Manchopper in….Fulwood

Result: Fulwood Amateurs 5-0 Coppull United (West Lancashire League Premier Division)

Venue: Lightfoot Lane/’The Green’ (Saturday 11th May 2019, 3pm)

Att: ~250

My penultimate weekend of groundhopping saw another double-header which would begin with this very visit to the outskirts of Preston. Having looked local for Saturday’s game with a trip down to the south coast and Southampton coming up the following day, this contest saw hosts Fulwood looking to take the West Lancashire League title, whilst their rivals Slyne-with-Hest also looked to home advantage to pay dividends for them as they looked to overturn the slight advantage Fulwood held going into the final day.

Both teams welcomed sides from the other end of the table – Fulwood entertaining Coppull United, whilst Slyne took on Southport Hesketh. As for myself, I took full advantage of a later than usual start to a trip before heading via Warrington up to Preston whereupon I was finally able to pay a visit to the city’s famous bus station where I’d catch a service onwards to Fulwood. But it wouldn’t just be Fulwood I’d be heading too, oh no – it would be a very specific bus stop which, perhaps unsurprisingly, had a pub just a few steps away by the name of the Sherwood.

Preston’s Famed Bus Station

The Sherwood

Black Bull

The pub gains its name from the road it is located upon and I watched the majority of the first half of the play-off between Aston Villa and West Brom before finishing off my pint of Boddington’s (£2.60) and grabbing one of the regular services back down the road and past the hospital, getting off just before the dual-carriageway, which was crossed over to reach the Black Bull where I partook in an Estrella (£4.25) whilst wasting away some time before grabbing another bus up the way towards to foot of Light….erm, foot Lane which the ground sits not too far along. Before heading ground-wards, however, I paid a visit to the, slightly hidden from roadside, Phantom Winger – a Hungry Horse hostelry – for a pint of Coors (£3.50) and took advantage of their charging points before finally heading for the ground.

Fulwood is a town in the unparished northern area of Preston and has remained separate largely due to the fact the town in encompassed within the Fulwood Conservation Area. It has been governed independently since 1974. Noted in 1199 as Fulewide, it has since gone through name changes of Fulewude in 1228 and Fulwode in 1297 and was part of the ancient forest of Fulwood where Preston race ground was located. In Victorian times, said to be a township-chapelry in Lancaster parish on the railway linking Preston and Lancaster with its own station which closed in 1930. The vicarage was noted as being in the diocese of Manchester.

Fulwood-entrance to Preston

Way to the Phantom Winger….

Inside the Phantom Winger

I arrived after a fifteen minute walk and struggled to make up £2 in change for admission/programme (inclusive) and didn’t want to hand over a tenner just due to ease more than anything. However, this did prompt the guys on the gate (well, table to be more exact) to say that they’d take whatever if I was struggling for it (on account they apparently take some grief for charging) which was nice, though I assured them I was fine and that I was more than happy to hand over the couple of quid. I eventually got some silver together and handed over my dues and headed through the gate (an actual one this time) and into the ground itself before immediately paying a visit to the cozy clubhouse/food bar at the rear of the stand/equipment store/former driving range behind the goal for a hot-dog, which was decent enough for a quid, which you can’t exactly complain about now, can you?!

With all this out of the way, the teams were out on the field and ready to go. As for the remainder of the ground, a small covered standing area sits back away from the pitch somewhat and houses the dressing rooms and toilets and is flanked by a raised grass banking that separates it from the entrance area. The majority of the rest of the standing is all open, hard standing with just the far side being a little hard to get through due to the overhang of trees near the far side of the “driving range” stand. So that’s “The Green” in a nutshell and this is the story of Fulwood Amateurs….

History Lesson:

Fulwood Amateurs Football Club was founded in 1924 and originally played on a field behind a local pub by the name of the Black Bull before moving over onto a pitch on Watling Street and making use of another pub’s facilities for changing instead. Fulwood joined the Lancashire Amateur League in 1928 though would have to wait almost a decade for their first silverware – this arriving in the form of the (not at all long-winded) Manchester and Salford Medical Charities Hospital Cup, defeating South Salford to achieve the honour. The following year saw success continue for the pre-WWII team, the club winning the Lancashire Amateur League Aggregate Trophy, Lancashire Amateur Cup and also winning the league (though all three divisions are listed as this honour, so no idea which is correct.).

After the war, Fulwood would win the 1950 Division 2 title back in the Lancashire Amateur League, though after seemingly being relegated after a sole season in the top tier, they returned back to Division 2 which was won again in 1952 along with a second Aggregate Trophy. Moving to a plot of land in Grimsargh in 1955, things seemed to go awry and Fulwood ended up in the 3rd Division North of the LAL, though did win this in 1960 along with promotion to the Division 2 once again which was then won in 1971 though their rise back up to the top division was again seemingly short-lived with the club back in the 3rd Division North by the time this was won again in 1975.

FAFC

The next season saw the Second Division again won, but again the visit to the top division was brief and the drop rather alarming, though the move to land alongside the ground of Preston Grasshoppers proved fruitful with the 3rd Division North again having to be lifted in 1983 and the Second Division title once again following immediately afterwards, alongside the third and final Aggregate Trophy and the LAL’s Norman Archer Trophy. 1987 saw Fulwood win the “Premier Division” title and this was followed with a move into the West Lancashire League in 1993 – whereupon things are a little easier to follow.

After immediately being promoted from the West Lancs League’s Division 2 as runners-up, they then went on to win the First Division at the first attempt, becoming West Lancs League champions in the process. After lifting the Lancashire FA Amateur Shield in 1998, re-organisation in 1999 saw the First Division become the Premier Division – which Fulwood won in its first season under the new title and retained the LFA Amateur Shield too. The club remained in the top flight right through until 2015, winning various cup silverware in the form of three WLL Houston Cups (2005, 2007 & 2008), another Richardson Cup (2010), though rarely looked like repeating their title wins of the ’90’s and their best was a runners-up spot in 2010 before relegation to Division 1 was suffered in 2014.

In the clubhouse

However, their stay there was brief, as Fulwood won the Division 1 title at the first attempt, as well as lifting the West Lancs League President’s Cup and Wilf Carr Memorial Trophy, and returned back to the top-flight in strong fashion – finishing their first two seasons in 3rd before dropping away slightly to 6th last season, though they did win the LFA Amateur Shield for a third time that year. However, this season has been strong and Fulwood had this very game today to win their third West Lancashire League title but the first under the “Premier Division” banner.

We got underway with Fulwood being slightly sluggish and indeed it was the visitors who made most of the early running, though didn’t make too much despite their dominance during the first fifteen – however they should have been one up just moments into the contest. A good touch and through ball by #11 released #9 who just beat the ‘keeper to the ball but his poke crawled wide of the far post. Fulwood responded with a flick-on testing the visiting ‘keeper’s handling, which faltered at first, but was recovered quickly.

The “sort-of-a-stand” Stand

Match Action

Opener flies in from the spot

#11 then had a chance for himself but his shot on the turn was hit straight at the home ‘keeper, but Fulwood gradually began to gain a foothold and impose themselves upon their visitors and soon after #4, Sam Braithwaite, had fired over the bar from the edge of the area, a pull-back in the box was given as a spot-kick (just about right from my viewpoint behind the goal) and #11, Adam Stammers, duly dispatched from the spot to begin the quell the nerves of the home support and players themselves. The jubilant celebrations showed as much; half-time 1-0.

A rather uneventful break came and went and we were soon back playing with Fulwood this time coming out and looking like champions-elect. They dominated from the outset with Stammers and #7, Jonty McDonald playing a good one-two to allow the former a shot on goal that forced a good stop, before the resulting corner was headed wide. #12, Jake Connolly, then almost netted when found unmarked at the back-post, only to be denied by a fine goal-line block by #4, but the second was finally recorded soon after. Connolly again got in and after his initial drive was spilt by the GK, #9, Hugo Rodriguez, was sharp in following up and gleefully dispatched the loose ball.

First goal celebrations!

Match Action

AAAAAANNNNDD 2!!

Connolly continued to give the Coppull defence all sorts of problems to think about and after he’d again forced the GK into action down low, a fairly obvious second penalty was awarded after a trip and McDonald sent the ‘keeper the wrong way from the spot. This began an absolute siege of the Coppull goal and the fourth arrived shortly afterwards when good hold-up play and lay-off by Rodriguez gave #5, Dan Cooper, the chance to shoot from 20 yards, he unleashed a fine drive that left the ‘keeper helpless. A great goal.

AAAAAANNNNDD 3!!!

Match Action

Fulwood lift the title

That wouldn’t be it on the goal-front though and a third Fulwood penalty soon came around, this one being converted in carbon-copy fashion to the previous one only this time it was Rodriguez who was given the task of netting from 12 yards with the other takers having been subbed (I think) by this point in the play. Fair play to Coppull, they came on strong late-on and ought to have grabbed a consolation as #5 headed just wide and they then hit the post with the last-kick of the game, but they would end with ten men as #4 was sent-off for a second yellow which, let’s be honest, didn’t really need to be given out. Anyway, it was and full-time arrived with Fulwood’s title win being confirmed and the celebrations could begin! Congrats to them.

Post-match, I figured out that buses weren’t all that great in terms of helping me get back to the pub trail and instead I opted for a swift walk back down some back-roads which eventually had me passing over a small stream and eventually back at the bus stops on the route I’d taken to get there, having seen that I could just about get there in time to jump back aboard a service up to the three close by (sort of) public houses I passed nearby en route. As such, I travelled the few stops along to the interestingly named Plungington Hotel where I took advantage of the warm sunshine that was now enveloping this part of Lancashire and the walled garden the pub played host to.

A strangely grand looking bus-stop

Plungington Hotel

Withy Hotel

Brook Tavern

The garden – basically just an old bowling green area – was nice enough for a swift Amstel (£3.85) before I headed along the road for a quick Strongbow (£3.50) in the Withy Arms as I’d just about calculated I could squeeze in the last watering hole nearby, the Brook Tavern, and upon finishing my cider in here I duly did make it for a Dark Fruits (£3.95) which was most enjoyable, though I was put off by the straw like bubble formation inside my glass. I thought this some strange coincidence until I got down to a low-enough point to see a small straw protruding from the liquid. Ah….there we go. Whatever the case, I quickly headed back for yet another bus (Preston Bus Service, you served me well) and was quickly back in the station in good time for the train home.

The remainder of the journey passed very smoothly indeed and I was home nice and early ahead of my long trip down south the following morning. As for the day at hand first, though, and it had been a very decent one indeed. The game was tight enough for long enough as to keep me interested before becoming something of a slaughter and the crowd number added to the occasion too. The ground is decent for the level (though I have heard a murmur it may not be about all too much longer, though this may be just some hearsay) and the programme/food at Step 7 is always a nice little aside too. Travel simple enough and only a little rushed due to the self-imposed constraints and Fulwood was, on the whole, worth the trip. On to Southampton we roll for my penultimate “hop” of the season….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 6

Food: 5

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Nottingham (Nottingham Forest FC)

Result: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Bolton Wanderers (EFL Championship)

Venue: City Ground (Sunday 5th May 2019, 12.30pm)

Att: 27,578

The final weekend of the EFL’s season “proper” saw a chance to get in a ground that had been a long-term target, both because of its ease of access transport-wise and because, well, I’ve always wanted to go! Dan had also had the City Ground on his ‘to-do’ list for some time as well and so when the chance came around to watch them entertain a Bolton Wanderers side that had been decimated by all the things that have been rather well covered over all kinds of media, it wasn’t going to be passed off. To Nottingham!!

Grabbing a train during the early(ish) morning, we arrived in the East Midlands city for around 11am and swiftly made use of our plus-bus tickets to get over to the ground and collect our tickets. With time of the essence due to the early kick-off, Dan opted to get to his seat early as to allow me a bit of extra time over a pre-match drink in the Southside Bar just at the head of the road and across from the Trent Bridge. Tickets collected and with mine safely tucked away in the programme (£3), I made my way to the pub which I felt deserved custom as they trusted all with actual glasses and not like a group of people who were about to attack each other at any moment! The Amstel wasn’t all that cheap, coming in at a smart £5.20, but that didn’t matter – it would have done if the glass was plastic!

Heading over the Trent to the City Ground

Southside Bar

Nottingham is a city and unitary authority area in the East Midlands of England and has legendary links to Robin Hood and the Sherwood Forest area. The settlement itself may pre-date the Anglo-Saxons with Welsh traditions stating a place known as the Brythonic “Tig Guocobauc” meaning “Place of Caves” though under the Saxon chieftain with the attractive name of Snot, the area became Snotingaham (the homestead of Snot’s people).

The city’s castle was constructed in 1068 with the area around the Lace Market being largely the only place confined to inhabitation by the Anglo-Saxons before the Norman Conquest saw it expand outwards to become the Borough of Nottingham. On the hill opposite the castle stood a French settlement supporting those Normans in the castle, though the space between the two was built upon eventually and more defences created, some of which are still visible. As Richard the Lionheart returned from the Crusades, the castle was inhabited by supporters of Prince John – including the Sherriff of Nottingham though Richard soon besieged and captured it.

Old Trent Bridge (and pub behind!)

During the 15th century, Nottingham became a trading centre for locally made religious sculpture and became a “county corporate” in 1449 giving it self-governance, though both the castle and Shire Hall remained parishes of the wider Nottinghamshire county itself. The industrial revolution saw the city grow into a textile stronghold – especially in the form of lace making (with the Reform Act championed by the Duke of Newcastle leading to his residence at Nottingham Castle being torched) – though this declined by the end of WWII with little remaining. The municipal borough formed in 1835 was expanded to take in nearby areas such as Carlton, Basford and West Bridgford (Forest’s home) and then in 1889, Nottingham was awarded county borough status and 1897 saw it become a city as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria. Trams were used in the city in 1901 until 1936 and were reintroduced in 2004.

Finding a place in the packed-out pub, I supped away at the pint in my hand whilst watching the Soccer Special build-up around the country taking place before returning back to the City Ground for a couple of exterior pictures prior to heading inside and up to the rear of the dominant Brian Clough Stand. For some reason, everyone was packed into the rows all around me despite there being two perfectly good (and empty) rows directly behind. Of course, I wasn’t passing up that opportunity and so I took my newly self-designated seat with a nice bit of room to relax into as the teams entered the pitch – Bolton’s younger squad taking on members making up most of the side today, though some first-teamers were back in after an agreement was found for them to end their “strike”.

Nottingham

The City Ground is quite an interesting ground to my eye and is, of course, an all-seater affair that sees the large two-tiered Brian Clough Stand tower above the other constructions around it. At both ends are fairly similar sized stands opposite each other, with the one housing the away fans being a smaller two-tiered affair, whilst the other end features a “Kop”-style stand. The older Main Stand is located along the opposite touchline from the Brian Clough. That side also hosts the dugouts, boxes etc. and all the other needed facilities. That’s the City Ground in short and this is the story of Nottingham Forest….

History Lesson:

Nottingham Forest Football Club was founded in 1865 by a few ‘shinty’ players at the city’s Clinton Arms pub, where it was agreed the players would wear twelve red tasselled caps which were then titled the ‘Garibaldi Reds’ – after the leader of the Italian ‘Redshirts’ fighters and thus the club colours came into being. They played their first game against local rivals Notts County in 1866 and began a multi-sporting existence whilst also donating kit to Arsenal to allow them to play and started their own red and white existence as well as embarking on a tour to South America which saw Argentine side Independiente take on the colours and become “Red Devils” (as Forest were called out there). Forest entered the FA Cup for the first time in 1869 and beat County at the Beeston Cricket Ground before going out in the semi-finals to Old Etonians.

Their application to join the newly-formed Football League in 1888 was rejected, with Forest instead joining the Football Alliance from 1899 and this was won in 1892 thus giving the club the platform to enter the league that time around, which led to Forest’s first FA Cup triumph as they took the 1898 title with victory over Derby County. They remained in the First Division until 1906 when they were relegated after a steady slide down the table over the years, though would return after just a season away after winning the Second Division. Despite this, a second relegation would be suffered in 1911 and the club had to seek re=election in 1914 ahead of WWI and the cessation of the League.

NFFC

Upon the end of the war, Forest missed out on a place in the newly-expanded First Division and took up a place in the second tier where they were again promoted as champions from in 1922. A three-year stay in Division 1 followed though they would be again relegated after finishing up bottom this time around with the club remaining in the Second Division through to 1949 when they dropped into the third-tier. Promoted back to Division 2 after two years, Forest reached the First Division once more in 1957 and 1959 saw them lift their second FA Cup via victory over Luton Town. A title challenge in 1967 saw Forest just fall short as runners-up to Manchester United but a swift decline followed which again resulted in relegation from the top-flight in 1972. Forest’s legendary manager Brian Clough took over at the start of 1975 and after a rather inconspicuous start went on to turn around the club’s fortunes, beginning with a comfortable defeat of Leyton Orient to win the 1977 Anglo-Scottish Cup and going on to feature promotion back to Division 1 come the season’s end.

This promotion led to Forest immediately winning their first Football League title in 1978 (becoming the most recent team to achieve the feat in their first season post-promotion) and then made this a double by defeating closest league rival Liverpool after a replay in the Football League Cup Final. The next year began with the Charity Shield being won via a 5-0 thrashing of Ipswich Town and their unbeaten 42-game run was eventually ended in December of 1978 as Liverpool in European Cup competition. This record was only eventually broken by Arsenal in 2004 just prior to Clough’s passing, though Forest did, of course, go on to win the Cup with a 1-0 victory in the Munich final over Malmö and then beat Southampton to lift the League Cup for a second consecutive time, though Liverpool did gain revenge in the league as Forest had to settle for 2nd.

They successfully defended their European title the next year by overcoming Hamburg in Madrid having already defeated FC Barcelona in the European Super Cup at the start of the season. A third League Cup final ended in a narrow defeat at the hands of Wolves, whilst a disappointing 1980-’81 Euro campaign saw an early exit to CSKA Sofia and defeat in the Super Cup to Valencia and in the Intercontinental Cup, Forest were bested by Uruguayan outfit Nacional. 1984 saw the club beaten in the UEFA Cup semi-finals by Anderlecht though 1988 did see Forest win the Football League Centenary Tournament by beating Sheffield Wednesday on penalties, with the decade ending with the 1989 Full Member’s Cup won against Everton and the League Cup Final against Luton Town was won 3-1, though the FA Cup run to secure a cup treble that year was marred by the Hillsborough disaster. Liverpool went on to win the re-arranged game 3-1.

Brian Clough Stand

The 1990’s began with Forest retaining the League Cup with a 1-0 win over Oldham Athletic and the following year saw Clough reach his one and only FA Cup final, but would suffer an extra-time defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. 1992 saw the Full Members Cup won again and despite missing out in that year’s League Cup Final to Manchester United, Forest finished 8th in the table and therefore qualified for a spot in the new Premier League for the following campaign. However, Forest would be relegated at the close of the first Prem season, with Clough duly leaving Forest – though, fittingly, his son Nigel netted the last Forest goal under his tenure.

An immediate return was secured the next year by a returning member of the 1979 European Cup winning side Frank Clark who led Forest to 2nd in Division One and after finishing third at the end of their first season back, qualified for the UEFA Cup and reached the quarter-finals but things turned sour soon after and the club were relegated in 1997 but again bounced back at the first go, this time by winning the Division One title but their yo-yo existence continued with relegation in 1999. They would remain in the second-tier through its name change to the Championship and finished 6th in 2003, losing in the semis to Sheffield United. However, their struggles outside this season continued and the club were relegated to League One in 2005, becoming the first European Cup winners from England to drop into the third-tier.

2007 saw a healthy lead at the top squandered before a defeat in the play-off semi-final to Yeovil Town consigned Forest to another season there, but this one was successful as Forest achieved automatic promotion. After an initial struggle upon their Championship return, they reached the 2010 & 2011 play-offs (losing out to Blackpool and Swansea City in the semis respectively) though a change in ownership began a managerial merry-go-round and instability therein with nine managers (not including temps) being installed over around a 6-year period before a further ownership change saw little change in this vein with a further three coming and going over the most recent two-year-or-so period ending with current incumbent Martin O’Neill taking over from Aitor Karanka at the beginning of 2019. Forest had been continuing their mid-table existence after ending up 17th last season.

Entering the ground

The game got underway with Forest quickly asserting themselves, though they never really got going as it seemed they reckoned Bolton were there for the taking. Indeed it would be Wanderers who would have the first true sight of goal, when Josh Magennis forced home ‘keeper Luke Steele into a low stop. This early mini-scare seemed to spur Forest into action and after Joe Lolley had an attempt kept out around the 20 minute mark, his second just before the half-hour resulted in the opener, a low drive fizzing past Bolton stopper Remi Matthews to give the home fans something to cheer.

Match Action

Match Action

Robin Hood is a keeper.

Unfortunately that was pretty much that in terms of action for the first half and the break featured a host of young players from around the area (especially Arnold Town’s kids) showing off their talents before the players returned to the field – with Bolton’s being given a very sporting welcome by the home support, I guess in recognition of their struggles this season. A nice touch.

Anyway onto the second half and as per the first period, very, very little of note happened for the best part of half-an-hour as Bolton fans amused themselves by unveiling an anti-Ken Anderson banner for a very short time and a number of inflatables – including a giant penis which went up and down like….well, you can probably guess what the rest of that sentence would be. Back on the pitch, we finally had an attempt on goal with about fifteen minutes left on the clock, Forest’s Adlène Guédioura forcing Matthews (who had a pretty good game between the sticks when called upon) into a stop low to his right.

Match Action

Match Action

A sum up of Bolton’s season?

As the game entered the final few minutes, the chances began to increase a little and Bolton’s Magennis again went close, guiding a header straight at Luke Steele, whilst substitute Daryl Murphy nearly sealed the home side’s win minutes afterwards, but headed wastefully wide before then shooting off-target moments later. As it was, that would be that and the misses weren’t to be punished as Forest held on to seal a top-ten finish in the table, courtesy of other results going for them – not that it will be particularly celebrated, I’d assume. Bolton, meanwhile, will be surely happy to just see the end of the season finally come around….and hope they have another to come. Fingers crossed all works out for them.

Dan and I’s post-match plans included a visit to the “World Famous” Trent Bridge Inn – which had become a Wetherspoons in a move I’d missed somehow and so I opted for a Punk IPA here whilst Dan stuck with his disgustingly trusty Carling. I’d also spotted that the original Trent Bridge crossing was still standing in the midst of the dual carriageway opposite and, always one for culture(!), I wanted to have a quick peruse of said bridge before heading back into the city centre to sample a few more of its historic hostelries. By looks, the bridge really was only lacking the troll under it!

Post-match riverside

Bell Inn

Ye Olde Salutation – wrong ‘Olde’ again!!

Catching a bus from outside the nearby cricket ground, we were soon back in Nottingham and just around the corner from the Bell Inn – though I didn’t realise just how historic the place was when I picked it out back in the Bridge. The site has been a pub since medieval times and still looks to date from the 1600’s or so in the smaller bar area, whilst the rear was more grandeur and showing the football – Huddersfield-Manchester United, just to punish us. Dan opted for the 2x£5 Budweiser bottle offer here whilst I went back on the Amstel (£3.80) once again, before we continued onwards on our route back to the station via the short walk over to another historic pub – the Old Salutation Inn.

When you look at it from outside, you think of a quaint, little old place full of nooks and crannies within and, whilst this is true for the most part, what you don’t really expect from the outside is that within it is a house of hard rock and the like. Really crazy and it shouldn’t work but, weirdly in some way, it does! Anyhow, I went for a pint of Red Stripe (£4) in there (Dan was on something starting with ‘C’ that I bet you don’t know(!)) though time began to go against us and he decided to leave a first visit to the superb Trip to Jerusalem until another time. A shame, but we still had just enough time to pay a visit to the Canalhouse which is actually what it says – it houses a bit of canal (and boats) within it. Not too different….

Going to the Canalhouse

The canal within.

As I finished my Amstel in the beer garden here, Dan had gained a bit of a head start back to the station for the train back and I quickly caught him up though somehow and somewhere we’d lost a few minutes of time and so arrived on the platform with a couple of minutes in hand. Good timing? NO! The bloody thing was right down the far end and despite getting there just in time and asking the guy to hold the train for no more than 30-40 seconds, he sneered “The train’s got to go.” and signalled it on its way – despite the fact that Dan was hobbling down the platform in full view, bad feet and all. Nice one, dickhead.

As it was, “dickhead” wasn’t going to get too much of a triumph as I quickly set about a contingency plan which would see us going out-of-the-way down to East Midlands Parkway and going back up to Sheffield via Derby. Despite this unplanned diversion, we actually got back into Manchester just twenty-minutes later than planned, meaning our jobsworth friend hadn’t cost us too much…..and me nothing at all as I still caught the train I reckoned I was more likely to get home. Nice.

So apart from our friend there, the day hadn’t been all that bad. The game was your typical end of season snoozefest in truth with next to nothing happening and 1-0 flattered the contest as a whole – the blow up cock was the other highlight! It’s always nice to visit Nottingham though and to do a bit of an explore around the areas of the city I hadn’t been to before was decent to do too. All the other sundries were all ok too so there’s another week ticked off towards the end of the season – just the two left and a couple of slightly different length of trips to come….

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Blacon

Result: Blacon Youth 1-2 Lostock Gralam (Cheshire League One)

Venue: Cairns Crescent (Saturday 4th May 2019, 3pm)

Att: 70~

As the first weekend of May rolled around and the May Day Bank Holiday came upon us, I had something of a dilemma on my hands. With an early start the following day over to the City Ground and Nottingham Forest vs Bolton Wanderers for their 12.30pm last-day kick-off, I didn’t really want to travel too far and so looked local for a game to go watch. As luck would have it, the very game I was aiming for when I ended up at Saltney Town a couple of months back between Blacon Youth and Lostock Gralam still looked to be a promotion/title clash in the Cheshire League 1, and so off to Cairns Crescent I headed.

Arriving into the county town of Cheshire yet again for around midday, I would be joined by blog-regular Paul a little later in the afternoon and so I did have a little time to pop-in a couple of places until he arrived from Merseyside. As such, I first ended up visiting the Old Harker’s Arms in an old canal side mill and began the afternoon with a pint of Hoegaarden (£3.80) and even picked up a piece of paper outlining the pub’s creation from derelict mill to the fine, bustling place it is today. Fair play to the guy who did it!

Looking down the canal to the Harker’s

Cornerhouse

The Cellar

From there I popped back up to street level and visited the Cornerhouse which is, surprisingly, located on a corner and found this to be the sister-arm of the pub that me and Paul planned to meet in just over the way called the Cellar. As it was, they did have a flat cider in a box (I’ve sold that well, haven’t I?!) by the name of Seacider (£4.50) and, due to the pun more than anything else, went for that. I was pleased that I did too, bloody good stuff. Paul was due not too long after, so after drinking up I crossed over for the Cellar and after purchasing an Erdinger (£4.80), met him watching the Spurs (again!) game down on the south coast in Bournemouth. The highlight of the game during our stay was either the blatant pen that wasn’t or Son’s lash out from nowhere. Crazy.

I told Paul about my plans for the day which included going around the old city centre pubs I’d missed out on during my New Year’s Day 0-0-fated trip to the Deva Stadium and he was happy to go along with it and, as such, next up was the Old Queen’s Head where we both opted for something we had yet to have a try of – the Guinness brewery’s Old Gate pilsner. Decent enough too and fairly priced at £3.80, so can’t complain all that much. Finishing up, we decided to play it safe and not risk the lottery of the bus network and instead made our way over to the bus station, via Poundbakery where I inherited a sausage and bean bake or something though its innards mostly fell out into the bag. Thankfully, the bus arrived shortly after to whisk us on up to Blacon and we got there about 25 minutes before kick-off. Just enough time to pay a visit to the local Waggon & Horses, we thought!

Queen’s Arms and celebratory bus!

Heading through Chester

Waggon & Horses. Paul seemed desperate!

Blacon is a large suburb just outside the city of Chester and adjacent to the border with Wales and was, at one time, considered one of the largest council housing estates in Europe, but this area is now partly privatised. In the past, Blacon was originally named Blakon Hall and was owned by the Marquess of Crewe before the Parish of Blacon-cum-Crabwall was founded in 1923 with the majority of this, in turn, being transferred to the Chester County Borough in 1936. The area transformed from its small farming village beginnings into a larger, more suburban, area through the 1950’s with the old army camp close by being built upon as the estate expanded. The camp itself was in use from just before to just after WWII and contained both aircraft and PoW’s – with areas being visible for a while afterwards. Indeed, the southern part of Blacon is still referred to as ‘The Camp’ by locals, apparently!

With time against us, I opted for a Dark Fruits (£3~) to ensure I’d be finished in good time to make it to the game without missing any – after all, I wasn’t chancing anything after Hanley! Anyway, all went down in good time and we arrived at the gate of Cairns Crescent around a minute into the game and hadn’t missed anything…..though we were given a mini heart-attack each on arrival as a guy there said to us it was a 2pm kick-off! It quickly became apparent it was indeed an hour later and all was well once again. Phew. Not a whole lot to say about the ground really, it’s barred off all around, has a small club cabin in the corner alongside sturdy dressing room blocks and a dugout sits on each side of the pitch. That’s the ground and this is the story of Blacon….

History Lesson:

Blacon Youth Football Club was founded in 1964 as two local men, Bob and Len Evans, began a side and entered them into the local Chester & District League. With little information at hand about their time here, the club joined the West Cheshire League in 1981 and took a spot in Division 2 where they would finish a creditable 6th at the end of their first season. They remained there right through to 1997 (winning the West Cheshire Bowl in 1993) when they finished runners-up and achieved promotion to the Division 1.

Founders’ Memorial Gates.

A memorial bench too.

The club would spend four years in the West Cheshire League’s top-flight before being relegated in 2001 whereupon they returned to Division 2 where would remain for the next half-decade prior to again finishing as Division 2 runners-up in 2006 and again being promoted. Their return back to the top-flight was a struggle with Blacon largely battling the drop and indeed finished bottom in three consecutive seasons between 2009-2011 – though were spared the drop on each occasion.

They would climb off the bottom for the next four seasons, though still were down at the wrong end of the table and 2016’s three-point deduction rounded off a relegation season, and indeed their final campaign in the West Cheshire League, as Blacon switched to compete for a season in the Chester & Wirral League Premier Division, which was won, before moving up to join the Cheshire League instead – being placed in League 2. This proved an inspired decision, as the club were immediately promoted to the League 1 last season, after finishing in 3rd place, and look in fine shape to repeat the trick this time around to reach the Premier Division in no time. Not a bad turn around!

With the match ongoing, we continued on around a lap of the ground, anti-clockwise for the interested (i.e no-one!) and it was the visitors, Lostock Gralam, who were beginning the stronger of the two. Indeed their #11 Robbie Hatton struck the post not too many minutes in but the game wasn’t too open – which I guess was pretty understandable with what was riding on it. Not too long after though, #9 Jack Woolley headed narrowly over as Gralam continued to hold the front foot.

Early threat

Match Action

As it was, they would get their reward around the half hour mark. Winning a corner on the right, the ball was swung in and met by #5 Alex Wilson who climbed highest to power a header beyond the home ‘keeper and the Grey Lambs bench were up and celebrating. They almost went two up soon after too as Hatton saw his effort deflected narrowly wide of the upright.

Blacon would eventually find their feet and began to wake from their (perhaps enforced) slumber and their first true chance of the game saw a curling effort well kept out by the visiting ‘keeper. and this was followed up by #11 cracking one just wide of the upright. That was the end of the action on the outside pitch, but on the inside pitch, it was just getting going….

Match Action

Match Action

Table football in the clubhouse!! It started well as I stormed into a 1-0 lead, but soon slid into a 4-1 deficit with Jamie Carragher clearly posessing one of my centre halves as he netted two own goals. Then some of the Black kids asked to get involved and that gave me an excuse as I went on to a final result of 10-1 to Paul. Luckily, the game outdoors was getting back underway and so he had little time to gloat over his success!

Just minutes into the second period, Blacon drew level as #7 played in #10 Omar Ramo and the forward duly found the net to draw his side level and now it was the home bench who had thoughts of the title rekindled. Lostock responded forcing the Blacon ‘keeper into a fine stop of his own to keep the scores level for the time being. But Blacon would again gain the upper hand over their opponents and after going close on a pair of occasions- #2 heading just wide of the upright and #10 with firing wastefully straight at the ‘keeper, before Robbie Hatton hit a fine effort into the back of the net to again send the Lostock bench up and down and all around the pitch.

Watching on intently….

Lostock Gralam celebrate their second!

Surprisingly, with about 25 of minutes still to play and plenty of huffing and puffing from Blacon as they tried to level it up once more, nothing else would really be created of note (though this may be a lie as I sort of forgot to carry on noting things down) and that would be that. Lostock Gralam effectively won the title bar a crazy turn of events, but their promotion was a definite and they thoroughly deserved the celebrations through the few times I’ve seen them this season. Congrats to them and Blacon still seek that second spot, battling it out with Broadheath Central to join the Grey Lambs in the Premier Division next season.

Post-match, our bus back came about around ten minutes or so after the game and despite Paul’s ticket meeting a needlessly violent death at the hands of the driver, the short hop back was uneventful, though I did get to spy the old Blacon station site which, unfortunately, I didn’t know existed. As it was, we ended up back in the city centre, paying a visit to a couple of pubs up in the old rafters of the buildings along the main street – namely the Victoria and the Boot Inn, both truly old taverns and equally superb. The former did feature a hen party and a random guy whipping his top off on a few occasions though and we were swiftly out after finishing off our respective Amstels (£4.10 ea)! (NB: the hen party were all the calm ones!).

The Victoria

Sunny Chester

To The Boot

The Boot was a Sam Smith’s which duly meant a cheap pint of Taddy Lager (£2.50) which is always a great way to round off any trip and upon our return to the station, I bid Paul farewell as he made use of “girlfriend taxi” and headed off for the train into Liverpool where I’d catch my connection home from. Well, it should have been that smooth, but I was soon joined by a fairly rowdy, but fun, group of younger locals en route, though one guy decided to rat them out to the guard and got responders going, because reasons. I can’t abide those kind of people and I like my quiet, so that says a lot! I then missed my connection by mere seconds as I arrived on the platform to see it pulling away leaving only one option for the next half-an-hour. Spoons!!!

I eventually caught the next train and got home without further issue and that ends off the first trip of the May Day weekend. It had been a good one too, as it had been a fair while since I’d been joined on a trip anywhere and the game was watchable and what with it having something on it, always kept the interest peaked and congrats to Gralam on their deserved promotion. The ground was as to be expected for the level for the most part and a good crowd added to the atmosphere and it was a bonus to finally get these few drinking holes in that kept trying to keep me out. I bet they’re not the only ones, I just hope Nottingham is kind….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 4

Food: N/A (cold snacks on)

Programme: N/A

Table Football: 10

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Sutton Coldfield

Result: Sutton Coldfield Town 3-0 Dunstable Town (Southern League Division One Central)

Venue: Coles Lane (Saturday 27th April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 206

The final weekend of the regular season for most of the non-league clubs around the country saw surprisingly little games with much riding upon them – well, those that were of any interest to me, that is. However, one game offered up something a little different, with both sides having something to play for, but ultimately at the end of very different seasons. Hosts Sutton Coldfield were looking to secure a play-off spot, whilst Dunstable Town aimed for survival. Decision made and off to the Midlands I headed.

Trains via Manchester and Birmingham had me arriving into a blustery Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield (to give it its full title) at just a tad after midday. Upon getting my bearings, I eventually traipsed up a fairly steep short hill to the town hall (which is haunted by an ex-caretaker apparently – thanks to Dion Dublin for that nugget) for a bit of a peruse before heading down to the nearby main road and the Royal Hotel that has its rear facing opposite. Spotting a rare opportunity for a pint of Asahi that doesn’t include a ‘Spoons, I duly opted for a pint of the Japanese lager (£4.80) whilst watching the early part of the West Ham-Spurs game on TV prior to heading on a few doors down to the nearby ex-coaching inn – judging by the old, repurposed entrance looking corridor down its middle -the Three Tuns for a lovely (and surprisingly fairly cheap) Warsteiner. A good start!

Haunted Town Hall. Woooooooo.

Royal Hotel

Three Tuns

After supping at this whilst watching the game continue, it was eventually time to move on, but this time I’d be heading slightly away from the pedestrianised centre of town and to the King’s Arms. However, I hadn’t truly factored in the walk there and back (only about 6-7 mins combined, mind you) but this mean the Moretti had to be dismissed somewhat quicker than what I’d have ideally liked. Not to worry, this was completed and I also got to meet the lovely Tilly the Labrador too. Nice.

The Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield is a town and civil parish within the city of Birmingham which it lies 7 miles to the north of. Considered a rather affluent part of the city, Sutton Coldfield was historically a part of Warwickshire before becoming a part of Birmingham and the wider county of the West Midlands in 1974 and, in 2015, it was elected as a parish town/council in its own right. It derives its name from being the “south town” (of Mercian capital Tamworth) on the edge of the “col field”, with the suffix usually being mentioned upon the existence of charcoal burning pits in the area or land that was open to the elements. It is thought the area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, when excavations for the M6 toll uncovered remnants of burial mounds etc., and Iron Age houses have also been found ranging from 400-100 BC. The iron age hill slopes mentioned in 18th century works have since been decimated and are only really noticeable from the air nowadays.

The Romans also inhabited the area during their invasion and later settlers created a gravel-based roadway connecting Metchley Fort in Edgbaston to Letocetum (now Wall, Staffordshire) of which some 1.7 miles is still preserved. After their era had come and gone, the Anglo-Saxon period saw the area become part of the kingdom of Mercia and it is believed that Sutton Coldfield came into being around this time as a hamlet with a hunting lodge for the Mercian leaders located close by. The Manor would go by the name of Sutone and was held of Edwin, Earl of Mercia, in the reign of Edward the Confessor but upon Edwin’s death, the manor and Mercia itself fell under the control of William the Conqueror. The area of Sutone forest became a Royal Forest and Sutone itself was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Sutton Coldfield

The area remained in royal hands through to King Henry I in when he exchanged it for areas in Rutland with Roger de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Warwick with the town becoming Sutton-in-Coldfield. It would remain in the Warwicks hands for a span of 300 years (with many breaks due to royal feuds and the like) but in 1640 it passed to the Mountfort’s under King Henry VI, however Richard Neville of the Warwicks regained influence an the manor in turn, with it going into Plantagenet hands for a time, with Anne Neville never quite able to get it away from her, despite her seeming best efforts! It was only in her death in 1492 that it again went back to the Crown’s ownership, where it would stay through to its incorporation in 1528. The town began to grow through from its market beginnings in the year 1300 and got a military connection when Sir Ralph Bainbridge gained a life-long lease of the area from the Earl of Warwick and it became an important training area for English soldiers for the wars with France.

Sutton Coldfield

It would decay somewhat through the Wars of the Roses and rekindled importance in industrial means during the 16th century as watermills and pools became the area’s focus. The English Civil War starting in 1642 saw the Battle of Camp Hill and despite Birmingham being pillaged by Royalist forces, Sutton Coldfield emerged unscathed although it was visited by both armies at differing times. The Priestley riots centred on anti-Presbyterian feelings saw Joseph Priestley take refuge in the town’s Three Tuns pub for a time and another who had his house attacked, William Hutton, was eventually forced to move on to Tamworth due to locals’ fears of the safety of both the town and themselves due to his presence. The railway arrived during the 19th century and Sutton Coldfield duly became a tourist spot for those escaping the city and then a commuter town later on, with the wealthier starting the move away from the pollution initially before the rest of their workforces could begin to join them.

Barracks would be added during the 1800’s to house the Edinburgh and Sussex militias and the 7th Dragoon Guards as well as a unit of artillery. The town continued to grow through the 20th century with the rural fringes of the district being swallowed up after WWI. WWII saw both German and Italian PoW’s held around the town and after hostilities ended, the town was regenerated in the 1960’s with a new centre being built, though many weren’t too impressed with the new arrival. The merger with Birmingham came around in 1970’s before 2015 saw it gain powers as a civil parish separate from Birmingham.

King’s Arms

‘Spoons. Bwoah.

Duke Inn

After a quick stop for a refreshing Kopparberg in the unspectacular ‘Spoons (the Bottle of Sack, after a line in Shakespeare’s Henry IV that mentions Sutton Coldfield in it), I decided it’d be safer if I popped into the little micropub not too far up the road pre-match. This would prove a shrewd move as it would turn out, as you’ll see later. This unplanned diversion saw me only have time for a half and I opted for a Paulaner which was decent enough before I finally made a more direct route for Coles Lane….not before one final stop-off at the Duke Inn on the way there for a pint of Thatcher’s before finally making my way to the ground in earnest.

Arriving at the gate around ten minutes prior to kick-off, with the turnstile being located almost in the corner, between a marquee-thing and the lovely, old main stand. Pretty much directly opposite the entrance is a far newer covered seating stand, neighboured by the clubhouse which also houses the food hut – the latter of which I utilised for some decent enough cheesy chips. The far end is home to a small covered terrace of only a few steps, though this runs about three-quarters the length of the end. It is flanked by open, hard standing between it and the main stand, with some portakabins hosting “facilities” in the middle, whilst the open half of the far side between the two other stands is home to open terracing. A small “dog training area” is also in situ behind the covered bit. That’s Coles Lane and this is the story of “The Royals”. Sutton Coldfield Town….

History Lesson:

Sutton Coldfield Town Football Club was founded in 1879 and originally competed in the local Central Birmingham League, Aston & District League, Small Heath League and Suburban League through to around the 1930’s. Then, upon their move from Sutton Park to Coles Lane, they began to compete in the higher Birmingham Alliance and Birmingham Combination with little success. Post-WWII and competing under the name of Sutton Town until 1964, the club played in the Walsall League and spent a time back in the Birmingham Combination before moving leagues once more, this time into the Birmingham & District League (soon to be renamed as the West Midlands (Regional) League) in 1954.

Arriving at Coles Lane

After spending a decade here, which saw the club promoted to the top division in 1960 after a 3rd placed finish in Division 2, the club eventually met financial issues and after having to field teams of amateur players, took the step down into the Worcestershire Combination (which would go on to be the Midland Football Combination) and won the title here twice prior to heading back into the West Midlands (Regional) League in 1979 – a return which was far more successful immediately as the club became champions at the end of their first season back. Finishing as runners-up in 1982, Town were promoted to the Southern League’s Midland Division and were again immediately successful, being promoted to the Premier Division at the first go of it, though would be relegated back after just the sole season in the top division.

There they would remain there right through until 2010, through its name change to the Western Division in 1999 and being placed in the newly created Division One Midlands upon league re-organisation in 2006, when they were switched over to the Northern Premier League’s Division One South, though did miss out in a play-off for a spot in the newly restructured pyramid in 2004 to Banbury United. 2011 saw Sutton Coldfield Town appear in their very first Birmingham Senior Cup final which they won 1-0 over Nuneaton Town and a switch to the 3G pitch was made that close season.

SCTFC – spot the weirdo taking pics of signs!

Long-serving manager Chris Keogh left the club after 12 years at the helm, being replaced by his assistant Neil Tooth. Tooth went on to oversee the club’s promotion in 2015 to the NPL Premier Division through the play-offs, defeating Newcastle Town and Leek Town in doing so, prior to their relegation last season, upon which they returned back to the Southern League’s catchment and took up a spot in the Southern League Division One Central, where they qualified for the play-offs and would meet Corby Town.

The game got underway with Sutton Coldfield striking almost immediately. Winning a corner shortly after kick-off, the resultant ball in was met in the middle by Mitchell Clarke, whose header back across goal was met by James Hurst who crashed the ball home from a matter of feet out. They went close again shortly afterwards when Jonathan Letford cut inside his man and advanced into the area, only to see his shot rebound off the upright via a slight deflection from a defender.

Match Action

Match Action

Letford finds the net

Dunstable grew into the game after a sluggish start and Davide Pobbe saw his header well saved by Royals’ keeper Lewis Gwilliams, but Sutton Coldfield would seemingly put the game to bed before the break with a second goal just before the half-hour. Reece Gibson robbed the ball in midfield and advanced into the space left behind, prior to playing in Letford who clinically fired home. Ryan Nesbitt then went close too, forcing Dunstable stopper Coulson into a decent stop before Alex Moore & Hurst again both almost sealed the victory just before half-time as both saw an effort kept out on the line by a fine defensive block and a superb save respectively. Half-Time, 2-0.

An uneventful break came and went and we were soon back and playing once again after a school-style bell alerted the teams that their break time was up. Dunstable, perhaps unsurprisingly table-wise, never really looked like a threat to their play-off chasing hosts in the second half, with that second goal really seeming to have taken the stuffing out of them, and after Nesbitt had rattled the crossbar Gibson sealed the three points and the Royals’ place in the play-offs as he hammered a shot from just outside the area high into the roof of the net.

From on high

Down the side

Match Action

A couple more close shaves followed as the hosts looked to add some gloss to the score-line, with a volley flashing wide but that would largely be that and the Royals had done enough to secure a shot at promotion, whilst Dunstable’s game effort came to nought as their relegation was confirmed despite the efforts of striker Chris Wreh (no, I don’t think that one’s still going!). However, at least it wasn’t one of those close-call, heartbreak moments, I suppose – although I guess that won’t be of much solace.

My post-match plans were immediately scuppered as I overheard a conversation in the covered terrace about trains being cancelled and thought I’d best look and there it was – everything was done for due to a fallen tree. It hadn’t been THAT gusty, come on. Grow a pair (of roots)! Poor tree-related (I hesitate to call it a) pun aside, I now had I dilemma in how I was about to find my way back to Birmingham, never mind compile a full trip home. I opted to pop into the station neighbouring, and imaginatively named, The Station for a pint of Amstel to hopefully come up with some kind of plan that would lessen the impact of some rather large wood.

Post-match avian sighting

The Station. Looks like God approves.

As it came about, I eventually saw that tickets were being accepted on the buses back which meant only a twenty minute or so extension to my trip, though a connection was going to be tight to save an hour. All this meant I sadly had to give the other pub there a miss, though it had become a Craft Union chain pub so wasn’t too disheartened due to that. Grabbing one of the X-whatever buses, I was whisked off back to the second city, which I haven’t been so happy to see since the start of the year and my pair of cross-country trips down to Plymouth and Exeter. Knowing little of the make-up of Birmingham, I eventually found my way back to New Street and made the train back with moments to spare. Disaster averted and the rest of the journey went smoothly, thankfully!

So another trip rounded off as we approach the season’s end. As for Sutton Coldfield, I really did enjoy my experience of the town (despite the efforts of Storm Hannah) and its pubs were decent offerings too. Ground-wise, Coles Lane is a nice, smart set-up and its main stand is certainly appealing to those who appreciate something a little different, though the rest is fairly standard. The artificial pitch wasn’t too noticeable to take away from the overall ambience either, which was a bit of a worry, though makes my thoughts on eventual trip to Bath more optimistic! Food, programme etc. all fine too. On to next week and yet another double and another double the one after. Pile ’em on….

 

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Hanley

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

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

Att: 117

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

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

Hanley Park

Coachmaker’s Arms

Down Piccadilly to the Bottle & Tap and Unicorn

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

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

Hanley Town Hall

Hanley

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

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

Unicorn

Auctioneer (Market Tavern opposite)

‘Spoons

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

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

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

History Lesson:

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

HTFC

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

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

Memories….

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

Signed.

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

Woodsman’s Arms

The Albion

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

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: 8

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Crewe (Crewe F.C.)

Result: Crewe 1-3 Eagle Sports (Cheshire League Premier Division)

Venue: Cumberland Arena (Saturday 20th April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 25 (approx.)

The second of the three game days of Easter saw me heading to the town of Crewe and the Cumberland Arena for the second time this season, although this would only be the first successful venture of the dual goes I’d attempted. I awoke surprisingly fresh after the previous day’s exploits at Field Mill and the surrounding area however I was quite thankful, for the couple of extra hours of rest during the morning to get everything together for the short hop through the Cheshire countryside.

After stopping at pretty much each an every stop on the slow route to Crewe, I finally arrived at a little before midday and after completing the fifteen minute or so walk from the station, arrived into the town centre which the Cumberland Arena is pretty much right next door to. After finding the Duke of Bridgwater closed, I continued further into town and eventually came across the decent looking Albert’s Corner, whilst trying to located where the much lauded Hops Belgian Bar was over a pint of Moretti (£3.70).

Albert’s Corner

Old church across from….

….Hops!

I eventually located it a short walk back on myself just across the way from a ruined, yet quite intact, church which provided something of a village feel to the outskirts of the centre. The cottage like buildings within what the Hops bar is located also give off this impression and, once inside, I opted to try the Sparta lager (£3.40) which was very decent and a nice pint to enjoy out front in the balmy Cheshire sunshine. Soon enough, though, it was time to head back into the hustle and bustle of the centre proper.

Following on from a swift visit to the war memorial, I headed for the nearby trio of pubs – namely the Cheese Court, Crown and Grand Central. They were all solid, if unspectacular affairs, with the former two being traditional style boozers, whilst the latter was more widespread inside and had one of the stranger “beer terraces” I’ve been on, with it pretty much just being an iron walkway. A pint in each, Amstel & Coors (both £2.50) and Dark Fruits (£2.70) as the refresher were supped away, before it was time I made my way a little more towards the ground. But not before a couple more stops, of course!

Crewe town centre

Cheese Court. Football & beer – a good duo

Crown

A short walk away from the centre is the duo of the Borough Arms and King’s Arms, whereupon I opted to maintain my now cider-related focus by having a Thatcher’s (£3.70) in the former whilst having a bit of a chat with a local propping up the bar here, prior to crossing the road to the King’s for a second Dark Fruits of the day, this one setting me back £2.75. Not too shabby, all in all!

On my way to the ground via the roads opposite, I came upon Tom’s Tap hidden somewhat within an unassuming industrial estate. Inside I came upon a small, narrow bar area and a few taps on. With time at something of a premium and actually being somewhat sensible for a rare moment, I opted to just have a half of the Mango Cider (£2.10) out front in the beer “garden” before finally completing my walk to the Arena, where I paid in my £2 entry and was duly allowed entry.

Grand Central

Borough Arms

King’s Arms

Sadly, the programmes here were long gone and I made do with a couple of pics of the team sheets that were kindly offered and, even though I’m not that anal in that respect, I felt it rude to say no. The Cumberland Arena is little more than an athletics track, though does have a smart pavilion building with food and drink on offer. The area within the track is roped off, meaning you are pitch side rather than miles away, which is always a bonus. Not much more to say, so here’s the history of Crewe’s ‘other’ club….

History Lesson:

Crewe Football Club was founded in 1998 and immediately joined the Mid-Cheshire League, where they have spent  their entire existence to date. Their second season saw the club achieve promotion as Division 2 runners-up to the Mid-Cheshire League’s Division 1 and remained there until 2005 when they were relegated after finishing up bottom. A return to the top division would have to wait until 2012 when Crewe again finished as Division 2 runners-up and they have since gone on to stay in the division through its name change to the Cheshire League Premier Division in 2014, though they have faded a little over the past two seasons after a strong start to their return in the previous couple of campaigns – the 2014-’15 season seeing Crewe record their best finish of 4th.

Arriving at the Cumberland Arena

Last time out they finished up in 13th position out of 16 and this season has been a story of two-halves, an underwhelming start was rectified around the turn of the year and they look to have a decent shot at equalling that best finish of 4th place, behind the runaway title rivals Pilkington, Alty Reserves and opponents today, and rivals for 3rd place on the day, Eagle Sports.

The game got underway in the balmy temperatures us in Crewe were being treated to and it quickly looked to be set to be an open contest with both sides looking to gain the points, the visitors knowing a win would secure third-place, whilst Crewe had to win to keep in the race for the position. Indeed it took only a few minutes for the deadlock to be broken and it was the visitors who grabbed the opening goal as Chris Quirk fired in. Quirk then nodded just wide shortly afterwards and it looked like the hosts had ended the season a little early.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Crewe did grow into the game slowly and after both sides had seen sights of goal blocked off by each’s respective defence, Eagle ‘keeper Liam Marlow had to be sharp to keep out an effort by (I think) Crewe’s unreal form man, and captain, Nathan Southern. Eagle would again go close through dangerman Quirk who beat the offside trap before firing over the bar and they were made to pay for this miss as skipper Southern fed Nathan Tickle and the latter bent an effort off the post and beyond Marlow to level up the scores.

That was pretty much that for action during the first half and, at the break, I ventured inside the pavilion building to have a peruse, having seen that there was some refreshments on the go during my pre-match visit. Indeed I soon found that there was some hot food on which was a welcome sight and I opted for a hot-dog (£1) thanks to it being pointed out by a board outside. Decent enough and thanks to the leagues at this level not being fond of lengthy half-times, we were soon back underway.

Inside the pavilion

The second half was largely dominated by the visitors and it began strongly for them as Quirk latched onto a long ball and managed to knock the ball beyond the ‘keeper and into the net to ensure the lead was Eagle’s once again. Despite being on top, though, there wasn’t a glut of action in the second period and if it had been a mid-winter’s game, it would likely have been quite a struggle to keep somewhat attentive to the action!

Match Action

Match Action

However there was a chance as the half wore on, but again the effort on the home goal went awry and over the bar from a good position, but Eagle would be given the golden chance to all-but secure the points as a clear trip in the area was duly penalised with a point to the spot by the man-in-the-middle and skipper Adam Coleman duly stepped up to confidently fire home and secure the win and third-place for his side. Full-time came around shortly afterwards without any further real action of note and the score remained as 3-1 Eagle.

Coleman converts from the spot

The Rising Sun

Vics represented!

Post-match I headed off to the Rising Sun (which seems to serve as the unofficial Crewe F.C. clubhouse) for a pint of Stella (£3.50~) and, I was told, fish and chips would be around too. Sadly the latter would end up coming a bit too late for me and I left the Eagle lads to finish up their hospitality and returned back to the station – though I did end up accidentally boarding the stopper service in my haste to jump on a train bound for Manchester, though I was able to rectify this via a change at Wilmslow onto an express service to get me home earlier and without any further issue, thankfully!

As for the day as a whole, it had been a surprisingly decent one with the town centre of Crewe being somewhat a more pleasant experience overall than the parts around Gresty Road in my opinion. The weather allied with a decent game was an added bonus and the hot dog at the ground was fine as well. Onto Monday and I finally complete a league with a second visit to Stoke in as many weeks. Scenic….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 4

Food: 5

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Mansfield

Result: Mansfield Town 4-0 Morecambe (EFL League 2)

Venue: Field Mill (Friday 19th April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 5,177

My first game of the Easter weekend’s festivities saw me heading over to another ground of the 92, though this one had been earmarked somewhat earlier than the previous Saturday’s visit to Stoke’s Britannia Stadium had been. This time I was off to Mansfield Town’s Field Mill as they welcomed the Shrimps of Morecambe, the hosts looking to keep up their strong promotion challenge, whilst Morecambe were on a mission to secure their evermore likely safety. The weather had taken a turn for the better also and so all was set up for a decent trip.

After taking the trip through Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham, a change at the latter of the three had me on a stopper service along the Robin Hood line to Mansfield. Arriving at just before midday, the rarity of the sun’s heat was something to behold as I clocked the floodlights of the ground peering up over the nearby retail estate, but with me certain that tickets weren’t going to be an issue within the away end today, I instead took a left turn away from the ground and towards the town centre. However, the Railway Inn just across from the bus station was calling and I popped in for one here to plan out something of a trip around town that would bring me back groundwards. After finishing up a pint of Stella in the beer garden, off I went to see what sights and sounds Mansfield holds.

Railway Inn

Mansfield

In Ye Olde Ramme Inn. Ah, ‘e’.

Walking alongside the railway, the towering viaduct that seems to split the town into two’s size really becomes apparent once you reach the high-street. It’s a decent sight, but I had little time to stare as my tour de pub continued unabated with a visit to the old, wooden-beamed Ye Olde Ramme Inn (many ‘e’s in there) and due to it being a Friday, they had offers on (though I must admit I bemoaned my bad luck on entering, thinking it was a Saturday) and so the San Miguel I opted for set me back just the £2.30. The same would happen just up the way too, the White Hart just the other side of the viaduct’s arches seeing a Taddy Lager come in at the same price. Don’t you just love a Sam Smith’s?

Next door to this was the Swan Hotel which was a pleasant place but was, unsurprisingly, the home of the dearest drink of the day as a pint of Estrella cost £4.10. Still not too bad when you consider the prices this reaches here and there. From there I crossed the bustling market square and to another pair of neighbouring pubs – the Market Inn and the Dial. The Market was ok but empty, bar me, and so I opted for a Strongbow (£2.50) on the case of finding somewhere a little more on the lively side and the Dial was that place – although the curse of the “choosing beers that are off” would strike hard on this day as not one, but two went down before I settled on the safety of a £2.90 Dark Fruits….only for the barrel to run out almost immediately. By that point, even the barmaid was a believer in the ‘Chopper Curse! Luckily, another barrel was on the go soon after and I quickly downed it before any more bad luck could befall me in there and headed for the ground.

Under the viaduct to the neighbouring White Hart & Swan Hotel

Next couple of stops, the Market and Dial

Mansfield is a market town in Nottinghamshire and is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the main town in the District of Mansfield and the urban area thereof. The area has been heavily influenced by its pastimes of coal mining and textile making that continued through to the 1990’s and led to the growth of the town into the place it is today. Settlement of Mansfield is thought to date back to Roman times with the discovery of a villa between Mansfield Woodhouse and Pleasley found in the 18th century and the early English monarchy is said to have lived in the area at times in the 12th century King John’s Palace (the remains of which lie near Clipstone) and hunted within Sherwood Forest. Indeed a plaque on West Gate marks the spot thought to have once been the middle of the forest in its heyday. Not sure if Robin Hood was about, though….

The Domesday Book lists Mammesfield within its pages but this had changed to Maunnesfield by the mid-13th century and by the time King Richard II had signed a market warrant in 1377, the town was known as Mannesfeld and its name has since become simplified to its current title. A number of the town’s old coaching inns served as stopping points and were known to date back to medieval times, though many of the older buildings have been lost, sadly, with only a handful remaining standing strong. Its market dates back to the original 1227 charter and the Mansfield Brewery was once the largest independent brewery in the UK prior to it being sold in 1999 and production spread far and wide across the country, though not in its homeland. On a side-note, Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington is from the town.

Mansfield market place

Mansfield

Prior to the re-introduction of the railway to Mansfield in 1995, it was thought in many quarters to be the largest town in Britain to be without a rail connection, though Alfreton was known as Alfreton & Mansfield Parkway until that date, though it’s not exactly local if we’re honest. Having once been home to two rail stations (Mansfield Town and Mansfield Central) one previously for each of the service providers Midland Railway and the independent Mansfield Railway, also served by Grand Central. The latter of the two lost its passenger link in 1956 and Town duly followed in 1964 with no link until the Robin Hood Line came into being and restored it. A tram link was operated for a time from 1905-’32 and the Midland Railway line was previously utilised by the Mansfield and Pinxton railway as terminus and home to a horse-drawn plateway from 1819.

Passing through the aforementioned retail park, I arrived at the ground’s exterior to find a booth reading “programmes” outside the away end. As you would, I headed up and asked for one only to be told that this was in fact the away ticket booth and the programmes were actually around the front end. At least I’d found the tickets early, as this could have proved an issue had I been later and in something of a rush! Anyway, ticket (a mesmerising £24!!) and programme (£3) were soon in my possession and I reckoned I may as well head inside and get a bite to eat before the remainder of fans came in, just in case there wasn’t much on. This wasn’t an issue and being the good Christian man that I am(!!) I tried out a cheese and onion pie on the basis I’ve been beginning to enjoy cheese and onion on pretty much anything I can eat at this point. It was decent too and kept me busy through until kick-off.

Onwards to t’Mill

Heading up into the away end, Field Mill is a ground that, despite being relatively modern in many ways, still maintains its character. Indeed its old, almost condemned stand that lies on the far side of the pitch and is filled with adverts certainly gives it a unique look and one that, I’m sure, the club won’t be too keen to lose. Imagine all that prime estate sponsorship cash was the conversation between a few of us! Opposite that is the large, imposing Main Stand that towers over its elder statesman and the two almost identical structures, one at each end, with the corners all open – though a scoreboard does stand alongside the old stand/repurposed advertisement hoarding, though good luck seeing that from my position today. I could just about make out a stag when it was pointed out! Anyway, that’s Field Mill in a nutshell and this is the story of the Stags of Mansfield….

History Lesson:

Mansfield Town Football Club was founded in 1897 as Mansfield Wesleyans and would enter the local Mansfield & District Amateur league after five years playing friendlies and the like, later joining the Notts & District League after four years there, when the league dropped its amateur suffix and the church abandoned the club. This lead the club to shorten their name to Mansfield Wesley for this stint, but they hey would soon become Mansfield Town in 1910 and a year later the club moved from the now named Notts & Derbyshire League to the Central Alliance. They would remain here through to World War One and after moving to a new home in the form of Field Mill – recently vacated by the turfed out (pun intended) Mansfield Mechanics – won the league after the end of hostilities in 1920, going on to then join the Midland League for 1921 onwards and taking the title here on three occasions (1924, 1925 & 1929). The latter season of the three title winning campaigns also saw Town reach the FA Cup Fourth Round, a run which saw a defeat of 2nd Division Wolves along the way before they bowed out to First Division side Arsenal.

The Stags were admitted to the Football League in 1931, joining the Third Division South for a year before going North and they would remain at the level, switching between North and South fairly regularly, through its change to a national division. Avoiding requiring re-election with no relegation forthcoming in 1947 after ending up bottom, they went on with little change in fortunes until 1960 and their eventual relegation to the Fourth Division. The club returned to the Third Division in 1963 and stayed for a further nine seasons before being relegated once more, however things would quickly take a turn for the better.

Teams line-up for the pleasantries

Town swiftly made it through to the Second Division for the first time via two title wins – the 4th Division won in 1975 and Division 3 in 1977, only to then juxtapose this with two relegations in three seasons meaning the Stags found themselves back in the bottom division by the turn of the decade. A lengthy spell of six years would follow prior to their promotion in 1986 and further silverware would arrive at Field Mill the following year in the form of the Football League Trophy via a penalty shoot-out triumph over Bristol City.

The start of the 1990’s saw Mansfield enter something of a yo-yo existence – relegation back to Division 4 in 1991 was followed by a promotion and relegation over each of the next two seasons which meant they would maintain a place in the bottom tier (now Third Division after the creation of the Premier League in ’92) through to the early 2000’s when they would achieve another promotion to Division 2, only to again suffer an immediate return at the close of the following campaign. The club would stay in the newly titled League 2 until 2008 when they were relegated from the Football League for the first time since their admission and entered into the Conference.

The old-school stand – now prime ad space!

After losing out in the 2011 FA Trophy Final to Darlington and in the 2012 play-off semis to York City, the club’s four-year stint in the top-tier in non-league was ended with the Stags winning the Conference title in 2013 after winning 20 of their last 24 games (including 12 consecutive triumphs), a strong run in the FA Cup prior to their bowing out in the Third Round to Liverpool giving the club momentum to build on and began going on to consolidate a place in the League 2 ranks under new owner John Radford.

The game got underway with promotion chasing Mansfield quickly asserting themselves on their long relegation threatened rivals. Gethin Jones saw a header superbly saved by Barry Roche when the keeper had no right to get there in the first clear chance of the half and Jacob Mellis stung the hands of the Shrimps stopper from range. Roche then had to get back to claw a Jorge Grant effort behind from on the line, before the Stags finally broke the deadlock when Mellis drilled a low effort through a crowded area that left Roche rooted to the spot. 1-0.

Match Action

Match Action

I did manage to seek out a now mohican-less Shrimps fan Paul in the crowd, largely by asking another Morecambe follower, Steve, where the man in question was. You can’t be too careful! Town almost added a second soon after when Grant curled a free kick just over the bar, before Mellis almost notched his second of the game minutes later as his low drive was deflected inches wide of Roche’s upright with the stopper left helpless.

After the break, the game continued on in the same vein with Mansfield dominant against the visitors who were on course for mathematical survival, regardless of the result at Field Mill. It was probably a good thing too as Town went on to well and truly secure the game. Grant was again denied by Roche – the veteran having a fine game between the sticks – but he was beaten again on 70 minutes when skipper Krystian Pearce found the corner after good play from him afforded space. Game over, you felt.

Match Action

Getting under it.

A few minutes later and it well and truly was as CJ Hamilton’s mazy run saw him advance towards goal where he fired under Roche to record a fine solo effort and the ground was a cacophony of noise at this point. The cherry was placed on top of the win with five minutes to play as Mal Bennett fizzed one off the post and in from distance to round off a fine display from the Stags. Full-time, 4-0.

After the game, I bid goodbye to Steve and Paul (now I’d got used to his non-Mohican ways) and I returned from whence I came, back through the retail outlets and its milling shoppers and I headed to what I thought was a ‘Spoons, only to find out it didn’t actually seem to be a ‘Spoons, despite saying it was a ‘Spoons on it and displaying all the hallmarks of being a ‘Spoons including having ‘Spoons like furniture and a number of ‘Spoons’ selection of drinks. Still with me?! A bottle of Baltika was selected (£3.20) and I was out of there before the confusion truly got to me!

The hidden brown building there = fake Spoons!

The Byron was, unsurprisingly, popular!

The Midland.

A stop-off on the way back to the station in the Byron was enjoyed (largely on the basis the Strongbow was just £1.99 here!) before I opted to pop into the station neighbouring Midland Hotel to grab a bottle for the train ride home. However, I would be informed that you can’t take bottles out on match days for some reason and despite it having been about two hours since it had finished and the fact there were around about five people dotted around, so I was left with a bottle of Bud and just over five minutes to get rid of it in. Easy-peasy. The journey back was uneventful until we arrived at Sheffield, where we spent the best part of an hour awaiting a “member of train crew” to arrive and we could eventually set off, though this did bring a strange sense of camaraderie between the three of us sharing a table seat, a student, an alcohol-fuelled groundhopper and a travel weary gentleman. Make a joke, anyone?!

That ends off another trip and it was a great way to begin the weekend. Mansfield is a nice town and an enjoyable place to spend an afternoon. Indeed, I look forward to getting back there for AFC Mansfield at some point in the near future. Football-related, the ground was fine and is strangely up there in my count for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, the game was ok before the Stags ran away with it and the food and programme were decent too. The following day would see a return back down into the lower-leagues as I visited Crewe F.C. of the Cheshire League as they welcomed Eagle Sports in a game to decide third-place and ‘best of the rest’. I needed a rest too….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7