Manchopper in….Blackpool (Stanley Park Oval)

160px-Squires_Gate_FC_logoWanderers_Football_Club_badge

Result: Squires Gate 4-0 Wanderers (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Stanley Park Oval (Saturday 9th July 2016, 12.30pm)

Att: 60

A Saturday that was to be a run-of-the-mill visit to a local club became something far and away from that intention. This was down to this very friendly, whose existence became apparent just a couple of weeks earlier and considering both the venue, the Athletics stadium within Blackpool’s Stanley Park and the visitors, the Wanderers. The Wanderers are 5-time FA Cup winners (as well as the inaugural victors) and on a visit up from London, so what was there to oppose heading to the seaside?

Nothing was the answer though but during the earlier than usual journey into Manchester, I was slightly concerned by the high volume of water being dumped upon this part of the North West and hoping beyond hope that it wasn’t the same on the coast. As it turned out, it was slightly better up there and along with blog regular Dan, I boarded our lovely Northern Rail carriage and off we set for the lights and sights of Blackpool.

After the peace of the journey had been shattered by a large family group, we were rather relieved to be able to escape into the seaside air and heading out onto the streets, our initial stop being one of the town’s Northern Wetherspoon’s. We first came upon the Layton Rakes, a short walk from Blackpool North station and so we escaped the rain for a while and headed inside for a much needed beverage.

Landmarks

Landmarks

The Layton Rakes

The Layton Rakes (beige building)

A quick Punk IPA/Carlsberg combo later and we were heading towards our match venue, the Stanley Park Oval Stadium. The Park is about a half-hour’s walk from the front, though it’s a rather pleasant trip, for the most part, though we were rather put off by one unfortunately named hairdressers (it bore the name of a questionable group beginning with an I).

Eventually, and with the rain becoming more intermittent, we arrived at the park gates and after a short walk over a slightly overgrown pitch and putt range, we arrived at our ground to the welcome sight of both teams going through their pre-match motions. Gaining entry through a gate (all above board, it was free entry), we made sure to purchase a, commendably up to date, programme for £1.50.

The Oval itself houses just one stand, but it is a mighty impressive structure, towering over the running track and providing much needed cover from the fine British summer weather. Other than that, there isn’t anything else to speak of, with the rest of the venue being flanked by grass and the odd, slightly raised grass mound. As for history, this is where I’d usually go into the home club’s history, but having already done Squires Gate, I’ll just say they finished up in a lowly P19 last season. A deeper look into the history of the club can be found within the blog here.

Stanley Park

Stanley Park

Our "turnstile" for the day

Our “turnstile” for the day

Handshakes

Handshakes

So, onto the game. With the rain teeming down once more during the pre-match team photos, it seemed quite fitting that both match mascots were, according to the programme, called Noah. If the rain got worse, we might just have had to make use of their namesake’s skills. Happily though, the rain died off for the game but not before the first goal had gone in. Just 20 seconds after the first whistle, Jamie Gibson broke clear and finished easily. 1-0.

Four minutes later and it was two. This time, the scoring honour would go to Alex McKendrick, who ran onto a through ball and rounded the beleaguered Wanderers ‘keeper before knocking the ball home. It looked like it could be a big scoreline, but Wanderers did get themselves going and began to offer some resistance and the odd threat going forward, but it always looked likely Gate would net again.

The rest of the half slowed down somewhat after the rocket start, with only a couple of good chances presenting themselves. But, on the stroke of the break, Gate did net their third with Ryan Riley chipping over the on rushing GK. Unfortunately, I missed this one, as I was intently following the F1 qualifying for the British GP that I was heading to the next day.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Getting a block in

Ready to fire

As it was, the game fell victim to what a lot of pre-season games suffer from and that is the stop-start nature of the second halves. With a never ending stream of substitutes making their way to and from the field at regular intervals, it prevents any sort of flow from truly developing. Despite this, though, Squires Gate did find the back of the net twice more, only for both to be ruled out (much to my chagrin, as I caught both on camera). With five to play, they eventually found a fair way past the inspired Wanderers second half custodian, Riley netting his second with a fizzing drive to round off the 4-0 win.

Offside....

Offside….

After saying a quick greeting to the home of non-league canines and Richard, it was time to depart, after making my own canine acquaintance (I can’t remember the boy’s name though, but I do remember it was slightly feminine too). Before we did completely leave, though, we made our way over to neighbouring Blackpool CC for about 10 overs of their delayed game vs Darwen CC (which BCC won by 90 runs). We were royally entertained with a few wickets and some big hitting and have already pledged to visit properly at some point in the near future.

Blackpool CC

Blackpool CC

Pavilion

Pavilion

As we made our way back down to the town centre, we came upon the strange sight of a dance troupe and Darth Vader flanked by a pair of Stormtroopers. As Darth was attacked by a sex doll, we made our way to relative safety in the shape of the, reputably haunted, Frenchman’s Cove pub complete with Pirate outside. A pricey bottle of Miller’s later and we were back on our way to Blackpool’s main rail terminus with plenty of time in hand. But, Dan and I agreed it isn’t a trip to the town without a foray on the prom.

Dan was apprehensive of this, due to the well documented sights and sounds of the hen and stag do’s that frequent the bars and clubs here, with occasional blogger Paul texting his own warning of this to me while the game was still ongoing. Needless to say, one giant inflatable penis later and we were happy to take refuge in the station building, before setting off on our way back.

Frenchman's Cove

Frenchman’s Cove

Gone to the Dark Side

Gone to the Dark Side

Along the front

Along the front

There’s a lot to Blackpool that I’ve yet to personally uncover (some of which I don’t wish to), and with trips to Wren Rovers and Blackpool FC still to happen, I await with bated breath what’s still to come. Hopefully no more dodgy inflatables….

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RATINGS:

Game: 6-  Four goals, decent enough & interesting opposition.

Ground: 4- Nice stand, not much else.

Programme: 8- Well put together, good content and, as I said, right up to date.

Food: N/A

Value For Money: 6- Different venue (though a Blackpool Euro-something team play there), interesting game, few goals, sexy time for Vader.

 

Manchopper in….Blackpool (AFC Blackpool)

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Result: AFC Blackpool 1-3 West Didsbury & Chorlton (NWCFL Premier Division)

Venue: The Mechanics, Jepson Road (Saturday 25th April 2015, 3pm)

Att: 102

It was a decent morning in Manchester as I left my house and headed in my way up to Chorlton for my coach pick-up point and to join the West Didsbury & Chorlton side on their journey up to the seaside. It was to be my second trip to the seaside town of Blackpool in a few weeks, after my Easter Saturday visit to Squires Gate, the club who lie just across the road from the “other” Tangerine side in the town.

As it was, AFC Blackpool have been on my list to visit for some time before the opportunity of today’s game and the pure ease of travelling bought me into embarking and finally visiting the Mechanics ground. So, it was at around 12.15 and in the midst of a sudden deluge on Chorlton Green, that I arrived at the Bowling Green Inn, rather sodden and was joined on the coach by Dan Watkinson, who was also making his first visit to the club, having been to Gate 5 times before, he told me.

On arrival

On arrival

Turnstiles

Turnstiles

So, after around an hours journey, including getting a little lost at the end of it, we pulled into a windswept Jepson Road, which stands at the foot of the runway at Blackpool Airport., amongst the hangar spaces and workshops, giving it a somewhat unique backdrop. After being given a somewhat humorous run around in pursuit of a programme  (priced at a cheap £1), we headed for the sanctuary of the clubhouse, out of the wind and occasional rain showers that were now drifting across the pitch.

Programme

Programme

Dan took advantage of a vacated plug socket to charge his iPhone, before it was time for an early lunch, I purchased chips and gravy, whereas Dan opted for a pie of some assortment. Both were of good quality, and mine was certainly worth the £1.20 price tag. Soon after the completion of the meal,  it was time for the kick-off and we headed outside to find the seats most sheltered from the gale. The Mechanics is an old style ground, with a stand on all four sides. Behind both goals are covered terraces, with the far end featuring the larger of the two, and both touchlines featuring covered seating, with the near side stand housing the clubhouse and changing rooms building directly behind it/adjoining it. The far touchline houses a somewhat rickety-looking stand with a couple of rows of tangerine seats within.

Far end terrace

Far end terrace

Clubhouse/Stand

Clubhouse/Stand

Near side terrace

Near end terrace

Each stand was rather sparsely populated today, despite a few vocal Blackpool FC fans in attendance for the game, continuing their “Oyston Out” songs throughout the game! Before the review of the game though, a trip into the past of AFC Blackpool….

History Lesson:

Founded in 1947, AFC Blackpool began life as Blackpool Metal Mechanics before dropping the “metal” part of their name soon after. The club initially played at the Stanley Park Arena before moving to their current Jepson Road home. They initially competed in local Fylde Coast leagues, winning the Fylde & District League Division 2 in 1951, achieving promotion to Division 1, which was won twice during the club’s tenure. Before the end of the decade, the club won a first Lancashire Amateur Shield in 1958, before joining the West Lancashire League a year later.

Their first season ended with a runners-up spot, before winning the 1961 title and Shield double. They successfully defended their League title the following season, before joining the Lancashire Combination in 1962, competing in Division 2. There was little success gained in this league, bar he 1974-’75 Lancashire Combination Bridge Shield. 1975 was the club’s best finish, runners-up to Darwen, before they became founder members of the North West Counties League, competing92 in Division 3, which was won in 1985-’86, with the Mechanics gaining promotion to Division 2. They had a brief spell in the top flight of the NWCFL following promotion in 1992, but were soon relegated back to Division 2 the following season.

Here they remained until 2011, when they won the Division 1 (renamed in 2008), achieving promotion to the Premier Division where they remain. This came after a 2005 merger with Lytham St.Anne’s FC and a 2008 merger with Squires Gate Juniors. Upon the latter, the club changed its name to the current one, after approval from Blackpool FC.

After a few seasons of solid mid-table finishes, this season has seen the club stave off relegation, finishing just above the drop zone in 18th place.

Handshakes

Handshakes

Getting Underway

Getting Underway

So, with both clubs lying in the lower reaches of the table, though with a fair gap in points, the game was all about pride. West, whose manager, Andy Nelson, is handing over the reigns at the end of the current season, began the game on the front foot, though it was a tight opening half-hour or so. However the deadlock was broken just before the 30 minutes mark, when Dave Short was released before unleashing a vicious drive into the roof of the net from 20+ yards. A cracking finish.

Dan and myself went on a lap of the ground, past the ever more drunken BFC contingent who were dishing out some “banter” to the West GK, but there was little to shout about for either side, whose efforts were being lessened by the conditions, somewhat. It remained 1-0 at the break, and with the food already eaten, it was a simple time to warm up!

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

It wasn’t long, though, until everyone was back outside to brave the cold, with West Didsbury still looking the better of the sides, and the more likely to score the next goal, which they did, from the spot. A rather brainless tackle in the area, with no danger looming, gifted the visitors the chance to double their lead. Scott Mason stepped up and confidently fired past the GK, Adam Caunce. 0-2, and it looked over bar the shouting, if the previous hour was anything to go by.

In goes the pen...

In goes the pen…

Far touchline stand

Far touchline stand

Oh dear....

Oh dear….

Blackpool, though, were handed a lifeline with 10 minutes remaining, when an optimistic effort from Ben Duffield looped up off a West player’s boot and looped over the stranded Paul Hughes and into the net. The goal seemed to excite the Blackpool FC fans, and one, not-so-athletic fan decided to unleash his upper body for all to see and run on the pitch. It wasn’t a great sight!
At 2-1 it was game on, it seemed. Well it was, but only for 7 minutes. Sub Kieran Brocklehurst tapped in at the back post to seal a last day win for the visitors.

So, after a short wait in the clubhouse, which included free cake(!!!) it was off to the coach after being wished a safe journey and all. I have to say that the people at Squires Gate were very hospitable, but those at AFC are just as much a friendly and welcoming lot. A true credit to those involved.

Dan needs AA

Dan needs AA

The coach journey home (which was FREE I hasten to add!) involved a keg of Krombacher, a stop off in the Bowling Green back at Chorlton, before heading back into Urmston where we watched the end of the cricket in a pub. Then it was onto a curry, though this didn’t go all that well, and it was off home, where I bid a goodnight to Dan after a long, eventful and slightly messy day. This is becoming the norm and I’m getting worried…..

My AFC Blackpool M.o.M.- Adam Caunce
My West Didsbury & Chorlton M.o.M.- Matt Eckersley

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RATINGS:

Game: 7- Decent enough, especially in the conditions.

Ground: 7- Nice ground, like the old-style of it.

Food: 7- Pretty decent, well worth the price

Programme: 4- Light on content, but at least there was one! Especially with my record of late!

Fans: 6- Friendly, and the Blackpool lot added humour with the hardly athletic pitch invasion!

Value For Money: 10- There and back for free, how can it not be top marks, and a good day in full.

Manchopper in….Squires Gate

160px-Squires_Gate_FC_logoruncorn_town_f.c._logo
Result: Squires Gate 2-0 Runcorn Town. (NWCFL Premier Division)

Venue: The Royal British Legion Stadium, School Road (Saturday 4th April 2015, 3.00pm)

Att: 75

If Good Friday was a dull, wet, miserable and all over crap fest, then Easter Saturday didn’t really have to do much to outdo it. But, it started off on a fine note, with sun blazing out over the North West as I sat on the platform at Manchester Oxford Road awaiting my train to Preston. Indeed, I was off to Blackpool to enjoy the sun, but not in the same way that most others making the journey to one of England’s most famous seaside resorts were planning on, oh no. I was off to more entertaining matters….

A 45 minute journey later I was sat on a sunbaked Preston platform with a 40 minute wait to undertake amongst holiday makers heading to the seaside, or Carlisle. Luckily for me, the rain arrived a good 12 minutes before its scheduled departure time and soon I was off down the Fylde coast stops of Kirkham & Wesham, Lytham, St Annes before finally rocking up in the shadow of the Big One, at Squires Gate.

Arriving at Squires Gate

Arriving at Squires Gate

Blackpool

Blackpool

Blackpool Airport

Blackpool Airport

A 30-35minute stroll later, including passing the sort of open/not open yet Blackpool Airport and I was within sight of the floodlights of both Gate and their neighbours Blackpool Wren Rovers. Both grounds run alongside each other, effectively sharing a stand, Wren’s having more cover and looking full of character on the slight glimpse I had of it. But, that’s for another day. Today was all about School Road, The Royal British Legion Stadium. Sadly, I had arrived slightly too late to enjoy the Shovels pub which I had been recommended on Twitter, so it was straight to the ground for me, were I entered for my discounted rate. Upon entry, I was directly behind a couple who enquired about the programmes. They received the words that no-one wants to hear. “They’re all gone, sold out.” PANIC!!!

Luckily, the programme issue was sorted out by Mark Ashmore (I twigged who it was later on) who dug out a programme from somewhere, which is very much appreciated as it allows me to say just how good a read it is and how much effort is clearly put into it. Stats, head-to-head, staff and player articles and in colour. Really good effort. Worth the £1.50, no question, especially when the lads who man the gate were going to let me have it for £1.

Today's Game

Today’s Game

Admissions...

Admissions…

Through the turnstiles,  well Gate.

Through the turnstiles, well Gate.

Pleasantries

Pleasantries

I have to say that the day was going very much to plan up to about 12 minutes into the game when the ref became ill, gave up the ghost and was replaced by Premier League official Mike Salisbury. This did make my journey home somewhat rushed, as the resulting stoppage was a good 10 minutes or so. But as it was, we were back underway with Gate vs Runcorn Town. A bit about the ground first. School Road is a real Counties style ground, a rickety old place, full off character. It’s position at the end of the Blackpool runway is also something different. It features three stands, a bus-stop style covered terrace which runs the majority of the Wren Rovers side. Opposite is the clubhouse and another small terrace/seating combo and behind the goal is a small seated stand, which seemed the popular place for the old-timers, who gave out the “banter” to the ill ref. When he made his way off, one stated “Bet you don’t get clapped off often do you?!” When Salisbury was clapped on as a linesman, the ref remarked “Bloody Hell, you get clapped back on too!” Refs need love too sometimes! Oh, the far end is open standing, so nothing of note there. Capacity is only around 1,000. Now time to look at the history of the Gate, and its origins within the British Legion…

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Programme

History Lesson:

Formed in 1948 as Squires Gate British Legion, Gate originally competed in the Blackpool & District Amateur League. They remained here until 1960, winning numerous honours including the Rawling Shield in their first season, two First Division titles (’55-’56 & ’56-’57) and also a double Blackwell Cup win in 1958-’59 & ’59-’60. They spent the 1960-’61 season in the Fylde and District League, winning the Fylde Cup before moving into the West Lancashire League for the ’61-’62 season.

Gate remained in the West Lancs League for three decades, competing in the Division Two until winning it in 1981 and winning promotion to the Division 1 as a result. In 1987, the club lifted the league’s Richardson Cup, before continuing to play in Division 1 until 1991 when they switched to the North West Counties League (NWCFL).

Elected into the NWCFL for the ’91-’92 season, Gate joined Division 2. They were losing finalists in the 1998 Division 2 Trophy, but won the competition in 2002. A year late, they missed out on the runners-up spot and promotion on goal difference, but were eventually promoted due to the demise of Stand Athletic who had been Division 2 champions, thus meaning third place got the second promotion spot. The club reached the quarter finals of the 2006 FA Vase. In June that year, the club chairman resigned in protest at the calls for the merger of the three local sides, Blackpool Mechanics (AFC Blackpool), Wren Rovers and Gate, but these calls eventually petered out.

In June 2012, the club renamed School Road as The Royal British Legion Stadium and in November of last year, Gate player Jack Sowerby was the latest in the recent trend of non-league starlets getting a chance in the League as he was snapped up by local-ish side Fleetwood Town of League 1. Last season, Gate finished in 19th place in the NWCFL Premier Division.

Flag Wars

Flag Wars

Stand behind the goal

Stand behind the goal

Far side terrace/seated combo

Far side terrace/seated combo

Bus stop

Bus stop

Back to the current time now and after the ref’s injury, the game resumed still goalless, that is until the liner who was now ref awarded gate a penalty kick midway through the first half. However, I only realised a penalty had been given when I heard a whistle and looked up to see the ball going into the bottom left hand corner of Runcorn ‘keeper Danny Lever’s goal, courtesy of the boot of Alex Murphy. 1-0. No idea why, though.

To the clubhouse!

To the clubhouse!

Match Action

Match Action

In truth, there was very little in the way of clear chances, so it was straight to half time and into the bar for me. Although, this time it was for pies rather than alcohol. The food hut is also behind the bar, so after paying £1.60/80 for pie, peas and gravy I sat down and devoured what has to be up there with the very best pies in the region. Superb, and this is becoming a trend. Not sure who makes them, but whomever it is does a good job! Soon enough, it was back out for the second period, which was even more even than the first, again chances were at a premium with a Gate midfielder coming closest, hitting the outside of the post with a drive from 20 yards, until a trip in the box meant another clear penalty for Gate.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Murphy again stepped up and again went to Lever’s left, but this time the keeper was able to get down to it. I know this is echoed in a number of places, Lever is one of the better keepers at this level in my opinion. Gate probably should have had a third penalty when a player was tripped in the box, but the ref took the view he was looking for it and rather put his leg into the defenders. To be fair, this may have been the case and having awarded two already, I doubt he was in much hurry to award a third to the same side!

Town’s best chance to level came when their right winger jinked his way past the defenders, but with teammates in better positions for a square pass, he decided to lash one into the side netting at the near post. His teammates weren’t best pleased and he was punished for his miss when Murphy got his second late on, tapping home a low cross.

Combo from a different angle

Combo from a different angle

Scramble!

Keeper’s!

Josh Kay was then stupidly and needlessly sent off, apparently on debut, late on for some altercation, with my sentiments being echoed by the lady who served me earlier after she asked if he’d been red carded. As it was, the card mattered little, the ref blew up (he blew his whistle, he’s fine) and Gate ran out deserved winners. I picked up my programme before jogging back up to Squires Gate station for the train back to Preston and then back onwards to Oxford Road. The train back to Preston was packed with people coming back from the Pleasure Beach, the highlight being the strange passenger who resembled a stuffed dog. I wonder what ticket they purchased for him? He was taking up a seat!
With little to lose, I decided to get an earlier service back on the off chance that my connection from Manchester may be delayed, but this all went out the window as the First TransPennine EXPRESS service sat idle on the tracks for a good five-plus minutes. As a result, I was forced into Grand Central, the pub just around the corner which is populated by the Metal/goth/rock people from around the city.

Soon enough, I was back home after a thoroughly enjoyable day at a thoroughly welcoming club. Great people and a great welcome is assured at Squires Gate, in the shadow of the Tower and Amusement Park, the best entertainment is sometimes found off the beaten track….

My Squires Gate M.o.M.- Harry Dunn.

My Runcorn Town M.o.M.- Chris Lawton.

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RATINGS:

Game: 5- Not the greatest of contests.

Ground: 7- One of those that you’ll like if you like the old, rickety ones.

Fans: 8- Good natured and some good shouts on the way.

Programme: 8- One of the better ones for the level, surely.

Food: 9- A highlight, properly good food. Alternative to Fish and Chips at Blackpool now?

Value For Money: 8- £10 travel, discount in, £1.50 programme and cheap food. Late cider too.