The 2014-’15 Manchopper Awards

So, after a season consisting of 106 games, spanning 11 months and taking in grounds in all manner of places and surroundings within three countries and at all levels, it’s time the honour the best, the worst, the weird and the wonderful of my travels over the past season.

From Croston to Crewe, whether on the pitch or off it, there has certainly been some memorable moments and characters & both new and old friends have been made/re-acquainted during my ventures and the awards celebrate the most brilliant, or otherwise, of all the experiences & escapades that have occurred. So without further ado, Ladies & Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, the very best of Season 2014-’15, Manchopper Style……

The “West Didsbury & Chorlton & Atherton Town” Best Animal Seen Escape In Order To Watch A Game Award:

Winner: The Howe Bridge Horses

Unsurprisingly given the title of this award, there was only one nominee and one result only, just like a FIFA Presidential election involving Sepp Blatter. Congratulations to the horses who escaped and decided to watch over a wall and through a gate. They were left disappointed, I’d presume.

Horses watching the game at Atherton Town

Horses watching the game at Atherton Town

The drunken escapade of the season, sponsored by #lostboyos:

The Nominees: Me at Morecambe & Me At Glan Conwy.

Winner: Me at Glan Conwy

Well, what can I say. After making a horrible mess of a bag at the hands of a Sambuca-fuelled Eagle Sports, I somehow managed to get home after being on the phone to keep myself awake, or I’d have been stranded in Warrington. I parted company with my sunglasses somewhere in the vicinity of Sankey Platform 1. I’ve not been the same since…

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The  “Non League Review” best away day of the season:

The Nominees: Barnet, Maine Road, Mottram Hall.

Winner: Barnet

Yes, Barnet was a clear winner of this award. After watching Barnet smash Altrincham for five at the Hive, Stew organised the first, and so far only, NLR Whistle Stop Tour. I was shown all the sights of London, before having some Chinese in A Box. Top day.

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Strangest Venue Of The Season:

The Nominees: Mottram Hall, Gresty Road (NI vs Qatar), Old Trafford (Portugal vs Argentina)

Winner: Mottram Hall.

For as strange as Gresty Road hosting a home international for scheduled 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar was, as well as Old Trafford hosting Argentina vs Portugal, the Messi vs Ronaldo 45-minute non-event, a game in the grounds of the 5* Cheshire hotel, Mottram Hall, tops all. Not to mention that it featured Romanian side Dinamo Bucharest, who were being entertained by none other than Cheadle Town.

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Most Memorable Day of The Season:

The Nominees: Glan Conwy, Barnet, Northern Ireland vs Qatar

Winner: Northern Ireland vs Qatar

An award for the fixture that has made a late entry into the gongs. All the fans, atmosphere & the day in general, and causing trouble whilst agreeing….

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The “Where Do Vics Play?” Award, Sponsored by Football Spoon:

The Nominees: Football Spoon telling me how to pronounce Glasshoughton correctly as to avoid being lynched, Football Spoon laughing at my misfortune at Newcastle Town & Football Spoon informing Trafford FC’s Twitter account of the presence of Northwich Victoria at Valley Road, Flixton.

Winner: Football Spoon helping Trafford to locate clubs in Flixton.

Yes, after Trafford’s account had said it was only Northwich Flixton Villa who played at Valley Road, the Spoon politely informed them of the presence of Vics and also helped remind them they’d played against them a year earlier. He was subsequently blocked. Nice.

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The Matt Harrison Craziest Character of the Season Award:

The Nominees: Neville and er….well no, one beats that!

Winner: Neville.

What can you say about Nev. An absolute legend and one that will live long in the memory of all of us who met him at Chapel-en-le-Frith two weeks before the end of the season. Matt has the knack of attracting these weird and wonderful folk, and he didn’t disappoint on this occasion! Neville. What a hero.

The Manchopper Craziest Team of the Season Award:

The Nominees: Eagle Sports…..And that’s it.

Winner: Eagle Sports.

As I said earlier, the club changed me on that day in Conwy, and it was damn crazy on the whole. Tbh, they’re not completely nuts, per se, but when the alcohol appears, specifically the Sambucca, everything changes. Maybe that’s just my drink-ruined mind talking, though.

Eagle Sports

Best Fans:

The Nominees: FC United, Salford City, Hemel Hempstead Town, Morecambe, Bury u18’s.

Winners: Hemel Hempstead Town.

Yes, The Tudors’ backing were the best I’ve come across this season. I saw them on two occasions, in the FA Cup, and on both occasions they were outstanding. Hemel take this award. King Henry VIII would be very proud.

Okay, onto on pitch matters now, and the best and not so good achievements on the field of play…Remember, this is only teams I’ve seen, so please no threatening messages or abuse, or I’ll send Alan Shearer round with Newcastle tickets. You’ve been warned….

The Hemel Fans complete with drummer

The Hemel Fans complete with drummer

Hemel at Bury

Hemel at Bury

Team Performance of the Season:

The Nominees: Llandridnod Wells (vs Flint), Penlake (vs Golborne), Wythenshawe Town (vs West Dids Res), Chapel Town (vs Walshaw Sports), Altrincham (vs Macclesfield)

Winner: Penlake

In the relegation spots at 3pm, Penlake had to win. They comfortably did so, disposing of Golborne Sports by 9-0, with striker Alex Grisedale netting five times on his way to finishing top scorer. Staying up in style.

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Penlake

Individual Performance of the Season:

The Nominees: Alex Grisedale (Penlake), Craig Ellison (Congleton Town), Chris Venables (Aberystwyth Town), Nathan Tyson (Doncaster Rovers), Javi Ramos (Atletico Benamiel)

Winner: Alex Grisedale

Despite the feats of all the above, you can’t ignore someone scoring five in a game to keep his side up, even if he was playing against a depleted side.

Grisedale (#9) in front of shot.

Grisedale (#9) in front of shot.

Best Game of the Season:

The Nominees: Stockport Sports vs Selby Town, Greenalls PSO vs Eagle Sports, Chapel Town vs Walshaw Sports, Droylsden vs Salford City, Northwich Flixton Villa vs Atherton Collieries.

Winner: Northwich Flixton Villa vs Atherton Collieries.

This one just pips Stockport vs Selby to the title, mostly because Stockport no longer exists and the game ended up in a replay after a 5-5 draw anyway. NFV, meanwhile, ended Atherton’s winning run in the league in quite unbelievable circumstances, winning 3-2 after previously being minnows in the league. They remained only mid table, but this was their finest hour.

Goal Of The Season:

The Nominees: The Athletic Fuengirola player (shot from half-way), James Lawrie (Altrincham vs Macclesfield), Joe Clark (Wrexham vs Torquay), Shane Kelsey (1st goal, Shaw Lane vs Glasshoughton), Gaz Meredith (Altrincham Res vs Irlam Res)

Winner: Joe Clark.

Wrexham skipper Joe Clark’s opener in the FA Trophy Semi-Final 1st Leg is well worthy of the award. His 25 yard strike was put into the top corner in a gap the size of a postage stamp. Or, more precisely, a ball. Either way, it was a superb goal, and pips Meredith’s super hit.

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Ground Of The Season:

The Nominees: Cefn Druids’ The Rock, Runcorn Town’s Pavilions, Glossop North End’s Surrey Street, Squires Gate’s School Lane, Wrexham’s The Racecourse Ground.

Winner: Cefn Druids.

For pure backdrop and name alone it has to be the Rock. A nice clubhouse also features highly in my memories of the ground in Cefn Mawr. If you Smel…elllllll…ellll..el what The Rock is Cooking!

The Rock.

The Rock.

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Most Improved Club (primarily facilities)

The Nominees: Salford City, Wythenshawe Town, Chadderton.

Winner: Salford City.

Yes, the overall appearance and look of the club has changed massively since the “Class of 92″‘s well publicised take over of the club last summer. In my opinion, this is very much for the better, and the benefit of non-league football in general. It adds a bit of something different, as the likes of Darlington and Halifax and FC United do, for differing reasons. So, for me, Salford are well deserving of this.

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Moor Lane

Moor Lane

The Manchopper Team of The Season:

The Nominees: Wythenshawe Town, FC United, Glossop North End, Barnet, Rochdale.

Winner: Wythenshawe Town. (Glossop semi-pro award)

As much as you could argue that with the standard of players in comparison it wasn’t as difficult as others, in the case of Wythy, to go a whole season winning every game is some feat. In all competitions, lest we forget. A massive shout for Glossop too, who’s season was quite brilliant. I can’t split the two, really, considering the differing levels in which they play, so both sides can win an award here. If you like, Glossop win the “semi-pro” Team of the Season & Wythenshawe the Amateur award

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Greg Hall, a vital component of Glossop's campaign.

Greg Hall, a vital component of Glossop’s campaign.

GNE Huddle

GNE Huddle

Manchopper in….Crewe

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Result: Crewe Alexandra 0-0 Crawley Town (SkyBet League 1)

Venue: Gresty Road, The Alexandra Stadium (Friday 3rd April 2015, 3.00pm)

Att: 5,353

I have previous with Crewe. I am not particularly fond of Crewe. Every time I seem to go in the near vicinity of Crewe, bad things happen. Delayed trains meaning missed connections, spending money for no reason which relates to the last problem I have with Crewe. If you are on Twitter, you will know all about my experience at Crewe last season. This involved the infamous Crewe ID. Let me tell you all about it….

It was a sunny day late on last season, probably on the Saturday over Easter weekend. Myself and Dan Watkinson had travelled down into Cheshire to watch the Alex entertain Preston (I think) in a League 1 contest. After arriving in good time and getting some chips we headed for the ground. After a 10-15 minute queue we got to the ticket office where we were me by a guard. The conversation  went something like this:

“Buying or collecting lads?”.

“Er, buying mate”.

“Do you have any Crewe ID?”

“What’s that?”

“Crewe ID, to say you live in Crewe.”

“No”.

Sorry then, you can’t get a ticket”.

Yes, apparently we couldn’t get in due to not living in Crewe. That is borderline racism, I’m convinced of it! Anyway, it was outlined that this was the case on the website, but it wasn’t publicised particularly well and was only apparent when you checked back a fair few articles on the news part. Not great, but today was different. Today, there was no Crewe ID, I was off to The Alexandra Stadium and I was getting in. Surely, Crewe was going to be kind for once….

The bar on arrival. A nice sight!

The bar on arrival. A nice sight!

I arrived in Crewe from Manchester Piccadilly at around 1pm, to ensure that I could negotiate a ticket if any problems should arise. This time, the ticket office was empty, straight in and £25 lighter (£22 ticket, £3 programme), I was back out into the heavy, fine rain which was ruining this not-so-Good Friday. As I exited, I spotted the Crawley team coach pulling into the car park, the players obviously relishing the chance to play in the lovely Northern weather.

Welcome to Crewe, Crawley coach in background

Welcome to Crewe, Crawley coach in background.

All set for the game

All set for the game

I took cover in the Royal Hotel’s corner bar which is, unsurprisingly, on the corner of Gresty Road about 100 yards from the station. Gresty Road is one of those groundhopper friendly grounds that is easily accessible from the station, indeed it is visible from the railway itself. It is easily reached within a 10 minute stroll so is an easy one to accomplish for those doing the 92 mission.

As for me, I was in the Corner Bar with a Kopparberg and “Uptown Funk” blaring out. The pub was rather empty at this point, with only a few fans from each side populating it. It was filling up slowly throughout the 90 minutes I spent in there, before with half an hour to kick off, I decided this was the time to head down to the ground.

Main Stand on approach

Main Stand on approach

Queuing up.. Crewe ID anyone?

Queuing up.. Crewe ID anyone?

In the concourse

In the concourse

My ticket was for the Main Stand, somewhere on or around half way. I made my way past the queue at the ticket office, which brought back flashbacks of Crewe ID. I headed round to the turnstiles and was soon through into the concourse which was quite busy at this point, with many already indulging in food and beverages. Probably, most were alcoholic, to help the forthcoming match seem something approaching acceptable. They clearly had the experience factor over me. This was the way to go. I headed to my seat, after it was pointed out by the very friendly steward (all Crewe’s staff were very approachable and helpful) and was all set. The Alexandra Stadium is a funny looking ground. It has two similar stands behind each goal, the right hand stand houses the hospitality boxes and the far side stand was housing today’s travelling Crawley contingent, who were in good number and good voice for this important relegation six-pointer. Then, there is the main stand which towers over the rest of the ground, providing views into the distance. The capacity is 10,153, with the ground less than half full today, mostly due to the away stand being sparsely populated. What’s that? You’re interested to find out about Crewe’s history without having to open a separate tab or pull out a programme? Well, you’re in luck, here you go….

Gresty Road end.

Gresty Road end.

Railway end.

Railway end.

Away Fans Unite

Away Fans Unite

History Lesson:

Crewe Alexandra were formed in 1877 as plain old Crewe Football Club, their later suffix being derived from Princess Alexandra and the Alexandra Recreation Ground, the club’s first home. Nicknamed the Railwaymen, after the town’s links to the industry, the club played their first match against North Staffs later that year, a 1-1 draw. Their first FA Cup match was against Scottish side Queen’s Park. Crewe lost 10-0. Better Cup runs were to follow as they reached the semis in 1888. 1892 saw Alex be founding members of the Second Division, having previously been competing in the Football Alliance, but lost their league status after only four seasons. In 1895, Crewe left the Alexandra Recreation Ground, before undertaking a short nomadic existence until settling at Gresty Road in 1897. The current ground is not the original, however, with the current stadium being built to the west of the current site in 1906.

Crewe re-joined the Football League in 1921, attracting a record crowd of over 15,000 to their game against Stoke City. Crewe won their first honours by winning two successive Welsh Cups (1936 & ’37) before being barred from the competition, due to not being Welsh. 1961 saw, arguably, Alex’s most famous win, a 2-1 triumph over a Chelsea side featuring the likes of Peter Bonetti, Jimmy Greaves and, El Tel, Terry Venables. Two years later, Crewe earned their first ever promotion via a 1-0 win over Exeter City in front of just under 10,000 fans. Bruce Grobbelaar signed for the club in 1979 and scored a penalty against York City but, more importantly, wobbly legs kept eight clean sheets in 24 appearances.

The club was once mentioned by Michael Palin in his BBC documentary “Great Railway Journeys of the World”, when being named, along with Swindon and Doncaster, as one of those clubs in a railway town who perpetually prop up the Fourth Division. This was somewhat correct, as Crewe finished bottom of the Football League a record eight times.

In 1983, Dario Gradi was first appointed and he seemed to be there forever. In 1989, Alex were promoted to Division 3, but were relegated two years later. In 1994, the club were back in Division 3, and Neil Lennon was the first Alex player for 60 years to earn an international cap, when selected for Northern Ireland vs Mexico. Gradi then led Crewe to Division 1 in 1997 via a play-off win over Brentford and celebrated his 1,000th game in charge of the Alex in 2001. They remained here until 2002, but returned after just one season back in Division 2. In 2006, the club were relegated to League 1 after narrowly avoiding relegation the previous year, largely thanks to the goals of Dean Ashton during the early part of the season.

In 2007, Gradi stepped back from on pitch matters to become Technical Director, though he returned as caretaker in 2008 upon the sacking of his replacement, Steve Holland. Gudjon Thordarson followed, but he oversaw relegation to League 2 in 2009. He was replaced by Gradi (again!) in 2009 and he remained in place for a further two years before finally hanging up his tactic board to focus on being director of youth. Steve Davis was the next to be installed and won promotion to League 1 in 2012 via a play-off win over Cheltenham Town, where they remain to now, but are in serious trouble of losing their status. The club also lifted the Football League Trophy in 2013,with a 2-0 victory over Southend United. Last season, the club staved off relegation, finishing up in 19th place. Lesser honours feature six Cheshire Senior Cups (1910,’12,’13,’23, 2002 & 2003) and two Cheshire Premier Cups in 2009 and 2010.

Handshakes and pleasantries

Handshakes and pleasantries

For today, the rain continued to come down as the sides entered the pitch. The game was underway at a good pace, with both sides making some good play, but both were just as guilty of spurning chance after chance of getting a shot away, either by falling over, a poor pass, poor control or just generally anything else you can think of. Both veteran goalkeepers, Crawley’s Brian Jensen and Crewe’s Paul Rachubka will rarely have had more comfortable clean sheets in their long careers. The best chances were Crewe’s with Lauri Dalle Valle causing a few problems and Uche Ikpeazu posing a threat with his power. Jamie Ness stung Jensen’s hands towards the end of the half, but 0-0 was, unsurprisingly, the score at the break.

Match Action

Match Action

Away on time

Away on time

At half time, it was down into the concourse and a Holland’s Chicken Balti pie was purchased for £2.70. £2.70!!!!! AMF!!!!!!! Just kidding….

Back in my seat with expensive pie in hand, we were back underway with more of the same. Good build up play, with no end product. The crowd, who tried to rally their respective sides were soon quietened by a lack of action as the game struggled to get going in earnest. After a few half chances, Crawley grew in confidence, with Lanre Oyebanjo whistling a drive wide before, in stoppage time, a goalmouth scramble ended with the ball being cleared off the line amidst half hearted appeals for a goal. But in all honesty neither side could claim to have deserved the win, and as one man said to his son on the way out, “Well, it’s the first time we’ve not seen us win or lose, so that’s a good thing”. Always a positive to find in a poor game.

Watching the game.

Watching the game.

This game extended my Good Friday Manchopper record to 3 games, three 0-0’s, following last season’s double 0-0 tragedy (Blackburn and Stockport). I shouldn’t have expected anything less from that damn town in Cheshire. Crewe. It will haunt me forever.

The station did reconcile with me though, with the train back to Piccadilly arriving early and empty, meaning that a comfortable and spacious journey was had before the quick hop over to Oxford Road and the final leg of the journey home. When I got back, the Manchopper Easter Draw Leg 2 was done, with Squires Gate proving the winner. So, I was off to Blackpool. Time to get some rest, and hope for a better day, and a better game too…

My Crewe Alexandra M.o.M.- Uche Ikpeazu.

My Crawley Town M.o.M.- Izale McLeod.

RATINGS:

Game: 5- Poor game, no highlights to speak of.

Ground: 7- Really enjoyed the ground, something about it that I liked. Old ground too.

Programme: 8- Enjoyed the read, lots of articles & information.

Food: 6- Bog standard Holland’s pie. £2.70 a bit steep too, but not unexpected.

Fans: 7- Some of the more supportive fans, not much in terms of getting on backs.

Value For Money: 4- Poor game, quite expensive day in all for a 0-0. Bad weather.