Manchopper in….Matlock

Result: Matlock Town 1-2 Kidsgrove Athletic (FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round)

Venue: Causeway Lane (Saturday 21st September 2019, 3pm)

Att: 377

Yet another FA Cup weekend came up on the footballing world and with summer biting back for likely the final time this year, I reckoned I might as well make the most of it and join the tourists in one of the more popular inland areas up in t’hills. This would entail a rather irritating journey to get there, but I figured it would be worth the while in the end. As such, Matlock was the chosen destination and, having only visited the Gladiators’ ground once some six years back, I was looking forward to the trip.

Passing through Manchester on the way, I caught the train to Alfreton where I would make a change of transport method for a bus onwards to ex-New Zealand Test Cricketer Iain O’Brien’s abode, Matlock. The bus, helpfully, leaves from the station’s front entrance and so allowed for a small delay, though I did only have around seven minutes or so in hand, or I’d be stranded for a couple of hours and looking for alternatives on the fly. Luckily, these wouldn’t be needed, the bus arrived in good time (£5.30 day ticket) and I was soon rolling onwards towards Matlock Bath, though the journey wasn’t exactly peaceful – a couple of excitable kids putting paid to that – and that’s coming from someone who deals with this on a daily basis!

Arriving in Matlock Bath

Fishpond

Toads & Tails

The journey included a hareum-scareum trip down a narrow road as a diversion, though this did mean we encountered a convoy of a few Caterhams and an old, mid-1900’s bus on the approach to Crich – the latter complete with one guy and a huge, life-size panda teddy as passengers for some ungodly reason; I prefer not to consider too hard. I eventually arrived a good twenty minutes later into Matlock than planned, meaning my stay here was forcibly truncated due to bus timings and the like, as mentioned earlier. I did still have time to have a couple of sunsoaked pints on the pleasant-looking main street through it though – first in the Fishpond freehouse just across the way from the spa building itself, and an interestingly named alehouse called Toads and Tails. Both were fine and I decided to go local in my ales, opting for a Derby Pride Pale Ale (£3.70) in the former and a Matlock Brewery Illuminations (£3.40) in the latter. I preferred the Derby personally, though that’s not to say the Matlock one wasn’t good.

Soon enough, it was time to grab the bus up the road and to Matlock itself, sadly having to bypass the Cottage and Midland pubs as I did so. I originally planned to get off at the stop that would allow me a cut-through to the Duke William, but missed this due to not being attentive enough – the stops aren’t exactly easy to spot if you’re not used to them. However, this allowed me to instead head straight into the centre of town and proved to be a far better way of doing the day overall – well, if you don’t count not finding the aforementioned cut-through and getting lost in a churchyard, but more on that later. The Remarkable Hare just opposite the bus stop was first up for a pint of Atlantic Pale Ale (£3.30), whilst I went about setting out a tour of Matlock’s, surprisingly few, hostelries.

Outside the Remarkable Hare

Matlock

Matlock

Matlock is (apparently) the county town of Derbyshire (yes, I thought it was Derby) and is located at the south-eastern edge of the Peak District, and is part of the Derbyshire Dales district. The former spa town has the resort of Matlock Bath lying just to the south and Matlock’s urban district is considered to take in Wirksworth, Darley Dale, Tansley and Hackney. Its name derives from the Old English mæthel, meaning assembly or speech and āc meaning ‘t oak tree’ – so Matlock or ‘moot-oak’ is ‘oak tree where meetings are held. Recorded as Meslach in the Domesday Book, by the mid-1100’s it had become Matlac. Built upon the River Derwent, the town’s industries were thus taken from this, with hydrotherapy and cloth milling growing up along it and its tributary Bentley Brook.

Originally a group of villages within the Wirksworth Hundred – that of Matlock Green, Bath, Town, Bridge and Bank – until the 1698 discovery of thermal springs, the hydros that were being built became ever more popular and so the area grew with both residents and tourism eventually leading to the villages pretty much linking together. The Derbyshire County Council HQ currently resides in the largest hydro that was built and lasted over 100 years until closing its doors for a year in 1955 before re-opening in its current guise. The town council of Matlock also takes in Riber, Starkholmes and Hurst Farm as well as its ‘Matlock’ grouping.

Matlock Bath

Former tram cover

A cable tramway was used until 1927 to get around the issues of Bank Road, with the area’s earliest settlements around Bentley Brook at Matlock Green, eventually growing up the hillside, though the tramway was eventually usurped by buses and cars. The rail line through to Manchester (via Buxton) was closed in 1968, with Network Rail’s subsequent thoughts of re-opening the route not yet coming to fruition, though the line has been kept free of overgrowth with it still possibly having a new re-purposing. The town centre’s Hall Leys park houses a Victorian bandstand, an old tramway shelter, sports areas, café, a footbridge over the Derwent with river-level markings (its part of the flood defences), as well as a miniature railway and boating lake. The bridge and war memorial neighbour it, alongside a wishing well. Matlock is also one of the smallest towns in the country to host two bus stations. Exciting.

Bandstand

Bridge & Flood Heights

From there, I took a stroll on over the bridge and through the neighbouring gardens (no market as there was on my previous visit though), passing by the Wetherspoons before arriving at the modern, and kind of showroom-looking Tipsy Toad. A very modern/craft-style place, this was all very rustic inside and a pint of Rattler cider was had to fit in with the theme. Rattlesnakes and taverns go together, right? The pint here was £4.50 and is always a good one (though it had been a fair while since I’d sampled it – since Exeter, in fact if I remember rightly) and set me up nicely to brave the ‘Spoons. With time beginning to run a little on the short side, I opted for a Kopparberg Mixed Fruits (£2.75) before again taking a slight detour to the gardens and paying a brief visit to the ground to grab a programme on my way over to the Red Lion, just beyond the cricket ground at the far end. Again taking advantage of the outdoor seating in the sun here, I decided to milk a Dark Fruits for the twenty-or-so minutes through to kick-off time.

Tipsy Toad

Heading to the ‘Spoons

Red Lion

Returning back to the gate, I paid my entry dues of £10 and was allowed into Causeway Lane for a second time. The ground hadn’t changed from what I could remember, with the near side being populated by a covered terrace/seating dual stand that runs the length of the pitch and a covered terrace area at the near end. The Main, all-seater, Stand is located on the opposite side and straddles half-way, whilst the clubhouse area and food bar flank it to either side, the clubhouse standing between it and the off-limits far end, which is the cricket outfield. There is also a small amount of uncovered terracing just between the food bar and the covered standing area too, making for a super little ground. That’s Causeway Lane in a nutshell and this is the story of Matlock’s Gladiators….

History Lesson:

Matlock Town Football Club was founded in 1878 as Matlock Football Club and initially played at a ground on Hall Leys before moving into Causeway Lane. They began entering the FA Cup from 1885, though wouldn’t manage to win a game in the competition until 1890, the year when the club joined the Derbyshire Senior League as founder members. They would win the inaugural championship that year and defended it successfully the next too, this preceding a switch into the Midland Amateur Alliance for 1892. However, this would prove to be the Alliance’s final season – the league disbanding and leaving Matlock to return back to the Derbyshire Senior League once again. They would later attempt to move up to the Midland League in 1894, but this would prove to be something of a disaster, Matlock recording a bottom-placed finish at the end of their first season, before somehow managing to go one worse the following year, losing out in each and every one of their 28 league games.

This horrific campaign led to Matlock returning back, once more, to their safe haven of the Derbyshire Senior League, but things hardly improved on the field, and the club finished bottom of the league here too, in 1898. A period of un-noticeable seasons leading up to World War I came and went and, after the end of hostilities, the club returned to the field as Matlock Town; the club clearly hoping to start afresh. They would move from the Derbyshire Senior League to the Central Alliance in 1924, but the club again proved to be something of an ‘Alliance grim reaper’, as they competed in a second alliance league’s final season (1924-’25) before, yet again, finding refuge in the familiar surroundings of the DSL. They finished as league runners-up in 1927 before moving to compete in the Central Combination for two seasons from 1933, seemingly folding.

MTFC

However, Matlock Town would return once more as a post-war side, joining the Chesterfield & District League in 1946 for a season prior to the Central Alliance also returning. Upon a divisional split in 1950, Matlock maintained a place in the top division, Division One, though avoided the drop two-seasons later, despite finishing bottom. This happened again in 1956, but the club were benefactors of further league re-organisation – this time a regional North/South Division One split. This proved to be for the better as Matlock won the Division One North title in 1960 and also reached that season’s FA Cup First Round, losing out in a replay to Crook Town, by the odd goal. Their league turnaround would continue the following year, with the Gladiators successfully defending their league title and thereupon again decided to try their hand up the leagues; their destination this time coming in the shape of the reformed Midland League.

The club lifted the league title at the first attempt (1962) and took their second championship in 1969, which subsequently saw Matlock promoted to the Northern Premier League. 1975 saw a second FA Cup First Round appearance for the Gladiators end in a 4-1 reverse to Blackburn Rovers, but a Wembley appearance would be forthcoming that same season; Town making it to the FA Trophy Final where they thumped Scarborough 4-0 to lift the prize – a feat which also saw a bit of history in that three of the Town side were brothers; the only occasion this has happened in a final at either the ‘old’ or ‘new’ ground. This success would lead to an automatic qualification for the FA Cup’s First Round for the next season, but they would again be bested by 4-1, this time by future Cup winners Wigan Athletic.

Clubhouse

Before Wigan’s future heroics though, Matlock would get their revenge in the next staging of the famous competition – besting the Latics 2-0 – and beating eventual Third Division champions Mansfield Town 5-2 at the Stags’ home, taking their first Football League scalp in the process, before eventually bowing out to Carlisle United in the Third Round. An NPL Cup double would be achieved in 1978, as the Challenge Cup and Peter Swales Shield arrived at Causeway Lane, and Matlock entered the 1978-’79 Anglo-Italian Cup, finishing a creditable 2nd in the English section. The Gladiators finished as NPL runners-up in 1984 and three years later, became a member of the NPL Premier Division when the league gained a First Division too. They remained there through into the new decade, winning the 1989 Floodlit Trophy, whilst 1990 saw yet another First Round FA Cup appearance end in a 4-1 loss, this time at the hands of Scunthorpe United.

Causeway Lane, MTFC

Despite starting the decade with the 1991 Floodlit Cup, Matlock would suffer relegation to the NPL’s First Division in 1996, finishing bottom, and would remain there for eight seasons before finishing as runners-up and earning promotion back to the Premier Division. They followed this success by winning the next season’s (2004-’05) NPL Challenge Cup, the second time they had won this silverware, and 2008 saw Matlock earn a shot at a place in the Conference North when making the play-offs; Witton Albion would, however, prevail 4-2 in the semi-finals, consigning Town to another year in the NPL. They have since finished a best of 7th (coming in 2010), whilst consolidating themselves as a solid mid-table outfit, year-on-year, finishing last season in 15th place. They have also lifted the Derbyshire Senior Cup on a total of ten occasions – their first in 1975, and most recent coming in 2017.

The game got underway as I got talking to Matlock and Leeds fan Gary, about all and sundry with regards to different things in the world of football and the like. It was a good job there was something to distract me (at least from my perspective) from the on-field action…or the lack thereof; it was bloody horrendous early doors. It really isn’t a stretch to say that the first twenty minutes or so saw next to nothing in the way of goal-mouth action – or 18-yard action even – truly be created – a shot from over the half-way line being the closes we came to an opener. Even then, it wasn’t really that close. The first real chance eventually came the way of Matlock’s Dan Bramall, his shot being deflected wide, before Ant Malbon responded for Kidsgrove – however he could only tamely hit straight at Jon Stewart between the Gladiators’ sticks.

View from the dual stand

Match Action

Footie & Drink!

That would pretty much be that for the first half it seemed, but, right on the stroke of half-time, the hosts grabbed a slightly deserved lead on the overall balance of play. Having just visited the food bar for something that involved chips (I can’t remember what else – its been over ten days…), I headed over to the clubhouse entrance in anticipation of the whistle, when a free-kick was met by James Williamson at the back post and his header nestled in the net. 1-0 Matlock at the break, a break which was spent watching the half-time scores come in from around the country, as a rather sizeable queue formed at the bar.

The second half was soon on the go and Kidsgrove came out like a house on fire, intent on getting themselves back on level terms, clearly having been stung by conceding so late in the first-half, Malbon volleying over the bar in their best chance early doors. Having said that, this approach gave Matlock the space to attack too and they also went close, Marcus Marshall firing narrowly wide in search of a second goal that would have likely clinched Town’s place in the next round. Kidsgrove, however, would have other ideas and the impressive Kingsley Adu Gyamfi went close on a pair of occasions as Athletic strove to get back level.

Through The Crowds

From The Stand

Terraces

They would achieve this goal with around twenty-five minutes left on the clock; skipper Ant Malbon latched onto a loose-ball, after James Butler’s header had been cleared off the line but no further, and he calmly finished – showing all his experience in doing so. The wind was well and truly in the sails of Kidsgrove now and, with their band of supporters in the terrace behind the goal still coming to terms with their leveller, their joy became jubilation moments later. All but straight from kick-off, the quicksilver Gymafi picked up the ball just inside the Matlock half, beat a couple of challenges in advancing forward, before lashing a drive across goal that flew past Stewart and into the back of the net. What a strike it was and Gyamfi enjoyed it just as much as the Grove faithful did!

A stunned Matlock did seem shell-shocked by the sudden turnaround and despite seeing Williamson and Luke Hinsley denied by Kidsgrove ‘keeper Kieran Harrison, even the coming up of Harrison’s opposite number Stewart for a final minute corner couldn’t force an equaliser and the NPL South visitors held on to seal a “Cupset” and head into the Third Qualifying Round, the magical First Round place and all the possibilities that come with it edging ever closer. However, I’m still left with just the one ‘keeper goal live – Greg Hall’s place in my ‘Hall of Fame’ (NB: a note) as sole member in that category is safe. In fact, I’ve seen him score as a ‘keeper, midfielder and striker. So, yeah.

Late on…

Small bridge & stream. Quaint.

After the game, I made haste up the steep incline to the Duke William, which should have been my starting point upon my arrival into Matlock proper. This had also been the scene of one of my rare darts wins which, I must admit, came in my more sober days!! Upon entering into this throwback public house, I plumped for a pint of Heineken (£4.30~) and wasted away a fair bit of the hour-and-a-bit or so I had until the bus back to Alfreton. This was all going well until….well, you remember that “getting lost in a churchyard” bit, yeah? See that and add ‘a private road’ and could I find this place? Could I hell. As such, I decided to follow the paths from whence I came and got back to the Remarkable Hare in good time for the bus….which was then delayed by a good twenty minutes, meaning a later train back was now on the cards. Walking through Alfreton, I decided it was time to employ my ‘trump card’. What was that, you ask? I think you know….!

Duke William

Back in Alfreton at the Prospect Micropub

Since visiting Alfreton with fellow hopper Paul a few seasons back now, a small micropub in an unassuming side road has opened up judt a few minutes walk from the station entrance. Going by the name of the Prospect Micropub (on account of said road it is on), it was always going to be a place of refuge is something went a little awry, and so it came to be. Unfortunately, for some reason, I sounded like a pure drunk on my arrival there and could barely string the sentence I wanted together, though maybe wasn’t as bad as I suspected, as the guy there seemed to know what I was on about. Or maybe he guessed?! Either way, I ended up choosing another Rattler at £4.70 and wasted away the remaining time lazing on a couch. Lovely stuff.

Eventually I had to rouse myself from the sunken sofa and back out onto the streets of Alfreton, which by now were bathed in darkness and illuminated only by the streetlights glaring down upon them. Hello darkness, my old friend. Winter is coming. Any other puns; I can’t see me thinking of anymore. Sorry. Anyway, no other problems were seen and via a welcome doze on the train back into Manchester, I was there in quick time, though wasn’t in the mood to stick around the best part of an hour for a train; instead I opted to part with a couple of quid extra to grab a bus and get home a half-hour earlier. I fair trade I think. That ended another good trip to another lovely town. Of course, I knew what to expect out of Matlock (less so its pubs), but I hadn’t been to its Bath-y neighbour before and that was the bonus. Both were great and, of course, Causeway Lane is, as I’ve already said, a top ground – even without the dramatic backdrop up to Riber Castle. Next up….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 9

Food: 7

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

 

Manchopper in….Atherton (Atherton Collieries FC)

Result: Atherton Collieries 1-2 Kidsgrove Athletic (FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round)

Venue: Alder House (Saturday 8th September 2018, 3pm)

Att: 161

After a pair of long trips down to Devon over the previous couple of weekends, it was a definite welcome change to only be faced with the short hop over to Atherton and Atherton Collieries for their FA Cup tie against league rivals, the strong starting Staffordshire outfit, Kidsgrove Athletic. It would be my third visit to Alder House, though my first on a Saturday for just over a decade, the last being when they put an end to 2007-’08 NWCFL champions Trafford’s long winning run. They pipped Salford that year, too. How things change….!

Anyway, enough about the past, let’s get back onto the day at hand. It was a damp and dreary day in Manchester as I caught bus out to the Trafford Centre where I’d catch another to take me the further half-hour or so to the town betwixt Wigan and Leigh. It did appear that Atherton, Tyldesley and other places en route weren’t exactly the place to be today, though, as I was the only passenger for a good twenty minutes! Eventually, I would be joined by a few elder states persons of the area prior to finally disembarking at the far end of Atherton’s Market Street, where I was to find two pubs facing off across a junction. These were, namely, the Punch Bowl and the Letters Inn. Only one had its doors open as the clock ticked on past midday, so in I headed to find the barman/landlord stocking the bar. Unfortunately for him, he hadn’t clocked my arrival, and so almost had a heart attack when he looked up to find me looming at the bar! I gave him £2.85 for a San Miguel as an apology!

The Punch Bowl slowly filled up as I sat there for the first half-hour of the day, as I wasted a bit of time to ensure the next place along would likely be ready to go. Eventually, I reckoned it would be safe to assume it was and so headed on over the way to the aforementioned Letters. Indeed, it was open and, yet again, I was the first punter in. Proper pisshead action going on here and I just hope it doesn’t become too much of a habit! The landlord here, like the first, bemoaned the change in the weather, and it certainly was a return to the norm as it began to bucket down as I looked out of the window and thoughts of the dreaded late postponement came to mind. But, I had great faith in the Colls team to have everything in line. I hoped….

The Punch Bowl

The Letters

Taphouse

Invited to sit and read the paper on the bar whilst supping at my Boddies (£2.40), a lady entered and seemed half disappointed to have been beaten to the post in terms of being first in, so I agreed to stay quiet in that regard when the remainder of her group came in! The ruse was soon abandoned though and I was soon heading onwards back down the street towards the ground a little more, finding myself at the next stop, the Taphouse 119. Shock of shocks, I was the only one in yet again, and after initially opting for a pint of one of the Rosie cider group, I spotted just in time it was a 7.4%, so decided to be sensible for once and instead opted for the far weaker one at a tick over 4%. A nice pint too, but I soon got the urge to go and watch some of the cricket in what seemed to be a fairly recently opened sports bar across the way, by the name of the Sin Bin. Unfortunately, the fact it was coming up to 1pm had completely slipped me by, and about a minute after taking a seat at the window, the players headed off for lunch. Ah.

Atherton is a town located within the Borough of Wigan and is historically a coal mining and nail manufacturing town, dating back to the 14th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, the town was described as “the centre of a district of collieries, cotton mills and iron-works, which cover the surface of the country with their inartistic buildings and surroundings, and are linked together by the equally unlovely dwellings of the people”. A nice description, then! The town’s last deep coal mine closed in 1966, the final cotton mills in 1999. Sadly, as in many places, a mining accident at Lover’s Lane took the lives of 27 men in 1872, with a further eight being lost in Chanters Colliery in 1957.

Atherton

Church

Evidence has been found of Bronxe age activity, as well as a Roman road passing through the area on the ancient route between Coccium (Wigan and Mamcium (Manchester). Following the Anglo-Saxon invasion of the country, Atherton became a part of the manor of Warrington through to the Norman conquest when it became a township (or vill) in its own right, as part of the parish of Leigh. Recorded as Aderton in 1212, it seemingly became Atherton around 1259, named after either the nearby brooks, or a manor house. For a while, the town took on the name of a part of the township, Chow’s Bent, named after the Chow family who lived in the area. Becoming Chollebynt (or Shollebent) in the 14th century, this would later become Chowbent, the name sticking until the mid-17th century, when it reverted back to Atherton once more. The area also saw two battles, one in each of the Civil War and Jacobite uprising, the area having been split in loyalty during the former, the latter seeing the Scottish forces routed. Latterly, it has been part of the county of Lancashire, before being incorporated into Greater Manchester in line with its borough, Wigan.

I was instead left to watch the rain continue to fall over a pint of the fine Marston’s 61 Deep and to become a part-time staff member for around ten seconds in helping to open a door to allow stock across the way. Soon enough and with the clock now ticking ever closer to 2pm, I thought it smart to continue onwards to the Atherton Arms, a short walk from the ground. This was a Holt’s’ affair and, as such, it allowed me to have a pint of the fine Bootleg IPA and to pay one of Holt’s’ ever interesting pricing methods, the £2.66 helping to rid me of a few coppers. Be gone 1p’s.

Sin Bin

Wheatsheaf

Atherton Arms

Aside from a small group of Kidsgrove fans and a couple of locals, it seemed there wasn’t many locals braving the rain to enjoy a pint out in Atherton today and so, after actually getting to watch some cricket, I swiftly finished up and turned just around the corner to reach Alder House. On arrival, I handed over my £8 entry, plus a further £2 for the very decent programme. From there, I took some shelter in the clubhouse for the lead-up to the game, meeting up with a few of the Colls group, namely Gibbo, Rob and Zach. Gibbo was testing out the new craft ale suppliers (and now stadium name rights holders) Skuna, but I didn’t test it out myself, thinking it best to play out the long game. A half-time pie would do for now!

The sides were soon entering the pitch and so it was onwards outside into what had now, thankfully, reduced to just drizzle. Alder House is a ground that is getting smarter by the year, it seems. It hasn’t changed much layout wise since my first visit way back when, but at least the roof of the stand near the turnstiles isn’t in danger of blowing off now! This all-seater stand sits towards the near-end goal, between the turnstile area and half-way. There is a strangely-located bit of terracing directly next to it, though this doesn’t give particularly great views what with the dugouts being directly in front of it. Both ends are open, hard standing, (though the near end does host the dressing rooms etc., with another stand being located towards the far-end goal on the far, clubhouse side of the ground. Slightly split in the middle, this is a mix of seating and standing, with a little area of uncovered standing protruding out back towards the clubhouse and food bar. So that’s Alder House in a nutshell and this is the story of Atherton Collieries….

History Lesson:

Atherton Collieries Football Club was founded in 1916 by miners from the six pits in the old urban area of the town. The club was created with the aim of becoming a welfare point for those left at home during the First World War and upon the pits being nationalised later on, the club was gifted to the people of Atherton instead. The club has played at Alder House since its formation and the club would initially join the Bolton Combination post-war, winning the title in 1920, alongside the Lancashire County FA Amateur Shield, the latter of which was lifted again in 1923, when the club were then playing in the Lancashire Alliance (joined in 1921).

After returning to the Bolton Combination and winning three consecutive titles between 1937-’39, the Second World War broke out, but Colls would remain in the Combination throughout the wartime period, winning two further Combination titles in 1941 & ’45, whilst also achieving a third County FA Shield in 1942. Post-war, the club joined the Manchester League, West Lancashire League & Lancashire Combination’s Division 2 for shorts spells, a further Shield being won in 1946, ahead of a return to the Bolton Combination in 1952. The few switches in leagues resulted in a slight lean spell, which saw it be over a decade until their next triumphs, these coming in the form of a Combination/Shield double in 1957. The club would eventually end their Combination stay with ten titles, adding a final three in 1959, ’61 and ’65, with one more Shield being achieved in 1965, with Colls then returning to the Lancashire Combination in 1971 and winning their first Bolton Hospitals Cup in 1974.

Arriving at Alder House

After an unsuccessful foray in the Lancashire Combination, Atherton would move into the Cheshire County League for 1977-’78 before the merger in 1982 meant Colls would join the newly-formed North West Counties League. Their first silverware in this period arriving in 1986 in the form of the Bridge Shield, just ahead of their second Bolton Hospitals Cup a year later. League success would soon follow, the Third Division title being won in 1987 along with promotion to Division 2. After narrowly missing out on Cup silverware in each of 1992, 1995 & 1996 (beaten finalists in the NWCFL First Division Trophy, Floodlit Trophy & Division Two Trophy respectively), the club were promoted at the end of the latter of those three campaigns, this being enough to ensure promotion to the Division One. 2002 saw Colls lift the Goldline Trophy at Bolton Wanderers’ ground, ahead of the renaming of Division One to the Premier Division in 2008, which proved an unlucky change for Colls, the club being relegated at the end of that season.

The relegation meant the club were playing in Division One, where they were an ever-present force towards the top of the table, consistently finishing in the top six, whilst also lifting the First Division Trophy in 2011. Promotion would follow in 2015, Colls winning the Division and thus being promoted back to the Premier Division, along with taking a third Bolton Hospitals Cup, however, they did go on to lose out in the 2015 NWCFL Challenge Cup Final, but would go one better the following campaign, lifting the trophy via a 5-1 thrashing of Colne. This would prove to be a sign of things to come, as the 2016-’17 season would end in Colls’ first ever promotion to the Northern Premier League, where they were placed in the Division One North. Their first season was immediately successful, the club finishing up a more than solid 10th, whilst grabbing further silverware in the form of the NPL Challenge Cup, after a 2-1 triumph over Coalville Town.

Now, I have to make an apology here. Unfortunately, my phone gave up on me over the weekend and so I lost my nots pertaining to this game, so am having to use the bits and bobs I can find from match reports and the like. As such, things may be skewed a little, but there we are. Whatever the case, the pitch was in fine nick come kick-off it seemed and the first chance duly fell to the hosts, Gaz Peet seeing his free-kick from a fair way out clip the top of the crossbar on its way over.

Match Action

Terrace view

Match Action

The remaining half-hour of the first-half was fairly uneventful, with both sides trading half-chances only, Jordan Cover firing wide, before later testing the Kidsgrove ‘keeper, sandwiching Peter Williams’ effort which forced the crackingly named Morgan Bacon into a stop. That was largely that for the first half, the hosts seeing marginally the better of the play. Meanwhile, it was off to the food hut for me, where I opted for the pie, peas and gravy, which was superb. But, then again, we are in pie country, so would you expect anything less?!

After a quick check on the half-time scores, the second half was underway and I decided I couldn’t really be too arsed doing another lap, so camped out in front of the clubhouse where I joined Gibbo and his partner Hannah, though I probably annoyed the latter somewhat with my incessant and, quite likely, nonsensical chatter, so you have my apologies for that. Further apologies notwithstanding, that should be the last time I have to offer up any during this blog I hope!

Kidsgrove got straight into action and took the lead just a few minutes into the half, when a loose ball allowed them to take on possession and Lee Williamson advanced into the area before clipping the ball over Bacon and into the net, to the cheers of the decently sized travelling support from North Staffordshire (and wherever else they may reside, I suppose). This really seemed to drive on Athletic from there on in and they largely dominated proceedings for the next twenty minutes or so, and doubled their advantage during this time. However, it was to be a highly controversial goal.

Match Action

Match Action

Kidsgrove advanced down the flank and the resultant delivery was headed goal-wards by Shayne Rhodes, whereupon it hit the bottom of the crossbar, bounced down and back into the grateful hands of Bacon, who’d seemingly tipped it onto the woodwork to safety. No flag, no goal, so it seemed. But, no! The referee began to signal back to the centre-spot and awarded the visitors a contentious second, much to the dismay and disbelief of the home support, players and officials alike, so much so that it ended up with Colls boss Michael Clegg being dismissed from the dugout. I have to say, it didn’t look as though it had crossed the line from my position and the initial players’ reactions, but being down the other side of the field, I couldn’t say for certain, of course.

Either way, Kidsgrove should have had another goal shortly afterwards, when Williamson was brought down in the area and the referee had the far more obvious task this time round of pointing to the spot. Penalty. But, Bacon was on sizzling form (sorry!) to palm away Anthony Malbon’s spot-kick and keep Colls’ hopes alive, just about. The game would begin to get a bit bad-tempered from here, with a few rash challenges and flare-ups coming and going, before the hosts grabbed a late, stoppage-time goal back, when Luke Giverin fired home, but a good bit of “gamesmanship” from one of the Athletic players in the goal-mouth ensured any possible sting was taken out of the moment. Clever stuff.

Late on….

…and to the Rope & Anchor post-match!

That would be that, however, and it was too little too late for the home side, who bowed out to a Kidsgrove side who, over the 90 minutes, probably edged the game on the whole, with 2-1 being a fair reflection of the game. As for me, I beat a hast exit to beat the crowds who would be setting off to drown their sorrows in the nearby Rope & Anchor, where I opted to end off my trip with a final pint of Boddington’s (£2.50), whilst watching the scores roll in from around the country. Before long, it was time to head back on the short walk back towards the town centre once again, where I missed my bus back on account of the driver having not changed the destination on the front, so I didn’t go for it. Great. At least it was only about 15 minutes to the next one though, but, with no phone battery left to play with, ’twas a long quarter-hour. Honestly, what did we do without them?! Ah, papers and programmes. Of course!

After getting back to Bolton, it turned out the express service back to the Trafford Centre was cancelled due to an accident on the motorway somewhere, which meant only one absolutely delightful option. The long way round, a whole 1 hour and five minutes of a bus trip with no music and the like to block out the incessant chat of nonsense (says me!). Thankfully, it did seem to go rather quick somehow – probably due to the bloody long trips down South – and I was back home within 20 minutes of arriving back at the TC. Once there, it was off to our bar once again for a final couple…or three….ok, five, whilst Trafford fan and occasional blog appearance maker, Cappy, popped in to celebrate the Whites’ win up at the Giant Axe in Lancaster via a couple of Jägers each.

Yes, it was one of those days, but it had been good, for sure! The game was decent, the ground too, programme and food all good and the town was cheap as chips (considering I’d spent £11 on a bottle of Sol and a pint of Tiny Rebel ale last week!). Can’t complain much and it’s back to the same neck of the woods next week, when I pay a second visit to New Sirs and Daisy Hill FC, the first time I’ll have been since the first post “Class of 92” takeover game. Salford have somewhat bookended this blog, and I have now ended it….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 6

Programme: 7

Food: 8

Value For Money: 8

 

Manchopper in….Kidsgrove

Result: Kidsgrove Athletic 2-0 Trafford (FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay)

Venue: Hollinwood Road (Wednesday 23rd August 2017, 7.45pm)

Att: 164

A first “proper” midweek blog in quite some time saw me heading into North Staffordshire for this FA Cup replay. Kidsgrove Athletic, based north of Stoke, forced a second go-around in this tie by holding Trafford to a 2-2 draw the previous Saturday and gain home advantage for a place in the First Qualifying Round.

Knowing there’s not much to Kidsgrove from other blogs and my own research, I was getting a lift straight to the game off Trafford fan Cappy, who has popped up in my blogs from time to time, the latest being in the round previous at Athersley Recreation vs West Didsbury & Chorlton. After being picked up along with other away fans Gaz and Paul, it was straight to Hollinwood Road for us.

After making good time in avoiding the usual trouble-strewn M6, we arrived at the gates of “The Grove’s” home at just before half-past seven. Being dropped off outside as Cappy went in search of a parking space (few and far between at that point), a quick entry (£8 in) plus grabbing a programme and a teamsheet off the lady within the closed off turnstile, saw me all set for the game. Gaz was most pleased by the fact he grabbed the last of the programmes on offer!

Hollinwood Road

KAFC

Before long, the sides were heading out onto the field with daylight still just about enough to mean the floodlights were not really required for the first half. As for the ground, it’s a pretty decent one, housing four stands with seating available on both sides and at both ends, largely orange-orientated, for some reason, despite Kidsgrove playing in blue and the older looking stand fitting in with this colour scheme. The ground also has a nice backdrop of trees at the far side.

Anyway, this older stand is split into two by the “tunnel” which protrudes through the middle of the seats, with the differently decorated “Phoenix Club” clubhouse & changing rooms to the rear. Alongside and towards the turnstiles is the food bar, with a few rows of covered seats separating it from said entrance way. The far side houses a newer, all-seater stand, with the near-end also playing host to something similar. The far end, though, plays host to a strange stand that has a couple of rows of seats at both sides, with covered standing also available within too. Ground description somewhat out-of-the-way, here’s a bit of back-story to Kidsgrove Athletic…

History Lesson:

Kidsgrove Athletic FC was founded in 1952, after a group of disillusioned local players formed the club after the re-formed (after WWII) Kidsgrove United decided to use players from outside the area. United had been the town’s club pre-war. Athletic, meanwhile, began life in the local Burslem & Tunstall League, originally playing on the Vickers & Goodwin pitch near the A50, before taking a year out of football in 1961, with all efforts on developing a ground on the current site at Clough Hall, which may give a clue to their success in this venture!

Old turnstile

Not sure what this once was?

The club returned to the playing field in 1962 and won the Burslem & Tunstall League that year. They’d go on to join the Staffordshire County League in 1963, winning the Division 2 title in their first year there before taking the Division One title in 1966. As a result of this, the ‘Grove switched into the Mid-Cheshire League for the ’66-’67 season, winning it on four occasions (1971, ’78, ’87 & ’88), along with lifting the Mid-Cheshire League Cup three times (1968, ’70 & ’86). 1990 saw the club take a further step up and enter the North West Counties League for 1990.

Promoted in 1991-’92 due to ground grading, the club struggled initially before finding its feet and winning the NWCFL title twice (1998 & ‘2002), the latter of which earned Kidsgrove promotion to the Northern Premier League. After struggling at the start of their stint here, they progressively moved up the table and they would eventually reach the play-offs of the now regionalised Division One (South) in 2010, but would lose out to, the sadly now defunct, Glapwell. After a period of managerial instability in recent years, the club ended up in a solid 12th place at the close of the last campaign.

Pre-match handshakes

The game was a tight affair during the first period, with neither side seemingly looking to push on, perhaps afraid of being caught as a result of doing so. Thusly, chances were few and far between, the visitors being restricted to a couple of long-range efforts and the influential, experienced frontman Anthony Malbon firing over when well placed with what was probably the best chance of the half.

Despite the lack of overall chances, the game was a watchable one on a good playing surface. Kidsgrove, with more width to their play, always looked the more dangerous and almost forged ahead on around the half-hour, but Trafford ‘keeper Grant Shenton held on well to a Ross Davidson strike, considering he looked to have seen it late. As it was, there was to be no breakthrough in the score-line and the sides headed in at the break in deadlock. At the recommendation of Gaz, my half-time snack consisted of chips & curry for £2 and they were well worth it. Really good stuff.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

After a swift visit into the Phoenix Club for a look around (whereupon I came across its numerous Nepalese/Himalayan area décor), it was back out for the second period. From the off it became more apparent that Kidsgrove had the upper hand now, indeed Cappy stated at the break that Grove seemingly had a “second gear” to go into, and that definitely looked to be the case.  Shenton got away with an early error, when a poor clearance was fired over but he was to be more unlucky soon after when Kidsgrove deservedly went ahead.

After Trafford’s Ally Brown had been denied by ‘Grove stopper Dave Parton, in the visitors’ best chance of the tie, Parton’s opposite number pulled off a good initial stop to deny Malbon, but the ball fell to the feet of Lee Cropper who unerringly did the rest, in calm fashion. You felt it’d be a long way back for Trafford from here, considering the lack of penetration they’d had to that point in the game, the forward line proving ineffective in breaking down the solid-looking home defence, marshalled well by the “gaffer”, player-manager Ryan Austin, the ex-Burton Albion man who was part of the side who played at Old Trafford in this competition a number of years back.

The lights take effect

View from the old stand

Indeed, 15 minutes later, it was game, set and match to the hosts. A long-ball downfield found Malbon who was adjudged onside and he left the vain appeals of the Trafford defenders behind him to coolly finish beyond Shenton for two-nil, to send the crowd and those in the raised hospitality box into raptures. Kidsgrove were heading for the next round and a date with Clitheroe.

Not much occurred during the latter part of the game, and the ‘Grove saw out the remainder of the tie to signal a fine win against the seemingly depleted visitors (they only had three on the bench). As for us, it was straight off via an initial stop off in the fine, thatched roof-style “Bleeding Wolf” Robbie’s pub. Cappy’s observation of the match was this: “Well, the pub’s better than the match!”.

Bleeding Wolf

Inside the Wolf

It was packed within this old, carvery pub with standing room only in force, with a band relaxing at the rear having finished up their set. Nothing alcoholic for Cappy of course, but there was no such bad luck or responsibility for me and a pint of Stowford later (plus a read of the local legend regarding the pub, a huntsman and the King), we were headed back into the night for a second stop-off….and here’s where the silliness begins!

En route to Congleton, Cappy headed off for the Swettenham Arms , which cued us travelling along dark country lanes with no other souls in sight, bar the odd rabbit which would pointlessly risk its life by darting out in front of the car. Finally arriving in some sort of civilisation, we discovered the Swettenham was shut. No haunted pub for us…none at all it seemed. But then the Red Lion was remembered and off we went again. Shut. Ah. With all options seemingly exhausted, it was off home via the odd diversion. Until we got to a roundabout near Over Peover.

“There’s a sign for the Dog Inn”, I called to the rest of the car and thus we circled around said roundabout three or four times whilst debating whether we’d make the two miles in six minutes. Cappy decided to the affirmative for us and we arrived at the entrance to the Dog in some fashion, with my plan of action being put into force. That plan of action? The nearest to the door dives out and legs it in.

At one minute past eleven, we came to a halt, the door swung open and Paul sprung out to shouts of “GO, GO, GO!!!!”, with one guy walking past with his dog probably thinking he was about to witness the worst pub raid in history. After parking, we joined Paul within to find all things calm as…..it was open until midnight! Fun and games over, we settled in for the next half-hour (pint of the fine Portland in here) before setting off once more.

Gaz and Paul doginn

Apparently, my dramatized story pretty much came true. This is how things went: Paul jumped out the car, through the gate, threw open the pub doors as those inside turned to see what was going on, before asking if there was time to be served. He was met by the flat response “Yeah, we’re open until twelve.” I can’t do it justice in words, it was just pure craziness and a great way to end the evening, never mind the “Brian the mechanic” call-in show on the radio.

So ends this tale of an underwhelming footballing match transforming into a crazy pub search. But this is what the FA Cup does to people, I guess! Anyway, Saturday sees a return to the 92 trail, before the Cup returns a week after. However, before that comes around, it’s a trip to Runcorn and the Linnets….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 7

Food: 8

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 7