Manchopper in….Middlewich

Result: Middlewich Town 6-2 Eagle Sports (Cheshire League Premier Division)

Venue: Seddon Street (Saturday 14th December 2019, 2pm)

Att: 40 (approx.)

After yet another rain-hit week had seen many a fixture list thrown into disarray, it seemed like my planned visit to the Cheshire town of Middlewich would have to be postponed for what was, at least by that point, the third time. However, my decision to wait for a late call paid off, as the news came through that the pitch was a-okay and so it was to Seddon Street as planned. The only problem now was the usual tale of delayed Northern trains, these almost putting paid to my efforts by the time I’d arrived into Liverpool. However, a immensely quick change – which included a sprint up, down and across the South Parkway footbridge – saw me hop onto the service over the water to Runcorn, just as it was due to depart. Phew.

I was still faced with a pretty lengthy delay as I awaited the train to take me into Winsford, from where I’d catch the bus the short distance through to Middlewich, the 2pm kick-off keeping time at a premium, especially considering I had to go through a change at Hartford (where I visited last year, incidentally, for a Middlewich Reserve fixture), although a pint of Amstel at the station-neighbouring Coachman Inn helped me deal with this! Eventually, I arrived into Winsford station and, not wishing to risk the bus missing out the stop at the station entrance, instead made my way down the road to the next one, from where the six or seven minute bus ride saw me into the town centre with around 25 minutes to kick-off.

Finally arriving in Middlewich

Pre-match stop: Newton Brewery Inn

Middlewich is a town and unitary authority of Cheshire East, in the ceremonial county of Cheshire and upon the confluence of the rivers Dane, Wheelock and, brilliantly, the Croco. It likely derives its name as simply being in the middle of two wiches – namely Nant and North. It is also home to three canals; the Shropshire Union, Trent and Mersey and their linking Wardle Canal, whilst the town itself dates back to Roman times, under the name of Salinae – due to its salt deposits. It duly became a major area of salt production for the Romans, an activity that was centred around nearby Kinderton and which was also inhabited by the Iron Age Cornovii peoples, a Roman fort having also been discovered at Harbutt’s Field. Middlewich is also located on the Roman Road, King Street, which links it and Northwich. However, the Norman invasion would largely end the area for a while, the Domesday Book stating it had been “wasted” by William the Conqueror, on account of revenge against rebellious barons.

However it did soon recover and saw two battles around the Civil Wars era, both in 1643, and centred around the church. The population of Middlewich continued to rise throughout the following years and largely through the 19th and 20th centuries, as it became both linked to other nearby parishes and more labourers in the local farming, fabric, salt, chemical and textile industries. Losing many of the younger men of the area during the First World War, house building between the two world conflicts saw significant growth and new roads allowed for greater movement and ease of travel. Further additions have been added more recently, upon the old saltwork sites and also on the old station, the railways having not served Middlewich since its closure to passengers in 1959, although the branch line remains in situ as a freight line and an occasional diversion route. The railway service had begun in 1868 and (rather amusingly) featured a football fans’ fight in 1888 between supporters of Crewe and Nantwich, with the latter’s fanbase storming the platform occupied by the Alex fans.

Arriving at Seddon St.

Seddon Street and its unused gate

I quickly located the road leading to Seddon Street and decided I had just enough time to pop into one of the two pubs that populate it. I decided upon the first one I came across – namely the Newton Brewery Inn – though there didn’t seem to be much evidence of a brewery in the vicinity and custom seemed at a premium, so much so that I actually thought I’d best check up on if they were open by that point! Indeed, I would be the only one in from my entrance to my exit, upon finishing up on my pint of Coors. Within five minutes, I was arriving at the entrance to the Seddon Street ground’s car park and through the unmanned gate at 1.59pm precisely. Time-keeping en pointe.

Seddon Street is a rather quaint and tidy ground, housing two stands; one a raised seated affair that I will term the “Main Stand” on the near touchline, with another covered standing area upon the other. An old dugout seems to add a little extra cover, if needs be. The remainder of the ground is open, hard standing, with the near end housing a small 3G pitch and the clubhouse/dressing room/food bar building located at the entrance, between it and the Main Stand. Both sides were out on the field ahead of the first whistle, which followed shortly after the checks of the nets and the readiness of the respective goalkeepers. However, before we get onto the action in this more back-to-front “report”, here’s the story of the witches of Middlewich….

History Lesson:

Middlewich Town Football Club was founded in 1998, following on from Middlewich Athletic, who’d played at Seddon Street from their inception in 1912. Athletic had previously won the Mid-Cheshire League title on five occasions – these being 1962, ’65, ’72, ’73 & 1975 – this last title win preceding a move up to the Cheshire County League. The club were relegated to the league’s Division 2 in 1979, and upon the league’s disbanding in 1982, as it was absorbed into the North West Counties League, they returned back into the Mid-Cheshire League ranks, playing in the league’s Second Division.

After one season, the division was dropped in favour of one sole competition. Middlewich would leave the league for four years in 1986 and seemingly not playing senior football until 1990 and their return back to the Mid-Cheshire League and it’s newer version of a Division 2. They ended as runners-up in 1993 and were promoted to Division One, where they spent two seasons before joining the North West Counties League in 1995. The club spent a three season spell here, prior to returning back into the Mid-Cheshire League once more, joining up with Middlewich Town FC Youth teams and taking on the Town suffix in becoming their de-facto senior side.

In the clubhouse

View from the Main Stand

Since then, the club has recorded runners-up placings in both of 2000 & 2003, before they finally went one better in 2004 to win their first title under the Town name. Another runners-up spot was recorded the next year, ahead of two successive titles in each of the next two years. Again, they wouldn’t quite secure a hat-trick of championships, with further 2nd places being racked up in 2008 and 2009, but the club had a strange blip in form throughout the 2013/’14, when they were relegated after finishing bottom of the Cheshire League First Division, having not finished lower than 12th since their name change – that being back in 2002. They would continue playing in the First Division though, on account of the fact the divisions had been renamed, and further renaming to League One followed shortly afterwards, from where they would be promoted in 2018 after securing 3rd place. Last season, Town finished up a strong 4th in their return year back in the top-flight.

The game began with Middlewich quickly asserting themselves upon their visitors, seeing an early free-kick flash wide, before some poor defending allowed Oliver McDonough in and the Town #7 made no mistake in sliding beyond the Eagle ‘keeper Liam Marlow. Steven Hughes then gave Eagle a warning of his intent when he got into a scoring position, but for seemingly no apparent reason, he squared the ball when it looked odds on he’d shoot and, most likely considering his record this season, find the net.

Eagle finally awoke somewhat after a very lacklustre start and Jack Nolan had their first sight of goal, but only fired over, whilst Middlewich’s striking pair of McDonough and Hughes again saw chances go begging. However, if Eagle were hoping that this was to be an off day for Hughes, they were soon to be left in doubt that this wouldn’t be the case. Yet another poor piece of defending by Eagle’s back-line allowed Hughes another go at goal and this time he wouldn’t turn it up – the hot-shot drilling across Marlow and into the far corner.

Match Action

Match Action

View from the other stand

And the defensive turmoil continued soon after, when Nick Chambers misjudged a long ball, #7 capitalised, and the ball ended up in the net off of the other of the Eagle full-back. However, left-back Chambers would atone for his error before the break, when he played in Danny Hutchins, and despite the striker seeing his shot kept out by Town ‘keeper Charles Masters, the loose ball would eventually fall kindly for Ed Burthem to slot home. Half-time, 3-1 and it had been rather eventful to say the least!

After paying a visit to the food bar (for some brilliant chips and gravy made by the bubbly ladies there) and clubhouse for a pairing of warm-ups respectively, we were soon back underway for the second half. The beginning of this was the Jamie Garner vs Marlow show – the midfielder first wastefully firing straight at Marlow from the edge of the box, prior to then being presented with another sight of goal by a lovely touch, only to again be denied by Marlow. Instead it would be Hughes who would net number four for the hosts, taking the ball down well after a cross from the left and finishing with aplomb.

Garner again went close in firing over, before it looked like he had finally managed to find the onion bag from close range, but it was adjudged an own goal, so he was still out-of-luck in this respect. Bad luck was also to return the way of Chambers when he committed a trip on McDonough and, as last man, he was duly dismissed. However, Eagle would still net their second goal despite this set-back, sub Craig Bishop’s driven shot deflecting beyond Masters and in. With a man’s advantage, Town were never under any real threat of a miracle comeback and Hughes came mightily close to grabbing a hat-trick shot, but saw his close-range shot cleared off the line by a brilliant block by an Eagle defender.

Match Action

Match Action

But he wasn’t to be denied and after sub #12 had seen his shot ruled out for offside, Hughes would secure his third of the afternoon and Town’s sixth, heading in off the back of his head somehow which is something I’m not aware of seeing before! Eagle’s disappointment was rounded off in stoppage time, when Lee Boardman’s frustration got the better of him and he rashly took out the Middlewich full-back he’d just had a mini set-to with to see a second yellow. That would be that and though Middlewich’s convincing win didn’t flatter them at all, the two sending offs definitely don’t reflect a dirty contest. Town climb above Eagle in the table, though the visitors have five games in hand.

With darkness quickly enveloping this part of Mid-Cheshire, I made my exit and returned the way I’d arrived from, popping into the welcoming-feeling Big Lock so named, I presume, as there is a big lock on the canal, just behind it somewhere. Whatever the case, a fine pint of Moretti was had as I warded off the cold before returning to the town centre itself for a few more beverages prior to grabbing the bus back to Winsford and onwards home. Best laid plans and all that!

Big Lock

White Bear

Middlewich

It started off well enough, with my first stop-off in the Christmas light filled centre being the historic-looking White Bear, which took precedence for me over the nearby bar on the corner, just because of that as they tend to be a little more interesting for me. Another bonus was the option of Amstel (£3.90~) whilst settling in for a time in the beamed interior. From here, I made my way up past the church and to the King’s Arms which again looked to be an older establishment. However, it was….erm….slightly more lively than the White Bear. Christmas parties and outings were in full swings, elves and Santas (both sexy and otherwise) were numerous around – including one that had to be shoved outside by a mate upon lighting up just prior to the door. Lighting up? Eh? Eh?? Oh never mind. A bottle of Moretti was fine enough for me within the craziness of people swapping turns at the pool table with conversations at the bar, before I headed back out into the chilly December evening.

Around the other side of the church and back on the main road are the neighbouring Kinderton Hotel and Boar’s Head, whose location made it easy to grab a bus from outside, before I had other smart ideas. Will I ever learn? Probably not, and why would I want to?! I reckoned I’d be better off plumping for the hotel whilst in a lesser inebriated state, another Coors here costing £3.90 – which is decent considering it’s a hotel bar and pretty swanky-looking overall, whilst the Boar’s Head was more of your usual pub fare, the dogs populating the bar area being friendly as I entered and supped at a bottle of the quite brilliant Big Wave (£3.20). It was here that I calculated I might just be able to squeeze in the Golden Lion – the problem there being is that it was back across the other end of the town centre – some five minutes away.

King’s Arms through the old battleground

The neighbours

Golden Lion to round off with

I had about twenty until the bus, but I guess my phone hadn’t updated the time when I looked as, upon arriving at the bar and opting for a Bud, I turned down the barman’s offer of keeping the bottle top on in favour of having it sat in and wasting away the remaining minutes before grabbing said bus from the stop just outside. However, I sat down and checked up on the time, just to be safe, only to see I had about five minutes in hand and I thus wanted to give myself a further five in hand, again, to ensure I was there in good order. This all went ok, I popped the remainder away for the train back and headed out for the bus stop….which then appeared to be non-existent. I headed past its stated location and then returned back half-way, whilst the service whistled past and left me with a half-hour’s wait until the next service which, just to add a little extra flavour into proceedings, was heading in the opposite direction and would drop me at Sandbach station with four minutes in hand prior to the train to Manchester. Why do I do these trips?!

Having a chat for some of the time to a lady outside who did state there had been a sign at the stop at some point (though it almost certainly isn’t in situ now), I caught the bus to Sandbach and caught the train nicely, and was joined at Macclesfield by a group of, I assumed, Bradford fans on their way back from their game at Moss Rose against the Silkmen. This provided some good entertainment and allowed the journey to pass on through quite nicely, prior to catching the connection through and back home by half-eight which, all things considered, wasn’t too bad at all.

In closing, it had been a good day overall, with Middlewich being a lovely town to pay a visit to and the ground being something a little different too. Both teams offered up an entertaining contest (for better or worse!) and the money spent wasn’t all that bad considering all the travel mishaps experienced throughout the day. So, onto the penultimate weekend of the season and a first venture of the actual campaign over the Welsh border to be enjoyed. Here’s hoping all is just as good, and everything transport-wise runs a little bit smoother….!

 

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 7

Food: 9

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8