Manchopper in….Buxton (2)

Result: Buxton 1-2 York City (FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round)

Venue: Silverlands (Saturday 5th October 2019, 3pm)

Att: 901

The FA Cup inches ever closer to, what is for many clubs, the promised land of the First Round and all the possibilities that come with it:- TV coverage, boosted gates, increased coffers and all the extra publicity amongst a number of other bonuses. For Buxton, a few of these would come a little early in the shape of the former Football League stalwarts York City, the Minstermen now plying their trade just a division above the Bucks. However, a home win would still be seen as something of a giant-killing – and with Silverlands now having a 4G pitch down, this had the possibility to be another added wrinkle to proceedings.

I headed off towards the Derbyshire spa town fairly early during this first Saturday morning of the first weekend of October, with the intention of hopefully getting around any kind of mass congregations of support and perhaps the introduction of the dreaded plastic pint cups. They send shivers down my spine just thinking of them….but luckily, the journey on through Manchester was silky smooth and I passed on through towns including the likes of Whaley Bridge and Chapel-en-le-Frith (yes, I’ve been to both in these silly pages) before arriving into Buxton station, the end of the line, around 50 minutes after leaving Piccadilly. Not bad.

Big train, little train, plastic box.

The Fan Window

Buxton

Having got in for a little before 11.30am, I decided to go on a sight-seeing walk around the town early on. As such, I paid visits to the rather grand fan window at the station itself, the famous Buxton spring, opera house, pavilion and its gardens and the hill on which the war memorial stands upon before heading back on down station-wards to my first stop of the day – this being the Buxton Brewery’s Tap House. A really nice setting that mixed the normal tap house setting with a kind of Mediterranean feel, it was a great place to begin with and the German-style Kellerbier wasn’t bad either, and the choice to play out the full track listing of Elbow’s Seldom Seen Kid album was another tick to their boxes!

From there, I decided to head back towards the steep incline up to the higher part of town, where the square hosts a number of drinking holes, but first you come up to the 53° North café/bar in one of the buildings towards the top of said hill. Given a welcome on entering and getting an Estrella (£4.30) from the bar, though the highlight was given by the puppy, Harley, that came in with double-dad (human and canine), as it decided to ‘relieve’ itself in front of the bar. Class stuff, though I thought it’d be looked on differently if I’d have done so. Double-standards, no? Finishing there, I said a goodbye to the dads and dogs and completed the last bit of the climb and into the town square area, which is complete with King’s Arms, New Inn and the Eagle. Now, having been to Buxton twice before and tested the former two on both occasions (along with the Old Clubhouse near the Opera House), I thought I’d miss them out on this occasion and instead go for the Eagle – which proved to be solid, if unspectacular.

Buxton Brewery Tap

53 Degrees North

Looking towards the Eagle

Buxton is a spa and market town within the county of Derbyshire and is known as the ‘Gateway to the Peak District National Park’, although it lies outside of the National Park boundaries. It is the highest market town in England by elevation and was a municipal borough in its own right through to 1974, when it was merged with other localities, i.e. Glossop, to form the district and borough of the High Peak. The Romans first settled in the area, creating the settlement of Aquae Arnametiae (spa goddess of the grove) and coins unearthed around the town indicate that Buxton was inhabited throughout their occupation. However, from where its current name derives is uncertain, though may be from the Old English for Buck Stone or Rocking Stone, though this (to me anyway) seems unlikely.

Having been initially developed by the 5th Duke of Devonshire from profits derived from his copper mines in the area, the town was built in the spa town-style of Bath and would continue to grow up around its geothermal springs, morphing into the spa town it is known as – with the water from the springs being funnelled out to St. Anne’s Well, a medieval shrine that stands opposite the Crescent and Bath House. Victorians were drawn due to the alleged healing effects of the waters and the later Dukes of Devonshire did little to discourage them travelling there! Earlier, in 1569, their ancestor, Bess of Hardwick, took her husband (one of four no less), the Earl of Shrewsbury, to Buxton to “take the waters” after becoming the gaoler of Mary, Queen of Scots, who herself was taken to the town five years later and stayed at the site now taken up by the Old Hall Hotel. Mary noted Buxton as ‘La Fontagne de Bogsby’.

Pavilion & Bandstand

Boardwalk

As the years rolled on into the 19th century, Buxton continued its growth in the Victorian-era, gaining recommendations from philosopher and Grandfather of Charles Darwin, Erasmus Darwin, who pointed Josiah Wedgwood I (founder of the Wedgwood potting company) in the direction of Buxton and would then regularly visit with his family, before two of the later generations of the Darwin family would move to the town to reside there. Of the early settlement, only St. Anne’s Church remains of the majority limestone-build town, whilst most of what now stands is made of quarried sandstone from the 18th century and a nearby River Wye-carved limestone cave known as Poole’s Cavern contains unique ‘poached egg’ stalactites, as well as the largest stalactite in Derbyshire. It was handed its title due to a local, notorious highwayman of the same name.

St. Anne’s Well

Opera House Area

The town has also hosted the Buxton Festival since 1979 and its allied ‘Fringe’ festival, as well as being widely known for its bottled mineral water. Meanwhile, Buxton counts the likes of footballers Les Bradd (all time leading scorer for Notts County), Frank Soo (the first mixed-race professional player to represent England) and Mark Higgins, motorcycle trials champion Mick Andrews, BDO darting siblings Lorraine & Dean Winstanley, DJ Dave Lee Travis, Disney director Robert Stevenson (Mary Poppins etc.), as well as ex-Coronation Street actor Bruno Langley, or Todd, as most may be more familiar with!

With the “new” Carlsberg being pretty cheap at £3.10, I plumped for that to cut my prior losses before moving on through the neighbouring market area towards the Ale Stop; which was also complete with doggo action in the form of Obi – a lovely thing he is too. After sitting with me for long enough for a regular to remark that he was quite happy with me, he soon abandoned me for crisps. What betrayal….though if I had that choice, I’d go for the crisps too, to be fair. In a state of despair, I polished off the last of my half of Tatton Brewery’s Best (a half, who’d have thunk it?!) and despite planning to pop up to Silverlands then and there to grab a programme early doors (I’d missed them on both previous visits), a quick calculation found it better to have a quick one in the neighbouring The Vault first.

Vault & Ale House

Cheshire Cheese & first post-match stop, The Swan

London Road Inn

Opting for a Strongbow (£3.60) in here, I saw the toilets sign near the stairs, but also near enough to the rear part to cause a bit of confusion and give flashbacks to my unintended trespass in Mill Hill a couple of years back. As it was, it was fairly obvious when getting there and having all that cleared up, I made haste up to Silverlands to grab a programme at £2 though, for whatever reason, I kept trying to pay more than that – first £3 and then £2.50. “I’m too generous sometimes” I said to the guy on the gate, before being handed said bible and returning down the road and back towards the far end of the town’s main thoroughfare. Here, I found the London Road Tavern that had been closed minutes earlier when I passed en route to the ground, was now open and fairly well populated, and so I made the decision to pop in there on my way back after visiting my intended stopping place, the Cheshire Cheese.

With time becoming a factor and wanting to pretty much complete Buxton centre’s pub offering, I decided to go on bottles and a Corona and Peroni in each of the two named above (at £3.00 and £4.00 respectively) saw me having spent up all my pre-match time and so it was back to the Bucks’ home once more, this time for a fairly more extensive time. Arriving to a decent amount of queues on the gates, I handed over my £10 entry and entered into the ground in one corner, between the raised, all-seater (formerly of Maine Road) Main Stand and clubhouse building. A food bar actually sits between the stand and turnstiles, with a sizeable covered terrace located right in front, behind the near-end goal. The far side is populated by a long, covered largely standing area, though also has a small amount of seating available, though it is at a premium, whilst the far end is open, hard standing – as are the corners of the ground too. That’s the highest ground in England, Silverlands, in short and this is the story behind the Bucks of Buxton….

History Lesson:

Buxton Football Club was founded in 1877 as an offshoot of a local cricket club and played their first match later that year. After spells groundsharing with the cricket club at the Park, before venturing out on their own to grounds on Cote Lane, London Road and Green Lane, they moved into long-term home Silverlands in 1884 – the first match there being a Derbyshire Senior Cup tie against Bakewell that Buxton came out of as 2-0 victors. The club later joined the Combination in 1891, though didn’t experience much success and indeed finished bottom of the league table in 1896 prior to leaving the Combination altogether in 1899. Switching to the Manchester League for the new century-spanning season, Buxton finished as 1904-’05 runners-up but spent most of their initial time there in the lower half of the table prior to its 1912 disbanding. Re-joining the League upon its re-forming in 1920, the club considered applying to join the newly-created Football League Division 3 North the next year, but thought better of it.

This led to them edging up to being title contenders in the Manchester League as the years went on – including winning the Manchester League’s League Cup consecutively in 1926 and 1927 – and after finishing as runners-up in both 1929 and 1930, they finally lifted the title in 1932 and joined the Cheshire County League for the following season. They remained there with little in the way of silverware success (though did win their first Derbyshire Senior Cup in 1939) through to World War II, and post-war they re-joined and finished as 1946-’47 runners-up and lifted their second Senior Cup, winning both the last pre-war and first post-war tournament. 1951-’52 saw the club’s first notable foray in the FA Cup, as the Bucks made the First Round for the first time, whereupon they thumped Rawmarsh Welfare 4-1, before going on to face League opposition in the form of Aldershot Town. The Silverlands would see a cup shock as the Shots were, ahem, shot down 4-3 with Buxton’s third-round reward being a tie with Second Division side Doncaster Rovers – who put an end to any fairytale in a 2-0 win at Belle Vue.

Arriving at Silverlands

Two Cheshire League Cups were won in 1957 & 1958, before 1958-’59 saw the First Round reached again, though they this time experienced polar opposite results when, having defeated Crook Town 4-1, they were thrashed by Accrington Stanley 6-1. 1962-’63 yielded a third first-round outing, this time ending at that stage in a loss to Barrow, and the season saw some more slight disappointment in the Cheshire County League, with the club finishing as runners-up. Despite winning the League Cup for a third time in 1969, it would take Buxton a decade from the runners-up placing to finally lift the Cheshire League title, 1973 seeing them achieve promotion to the Northern Premier League and they remained there through to 1987, winning the 1982 NPL President’s Cup along the way, when the NPL gained a second (First) division, with Buxton handed a spot in the Premier. Their spell there lasted another decade, fending off the drop in 1996 on goal difference alone, before being unable to stave it off the next year, after finishing bottom of the table, and things only got worse for the Bucks the next season, as their first outing in the First Division of the NPL ended in a second consecutive relegation.

Being placed in the Northern Counties East League’s Premier Division, Buxton found it a rather difficult task to haul themselves back up into the NPL ranks, but 2006 finally saw them achieve promotion as NCEL champions, along with successfully defending their NCEL President’s Cup title (won in both 2005 & 2006), following this up with an immediate promotion from the NPL Division One the next year, in a pretty much complete juxtaposition to the seasons that saw them drop out of the league’s sphere. They also won the that year’s NPL President’s Cup to cap off a fine season in 2006-’07. They finished their first campaign back in the NPL Premier Division in a strong fifth-place, which saw them qualify for the play-offs; beating Witton Albion on penalties in the semi-finals, the Bucks were vanquished in the final by eventual Conference side Gateshead.

Clubhouse

They have remained in the Premier Division right through to the current day, with some seasons being more of a ‘hit’ and others a rather sizeable ‘miss’; last year was more of the former, with a 5th placed finish again seeing a play-off place achieved but, alas, this again ended with Buxton missing out on a Conference North place. On this occasion, the Bucks instead were defeated in the semi-finals 4-2 by South Shields up in the North East. They have gone on to win a total of ten Derbyshire Senior Cups to date, spanning from their first in 1939 through to 2012.

After a visit to the food bar for some chips and gravy, the game got underway with York coming out the stronger early on, though both sides would create little more than half-chances during the early skirmishes – Buxton’s Liam Hardy looping a header onto the roof of the net and York’s Kyle McFarlane driving an effort straight at Bucks stopper Grant Shenton. But it would be the hosts who would grab the first strike of the afternoon on eleven minutes, when the exotically named Diego de Girolamo, a former City player, nonetheless, pounced upon a knock-down in the area to slot home at the back post. 1-0 and the shock was on!

Match Action

Match Action

View from the Main Stand at ‘Tarmac Silverlands’!

More glimpses of goal would come and go, as the sides looked to extend and level up the scoring respectively, and went close through Warren Clarke’s fizzing drive, before Ryan Whitley had to be alert to keep out Bucks hotshot Liam Hardy when one-on-one with the hosts’ main scoring threat, following a long ball over the top. The half ended off with Adriano Moke testing Shenton with another effort from a fair way out, but that would be that as the sides headed in for the break. However, I’d seen enough to suggest that York would turn it around in the second half, as I’d stated to City fan Ben, so my reputation was on the line!

Indeed, the second half began much like the first, with an early strike seeing City duly level in similar circumstances to Buxton’s opener. After around five minutes of play, a ball into the area caused mayhem around the six-yard line, the ball eventually deflecting into the bottom corner. It looked as though York’s #9 may have got a touch en route, but it would be later credited as an own goal. With momentum at their backs, York now looked to assert the dominance their league placing should suggest. #5 headed over from a corner, before Buxton responded, a pair of shots from Hardy and the #9-clad de Girolamo (as opposed to, I assume, brother Nico) kept out by Whitley, with this enabling a swift counter down the other end, where a brilliant double save by Buxton ‘keeper Grant Shenton kept his side level. Keeping out the initial effort, with the loose ball meeting the head of Jordan Burrow, who looked destined to score, only for Shenton to fling himself across goal to block out the effort. Tremendous stuff, and it’s important to focus on the brilliance that goalkeepers pull off sometimes, as they certainly take the flack for the smallest of errors.

From the terrace

Match Action

Match Action

York continued to press onwards, though after #9 had seen his free header once again brilliantly saved by Shenton, it looked as though the Bucks were on course to at least secure a replay. But with ten minutes left on the clock, disaster struck for the hosts as a cross to the back-post was met by young full-back Nathan Dyer, whose looping header came back off the woodwork but fell kindly for a team-mate, who knocked it back his way, and this time the defender made no mistake – opting for power and thumping the ball into the roof of the net. The Buxton players looked broken, though their spirit was not and, with some sorts of trouble beginning to kick-off in the stand behind the goal, seemingly involving ‘fans’ of both sides, they almost got a late, late leveller.  Just after Nico de Girolamo had headed over, and introducing Martin Pilkington surprisingly late in the day, a clever low free-kick by Aaron Chalmers looked to be rolling into the bottom corner, but agonisingly came back off the foot of the upright, the Minstermen’s defence clearing the ball and securing their face in the final quali round.

CORNERS!!

As the authorities and ambulances began to arrive at the gate and enter the ground, the final whistle blew with a fine on-field contest being unfortunately overshadowed by the antics off the pitch. If the sparse info is indeed correct, I wish the young girl who was struck by an object the very best and not to be put off returning back to the terraces quickly. Buxton look a very strong side, and I expect their rise up the table to start quickly and them to be challenging for the higher places come the end of the season, if they continue these performances. York, meanwhile, look to have the steel they have seemingly lacked in recent times to grind out results, which should stand them in good stead as they seek to get back, firstly, into the Conference. Dyer looks to have all the attributes to go far as well; I was surprised to find he’s only 18, as he seems far older in his play and build.

Post-match, I joined the rush of people heading out of the ground as the sirens wailed around (it wasn’t quite as dramatic overall) and was soon back where I’d ended my pre-match tour, but this time on the other side of the road at the Swan. Having been unable to peruse the offerings overly in here, I opted for a pint of Stella (£3.50~), which I wasn’t planning on at the time – but having been informed that my parents were out and about back in their bar, I reckoned “free” drinks were better than me paying and decided to hop on the train back an hour later – meaning Spoons was sacrificed. It mattered little in the long run and so, after brief visits to the nearby Old Sun and Queen’s Head for more bottled goodness (at a surprisingly costly £4.20 a pop), I returned back down the steep hill (much more favourable) and back to the station in good time for the train back, which was about to pull in ahead of its return trip.

Old Sun

Queen’s Head

The remainder of said journey went smoothly and, making the connections in Manchester easily enough, I was back home by 7.30pm, which isn’t bad all things considered. As for the day, it had been a decent trip overall, despite the shenanigans from a few fools who blighted the names of both clubs – regardless of their following….though I doubt highly that either are anywhere close to being a fan of either in the real sense of the word. Silverlands is a great ground to visit (though the 4G does take a little of the essence off it) and Buxton is a brilliant town. The game itself was a highly watchable tie and Buxton were unfortunate to not grab a replay out of the contest right at the end, with York not at their best. Anyway, it was the Minstermen who took their place in the hat for the final qualifying round, where they drew fellow League former members Stockport County. What a tie. As for me, I likely won’t be at Bootham Crescent for a final visit that day; but I will be somewhere….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Matlock

Result: Matlock Town 1-2 Kidsgrove Athletic (FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round)

Venue: Causeway Lane (Saturday 21st September 2019, 3pm)

Att: 377

Yet another FA Cup weekend came up on the footballing world and with summer biting back for likely the final time this year, I reckoned I might as well make the most of it and join the tourists in one of the more popular inland areas up in t’hills. This would entail a rather irritating journey to get there, but I figured it would be worth the while in the end. As such, Matlock was the chosen destination and, having only visited the Gladiators’ ground once some six years back, I was looking forward to the trip.

Passing through Manchester on the way, I caught the train to Alfreton where I would make a change of transport method for a bus onwards to ex-New Zealand Test Cricketer Iain O’Brien’s abode, Matlock. The bus, helpfully, leaves from the station’s front entrance and so allowed for a small delay, though I did only have around seven minutes or so in hand, or I’d be stranded for a couple of hours and looking for alternatives on the fly. Luckily, these wouldn’t be needed, the bus arrived in good time (£5.30 day ticket) and I was soon rolling onwards towards Matlock Bath, though the journey wasn’t exactly peaceful – a couple of excitable kids putting paid to that – and that’s coming from someone who deals with this on a daily basis!

Arriving in Matlock Bath

Fishpond

Toads & Tails

The journey included a hareum-scareum trip down a narrow road as a diversion, though this did mean we encountered a convoy of a few Caterhams and an old, mid-1900’s bus on the approach to Crich – the latter complete with one guy and a huge, life-size panda teddy as passengers for some ungodly reason; I prefer not to consider too hard. I eventually arrived a good twenty minutes later into Matlock than planned, meaning my stay here was forcibly truncated due to bus timings and the like, as mentioned earlier. I did still have time to have a couple of sunsoaked pints on the pleasant-looking main street through it though – first in the Fishpond freehouse just across the way from the spa building itself, and an interestingly named alehouse called Toads and Tails. Both were fine and I decided to go local in my ales, opting for a Derby Pride Pale Ale (£3.70) in the former and a Matlock Brewery Illuminations (£3.40) in the latter. I preferred the Derby personally, though that’s not to say the Matlock one wasn’t good.

Soon enough, it was time to grab the bus up the road and to Matlock itself, sadly having to bypass the Cottage and Midland pubs as I did so. I originally planned to get off at the stop that would allow me a cut-through to the Duke William, but missed this due to not being attentive enough – the stops aren’t exactly easy to spot if you’re not used to them. However, this allowed me to instead head straight into the centre of town and proved to be a far better way of doing the day overall – well, if you don’t count not finding the aforementioned cut-through and getting lost in a churchyard, but more on that later. The Remarkable Hare just opposite the bus stop was first up for a pint of Atlantic Pale Ale (£3.30), whilst I went about setting out a tour of Matlock’s, surprisingly few, hostelries.

Outside the Remarkable Hare

Matlock

Matlock

Matlock is (apparently) the county town of Derbyshire (yes, I thought it was Derby) and is located at the south-eastern edge of the Peak District, and is part of the Derbyshire Dales district. The former spa town has the resort of Matlock Bath lying just to the south and Matlock’s urban district is considered to take in Wirksworth, Darley Dale, Tansley and Hackney. Its name derives from the Old English mæthel, meaning assembly or speech and āc meaning ‘t oak tree’ – so Matlock or ‘moot-oak’ is ‘oak tree where meetings are held. Recorded as Meslach in the Domesday Book, by the mid-1100’s it had become Matlac. Built upon the River Derwent, the town’s industries were thus taken from this, with hydrotherapy and cloth milling growing up along it and its tributary Bentley Brook.

Originally a group of villages within the Wirksworth Hundred – that of Matlock Green, Bath, Town, Bridge and Bank – until the 1698 discovery of thermal springs, the hydros that were being built became ever more popular and so the area grew with both residents and tourism eventually leading to the villages pretty much linking together. The Derbyshire County Council HQ currently resides in the largest hydro that was built and lasted over 100 years until closing its doors for a year in 1955 before re-opening in its current guise. The town council of Matlock also takes in Riber, Starkholmes and Hurst Farm as well as its ‘Matlock’ grouping.

Matlock Bath

Former tram cover

A cable tramway was used until 1927 to get around the issues of Bank Road, with the area’s earliest settlements around Bentley Brook at Matlock Green, eventually growing up the hillside, though the tramway was eventually usurped by buses and cars. The rail line through to Manchester (via Buxton) was closed in 1968, with Network Rail’s subsequent thoughts of re-opening the route not yet coming to fruition, though the line has been kept free of overgrowth with it still possibly having a new re-purposing. The town centre’s Hall Leys park houses a Victorian bandstand, an old tramway shelter, sports areas, café, a footbridge over the Derwent with river-level markings (its part of the flood defences), as well as a miniature railway and boating lake. The bridge and war memorial neighbour it, alongside a wishing well. Matlock is also one of the smallest towns in the country to host two bus stations. Exciting.

Bandstand

Bridge & Flood Heights

From there, I took a stroll on over the bridge and through the neighbouring gardens (no market as there was on my previous visit though), passing by the Wetherspoons before arriving at the modern, and kind of showroom-looking Tipsy Toad. A very modern/craft-style place, this was all very rustic inside and a pint of Rattler cider was had to fit in with the theme. Rattlesnakes and taverns go together, right? The pint here was £4.50 and is always a good one (though it had been a fair while since I’d sampled it – since Exeter, in fact if I remember rightly) and set me up nicely to brave the ‘Spoons. With time beginning to run a little on the short side, I opted for a Kopparberg Mixed Fruits (£2.75) before again taking a slight detour to the gardens and paying a brief visit to the ground to grab a programme on my way over to the Red Lion, just beyond the cricket ground at the far end. Again taking advantage of the outdoor seating in the sun here, I decided to milk a Dark Fruits for the twenty-or-so minutes through to kick-off time.

Tipsy Toad

Heading to the ‘Spoons

Red Lion

Returning back to the gate, I paid my entry dues of £10 and was allowed into Causeway Lane for a second time. The ground hadn’t changed from what I could remember, with the near side being populated by a covered terrace/seating dual stand that runs the length of the pitch and a covered terrace area at the near end. The Main, all-seater, Stand is located on the opposite side and straddles half-way, whilst the clubhouse area and food bar flank it to either side, the clubhouse standing between it and the off-limits far end, which is the cricket outfield. There is also a small amount of uncovered terracing just between the food bar and the covered standing area too, making for a super little ground. That’s Causeway Lane in a nutshell and this is the story of Matlock’s Gladiators….

History Lesson:

Matlock Town Football Club was founded in 1878 as Matlock Football Club and initially played at a ground on Hall Leys before moving into Causeway Lane. They began entering the FA Cup from 1885, though wouldn’t manage to win a game in the competition until 1890, the year when the club joined the Derbyshire Senior League as founder members. They would win the inaugural championship that year and defended it successfully the next too, this preceding a switch into the Midland Amateur Alliance for 1892. However, this would prove to be the Alliance’s final season – the league disbanding and leaving Matlock to return back to the Derbyshire Senior League once again. They would later attempt to move up to the Midland League in 1894, but this would prove to be something of a disaster, Matlock recording a bottom-placed finish at the end of their first season, before somehow managing to go one worse the following year, losing out in each and every one of their 28 league games.

This horrific campaign led to Matlock returning back, once more, to their safe haven of the Derbyshire Senior League, but things hardly improved on the field, and the club finished bottom of the league here too, in 1898. A period of un-noticeable seasons leading up to World War I came and went and, after the end of hostilities, the club returned to the field as Matlock Town; the club clearly hoping to start afresh. They would move from the Derbyshire Senior League to the Central Alliance in 1924, but the club again proved to be something of an ‘Alliance grim reaper’, as they competed in a second alliance league’s final season (1924-’25) before, yet again, finding refuge in the familiar surroundings of the DSL. They finished as league runners-up in 1927 before moving to compete in the Central Combination for two seasons from 1933, seemingly folding.

MTFC

However, Matlock Town would return once more as a post-war side, joining the Chesterfield & District League in 1946 for a season prior to the Central Alliance also returning. Upon a divisional split in 1950, Matlock maintained a place in the top division, Division One, though avoided the drop two-seasons later, despite finishing bottom. This happened again in 1956, but the club were benefactors of further league re-organisation – this time a regional North/South Division One split. This proved to be for the better as Matlock won the Division One North title in 1960 and also reached that season’s FA Cup First Round, losing out in a replay to Crook Town, by the odd goal. Their league turnaround would continue the following year, with the Gladiators successfully defending their league title and thereupon again decided to try their hand up the leagues; their destination this time coming in the shape of the reformed Midland League.

The club lifted the league title at the first attempt (1962) and took their second championship in 1969, which subsequently saw Matlock promoted to the Northern Premier League. 1975 saw a second FA Cup First Round appearance for the Gladiators end in a 4-1 reverse to Blackburn Rovers, but a Wembley appearance would be forthcoming that same season; Town making it to the FA Trophy Final where they thumped Scarborough 4-0 to lift the prize – a feat which also saw a bit of history in that three of the Town side were brothers; the only occasion this has happened in a final at either the ‘old’ or ‘new’ ground. This success would lead to an automatic qualification for the FA Cup’s First Round for the next season, but they would again be bested by 4-1, this time by future Cup winners Wigan Athletic.

Clubhouse

Before Wigan’s future heroics though, Matlock would get their revenge in the next staging of the famous competition – besting the Latics 2-0 – and beating eventual Third Division champions Mansfield Town 5-2 at the Stags’ home, taking their first Football League scalp in the process, before eventually bowing out to Carlisle United in the Third Round. An NPL Cup double would be achieved in 1978, as the Challenge Cup and Peter Swales Shield arrived at Causeway Lane, and Matlock entered the 1978-’79 Anglo-Italian Cup, finishing a creditable 2nd in the English section. The Gladiators finished as NPL runners-up in 1984 and three years later, became a member of the NPL Premier Division when the league gained a First Division too. They remained there through into the new decade, winning the 1989 Floodlit Trophy, whilst 1990 saw yet another First Round FA Cup appearance end in a 4-1 loss, this time at the hands of Scunthorpe United.

Causeway Lane, MTFC

Despite starting the decade with the 1991 Floodlit Cup, Matlock would suffer relegation to the NPL’s First Division in 1996, finishing bottom, and would remain there for eight seasons before finishing as runners-up and earning promotion back to the Premier Division. They followed this success by winning the next season’s (2004-’05) NPL Challenge Cup, the second time they had won this silverware, and 2008 saw Matlock earn a shot at a place in the Conference North when making the play-offs; Witton Albion would, however, prevail 4-2 in the semi-finals, consigning Town to another year in the NPL. They have since finished a best of 7th (coming in 2010), whilst consolidating themselves as a solid mid-table outfit, year-on-year, finishing last season in 15th place. They have also lifted the Derbyshire Senior Cup on a total of ten occasions – their first in 1975, and most recent coming in 2017.

The game got underway as I got talking to Matlock and Leeds fan Gary, about all and sundry with regards to different things in the world of football and the like. It was a good job there was something to distract me (at least from my perspective) from the on-field action…or the lack thereof; it was bloody horrendous early doors. It really isn’t a stretch to say that the first twenty minutes or so saw next to nothing in the way of goal-mouth action – or 18-yard action even – truly be created – a shot from over the half-way line being the closes we came to an opener. Even then, it wasn’t really that close. The first real chance eventually came the way of Matlock’s Dan Bramall, his shot being deflected wide, before Ant Malbon responded for Kidsgrove – however he could only tamely hit straight at Jon Stewart between the Gladiators’ sticks.

View from the dual stand

Match Action

Footie & Drink!

That would pretty much be that for the first half it seemed, but, right on the stroke of half-time, the hosts grabbed a slightly deserved lead on the overall balance of play. Having just visited the food bar for something that involved chips (I can’t remember what else – its been over ten days…), I headed over to the clubhouse entrance in anticipation of the whistle, when a free-kick was met by James Williamson at the back post and his header nestled in the net. 1-0 Matlock at the break, a break which was spent watching the half-time scores come in from around the country, as a rather sizeable queue formed at the bar.

The second half was soon on the go and Kidsgrove came out like a house on fire, intent on getting themselves back on level terms, clearly having been stung by conceding so late in the first-half, Malbon volleying over the bar in their best chance early doors. Having said that, this approach gave Matlock the space to attack too and they also went close, Marcus Marshall firing narrowly wide in search of a second goal that would have likely clinched Town’s place in the next round. Kidsgrove, however, would have other ideas and the impressive Kingsley Adu Gyamfi went close on a pair of occasions as Athletic strove to get back level.

Through The Crowds

From The Stand

Terraces

They would achieve this goal with around twenty-five minutes left on the clock; skipper Ant Malbon latched onto a loose-ball, after James Butler’s header had been cleared off the line but no further, and he calmly finished – showing all his experience in doing so. The wind was well and truly in the sails of Kidsgrove now and, with their band of supporters in the terrace behind the goal still coming to terms with their leveller, their joy became jubilation moments later. All but straight from kick-off, the quicksilver Gymafi picked up the ball just inside the Matlock half, beat a couple of challenges in advancing forward, before lashing a drive across goal that flew past Stewart and into the back of the net. What a strike it was and Gyamfi enjoyed it just as much as the Grove faithful did!

A stunned Matlock did seem shell-shocked by the sudden turnaround and despite seeing Williamson and Luke Hinsley denied by Kidsgrove ‘keeper Kieran Harrison, even the coming up of Harrison’s opposite number Stewart for a final minute corner couldn’t force an equaliser and the NPL South visitors held on to seal a “Cupset” and head into the Third Qualifying Round, the magical First Round place and all the possibilities that come with it edging ever closer. However, I’m still left with just the one ‘keeper goal live – Greg Hall’s place in my ‘Hall of Fame’ (NB: a note) as sole member in that category is safe. In fact, I’ve seen him score as a ‘keeper, midfielder and striker. So, yeah.

Late on…

Small bridge & stream. Quaint.

After the game, I made haste up the steep incline to the Duke William, which should have been my starting point upon my arrival into Matlock proper. This had also been the scene of one of my rare darts wins which, I must admit, came in my more sober days!! Upon entering into this throwback public house, I plumped for a pint of Heineken (£4.30~) and wasted away a fair bit of the hour-and-a-bit or so I had until the bus back to Alfreton. This was all going well until….well, you remember that “getting lost in a churchyard” bit, yeah? See that and add ‘a private road’ and could I find this place? Could I hell. As such, I decided to follow the paths from whence I came and got back to the Remarkable Hare in good time for the bus….which was then delayed by a good twenty minutes, meaning a later train back was now on the cards. Walking through Alfreton, I decided it was time to employ my ‘trump card’. What was that, you ask? I think you know….!

Duke William

Back in Alfreton at the Prospect Micropub

Since visiting Alfreton with fellow hopper Paul a few seasons back now, a small micropub in an unassuming side road has opened up judt a few minutes walk from the station entrance. Going by the name of the Prospect Micropub (on account of said road it is on), it was always going to be a place of refuge is something went a little awry, and so it came to be. Unfortunately, for some reason, I sounded like a pure drunk on my arrival there and could barely string the sentence I wanted together, though maybe wasn’t as bad as I suspected, as the guy there seemed to know what I was on about. Or maybe he guessed?! Either way, I ended up choosing another Rattler at £4.70 and wasted away the remaining time lazing on a couch. Lovely stuff.

Eventually I had to rouse myself from the sunken sofa and back out onto the streets of Alfreton, which by now were bathed in darkness and illuminated only by the streetlights glaring down upon them. Hello darkness, my old friend. Winter is coming. Any other puns; I can’t see me thinking of anymore. Sorry. Anyway, no other problems were seen and via a welcome doze on the train back into Manchester, I was there in quick time, though wasn’t in the mood to stick around the best part of an hour for a train; instead I opted to part with a couple of quid extra to grab a bus and get home a half-hour earlier. I fair trade I think. That ended another good trip to another lovely town. Of course, I knew what to expect out of Matlock (less so its pubs), but I hadn’t been to its Bath-y neighbour before and that was the bonus. Both were great and, of course, Causeway Lane is, as I’ve already said, a top ground – even without the dramatic backdrop up to Riber Castle. Next up….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 9

Food: 7

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

 

Manchopper in….Belper

Result: Belper Town 1-0 Alvechurch (FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round)

Venue: Christchurch Meadows (Saturday 7th September 2019, 3pm)

Att: 329

The FA Cup rolls onwards through its rounds and as it does, I continue to follow its path. The best part about the Cup is that it springs up some intriguing contests that would otherwise not be possible in the short term. Case in point being today’s game at Christchurch Meadows in the market town of Belper. The home of the Nailers has been a long-term target of mine and a cup tie always adds an extra intrigue to proceedings and, as a result, once the draw had thrown up a home tie for Belper, there was little choice that had to be made.

I headed on through Sheffield and Derby, with twenty minutes waits at both – the latter of which yielded a group of guys riding leprechaun suits – the train for the short hop to Belper came in and I was walking down the High Street within 20 minutes of leaving Derby. The high street leading up past the memorial gardens and to the cenotaph area is a fair incline, but is nothing on the bit of road between there and the Nags Head, the small traditional pub at the end of the town centre. This is a true locals place but, that’s not a slight on it whatsoever. Its a lovely, snug place and the pint of San Miguel (£3) was probably one of the fizziest I’ve ever had. Good signs!

Finishing up in the Nag, I backtracked the short distance to the cenotaph but where three drinking holes sit in close proximity to each other. Namely, these are the Angels micropub, the Cross Keys and the Black Swan. The former is a small, real ale-centric place and seems to be in some kind of former church building of sorts. I might be completely wrong, but the Oakham brewery’s Citra beer (£3) certainly wasn’t! The highlight here had to be the picture above the bar of a group of angels, all with pint in hand. My idea of heaven.

Belper

Nag’s Head

The Angels Micropub

Belper is a market town and civil parish within the Amber Valley area of Derbyshire, around 7 miles to the North of Derby, with its name thought to derive from the word Beaurepaire – meaning ‘beautiful view’ – which itself was the name given to a local hunting lodge, mentioned in a 1231 charter. This would have been owned by the 1st Earl of Lancaster and its chapel still remains and is thought to be the oldest building in Belper. The town stands upon the River Derwent and counts the village of Milford and nearby hamlets of Bargate, Blackbrook and Makeney as areas of its parish. At the time of the Norman invasion, Belper was part of the land centred on Duffield and owned by the family of Henry de Ferrers, whilst the Domesday Book states that the manor of “Bradley” was located in the area, thought to be now near Coppice which, at the time, was likely within the Forest of East Derbyshire that covered the county east of the Derwent.

The area was disafforested in 1225 and became a part of Duffield Frith. The coal deposits at the time were associated with ironstone being important to the de Ferrers family, who were ironmasters back in Normandy and by time King Henry VIII had come to the throne, Belper had grown and prospered quite significantly around nail-making and the selling of these to surrounding textile mills, although it was still considered a lesser area near to Duffield. This remained the long-term industry of the town through to the late 18th century and the building of the world’s second-only water-powered mill by Jedediah Strutt and the expansion of the textile industry saw Belper become a mill town. Further followed, with the North Mill and ground-neighbouring East Mill still standing – parts of the Derwent Valley Mills world heritage site.

Belper square and Black Swan

War Memorial Gardens

More floral niceties

The construction of the North Midland Railway in 1940 saw Belper connected to more wide-ranging areas and allowed the town to become the first place in the U.K. to gain gas lighting, with textiles and hosiery remaining the core industry into the 20th century, whilst iron-founding also grew up. A ‘Poet’s Trail’ was added to the town in 2009 and features well-known and local talents, whilst Belper won the ‘High-Street of the Year’ award in 2014. Local alumni include Commonwealth Games double gold-medallist swimmer Ross Davenport, the “father of the American Industrial Revolution” Samuel Slater, colonial ruler of Malaya Frank Swettenham, ex-Derby County footballer Ron Webster and none other than James Bond!!! Well, Timothy Dalton.

From there, it was to the Black Swan, what with the Cross Keys not being open until later. The Black Swan was instead and this is one of the slightly more foodie places, though not overly so. Anyways, I opted for a pint of Estrella (£4.60) here, prior to making my way down the other side of the gardens, slightly away from the centre itself. Here, I came to the Old King’s Head, another of the more local, traditional pubs in and around the place. A Strongbow (£3.25) was had here, whilst I battled a bout of the sneezes, which aren’t quite the thing you want to have come upon you in a queitish place!

Old King’s Head

Heading to the ground

Cutting back through the gardens afterwards, I made headway for the Green House, one of those ‘Wetherspoons-without-being-a-Wetherspoons’ type of places. They had the ill-fated (from an England perspective) Ashes test from Old Trafford on, where the hosts were batting to avoid the follow on, the legendary Jack Leach’s glasses and lens cloth aiding the cause gamely. A Dark Fruits – at a pricey £4.05 -was had before going groundwards to secure a programme early doors before returning to the surrounding roads of Christchurch Meadows for one final pre-match drink.

The Rifleman’s Arms was the venue for this, and a pint of Strongbow (£3.65) was milked to wile away the good 45 minutes through towards kick-off, with the programme purchase now no longer an issue. Again, this was a pleasant enough pub and was well worth the visit, prior to heading the short distance back to the Christchurch Meadows turnstiles, whereupon I paid the £9 entrance fee and entered inside. I reckoned it’d be best to seek out the food bar first, though the first place I came across didn’t sell any other than soup. As a result, I ordered some tomato which, thanks to the ladies there, was eventually made despite their unyielding saucepan task. Thanks for the efforts and it was fine nonetheless!

Rifleman’s Arms

Arriving at the ground

Christchurch Meadow itself is a tidy and pleasant ground. It houses two stands; the covered terrace is located just in front of the turnstiles, and runs the third of the touchline on the near side. Running the majority of the far side is a seated stand, whilst the clubhouse (and actual food bar as I would find out) is situated directly behind it. Both ends, and to the sides of the stands are all open, hard standing, with the neighbouring church and mill providing an interesting back drop. That’s the ground, and this is the story of the Nailers of Belper….

History Lesson:

Belper Town Football Club was founded in 1883 and after playing both locally and in the FA Cup initially – reaching the First Round in 1888 and losing out to The Wednesday (before they added Sheffield to their name). They later became founder members of the Derbyshire Senior League in 1890, finishing as runners-up in 1896 before moving into the Mid-Derbyshire League around the turn of the century and winning the title there in 1905 and finishing as runners-up two years later in the final year of the Mid-Derbyshire League before its re-naming, now being known as the Derbyshire Alliance. However, the league only lasted a sole season before merging with the Nottinghamshire & District League in 1908 to form the Notts & Derbyshire League, with Belper again becoming a founding member. Unfortunately, their stay would be brief, and after leaving the league during the 1911-’12 campaign, the club folded shortly after and wouldn’t return until post-WWII.

1951 saw Belper Town eventually return to the field and this came in the Central Alliance’s Division One – where the ‘new’ club took over the fixtures of the departed Mansfield Town ‘A’ side. The league was restructured five-years later to become more regionalised, with Belper being placed in the Division One North and after finishing runners-up in 1957, they won the Division One North title in 1959 and then added to this success with a first Derbyshire Senior Cup too. When the Midland League was re-established in 1961, Belper would join the new league but despite lifting their second Derbyshire Senior Cup in 1962, didn’t begin life there all too well, finishing bottom in 1970. However, they did stabilise somewhat after this, but upon the league’s split into a two-divisional competition, Belper’s tenure in the Premier could’ve ended with relegation in 1979; instead the drop didn’t come their way and the following year saw another league and cup double attained, with the Premier Division title and the club’s third Derbyshire Senior Cup won.

A Hidden Welcome

BTFC

1982 saw the Midland League merge with the Yorkshire League to become the Northern Counties East League and Belper were again placed in the Premier Division. The Nailers would win the league in 1985, but wouldn’t be promoted, and success soon became harder to come by. Indeed, it took a decade for the club’s next silverware to arrive, this finally coming in the form of the 1995-’96 NCEL President’s Cup. They would follow this up with a runners-up placing in the NCEL Premier Division the next year and this was enough to secure Belper promotion to the Northern Premier League Division One. They would remain there through until the league’s re-organisation and the regional split of the Division One in 2007 with the Nailers being placed in the South Division. 2008 saw a fourth Derbyshire Senior Cup won too, their last to date.

The club would finish runners-up in 2009, missing out on the title on goal difference, and so had to make do with a place in the play-offs. However, they wouldn’t manage to end their season on a high, losing out to Stocksbridge Park Steels in the play-off final. Belper won the NPL President’s Cup in 2010 and 2013 saw the Nailers back in the play-offs, but again their run here would end in disappointment with a 4-2 defeat to Stamford in the semi-finals being suffered. But it would be third-time lucky for the club the next year, as they vanquished Leek Town and Mickleover Sports in the play-off semi and final respectively to secure a spot in the NPL Premier Division, though their first foray into Step 3 would be brief, lasting just the one season prior to the drop back to the Division One South. Since this drop, the club have spent two seasons in the First Division South, one in the re-designated Division One East, and have started this in the now-named South East Division.

The game got going, well….that’s a bit of a lie – it really didn’t ever get out of first gear in truth! The visitors from the catchily-named Southern League Premier Division Central – a step above Belper’s current placing – began ever so slightly on top, but never really looked threatening, whilst the hosts largely mirrored this. An early header by Kyle Rowley flew high over the bar for Alvechurch, whilst experienced forward Danny South and Riece Bertram had efforts down the other end, but there was little to choose between the teams.

Match Action

Match Action

Just after the half-hour, the hosts’ Nathan Curtis volleyed narrowly wide in what was the closest we had come to a goal, but there would only be a few half-chances at either end in the remained fifteen minutes or so of the first period, before Phil Watt went close for the hosts too, but he couldn’t force the ball over the line from a narrow angle. George Milner then fired over from the edge of the area with a couple of minutes to play ahead of the break, before the whistle blew to signal the halfway point of a rather tepid, turgid game. The visit to the food bar for a decent portion of chips was probably the highlight for me!

The second half started with even less in the way of true goalmouth action and all I could say is, from a neutral’s point of view, thank God it was a decent day weather-wise! However if I was to look at it a little more positively, a closely-fought game does at least keep all results possible and that is a good thing on the whole. It took until around the hour for a first real sight of goal to come the way of any player – that player being Javia Roberts – but his shot would only drift over once more.

From the seats

Belper celebrate their winner

Match Action

The tie meandered onwards towards its conclusion with little to suggest that an opener was on the cards. However, as I made my way around to the far-end of the pitch to head around for the exit, something of a divine miracle occurred which, with the church as a back-drop, was perhaps always going to happen. Having not really troubled their visitors in the second half, a long punt forward was met by the lanky frame of South and his flick-on fell perfectly for the on-rushing Charlie Dawes, who hammered the ball past Lloyd Ransome between the Alvechurch sticks to send the home support (and, I have to admit myself) into rapturous cheers. Okay, maybe I wasn’t quite at rapturous levels, but I was bloody relieved.

The Nailers duly saw out the remaining five minutes or so with little alarm and deservedly booked their place in the next round, though if ‘Church had taken it, you could say they’d have deserved it too; it really was that kind of game. Anyhow, post-match, I made haste to the nearby George & Dragon, where I decided to play it safe with a Kopparberg Mixed Fruit (£3.90), prior to returning back station-wards for the neighbouring Railway, where I indulged in a Dandelion & Burdock (£2.50) prior to the train home.

George & Dragon

Railway

Poem

Incidentally, the station at Belper is home to a copy of a lovely Robert Stevenson poem, which rings true across all eras. That would end a fine little trip, one that almost ended in a 0-0 disaster, but resulted in a cup upset. The game itself was a bit middle of the road, but the town itself was really pleasant and great to visit. Programme and food (plus the efforts soup-wise) were both great and appreciated and, all in all, a highly enjoyable day was had. Back on the road we go….

Manchopper in….Halesowen

Halesowen Town 3-1 Bedworth United (FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay)

Venue: The Grove (Monday 26th August 2019, 3pm)

Att: 377

Having missed out on an FA Cup tie on the Saturday, due to having executive tickets at Old Trafford (though I wish I hadn’t, having been subjected to the tosh served up by United there), I thought I’d missed my chance to continue along on the “Road to Wembley”….or in my case “Road to the 4th or 5th Round at Swindon” or something akin to that. Indeed, having woken up on Bank Holiday Monday morning, my intended destination remained to be my previous night’s choice – Barrow vs FC Halifax Town up at Holker Street. But, come a check of the weather, I began to doubt my choice a little; 19ºc seeming something of a waste of a, supposedly, rare balmy day out. A quick peruse of the fixtures again served up a pleasant surprise in this very tie I’m writing about and the high 20’s were definitely more attractive too.

As such, my FA Cup quest could continue on and I could enjoy the likely final day of true heat Britain is likely to see this year! I set off into Manchester at a little after 9am and having passed through there and to Crewe, headed further south and into the Midlands where I would hop off at Smethwick Galton Bridge for the brief journey a couple of stops down the line to Old Hill. However, on my arrival at Smethwick, I’d decided to try and get a plusbus ticket added on (and I was bloody happy I did looking at the hills!) and so jumped on the first train to Rowley Regis, a stop earlier, instead. Having eventually gotten the ticket safely bought and once again being a ticket guy’s first (sale of one I mean, God) I instead grabbed a bus from the foot of the road and down towards Halesowen.

The Loyal Lodge – first stop of the day

Arriving in Halesowen

Halesowen is a large market town within the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley in the county of the West Midlands, around 9 miles southwest of Birmingham, and is one of the largest towns in the U.K. to be without a railway station directly serving it, though one did exist as a meeting point of two separate lines, but the vast majority of pointers to this have since been removed. Historically a part of Worcestershire, Halesowen was previously a detached part of the county of Shropshire until 1844, when it was incorporated into the former and remained there until 1974 when it and neighbouring Stourbridge became a part of the West Midlands. It was recorded in the Domesday Book as being bigger than Birmingham and the manor and town was originally known as “Hala” from the Anglo-Saxon ‘halh’ meaning nook or remote valley, until it was gifted the Welsh Prince David Owen by King Henry II and became Halas Owen.

Halesowen had gained a market fair by the early 1200’s and attracted many women migrants to the area who proceeded to set up businesses (rather progressive!), whilst the area is renowned in history as being an area of conflict when seeing a 13th century peasant’s revolt crushed and the leader and wife of another prominent member murdered by Abbot-hired thugs at the abbey. It remained rather rural, though did have a coal industry from the era of Edward I, right through to the 18th century, when it grew quickly around the Industrial Revolution growing even more as a coal hub. This was added to be nail making, iron production and slitting within mills and its growth took in Oldbury in 1829, before changing from a rural district (a title given in 1894) to an urban district in 1925 and then a municipal borough in 1935, prior to its aforementioned switch to Dudley and the West Midlands in 1974.

Halesowen

Halesowen’s “Precinct”

The 1960’s saw redevelopment in the centre, and a precinct (imaginatively named “The Precinct”) was created and the high street pedestrianised. The town centre was further improved in the 1980’s, with a large part becoming an indoor shopping centre, though was usurped somewhat in the late 80’s by the nearby Merry Hill. Upon the original site of an Anglo-Saxon church, a fair amount of the Norman part of the church’s creation still stands too along with abbey ruins, whilst a medieval cross (which was actually defeated by wind at some point) stands within the churchyard. Leasowes Park is noted as one of the first natural landscape gardens in the country and was designed by William Shenstone, who is remembered as many would like to be – via Wetherspoons, whilst the town also counts the likes of presenter Bill Oddie, comedian Frank Skinner, footballer Lee Sharpe, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Judas Priest’s Glenn Tipton amongst its alumni.

I jumped off the 9H service outside a car dealership just short of the town centre itself and took the short walk across the road and around the corner to the Loyal Lodge, which is well worth seeking out. A lovely and somewhat hidden hostelry, the Lodge was a cozy place that I reckon comes into its own on colder days, though thankfully there was no raging fire in the fireplace today! A pint of Heineken (£3.90) was had here, whilst I planned out my onward trip uphill to the centre. I found I could just about catch the next bus from the stop I’d just debussed at and so I returned there, only for it to not make an appearance for a fair while. As a result, I got a feeling that fate was trying to deal me a bad hand and began walking – only for said bus to rock and roll around the corner, but not before I’d caught it in time. Called your bluff, fate-masters.

Olde Queen’s Head

Pick’s

Taking the ride uphill and past the town-centre church, I disembarked at the bus station and circled the neighbouring ASDA store (other supermarkets are available) and arrived at the Olde Queens Head, where a pint of Blue Moon (£3.95) was had, whilst the locals about inside were complaining about other locals, who had been complaining about the noise from an outdoor event that was on, which they had a complaint about. Follow? You don’t need to, it doesn’t add to the story. I continued on my tour of Halesowen, cutting back on myself a little and back into the precinct area and paid a visit to Picks, which had clearly been a pub for quite some time looking at its traditional exterior. A pint of Amstel (£3.60) was the choice here, whilst I was asked if I was ok by a couple of different guys in here. They were either very friendly, or I looked very rough. You be the judge!

As kick-off began to near a little more, I reckoned it was best to make my way up towards the ground and save the Wetherspoons outlet, and another couple of smaller places for later, as at least one appeared to not be open at this time. The George on the corner has seemingly shut its doors for good and so it was to the Waggon & Horses around a half-way up the road to the Grove, the Yeltz’s home ground. This pub proudly exclaimed itself as “A Specialist Real Ale Pub” and so I reckoned it’d be rude to not have a dabble into one of their numerous choices – I think there was 15 ales and ciders on the go, plus your few lagers. Anyway, I played it pretty safe with a weak-ish Kinver Light Railway pale ale (£3.65) which wasn’t bad; not one I’d overly shout about personally, but would have again.

Waggon & Horses

King Edward

Through the HTFC gates once more

It was then I came up with the decision to pop to the ground early for a programme, as I’d been told by the club that they were in small numbers and I suspected a pretty big crowd would be on. What followed was a failed attempt at coercing the guy at the near turnstile to grab one for me (though I did assure him I wouldn’t be on the rob), before I was informed I may be more successful up the other end. This I was – though the hurdling of the turnstile was a little uncomfortable. Jeans would have made it a little more questionable. Thanks to the guys on both gates for their help!

I back-tracked around the ground via the perimeter path and to the neighbouring King Edward pub, decked out in bright yellowy-orange paint, which ensures people are unlikely to miss it, I suppose. I waited out the remainder of the time pre-match in there over a pint of Stella (£3.60) before passing back through the impressive, old gates that guard the Grove stoically and returning back to the main entrance at the far-end with the queues being rather large at the sole entry. I paid my entry dues of £8 and was allowed, and counted this time(!), into the ground – and what a fantastic ground it is, straight into my favourites of all-time. Along the near side is a sizeable open terrace (which hosts a media gantry) that runs the length of the pitch, whilst more of the same covers the far end. The opposite, far side is home to a seated stand that takes up the vast majority of that side and between it and the covered terrace known affectionately as “The Shed”  at the near end is, what I guessed was, hospitality and the dressing rooms. The remainder of facilities (i.e. clubhouse, bar and shop) are all congregated around the main turnstile block. That’s the Grove in very shorthand, and this is the story of the Yeltz of Halesowen….

History Lesson:

Halesowen Town Football Club was founded in 1873 as Halesowen F.C. and have played at The Grove ever since, the ground being steadily built over the shared cricket ground over the years, prior to their sole occupancy. They joined the Birmingham & District League in 1892 but finished up bottom at the end of their first season and upon doing so again in 1905, left the league for a season before re-joining. Things weren’t all that much better on their return and the Yeltz finished bottom once more in 1911 and so took the decision to move into the Birmingham Combination – but this move only saw things get worse, with their three season pre-war stay only yielding finishes of last in both of their first two seasons, and second bottom in 1913-’14 saw their tenure end.

They would return after the war in 1919, returning to the Birmingham Combination and were renamed as Halesowen Town in 1926. However, the name change didn’t change their luck all that much and another bottom finish was recorded in 1927, but remained in the league right through to the outbreak of WWII on this occasion. Come the end of hostilities, fortunes began to change for Town and 1947 saw the club finally record their first league title, as they won the Birmingham & District League at the end of their first season back there. In 1954, the league was split into Northern and Southern sections with Halesowen being placed in the latter, though this change only lasted a season, prior to the league splitting into a less regionalised Division One and Two.

Arriving for a non-hurdling entrance!

Into The Grove

1955-’56 saw Halesowen reach the FA Cup First Round for the first-time where they eventually lost out to Hendon at The Grove, and further disappointment followed with relegation to Division 2 suffered the next year, but their exile from Division One was brief, as the Yeltz returned after finishing third the following season. In 1960, the Birmingham & District League returned to consisting of only a sole division and would go on to be renamed the West Midlands (Regional) League two years later. They finished as 1965 runners-up and when the league gained a second division for the following year, were duly placed in the Premier Division. They won the title in 1982-’83 and reached the FA Vase Final, but lost out to VS Rugby by a single goal at Wembley.

The league proved to be a fruitful hunting ground for Halesowen, as they retained the title for the next three seasons (through ’83-’84 to ’85-’86) to record four-straight successes, whilst the FA Vase then also caught the success bug when it came to the club, as they won both the 1985 and 1986 editions – defeating Fleetwood Town and Southall respectively, whilst that fourth successive league title preceded the club’s move up into the Southern Premier League’s Midland Division for 1986-’87, whilst the final league title season also saw the FA Cup First Round reached once again, but Halesowen fell to defeat at the hands of Frickley Athletic after a replay. Further 1st Round appearances followed in both 1987-’88 & ’88-’89, but both also ended in defeat, the latter at the hands of a Football League outfit for the first time, in the shape of Brentford.

In the Clubhouse

The Shed

First Round appearances became the regular over this period, and after the Midland Division was won in 1990 and promotion to the Premier Division duly followed, ties against Cardiff City, Tranmere Rovers and Farnborough Town also all ending in defeat in consecutive years through to 1991-’92. Their First Round regularity broke after that latter game and, back in the league, it took until 1996 for Halesowen to get close to promotion from the Premier Division, ending as runners-up in 1996 and missing out on the Conference by 3 points. Instead, Halesowen would instead drop away from the upper reaches after this brief shave with the Conference and yo-yo between the Prem and ‘Western Division’ for the next few years – relegation in 2001 was followed by an immediate return as Western Division champions, only for the Yeltz to then be immediately relegated again after a sole season….before being promoted once more at the first attempt. Blimey!

Their league status settled down upon their return to the Premier Division, and yet another First Round appearance in the FA Cup followed in 2004-’05 – but their somewhat cursed run continued with defeat to Yeading. After some re-organisations of the pyramid, the club’s league campaign in 2007-’08 also saw disappointment, with defeat to Team Bath in the final of the play-offs coming after having defeated Chippenham Town in the semis to get there. 2011 saw the Yeltz relegated into the South & West Division of the Southern League for a year, prior to being switched into the Northern Premier League’s Division One South, which the club won in 2014 and thus were promoted to the NPL Premier Division. Here they remained through to 2018, when they were switched to the newly-created Southern League’s Premier Central division upon further restructuring, but would be relegated to the Division One Central for this season.

After a pre-match visit to the food bar for chips, peas and gravy he tie got going with an early chance for the hosts’ Lewis Wright, but his effort was kept out in fairly routine fashion by Bedworth stopper Adam Harrison, whilst Harrison’s opposite number between the Halesowen sticks, Brad Catlow, also getting an early save in as Josh Steele fired straight at him. However, the opener would arrive just a couple of minutes after this, and it was the Yeltz who would grab it. An initial attack saw a first effort blocked out, but the ball fell to striker Jamie Molyneux, and he pounced upon the loose ball to slot home. 1-0 and a perfect start for the hosts.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

With around twenty minutes played, Molyneux would add a deserved second for Halesowen, as he beat ‘keeper Harrison to a loose ball after some questionable defensive communication, and was left with the simple task of finishing off into the unguarded net. A true poachers pair of strikes. However, Harrison would go on to redeem himself with a string of fine stops as the game went on, and these began to be instrumental in keeping his Bedworth side in the tie up to half-time, as he denied the unfortunate Robbie Bunn a pair of times within around ten minutes. First, Harrison was equal to an effort and palmed it behind for a corner, before keeping out another two drives, one from Bunn and the other Molyneux, just before the break, each of which looked a good bet to nestle in the net – Harrison flinging himself away low down at both – had other ideas. Half-time and it remained 2-0 to the Yeltz.

After meeting Flo the dog on my way around for a brief visit to the clubhouse, I spent up the time spanning the break in there before the sides were back out again to compete in the second period. This started off rather slowly, with little in the way of true chances being made in between the regular breaks to take on water. The usual start of the half storm from the side behind did see a clearance off the line to deny Khaellem Bailey-Nicholls and Bedworth a way back into the tie, with Catlow gratefully falling upon the ball and thus end the danger to his clean-sheet, whilst Lewis Wright was denied for a second time in the game by Harrison.

On the chase

Molyneux nets his and Halesowen’s 2nd

From the seats

The ever dangerous Molyneux then crashed a drive against the crossbar as he searched for his hat-trick, and was kept out by the feet of the impressive Harrison, but he wouldn’t be denied for long and, on the hour, he would complete it. Receiving the ball just outside the area, he raced through and beyond the United back-line, before coolly slotting beyond Harrison for 3-0. A fine showing for the #10. Unfortunately for Catlow, he would be denied the clean-sheet mentioned earlier when, in the 89th minute, Bedworth grabbed a consolation (or set up a possible famed come-back if you were of a Bedworth and positive persuasion, I suppose) when substitute Ashanti Pryce got in on the left-hand side of the box and slid a fine finish across the home ‘keeper.

Town’s Jamie Lucas, Molyneux’s strike-partner, missed a fine chance to add gloss to the score-line, when failing to find the net late on, but there would be no miracles for Bedworth despite this, though they had a fine chance to set up said miracle when skipper Elliott Parrott somehow spurned a tap-in from a few yards out, right in the centre of goal. As it was, Halesowen deservedly held on to secure a place in the First Qualifying Round, where they will welcome Lichfield City to The Grove.

Ashanti Pryce pulls one back

‘Spoons post-match for an express one.

Britannia to round off the day before the train

Post-match, buses were few and far between on this route and so I took the slightly downhill walk back to the Wetherspoons, where I demolished a bottle of Hooch (£2.69) in around 5 minutes as to get that one in, though had to kindly refuse the offer of “same again” by the barman. The bus was due shortly and despite the ‘Spoons only being a couple of minutes away, I didn’t want to risk missing it and getting back any later than I had to. As such, I had about a five-minute wait before my carriage pulled in, though this time I got off a little earlier – just outside the Britannia which proclaimed itself as a “free-house” outside and looked very pleasant, decked out in flower baskets and the like. Upon entering, I was struck by a familiar logo….yep, it was another ‘Spoons, one in disguise, if you want! A pint of Bud Light (at £1.99) did the trick here, prior to making the ten minute-or-so walk back to Rowley Regis station for the train back to Smethwick once more and, from there, to Manchester via a brief changeover in Wolverhampton.

So ends the first Bank Holiday weekend of the season and, removing the Old Trafford fiasco from the equation, it had been a decent one, with this game rescuing it (plus the bonus Manchester League fixture the following evening backing it up). I enjoyed Halesowen and found the area a really friendly place, with its pubs and the ground all showing this in abundance. The game was good considering the overall conditions and the ground, as I said earlier, was brilliant in my eyes. Programme was decent enough with it being a rushed issue, whilst the food at the ground was also up there. All in all, a good trip, and one that will take some beating, even at this early stage of the season. But, it’s back to local stuff for the Tuesday, as I alluded to, and a small hop over to Salford Quays. You’ve gotta love it!

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 10

Programme: 4

Food: 8

Value For Money: 8

 

Manchopper in….Harrogate (Harrogate Railway Athletic FC)

Result: Harrogate Railway Athletic 1-10 (Ten) Whickham (FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round)

Venue: Station View (Saturday 10th August 2019, 3pm)

Att: 102

My competitive campaign was to get underway back on the FA Cup trail once more, having missed out the World’s oldest cup competition’s opening round last season on the quest to “tick” a few of the south coast league clubs ahead of uncertainty over railcard availability – something that is highly similar to that surrounding the Brexit farce. Anyway, with little overall attractiveness in a tie, I left my fate in the hands of the twitterati via the voting method that has become something of a regular occurrence recently, with my fine followers (it’s ManchopperBlog if you’re interested, btw) coming up with Harrogate Railway vs Whickham, a Northern Counties East vs Northern League clash, and so a return to Station View was pencilled in – my first under a neutral banner, having visited many a-time with Trafford in a past life! I got out of that in the nick of time, but that’s a story for another time and place….

Having moved onto these greener pastures, Harrogate had previously adorned these pages with my visit to Railway’s ever improving neighbours Town (which you can read here if you fancy) for their 1-0 last-gasp win over Brackley Town, a day which ensured Paul Thirlwell’s place in the “Manchopper Hall of Fame” – for which you get…well, nothing but pride and I’m sure that suffices!! Anyhow, back onto Railway and I was on said tracks during the early-ish morning, and having transited through Manchester and Leeds in good time, was able to catch a slightly earlier service up to Harrogate. I arrived before midday and so was allowed a nice walk around the town in a strong, but not overly so, North Yorkshire wind prior to diving into the town’s fine Wetherspoon’s offering, the Winter Gardens, where the staff were, almost literally, falling over themselves to serve those punters waiting. Good stuff, guys and gals.

Arriving in Harrogate

Harrogate

The name of Harrogate derives from its titles around the 1300’s, when the area was known as Hawregate, Harrowgate and (my personal favourite as it kind of sounds like Hadouken, I’d imagine) Harougat. The origin of the name itself isn’t certain, however, though may come from the Old Norse horgr (‘a heap of stones’) cairn + ‘gata’ (street), in which case the name meant ‘road to the cairn’. Another theory is that it means, more simply, ‘the way to Harlow’ – the form Harlowgate dates from the early-16th century and, apparently, the court rolls of King Edward II. Medieval times saw Harrogate situated on the borders the township of Bilston with Harrogate in the ancient parish of Knaresborough and the parish of Pannal – known in places as Beckwith with Rossett.

The area in Bilston would become known as High Harrogate and Pannal, Low Harrogate and both were in the (since 1372 and Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt) Duchy of Lancaster-ruled Royal Forest of Knaresborough. From then, the town’s development is largely down to the chalybeate and sulphur-rich spring water as found in 1571 by William Slingsby, who found the area’s water was akin to that of the Belgian town of Spa (also famed for the great racetrack Spa-Francorchamps, the most famous corner at which is spa-derived and named Eau Rouge – literally red water), which gives its name to Spa Towns. Further springs of both kinds were found throughout both High (chalybeate only) and Low communities during the 16 and 1700’s and many inns were thus opened for the increased tourism boom.

More gardens

‘Spoons

Old Bell

The Royal Forest was enclosed under the Enclosure Act in 1770 and areas became more clearly owned and some communal, such as the open expanse of The Stray, and developments continued to arise around this area of the town, with the mile-wide area between High and Low Harrogate was also developed through the 19th century. The current town centre was created to link the two – whilst water gas technology and the effects of adrenaline on circulation was first used here during this time. Harrogate began to decline in popularity with the elite by the end of the First World War and the Second World War saw many hotels etc. being repurposed as homes for the many government offices evacuated out of London and thus Harrogate became an important commercial, conference and exhibition centre. The town hosts four rail stations (Harrogate, Hornbeam Park, Pannal and Starbeck) and has links to London, York and Leeds, and had former lines to Wetherby and Ripon that no longer exist – though the Ripon line apparently stands a good chance of coming back in the future.

I settled in for a while over a Punk IPA (£3.49) whilst trying to come up with some kind of linear route around a few hostelries that would allow me to return to the station in good time for the short hop over to the ground-neighbouring Starbeck station – which Railway’s home used to look out onto before the creation of some flats in between. Alas, such is the way and, for now, let’s get back onto Harrogate’s watering holes for now and I returned off down the steep-ish decline of Montpellier Hill towards the pairing of the Fat Boar and the Old Bell. Upon arrival at the former, I spotted a few wedding guests outside and, having crashed one wedding celebration in the White Rose county previously (see Ossett for that!), I didn’t fancy risking it on this occasion and so gave best to my experience. In the latter, I opted for a pint of Stars & Stripes Pale Ale, which was decent enough at £3.50), before undertaking the short walk to the slightly hidden entrance of the Corner Hause located, as it is, below a hotel and in a corner down some steps.

Corner Hause

Down to Hales

Little Ale House

It was worth seeking out as, despite it being pretty empty at this time in the day, it had a fine selection of Belgian (and the like) beers – I opted for a Flensburger (£4) and ales on and also provided a timely cover from the steady rain that had begun to fall from the leaden skies above. The dullness wouldn’t really relent for the remainder of the day, and so I then tried to miss the heavier bursts that fell whilst making my way from door-to-door and was successful at the first time of asking in getting to ‘Harrogate’s Oldest Pub’, Hales’ Bar. It didn’t seem that it had anything to do with the England opener Alex, who seems to enjoy a tipple about as much as I do, however, and instead was decked out with many a stuffed animal and maritime paraphernalia which I didn’t immediately understand being, you know, quite some way from the sea. Amstel (£4.60) in and swiftly dispatched, I continued on my trip, heading back uphill whilst trying to seek out the whereabouts of the Little Ale House. It’s name was a fairly accurate description in this regard, though I eventually got there for a half of Weihenstephan (£2.75). I can be sensible on occasion!

Wheeling back around on myself a little, I continued on uphill station-wards along the road but only a short way before popping into the Harrogate Arms and watching a bit of one of the early kick-offs over another Amstel (at the more recognisable price of £4) and finished up my pre-match lap of Harrogate with a visit to the Alexandra Hotel, which I’d earmarked to be my final stop during my pre-drinks walk earlier. I don’t do regular, actual pre-drinks, you see, because what’s the fun in that….when you’re alone *whimpers*! With the match on in here as well, this gave a welcome distraction as I sipped at a bottle of Corona whilst the Leeds fans near me got a little worked up with their side’s display. Eventually though, the time had come to get over to Starbeck and Station View itself; and this time I wouldn’t quite avoid the rain.

Harrogate Arms

Alexandra

Arriving at Station View

The short journey takes just a handful of minutes and I was soon making the five-minute walk from station to ground, arriving with around fifteen minutes to kick-off. Paying my £6 entry (plus £1 for a programme) I paid a swift visit to the smart clubhouse, which unsurprisingly hadn’t changed too much since my previous visits, since it replaced the former one which stood about a half-mile away across the fairly large expanse of open grass pitches. You can see the pitch from up high in the bar too, if you so fancy but, for me, it was down to pitchside as the side’s were making their way out onto the hallowed Station View surface. The ground is a pleasant one, with a covered seating/terrace behind the far end goal, and another smaller seating stand on the far side, around the halfway line. This is flanked by a fair amount of uncovered standing steps which run around the corner from the turnstiles to said stand, whilst the near side is flat, open, hard standing. That’s Station View in a nutshell and this is the story of ‘The Rail’.

History Lesson:

Harrogate Railway Athletic Association Football Club was founded in 1935 by workers of the Starbeck depot arm of the London and North Eastern Railway and the club initially rented out Station View from the LNER for £1,500 before paying this off and buying the ground outright thanks to workers ‘donating’ One old penny a week. On the pitch, HRA went on to join the local Harrogate & District League and, as a rail works outfit, took part in the British Railways National Cup – which the Rail won in 1945-’46. Soon after, Harrogate Railway took the step up to the West Yorkshire League and ended up as 1952 runners-up before winning the league title two years later. A year later saw a third-placed finish attained, with Railway again looking to progress up the levels and so joined the Yorkshire League, taking a spot in Division Two and achieving promotion to Division One in 1958 after finishing up 3rd by the end of that campaign.

Incidentally, 1953 had seen Railway reach the FA Amateur Cup Second Round, where a “special train” was run for supporters down to Harwich & Parkstone for a 3-2 loss and another train was run, this time northwards, in 1961 for a First Round Amateur Cup tie at Whitley Bay, but this too, unfortunately from a Rail perspective, ended up in defeat.

HRA

However, their first foray into the Yorkshire League’s top division would be brief, with Railway relegated after just the one season and they mirrored this upon their return in 1964 after another 3rd placed Division 2 finish gave up just another sole season in Division One. The year had seen cup disappointment, though, with Railway losing out in the 1964 Yorkshire League Cup final to Farsley Celtic. Things didn’t improve for the Rail in all facets and after they were relegated to the newly created Division Three in 1970, the Rail found themselves taking the step back down into the Harrogate & District League once more in 1973. They would return to the Yorkshire League’s bottom division after seven years away and spent two years there before the league merged with the Midland League in 1982 to form the Northern Counties East League. Harrogate Railway were duly placed in the Division Two North, which they won in 1984 and so were promoted to the Northern section’s Division One.

Re-organisation of the NCEL in 1985 meant the club were placed in the non-regionalised Division One and a fourth-placed finish in 1987 saw promotion to the Premier Division attained and the NCEL League Cup was added to this success too via a dominant 5-0 win over Woolley Miners Welfare in the final. They would remain in the Premier Division through to their relegation in 1993, their absence totalling five seasons, with the Rail returning to the Prem in 1999 after taking the Division One title and this time the club would go on to greater strengths, including fine FA Cup runs which peaked in 2002-’03, which saw them finally make the “proper rounds” – reaching the Second Round after a triumph over Slough Town in Round One. Their Second Round tie took place at Station View (which I remember watching and found it interesting a club had ‘Railway’ in the name – ah, the ignorance of youth and lack of non-league knowledge!) where the club battled, but eventually fell to, Bristol City in a 3-1 reverse in front of a club-record crowd of 3,500.

The Rail

They did see cup success in a more regular fashion that year though in winning the NCEL President’s Cup, defeating Bridlington Town 7-2 on aggregate over two-legs, and a third-placed finish in the 2005-’06 Premier Division campaign saw the club secure a promotion spot to the Northern Premier League Division One for the first time. They would be placed in the Division One North in 2007 upon restructuring of the pyramid and 2008 again saw Railway go on a fine Cup run, defeating Droylsden 2-0 in Round One and, as a result, reached the Second Round once more. Again, and this time on live TV, welcoming Football League opposition to Station View in the shape of Mansfield Town, Railway would go out to a narrow 3-2 defeat. The club remained as a NPL Division One North side through to 2015-’16, when their declining on-field form over most of the preceding years ended with the drop back to the NCEL Premier Division being suffered and they again were victims of the drop last season, as Railway returned to the NCEL Division One after two decades away.

After visiting the food bar for a fine portion of chips, peas and gravy, the game got underway in quick fashion and Whickham quickly asserted themselves as the dominant force, with Carl Finnigan forcing a good early stop out of the Railway ‘keeper Joe Wilton. However, he would be beaten shortly afterwards as the Northern League side went ahead via left-back Sam Hedley’s cross drifting over his head and into the far corner. The lead was then doubled as Finnigan squared for his strike-partner, former Newcastle United, Norwich City and South African international striker Matty Pattison, to fire home and give the visitors the dream start to this season’s opening Cup foray.

Winger Kelvin Thear then fired wide as Whickham continued on all guns blazing, but they would be pegged back by a game Railway side when a ball through split the defence and James Healey coolly lifted an effort over the ‘keeper to half the deficit. Healey then headed over as Harrogate looked to level things up in their first, and only true, spell on top as Whickham again seized the initiative around the half-hour, but couldn’t quite manage to get the goal to re-instate their two-goal advantage. They did see a shot fly wide and Conor Newton made the home stopper work once again to tip his shot wide, before Harrogate caught Whickham on the break, only for the attack to just about be cleared before they could get an attempt on goal away.

Fans, food & footy

Match Action

Watching from the sideline

Harrogate’s Healey nets

That seemed to awaken Whickham well and truly and, soon afterwards, they had an effort cleared away off the line by a Rail defender, but they would re-instate the two-goal lead when Pattison tapped home from close range after an initial headed try by Dale Burrell had come back off the bar. This seemed to take the sting out of Railway and they suffered the fatal blow just before the break when, having just seen Wilton pull off a brilliant double save to deny both Pattison and Burrell to keep his side in the tie, Pattison was played in on the left and fed Finnigan to slot home – returning the favour from earlier in the half. Half-time; 1-4.

An uneventful break came and went before I was back out of the clubhouse for the beginning of the second half, as the rain began to fall. Whickham again came out on the attack and after Pattison had twice gone close, the Lang Jacks netted their fifth through Finnigan’s header, before another attack down the flank just moments later saw success and the ball in was finished off by Finnigan for his third of the afternoon. Harrogate tried to respond with a rare foray forward, but the shot went awry, whilst Whickham continued to make regular chances, but Finnigan, for once, had his targets set wrong in firing wide. The rain began to throw down ever heavier, quite akin to the weather during Railway’s famed 2008 Cup foray match at home to the Stags of Mansfield Town.

Here comes the rain!

Eyes on the prize

Late on….

This wouldn’t be as close of a contest though and Thear would add a seventh minutes later, sliding across the GK after another slick build-up move by the North-East outfit, before Finnigan then grabbed his fourth by unleashing a crashing drive into the top-corner for goal number eight. Sub Max Cowburn tried unsuccessfully to add to Railway’s woes, firing over twice in quick succession before the rout was completed, firstly, through Dale Burrell who tapped home after being played through and Pattison, who netted the rebound after Cowburn’s initial shot was denied by the rather unlucky Harrogate GK Wilton who, it has to be said, had a decent game in conceding double-figures. Only in football, eh?! The full-time whistle arrived through the deluge; the weather reflecting the feelings of the hosts come the end.

Post-match, I headed back through the rain and under the small underpass under the railway and to Starbeck’s one and only pub, the Prince of Wales, for a pint of Strongbow (£2.50) where I took the decision to walk on back to Harrogate via a couple of stops en route – namely Bertie’s, which was far better than expected by its name (half of Estrella £2ish) and The Empress, the latter being on the large, open area the town plays host to – The Stray. Unfortunately, after finishing a Dark Fruits (£4.30) in the planned event of squeezing the nearby Swan in too, the wetness had took its toll and I didn’t feel overly like it, with me instead opting to head back to the station. I eventually made it, despite a couple of faux pas; with these including passing the same restaurant twice. Nope, no idea how either, but I bet you aren’t too surprised knowing my history in this area!

Starbeck- The Star is no longer, sadly.

The Prince of Wales is though!

The Empress

Anyway, that would be the last drama of the day as the rest of the journey back passed without issue and in good time, and I was back indoors for around 9pm. It had been a decent day and, having waited to see a team net ten in a game for years, I had now seen it twice in a month. Nuts. The game, therefore, meant a bit more than usual thrashes, which tend to bore me silly and it still was watchable, to Railway’s credit. Aside from that, the ground is always a good one to pay a visit to and the people there are all nice, friendly peeps too. Food and programme good and it’s always decent to visit Harrogate, despite the weather! Onto another week we go and a local game somewhere before continuing on the cup trail once more….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 7

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Brighton

Result: Brighton & Hove Albion 0-0 West Bromwich Albion (FA Cup 4th Round)

Venue: Falmer Stadium (Saturday 26th January 2019, 3pm)

Att: 27,001

The FA Cup 4th Round draw threw up little in terms of intrigue or excitement – in my eyes anyway – and so I was quite stuck with what my plan for that weekend would be. Yes, my booking history with West Brom did give me the option of heading down to the south coast and the Falmer Stadium – home of Brighton & Hove Albion. But did I really want to make the trek? Did I? Come the Thursday afternoon arrival of my ticket, the question was duly answered and to Brighton I set, fittingly bright and early.

Getting the train at a little after 8am, a trouble-free trip had me arriving in Euston around quarter-past ten and after purchasing my tickets onwards there, the short walk over to St. Pancras followed where I’d catch my carriage onwards to Brighton. A nice bonus was the saving of a couple of quid on the ticket there due to the subsidisation of travel to the ground which is included in the match ticket, meaning I only had to buy to Haywards Heath – the rest of the journey being “free of charge” in many respects. Whatever the case, I wasn’t complaining!

Arriving into Brighton

On the front

First up: the Fortune of War

After finally pulling into the large expanse of Brighton Station at just after midday, a ten minute walk down the busy main road linking the two had me on the seafront. Getting my bearings, I quickly sought out where my first planned stop of the day was located – this being the interestingly named Fortune of War, located inside what were apparently former railway arches that now run beneath the seafront road. The Fortune of War has been termed as an “upside down boat” and it proudly proclaims itself as Brighton’s only pub in this regard. Really nice place with view over the sea from the large window on the slightly upstairs area. They also allowed me to charge my phone too (which was much required) whilst I supped at a lovely pint of Pale Ale (£5.05). The service was en pointe too, so props to the guy for that.

Brighton & Hove is a city and seaside resort on the south coast of England, lying between the South Downs and the English Channel with archaeological evidence showing the area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, whilst also showing later occupation by Roman and Anglo-Saxon peoples. A Neolithic camp was found on Whitehawk Hill dating from between 3,500 BC-2,700 BC with numerous burial mounds and tools suggesting it was a place of importance. A Bronze Age settlement was discovered in the Coldean area, whilst the Iron Age Brythonic Celts, upon their arrival in Britain, set up a settlement around Hollingbury Castle from the 7th century BC which has been suggested to have been the tribe’s capital. A Roman villa was located at Preston Village, with a Roman road running nearby, whilst the Romano-British Celts began to expand into farming prior to the Romans’ departure in the 4th century, whereupon the area returned to Celtic control.

Church on the Lanes

After the Anglo-Saxon invasion in the late 5th century, the region became part of the Kingdom of Sussex from 477 AD, under King Ælle. The village of Bristelmestune was likely founded by the new settlers due to its more favourable location – both geographically and weather wise, growing into a fishing and agricultural settlement. Mentioned in the Domesday Book as “Brighthelmstone”, the town grew in importance after the Norman Invasion and during the Middle Ages as the Old Town area developed at pace, with a church and market being founded and Brighton becoming Sussex’s most populous and important town, but later regular attacks by invading forces (Brighton was sacked by the French in the early 1500’s), storm damage and the resultant suffering of both the economy and population numbers saw the area begin to subside, along with its ailing fishing industry.

Royal Pavilion

King Charles II fled from Brighton to exile in France after his defeat at the 1651 Battle of Worcester and a permanent barracks was built up in 1793. During this time, the port area was apparently thought of as part of the wider Shoreham area, despite occasional mentions of a “Port of Brighton”. As the years rolled on and the roads and transport links were improved, Brighton began to flourish – becoming a boarding point for ships heading to France and also had those seeking supposed health benefits from bathing in the sea water beginning to swarm into the town. But it was during the Georgian Era that it became a fashionable resort, frequented by the Prince Regent (later King George IV) who spent much of his time in Brighton and duly had the Royal Pavilion constructed. The railways only added to Brighton’s popularity and it continued to boom through the Victorian-era with day trippers escaping the capital and many large hotels and the piers were then built too to accommodate the tourists’ comfort and leisure needs.

Town Hall

Brighton continued to grow through into the 20th century, gaining much in the way of housing estates as it grew to encompass surrounding areas in the post-WWII years, and it merged with neighbouring Hove in 1997 to form the unitary authority of Brighton & Hove, the two adjacent towns being granted city status in 2000 as the city of Brighton & Hove, during the Millennium celebrations. More recently, the area has become a popular haunt for the LGBTQ community, with Brighton being bestowed the title of “unofficial gay capital of the U.K. It has since added to it unofficial titles, being termed as both the U.K.’s “hippest city” and the “happiest place to live in the U.K.”.

From there I headed for the old part of town – the Lanes. Here there is a wide range of restaurants, shops and other amenities, but I’m sure by now you know which ones I was looking out for! My first stopping point in here came about rather by accident, as I found myself at the door of the Cricketers which, by all accounts, is Brighton’s oldest pub. Luckily it was on my list anyway, so I quickly headed inside. After a pint of Heineken at £5.05 (that 5p would become a theme), I continued onwards after deciding against the neighbouring Black Lion in favour of a change of scenery, and soon came upon the Pump House – a mix of a restaurant and bar that still resembled more of a pub than most that undergo the change-up. Timing it just right to get a table (which were at a premium), I had my first of two straight Amstels in here (£4.05) prior to heading on just down the way to the Sussex for the second of the duo which was 40p more for some unknown reason.

Cricketer’s Arms & Black Lion alongside

Looking towards the Pump House

Sussex

With drizzle beginning to fall as I exited and with time starting to run out, my next two stop-offs would have to be brief. The nearby pubs of the Druids Head and the Market featured bottles of Corona and Sol respectively, though this proved to not be as economical as I’d hoped – coming in at £4.75 and £4.40 respectively. To make matters a little worse, I then misjudged the walk back to the station and missed my planned train up to Falmer, meaning I’d be on the last one. Luckily, this seemed to work out OK as it was actually fairly empty, with the majority of fans seemingly already at the ground. All’s well that ends well, I suppose.

Druid’s Head

To the Market Tavern

Arriving at the ground around ten minutes before kick-off, I managed to somehow turn the wrong way, resulting in a lap of the ground before finally making it to the turnstile I was looking for. Entering in whilst the minute’s appreciation for the missing Emiliano Sala was happening, I soon purchased a pie (£4.20 ish) and headed up to the stands and my seat away in the corner of the away end giving good views across the pitch. The ground is somewhat like the Kirklees in appearance, all stands are of a similar size, though are all connected here, unlike its Yorkshire counterpart. The tunnel and dugouts populate the right-hand touchline from my viewpoint, with the main stand also hosting the executive boxes etc. That’s the Falmer Stadium and this is the story of the Seagulls:

History Lesson:

Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club was founded in 1901 and had the suffix ‘United’ for a short time before swiftly becoming Albion and first played in the Southern League Division Two, taking the place of the defunct Brighton & Hove Rangers and becoming professional in the process. After being promoted to the Division 1 in 1903, Brighton won the Southern League title in 1909-’10 and went on to lift the FA Charity Shield at the start of the following season, defeating Aston Villa, to record their first national honour – with the Shield at the time contested between the champions of the Football League and Southern League. Brighton also entered a side in the Western League for two years from 1907, winning the Division ‘1A’ in 1909 before losing the ‘play-off’ to Division ‘1B’ champs Millwall and being closed. Brighton initially played at both the Hove County Ground and the Goldstone Ground – home to Hove F.C., with both clubs sharing the latter stadium from 1902 onwards.

In 1920, the Seagulls were elected to the Football League and its newly founded Division Three South. They remained here throughout the period between the two World Wars with little success coming their way, their best finish being 3rd, twice, in 1937 and 1939. After the end of WWII and the recommencement of football nationwide, the club struggled initially and finished bottom of the league in 1948 though remained in the Football League and soon rose back up the table in the immediate years following and 1958 saw them finally escape Division 3 South as they took the title and were duly promoted to Division Two.

Seagulls….

Spending the next four seasons there, they steadily dropped down the table each of those seasons before being relegated after finishing bottom in 1962. Things immediately worsened and Brighton headed straight on through Division Three the next year, finishing third-bottom and found themselves in Division 4 with the league having been fully nationalised. However, the club would spend just the two seasons there before going up as champions in 1965 and 1972 saw the Seagulls back in Division 2, having finished up as Division 3 runners-up. Their stay in the second-tier would be brief, the single campaign ending with the dreaded drop once again being suffered as the club found themselves heading back to the Third Division, where they would spend the next five years before going up to Division 2 once again.

This time, things got even better for Albion and after spending another two years in Division Two, the club secured their first stint in Division One with a runners-up placing in Division 2 and would remain in the top division for the next four seasons prior to relegation in 1983 and 1987 had Brighton back in the Division 3 once again, but they would bounce back immediately by finishing as Division 3 runners-up. Despite reaching the 1991 play-offs and losing in the final at Wembley to Notts County, Albion became one of the sides to hold the dubious honour of being relegated in 1992 from Division Two, only to end up in the re-designated one after the formation of the Premier League) and remained there up until the penultimate season at their long-standing Goldstone Ground home.

It was then things went awry, with relegation to Division Three being suffered in 1996 and two successive second-bottom finishes duly followed, though relegation was avoided with it not being a relegation place at the time. Indeed, the 1998 survival was only secured on the final day, with Albion meeting relegation rivals Hereford United on the final day and doing enough to ensure it would be the Bulls whose League stay would come to an end by virtue of goals scored taking priority over goal difference at the time.

Heading down from the station

Upon the club’s return to Brighton after a two-year hiatus at Gillingham, things quickly improved and two successive promotions were enjoyed at the Seagulls’ new home the Withdean Stadium. Not only that, both promotions came as champions as Brighton lifted the Division 3 title in 2001 and Division Two in 2002 and were back competing in Division One. Unfortunately, the stay would only be a sole season and the club were again relegated to Division Two, only to make an immediate return after reaching the play-offs and defeating Bristol City in the final at the Millennium Stadium. They went on to compete in the newly named Championship for the next two seasons before suffering the drop once more – to League One in 2006.

The club would have a five season stay in League One until 2011 when they took the title in their final campaign at the Withdean before moving to their new Falmer Stadium home and returning to the Championship for a second time, this time established themselves as a major contender for promotion to the Premier League. Brighton made the play-offs in each of 2013 & 2014 – losing out in the semi-finals to Crystal Palace and Derby County respectively, and suffered worse heartbreak in 2016 in missing out on the runners-up spot and automatic promotion and were then defeated in the play-off semis for the third successive year, this time by Sheffield Wednesday. Finally they broke their near-miss curse in 2017 by securing the runners-up placing in the Championship and with it the much coveted automatic promotion place for the Premier League, finishing 15th at the end of their first season.

The game got going with the hosts on top during the early stages, though they created little of note. Shane Duffy’s header was the closest either side came within the first twenty minutes, before Beram Kayal’s effort finally forced one of the ‘keepers into action – Jonathan Bond saving rather comfortably in the end. The Seagulls continued to have the vast majority of play through to the half-hour, restricting West Brom to the odd breakaway here and there with Yves Bissouma, Kayal and Florin Andone all being denied by Bond – the first stretching him the most. West Brom did come into the game more as the half entered the last fifteen minutes or so with Jonathan Leko firing way off target in the visitors’ first true sight of goal.

Match Action

Match Action

The tempo of the tie kept rising and the contest became a highly entertaining one, with West Brom happy to try to break at pace against a Brighton side who continued to press on forward. It was Brighton too who would have the better of the late first half chances, Bissouma and Andone firing off target as the sides headed in still deadlocked. Not consecutive nil-nil’s, surely?

An uneventful half-time was spent having a flick through the scores on the doors before the game got back underway with the Baggies seeming far more adventurous in their attacking endeavours while attacking the end at which their fans (and me) were located. Hal Robson-Kanu, annoyingly wearing #4 against what really should be a law, had a headed effort comfortably saved by Brighton stopper David Button and Rekeem Harper drove a shot just wide of the target as the visitors started strongly.

Just before the hour, the Seagulls would go as close as they would come in the game when the ball came to Dale Stephens just outside the area and his low shot looked to be headed for the bottom corner until Bond’s hand intervened, diverting the ball onto the post. A good stop, which would soon be matched by opposite number Button, when he palmed Tosin Adarabioyo’s header from close-range onto the crossbar.

Match Action

Match Action

As the game entered its final quarter, both sides were looking to grab the deciding goal and send themselves into the fifth round alone. Robson-Kanu saw an effort fly wide and Brighton sub Viktor Gyokeres again found Bond in the way, but other than that, the substitutes didn’t have too much effect on the tie overall. Glen Murray was sent on in the final stages and the veteran almost grabbed the winner with seconds left on the clock when he was denied by another Bond stop to ensure the goalless draw and both teams a place in the hat. The double-0 part definitely fitted in.

Post-match I headed round to the club shop with some really freezing rain now falling steadily. Having been pointed this way by a steward at half-time as a likely place to secure a programme, I came across a few at one of the tills and upon being asked for the £2 due, just happened to have my wallet come out upside down….only for the correct amount to drop out. I definitely meant it, it’s my party trick (my parties really are that exciting). From there, I made haste to join the growing masses attempting to make the Falmer platforms in any sort of respectable time and, to be fair, it was marshalled well and enabled me to be on a packed third post-match train back to Brighton, giving me a good hour and a bit back in the city centre.

Post-match rush

Bright Helm

Battle of Trafalgar

Popping into the Spoons I’d come across earlier in the day, the Bright Helm, I discovered the walk had been significantly longer than I expected (I hadn’t learned from before) and so had to resort to a Hooch – which came in a plastic glass “because of the football”. No, me neither, but this wasn’t to be the worst of it as, on attempting to visit the station neighbouring Railway Bell I was told it was by home match ticket only. WTF?! That really was my thoughts at the time, but the guys on the door did give me a couple of options (one being directly next door) and another being just up the hill. Luckily, I’d already scouted out the Battle of Trafalgar before the trip so a quick Amstel was had in this really traditional pub before finally returning to Brighton station for the final time for the day and grabbing the train back to the capital.

A doze off passed the majority of the journey and I awoke just before Croydon, meaning just a short hop remained until I could disembark and return to Euston for one of the more welcome trains I’ve ever seen to this point. All went smoothly and a slight delay getting to Manchester even helped out to shave a few minutes off my wait for the bus home. A good day, good pubs, good ground, good food and a good place to visit too. The game was alright considering it was the dreaded nil-nil, but having suffered through three in six matches now, I’m well versed in the feeling. How I pine for the 81 game streak….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 7

Programme: 5 (cut back effort)

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Fulham

 

Result: Fulham 1-2 Oldham Athletic (FA Cup 3rd Round)

Venue: Craven Cottage (Sunday 6th January 2019, 2pm)

Att: 16,134

The third round of the FA Cup is the one each and every club outside the “big boys” aspires to reach, with the lure of getting one of the top teams in English football a very real possibility and a rather large pay-day on the cards as well. As it was, Saturday’s ties didn’t throw up much to anything that attracted me, in fact the whole draw was rather threadbare on that front. However, one did stand out. Fulham vs Oldham Athletic pitted a current and former Premier League side against each other and with the venue being a long-term target of mine, Craven Cottage, it was a no-brainer.

With the £57 ticket price down to London seeming not quite as bad having encountered life without a railcard for a short period, an open ticket allowed me travel without the rush of having to ensure I was at certain places at certain times which certainly made a change from the majority of times I’d been down to the ‘big smoke’ before – Arsenal notwithstanding. Having felt a little on the lazy/charitable side, I delayed calling on my Dad’s taxi (not a real taxi) service until around 9am, getting into the capital for around 11.30, ahead of jumping the tube over to Putney Bridge. It transpired that many of the travelling Latics fans had the same plan of action too, with a group near me interrupting one unfortunate girl’s attempts at revision – although the fact it was proclaimed as “boring” may point to this being more of a blessing!

First stop of the day – King’s Head

Onwards to the ground….

Eventually the tube rolled into Putney Bridge station and pretty much the whole train seemed to disembark, giving an idea of just how many travelling fans were converging upon the old, classic ground. Pushed for time and wanting to ensure my place in the ground (despite it obviously never going to sell out) I decided to pop into just the one pub pre-match. This seemed to be a smart decision, even if I do so myself, as a few of the pubs and bars in this area were operating a home-fans only rule. It looked as though my own luck was out until I came across the strange set-up of the King’s Head. The décor of the inside and outside of the building really was a bit of a transposition but in more of a good way. The £5 bottle of Tiger in a plastic cup was less pleasing on both the eye and the pocket, but not too surprising all things considered. After all, it’s getting a bit on the posh side isn’t it?!

The Fulham area of London is located in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham on the north bank of the River Thames. With recent digs showing habitation in the area since Neolithic times up to 5,000 years ago, and later Roman settlements from the third and fourth centuries, the area would become known as “Fulanhamme”, thought to have meant land in river bend – of “fowls or “mud” – or land belonging to an Anglo-Saxon chief, Fulla. The manor of Fulham is mentioned in medieval documents as having been given to Bishop Erkenwald in 991 for both him and his successors in the ‘See of London’. As such, Fulham Palace became a summer home for Bishops of London for nine centuries and is the manor and parish of Fulham. In 879, Danish invaders sailed up the Thames and took refuge for the winter in Fulham.

Fulham Palace

Bishop’s Park

There’s no record of the building of a church in the area, but a mention of said church first came in 1154 as a result of a tithe dispute. This is the All Saints Church (otherwise known as the church in “The Omen”) just on the other side of Bishop’s Park from Craven Cottage, though the extant medieval church (though dating from the 15th century) was demolished in the 1800’s however the church the other side of Putney Bridge, St. Mary’s, is comparable in age and stands on the opposite side of what was formerly a ferry crossing. In 1642, the Earl of Essex, withdrawing from the Battle of Brentford, ordered a “bridge of boats” be constructed across the river as to enable him to link up his detachment from Kingston with the retreating Charles I and Prince Rupert and is thought to have been close to the eventual circa-1729 wooden Fulham Bridge which was later replaced by Putney Bridge in the late 1800’s. A riverside mansion by the name of Brandenburg House was used as HQ by General Fairfax during the 1647 Civil War. By this time, the area had also become a centre of ceramic making before carpeting and tapestry making came to be too under the French manufacturer Gobelins.

During the 18th century, the area became something of a den of debauchery for the high and mighty, with gambling, prostitution and the devil drink prominent, with a number of breweries and distilleries springing up. The 18th century saw the disconnection of Hammersmith from Fulham (later rejoined in 1965) and upon the prominence of the gas industry for both lighting and ballooning, the area became home to what is now, reputedly, the oldest gas cylinder in the world, dating from 1830. A two-mile stretch of water from Chelsea Creek – the Kensington Canal – was to link to the Grand Union Canal though its delays would see it open in 1828 and swiftly usurped in importance by the railways. Incidentally, a fair bit of land around the canals would then become sites for business, rail lines and the Midland Rail Depot. As the 20th century began, the Piccadilly Line engineering HQ saw the expansion of the line (now the District Line) into the suburbs and the Omnibus became motorised. This saw the continuing growth of automotive businesses in the area, including Rolls Royce, Rover, the London Omnibus Co. and Geoffrey de Havilland built his first aircraft in his workshop in 1909. The First World War would see de Havilland craft built in the Darracq Motor Factory. Meanwhile, Fulham would also become home to many Belgian wartime refugees within the Empress Hall. It later was the birthplace of Daniel Radcliffe. Magic.

Fulham’s old church peering over the trees

Putney’s response!

Finishing up, I headed off through the adjoining small park along with a group of very vocal Latics fans and down past some tennis courts – where those playing the game just around the corner from Queen’s club, some joggers and a few other people taking part in activities were given a rather tired, outdated and unimaginative heckle by some people unconnected with the aforementioned group, that I won’t dwell on. Now I’d like to point out this wasn’t at all said in any kind of nastiness or the like, but I’m sure better could be thought up for next time. Anyway, passing by Fulham Palace and Bishops Park gardens, I arrived in the shadow of the Cottage, swiftly grabbing a programme (£3) and handing over £10 at the cash turnstile in a nice jump back in time for this part of the ground.

Entering behind the famous old “cottage” pavilion – which is not the actual cottage (which itself was a former hunting lodge that no longer stands) and is in fact a solution to the oversight by Archibald Leitch who forgot to include changing rooms in the adjoining Johnny Haynes Stand – I entered into the outdoor away concourse, buying a Chicken Balti pie from the polite staff at the food bar for £4.50 and settled in to test it out. Bloody good it was too, not too hot, not too cold. Take it away, Goldilocks:- it was “just right!”.

Arriving at the Cottage.

Craven Cottage is obviously one of those grounds that is very familiar to the vast majority of English Football fans and is located on the banks of the River Thames. Beside the “cottage” in the corner of the ground, between the Putney and old Johnny Haynes stands which includes a few rows of hospitality and the dressing rooms, the aforementioned Putney End is where the away and ‘neutral’ fans are usually located, whilst the Leitch designed Haynes stand features old wooden seats to the rear and is Grade II listed, dating from 1905. The front of this stand now has modern seating where it was formerly a terraced area and is the oldest stand in the Football League. The Hammersmith End is another large all-seater stand, almost a twin of the Putney End and is usually home of the more vocal home support (though this wasn’t too obvious for this game) whilst the Riverside Stand is home to the TV gantry and dugouts to the front. Luckily, the “Jacko” statue is long gone. That’s Craven Cottage and this is the story of Fulham FC….

History Lesson:

Fulham Football Club was founded in 1879 and are the oldest London-based club to play in the Football League. Beginning as the long-winded Fulham St. Andrew’s Church Sunday School F.C. by churchgoing cricketers, this church still stands today and features a plaque commemorating the team’s foundation. Mercifully shortening their name to Fulham Excelsior, the club would win the West London Amateur Cup in 1887 ahead of becoming just Fulham Football Club the following year and winning the West London League in 1893 at the first attempt. They began playing at Craven Cottage from 1896 playing the now defunct Minerva F.C. in their first game at their new home. Fulham would turn professional two years later upon being admitted to the Southern League becoming only the second side in the capital to do so, following the example set by Royal Arsenal.

Playing in a red and white kit more akin to that of the modern-day Arsenal through to changing to white in 1903, the club would win two consecutive Southern League titles in 1906 & ’07 before joining the Football League’s Division 2 for the season after their second triumph. They would finish just three points off promotion at the end of that season in finishing 4th and reached the semi-finals of that year’s FA Cup. Fulham would add the London Challenge Cup to their cabinet in 1910 before ending their spell in the Second Division with relegation to the Third Division South on 1928. They would remain there for the next four years before becoming champions of the division in 1932 and thus returned to Division 2, finishing third on their return – again just missing out on promotion to the top-tier. A second FA Cup semi-final appearance would follow in 1936 ahead of a match with pre-Anschluss Austria which ended in a draw.

The outbreak of WWII saw the League split into a regional wartime competition, though the Cottage would be repurposed as a training base for the armed forces. Post-war, Fulham would win the 1949 Second Division title and go on to spend a struggling three seasons there before falling back to Division 2 in 1952. After a largely unimpressive stint, 1958 saw fortunes turn with another run to the FA Cup semi-finals being followed up by promotion back to Division 1 the next year as runners-up. The next campaign would see them seal 10th spot which would end up being the club’s highest finish until the 2003-’04 season, 44-years later. However, Fulham would soon return to the wrong end of the table and were relegated once more in 1968, having staved off the drop in 1966 after a late resurgence. Things only got worse the next year and a second consecutive drop saw the Cottagers back in the, now nationalised, Division 3.

Teams enter the pitch

Promoted back to Division 2 as runners-up after just three seasons in Division 3, the next few years saw Fulham take part in some of the more obscure competitions nowadays – namely the Anglo-Italian Cup and Anglo-Scottish Cup (the latter seeing the club be losing finalists to Middlesbrough) – and they also made their first (and to date only) FA Cup Final in 1975 where they lost out to West Ham United. However, the club’s league fortunes would take a dip with relegation back to Division Two in 1980 though would again secure a quick return with promotion in 1982. 1980 had also seen Fulham create a rugby league offshoot in the form of the London Broncos, who remained tied to the club for four loss-making years before becoming a separate entity and moving out from Craven Cottage.

Missing out on successive promotions in strange circumstances (a 1-0 loss to Derby County stood despite a pitch invasion and subsequent abandonment on 88 minutes), Fulham’s very existence was put in doubt with debts and an ill-advised merger attempt with QPR, but Jimmy Hill’s restructure of the club to a limited entity would eventually save it from the annuls of history. The foundation of the Premier League in 1992 saw Fulham back in the “new” Division 2 but this would only be a brief respite, as the Cottagers were relegated to Division 3 in 1994 and this would be the catalyst for one of the poorest spells in the club’s history, as they finished in their lowest ever league placing, 17th, in 1996, though would see a swift upturn as Micky Adams became player-manager and led the club to second place and promotion, though missed out on the title to Wigan Athletic on goals scored, this having trumped goal-difference for that year, on the advice of Jimmy Hill himself. Oops.

Mohamed Al-Fayed’s purchase of Fulham in 1997 with the duo of Kevin Keegan and the late Ray Wilkins quickly replacing Adams at the helm. Wilkins would depart a short time later and Keegan would oversee a run to promotion in 1999 to Division 1 ahead of his departure to take the reigns of England. A brief Paul Bracewell spell in charge preceded John Tigana, the Frenchman introducing the likes of Louis Saha to the English game and this French-based team would see Fulham to the Premiership in 2001, passing 100 points in the process. Finishing their first season back in the top-flight since 1968 in 13th, the Cottagers became the only 21st century team to host top-flight football whilst still having standing areas in the ground. This would end up forcing Fulham into a groundshare with Crystal Palace from 2002-’04, whilst the Cottage was made an all-seater stadium, though it appeared the club may never return to their long-term home, with the ground sold for development by Al-Fayed during that time.

The “Cottage”. A good solution to a mistake!

2003 saw Tigana ousted and the recently retired Chris Coleman was given a shot at management. He saved the club from the drop and then guided the club to a fine 9th placed finish at the end of his first full season in management. The next few years saw Fulham consolidate in mid-table, beating Chelsea in the West London derby of 2005-’06, though next season saw a bit of a struggle against the drop, resulting in Coleman’s sacking and Lawrie Sanchez was brought in, unspectacularly keeping the side above water. A poor start to the following season saw him replaced by Roy Hodgson. A fine recovery saw them stave off the drop in 2008 and the next year saw the club secure a spot in the renamed UEFA Europa League. They would reach the final of the inaugural season of the competition, but would eventually go down 2-1 AET after a run which had seen them overcome the likes of Hamburg and Juventus. Hodgson would depart for Liverpool at the end of the season, with Mark Hughes taking over and despite securing another Europa League position, Hughes would depart the club after less than a year, being replaced by Martin Jol.

Jol would continue to cement Fulham’s place as a Premier League outfit through to the change in ownership to Shahid Khan in 2013, when a poor start (despite just missing out on a club record Premier League points tally) saw the Dutchman replaced by René Meulensteen. This would be the start of a run of quick changes in the hot-seat, Felix Magath unable to save the club from the drop to the Championship in 2014. His overhaul of the squad for the next year didn’t improve matters and Kit Symons was appointed as caretaker-manager and later permanent boss after keeping the club in the Championship. The loss of key players saw the side’s struggles continue, Symons out soon into the 2015-’16 season with Serbian Slaviša Jokanovic brought in to replace him.

Again surviving a flirtation with the drop-zone, another squad overhaul this time worked out, with Fulham making the 2017 play-offs though were beaten in the semi-finals. Last season saw a club-record 23 game league unbeaten run be the basis of the Cottager’s return to the play-offs, missing out on automatic promotion on the final day. Defeating Derby County in the semis, Fulham defeated Aston Villa in the final at Wembley and securing their first win at the national stadium (in any form) in their 139 year history. Their return to the Premier League this year has been a struggle to this point, the club rooted in the drop zone and Jokanovic recently replaced by Claudio Ranieri, whom they’ll be hoping can resurrect them in something resembling the way he managed at Leicester City.

The game got underway and the early part of the first half saw a hard and closely fought contest in truth, with Oldham holding their own and more against their top-level hosts. Aside from an early effort from the hosts’ Ibrahima Cissé, very little happened, before Floyd Anité missed a pair of presentable chances. First, the pacy forward headed Maxime Le Marchand’s delivery just wide of Oldham ‘keeper Daniel Iversen’s right-hand goalpost, then repeated the trick on the half-hour, only this time to the wrong side of the left upright. A generic announcement about the ground being an all-seater stadium received the biggest cheer of the half, being responded to by a “Stand up if you love Oldham” chant from the Latics ranks. Good luck with that one, FFC.

Match Action

Match Action

Fulham would largely have the play as the game went on, though hardly dominated the overall game, only seeing efforts blocked out rather than testing Iversen, whilst Oldham’s battling midfield and defence remained strong. Denis Odoi wasted a good chance when he blazed high and wide when well placed, before Oldham’s first true chance saw Chris O’Grady’s eventual tame effort comfortably nestle in the hands of Fulham stopper Marcus Bettinelli. Soon after Neeskens Kebano would go down in the area only to see himself adjudged to have dived and duly be awarded a yellow card. It looked harsh from my viewpoint (albeit miles away), but would seemingly be agreed with post-match during my meet-up with a few lads and ladies. That would largely be that and the half-time was largely uneventful aside from me going very sad and getting excited by a flight path change into Heathrow. I know, I know….Let’s get back onto the football, shall we?

The half-time wander.

The second-half began much the way the first did, with Fulham still having the majority of the ball, but not creating all too much with it. However, their first chance of the half would result in the opener, as a loose ball dropped to Denis Odoi in the area and he controlled the ball well on his chest before half-volleying a cool effort beyond Iversen and into the net, completing the celebrations with a spectacular flip. No Lomana Lua-Lua slip-ups though, please. 1-0 to the hosts.

This seemed to do nothing but awaken the Latics to the fact they now had nothing to lose and their marauding began to show the nerves that were bouncing around a Fulham side devoid of many of their regular first-team starters. Regardless, it didn’t really look as though the visitors could truly get through to cause the Premier League side much trouble in the final-third, indeed it was Kebano, who had drawn the ire of the Oldham fans due to his perceived “dive” in the first half, who fired wide when he ought to have at least tested Iversen. Indeed, the fans in the Riverside stand had already begun to cheer as the ball evaded the Oldham gloveman, only to be silenced in surprise as the shot missed the target.

Match Action

Surridge nets from the spot!

Then, a shock as the League Two side were thrown a lifeline with around fifteen minutes left to play when the highly rated youngster Ryan Sessegnon, who’d just been introduced from the bench, hauled down Peter Clarke in the box and the penalty was duly given. Up stepped another recent sub, Sam Surridge, and he kept his nerve to slot past Bettinelli and level up the score-line. Was an upset on the cards? Well the brief period of parity looked due to end just seven or so minutes later when Chris Missilou was adjudged to have fouled Fulham skipper Tom Cairney in the area and the hosts had a spot-kick of their own.

Despite protests, calls for VAR, actual VAR and more protests to the ref that Cairney had gone down far too easily (he likely made the most of it by virtue of MotD replays despite going off), the pen stood and Aleksandar Mitrovic, who’d come on for Cairney, took responsibility. A first-touch penalty never feels the best option and, indeed, it wasn’t here as Mitrovic’s kick was well saved by Iversen though, admittedly, it was at a perfect height for him. Oldham would defend the resultant corner, go down the other end, force one of their own and after a later foul on George Edmundson led to a free-kick, Gevaro Nepomuceno’s fine ball to the back-post was met by Callum Laing and he wrote his name in Latics’ recent folklore by nodding across Bettinelli and into the far corner to spark scenes of utter jubilation within the Oldham fans and their bench, featuring a leaping caretaker-boss in Pete Wild, a fan in his own right. Electric.

Iversen denies Mitro. If you can see anyway!

Nerves show in many guises….

….then joy & relief!

Despite late ‘hail mary’ efforts by Sessegnon, Vietto and Jean-Michel Seri, Oldham would hang on and seal their place in the 4th Round draw. The fans and players showed what seemed to be real appreciation for each other which was good to see, with one of the players taking his nation’s flag (one of the small Caribbean nations I think) off to the tunnel after receiving it happily from a fan. Shirts were given out as I headed out and off back along the Thames path and over Putney Bridge eventually seeking out the Lost & Co. bar where I’d be meeting Matt (of seemingly postponed Lost Boyos fame), Craig (of Crawley Town media fame), Dan (of crazy Europe-wide ‘hopping fame) and Marilyn (of some fame I’m sure, but I’m not party to that information as of yet! Anyway, a bottle of Le Chouffre came in at a full £6.50 (though it is a lovely, lovely drink) as I caught up with bits about the game and all sorts, before they departed to return to differing parts of the country and left me to tour the area around the bridge, beginning with the Spotted Horse just a few doors along.

The Spotted Horse was a nice, seemingly fairly aged large pub and allowed me to watch a fair bit of the late kick-off – Newport County vs Leicester City – whilst sipping at a pint of Aspalls (£5.45) before I continued to backtrack, ending up at the Rocket, a Wetherspoons tucked in behind the old church at the foot of Putney Bridge. A pint of Punk IPA (£3.99) was had here as I planned out the last few bits of the journey back to Euston and fit all the connections together.

Across the River….

Lost & Co.

Spotted Horse

Rocket

Crossing back over the famed waterway, I next came upon the King’s Arms which also had the game on and it looked as though another “shock” was on the cards down in South Wales whilst I was having a first of two successive Amstel’s (£4.45). Crossing the road to the Temperance for my second Amstel (£4.85) and catching the final throes of Newport’s triumph, a small group of Oldham fans unveiled their flag bearing the title “Detroit Latics”. The Motor City-based fan club must have been quite pleased with their choice of trip!

A couple of swift visits saw me take in the Golden Lion (Dark Fruits, £4.20) and the Eight Bells (Corona, £4) before jumping on the tube to Victoria and connecting back over to Euston, jumping on the train home with a nice 10 minutes to spare. A doze took up the majority of the journey and I was soon heading home on yet another bus as the train strikes continue unabated.

King’s Arms

Detroit Latics in the Temperance.

Golden Lion

Eight Bells

The day had been a really enjoyable one, having ticked a ground I’d wanted to do for ages and exploring another new part of the capital, one where the people were far removed from the stereotypes that Londoners are sometimes shackled with. The game was decent to watch on the whole and the atmosphere the Oldham fans created added to the experience. Food, drinks and pubs were all fine too and it was good to catch up with Matt especially, having not seen, him since his sojourn to the continent. On to next weekend and a visit to somewhere a bridge was once broken….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 8

Food: 9

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7.