Manchopper in….Atherton (Atherton Town FC)

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Result: Atherton Town 4-2 St. Helen’s Town (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Butler Park (Tuesday 2nd August 2016, 7.15pm)

Att: 45 (approx.)

As the clock ticks down to the competitive season getting underway, so it means that the pre-season friendlies come to an end and the teams should know their best line-ups. As such, this Tuesday evening signals the end to my pre-season programme too, with a return visit to Atherton Town’s Butler Park. Town were to be facing a St. Helen’s Town XI, with the Saints also sending a side up to Hesketh Bank on the same evening.

As for me, I set off at around 5pm, with the plan being having around an hour in Atherton prior to the game. Alas, the Greater Manchester public transport system was having none of that and having had two delays of over 25 minutes each, it was something of a relief to actually just arrive into Leigh at just before seven and be just a short bus route up to the ground. Unfortunately, this too went wrong with my Maps waypoint apparently being off and meaning I got off far too early and was now faced with a walk up to Howe Bridge Leisure Centre. Oh, the fun.

Finally...

Finally…

Welcome

Welcome

I eventually arrived at the entrance to Butler Park just as the referee’s shrill whistle signalled the beginning of the game and after passing underneath the “Atherton Town sign and past the food bar, I was through the entrance gap in the perimeter wall and into Butler Park. Atherton Town’s home is probably one of the better grounds in the Manchester League, i.e. it is fully enclosed and has a small amount of hard standing around the pitch. There is also a small bike hutch which serves as a stand.

History Lesson:

Slightly truncated due to a distinct lack of easy to fins information, Atherton Town have a fairly long history in the Manchester League winning the Division 1 in 1993 and achieving promotion. They remained in the Premier Division until 2011 when they were relegated back to the Division 1, but this return to the lower echelon was a short one with Town returning to the Premier Division in 2014, as runners-up, after a three-year stint. They have been a lower half side during their current stay in the top-tier, with finishes of 13th & 14th (out of 16).

ATFC

ATFC

Food Bar

Food Bar

With the game already in its early stages and horses once more looking on through the gate from the adjoining fields, it didn’t take long for the first goal to be scored and it was the visitors who struck. A good through ball allowed Matt Davidson to be free from the defence and he rounded the stranded goalkeeper to slot into the empty net. 0-1.

St. Helen’s were dominating the early clashes, going close on a further pair of occasions, forcing the home custodian into a couple of saves but Atherton did begin to grow into the game as the half progressed and looked dangerous on the break, but were wasteful when it came to getting a shot away. Half-Time arrived and it was off for a hot-dog which, at just £1 was great value especially when it was decided to put two on the roll. Great stuff!

Going up

Going up

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Hot-dog done and it was back outside and to Butler Park for the second half. If Atherton were guilty of being slightly on the iffy side in front of goal during the first half, then Connor Critchley was certainly putting that right during the first minutes of the second. First, he picked up the ball 20-odd yards out before hitting a fine effort into the top right corner, before repeating the trick moments later, this time rifling a low effort into the bottom corner of the same side. Game changer!

The youthful-looking St.Helen’s side were on the ropes a little through the first half-hour of the second period and weren’t providing too much of a threat going forward, but they did level with around 15 minutes to go, when a corner was only half-cleared and the resulting cross was tapped in from close range by Saints #3 Dean Curtis.  But, parity was short-lived as Critchley completed his hat-trick almost immediately from the restart, nipping in when there seemed minimal danger, as I pretty much missed it, only seeing the ball hitting the net.

The Bike Shed

The Bike Shed

At Close Quarters

At Close Quarters

Match Action

Match Action

A fourth Atherton goal was added shortly afterwards. Tom Armstrong beat the Saints ‘keeper Liam Bowyer for the ball, which allowed him to tap the ball over the line for the final goal of the evening, though it could have been five late on, were it not for a fine stop by Bowyer. So, full-time arrived with Atherton Town coming out on top in what was a highly entertaining contest.

So, it was back off for the buses and hoping that they’d be kinder to me on the return leg than they were on the outbound journey. The first, short hop into Atherton was fine and the one back into Eccles arrived pretty much on time so all looked good and pretty easy. But, this wasn’t taking into account the pure and absolute snails pace that this driver wanted to drive at and as the minutes ticked on, it looked less and less likely I’d arrive on time for my final connection and be left stranded. Brilliant…

Dogs like football...

Dogs like football…

Horses watching the game at Atherton Town

…and so do horses (they were here last time too!)

Yes! I thought, as I arrived into Eccles with a couple of minutes to spare only to once more trust the Maps on my phone which was an error with almost awful circumstances. The thing told me to go down this innocuous side road, which I did, but this looked less and less like the roads I imagined. Indeed, as I rounded the corner and over a bridge, I found myself faced with the M602 which definitely wasn’t where I should have been. By now, I was 5 minutes late and resigned to my fate and chuntering all the way back to the town centre (which I navigated to myself, shock horror), I came upon the bus stop only to find my bus rocking up late for a shockingly positive late arrival. Public Transport, don’t you just love it?…

Closing Thoughts:- Atherton Town looked a solid team, under new management, and look set for a decent season. St. Helen’s, of course, were a mixed side so I’m not really going to judge on them just yet. And buses are still sh*t.

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RATINGS:

Game: 8- Really entertaining watch, end-to-end with regular chances and a few goals.

Ground: 5- Simple ground, not too much to speak of, though the food bar is smart.

Food: 6- Normal hot-dog, cheap with extra point for the double up!

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 9- £6.20 all evening. Can’t complain with that, can you?

 

The 2014-’15 Manchopper Awards

So, after a season consisting of 106 games, spanning 11 months and taking in grounds in all manner of places and surroundings within three countries and at all levels, it’s time the honour the best, the worst, the weird and the wonderful of my travels over the past season.

From Croston to Crewe, whether on the pitch or off it, there has certainly been some memorable moments and characters & both new and old friends have been made/re-acquainted during my ventures and the awards celebrate the most brilliant, or otherwise, of all the experiences & escapades that have occurred. So without further ado, Ladies & Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, the very best of Season 2014-’15, Manchopper Style……

The “West Didsbury & Chorlton & Atherton Town” Best Animal Seen Escape In Order To Watch A Game Award:

Winner: The Howe Bridge Horses

Unsurprisingly given the title of this award, there was only one nominee and one result only, just like a FIFA Presidential election involving Sepp Blatter. Congratulations to the horses who escaped and decided to watch over a wall and through a gate. They were left disappointed, I’d presume.

Horses watching the game at Atherton Town

Horses watching the game at Atherton Town

The drunken escapade of the season, sponsored by #lostboyos:

The Nominees: Me at Morecambe & Me At Glan Conwy.

Winner: Me at Glan Conwy

Well, what can I say. After making a horrible mess of a bag at the hands of a Sambuca-fuelled Eagle Sports, I somehow managed to get home after being on the phone to keep myself awake, or I’d have been stranded in Warrington. I parted company with my sunglasses somewhere in the vicinity of Sankey Platform 1. I’ve not been the same since…

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The  “Non League Review” best away day of the season:

The Nominees: Barnet, Maine Road, Mottram Hall.

Winner: Barnet

Yes, Barnet was a clear winner of this award. After watching Barnet smash Altrincham for five at the Hive, Stew organised the first, and so far only, NLR Whistle Stop Tour. I was shown all the sights of London, before having some Chinese in A Box. Top day.

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Strangest Venue Of The Season:

The Nominees: Mottram Hall, Gresty Road (NI vs Qatar), Old Trafford (Portugal vs Argentina)

Winner: Mottram Hall.

For as strange as Gresty Road hosting a home international for scheduled 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar was, as well as Old Trafford hosting Argentina vs Portugal, the Messi vs Ronaldo 45-minute non-event, a game in the grounds of the 5* Cheshire hotel, Mottram Hall, tops all. Not to mention that it featured Romanian side Dinamo Bucharest, who were being entertained by none other than Cheadle Town.

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Most Memorable Day of The Season:

The Nominees: Glan Conwy, Barnet, Northern Ireland vs Qatar

Winner: Northern Ireland vs Qatar

An award for the fixture that has made a late entry into the gongs. All the fans, atmosphere & the day in general, and causing trouble whilst agreeing….

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The “Where Do Vics Play?” Award, Sponsored by Football Spoon:

The Nominees: Football Spoon telling me how to pronounce Glasshoughton correctly as to avoid being lynched, Football Spoon laughing at my misfortune at Newcastle Town & Football Spoon informing Trafford FC’s Twitter account of the presence of Northwich Victoria at Valley Road, Flixton.

Winner: Football Spoon helping Trafford to locate clubs in Flixton.

Yes, after Trafford’s account had said it was only Northwich Flixton Villa who played at Valley Road, the Spoon politely informed them of the presence of Vics and also helped remind them they’d played against them a year earlier. He was subsequently blocked. Nice.

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The Matt Harrison Craziest Character of the Season Award:

The Nominees: Neville and er….well no, one beats that!

Winner: Neville.

What can you say about Nev. An absolute legend and one that will live long in the memory of all of us who met him at Chapel-en-le-Frith two weeks before the end of the season. Matt has the knack of attracting these weird and wonderful folk, and he didn’t disappoint on this occasion! Neville. What a hero.

The Manchopper Craziest Team of the Season Award:

The Nominees: Eagle Sports…..And that’s it.

Winner: Eagle Sports.

As I said earlier, the club changed me on that day in Conwy, and it was damn crazy on the whole. Tbh, they’re not completely nuts, per se, but when the alcohol appears, specifically the Sambucca, everything changes. Maybe that’s just my drink-ruined mind talking, though.

Eagle Sports

Best Fans:

The Nominees: FC United, Salford City, Hemel Hempstead Town, Morecambe, Bury u18’s.

Winners: Hemel Hempstead Town.

Yes, The Tudors’ backing were the best I’ve come across this season. I saw them on two occasions, in the FA Cup, and on both occasions they were outstanding. Hemel take this award. King Henry VIII would be very proud.

Okay, onto on pitch matters now, and the best and not so good achievements on the field of play…Remember, this is only teams I’ve seen, so please no threatening messages or abuse, or I’ll send Alan Shearer round with Newcastle tickets. You’ve been warned….

The Hemel Fans complete with drummer

The Hemel Fans complete with drummer

Hemel at Bury

Hemel at Bury

Team Performance of the Season:

The Nominees: Llandridnod Wells (vs Flint), Penlake (vs Golborne), Wythenshawe Town (vs West Dids Res), Chapel Town (vs Walshaw Sports), Altrincham (vs Macclesfield)

Winner: Penlake

In the relegation spots at 3pm, Penlake had to win. They comfortably did so, disposing of Golborne Sports by 9-0, with striker Alex Grisedale netting five times on his way to finishing top scorer. Staying up in style.

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Penlake

Individual Performance of the Season:

The Nominees: Alex Grisedale (Penlake), Craig Ellison (Congleton Town), Chris Venables (Aberystwyth Town), Nathan Tyson (Doncaster Rovers), Javi Ramos (Atletico Benamiel)

Winner: Alex Grisedale

Despite the feats of all the above, you can’t ignore someone scoring five in a game to keep his side up, even if he was playing against a depleted side.

Grisedale (#9) in front of shot.

Grisedale (#9) in front of shot.

Best Game of the Season:

The Nominees: Stockport Sports vs Selby Town, Greenalls PSO vs Eagle Sports, Chapel Town vs Walshaw Sports, Droylsden vs Salford City, Northwich Flixton Villa vs Atherton Collieries.

Winner: Northwich Flixton Villa vs Atherton Collieries.

This one just pips Stockport vs Selby to the title, mostly because Stockport no longer exists and the game ended up in a replay after a 5-5 draw anyway. NFV, meanwhile, ended Atherton’s winning run in the league in quite unbelievable circumstances, winning 3-2 after previously being minnows in the league. They remained only mid table, but this was their finest hour.

Goal Of The Season:

The Nominees: The Athletic Fuengirola player (shot from half-way), James Lawrie (Altrincham vs Macclesfield), Joe Clark (Wrexham vs Torquay), Shane Kelsey (1st goal, Shaw Lane vs Glasshoughton), Gaz Meredith (Altrincham Res vs Irlam Res)

Winner: Joe Clark.

Wrexham skipper Joe Clark’s opener in the FA Trophy Semi-Final 1st Leg is well worthy of the award. His 25 yard strike was put into the top corner in a gap the size of a postage stamp. Or, more precisely, a ball. Either way, it was a superb goal, and pips Meredith’s super hit.

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Ground Of The Season:

The Nominees: Cefn Druids’ The Rock, Runcorn Town’s Pavilions, Glossop North End’s Surrey Street, Squires Gate’s School Lane, Wrexham’s The Racecourse Ground.

Winner: Cefn Druids.

For pure backdrop and name alone it has to be the Rock. A nice clubhouse also features highly in my memories of the ground in Cefn Mawr. If you Smel…elllllll…ellll..el what The Rock is Cooking!

The Rock.

The Rock.

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Most Improved Club (primarily facilities)

The Nominees: Salford City, Wythenshawe Town, Chadderton.

Winner: Salford City.

Yes, the overall appearance and look of the club has changed massively since the “Class of 92″‘s well publicised take over of the club last summer. In my opinion, this is very much for the better, and the benefit of non-league football in general. It adds a bit of something different, as the likes of Darlington and Halifax and FC United do, for differing reasons. So, for me, Salford are well deserving of this.

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Moor Lane

Moor Lane

The Manchopper Team of The Season:

The Nominees: Wythenshawe Town, FC United, Glossop North End, Barnet, Rochdale.

Winner: Wythenshawe Town. (Glossop semi-pro award)

As much as you could argue that with the standard of players in comparison it wasn’t as difficult as others, in the case of Wythy, to go a whole season winning every game is some feat. In all competitions, lest we forget. A massive shout for Glossop too, who’s season was quite brilliant. I can’t split the two, really, considering the differing levels in which they play, so both sides can win an award here. If you like, Glossop win the “semi-pro” Team of the Season & Wythenshawe the Amateur award

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Greg Hall, a vital component of Glossop's campaign.

Greg Hall, a vital component of Glossop’s campaign.

GNE Huddle

GNE Huddle