Result: Abbey Hulton United 1-1 Cheadle Town (NWCFL Division 1 South)
Venue: Drayton Beaumont Park (Saturday 5th January 2019, 3pm)
I still had a free weekend with my destination still up in the air, as I set out on my journey during the morning of this first Saturday of 2019. I was also looking to start from scratch again on the no nil-nil front after my New Year’s Day blank at Chester and I had a trio of Stokie clubs on the radar at which I hoped to accomplish this:- Abbey Hulton Utd, Eastwood Hanley and Foley Meir. As I had only set off from Manchester at midday, the easier option was the first, with the Counties side’s game kicking off at 3pm, whilst the two Staffordshire County League sides began their contests an hour earlier. As such, I hoped for the former to prevail for ease purposes and that it did. As I arrived into Stoke, my decision had been made for me. To Abbey Hulton I was bound.
Upon arriving into Stoke, a quick exit from the station had me on a bus towards the outskirts of the city within a couple of minutes and though a change of driver at Hanley would delay me a little, I was arriving at the foot of Birches Head Road at around a quarter-past one. After a bit of mental planning on the pub front, I reckoned I’d start from on-high and loop around back towards the ground and Abbey Hulton itself and so made my way uphill to the Sneyd Arms. Upon my eventual arrival, I was glad for the warmth, though the cold refreshment of a San Miguel (£3.69) was just as welcome. After watching some of the early Manchester United-Reading game in here, I continued on down the road to the side and back down a rather steep decline to the Berwick which was complete with an old cricketing set, though I’m not sure of what its importance was. Anyway, I opted for a second, cheaper San Miguel for £3.25 in here whilst seeing the conclusion of the game roll around before heading ground-wards.
After crossing the river and ending up on a country road along with a “Dukes of Hazard” horn-equipped car, I popped into the ground to secure a programme (as it was on my way round anyway so didn’t take me out-of-the-way) and took in a quick look at the remnants of the 14th-century abbey which lends its name to the area, before visiting my second Sneyd Arms of the day. A strange occurrence for sure and one I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced before – outside of the Royal Oak’s and the like – anywhere I’ve been. Seeing that the fine 61 Deep was on in here, I knew what I was having, and with a nice amount of time remaining to enjoy it and undertake the short, five-minute walk back to the ground, I was more than happy to sit in and wile away the time.
The area of Abbey Hulton on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent takes its name from the old Hulton Abbey, the ruins of which can still be seen in the local park and has ben part of the County Borough of Stoke-on-Trent since 1922, having previously been a part of the parish of Burslem and known as the lordship of Hulton. The area was mentioned in the Domesday Book as Heltone (hill town) and was grouped with the nearby areas of Julton and Rushton in the Pirehill Hundred. The abbey – dedicated to St. Mary – was founded in 1223 by Henry de Audley and belonged to the Cistercian White Monks in what was, at the time, a rural location in the county off the route from Stoke to Leek, in keeping with their usual site of choice. The monks would begin sheep farming and later began to produce tiles, whilst the abbey would later become the location for the tombs of James de Audley (notable for bravery in battle in serving the Black Prince at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356) and his wife, with legend saying that, upon the opening of the graves when the abbey was demolished, the latter’s hair had continued to grow despite death.
After being surrendered to the crown and dissolved in 1538, the monastery and its site was sold off and by the mid-1600’s, Hilton (as it came to be known by the late 16th century) was home to a manor house instead. After excavations of the abbey in 1884 and the 1930’s had brought it back into interest, some of the original stone was repurposed for use in buildings around the local area including the Abbey Farm, once home to the grandfather of the primitive Methodist church founder Hugh Bourne, John, not far from the ground. The crossing nearby is thought to be the 18th century crossing of the Trent on Birches Head Road, just outside the gates of Drayton Beaumont Park.
The coal mine worked by the abbey in Abbey Hulton continued on after its dissolution by Henry VIII, and continued on into the 19th century, with the early pottery industry also continuing on for many a-year. A year after being dissolved, the demesne of Hulton and Stoke and a coal mine in the ‘field of Hulton’ were leased to a Londoner who’d already purchased the abbey’s movables, before later being granted to Sir Edward Alston – along with the abbey site, the manor of Hulton and all other possessions in the nearby areas of Hulton, Sneyd, Baddeley, Milton and Burslem. The Sneyd’s would be conveyed the manor by Alston’s grandson in 1611 with the Keele family remaining holders of the manor, though they would sell off land with only a few farms remaining in their hands by 1951 and these too were offered up upon the break-up of the Keele estate later that year.
The Caldon Canal, opened in 1779 and linking Etruria near the city centre and Froghall, passed through Abbey Hulton and is neighboured by the former site of the Biddulph Valley railway line which opened in 1864 linking Congleton and Stoke-on-Trent before closing in 1988 and a fair bit remains as a walking route. The Housing Act of 1919 would transform the area into a housing development due to need to rid the slums of Hanley and Burslem especially. Upon becoming a part of the Borough of Stoke-on-Trent in 1922, it would get its own church, St. John’s, in 1963 and so left the ecclesiastical parish of Burslem.
Soon enough though it was time to return back to Drayton Beaumont Park, with the game just getting underway as I arrived at the gate. Alerting the guys at the gate to my arrival, I handed over my entry fee (£5) and headed straight to pitch-side with the game, as I stated, in progress already. Drayton Beaumont Park is a tidy set up, with the clubhouse, dressing rooms and food hut located behind the goal from which you enter behind whilst two small at-cost style seated stands populate the far side touchline. Hard-standing is available at both these parts of the ground, whilst the remaining two ends are off-limits, the dugouts located on the near-side touchline where a raised banking does remain. That’s the ground in short and this is the story of Abbey Hulton United….
Abbey Hulton United was founded in 1947 and is, according to their site, one of the oldest clubs still playing in North Staffordshire. They originally played upon council land in Abbey Hulton and remained here for the first fifteen years of their existence, despite the fact that, quite interestingly, the changing rooms were more than a mile from the football pitch! Eventually, the club decided to move and the Parks facility at Bucknall Park become The Abbey’s new home and they would remain there until their move to their current home on Birches Head Road in 1985.
During this period the club competed in local leagues, initially starting in the Longton League before having a spell in the Newcastle & District League, prior to joining the Burslem & Tunstall League. Despite not winning any silverware in either the Longton or Newcastle & District competitions, Abbey had more luck in the latter, finishing as Burslem & Tunstall League Division 2 runners-up in 1974 and being promoted, becoming champions of the league after winning the Division 1 and also lifted the B&T League Cup in a 1979 double-winning season. Moving to the Fenton & District League for the beginning of the next decade, the club would finish runners-up in both the league’s Division One and President’s Cup in 1982, but would go on to win a treble just the next year – consisting of the League title, League Challenge Cup and Charity Cup.
After moving into their new home, the club became more stable financially and thus their ambition grew. The clubhouse and other facilities were duly added swiftly and the club immediately joined the North Stafforshire Alliance League upon said move, remaining there for the next couple of seasons. Seeking, and being awarded, election to the Staffordshire County League (North) in 1987, Abbey Hulton would go on to spend just over a decade here, winning a League and League Cup double in 1998 before being switched into the Midland League (not the current one) for the next season, 1998-’99. Winning the Midland League title in 2004, Abbey would remain here through to the league’s merger with the Staffs County League in 2005 and were duly placed in the newly formed Staffordshire County Senior League’s Premier Division for the following year.
Abbey Hulton would eventually see further success in the Staffs County Senior League, though would have to wait a decade for their next silverware in the form of the league’s President’s Trophy in 2014, and then built on this to achieve a cup double in 2015 in the shape of the Leek Cup and the Staffs County League Challenge Cup – the former at their second attempt, having been defeated finalists in 2008 – and 2017 saw the club lift the Leek Cup for a second time, with Abbey also securing their first Staffs County Senior Premier League title at the end of the same campaign. This latter double would be the catalyst for The Abbey’s decision to seek promotion to the North West Counties League for the following year and this was duly achieved following major ground improvements, the club finishing their debut season at Step 6 in 13th in the NWCFL Division One ahead of its regional split for this season. This season has also seen Abbey Hulton make their FA Vase bow, though a difficult tie against Whitchurch Alport ended in a 2-3 defeat.
The game began rather quietly and sedate with little in the way of action early on. After Cheadle’s midfield loanee Laurence Taylor had seen his shot comfortably kept out by the home ‘keeper, his team-mate Ben Brooks had the best chance of the first quarter-hour, seeing his shot saved by the legs of Abbey Hulton custodian Jacob Holding. The hosts responded, with Jon Beaumont’s free header flying over the bar when he likely ought to have done better but unfortunately, aside from the odd effort going harmlessly off-target in the remaining twenty-five minutes or so, that was pretty much that in terms of action for the first forty-five, and I began to have the spectre of the nil-nil creep out of the shadows once again.
Surely, I pondered as I chomped away at a cheeseburger and chips, I couldn’t go over 13 months without one, only to have two in four days? Could I?! No. No. Surely. As a side-note, I did originally head to the food hut to partake in one of the area’s famed oatcakes but on arrival, I noticed that the only one around seemed to be a cheese one. Now, I like cheese. In fact, I’d say I love cheese. I couldn’t live without it. But in certain things, I think it seems disgusting – like cheese savouries or cheese & onion pasties. I don’t know why, it’s just what it is and a cheese oatcake rekindled those ideologies! As such, a cheeseburger had to indulge my cheesy needs. It was a shame the chips weren’t cheesy too…..
Aaaaaanyway, getting off that dairy tangent, let’s get back on with the game, shall we?! Abbey’s shooting continued to be awry, with veteran striker Lee Cropper and Angelo Errico both seeing a couple of efforts evade the target, whilst Joe Neild saw his own shot go wide, before the deadlock was eventually broken with twelve minutes to play, when a ball into the area eventually fell at the feet of the impressive Dylan Bath who lashed the ball beyond Cheadle ‘keeper Danny Whiting and into the net from close range to the delight of the majority of the fans in the ground.
Finally leaving my camping out posts of the pair of stands in the last five minutes or so after overhearing some Abbey fans experience-fuelled plans to beat the dropping of the tunnel bar come full-time, I watched the final throes of the game from the park-like area just by the gate/car-park expecting the action to wind down to the close. It looked to be going that way too until, in the 95th minute, Cheadle were awarded what looked to be a pretty stonewall penalty (even from my distance) and Joe Neild stepped up to nervelessly send the Abbey ‘keeper the wrong way and secure his side a deserved point in what was, despite the lack of true goalmouth action, a good game to watch throughout with the likes of the aforementioned Bath and Matty German standing out for either side.
After the game, I headed off up the nearby hill and down the road to the Birches Head Inn which shares the road on which it stands’ name of course. I was served without being asked for any ID, though when the girl behind me was asked – as she was lucky enough to look younger – I took distinct offence to this! Obviously, I jest and joked that I must be way past that point by now, which wasn’t exactly denied….hmmm. With the late kick-off just getting going as I arrived, I supped at my pint of Moretti (£4.30) in here before returning around the corner to the pub just next to the bus stop I required to get back to the station. It’s nice when everything works out quite as well as this as it definitely doesn’t happen so smoothly all too often.
Finishing off with a pint of Sharp’s Atlantic Pale Ale at the very economic £3 in the Cheshire Cheese, I spotted a few delays on the go and reckoned I’d cover myself with an earlier bus, just in case things went awry. The bus arrived right on time and I got back for the rattler a few minutes ahead of its scheduled arrival too, getting back into Manchester just nicely for my bus home. Honestly, is this a dream?! I wasn’t complaining, that’s for sure.
All in all, the day had been decent, especially considering it was all done on the fly. The pubs I visited were all welcoming and the beers were certainly kindly priced (especially considering what was to come the following day at Fulham), whilst the game was alright for the most part, despite the lack of goals for the most part. The food was lovely too and the programme not a bad effort for the £1.50 price tag. Not too bad and, having challenged somewhere to give me something negative to write (Chester, you did well on that front), it’s good to be back in a more positive mindset! Onto Sunday and I’m Fulham bound. Anyone for an upset…..?
Value For Money: 7