Manchopper in….Chester

Result: Chester 0-0 Southport (National League North)

Venue: Deva Stadium (Tuesday 1st January 2019, 3pm)

Att: 1,953

I’d done it! A whole calendar year without seeing a nil-nil was in the books and so I set off on a New Year Day trip to Chester full off optimism that the run would continue into 2019. Nah, just kidding, I awoke with a strong feeling that the first day of the year would bring it to an end in shuddering fashion. Would my instincts be correct? Well, I was about to find out.

I grabbed the train (an actual Northern one, I know I couldn’t believe it either) and headed into Warrington to catch the train down to the county town (city?) of Cheshire, stopping to pick-up a Tikka sandwich at WH Smith’s en-route over to Bank Quay. After a fair wait, we eventually got rolling and arrived in Chester after around a half-hour’s journey and I set off on a walk of the city walls ahead of finding a drinking hole or two. I was quite taken aback by the amount of “Hello’s” I received on said walk though! Anyway, with my sights set on a number of the historic city’s watering holes, I headed towards Eastgate and to see what I could find.

Chester Racecourse

Chester

Chester

Well, not much was the answer at first which I found slightly surprising. My first three options – the Boot, the Marlborough Arms and the Queen’s Head – were all closed and dark and I began to fear this trip would be something of a let down. As such, I licked my wounds in the Square Bottle Wetherspoon’s over a Punk IPA (£3.49) and tried to figure out a contingency as best I could as the clock ticked onwards beyond midday. Eventually, I came up with something and after a second-look at each to see if anything had changed in the post-12 o’clock times, this wasn’t the case and so I looked to the cathedral for some divine intervention…..and I found it!

Chester is the county town/city of Cheshire and is a walled city upon the River Dee, close to the border between Wales and England. It was founded by the Roman Legio II Adiutrix as a Roman fort (castrum) known as Deva Victrix (from either the God of the Dee or from the pre-existing British name for the waterway and the legion based there) in the reign of the Emperor Vespasian in the year 79AD and was one of the main military camps in Roman Britain prior to being converted to a major civilian settlement. They also built an amphitheatre and four main roads and its comparable size to other major cities of the time indicate it may have been intended to have become the Roman capital of Britannia Superior, rather than Londinium. After seemingly becoming part of post-Roman Powys and an apparent battle which featured the legendary KIng Arthur, 616AD saw the Welsh army defeated by Æfelfrith of Northumbria with the city becoming Legacæstir.

Chester amphitheatre

Roman gardens

Chester Cross

In 689AD, King Æthelred of Mercia founded the Minster church of West Mercia in the city which would go on to become Chester’s first cathedral (the current houses the body of his daughter St. Werburgh) before the city’s walled defences were strengthened and lengthened by the Saxons on their arrival to protect the city from the invading Danish forces. Despite breaching the walls to take the city for a short time, the Danes would be forced back out due to the seizure of cattle and wasting of the surrounding areas by King Alfred, whose daughter Æfelflæd, Lady of Mercia, would go on to create the new Saxon burh. would later These defences later ensured Chester would be one of the last cities to fall to William the Conquerer and the conquests of the Norman army, and it was upon the capture that the castle was added to overlook the city and Wales beyond. The name of Legacæstir would last into the 11th century before falling out of fashion, with the more simplistic title of Chester being introduced instead, though the period between the 14th and 18th century saw the city also known as Westchester, due to its prominent position in the North West of the country, being awarded its city status in 1541.

More recently, Chester played an important part in the Industrial Revolution with the Newtown and Hoole areas featuring the Shropshire Union canal and all that came with it, meaning it then supported a cattle market and both of the city’s rail stations – Chester General and Chester Northgate – with the railways providing many workers with jobs and most of the income and exports. Much of Chester’s current architecture dates from the Victorian era with many being styled in the Jacobean way and post-war modernisation saw negative feelings end with an agreement that historical buildings in the city should be protected and re-used, rather than being knocked down.

Chester’s Spoon’s

Dublin Packet….

…whilst the other two are near the Xmas tree.

Chester Cathedral

All three of the pubs here were open and I began with the first of these in the form of the Dublin Packet. A nice little place, they even had Blue Moon on draught which I didn’t expect in the slightest and this quickly made my mind up what I was having today! Coming in at £4.30 wasn’t all that bad too, though I didn’t get the slice of orange which makes it all the more improved and after finishing up I headed just up the way and past the Christmas Tree, bypassing the Coach House for now, just in case things didn’t improve on the pub front in the meantime and instead popped into the Shropshire Arms alongside. BLUE MOON AGAIN(!!!); I exclaimed in my mind as I spotted the Belgian-style wheat beer’s sign on the bar and I knew what was the order of the day once again immediately. What made it even better was it was cheaper (£3.90) and the slice of orange was in existence this time around. Superb stuff!!

Finishing up in here whilst watching the start of the early kick-off, I continued my way across to the other side of Eastgate and along one of the roads off the side to the Old King’s Head which must have been one of, if not the, oldest pub I visited during the day and I settled in within the beams and dimly lit rooms along with a pint of Thatcher’s £3.70 before I continued on up the road and back to the Falcon on the corner of the street which would lead up towards the ground. A welcome surprise was that it was a Sam Smith’s pub and cheap beer is always the order of the day in there and so I knew what to expect as soon as I saw the “Tadcaster” emblazoned offerings dotting the bar. A pint of Taddy Lager for just the £2.30 was just the trick for my final pre-match drink before I headed off towards the Deva Stadium and the England-Wales border.

Chester

Old King’s Head

Falcon

Arriving with a good ten minutes to kick-off, I made my way around the ground to the terrace and paid my £12 entry and was into the ground for my second ever visit, my first being Chester F.C.’s first ever home game – a 6-0 triumph over Trafford, whilst I was still watching the visitors home and away – and the club signed Pat Nevin and Perry Groves with Colin Murray (who we spoke to after the game) in situ too. A strange one was all that. The Deva has obviously not changed much, if at all, since then. Two all-seater stands, one on each side, populate the touchlines, whilst both ends are home to sizeable covered terraces, with one (the usual away terrace) home to a clock, though the Port fans weren’t in great enough numbers for that to be in use today, and they instead congregated in the end of the right-side stand from my viewpoint in the home terracing. The tunnel, dressing rooms, boxes and the like are located within the Main Stand on the left-hand touchline. That’s the Deva in summary and this is the story of Chester FC….

History Lesson:

Chester Football Club was founded in 2010 after the demise of Chester City shortly beforehand. City, who had started out under the Chester FC name following the merger of Chester Rovers and Old King’s Scholars and began playing at Faulkner Street, initially in friendly contests and occasional cup ties. Eventually, Chester made the step into competitive league football, joining the Combination league in 1890 and moving to a new home – The Old Showground – eight years later. Unfortunately, they would be forced out due to housing development after just one year there leading to the club’s initial disbanding.

Returning in 1901, the club was now playing at Whipcord Road but would move to the snazzily named “The Stadium” on Sealand Road in 1906, the ground which would become their long-term home. This stability led to silverware – Chester lifting the Combination in 1909 before a switch to the Lancashire Combination was taken the following year with the club remaining here through to after WWI when they left to become a founder member of the Cheshire County League. They would reach the Football League in 1931, taking the place of Nelson, and wouldn’t finish a season outside the top ten for the rest of the decade, this period seeing Chester record both their record wins in the FA Cup & League, overcoming Fulham 5-0 and York City 12-0 respectively.

Arriving at the Deva

The club lifted their second Welsh Cup title in 1933, defeating close rivals Wrexham to do so and also won consecutive Division 3 North Cups. However, the outbreak of WWII would see the side broken up and despite winning the Welsh Cup for a third time in 1947, and finishing 3rd in the league, form would drop off for Chester with no top-half placing managed through to 1958 and the merging of the regional divisions to create a national Division 4. Even then, it would take six further years for this to change. The mid-1960’s would see an upturn in fortunes begin with the club just missing out on promotion, despite netting 119 goals in League games alone. They would again go close in 1971, losing out on a spot to go up by a solitary point, but would right the dubious honour of being the only club in the Football League to have never achieved a promotion by nipping fourth place from Lincoln City in 1975 on goal average. The club also reached the semi finals of the League Cup that same season, a run which featured a giant-killing, as Chester beat English champions Leeds United 3-0 as well as Newcastle United before going down in a tightly contested replay to Aston Villa.

Now in Division 3, Chester went about consolidation of their place and also reached the FA Cup 5th Round in both 1977 & 1980 and narrowly missed out on promotion in 1978. The club also became one of only two clubs to win the short-lived Debenhams Cup (a competition for the two sides from outside of the top two divisions that went furthest in the FA Cup) in 1977 to record their first national trophy in England. After finishing bottom of the league in 1984, the recently renamed Chester City (1983) comfortably won re-election and remained in the League. Selling on the likes of a young Ian Rush and Lee Dixon over this period, the loss of the former not helping he club as they dropped back to Division 4 in 1982 before being at the basement two seasons later. They would recover swiftly though and return to Division 3 in 1986 and again just missed out on promotion in 1989. This preceeded a spell where City moved out of their long-term Sealand Road home, in 1990, spending a time sharing at Macclesfield Town’s Moss Rose, which affected income, though the club survived battles with relegation in both 1991 & 1992 ahead of returning to Chester for 1992-’93 at their newly built Deva Stadium home.

In the busy clubhouse pre-match

Now in the renamed Division 2 after the creation of the Premier League, City began their time in their border-straddling stadium with an, immediate relegation to Division 3, before bouncing back immediately as runners-up. After the departure of boss Graham Barrow led to a threadbare squad, the club were again relegated and this time would remain there for a substantial time – five years in all – though did lose out in the 1997 play-off semi-final to Swansea City. However, this was a close as they would get to the Division 2 ever again, as administration issues and multiple manager changes led to instability and relegation from the Football League in 2000. They would go close to folding the next year and the ownership issues would only grow over the next few years and despite reaching the Conference play-offs in 2003, losing the final on penalties to Doncaster Rovers and getting back to the Football League the next year as Champions, more. managerial upheavals would end up with relegation being staved off in both 2005 & 2008, but they finally succumbed in 2009 to a club who would follow the same future path that was soon to occur – Darlington. Points deductions all, over the place saw Chester begin the year with – 10 points and an overturned CVA saw this become – 25.

The club was later prevented from beginning the 2009-’10 campaign and despite eventually getting underway, they struggled, ending up bottom and were suspended in February of 2010 after a culmination of issues and they were later expelled from the Conference and duly wound up shortly after an application had been made to join the Welsh Premier League. The club’s supporters group, City Fans United, stated their intention to create a new fan-owned entity and Chester FC took a spot in the Northern Premier League Division 1 North for 2010-’11 (after overturning an initial placement in the North West Counties on appeal), playing at the Deva Stadium. The club enjoyed immediate success, three straight promotions, winning both the Division 1 North and NPL Premier Division titles and the Conference North championship too, these successes seeing the club back in the Conference Premier by 2013. They would spend the next five seasons before being relegated back to the now named National League North last time out.

The game got underway and it quickly became apparent that my run would be in serious trouble come around 4.50pm. You know when you can just tell? Well it was one of those days. An apparently weakened Chester looked solid enough, but did look more in trouble on the odd occasion anything at all happened against their visitors who came into the game in a rich vein of form. The first half-hour or so really was dire and I was quite happy I opted have my pie then so I didn’t have to endure it with my complete consciousness. Devarn Green fired comfortably over for Southport, but that was largely that.

Match Action

Match Action

“Shents” action

On the half-hour that big chance came when, just after Jordan Archer just couldn’t provide a touch to direct a low ball into the open net with Grant Shenton in the Chester goal committed, Archer was sent clear of the defence and one-on-one with Shenton, but he found the Chester stopper in no mood to fold and he stood up as long as possible to block out the striker’s effort. Sadly, that was pretty much that apart from a few shots going well awry here and there. Half-time was something of a welcome break for once. One guy behind me remarked there would definitely “be a goal in this”. I wasn’t as sure.

The second half began in far better fashion than the first – not that it had much to improve on, mind you – and despite the game being more watchable, chances still were almost non-existent. In fact, it took until around the hour mark for anything resembling something that could render a “oooooh” from those watching to occur, when Matty Waters fired over from range, the ball nestling in the terrace behind rather than in the goal itself. Southport began to make attacking changes and look for the points as we entered the final half-hour but this didn’t do much to help in all honesty.

F&F – Fans & Flag

Match Action

Match Action

David Morgan hit a well-struck but unthreatening effort straight at Shenton and Charles fired just over later in the game, but that was really as good as it got for the visitors and it was the hosts that almost grabbed the elusive opener (and likely winner) with five minutes or so left to play when Craig Mahon’s goal-bound effort was blocked within the six-yard box by a ‘Port defender betwixt some nervy defending but that would be that and a run dating back to 25th November 2017 at Gillingham came to an end. Nil-nil was, well and truly, written all over it. I made a quick exit.

After the game, I beat a quick haste through the evermore cold night and back to the city centre, popping into the second of the older pubs I’d visit on the day, the Old Customs House where I opted for a pint of Peroni (£4.30) to aid me in my attempts of getting back warmth, before walking off back towards the station, stopping off in the fairly close-by Olde Cottage where I had a pint of a White Ale £3.30 before hopping back on the train back to Warrington and undertaking the short-walk back across town for the train back to end off the day.

No second ‘e’ by order of the grammar po-po

Olde Cottage – see above.

It had been a decent one all things considered, the pubs I ended up visiting were a good contingency and the Deva is a decent stadium to watch a game in, even if its location isn’t the best. Yes, the game was pretty dreadful in the long-run and it ended my long nil-nil less run and so it now has a place in the memory banks for two reasons! Hopefully get back on-track for another run from Saturday, or perhaps the tone has been set for this year already….

RATINGS:

Game: 2

Ground: 6

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Southport

 

Result: Southport 2-0 Leamington (National League North)

Venue: Haig Avenue (Saturday 13th January 2018, 3pm)

Att: 848

My only completely undecided weekend of the month saw no lack of options on the table by the time it came to deciding where I’d be watching my football. Late Friday night saw the ninety-seven options whittled down to a handful and, between myself and regular blog appearance maker Dan, got it down to a final two; Ossett Albion or Southport; Queen’s Terrace or Haig Avenue. For Dan both would be a new venue, whereas only Southport’s home gave me another to add to the ever-growing list, having visited Albion’s home on about four occasions. Dan was happy with either and so to the coast it was.

This proved to be a pretty good decision too as it turned out, with trains from Liverpool being messed up come the morning by signalling failures. As such, this meant most of the express journeys towards Yorkshire were experiencing crowding problems whereas the trains heading to Southport had no such issues. However, I still had to come up with a contingency plan to get there myself, with my pre-planned itinerary going out the window. As such, I instead headed into Manchester, arriving in the nick of time to meet Dan on the train over to Merseyside…or Lancashire depending on who you ask!

A problem free journey whilst passing the grounds of Wigan Athletic and Burscough followed before we arrived within view of Haig Avenue itself at just before half-eleven on a windswept and fairly miserable day in the coastal resort. Not that there was much in the way of holiday makers today, mind you with the town being far emptier than it might be during the summer months. Anyway, after arriving into the station we set off around the town on a fruitless venture to try to find a pay-point for Dan, though he did manage to find some cough sweets, so there was something of a consolation prize in that. We soon abandoned this pursuit and instead decided to put our time to far better use. That use being drink!

Southport

Southport

Funland!

After heading up to the coast we popped into the large Victoria pub on the main coastal road where we’d plan out the rest of our tour of the town. A Moretti at £4 did for me whilst we watched the opening stages of the Cardiff-Sunderland game. Upon finishing up, we headed onwards over the bridge opposite and down to the pier where Dan decided he didn’t fancy becoming more exposed to the bracing winds (what with his cough and all) and so I made a dash up there solo. Not much to see, outside of a few people struggling to walk against the oncoming gale! I was more than happy to keep my stay brief and we quickly returned over the Marine Way bridge and onwards to the (at least self-proclaimed) “smallest bar in Europe”, the Lakeside.

“Shut until February” read the sign and “Bollocks” thought I. Luckily, our next planned stop was only a couple of minutes away in the form of the Windmill. The Windmill stands on land that has seen a pub on it from the 18th century (or the 1800’s) according to the menus on the table and the pub is certainly an old-school, welcoming one, complete with small windmill outside. A pint of Amstel was a good accompaniment as we shook off the cold prior to making the short walk back into the town centre and to the Wetherspoon’s named the Willow Grove which stands just off the main thoroughfare, Lord Street. A fairly standard ‘spoons offering, the Willow Grove was what you’d expect really and a bottle of Hooch was once again had in here (yes, I had the round in here) as we decided that we’d be better served catching the bus to the ground, or more specifically the foot of Haig Avenue itself. Though this almost went awry….

The Victoria

Up On The Pier

The Windmill

After almost getting the correct bus number, but the one heading in the wrong direction, we found the stop we wanted and was soon en route to Haig Avenue, eventually arriving with a good twenty-five minutes or so before kick-off. A five-minute walk later and we were at the gates of the ground which is dominated by its large all-seater main stand.

The Willow Grove

Approaching Haig Avenue

The strangely priced £13.50 entrance fee was paid and we were into the home of the Sandgrounders. Programme soon purchased (a decent offering at £2.50), I headed off in search of the bar, before soon realising that there was no way (that I could figure out anyway) of getting there once you’re inside the ground itself. So I instead grabbed some chips (£2.50) from the “away end” food trailer before completing a pre-match lap of the ground and returning to find Dan with far thinner chips than those I was just finishing off. Pros and cons in that, I guess.

Haig Avenue is a pretty smart ground and gives off a nice sense of character I felt. Outside of its classical Main Stand – which reminded me a little of Altrincham’s – the rest of the ground features fairly substantial terracing. Only one area of this is covered, however, with that being at the right-hand end, the closest end from where we had entered. This also gives a decent raised view of the action. The remainder is open to the elements but many weren’t too perturbed by this today, with the travelling support from Leamington, along with their impressive number of flags, taking up a temporary home opposite, behind the other end. The terracing is split up sporadically, meaning there is around eight separate areas around the ground with the covered terrace being joined by around three areas at the uncovered end and a further five on the far side of the ground, running the length of the pitch. So, ground description out of the way, here’s the backstory of Southport F.C….

History Lesson:

An original Southport Football Club was founded in 1881 initially as a rugby outfit before switching to association football after only a few months. 1882 saw the team compete in the FA Cup for the first time, recording a 1-1 draw with Liverpool Ramblers before the club merged with the Southport Athletic Society a couple of years later prior to a later amalgamation with another local side, Southport Wanderers. The club would retain the Wanderers name and moved to a new ground on Scarisbrick New Road, not far from their current Haig Avenue home.

After only a few months over the summer of 1886 retaining the Wanderers suffix, the club reverted to being known as Southport FC and they joined the Lancashire League upon its founding in 1888. Upon doing so the club again changed name, this time to Southport Central, and after an FA Cup 1st Round meeting with Everton in 1895, finished as league runners-up in both 1900 & 1901. The league title was eventually won in 1902 before Southport switched to the newly created Lancashire Combination for the following campaign. The Combination’s Division 2 was won at the end of the club’s first season here and Southport’s next season, their first in the top division, ended with what was to be their highest finish: third. After lifting their first silverware in the form of the 1904-’05 Lancashire Senior Cup, 1905 saw Southport move into Haig Avenue (then known as Ash Lane) and they have called the ground home ever since.

‘Copter action

1911 saw Southport move into another newly founded league, this time the Central League, where the club mostly had a struggle, finishing no higher than 15th. After a second-bottom finish in 1915, the outbreak of WWI put a stop on football for the next few years. Upon resumption in 1918, the club again had a name change, now being known as Southport Vulcan due to the Vulcan Motor Company’s purchase of the club and became the first team to have a “sponsor” in their name. This was short-lived, though, and by the time the club joined the Football League in 1921, they were back to simply being known as Southport.

Becoming a founder member of the Third Division North, Southport would remain here for the next 29 seasons finishing a best of fourth twice (1925 & 1939). They also reached the FA Cup quarter-finals in 1931, again losing out to Everton and won the Third Division North Cup in 1938. Their long Third Division North tenure ended with the creation of Division 4, which Southport would take a place in for the 1958-’59 season. 1967 saw the club promoted as Division 4 runners-up, though their stay in the now nationalised Division 3 was a short one, lasting only three seasons until their relegation in 1970. However, 1973 would see Southport return once more to the third tier as Division 4 champions but an even shorter stay was to follow, a sole season spent back there before returning to the bottom division of the League.

A swift decline was to follow and, after three consecutive second-bottom finishes between 1976 & 1978, the club was voted out of the Football League, their spot being taken by Wigan Athletic via the re-election system, with Southport becoming the final victim of this rule prior to the introduction of automatic relegation in the bottom division. This meant that the Sandgrounders would be playing in the non-league Northern Premier League for the 1978-’79 season.

Southport FC

A 15 season spell in the NPL was to follow, which encompassed the league’s “demotion” to a Step 2 competition upon the creation of the Alliance League (later the Football Conference). After lifting the NPL League Challenge Cup in 1991, Southport’s initial stint in the league was eventually ended in 1993 when the club were promoted to the Conference as NPL Premier Division champions. That season also saw the club reach the FA Cup’s Second Round for the first time since 1968. 1998 saw Southport reach the FA Trophy Final and take their first (and to date only) trip to Wembley. Unfortunately for them, it would end in a 1-0 defeat to Cheltenham Town.

After finishing fourth in 2001, fortunes changed and 2003 saw the club relegated once more to the NPL. A 6th placed finish at the end of the next season was enough to ensure Southport a place in the newly formed Conference North, the inaugural season of which ended with “Port” as champions. Promotion to the Conference duly followed, though their stay was brief, the club being relegated after two seasons of struggle, though 2006 did see the start of Southport’s fleeting attempt at going full-time (this ended in 2008). Three years were spent back in the Conference North, with 2009 seeing an unsuccessful play-off appearance before the club was again promoted as champions the next year, beating the ambitious Fleetwood Town to the title.

2011 saw the club finish in the relegation zone but were reprieved due to Rushden & Diamonds being expelled from the Conference. The following season saw a far more successful campaign for Southport, with the club just missing out on the play-offs in finishing 7th, their best league finish for a decade. Their yo-yo-ing continued with the 2012-’13 season seeing a narrow escape from relegation, though this latter happening was to become more familiar, with each of the next three seasons seeing brushes with the drop survived along with regular changes of manager. Last season saw their luck run out, however, as Southport were relegated back to the National League North after ending up second-bottom of the National League’s top-flight, with this season seeing a bright start replaced by a sharp drop in form resulting in the dismissal of manager Alan Lewer, with Kevin Davies taking the reigns in October. Southport have also won numerous local cup competitions, seeing nine (or maybe eleven?) Liverpool Senior Cups (1931, ’32, ’43, 63, ’75, ’91, ’93, ’99 & 2012) & eight Lancashire Junior Cups (1920, ’93, ’97, ’98, 2001, ’06, ’08, 2010) arrive at Haig Avenue.

As Dan and I finished off our pre-match feasts the teams were getting us underway on the pitch. We relocated to the covered terrace for the early stages and it didn’t take too long for the first action of the game to occur and that first action was to see Southport take the lead. Winger Adam Dawson, who’d go on to have an outstanding game on Southport’s right side, played the ball inside before it fell to Jack Sampson and the forward made no mistake in firing beyond Leamington ‘keeper Tony Breedon.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

This early goal may have given some an inkling that this was going to be an end-to-end struggle between two sides looking over their shoulders with some trepidation down towards the wrong end of the table. Unfortunately for us neutrals, though I guess very much welcomed by the Sandgrounders fans – the contest was to be a fairly dour and uneventful one on the whole. Leamington’s Daniel Udoh had the visitors’ one major chance, firing just wide of home ‘keeper Jon Worsnop’s goal whilst Dion Charles came close to doubling the home side’s lead on a few occasions, including clipping the top of the crossbar with a drifting effort. A goal-line clearance kept the Brakes a solitary goal behind after we’d took up a spot in the stand as the temperatures began to dip. The score remained unchanged as the sides headed in at the break. One-nil.

If the first half was quiet and it wouldn’t take much for the second half to be an improvement. Sadly, it wasn’t. Indeed, very little of note happened outside of the early excitement of a double helicopter take-off from a neighbouring school field until, with 20 minutes left on the clock, Jason Gilchrist sealed the win for “The Port”. A swift counter saw Dawson deliver a ball into Gilchrist and he finished comfortably.

Great Main Stand

Match Action

Dawson came close to adding a goal his performance deserved, firing over late on, as did the impressive David Morgan who was denied by Breedon, but this mattered little as Southport deservedly took the points and, on this performance at least, look to be heading in the right direction. Leamington meanwhile look to be in need of improvements. And quick. Dan was more than happy with the result and has made me have to say that his pre-match prediction was correct. So there you go, Dan!

After the game we headed into the Grandstand bar within the rear of the stand where another Amstel was had (~£3.50) and Dawson was given his richly deserved Man of the Match award (some Veuve Clicquot I think). From here I came up with the plan of, instead of traipsing back into Southport, we might as well get the train from the nearer Meols Cop station instead. There also happened to be another couple of pubs on the way. Who’d have thought such a coincidence might happen?!

Grandstand Bar

Dan loves pubs…

Thatch & Thistle

A further pint in each of the Richmond and the Thistle and Thatch were enjoyed before we headed through the night on the short walk up the road to the station for the train back to Manchester. Again this journey was completed with no issues and I arrived nicely for my connection homewards. There ends my trip to Southport’s home and it was a pretty decent day, weather removed. The ground’s decent, travel was cheap enough and the pubs were all fine and decently priced. The game could have been better, but no real complaints there. Onwards to next week and another tick off the ’92’ via one of the stranger ways you can enter a ground. Any guesses?!

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Salford

Result: Salford City 2-2 FC United of Manchester (National League North)

Venue: Moor Lane (Monday 1st January 2018, 3pm)

Att: 2,937

Another new year began as the traditional New Year’s Day fixtures rolled around once again. Having not attended a fixture last year – largely down to how the dates worked out – this year saw me heading the short distance and a return to what is something of a familiar venue: Moor Lane, the home of Salford City. But whilst it is familiar in many ways, the old ground has changed beyond recognition. Of course, the “Class of 92” and the income sourced from their (and associates) take over has led to a major revamp and overhaul of both ground and club since my last visit to Salford’s home.

Now, I have to admit that I have seen Salford a couple of times on their travels since their takeover (the last being the small matter of their play-off semi at Halifax), and also visited Moor Lane a few years ago, shortly after the change-up had begun so it wasn’t a completely new sheet of paper. But I considered this to be the first real experience of the fully fledged, no-frills, new breed Ammies. So, having been given a lift down to the Trafford Centre for a lesser spotted NYD bus, blog regular Dan was picked up en route and we were soon heading into Manchester, where we would go on to catch the tram to Heaton Park.

The weird and wonderful abounded on the Mancunian public transport system as we headed up on the Bury line and towards Prestwich. Arriving in glorious sunshine at a little after midday, I mentioned to Dan that I fancied a walk around Heaton Park. I reckon he thought I was joking, but he was soon to realise I was deadly serious about this…! I’ve noticed that, in recent weeks, I’ve been starting to walk through parks or gardens if there is one on the way to a game. I don’t think it’s a conscious decision as far as I can work out, so I’m just hoping I’m not reaching that age where this sort of thing becomes more attractive. I’m not ready for it just yet! Anyway, I’m rambling…

Heaton Hall

Lake and road train!

Having entered into the park, which was a little more serene than when ‘Parklife’ rolls around, we headed down the path and past the first of numerous dogs with all the dog owners of the area seemingly populating the park during the early afternoon; maybe still working off the excess over Christmas? Continuing on, our visit encompassed a brief stop within view of Heaton Hall, dodging a road train and a boating lake (minus boats, but plentiful in ducks and swans). With the sun still shining on, all looked set for the first day of 2018 to be a fine one with the forecast looking to be incorrect. But then again, if you live in either of the two adjoining cities, you know better than to discount the rain!

With the weather still on the bright side, we left the park and its numerous visiting canines behind and popped into our first pre-match stop of the day, the Royal Oak. In here, we were informed by the barman that there was 50p off every draught lager, which was somewhat well received!! A pint of Amstel for me was had (£2.70) as we watched the final few minutes of the Brighton-Bournemouth game on the TV. Little did we know that, outside, the weather had taken a turn and the clouds had rolled in. They would hardly relent for the rest of the day.

Royal Oak

The Ostrich. Full of Utd/City stuff in this room

After finishing up in here, we headed out and around the corner but not before Dan and I had spotted the looming threat from above. “I reckon we’ll beat that” I said. We didn’t. Soon caught in something just short of a deluge, it was lucky we were within a minute or so of our second and final pub, the Ostrich, which neighbours Ostrich Road. I reckon the pub came first, but I don’t know and, I guess, you don’t care! Anyway, in we headed, thankful for the cover from the ever worsening shower outside. The Holt’s establishment was a real old-school place (similar in some ways to the Royal Oak) and was split into a few smaller rooms including hosting a snooker room and dart board. Someone who had played on the board last was, according to the chalk writing left on the blackboard, apparently a tw*t.

Pints (and bottles in Dan’s case) polished off and it was time to brave the weather and head the 25 minutes or so down to Moor Lane. Heading through the house-lined streets, we eventually found our way to Bury New Road and from there it was five minutes or so up to the road whose name the ground carries. The ground sits slightly towards the opposite end of the road from this side and is surprisingly not much more visible than it was in its former guise. Upon arrival at the ground, it quickly became apparent the club’s turnstiles were struggling with the numbers arriving, and there was still a good 25 minutes to kick-off. With large queues at both home and away ends, it took a good five minutes in the home queue to finally get in, whereupon I learnt that the programmes had all gone. *Sigh*. Not a good start, Salford.

Some of the away end queue at Moor Lane

I was going to grab a teamsheet instead, but then decided I didn’t really care enough for one and instead returned to join Dan pitch-side. Here, we started off in the seating stand located on the site of the former small covered area that stood alongside the old grassy mound. This appears to be the Main Stand as it also hosts the hospitality areas. Opposite this and on the site of the old, classic (and isn’t it a shame it couldn’t be incorporated into the new design, cricket pavilion-style) Main Stand is a carbon copy of the stand we were sat in, minus the boxes at the rear, though it does play host to a TV gantry on its roof. Both ends play host to similar, if not identical, covered terraces, with both being well populated today, especially the away end which was crammed full with the travelling, vocal FC United support. As usual with FC games, the chant of “Bring on United” accompanied the final five or so minutes to kick-off and, before long, the two sides entered the field and we were ready to go in this derby clash. But first, here’s the story of the Ammies….

History Lesson:

Salford City Football Club was founded in 1940 as Salford Central F.C. and played in the local leagues around the area through to 1963 when the club made the step up to the Manchester League and changed its name to Salford Amateurs, taking on the nickname of the “Ammies”. The club came into its own in the 1970’s, winning three Lancashire FA Cups (1973, ’75 & ’77), two Manchester Premier Cups (1978 & ’79) and the Champion of Champions trophy also arrived in 1977. To close off such a successful decade, the club took more of a step towards securing its future, with the players and committee taking on the task of restoring the Moor Lane pitch and ground as a whole, with it being overgrown and derelict. This was all sorted in good time and the club was accepted for the Cheshire League in 1980, whereupon Salford Amateurs merged with Anson Villa to become Salford.

1982 saw the Cheshire League merge with the Lancashire Combination to create the North West Counties League and Salford took the chance to join the pyramid, taking a spot in Division One. Their stay in the top-flight encompassed their name change to Salford City (in 1989) and celebrating its 50th anniversary by entering the 1990 FA Cup, their first entry to the competition. The club ended up being featured on Grandstand, as part of the Road to Wembley feature. That season ended in disappointment, though, as City went down to Division 2, though league restructuring led to their return to Division One a year later. However, the club had to wait until 2006 for their next silverware when they lifted the NWCFL League Challenge Cup, though this led to the start of a strong few years, the following season seeing the club finish runners-up.

Salford were promoted in 2008 when they finished as runners-up to Trafford (which was the start of my 6-and-a-half season spell watching Trafford home and away) and took a spot alongside the latter in the Northern Premier League’s Division One North. Here, the club struggled year on year, with regular managerial changes taking place whilst one constant always remained. That constant was Steve Foster’s late season arrival before he’d fire ~25 goals to keep the Ammies up. This was a reoccurrence for a good three years! It proved a shrewd signing though, as this inadvertently kept Salford up in these tough, less spectacular times.

2014 saw the “Class of 92” take-over take place and this led to the club winning the NPL Division One North title at the close of the 2014-’15 season. The following season saw the club in the NPL Premier Division and they finished third and took a spot in the play-offs. There, Salford defeated both Ashton United (semi-final) and Workington (final) to achieve a second straight promotion and take a spot in the National League North for last season. They also reached the First Round of the FA Cup for the first time, where they defeated Notts County at home before bowing out to Hartlepool United in Round 2. They’d go on to have another successful season in their first attempt at the National League North, reaching the play-offs where they lost out in the semi-final to FC Halifax Town.

Handshakes

The game got underway with Salford looking to gain a measure of revenge over their visitors, as the Red Rebels had defeated the Ammies in the reverse fixture on Boxing Day. Both sides traded wayward chances early on, before the table-topping hosts stormed ahead in the 16th minute. After some fine play down the right by the diminutive Jack Redshaw, the forward played in a ball to strike partner Anthony Dudley who finished with a rising, close range effort before wheeling away in front of the FC fans, drawing the ire of the visiting ranks whom a few of decided the best course of action was to lob their beers at him. Dudley didn’t seem to bothered and neither did the ref, more surprisingly. On with the show!

Redshaw himself almost doubled Salford’s lead minutes later but was unfortunate to see his shot beat FC ‘keeper Lloyd Allinson, but crash back off the inside of the post, spinning back across the goalmouth and narrowly avoid crossing the line in doing so. This seemed to spark FC into waking from their post-festive slumber, but it was Redshaw who carried the most threat of anyone on the field, forcing Allinson into another pair of stops, while Ritchie Allen saw his cross-cum-shot drift narrowly wide.

By that point, Dan and I had relocated to the terrace behind the goal to shield from the now heavy rain that had surrounded Moor Lane. It was from here that we witnessed FC draw level after a half spent trying, for the most part, to remain in the game. With around ten minutes or so to half-time, Craig Lindfield picked up the loose ball within the area and drifted a shot across goal and into the far, top corner to spark jubilant scenes in the far terrace, while a guy behind me also let out a loud “YESSSSS!!!” as the ball nestled in the onion bag. I’m not sure if he was an FC fan, a Lindfield fan or just happy to have seen a goal close-up. Either way it was one-a-piece and I headed off on my first attempt to get some food as Lindfield did his best Dudley impression in front of us.

Match Action

Match Action

The rain starts to set in

This was quickly found to be near impossible in the short-term, as a fairly large queue had already formed at the one open portakabin food stall behind the stand. There was another for drinks only (it seemed), but this set-up was to later begin to fail under demand and the weight of numbers. For now though, it was back up into the stand to watch the final few minutes of the half which passed without much action, though had seen FC grab the initiative with a shot that looked goal-bound being blocked before it could truly trouble. The action was called to a halt with the score reading 1-1.

Back to the rear of the stand and to the ever-growing queue. Now, I arrived with what looked to be around twenty to twenty-five people ahead of me. Not all alone either, meaning it was around fifteen sales I had to wait for. But the queue didn’t seem to move and we continued to wait patiently in the deluge. Then the hot water ran out which added to the delay and by the time the second half was getting back underway (Dan had shrewdly returned to the stand), I still had a good seven or eight ahead. I reckoned I might have around five minutes or so to wait then and was happy enough to do so. But, five minutes passed, and I’d moved a foot. Then, to add to my misery and rising frustration, a roar emanated from within the ground. Salford had netted. In a huff, I gave up in my never-ending quest for food and returned to get a goal report from Dan. “A close range goal” was the gist of it. Indeed it was and it was Redshaw who’d deservedly grabbed it, poking home from a free-kick.

I was hoping beyond hope that that wasn’t to be the end of the scoring, as I’d have hated to have missed the winner. Dudley went close to ensuring it wasn’t, but saw the impressive Allinson equal to his drive. Midway through the half, Allinson’s opposite number, Salford stopper Max Crocombe, showed he was just as good on this day as he pulled off a fine low save to deny Lindfield a second getting down sharply to deny the FC man’s free-kick low at his left-hand post. The United fans had already started the cheers.

Match Action

Match Action

Getting under it

The rain continued to teem down as both sides battled on. The pitch stayed decent, though, and allowed the game to continue to flow fairly well, bar that problem area in the middle of one half that I seem to remember from the club’s time in the North West Counties! This enabled both sides to again go close as the game approached its final ten minutes, with United’s soon to be Salford-bound Tom Walker and Redshaw going close, the former seeing a shot whistle narrowly wide, whilst the latter was denied by a fine stop by the in-form ‘keeper, who palmed away the Salford top-scorer’s drive aimed at the top-corner.

Then with only a few minutes of normal time remaining, FC got their equaliser in fairly fortuitous circumstances, not that they cared! The fans had been growing in belief and getting right behind their side, even more so than normal (as opposed to the surprisingly quiet home support) and thus their side seemed to respond. A low drive from Steve Irwin (no crocodile jokes here, RIP) struck team-mate Zac Corbett and looped up and drifted agonisingly over the outstretched arm of Crocombe and into the net, sparking wild scenes in the away end and frustration in the home ranks. It almost got worse for the league leaders too as Crocombe dropped the ball under pressure late on but, thankfully for him, he grabbed it at the second attempt before a white shirt could take advantage. Full-Time, 2-2 and a bit of handbags for good measure!

Watching The Game In The Commercial

As for Dan and myself, it was a case of back from whence we came as we made a beeline for Heaton Park. Thankfully dodging any more rain from then on in, we arrived back at the tram stop but headed on straight past it. Where were we headed? Come on, you must have a decent idea by now. PUB! Yes, pub; namely the Commercial on the opposite side of the tracks to the other two. The neighbouring Parkside looked shut up today, so it was a sole Strongbow (£3.20) in here for me as we wasted away 25 minutes for the tram back into Manchester. This was all completed with little issue as I arrived for my connection onwards home with time to spare. What I didn’t look forward to was the forthcoming walk afterwards. Buses, eh?.

So that ends a slightly disappointing day. The game was fine and entertaining, so no issues at all with that, nor the ground itself really, which is smart, if unspectacular. The lights are a great touch though! The major thing for me was the apparent lack of readiness for this type of attendance(?) facilities wise (could have been taken by surprise by the record crowd I guess) that created a sense of let down at the overall experience (what with a lack of a programme and food which, of course, make up two of my grading criteria; boo, boo!) and what I’d imagine was a fair amount of lost revenue, with at least five or six people in front of me leaving the food queue, never mind how many behind plus those few more “bible” sales. Ah well, a second visit at a slightly less busy time shall be arranged. Onwards to Saturday and the FA Cup with a trip down to the “Big Smoke” arranged. Hope no-one follows my damn train, though….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: N/A (Not for the want of trying!)

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Halifax

Result: FC Halifax Town 1-1 Salford City (2-2 Agg.) (AET, Halifax won 3-0 on pens) (National League North Play-Off Semi-Final 2nd Leg)

Venue: The Shay Stadium (Sunday 7th May 2017, 3pm)

Att: 3,655

“Oh, Halifax is on a SUNDAY?!!”. They were my words when I realised on Friday night that a double-header was on the cards and the big game at the Shay was in my sights. With excitement at a peak point, I got into planning a day in sunny Halifax.

After visiting Cheshire League side Orford on the Saturday, Sunday morning arrived and with train times not too friendly, I set off for Manchester at just after 9am, with around a half-hour wait both there and in Huddersfield, before catching the train up to Halifax, where I arrived bright and early. In fact, I was so early, the first pub I headed for was still shut.

Luckily, this didn’t last and I was soon inside the Ring O’Bells pub down the side of the town’s “Minster”. After explaining I haven’t quite reached the realms of regular early morning drinking to the barmaid (as I actively reached for the beer that was still settling) and just what brought me to the place this fine day, she replied in a maligned tone that there is many a time when she has to humour the fans – both before and after matches – despite holding no interest in football. No interest in football. I couldn’t imagine it!

Halifax Minster & Ring O’Bells

The Old Post Office

Spot the bunny?

Anyway, I settled in for a while with a pint of Acorn Brewery’s Blonde Ale, which was a nice, easy drinking pint before heading off and more towards the town centre. En route, I found myself outside a free house by the name of the “Old Post Office”. It was fairly quiet inside, with me having, once again, come upon it shortly after it had opened its doors. My drink here cost me £3.50, which, I think, was one of only two drinks all day that would set me back over the £3 mark. It’s pretty cheap is Halifax and I loved it for it. There was a guy in a bunny suit walking down the street though…

It was soon time to head onwards into the centre and my next stop-off was the Union Cross, just off the bustling high street. The barmaid in here was quite bubbly it has to be said and there was much “bantz” going on with the regular punters. I was also given permission to charge my phone, with me being assured that it wouldn’t be nicked! With that assurance, I headed off, Strongbow in hand, to the nearest socket.

Halifax

The Union Cross on the right

Home of my cheapest pint!

After a further couple of pretty uneventful stops in the Cat & Fiddle & the strangely named Bow Legged with Brass (where I figured I’d got a pint of Dark Fruits for under £2, though my math probably let me down once more), I finished off with a visit to the ‘Spoons-like Duke of Wellington. This was originally planned to be my final pit-stop, before I decided on the way to the ground  that I could squeeze in a quick Punk IPA in one of the town’s two actual ‘Spoons, the Barum Top. Then, with pre-match drinks finished up, I made the ten minute walk onwards to the Shay.

Arriving at the turnstile, I purchased a programme for £3 and the astronomical £16 entrance fee, before heading into the away end, as I fancied a bit of a change for no apparent reason. I just figured it could be a bit more fun. But to be honest, I think most were too tense to enjoy the day and the game definitely reflected their feelings. But, that’s for a little later.

Late stop at the Duke

Arriving at the Shay

The Shay’s away end

The Shay itself is a mixture of old and new with the Skircoat stand, where the away fans were located today, being one of the older stands along with the (occasional away end) covered terrace which was used for flags alone for this game. The opposite end houses a further terrace for the standing home support, while the more modern East Stand stands opposite the Skircoat. The areas surrounding the Skircoat are fairly uneven too, as the stand is built on the side of a slope and they are definitely a throwback to another era, the toilets especially so! Anyway, without wishing to delve into further details about them, here’s the story behind FC Halifax Town…

History Lesson:

FC Halifax Town were formed in 2008, following the demise of the town’s previous club, and forerunner to this one, Halifax Town. The prior club had been in existence for all of ninety-seven years where they competed in the Yorkshire Combination & the Midland League before becoming founder members of the Football League’s Third Division North in 1921, finishing a best of second in 1935.

They remained there right through until restructuring in 1958 saw Town in the, now fully national, Third Division. They just missed out on a promotion spot in 1971, but that was as good as it got for Town in their first League stay, as they were relegated to the Conference in 1993, where they would remain for the next five years, going from avoiding relegation to title-winners within a year, featuring players such as Geoff Horsfield.

Back in the league, the Shaymen saw Horsfield leave for Fulham in 1998, but lead the table for most of their first season back, before falling away into mid-table.  2002 saw Town back in the Conference where they stayed through to their eventual collapse, missing out on promotion in the 2006 play-offs, losing 3-2 to, another now defunct side, Hereford United in the final. Despite avoiding relegation the next season, Town would go on to fold and FC Halifax Town came into being.

Real old-style stand

The new entity took a place in the Northern Premier League for 2008-’09, with me seeing their second game (and first away) at that level, as Town travelled to Trafford. A poor end to the season saw the club miss out on the play-offs at the end of their first season, but they did manage to take the title the following season after a strong end to the campaign.

The club’s NPL Premier Division tenure began with players such as Jamie Vardy being brought to the Shay and this proved fruitful as the club went on to lift their second successive title – and promotion – to take a spot in the Conference North for 2011-’12, a season which saw them ultimately bow out in the play-off semi-finals. The following year saw Town again take a spot in the play-offs, defeating Brackley Town in the final to achieve promotion back to the Conference Premier, where the former side had bowed out from five years earlier.

After reaching the play-offs as the highest-ranked part-time side in the country at the close of their first season back at Step 1, Halifax bowed out in the semi-finals. The following year was something of a success as, despite losing star man Lee Gregory, the club lead the way for a time before fading into play-off contention and ultimately missing out on those too.

Flags. Lots of them.

However, a polar opposite campaign to the prior seasons would follow. The season saw the departure of Neil Aspin, who’d seen the club through the rise from Step 4 to Step 1, with him being replaced by Darren Kelly. This proved to be no help to the cause of Town and, despite a late resurgence under Jim Harvey which saw Halifax reach the Final of the FA Trophy where they defeated National League champions Grimsby Town 1-0, they were relegated back to the National North for this season, where…well, you can see where they are if you’re reading these words! Under new boss Billy Heath, Town finished up in 3rd place prior to these very play-offs.

After a fifteen minute delay due to ground congestion, the game got underway but, again, a decent first-half followed. In fact, it wasn’t until the 38th minute that the first true chance of the game came around, with Sam Johnson in the home goal keeping out Dave Norris’ effort.

Halifax did respond right at the end of the half, with Dion Charles the unlucky man who saw his poke comfortably cleared as it rolled toward the line by Michael Nottingham to ensure the teams headed in at the break all-square and with it all to play for in the second period, the place in the final no closer for either side.

Match Action

All Rise

Having already purchased a cheeseburger (£3.20) before kick-off from the in-ground food trailer thing, I therefore had little to do during the break other than head into the concourse and just generally hang around. It’s always interesting to hear people’s differing views on the game at the half-way mark and there was certainly a split between optimism and the hopeful pessimist. However, we’d soon find out who was right as the teams entered the field once more.

The second half was a more open affair than the first, with Salford’s Mike Phenix being denied by a fine tackle when he looked odds-on to score, Halifax responding, forcing Salford ‘keeper Jay Lynch managed to ‘keep out a close-range header before it was Salford’s turn to again go close, James Poole denied by a fine stop by Johnson who stayed big for as long as possible to thwart the Salford front-man.

Match Action

Salford fans becalmed

As I alluded to earlier, the final minutes saw the hosts go close to winning the game and sealing a place in the play-off final and it was the danger man Charles once more, who saw his drive fly narrowly wide of the target. Frustration in the home ends was met with relief in the away section as the “final” whistle blew to signal extra-time would be needed to separate these two well-matched outfits.

The thirty-minutes proved to be where the drama occurred. Just a handful of minutes into the extra period, Richard Peniket found the net with a fine header, diving in to meet a ball into the box from the right and power the ball beyond Lynch. 1-0 to the hosts and the mini pitch invasion was on!

However Salford were not done and it took them just two minutes of the second half of extra-time to level the game up once more, Michael Nottingham sneaking in at the back post to somehow beat the defender to the ball and nod in. A really soft goal for Halifax to concede, but you felt Salford deserved to stay level through to the end of the contest. They duly managed it, despite a fine stop late on by Lynch to deny another Peniket header, before he then had to stay alert right up to the final whistle to keep out another from the tall Tom Denton, before the whistle went to signal the dreaded shootout.

Salford’s support celebrate the equaliser

Match Action

Pitch invasion!

The penalties came and went in quick fashion, largely due to the poor quality of Salford’s kicks. One tame kick saved and two more flying over sealed their fate, with Town netting three of their four; Matty Brown sealing their place in the final with an emphatic finish into the top-corner. Cue the full pitch invasion as the home fans celebrated the fact the Shaymen had secured a shot at a quick return to the top-level of non-league. Another year at Step 2 beckons for City, though.

As for me it was back to Halifax where I had a 45 minute wait for the train back to Huddersfield. I reckoned I’d had enough before the game and didn’t really fancy another drink, so instead took the opportunity for a much-needed phone charge, until we were all kicked out of the waiting room as it was being shut. Luckily, there was only ten minutes left before I departed from the scenic sights of the Nestle factory and back from whence I came.

So another good day out in Halifax (helped by the cheapness of its beer) was had and it was good to revisit the Shay after almost eight years. On balance of the game, I think it was hard to truly pick a winner, with both sides having their fair share of chances, but Halifax had the spot-kick prowess to see them over the line. They go on the play Chorley for a place in the Conference. As for me, just two games await…

 

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 4

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 6

 

Manchopper in….Boston

Result: Boston United 0-1 Altrincham (National League North)

Venue: York Street (Saturday 11th March 2017, 3pm)

Att: 1,026

As the season begins to enter its business end and teams begin to discover just what they are to be fighting for, it’s also the case that most games have something riding on them one way or another. Sadly, this one wasn’t one of them, as it appears Boston are, more than likely, safe and Alty, sadly, seem destined to take up a spot in the Northern Premier League for next season, as their sad decline continues unabated. Regardless, there was something important around this game for myself. That “thing” being Boston’s home: York Street. With only a few weeks remaining of the old ground’s life, it didn’t take much to persuade me to make a visit.

So, come the morning of this very Saturday in question, I was kindly given a lift into Sale where I would be picked up by Altrincham’s supporters’ coach for the trip over to Lincolnshire. This method of transport was chosen due to the obscene price of the train journey to get there otherwise (around £41 for me) and with the bus being a full £14 cheaper, the decision really was a no-brainer.

With the mini-bus arriving nice and early, I was welcomed onto it by Alty supporter John and his wife (I say very much hoping this is the case, if not I may be in trouble!) and we were soon underway, with the latter of the pair not impressed by the uttering of the name “Stockport County” from the driver! All in jest of course. Anyway, after a further couple of swift stops to pick up the remaining travelling band of hardy Robins supporters, the journey down to South-East Lincolnshire began.

After a largely uneventful journey to our stop-off point in Blyth (no, we weren’t that off course, this was the one near Worksop), it was somewhat surprising to find a large RAF presence at the services as we arrived. Just what do they get up to around here?! It turns out it was nothing more than a quick caffeine stop for the lads in uniform before they pulled out in convoy and off to one of the many bases around the former bomber command stronghold county.

We soon followed them back out of the services and an hour or so later were arriving into Boston, greeted by the sight of a pair of ducks taking a leisurely stroll down the pavement., before the towering old-age floodlights of York Street came into view and I was quickly taken by them. When it comes to these sort of things, you can almost…and I stress ALMOST get how people fall in love with inanimate objects. Phwoooar!

Narrow streets

Boston and the River Witham

As we arrived outside the gates of the Pilgrims’ home, we were soon all off the bus and after a quick programme purchase, I quickly headed off towards the large church steeple that dominates the surrounding area. I figured that this must be where the town centre was and, for once, I was right! Yes, I didn’t get lost after following my own hunch, get the bunting and balloons out!

A quick sightseeing trip to St. Boltoph’s Church (apparently the largest parish church in England) and it’s “stump” later and things turned towards more important cultural things. Namely, surprisingly, beer. The first stop was a nearby Tudor-period-looking building which I could only tell had a bar by peering in the door and seeing the line of illuminated pumps including the brilliant Hop House Lager, which is often overlooked by myself, sadly, but when I do remember just how good it is, it’s worth the wait. £4 a pint in here, but nice surroundings to go with it, with the interior split into many small rooms all kept in period style.

Boston

St. Botolph’s Church.

Unfortunately, I was on a bit of a whistle-stop tour of the town and so had little chance to truly enjoy my short stay before I was heading back towards the market place and to a pair of pubs, namely the Britannia and the Stump and Candle. On walking past the former, it looked a little on the full side, so I decided to miss it out for now and head for the Stump, named after the church spire which stands behind it.

On entering I found two guys in here. One was there watching the TV with a pint as per normal. The other…well, was going on to himself wittering on about nonsensical things and toasting the spirits behind the bar after reciting a story to himself. He was a decent enough chap, though, so no qualms there. There was some qualms held by the guy behind the bar, though, who was less than impressed as the fella walked over to the jukebox to get it going, forcing him to go off and switch it on, negating the sound of the rugby on TV as a result. All quite humorous!

First stop of the day. Yes, it has a bar!

The Stump & Candle

As for the other guest in here, I decided that, with time against me, I may as well quiz him on which pubs were best around Boston. It turned out the guy was from up in the North East and didn’t really know the answer, but did give me the locations of a few to try out en-route back to the ground. With ‘Spoons sitting just the other side of the river, it seemed silly not to tick another of these off too so, after bidding goodbye to the trio, headed over the River Witham to the Moon Under Water. Yes, another one.

The Moon was a fairly decent ‘Spoons but nothing too special, though I did cause some confusion for the girl serving by ordering a Punk IPA and then having to help them locate it within the fridge. A good lesson to have learned, I’d say! Anyway, I wasn’t wasting much time in here and it was off back over the River to the Ship Inn, reached down a small passageway.

The Ship seems a favoured haunt of Pilgrims fans with it pretty full of gold and black scarves and shirts. The Bateman’s Gold Ale seemed to be going down well too, though I figured having had a few in quick succession, I’d steer clear for now and plumped for a Strongbow instead, which set me back a further £3+. Not much to report on here and with the clock rapidly approaching 3pm, I decided to head round to York Street.

The Moon Under Water ‘Spoons

The Ship’s passage….

…and the Ship itself!

Cutting back through the neighbouring Matalan car park, I then found myself with a dilemma. Turn right and spend 15 minutes on the terrace doing nothing, or turn left and sample a quick local ale in the Coach & Horses. Now, if you read these blogs regularly enough (and if you do I’m sorry, but thanks!), I think you can probably work out what I chose.

A quick half of Bateman’s XL was had but with less than five minutes to kick-off, I swiftly headed back to the ground, where I handed over my £13 entrance fee for a place in the away section. The teams had just entered the pitch, with York Street looking just fine.

A quick stop in the Coach & Horses

Arriving at the ground. Look at the lights!!

It’s Main Stand, to the right of me, is all seater, with a couple of pillars supporting its roof. The opposite touch-line plays host to the Spayne Road Stand, a covered terrace which runs the length of the pitch. The far end is populated by the Town End terrace, which is largely covered, bar a small amount of standing on each side. The York Street end, where the travelling fans were housed today, is probably the most interesting of all stand at the ground, with the raised seating area of the stand reached by climbing stairs from the small terrace below. Now, here’s a bit about the story of Boston United…

History Lesson:

Boston United Football Club was formed in 1933 as successor to a previous club who competed as Boston Town. They initially competed in the Midland League during their formative years, but achieved little initial success, outside of numerous Lincolnshire Cup wins (now numbering fifteen in total), achieving a runners-up spot in 1956 with this being their highest placing. 1959 saw the club move to the Southern League’s ‘North Western Zone’.

Following a third placed finish, Boston found themselves in the Premier Division, where they remained for the next two seasons, before the club were spared relegation to Division 1 by leaving the league altogether and taking a year out. They had added an East Anglia Cup to their cabinet by that point, though (1961).

1962 saw the Pilgrims re-join the Midland League, but remained for just two seasons before departing once more. A further year’s sabbatical followed before Boston popped back up in the United Counties League in 1965 which they immediately won to move up into the West Midlands Regional League Premier Division which was won twice in succession over the next two years, prior to a switch into the newly-formed Northern Premier League for 1968-’69.

BUFC

Following a runners-up placing (and an Eastern Professional Floodlit Cup win) in 1972, Boston went on to win the NPL title in four of the next six seasons (’73, ’74, ’77, ’78), added a pair of NPL League Cups (’74 & ’76) alongside four NPL Shields (’74, ’75, ’77, ’78) and were twice ‘Non-League Champion of Champions (’73 & ’77), though they were surprisingly overlooked for election to the Football League in favour of ’78 runners-up Wigan Athletic.

Instead, Boston became founder members of the Alliance Premier League in 1980 and reaching the semi-finals of the FA Trophy that same campaign. 1985 saw the club end up as Trophy runners-up (vs Wealdstone) before a drop off in form saw the club eventually relegated to the NPL in 1993.

After finishing as NPL runners-up in 1998, Boston re-joined the Southern League’s Premier Division and after finishing runners-up in their first season back, went one better in 2000, going on to win the title and, therefore, a place in the Conference. They then went on to immediately win the Conference at the end of their first campaign back at that level, taking up a spot in the Football League’s Division 3, going fully professional in the process.

Nice artwork

After financial issues saw the club enter administration, the 10-point deduction proved to much of an obstacle to overcome, with the Pilgrims relegated back to the Conference in 2007, but were made to bypass the Premier Division and take a spot in the North Section of the league. Things got even worse in 2009, with Boston demoted to the NPL Premier Division.

However, here they stabilised, with a third-place finish in 2010 seeing them take a place in the play-offs, where they overcame Bradford PA in the final. The Pilgrims also added a third NPL League Cup as they bid farewell to the league and returned to the Conference once more.

Back in the Conference North, Boston have somewhat found their level for the time being, having spent the last seven campaigns here, with an eighth looking more than likely. This season has been something of a disappointment for Boston, having come off the back of two play-off placings in the last two years, they currently find themselves in 15th place in the, currently titled, National League North.

Today’s Game.

The away end

After a minutes applause to remember former Boston player Steve Martin who sadly passed away recently, the game got going with a fairly even start, both sides sharing a couple of half-chances each, but it was the home side who came closest to taking the lead with around twenty minutes played, Harry Vince clipping the outside of Stuart Tomlinson’s upright. This was followed by the impressive Lewis Hilliard driving a shot across goal and just wide, as it looked set to be a long day at the office for the visiting Robins.

Tomlinson, the Alty stopper, was in his second outing since returning to football after a spell in WWE’s system, thus it was quite amusing when he was serenaded with a “You fat bastard” shortly into the contest. I can only imagine this wasn’t repeated after one of his action shots was passed around the terrace. (Disclaimer: This probably didn’t happen…)

Anyway, impressive physiques aside and Boston were to rue their early miss when, on 32 minutes, Elliott Newby was released and he strode into the area before firing beyond the Pilgrims’ custodian Ross Durrant. The bottom-of-the-league Robins led at Boston and anywhere else this would have been seen as a shock. But not at York Street where this is a familiar tale for the Pilgrims who, unbelievably, have failed to win a Saturday home league game all season. Crazy!

Match Action

Match Action

This goal seemed to rattle Boston and settle Altrincham in equal measure, with Alty almost going in at the break two-up, only for the linesman’s flag to deny Simon Richman’s “goal” from standing. Half-Time soon arrived and I headed down the steps to purchase portion of chips for just £1.20, before retaking a place up in the benched seats for the second period.

During the first half, I had met up with Alty fan Martin, who had sort of replied to my tweet to NonLeagueMag earlier in the week regarding which games everyone was off to. As such, I decided to disrupt his peaceful viewing pleasure of the game for the second half too. Sorry, Martin! With one particularly vocal Alty fan doing his level best to shout support from the terracing (perhaps with the help of some alcoholic beverages?!), both sides began to do battle once more.

The second half, though, was a very scrappy affair, with Alty understandably sitting back on their lead and United seemingly lacking the cutting edge required to break them down. Their cause wasn’t helped when, with twenty minutes remaining, their centre-back and skipper Robinson seemingly suffered a hamstring issue and with all three subs used by the Pilgrims looked destined to leave his side one short. However he battled on, forced up front as a makeshift, immobile striker.

Match Action

Match Action

The last ten or so was all one way traffic, with the hosts throwing desperate attack after desperate attack at the visitors, but it wasn’t until the 91st minute that they finally found a way to truly trouble Tomlinson (oooh nice alliteration there, eh?!). With Boston now on all-out attack mode, they finally got clear but found the imposing figure of “Hugo Knox” in outstanding form as he pulled off a miraculous double save to deny, firstly, Alex Simmons’ low drive before flinging himself to his right to block Jay Rollins’ follow-up with his legs to secure the points. Full-Time, 0-1! and a great, deserved win for the Robins!

After the game, I bid farewell to Martin and the very happy, chanting fan before heading out of the ground and meeting up with John and the rest of the bus load for the journey back up to Altrincham. After a journey back which largely included people’s experiences of the Stump and just how far the town centre was from the ground, we were back in Cheshire much quicker, it seemed, than was the case on the outbound leg.

The York Street end & happy Robins faithful

Alty players salute the fans

A final one in the Vine

After bidding goodbye and thanks to those on board, it was to the Vine Tavern for a quick pint whilst waiting for the bus back home. Damn you time, forcing me to drink… After meeting a couple in here who were aware of our bar (I should start charging for these ads), it was time to go and bring to an end a fine day out.

I really enjoyed my short time in Boston and look forward to returning to either United’s new ground or to Boston Town, both of whom are, sadly, not as central as the tremendous York Street. With regards to United’s new home, it’s always a shame when a club moves out of a town-centre location. Of course, it is all part and parcel of the new breed of community complex-based stadia but from a personal (and rather greedy) point of view, it lessens the overall experience and ease of access. Good luck to them on the move, but York Street and its tremendous, glorious floodlights will always be the one for me…

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Stalybridge

stalybridgecelticCurzon_Ashton_Khai

Result: Stalybridge Celtic 1-2 Curzon Ashton (National League North)

Venue: Bower Fold (Monday 26th December 2016, 3pm)

Att: 558

It’s the morning of the 26th December. Christmas is done, the year is, thankfully, coming to its end, yet the football season is still in fine fettle and still going strong. This is somewhat surprising, considering how the recent winters have decimated the fixture lists of many a league around the country each year. But with this Boxing Day’s weather playing ball, thus it meant that others could too on many respective pitches and for me, there was none more important than my festive destination: Bower Fold, home of Stalybridge Celtic.

Having had my attendance confirmed at the unleashing of a pair of Daniel Bryan ‘YES!’ gifs (one per club) the previous evening, I soon realised that the journey wasn’t all that simple. By no means was it terrible, but the restricted public transport meant that there was, obviously, no trains. Having already planned for that, my intention was to jump a bus through Manchester and onwards to Stalybridge. Alas, the Stagecoach route planners decided that Stalybridge didn’t need any contacts with anywhere else on Boxing Day and so all buses terminated at Ashton. Thus leaving me with a 50 minute walk between the two Tameside towns. Lovely.

Not one to be put off too easily, I decided this was well within the boundaries of acceptable and thus, come the morning, I was on my first bus of the day and heading to Ashton via the medium of Stockport. Upon arrival, I quickly got my bearings via the, for once, useful bus station map and thus headed off towards Stalybridge, buffeted by the bracing winds.

Having gone slightly off track and almost arrived at Hurst Cross, I eventually arrived into Stalybridge two-and-a-half hours after beginning my journey. Take into account I can usually get there within 45 minutes, you see why it was a bit more of a ball ache than usual! Anyway, having passed by the deserted station I was soon arriving into the bustling centre of Stalybridge. Okay, when I say bustling I may be…slightly overstating.

Stalybridge

Stalybridge

Armentieres

Armentieres Way

Shutters down everywhere and only an occasional soul in sight gave me the thoughts that, perhaps, Staly Vegas wasn’t the place to be on a Boxing Day afternoon. On the plus side, I did see a whole square and street named after the town’s French twin, Armentièrers so there was small graces. I guess. There was also the dependable Wetherspoons to provide a bit of hope, including the sight of a couple of Celtic shirts but The Society Rooms didn’t provide me with much interest, bar the knowledge that the wartime song “It’s a long way to Tipperary” was penned in the town. Anyway, the Blue Moon beer was quickly downed. However, the ‘Spoons had given me the sight of Harmer’s bar opening up just down the pedestrianised street, so it was to there I headed next.

Except for the large group of lads who entered seconds before me, there was, again, little to excite in here. It was comfortable enough and fine for a quick one before I decided that, with the time headed towards 2pm, I might as well head towards the foot of the road leading to Bower Fold. There also happened to be a pub there, you know, by pure coincidence.

'Spoons

‘Spoons

Harmer's

Harmer’s

Armentieres Square

Armentieres Square. Almost like France.

After making a conscientious effort to head through Armenitères Square alongside the canal, I headed through the equally cultural Tesco car-park and up the steps onto the road once more. From here I spotted The Organ (no snickering please, children), which was the place I was alerted to via Maps. But, what the app hadn’t informed me of was the existence of the Old Hunters’ Tavern, which sits next door. I headed towards there under the instruction I’d have a half in both and a quick check in the window confirmed to me that here was where half the Stalybridge population were hiding. Once I’d begun on the pint of Veltins, I could understand why! Yes, the instructions didn’t get followed too well…

The Hunters’ was a nice, friendly place and probably one of the better places I’ve been to this year overall, but with time against me I was soon next door and into the Organ (come on now). The Organ was bustling, with the lone barmaid going at full pelt to serve all around, so props for that. A was soon in possession of a pint of Coors with this being the easiest pint to drink quickly I find. There seemed to be a few more Celtic fans in here too and the scarf above the bar gave off the impression that this may be one of the strongholds(!).

The Organ and The Hunter's

The Organ and The Hunter’s

Good Park name that...

Good Park name that…

After traipsing uphill along Mottram Road, I arrived at the gates of Bower Fold for the second time, but for my first Celtic game. My first trip had been to an FC United FA Cup tie a few years back so, in my mind, I hadn’t truly done Bower Fold and a revisit was a necessity. After skipping past some information collecting people outside, I handed over my £12 before entering the ground just minutes before the teams entered the field. A programme was swiftly purchased from the rear of the stand at the Town End for a further £2.

Dating from 1909, Bower Fold has a mix of traditional-style and modernisation within it. It is also, apparently, the only active ground in the country with a perfect North alignment, which is an interesting little side note. The stands are all fairly recent structures, with the raised seating Main Stand dating from 1996 and the terraced Joe Jackson Stand from ’94. The Lord Pendry all-seater stand is the most recent, dating from 2004, with the Mottram End terrace being the oldest stand being in situ from the mid-1980’s in its current guise. There is further uncovered terracing located around the rest of the pitch. As for Stalybridge Celtic themselves….

History Lesson:

Officially formed in 1909, there is a case for saying that Stalybridge Celtic FC can trace its roots back to 1906 and the formation of an amateur club carrying the same name in the town. They first played in the Lancashire & Cheshire League for two seasons before joining the Lancashire Combination. Here, Celtic became Second Division champions at the first attempt in 1912 and followed this up with a short spell in the Central League. They then, somehow, found themselves joining the Southern League in an attempt to progress quicker.

This didn’t go so well, though and the club were soon back in the Central League for 1919-’20. However, following another two season spell here, Stalybridge became founder members of the Football League’s Third Division North, but resigned after another two seasons with support issues cited, despite crowds numbering 2,000 more than near-neighbours, Rochdale. They did, however, lift the 1923 Manchester Senior Cup to improve matters somewhat.

Bower Fold

Bower Fold

From here, the club went on to join the Cheshire County League whereupon they found a steady base and remained for the next 60 years. Despite this long foray, they managed to win the title only once, this success coming in 1980. They did, however, also lift two Challenge Shields (1955 & 1978), a Cheshire Senior Cup (1953), two Intermediate Cups (’58, ’69) & the 1978 Edward Case Cup during their time here.

Upon the league’s merger with the Lancashire Combination, Celtic became founder members of the North West Counties League in 1982, winning the title in 1984 (along with the NWCFL Super Cup) and again in 1987, with the latter meaning promotion to the Northern Premier League was achieved. Stalybridge ended the decade by lifting the 1989 Lancashire Floodlit Cup.

1992 saw Stalybridge lift the NPL title (along with the NPL’s Peter Swailes Shield) and thus took a place in the Conference, where they were to remain for the next six seasons before suffering the drop after finishing up bottom of the table. 1999 saw silverware return in the form of the NPL Challenge Cup and 2001 saw a big upturn in fortunes as the club won a treble of Cheshire Senior Cup, NPL President’s Cup and NPL Premier Division. This, in turn, meant Celtic were given another shot at the Conference, but this time their stay lasted a solitary year.

Today's contest.

Today’s contest.

Following their final lifting of silverware to date in the form of the 2003 NPL President’s Cup, 2005 saw Celtic become founder members of the Conference North and they have remained at that level to this day. 2008 saw the club reach the play-offs after a 3rd place finish, but ‘Bridge lost out to Barrow in the final. After a yo-yo few years which saw a few good and a few bad years mixed in together, the most recent few seasons have been ones of struggle for the most part, though last season they achieved a solid 12th place.

With the game underway, I said a quick hello to Curzon fan (and many other things too) Aaron, before watching the early stages of the Tameside Derby clash along with the travelling support, which now includes a bugle as well as a drum. Orchestral. Anyhow, the first chance of the game saw a fine save, despite me claiming it wasn’t, by Curzon’s Cameron Mason, who tipped a rasping drive from Celtic’s debutant striker, Lee Gaskell onto the post.

Good pub quiz question.

Good pub quiz question.

Match Action

Match Action

Flag action

Flag action

With the light fading and Celtic becoming the more dominant side in the game, I decided that I’d head around the ground and get a few pics in while I could. Now, I’m not claiming that my placings in a ground influence the game, but from then on Curzon went on to grab a pair of quick goals. Come to think of it, maybe me moving did change everything…?

First, Curzon won a free-kick out on their right flank and the resultant ball in was met by the Nash’s talismanic striker, Niall Cummins, who thumped his header past Grant Shenton in the home net. 0-1 and the visiting support were sent into raptures, which soon became something just short of delirium when a corner from the same side wasn’t cleared from the box and Jamie Stott forced the ball beyond Shenton to double Curzon’s lead.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

View from the Main Stand

View from the Main Stand

From then on, the sting seemed to go out of the game for the remainder of the first period (too Bob Bradley-esque?), with little happening on the pitch and thus I headed back around the ground for the food hut. After a lengthy wait in the queue, I eventually got to the front before coming away with a decent chips, peas & gravy for, I think, another £2. This despite the warnings on posters around the hut stating those dreaded words “NO chips today”.

By the time I’d retaken my place pitchside, it was time for the action to restart and, once again, it was Stalybridge who came out the stronger and they grabbed a goal back when Aiden Chippendale knocked home at the back post. From now on it was all to play for and Celtic would go on to dominate the final 20 minutes or so, but this could have been all different had either of Cummins or James Baillie managed to force home from close range during a goalmouth scramble, which included a goal-line clearance.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Calling Cards

Calling Cards

After seeing a few strikes clear the target with some ease, Celtic forced a corner down their left wing. From the set-piece, Alex Honeyball rushed onto the floating delivery but crashed his header against the crossbar from 12 yards. There was still time for Mason to pull off another fine stop with pretty much the final action of the game and this secured his side the points as they took the spoils in the first of the clubs’ double clash over the festive period.

After bidding goodbye to Joe and a couple more of the Curzon contingent I’ve met along the way this year at York and Westfields, I headed out into the dark Tameside night, faced with the traipse back to Ashton in ever colder conditions. But by some sort of miracle, a Christmas miracle maybe(?), I managed to arrive back within 45 minutes, thus saving me an hour’s wait and meaning I could jump straight on a bus back to Manchester. Lovely.

All in all, I had a decent day in and around Stalybridge, even if it didn’t start off too hopefully! The town seems like it offers a little more on a normal weekend (a small taphouse bar was shut, much to my chagrin), but it still was decent enough. It was good to “properly” do Bower Fold as well and to actually see Staly play at their ground. As for the last day of the year? Well, it’s to the third Manchester club and a rekindled name from the past…

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