Result: Springhead 0-1 Stockport Georgians (Manchester League Premier Division)
Venue: St. John’s Road (Saturday 14th March 2020, 2.30pm)
I’ve come to write this blog a good month after the fact and, as such, it probably won’t be all that great. No change there then! Anyhow, my memory does tend to do me well on most occasions, so let’s see how it fairs going back to these pre-lockdown times. I started off grabbing a train into Manchester, a tram into the concerningly named Oldham Mumps and finally a bus ride for the uphill run to Springhead itself. A small town just outside of Oldham and towards Mossley, Springhead seemed a nice enough option for a game, with all the doubts being raised about the future of the season back then. If you know me, then you know my thoughts on that.
The bus dropped me at a stop named after a pub called the White Lion (I think), but only a shell of a place remained at may have given a glimpse into the future, sadly, for many of its living comrades. As such, I duly returned to the foot of town and the Angel – hoping for some divine intervention. To force home the point of attempting to gain some godly aid, I opted for a pint of Saint Michael (or San Miguel, if you will) for £3.90, interrupting the barmaid’s lunch and then becoming acquainted with their vicious guard dog westie. From there, I returned back onto the high street, walking past a small retail area and to the Red Lion which stood domineeringly at the far side. Entering, I had a Heineken in here whilst the local punters seemed to debate around just how long they’d have left before the doors would be shut in the meantime.
I continued onwards down the main road and over the border (apparently) into Yorkshire, where a pub by the name of the Front House sits on the main stretch itself, whilst the Top House is located just off of it. I originally intended to do the two in reverse, but decided I couldn’t really be bothered with two uphill climbs and so the Front House came first. A Coors (£3.35) did the trick for a swift one here, before the fitting Top House offer of a cut-price pint of Hop House did for me. The taste didn’t seem quite the same as usual though, perhaps the lager-to-Hop House switcheroo didn’t want to play ball with my taste buds. Whatever the case, it was fine enough and it was soon time to head for St. John’s Street – Springhead’s home.
Springhead is a suburban area of Saddleworth and a civil parish of the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham, within Greater Manchester. Located on the Eastern edge of the urban area of GM, Springhead is continuous along with the villages of Lees and the Austerlands, Grotton and Scouthead areas of Saddleworth, and gained its name from Springhead House, a former historical dwelling which was formerly home to a freshwater spring. It was an urban district in its own right, during its time as part of the West Riding of Yorkshire and is connected to the wider community through bus routes only, with nearby Oldham giving tram connections and Mossley rail options.
However, Springhead was linked by rail in the past, with the area being served by the Grotton and Springhead station – on the Delph railway line – by the nicknamed “Delph Donkey” until 1955, with the line finally thoroughly closed in 1963. The track has since been replaced by a bridle path on the same route (I guess as the one I’d wrote about below?), with notable people from the town being actress Judith Barker, early 1900’s rugby league player Herman Hilton, suffragette Annie Kenney and Victoria Cross recipient Thomas Steele.
I did find that a cut through down some large and fairly uneven steps existed, one that struck me as being like an old rail line, and took me through a small wooded area alongside the neighbouring houses and roads, with the ground located down at the far end. However, to get there from this direction, the mud and puddles would have to be navigated and they were done so as effectively as I could’ve hoped in the circumstances. The main road route would’ve probably been the easier – and indeed cleaner – but where’s the fun in that?! The sides were just entering the pitch as I arrived and so let’s get on with the usual describing of the ground. Well, the clubhouse lies to the side of the pitch, at the near-end of the ground, with a car-park running behind the goal there. The opposite side houses a large hill, which provides a raised view of the action, though you can get caught out in nettles up there, as I found out to my cost! The other half of this side is largely unreachable as a loop, but you can get there by going the grassy field end route behind the far end goal, where I’d later meet up with a local guy who supported some club miles away and his dog (I want to say it was named Storm)- the latter who, having not cared about me going past once, took offence to me coming down the hill. No idea. That’s St. John’s Road in short order and this is the back-story of Springhead A.F.C….
Springhead A.F.C. was founded in 1922 as Lees Amateurs, before changing their name to their current one in 1960 to reflect their wider location. After joining the Manchester League, the club finished as runners-up in the league’s Division One in 1988, being promoted to the Premier Division. Here, they again finished as runners-up in both 1991 and 1996, before finally lifting the championship in 1998, although this proved to be the peak of their powers and they returned down into the mid-table ranks, until the 2005 season saw Springhead record a fourth-placed finish. 2009 then saw them finish as Premier Division runners-up and apart from dropping to finish 11th in 2011, ’14 and ’15, never finished below 6th over the next ten years. The club have something of a local ‘derby’ clash against Uppermill, located in Greenfield near to Mossley.
The game got going with Springhead creating the first real chance of the game, #9 getting in to force a decent save out of the Georgians ‘keeper, with the rebound falling to #7, who could only fire over. #9 spurned a second opportunity shortly afterwards, as he guided a header just wide of the mark, before I had my first experience of the dreaded sin-bin that, to this point, I’d been able to safely navigate my way around. There didn’t really seem the need for it either – so needless to say I wasn’t overly impressed with the ref on that one. Mathew Barlow (32) – yes, that’s actually his listing on Full Time – was the unfortunate recipient.
Barlow’s sin-binning would lead to the key moment in the game as well as, not too long after he’d been sent to the naughty step, Stockport went ahead. A fine run by #8 saw him force his way into the area and he delivered a low ball across goal for Oliver Hemlin to divert it into the back of the net. Springhead did almost have a chance to level it up just prior to the break, as #9 provided some fine play before pulling back for #9 and his cross-cum-shot just evaded #11 – the ball ending in safety for the visitors.
Half-time duly arrived and I paid a visit to the bar for a bottle of Corona because, hell, why not?! It was here that I was collared by Heyside’s former boss Geoff – who’d made myself and blog regular Dan so welcome during our visit there a few years back. He was there with a guy by the name of Eric and, after a quick catch-up there, they headed out for the second half whilst I bought a small portion of chips from the tiny window between the bar and the door which, in all honesty, is easily missed!
I too was outside in short order and the game was in full flow already. I made my way up to the top of the hill for the first half of the…erm, half, which began with Springhead again creating a fine chance to level the scores, only to be denied by a great one-on-one stop from Georgians ‘keeper Dave Cash. Cashing in. Georgians responded, with #9 spooning an attempted shot miles wide of the mark, whilst Springhead again went close through #8, but he could only put his drive wide.
Meeting back up with Geoff and Eric for the final twenty-five minutes or so during that period, the final chance came the way of Stockport, a pull-back again only going on to see the resulting shot evade the target, whilst Springhead’s Paul Stevenson saw red late on for a second bookable offence, which pretty much killed off the hosts’ chances and Georgians duly saw out the remaining couple of minutes to record the win in, what would turn out to be, the final game of the season. Unfortunately, it hadn’t been a classic to round up with – though this may be a blessing in disguise, come to think of it!
Post-match, and with the rain just beginning to fall, I made a quick exit to the Grapes just across the way from the ground for a quick pint of Amstel, before finding my way back down St. John’s Road and to the Milan Bar – with the increasing rain shower making me decide to try it out for size. More of a restaurant than a bar it has to be said, I opted for a pint of the fittingly titled Birra Milan (I’m guessing it’s really something else under that disguise!) and at £3.60, it wasn’t bad. Back on the main road through Springhead once again, I ended my trip with a visit to the Chapter One Bar, a small micro-pub kind of place, where I got talking to the punters and owner(?) who all made me massively welcome whilst I supped at an Estrella (around £3.80 I think) whilst wiling away the time until the bus back into Oldham.
After setting the world to rights, or something like that, I actually missed my planned bus as it passed me slightly early, but knew another was due in about ten minutes, so had no real problems with that. It duly arrived and whisked me away back to the dreary, grey-skied Mumps area, where I jumped back on the Metrolink line, jumping back off in the city centre and catching the train home, whilst taking advantage of the welcome charging points in the Oxford Road waiting room. Lovely.
So ends what was to become (most likely) my final game of a truncated season and one which, to me, isn’t expunged, cancelled or any other variation of that shit tip of a decision. No, each game will still stand in its own right for me, just not in a finished competition – kind of like every fixture was part of a huge friendly list ahead of the 2020/’21 season! It was good to meet up with Geoff again after his great welcome to both myself and Dan during his tenure at another Manchester League club, Heyside, as well as Eric – whom I hope kept his word to catch up to my amount of pre-match pints! Cheers to all of you guys involved in games I’ve been at this season; no matter what the F.A. wants us to believe, at least your exploits – be they good, bad, or somewhere in between – will live on within these hallowed pages. Thanks to you all who’ve kept reading these exploits – hopefully they’ll be back sometime soon. However, they just as likely may not. I’m undecided as of right now. Once again, cheers and, for now, it’s goodbye….
Value For Money: 6