Result: Rochdale Town 1-3 Widnes (North West Counties League Division 1)
Venue: Mayfield Sports Centre (Saturday 23rd April 2016, 3pm)
As you may have read over my various social media outlets, this blog is going to become something of a budgeted venture for the foreseeable future, largely due to my income being severely reduced in the meantime. As such, when Rochdale Town’s offer of £5 in plus pie and drink thrown in for good measure, it seemed a perfect excuse to begin and explore just how I would survive doing the blog in this way after such a long while.
So, I set off for Manchester during the late morning and after a fairly brisk walk through Manchester to Victoria Station, I boarded my train over to Castleton, the home town of Rochdale Town FC, formerly the much better named Castleton Gabriels. Anyway, personal preferences aside I began my short ride over to just short of Rochdale only to realise that I was on an earlier train than I’d planned and now had an extra half hour to waste away in Castleton. Brilliant.
After a 15 minute ride or so, the train pulled into Castleton and I headed for the first pub I spied, not that it was difficult or a skilful thing to do as it was right in front of me. Yes, the Midland Beer Company was to be my first stop. I headed in and found what I considered a bit of a gem and with the Man City-Stoke game on the TV too, settled in with an Estrella to watch. Mindful of what this blog is becoming, it became my sole stop-off point pre-game.
So, after making my pint last the full 90 minutes(!), it was eventually time to head out of the Midland without any real happenings of any note and head down the road alongside towards the Mayfield Sports Centre, the home of Town and some Rugby sides too. After getting very slightly lost, I found my bearings and was soon at the entrance to the ground, confirmed by a large sign confirming this!
Heading to the turnstile, which is just lacking the turnstile, I handed over my £5 entry and on realising there were no programmes on hand, headed inside. About 5 minutes later, a Town official appeared and declared that “the programmes have arrived”. As such, out traipsed the majority of the 17 hardy souls who made the trip to Castleton for today’s tie vs Widnes to grab a piece of the action for a measly £1.
The Mayfield Sports Centre is within a largely rugby dominated complex, but is a little ramshackle ground which has it’s own charms to it. It’s main stand is in need of the bit of renovation it’s getting and the other small seating stand opposite is a little unkempt too. The right hand end, as you enter, features a covered standing area and you have to cross the grass to get to it from the far side. The opposite end features an open raised terrace, which leads round past a caravan (yes, a caravan) and back to the Main Stand.
As I mentioned above, it was Widnes who’d provide the opposition for Town today and, from what I can recollect in my memory bank, it was to be the first time I’d seen them play so a bit of a non-interesting side note for anyone else who isn’t me. Anyway, after a further 15 minutes, the teams re-entered the field for the usual pre-match niceties and we were all set to go in this North West Counties Division 1 tie. But first, a bit about the story of Rochdale Town FC…
Rochdale Town FC was founded in 1924 as St.Gabriel’s FC and played in the Rochdale Sunday League, but players had to be church-going Catholics. Strictly. This was the case until the 1960’s, when this requirement was lifted to help out the, now struggling, club. It had the desired effect, with the club becoming more successful and gaining honours while playing in the Rochdale Alliance.
In 1979, the club moved to its current home, then known as Butterworth Park and made improvements both on the field and off it before, in 1985, making the switch to Saturday football in the shape of the Manchester League. In their second season, the club won the Division 1 and promotion, as well as lifting the Murray Shield. After a spell in the Manchester League’s Premier Division, the club moved to the North West Counties in 1990 and dropped the “Saint” prefix from their name.
In the meantime, the club became Castleton Gabriels but the club began to suffer financially during the ’90’s and early 2000’s. As the ground fell into gradual disrepair, Gabriels were relegated on account of ground grading but the stadium was purchased off the club by the current landlords, Rochdale Mayfield RLFC who began refurbishing Butterworth Park. After almost being expelled from the league, a short spell groundsharing at the now defunct Oldham Town, (latterly Boro), Gabriels returned to the newly named Castleton Sports Centre in late 2005, though this didn’t help the club on the field particularly with them ending the ’05-’06 season on one point (after points deduction).
At the end of the 2007-’08 season, the decision was taken (disappointingly in most quarters outside of the club as far as my travels have shown (we want Gabriels!)) to change the club name to Rochdale Town FC and to, hopefully, gain more support from the larger town next door. What this has done, though, is create links with Rochdale AFC and sees Town wear Dale’s old kits. Last season saw Town finish in 13th place in Division 1.
The game got underway and, to be honest, lacked the cutting edge from either side. Both battled gamely but, ultimately, created little throughout the whole first half. But there was one flash point which would largely turn the game in favour of the visitors.
About 15 minutes in, the ball was played through to the Widnes striker who outpaced the defence and ‘keeper, forcing the latter to bring him down when through on goal. By the laws and all that, it’s a red but it really tends to ruin the game as a spectacle and I was hoping the scarlet card would remain in the ref’s pocket. Sadly, it did not and after a defender was forced to go between the sticks, he could do nothing to prevent Luke Edwards’ spot-kick giving Widnes the lead.
As I alluded to earlier, that was pretty much the only action during the first half, though there was some good battling/handbags being exchanged on the field throughout with Widnes’ #9 particularly liking to stay down after a couple of 50/50’s and their #7 having a humorous exchange with a supporter over who fouled who when he wasn’t too happy with a challenge. But, half-time arrived with the score still at 0-1 and to the tea bar it was, via a wrong turn into the director’s lounge bit.
After being helped out/figuring out simultaneously where I’d gone wrong (which wasn’t tricky to figure out), I found my way to the queue for the tea bar, where I redeemed my pie (Meat and Potato) and a cup of tea. These were much needed as the wind was bloody bracing. Unfotunately, the half-time came and went and we were all forced back out into the elements for the second half. It had to be better right?
Experience tells me that in this league, second halves are always more open than firsts and, thankfully, this proved no different. I set off for a second lap of the ground, but instead got talking to the dad of Widnes’ #4 (another George on our day). I’m sure I picked up his name too, but I can’t for the life of me remember it sorry, but it was great to have the chat.
Whilst standing above the home dugout on a slightly raised area, we saw Rochdale’s 10 men unsurprisingly go level, with a clear double trip by two separate players at the same time giving an easy decision for the ref. Though, having seen some of the decisions, it was still debatable if he’d get it right. Still, Town’s Carl Fitton stepped up and converted comfortably to give the 10 men all the momentum going into the last 15.
The momentum, though, lasted all of 20 seconds as, from the kick-off, the ball was played out to the left and Edwards floated the ball over the stranded stand-in ‘keeper (who’d done mighty well all game bar this moment) and into the bottom corner. 1-2 then.
Widnes went on to be the better side for the last 10, adding a further goal to their tally via James Ryan, who rounded the ‘keeper neatly before slotting in. 1-3, game over and despite the niggly nature of the game all the players still got on with handshakes and everything at the end. What they thought of the ref though is, I imagine, unpublishable! Quote one Town player “We’re being shafted by shit officials!” or something close to that!
Game over, it was back to Castleton station, dodging the occasional drops of rain before hopping on the train back to Man Vic where I was to meet Paul of “(occasional)pitcsidepints”. Paul, who’d been sampling the debatable delights of Bacup, had floated the idea of watching the majority of the United-Everton semi-final somewhere in Manchester. Problem was, all the bars were rammed, with the highlight being in the Old Nag’s Head pub with one fan doing a strange, gyrating, throw-in action at the screen. No idea what his feelings were, or what he wanted, but he was doing it with some gusto!
Eventually, we gave best and headed into the Britons Protection pub close to Oxford Road. No football in here though, that is until Paul whipped his phone out with the live coverage on! Perfect! Despite some crafty looks along the lines of “How dare you bring football into our establishment” from a couple next to us, Tony Martial’s late winner saw me pierce the silence once again, before we reckoned we should leave and head towards the station a bit more and avoid a banning order…
After a quick stop off in the nearby Temple, it was off to the station to catch our respective trains back home. Overall, a good day out despite the weather not being too kind, but credit (and thanks) to Rochdale for putting on the offer and hopefully the next one gets better publicity and attracts more than, well, that. They deserve it.
Game: 5- Pretty poor, not helped by a rugby-affected surface.
Ground: 6- Bit ramshackle, but going through some upgrades. Nice caravan.
Fans: 4- There was a couple. A couple. a few Dale fans too it seemed.
Programme: 5- OK, worth a pound and pen-pic dominant.
Food: 7- Pie was decent enough and can’t complain really can I?!
Value For Money: 7- All round decent day for the money. No real complaints to be had.