Manchopper in….Aintree

Result: Aintree Villa 0-5 East Villa (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: The Racecourse (Saturday 29th July 2017, 2.30pm)

Att: 10 (hc)

As pre-season draws to a close and teams draw up their final plans, tactics and squads, I found myself at a ground that allies three different sports around it. My final friendly, you see, would be played at Aintree Villa’s ground that sits within the Grand National racecourse the village is famed for hosting.

The ground also neighbours the former Grand Prix circuit which flits amongst the course, having hosted the British Grand Prix on five occasions, the last race being held in 1962, though the circuit is still used by local motorcycle clubs and other small motorsport events. Interestingly, one man, Alfonso de Portago, competed at Aintree in both horse and motor racing disciplines. Having competed in the Grand National during his earlier career, de Portago was due to race in the British GP of 1957, but was sadly killed in the preceding Mille Miglia race in Italy.

Arriving in Aintree

More famed for this than football?

Back onto the present day and the events at hand. After an uneventful, smooth journey through to Aintree, I disembarked in the shadow of the racecourse’s large stands that loom above the surrounding area. Having arrived bright and early ahead of the 2.30pm kick-off, I reckoned I might as well go and have a look at the ground and confirm the game was indeed on, having had a bad experience here a couple of seasons back when, upon arriving for a scheduled Liverpool Premier League game, there was no-one to be seen in the area. Luckily, this wasn’t the case today – the groundsman’s marking out of the pitch seemingly confirming the game was on – and so attentions turned to other things. You probably know by now what this means.

What with being at the Racecourse already, I reckoned I might as well start off my pub visits with the Hungry Horse pub just over the canal bridge at the far side of the course. Arriving at The Blue Anchor, I spotted the Jack Daniel’s cider being advertised outside and, with interest peaked, headed inside and swiftly ordered one. Having been given some explanation of what to expect from the barman (he wasn’t far off, the cider does overcome the whisky by and large), I settled in to get myself going for the walk back along the Melling Road and back to Aintree.

Over the canal

Chequered bridge

The Blue Anchor

Upon undertaking such a journey for the second time today, I headed down to the Toby Carvery at the entrance to the course itself and found the most surprising thing of the day within. Punk IPA…in a can. Not seen in any pub since my trip to Berwick, this was exciting (yes, I’m that sad) and I quickly had one ordered, despite the guy here being so surprised by my order, I almost ended up with a Nanny State. Apparently, this was because not many ask for it. What are you doing people of Aintree?!

Anyway, I did feel somewhat out of place sitting with my beer around families tucking into their lunchtime carvery, so I quickly finished up and headed back up the road to the very green Queen’s at Aintree. Queen’s is your more standard pub of the area and by far the cheapest. It’s also decorated by some…shall we say…less than flattering pictures of race goers who’ve had too much of a good time!

Toby Carvery

Queen’s and its….unfortunates

Soon enough it was time to retrace my steps back to the ground. Walking through the course for a third time, I arrived at the gates of the ground to find players arriving in their cars (some half-kitted out already) and some already leaking out onto the pitch. We had a game! For me, though, there was still a little time to spare and, luckily, one last bar to visit. This was namely Café Bar 19 and housed at the rear of the neighbouring driving range/golf course. With only Stella on draught, I thought my luck somewhat out until I read they had pies. Steak pies. And all for a fiver too. Not too shabby to set me up for the Villa derby.

A pretty famed feature

Café Bar 19

Readily refreshed, I returned my plate and glass and off through the gate to the ground. Upon arrival, we were only awaiting the ref and, upon his appearance, we were all set to go. The ground itself is just a barred off pitch using, seemingly, the barriers from the section of course alongside which it sits. Other than that, there is nothing to report with all around being just grass (though you can stand on the racetrack a fair distance back) and no cover to speak of. Now, before we get onto the game, here’s the story behind Aintree Villa FC….

History Lesson:

Aintree Villa FC was founded in 1954 and initially competed in the I Zingari Alliance, the lower section of the I Zingari League (which is now part of the LCPL after its merger with the Liverpool County Combination). 1957 saw the club win both the Division 2 & Charity Cup titles here and the following year saw them win the Division 1 whilst retaining their Charity Cup crown. The club’s meteoric rise continued with the Division 3 of the I Zingari League being won in 1959 and Division 2 in 1960.

The 1964-’65 season saw a pair of silverware arrive in the form of the I Zingari League Division 2 and the LCFA Junior Cup. The I Zingari Division 1 was then lifted in 1967 and retained the following season as Aintree’s golden (or should that be silver?) start continued on. 1969 saw a highly successful season close with a couple more titles won, namely the I Zingari League Division 1 and League Challenge Cup.

Aintree Villa

1971 saw the League & Cup double won again, with ’72 seeing the League retained along with victory in the LCFA Amateur Cup. A hat-trick of League titles was secured in 1973, with 1975 seeing it won once again after a season without any first-team honours. 1979 saw yet another league triumph and 1980 saw another Challenge Cup success, which was followed up the next two seasons, the latter year seeing the 1982 LCFA Amateur Cup won for a second time.

1984 saw the “new” I Zingari Premier League title won, along with yet another Challenge Cup success. But it was from here that silverware began to become few and far between compared to previous seasons. It took until 2002 for the next major honour to arrive at the Racecourse, this coming in the form of the West Cheshire League’s Division 2 title, after Aintree had joined the league in 1999, being promoted from Division 3 in their first season as runners-up.

Pitch from the race track

A two-season stay in the Second Division was ended in the best possible fashion, Aintree lifting the title and with it promotion to Division 1. They would go on to remain here through to 2009 when, unfortunately, they had their record expunged and returned to the I Zingari Combination (presumably taking the place of their reserve side(?)). 2012 saw the club join the Liverpool County Premier League’s Division 2, where they have competed through to this day, finishing last season in 11th spot out of the 12 teams.

LCPL Represent

The beginning of the game saw little to separate the sides, despite the two division gap between hosts and visitors. But the difference in level told eventually when, around ten minutes in, the East Villa #7 pounced upon a loose ball to fire home, following a decent initial stop by the Aintree ‘keeper.

The first-half continued to be a tightly fought affair with little in the way of chances, though this boredom was allayed when I was asked “Are you collecting the balls?”. It turned out this was Dave, the Dad of one of the Aintree players who had mistaken me for a ball collector from the driving range, as I was off considering whether or not it’d be ok to take a pic near one of the fences. The track did seem to be doubling up as part of the golf course though, with many balls being played from off of it, so I figured all must be fair in that regard.

Match Action

View from the dugout!

Dave went on to tell me about the change-up in the Aintree side for this season and how his son (I think he was in the midfield from memory) is a recent transfer from one of the Ashton Town age group sides. This conversation definitely helped to pass the time, before I left him to his peace and quiet and continued onwards to explore a bit of the Grand Prix circuit. Half-Time arrived too at this point, the score remaining at the solitary goal to nil, though Aintree did have the ball in the net just prior to the whistle, but this was ruled out by the ref, much to the chagrin of the home players.

Just before the offside “goal”.

The second half was underway after a five-minute half-time, meaning an earlier train back was now on the cards. The ref even went one better than this at the end of the game, only playing 40 minutes. It also gave some of the Aintree players who were unfamiliar with each other the time to meet, with the sub-keeper asking his centre-back “What’s your name?”, before going on to ask of him “Who’s the left-back?”!

The half was also more of a one-sided affair, with East Villa dominating the final twenty-or so minutes, though Aintree had a good chance to draw level soon after the restart, when a well-placed striker’s header was devoid of a good connection and the resultant shot flew well over. This proved to be as close as the orange-clad hosts would come to a goal, with East doubling their advantage shortly following this; the ‘keeper coming off his line, changing his mind, then finding himself stranded as the #10 finished smartly past him.

Match Action

Match Action

The next two-goals arrived within five minutes of each other as the game drew towards its conclusion and both went to the #6. First, he broke clear of the Aintree defence, keeping his cool to slot beyond the ‘keeper,, before following this up by latching onto a lovely chipped through-ball to round the GK and slip the ball in from a fairly acute angle. There was still time for a penalty too with the last kick of the game, though I sort of missed it as I had no idea one was happening having seen nor heard nothing, but I think #11 took and scored it before the ref’s premature ending was blown to signal a good win for the visitors, but a harsh score-line on the hosts who held their own for a good hour.

The walk back down the Melling Road was undertaken for the final time and I arrived back at Aintree station just as the train back to Liverpool was rolling into view. Another swift, trouble-free journey back ended the day and thus my friendlies for another season. Probably.

All-in-all, the day had been a good one. A quick, simple journey, a decent enough game, the pubs were ok and the venue was a little bit different, especially for up North, with only Ascot having anything similar as far as I know? Anyway, it’s back onto competitive football for the following ten months and it all begins with a trip to Yorkshire and the FA Cup campaign. Here we go (x3)…

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 3 (though a seven with novelty points)

Food: 6 (not necessarily in the ground, but close enough)

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8

 

Manchopper in….Walton (Liverpool County FA HQ)

Result: Eagle Sports 3-0 Byrom (Liverpool Challenge Cup Final)

Venue: Liverpool County FA HQ, Walton Park (Tuesday 28th April 2015, 6.30pm)

Att: 120

This was a game I’d planned to attend, ever since Eagle reached the final back in March. Finally,  the evening had arrived, and after finishing work at around about 4pm, it was straight to the station for the train towards Liverpool. Well, I say train, it was more akin to a battery farm, how everyone was crammed in. Anyway, after enduring these conditions for around 45 minutes, I hopped off at Edge Green, before embarking on the walk up to Walton.

However, I soon found out I had massively underestimated the walk, and it turned out to be a good three-four miles! This in addition to getting lost (shock) and ending up near Tue Brook. As such, I decided to make the most of a bad situation and go on a football tour of Merseyside, walking past both Anfield and Goodison Park. Amazingly, it was the first time I’d ever seen Goodison in my life.

The Kop

The Kop

Goodison

Goodison

Famous Stanley Park

Famous Stanley Park

After heading past Stanley Park and heading up Walton Road, I finally found myself at the entrance to Walton Park and the Liverpool “Soccer Centre”, as it was advertised on signposts. What a dreadful word, soccer. Before I set off on a rant, I will carry on. I handed over my £2 admission fee, receiving both entrance and a programme for my money. Upon entering, it struck me just how little there is featuring inside the pitch being used today. There is one stand, a slightly raised covered terrace, the changing rooms are built into the rear of the main building and there are some hedges. But apart from that, that was it. And it was very much the same story for the twin ground next door too. For me, there has to be a better place to host a final.

The Stand

The Stand

The Hedge End

The Hedge End

Clubhouse End

Clubhouse End

The game, featuring Byrom of the Liverpool County Premier League and Eagle Sports of the Cheshire League Premier Division was underway around 15 minutes of me arriving. Almost immediately, it was obvious that it was going to be a largely one sided affair, a Eagle gained the upper hand, which they were never to truly relinquish.

Handshakes

Handshakes

It's all kicking-off

It’s all kicking-off

It did, however, take them 20 minutes to finally break the deadlock. A free-kick was won on the left flank, the delivery wasn’t cleared and skipper Richard Chinn volley home to give his side the advantage.

Byrom were still recovering from this knockback when Eagle grabbed their second two minutes later. Again, it was an attack down the left that caused the danger, before a vicious strike was wonderfully tipped onto the post by the Byrom goalkeeper, who was rather unfortunate that the ball rolled along the goalmouth where Ged McAllister arrived to slide into the gaping net. 2-0, and game over, you felt.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

At thebreak, the  score remained the same, and I headed for the small refreshment window at the side of the main building, which seemed to be housing a referees course. They could do worse than to watch  the ref in charge tonight, who I thought officiated very well. There were a couple of minor errors, which are to be expected,, but nothing too major. Anyway, I managed to grab the last pie on offer, a Steak variety, for just £1. It was delicious and definitely worth the quid. So, with pie in hand, I headed back to the ground for the second period, which was soon underway.

The second period saw Byrom unleash their secret weapon, a quicksilver winger/midfield player wearing 14. He absolutely single handedly caused Eagle problems and looked like he might just give the Merseysiders a fighting chance. Apparently, he is a player for Skelmersdale Utd in the Evo-Stik League, and his class was showing. Unfortunately for him, the rest of his side weren’t up to it and Eagle’s Lee Boardman applied the finishing touch to the final with 15 minutes left on the clock. Boardman collected a through ball before delightfully chipping the ball over the onrushing GK and into the net. A fine finish. 3-0.

Soon enough, the final whistle blew to signal Eagle’s win and first silverware this season,, whilst Byrom left empty handed, having never posed much of a threat. The celebrations began and after the champers was sprayed and the trophy was lifted it was onwards home.

Eagle's Chinn lifts the cup

Eagle’s Chinn lifts the cup

The champagne is finally sprayed!

The champagne is finally sprayed!

I hitched a lift back to Sankey on the Eagle team coach, as to aid my trip home. After a quick drink back at the club on Thornton Road, and a win on the football card to the tune of £20, I left to my own fanfare and headed into the night around Warrington and arrived at Sankey station, in a much more able state than usual! 20 minutes later, I was disembarking back at Urmston and back home after two cup finals in two nights. Next up, the May Day weekend, and a trio of matches…..

My Byrom M.o.M.- The #14, didn’t catch his name sadly.

My Eagle Sports M.o.M.- Richard Chinn.

RATINGS:

Game: 5 – A one sided contest.

Ground: 4- Very simple and not great facilities for a final.

Fans: 7- All round effort.

Food: 8- Pie was very good. And cheap too!

Programme: 4-More of a teamsheet.

Value For Money: 8- Cheap travel, admission and food makes for a happy hopper!

Manchopper in….an Inter League Game

L&CAFLLCPL

Result: Lancashire & Cheshire League 3-3 Liverpool County Premier League (North West Inter League Cup)

Venue: Brookburn Road, West Didsbury & Chorlton AFC (Wednesday 18th February 2015, 7.45pm)

Att: Around 30-35 (hc)

On the request of Lancs & Cheshire’s Liam Bennion, here is a small blog about my first ever inter-league game, which ended in dramatic fashion. The game was to be held at West Didsbury & Chorlton’s Brookburn Road ground and was in the North West Inter League Cup, which progresses the winner into the nationwide tournament. The cup is contested by six league from around the North West Region.

The two sides tonight were the Lancashire & Cheshire AFL and the Liverpool County Premier League. The sides are composed of a mix of talent from teams in the respective leagues, so the better the contest in store should be, I figured.

The Lancs & Cheshire League was formed in 1912, with only two leagues in the Manchester area being in existence longer. The longest serving club in the Division in Aldermere, from Flixton, who joined in the first season. They have also hosted today’s host club in the past. The club membership currently stands at 109 clubs & over 3,500 registered players. There are 9 divisions and four knock-out cups, the Rhodes Cup being the first one competed for in 1912, as well as a Veterans competition. On two separate occasions, the league has attempted to grow a youth set up, only for this to be disbanded due to lack of sustained interest.

The League has competed against 22 different leagues in 343 games (prior to this game, according to the programme), utilising 1,709 players over this period. The first game was in 1912 (vs the Leeds & District League) as well as entertaining the Belfast Alliance the year after. The most played contest has been against the Lancashire Amateur League (played 84 times) and will be jointly celebrating their centenary of inter-league football in 2020.

The Liverpool County Premier League is a much newer competition, formed in 2006 following the merger of the I Zingari League 7 Liverpool Combination. They were persuaded by the FA to join forces. The league has quickly established itself and reached the National League System Final, when they travelled down to Guernsey, losing 5-2 to three late goals. Waterloo Dock are the league’s most successful club, with five successive wins from the league’s formation, with Aigburth People’s Hall being the current champions. Currently, they and East Villa are contesting the league title.

The League’s most prestigious cup competition is the George Mahon Cup, with the current holders being Page Celtic, whom Lee Trundle is known to turn out for. Mahon was a founder of Everton Football Club and in his memory, the cup was presented to the Liverpool Combination in 1909.

The Match Programme

The Match Programme

I arrived at 7.45, to find the game already underway. Yes indeed, the game had began 13 minutes early. Superb, meaning I could get an earlier bus back now. Cheers, Ref! Anyway, the first half was a tightly contested affair with the Lancs & Cheshire League being slightly on top. After braving the chill for a while, I gave in and took refuge in the seating in front of the clubhouse. From here, I witnessed the first goal of the game.

It was the Lancashire and Cheshire League who got it. A cross from the right flank drifting over the head of the despairing, back-peddling goalkeeper and into the far side netting. 1-0 and that was how it remained until the break.

At half-time, I headed into the clubhouse which was showing the climax of one of the EastEnders live series of shows which had gripped the majority of the nation.

The second period got underway, and it was Bennion (honestly, he hasn’t bribed me) who was the dangerman, his pace coming to the forefront and it was little surprise when he doubled the L&C’s advantage just after the break, slotting in a low, accurate shot.

However, the two goal lead was short lived, as the Liverpool League hit back quickly, a defensive header looping over the ‘keeper and into the net. 2-1.

L&C League vs LCP League

L&C League vs LCP League

This is how it remained until late on in the game, when Bennion converted from close range after superb work by the #14 to make it 3-1, and when the Liverpool League’s left-back was red carded for his part in a 22-man mass brawl, it looked all over. The referee gave him a great send off, exclaiming “You, Three, GET OFF!!” And he did. With no complaints. In fact, I was making my way to the exit in the second minute of five stoppage time minutes when the Liverpool League grabbed one back, a superb free-kick drilled into the far left-hand corner. This was followed by, what I thought were, hopeful shouts of “Three minutes left” and “We can get another yet!”.

But, from kick-off, the Merseysiders attacked down the right and they produced a low cross that was finished off from inside the six-yard area to secure the most unlikely of points, in the most unlikely of circumstances. The race was on for me at the end, as I reached the bus stop in time for the bus back. I bet you were all in suspense, waiting for that news, weren’t you?! Well, you can rest easy now.

My L&C League M.o.M.- Liam Bennion

My Liverpool League M.o.M.- The #9.