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….Nuneaton

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Result: Nuneaton Town 0-0 Hemel Hempstead Town (The FA Cup with Budweiser 4th Qualifying Round)

Venue: Liberty Park (The James Parnell Stadium) (Saturday 25th October 2014, 3.00pm)

Att: 930

FA Cup weekend, and for many sides, it’s the biggest day of their season. Arguably, this could be claimed for the two sides I was going to watch do battle today for a place in the hat for the FA Cup First Round “Proper”. Nuneaton, of the Conference National, were the favourites in the book over their visitors from Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Town or “The Tudors” as they are known. Town, still known as the “Boro” after their previous incarnation as Nuneaton Borough (until 2008), are having a somewhat understated start to this, their 125th season sitting third bottom in the Vanarama Conference. Hemel Hempstead are also struggling somewhat occupying only 18th in the Southern Section.

I began my journey at just before 10am and headed into Manchester Piccadilly, but not before trying to be clever and save money by buying, what I was told, was a cheaper ticket by splitting the journey. Alas, this wasn’t the case and I paid an extra £2.20. Ok, it may not be an end of the world catastrophe, but still….

So,  after this mentally disturbing farce, I was soon sitting on the Cross Country Trains service to Bristol Temple Meads via Birmingham New Street, which was to be my transit destination. After a rather pleasant journey down through Cheshire & Staffordshire the train soon rolled into the “Second City” at just about 12.30. With 20 minutes to find the correct escalator & platform in the rather confusing sub-terrainean world that is New Street I eventually found my way to the waiting London Midland service which was to take me to Nuneaton for about 20 past 1. After another trouble free journey (this was to be made up for later, don’t worry), I hopped off at Platform 5 and soon made my way out of Nuneaton Station and towards the town centre. After a while, I began to get the feeling something wasn’t right and surprisingly I had headed in the wrong direction. Wonders never cease, eh?
Anyway, now on the correct path and heading back through a market in the town centre, I was soon making my way down Attleborough Road towards the industrial estate bearing the same name. Attleborough being the area of Nuneaton the ground sits in. After turning near the Crematorium, the sign for which is accompanied by an “Elderly Persons’ Crossing” (not the greatest pairing of road signage) I crossed the railway via footbridge and through the scenic walk up to the ground. Scenic, in the way of lovely storage facilities and warehouses.

The unfortunate signage pairing...

The unfortunate signage pairing…

Soon enough, I spotted the gates and sign bearing the name of Nuneaton RFC (the rugby club who ground share with Town) and after walking past the adjoining smaller Rugby ground, complete with truck trailer as a stand, I made my way up to the turnstiles situated at the far end of the ground.
After paying my £10 fee & having my bag checked by the steward, who nicely told me about the loose change I had in there (or was he telling me that so I didn’t launch any missiles?) I was soon inside Liberty Park. Liberty Park has been in use as Nuneaton Town’s home since 2008 (and Borough before that for one season).

The Main Stand at Liberty Park

The Main Stand at Liberty Park

You exit the turnstile in the corner between two terraces, one a raised covered terracing, the other a smaller uncovered terrace, which runs all the way down the left touchline in two sections. Down the far end is the usual away end, not in use as such today, which is another covered terrace, almost the twin of the one opposite. The far touchline is populated by a small-ish seated stand, a graffiti mural reading “Nuneaton Town”, the Boro’ Sports Bar (tucked in the corner near the formerly mentioned covered terrace), dressing room areas and dugouts.

Open Terrace

Open Terrace

Covered Terrace

Covered Terrace

I sat down on the open terrace away from the building crowds, programme (£2 cut-price) in hand and booked a ticket for the Morecambe-Exeter City game the next day. Once this was done, I was asked if I would mind moving as my chosen position was usually occupied at every home game by an elderly gentleman & not wanting to intrude, I moved about ten feet to the right. By now the atmosphere was building, the elderly gentleman had taken his obligatory position in the ground and the teams had entered the pitch to do battle. Hemel Hempstead, with King Henry VIII on their crest, were about to enter into a Battle Royale. See what I did there? I’ll get my coat.

History Lesson:

The club can trace it’s roots back to a local church side representing St.Nicholas Church in 1892, as Nuneaton St.Nicholas, competing in friendlies and Charity Cup ties. Two years later, the side changed its name to Nuneaton Town Association F.C.
Known as the “Nuns” the club started league life in the Warwickshire Junior League in 1894, before also competing fleetingly in the Coventry & District, Coventry & North Warwickshire and Leicestershire Leagues before the turn of the century. The club also briefly competed in the Nuneaton & District League, the Trent Valley League and a second stint in the Coventry & North Warwickshire League, before settling in the Birmingham Junior League and Birmingham Combination (it’s new name after WWI) from 1908 to 1933, bar a two season stay in the Southern League (Eastern Section between 1924& 1926). the club then competed in the Birmingham League from 1933 to 1937 when the club folded. On May 13, 1937, it was decided to wind up the football club despite Nuneaton Town being financially sound having sold their Manor Park ground the previous December. Strangely, the club was to be replaced after just two days by Nuneaton Borough F.C., the brainchild of a “group of local gentlemen”.
The Boro’ began life in the Central Amateur League in 1937, before similarly flitting between leagues, soon joining the Birmingham Combination before entering the Nuneaton Combination during the war years. On the cessation of hostilities, the club returned to be Birmingham Combination where they remained until 1952. In ’52, the club joined the Birmingham League where they competed in both the Northern Section & First Division as the league tried out different structures. After this, in 1958, the Boro’ joined the Southern League, which was to be their long-term home. Their first season was played in the North Western Section, before re-organisation meant they were given a place in the Premier Division. The club were relegated on four occasions to the First Division (’59-’60,’80-’81, ’87-’88 & ’93-’94) the latter three being to a “Midland Division”. All other seasons were spent competing in the Premier Division, bar three tenures in the Alliance/Conference (’79-’81, ’82-’87 & ’99-’03). On relegation in 2003, the club spent one season back in the Southern League before restructuring & the introduction of the regional Conference Leagues saw the Boro’ compete in the Conference North from 2004 until its demise in 2008.
Brought back under its “original” guise of Nuneaton Town, the club were demoted two divisions for being a “new” entity (see Darlington, Halifax Town, Chester) and were back in the Southern League. They still had large debt, despite the sale of their Manor Park home. They soon recovered, however, and were soon back finding success, gaining promotion to the Southern Premier at the first attempt, beating Chasetown in the play-offs, and were back at Conference Regional level by the end of the next season, as they again found play-off success, this time at the expense of Chippenham. After defeat by AFC Telford United in their first season in the Conference North, the club went one better the following year, by defeating Gainsborough Trinity 1-0 at Trinity’s Northolme ground, to ensure three promotions in four seasons. A remarkable comeback.
For the last two seasons, the club have settled in mid-table finishing in 15th & 13th places respectively.
Honours:

As Nuneaton Town (original):
Coventry & District League: Champions 1902-03.
Coventry & North Warwickshire League: Champions 1904-05.
Birmingham Junior League: Champions 1906-07.
Birmingham Combination: Champions 1914-15, 1928-29, 1930-31.
Birmingham Senior (County) Cup: Winners 1930-31.

As Nuneaton Borough:
Birmingham League: Champions 1954-55 (North), 1955-56 (Division One).
Southern League Premier Division: Champions 1998-99.
Southern League Midland Division: Champions 1981-82, 1992-93, 1995-96.
Southern League Cup: Winners 1995-96.
Southern League Championship Match: Winners 1993.
Conference National: Runners Up 1983-84, 1984-85.
Conference North: Runners Up 2004-05
Birmingham Senior (County) Cup: Winners 1949, 1955, 1960, 1978, 1980, 1993, 2002.
FA Cup:
Boro’ made it to the Third Round three times: 1949-50 (v Exeter City), 1966-67 (Rotherham United, Replay), 2005-06 (Middlesbrough, Replay).

As Nuneaton Town (Present):
Southern League Division One (Midlands): Runners Up 2008-09 (Promoted via play offs).
Southern League Premier Division: Runners Up 2009-10 (Promoted via play offs).
Conference North 2011-12 (Promoted via play offs).
Birmingham Senior Cup: Winners 2010.
FA Cup:
First Round Proper 2009-10, 2010-2011 & 2012/13.

Sides Doing The Handshake

Sides Doing The Handshake

The game began at a frantic pace, with both sides going close early on, none more so than Jack Dyer, who struck visiting goalkeeper Laurie Walker’s left hand post with just three minutes on the clock. Soon after, the dangerous and direct Dyer was forced off after contact with visiting skipper Jordan Parkes. Little happened thereafter in terms of clear cut chances, but the Tudors’ fans behind the goal added atmosphere where there would have been none by giving unrelenting backing to their team both vocally and via a drum. The drummer could actually play the drum, so for all those who don’t like drums, you may just be swayed?
The visitors big defender Moussa Diarra was immense, winning everything in the air thanks to his height or on the floor thanks to his long levers. He also smashed a ball the highest I’ve ever seen anyone clear one, over the Main Stand and into the adjoining land. It never bounced, so I’ve no idea where it ended up!

The Hemel Fans complete with drummer

The Hemel Fans complete with drummer

Half-Time came, 0-0. I had already gotten a decent sized portion of chips from one of the three outlets around the ground for £2.50, and they were well worth it too. Lovely, and they lasted until after the break. Perfect.
On the resumption,, the tie followed the same pattern, a decent free-flowing game, but with both sides lacking that end product to bring themselves a winning goal. But, in the 68th minute, it was again Boro’ who had the opportunity to progress when Chris Curran beat the offside trap but Laurie Walker, who was probably one of the most impressive custodians I’ve seen this season, especially in commanding his area & information giving, was out like lightning to charge down his effort and maintain his clean sheet. Soon after, Hemel had their best chance when the young home ‘keeper James Wren pulled off a fine one-handed save to tip over a rasping drive. 0-0 it remained, as both sides looked relatively happy to have another go at each other (tonight as I write, Tuesday 28th).
So, I exited soon after the whistle, with both sets of fans being given a round of applause from their respective outfits. But there was one set of fans happier than the other as shown by one fan who commented “That’s the worst I’ve seen us play in ages!”. After discovering a pathway shortcut to cut down my walking trip back to the centre of town by a good ten minutes, I popped into The Crown Inn with around 35 minutes to spare until my train. With Rekorderlig in hand, I settled down to watch the early stages of Bayer Leverkusen vs Schalke 04, but after five minutes the TV conked out, so I soon left, just in the nick of time as it turned out as my train rolled in a lot earlier than I was being told by my National Rail App, and I just made it on to the service to Crewe. This is where it falls apart a bit. After a trouble free trip back up to Crewe, we were kept out the station for a good 10-12 minutes for no obvious reason causing me to miss my connection(s) and extend my journey by a good hour and a half. I hate Crewe. I really, really do.

Goodbye Nuneaton

Goodbye Nuneaton

My Nuneaton Town M.o.M.- Ben Hutchinson
My Hemel Hempstead Town M.o.M.- Moussa Diarra.

RATINGS:
Game: 6- Not bad, but no goals.
Ground: 8- Nice ground, smart looking and good viewing areas.
Programme: 6- Cut price and size, but was ok.
Fans: 5- Were very quiet and subdued. Strange one really. Thought they’d be more up for it.
Food: 8- Very nice, good portion size for the price too.
Value For Money: 5- Quite a lot for travel, cut price ticket & programme helped a bit though.
Referee: 6- Was ok, riled both sets of fans at times with a few decisions though.