Manchopper in….Richmond

Result: Richmond Town 2-0 BEADS (North Riding Cup Quarter-Final)

Venue: Earl’s Orchard (Saturday 11th January 2020, 2pm)

Att: 40 (approx.)

This weekend looked to be leading to a trip to one of the grounds that A) wouldn’t seem to be about for much longer, and B) the club may not continue either, for many a differing reason. As it was, this was how it turned out and it was to be probably the most spectacular offering that could have been given, and the town didn’t seem too shabby either! Yes, I was off to North Yorkshire and Richmond Town’s rather famous Earl’s Orchard ground, which sits in the shadow of the town’s old stronghold – Richmond Castle. The old fortification looms over the ground and allows this old venue to become one of the most picturesque venues in football, and today it would be hosting the North Riding Cup clash between the hosts and Beechwood, Easterside and District Social Club – or BEADS, as they thankfully go by more regularly, and will continue to be called from now on!

A train from Manchester to Darlington took up my morning, and after narrowly missing my planned bus, a rather windy twenty minute wait was navigated through before the next service rolled into the stop right outside the station. A half-hour ride later, I was stepping foot in the town centre of Richmond, right outside its Wetherspoon’s offering which, rather helpfully, was located right across the road from the return bus stop. Duly noted. Because of this, the ‘Spoons would be my nailed on final stop-off and I thus began my tour de drink with a visit to the Turf Hotel, just the other side from a barber’s named the “Men’s Room” – which looked as though it was within an old public toilets or something. Clever.

Arriving in Richmond

Turf Hotel

Castle Hotel

A rather uninspiring pint of Amstel was had here, before I headed slightly uphill to the market area that was taken up with cars for the most part today, along with a tree-cutting service at work alongside the military museum (or whatever the place was). I was mostly taken in with the King’s Head Hotel and wondering if it had a public bar or not. I wasn’t quite sure at first, and so played it safe; instead I made my way a few doors on where the Castle Hotel is to be found. A pint of Stowford Press was had in here, as I fancied something different for once, and this visit provided something unexpected. A programme. A Richmond Town programme. From other fans. For this match! Oh, be still my programme-collecting alter-ego.

Finishing up and now with a little extra haste in my plans (I wanted to ensure I grabbed one), I returned to the, apparently haunted, King’s Head and had a peer inside. Seeing fonts, I knew I was in luck and continued on through the doorway for a Bud Light. From there, I crossed through the car-park/square area and downhill via the castle steps, though these weren’t exactly in the best of shape in terms of being level, and almost led me to death. It’s a good job handrails exist! Anyhow, I soon got back down to road level and got to Earl’s Orchard – where the lady on the “gate” (just a table) took my £3 for both entry and programme, on the basis she’d remember me when I returned. I suppose they weren’t expecting a large crowd then?

King’s Head

All the close-quartered watering holes

Town Hall

The town of Richemond in Normandy was the origin of the Richmond name, which itself then derived from this rural part of North Yorkshire and spread around the world. Richmond, previously held by the Kingdom of Mercia and Edwin, Earl of Mercia, was handed over by William the Conqueror to Count Alan Rufus as thanks for his service in the conquests, and it would therefore become the Honour of the Earls of Richmond, with this dignity also held by the Duke of Brittany from the mid-1100’s to 1399. As a result, Rufus founded Richmond in 1071 and named it Hinderlag, later adding the castle to defend his lands in 1086, with the walls and keep encompassing the Market Place area. Upon the death of John V, Duke of Brittany in 1399, Henry IV took control with the Earldom later awarded to Edmund Tudor and merged with the crown upon his son’s coronation as Henry VII. During the English Civil War, Richmond’s castle was taken over by the Covenantor army, led by Lord Newark, David Leslie, and this duly led to conflict in the locality between the Catholics and Scottish Presbyterians.

In later years, Richmond grew as a centre of Swaledale wool during the 17th and 18th centuries, allied with the nearby lead mining industry in Arkengarthdale and it is from this era that the Georgian architecture began to be added to the town’s look. In 1830, one of Europe’s first gas works was built here and a permanent military presence was added in 1877, with a garrison stationed at Richmond Barracks. The railway station still stands, despite closing as such in 1968 after over 120 years service, and it is here that one of the “drummer boy” legends finds its roots – where a drumming lad was instructed to fit inside a small underground tunnel and drum to allow the soldiers above ground to follow the tunnel’s path into the castle keep. Alas, he fell silent along the way, his disappearance never explained. A few rugby players hail from Richmond, the likes of Calum Clark of Saracens, George McGuigan, Rob Andrew and Tim Rodber call it home, as do inventor of the lifeboat, Henry Greathead, J.J. Fenwick (founder of the department stores that carry his name), Olympic silver medallist, rower Zoe Bell, Theo Hutchcraft of synth-pop duo (and one of my personal favourites) Hurts, and Peter Aury – opera singer who provided vocals to The Snowman‘s “Walking in the Air”.

Richmond

Castle from the bridge over the river

Later in the day….

I returned back up the steep incline and back to the square, where I was soon deciding which watering hole to pick from out of the three in front of me, before I set eyes on a surprise fourth: the Town Hall Hotel, which I hadn’t known existed until this point. It looked the most interesting of them at that point too and so I duly opted for it, A swift Amstel whilst watching a bit of the early kick-off took up the majority of the twenty minutes or so until the game was due to start, before I took advantage of the steep hill once more, it being far kinder when going down-hill, that’s for sure!

Crossing the road bridge, I returned to Earl’s Orchard and headed back inside and passed the table, which had no moved a little more into cover, with the odd squally shower having begun to hit the town. The two teams were just about to kick-off too, so there was no time to waste. As for the ground itself, there isn’t much to speak of – with it being just a fully railed pitch, although the club building, which houses the changing rooms, food bar and all other facilities stands behind the far goal and, despite being a fair way from the pitch itself, offers a decent view with cover given from here. There are some seats too and these have been sourced from elsewhere, but not in the usual way. You’ve seen the likes of seats from Roker Park, Maine Road, Leeds Road and many other old stadia being used elsewhere, but Richmond have gone their own way and installed….BUS SEATS. Not only bus seats, but they are even equipped with seatbelts for when the action gets too much. Unfortunately, this game wasn’t going to offer up much to require those to be of use today. Anyway, with the castle towering over the twenty-two players and benches (well, people sat down or milling around, as it was too windy for the dugouts to be put out!) here’s the story of Richmond Town F.C….

History Lesson:

Richmond Town Football Club was founded in 1945 as Richmond AFC, although football has been played at the Earl’s Orchard ground for at least nine decades, and within Richmond itself for over a century. The current club has seen itself play under a number of guises aside from its original title, being named Cameron United and (perhaps unfortunately depending on your viewpoint) The Young Conservatives during the 1960’s, before returning to take on the town name – first as Richmond Town A.F.C., before dropping “A” for the current name. Unfortunately, the information out there is few and far between, but here’s what I’ve managed to source – with some thanks to the blog “put Niels in goal”. It does, however, seem as though success may have been thin on the ground, for the most part.

 

Arriving at the ground

Newsboard

Two fortresses?

They played, for a time in the 1980’s, in the Darlington & District League, prior to making the switch into the Teesside League in the latter part of the decade and then, latterly, the Wearside League in 2012. Indeed, Richmond Town won a quadruple that year too, bidding farewell to the Teesside League in style by lifting the league title (having finished as runners-up the year before) alongside silverware in three cup competitions – the league’s MacMillan Bowl, Lou Moore Trophy and the North Riding Saturday Cup. Unfortunately, they have found cup success to only come within touching distance since, reaching the final of the Wearside League Cup in 2013, the Shipowners Cup of 2017 and the Monkwearmouth Cup last season. They’ve remained in the Wearside League throughout this period, and finished last season in 4th place.

The game got underway with the hosts starting the brighter, their #9 giving the BEADS ‘keeper an easy stop, whilst #11 was played in moments later, but chose to try and chip the visiting custodian, only to see the ball, simply, clutched out of the air. BEADS’ own #9 was then guilty of his own striking faux pas, mirroring his opposite number’s chance by allowing the Richmond stopper a much easier save than he ought to have been required to, before the latter #9, of a Richmond persuasion, Ben Darville, finally opened the scoring around half-way through the first period, but was denied by a fine stop, but the gloveman was treated harshly by the footballing gods, with the rebound falling right back at the feet of the striker, who found the net. 1-0.

Match Action

Floored

Match Action

The ‘keeper than had to be at his very best to spurn #11’s shot when one-on-one with the attacker, before he again showed good awareness to keep #10 at bay, after the home forward’s good work had created a chance for himself out of very little. That would largely be that for the first half and, as such, my next job on the list meant a visit to the food bar was in order for me, and I opted to go all in with a sausage and bacon barm which, quite simply, was tremendous. Kudos for that, and for just the £3 too; I couldn’t complain with that.

The hosts again began on the front foot as the second half drifted through its early stages, and the way these early chances went, you began to think it may be one of those days. It was at this point I was offered some admission money when (unknowingly) manning the “gate” table, but made sure to be honest and decline! Not one, but two were cleared off the goal-line by a BEADS defender, as the visitors continued to frustrate their hosts – who hold ambitions to enter Step 6 next season. First, #7 showed a good touch to work some space, but saw his attempt cleared away at the last, whilst #8 was the next man to be denied at the final fence, as it were, his back-post drive blocked out and the danger was averted.

View from the “gate”!

Match Action

Match Action

BEADS then almost had a little luck go their way, as a cross in drifted on the wind and off the crossbar of Town’s goal, but it would be Richmond who would eventually add a second with around fifteen minutes to play, when #16, Ben Clarke, found himself played clean through and he duly raced away and fired home with aplomb. The impressive BEADS ‘keeper would keep his side in with a shout a few more times more before the final whistle, denying #11 on the challenge, #18 with a save at the near post after an old-school route-one attack and lastly showing good handling to keep hold of #8’s free-kick. But it would be Richmond who would deservedly progress on the balance of play by 2-0, though the game had been far more entertaining, thanks to the visitors’ defensive efforts – allowing them to never quite be out of the contest.

The bus seats!

It’s about to get soggy….

….but got through the worst!

Post-match, I was stopped on the footway just alongside the pitch by Town manager Neil Tarrant, who had a chat about the game and the club’s future plans (I best not say too much as I don’t know what’s official!), prior to making my way along the river and to a gate. The other side of this gate played host to fields. Wet fields. And streams. And mud. Lots of mud. It wasn’t fun. Eventually though, I was able to safely negotiate Richmond’s next attempt at claiming my life and got onto something a little more terra firma – the more solid towpath which leads to a few steps that take you up to road level and the old station building that not only houses a café/bar, but also its own microbrewery. As such, I opted to try out a bottle of Richmond Pale Ale and was happy I did so, it’s pretty good!

Finishing up where the rails used to lie, I returned into the centre and the trio of pubs that I had left to visit – the all-but neighbours of the Golden Lion and Bishop Blaize and the club sponsoring Talbot just across the narrow street that runs between them. As to be able to squeeze them all in and allow for a swift one back in the Wetherspoon’s, I reckoned I’d best switch onto the bottled lagers and found that Sol was seemingly the favoured option in these parts. That was fine with me, and I duly stayed on the stuff in each of the three, with a number of Richmond players in the latter enjoying a couple of jugs of beer in the corner, as they celebrated securing their semi-final place. Anyhow, there was little to really report on and I soon got back to the ‘Spoons – named the Ralph Fitz Randal – for a Strawberry & Line draught Kopparberg to round off my trip.

Station

Bishop Blaize

‘Spoons

The bus was caught in good time and I was dropped back outside the station with around ten minutes until the train back towards Victoria. However, delays whilst having my usual homeward nap saw my awakening at Leeds offer me an acceptable dilemma. I was certain to miss my planned connection now, but I could instead get into Oxford Road station where my connection would depart from, whilst I could wait out the time until the next one in the nearby Grand Central – a bar I’d not visited in some time. That was what happened and no further issues saw me home for 9pm so, all in all, can’t have too many complaints. That was that then and, overall, my trip to Richmond had been a good one. Yes, the game wasn’t great but – what with the weather – that was to be expected. Otherwise, the town, pubs and travel had gone well and the sausage and bacon barm was of elite levels! Nice one Richmond and, who knows, I could be back sooner rather than later….!

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 4 (but with backdrop, 10)

Food: 9

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 9

 

Manchopper in….Reading

Result: Reading 2-2 Blackpool (FA Cup 3rd Round)

Venue: Madejski Stadium (Saturday 4th January 2019, 3.01pm)

Att: 10,181

After a round away from Cup action, I was once again on the “Road to Wembley” – or in my case the 5th or 6th round – for the first Saturday of the new year. Having already trumped last year’s first game with a pulsating clash at St. Andrew’s, I was hoping my luck would continue into a trip down to Reading and the Madejski Stadium. The visitors would be the now Oyston-free Tangerines of Blackpool, who would be looking to secure a….ahem, Royal upset and advance into the 4th Round outright.

I caught the train from Manchester at just before 9.30am, and a trouble-free, direct journey had me arriving into the Berkshire town at a little after half-twelve. Having already done something of a scouting mission with regards to Reading’s pub offerings, I decided to start off with one rather nearby the station, by the name of the Corn Stores. Entering, I found a quite strange set-up, with a reception desk set near a flight of stairs that led up to another couple of floors – floors that I later found out housed members’ areas and the like. Anyway, I headed into the empty bar area and was soon in possession of a pint of Meantime Lager for the sum of £5.60, but in defence of that, the tanks holding the beer and all the equipment that comes with it, were located in the foyer of the building. Not a bad pint by any means and after the £7-odd drink I bought last year down in Exeter, everything else is something of a bargain, nowadays!

Reading – just in case you need reminding

To the Corn Stores

From here, I planned out a route that would take me past the town hall and an old church, before arriving at a pub named the Alehouse. This walk also took in the Blagrave – seemingly named after a signee of Charles I’s death warrant – and I thought it would be rude to bypass it. A decent little boozer, the Blagrave was rather empty at this time, although the smashed door window suggests it can get a bit livelier as the amount of hours and drinks climb higher! A pint of Amstel (£4.50) did the job for me here, before I undertook the walk via said ‘places of interest’ (all of which were accompanied by an info board). However, my best-laid plans were interrupted a little as I was struck by the appearance of the George Hotel and – as a rule – anything with this name has to be, of course, paid a visit (usually). A 17th century coaching house, the George had been renovated somewhat here and there, with many a-different door making for a pretty confusing moment, as I tried to see where the bar could be….

Blagrave

George Hotel

Reading is a university and minster town in Berkshire, and lies within the Thames Valley on the confluence of the rivers Thames and Kennet. Reading may date back to Roman times, possibly as a trading port for nearby Calleva Atrebatum, but there’s no clear evidence of this being so. The first of this type comes from the 8th century, when the town became known as Readingum – likely deriving from the words Readingas an Anglo-Saxon tribe whose name means Reada’s People in Old English. The town was attacked by the Danes, who invaded the Kingdom of Wessex and set up their base at Reading, with this becoming the site of the First Battle of Reading, when King Ethlelred and Alfred the Great attempted to breach the defences, unsuccessfully. The Danes would remain until 871 AD, when they retreated to their winter stronghold in London.

After the 1066 Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror gave land around Reading to Battle Abbey and the town was described as a borough in the Domesday Book, twenty years later. Reading Abbey was founded by King Henry I in 1121 and he is now buried in its grounds. The abbey was destroyed during Henry VIII’s dissolution in 1538, with the last abbot hung, drawn and quartered in front of its church, along with the pastor of St. Giles’ Church. By that time, Reading had become the largest town in Berkshire and grew around the cloth trade. It later played a part in the English Civil War, when the Royalist garrison stationed there was defeated by the Parliamentarian forces in 1643, a year after the Royalists had arrived; the cloth trade was subsequently damaged extensively, and didn’t truly recover until as recently as the 20th century. It also saw battle in the 1688 Revolution, though this proved to be the only notable conflict during this campaign. The 1700’s saw the role of Berkshire’s “county town” split between Reading and Abingdon, though the movement of the Summer Assizes in 1867 saw Reading effectively become the sole county town, and this was approved two years later.

Reading

Reading

The 18th century saw major building growth and breweries began to prosper around the turnpike roads linking London to Oxford and the West Country. 1723 saw the Kennet navigation opened, allowing boats from as far as Newbury to access it and the later addition of the Kennet and Avon canal allowed barge journeys through to Bristol to be undertaken. The Great Western Railway only added to the transport links and ease of movement, arriving in the town in 1841 and this was followed by the South Eastern Railway and London and South Western Railway by 1856. The town became a county borough in 1888 and became famous for the “Three B’s” (beer, bulbs and biscuits). Its continued expansion through the 20th century saw it annex Caversham – across the Thames in Oxfordshire – and despite largely escaping damage during the World Wars, it did suffer deaths in 1941, when a sole Luftwaffe aircraft strafed the town with machine guns, before bombing it.

Developments have continued through to the millennium and The Oracle shopping centre, built in 1999, is named after the former workhouse, which partly occupied the site. Reading is one of the largest urban areas without city status (despite the town’s non-league club suggesting otherwise!) and has applied for this unsuccessfully on three occasions, most recently in 2012. It remains a borough council and unitary authority and has good rail, road and bus links through to the Capital and further afield, cross-country.

Reading Minster

High Street

It names alumni such as actors John Altman (EastEnders’ “Nasty Nick”), Kate Winslet and Natalie Dormer, director Sam Mendes, presenters Chris Tarrant, Matthew Syed, Jeremy Kyle, Lucy Worsley and Adam Boulton, comedian Ricky Gervais, satirist Charlie Brooker and poet and authors Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen – the latter schooled in the town. Politician Michael Foot, Paddington Bear-creator Michael Bond, former Archbishop, the late Cormac Murphy O’Connor and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. Sports-wise, swimmer and Commonwealth gold medallist Rebecca Cooke, the late rally driver Richard Burns, cricketers Peter May, Ken Barrington and 1926 Ashes-winning skipper Percy Chapman and footballers Hayden Mullins, Lawrie Sanchez, Deon Burton and Jamie Ashdown. The town has also been home to VC recipient Fred Potts and Earl William Cadogan, commander-in-chief of the British Army during the late 1600-early 1700’s.

I eventually settled on the Dickens brasserie/bar at the rear of the building’s courtyard, which was a strange mix between these two and an Indian snack-bar, whilst being set right next to the Mercure hotel’s reception area, where I watched one group arrive from somewhere out in the far-east in connection with the University, and the welcoming party weren’t too pleased that their rooms weren’t ready, as they had apparently been promised. Anyhow, this wasn’t affecting me and I finished off my pint of San Miguel (£5.70) and initially set my sights on the aforementioned Alehouse across the way, only to see it hit with the curse of NYD’s Birmingham; closed. Not to worry, I supposed, and instead continued on through the pedestrianised area and to the area around Reading’s “Minster”, where there was a few pubs I looked at trying to get in – though I could feel the onset of the legacy of a number of trips upon my intake beginning to take hold. As such, I played safe in the Horn, opting for a bottle of Sol (£4), with the intention of getting another bottle in the Sun Inn, somewhere around the corner.

Horn-y, Horn-y, Horn-y, Horn-y

The Allied Arms

But, for once, my sensible side took control and I decided to instead opt to head for the Allied Arms just over the road and then return back towards the station for the shuttle buses direct to the stadium. A Heineken (£5.60) went down well and though the sneezing fit I suffered wasn’t exactly ideal, at least I was all-but finished by the time this decided to pop-up. Anyway, it soon wore off as I walked back through the town centre – bypassing numerous sellers, charity workers, preachers and the like as I went – and arrived at the bus stop to find about five or six buses waiting to depart in short-order, with one due to leave every two minutes or so. Brilliant organisation by the club and the other involved companies it has to be said. Said bus duly dropped me outside the ground around ten minutes later, but it was here things began to unravel. After securing a Charlie Adam’s face covered programme (£3, and if that wasn’t meant with the “Old Man” tweets during the week following his goal, then that’s some co-incidence) from one of the kiosks, I made my way around to the away turnstiles and the ticket window situated there. Only, it wouldn’t bloody move. At all. Honestly, if the queue had moved five feet in twenty minutes, it would be a miracle.

Chatting with a couple of Tangerine fans in the same boat, we lamented the fact that there was a third window Reading hadn’t employed today, though we were later informed by some of the stewards that they had been caught completely off-guard by the number of travelling fans who’d made the journey. I was surprised too, but on the complete other end of the spectrum, as I remember getting into Carlisle a couple of years back after a trip to Gretna, to find a notable amount of ‘Pool fans still populating the pubs in the Cumbrian city. Yes, it’s a fair bit closer, but I don’t think it was anything too out-of-the-question to summise that a fair number would be making the trip. I certainly expected as much. Anyway, the minute of mental health consideration and the relevant video came and went and after missing ten minutes of the match, I finally grabbed a ticket and headed inside, able to bypass a bag check as, to be fair to Reading, they went through these checks whilst I was still queuing for tickets, as to make entry a little quicker, so kudos for that.

I decided to grab some food whilst the concourse was deserted, and after a bit of the “banter” with a lad manning it from the antipodean region (I assume an Aussie), I was soon heading up into the seats with a steak pie in hand and quickly found my seat. Judging by all the sounds we could hear concerning how the game had gone to that point, I figured I’d missed a corner or two and perhaps one decent chance, quite like my similar experiences at Cardiff and Southampton. Anyway, finally in the Madejski, the ground is one of the earlier examples of the now wide-ranging boxed-in stadia, with all stands at a similar size and linked together in each corner, with a big screen located in one of these, just off to my right, as I looked from the away end. The Main Stand looks a fair bit bigger than it really is, with a couple of tiers being split by the usual array of boxes and the like, with the tunnel extending from the centre – between the two dugouts. The remaining stands all consist of one tier and could be interchanged between each other fairly easily, should they become sentient. That’s the Madejski in very short order, and this is the story of this set of Berkshire Royals….

History Lesson:

Reading Football Club was founded in 1871 and gained their current nickname for being within the Royal County of Berkshire, though were previously known as the Biscuitmen due to links with former snack makers, Huntley and Palmers. The club turned professional was in 1895 and after having had spells at the Reading Recreation Ground, Cricket Club, Coley Park and Caversham Cricket Ground, the eventual switch to long-term, purpose-built home, Elm Park, was undertaken in 1896. In 1913, Reading toured Italy and were termed by press there as “the finest foreign team to play” in the country, having convincingly defeated Genoa, AC Milan and champions Pro Vercelli, though we’re beaten by Casale. As a result of the tour though, Attillio Fresia joined the club and, in doing so, became the first Italian to play in England.

Reading were elected to the Football League’s Third Division in 1920, as the league took in clubs from the Southern League. Placed in the South division, Reading won this in 1926 to be promoted to the nationwide Division 2, where they remained through to relegation in 1931. During the war, Reading lifted the 1941 edition of the London War Cup, and upon the resumption of league football post-war, Reading finished as Division 3 South runners-up in both 1949 and 1952, though were not promoted. After the nationalisation of both regional divisions into a Division 4, Reading dropped to that level in 1972, before yo-yoing between the bottom two divisions in the latter half of the decade, promotion in 1976 being followed by immediate relegation and another promotion in 1979, as champions, rounded it off.

Arriving at the Madejski

After another relegation in 1983, the club avoided a strange merger attempt by Oxford United’s chairman to ally the clubs and become the Thames Valley Royals *shudder*. Thankfully, this didn’t come to fruition and the club again won promotion, this time to Division 3, in 1984 and have remained at least at that level since. Winning the Third Division title in 1986, the Royals then lifted the Full Members’ Cup of 1988 – defeating Luton Town at Wembley, but were then relegated come the season’s end. Taken over by John Madejski at the beginning of the new decade, Reading won the “new” Division 2 title in 1994, and went on to immediately finish as runners-up in Division One the next year, only to be denied promotion due to the Premier League being trimmed down by two clubs. As such, they had to make do with a play-off place and having defeated Tranmere Rovers in the semi, lost out to Bolton Wanderers by 4-3 (AET).

Reading’s final season at Elm Park ended in relegation to Division 2, the club beginning life at the new-build Madejski Stadium soon after. They were defeated in the 2001 play-off final by Walsall, but they went up automatically as runners-up two years later. They finished their return season in Division 1 in 4th, but again suffered play-off disappointment, being bested by eventual winners Wolves. However, they again saw success by missing out the play-offs, taking the 2006 Championship title and being promoted to the Premier League for the first time in the process. They finished their first season in 8th place, though (unforgivably) turned down the chance to play in everyone’s favourite competition, the Intertoto Cup. They did compete in the 2007 Peace Cup – played in South Korea – in the build up to their second campaign, but this would end in eventual relegation, with the Royals unable to repeat their first season heroics.

Concourse

Losing in the play-offs in both 2008 and 2011, to Burnley (semi-finals) and Swansea City (final) respectively, 2012 saw them achieve a return back to the Premier League automatically, although this would only last a sole season. Back in the Championship ranks, Reading ended up missing out on the play-offs to Brighton, who netted a last minute winner against the Royals to snatch the spot, but worse was to follow, as the threat of administration loomed over the club and a poor eventual year in the league saw Reading stave off the drop to secure 17th place. However, their FA Cup run allayed this disappointment somewhat, a semi-final appearance at Wembley ending in narrow defeat to Arsenal. Quick managerial changes continued, and after the likes of (in no particular order) Brian McDermott (twice), Nigel Adkins, Steve Coppell, Brendan Rodgers and Steve Clarke had all come and gone with the span of eight years, Jaap Stam did lead the side to the 2017 play-off final, but again defeat would be suffered, this time at the hands of Huddersfield Town, after a penalty shoot-out.

However, the Dutchman was out by the end of the next season, with Paul Clement installed. He saw off the threat of the drop, but was himself soon out of the job last season and was replaced by José Gomes, who repeated Clement’s feat in finishing 20th and just above the drop zone. But he too wouldn’t occupy the hot-seat for long, the something of a poisoned chalice being handed down within the club this time – to Mark Bowen – in October. Since then, Bowen has overseen a fair upturn in form, with Reading climbing from the relegation places to sit in mid-table and beginning to optimistically glance upwards.

The game was already going as previously stated earlier, and soon after I’d headed up into my seat, Reading went close on a couple of occasions; firstly, Sam Baldock drove an effort straight at Blackpool ‘keeper Mark Howard, before Matt Miazga (who I remember being introduced at Stamford Bridge upon his Chelsea signing, alongside Alexandre Pato before an FA Cup win over Manchester City) headed over the bar. On 23 minutes, Baldock struck the upright from close range, whilst Lucas Boyé fired narrowly off-target as Reading continued to largely dominate the game chance-wise, but not in the overall play. There the visitors had a clear advantage, and they duly shocked the home support just before the half-hour, when Nathan Delfouneso smartly headed in Armand Gnanduillet’s delivery to send the Tangerine fans down the far end from him crazy.

Match Action

Match Action

With more belief in their ranks, getting the opener actually inspired Blackpool onwards and forwards, in opposition to what is the norm in many of these situations. Callum Guy went closest to adding a second, being denied by a decent Sam Walker stop, whilst, down the other end, Andy Rinomhota forced Howard into action moments before the half-time whistle, as his header was saved down low. The whistle duly followed in short order and it looked as though the upset may just be on the cards.

An uneventful break came and went and it was soon time to get the second period on the go. Again, it was Blackpool who initially started off the brighter and Delfouneso nearly grabbed his and ‘Pool’s second just after the resumption, but he wastefully hit the ball straight at Walker between the home sticks. But the Royals would draw level just prior to the hour mark, as Baldock clinically fired across goal and into the far corner. Parity would last just four minutes though, as the Tangerines broke out of their disappointment in quick-time and Gnanduillet fired in as he and Delfouneso reversed roles from the opener. Queue a “rush” from the away fans to goad the home support across the segregation line, but no nastiness was around from either, it has to be said.

Match Action

Match Action

The quick fire goal action continued, as Reading again equalised just six minutes later. This time it was Danny Loader – who’d only been introduced to the game in the moments before Blackpool’s second- who would find the onion bag, shooting low, beyond Howard from around the penalty spot. 2-2, but again Blackpool came straight back out of the blocks and immediately won a penalty for a foul on Gnanduillet – a decision that couldn’t have really created any complaints. The excited Tangerine fans began celebrating already, but I tempered expectation somewhat, stating to a few of them to “Let him score it first!”. Alas, no-one could have predicted what was to follow.

The France-born Ivorian dusted himself down and stepped up to take the spot-kick. He sent Walker the wrong way and it looked like that was that; 3-2! But….no. His chipped penalty had too much loop placed upon it and it agonisingly drifted against the crossbar and was eventually scrambled clear by the Royals defence. Gnanduillet was left red faced and Blackpool had spurned what was likely their best chance to give Reading a red card from this season’s competition. Goalscorers Loader and Delfouneso traded chances between them, the former hitting wide and the latter straight at Walker, whilst some late Reading pressure saw Howard pressed into action to deny both Omar Richards and Soné Aluko. But that would be that, and an entertaining, pulsating contest came to an end with nothing decided, and after all had been said and done, they would have to do it all over again on the Lancastrian coast in around ten days time.

Oh, Armand!

Late on

Post-match, the fine layout and planning of the buses saw me back on one within ten minutes of the final whistle, and stepping back off of it back outside Reading station within the half-hour. Not bad at all, and for just the £2 return too. I had two or three watering holes I still wanted to pay a visit to, the first of these being the Bugle, which seemed to be one of the older pubs in the town. On my way there, I had to turn rescuer, as a woman tumbled over in front of me and, along with a couple of other lads, I helped her up to her feet and back onto the couple of crutches she had with her. I wondered if it was a mobility issue but being outside a ‘Spoons and the info of one of the lads there “she’s pissed” gave a different outlook! Anyhow, she was soon on a bus back to wherever and I was in the miniscule Bugle over a Dark Fruits (£4.10), before returning back to the ‘Spoons for a swift Hooch (£2.39), in hope I could manage to squeeze in either of the Gateway or Greyfriar of Reading near to the station, or indeed the Three Guineas which stands at the entrance to the station itself.

Unfortunately, the pre-match warnings came around again and I decided it really wasn’t worth the hassle and instead took my good time before getting back to the station in good time for the train back. Getting on, I found an empty window seat and just so happened to have snuck in past a Blackpool fan – though I hadn’t recognised this at the time. Anyhow, I got talking to Phil for the rest of the trip back up to Manchester about all things football, Blackpool, the crazy Oyston-era (and Owen’s choice of hats) and many other things therein, including his walking jaunts around the historical Lancastrian boundaries. The trip went through quickly as a result, so cheers to Phil for that and I returned the favour somewhat by pointing out a train back up Preston-way that saved him a good half-hour, so hopefully it all went smoothly?!

The Bugle

‘Spoons

Anyway, my connection was made nice and easily and that was that for another day, another weekend and another round of the FA Cup. The 4th round draw also threw up a number of interesting-looking ties too, so that should mean another game is on the cards in this competition. As for the day at hand, Reading as a town had been far more interesting than I’d expected/been led to believe, its few historic churches and other buildings were worth seeking out and the pubs too were decent in both this respect and in how they were overall. The ground and game were both decent, though the stadium does lack a sense of character, despite being over two decades old at this point. Its out of town location doesn’t aid this feeling either, although the bus services do remedy the usual issues with places like this (I’m looking at you, Ricoh). Also, a word for the stewards who did the best with what they were given overall, especially with regards to the ticketing queues. So that’s about that for this blog, next up….well, who knows. It could be rich, breight (this is meant), or perhaps another royal name….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 6

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Birmingham

Result: Birmingham City 2-3 Wigan Athletic (EFL Championship)

Venue: St. Andrew’s (Wednesday 1st January 2020, 3pm)

Att: 18,616

New Year, New Me? Dry January? Resolutions? Nah, none of that crap here! Yes, dear reader, you will be offered up the same old shit you’ve become accustomed to over the years (or, if here for the very first time, you know what to expect!), so please take comfort in that. Or run in horror. Both are equally as expected! Anyway, before I go fully off on a mad one, I hoped this New Year’s wouldn’t be a repeat of the last; one which saw a rather unspectacular trip around Chester and a dour nil-nil between they and Southport. Dour is being kind too….; anyhow, Birmingham vs Wigan may not have been on many people’s list as a bit of a goal-glut and Brum’s previous 4-5 goalfest defeat to Leeds both encouraged and worried me in equal measure. On one hand, you had the evidence that Birmingham could bet, but weren’t all that solid at the back, whilst Wigan were bottom, and you usually end up there for a reason. However, both were on a pretty bad run. So nil-nil, then.

Whatever the case, I set off for the second city during the mid-morning and arrived into New Street at around midday. After getting a little lost, I soon regained my bearings and found my way over towards the city’s cathedral, where I would find the first grouping of pubs I was hoping to pay a visit to. The first of these happened to be the, rather interestingly named, Trocadero, where, with little idea on what may and may not have been open at the time, I opted to play safe with a Bud Light to begin with. New Year’s brotherhood in the city seemed prevalent, as supporters of both City and Villa were populating the pub whilst Villa played out the early kick-off and we had a miracle occur when both teams’ supporters agreed the VAR ruling in this one was one of, if not the, worst one yet. In its current form, it has to be the worst idea football has had in many years – perhaps the golden goal may rival it, but at least it was exciting!

Arriving in Birmingham

Heading to the Trocadero

Birmingham is a major city in the West Midlands, and the second largest city and metropolitan borough area in the UK; as such it is usually referred to the country’s “second city”. However, its early days were of a remote and marginal area, with the larger early settlements lying around the Rivers Trent, Severn and Avon, with Birmingham instead lying within the sparsely populated Forest of Eden. Birmingham has been inhabited since around 8000 BC, with artefacts suggesting the area was settled seasonally for hunting and the like, whilst burnt mounds dating from the bronze age point towards it being around this time that more permanent settling and cultivating began. This influx was short-lived though, perhaps because of conflict or immigration into the area, although the 1st century Roman-era included the creation of Metchley Fort at Edgbaston, with many roads centred from it.

Birmingham itself came into being during the Anglo=Saxon age and the city’s name comes from the Old English Beormingahām – meaning the home or settlement of the Beormingo, a 6th or 7th century Anglo tribe and regio of the area. Despite this, it was one of the poorest and least populated areas come the Domesday Book of 1086, and it took until 1166 for it to begin its transformation into an urban and commercial centre, with Lord of the Manor Peter de Bermingham getting a market charter around the castle, whilst growing a town around the area now taken by the Bull Ring. Within two centuries, it grew to be the third-largest town in Warwickshire. However the governing guilds and lordships collapsed by the mid-1500’s, with freedoms meaning the town could grow even more, although it would have to survive through regular Royalist assaults through the Civil War, with the area being largely sympathetic to the Parliamentarian cause.

Birmingham

Bullring

The Battle of Birmingham in 1643 was the major clash in the area, and it later became a Puritan and Nonconformist stronghold. Industrially, Birmingham grew due to its iron forges and furnaces which were creating trade opportunities, and the merchants that arrived attracted further people to live in the town; so much so that the population grew fifteenfold by the 1700’s and it had become the fifth largest town in England and Wales. Also, it began its industrial changes slightly earlier than many of its Northern contemporaries, with it largely featuring skilled and specialist workers, over the largely unskilled workforces brought in later in the revolution to meet demand. Duly, patents started flooding in and the likes of Lloyds Bank and Ketley’s Building Society (the world’s first) saw it become something of a financial focal point, during the 18th century. Acid and alkali research in the area led to the modern chemical industry coming into being, whilst cotton also became a large employer.

Having been the focal point of 19th century political reform, Birmingham played a large role in the working classes being given more voting rights and the innovations continued with both of the world’s largest rail lines of the time terminating in the town, whilst plastic and modern postal systems are also derived from the area. Extensive canal routes were built to lend ease to transportation of goods and by the late-1800’s, Birmingham had attained city status. A university was started at the turn of the century, and this ever growing industrial importance led to the “Birmingham Blitz” in World War II and the heavy damage that came with it. However, the wartime saw the discovery in the city of how nuclear weaponry could be constructed, whilst the key components of radar systems discovered here would also prove vital in victory. The 1950’s and ’60’s saw regeneration of the Bull Ring and tower blocks built around the suburbs, and many Commonwealth immigrants would settle in the city and also, more infamously, the city was the scene of a probable IRA bombing and the later-judged miscarriage of justice of the “Birmingham six” – who had been convicted of the bombings.

Cathedral

Birmingham and the Bull Ring Tavern

The Bullring has again been redesigned in more recent times, and the city will host the Commonwealth Games in 2022, and many old industrial areas, canals, buildings and the like have been restored and regenerated. The beginnings of the much-maligned HS2 station have also begun to be implemented, though whether these will ever see action is in some doubt. It counts many famed names as alumni, although it’s hard to nail down who is actually from an area when its the city as a whole and, as such, these will be split into the smaller suburbs and satellite towns, as and when they are visited.

Finishing up in here, I headed off around the corner and up towards a couple of larger pub/eateries named the Cosy Club and the Lost and Found respectively. I was sidetracked somewhat by the sight of the impressive looking Fuller’s pub: the Old Joint Stock, which was one of those theatre pubs which seem prevalent in the capital. Alas, this was closed, as was the Lost and Found I soon found out, and so the Cosy Club came to my rescue. A pint of Amstel in one of the more grander “Lounge” outlets was decent enough, and it was time to seek out a couple more historic pubs nearby – the Old Royal and the Old Contemptibles – the latter of the two being of interest to me with its war links.

A fruitless “old” chase

Cosy Club

Shut and shut. Brilliant. Contingency plans were in place and I even came across a supposed “Peaky Blinders” bar en route but, guess what, shut. As bleak as the series’ story. As a result, it was to the road leading through to St. Andrew’s itself, beginning with the Bullring Tavern, a Craft Union pub, which usually means cheap pints and this was no different, a Coors coming in at £2.55. Interestingly, this was also the only pub of the day to serve plastic glasses although, to be fair, it was the only one I came across that even approached being full, with the Trocadero being busy but not too much. From here, I continued further on down the link road and came to the Digbeth Works, a bit of a craft beer/gastropub-style pub if you get what I mean. A pint of Amstel here was surprisingly good value, though, setting me back just the £3. Very decent.

Next along was the BIG Bull’s Head which, due to its size, I reckoned may be a bit tricky to get served at this time and so instead headed a couple of doors down to the apparently oldest building in the city, the Old Crown. I caught it at just the right time too, the place was empty apart from about ten people and another Amstel was had in some peace. Nice; as was the pub too, with it keeping a lot of its character within the beamed décor and monarch portraits adorning the walls. It was soon time to leave though, as the ground was still a good 10 minutes away and, with wanting to get there a little early, just in case, I set off under a couple of railway arches and over a dual carriageway before the Main Stand of the Blues’ home came into view over the surrounding roofs.

Digbeth Works

Old Crown

Upon arriving at the ground, I purchased a programme from the sellers outside (£3) and quickly took in the Main Stand exterior, before reckoning it was going to be easier to head for the away end and join the supporters of the former Northern Premier League outfit as they sought out a long awaited away win. Soon relieved of £25 at the turnstile – not that bad all things considered – I was soon asked to put my picture taking skills to the test by a few Wigan lads. I hope it came out well enough! I did see a couple of them after the game too, and there wasn’t any disaproving looks, so it must have!

St. Andrew’s is an impressive ground that retains a lot of character that more recent redeveloped grounds do not. The three more modern stands tower over its old mainstay, almost like Plymouth’s Home Park did until recently. The other three stands are of a similar size and the corners are all enclosed within them – the exception being the couple either side of the older construction. The dugouts are located out the front of the old stand too, whilst the players enter the field from the corner between it and the stand behind the goal we were located in today. Sightlines are good too, though I suspect that some views from the elder statesman may be a bit restricted. Anyway, that’s the ground in a nutshell, and this is the story of the Birmingham blues….

History Lesson:

Birmingham City Football Club was founded in 1875 as Small Heath Alliance, who became an F.A. Cup semi-finalist in 1886, a year after turning professional. They then dropped the Alliance suffix in 1888 to become, more simply, Small Heath F.C. and went on to play in the Football Alliance in 1889, having played local football beforehand. The Alliance ran alongside the Football League until 1892, when its member clubs were invited to join the League’s newly-formed Division 2 – which Small Heath duly won at the first attempt – but the first season would eventually end in disappointment, as the club lost out to another heath, Newton Heath, in Test Match action. However, they would win their second attempt at promotion when, having this time finished as runners-up, the club defeated Darwen in the Test Match game to secure promotion to the First Division.

The club remained in the First Division through their 1905 name change to Birmingham Football Club – a year in which the club won their first silverware: the Birmingham Senior Cup in their last season as Small Heath – and moved into St. Andrew’s a year later. However, the move didn’t immediately inspire and after relegation in 1908, Birmingham were forced into a re-election application in two years later and remained in Division 2 through to the outbreak of World War One. Upon the restarting of League footballing action after the war, Birmingham lifted the Division 2 title in 1921, before reaching their first FA Cup final a decade later, where they would lose out to local rivals: West Bromwich Albion. Birmingham would remain in the First Division from their 1921 promotion almost right through to the cessation of the sport once again for the duration of World War II, but were relegated in the final, full pre-war campaign.

Arriving at St. Andrew’s

Taking on the City suffix in 1943 whilst competing in the wartime Football League South – a league which they won in 1945 – the club went on to lift their third Division 2 title in 1947, although they would suffer the drop once again in 1950. After five seasons back in Division 2, City again won the divisional title in 1955 and achieved their highest league placing, to date, of 6th, in their first season back; a season which also saw them reach a second FA Cup final, but again this would end in defeat – this time at the hands of Manchester City. The game is remembered more for Bert Trautmann’s performance whilst playing on with a broken neck suffered during the 3-1 win for his side, the former P.o.W. beginning to cement his hero status and changing the minds of many along the way.

In 1956, City became the first English club to compete in a European competition, playing in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, a competition in which they reached the final (again becoming the first English cup to reach a continental final) on two occasions, but lost on both occasions to Barcelona and AS Roma in 1960 & ’61 respectively. However, the 1961 competition saw City defeat Internazionale at the San Siro – a victory that set an English record that would stand for over 40 years, until Arsenal finally equalled the feat. Back in domestic action, Birmingham won the 1963 League Cup with victory over city rivals Aston Villa, though they would be relegated from the top-table of English football just two-years later, ending a decade-long stint. They would return again in 1972, though would be relegated again at the close of the decade – a year which included the club selling Trevor Francis for £1 Million – Francis becoming the first player to be sold for the fee. What a bargain it seems now!

They swiftly returned, but went down again in 1984 and despite again achieving promotion at the first attempt, this was marred by the tragedy of the death of a young boy, when a stadium wall collapsed upon him during rioting. This day also coincided with the Bradford City fire, which claimed a further 56 lives, on what was a truly dark day for football. The club suffered on the field during the post-promotion years too, which led to the club dropping into the Third Division by 1989; and things only got worse as new owners saw a lack of promised investment come about, players threaten to leave en masse, and rapid changes of managers. However, things were slightly tempered by victory amidst the chaos in the 1991 Associate Members’ Cup. Promotion followed with a third-place in 1992, with the ownership changing once again shortly afterwards, and although 1993 saw saw the drop staved off, it was suffered the next year. Yet again, City would return at their first go of it, finishing as 1995 Division 2 champions, whilst also lifting the Football League Trophy via a golden goal against Carlisle United at Wembley. The lead up to the turn of the millennium saw three straight play-off defeats, and City also were on the wrong side of the 2001 League Cup final, losing on penalties to Liverpool.

BCFC

Under new boss Steve Bruce, Birmingham achieved promotion to the Premier League in 2002, defeating Norwich City in the play-off final to get there. They went on to spend four seasons there prior to being relegated and after a season back in the Championship, they would yet again be promoted at the first attempt, as runners-up. Relegated after a season back, (guess what?) they ONCE MORE came back first time around – again after a 2nd placed finish – and this time they remained in the Premier League for a couple of seasons, the most notable arguably being the 2010-’11 campaign, which saw the Blues lift the League Cup for a second time and thus qualify for the Europa League. However, their league form wasn’t there and the same season saw City relegated back to the Championship, where despite making the 2012 play-offs, financial issues and instabilities returned, with managers Alex McLeish, Chris Hughton, Lee Clark and Gary Rowett all coming and going in quick time.

Gianfranco Zola was hailed by the new owners as the man to bring stability but he too was, understandably, dismissed in short order, with experienced replacement Harry Redknapp able to stave off the drop to League One with late season results. However, Redknapp and his former assistant Steve Cotterill were both gone within half a year-or-so, with successor Garry Monk able to follow Redknapp’s lead from the previous year in keeping Birmingham just clear of the drop zone. A 9-point deduction for financial issues followed the next year, though Monk steered City to 17th, but this wasn’t enough to save him from the axe and his assistant, Spaniard Josep Clotet came in as caretaker, before being given the job “permanently” for the season.

The game got underway with the hosts initially starting off the brighter, seeing Jérémie Bela and Lukas Jutkiewicz efforts go off target during the first five minutes. However, it would be Wigan who would grab the opener on nine minutes, Joe Williams’ low ball reaching the back-post, where the arriving Josh Windass slotted home from close range. Birmingham responded with Bela forcing Latics ‘keeper Jamie Jones into action, while Williams did similar to home stopper Connal Trueman shortly afterwards.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Harlee Dean fired in a speculative effort just after the half-hour that failed to trouble Jones, just prior to Williams again seeing a sight of goal, only to again be denied in fairly routine fashion by Trueman. Wigan’s centre-back Cedric Kipre headed a Josh Windass corner towards goal, where the Blues’ ‘keeper was again in position to save. These stops proved to be vital too, as City drew level around five minutes before the break, when Kristian Pedersen forced his way into the area and slid across goal for Kerim Mrabti who turned, beat his man and forced the ball in from a tight angle, despite the efforts of the despairing Jones.

This gave the hosts renewed belief in the lead up to the break and, in truth, they likely should have gone in ahead, via Dean’s headed effort – which was well saved by the Wigan stopper. As it was, the whistle came at just the right time from a Wigan perspective and the sides headed into the dressing rooms all-square and I returned down into the concourse for a bit of a change of scenery, during the 15 minute interval. Soon enough though, the clock was ticking around to just after 4pm and it was time to, once again, head up into the St. Andrew’s seats.

In the concourse….

Just as in the first half, Wigan would grab an early goal to forge ahead once more and, as before, it was Josh Windass who would get it. Windass fired in from an acute angle via the frame of Gary Gardener and despite it going down as an own goal by the Birmingham man, it did appear to be heading into the far side despite the touch. Jutkiewicz again went close for the Blues, firing just wide, but they looked somewhat devoid of belief, in juxtaposition to the position of the Wigan players at that point – with both they and their fans sensing the long-awaited victory may just be around the corner – as the game entered its final twenty minutes.

Half-time sub Chey Dunkley saw his header from another quality delivery by the impressive Windass well kept out by Trueman, but the home gloveman would be powerless to stop Cedric Kipre making it three off of his midriff/upper thigh just a few minutes later. Another set-piece again caused issues at the back for Birmingham and an attempted header clear deflected into the net off the Wigan defender, who wheeled away in delight amongst his team-mates. It really did seem as though they and the fans wanted to urge each other on at this point, and they almost made it four when Jamal Lowe nodded off target from another dangerous Windass ball.

Light and dark

Match Action

City began to pressure Wigan as the visitors began to drop in and attempt to secure the points, and after Jutkiewicz had again seen an effort fly awry and many Blues fans begin to head for the exit, Jacques Maghoma had his targets set a little more accurately – the substitute powering a header beyond Jones, as Jutkiewicz turned provider, nodding down a delivery from the surprisingly subdued, highly-rated youngster, Jude Bellingham. And they almost drew level moments later, when Álvaro Giménez ran onto a Jefferson Montero ball in, met it sweetly with his head, only for Jones to be equal to it and pull off a fine stop to ensure his side stayed ahead. Alas for the Blues, they struggled to create anything more against a stubborn Latics defence, Wigan holding on for a deserved (and overdue) away win.

Post-match, I returned largely the way I’d arrived, traversing the nearby railway and industrial area before returning onto the Main Road and coming back upon the BIG Bull’s Head. Again rather spacious at this time and unlikely to change, unless the City fans were after drowning their sorrows, I ordered a pint of Hop House 13 (£3.80) here whilst weighing up whether or not to try out the Anchor just across the way. It didn’t really take me out of the way back station-wards anyway, so I figured I might as well give it a shot. Shut. I should have known. Unfortunately, the decent looking Spotted Dog was a little too far off at this point though, knowing how the day had gone, I’m sure that would also have been the “s-word” of the day.

Late on….

….and post-match – the BIG Bull’s Head

My plan now was to tick one of the Wetherspoons, most likely the hotel I’d seen earlier, but this came with a risk I truly couldn’t be arsed with and so settled upon a quick bottle in the All Bar One at New Street, despite really trying to get in somewhere with a little more character. I soon wished I hadn’t bothered, but with fifteen or twenty minutes until the train, it was a little too over what I wanted to wait and so, I wasted about ten of those over a Corona before navigating the strange set-up of New Street and jumping on the service bound for Manchester once more.

All connections and journey went smoothly, a nap on the way making it go all the more swifter, which is always a bonus. What wasn’t a bonus was getting back home and getting cramp in my leg, leading to me toppling over like a ton of bricks and getting a slightly twisted/bruised ankle as a result. I guess the bruised blue was kind of fitting. All in all, it was decent to actually visit Birmingham itself, as I’d never really got the chance to do so before. I think it often gets a bad rap, but the centre itself is decent if you know what’s about and know where you fancy heading for.

The areas around the Cathedral and near to the Bullring are pleasant too, and the road leading to the ground has its own share of decent watering holes. The ground itself is good, the views from the away end were excellent and I particularly enjoyed the fact that the old stand still stoically remains, amidst the modern “improvements”. I’m a traditionalist, what can I say? The game was a surprising gem of a match, with it being tight and tense, but the few chances that were created either being taken when they came along, or going largely close to ending up in the net. Birmingham done and its onto the next game. The FA Cup returns to these pages after a round away. Happy Reading….

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 8

Programme: 7

Food: 6

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Bournville (Bournville Rec. Ground)

Result: Cadbury Athletic Reserves 1-4 Gresley Reserves (Midland League Division 4/Reserves)

Venue: Bournville Recreation Ground (Saturday 28th December 2019, 2pm)

Att: 50

The final Saturday of 2019 saw me without a nailed on game once again. I’m not used to this freedom! With the weather again something of a factor, I was obviously on the lookout for an early bit of confidence to emanate from some parts of the country. Now, I’d been looking at doing Bournville – somewhat famed in ‘hopping circles – for quite some time, and this had only grown as I became more familiar with the ground as a….well, ground, i.e. more than just a pitch. As luck would have it, the Bournville Rec looked to be all set to go, as Cadbury Athletic’s Reserve side – who currently are the major side here with the first time in exile just down the road – saying the pitch was in good nick and all set for play. So no time like the present then. To Bournville it was!

A pretty problem free journey saw me heading through Manchester and to Birmingham New Street, arriving at a little before midday. Unfortunately missing an earlier connection by mere seconds, the frequency of the service meant this mattered little, the short hop to the purple giant’s suburb taking just the 10 or so minutes. Alighting in the shadow of the Cadbury factory (which I neglected to get a picture of for some unknown reason), I took a left turn out of the station and headed for the main road through the village. Well it actually turned out to be the adjoining Stirchley, but close enough!

Stirchley

British Oak

I began with a walk towards the far end of the road, where I was expecting to come across the Three Horseshoes. This I did, but I found it closed and within a state of flux – a sign outside stating it was to reopen under a different name shortly. To be honest, it didn’t look to be the case, but let’s hope I’m wrong. Anyhow, I returned back to the group of three bars that populate the area just a few minutes from the station itself, beginning with the rather grandiose British Oak. This pub looked like it was going to be more of your Carling, Fosters etc. establishment, and to a point it was. However, it was also home to a decent number of craft ales and the like, with me opting for a pint of the fine Clwb Tropicana (£5.20) – a hark back to my Millennium Stadium visit earlier in the year.

Watching a bit of the South Coast Derby clash between Brighton and AFC Bournemouth here, I soon finished up and crossed over the way to the Cask & Cage. This was a fairly strange set-up, offering Turkish dishes in a micropub-designed place, whilst having said micropub beers on offer. It felt a bit weird having a family lunch on one side as I sat in with a pint, although they left soon after, clearly not wanting this borderline alcoholic to give the kids any ideas! A pint of the Mancunian Cloudwater Pale Ale (at £5 and which I found to be similar to the Clwb strangely enough) was the tipple of choice here, whilst I scouted out any other possibilities. Be aware – it’s card only in here.

The two other bars here – the Wildcat Tap and the Cask & Cage

King Kong sighted in Stirchley

Attic Brew Co.

Bournville is a model village in the southern outskirts of Birmingham and is best known for its connection to the much mentioned Cadbury chocolate company. Historically a part of Worcestershire, it is also now a ward in the Selly Oak constituency and was even named as “one of the nicest places to live” in 2003. The area began as little more than a few farmhouses, cottages and the larger Bournbrook Hall, whilst parts of the ancient forest of Arden and Roman remnants have been found nearby. Upon the purchase of the area by the Quaker Cadbury siblings, they moved their factory from central Birmingham to allow for further expansion of their business, and required somewhere that would have good links by both rail and canal. Thus, the area that was to become Bournville was earmarked, with the future Birmingham West Suburban Railway being an obvious plus for them and it was already served by Stirchley Street station too. It gets its name from the nearby river Bourn and the French “ville” which, for anyone familiar with any kind of French language, shouldn’t need explaining!

The Cadbury workers were treated well by all accounts and the model village was cultivated to “alleviate the evils of modern, cramped living conditions”, which, to be fair, the brothers had a point about! Growing up slowly pre-World War One, it would go on to set the blueprint for the model villages of the future to follow, though completely unacceptably, there are no pubs due to the Quaker beliefs of the Cadbury’s. Terrible. However, this has been (apparently) rectified somewhat as the Rowheath pavilion is now licensed. Gw’arn! The pavilion, alongside which the recreation ground sits, held balls and the like, whilst the usage of the grounds were at no charge to those working for the business. In 1900, the Bournville Village Trust was set up to independently control the estate’s development and focussed on public amenities and to later oversee the in-keeping with its conservation area status, whilst Cadbury maintains its status as a large force both on the skyline and on the workforce.

Bournville station and the canal

Bournville

Bournville

The station, Bournville, is separate from the others, in that it’s painted purple, over the usual corporate WMR colours. The Worcester and Birmingham canal towpath can be joined straight from the station platform. Bournville has also been home to, along with the Cadbury family, “Hero of the Holocaust” recipient Bertha Bracey, suffragette and trade unionist, Julia Varley and actress Felicity Jones; whilst Cadbury Athletic has aided in the development of footballers like Daniel Sturridge, Ryan Burge, Corey O’Keefe and Demarai Gray – two of whom hold Premier League winners’ medals.

Options, as expected, were low on the ground and after an attempt at an art gallery/cafe-bar (I kid you not) was unfruitful, I decided to make my way to the Attic Brewery – one of those modern ones set up within an industrial unit. Having seen it wasn’t open for another half-hour past its scheduled opening time, another attempt at the gallery thing was again brought up a whole lot of nothing, and so I returned back to the industrial estate once again, whereupon I settled in with a pint of the brilliantly named Bob’s Revenge Pale Ale (£4.50). Lovely it was too, so whatever Bob wasn’t pleased about, he’s done a good job in getting his own back. Maybe; depending on his intentions….

Heading off groundwards….

….down towards the factory

and finally, arriving at the ground!

Time had ticked down towards the 2pm kick off time and after a five minute walk, I passed by the entrance to the Cadbury factory and came within sight of the fine pavilion that Bournville is home to. The sides were just heading out onto the field as I arrived and the pitch was, as promised, in fine fettle. The Recreation Ground is kind of a throwback. It shares a cricket outfield, though is flanked on the near side by a decently sized open terrace, with a larger set between the entrance and pavilion. The opposite side is where the cricket square is roped off, with the far end hosting open, hard standing, though may have been off limits, but I wasn’t aware and it hasn’t stopped me before anyway. Oooh, what a rebel! That’s pretty much that really for the Rec and with it being a Reserves game, I wouldn’t usually do a history lesson. However, with it unlikely to be revisited for the first team, let’s get on with the show!

History Lesson:

Cadbury Athletic Football Club was founded in 1994 and are, of course, usually decked out in the purple and white colours associated with the company’s branding. However, a Bournville Athletic side did compete in the Birmingham Combination from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, winning six straight titles between 1898 and 1903. Back to Cadbury, and the club were admitted into the Midland Combination’s Division Three and were promoted at the end of their first season, despite finishing in 9th. They remained in Division 2 until 2001, where a 4th placed finish was enough to secure promotion up to Division One, whilst the club also picked up their first piece of silverware in the form of the Midland Combination’s Challenge Vase, with a 1-0 victory over Rugby Town. In 2005, Cadbury finished as runners-up in Division One to reach the Premier Division of the Midland Combination and they would remain in situ through to 2012, whereupon they resigned from the division – despite finishing 12th – and voluntarily took the drop back to Division One.

Ground from the Cadbury World entrance

Despite losing out in the next season’s President’s Cup Final, this drop in divisions would prove fruitful in 2014, as Cadbury lifted the Division One title in the Combination’s final season, ahead of its merger with the Midland Alliance to form the Midland League. Despite their previous year’s title win, Cadbury were placed in the Division One here too and they have remained there through to this day, finishing last season in a solid 8th position, now playing just down the road in King’s Norton, having been forced into a move from Bournville due to a lack of floodlights. However, the Reserves continue on within the factory grounds, where they began life at the turn of the millennium, mirroring the first team’s origins by starting in the Midland Combination’s Division 3. They were immediately promoted to Division 2 after a 6th placed finish, and remained there through to (I assume) the first team’s voluntary drop and it seems the reserves joined the Reserve Division 2 and won the Challenge Urn in 2013, ahead of the league merger a year later.

Old-skool

Now in the Midland League, the Reserves finished up third in the Reserve Division 2, with the divisions being merged together into a single division for the following year. That season, 2015-’16, saw the reserves lift the Birmingham Saturday Amateur Cup with a penalty shoot-out win over Peugeot Millpool and when the Reserve Division was again re-designated for 2016-’17, as the long-winded Division 4/Reserve, they again secured a third placed finish. However, they struggled to 10th (second bottom) last season and have had something of a ‘hit-and-miss’ start to this campaign.

The game got going and within the first sixty seconds we had the opener, Gresley getting swiftly forward and giving the ball to James Shakespeare, who curled a fine effort around the Cadbury ‘keeper from around 20 yards out. A great start, and Gresley were almost two up shortly afterwards, when some good build-up play allowed Nathan Bowen a sight of goal, but he was denied by a fine stop from the home gloveman. Cadbury would respond, with good work by Deon Colstock forcing an eventual corner, from which the resulting delivery was headed over by John Baker. An exciting start and it belied the fact that this was, apparently, supposed to be the two sides’ reserves!

Match Action

From the raised path around the cricket

Gresley still maintained the slight upper hand over their hosts during the first 45 as a whole, and after Bowen had shown some good strength to force his way into a shooting opportunity, he’d have been somewhat frustrated to direct the effort wide of the mark. His strike partner, Shakespeare, who’d struck in the early seconds then wasted a fine chance to make it two, and was almost punished as Cadbury went right down the other end, but Baker’s attempt lacked conviction and resulted in a pretty comfortable stop for the Gresley stopper.

Cadbury though they had levelled it with around ten minutes to the break, when a challenge on the visiting ‘keeper led to him dropping the ball, and it being slotted in, but the officials adjudged him to have been fouled. However, to me anyway, it looked as though he may have got a little lucky, as he seemed to be mis-controlling the cross before contact was made; and if Athletic weren’t in the best mood after that, then they would go in fuming at the break. The visitors attacked, Gresley’s front two linked-up well, with Bowen unselfishly squaring for Shakespeare to side-foot home into the largely unguarded net.

Match Action

Match Action

Shakespeare nets number two

So it stood at 2-0 come the break and I wasted the ten minutes or so of half-time by wandering just around the corner and into the centre of Bournville itself – or what there is of it anyway. The entrance to Cadbury World wasn’t in any great use today either, and I was able to cross both ways in short order without the threat of being run over, which may not always be the case come the summer time, perhaps? Anyway, the sides were just getting underway as I walked back around to the pavilion entrance and Cadbury nearly got back into it almost immediately after the start, when Stuart Butcher outmuscled his defender and got something of an effort away, but the Gresley ‘keeper was able to block it out and onto the post. A close call.

Colstock went close shortly afterwards as the hosts strove to get back into the game and, as the bells behind the far goal began to replace Christmas Carols with ABBA’s “Supertrooper” for some unknown reason, a low ball in by Baker was turned in from close range by #10, Joe Busst, and it was game on! However, it looked as though the goal just arose Gresley from a half-way slumber and they began to gain a foothold once more – #11 forcing the Cadbury ‘keeper into another good stop, before a long ball by the Gresley ‘keeper looked to be heading to his opposite number directly, and with no danger seeming to be imminent, I looked away for a split second….

Criminals and proof

Match Action

Match Action

It was then I heard some excitement I hadn’t expected and glanced up just in time to see Bowen knocking the ball into the net with no-one near him and the ‘keeper accepting the blame for whatever the hell had just happened. For whom the bell tolls, I suppose?! This setback seemed to rouse Cadbury just as their strike had done for Gresley, and both Butcher and Baker (almost sound like a comedy duo) were both superbly denied by the visiting ‘keeper who, it has to be said, had a fine game between the sticks. Unfortunately, I can only link the scorers with their numbers for Gresley, so I don’t know who he is. (NB: I’ve since been informed by “Clive” that this was 16-year-old Charlie Leak. I look forward to seeing his progress over the coming years (God, I feel old!).

Soon after the fact, a poor ball gifted Gresley possession in the midfield, and the ball was slotted through to Bowen, who calmly slotted home to make it 4-1, a score that was somewhat harsh on Cadbury, though Gresley had, for the most part, taken their chances when they had come along. The home side would go close on a couple more occasions before the final whistle, a goalkeeper clearance being charged down, and the ball ricocheting wide, along with a drive from Dan Shea also being tipped over by said custodian, but the whistle would go to ensure the points would be heading back to the Moat Ground.

Late on….

Headin back Stirchley way

Upon the final whistle, I beat a hasty retreat under the railway and back to the main road, where the third of the trio mentioned earlier on was now open. Another micropub style place, the Wildcat Tap was certainly more of the usual in this respect, a good range of ales on offer too. Again, I stuck true to my roots with a Pomona Island Pale Ale (£3.90) before taking up a tip I’d picked up on twitter – that being that the newsagent next to the station was an off-licence, and with the offerings not exactly plentiful, I thought I’d give it a go. A Kopparberg was eventually decided upon, before a war between me and the bottle top ensued, my opener key ring isn’t exactly the best, it has to be said!

The journey back allowed me to catch the original train I’d hoped to catch in planning, before the one from Bournville was cancelled, so an earlier return from New Street home was more than welcome. The remainder of the journey was smooth sailing and, for the first time in what seems like an age, I’d had a trouble free trip. What is this sorcery?! Anyway, it had been a good day at a long-time target of mine. It’s certainly something a bit different and well worth a visit. The game quality was better than I expected too, but despite the few pubs being superb, the area itself was a bit of a let down in this respect (look, look, I’m being negative!). All things considered, though, the positives outweighed the negatives for sure (well, that lasted long). Onto New Year’s Day and, fingers crossed it isn’t a repeat of last year’s drab, drab beginning….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 9

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Rochdale

Result: Rochdale 2-3 Fleetwood Town (EFL League One)

Venue: Spotland (Thursday 26th December 2019, 3pm)

Att: 3,167

A surprisingly mild Boxing Day this one but, hang on, what’s this? Oh, it’s raining. Again. Shocker. Despite the weather’s best efforts, once again I would not be diverted from my “Plan A”, quite unlike Ferrari’s F1 team. Yes, just like at Middlewich a week-or-so earlier, the place I’d looked at doing for some time beat the weather, although this one was somewhat more of a definite than the Cheshire League venue, that’s for sure. Spotland it would be for yet another game, but this time a tour of Dale’s watering holes would finally be included. So, let’s get on with the show.

A fairly late set off to catch a bus at just after ten in the morning began the day, after which a couple of trams delivered me to a drizzly Rochdale Town Centre. After a bit of a plan out of a walking tour to take in the church and town hall, I arrived at my first stop, the Flying Horse, just opposite. Inside, I was surprised by the large amount of real ale on offer and felt somewhat obliged to sample one. My choice ended up being an American Pale Ale named Vocation Bread & Butter, from the Hebden Bridge brewery, and I was more than happy with my selection. Lovely stuff, at £3.70.

Arriving in Rochdale

Flying Horse

Looking towards the Medicine Tap

With the wet weather beginning to fall a little heavier, it was lucky that my next choice was just opposite, although the large whitewashed “Post Office” building did confuse me somewhat, as it wasn’t the kind of spot I was expecting the Medicine Tap to be located in. Nevertheless, here it was and even better was the Blue Moon (£4.80) on tap inside. That was certainly my medicine! Watching the rain fall through the doorway, I supped away before, upon finishing up, headed just around the corner and away from the recently uncovered River Roch to the Roebuck, one of the more strangely located pubs I’ve come across recently at least. Set back down a small alleyway between a row of shops, the pub seems to be going through some improvements to its exterior – covered as it is with a multitude of scaffolding. Inside was nice enough and cheap too, but with the smooth comes the rough. Sam Smith’s pub. Ah.

Rochdale is a town at the foot of the South Pennine hills and one that stands upon the River Roch and it is, unsurprisingly, the administrative centre for the Metropolitan Borough of Rochdale. Historically a part of Lancashire, its recorded history dates back to the Domesday Book, when it was mentioned under the name of Recedham Manor, its name likely derived from the Old English “reced” (‘hall’ and ham ‘homestead’, although as ‘Reced’ is not present in any other Anglo-Saxon titled settlement, this part probably is Celtic in origin – named after the kingdom of Rheged – probably meaning “Great’ or ‘opposite to’ wood”. the ancient parish of Rochdale was a division of the hundred of Salford which, at the time, was one of the largest ecclesiastical parishes in England. Over time, the name became Rachedale before taking on its current name.

Over the River Roch to the Town Hall

History

The Roman road linking Manchester (Mamucium) and York (Eboracum) ran close by, whilst the Danes regularly took on the Saxons of the area, with the castle at nearby Castleton likely one of the forts destroyed by the Viking raiders. During the times of the Normans and their Domesday Book, the area was held by a nobleman named Gamel, before Henry II awarded it to Roger de Lacy in 1212 who retained it as part of the Honour of Clitheroe, prior to it passing to the Duke of Lancaster through marriage and later, duly, to the Crown by the mid-14th century. By 1251, Rochdale itself had grown in importance enough as to be allowed a market charter and after John Byron bought the manor for his family, it was later sold by the poet Lord Byron, in 1823, to the Deardens who hold the title. Whilst not strictly having a manor house, the “Orchard” would later become the de facto house, though this was demolished in 1922.

Having been a centre of woollen cloth from the times of Henry VIII, the Industrial Revolution saw Rochdale boom, with water mills replaced by steam and coal-powered ones, and the Rochdale Canal being constructed to allow for the ease of transport of much of the town’s exports of cotton, due to the improvements in technology and growth in importance of the spinning and weaving. It duly became a world-leader in this regard, becoming one of the world’s first industrialised towns in the process with silk makers and dyers and bleachers all growing up around the textile industries. These all led to the economy growing too, which led to Rochdale becoming a borough in its own right. However, the 20th century saw the importance of spinning etc. fall into rapid decline, along with Rochdale’s importance. Rochdale also became the home to the Co-operative movement during the mid-1800’s, whilst the railways from this town (introduced from 1839) steadily grew in size to offer links to both Manchester and Leeds and on further afield, whilst the Metrolink added to these and bus services in 2014.

Church

Rochdale Town Centre

The town has many alumni in the writing and arts fields, as well as media, with numerous novelists, poets, musicians, and presenters coming from Rochdale. These number the likes of Lancashire dialect poet Edwin Waugh, one of the first war photographers Roger Fenton, singer Gracie Fields, Good Charlotte drummer Dean Butterworth and broadcasters Mark Chapman, the Kershaws and John Peel – the latter having lived in the town for a time. Actors Bill Oddie, Anna Friel and Colin Baker also hail from the town, whilst politicians such as John Bright (one of the first Quakers to sit in the Commons), the Methodist Unitarian leader Rev. Joseph Cooke, the posthumously disgraced Cyril Smith and, more recently, Sajid Javid come from here, and footballing-wise, Craig Dawson, Donald Love and Earl Barrett have also called Dale home.

With the anti-tech weirdo’s pockets laced via a £2.80 Taddy Lager, I continued on through the pedestrianised town centre and to the White Lion, located at the far end of it. A pint of San Miguel (£3.60) later and I was heading initially to the nearby Reede Inn, but I soon reckoned I’d be better served ticking off the Baum instead and catching the bus from just around the corner. This proved a good choice once again and after a swift Amstel (£3.80) with time before said carriage running short, I quickly crossed the road towards the college, arriving at the stop just as the bus appeared. For once it was all working out!

Roebuck

White Lion

Baum

A short ride later, I was disembarking right outside the entrance to Spotland and after a couple of exterior pics, I headed indoors to their adjoining Radcliffe Bars, where you can walk freely between the two, if you get a bit bored of your surroundings. With a good half-hour until kick off (paying on the turnstile was the way of the day, so I played it cautiously) I thought it rude not to pay a bit back for the hospitality, a Desperados (£3~) doing the trick. Before long, it was time to head back out and to the turnstiles, where u was soon relieved of £20, and then swiftly a few more quid for a steak and kidney pie (if I remember correctly). Having already sorted the programme shortly after debussing, I could head straight into the terrace for the game, with the players minutes away from taking to the field.

Spotland is a ground which I think is vastly underrated when it comes to one with character. It still maintains its traditional floodlights and all the stands are a little different to each other and offer good views of the pitch. The terrace runs the width of the pitch behind the near goal, whilst the Main Stand – which houses all the usual facilities – runs the vast majority of the length of the field, as does the all-seater stand opposite, which usually houses the away fans. Indeed, the travelling Cod Army were placed here today. The far end is designated as the “Family Stand” and is again an all-seater affair, though is a bit more “Kop-like” in appearance, to my eyes at least. That’s Spotland in short order and this is the tale of the Dale….

History Lesson:

Rochdale Association Football Club dates to in 1896 when they joined the Lancashire Combination for a season, prior to a three-year spell in the Lancashire League. After leaving for a year, they returned and continued to play there for the next two seasons until the league closed down, with Rochdale not reappearing until 1907 – their official founding date. However, their return to the field wasn’t until 1908, Dale joining the Lancashire Combination’s Division 2, from where they were promoted to the Division One in 1910. They won the title in both 1911 and 1912, before moving into the Central League after their second triumph, where they’d remain for the last couple of pre-war seasons. It would later go on to hold the distinction of playing the most seasons in the Football League, without dropping out of it, nor reaching either of the top two divisions, in any form.

Arriving at Spotland

RAFC

Post-World War One, Rochdale became a founding member of the Football League’s Division Three North in 1921, having unsuccessfully applied to join the League ranks immediately after the end of the war. After winning their first league game against Accrington Stanley 6-3, the club would have to re-apply to remain in the League, having finished bottom. Better times would soon come along though, as Rochdale finished as Division Three North runners-up in each of 1924 and 1927, but wouldn’t manage to leave the division until World War II – when football again closed down during hostilities. After the war, the club returned to the Third Division North, and remained there through its switch to a national division for 1958-’59 – the season they would finish bottom and be relegated to Division 4. Back in the bottom division, Dale would remain here until 1969, though did become the first bottom division major cup finalist in their 1962 League Cup defeat to Norwich City when a third-placed finish was enough to secure them promotion back to Division 3 and they would spend the next five campaigns there prior to again finishing bottom.

Once again in Division 4, the club embarked on their infamous 36-year unbroken stay in the Football League’s bottom tier, encompassing the founding of the Premier League in 1992 and the re-designation of the divisions therein, although this could have been ended in fairly short-order as, after finishing bottom of the League in 1978, Rochdale were successful in their application to remain there, with second-bottom Southport instead being demoted in favour of Wigan Athletic’s joining. 1980 also saw a bottom-placed finish for Dale, but again they would stay within the League ranks, but only by the narrowest of margins – just the one vote over Altrincham.

Ratcliffe Bars

Spotland

2002, 2008 and 2009 all saw play-off heartbreak for Rochdale, the ’02 and ’09 campaigns both ending in the semi-finals – at the hands of Rushden & Diamonds and Gillingham respectively – whilst the ’08 play-offs finished with defeat at Wembley – the club’s debut there – to Stockport County. Further re-naming in 2004 saw Rochdale in the League 2, where they would stay until 2010, when they finally broke their record-breaking streak with promotion to League One, the third-tier, after again finishing third, just as in 1969. Relegation back to League 2 would be suffered in 2012, although Dale’s wait to escape the bottom division of the Football League was this time somewhat shorter, the club taking just two seasons to return after, again, finishing 3rd. They have since remained in the League One, finishing up last season in 16th position. As an aside, Rochdale have also lifted the Lancashire Cup on three occasions, these being in 1949, 1971 and 2005.

We got going with both sides having a fairly even share of the opening 15 minutes or so, though there was little in the way of chances; Callum Camps going closest early on for the hosts as he fired wide and Jack Sowerby doing similar down the other end. It would be fair to say that it hadn’t been an absolute classic come the half-hour, with only Harrison Biggins’ effort going close to troubling the target, but it was something to point towards Fleetwood’s grip on the game at that point.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Sowerby would again fire off-target as the half drew towards its conclusion, but from the resulting goal-kick, Dale went straight down the other end and won a corner, one that would be delivered by Stephen Dooley. Dooley’s delivery was more than useful, whipped into the centre of goal and it was here that the ball was met by Aaron Wilbraham, climbing highest to power a header beyond Fleetwood ‘keeper Billy Crellin. That would be that for the first half, and as the players headed back into the dressing rooms, I made my way back inside the bars for a catch up on the scores around the country.

The second half was soon ready to go and I returned back onto the terraces, as the Spotland floodlights well and truly began to take hold. Under the lights, Fleetwood began to go for it more and set their intentions out early, as Ched Evans’ rattled the crossbar with a headed effort for Joey Barton’s side. Another Evans header shortly after was kept out by Robert Sanchez, but the ‘keeper was unfortunate that the ball fell at the mercy of Paddy Madden, who duly did the honours to level up the scores. However, parity would last just seven minutes, as Dale retook the lead when Wilbraham latched onto a loose ball on the left-hand side of the box before shooting in at Crellin’s near post to double his and the hosts’ tally.

ROCHDALE

Match Action

Wilbraham was now on a hat-trick and he would soon secure his third goal of the afternoon….only it would be his own net that was rippling. Just five minutes after putting Dale back ahead, the forward would be highly unlucky when he, within a scrum of bodies, deflected Kyle Dempsey’s hit and hope beyond the helpless Sanchez for 2-2. We were all set for a last 25 minutes that looked to be building nicely, and despite the visitors arguably having slightly the better of the next ten minutes of play, it was home sub Kwadwo Baah who would be denied from a tight angle, Crellin tipping his stinging shot over. However, this paled in significance to a scary moment involving Rhys Norrington-Davies, who was left largely motionless after an accidental collision with Crellin after beating him to the ball.

After a good seven or eight minutes of stoppage, a glazed-looking Norrington-Davies was carried from the field on a stretcher to applause from all sides of the ground. His facial expression didn’t look too good and you could only hope all was ok with him. Anyway, this left Dale in a dilemma, as they now had to see out the last twenty minutes or so with 10 men, having already made their three substitutions. I do think there’s a case for a “serious injury-enforced” like-for-like sub rule to be brought in when these cases arise, though I suppose it would be hard to police.

Match Action

Match Action

As it was, the ten men tried gamely to hold onto their point against a Fleetwood side now feeling as though the cards had all fallen for them, and it was little surprise when, with the 90 almost up, Wes Burns was found in the centre of the area and he made no mistake in coolly slotting past Sanchez for 3-2 and send the Fleetwood fans and bench into raptures. However, Dale weren’t done and Wilbraham forced Crellin into action shortly after the restart, but they never truly looked like getting back on level terms, and indeed it was Town who went closest to netting a coup-de-grace as both Evans and Madden were denied by Sanchez.

Unfortunately, I had to leave a couple of minutes before the end, to ensure I caught the bus from outside which, thankfully, was late too. I didn’t miss much bar a Paddy Madden shot apparently, so it proved the best choice. I arrived back in the centre in quick time, having beaten the usual traffic of course, and hopped off back outside the Medicine Tap, but with my sights set on the Reede I’d missed out earlier. It looked and sounded rocking as I rounded the corner to it, and indeed it was Karaoke night and it was blaring. I opted for a Corona (£2.80) with seating seeming to be at a premium and didn’t spend too long, although the singers I heard whilst in there weren’t bad, to be fair!

Reede

Regal Moon (from much earlier!)

Last up to round off the day was the Wetherspoons, a former cinema building by the name of the Regal Moon. A rather grand building, the Regal Moon dominates this part of the town centre and is one of the more impressive in the chain’s portfolio, I’d suggest. Unfortunately, I didn’t have too much time before the tram to enjoy its interior, a bottle of Hooch having to suffice before I returned to the tram stop just outside for the apparent tram back….which didn’t exist. I hope this isn’t becoming a thing after last week’s phantom Crimbo Brymbo bus too. Needlessly over gassy after having to rush the bottle for no reason as it turned out, I didn’t feel all the best at that point, though the tram back into Manchester did allow for a bit of a brief snooze, prior to grabbing a couple of buses to get home without any real issue, a journey which included just beating the Old Trafford rush, following Manchester United’s 4-1 thumping of another United, Newcastle.

So rounded off yet another Spotland trip and it had been the best overall, in both matchday experience and match quality (although Dale fan Ian kindly getting me into the hospitality bit a few years back counts separately!). The game was real fun second half, Spotland continued to grow on me and Rochdale as a town was better than I expected because, if I’m honest, I expected it to be a bit shit. It wasn’t and that was a real bonus nor could the weather put a dampener on things, so no complaints can be made again (I know I say that a lot, but there really is nowhere I’ve been yet to be too negative on. Maybe I need to be less positive! Last Saturday, and indeed last game, of the year is next up, ‘dair’ I say where I will be….

Match Action

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Brymbo

Result: Brymbo 2-4 Holywell Town (Welsh National League Premier Division)

Venue: The Crick (Saturday 21st December 2019, 3pm)

Att: 200 (approx.)

The final pre-Christmas weekend of the year saw a first trip over the Welsh border since the very first game of the season. Nor were either ground all too distant from each other either, as I headed to Weston Rhyn for Chirk Town’s first outing. For today, the venue was the Crick in the Wrexham suburb of Brymbo – or just outside to be exact – and I would be joined along the way by blog regular appearance maker, Paul. The morning journey saw me again head Cheshire-wards, passing through Warrington in the nick of time to catch the express to Chester. Once there, a 25 minute wait was split up by, first, being told I’d given the ticket office girl a Aussie cent (my reply of “I don’t remember that trip” made me feel like a comedian for a very brief moment) and a pint of Punk IPA in the Town Crier just outside the station entrance.

Before long, it was time to catch the train to Wrexham, where I would meet Paul in one of their two Wetherspoon offerings, prior to grabbing a bus up the Crick. This all went surprisingly smoothly, for once, and after a Bud Light each in the Elihu Yale, we were soon stepping onto the number 14 service from the bus station just around the corner, which also offered journeys to Ruthin, Denbigh and elsewhere in the country’s rather complex transport map. However, it was a little easier for us, and within 15 minutes, we were debussing outside the Rollers Arms in Tanyfron, complete with neighbouring stream. Now, the Rollers isn’t exactly a looker from the outside it has to be said, but inside it is pretty cosy and decent and the pints of Coors (£3~) went down well for each of us.

The Elihu Yale ‘Spoons

Rollers’ Arms

Brymbo is a large village local government community out in the hills to the North East of Wrexham, of which it is part of the county borough. It probably derives its name from the Welsh Bryn Baw (mud hill) and first appeared on record in 1339 although the area had been populated for a long while before that – shown by the Brymbo Man, a body dating back to 1600BC. Upon the times stated before, Brymbo had become a township, surrounded by a number of smaller outlying settlements and other unclaimed areas, whilst in 1440, the burgesses of nearby Holt were granted permission to mine for coal in “Harwd” and Coedpoeth – the former being a previous name for Brymbo, likely coming from the English “Harwood” (Hare Wood) and referred to a common in one part of the township.

Also in the 15th century, landowner Edward ap Morgan ap Madoc, gentleman, built a dwelling that would become Brymbo Hall, the perennial home of his descendants, the Griffiths. Coal mining continued on a small scale up to the 18th century when the activities grew, particularly John “Iron Mad” Wilkinson bought Brymbo Hall and began to develop its estate, mining coal and ironstone and creating ironworks which later became the village steelworks. By 1821, there was a total of 41 mines on the estate alone, whilst numerous deep mining holes were sunk around the area, with Brymbo village largely becoming a redevelopment for the workers in these industries. The village itself was built on the hillsides overlooking the Cheshire Plain and had a railway station until 1950.

Brymbo

The old steelworks’ remnants

Howver, this topography would later cause issues in the 1950’s, when new parts of the steelworks were built upon a vast artificial plateau of slag from the furnaces and then filling the valley and most of the village, the houses of which were demolished beforehand. The steelworks continued production whilst the pits fell aside financially and geologically by the Great Depression, the last deep mine closing in 1938, though the smelt drift mine continued to 1967. The steelworks finally closed in the early 1990’s, again adding to the financial problems of the area. The current Community of Brymbo also takes in the surrounding villages; Tanyfron and Bwlchgwyn and other smaller settlements around them. It was in the county of Denbighshire until 1974 and then Clwyd to 1996, when this was abolished and it’s now a part of Wrexham County Borough. It has recently had new houses added and further redevelopments of the steelworks’ brownfield sites is to follow.

As with last week, we had another 2pm kick off on our hands and, with Brymbo village being a fair way off still considering the time frames involved, I followed Paul’s plan to instead pay a visit to the Brymbo Sports Club itself. You see, I can play it safe if prompted! Anyway, it was a decent choice, as the uphill walk soon showed up our recent lack of respective fitness and by the time we arrived, we were very much in need of some refreshing, frosty ones….and not a snowman. The bear outside the club was already on it as we arrived, perhaps our spirit (mythical) animal had finally been discovered?

Arriving at Brymbo F.C.

Alky Dragon

After a Holsten had been downed, it was time to head outside and to the ground, although we weren’t quite expecting the entrance we would see upon turning the corner. A few flights of steps lead up to the crest of a hill, upon which stood a club building, the gate, and the Crick’s two pitches in behind. Once we’d cambered up groundhopping’s answer to Everest (OK, maybe I’m exaggerating), we paid our entry dues of £3, but discovered a lack of programmes on the day. Apparently, they do usually issue, but expected the game to be off, and so didn’t print any. It has to be said, though, that I haven’t seen much evidence of these anywhere as it is, but who am I to speculate? Paul was even spurned in his quest for a team sheet. Not sure he’ll cope!

Back onto matters at hand, and we reached pitch side just as the game was getting going. The ground itself is a tidy set up, with hard standing around 3 sides and the far end being netted off to avoid balls flying off down the hill. Though it has to be said, I did skim around it, so it is possible. Both sides of the pitch play host to stands, the near side featuring a seated and small covered, metal terrace and the other populated by an older stand, whose seats, it can be certainly stated, have seen better days! Behind the near goal are the aforementioned club building (housing food bar and dressing rooms), as well as the secondary pitch, which wasn’t in use today, but seems to be kept in some nick. So that’s the Crick and this is the back story of *ahem* Crimbo Brymbo…

History Lesson:

Brymbo Football Club was founded in 1943 as the works team of the Brymbo Steelworks, however the village has hosted a football club since the late 1800’s, with Brymbo Institute (1890-1897; 1907-’09), Brymbo Junior (1899) and Brymbo Victoria, all representing the area during the more formative years. During this time, it was Victoria that saw the majority of success, winning a Wrexham & District League title in three successive seasons through 1904-’06, although these are stated as two Division One’s and one Division 2 – in that order. Strange, as the year after the apparent Division 2 win in 1906, the club then moved into the Flintshire League for a season, before returning to the Wrexham & District League system, alongside the re-formed Institute side. Institute would win their own Division 2 title in 1909, although this proved to be the last season of their existence.

Brymbo Victoria continued on, moving into The Combination to take on Birkenhead’s fixtures in 1909 and were joined on the field by Green United who joined the Wrexham & District League too, just as their predecessors. They spent two years there before seemingly disappearing in 1912, one year after Victoria had also seemed to halt playing. Brymbo Institute restarted life in the two seasons pre-World War One playing in the North Wales Alliance, and continued there upon the restart of football, now alongside Brymbo Green, whilst Brymbo Junior re-joined the area’s footballing scene in 1921, competing in the Ffrith & District League, although this seemed to be a bridge too far and they again lasted the one season. Meanwhile, Institute carried on to 1924 in the Welsh National League North’s Division One until merging with Division 2 East’s Brymbo Green and continuing under the latter moniker, whilst another brief rekindling of Junior back in the Ffrith League again fizzled out after the one year.

The “Mount Everest” incline

Green continued on, playing in the Wrexham & District League Division One for the next few years, though apparently disappeared in 1936, though came back as Brymbo Steelworks, it seems, post-World War II. Competing in the Welsh National League’s Senior Division, the club finished 2nd in its first year, before enjoying a golden era in the WNL’s Division One through to 1983, where they won a total of 12 league titles, and won the Welsh Amateur Cup in 1967. Anyway, in the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division, the Steelworks continued until 1991, whereupon they simply became Brymbo F.C. and moved to the Cymru Alliance, finishing as runners-up in 1995, before merging with New Broughton to form the, imaginatively titled, Brymbo Broughton F.C. and winning both the 1996 North East Wales F.A. Cup. and the same year’s Cymru Alliance President’s Cup.

The club remained in the Alliance until 2002, when they were relegated back to the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area), where a poor season, as Summerhill Brymbo following a merger with Summerhill United, saw them end 2005-’06 in 16th place, but Brymbo avoided the drop, before the simpler Brymbo F.C. name returned once again. Back under their former name, they immediately won the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) title for two straight seasons, though remained in the league regardless, and added to these the F.A.W. Trophy in 2007. They have since remained in the same league system, although they did suffer relegation in 2017 to Division One, they bounced back immediately to take the 2017-’18 Division One title and finished last season, their Prem return year, in 15th.

The Crick

They were also re-joined on the field by the reformed Brymbo Victoria, who took on a place in the North Wales League – again ensuring two clubs playing senior football in the area. However, the season wasn’t without an interesting footnote, as Brymbo actually finished 3rd before having a whole 63 points deducted (somehow only the second highest in Welsh footballing history), though still avoided an undeserved drop due to the demise of FC Nomads of Connah’s Quay, and the acceptance of relegation by Hawarden Rangers. As Steelworks, the club also won eight WNL (Wrexham Area) League Cups (or alternative, spanning 1948-1986), four N.E. Wales Cups (through 1970-1985) and, as Brymbo, have added a further two Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division, in each of 2008 and 2013.

The game got underway with an early strike for the second successive game, the visitors striking within the first five minutes. After earning a free-kick just outside the angle of the area, Sam Jones’ ball in evaded everyone and nestled into the bottom corner. A great start for the visitors almost got even better seconds later, but Mark Connolly struck the bar, but it would be two on 10 minutes – Connolly seeing his headed effort kept out by Brymbo ‘keeper Declan Morgan, only for the ball to be forced over the line by the alliteratively-pleasingly-named Dan Dobbins.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

With a two-goal advantage, it looked as though Holywell may well have been on course for another high-scoring victory (they’ve scored more than ten on a few occasions this season already), but Brymbo had been unbeaten against the Wellmen up to this point, securing a point away from home and defeating them in a cup game a few weeks earlier. However, despite denying Town a third by the time the half-hour ticked by, another ball in would just evade Jones and run to the back-post where Dylan Allshorn pounced and finished with aplomb. Allshorn would be booked for apparent simulation just before the break – though it did look to be a penalty from my view – but the sides headed in with Holywell remaining three-up and in control; so much so that this led one visiting player to declare Brymbo a “pub team” on his way to the dressing room. This could have come back to bite him hard.

Finishing up a hot-dog (it was that or a Chicken & Mushroom Pot Noodle) from the food bar, the second half began and it was pretty much the same as the first had started – only that it was the hosts that were now in control of the early stages. Indeed, they netted soon after the restart, a cross from the left-hand side being met at the back-post by Charlie Bell, who found the net only a few minutes into his debut, having come on at the break. It was pretty much his first meaningful touch too, so not a bad start to a career! Minutes later, it was game well and truly on, when an awful error by Town ‘keeper Mike Platt saw him drop the ball right at the feet of, the surely disbelieving, Billy New, who made no mistake. 2-3!

Brymbo net their first

Match Action

From the seats

This proved to be the catalyst for Brymbo to start testing Platt a little more with high balls, but despite one shaky moment soon after, he regained his composure well. Indeed, Jones almost made it 4-2 to the Wellmen, when he outpaced the Brymbo skipper Vito Mbolokele and rounded Morgan, but his poked shot towards the empty net was cleared off the line by another back-tracking home defender. The hosts responded with a free-kick being well saved by Platt, before Town began to gain the upper hand once more in the last twenty minutes or so. After a fizzing drive by right-winger Luke Edwards cannoned off the crossbar, full-back Jake Cooke showed good persistence which allowed him to capitalise on an error by his opponent on the right, advance forward into the area, whereupon he showed good composure to work himself a better position and fire home beyond the helpless Morgan.

Substitute Lee Butterworth also hit the woodwork late on for Town, whilst Brymbo almost netted a late third in stoppage time, when good play by Jamie Cumming allowed him a sight of goal, but alas, the home #7’s drive would only clear the cross-bar and that would be that. Holywell avenged their 4-2 defeat here a few weeks earlier in the FAW Trophy by inflicting the very same score-line on their hosts and for us, it was off up to Brymbo itself.

Miner’s Arms

George & Dragon

Post-match, Paul and I beat a hast retreat back down the stairs and out to the road to catch the apparent bus service up the remainder of the hill to the village. However, this proved to be something ghostly and couldn’t be seen and so we set off on foot, arriving into the Miners Arms pub at the crest of the hill slightly more sweaty (in my case anyway) than would be ideal! Our stay here would have been rather uneventful, had it not been for Adrian Lewis almost hitting a nine darter, whilst two games we were mentioning both tied in with goals just as we spoke. Sadly for Paul’s bet, the Tractor Boys wouldn’t play along.

Coors (£3.30) finished, we headed onwards to what I think was the highest point in Brymbo, where we came across the George & Dragon which, surprisingly, was a J. W. Lees pub, rarely seen in these parts. However, I reckoned I’d play it safe and so couldn’t partake in their Mancunian offerings, although Paul bypassed his Scouse inclinations to sample a Manchester Lager. I plumped for a Corona (no lime, £3~) before we paid a visit to the Railway Tavern a short distance away where I had a Corona (with lime, about the same) and Sam Smith (though not officially one I think) was defeated. Nice.

My camera was defeated by darkness at this point!

Y Cai standing out from up in the park.

We rounded off our trip with a stop off at Y Cai, from outside of which we would catch the bus back down to Wrexham Station. Inside, we met dogs and their humans, Paul indulged in mince pies and I had a pint of either Coors or Stella (for some reason this one escapes me) whilst watching some of the pretty underwhelming Club World Cup Final which Liverpool would eventually be successful in, lifting Paul’s footballing mood, after his Ipswich-related setback!

Bus duly caught, we returned quickly back to Wrexham, where we had time to waste and so I introduced (maybe, Paul wasn’t sure) my companion to the Turf Hotel, right outside the Racecourse Ground. Always a pleasure to visit, and the Amstel rounded off the trip….well, if you don’t count the can of Foster’s I was forced into having on the train back to Liverpool. Connection easily caught to round off the day, and it had been a festive thriller. Six goals, a near comeback and a bit of silliness on the side. Pubs had been good, the ground nice enough and so was the company as always (aw, football fwend!). Merry Crickmas, all!

RATINGS:

Game: 9

Ground: 6

Food: 4

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Middlewich

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

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

Att: 40 (approx.)

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

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

Finally arriving in Middlewich

Pre-match stop: Newton Brewery Inn

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

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

Arriving at Seddon St.

Seddon Street and its unused gate

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

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

History Lesson:

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

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

In the clubhouse

View from the Main Stand

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

View from the other stand

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

Big Lock

White Bear

Middlewich

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

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

King’s Arms through the old battleground

The neighbours

Golden Lion to round off with

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

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

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

 

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 7

Food: 9

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8