Manchopper in….Tamworth

Result: Tamworth 4-0 Leiston (FA Trophy 1st Qualifying Round)

Venue: The Lamb Ground (Saturday 26th October 2019, 3pm)

Att: 385

Another weekend of action in the FA competitions rolled around, with this one seeing the FA Trophy version of the ‘Road to Wembley’ move on a step closer to finals day under the arch. But this weekend’s weather would throw all plans out of the window – even going as far as to threaten any chance of seeing a game at all. However, persistence pays off on occasion and this, thankfully, was one of those days. Although, this would be a plan made on the fly and all quite last minute at that, as flooding, delays, cancellations and postponements all played their part in one way or another.

Eventually deciding to play it safe and make headings to Tamworth’s 3G Lamb Ground pitch, on account of the likelihood of a call off of my planned game at Radcliffe (which soon came to fruition), I made my way into Manchester and jumped on one of the delayed, rammed trains headed for Euston. My plan was to get to Crewe and then grab the connecting service down to Tamworth and, with a good twenty minutes in hand, my split ticketing theory (which saved about a fiver) would all go smoothly. I did catch the train without issue, though the delays reduced that 20 minute bracket down to just four – a sprint through the station underpass seeing me catch it just in the nick of time. Regardless, I was on my way, safely, to Tamworth where the flooding, that had apparently been prevalent earlier in the morning, had now seemingly subsided.

Arriving into Tamworth

Looking past the Globe towards the King’s Ditch

I arrived into the station’s lower-level platforms at a little before 12.30pm and after traversing the steps up and down again from the high level station, I made my way towards the town centre’s hostelries, whilst making a note of the Albert pub, not too far from the station entrance itself, as I went. I arrived at the narrow high-street-like area ten minutes walk later, and first came upon the small, unassuming taphouse by the name of the King’s Ditch. The downstairs area is more akin to a small front room, though now complete with tables and a bar in the corner, whilst the barrels are shown on a screen, so you can watch your drink being poured ‘while you wait’; different! I opted for a pint of the Shipley Brewery’s Harvest Muse Pale Ale (£3.60) before heading over the way to the Globe….though not before a few guys in with me blamed my exit on their acquaintance’s ‘boring conversation’!

The Globe was packed full, with quite a number seemingly having been out and about watching England make the World Cup Final a few hours earlier, and space was definitely at a premium. Unfortunately for me, I arrived just at the point where another guy was seemingly buying a round for half the place, but my wait wasn’t extortionate if I’m honest and I settled in to watch the remainder of the first half of City-Villa over a pint of Hop House 13 (£3.90). Thankfully, the rain began to abate during my brief abode in the Globe, which meant my hopes to pay a visit to Tamworth Castle just across the town centre were definitely becoming more positive as the minutes went by. As such, I bypassed the other couple of pubs in the centre and continued castle-wards before coming across the interestingly named ‘Crafty Two’. However, upon entry, I found the small bar to be rather bare, with not much on tap or draught to choose from. As such, I opted to sup at a bottle of Blue Moon (£3.70ish) and it was as I took it into my grasp that I saw the blackboard outlining all the options they did have along the way. The lesson here is to always take in your full surroundings.

Inside the Crafty Two

White Lion

Tamworth is a Borough and large market town in Staffordshire, standing to the North East of Birmingham and derives its name from the River Tame that flows through it. Upon the arrival of the Romans, the area around Tamworth and the Trent Valley was already home to the British Coritani tribe, and evidence of Roman building materials in the area suggest it held some importance, lying close, as it did, to the Roman Wartling Street Road and larger town of Letocetum. Following the Roman departure, the area fell under the rule of Anglo-Saxon peoples, likely the displaced Angles. The flood victims found their way to an “open meadow by the Tame” and christened it as such – Tomworðig, whilst also creating an enclosed estate named Tomtun, which was fortified by palisade walls. These people then named themselves as the Tame settlers, or Tomsaete.

They became more wealthy and Tomtown became ever more fortified due to their fighting tendencies, though their success led them to become the dominant force around the Midlands. This later would become the Kingdom of Mercia and Tamworth became the Royal Centre under King Penda and then the capital under King Offa, due to its far larger size and importance over any other nearby settlements. It was the ideal place for trade too, with it standing at the meeting point of the Tame and Anker rivers,but this also led it to attract unwanted attention and it was sacked and left a ruin by the invading Viking Danes in 874AD. It remained in this state through to 913, when Lady of the Mercians Eathelraed, daughter of King Alfred the Great, rebuilt the town and constructed a burgh to defend it from further raids. This proved successful and she remained there until her death.

Tamworth

Tamworth

An 11th century Norman castle was later constructed on the probable site of the earlier Anglo-Saxon Fort, with Tamworth becoming a market town during the 1300’s and being granted Royal charters to hold fair celebrations due to its history as the Saxon seat. Sadly, much of the town burnt in a 1345 fire, but was soon rebuilt once more. James I, the first Stuart King, visited Tamworth Castle in 1619, though this was later besieged during the English Civil War by Parliamentarian forces in 1643. Capturing it, the order was given to destroy, though this was, for whatever reason, not carried out.

The next few centuries saw Tamworth continue to grow in size and stature and the railway arrival of the 18 & 1900’s only proved to aid this, with both mainlines meeting there, and it was linked to the canal system by the Coventry Canal. Victorian PM Sir Robert Peel was MP of the town and later came up with the modern idea of the police force – lending his name to the “Bobbies”. In more modern times, Tamworth switched from its 19th century gas lighting to electric in 1924 and continued to grow around wartime as an overspill for influx of peoples in the West Midlands. It became home to the Reliant car factory, famed for its three-wheeled Robin, and the more racy Scimitar.

On to the Market Tavern….

….and then the Brewing Co.

Heading to the Castle

The drizzle returned once more as I departed the Crafty Two and so I dove into the nearby White Lion, which lies on the road junction just a couple of minutes down the road from the castle and its surrounding gardens. This seemed to be one of the cheaper places on offer in the town, a pint of the ‘new’ Carlsberg Pilsner coming in at the wallet-pleasing £2.50, though my stay would prove brief, as time began to go against me.  Following this, I arrived into the market area of the town which housed a couple of my target pubs – a Joules’ place, the Market Tavern and the Tamworth Brewing Co. – where I indulged in a Joules’ Pale Ale (£3.60) and rather large bottle of Aspalls Cider (£5) before finally making haste ground-wards….but not before a visit to the castle, of course. Going up and down as swiftly as the Grand Old Duke of York, I then navigated the gardens below and crossed the rather swollen Tam before the Lamb Ground’s floodlights began to come into view.

Soon after crossing a dual carriageway, I found myself arriving into a sprawling car park and leisure centre complex and couldn’t find my way out of it. Shock, I know. As it was, I found a few guys with football shirts on and thought I’d follow them to the ground….until I spied what I thought, in my unequalled wisdom, was a shortcut across an area of grass. Now, considering how much rain there’d been and the length of the grass that lay just the other side of the waterway bridge, there really should have been an appropriate amount of warning signs there to point out that this was probably not the smartest idea. However, my brain thought differently to any relatively smart person and I soon found myself wading (no exaggeration) through what seemed like shin-like hidden puddles within this waterlogged piece of hell.

 

Passing through the castle gardens

Down the river….

I’m seeing double….and penguins….I’m worried!

Finding a bit of refuge in the tarmac jungle of another underpass, I soon came upon the main entrance of the Lamb Ground and I made my way to the club shop where I’d seen that programmes were on sale. This visit also gave me the opportunity to try and get some sympathy for my watery misadventures, though they didn’t seem all too sincere….if they existed at all! Anyway, I digress; after picking up a ‘bible’ for £1.50, I made my around the other side of the ground and to the turnstiles at the bottom of a street I’d come across on Maps during my peruse of possible ‘ticks’ during the week. This all went fine and dandy and after paying £12 on the gate and receiving a paper ticket in exchange, I entered into ground 323 – Tamworth’s Lamb Ground home, which is a mix of both old and new, though even the newer bits actually lend themselves to its overall charm.

Both ends house terracing, though only the ‘near’ end is covered, the larger ‘far’ end being left open to the elements. Down one side runs a covered standing area, onto which the clubhouse/food bar backs onto, the entrance to both found at the far side of it – in the gap between this stand and the open terrace. Meanwhile, an all-seater stand runs the majority of the opposite side, with a small bit of open standing on either side, the tunnel, dressing rooms and other amenities) including an additional food trailer located around here too. The 3G pitch does take away from the overall look and feel of the ground as a whole of course, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives – especially so on days like today. As with Buxton, you feel these will become the norm at some point in the not-too-distant future and, to be honest, they play far, far better than their predecessors ever did. Grass is always preferable, of course, but I don’t have the resistance to the artificial surfaces that some others do, indeed a number of higher-level pitches are already (as I understand) hybrids of the two. Anyway, before I fully ramble, here’s the story of Tamworth FC….

History Lesson:

Tamworth Football Club was founded in 1933, following the demise of predecessor Tamworth Castle, with the new club originally taking up residence at the Jolly Sailor Ground prior to moving to their current Lamb Ground home after just one year at the Jolly Sailor. They began playing in the Birmingham Combination from their formation, where they won their first silverware in the form of the 1937 Bass Charity Cup (which, incidentally, Castle had won a decade earlier) and went on to join the West Midlands League (re-named the Birmingham League in 1963) during the 1950’s. The following decade saw Tamworth win two Birmingham League titles – in 1964 & ’66 respectively – whilst the club would also add the West Midlands League Cup (1965,’66), Birmingham Senior Cup (1961, ’66 & ’69) and Staffordshire Senior Cup (1959, ’64, ’66) to their honours roll during the same 10-year span. 1972 saw Tamworth promoted to the Southern League, though their stay here would only yield poor attendances and financial issues, with these eventually leading to the club returning back into the West Midlands League once more in 1985.

Arriving at The Lamb

The club had seemingly not been helped by being moved around from the Southern League’s Division One North to the Northern Premier League in 1983, and back to the Southern League’s Midland Division four years later, but a change in ownership saw fortunes (no pun intended) change for the better. The club again won the league in 1988 to return back to the Southern League ranks, where 1997 saw the Lambs take the Midland Division title and win promotion to the Premier Division, a position they’d hold through to 2002 (despite a near miss the year before) and their achieving promotion to the Football Conference as Southern League champions. That season also saw the Lambs end as FA Trophy runners-up to Burscough. Before that, however, Tamworth had added their first major cup silverware to their cabinet in the form of the 1989 FA Vase, the club overcoming Sudbury Town 3-0 in a replay at London Road – after the original game at Wembley had ended 1-1, lifted two further West Midlands League Cups – in 1986 & 1988 respectively – and two Harry Godfrey Trophies in 1994 & 1997.

The clubhouse/food section

After a spell of two matches with Paul Merson in the playing squad ahead of his 2006 retirement, Tamworth were spared the drop at the end of that year due to Canvey Island’s demotion, though didn’t make the most of this sparing, the club being relegated the very next season to the Conference North – though the FA Cup proved a somewhat happier hunting ground, with the Lambs reaching the 3rd round in both seasons. A poor initial season in 2007-’08 yielded only a 15th place finish, though the next campaign was far more successful and ended with Tamworth returning back to the Conference Premier as Conference North champions. They would go on to spend five-years back in non-league’s top-tier, and despite another 3rd Round FA Cup appearance at Everton in 2012, relegation back to the Conference North was suffered in 2014. Here they remained through to 2018, when relegation back to the Southern League saw the club in the ‘Premier Central’, where they finished last season in a seemingly disappointing 12th position.

The game began with Tamworth quickly asserting themselves as the likely dominant force going forward. A few chances came and went during the first ten minutes, with Tyrell Waite being the main threat, his best sight of goal being a shot that deflected wide off of a centre-half. Despite their dominance, it would take until the stroke of the half-hour for the hosts to finally break the deadlock; James Fry becoming the creator moments after firing narrowly wide. On this occasion, he advanced into the space in front of him before sliding in Rhys Hoenes who gleefully rounded Leiston ‘keeper Charlie Beckwith and slotted home. 1-0 the Lambs.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

As the half continued on into the final 15 minutes, Leiston were finally able to attempt some kind of threat to the Lambs’ goal, but stout defending saw the shot cleared before it troubled Jasbir Singh between the sticks. This then allowed Tamworth to double their advantage as I awaited my chips and curry from the food trailer, when Waite used his pace to rush on through the visiting back-line and wrongfooted Beckwith, rounding him and sliding into the net via the desperate lunge of a defender on the line. Joe Magunda also went close just before the break, when he headed over at the back-post following a corner, but the score remained 2-0 through to the break.

Following a visit to the clubhouse for a dual case of a warm and dry, it was soon time to head back out onto the terraces for the second half, which again Tamworth began on the front foot. The impressive Waite fired over after good walk by #10, before Dan Creaney made it three, when he met a Jordan Clement free-kick in the inclement conditions (eh?!, eh?!….oh, ok then) and directed his header into the net via the inside of the far post. Waite was mightily unlucky soon after, when his fizzing drive cannoned over off the crossbar, whilst fellow winger Hoenes was denied by the upright after he’d executed a quick free-kick and one-two.

Match Action

From the trailer terrace

From the ‘Main’ Stand

Bilal Yafai’s curiling effort was kept out by an acrobatic Beckwith, whilst the experienced Singh was eventually forced into some kind of action as the clock ticked on, the Lambs’ ‘keeper having to be watchful in the conditions to keep out Mason Sinclair’s long-range drive. But it would be, rather fittingly considering the gulf in the play, Tamworth who would add gloss to their victory late on; Waite’s replacement Delano Reid seeing his ball in met by Creaney, who diverted the ball past Beckwith for number four. Full-time arrived shortly afterwards with the game as one-sided, if not more so, than the score-line suggested. That’s not to say Leiston were hammered, though, they just never really made an impression on Tamworth’s back five.

Post-match, I returned back to the high-street area and to the first of two pubs I’d earmarked on my way ground-wards. I’d been spurned first time around by the Sir Robert Peel due to it being closed past its usual opening time, though it was in full flow by the time my second attempt had come around. Probably the nicest in the way of traditional pubs I visited during my Tour de Tamworth, the Bobby Peel yielded a swift Dark Fruits (£3.70~) as time remained at a premium, before I returned station-wards to the Albert I passed on my arrival earlier in the afternoon. A bottle of Desperados (£3.60) was had prior to the train, which was a little delayed anyway as it turned out, so the rush wasn’t as needed as I’d expected. A bit of a doze back to Crewe passed the time on that leg of the return trip, with the connection at Crewe being swift and easy, and I was back in Manchester by a little after 8pm and home half an hour later or so.

Back to the Centre and the Sir Robert Peel

The Albert to round off the day

Can’t complain with the day as a whole in the end, though the game was rather one-sided and the weather a bit….well, shit, the Lamb Ground itself was nice to finally tick from my ‘wanted’ list and Tamworth a decent little town too with a number of nice drinking holes to visit. Up next is my first addition to my ’92’ quest of the season (in November, no less), as I come down to a bridge, although I’m not certain that’s quite in the correct tense….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 5 (Cut-back issue, I guess?)

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Chasetown

Result: Chasetown 3-0 Coleshill Town (FA Trophy Preliminary Round)

Venue: The Scholars Ground (Saturday 12th October 2019, 3pm)

Att: 232

A first FA Trophy trip of the season saw a few options thrown up; these including a few revisits and new grounds too. But there was one long-term target of mine that kept on creeping to the forefront of my thinking each time I had a scan of the fixture list – that fixture being at The Scholars Ground, home of Chasetown. I’d wanted to visit since watching their live FA Cup games a decade (Jesus!) ago and so it was a long time in coming around, that’s for sure. As such, come the morning of the tie, I was heading through Manchester and onwards to Crewe, where I was due to catch a connection onwards to Lichfield.

However, I arrived a little later than advertised and ought to have duly missed said train. But, luckily for me, it was still in and disaster (not really a disaster but, you know….) was averted. It soon became apparent that this was due to someone being hit around the Euston area and we were informed that the delay was indefinite. I began to consider what my alternatives would be, only for the train to depart moments later, so clearly not affected too much by whatever was going on down the line. Pulling into Lichfield around a half-hour later, I made my way across the road and to the bus station where I’d catch a service over to the Chasetown area that borders on Cannock Chase.

My bus ticket wasn’t optimistic weather-wise

First stop – the Wych Elm

The 10A would be my carriage for the day and a twenty minute journey took me to just outside my first stop of the day – the Wych Elm – due to it seeming to be the only local place open anywhere near the route I was taking during the morning. On entering, I found the place to be decently busy considering it was only just striking midday, and I settled in with a pint of Budweiser (£3.10) whilst planning out the remainder of my pre-match trip around Chasetown. This saw me target the nearby Sankeys Tap just the other side of the nearby roundabout but, on arrival, I found it still closed despite its 12pm opening time and so instead made haste to the bus stop where, luckily, a bus was due that would drop me in the centre itself.

I passed on through the trio of watering holes within metres of each other in the high street, instead continuing on just around the corner to the Miners Arms, a Joules’ pub. A pint of the brewery’s fine Indian Pale (£3.60) was had in here, whilst I made the acquaintance of the pub’s ‘guard cat’, before I cut back on myself a little and headed up to the out-of-the-way Cottage of Content. Whilst it may not look the most attractive from a distance, the people within were superb and in Roxy the dog, I made a friend for life….well for the 20 minutes I was there anyway, until she abandoned me when I waved goodbye. I was also kind of ID’d too, which is what shaving does for me! Coors (£3.25) polished off, I returned back towards the central three pubs.

Miner’s Arms

Feeling threatened….

The Cottage

Chasetown is a village within the wider town of Burntwood in Staffordshire and is split into the civil parishes of Burntwood and Hammerwich. It grew up during the 19th century around the mines of the area and was known as Cannock Chase, due to its proximity to said area. It became Chasetown in 1867 and houses, churches, pubs and businesses all began to be added to the area as the years went by and more mines were sunk. Incidentally, St. Anne’s Church within the village was the first church in England to receive electric lights – quite something when you consider its location in the wider scheme of things. Around World War II, Chasetown was added to with the addition of the Oakdene estate and continued to expand despite the last mine closing in 1959, as it became an overspill area for those in the Black Country. Thus, the green spaces that existed between Burntwood and Chasetown were gradually reclaimed and developed, virtually merging the two areas.

The area shows little sign of its mining past, with the Cannock Chase Collieries covered by recent developments such as the Burntwood Rugby Club, though the Chasetown reservoir still remains, harking back to the times it was required to syphon its waters to the surrounding canals. These were essential to enabling the movement of coal to Birmingham and the Black Country, whilst the Chasewater Light Railway has been restored for heritage/leisure use. The likes of Dalian Atkinson, Gary Cahill, former ref Alan Wiley, 1980 Olympic bronze-winning athlete Sonia Lannerman and road/track cyclist Paul Manning MBE, all hail from the wider Burntwood area.

Chasetown

Chasetown Centre

Memorial Park

The first of these three pubs, found just across the way from the Memorial Park, is named of the Junction (it’s on a road junction, crazy, huh?), but first I continued on just beyond it and to the Crown – where I imbibed on a pint of Marston’s 61 Deep (£3.15) before returning a few doors back to the Junction and a second pint of Bud (£3.65) for the day. The ground sits just up the road to the right from here and it just so happened that the Uxbridge Arms sits on the corner of this road and so provided a final pre-match stop. The Uxbridge is a fairly oldie-worldy kind of place inside and a pint of Aspall’s (£3.70~) in the smaller bar area (which also has a bell for service) was enjoyed before I made my way up the aforementioned street and towards the Scholars Ground, where Coleshill Town would be providing the opposition for the Scholars themselves.

A few minutes later, I was arriving at the gates of the ground and, having paid my £8 entry, I headed on through and secured a programme (£2) before making my way down to the far end to visit the ground’s food outlet – a portable trailer – for some chips and gravy which, to be fair, were highly decent. I also made use of the chairs laid out on the grassy area just in front as the sun broke through on a regular basis as this part of the Midlands continued to avoid the rain showers that seemed to be lashing down all over the country. From there, I took in the ground and it’s certainly one unto itself.

Junction

Uxbridge Arms

Arriving at The Scholars

An open terrace runs the length of the far side, with a bit of it covered by a roof around the half-way mark, whilst running for most of the length of the field, whilst another seated stand – to which the clubhouse backs onto – is located to the right of the turnstiles opposite, and fills up the final third of that side. A block of blue portakabins take up the other side of the turnstile towards the far end, complete with covered terrace and a small, uncovered seating stand, and the in-situ food trailer, whilst a kind of tented, covered seated stand, almost akin to those at the Memorial Ground in Bristol, is located behind the near end. That’s a very brief description of the Scholars Ground, and this is the story of the side that shares its name….

History Lesson:

Chasetown Football Club was founded in 1954 as, the rather long winded, Chase Terrace Old Scholars Youth Club and initially began life as a youth side in the Cannock Youth League prior to moving into adult football in 1958, joining the Lichfield & District League. They would finish as runners-up in one of their three years here prior to switching into the Staffordshire County League in 1962, prior to another move in 1972 – this time into the West Midlands (Regional) League – which also saw the name change to their current title. The club would go on to spend eleven seasons here and, despite the rather impressive feat of never finishing outside of the division’s top four, would only secure the one title – this coming in the 1977-’78 campaign. This title win wouldn’t see promotion achieved, as the club’s ground (a park pitch) would fail the required grading.

The move to the Scholars Ground from the Burntwood Recreation Ground came around in 1983, with entry secured for a move into the Premier Division along with it. Struggling for the most part during the remainder of the decade, in the league, the 1990’s would begin with that year’s WML League Cup, which was successfully defended the next year, and they followed this up with the Walsall Senior Cup title, with this success being repeated in 1993. 1994 saw Chasetown become a founding member of the Midland Football Alliance, though this brought little in the way of silverware the club’s way and 2001 saw the club avoid the drop only on the account that no club was promoted from the division below. Fortunes changed soon after and 2005 saw a third Walsall Senior Cup lifted and a runners-up league placing secured, before Chasetown would begin to achieve national recognition, via the FA Cup.

Chasetown FC

Starting the season with (I assume) defeating previous year’s double winners Rushall Olympic in the league vs cup winners Joe McGorian Cup, 2005-’06 saw the Scholars reach the First Round for the first time and it was a successful debut, the club defeating Blyth Spartans to secure a meeting with Oldham Athletic in the 2nd Round. They secured a replay against the Football League’s Latics, though would eventually succumb to a 4-0 defeat at Boundary Park. However, they would be back once again in 2007-’08 and once again they would attract the cameras to the Scholars Ground. Before that, though, in the same year as their initial cup run, Chasetown would stage an amazing rally to reel in the Alliance Championship leaders Malvern Town’s 20-point advantage over themselves and take the title – thus gaining entry to the Southern League Division One Midlands.

2007-’08 saw Chasetown return to the “proper” rounds of the Cup, as they again defeated higher non-league opposition in Team Bath to advance to Round 2, and an away meeting with local ‘rivals’ Port Vale. The club recorded a 1-1 draw at Vale Park, before taking the scalp of Vale 1-0 at home to reach the Third Round and the prospects of getting one of the country’s big boys. Alas, this wouldn’t come to fruition, although Cardiff City weren’t too bad a result and this proved to be on the pitch as well as off, as Chasetown battled hard to lose out 3-1, the lowest-ranked side to go that far in the competition had certainly not disgraced themselves and gave the Bluebirds a slight scare in going one-up early in the tie. This game resulted in Chasetown being invited to be the first opposition Cardiff would face at their new home upon its 2009 opening.

Clubhouse

Being switched into the Northern Premier League’s Division One South for that year, the club would finish runners-up, meaning they would have to settle for a place in the play-offs, where they progressed to the final and defeated now-defunct Glapwell 1-0, to go up to the NPL Premier Division. How different things could have been over 90 minutes of history for Glapwell and Chasetown?! 2010-’11 saw the club embark on another cup upset run, this time in the FA Trophy, as they saw off Kettering Town, Grimsby Town and Eastleigh to make the quarter-finals, where they would eventually fall to Mansfield Town after a replay at Field Mill, following an initial 2-2 draw.

But 2012 would see the Scholars relegated back to the Division One South, though they missed out on an immediate return, losing in the play-off final to Stamford. They have stayed at the same level through to today, though the last two seasons have seen the club compete in two differently titled divisions, due to the NPL’s ever changing boundaries. Last season’s one-year-wonder, the Division One West, saw Chasetown finish up in 13th, whilst they now compete in what is known as the Division One South East for this year.

The game got underway with little in the way of action during the early stages, aside from an early George Cater drive just drifting the wrong side of the upright, from his persuasion. But, when it did finally spark into life, it did so with the opening goal; Chasetown’s Cater receiving a square ball from striker Kieran Brown around 10 yards out, and placing the ball beyond Coleshill ‘keeper Paul Hathaway. Down the other end, Cater’s namesake George Washbourne then saw a low drive palmed behind by Curtis Pond.

Cater opens the scoring for the Scholars

Match Action

Match Action

Again, the game settled into a lengthy stage of sparring, with both sides not making much in the way of chances and it took until around ten minutes before the break for another to roll around and, once more, this ended up in a goal. This time, Cater would turn provider for Brown when, after a procession of corners, he delivered one for the Chasetown #9 to meet and drill a header past Hathaway, via a slight deflection off a Coleshill defender. 2-0 it would remain until the break, with Coleshill’s one real remaining chance of the half ending in Pond’s comfortable denying of Giovani Dainty.

A visit to the clubhouse took up the 15-minute off-period, before the sides re-entered the field. As in the first half, the play began rather turgidly and once again the first real chance ended with the ball in the back-of-the-net. On this occasion, it would be a free-kick on the hour mark that would provide the opportunity for the hosts – Lewis Riley-Stewart’s delivery not being cleared by the visiting defence, which duly allowed Brown to slam a volley home for number three, and his second of the day.

Coleshill responded and really ought to have got one back, but centre-back Keenan Meakin-Richards somehow guided his header wide at the back-post when he looked destined to score and Brown almost had his hat-trick all wrapped up just after the hour, but an eventual fine block made up for the initial poor Town defending. Luke Brown then forced Pond into a fine stop in order to keep his clean sheet intact whilst the final minutes of the game saw a flashpoint when a 50/50 saw a player from both sides end up booting each other, with one of the two involved instigating what would proceed to become a 20-man “brawl”….well, more of a congregation, but brawl sounds far more interesting, no?!

The clubhouse stand

Match Action

From the covered terrace

Back to Burntwood….

…and Sankey’s

Both players received a yellow for their trouble and after a late chance came and went for the hosts to add further gloss to the score, the final whistle blew to confirm Chasetown’s Trophy progression. Post match, I made a quick exit and marched back up the road to ensure I caught the bus in time to allow for a visit back at the Sankeys Tap I’d tried earlier in the day. This went well and I was soon disembarking back near the TESCO whose car park it neighbours. Opting for a pint of the ABK Pilsner (£3.50), I supped away at that for the 25 minutes until the next service back to Lichfield was due and this safely returned me to the station and the train back to Crewe. Once there, I was able to catch a delayed Virgin Train to Manchester, which was a bonus, and took care of any possible misdemeanours that the railways might try and serve up.

The connection was duly caught and that was that for another fine day. Chasetown is a nice area that seems to fly under the radar somewhat. The ground is interesting, which is always good, and though the game itself wasn’t the most enthralling, it was decent enough, despite the fact it was over as a contest fairly early on. Pubs were decent too, so all in all a good trip. Next up, it’s back on the Cup trail for the final time prior to the “proper” rounds beginning. Let’s get to it….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Lancaster

Result: Lancaster City 1-3 Stockport County (FA Trophy First Round)

Venue: Giant Axe (Saturday 16th December 2017, 3pm)

Att: 578

As the Christmas season gets ever closer, so the football season begins to turn up a notch. Fixture lists get ever more congested at this time of year, as the traditional festive dates are added to the regular weekend games and these, combined with cup competitions, mean a less than quiet yuletide beckons for players, officials and supporters alike. Nonetheless, the attractiveness of the FA Trophy – and a prospective Wembley appearance – is little to be sniffed at and so it was that those affiliated with both Lancaster City and Stockport County (along with other interested neutrals such as yours truly) headed to the Giant Axe in not so balmy conditions, the lure of the Trophy proving to overcome the icy conditions on the terracing.

Now when I say icy terraces, I say so without any sort of dramatic effect. For indeed the areas around the Giant Axe pitch were, we were warned by the PA system pre-match, still under the effects of frozen water and this would only prove to worsen as temperatures fell towards the close of the tie. But before any of that, I had a tour of a number of Lancaster’s fine hostelries to enjoy and having arrived in Lancashire’s county town (city?) at just before midday, I headed slightly out of the centre and to the canal side, where I’d visit my first scouted pub of the day, the Water Witch.

Lancaster Station

Water Witch

White Cross & Cathedral Spire

The Water Witch was still fairly empty at this early part of the afternoon, but most of those who were in were enjoying some of the food on offer which, I must admit, was giving off a more than attractive aroma. But I was more distracted by the offerings at the bar and plumped for a pint of Rosie’s Pig cider. A cloudy, still offering, it went down well at £4 a pint. However I soon had other places to see and so continued onwards down the canal towpath towards the towering spire of Lancaster Cathedral. Just before getting there though, I came across the White Cross, located within a large ex-warehouse, again by the side of the frozen waters. In here I plumped for a pint of the Blood Orange IPA. A nice pint.

Following a quick diversion to the Cathedral, which appeared to be devoid of people, ’twas to the city centre I set course. Upon arriving at a statue of Queen Victoria outside the town hall, I next visited the neighbouring Borough Hotel. The Borough has a lovely bar area that was well populated today, again with families enjoying a hot meal and those partaking in both coffee or something a little stronger. As for myself, I decided on playing safe and so a Kingstone Press was had here, whilst sitting under the watchful eye of a shape-shifting picture. On one side a man, the other a demonic-like entity. I’d seen the picture somewhere before, though, so wasn’t as perturbed as I might have been otherwise!

Lancaster

The Borough

…..yeah.

Anyway, I soon finished up in here and began on a more linear route to the ground, though this did include a final stop-off in the Tap House, a place I’d been roped into visiting by the offering of Punk IPA on draught. Of course, the pint wasn’t cheap, coming in at £4.80, though some people not as used to this may share the expression of one of the trio of women’s pictures in the gentlemen’s….

Soon enough, it was time to head to the Giant Axe itself. Heading back over the railway bridge, I made use of the cut-through across the adjoining field and arrived at the turnstile, which I would soon discover read “Away fans only”. I was surprised by this apparent segregation, as I’d not seen anything suggesting this was going to be in place. Having handed over my £8 fee (decent for the level, fair play Dollies) and a further £2 for the quality programme, whose front cover design hasn’t changed since my first visit almost nine years ago, I soon discovered that there indeed was no separating of fans in place and all were left to mingle freely. This also meant a circuit round to Dolly’s Diner was made all the easier, and chips and gravy (~£2.50) were soon being demolished, in the way that the much-missed (to me anyway) Dolly Blue was. Good times.

The Giant Axe is one of my favourite grounds around. Though my expectations are now somewhat skewed compared to what they were, the Axe is still a great ground to watch a game at. Alongside the turnstile stands a large open terrace that affords raised views of the action behind the car-park end goal. To the left stands the Main Stand, a fairly sizable covered and all-seated affair, which is flanked at its far end by the aforementioned Dolly’s Diner. The far end plays host to a covered terrace area, though of a smaller size to that opposite in terms of height (possibly due to housing behind), still runs the length of the pitch too. This terrace is named after City’s former skipper, the late Neil Marshall, who sadly passed away just over a year ago aged just 31. The ‘Neil Marshall Legend’ End is a fitting tribute. The castle side is all open, hard standing, though plays host to a bar/hospitality area or whatever it is these days, along with a manually adjusted scoreboard which, at one point pre-match read City 0-5 Visitors. They were feeling optimistic then!

Lancaster Priory

Arriving at the Giant Axe

Before long, both sides were in the tunnel down by the Main Stand and we were all set to go soon after. But before we get onto the tie at hand, let’s delve into the annuls of Lancaster City F.C….

History Lesson:

Lancaster City Football Club was founded in 1911 as Lancaster Town F.C, following the previous losses of Lancaster-based outfits Skerton (resigned during 1899-1900) & Lancaster Athletic (resigned during 1910-1911). The latter played in the West Lancashire League, but the new Town club would instead join the Lancashire Combination, of which Skerton where a prior competitor in.

With no connection to either team, Lancaster Town were therefore allowed admittance to the Combination, and began plying their trade initially in Division 2 until the Combination became a one division league following WWI. The club finished as 1919-20 runners-up and went on to apply for the new Third Division North of the Football League after the following season, but were unsuccessful in their application. Instead, Town would go on to win the Combination (and Combination Cup) in 1922 and following a pair of successes in the Lancashire FA Trophy (1928 & ’29)  rounded off the decade with a 1929 FA Cup First Round appearance, where they lost out at home to Lincoln City .

The following season saw the Combination won for a second time (and a third Lancs Trophy success), along with a second Cup First Round appearance, but this again ended in defeat, this time to New Brighton F.C. However, the league continued to be successful for the club, with back-to-back titles arriving in 1935 & ’36, (the first seeing yet another Lancs Trophy adorn the trophy cabinet) prior to Town becoming City in 1937, after Lancaster was awarded City status as part of King George VI’s coronation celebrations.

Castle overlooking the ground….

Continuing in the Combination following WWII, the club finally progressed to the FA Cup’s Second Round in 1948, with victory over Spennymoor United. They would also gain some further cup silverware in the familiar form of the Lancashire FA Trophy in 1952, but 1970 saw City depart the Combination for the Northern Premier League. Here, the club would again reach the FA Cup’s Second Round in 1973 (bowing out to Notts County) prior to again lifting the Lancashire FA Trophy in 1975. However, following a 17th placed finish in 1982, City resigned from the NPL and dropped into the North West Counties League but financial issues gripped the club and forced City to fold prior to an immediate reformation. Things didn’t improve much and, three seasons later, City were relegated to the NWCFL Division 2. However, they were to get something of a break in 1987 when, despite only finishing up 13th, the club were accepted into the newly formed NPL Division One.

1995 saw NPL success finally arrive in the form of the President’s Cup, City’s first trophy in two decades, before the club would go on to win the Division One title the following year and, as a result, were promoted to the Premier Division. Remaining here through to 2004 and lifting two NPL League Cups along the way in 2000 & ’01, an eight placed finish enabled Lancaster to take up a spot in the newly created Conference North, the new Step 2 of the non-league system. This proved a successful time initially for the club, with good league performances and four further FA Cup First Round appearances being enjoyed but financial issues soon returned to haunt the club and 2007 saw the club fold for a second time after entering administration earlier in the season. Another summer reformation saw the club return to the Northern Premier League for 2007-’08 and took a spot in Division One North.

…and Giant Axe under lights

2010 saw Lancaster reach the Division One North play-offs, where they were defeated by Colwyn Bay.  However, regular managerial changes saw the club never quite make the play-offs again, with ex-Newcastle United & Blackburn Rovers defender Darren Peacock being the biggest name to take the reins during this period. After Peacock left the club in 2015, Phil Brown (no, not that one) took the reigns and led the Dolly Blues (the nickname apparently derived from the clubs kit being identical in colour to the dolly blue washing tablets manufactured in the town/city in the early 20th century) to the Lancashire Trophy final, where they would lose out to higher-ranked opposition in Chorley. But, Brown’s first full season in charge saw him lead the club to promotion, with City taking the 2017 NPL Division One North title and taking a spot in the Premier Division for this season.

The first competitive game between the sides at Giant Axe for over 80 years got underway with County quickly gaining most of the play during the early stages. Despite this, the contest was a bit of a slow burner, with little of note occurring within the first twenty minutes. However, it would take just a further seven minutes for the deadlock to be broken and it was County, pretty unsurprisingly, who got the opener. A fine ball in from the right flank saw Jason Oswell arrive to tower above the City defenders and head across City ‘keeper Josh Powell, the ball nestling in the top corner.

By this point I’d got talking to Colin & Ash whilst standing on the open terrace at the City end of the ground. Colin is a Scouse fella who watches Lancaster on a fairly regular basis, whilst Ash, it turned out, is the brother of County stopper Ian Ormson. As such, it was good to be getting a view from both camps whilst the game was going on and getting something of an inside track on how both had been performing, and playing, so far this season.

Match Action

Fully focussed fans

Match Action

The game continued on at a fairly serene pace, with County still maintaining their hold on the vast majority of possession, with City somewhat struggling to get much joy out of their sole striker, through no real fault of his own, whilst the supporting midfielders never really got the chance to get into any position to manufacture an attack on the County goal during the first half. This became more of an issue when, around five minutes before the break, Stockport doubled their lead. I somewhat missed the goal as I’d looked away in the opinion there was little to no chance of anything going on. But a roar soon alerted me to look up and see the ball settling in the bottom corner courtesy of Gary Stopforth. Apparently, a ‘keeping error had allowed Stopforth in and County now had an advantage that you couldn’t see them spurning. Half-Time, 0-2.

Following a spell of attempting to get Ash to visit one of the numerous portaloos in the most efficient time possible, the sides reappeared for the second half. What had also reappeared was the white settling upon the pitch. The temperature had begun to drop markedly and the pitch and the surrounding area had begun to be affected once more. Indeed, as I’d later find out, the paving area around the turnstile had begun to get rather lethal, so much so that I felt I best alert the steward to the fact before the final whistle.

Anyway, the second half began with Lancaster coming out of the blocks the quicker and taking the game to their higher-ranked visitors. This did, however, leave them susceptible to the County attackers and Powell had to pull off a good stop to deny Darren Stephenson. On 53 minutes, Lancaster introduced Ryan Winder into the fray and 60 seconds later he was placing the ball on the spot. Penalty! Winder’s first meaningful (if not actual first) touch was to send the spot-kick into the corner of Ben Hinchliffe’s net and spark the home side’s chances of at least grabbing a replay into life.

Match Action

Match Action

Indeed, Winder was soon denied a second by Hinchliffe, before County began to wake themselves back up somewhat and begin to snuff out the remaining attacks that the hosts could muster. With a few minutes left on the clock, I said my goodbyes to Colin and Ash (I may have disrupted their viewing more than they may have wanted!) and headed for a quick word with County’s skipper Harry Winter, who’d been subbed off a little earlier in proceedings. Whilst having said chat with the ex-Trafford midfield dynamo (and occasional reader of these pages, apparently!), Bohan Dixon forced his way into the area before firing through the hands of Powell to secure the Hatters their place in the Second Round. City, meanwhile, felt the Axe fall upon them. Sorry.

Post-match saw me head back into the City centre and to Merchants bar, a cavernous-like place just by the castle. I indulged in some festive drinks, plumping for a Mulled Cider on account that it was bloody cold at this point. After finishing up in here, a further, final stop was undertaken in the form of the Robert Gillow (not a Wetherspoon’s surprisingly), where I decided on a bottle of Birra Morena. Now, if this was indeed over £3.50 as I remember…well, that’s certainly a fair bit more than we sell it for…

Merchants

Robert Gillow

Alas, it was only the final act that was a dampener and I was soon back at Lancaster station for the train back to Manchester. I’d contrived to grab the express on the way back, which got me back into Manchester in good time for my connection back. All had gone well so far. However, after a fifteen minute wait at Oxford Road, those dreaded words flashed up on the timetable…CANCELLED. Shite. There was only one thing for it. Yes, I had to get a bus home. The things you have to endure for this “hobby”…..

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 7

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Altrincham

Result: Altrincham 4-1 Ramsbottom United (FA Trophy 2nd Round)

Venue: Moss Lane (Saturday 11th November 2017, 3pm)

Att: 781

After the previous few weeks of traversing some of the larger grounds in the country, this weekend saw me end up middling somewhat and returning to familiar territory. After again offering my fate up to the twittersphere, a late influx of voting saw Altrincham’s match-up with Ramsbottom United pull away from Lancaster-Stratford and thus off to Moss Lane I headed once again.

With Alty’s home being just a short bus ride away, this meant I was afforded the rarity of a somewhat later start than usual. Hopping on at just after 11am, I had arrived in the Cheshire town around the stroke of midday, my timekeeping helped out by the large clock stationed outside the interchange, with Alty being accessible by numerous modes of transport, including train, tram and bus. It only lacks its own airfield…

I first decided to scout out possible places to watch the F1 qualifying later in the day and found the Orange Tree to be the most likely place, the pub neighboured by the old town stocks. Unfortunately this wouldn’t end up being visited, but there’s still the lure of the Manchester League’s Altrincham-Hale to bring me back! With me planning on leaving here until post-match, my first stop of the day became the Old Roebuck, just off the main road. An old-looking pub, it was pretty cosy, but also empty within at this early hour, with more punters seeming to end up in the larger Market Tavern over the way. The Moretti in here was good, though pricey as per.

Altrincham

Stocks

Old Roebuck

Now £4.50 lighter, I set my sights on the town centre itself and the market area of Altrincham. The market was filling up nicely as I arrived, though there didn’t seem to be much to attract me there, within the mix of veg and fruit and varying pieces of paraphernalia. Instead, I was more taken by the few “crafty” bars in the immediate vicinity. The first I came across was the Cellar, but this didn’t really attract me too much and so I headed for the nearby Mort Subite, located in a basement just around the corner. Unfortunately, I arrived to find this shut until 1pm and so, stranded, I needed a safe port of call for the next half-hour or so. Luckily, the neighbouring Belgian Bar (that’s its name, not just a vague description of the place) came to my aid, though only after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing on my part, I admit.

Originally, I plumped for a pint of the advertised Belgian (I assumed) beer, but something made me quickly reckon I should try it out first. This proved a shrewd idea, as I found it bloody awful and so opted to stay safe and go for a known quantity in Krombacher. Again, at £4.60, this didn’t come cheap and I was soon thinking that one of the closer trips of mine may still end up being one of the more costly ones come the end of the day! Not that I hadn’t seen it coming, mind you. No Carling here, please…

Having milked away the time in the Belgian Bar, the clock ticked over to the one and so I headed a couple of doors down to find the door open but it seeming fairly quiet. That is until a guy came up from the depths to put the sign out, seemed surprised to find me lurking up on top of the stairs before saying I’d be ok to head down as “she should just be finishing up”. At the bottom of the stairs, I headed through a curtain to find a skeleton staring back at me. Where had I ended up, I thought to myself and was I about to end up with that fate?!

Market area

Belgian Bar (on the right)

Morte Subite

Of course, the skeleton was just a part of the décor of the place, being that Mort Subite was (as I was later informed by Colin, who gave me tips on where to head for later on) the former mortuary for the hospital just across the road. After a quick scan of the menu I was handed upon entering, I opted for the half of Liefman’s Mixed Fruit offering for a further £3.50, though I did receive some free cheesy nibbles to accompany it. Mort Subite is definitely worth a visit if you’re out and about here, a great little bar though apparently one for the bustling evenings rather than the quiet early afternoons.

It was soon time for me to go onwards, so I paid my dues and bid goodbye to Colin and headed just around the corner to the more shop-centric part of the centre. In the midst of all these retail places sits the traditional-looking Bricklayer’s Arms, which looks totally out of place in the midst of the apparently more modern developments around it. After a greeting from a guy having a cig outside, a quick pint of Grolsch (cheapest of the day at well under £3) was had before I reckoned I really should be closer to the ground than I was. Problem was, I’d been given a tip by Colin to visit Costello’s Bar in the Goose Green area and with this being en route to Moss Lane, I figured it’d be wrong of me to miss it out.

Heading past the statues of a couple of Geese guarding the small square which consisted of a few other shops and bars, I headed into the modern-style bar for a quick pint of Amstel before giving up on getting to the ground at all early. As such, I asked Alty fan Jonny to grab a programme for me, you know,  just in case, and settled in for a little longer whilst intermittently overhearing a conversation about who’d been barred recently and if it was indeed a surprise or not….

Bricklayer’s

Goose Green

With twenty minutes or so to kick-off, I set off on the short walk down to Moss Lane. After skirting around the park, I arrived within sight of the large main stand and was soon at the turnstile. Handing over my £10 entry, I headed past the usual (as far as I remember) programme selling place which seemed devoid of bibles and up into said main stand where I found Jonny and Danny in situ. Handing over my £2 with thanks, kick-off was imminent.

Arriving at Moss Lane

Moss Lane has not changed all that much, unsurprisingly. The Main Stand is all seater and offers a raised view of the action, with a small “family” stand being located to the left. This stand also plays host to some hospitality areas. Both ends are terraced, with the “home” end being covered and stretching a good few rows back. The “away” (normally and if segregated) end gives a more raised view of the action at the rear than that from the terrace opposite, but is open to the elements, though this wasn’t an issue today. Between the two ends and opposite the main stand is a long terraced area, which is covered for the vast majority (but I find doesn’t give too great views unless right at the front and at pitch-side). The other side of the Main Stand is populated by the new Community Centre construction, which also serves as the clubhouse and the food bar is adjoining. Now, here’s the story behind Altrincham F.C….

History Lesson:

Altrincham Football Club was founded in 1891 by a Sunday League and took the name of Rigby Memorial Club. They soon merged with local side Grapplers to form Broadheath F.C. and became founder members of the Manchester League in 1893, with their first match here – against Hulme – ending in a seven-nil defeat. Things didn’t get much better for the fledgling side as they finished bottom of the table come the close of the first Manchester League season.

After stints at various grounds around the Broadheath, Timperley and Altrincham area, the club moved to Pollitt’s Field in 1903 and took on their current name, Altrincham F.C. and this name change proved a lucky one, as the club won the Cheshire Amateur Cup at the end of the first season as Alty before taking both the Manchester League and Cheshire Senior Cup titles the following season. After a second Manchester League success in 1907, the club went on to move to their current Moss Lane home in 1910. 1911 saw Alty join the Lancashire Combination and join the Division 2, finishing as runners-up at the close of their first season here, missing out on the title on goal average. They were still promoted to Division 1, though, and remained here through to the outbreak of WWI.

When football resumed after the cessation of hostilities, Alty became founder members of the Cheshire County League where they would remain through to the outbreak of the Second World War. Whilst in the Cheshire League, the club won the Cheshire League Cup in 1933 and finished as League runners-up on two occasions (1935 & ’36). They also reached the FA Cup’s First Round for the first time during their stay in this league, this appearance seeing the club lose out to Gainsborough Trinity during the 1934-’35 season.

Steward….or sub?

After missing the first season of post-war football, Alty recommenced playing in 1946 and re-joined the Cheshire County League. Little in the way of immediate success was to follow, with the club taking just a sole Cheshire League Cup win – in 1951 – prior to their mid-1960’s upturn in form. After a third and final Cheshire League Cup win in 1964, the club began to become more competitive. Jackie Swindells was a key player in this turnaround, with Swindells scoring no less than 82 goals in his first season at the club. Unsurprisingly, this helped Alty to their first post-war league title and the first of two consecutive ones at that (’66 & ’67), though he did notch somewhat less during the second campaign, ending up with an impressive 120 goals over the two title-winning seasons, whilst helping the club to a third Senior Cup win too (1967). After a runners-up placing in 1968, the Robins would go on to be a founding member of the Northern Premier League that close season. They’d go on to lift the NPL’s Challenge Cup for the first time in 1970.

The 1976-’77 season saw Altrincham reach the FA Trophy semi-finals whilst also applying for the Football League for the first time. Of course, this was unsuccessful, with Wimbledon getting the nod. The following year saw them go one better in the Trophy, winning the final at Wembley with a 3-1 win over Leatherhead. 1979 saw the Robins finish as NPL runners-up (along with lifting the NPL Challenge Shield) and again apply for the League. Despite getting the largest number of votes for a non-league side, Halifax Town were instead voted in to remain in the League after finishing bottom. This fruitless effort meant Altrincham instead joined the Conference’s forerunner, the Alliance League for which the winner would be the sole possible non-league nomination for a place in the League system.

The Alliance’s first season saw Alty win the division (along with the Bob Lord Trophy), but elation turned to further dismay as the club missed out on election by one vote to Rochdale with, apparently, the Alty-bound votes of Grimsby and Luton not being cast due to the former being at the wrong side of the room and the latter being late. As such, Alty remained in the Alliance and retained their title the next season, but again lost in the voting to Halifax. This proved to be the final time Alty would get truly close to the League, with the club managing the highs of four consecutive top-five finishes at best between 1984 and 1987.

Alty FC

The club was still successful in the cups, winning a further Cheshire Senior Cup in 1982 and the FA Trophy still proved a decent hunting ground too, with Alty being beaten finalists in 1982 but returning to lift the silverware in 1985 after overcoming Runcorn by a single goal. 1986 would then see the club knock top-flight Birmingham City out of the FA Cup, defeating the Division 1 side 2-1 at St. Andrew’s in Alty’s most famed “giant-killing”.

Playing in the newly named Conference, Alty finished third in 1991 before falling away into mid-table for a few seasons before recovering back to fourth in 1995. However, this was something of a false dawn, with the club finishing bottom two seasons later and being relegated to the Northern Premier League’s Premier Division. The club would spend two further seasons in the NPL, winning a second Challenge Cup (1998),Challenge Shield (1999) before returning as champions, but only lasted a single season back in the Conference, being relegated after finishing second bottom, despite some silver-lining being provided with yet another Senior Cup win.

A twelfth placed finish in 2004 saw Altrincham take a place in the newly created Conference North, where they finished fifth at the end of the first season and took a place in the play-offs, where they’d defeat both Nuneaton Borough and Kettering Town prior to defeating Eastbourne Borough in the North/South clash to decide the promoted team. Their penultimate Senior Cup to date would add to the glory that season. It appeared their stay back in the Conference would last just one season, an 18-point ineligible player deduction seemingly putting paid to their survival hopes, but Canvey Island’s resignation and Scarborough’s demotion saw the Robins reprieved.

This began a few seasons of a similar story, with Alty continuing to struggle but be reprieved from relegation. The following year saw Boston United demoted, then Halifax were liquidated the season after that. A couple of seasons of normality followed (bar Aussie cricket skipper Ricky Ponting becoming a shareholder, that is), with mid-table finishes (plus a final, at time of writing, Cheshire Senior Cup win in 2009) keeping Alty clear of the drop, but the club were eventually unable to avoid the trap door in 2011. A defeat in the 2013 Conference North play-offs was followed by success the next campaign, with Alty defeating Hednesford Town and Guiseley (I attended a game in both of these stages) to achieve promotion back to the Conference National, a last-minute winner avoiding penalties in the final played at Moss Lane. A two season stay back in the National division was ended in 2016, but disappointment didn’t end their as Altrincham went straight through the North division last season, finishing adrift at the bottom of the table and taking a place back in the NPL’s Premier Division for this season.

Following the impeccably observed silence for Armistice Day, the action began in this first ever meeting between the two clubs and it took just two minutes for the first goal to arrive, with the visiting Rams grabbing the opener against their higher ranked hosts. A poor ball in the Alty defence resulted in the ball ending up at the feet of Sam Heathcote and Heathcote – who carries a name synonymous with the Moss Lane outfit – netted against his former club, firing low beyond Thompson. A possible upset on the cards?

Watching on

Match Action

After a Greg Daniels effort had been kept out by Tony Thompson in the home goal, Alty found their feet after a slow opening ten minute spell and equalised after a quarter of an hour. A whipped in corner met the head of the unmarked Jordan Hulme, the Robins forward making no mistake with his short-range header, which left Rams stopper Danny Taberner with no chance of making the save. One-a-piece.

John Johnstone – adding to the alliterative names on the Alty team-sheet – was the main threat down the flank and the majority of chances being created by the hosts was coming from him, including one effort which forced Taberner into a low stop. However, with ten minutes of the first half remaining, Hulme would again be the one to find the net, seizing the ball within the box, before turning swiftly and firing a rising shot into the roof of the net from around twelve yards. As I left Danny and Jonny to have a quick lap of the ground, further chances followed for the hosts as the Northern Premier League leaders further asserted themselves over the tie, but it was Heathcote who’d come closest to levelling up the scores, seeing his free-kick tipped wide by Thompson. No further goals followed and the teams headed in with Alty still holding their slender advantage. 2-1 at half-time.

Match Action

12th man

Match Action

The break saw me head to the food bar some fine chips and gravy at a fine portion size too. I think it was £2.50, but I can’t actually remember that part as it’s, shockingly I know, not too memorable. The memorable part went to meeting up with the Trafford (and occasional Kartel Sports) legend that is Scott Barlow at half-time, with the former 40-goal-a-season striker, who was down watching with his son, stopping me as I almost walked straight past in my quest to return to the stand. As such, the first part of the second half was spent over a pint of Kingstone Press, courtesy of Scott, in the clubhouse while watching the game on TV. I still managed to pretty much miss ex-Rammy man Hulme’s hat-trick goal, though, but thankfully the Alty match report is on hand to tell me that “Hulme turned well inside the box and his shot hit a defender and looped into the net”. Cheers media people!!

After finishing up my drink, I bid goodbye to Scott and his group and headed back out to re-join Jonny and Danny who were now located over in the far end of the stand, doing the opposite switch to what most fans do in accordance with which side their team is attacking (I’m told this is due to getting a better view of the goal Alty are attacking!). Anyway, chances were few and far between in the second half, with only long-range efforts and a few blocked chances coming anywhere close to adding to the score-line.

Under the lights

Late on…

That is until, on 85 minutes, one of those longer-range efforts was unleashed by James Poole, with the ball, on this occasion, evading the diving frame of Taberner and squeezing beyond him and into the back of the net to seal Alty’s progression in what was a comfortable enough game for them, but wasn’t without a couple of scares along the way as the Lancastrian side put in a good shift. The final score-line was a little harsh on the visitors, but four-one it was.

After leaving Danny & Jonny, I headed back out the ground and off towards the large Tesco which dominates that side of the town, along with the Silver Blades Ice Rink, which plays host to the Manchester Storm Ice Hockey side –  having previously hosted the Manchester Phoenix, whom hosted my only experience thus far of Ice Hockey as, despite being entertaining, it’s pretty overpriced in my opinion – and swiftly ticked off the Altrincham branch of Wetherspoon’s, The Unicorn. Yes, I know, I’m one of those guys, but not too religiously, I stress! Punk IPA was, of course, the chosen one.

I soon discovered that I’d missed the F1 and, as such, the final drink in the Orange Tree was cancelled. I was also beginning to flag a bit and reckoned a smarter move would to be to head back home and have a bit of a splash-and-dash, with the “splash” being a few winks and the “dash” being a final drink. Both of these were ultimately highly successful, despite me trying to nod off on the bus (which is never a good look I might add), and there endeth this story.

All in all, yes it was another trip to the Moss Lane ground that I’ve visited multiple times, but this one was different as I’ve never really explored Alty as a town, outside of the area around the interchange. The place has some cool places and is well worth the trip even if it is a little on the pricey side. The game itself was decent enough too, with the game not being truly ended as a contest until that last five minutes and a few goals thrown in for good measure. Can’t really complain. So onwards to next week and that rare thing that is called a non-league league game! Not seen many this year, so will be something of a novelty. Off to a house for that….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 8

Programme: 5 (seemed cut back?)

Value For Money: 6

 

Manchopper in….Kendal

Result: Kendal Town 2-1 Radcliffe Borough (FA Trophy Preliminary Round)

Venue: Parkside (Saturday 7th October 2017, 3pm)

Att: 111

Non-League Day rolled around once again and, as usual, saw club’s up and down the country unveiling initiatives from lowering prices to my much hated promotion, the allowing in of Premier League season ticket holders for a discounted price whilst the rest are left to pay full. Without going off on a full-on tangent there, a more positive initiative was that of West Didsbury & Chorlton’s Non-League Dogs day, which invited dogs and their owners in for free and in turn attracted national attention from Sky Sports. A far more positive way of getting people through the gates, whilst avoiding the PL ticket horror show.

As for my game…well there was no promotion here whatsoever, which was something of a surprise, though no issue for myself. At least the PL ticket thing hadn’t been implemented (I think I may need counselling over this). Anyway, after an early F1-influenced start to the day, I decided that, being up already, I might as well get an earlier train up to the Lakes and have more than enough time for an explore. So having transited through Warrington and up to Oxenholme along with a group of Leyton Orient fans who were debating whether to get to Barrow early or not. The group made their decision and got off at Lancaster while I continued on one further stop to Oxenholme, where I’d grab my last connection for the short five-minute hop to Kendal.

The Lakes

Kendal Castle

Looking down on the town

After a short delay, I was soon heading past the castle ruins and into the station. I’d soon be back at the castle, having a quick look around the waterlogged remains before heading back down the steep-ish incline from the former stronghold and along the river until I arrived within the tight streets of the older part of the town centre. I still managed to take a wrong turn here somehow, before eventually righting myself and heading for my own stronghold, Wetherspoons, of which Kendal’s is complete with its own rather large chimney no less. There is a plaque outlining what the “700-foot” chimney was a part of too, but with the rain coming down at more of a rate, I headed inside for the staple Punk IPA before retreating back on myself and to the main street, where two pubs stood almost side-by-side. Both looked interesting enough, so I reckoned I might as well try both!

First up was the interestingly named Horse & Rainbow. It was fairly full in here, with a few punters taking advantage of what I’d soon find out were very cheap pints. At just over £2, I had a Strongbow in my possession, but not for too long as it was soon time to head a couple of doors down, but not before I’d berated a guy for watching the F1 qualifying on repeat and not getting up for it live…though I did warn against watching the screen he was facing for Sky’s spoilers.

‘Spoons, complete with chimney

Olde Fleece

Kendal

The Olde Fleece was the name of my next port of call and I again stuck with the Strongbow. Another pint at less than £3 was purchased, whilst I got far too excited by the “ghostly face” within my glass. This was, as I quickly deduced, no more than the shadow of the chair behind it, but I was then asked if I’d like to have a look at the pub’s very own “ghost picture” that shows a very see-through guy standing outside this very establishment during the early 20th century. The question remains: a trick of the camera…or something more unexplained? It’s that time of year, after all….

After another ghost story involving a mirror in there, it was time for me to continue my tour of Kendal. Next up was the interestingly named Bootlegger’s. This place is hidden through an alcove and a small alley and looks suitably shut up. Luckily, this wasn’t the case and I headed into the dimly lit, sort of old-Western-themed bar. After interrupting the barmaid’s attempts at warming up near some heat source close by the door, I plumped for a Staropramen, which came in at less than £4, though I did later see I’d missed out on an offer on Cubanisto which I regretted somewhat. Anyway, I finished up and bid goodbye to said bar staff who had now been joined in the quest for comfort by a few other regulars.

I’d previously spied a couple of pubs just off the main street and plumped for the closest of the three, the Globe, which sat within the bustling market place. Avoiding the stalls and those browsing them, I got myself a final pint, this time of Kingstone Press to take me through to around ten past two, whereupon it was time to head back past the castle and onwards to Park Side Road and Kendal’s ground.

Where in the world?

Bootleggers

Parkside from Park Side

After heading past a decent-looking pub near the ground I had no idea existed, I soon found myself in sight of the ground from the road. Navigating through the car park to the turnstiles, I was relieved of my £9 entry, plus a further £2 for the ok programme. Kendal’s ground is definitely one of my favourites, with a good mix of old and new(er) stands. The “Main Stand” sits on the far touchline, along with a further covered standing area and houses the dressing rooms, with the large terracing & seating stand located just to the right of where you enter, behind the near end goal. This also plays host to the clubhouse and tea bar, where I would buy a hot dog upon my arrival, as I was in some need of some “lunch” by now. The near-side houses an old covered area directly opposite that on the opposite side, with further uncovered terracing located towards the far end which itself is open, hard standing. Ground description done, here’s the story of Kendal Town…

History Lesson:

Kendal Town F.C. was founded in 1919 by employees of the Netherfield Somerfield Brothers factory and, as such, began life as Netherfield F.C. They won the Westmorland County Cup in 1925 to pick up their first piece of silverware before going on to join the West Lancashire League in 1936. Following the Second World War, the club moved into the Lancashire Combination, finishing their first season as runners-up. This season also saw them reach the FA Cup First Round for the first time, where they’d lose out to Barrow.

KTFC

When the Lancs Combination gained a second division in 1947, Netherfield were placed in Division One and this was won in 1949, which was combined with a second First Round appearance in the Cup, though this again ended in defeat. The following season, however, did see the club achieve a First Round win, as they navigated North Shields to meet Watford in the Second Round, where they’d end that year’s run.

First Round appearances became commonplace in the early part of the 1950’s, with three further seasons seeing this round reached. In the league, meanwhile, 1954 saw the club end up as runners-up in the Lancs Combination for a second time and 1956 saw the Lancashire Combination Cup secured. This was won for a second time in 1961, with a third league runners-up placing being achieved the following season.

Parkside

Following another Second Round Cup appearance in 1964, 1965’s Combination title win (final First Round appearance) and subsequent strong form saw Netherfield become founder members of the Northern Premier League in 1968. However, the club struggled here and finished bottom in 1974, 1982 & 1983, the latter of which saw the only relegation, with the club dropping into the newly formed North West Counties League. After just about avoiding relegation to Division 2, due to an Ashton United points deduction at the end of their first NWCFL season, the club maintained their place in Division 1 and became founder members of the NPL’s Division 1 in 1987.

Despite finishing bottom at the end of the division’s first season, the club weren’t relegated. They’d remain in the division through to 2006, (going through two name changes in the process, first to Netherfield Kendal in ’98 and latterly to Kendal Town in 2000), reaching the play-offs after a third placed finish before defeating Stocksbridge Park Steels and Gresley Rovers to achieve promotion to the NPL’s Premier Division.

Today’s game

A fifth-placed finish in 2009 would see Kendal reach the play-offs here for the first time, losing to Ilkeston Town in the semi-finals, and this was repeated the next season, only with Bradford Park Avenue being the vanquishers. Unfortunately, this form soon dropped away and 2013 saw the Mintcakes finish second from bottom which saw them relegated to the Division One North. Last season, Kendal achieved a 12th placed finish in the same division.

The game got underway with Kendal looking to avenge their league defeat to Radcliffe the week prior, the second time in a month I’ve had that happen, following my trip to Rhostyllen-Lex Glyndwr a few weeks ago. Indeed, my Radcliffe blog from a couple of years ago also happened to be this very clash too, so repeats aplenty were abound. The pitch didn’t look the easiest to play on and chances were at a premium in the earlier stages of the contest, with those mostly falling to the visitors, but being largely restricted to long-range efforts. But on 33 minutes, the home side broke the deadlock with Ric Seear arriving at the back-post to nod home.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Kendal wasted no time in adding to their lead, as Radcliffe quickly lost possession soon after the restart and Matt Clarke made gains through the defence before squaring the ball to Anthony Lynch who had the simple task of knocking the ball in from close range. From then on in, Kendal saw out the remainder of the half to head in at the break with a solid cushion, 2-0.

The second half began with Radcliffe looking to get themselves back into this tie. After a stinging effort was tipped over the crossbar by Ryan Jones early in the piece, the visitors began to take more control of the contest and grabbed one back through a Carl Peers tap in just before the hour. Not that I saw it, as I had surveyed the scene and decided there was little chance of me missing anything of note, so began a text only to hear cheers from the far end. Ah well, 2-1 it was and the game was well and truly on!

Match Action

On the front foot

Both Callum Grogan and Peers went close to levelling up the scores, but Kendal would manage to see out the remaining minutes to secure their passage through to the First Qualifying Round and a home tie against Atherton Collieries. Radcliffe could probably count themselves unlucky over the ninety not to have secured a replay. But it was Kendal who took their chances when they came.

As for me, it was back off towards the station with enough time for another two, though this did end up with me following one guy on the hunch he knew where he was going. He did, but I didn’t expect to be heading through a graveyard at some point! Can there be any more death-related things this day?! Ghosts, cemeteries…what next? Anyway. I decided to be sensible for once and settle for just the one final cider in the Castle Inn which is just around the corner from the station. Of course, this would prove not to make any difference whatsoever, as I got back to Manchester still fairly awake, before rapidly getting worse and flopping at home at some point around nine. The lesson there is don’t be sensible, surely*.

The Castle Inn

As for the day as a whole then. Kendal is a pretty cool place to explore, though I’d say I prefer Clitheroe castle to Kendal, on the basis I can see more of the ground! You can see Kendal County F.C. from there, though, so I’ll give some points back for th…..where were we again? Oh yeah. The pubs were good value too for the most part, with ghostly happenings being an added bonus. The game was ok without being spectacular, though the ground certainly made up for that. So it’s onwards back to the FA Cup for Saturday and a battle of Towns….

*DISCLAIMER: It’s probably best to be sensible tbh.

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 8

Programme: 5

Food: 5

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Ramsbottom

rams_logo_newtelford

Result: Ramsbottom United 0-2 AFC Telford United (FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round)

Venue: Harry Williams Riverside Stadium (Saturday 26th November 2016, 3pm)

Att: 319

The cold weather had arrived in force. Well, around where I live it had anyway! Luckily for me and even more so for Paul who had been in the throes of travelling over from Liverpool, the cold hadn’t appeared to affect our intended destination of Ramsbottom much, if at all. Good news then and after confirming once more with the very interactive and helpful Rammy twitter account, I set off for Manchester before further trips into the hills.

After eventually meeting Paul outside of Piccadilly Station, we missed our intended tram by a matter of seconds, due to the poor systems known as the Metrolink ticket machines. Not to be deterred (due to the frequency of the trams, so a positive there for you Met), we jumped on the next one and were soon arriving into Bury. Now comes the “exciting” part. As is fairly usual for people heading to Rammy, the only real way to get there from Bury is on the East Lancashire Railway and their fleet of vintage trains. It may be a bit more money, but it beats the bus!

So, having passed by the mounting police presence in the town ahead of Millwall’s arrival and headed over to Bury Bolton Street for our step back in time, we arrived in a…festive themed station house. Having been informed that you now buy tickets on the train rather than at the office, we headed down to the platform and the small bar located there: The Trackside. It was nice enough inside, with the expected railway décor. What wasn’t as nice was the steam train outside deafening all and sundry within a 10-mile radius while letting off steam. Take ear-plugs if you are of sensitive hearing and don’t do what someone did and look for the toilet in the kitchen…

An unusual transport day for me...

An unusual transport day for me…

...is about to get a whole lot more so!

…is about to get a whole lot more so!

Here we go!

Here we go!

After a pint (£2.75) and a half of an ‘orange wheat beer’ in here whilst trying to sort out if our service was to be the fabled steamer or not, we were relieved when the time came to jump on that, indeed, it was. Not only that, it was also a “Santa Special”. Sadly, no Santa was spotted down our end, so Paul and I consoled ourselves with a beer we were allowed to take on board. Good stuff. £5.40 for the short 15 minute hop is ok if you consider you’re paying to keep these things going too and it’s not too often you get the chance to travel to a game on a vintage train. Still beats Northern too!

Diesel & Steam in unison

Diesel & Steam in unison

Sssomebody's sssmokin'!

Sssomebody’s sssmokin’!

So, after a few photos of our transport upon arrival in Ramsbottom, it was time to seek out the important stuff. The Irwell Works Brewery seemed a good place to start (I’d been before and Rammy’s twitter had recommended it) so it was off past the markets and to the brewery. After heading upstairs to the bar, Paul plumped for the IPA offering, though that wasn’t quite to my liking and so I went for a cider. It was pretty decent too. But, with the time already passing 2pm, we decided to head over to the Ramsbottom Tap which meant it was off up the steep incline to the town’s high street.

The Tap was another decent establishment, with a quick pint of Shindigger being my choice. But with kick-off only 15 minutes away, a quick walk back through the town was undertaken, until we were approaching the cricket club turnstile and eventually the Riverside Stadium’s gates.

Rammy Market

Rammy Market

Irwell Works Brewery

Irwell Works Brewery

Ramsbottom

Ramsbottom. The Tap’s sign is just visible.

After paying £8 for entry, we picked up our reserved programmes (£2) from Katie inside (thanks!) and headed for pitchside. The Riverside is a smart little ground, consisting of four stands. Both goals are home to covered terracing, with the larger of the two situated at the cricket ground end. The opposite touch-line is home to the two seating stands, the larger main stand located towards the railway end and the smaller on half-way. The near side is open, hard standing and is home to all facilities and hospitality boxes. As for the club itself…

History Lesson:

Ramsbottom United Football Club was formed in 1966 and initially competed in the local Bury Amateur League. After a season, the club moved into the Bolton Combination where they were to spend the next eighteen years before  a move into the Manchester League for Season ’87-’88, competing in Division 1.

1991 saw the Rams end up as Division 1 Champions and earn promotion to the Premier Division. After four further seasons competing at this level, the club applied for a place in the North West Counties League and were accepted for a place in the league’s Division 2. Their first season saw immediate silverware arrive, the Rams lifting the Second Division Trophy and the next season saw them lift the Division 2 title.

A VERY threatening flag!

A VERY threatening flag!

1999 saw the club enter the FA Cup for the first time and Rammy fared fairly well in reaching the 3rd Qualifying Round where they fell to Conference side Southport. After starting the millennium in encouraging fashion, finishing third on two consecutive occasions, the club fell away into mid-table. The mid to latter part of the “noughties” saw the Rams become inconsistent in the league, though they did lift three consecutive Bolton Hospitals Cups (’06, ’07, ’08).

Following a poor season in ’08-’09, a change in management was undertaken, with Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley taking the reigns as joint managers. They immediately took the club up the league, finishing their first season in charge fourth before progressing to runners-up the following year. 2012, however, saw the Rams take the Premier Division title and, therefore, promotion to the Northern Premier League for the first time, breaking many NWCFL records as they went.

Today's admission

Today’s admission

After narrowly missing out on the play-offs in their first season at NPL First Division level, Ramsbottom managed to secure a spot in the play-offs the following campaign. After defeating Darlington in the semis, Rammy then defeated Bamber Bridge in the final to secure the second promotion spot to the NPL Premier Division. Upon this, Johnson & Morley left the club to join the ambitious Salford City, taking a number of the squad along with them. Despite this, the club stabilized and managed to maintain a spot in the Prem. But the following year saw Rammy eventually suffer the drop for the first time in their 50-year history, as they returned to the NPL Division 1 North for this campaign.

On the march...

On the march…

Arriving at the Riverside

Arriving at the Riverside

The game got underway and, well, not much happened. Outside of the goals, there really wasn’t too much goalmouth action to be seen. Both sides were fairly unconvincing in front of goal for whatever reason during this game and never truly troubled either of the opposition goalkeepers. The home side had a few half chances but all were spurned as the sides headed in goal-less at the break and, to be honest, it looked as though it would remain that way. Not even the noise from the Stafford Rangers fans, who’d diverted to the Riverside upon their game with Chorley being called off, could liven up the tie on the pitch but at least there was the odd steam train passing behind the goal to keep us non-regulars somewhat entertained.

Match Action

Match Action

'sa bit frosty out here...

‘sa bit frosty out!

A bit of first half action

This guy wasn’t too interested either.

Half-Time consisted of getting, as expected, a tasty pie for a couple of quid and absolutely no “o’clock” moments for myself. None. Anyway, as the second half got underway, I was making my way round the ground when I got talking to Rammy sub Sam Freakes, who was more inclined to take the win on the day than taking Telford to a replay. As soon as he uttered this, he was given the chance to make it happen as he replaced the injured Grant Spencer.

But, it was to be the higher-level visitors who would make the breakthrough in a fittingly scrappy manner. They had forced a corner just after the hour mark and from the resulting ball in, Rammy couldn’t force the ball clear and it fell to Conor McCarthy at the back-post to force the ball over the line. If there was going to be a goal in this game, then that was how it was going to arrive, you felt.

Steamer passing the ground

Steamer passing the ground

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Unfotunately, though, the goal did nothing in the way of opening up the game and it continued on its turgid way towards 90 minutes. But, as the clock entered the final 10 minutes of the tie, the Bucks’ Josh Wilson picked up the ball 35-yards out and unleashed an arrow of a drive that flew with pin-point accuracy into the top-right hand corner. Being sat in the stand and right behind the effort, it was quickly apparent there would be no chance for Rammy’s stopper Charlie Albinson. What a way to light up what had been a dour afternoon. 2-0, game over and time to exit the nippy Rammy night and take refuge in a hostelry in the town.

After finding out that the Beer House was just a shop, disappointingly, we made our way over the road to the Oaks for a quick post-match pint of a German beer that I can’t remember the name of, but there’s a few offered here, before heading to the bus stop for our carriage back to Bury. Once arrived, we decided to find somewhere to watch Chelsea-Spurs. After originally settling on Rayner’s bar, we soon bored and headed to the neighbouring Knowsley for the second half. Again, though, we weren’t too fussed by the game at this point and decided to head for the interchange over the road and the tram back to town.

After the quick hop back into Manchester, Paul bid a rapid goodbye and headed for a train out of here, completely neglecting the fact he didn’t have his programme, or the “snowy bible” as it had been christened by this point. For me, a quick change in Piccadilly Gardens and onwards to Stretford was the penultimate journey before grabbing the bus home to end the day. A really decent day out on the whole, with a hardly used transport being the highlight. No not the tram! Always good visiting Rammy and, hopefully, it won’t be too long until another is on the cards. For now, it’s onward to 200…

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RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 7

Programme: 6

Food: 7

Value For Money: 6

 

Manchopper in….Witton

160px-wittonalbionfckettering-town-fc

Result: Witton Albion 2-1 Kettering Town (FA Trophy Second Round)

Venue: Wincham Park (Saturday 12th November 2016, 3pm)

Att: 339

After missing out on the last round of the Trophy whilst roughing it in hospitality at Old Trafford a couple of weeks back, it was back on the true football trail with a trip to, well, where? The decision fell to the twittersphere (all 37 of them), with their big decision being between Kidsgrove, Nantwich or Witton. After a fairly close battle, it was the latter of the trio that came out on top, so a revisit to Wincham Park for Witton Albion vs Kettering Town it was!

It would also be the second time this season I’d have seen Kettering, with the prior time being at Leek Town during the early rounds of the cup. That game saw late drama, so more of the same for this game wouldn’t go amiss I thought, as I rolled into Manchester Piccadilly to await my connection down to Northwich. Once more, I decided to await my train in the Hourglass along with a quick drink. Before long, it was time to head for Cheshire.

After an hour-long journey, elongated by the loop round to Altrincham, I arrived into the traditional-looking Northwich station, from where you don’t actually see much of Northwich, lest you actually go into the town. Instead, you head away from it and head towards the village of Wincham where, somewhat unsurprisingly, the ground is located. Pub-wise, it’s a fairly sparse route with the only option being the Chesterway pub. Obviously, being a food-y pub, the prices are a little lofty, as shown by the £3.50-plus price for a Sol. I was quickly headed for the ground.

Northwich

Northwich Station

The Chesterway

The Chesterway

Way to Witton

Way to Witton

The navigating of the long and winding road complete for the first time, I arrived at a sign welcoming me to Wincham. After giving some vague directions to, I presume, a Kettering director due to his smart-looking outfit, I found the access route down to the ground and was soon within the clubhouse/shop. Despite not being a darker ale drinker of any description, I found myself torn between a lighter-looking ale and the interestingly named ‘Yeti’. I did think to myself that I couldn’t really pass up the Yeti and when the two guys next to me ordered their next round of the Tatton Brewery’s finest, I decided I should really join them. It wasn’t all too bad either, though it’s not converted me yet.

Anyway with kick-off fast approaching, I headed for the normal pre-game places before spotting Kettering fans Chris and Dave Ellis whom I’d met after the Leek game. After a quick greeting and a few tales of fellow fans’ misfortunes whilst on their respective ways to the game, with trains and cars both causing issues. Well, the latter was more alcohol related as a car was left stranded in Stoke of all places, but still…

Witton Albion FC

Witton Albion FC

Wincham Park

Wincham Park

Clubhouse

Clubhouse

With the clock now approaching three, the clubhouse began to empty en masse and to the turnstiles went the crowds. £9 later and it was into Wincham Park for, what I think was, a third time. Having already purchased a programme in the bar for £2, I could bypass the table where they were being sold, but this only made it possible for me to hear someone’s conversation end with “Well, everyday alive is a bonus”. A very easy way to get the juices flowing for the contest!

Wincham Park is a smart ground, with its former standing as a Conference ground still very obvious. It’s four stands are spread evenly around the ground, with the all-seater Main Stand being housed on the right-hand touchline as you enter, the clubhouse sort of underneath. A large covered terrace sits on the left-hand side, with this structure matching the Main Stand in stretching for most of the length of the pitch. There is a little uncovered terracing to the left of the roof. Behind both goals are further, slightly smaller, covered terraces with both very similar in size to each other. Before we get into the game itself, here’s some backstory to Witton Albion FC…

History Lesson:

Witton Albion Football Club was formed in 1887 and initially played in the local Northwich & District League. They also competed in the Crewe & District League, Cheshire League, The Combination (3 seasons), Manchester League and the Lancashire Combination during their earlier years. They won the latter’s Division 2 in 1914, with their stay in the league’s Division 1 stopped by WWI’s outbreak. 1920 saw the club become founder members of the Cheshire County League, winning three titles following WWII (1949, ’50, ’54), including the double in 1954.

After the formation of the Northern Premier League in 1969, Witton were denied entry initially and so stayed in the Cheshire County League, eventually earning their place in the NPL in for 1978-’79 as Cheshire County League runners-up. The sale of their then Central Ground to move to Wincham Park was completed in 1989 and in their second season at Wincham, Witton won the NPL title by 16 pts, meaning promotion to the Conference was attained.

The new home

The new home

WAFC

WAFC

The financial costs did mean that this was a struggle for them and the club suffered their first relegation in 1994, with a second following in 1997 as the club dropped into the NPL Division 1 for the first time. 2004 saw the biggest achievement as then skipper Brian Pritchard was sent-off for tripping a streaker in a Cheshire Senior Cup tie vs Woodley Sports.

Having been put back in the Premier Division of the NPL via league restructurings, Witton missed out on promotion by one goal in 2007 and they subsequently lost out in the play-off final. 200s aw them again miss out on promotion to Fleetwood Town and then in the play-offs for the second season running, but the following season of managerial upheavals saw Witton relegated to the NPL Division 1 South. This lasted until 2010-’11, when the club were switched to the Northern Section.

2012 saw Witton achieve promotion back to the NPL Premier Division, defeating Curzon Ashton in the play-off final. The following year, the club reached the Prem play-offs, but lost out in the semi’s. However, this was as good as it got, as struggles followed and 2015-’16 saw Albion back in the Division 1 North. Last season, Witton finished up in 11th place, before again being transferred to the South Division for this current campaign.

After a minutes silence for Remembrance, the game got underway with Southern League outfit Kettering on top. Therefore, it was little surprise when, just ten or so minutes in, a good move ended with a Spencer Weir-Daley through ball finding Liam Canavan who slotted past Witton GK, Dan Roberts. The away end, including Dave’s brothers Phil & Dan,  who I’d been invited to join for the afternoon, went into raptures.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Further chances were to follow for the Poppies, quite the appropriate nickname considering the weekend, but after dominating the first half of the first half (if that makes sense), they began to be outdone in the midfield by Albion. Despite their gaining of momentum, Witton struggled to really make any real chances bar forcing Town ‘keeper Dean Snedker into one stop. After I’d headed round to get some chips and beat the crowds, I took a seat in the stand for the dying moments of the half. This proved to be a decent shout, as I then had a good view of Witton’s equaliser.

After a fair bit of pressure, including Snedker saving well from Hopley and Prince Haywood (not a real Prince) shooting just wide, a free-kick was conceded out on the right flank. The resulting ball in landed on the head of Rob Hopley, with Snedker’s fine push onto the post being in vain as the rebound fell back to Hopley who fired home. That was pretty much the last kick of the half and gave something of a forewarning of what was to come.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

From the Main Stand

Kettering fans

Kettering fans

The half-time was uneventful, bar the groundsman having to dodge occasional efforts from the Kettering subs as he went about his business in tending the goalmouth, before the sides emerged once more from the tunnel and we were back underway. It was Witton who continued where they left off and began the half on top, a position that they never really relinquished. Kettering’s best early chance came through Weir-Daley, who almost took out us in the crowd, but Chris’ ‘football in slippers’ skills came to the rescue.

As shenanigans kicked-off on the terraces, nothing really did so on the pitch. Chances dried up and only the ever more wound-up Kettering fans were keeping any sort of entertainment going on, not that they’d consider it as such, I expect. The referee, though, did his best in trying to liven up the game, by not really booking challenges when he ought to and therefore planting the seeds to allow him to lose most of his control over the game. Both sides were feeling fairly put out by some decisions and the players’ frustrations reflected this.

Match Action

Match Action

Bright lights of Wincham

Bright lights of Wincham

But, as the clock passed into the 96th minute, Albion forced a corner on the left. The resulting set-piece was half-cleared, but probably to a distance and a situation that most would have considered safe. This was shown as one Poppies fan muttered “All this way for a replay”, only for his companion to reply Nostradamus-esque “It’s not done yet” as Wes Benjamin unleased a fizzing drive that whizzed into the top corner of Snedker’s goal. STUNNER! No chance for him & the Town fans views towards their boss became even less enamoured. Full-time, 2-1 and once again the three-time semi-finalists Witton had scored with the last real kick of the half! That was also to be Benjamin’s last Witton action, as he left for Clitheroe a few days after.

Witton celebrations after the late winner!

Witton celebrations after the late winner!

So, with the Town fans unleashing their frustrations, I bid goodbye to Chris & Dave and headed back from whence I came, reaching the station in good time for the train straight back. Despite East Midlands’ trains best efforts to ruin my journey back from Manchester, Northern came to the rescue with their own late service, thus meaning all’s well that ends well, so it was off to Urmston and to my parents’ very own bar for some birthday drinks for my sister with some more family. Remember, The Three Barrels, check it out if you’re in the neck of the woods!…

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RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 9

Food: 7

Programme: 9

Value For Money: 7