. In September of 1955, Harriers became the first club to host a floodlit FA Cup tie, Harriers winning a replay 4-2 over Brierley Hill Alliance. But, by the latter part of the decade, the club was once again in financial strife and voluntarily dropped back to the Birmingham League. During their time here (1960-’72, the club won many honours, in the shape of 4x West Midlands (Regional) League Titles (the current Birmingham League Name), including a hat-trick of titles between 1968 & 1970, and various County Cups on eight separate occasions. For 1972-’73, the club were back in the Southern League, in the newly created Division One North.

In 1983, Harriers were granted promotion to the Alliance (now Conference) after finishing runners-up to AP Leamington, who were denied their place due to ground grading issues. Throughout the ’70’s & ’80’s,Harriers were invited to compete in the Welsh Cup, despite never competing in Wales. They reached two finals but were defeated on both occasions, by Wrexham & Swansea City respectively.

In 1994, Harriers won the Conference National but were denied entry to the Football League, due to the FA’s increasingly stringent fire regulations, following the Valley Parade tragedy. This was due to Aggborough’s main stand being made primarily of wood. Despite a new Cantilever Stand being erected in time, the club had to spend another season, at least, in the non-league realm.

The Cantilever Stand

The Cantilever Stand

It wasn’t until 2000, in fact, that Harriers won the Conference again and take their place in the 92, as Jan Molby led them to the title. After a five year stay, the club were relegated back to the Conference where they remain to the present day. They have reached the 2006 FA trophy final (beaten by Stevenage Borough) and the 2013 play-offs, where they lost in the semi-finals to Wrexham after finishing as runners-up. Last season, Harriers continued their recent trend of narrowly missing out on a play-off place, as they finished in 7th position.

Honours:

Conference Champions: 1994, 2000
FA Trophy Winners: 1987
Birmingham & District League/West Midlands (Regional) League Champions: 6 times
Bob Lord Trophy Winners: 1997
Southern League Cup Winners: 1980
Worcestershire Senior Cup Winners: 25 times
Birmingham Senior Cup Winners: 7 times
Staffordshire Senior Cup Winners: 4 times
West Midland League Cup Winners: 7 times
Keys Cup Winners: 7 times
Border Counties Floodlit League Champions: 3 times
Camkin Floodlit Cup Winners: 3 times
Bass County Vase Winners: 1 times

Match programme.

Match programme.

Pre-match Handshake

Pre-match Handshake

Onto today’s game now, and both sides were given a good ovation by the sparse-ish crowd in attendance, with the travelling Altrincham contingent very vocal. The game got underway with both sides going for it. The pitch wasn’t great, but also wasn’t the horror show you could be lead to believe.
The deadlock was broken after 20 minutes, when Akwasi Asante, who was a threat all day turned sharply and fired a low effort which Stuart Coburn, in the Alty goal, saved comfortably. From his long kick downfield, Harriers debutant Nat Kelly, on loan from Birmingham City, got underneath the ball, missed it and Damien reeves showed his class as he drilled a holf-volley across Danny Lewis in the Harriers goal. A tremendous strike, which words don’t really give the credit to. 0-1.

Match Action

Match Action

Kiddy’s cause wasn’t helped when, 10 minutes before half-time, star man Marvin Johnson was forced from the field, injured. However, it looked as though Kiddy were going to go in level when Luca Havern was adjudged to have fouled Asante in the area. Penalty. Craig Reid stepped up, but blasted his kick high into the cheering Alty fans behind Coburn. He’ll feel he hit it too well. So 1-0 to the visitors it remained at the break, as I purchased Chicken Curry for 4.50 (complete with Poppadum) before receiving possibly some of the best news I’ll see all year, and we’re only 10 days in!

After devouring the tasty curry (Kiddy is well known for its culinary delights I’m told), the teams were back out for the second period. But, it was something akin to the Alamo, as Harriers battered away at the defences of Altrincham’s fortifications, but couldn’t find a way to break through; Another debutant, sub Keylon Reffell had an effort cleared off the line by Tom Marshall, a game of six-yard box pinball was conducted and Coburn denied Asante with a smart stop. It looked a matter of time before Kiddy would draw level.

Match Action

Match Action

But veteran gloveman Coburn had other ideas as he pulled off a hat-trick of fine saves, twice denying the ever dangerous Reffell and also full-back Kevin Nicholson, whose 20-yard driven free-kick looked destined for the top corner before Coburn clawed it away. As the referee added on an extra five minutes, the home fans became expectant, but Altrincham stayed composed in defence to see off the siege and advance to round three and a meeting with Bath City (away). They would be somewhat indebted to Stuart Coburn, however, who put in a top-class performance & celebrated with his customary fist pump to the traveling band of 136 loyal Robins fans.

The Coburn fist pump. Blurry, but it is I swear

The Coburn fist pump. Blurry, but it is I swear

The Harriers Arms

The Harriers Arms

I exited the now darkened Kidderminster via a quick stop in the Harriers Arms to catch up on the final scores, before undertaking the 10-minute walk back to the station. I got there just as the train rolled in and was soon back to GSB (oh, joy). After 15 minutes and a quick hop back to Wolverhampton, I was back on board a Virgin Trains service to Warrington Bank Quay where, upon arrival I crossed the town to Central Station, and the train home. Another good day out, and thanks tot he reduced admission prices, a fairly cheaper one than it would have been usually. Now, onto planning my next “long distance” trip. I may just require a Bath…

KHFC

KHFC

My Kidderminster Harriers M.o.M.- Akwasi Asante

My Altrincham M.o.M.- Stuart Coburn

RATINGS:

Game: 7- A good, entertaining contest. Surprised there was only one goal, but lots of action.

Ground: 7- A smart ground, which retains character, and is set out well.

Programme: 6- A cut down issue of “The Harrier”, £2, so lacking in content I presume. Still a good read though.

Fans: 7- Got behind the team vocally from the terrace when their side was attacking their end 2nd half.

Food: 8- Good tasting and portion size. Like the added poppadum bonus!

Value For Money: 8- Take out the £27 train fare, and it wasn’t at all bad!

Manchopper in….Altrincham

Altrincham_CrestNew180px-Macclesfield_Town_FC.svg

Result: Altrincham 1-0 Macclesfield Town (FA Carlsberg Trophy First Round)

Venue: The J Davidson Stadium (Moss Lane) (Saturday 13th December 2014, 3.00pm)

Att: 1,276

As soon as the draw for the FA Trophy’s first “proper round” had been made and the balls pulled out of the bowl at HQ, one game stood out for me, and made my decision for which FA Trophy tie to attend all the easier. Altrincham had been drawn out at home to their fierce rivals, Macclesfield Town, in what was to be their second meeting this season, following on from the league fixture, also at J Davidson Stadium, which was settled by James Lawrie’s late, late strike to secure the hosts a vital 1-0 win.

This game was to feature many parallels with that previous clash, and as I set off towards Altrincham on the 245, Arriva, service. On arrival at the shiny, new Altrincham Interchange, the transport hub of the town, I hopped off whereupon I could hear singing coming from somewhere nearby. I had already chosen my first stop, The Station Hotel, which stands opposite the Interchange. As I opened the door, I was hit with the same wall of noise,  which quickly became apparent was being made by a rowdy bunch of Silkmen followers, though their cause wasn’t helped by the “Frozen” shopping bag on the floor.
Having ordered a pint of Strongbow (just £2), I remained near them to listen to their array of songs, including honouring Matthew Tipton, manager John Askey and just what they thought of Alty as well as a few songs about past events…

The Station Hotel

The Station Hotel

The Station Hotel

The Station Hotel

After a while, they made their move and headed for the ground, so I remained in there as the fallout began amongst the Alty residents. With 30 minutes remaining until the stroke of three-o’clock and kick-off, I decided to undertake the short walk, 10 minutes or so, to Moss Lane. To do so, you head up a small alley at the bus station, over the bridge, past the Tesco & Ice Rink, home of the Manchester Phoenix Ice Hockey Team, and down Moss Lane itself. Soon enough, the ground looms into view with a turnstile immediately awaiting you. It was here that I parted with £14 for the terraced areas, and entered inside.
It’s a wonder it has taken me so long to do a blog on the Robins, considering how I’ve been a rather regular visitor to their ground. This should have been done on the play-off final (vs Guiseley) that resulted in their promotion via Greg Wilkinson’s last-gasp strike, with his first touch. So much for being a specialist penalty taker!!

Turnstile I used for the game

Turnstile I used for the game

After a further £2.50 was relieved from my wallet as I purchased my copy of “Robins Review”, which is always a good read, and well worth the price. From here, I made my way in front of the covered standing terrace which runs the length of the goal-end that you enter behind, if you come in by this turnstile. It was here that a wayward warm-up shot hit a step in front of me and rebounded towards me. Once I had the ball under control, I looked up to see the legendary Efe Sodje, who competed for Nigeria in the 2002 World Cup awaiting the return of said ball. It’s the first time I can think of that this has happened! What a start to the day!

The near-end Terrace

The near-end Terrace

I continued to the far side of the ground, where the fairly strange looking covered terrace runs the vast majority of the pitch. It’s strange looking, as its roof goes up and down, due to the TV gantry being housed in the middle of it, where the cameras and radio press are housed. Opposite this is the Main Stand, all seated and covered and, to the left, the Family Stand, which is a small covered seating area which also houses hospitality areas. To the left is the brand new Community Sports Hall, which will be open by time of publish. Behind the far end goal is the “Carole Nash Terrace” which is usually employed as the visiting area, and today was no different. So, now seems like the best time, as usual, to delve into the history of Altrincham F.C.

The "up and down" Terrace

The “up and down” Terrace

Family Stand

Family Stand

The Main Stand

The Main Stand

History Lesson:

Formed in 1891, Altrincham Football Club have gone on to be one of the most successful non-league clubs of all-time and, arguably, the most successful never to play League Football.
They competed, with little in terms of success, in the Cheshire League for the vast majority of their early existence until the 1960’s when Jackie Swindells somehow managed to net 82 goals in 63 games to take Altrincham to their first title in 1966 which was followed by a successful defence the next season. In 1968, Altrincham joined the Northern Premier League (NPL) as founder members.
After 11 seasons, the Robins joined the new Alliance Premier League (now Conference), winning the first two titles. Despite this, due to the election system then employed by the Football League, the club failed to reach that level and, to date, never have.
In 1985-’86, Altrincham reached the 4th Round of the FA Cup, the furthest they’ve progressed in the competition. They have had many other cup runs and have earned a reputation as famed “giant-killers” throughout the country along with their conquerors this season, Blyth Spartans.
In 1997, Alty were relegated to the NPL, the first time in their history they dropped out of the “top-flight” league. They began somewhat of a yo-yo existence, winning the title two years later, only to last a single season back in the Conference before returning to the Unibond League. In the meantime, the club achieved a required position to be placed in the new “regionalised” Conference leagues. As such, it took Alty a further five years to once again achieve promotion from their relegation, which they achieved via the play-offs when they defeated Southern side Eastbourne Borough in the North vs South final.
From here is where Altrincham’s somewhat legendary reprieves kicked in. After being reprieved from relegation three times in as many seasons as other teams faltered and folded, the club were awarded a fourth straight reprieve in farcical circumstances. The Robins finished 18th, out of the drop zone, but it was discovered that an ineligible player had “earned them” 18 points. As a result, they were deducted that amount and thus relegated.
This wasn’t the end of the story, though, as Canvey Island resigned and Scarborough F.C. folded to ensure Altrincham remained a Conference side once again! The next two seasons saw on-field improvement with the club posting respectable mid-table finishes, before the struggles returned and they were finally relegated at the end of the 2010-11 season, which had cost long-term boss Graham Heathcote his job. Had Altrincham finished one place above their 22nd position, they would have again been reprieved due to the demise of Rushden & Diamonds. But, it was finally the time for the dreaded drop door to claim them.
**Interesting trivia. Former Australian cricket captain, the legendary Ricky Ponting, became a major shareholder of the club, having become good friends with then-chairman Geoff Goodwin whose coach firm,
Go-Goodwins, has the contract to transport the ECB and the tourist teams during the English summer.**

Honours:

Alliance Premier League Champions: 1979–80, 1980–81
Conference North: North/South playoff winners: 2004–05
Promotion Final winners: 2013–14
Northern Premier League Champions: 1998–99
Cheshire County League Champions: 1965–66, 1966–67
Manchester League Winners: 1904–05, 1906–07
FA Trophy Winners: 1977–78, 1985–86
Northern Premier League Challenge Shield Winners: 1979–80
Northern Premier League Challenge Cup Winners: 1969–70, 1997–98
Cheshire Amateur Cup Winners: 1903–04
Cheshire Senior Cup Winners: 1904–05, 1933–34, 1966–67, 1981–82, 1998–99, 2004–05, 2008–09
Bob Lord Trophy Winners: 1980–81
Cheshire League Cup Winners: 1932–33, 1950–51, 1963–64.

Sun shining over Moss Lane

Sun shining over Moss Lane

Onto today’s game now, and it began with a bang. On just two minutes Alty won the ball in the midfield and quickly worked the ball into Damian Reeves. Reeves, who is as deadly a marksman as you’ll find, turned on a penny, ran through the Macc Town defence and fired high into the roof of Richie Branagan’s net. 1-0.
It promised much to warm the cockles on a chilly day. Alas, there was very little in terms of goalmouth action for the remainder of the half, with only Ryan Crowther spurning two decent positions, before being forced off with an apparent hamstring issue. Macc began to come into the game after the opening half-hour, but despite Arthur Gnahouha looking relatively dangerous, they rarely threatened Dave Parton in the home goal, although he did make a fantastic claim of a long ball into his area.
At half-time I headed for some food at the food bar located just to the left of the turnstile I entered by. I envisaged that the food would get me through half-time, but in fact it was the queuing that did. I think this is an issue that perhaps will be addressed in the future, as I think the ground could do with one more refreshment area, as it struggled horribly to cope in the play-off final, and clearly demand is high. Obviously, it all comes down to cost but I think it could help, though I would think the new clubhouse/community hall will ease the strain a fair amount. The current bar, under the main stand will probably become surplus to requirements now, I presume?

The new Community Centre

The new Community Centre

Food Hut in the home end

Food Hut in the home end

Second half, and with chips and gravy (which is wonderful as usual) being devoured, the game again remained cagey and rather devoid of overall innovation to light up the event. Macc were to be dealt a huge blow to their chances when sub Danny Whitaker, who had been on the field for no more than 15 minutes, was given his marching orders for denying a goal-scoring opportunity. Or, in lay-man’s terms, the last man. I have since seen it back and agree with a Silkmen fan’s comment I heard on my way out of the ground “It was a shocking decision. He was never the last man!”. It really was a bad call, but you only get one chance to call it as a ref, but it ought to have only been a yellow.
Down to 10, Macc gave it a go but still struggled to create and were almost killed off when Tom Marshall’s innovative effort smacked the bar, following a left wing corner. Macc applied late pressure, with sub Matthew Barnes-Homer giving some decent forward momentum to their play but despite getting into decent positions, a combination of good defending & poor finishing ensured Alty’s progression to the next round (Kidderminster Harriers away). In fact Parton, in the Robins goal, didn’t have a gave to make all game as Town failed to muster an effort on target.
So, with the home fans going home happy, I headed to the neighbouring King George pub, which had “Soccer Saturday” on and a small dog roaming around the bar area. After nursing a Kopparberg for half an hour and watching the early stages of Arsenal vs Newcastle, I made my way back towards Altrincham Town Centre and past the away end, which I’d previously neglected to see from the outside. Sad I know.

The King George

The King George

The King George

The King George

Back at the Interchange after a great day.

Back at the Interchange after a great day.

So, my day came to an end back at where it had begun, he interchange, which is rather more brighter and smarter than its predecessor. Another thoroughly enjoyable day at a great club I always enjoy watching. Thanks to them and their staff for their friendly service and, of course, it won’t be ling until I am back.

My Altrincham M.o.M.- Sean Williams
My Macclesfield Town M.o.M.- Scott Barrow

RATINGS:
Game: 5- It was a dull affair for the neutral.
Ground: 7- A ground I always like, pitch immaculate too.
Programme: 8- A good read, as I said earlier. Well worth a purchase.
Fans: 8- Always vocal, and get behind their side at the moment. Though I’ve only ever seen them lose once (at Barnet).
Food: 9- Always good food at Alty, well worth getting some. Chips & gravy was £2.50 for a decent portion.
Value For Money: 6- Just on the basis the game was rather poor.
Referee: 5- Terrible decision for the red card.