Manchopper in….Congleton

Result: Congleton Town 2-2 Longridge Town (AET, 1-1 after 90 minutes) (FA Vase 3rd Round)

Venue: Ivy Gardens/Booth Street (Saturday 30th November 2019, 3pm)

Att: 225.

As another weekend rolled around, my intended plan to continue on with the FA Cup rounds fell apart pretty early on during, as the contracting of one of the many colds flying around largely did for me. As such, visits to the likes of Cheltenham & the Posh were off limits and I instead turned to the FA Vase fixtures. There was a few worth considering, but one stood out more, despite being a revisit. The fact being that (brace for a real shock) my previous blog to Congleton had missed out the vast majority of pubs in the town, and I’ve long since wanted to put that right. This Vase fixture against Longridge Town ticked those boxes and so I was off to Beartown once again.

Not without issue, however. Having queued for a good four minutes or so at the ticket office, I was then issued with a wrong ticket and told to buy on the train instead. First issue, no conductor was available on the journey into Oxford Road, and I hadn’t had time to put in for a “Promise to Pay” notice, as the train was about to leave. “No bother, I’ll buy at Oxford Road as I’ve done countless times before”, I thought – but OH, WHAT A MISTAKEA TO MAKEA! Making my way to the ticket office and still with the correct fare in my hand, that wasn’t good enough for the Northern jobsworth, and I was soon in possession of a penalty fare notice. Great. My own notice to Northern is….I’m not paying; it was already issued wrongly as I was allowed to start the journey by one of your employees. Check your T’s&C’s!!

I needed one in here. Not the best, though.

Arriving in Congleton centre

Beartown Tap

Anyway, all that idiocy was soon out of the way and I was arriving into Congleton without further issue. I began with a brief visit to the Railway for perhaps the second flattest pint of Amstel (£3.60) I’ve ever had (a pub in Manchester owns that, ahem, distinction) before heading off on the short 15 minute walk into the town centre. I decided to make the Beartown Tap my second stop of the day, with the barman being quite pleased with my answer of “Anything, really!” to the question “What do you like to drink?”! I eventually opted for a Berliner Pilsner – lovely stuff too, at £4.40!

Congleton is a town and civil parish within the unitary authority of Cheshire East – part of the wider ceremonial county of Cheshire. The first more recent reference to the town’s name was made in 1282 when it was spelt as Congelton and it is theorised that the name of the town may derive from the Old Norse kang, meaning “bend”, and the Old English word tun, referring to a settlement. However, the area has history dating back to the Neolithic era, with both Stone and Bronze age artefacts having been discovered around the town, whilst the thought that Congleton grew up during the Roman occupation has since become less likely to be true. Instead, it became a market town upon the destruction of nearby Davenport by the marauding Vikings. Godwin, Earl of Wessex, held the town during the Saxon-era, and the town was mentioned in the Domesday Book as Cogeltone: Bigot de Loges upon the arrival of the Normans, with William the Conqueror giving the lands of Cheshire to his nephew, the Earl of Chester.

Congleton

Christmassy Congleton

A castle was added in 1208 and the de Lacy family who came to own Congleton during the same century granted the town a charter to hold a market and fairs – whilst also being allowed a mayor, behead criminals and have an ale-taster. I know which one sounds the more attractive proposition! 1451 saw Congleton gutted by the flooding caused by the River Dane and the resultant recovery saw the river diverted and the town rebuilt upon higher ground. It was during the 1600’s that Congleton’s links with bears came into being, with the unfortunate “sports” of bear-baiting and cockfighting becoming popular with the locals, though crowds soon became lower due to the lack of aggression in the town’s bear and the lack of funds to purchase a more ferocious beast. The bear/bible trade legend comes from this, with bible funds collected being used to purchase a bear instead, with the fund replenished upon the bear’s arrival drawing larger attendances! So, it was not to actually purchase a new bear directly, as per the tale. The town’s nickname “Beartown” is duly derived from this folklore.

The Civil War involved Congleton indirectly, as the town’s former mayor, John Bradshaw, became the sitting President of the court that condemned Charles I to the hangman’s noose in 1649 and his signature, as Attorney General, was the first upon the King’s death warrant. The White Lion Hotel is said to have been the location where the articles where served by Bradshaw. After the return of the monarchy and under King Edward I, Congleton was granted permission to construct a mill and this allowed the town to become a centre of textile making – particularly leather and lace – in addition to its older silk-making mill from the 1700’s and despite steadily declining, the industry remained in the form of silk labels right through until the 1990’s.

The town has been home to a Saint, Margaret Ward, who was executed by order of Elizabeth I for enabling a priest’s prison escape, the great-great-great grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II, Robert Hodgson, Cpt. Percy Wilson MC (WWI flying ace) and Victoria Cross recipient G.H. Eardley VC MM. Olympic gold-winning couple Ann Packer and Robbie Brightwell have also lived in the town, as have their sons; ex-footballers Ian and David Brightwell. Other older footballers include Hugh Moffat (ex-Burnley and Oldham Athletic), Bill Fielding (Manchester Utd, Bolton Wanderers, Cardiff City) and George Cawley (Stoke City, Southampton, Manchester City), along with the far more recent England international striker, Daniel Sturridge.

Young Pretender

Prince of Wales

Olde King’s Arms

White Lion

From the Tap, I continued back towards the high street, bypassing another pub bearing (sorry) the Beartown name, this time the Beartown Cock (a pub, not an unfortunate nickname) for the moment and instead diving into the rather easily missable Young Pretender- somewhat fitting considering my visit to Dumfries the previous weekend. Another continental pint here, this time Flensburger (£4.10), went down well, before I began to visit the more historic, listed offerings Congleton has to offer. The first of the three that are in close formation with each other was the Prince of Wales, a Joules’ pub, which of course offered up the usual Joules choice of mine – the Pale Ale (£3.40). With time beginning to run short after popping into the small, yet striking Olde King’s Arms for a San Miguel (£3.80) , the White Lion was ticked off the list via a bottle of Corona (£3.20), before I headed on the few minutes walk up to Booth Street – or Ivy Gardens, whichever you prefer!

Paying the £6 entry at the gate in the corner of the ground, you have to climb a couple of steps to get up to pitch level, where you quickly come across the programme hut. Another £2 was paid here, prior to a visit to the food hut (for a fine portion of chips, peas and gravy) which is connected to the clubhouse, and situated in behind the ground’s all-seater Main Stand that straddles the halfway line. Between this and the turnstiles, there is a small club shop and a covered terrace area, with another one at each end too – the latter of these being the most recent addition to Booth Street. The other side of the field is home to another, fairly recent, covered standing area, which is neighboured by the dugouts out front, interestingly across the field from the dressing rooms/tunnel. The remainder of the ground is open, hard standing, with the old banking still in situ at the far-end, now flanking the new stand. That’s the ground in a nutshell, and this is the story of Congleton’s footballing bears….

History Lesson:

Congleton Town Football Club was founded in 1901 and originally joined the Crewe & District League, which they went on to win in each of their first three seasons, alongside the 1904 Crewe & District Cup, prior to joining the North Staffordshire & District League in 1906. They finished runners-up in 1915, before ceasing playing during WWI, returning for one post-war season there, whereupon they became 1919-’20 champions. They subsequently joined the Cheshire County League where they lifted a first Cheshire Senior Cup in 1921, whilst finishing 2nd to Winsford United in their first campaign there. The club remained in the league through to 1939, winning their second Cheshire Senior Cup a year earlier, whereupon they spent a sole season in the Macclesfield & District League, finishing as equal-winners in the table prior to defeating Bollington Cross in a title-play-off to be crowned champions.

After the end of World War II, the Bears returned to the Cheshire County League, but struggled for the most part, finishing bottom in 1948 and never getting out of the bottom-end of the table during the next decade. They again finished bottom in 1965, and so joined the Manchester League instead, where they spent three seasons before joining Mid-Cheshire League. Finishing runners-up in each of 1970 and 1972, 1974 saw Congleton win the league and they repeated the feat two seasons later. They again finished 2nd in 1977, before winning their third Mid-Cheshire League title the next year (alongside the 1978 Cheshire Saturday Cup), a win which preceded their move back up to the Cheshire County League for the following season, where they became champions in the league’s final year, 1981-’82, prior to its merger with the Lancashire Combination to form the North West Counties Football League, which Congleton duly became founder members of.

Arriving at Booth St.

A bear clubhouse

Playing in the new league’s Division One, the Bears finished runners-up in 1986, missing out on the title on goal difference alone, before they joined another newly-formed division – the Northern Premier League’s Division One – in 1988. When here, Congleton made the First Round of the FA Cup, defeating Witton Albion in the 4th Qualifying Round before going down to local Football League side Crewe Alexandra 2-0. However, for the most part they struggled, and after finishing bottom in 2001, the club was relegated to the NWCFL Division One once more. Interestingly, the club lost the 2002 Mid-Cheshire Senior Cup final to Northwich Victoria, despite the Trickies having subbed their final penalty-taker during the match. Despite this, the result was allowed to stand and Vics remained the…ahem…victors, although the Bears got their day in the sun in 2007, when they did lift the trophy. The club have remained in the Counties’ top-tier, through its 2008 name change to the Premier Division, to this day, finishing last season in 3rd position under manager Brian Pritchard.

After a minute’s silence for a number of reasons which I couldn’t quite catch due to being in the queue for the food bar, we were underway in this all-North West Counties Vase clash. Longridge began slightly on top with marginally the better of the play, but it was the hosts who created the better sights of goal. Dan Cope would go close on a couple of occasions, before the same man then thought he’d broken the deadlock with a finely taken, acrobatic effort, only for his strike to be ruled out by the linesman’s flag. The dangerous Cope then saw his header held on the line by Longridge stopper Lee Dovey, and the visitors responded to this with Finlay Sinclair-Smith forcing Bears ‘keeper Riccardo Longato into a fine stop – the debutant gloveman tipping his drive onto the post.

Match Action

Match Action

Getting darker….

After going close again through Scott Harries, Longridge then also found themselves on the wrong end of the offside flag, a George Thomason finish from close range being ruled out by the other assistant, but it was Congleton that almost grabbed the elusive opener, Cope once more being denied by a fine stop in the latest chapter of his battle against Dovey. That was largely that for the first half, a half that had been highly watchable, but despite having seen the ball hit the net at either end, still remained goalless. Half-time saw me and Richard (the other half of non-league dogs) come across each other during what I assume was a lap of the ground and this thankfully, considering the cold that was beginning to envelop the Booth Street ground, was to keep me entertained for the next 45, so cheers Rich!

Anyway, the second half got going with the visitors this time seeing largely the better of the play, though there was less in the way of overall chances for both sides, compared to the first period. Indeed, it took the best part of fifteen minutes for the first one of note to come around and even then it was one made out of nothing. Tom Ince advanced forward into the hosts’ half before meeting a loose ball and unleashing a fizzing, rising volley that cannoned off the crossbar and over onto the grass bank behind Longato’s goal. As the half wore on, Congleton centre-back Josh Ryder saw his headed effort cleared off the line and Longridge were again denied by Longato and after Cope had gone close yet again for the Bears, Tom Ince looked to have won it five minutes from time, when he calmly slotted into the bottom corner from just outside the area.

Match Action

50/50

It looked like the Bears’ Vase run would end on this chilly Cheshire evening, but Bevan Burey had other ideas. On 92 minutes, the striker, who’d come on half-way through the second forty-five, reacted quickest to Kyle Diskin’s low shot being tipped onto the bar, to slot beyond the helpless, luckless Dovey and send the home fans into raptures. Extra-time it was and the first 15 yielded a second Longridge goal, as Scott Harries fired in after 102 minutes of play to become the second player from the Lancastrian side to seemingly be sending them through to Round 4. But again, the hosts wouldn’t go down without a fight, and the final quarter-hour saw them again draw level, Cope finally seeing one of his strikes find the target without issue – the forward latching onto a free-kick at the back-post to knock home.

Extra-time, from the stand

The ball in for the leveller

Dramatically, Kieran Brislen almost won the tie for Congleton with the last meaningful kick of the game, but saw his shot fly narrowly wide of the mark, and that would be that, the 2-2 draw meaning both sides would meet again in midweek to settle the score once-and-for-all (Longridge would take it 2-0 back up Preston way). Post-match, I returned back through the frosty, slippery back-streets and towards the centre once more, paying a visit to another of the town’s elder statesmen, the interestingly named Lion & Swan Hotel. A pint of Estrella (£4.20) was had in here as I took in a very enjoyable warm (though was chilled by a “ghosthunting” poster I spotted, before continuing on to the town’s Wetherspoon’s offering, the Counting House, where I tested out the Monkey Mango cider. This was a very decent pint and you can’t go far wrong with the price at £3.09 anyway, can you?

Lion & Swan

Counting House

After returning to the Beartown Cock for a Berries & Cherries Old Mout offering, I headed back uphill to the station, nicely in time for the train back to Manchester. No issues here, though the next two trains home were then cancelled (oh, the irony – I wonder if the penalty fare ties in, perhaps) and so it was a bus job instead….which included a jog down to Piccadilly Gardens to give me any chance of catching it. Thank God nothing can keep to timetables is all I can say!!

So that’s that for my third visit to the home of the Bears. A good game which had been a highly entertaining watch, regardless of it being goalless for almost the whole 90. Congleton is a great little town in my opinion, and the ground has the rustic charm that is often missing nowadays. Richard’s company kept the cold off somewhat during the second-half although, as he said later, I’m sure the replay was even colder still. So another week is done, a small courts visit may still be on the cards at time of writing, so there’s another new experience peering over the horizon! Footballing-wise, it’s off to somewhere that brews up quite a fair bit, but not trouble, I’d hope….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Programme: 6

Food: 8

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Hanley

Result: Hanley Town 0-4 Congleton Town (NWCFL Premier Division)

Venue: Potteries Park (Monday 22nd April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 117

I rounded off my trifector of Easter fun with a second visit to Stoke in just about as many weeks. Having visited City’s Britannia Stadium home the Saturday before the Easter weekend, I returned once more via the medium of the twittersphere, though not quite as clear cut as it ought to have been admittedly. The original winner, Market Drayton, was unreachable by any reasonable public transportation options and so the runner-up was promoted. Off to Hanley I was.

Grabbing the train from Manchester, I arrived into Stoke-on-Trent station at about 11am and set about on the short walk up to Hanley, passing the university buildings as I went. After paying a visit to Hanley Park for a bit of culture, I made haste for the more pleasurable part of the trip to date. Pubs. Did you expect any less?! Having been given some tips of where to try out from Stoke native Dave on twitter, I had some expectations of what was to come, though my first sighting was to be the Coachmakers Arms – and it was here that history was made….

Hanley Park

Coachmaker’s Arms

Down Piccadilly to the Bottle & Tap and Unicorn

ID?! I exclaimed incredulously and it was only my answer that prompted the question of my age. Yes, at 27, I had finally been ID’d for alcohol. Madness, but I’m not complaining, especially when you are feeling the aches and strains at this point! The guy was apologetic for some unknown reason and felt a bit embarrassed. I assured him he had no reason to be as he’d already made my day! A pint of Mango cider (£3.70) was had before I set off the short walk around the town hall towards Piccadilly – though this one was a fair bit more serene than its brethren in Manchester & London, that’s for sure.

Hanley is a constituent town in Stoke-on-Trent and was first incorporated as a municipal borough in 1857 and then became a county borough in 1888. In 1910, it merged together with another five towns:- Burslem, Longton, Tunstall, Fenton and Stoke-upon-Trent to be federated into the new county borough of Stoke-on-Trent (see here for a little more on that), and after a bit of a struggle, Stoke finally became a city in 1925 via royal intervention with the six towns continuing to make up the area. Hanley became the de facto city centre and is home to most of the retail and other commercial businesses and outlets. Piccadilly, here, hosts an annual Sanity Fair and a French market and the town is also home to Stoke’s LGBTQ pride events.

Hanley Town Hall

Hanley

It derives its name from either “haer lea” (high meadow) or “heah lea” (rock meadow) and was once a large coal mining area, with the town’s deep pit being the deepest in North Staffordshire at a depth of around 1,500ft. It closed in 1962 with much of the pits left in situ before finally being cleared away in the 1980’s and being turned into Hanley Forest Park. The miners of Hanley and Longton became the focal point of the General Strike of 1842 and the Pottery Riots associated with the strike. The town is home to a main bus station and is connected elsewhere via the canal waterways of the Trent and Mersey Canal and the Cauldon Canal and in-keeping with the water-based theme, it was home to the RMS Titanic’s skipper Edward Smith whilst, away from that side of things, Sir Stanley Matthews is the town’s vaunted sporting son, a statue of Matthews stands in the town centre.

On my arrival at the Hanley version of Piccadilly, I set my sights on one of Dave’s recommendations, the Bottle & Tap – so named as it sells bottles and has taps, I assumed. What I hadn’t assumed was that the pint would cost me a cool £6.30, though on the basis I was asked, it wasn’t actually listed as a pint and the fact the Wylam & Deya Orange Wit was bloody gorgeous, I’ll let it slide. Great place too, and well worth a visit. Just choose smarter that me if you are tight on a budget!! After going on a fruitless foray to a closed up pub near a theatre, I returned to Piccadilly for the Unicorn where another surprise awaited.

Unicorn

Auctioneer (Market Tavern opposite)

‘Spoons

I entered the old building and rounded the corner only to be met by a lady wielding a magazine around the doorway. “I almost got you then!” was her response to my appearance and after an apology and the fact that it was the flies she was after and not me (Father Ted-type reference there) I settled in over a pint of Heineken (£4) whilst keeping a close eye on the magazine rack.

I left the friendly pub and continued on the crawl over the way to the Auctioneer & Market Tavern which stand just across the way from each other. Both were alright but nothing much to shout about and after a couple of Dark Fruits, at £2.40 & £2.65 respectively (time was against me and I wanted to recoup some cash after my earlier minting), I paid a swift visit to the neighbouring Wetherspoons for a quick bottle of Hooch as I planned on grabbing a bus to the ground or, failing that, it wasn’t too far. Oh, how wrong I was. No bus, the walk was further than it looked and I eventually arrived around 7 minutes in and had missed a goal. Superb. I should also add that I had jogged to the ground from the centre too and I don’t recommend it! At least I’d saved a programme. Got to look at the positives, however little they are.

Potteries Park, Hanley’s home, is a tidy little ground, it’s turnstiles are located behind a pair of atcost style stands on the near side of the pitch, whilst an older covered standing area stands opposite. Both ends are open, though the clubhouse to the left side sits in the corner and has a few seats and tables around it. It also houses the bar, food hut and dressing rooms etc. That’s the ground in a nutshell and this is the tale of Hanley Town….

History Lesson:

The original Hanley Town Football Club was founded back around the early 1880’s with the club later going on to join the Combination in 1894 for a single season before leaving and subsequently folding in 1912. The name wouldn’t reappear until a Sunday pub side known as the Trumpet took on the town name in 1966 and switched to Saturday football, entering the local Longton League and winning the title at the first attempt. Playing on a pitch on Victoria Road he club moved up to the Staffordshire County League after this success and went on to achieve swift success there too, taking the Division 2 title, again at the first attempt, and being promoted to Division One which was also won first time around. A decent start to life for the new Hanley Town outfit.

HTFC

In the Premier Division of the Staffs County League for 1969-’70, Hanley lifted the league’s Premier Cup that same year and went on to finish runners-up in the league too. They would finish second for a further two consecutive seasons before finally taking the title in 1973 and then again in 1976 this latter season leading the club to take the step into the Mid-Cheshire League’s Division 2 and also saw them move to their new Potteries Park home, after spells at Trentmill Road (with Eastwood Hanley) and Leek Town’s Harrison Park. Again they saw silverware arrive quickly, their first season seeing them win the 1977 Division 2 Cup with a win over Knutsford and a third-placed finish come the end of the following campaign saw Hanley promoted to Division One. They would win the title in 1983 but it was here they eventually hit a road-block – the North West Counties refusing entry due to ground-grading issues – and after a few years in mid-table, the club finished bottom of Division One in 1994 and dropped into junior football for a couple of years.

Returning to the Mid-Cheshire League in 1996 and again joining in Division 2, Hanley would this time spend just two seasons competing there before making a switch to the Midland League instead. They would win the Midland League title in 2005, becoming the league’s final ever champions after the league subsequently merged with the Staffs League to create the Staffordshire County Senior League from then on. Hanley also then claimed the honour of being the new league’s first champions, taking the Premier Division championship in 2006 before then just missing out on defending their crown the next season, ending as runners-up.

Memories….

The club would go on to finish as runners-up once again in 2011 but would then take successive titles in both 2012 & 2013 which led them to take promotion to the North West Counties League for 2013-’14. The latter season was hugely successful for the side as they achieved a quadruple via also lifting the Staffs County Senior League Cup, Leek Cup and Staffordshire FA Vase. Joining the Counties’ Division One, the club finished fourth in 2015 and thus qualified for the First Division play-offs but after defeating Holker Old Boys in the semis, they lost out to AFC Darwen in the final. However they would go one better next time around, winning the Division One the next season and being promoted to the Premier Division, where they finished a highly creditable 8th last season, though have battled the drop this time out.

As I said earlier on, I’d arrived a little late and with the score already at one-nil there was little surprise that Congleton were on top. As it turned out, the away fans I spoke to during the first half informed me of the opener’s details and, of course, I’d missed the best goal of the lot. John Main was the man who grabbed it, apparently finding the net with a fine curling effort from just inside the area. I wouldn’t have to wait long to actually see a goal myself though, luckily and it was the Bears who would double their advantage as Tom Morris was played in and coolly finished past the Hanley ‘keeper Dane Jackson.

Match Action

Match Action

Signed.

The visitors would add a third to all-but kill off the game within the first half-hour as tall frontman Saul Henderson fired a free-kick beyond the home stopper from around 20 yards. The Bears continued to be well on top through to half-time, with Hanley barely mustering an effort of note to work Craig Ellison in the away goal, whilst Congleton would go close on a couple more occasions and it could have easily have been five-nil at the break. Speaking of which, the whistle must have come as a welcome shrill sound to ears of those of a home-team persuasion. 3-0, half-time.

During the break and over a fine portion of pie, chips and gravy which really was some of the better food I’ve had the pleasure of feasting upon over the previous couple of months at least, I got talking to a Hanley committee member (whose name escapes me at this later date of writing, so I do apologise but it was great speaking to you)who’d offered me a seat at the table so I could get on with devouring the food in my grasp and speaking about the football scene here and there more than passed the time through to the second-half getting going once again. Back on with the show!

The beginning of the half saw a response of sorts from the hosts as they forced Ellison into action early on in proceedings but despite being on top for the first fifteen minutes or so they couldn’t find a goal to give them any kind of hope going forward. As such with around twenty minutes or so left on the clock, Congleton were awarded a corner and despite the delivery not being the best, the ball eventually fell to Billy Hasler-Cregg and the wide-man side-footed home off the inside of the post.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Despite this, Hanley didn’t give in and went about searching for any kind of consolation which may have turned out to be crucial in their battle with the drop as you just never know what might pop-up before the season’s end. Indeed, they really ought to have recorded at least one goal, with an Ellison double save and a fine defensive block in quick succession denying them first time around, Jake Alcock then firing over when well placed and Serkari Ahmadi striking across Ellison but also against the foot of the far post in the last real action of the game, as Congleton held on to the clean sheet by the slimmest of margins. Full-time, 0-4.

The post-match trip back to Hanley was a little more serene and after popping into the (Dave informed) newly reponed and rather impressive looking Woodsman’s Arms for a second Lilley’s Mango cider of the day (£3.60) I continued on to my final stop, the Albion back opposite the town hall for a Strongbow (£2.40) whilst a DJ did his thing to a small audience. The trip back was uneventful and I was home nice and swiftly. Thank God for that!

Woodsman’s Arms

The Albion

The day as a whole had been decent enough with Hanley proving decent enough on the pub front, whilst the ground and game were both on the positive side of things too, though the ground more so as the game was rather dead as a contest for the most part. Transport was easy, programme and food decent and excellent respectively and, all in all, it had been a good round off for the three games in four days extravaganza. Back to normality for a week and a trip to Sutton Coldfield for a play off vs relegation clash, before the May Day holiday provides more multiple options. Excitement doesn’t come close….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: 8

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Nelson

120px-Nelson_FCCongleton Town

Result: Nelson 0-1 Congleton Town (NWCFL Premier Division)

Venue: Victoria Park (Saturday 26th March 2016, 3pm)

Att: 93

Yet another weekend that began in some doubt with regard to just where I would find myself ending up for the Easter Saturday game. With the weather throwing up a few storms over the country, the forecast leading up to the game at Nelson looked less than helpful to ensuring the game would go ahead. But, after a quick check with the club on twitter, I was given some hope and decided to risk the trip to Lancashire.

After heading into Warrington, it would be at Bank Quay station where my journey from hell would begin in earnest. After a 14 minute delay in Cheshire, my train eventually pulled in and got us on the way towards my next stop off in Preston, where I then had a 15 minute wait for the train onwards to Nelson. Not too bad you’d think. But you haven’t heard about this train then being cancelled due to a door deciding it didn’t want to shut and thus meaning an hour’s delay. What a shame Northern Rail are to soon be gone…

Anyway, luckily the Preston Hero station pub came to my rescue along with a bottle of Birra Moretti, which kept me sane for the rest of my wait. Eventually, the clock ticked on towards 1pm and so I made my way over to the platform where I would be finally able to begin the final leg of the trip. This, I pondered, is why I set off early to games now.

Soon enough I was on the Northern service bound for Colne and was heading there via every possible town and village on the way. Seriously, even stations like Cherry Tree and Burnley Barracks were visited as we trundled slowly on towards my detraining. It did come as some relief to finally see the signs at the Nelson Interchange and to get out of the recycled bus and onto the soil of the Red Rose county.

The Hero. My Hero.

The Hero. My Hero.

Station Hotel

Station Hotel

Nelson

Nelson

First stop was the grand looking Station Hotel which sits, unsurprisingly, next to the station. With not too long to wait in here, I quickly finished off my Kronenbourg before heading through the streets of Nelson towards Victoria Park, which I had last visited no less than 8 years ago when watching Trafford on their way to the Counties title. But today I would be there as a neutral, and after heading through an underpass under the motorway, I followed some Congleton fans down a small entry which spewed us out right at the turnstiles. Easy! Entry paid and I was in.

Victoria Park hasn’t changed really from what I could recall, with it still housing its one stand on the far side. The stand houses both seating and terracing, with the small amounts of terrace flanking the seating on both sides. Behind both goals is open standing, though the far end houses the changing rooms and clubhouse, complete with one row of seats, and a few other huts. The near side is also open and houses the dugouts.

There's a ground around here...

There’s a ground around here…

...there it is!

…there it is!

Santa's had a change of career

Santa’s had a change of career

After a quick visit to the clubhouse to purchase a programme, for a  slightly pricey £2 considering the overall content (though thanks to the guy in there who helped me locate them due to my absolute blindness), and a steak and kidney pie for around £2.50 (much more worth the price) it was almost time for the game to begin as both sides’ players entered the cosy tunnel. But first, the history of Nelson FC for you lucky folk…

History Lesson:

Nelson FC was formed in 1881 and became founder members of the Lancashire League in 1889, their first silverware coming in the shape of the Hospital Cup (1889, ’92). They became champions in 1896 but folded just three years later. However, just two seasons later, Nelson returned and rejoined the Lancashire League for one season, before heading for the Lancashire Combination Division 1. After three seasons, Nelson were relegated, but immediately bounced back.

After WWI, the club reformed and joined the Central League in 1919. After two seasons they became founder members of the Football League’s Division 3 North, with their first game (vs Wigan Borough) attracting 9,000 fans. 1923 saw Nelson win the Division and with it promotion to Division 2. In preparation, the club travelled to Spain where they became the much heralded first team from England to defeat the mighty Real Madrid.

This, though, didn’t prove a good omen for the season to follow, as the Admirals were relegated (despite beating both Manchester Utd and eventual champions Leeds Utd). Back in Division 3 North, Nelson attracted their record crowd (14,143 vs Bradford PA in 1926) and reached the FA Cup Second Round the next year. After being re-elected once after finishing bottom in 1928, the club weren’t as lucky in 1931 as they finished bottom but saw them replaced in the League by Chester City. Following a stint back in the Lancashire Combination, the club folded again in 1936.

Facilities

Facilities

In the tunnel

In the tunnel

After a quick reform as Nelson Town, the club joined the local Nelson & Colne League for the ’36-’37 season and were due to take a place in the West Lancashire League for 1939, only for the start of WWII to halt the sport. After being reformed following the war, the club were back in the Lancs Combination and won it and the Lancs Combination Cup in 1950. They won the latter again in 1951 as well as again reaching the second round of the FA Cup for the third time. 1952 saw another League title won and the decade was rounded out with wins in the Lancashire Cup (1955) and the Lancs Combination Cup (’59-’60).

1966 saw Nelson relegated to Division 2 of the Lancs Combination, which lost most of its clubs to the Northern Premier League in 1968, though Nelson remained in the league until the founding of the North West Counties League, when the Admirals became founder members in 1982 and joined the short lived Division 3. After it was scrapped in 1988, Nelson played in Division 2, but problems with Victoria Park meant the club were forced to drop to the West Lancashire League for four years until 1992.

After re-joining the NWCFL in ’92, the club won the Division 2 trophy in 1997 and in 2006 were finally promoted to Division 1 after finishing 3rd, the club’s first promotion for 83 years. 2008 saw the club avoid relegation due to events off the pitch. 2010 saw Nelson resign from the league but returned for the 2011-’12 season and were promoted back to the, now named, Premier Division in 2014. Last season saw Nelson finish in a solid 11th place.

Random boat

Random boat

Caged Beasts

Caged Beasts

Victoria Park

Victoria Park

The game got underway after the usual pre-match pleasantries and both sides traded early blows, the away side having the best of the chances with a goal-bound effort being blocked on the line following an error by Nelson ‘keeper Davis, who looked a little shaky early on, but seemed to settle down as the game went on, as proven when he pulled off the first of a number of good saves, denying Brian Matthews’ effort with his right foot.

But, he was to beaten a few minutes later when the referee awarded , in my opinion, a rather harsh penalty for handball as the ball reared up on the defender straight off the pitch and struck his arm. Still, it was Matthews who stepped up and drilled the ball low into the corner. 0-1.

There was also a small scuffle not too long after the goal, involving a couple of players from each side, over not very much. But then came the best moment of it as the referee steamed over and unleashed the loudest voice I’ve ever heard on a football pitch. It was definitely something you notice and it was little surprise that everyone stopped and did exactly that!

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

1-0.

1-0.

Despite the efforts of the Admirals’ Nathan Taylor, who I thought was brilliant in midfield, not much else happened after the goal, and the half fizzled out until the break. The half-time came and went with little to note, so straight onto the second half then and it was Nelson who were the dominant force as the half went on and they somehow contrived to miss an almost open net, when the ball was played to the striker a few yards out, but his touch eluded him at the vital time and after a short scramble, the Bears keeper claimed.

Then came the rain. Lots of rain. The sort of rain that brings up Ollie Williams “IT’S RAINING SIDEWAYS!” thoughts. But, this did little to stop the game, and as the pitch became more slippery, so more chances began to present themselves. Indeed, history repeated itself down the other end as a corner saw a goalmouth scramble after the ball slipped from the ‘keeper’s grasp and somehow the ball was cleared off the line and eventually cleared when it looked a certain goal.

To be honest, that’s the last I really took any notice of as the rain began to take most people’s attention off the field of play, although one guy got steadily more frustrated by Nelson’s inability to shoot on target and began to shout numerous “useless *insert obscenity here* at any spurned chance. The last real chance of the game fell to Congleton, but Scott Sephton’s low drive evaded all in the box and the far post, but this mattered little as the Bears held on to win.

Aerial

Aerial

 

Match Action

Match Action

Taking Shelter

Taking Shelter

So, it was back to Nelson station and with the rain abating somewhat, I was able to make it back without being swept away. After a short wait, it was back on the bus…er, train to Preston and onwards back to Manchester and home, with the highlight coming on the last leg of the journey. This was a quote that I hadn’t heard before and reckon I won’t hear again. Here it is… “I know it wasn’t great, but its not often a guy walks on with his penis hanging out!”. Absolutely no idea what happened there and I’m not sure I want to either.

I eventually arrived home in time to catch the majority of the Germany-England game, where the English did the usual to fill everyone with false hope before, of course, returning to the usual performance against the Dutch (which has just ended as I write this). Anyway, enough of international friendlies, there’s Cheshire League action on the horizon….

DSC01951

RATINGS:

Game: 7- Decent game and should have been more goals.

Ground: 5- Nice ground, but not too much to it. (Point deducted for the term “Little Wembley”!)

Fans: 6- No real reason, and indeed I think the rating system is ending this season for fans

Food: 8- Pie was very nice, not that this was a surprise!

Programme: 5- Average issue but had worse.

Value For Money: 6- Not a bad day overall and nice to revisit Nelson after so long.

 

 

 

Manchopper in….Emley

 

AFcEmleyCongleton Town

Result: AFC Emley 3-4 Congleton Town (FA Vase Second Qualifying Round)

Venue: The Welfare Ground (Saturday 3rd October 2015, 3pm)

Att: 139

After much deliberation, out of my hands, to do with the destination for today’s game between Matt, the Lost Boyo, & Gibbo, the birthday boy, the final decision became AFC Emley, after initially being headed for Shaw Lane Aquaforce and later Knutsford for a short while. I wasn’t too enamoured by either of the provisional pairing due to the fact I’d already previously visited the two clubs, so when I received the news that Emley would be welcoming the entourage of groundhoppers, including the duo of Tony 1 Leg and Johnny The Rhino, I was more than pleased. Emley had long been a target of mine, but due to its rather out of civilization placing, it wasn’t one I was in a rush to head for.

But today was the day. So, after eventually managing to escape Manchester Oxford Road and its delays, I met with Matt in the concourse of Piccadilly station, where we were soon joined by the trio mentioned above. No sooner had seating arrangements been sorted out, than the party hats were out and Tony and Johnny got to work on two ladies heading over to Harrogate. Also, a lad sitting opposite our group was soon in possession of a hat of his own, to which he seemed mighty happy about and the other guy he was sat next to even found our conversation interesting enough to remove his earphones to listen in.

Upon arriving into Huddersfield, the 1LegOnTheCup duo were separated from their TransPennine beaus and our two new male friends were also headed separate ways, but in differing states of dampness. The one with the hat made sure he took it with him back to his Yorkshire abode in a very dry state, but the other man wasn’t so luck, as Matt went on to knock his can of Fosters all over the helpless fella’s lap. I was even given praise for not swearing by the (not quite) old woman sat next to me upon our disembarkation, though I’m not sure if this was directed at us all or just me. I like to think it was the group, so I took this idea and ran with it. Anyway, after being dumbfounded by the ticket machine that took my ticket but didn’t release it again, I was into Huddersfield itself.

Arriving in Huddersfield

Arriving in Huddersfield

The Cherry Tree (somewhere)

The Cherry Tree (somewhere)

For when it gets too much in The Wellington

For when it gets too much in The Wellington

Within a couple of minutes, we’d reached our first stop, the town’s Wetherspoon’s: The Cherry Tree. Here, we had our first, much needed, beverages of the day, whilst Tony tried his best to get the barmaid to show him different tattoos on various parts of her anatomy. Nothing sinister though, I stress! Soon after we’d got our drinks in, we were joined by a new Huddersfield import, Craig, a more recent suffering Crawley Town fan, who ha moved to better pastures in the North, though I question his decision to move to Yorkshire. Anyway, Craig recommended a pub somewhere in the near distance, so we headed there. But, in true fashion when I’m in such company as I found myself today, we ended up in a dingy bar hidden behind some roadworks, The Wellington.

The Wellington was much better inside than out, with its interior decorated with the flags of the countries competing in the Rugby World Cup. Otehrwise, there was little to add colour to the interior of the public house, other than a door stating “Warning: Carbon Dioxide”. I wondered whether this is where people ventured when it got a little too much, after watching a game. Soon enough, we were out of the dingy surroundings that didn’t quite live up to the Duke and were heading over to the bus station for the carriage over to Emley.

Craig, after directing us to the station, soon left us after reaching a helpful sign stating “Stands A-Z”, with an arrow pointing to the concourse. Here is where things began to get wild. As the Gregg’s increased its profits due to our arrival, we also found ourselves entranced with the stand specific tannoy system, which stated the tooo-three-tooo’s route. I don’t think the locals were too impressed by our incessant pressing of the Stand G lady’s button, but there we are. To their relief, I’m sure, the 232 soon arrived, and we were boarding the “Yorkshire Tiger” service, decked out in tiger-print seats. I did spot a Tiger-Blue bus too, which sounded like the late-night version.

After around a half-hours journey into the hills and moors of the West Riding of Yorkshire, we were soon nearing Emley,  heralded by the large pole towering above the area. Matt stated he’d heard it was taller than the Eiffel Tower, and was on a mission to discover if this was indeed the case. Meanwhile, I discovered a local delicacy called “German Eggs”. Although, it became apparent tat German Eggs were in fact Gammon, Eggs…This was much to the amusement of the rest of the group and to the local directly in front of us.

Emley

Emley

The White Horse

The White Horse

Interior. The White Horse.

Interior. The White Horse. Horses Heads. Family.

So, now insearch of local facts and German Eggs, we disembarked in the buzzing village of…Ah. Well, there isn’t much at all in Emley. Think Emmerdale, but without the drama or the murders (as far as I’m aware). Anyway, we soon found ourselves within the walls of the White Horse Pub, which has a restaurant that’s rendered obsolete for at least half of the year, due to no food being on offer for the other 6 months or so. The locals were quite the welcoming bunch, more interested in quite what we were doing in their village. After explaining why, they still looked dumbstruck, as were the Congleton fans by their surroundings, who soon joined us in the small bar. Anyway, before long we’d exited the White Horse and headed over the road to AFC Emley’s home, The Welfare Ground.

The Welfare Ground is reached via a small passage, and is neighboured by a second pub, the Wentworth. The two are separated by the club’s car park, which has to be survived to reach the turnstiles, where we were relieved of £5 entry and a further £1.50 for the programme. After entering through, we were all collared for a raffle ticket, with prizes ranging from eggs (German?) to a tin of Haggis, probably donated by the game’s sponsors, the Emley Scottish Supporters’ Club. Ooh, stereotyped! Onwards to the bar, which is situated alongside the main stand. The bar is also in the building that houses the changing rooms, with the main stand offering raised seating over the pitch. Behind the end where you enter from is a covered terrace, with the far end open, hard standing, though the small steps of terracing here have been somewhat reclaimed by nature. The ground is three-sided, due to it also being a part of the village cricket ground’s outfield.

AFC Emley

AFC Emley

Raffle Prizes

Raffle Prizes

Matt in the hat

Matt in the hat

So, back inside the bar, it was onto the cider for me and an old favourite, Woodpecker! Lovely. Somewhere in the meantime, Gibbo had gone on to decide that his shower curtain birthday present, decorated with ducks, would be more worthy of being a poncho. And it was. Thus the legend of Duckman was born. Now, I can’t do it justice on these pages, so f you want to read into the myth yourselves, then this is the place to do it: Duckman hath cometh

So, it was onto the game, but first it was over to the “café” for some  food. I got some chips and a sausage roll combo for £.50 only, and quickly ate the pretty good produce. Matt was just as complimentary, if not more so, of his local delicacy, which was a turnip and carrot  meaty-type thing. It must taste better than it looked to my eye, but then, I despise turnip. A terrible thing. anyway, here’s the history of AFC Emley…

History Lesson:

The club was formed in 2005 after the village’s old team, Emley AFC, moved to Wakefield in 2000 after 97 years, to become Wakefield-Emley and later Wakefield FC. The club is now defunct.

The current Emley started out in the West Yorkshire League, being promoted from Division 1 at the first attempt, finishing third. This brought the club into the Northern Counties East League Division 1, where they’ve competed ever since, finishing no lower than 13th, their first season. Their best finish was 5th, which they attained last time out.

Café!

Café!

Handshakes

Handshakes

Watching early on

Watching early on

Main Stand

Main Stand

So, back onto the game,  and it was played out at a decent pace early on, though there wasn’t much in the shape of goal-mouth action until Matt and I headed off on a “lap” of the Welfare Ground, whereupon the visiting Bears from Congleton took the lead. A low ball in saw the ‘keeper make an initial block, but he was unable to stop the rebound being bundled in, much to the delight of the Bears forward who whooped away in front of us. 0-1, and this was how it remained until the break.

The rest of the half was spent with Gibbo ribbing certain former Atherton LR players about their former lives on the, from his viewpoint, “dark side” of Atherton. But, on the pitch, the main recipient of the barrage, Bears keeper Farrimond, was almost beaten when left one-on-one with an Emley forward, but the chance was wasted and the visitors headed in with their lead intact.

The mythical Duckman

The mythical Duckman

Blurred lines

Blurred lines

Celebrations

Celebrations

After a quick sojourn in the bar, it was back out for the second period, where the home side almost immediately drew level. If the first goal was ugly, then this was repulsive. An even worse scramble ended with another one bundled into the turnstile end net. 1-a-piece, via a disputed goal/own-goal. And it was soon two, but this goal was much more pleasant on the eye, as hotshot Ashley Flynn fired home from the edge of the area, for 2-1 to the home side. But the best was yet to come from Flynn, and from Emley.

Flynn, after a good passing move, picked the ball up just outside the box, advanced slightly, before delightfully chipping Farrimond from 20-yards, to cue manic celebrations, including the Emley manager pegging down the touchline, Mourinho-esque, to join in with his players down in the corner.

Back level!

Back level!

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

But, Emley hadn’t counted on Congleton coming back from 3-1 with 20 minutes-or-so to play. But come back was what they did. Declan Fletcher initiated the comeback, slotting in from inside the area, before they levelled after Fletcher was this time denied by the home custodian, but then coolly squared the ball to the onrushing Scott McGowan to slot into the back of the net. 3-3!

By now, it looked like extra-time was on the cards, and discussions turned to this. Matt and Gibbo were more than happy for the extra half-hour, whereas I was hoping for a winner in 90-minutes. Congleton won a corner as I stated I’d go for a winner here. Duly, Fletcher obliged, powering a towering header into the corner, sending the small band of black-and-white clad fans behind the goal into jubilation.

Emley's jubilation at 3-1...

Emley’s jubilation at 3-1…

....turned to dismay at 3-4.

….turned to dismay at 3-4.

Clash!

Clash!

That was that, as goal updates came raining in from West Didsbury and Chorlton’s 15-1 win over Dinnington Town in the Vase. 3-4, and what a game. After Gibbo and Matt partook in some on-field after match photography, it was to the Wentworth, where Matt finally got his confirmation, from the barmaid, that the Emley Moor tower was indeed taller than the French one. With this fact safely tucked within our brains, we finished off our drinks and headed for the bus back into Huddersfield.

After being semi-complimented by some of the Bears players on their way to the coach outside the newsagents with a sign bearing “newspapers sold here”, we were back into town and on to our next stop, the station bar by the name of the King’s Head, which is located round the back from the, now closed, George Hotel, where Rugby League was founded.

Duckman's charms

Duckman’s charms

Extra passenger in hold.

Taking over Emley

Newspapers sold here

Newspapers sold here

The King’s Head looks like it’s still undergoing decorating, with bare walls and floors but someone has decided to throw some tables in there and open early. The toilets being the best decorated part of the pub. It certainly is a strange one, but it more than fitted in with what had gone before today. Soon enough, we were on the train back to Manchester, where the ever compelling Duckman ended up pulling an Ulster girl with his Quacking charm.

Back in Manchester, it was onto the Piccadilly Tap, where I had an hour to waste before my train back home. Here, you can go to the bathroom and learn something interesting upon the blackboard.

The King's Head

The King’s Head

Finished, or....?

Finished, or….?

The Tap

The Tap

Yeah...

Yeah…

After ordering a half of something or other, the time eventually dwindled off and I bid goodbye to my “colleagues” and set off into the night of the City Centre and over to Oxford Road again, which was much more settled than earlier in the day. I must have looked the worse for wear though, as I shut my eyes for about a minute on the train, when the conductor came over to me and asked if I was ok, and where I was headed. Being in something of sound mind, he left me to my journey.

So, the story of the day in a small village north of Huddersfield comes to an end. I challenge anyone to go to Emley and have a more dramatic, action-packed, duck-filled experience than we all had on this day. If you do, you may just end up being Quackers. Okay, enough of the duck puns now…

DSC00627

RATINGS:

Game: 8- End to end, 7 goals, comebacks, glorious chips. Brilliant.
Ground: 7- A nice, characterful ground.
Fans: 8- A great bunch, and some of the best I’ve come across in my travels.
Programme: 6- Not a bad effort, considering the level.
Food: 7- A decent offering, very economical helps the rating,
Value For Money: 8- To be honest, I’d lost track on how much it all cost.