Manchopper in….Birkenhead (Cammell Laird 1907 FC)

Result: Cammell Laird 1907 1-2 West Didsbury & Chorlton (NWCFL Division One South)

Venue: Kirklands (Saturday 28th September 2019, 3pm)

Att: 107

With the weather deciding to be as much of a polar opposite to the previous week, I went from basking in the late summer heat around the dales of Derbyshire to sheltering away from heavy rain showers whilst looking for somewhere to go that was a fairly safe bet. Only in Britain, I swear. Anyway, as the minutes rolled on and the half-hours passed by, my laziness began to grow – even to a point where I was half-considering binning off football for the day and just going out drinking instead. One out of two ain’t bad, after all! However, through the bleak Saturday morning came a beacon from the Wirral peninsular. Cammell Laird was on. Confirmed. My destination was set. Confirmed. To Lairds I headed!

Boarding the train at a little before 11am, I rode straight through to Liverpool’s Lime Street station before making my way down into the depths of the Merseyrail system for the train ‘over the water’ (well, under to be more factually correct) along the Wirral line and towards Birkenhead. I had a ticket for Rock Ferry, the nearest station to Kirklands, but decided to hop off at Conway Park in the town centre instead, as that was the train that was coming in first. What I didn’t know, however, was the lovely surprise that awaited me on arrival. “99 steps to the street” declared the sign over the doors. I could make a 99 problems joke, but that’s surely dead by now, no?

Arriving in Birkenhead

Crown Inn

I survived my Everest climb and headed on out through the gates, despite their best efforts to deny me. Turning to the right over the left, I soon spotted the Crown Inn just across the forecourt of a Mecca Bingo and so reckoned I’d set-up stall in there for the moment and see what else was around. As I approached, I saw a side entrance, peeling paint from all sides and a black-board outside still advertising St. George’s Day deals. Many might be a bit put off, but not this madman, oh no! I headed in and….well, bloody hell. A lovely, traditional bar area immediately greets you and is rather grand in its ways. I was enamoured; a hidden gem, you might say. Yes, the beers weren’t quite wide-ranging, but I’m not one to overly complain – Stella at £3.10 was far from bad either!

Soon after a pair of ladies stated to a guy there that they would be “back for a quickie” (a drink, get your minds out of the gutter) after bingo, I figured I’d best head off too and made my way back past the station to the Stork Hotel, only to find this shut; as a result, I took a cut-through I remembered from my trip to Tranmere last season and was soon back on a route that would take me to what was my intended third-stop, this being the Firemans’ Arms. Again, this is probably a place that would see the exterior (and likely just the overall location) put people off, down a back road side-street and with shutters down on some windows. It did look shut from the angle I approached, but I soon spotted it was not the case and ventured in. A small bar stood across the way, along with a couple of TV’s that, like the Crown, were unsurprisingly showing Liverpool’s early kick-off. Again, not one that would strike someone who is not too used to the region as overly welcoming, but it was indeed, with guys moving out of the way of their own accord to allow me to get to the bar; not something that happens readily elsewhere, so something nice. The Coors was a nice pint here too, the price being a nice aside at £2.70.

Fireman’s Arms

George & Dragon

A soggy Wirral

Just around the corner was the George & Dragon and, out of the three I’d visited to that point, looked the least likely to be the vocal, sweary, crazy story place. However, this would be the jackpot for all three! It was pretty humorous as I sat in and caught the remainder of the first-half in a similar bar area set-up to the Crown, but a bit more open-plan overall, and I decided to go for a Strongbow (£3.10) in here as I wasn’t quite sure of my plans overall in heading over more towards Kirklands itself. What I did know, though, was that I was going to pay a quick visit to the Waterloo just across the road, prior to heading on past the Cammell Laird shipyard itself – which was, of course, complete with the newly-christened Sir David Attenborough (or ‘Boaty McBoatface’) in a case of a result that wasn’t upheld….but I’m not going there!

A swift Dark Fruits (£2.90) was had in good time, as I dodged another blustery shower that blew in prior to continuing on down the main road and retracing many of my steps to Prenton Park. On this occasion, I would make a divert off to a pub just off the side and alongside an old rail bridge by the name of the Lord Napier – a pub I’d missed out and so put in the memory bank, from my aforementioned visit last season. Inside, there was no football, shockingly, and instead they had a points thing going on which was completely over my head – though it looked to be fairly competitive between the two guys in and around the TV.

Whatever the case, I polished off my Amstel (£2.90) and continued on the short distance to Kirklands, where I arrived some ten minutes later. I arrived to find that the old, art-deco, lovely clubhouse had gone and was now a building site with horrendous new-builds popping up (yes, I don’t like change too much, can you tell?!) and if that wasn’t bad enough, NO PROGRAMMES!!!! Now, this wouldn’t usually be too much of an issue on a revisit, but with doing a write-up that includes rating one, and the fact that this is a ‘new’ Laird club, I did kind of want one.

Waterloo

Lord Napier

As it was, I paid my £5 entry and was pointed in the direction of Kate in the tea bar – who then passed me along to her dad, the Lairds secretary, who took my name and £1.50 for the issue to be sent on when picked up. Hopefully, this works out better than my £3 paid at South Shields which ended up being a digital issue instead. That all sorted, I reckoned I may as well get the food in now too, and so chips and gravy was had and polished off nicely – despite the dribble of gravy that found its way to my jeans. Ah well, they were already fairly wet anyway!

Cammell Laird shipyard came about after a merger of Laird Brothers of Birkenhead and Johnson Cammell of Sheffield, with the former having been started out in 1828 by William Laird, who’d also started the Birkenhead Iron Works, before passing onto his sons after his passing. The latter brought the rail side of things from Yorkshire and both ships, boats and rail stock began to be built by the new Cammell Laird company. These included London Underground trains (the 1920 stock being the first tube cars to run with compressed air doors, though these were being powered by 1906 vintage French motor cars), warships (including two HMS Ark Royal, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney and, of course, HMS Liverpool and HMS Birkenhead, as well as a couple for the Confederate States of America), mail ships (such as the second RMS Mauretania) and passenger coaches for use in the Indian subcontinent.

The Sir David Attenborough at Lairds

In 1929, the rail stock part of the business was spun-off as an aside company whilst, ship-wise, the company totalled over 1,100 vessels launched by 1947 – including the first all-welded ship, Fullager, and the quickest-built significantly sized warship, HMS Caroline. The company was nationalised as with the rest of the country’s shipbuilding industry as part of British Shipbuilders in 1977, but returned to private sector ownership in 1986 as part of Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering of Barrow-in-Furness. The two yards were the only ones in the country capable of producing nuclear submarines and produced HMS Unicorn, now named HMCS Windsor, in 1993 before the yard was closed despite much opposition. Part of the Laird yard was purchased by Coastline as a repair facility, though they retained the traditional name and grew to take on other yards in Teesside, Tyneside and Gibraltar, though after a contract pull-out, the business entered receivership after financial issues and folded soon after – with A&P Shiprepair Group buying the Britain-based yards in 2001.

Birkenhead

It was sold again in 2005 to another repair and building company – Northwestern – in 2005 and then to Peel Holdings in 2007 as part of the wider business – with Peel purchasing and re-using the Cammell Laird name for Northwestern from 2008. It then got contracts to build the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, and car ferries for Western Ferries too, whilst then gaining the construction contract for the British Antarctic Survey’s new Royal Research Ship – the RRS Sir David Attenborough – which you can see below! Lairds also entered into an agreement with BAE Systems to construct frigates for the Royal Navy from 2017 and 2018 saw Red Funnel decide to give the shipyard the task of building its new cargo ferry, the MV Red Kestrel, whilst the MoD has awarded it a further contract for four new RFA tankers – in addition to maintaining the nine already in service.

Kirklands, much like Causeway Lane last week, hasn’t changed much, if at all, since my last visit, if you discount the clubhouse’s death, that is. An all-seater stand made up of four rows or so runs the majority of the near-side, and is flanked by open hard standing on both sides, whilst the turnstiles, and the hospitality area, tea bar and dressing rooms all lie in between it and the near end, which too is open, hard standing, much like its opposite end; though both have a large grass expanse behind. The far end houses a covered standing area and another seated stand that together, all but take-up the full run of this side and a Hurst Cross-style wall toilet is hidden away behind it and the neighbouring Stagecoach bus depot. Also, the old concrete pitch wall surrounds have gone, which I was pleased about, having seen a bad one avoided a number of years back now. Anyway, without going off on a tangent, that’s Kirklands in a nutshell, and this is Laird’s story….

History Lesson:

Cammell Laird Institute Association Football Club was founded in 1907 as, perhaps unsurprisingly, the works team of the shipbuilding yard of the same name. Their first game came against neighbours Tranmere Rovers, prior to the club joining the West Cheshire League Division One for their first season. They would finish that year in 10th, before the club finished bottom in 1910, though would avoid the drop to Division 2. Post-WWI, the club was taken back in-house as the works team of the shipbuilding yard of the same name and a company league was set-up, with a representative Wirral Football Association cup side also introduced to take part in outside cup competitions and they would win their first silverware in the form of the 1921 Shipley Cup. 

In 1922, they would enter the Birkenhead and Wirral League’s Division 2, and return to the wider football landscape as Kirklands Football Club. After adding a second honour to their list in the shape of the 1924 Wirral Minor ‘B’ Cup, Lairds would lift the Birkenhead & Wirral League’s Division 2 title in 1925 and remained in Division One (presumably) through to 1939, winning the 1927 Regents Cup whilst there, before they disbanded due to the outbreak of World War II. Post-war, the club returned as Cammell Laird A.F.C. and re-joined the Birkenhead & Wirral League for the first couple of post-war years before moving back up and into the West Cheshire League’s Division 2, where they were promoted to Division 1 from in 1951 after a fourth-placed finish. However, they would stay in the Division 1 for just the sole year before being relegated.

Cammell Laird 1907

They would then win the Division 2 title in 1958, though despite not being promoted on that occasion, they were the next season upon successfully defending their title win. Season 1968-’69 saw Cammell Laird win the First Division title without suffering a league defeat and after winning a second title in 1971, they then went on to dominate the latter half of the decade – winning five successive West Cheshire League titles between 1975 & 1979. A runners-up placing ended their dominance, but only briefly, as Lairds then proceeded to take the next four championships (1981-’84), another in 1987, and another four-in-a-row between 1989 & 1992. Their success through this period was also added to with eight WCL Pyke Challenge Cups between 1970 & 1994, six Cheshire Amateur Cups (1973-’94), the 1958 West Cheshire Bowl and nine Wirral Senior Cups (1972-’95).

Their West Cheshire League success continued rather unabated through into the mid-1990’s, as the Shipyarders won a further two titles in the decade – 1994 & 1999 – and started off the new millennium lifting the 2000-’01 championship. However, this would be their final league win in the West Cheshire League, as 2004’s runners-up placing saw them take promotion to the North West Counties League’s Division 2; however they did continue to add further cup successes to the above list, with an additional two Pyke Cups being won in 1999 & 2002, two Cheshire Amateur Cups in 2001 & 2003 and two more Wirral Senior Cups in 2000 & 2002. The Division 2 Counties title was immediately won at the first attempt as part of an immediate NWCFL treble, with the NWCFL Challenge Cup and Division 2 Cup joining the league in the trophy cabinet at Kirklands.

A few people have entered here with the hump

Lairds then proceeded to go straight through the Division One, winning that too, and achieving promotion to the Northern Premier League Division One, allying this with a run to the semi-finals of the FA Vase, where they eventually were convincingly knocked out by Nantwich Town, 5-0, over two-legs. Their first season there saw success continue, with a strong season ending in a runners-up finish and qualification for the play-offs, along with a first ever Cheshire Senior Cup triumph, but after winning their play-off semi-final against Colwyn Bay, they would be bested by Eastwood Town in the final.

League re-organisation for Season 2007-’08 saw Lairds placed in Division One South (as opposed to North) and they again finished as runners-up, this time achieving promotion to the NPL’s Premier Division on account of champions Retford United failing ground-grading, though this would come to bite at Lairds too at the end of the next season. Kirklands was found to not be up to Step 3 standard and so Lairds would be relegated on ground-grading. They returned to Division One South for a season, before being switched to the North Division for 2010-’11, where they went from one extreme to the other – finishing bottom but avoiding the drop in 2012, before making the play-offs the very next season. However, it would be the first of the two campaigns that would end in slightly more pleasure strangely, as the play-offs ended in heartbreak of the Wirral side as, having overcome Mossley in the semi-finals, they would lose out to Trafford on penalties following a goalless draw in the final – a game at which I was (at the time) a staunch supporter of the Manchester side.

The old-school toilets

After finishing 11th the next season, Cammell Laird A.F.C. was disbanded (due to, if I remember rightly, off-field issues) and replaced by the current 1907 outfit. The ‘new’ club began life back in the North West Counties and finished as runners-up, earning promotion to the Premier Division from Division 1. However, unlike their predecessor, 1907 would find life a little more tricky in the Counties’ top-tier and would be relegated back in 2017 having finished bottom of the table. 2018 saw Lairds make the Division 1 play-offs, where they defeated Sandbach United in the semis, but were defeated in the final, 2-1, by Whitchurch Alport. The next season saw the league enter a Division 1 regional split, North/South, with Cammell Laird 1907 placed in the Southern section. They finished last season there in 15th place.

The game got underway in a similar vein to that of last weekend’s game at Matlock, in that very little would happen in terms of goalmouth action early on. Both sides jabbed at each other, akin to an early boxing round, with no-one able to get in close enough to deliver a meaningful blow. However, from nowhere, Lairds would break the deadlock after the first quarter-hour had been played; a long ball over the top saw the onrushing West ‘keeper make an error of judgment on the flight, and the home striker wearing #9, Kyle Sambor, nipped in to finish off rather simply.

Match Action

Tipped over

View from the ‘Main Stand’

West, who have started the season strongly despite a couple of recent slip-ups, began to get back on terms with their hosts who had began slightly the brighter on their home turf, and after a looping header from Matt Eckersley had been well tipped over by Lairds ‘keeper Richard Cowderoy, he was powerless to deny the visitors an equaliser on 37 minutes, when a ball Ben Steer, ahem, steered the ball across goal, the ball just avoiding the grasp of Cowderoy and dropping over him and into the far corner. One-a-piece and that was pretty much that for the first-half action – a half which had only really seen two chances, and both of which ended up in the net. Not a bad conversion rate!

The second-half was far more watchable as a contest and both teams looked to stamp their authority upon the game from the outset. Lairds began by seeing some good play by Sambor allowed his strike-partner Luke Blondel a sight of goal, but his shot ended up being straight at West stopper Andy Jones. Meanwhile, down the other end, West’s Lee Grimshaw, who’d gone close right at the beginning of the half, made full amends when he received a fine through ball, got clear of the defence and slid past Cowderoy for 1-2.

From the seats

Match Action

Match Action

West’s James Cottee went close soon after this, as he showed good persistence to chase the ball down, keep it in, before cutting inside and getting a shot away that the ‘keeper could only parry; his defenders completing the clearance. Lairds Dominic Murphy spurned a presentable chance when being played in by #9, his shot seeing Jones allowed a pretty routine stop, before Grimshaw really should have added a third with around ten minutes left to play but, he too, would only fire straight at a grateful gloveman. A late bit of handbags threatened to ruin my avoidance of the horrific sin-bin, but the ref, who’d had a good game in my eyes, thankfully decided not to employ it. Full-time followed shortly afterwards, with West heading back to south Manchester with the points in the bag.

Post-match, I headed back past the overlooking church as the West choir continued singing and turned left on this occasion, crossing the bridge over the dual-carriageway and down what looked to be a kind of old hall approach road, before finally arriving waterside at the refreshment rooms. A restaurant/bar, (oh God, I’ve just remembered it’s split, isn’t it?), I headed in and got a San Miguel (£4.40), before sitting at the only table I’d spotted without a ‘reserved’ sign on it….only to be turfed out after about a minute as it turns out it was!! I was told the one that did say ‘reserved’ was actually ok for the moment and was given that. All this makes sense in hindsight – I was really in the wrong side I’d say. Anyhow, they only had to put up with my thickness for around 15 minutes, as I had my train to Lime Street to catch.

Late on

A low-key beach (and a bit dead boat)

Refreshment Rooms

No problem with that hop and I was back in Liverpool in good time for my train back home. This journey was also uneventful, apart from a couple of beer-fuelled guys trying to fight with another guy for no reason (they weren’t happy at being called ‘Mancs’; yes from their own mouths) and the driver coming out of the cab to object about the term ‘Scouse Bastard’ being thrown about. Ah, Northern….well, I’d say never change, but it’s probably best for everyone that you do. Anyway, some of the group went back to chatting up girls instead – though I’d say it seemed a little like a one-way situation!

As for me, I was soon off for a couple more back in my parents bar in Urmston (‘The Three Barrels’ it’s called, pay me for THAT ad) to round off a good day. The game was ok, the ground is nice in a rustic kind of way – it has its own look to it – and the food there was decent too; hopefully the same can be said for the programme when it’s in situ. Pubs also were better than expected, which was a nice bonus. Another week, another FA Cup round to come. Now, where to go….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: Forthcoming

Value For Money: 7