Manchopper in….Blacon

Result: Blacon Youth 1-2 Lostock Gralam (Cheshire League One)

Venue: Cairns Crescent (Saturday 4th May 2019, 3pm)

Att: 70~

As the first weekend of May rolled around and the May Day Bank Holiday came upon us, I had something of a dilemma on my hands. With an early start the following day over to the City Ground and Nottingham Forest vs Bolton Wanderers for their 12.30pm last-day kick-off, I didn’t really want to travel too far and so looked local for a game to go watch. As luck would have it, the very game I was aiming for when I ended up at Saltney Town a couple of months back between Blacon Youth and Lostock Gralam still looked to be a promotion/title clash in the Cheshire League 1, and so off to Cairns Crescent I headed.

Arriving into the county town of Cheshire yet again for around midday, I would be joined by blog-regular Paul a little later in the afternoon and so I did have a little time to pop-in a couple of places until he arrived from Merseyside. As such, I first ended up visiting the Old Harker’s Arms in an old canal side mill and began the afternoon with a pint of Hoegaarden (£3.80) and even picked up a piece of paper outlining the pub’s creation from derelict mill to the fine, bustling place it is today. Fair play to the guy who did it!

Looking down the canal to the Harker’s

Cornerhouse

The Cellar

From there I popped back up to street level and visited the Cornerhouse which is, surprisingly, located on a corner and found this to be the sister-arm of the pub that me and Paul planned to meet in just over the way called the Cellar. As it was, they did have a flat cider in a box (I’ve sold that well, haven’t I?!) by the name of Seacider (£4.50) and, due to the pun more than anything else, went for that. I was pleased that I did too, bloody good stuff. Paul was due not too long after, so after drinking up I crossed over for the Cellar and after purchasing an Erdinger (£4.80), met him watching the Spurs (again!) game down on the south coast in Bournemouth. The highlight of the game during our stay was either the blatant pen that wasn’t or Son’s lash out from nowhere. Crazy.

I told Paul about my plans for the day which included going around the old city centre pubs I’d missed out on during my New Year’s Day 0-0-fated trip to the Deva Stadium and he was happy to go along with it and, as such, next up was the Old Queen’s Head where we both opted for something we had yet to have a try of – the Guinness brewery’s Old Gate pilsner. Decent enough too and fairly priced at £3.80, so can’t complain all that much. Finishing up, we decided to play it safe and not risk the lottery of the bus network and instead made our way over to the bus station, via Poundbakery where I inherited a sausage and bean bake or something though its innards mostly fell out into the bag. Thankfully, the bus arrived shortly after to whisk us on up to Blacon and we got there about 25 minutes before kick-off. Just enough time to pay a visit to the local Waggon & Horses, we thought!

Queen’s Arms and celebratory bus!

Heading through Chester

Waggon & Horses. Paul seemed desperate!

Blacon is a large suburb just outside the city of Chester and adjacent to the border with Wales and was, at one time, considered one of the largest council housing estates in Europe, but this area is now partly privatised. In the past, Blacon was originally named Blakon Hall and was owned by the Marquess of Crewe before the Parish of Blacon-cum-Crabwall was founded in 1923 with the majority of this, in turn, being transferred to the Chester County Borough in 1936. The area transformed from its small farming village beginnings into a larger, more suburban, area through the 1950’s with the old army camp close by being built upon as the estate expanded. The camp itself was in use from just before to just after WWII and contained both aircraft and PoW’s – with areas being visible for a while afterwards. Indeed, the southern part of Blacon is still referred to as ‘The Camp’ by locals, apparently!

With time against us, I opted for a Dark Fruits (£3~) to ensure I’d be finished in good time to make it to the game without missing any – after all, I wasn’t chancing anything after Hanley! Anyway, all went down in good time and we arrived at the gate of Cairns Crescent around a minute into the game and hadn’t missed anything…..though we were given a mini heart-attack each on arrival as a guy there said to us it was a 2pm kick-off! It quickly became apparent it was indeed an hour later and all was well once again. Phew. Not a whole lot to say about the ground really, it’s barred off all around, has a small club cabin in the corner alongside sturdy dressing room blocks and a dugout sits on each side of the pitch. That’s the ground and this is the story of Blacon….

History Lesson:

Blacon Youth Football Club was founded in 1964 as two local men, Bob and Len Evans, began a side and entered them into the local Chester & District League. With little information at hand about their time here, the club joined the West Cheshire League in 1981 and took a spot in Division 2 where they would finish a creditable 6th at the end of their first season. They remained there right through to 1997 (winning the West Cheshire Bowl in 1993) when they finished runners-up and achieved promotion to the Division 1.

Founders’ Memorial Gates.

A memorial bench too.

The club would spend four years in the West Cheshire League’s top-flight before being relegated in 2001 whereupon they returned to Division 2 where would remain for the next half-decade prior to again finishing as Division 2 runners-up in 2006 and again being promoted. Their return back to the top-flight was a struggle with Blacon largely battling the drop and indeed finished bottom in three consecutive seasons between 2009-2011 – though were spared the drop on each occasion.

They would climb off the bottom for the next four seasons, though still were down at the wrong end of the table and 2016’s three-point deduction rounded off a relegation season, and indeed their final campaign in the West Cheshire League, as Blacon switched to compete for a season in the Chester & Wirral League Premier Division, which was won, before moving up to join the Cheshire League instead – being placed in League 2. This proved an inspired decision, as the club were immediately promoted to the League 1 last season, after finishing in 3rd place, and look in fine shape to repeat the trick this time around to reach the Premier Division in no time. Not a bad turn around!

With the match ongoing, we continued on around a lap of the ground, anti-clockwise for the interested (i.e no-one!) and it was the visitors, Lostock Gralam, who were beginning the stronger of the two. Indeed their #11 Robbie Hatton struck the post not too many minutes in but the game wasn’t too open – which I guess was pretty understandable with what was riding on it. Not too long after though, #9 Jack Woolley headed narrowly over as Gralam continued to hold the front foot.

Early threat

Match Action

As it was, they would get their reward around the half hour mark. Winning a corner on the right, the ball was swung in and met by #5 Alex Wilson who climbed highest to power a header beyond the home ‘keeper and the Grey Lambs bench were up and celebrating. They almost went two up soon after too as Hatton saw his effort deflected narrowly wide of the upright.

Blacon would eventually find their feet and began to wake from their (perhaps enforced) slumber and their first true chance of the game saw a curling effort well kept out by the visiting ‘keeper. and this was followed up by #11 cracking one just wide of the upright. That was the end of the action on the outside pitch, but on the inside pitch, it was just getting going….

Match Action

Match Action

Table football in the clubhouse!! It started well as I stormed into a 1-0 lead, but soon slid into a 4-1 deficit with Jamie Carragher clearly posessing one of my centre halves as he netted two own goals. Then some of the Black kids asked to get involved and that gave me an excuse as I went on to a final result of 10-1 to Paul. Luckily, the game outdoors was getting back underway and so he had little time to gloat over his success!

Just minutes into the second period, Blacon drew level as #7 played in #10 Omar Ramo and the forward duly found the net to draw his side level and now it was the home bench who had thoughts of the title rekindled. Lostock responded forcing the Blacon ‘keeper into a fine stop of his own to keep the scores level for the time being. But Blacon would again gain the upper hand over their opponents and after going close on a pair of occasions- #2 heading just wide of the upright and #10 with firing wastefully straight at the ‘keeper, before Robbie Hatton hit a fine effort into the back of the net to again send the Lostock bench up and down and all around the pitch.

Watching on intently….

Lostock Gralam celebrate their second!

Surprisingly, with about 25 of minutes still to play and plenty of huffing and puffing from Blacon as they tried to level it up once more, nothing else would really be created of note (though this may be a lie as I sort of forgot to carry on noting things down) and that would be that. Lostock Gralam effectively won the title bar a crazy turn of events, but their promotion was a definite and they thoroughly deserved the celebrations through the few times I’ve seen them this season. Congrats to them and Blacon still seek that second spot, battling it out with Broadheath Central to join the Grey Lambs in the Premier Division next season.

Post-match, our bus back came about around ten minutes or so after the game and despite Paul’s ticket meeting a needlessly violent death at the hands of the driver, the short hop back was uneventful, though I did get to spy the old Blacon station site which, unfortunately, I didn’t know existed. As it was, we ended up back in the city centre, paying a visit to a couple of pubs up in the old rafters of the buildings along the main street – namely the Victoria and the Boot Inn, both truly old taverns and equally superb. The former did feature a hen party and a random guy whipping his top off on a few occasions though and we were swiftly out after finishing off our respective Amstels (£4.10 ea)! (NB: the hen party were all the calm ones!).

The Victoria

Sunny Chester

To The Boot

The Boot was a Sam Smith’s which duly meant a cheap pint of Taddy Lager (£2.50) which is always a great way to round off any trip and upon our return to the station, I bid Paul farewell as he made use of “girlfriend taxi” and headed off for the train into Liverpool where I’d catch my connection home from. Well, it should have been that smooth, but I was soon joined by a fairly rowdy, but fun, group of younger locals en route, though one guy decided to rat them out to the guard and got responders going, because reasons. I can’t abide those kind of people and I like my quiet, so that says a lot! I then missed my connection by mere seconds as I arrived on the platform to see it pulling away leaving only one option for the next half-an-hour. Spoons!!!

I eventually caught the next train and got home without further issue and that ends off the first trip of the May Day weekend. It had been a good one too, as it had been a fair while since I’d been joined on a trip anywhere and the game was watchable and what with it having something on it, always kept the interest peaked and congrats to Gralam on their deserved promotion. The ground was as to be expected for the level for the most part and a good crowd added to the atmosphere and it was a bonus to finally get these few drinking holes in that kept trying to keep me out. I bet they’re not the only ones, I just hope Nottingham is kind….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 4

Food: N/A (cold snacks on)

Programme: N/A

Table Football: 10

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Crewe (Crewe F.C.)

Result: Crewe 1-3 Eagle Sports (Cheshire League Premier Division)

Venue: Cumberland Arena (Saturday 20th April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 25 (approx.)

The second of the three game days of Easter saw me heading to the town of Crewe and the Cumberland Arena for the second time this season, although this would only be the first successful venture of the dual goes I’d attempted. I awoke surprisingly fresh after the previous day’s exploits at Field Mill and the surrounding area however I was quite thankful, for the couple of extra hours of rest during the morning to get everything together for the short hop through the Cheshire countryside.

After stopping at pretty much each an every stop on the slow route to Crewe, I finally arrived at a little before midday and after completing the fifteen minute or so walk from the station, arrived into the town centre which the Cumberland Arena is pretty much right next door to. After finding the Duke of Bridgwater closed, I continued further into town and eventually came across the decent looking Albert’s Corner, whilst trying to located where the much lauded Hops Belgian Bar was over a pint of Moretti (£3.70).

Albert’s Corner

Old church across from….

….Hops!

I eventually located it a short walk back on myself just across the way from a ruined, yet quite intact, church which provided something of a village feel to the outskirts of the centre. The cottage like buildings within what the Hops bar is located also give off this impression and, once inside, I opted to try the Sparta lager (£3.40) which was very decent and a nice pint to enjoy out front in the balmy Cheshire sunshine. Soon enough, though, it was time to head back into the hustle and bustle of the centre proper.

Following on from a swift visit to the war memorial, I headed for the nearby trio of pubs – namely the Cheese Court, Crown and Grand Central. They were all solid, if unspectacular affairs, with the former two being traditional style boozers, whilst the latter was more widespread inside and had one of the stranger “beer terraces” I’ve been on, with it pretty much just being an iron walkway. A pint in each, Amstel & Coors (both £2.50) and Dark Fruits (£2.70) as the refresher were supped away, before it was time I made my way a little more towards the ground. But not before a couple more stops, of course!

Crewe town centre

Cheese Court. Football & beer – a good duo

Crown

A short walk away from the centre is the duo of the Borough Arms and King’s Arms, whereupon I opted to maintain my now cider-related focus by having a Thatcher’s (£3.70) in the former whilst having a bit of a chat with a local propping up the bar here, prior to crossing the road to the King’s for a second Dark Fruits of the day, this one setting me back £2.75. Not too shabby, all in all!

On my way to the ground via the roads opposite, I came upon Tom’s Tap hidden somewhat within an unassuming industrial estate. Inside I came upon a small, narrow bar area and a few taps on. With time at something of a premium and actually being somewhat sensible for a rare moment, I opted to just have a half of the Mango Cider (£2.10) out front in the beer “garden” before finally completing my walk to the Arena, where I paid in my £2 entry and was duly allowed entry.

Grand Central

Borough Arms

King’s Arms

Sadly, the programmes here were long gone and I made do with a couple of pics of the team sheets that were kindly offered and, even though I’m not that anal in that respect, I felt it rude to say no. The Cumberland Arena is little more than an athletics track, though does have a smart pavilion building with food and drink on offer. The area within the track is roped off, meaning you are pitch side rather than miles away, which is always a bonus. Not much more to say, so here’s the history of Crewe’s ‘other’ club….

History Lesson:

Crewe Football Club was founded in 1998 and immediately joined the Mid-Cheshire League, where they have spent  their entire existence to date. Their second season saw the club achieve promotion as Division 2 runners-up to the Mid-Cheshire League’s Division 1 and remained there until 2005 when they were relegated after finishing up bottom. A return to the top division would have to wait until 2012 when Crewe again finished as Division 2 runners-up and they have since gone on to stay in the division through its name change to the Cheshire League Premier Division in 2014, though they have faded a little over the past two seasons after a strong start to their return in the previous couple of campaigns – the 2014-’15 season seeing Crewe record their best finish of 4th.

Arriving at the Cumberland Arena

Last time out they finished up in 13th position out of 16 and this season has been a story of two-halves, an underwhelming start was rectified around the turn of the year and they look to have a decent shot at equalling that best finish of 4th place, behind the runaway title rivals Pilkington, Alty Reserves and opponents today, and rivals for 3rd place on the day, Eagle Sports.

The game got underway in the balmy temperatures us in Crewe were being treated to and it quickly looked to be set to be an open contest with both sides looking to gain the points, the visitors knowing a win would secure third-place, whilst Crewe had to win to keep in the race for the position. Indeed it took only a few minutes for the deadlock to be broken and it was the visitors who grabbed the opening goal as Chris Quirk fired in. Quirk then nodded just wide shortly afterwards and it looked like the hosts had ended the season a little early.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Crewe did grow into the game slowly and after both sides had seen sights of goal blocked off by each’s respective defence, Eagle ‘keeper Liam Marlow had to be sharp to keep out an effort by (I think) Crewe’s unreal form man, and captain, Nathan Southern. Eagle would again go close through dangerman Quirk who beat the offside trap before firing over the bar and they were made to pay for this miss as skipper Southern fed Nathan Tickle and the latter bent an effort off the post and beyond Marlow to level up the scores.

That was pretty much that for action during the first half and, at the break, I ventured inside the pavilion building to have a peruse, having seen that there was some refreshments on the go during my pre-match visit. Indeed I soon found that there was some hot food on which was a welcome sight and I opted for a hot-dog (£1) thanks to it being pointed out by a board outside. Decent enough and thanks to the leagues at this level not being fond of lengthy half-times, we were soon back underway.

Inside the pavilion

The second half was largely dominated by the visitors and it began strongly for them as Quirk latched onto a long ball and managed to knock the ball beyond the ‘keeper and into the net to ensure the lead was Eagle’s once again. Despite being on top, though, there wasn’t a glut of action in the second period and if it had been a mid-winter’s game, it would likely have been quite a struggle to keep somewhat attentive to the action!

Match Action

Match Action

However there was a chance as the half wore on, but again the effort on the home goal went awry and over the bar from a good position, but Eagle would be given the golden chance to all-but secure the points as a clear trip in the area was duly penalised with a point to the spot by the man-in-the-middle and skipper Adam Coleman duly stepped up to confidently fire home and secure the win and third-place for his side. Full-time came around shortly afterwards without any further real action of note and the score remained as 3-1 Eagle.

Coleman converts from the spot

The Rising Sun

Vics represented!

Post-match I headed off to the Rising Sun (which seems to serve as the unofficial Crewe F.C. clubhouse) for a pint of Stella (£3.50~) and, I was told, fish and chips would be around too. Sadly the latter would end up coming a bit too late for me and I left the Eagle lads to finish up their hospitality and returned back to the station – though I did end up accidentally boarding the stopper service in my haste to jump on a train bound for Manchester, though I was able to rectify this via a change at Wilmslow onto an express service to get me home earlier and without any further issue, thankfully!

As for the day as a whole, it had been a surprisingly decent one with the town centre of Crewe being somewhat a more pleasant experience overall than the parts around Gresty Road in my opinion. The weather allied with a decent game was an added bonus and the hot dog at the ground was fine as well. Onto Monday and I finally complete a league with a second visit to Stoke in as many weeks. Scenic….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 4

Food: 5

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Widnes (Ford Motors FC)

Result: Ford Motors 2-0 Grappenhall Sports (Cheshire League 1)

Venue: Jaguar Land Rover Sports Club (Saturday 17th November 2018, 2pm)

Att: 10~

With a weekend with nothing set in stone on the horizon, I thought I’d let the decision on where I’d end up on this, the third Saturday of November, rest with the good folk of the twitterverse. With a few options on the table, the Grappenhall Sports retweet seemed to be the catalyst for the eventual victor. Unsurprisingly, it was swayed the way of their own game at Ford Motors in the North of Widnes and so it was to there I’d be headed for. With the trains being on their seemingly never-ending, much-maligned strike – which is also much to the chagrin of those brought in as replacements from other organisations – as I learned from someone who had been tasked with doing so with some ungodly shifts going around too by his account. They would also mean that I would be starting earlier than was ideal once again and after catching the train at just after 9am, I was arriving into Widnes station (made (in)famous by the Paul Simon legend regarding ‘Homeward Bound’) a little over 45 minutes later. With a fair amount of time to waste, I got my bearings of the area (despite having already been before), prior to making my way to the ‘Spoons to start the day.

Arriving at Widnes Market

Widnes High Street

The Premier – through a strange statue

Imperial

Waiting over my Punk IPA (£2.99) for ten minutes until my 11am allowed start time (yes, I really am that pedantic), I wasted away some time in the old cinema building named the Premier before heading a few doors down the road to the Imperial, one of those ‘Spoons-styled free houses. It wasn’t too bad here either and the prices were agreeable as well, a pint of Bud Light coming in at just £2.50 whilst I got talking to Tom, a Liverpool supporting ex-firefighter who also has the wide-ranging family issue of the blue/red split! After he apologised for boring me (that’s usually my fault) which certainly wasn’t the case, I left him to finish up his drink whilst I made up a plan of action for the rest of the pre-match tour de Widnes, starting with the Bradley Arms, on the corner of the same road and just at the top of the high street. A pint of Coors in here cost a fairly normal £3.50 before a walk through the aforementioned high-street – which is mostly pedestrianised, I should add – had me at the Derby, which stands at the mid-way point. The Derby also had the early-kick off on too, which was handy, and so I settled in for a while and watched the majority of the first half whilst supping at a Moretti (£3.50).

Completing the walk down the high-street’s more car dominated bit, I came to the Simms Cross, a pub that stands opposite the large Asda and not far from the Vikings stadium. Still working my way away from the ground at this point, this was actually all a plan with sense of you’ll trust me for once! A quick Dark Fruits, at £3.50 once again, was had here prior to crossing the road and along past said Asda to the Grapes, which would be my final pre-match stop, with the bus up to the ground leaving from just outside of it. This was probably the most odly-wordly pub of the day and was nice enough, a pint of Strongbow (due to lack of real options) being opted for though at £3, I couldn’t be too fussy. After wasting away the remainder of the time through to the bus in here, it was off to the ground, where I was due to arrive at around ten-to-2 and just in time for kick-off. You’d expect something to go wrong now, wouldn’t you?

Bradley

The Derby on the left

Simms Cross

Inside the Grapes

Well….it didn’t!! Not only did the bus come early, but I ended up at the Jaguar Land Rover Sports Club right on cue. Lovely. Straight into the ground it was and with little time to wait, I had a swift peruse of my surroundings. The near end, from which you enter, is home to the clubhouse/social club and with it all the usual footballing facilities, a small bit of cover to the front of said dressing rooms and a paved car park providing hard standing. To the far side is a nice stand, consisting of a few rows of benched seating, and this runs most of the length of the pitch and is flanked by hard standing. The opposite side also features hard standing, whilst the far end is home to little more than some catch-netting, though no-one is too bothered if you go around it seemed. So that’s the ground in a nutshell and this is the story of Ford Motors…..Luckily, not the car company….

History Lesson:

Ford Motors Football Club was founded in 1962 and would later go on to join the Lancashire Combination a decade later. They would struggle initially, before becoming a more solid, mid-table outfit ahead of a switch into the Cheshire County League Division 2 as a founding member in 1978, where they continued this trend. The Cheshire County League later merged with the Lancs Combination to form the North West Counties League in 1982, with Fords again becoming a founder member, where they would remain for the next four seasons, prior to being relegated in 1976 after finishing second-bottom. However, they would spend just one season in Division 3 as it was absorbed at the end of that season into Division 2, and after one further year in the NWCFL, the club left to join the Liverpool County Combination Division 2 for the 1988-’89 campaign.

After finishing runners-up and being promoted to Division 1 at the end of their first season there, Fords would remain in the First Division through to 1999, as the league ran with a single division for the following two years, before returning to a two-tier system for a year in 2002, before reverting back to its one division approach through to its eventual merger with the I Zingari League to create the Liverpool County Premier League, Fords having finished a best of 5th (in 1997) during their time in the LCC. Immediately placed into the Premier Division of the new league, Fords established themselves back into a solid mid-table side, before eventually recording a 3rd placed finish in 2011, prior to returning back down into the midst of the middle of the league for their final two seasons there. The club would depart the Liverpool County Premier League in 2013 after finishing second-bottom of the Premier Division and switched to join the West Cheshire League’s Division 3 instead.

Arriving at the ground

The clubhouse building

View from the Main Stand

Motors would contest three seasons in Division 3 of the West Cheshire League, finish 5th, 10th and 4th respectively, before taking up the opportunity to join the expanding Cheshire League for season 2016-’17. Placed into ‘League 2’, the club immediately found the new surroundings of the Cheshire League more to their liking, finishing 4th at the end of their first season here, before lifting the Cheshire League 2 title last season and being promoted to ‘League 1’ for this campaign. On a side-note, the club have also competed in the FA Vase during their tenure in the NWCFL, and made the 4th Round in 1984-’85, beating Graham St. Prims, Linotype, Staveley Works and Guisborough Town, before eventually bowing out to Newcastle Blue Star. Their last game in the competition to date was against Salford in 1990, where they went down in the extra-preliminary round by 2-1 at (a rather different looking than the current one!) Moor Lane.

The game got underway and, in truth, it was a real slow burner. There was very little action in the first half and by half-time I was wondering if my 0-0-less run was going to end just a couple of weeks short of a year. The few highlights that did come along during the first 45 minutes favoured Fords, with the hosts going close early on, when the Grappenhall ‘keeper was forced to tip over an effort, before Sports responded by going close twice in quick succession – first the #10 capitalised on a ‘keeping error but could only fire wide, before the #8 shot wide of the target shortly afterwards.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

However, just before the break, Grappenhall were reduced to ten-men, when one of the defenders was adjudged, pretty fairly in my book, to have been the last man and in denying a goalscoring opportunity when bringing down the attacking Fords man. He was off for an early bath, though Fords wouldn’t be able to take advantage in the last few minutes through to the half-time whistle, with the game remaining steadfastly goal-less and only the red card seemed to offer any real chance of it not ending as such.

The half-time break came and went quickly and with little of note to report on, we were soon underway once more. And wouldn’t you know it, just a few minutes into the second period the deadlock would be broken by the home side when good play by #7 resulted in him playing in the #9, Cameron Chambers, who fired high into the roof of the net. This seemed to simultaneously breath extra life into Fords, whilst draining it from Sports and it was Motors who almost added a second not too long afterwards, but the shot came back off the upright.  However, the second would eventually arrive and it would come from the spot. A foul by the ‘keeper resulted in a certain penalty for me and #4 Connor Tagoe stepped up to confidently convert the kick and give his side, almost certainly, the points.

#4 nets from the spot, despite the big dive!

Match Action

View from the ‘stand’ in front of the dressing rooms

Later, as the game went on into its final quarter of an hour, Chambers almost grabbed his second of the game but was denied by a good stop with his legs by the Grappenhall ‘keeper, before they were given some sort of hope in the last five minutes, when Fords themselves were reduced to a man light, rather harshly in my view on this occasion, when the #12, David Worsley, was dismissed for (I assume) what was thought of as a bad challenge. As I said, it didn’t look too bad from my view, though those of a Sports persuasion didn’t seem all too happy, so maybe I missed something. As it was, this didn’t effect the game at all and after a late chance for the hosts when the #7 found himself one-on-one with the ‘keeper, only to wastefully shoot wide, the whistle blew and I made a hasty exit for the bus which was due, got there in time, only to not be able to find my ticket and so I let the guy drive on whilst I strove away to find it….in my pocket. Damn, though its not a day out for me without something going slightly awry, now is it?!

Getting a bus some twenty minutes later, I was soon back in Widnes and decided to pay a visit to the far end of town and then make my way straight up the main road towards the station, a route that just so happened to have a couple of pubs on the way. I know, what were the odds on that? After an initial visit to the Kingsway Hotel, which I found a very friendly and busy place (Dark Fruits at £2.75), the Doctor’s pub opposite looked shut up and so I beat my retreat back off towards Widnes station, via the medium of the two pubs passively aforementioned – namely the Horse & Jockey and the Crown. A further Dark Fruits was had in the former (£3.20~) prior to visiting the Crown for a second time, after my visit to Widnes FC a couple of seasons back. It was far fuller this evening than it had been on that Tuesday night and I took my time over an Amstel (£3.75) whilst awaiting the time to the train to elapse.

A square I came across somehow

Kingsway Hotel

Horse & Jockey

Rounding off in the Crown

Eventually it did and off I headed back to the station for the train home, though this did come via Warrington, which is always slightly irritating (the stop-off, not Warrington!!). Anyway, I was soon off home in earnest to round off the day, which had been, to borrow something of a footballing summary – solid, but unspectacular. The game had been alright, the ground better than most in and around the level Fords are at, and the pubs around town had been ok on the pocket. Travel went smoothly enough (bar the minor hiccup) and that’s that for another week. Just the one to go and I’ll have made a full year without seeing a goalless draw. Wherever I eventually end up….DON’T YOU EVEN DARE!!!!!

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 6

Programme: N/A

Food: N/A

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Malpas

Result: Malpas 4-0 Eagle Sports (Cheshire League Premier Division)

Venue: The Oxhays, Malpas Sports Club (Saturday 20th May 2018, 3pm)

Att: 35~

Yes, they’re still playing! After the terrible weather we’ve seen strike the footballing calendar all season long, there haven’t been many leagues struck harder than the Cheshire League. Indeed, they won’t have finished up until the 30th May, leaving players to have 2-3 weeks, tops, off over the summer before reporting back for pre-season. I suspect there may be a few latecomers and, to be honest, you couldn’t blame them. Anyway, to be fair to the teams in the league, there haven’t been too many of the much-maligned walkovers despite the late finish to the season and, as a result, I saw the opportunity to tick off one of the more outlying outposts of the league, Malpas FC’s Oxhays ground, out towards the Welsh borderlands. It did once have a station, but that unhelpful bastard Dr. Richard Beeching put paid to that. Dick.

The weather was bloody good yet again as we rolled into the latter part of May and so I set off over to Warrington where I’d catch the connection down to Chester, before completing the journey out to the village by bus. The trip to Chester went smoothly, and I arrived at just after 11am. With half-an-hour in hand, I paid a visit to my usual Chester drinking hole the Town Crier, which stands opposite the station and was where the bus would leave from outside of. With a pint of Strongbow in hand (cider always seems better on a warm, sunny day doesn’t it?), I awaited its arrival.

Eventually the #41 service pulled in and, after paying a tick over £5 for a return ticket, I was off en route through the city centre’s narrow streets before heading out through the picturesque countryside and small villages of the southern end of the county, heading out towards its border with Shropshire. After passing through the likes of Tattenhall and Christleton (known to me via my soon to be rekindled summer cricket tours), the bus eventually dropped me in the centre of Malpas at just after 12.30pm. When I say the centre, I basically mean the road that goes through it. Malpas is only a small, quaint little village with the sort of shops and other buildings you’d expect, along with the war memorial cross, seen widely in these sorts of places. There was also a nice church and an old fire station that had been converted into a café-bar. No prizes for guessing where I was off to first!

Malpas (“Bad Passage” in Old French) Facts

Malpas

Fire Station bar

Malpas is a small town on the Shropshire/Wales border likely dating from the Mercian era around the 10th century, though does host the old Roman Road to Whitchurch which passes through it. Later, it was mentioned under the name of Depenbech in the Norman “Domesday Book” of 1086 as belonging to Robert Fitzhugh, Baron of Malpas, an ancestor of the Cholmondeley family who still live in the castle that carries their family name. Malpas also once had its own castle, the remnants of which lie in the grounds of the 14th-century St. Oswald’s Church, though there is little obvious to the eye to suggest it existed remaining.

The market town still maintains the medieval layout it had when it received its market charter and was a part of Wales during the late 13th century and has thus avoided major redevelopment. It was also a fairly important place during the Tudor & Stuart eras, with Sir William Brereton (chamberlain of Chester & groom to Henry VIII) beheaded upon a suspected affair with Anne Boleyn (though it’s more likely to have been politically motivated). A second Sir William would then become a key figure in the defeat of the Royalist Irish reinforcements during the Civil War. The local wartime importance continued into the more present times, when the exiled Czech army was encamped in the nearby Cholmondeley Park.

Indeed, first up was the fire station bar, where I met a rather large dog on the way in before ordering a bottle of Amber Ale from Wrexham’s Magic Brewery, which came in at £4.25. With much in the way of time in hand, I remained here for a good 40 minutes or so, whilst watching the end of the “Royal Wedding”, with the bar itself getting into the spirit of things by decking out in some bunting, faces of Princes behind the bar and one of the staff wearing a crown. Another nice couple of touches were the old bucket and helmet located upon the display cabinet behind the bar, harking back to the building’s former life, of course!

Eventually finishing up in here and with the pomp and ceremony at Windsor beginning to wind down, I headed onwards down the road and back towards the cross where, to my horror, I found one of only two remaining pubs in the town shrouded in scaffolding. It couldn’t be shut, not with an hour and a half to kick-off! Luckily, it hadn’t gone the way of the old Red Lion opposite and it was well and truly open for business. A nice pint of Hop House 13 (£3.85)went down nicely, though I think it may be the first time I’ve sat alongside a pub sign indoors!

Polishing that off, it was off up the road and a little closer to the ground. On the way there you find the Vaults, a pub opposite, but below, the village church. Inside I found an unexpected display of football shirts & scarves decorating the rear part of the hostelry, whilst also being slightly in awe of the cabinet displaying a collection of model F1 cars and other memorabilia, including a Kimi Räikkönen one that I was very jealous of. Indeed, I had brief thought of asking how much it’d take to prize it away, but decided against it. I also made acquaintance with the large black dog from before again too, who came over for a couple of strokes and what have you, before leaving for the far more attractive proposition of treats….

Malpas High Street

In the Crown. A fitting stop!

The Vaults’ collections

After finishing my pint of Symonds Cider (£3.50) whilst listening to a soundtrack full of Michael Jackson’s many hits, I set off towards the ground, making a quick detour off up the steps and through the churchyard, just to be nosey more than anything. After passing by a few quaint, old cottages and a field full of horses, I arrived at the gates of the Malpas Sports Club, where the Oxhays ground lies at the rear beyond the cricket pitch which is located immediately outside of the clubhouse/pavilion building. Having spotted a guy near what seemed to be a pay-box, I asked if he was taking for the match, which he was and was given a programme for “free” in return for £3 (effectively £2 in and £1 for the paper). A nice issue and it’s always a pleasant surprise at Cheshire League level to pick one up. From there, I popped into the clubhouse for a pint of Coors (£3.75) to watch some cricket and waste away the remaining time before kick-off, as the footballers warmed up away in the distance.

Church

More quaint things

Pre-match cricket action!

The Oxhays is a in a pleasant setting, alongside fields that run off from the back of the club’s grounds and has view extending out over to the England/Wales border in the distance. It hosts no hard standing, and is only a roped off pitch but, interestingly, does have a decently sized seating stand just to the right of half-way on the near side as you enter. A small grass mound is located off to the side of that, further towards the far end, and there is a slightly raised grassy area off on the far side too. One I’d recommend to leave for a day like today as it looks resplendent in the sun, and with cricket in full flow next door. That’s the Oxhays at Malpas Sports Club then and this is the story of Malpas F.C….

History Lesson:

Malpas Football Club was founded in 1901, but I can’t find anything out about the club prior to them joining the Mid-Cheshire League in 1985. They started off comfortably enough, finishing in mid-table for the first two seasons of their stay here, before the league expanded to become a two-division competition and Malpas were placed in Division 1. Here they began to struggle and finished second bottom twice with the latter occasion, in 1991, seeing them relegated to Division 2.

The club would spend the next two seasons in the Second Division before being crown as 1992-’93 champions and returning to the top division. However, they again struggled upon promotion and finished 11th, 15th, 15th and 16th out of the 16 First Division teams, with the last-placed finished resulting in a second relegation in 1997. This began a long spell in the second level of the Mid-Cheshire League which saw them remain there right through to 2007 and the league’s dropping of the “Mid” part of the name, becoming simply the Cheshire League. By that time, Malpas were again really struggling and had finished second-bottom of the last two-seasons, despite having a brief upturn in form in the early part of the millennium which saw them record a 4th and 3rd place finish in consecutive seasons; 2001-’02 and ’02-’03 respectively.

Malpas Sports Club

Memorabilia

When the Cheshire League split into three divisions in 2014 (consisting of the Premier Division, League 1 and League 2), Malpas were placed in League 1 having finished 4th at the end of the previous season, a distinct improvement on recent campaigns. 2014-’15 saw them immediately promoted from the League 1 as runners-up and they duly took their place in the Premier Division, where they remain to this day. Having finished towards the wrong end of the 16-strong division for their first two years – finishing 12th and 13th, they are looking at their highest ever league finish, with 3rd looking likely, but the runners-up spot looking more than a possibility also.

After having a chat with the Eagle player-manager, Rob, in the loos (the first time I think that’s ever happened to me) where I was told to expect them to have a bit of a struggle, the players made their way around the boundary of the cricket field and under the rope surrounding the football pitch. After engaging in the usual pleasantries and observing a minute’s silence for the late manager of Cheshire League side Egerton FC, the ex-Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers and former England international defender JLloyd Samuel, who was tragically killed in a road accident a couple of days earlier.

With a somewhat sobering atmosphere still hanging over the Oxhays despite the sun beating down, the game got underway, with second-place chasing Malpas quickly hitting their stride against the under-strength visitors. Indeed, they were two-up within the first ten minutes, the first coming courtesy of the #9, skipper Alex Hughes, who took full advantage of some poor defending to fire in, despite the ‘keeper getting a fair bit on it. The second arrived following another piece of dubious defending, which saw an awful mix-up seized upon by Hughes and he lifted the ball over the ‘keeper nicely to give the hosts a comfortable early advantage.

Match Action

Match Action

Leaving my early spot on the pitch-side mound and heading off on a lap of the ground, I would only witness further domination by the strong Malpas outfit. Hughes went close again after the referee awarded a good advantage following a likely foul and this gave the striker a great chance to grab his second of the game but, on this occasion, he scuffed wastefully wide. This seemed to stir the Eagle side into life somewhat and they began to come into the game around the 20 minute mark and saw two quick-fire chances go begging. Firstly, a low ball in found player-manager Hope whose effort crawled wide of the mark, before a good ball from the left-wing found the Eagle #9 who met it pretty well but saw his header end up also going wayward.

Penalty is converted by Parry

Match Action

The visitors were punished for these missed chances to get back into the game not long before the break when the Eagle ‘keeper brought down the Malpas attacker and the penalty was duly awarded with little in the way of complaints coming the referee’s way. The spot-kick was confidently dispatched by Ben Parry to send the sides in at the break with the hosts looking comfortable and odds-on to take another three points.

As I was in the stand during the break, I was approached by a guy who asked if I was ‘at the East Manchester game a couple of years (ago)’. How he saw me, never mind remembered me from that game, given the horrendous weather endured there which saw the all-weather pitch begin to get waterlogged, was beyond me! Anyway, after agreeing that our respective soakings would never be forgotten, I spoke to Mark for the remainder of the break and the beginning of the second half too, which duly saw Malpas continue to dominate the game against their youthful-looking opponents.

The ever-dangerous Hughes beat a challenge and forced the Eagle ‘keeper into a stop early on in the half, before his strike-partner, wearing the #10 shirt, chipped narrowly over the bar. However, the two would link up for the fourth goal shortly afterwards, when the latter played in the former to finish nicely and complete his hat-trick (he’s since made it four hat-tricks in three games) after a swift counter-attack saw the visiting defence overwhelmed. From there, though, the game would settle down somewhat and chances would begin to dry up somewhat. I reckoned I should leave Mark in peace for a while(!) and went over to the far side to say a quick “Hello” to Mark and Colin on the Eagle bench before continuing on around towards the cricket pitch and the exit.

Match Action

Benches watch on intently

‘Keeper keeps his clean sheet intact

Malpas almost netted a fifth late on, which brought a decent stop out of the visiting ‘keeper “Aaron” (I deduced that from the shouts afterwards) Lee, before Eagle almost grabbed a consolation late-on in the play, when the under-worked home ‘keeper was alert enough to pull off a pair of decent late stops, the latter denying the #9 again from close range following a corner, to preserve his and his side’s clean-sheet and put the cherry on top of a fine performance from the hosts. The full-time whistle blew shortly afterwards, to put an end to a testing day for Eagle.

As I was heading back towards Malpas and trying to figure out the best place to spend the next hour or so before the bus home, a “beep” from behind caused me to stop. It turned out to be Mark who offered to drop me at a station on the way back, which ended up being as far as Wilmslow, with it being not far from his home. This duly made things a hell of a lot easier, though provided the unfortunate opportunity to hear Chelsea score their eventual winner in the FA Cup Final. Such is life!

Mark dropped me right outside the station and refused to take any money for his troubles and I can only thank him for doing so (so if you do by chance find and read this; Cheers!), though I then messed up by overhearing a train to Piccadilly was due in as I arrived and so jumped on without taking a minute to think of where it was going. It only went via the Airport with a 15 minute stop there, whilst the trains I looked at getting were all but direct back to the city. Damn.

Back in Manchester (Doll not pictured!).

Upon arriving into the Airport station, I then found I had a couple of connections I could catch to swiftly get back. Unfortunately, one pulled out just as I arrived and the other seemed to be out of reach, with the bridge over only seeming to be accessible via a one-way escalator system. With signage proving less than helpful in my quest, I soon got lost and ended up returning, tail between legs, to the train I’d just got off. What. An. Arse. Anyway, I eventually got back to Piccadilly, though did miss my connection in the end and thus was left with an hour to wait and this obviously meant a call into the Piccadilly Tap was called for. The highlight of this little sojourn? The sight of a PCSO being made to have a picture with a naked doll by a hen party. I shared a look with a punter opposite and the doorman too. No ideas were offered up!

So there ends yet another trip and the season is FINALLY almost at it a close. Two weeks remain, with a trip to North Wales up next, followed by my first ever trip down to Wembley the following year and a possible bonus game that same weekend too. As for this trip, well, Malpas is a delight. A really nice little place that is almost a throwback in time to a point. The pubs are decent, the village is pretty, the only real issue is the transport in getting there isn’t the best if you don’t drive. But it’s not all that bad, I guess. The game was a little boring on account of it not being too competitive for long periods, the ground was fairly basic (unsurprisingly), though a stand and a programme is more than many have for the level. The weather just topped the whole trip off, making it all the more enjoyable. Anyway, that’s that for this venture and a trip to the seaside is on the horizon….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 6

Food: N/A (cold snacks in clubhouse/pavilion)

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Denton

Result: Denton Town 3-3 Eagle Sports (Cheshire League Premier Division)

Venue: Whittles Park (Monday 7th May 2018, 3pm)

Att: 28 (hc)

After a pair of costly and longer-range trips over the previous two days of the Bank Holiday weekend, I was looking for somewhere a little cheaper and closer to home to round off the three days of football. As such, when I came across the fact that Denton Town were welcoming Eagle Sports to their Whittles Park home on the Monday afternoon, the decision was made all the more easy. So on a fairly sweltering late morning, I boarded a bus into Manchester, before catching the connecting service from Piccadilly Gardens over towards Denton, not far from Hyde, in the Eastern side of the city.

Dan would be joining me also, though he would be arriving slightly later than me. This was probably for the best too from his point of view, as I made the fatal error of sitting at the front of the bus there, thus baking in the ever-rising temperatures and ending up something resembling a melting ice-lolly come my eventual arrival into the centre of Denton after a 35 minute sauna session. Luckily, I had a pair of pubs standing immediately opposite, the first of which, the large George Fitzpatrick, had bottles of the fine Hooper’s alcoholic Dandelion & Burdock in chilled bottles. With ice on it, it was the perfect tonic. Don’t have tonic with it though, I stress.

The famous Denton Rock

Denton

First two stops (right)

With the day starting off on a cheap note (the travel and first drink coming in at around £7.30 combined), Dan joined me in here before we headed across the way shortly after his arrival and into the very traditional Red Lion. In here, I found the lesser-spotted Boddington’s on offer and, being not too far from the former Boddy’s brewery, decided I ought to indulge in the nectar. At just £2.10 for a pint, it was a bloody bargain!

From here, we caught the bus from outside the pub and travelled a few stops down the road to the end of Prince Edward Avenue, the road to take to reach Whittles Park. The ground is signposted off of the main road too, so there’s little chance of getting lost, as long as you follow the road. After a short walk of around ten minutes or so, we arrived at the gates of the ground and upon heading in for no charge (free entry, not a blag), we took up a spot in the ground’s “stand”. Now, you may have noticed I’ve put stand there in quotes. That, dear reader, is because the “stand” is more a few tree stumps in a concentrated area! Alongside is the patioed, smart clubhouse that was re-constructed a few years ago, shortly after my first visit here. It’s certainly brighter and more airy than its predecessor, and is adorned by pictures, trophies and other paraphernalia from the club’s almost 100-year history.

En route

Arriving at the ground

Bar a little bit of paving to either side of the clubhouse area, the remainder of the ground is surrounded by grassy areas only, meaning it’s probably best to make sure to visit on a day like today, rather than a soggy one, though most of the ground isn’t exactly too easily accessible, with long grass towards and behind the far end being almost impassable. The far side isn’t much more pruned either, though is something of an improvement. The near end doesn’t really exist and backs onto a fence almost immediately after the goal, with a sharp dip down into a field behind giving views down the hill towards the northern end of Hyde and Dukinfield. The pitch is barred off on both sides, with the far end open and the other, as said earlier, just a fence. So, that’s Denton Town’s Whittles Park in a nutshell, and here’s a bit of back-story to the club….

History Lesson:

Denton Town Football Club was founded in 1920 as Bradford Parish F.C. by the rector of Christ Church in the Bradford area of Greater Manchester, close to where Manchester City now play, with some of the Bradford Colliery seams now covered by the City of Manchester Stadium itself. During their inaugural season, the club competed in the Manchester YMCA league and with an average age of just 17, became League and League Cup winners in their first year, whilst playing at the David Lewis Recreation Ground also known as, far more interestingly, Donkey Common.

The following year saw the club join the Openshaw & District League and went undefeated during the league season, taking the title whilst also lifting the league’s League Cup, securing a second double in both of their first two seasons, no mean feat. They then went on to join the Lancashire & Cheshire Amateur Football League in 1922 and entered the lower ‘A’ (later 2nd) Division. Again, the club enjoyed immediate success, winning their divisional title whilst also taking an astonishing 17 coachloads of (apparently around 800)supporters to Urmston for the league’s Rhodes Cup Final, where they also defeated West Didsbury, securing another double for the club.

Wall of history

The following season saw the club in the L&C First Division, which they immediately won and defended their Rhodes Cup title successfully, meaning yet another double, keeping up their record of winning one in every season of their existence. They soon lost this record though and after winning the Hellawell Shield & Clayton Charity Competition Cup in 1926, would be made to wait until 1933 for their (sort of) next silverware, being joint winners of the Manchester & Salford Medical Charities Cup, but really until 1937, with that coming in the form of the Wray Cup and this was their first honour at their new, enclosed, Ashton Moss Athletic Ground. 1938 saw the doubles return, with the club lifting their second L&C Division 1 title whilst also achieving their third Rhodes Cup win. These would be their final successes before the outbreak of WWII.

The club would soon be forced to leave their new home due to bomb damage come the end of the war and move into the Melland Playing Fields in Gorton. However, they still won the title in both of the first two seasons post-war and 1950 saw another Rhodes Cup won with 1953 seeing a Cup double in the form of the Wray Cup returning for a third time whilst Bradford Parish also won the prestigious Lancashire Amateur Cup at Accrington Stanley’s Peel Park, overcoming Morecambe GSOB by 3-1. 1954 saw them defend the Wray Cup and a hat-trick of these was secured the next season. 1956 saw silverware continue to arrive at the club, in the form of their fifth L&C league title and also their first S.E. Wooley Aggregate Trophy success. This latter trophy was won for a second time in 1959 and the following 1959-’60 season rounded off the decade as it had been all the way through, with a sixth L&C Championship being won.

Clubhouse

The Sixties began well, with 1961 seeing their seventh (but what would turn out to be penultimate) Lancs & Cheshire title being won, whilst the Whitehead Cup was won for a second, but final, time. The next season saw the Wray Cup & Rhodes Cup again be lifted by Parish, with the decade seeing two more of the latter (1965 & ’66) and one of the former (1967) arrive before a spell without success would finally be experienced.

Only a single Rhodes Cup (1982), S.E. Woolam Aggregate Trophy (1982) & Wray Cup (1991) would be won in the years leading up to Bradford Parish’s name change to Denton Town F.C. in 1994 and the newly named club moved to their current Whittles Park home the following year. Their first silverware at the new ground arrived immediately, the end of that ’95-’96 season saw the ninth Rhodes Cup be won, but that would be it for a further decade, until 2006 saw the S.E. Woolam Trophy lifted for a fifth time and the Whitehead Cup a third. The next campaign saw the double wins return, with another undefeated league season seeing them lift their eight and last Lancs & Cheshire League title whilst also attaining a tenth Rhodes Cup.

Outdated honours list

After winning yet another Wray Cup in 2008, Denton signed off from the Lancashire and Cheshire League and joined the Cheshire League, playing in the Division 2 after a successful application. Here, Town finished 12th in their first season, before rocketing up to 3rd in 2010 prior to lifting the 2011 title and achieving promotion to Division 1. They have remained here ever since, through its name change to the Premier Division in 2014 and despite struggling for the majority of their spell there (finishing third-bottom in 2014 & ’15 & second-bottom in 2016), things again took an upturn last year, as they finished 3rd. Alas, there was to be no repeat of their Division 2 title win afterwards, the club guaranteed to finish bottom come the end of the season, though restructuring of the pyramid will likely see them retain their spot in the top division.

The game got underway and after just three minutes or so we had our first goal and it was the bottom side, the hosts, who took the lead with a barnstorming strike from 25 yards by Godfred Amankwaa flying into the top corner past the helpless Eagle ‘keeper who could do nothing about it and, indeed, didn’t even attempt to. One-nil to Denton and it looked like that goal-fest I’ve been waiting on for quite a while could finally be on the cards!

It looked to be the case even more so soon after when Eagle grabbed themselves an equaliser. A ball through the defence found its way to Ged McAllister and the striker coolly slotted the ball beyond the ‘keeper and into the net. One-a-piece in around ten minutes and it was game on once more and both sides continued to trade chances, with Denton seeing a big rebound head towards the Eagle goal, which was eventually required to be cleared off the line, with the visitors responding with a low ball across goal that just evaded McAllister once again.

Match Action from the “stand”

Match Action

Match Action

But it was Denton who would begin to gain control of the game from around the 20 minute mark, and Amankwaa would net his second goal of the game mid-way through the half from right out on the side of the box, his low drive somehow squirming its way through the Eagle ‘keeper and into the far corner. They looked to have all but sewn the game up shortly before half-time, when a long-ball over the top, allied with some slack defending, allowed Antonio Din Chin to steal in at the back-post and nod the ball over the line. Three-one going in at the break and for Dan and I, it was off to the bar! It was….”smashing”.

Getting a Magners each for just £4, we awaited the second half in the comfort of the very smart Geoff Gable Lounge, whilst also grabbing a couple of the cardboard leaflets that were put out on the tables as a sort of programme. Sadly, pies were a no-go today as, apparently, I was told by the guy who seemed to be doing pretty much every job under the sun (no pun intended) today, “It’s the first time he hasn’t put any in all season” as we looked at an empty pie oven forlornly warming air. Ah well, the football was soon getting started up once more.

It was Denton who again started the stronger of the sides after the break and almost made it four when a free-kick took an awkward bounce in front of the visiting gloveman, who recovered just enough to block the ball with his legs and it was eventually cleared by his defenders. This proved a crucial moment too as, around half-way through the second period, the ever-threatening McAllister found himself one-on-one after latching onto a long ball forward and he again showed confidence to lift the ball over the advancing Town number one to reduce the arrears to a single goal once again.

Shorts action

Match Action

Match Action

Ryan Bishop then forced a decent stop out of the home ‘keeper with a rocket of a shot from all of 30 yards, the rebound just evading the hat-trick seeking McAllister, and Eagle now found themselves well and truly on the front-foot and almost levelled in pretty cheeky circumstances, knocking a quick-free kick towards goal with the ‘keeper recovering in the nick of time to control the ball on the line before it crossed.

In between the few water breaks here and there, the Sankey-based visitors were now all over their hosts and thought they had levelled in stoppage time, when a long-ball forward saw McAllister and the ‘keeper jump for the ball together, the ball evading both and ending up in the net, but the referee adjudged that the striker had jumped into his opponent rather than against him, and awarded a free-kick to Denton.

However, he then went from zero-to-hero in the eyes of the Eagle team when a trip was committed in the area and the referee had little option to point to the spot and award the penalty. Of course, it was McAllister who would be stepping up with the chance to complete his hat-trick and the Eagle comeback to secure an away point with what would be the last meaningful kick of the game. He did just that, sending the ‘keeper the wrong way and unerringly finding the bottom right-hand corner to earn his side a share of the spoils, much to the chagrin of the hosts after the whistle, who felt hard done by, apparently due to previous happenings going against them too it seemed. Be that as it may, they couldn’t have many complaints with the awarding of today’s penalty and that was that. 3-3, full-time.

McAllister completes his hat-trick

A great game and Eagle player-manager Rob Hope invited us pair of hangers-on to the Fletcher’s Arms for a post-match pint, though this one would be definitely more responsible than other occasions….

Anyway, after being given some directions by a couple of locals, Dan and I headed off towards the pub, though came across Cock first. No, I mean the Cock Inn, deary me. Anyway, a quick pint of Moretti (£3.30) was had in here, before abuse was aimed at me specifically out a red/burgundy Jaguar car just on the corner by a few players from a football team from somewhere. Good job I couldn’t work out who they were….!

Colin (Rob’s Dad and Chairman, Treasurer and groundsman at Eagle) soon dropped the rapscallions off at the Fletcher’s before kindly returning for us and taking us down there, saving a good ten minute walk. After enjoying a pint of Beck’s (by far the dearest of the day at £4.10) in the carvery-style pub’s beer garden with a few of the lads, where I learnt a number of the team weren’t available having been the worse for wear after a day at the Welsh Cup Final the previous afternoon (plus a few that played were too….Robbo?), it was time to return back towards Denton town centre and its many watering holes. Helped out by a seemingly non-timetabled bus turning up on our walk there, we headed up to the pairing of pubs that came along first, the Carter’s Arms and the Chapel House. The former didn’t look any great shakes and so to the larger, Edwardian-style Chapel House it was, where a pint of Holt’s Crystal Lager came in at the strangely priced £2.73. Why always Holt’s?!

Cock Hotel

Fletcher’s Arms

Chapel House

From there, it was a short walk down the road to the next one up, the Toll Point. This was a nice enough little pub too and a quick pint of Dark Fruits (£2.70) was had in here before a final pint was had in the Gardener’s Arms back opposite the bus stop. In here, I had the horror of finding that I’d pretty much exhausted my cash and not really wanting to dip into using my card asked what I could get for about £2.50. “Foster’s” was the answer. I went cold. But, beer is beer and I went for it anyway. It wasn’t too bad either, though the fact it was my eighth beverage of the day may have helped matters somewhat!

Toll Point

Gardener’s Arms from across the square

The bus back into Manchester was easily taken before a trip back home for a couple more was had to round off the day in style. So, what of Denton? Well, the ground is tidy enough (if you ignore the overgrown grass at the far end) and the town is bloody cheap when it comes to the (in Father Jack voice) DRINK! The game had been a fun one and the ground being on the flight path to Manchester Airport always appeals to my geeky side too. Can’t complain about the weather either! So, that rounds off the early May Bank Holiday weekend, and it’s onto next week for another pair of games, which will likely see me at a title-deciding game (or something alike) somewhere, before heading down to the “Smoke” for the final time this season and to Selhurst Park. Got to get there before the bane of my life that is ground “improvements” begin….

RATINGS:

Game: 9

Ground: 5

Food: N/A (chocs and the like were on, pies usually too)

Programme: 2 (Not really one, just a basic history card, free)

Value For Money: 10

 

 

Manchopper in….Orford

Result: Orford 1-1 Windle Labour (Cheshire League 2)

Venue: Orford Jubilee Hub (Saturday 6th May 2017, 3pm)

Att: 35 (peak, hc)

With the season now rapidly approaching its conclusion, my penultimate Saturday saw me staying pretty local. This was originally chosen by one of my random draws, but became even more attractive as a money-saving option, with me discovering Halifax’s play-off semi with Salford was being played on the following afternoon. With a double-header all set up, it was off to the outskirts of Warrington.

Having had the rarity of being able to remain at home almost into the afternoon, I set off for the station, meeting a former colleague of mine as I went. Of course, not wishing to be anti-social, I stopped for a quick chat though soon had to dash to enable me to actually make kick-off!

I arrived into Padgate at just before 1pm (Padgate seems to be the centre of the non-league football world around these parts!) and headed in the general direction of Orford. I say general direction; this actually means that I went the wrong way and, shockingly I know, got lost in the process. Only slightly though, thankfully, and I was soon back on track and heading for my first stop of the day: the Famous King & Queen pub at the foot of the first part of Padgate Lane.

Beer & football is a known quantity by now…

I headed in and had a short wait for service as the bar seemed unattended, though I was able to keep myself from any thoughts of self-service, just about! Eventually the staff arrived back and my Greene King IPA’s price of £2.75 made the wait all the more worthwhile. It’s not a bad pint either, so I’m a bit surprised it is so cheap. Not that I’d recommend upping it mind you…

After watching the blue side of Manchester storm into a commanding lead in their game with Palace, I headed back out onto the streets and for the fifteen minute or so walk onwards up to the Orford Hotel. The issue here came when I was still walking five or so minutes after I should have got there. Once again, my directional sense had failed me and I found myself backtracking, eventually finding myself on the right track and outside the Orford Hotel shortly afterwards.

The Orford is a real throwback sort of pub, split into a number of rooms and set in quite an old building it seems. Anyway, with racing punters in here having a keen eye on their betting slips and, in turn the TV, I instead opted to head into one of said side rooms with a pint of Kronenbourg (£3.30) and stayed for a short time, all the while being watched by portraits on the wall.

The Orford Hotel

Final Stop: The Blackburne Arms…

After exiting here with a couple of goodbyes as I went, I found myself actually knowing where I was going. Yes, yes, calm down, I know it’s a mighty rare occurrence. Anyway, my final stop was the Blackburne Arms which sits at the side of Orford Park where, for all intents and purpose, the ground is located. There is also a cut through onto the pathway to the hub by the side of the pub just to make things easier. This was taken advantage of as was the barrel of Coors in the pub, again at £3.30. Not too bank-breaking around here.

After wasting away some time in here, what with there being next to nothing at the hub to keep most entertained (unless you bring swimwear), kick-off time was soon upon me and so it was back through the park, which was today hosting a funfair and onwards to the ground.

Now, I do use the term “ground” loosely. As I alluded to earlier, with it being located at the rear of the park, there is little more to it than a couple of dugouts bearing the name of the club and a roped-off pitch.  However, there is some hard standing afforded by the Jubilee Hub itself at the near touchline, but that’s pretty much it. I have read somewhere that Orford may move to a different, fully railed pitch for next season, but I don’t know if there’s truth behind it.

Funfair that sound tracked the match

Some wood fitness stuff. I passed.

Orford do, however, issue a small programme (free of charge) which is a rare touch down at this level, so that’s a nice touch and a decent crowd had turned out down at the pitch for this match, which had the added importance of it being a possible title-winning game for the visitors Windle Labour. The team, who play at the same complex as Pilkington and (soon) St. Helen’s Town, needed just a point to secure the Cheshire League 2 in just their first season at that level. Not a bad achievement. Before we get onto the game, here’s a bit of back story to Orford FC…

History Lesson:

Orford Football Club was founded in 1975 as a juniors football club, progressing into open age football once the 3/4 teams the club ran went through the age groups of the Warrington Leagues to reach men’s football. Once the final junior side had made the step, the decision was taken to concentrate solely on open age football from 1989 onwards.

Known as Orford Youth Club the open age side benefited from the full attention winning promotion through the Warrington Sunday League on five successive occasions, winning one championship along the way, until 1996 saw them make the step into Saturday football. This was a successful switch as Orford would go on to win promotion from Division 3 of the Warrington & District League, along with lifting the Depot Cup.

Nice bridge. Didn’t lead anywhere though.

2005 saw the end of a thirty-year stay for the men’s teams at the Orford Youth Club, the club making the move to Orford Park, where they remain to this day, seeing the expansion of the club back into junior football as well as extra open age outfits. 2011 saw Orford become “primary partners” in the redevelopment of Orford Park, with the club making the switch into the Cheshire League for this season, having finished 4th last season in the Warrington & District League’s Premier Division. They currently sit 3rd in the Cheshire League 2.

So, the first half of this game was…well it wasn’t very good. In fact, I can’t think of anything major that happened off the top of my head and it looked the most nailed-on nil-nil you’d ever see. According to Orford’s match report, there was a volley that went over, so thanks for giving me something! Anyway, half-time duly arrived, the nil-nil scoreline still stood and I duly got lost in a men’s changing room while looking for the facilities. Great scenes here.

Match Action

Match Action

View from the covered area

The second half, thankfully, was a far more watchable affair. To be fair, the game hadn’t been helped by a dust bowl of a pitch more akin to something seen on a cricket field in the sub-continent. The dust was flying up at regular intervals, but both teams did their level best to deal with the conditions the best they could to contrive a decent footballing game out of it.

To be honest, there were two actual chances in the game and they both ended up in the back of the net. Firstly, Ryan Cooke broke clear through the centre of the home defence and he strode into the box before confidently finishing across the Orford GK, into the far side of the net. The visitors had that crucial goal they were looking for.

Windle now had the wind(le) in their sails and almost doubled their lead immediately, the #16 getting into the box and looked to have been taken out before he could force the ball into the net. The referee, however, was not having any of it and pointed for the goal-kick, with the visitors still appealing. Despite this, the title was looking ever more secure.

Battling.

Match Action

Orford FC. And some disposed corner flags.

Orford, though, had something to say about it and levelled soon after. The green-clad hosts won a free-kick around 25 yards out from goal. Liam Moran’s set-piece headed straight into the hands of the Windle keeper, but the visiting custodian’s juggling skills let him down, the ball slipping from his grasp and over the line with Orford’s #8 making absolutely sure on the line. However, the ball had crossed the line before his telling touch.

Following some post goal shenanigans on the touch-line, the game continued on but without anything else of note in truth and the game came to an end with the visitors cheering ringing out above the sounds and shouts of the funfair. Windle Labour were Cheshire League 2 champions and Orford’s own impressive first season at Cheshire League level had fallen just short of a promotion place.

After the game, I headed back for Padgate, just missing out on the earlier train back. Alas, I was forced into a final drink and headed for the nearby Jolly Falstaff, having already visited the station neighbouring Stocks a couple of weeks back. The Jolly Falstaff was another cheap place, with a pint of cider in here setting me back less than the magic £3.

The Jolly Falstaff

Eventually my time in the Warrington area was over once more and a ten minute walk saw me back at the station for my train back down the line. All in all, the day had been nothing more than I’d expected really. A simple, park-based ground, a close game which wasn’t helped at all by the pitch conditions, some decent ‘places of interest’ (or pubs if you prefer) around and a title win too. Congratulations Windle. Now it’s onto another game with a fair amount riding on it. The Shay awaits…

 

RATINGS:

Game: 3

Ground: 3

Food: N/A (vending machines available in foyer)

Programme: 5 (bonus point for just issuing!)

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Lostock Gralam

Result: Lostock Gralam 0-3 AFC Macclesfield (Cheshire League 1)

Venue: The Park Stadium (Monday 1st May 2017, 3pm)

Att: 20 (approx.)

With the season drawing to a close, it was time to delve back down into the lower levels of the pyramid. As such, a fine choice looked to be Lostock Gralam of the Cheshire League’s League 1 and so, after some deliberation, it was to their Park Stadium that I was headed for.

Heading into Manchester before midday, I had a good half-hour before my train down to Lostock Gralam. So, with me deciding it’d be a waste of 30 minutes otherwise, I headed for Piccadilly Station’s Hourglass Bar for a pint of their Löwenbrau beer. Despite its £4.80 price tag, I’m always more than happy to indulge in its fineness.

After having it brought to me after an issue with the pipes, I spent the half-hour I had watching the departure boards and watching my train head closer and closer to the top of the screen and, eventually, my train headed to within the final ten minutes to its departure and I headed down to the platform and onto my borderline prehistoric rattler down to the Cheshire village.

I eventually arrived at shortly after 1pm and headed immediately for the first pub of the day , the Watermead. The Watermead was your standard new-build Marston’s pub, so there was little to get the pulse racing. This was accentuated by the £3.90 pint of Shipyard. Oh, ‘Spoons, how I yearn for you and your cheap beers. Anyway, bar this, there was little to complain about, but  I soon got a bit fed up and headed back up the road towards the ground.

Lostock Gralam

The Watermead

Sadly, the ground neighbouring Slow and Easy was closed pre-match and so I headed for the ground directly through the car park. Again, with a good hour until kick-off, I soon got restless here and scouted out a wine bar close by. I assured the guy at the gate I’d be returning after he asked “Are you leaving now?!”, and headed back out onto the road. Unfortunately,  I was denied a further pre-match beer by this place being shut-up and so I turned back, tail between my legs, and returned to the Park Stadium. Despite this un-fruitful detour, I did get to snap a couple of pictures of the town’s canal moorings. You’ve got to find the positives somewhere, eh?!

Shame the canal side bar was shut

Arriving back at the ground

I ended up back at the ground with a good half-hour to kick-off, though this passed fairly quickly due to weather being on the warm side for once! So it wasn’t long until the sides headed into the dressing rooms ahead of kick-off, with one player from the home side claiming that “(the pitch) suits us more than it does them”. Would he be correct? Well, you should know by now. If not, then the drama has just been upped.

As for the Park Stadium, well, it’s simplistic. That’s not to say it’s not a lovely ground though. The far end is an open, grassy area, so probably not too friendly come rainy days. In fact, the whole ground lacks hard standing, but there is some respite in a small, covered standing area towards the far end on the near side touchline as you enter. The pub end is populated by the modern changing rooms/refreshment bar (plus a few tables) with a grass mound running the length of the far side of the pitch. With that out of the way, here’s a bit about Lostock Gralam’s story…

History Lesson:

Lostock Gralam FC was founded in 1892, thus making the club one of the oldest in the county of Cheshire and the club have played at the Park Stadium for over a century. The club also helped to establish the Mid-Cheshire League upon its formation in 1948 and have continued their presence within it since.

The club won the Mid-Cheshire League in  1951, ’52 & ’53, completing a hat-trick of league titles, but had to wait a decade for their next triumph. However, they would go on to record a further trio of consecutive titles between 1966 & ’68, before bowing out of the league at the close of the ’74-’75 season, not reappearing until the ’93-’94 season, after almost a twenty year hiatus.

Shiny new clubhouse

LGFC

Following a Division 2 title win in 1997, and subsequent relegation in ’99, In recent years, the Grey Lambs (with perhaps one of the sweetest club badges of all time) won the Cheshire League’s Division 2 in 2010 to return to the league’s top-flight. They remained here through until 2014 when they were promoted to the Division One once more, but were relegated again the following season back to Division 2 and finished fifth, before being awarded a place in the newly formed “League 1”, the second tier of the newly created three-tier system in the Cheshire League.

The game got underway and it quickly became apparent that the visitors would be the dominant force during this fixture. Despite there being little in terms of pure action during the first period, it was Macclesfield who took the lead, Lee Quinlan managing to force a header from around 12 yards beyond the Gralam GK, despite him getting a decent hand to it. So the visitors led 0-1 and looked fairly comfortable.

Slightly earlier on, I had overheard someone mention the name of Paul Dickov. Now, I hadn’t thought much of it, past his involvement in the charity game on the coming Sunday (7th May) against AFC Macc. But, on the quintessential lap of the ground, I spotted the City play-off legend watching the contest on the far side. So, having got somewhat used to seeing Mancunian footballing legends at lower league levels (see my Prestwich Heys blog for another), I headed over to try to secure a snap with the former Oldham and Doncaster manager. Dickov couldn’t have been more courteous and after a quick chat, I left him to watch the team his son competes for net their second of the afternoon.

Match Action

Match Action

Meeting Paul Dickov. Top Guy!

Having mostly dominated the first half, in terms of the final third, it was unsurprising that Macc would go on to double their lead as the ball was forced in by #9 Jay Burgess whilst he was lying on the ground and surrounded by a couple of defenders in a similar position. It was a pretty scrappy goal, but they all count. Two-nil to Macclesfield and half-time was quickly upon us. I headed for the refreshment bar and purchased a mug of tomato soup for just £1 to accompany me through the break.

Half-Time refreshment!

The second half got underway and it was certainly more open and entertaining than the first. Lostock had their chances, though these came through their set-pieces. Firstly, they came oh so close to forcing their way back into the game with their #5 having an effort cleared off the line following a corner, before Macc went straight down the other end and forced a great chance to end the game as a contest, the ref pulling the game back for a spot-kick.

Up stepped the #11, but his kick was comfortably saved by the home custodian, though Macc’s disappointment was fairly short-lived as they would soon add their third, Jack Banister stealing the ball from a defender in the corner of the pitch before advancing into the area and finishing confidently; Nil-three and the points were, almost certainly, heading back to Macclesfield. Well Woodley, but you know.

Mound action. Only suitable for dry days.

Nice stand here. Love that stand.

View from said stand

The action wasn’t to finish there, though, as Lostock lost their sub to an apparent elbow, before skipper #5 again went so close to grabbing a consolation, seeing his 20-yard free-kick come back off the upright with the visiting ‘keeper beaten. Here endeth the action on the whole and Macc saw out the remaining fifteen minutes in comfort to secure the points.

Following the game, I headed for the Slow and Easy which had, mercifully, opened during the first half and thus spared me a good forty minute wait at Lostock Gralam station. Having headed inside, I was denied a pint of Staropramen’s Praha and so settled for Carling’s Cider which was ok. What was decent, though, was the fact I was allowed to dip into the post-match chips laid on for the players in here, courtesy of one of the Grey Lambs’ staff, so thanks for that.

Badge emblazoned door

In the Slow and Easy

Sadly, there wasn’t many of either side that took advantage of the post-match food, bar a few of the visiting side, and so it was soon time to head out and away from the Bank Holiday favourite ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ on the TV. I arrived back at the station just as the train back to Piccadilly rolled in. Timed to perfection once again!

My journey back was spent reading the Non-League Paper I’d picked up en route to the game and the Farsley Celtic programme from the prior Saturday, as well as marvelling over Knutsford being the capital of the world, considering how many had got off on the way and then got back on as I returned. (K)nuts!

Bar the crazy Knutsford popularity, the journey back was largely uneventful, though all my connections worked like clockwork (a rarity) to allow me to get back a good hour earlier than I expected.

So, a good day was had in Lostock Gralam. Yes there isn’t much to the village, but it’s a pleasant little place and ground, with the added bonus of it being on the airport flight path to add to my sadness! The game was decent enough and meeting Paul Dickov, scorer of one of the goals that has stuck with me from my earlier footballing memories made it all the more worthwhile. Next week sees the penultimate weekend of my 2016-’17 season. Writing this at almost 10pm, you have as much of an idea where I’m headed as I do!

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 5

Food: 3 (Soup)

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 7