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

Manchopper in…Barnet

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Result: Barnet 5-0 Altrincham (Vanarama Conference)
Venue: The Hive (Saturday 20th September 2014, 3.00pm)
Att: 1,516

Barnet had been a target of mine ever since the fixtures had first been announced back in the summer, and with my most local premier non-league side, Altrincham, now plying their trade, once again, in the Conference National, what better excuse than to make the trip down I figured.

After “Non-League Review” had stated their intention to also travel down to see the Robins in what was looking increasingly likely to be their toughest challenge all season, I made up my mind & committed myself to the trip down to London. After a quick exchange of info with NLR, I had purchased my tickets on the way to FC United’s FA Cup tie versus Prescot Cables, and had a week to wait until the journey down south.

The day did eventually arrive, and after making the short trip into Manchester Piccadilly, I hopped onto the 10.35 Virgin Pendolino service to London Euston for the 2hr 40m ride. After passing through such exotic locations as Stoke-on-Trent, Watford & Milton Keynes & Wembley Stadium, the train was soon pulling into Euston Station right on time.

I had been informed by NLR that they were awaiting my arrival in the nearby pub by the name of The Doric Arch, which was decked out in old railway memorabilia and the like. After a £5 Kopparberg in there, and a quick phone charge, the news was re-laid to me that the Underground line which takes you to just around the corner from the ground was closed, so a detour to Edgware had to be undertaken.

After a 20 minute or so trip on the tube up to Edgware, we exited the station on a supposed 1.1 mile walk to the ground. However, and I’m sure NLR will agree, there was no way it was 1.1 mile. It just went on & on & on, with the floodlights disappearing for a fair while, until a flash of tangerine as we exited upon a road junction gave away the ground’s hidden location.

A-hive-ing. Sorry.

Barnet’s new ground was a hive of activity…sorry. The Hive, the ground which replaced their old, sadly now defunct (as I understand), Underhill home is mighty impressive as is the rather large football complex which surrounds it.
As NLR made a rushed exit to join the “Radio Robins” crew situated in the stand, I purchased a glossy programme for £3, before doing a 180 degree tour of the ground to get round to the away end, where I joined an eventual 90-strong travelling contingent. After parting with a further £17 for entry, I took my place in the covered terracing behind the goal to the right of the ground. Behind the opposite goal is an identical covered terrace with both sides featuring seating stands. To the left of my position was the press & distinguished guests stand which featured a fair amount of seating, and is accompanied by the dugouts and changing rooms etc. the latter of which are tucked away inside it near the corner flag, but it is nothing like the one facing it size-wise, which is rather impressive. The Hive has a current capacity of 5,100 of which 3,500 of those can be seated.

History Lesson:

Barnet F.C. were founded in 1882 as Woodville FC before changing to New Barnet FC in 1885 & finally to Barnet FC in 1888. Originally, the club played in New Barnet, before moving to Ravenscroft Park in Queens Road in 1889. They began playing friendlies only, before becoming inaugural members of the North London League in 1892. They went on to join the North Middlesex League, being promoted as runners-up in Divisions 2 and 1 in consecutive seasons before winning the Premier Division at the first attempt in 1896-’97. They then won the London League Division 2 at the first attempt after being promoted the next season, but ceased to play in 1901. The current club traces its roots back to Barnet Avenue & Alston Works, the two clubs who amalgamated to form the current Barnet FC. Initially after joining together, they competed as Barnet & Alston FC in the Athenian League, before taking the current name in 1919.

During their time in the Athenian League (1919-’65) Barnet lifted seven championships, and in the immediate period after WWII, the club won the FA Amateur Cup and London Senior Cup twice. They also featured in the first televised football match on the BBC at Underhill. There was 20 minutes of the first & 35 of the second halves filmed, before it became too dark! The next year, the club played host to Sing Tao Sports Club, from Hong Kong, who were the first Chinese Club to play in England (though with HK being a British dependency at the time, does this count?). Anyway, Barnet triumphed over the HK Champions 5-3.

In 1965, the club reached the third round of the FA Cup for the first time, entertaining the previous year’s runners-up Preston North End, only going down to a last minute own goal. 1965 saw the club turn semi-pro after being amateur throughout their previous history and the club went on to win the Southern League Division 1. They achieved promotion to the Southern League Premieras a result, and the following year, Barnet reached the semi-final of the FA Trophy, losing out to Macclesfield Town. The club also equalled the FA Cup record for a non-league club win over a league club by beating Newport County 6-1 the following season.

Main Stand

In 1971-’72, the club were defeated at Wembley in the FA Trophy final,3-0 by Stafford Rangers and won the Southern League Cup, after a replay versus Hereford United was won on penalties. 1975 saw the club relegated back to the Southern League Division 1 South, but bounced back two seasons later as winners. During this period, Jimmy Greaves played for the club.

By virtue of their finishing positions in the 1977-’78 & ’78-’79 seasons, the club were awarded a place in the newly formed Alliance Premier League. In 1986, after years of mostly struggling, the club finished runners-up in the League, now renamed the Football Conference. After again finishing runners-up for the next two seasons, the club then faded into mid-table the next season but did lift the League Cup by beating Hyde United on penalties, before in ’89-’90, the club again suffered disappointment as Darlington pipped them to promotion. But in 1990-’91, The Bees beat Fisher Athletic on the last day to finally secure promotion to the Football League’s Fourth Division.

I their first season, the club reached the play-offs, losing to Blackpool, and finished third the following season in the new Division 3, thus being promoted to Division 2, but they were immediately relegated. But, after two more play-off places, the club were relegated in 2001 after finishing bottom, returning to the Conference after a decade. After missing out in the play-offs to Shrewsbury Town in 2003-’04, the club lifted the title the following year.

After a period of mid-table finishes and relegation survival, the club survived on the last day of the 2010-’11 season by beating Port Vale 1-0, thus relegating Lincoln City. The following season, the club beat Burton Albion on the last day, thus achieving a hat-trick of final day survivals, but in 2012-’13, and under ex-Netherlands international Edgar Davids, the club were finally bumped back down to the Conference from League 2.

Halfway through last season, Davids, or “sir”, tendered his resignation after being told there was the possibility of more northern game probably, but the club still attained a highly respectable 8th place finish.
Honours:
1x North Middlesex League Division 2 Title (1894-’95)
1x North Middlesex League Premier Division Title (1903-’04) as Barnet Avenue.
1x London League Division Two Title (1897-’98)
1x London League Division One Title (1906-’07) as Barnet Alston Works.
1x Chiswick League Title (1907-’08) as Barnet Avenue
1x Middlesex County Amateur League Title (1910-’11) as Barnet Avenue
7x Athenian League Titles (1930-’31, ’31-’32, ’46-’47, ’47-’48, ’58-’59, ’63-’64, ’64-’65.
3x London Senior Cups (1937-’38, ’40-’41, ’46-’47)
3x London Charity Cups (1946-’47, ’59-’60, ’62-’63 shared)
24x Hertfordshire Senior Cups (between 1908 & 1965)
19x Hertfordshire Senior Challenge Cups (between 1940 & 2011)
2x Hertfordshire Charity Shields (1930 & ’31)
2x Middlesex Senior Cup (1932 & ’33)
2x Middlesex Charity Cups (1925 & ’27)
1x Hertfordshire & Middlesex League Cup (1945)
2x Channel Islands Victory Cups (1939 & 1947)
1x John Guin Cup (Luxembourg) (1962)
1x Will Mather Cup (1947)
1x Alloway Brothers Memorial Trophy (1960)
1x Westminster Hopsital Cup (1964)
Professional:
2x Football Conference Titles (1990-’91 & 2004-’05)
1x Conference League Cup (1989)
1x Southern League Division One Title (1965-’66), SOUTH: (1976-’77)
1x Southern League Cup (1971-’72)
7x Hertfordshire Senior Cups (between 1985-’86 & 2010-’11)
6x Micky Mays Memorial Trophies (between 1978 & 1985)
1x FA Trophy Runners-Up (1971-’72)

The game began in cloudy, overcast conditions with the sides relatively evenly matched in the opening stages, but once Spaniard Luisma Villa had opened the scoring on 13 minutes with a half-volley the ‘keeper will feel he should’ve done better with, the Bees never looked back.

Match Action

After Villa had come close to doubling his tally, the John Akinde show took centre stage. The big forward firstly won himself a penalty after colliding with Altrincham goalkeeper Dave Parton inside the box. Clear penalty. After Parton had received treatment for the blow to the head, Akinde stepped up to rifle the ball low into the corner. 2-0.

Parton’s day was over immediately afterwards, as he was subbed with apparent concussion. Veteran gloveman Stuart Coburn replaced him between the sticks but was helpless just before the break when Adam Mekki was tripped in the area, rather rashly, by Scott Leather and Akinde cooly sent him the wrong way. If this was bad, then it was to get worse in the first minute of stoppage time as Akinde completed a deadly first half hat-trick. The Barnet number 9 picked the ball up with his back to goal around the penalty spot, before turning on a dime and rifling into the roof of the net. A superb finish. 4-0. Game well & truly over.

At half-time, I headed round to the away supporters bar, situated in the back of the larger stand, and then to the neighbouring food bar where I purchased a rather large (and very tasty) Cheeseburger for £3.50. Upon returning to the terrace, the game was about to resume, with Alty just hoping at this point to avoid a cricket score, after offering little going forward in the first period.

Match Action

Big Bondz N’Gala, who’s physical appearance is some sight, was brought off at the break, probably down to him being booked and was soon followed by Akinde, who was given a rapturous ovation from the home support. The away fans weren’t quite as fond, accusing him of catching Parton deliberately to win the penalty. For me, that was a bit harsh.
Sam Hoskins, who’d been signed just prior to the game from Yeovil Town, came on & proceeded to pick up where Akinde left off by netting with his first touch for hi new club, turning and firing low past Coburn. 5-0 and still 40 minutes to be played.

Soon after Villa had struck a free-kick onto the post, the game settled down, with Barnet taking no risks in keeping their clean sheet. But it almost went when Damien Reeves had a great chance to pull a consolation back for the Robins but was kept out by a superb save from veteran ‘keeper Graham Stack. He had a further chance a little later, but again failed to find the finish as Barnet saw out the game comfortable enough to register another victory and retain their table-topping position.

After the game, I briefly headed into the Hive Bar in the press stand, where I saw a Football Manager legend of mine, Mauro Vilhete, who I always end up signing on it. Soon after, NLR informed me he’d secured a lift back with Barnet’s Hospital Radio crew for most of the trip back to Edgware. After a conversation about all things Barnet on the way back (yes, including Edgar Davids), we bid farewell to our Bees acquaintances before heading back for the Tube, but for the inaugural “Non League Review Whistle-Stop Tour”, which took in the sights of London: Leicester Square, Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square & more, which was quite something for me, considering I’d never been to the capital before! (I’d been through it, but never actually to it).

Sightseeing

Nelson

Following some “Chinese In A Box”, we headed back to the tube from Trafalgar to Euston, just in time for an earlier train back home, which was good considering the travel sickness, as I found the pendolino feels as though you are on an aircraft over a train as it bends around as it goes. Crazy! Bidding goodbye to NLR at Stockport, I continued onto terminus at Manchester Piccadilly before connecting back home. It had been a great day out, with some sightseeing (however brief) involved too, all adding to the novelty. Hopefully, another trip to the capital will be in the offing soon.

My Barnet M.o.M.- John Akinde
My Altrincham M.o.M.- Adam Griffin

RATINGS:
Ground: 9- Smart, tidy ground with good atmosphere and viewing points.
Game: 7- One sided, but high quality and the novelty of a first-half hat-trick.
Programme: 8- A good read, with the titles really telling you what you are going to get!
Food: 8- As I said earlier, tasty, a little pricey, but to be expected.
Fans: 8- Were quite vocal in support of their side & a “Just Because You’re Losing” thrown in.
Value For Money: 7- A good quality game, travel pricey but had budgeted it. Programme good value as was food, so not bad all in all.
Referee: 6- Just above average, not the greatest ref at that level I’ve seen but not the worst either.