Manchopper in….Nelson

120px-Nelson_FCCongleton Town

Result: Nelson 0-1 Congleton Town (NWCFL Premier Division)

Venue: Victoria Park (Saturday 26th March 2016, 3pm)

Att: 93

Yet another weekend that began in some doubt with regard to just where I would find myself ending up for the Easter Saturday game. With the weather throwing up a few storms over the country, the forecast leading up to the game at Nelson looked less than helpful to ensuring the game would go ahead. But, after a quick check with the club on twitter, I was given some hope and decided to risk the trip to Lancashire.

After heading into Warrington, it would be at Bank Quay station where my journey from hell would begin in earnest. After a 14 minute delay in Cheshire, my train eventually pulled in and got us on the way towards my next stop off in Preston, where I then had a 15 minute wait for the train onwards to Nelson. Not too bad you’d think. But you haven’t heard about this train then being cancelled due to a door deciding it didn’t want to shut and thus meaning an hour’s delay. What a shame Northern Rail are to soon be gone…

Anyway, luckily the Preston Hero station pub came to my rescue along with a bottle of Birra Moretti, which kept me sane for the rest of my wait. Eventually, the clock ticked on towards 1pm and so I made my way over to the platform where I would be finally able to begin the final leg of the trip. This, I pondered, is why I set off early to games now.

Soon enough I was on the Northern service bound for Colne and was heading there via every possible town and village on the way. Seriously, even stations like Cherry Tree and Burnley Barracks were visited as we trundled slowly on towards my detraining. It did come as some relief to finally see the signs at the Nelson Interchange and to get out of the recycled bus and onto the soil of the Red Rose county.

The Hero. My Hero.

The Hero. My Hero.

Station Hotel

Station Hotel

Nelson

Nelson

First stop was the grand looking Station Hotel which sits, unsurprisingly, next to the station. With not too long to wait in here, I quickly finished off my Kronenbourg before heading through the streets of Nelson towards Victoria Park, which I had last visited no less than 8 years ago when watching Trafford on their way to the Counties title. But today I would be there as a neutral, and after heading through an underpass under the motorway, I followed some Congleton fans down a small entry which spewed us out right at the turnstiles. Easy! Entry paid and I was in.

Victoria Park hasn’t changed really from what I could recall, with it still housing its one stand on the far side. The stand houses both seating and terracing, with the small amounts of terrace flanking the seating on both sides. Behind both goals is open standing, though the far end houses the changing rooms and clubhouse, complete with one row of seats, and a few other huts. The near side is also open and houses the dugouts.

There's a ground around here...

There’s a ground around here…

...there it is!

…there it is!

Santa's had a change of career

Santa’s had a change of career

After a quick visit to the clubhouse to purchase a programme, for a  slightly pricey £2 considering the overall content (though thanks to the guy in there who helped me locate them due to my absolute blindness), and a steak and kidney pie for around £2.50 (much more worth the price) it was almost time for the game to begin as both sides’ players entered the cosy tunnel. But first, the history of Nelson FC for you lucky folk…

History Lesson:

Nelson FC was formed in 1881 and became founder members of the Lancashire League in 1889, their first silverware coming in the shape of the Hospital Cup (1889, ’92). They became champions in 1896 but folded just three years later. However, just two seasons later, Nelson returned and rejoined the Lancashire League for one season, before heading for the Lancashire Combination Division 1. After three seasons, Nelson were relegated, but immediately bounced back.

After WWI, the club reformed and joined the Central League in 1919. After two seasons they became founder members of the Football League’s Division 3 North, with their first game (vs Wigan Borough) attracting 9,000 fans. 1923 saw Nelson win the Division and with it promotion to Division 2. In preparation, the club travelled to Spain where they became the much heralded first team from England to defeat the mighty Real Madrid.

This, though, didn’t prove a good omen for the season to follow, as the Admirals were relegated (despite beating both Manchester Utd and eventual champions Leeds Utd). Back in Division 3 North, Nelson attracted their record crowd (14,143 vs Bradford PA in 1926) and reached the FA Cup Second Round the next year. After being re-elected once after finishing bottom in 1928, the club weren’t as lucky in 1931 as they finished bottom but saw them replaced in the League by Chester City. Following a stint back in the Lancashire Combination, the club folded again in 1936.

Facilities

Facilities

In the tunnel

In the tunnel

After a quick reform as Nelson Town, the club joined the local Nelson & Colne League for the ’36-’37 season and were due to take a place in the West Lancashire League for 1939, only for the start of WWII to halt the sport. After being reformed following the war, the club were back in the Lancs Combination and won it and the Lancs Combination Cup in 1950. They won the latter again in 1951 as well as again reaching the second round of the FA Cup for the third time. 1952 saw another League title won and the decade was rounded out with wins in the Lancashire Cup (1955) and the Lancs Combination Cup (’59-’60).

1966 saw Nelson relegated to Division 2 of the Lancs Combination, which lost most of its clubs to the Northern Premier League in 1968, though Nelson remained in the league until the founding of the North West Counties League, when the Admirals became founder members in 1982 and joined the short lived Division 3. After it was scrapped in 1988, Nelson played in Division 2, but problems with Victoria Park meant the club were forced to drop to the West Lancashire League for four years until 1992.

After re-joining the NWCFL in ’92, the club won the Division 2 trophy in 1997 and in 2006 were finally promoted to Division 1 after finishing 3rd, the club’s first promotion for 83 years. 2008 saw the club avoid relegation due to events off the pitch. 2010 saw Nelson resign from the league but returned for the 2011-’12 season and were promoted back to the, now named, Premier Division in 2014. Last season saw Nelson finish in a solid 11th place.

Random boat

Random boat

Caged Beasts

Caged Beasts

Victoria Park

Victoria Park

The game got underway after the usual pre-match pleasantries and both sides traded early blows, the away side having the best of the chances with a goal-bound effort being blocked on the line following an error by Nelson ‘keeper Davis, who looked a little shaky early on, but seemed to settle down as the game went on, as proven when he pulled off the first of a number of good saves, denying Brian Matthews’ effort with his right foot.

But, he was to beaten a few minutes later when the referee awarded , in my opinion, a rather harsh penalty for handball as the ball reared up on the defender straight off the pitch and struck his arm. Still, it was Matthews who stepped up and drilled the ball low into the corner. 0-1.

There was also a small scuffle not too long after the goal, involving a couple of players from each side, over not very much. But then came the best moment of it as the referee steamed over and unleashed the loudest voice I’ve ever heard on a football pitch. It was definitely something you notice and it was little surprise that everyone stopped and did exactly that!

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

1-0.

1-0.

Despite the efforts of the Admirals’ Nathan Taylor, who I thought was brilliant in midfield, not much else happened after the goal, and the half fizzled out until the break. The half-time came and went with little to note, so straight onto the second half then and it was Nelson who were the dominant force as the half went on and they somehow contrived to miss an almost open net, when the ball was played to the striker a few yards out, but his touch eluded him at the vital time and after a short scramble, the Bears keeper claimed.

Then came the rain. Lots of rain. The sort of rain that brings up Ollie Williams “IT’S RAINING SIDEWAYS!” thoughts. But, this did little to stop the game, and as the pitch became more slippery, so more chances began to present themselves. Indeed, history repeated itself down the other end as a corner saw a goalmouth scramble after the ball slipped from the ‘keeper’s grasp and somehow the ball was cleared off the line and eventually cleared when it looked a certain goal.

To be honest, that’s the last I really took any notice of as the rain began to take most people’s attention off the field of play, although one guy got steadily more frustrated by Nelson’s inability to shoot on target and began to shout numerous “useless *insert obscenity here* at any spurned chance. The last real chance of the game fell to Congleton, but Scott Sephton’s low drive evaded all in the box and the far post, but this mattered little as the Bears held on to win.

Aerial

Aerial

 

Match Action

Match Action

Taking Shelter

Taking Shelter

So, it was back to Nelson station and with the rain abating somewhat, I was able to make it back without being swept away. After a short wait, it was back on the bus…er, train to Preston and onwards back to Manchester and home, with the highlight coming on the last leg of the journey. This was a quote that I hadn’t heard before and reckon I won’t hear again. Here it is… “I know it wasn’t great, but its not often a guy walks on with his penis hanging out!”. Absolutely no idea what happened there and I’m not sure I want to either.

I eventually arrived home in time to catch the majority of the Germany-England game, where the English did the usual to fill everyone with false hope before, of course, returning to the usual performance against the Dutch (which has just ended as I write this). Anyway, enough of international friendlies, there’s Cheshire League action on the horizon….

DSC01951

RATINGS:

Game: 7- Decent game and should have been more goals.

Ground: 5- Nice ground, but not too much to it. (Point deducted for the term “Little Wembley”!)

Fans: 6- No real reason, and indeed I think the rating system is ending this season for fans

Food: 8- Pie was very nice, not that this was a surprise!

Programme: 5- Average issue but had worse.

Value For Money: 6- Not a bad day overall and nice to revisit Nelson after so long.

 

 

 

Manchopper in….Croston

thCAJL4NWE120px-Nelson_FC

Result: Croston Sports 1-4 Nelson (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Croston Sports Club, Westhead Road (Saturday 28th June 2014, 3pm)

Att: About 50

For my first trip of the season, I was heading up into Lancashire and to the small village of Croston. Croston lies to the south of Preston, and is on the one-line West Lancashire Railway with one train running back and forth from Ormskirk to Preston. I had originally been planned for the game between Ladybridge & Digmoor, but on discovery of the fact Ladybridge play on a field with no defined pitch (i.e. has to be barred off at least), I was forced to look elsewhere for some entertainment. (I WAS LATER INFORMED LADYBRIDGE DO INDEED HAVE A BARRED OFF PITCH WITH CLUBHOUSE AND GREAT FACILITIES. AND I MISSED A 9-1! DAMN OUT OF DATE GOOGLE MAPS!!)

Luckily, Nelson’s twitter account came to my aid, with the news of a friendly with aforementioned Croston Sports, which was to be played at the village’s Sports Club. I was sorted and was soon planning my journey.

Croston Sports are members of the West Lancashire League Division 2, which is four levels below the North West Counties (NWCFL) Premier where Nelson currently reside following their promotion last season. It had been a fair while since I had seen Nelson play, in fact I think the last time was in 2008, when Trafford visited their Victoria Park home on the way to the title that year. I had not seen Croston play before, so I was looking forwards to the trip.

I set off at just before midday and headed into Manchester Oxford Road for my connection onwards towards Burscough, where I would be required to take a short walk through the Merseyside town, from Burscough Bridge Station to the rural Burscough Junction, which is part of the one-line West Lancs Railway.

After boarding the train bound for Southport, I was soon in Burscough, and soon found myself looking at the floodlights of the familiar venue of another Victoria Park, this one the home of Burscough FC, towering above a TESCO. After continuing onwards to Burscough Junction, I was faced with a dilemma on arrival, as a train pulled in showing “Ormskirk”. Now, being one-line, I thought this may be my train but knowing I was supposed to be heading to Preston I thought against it. I didn’t want to be lost again and in a similar situation as a group of girls who’d got off at the station and were now lost.

As the train came back in still showing Ormskirk, confusingly, I had to check with the driver who gave me a muffled answer to my question of “Does this train go to Croston?”, although that was probably because he was thinking, “There’s one line, figure it out dumb-arse!”

Arriving in Croston

Arriving in Croston

 

Road to the ground

Road to the ground

Croston Sports Club

Croston Sports Club

Anyway, after alighting at Croston station at three minutes to three, I was faced with a march along the “Station Road” leading towards the best named Caravan Park I’ve ever heard of, the “Royal Umpire”. After hearing of this, I couldn’t shake images of Prince Charles standing on a rural cricket field in Lancashire giving a small overweight 50-year old his marching orders. After making a turn down a rural looking road, I soon saw a pub-like sign declaring “Croston Sports Club”. It turned out I had only missed two minutes of the game, so I wasn’t too late and hadn’t, more importantly, missed a goal.

Croston’s ground is your typical amateur ground. It is barred off, with a small set of dressing rooms behind the far end goal. Bordered behind the near side goal by a hedge guarding a cricket ground, there is no real hard standing,  but there are a few paving slabs dotted here and there, and a truck tyre. A Goodyear truck’s tyre. No idea why, but there it was. The car park runs alongside the pitch, and you enter along the lane leading to it, with both cricket and football pitches being set behind the Sports Club itself, the football club at the rear.

History Lesson:

Croston Sports Club joined the West Lancashire League in 2004, and finished as runners-up in their second season. This earned them promotion to Division 1 where they remained for five seasons before being relegated to Division 2 once again. Last Season, they maintained their place in Division t2 comfortably enough, and lifted the annual Danny Birch Memorial Trophy, defeating FC Adlington 4-1 at Chorley’s Victory Park. The retained the trophy in the third running of the event, which is run in memoriam of Danny Birch, who played for both Adlington and Croston, until he tragically passed away aged just 23.

Back onto the clash this blog is about, and through the early stages, Croston more than held their own aginst what was, I learned a mixture of Development Squad, trialists and a few first teamers, until about 20 minutes in when Nelson’s Jonty Maulin sent a forceful header flying into the top corner. the Croston ‘keeper was the busier of the two number 1’s and had to make a few good saves to keep his side in the game as Nelson began to shake off the cobwebs and assert their authority. But they almost conceded just before the break, as a Croston forward burst towards the box, before curling just over the bar from 18 yards.

But it was to be Croston who’d concede late in the half, as they seemed to switch off as “A Trialist”‘s ball in was converted from close range by Liam Boswell.

Match Action

Match Action

Random truck tyre

Random truck tyre

Changing Rooms

Changing Rooms

For the second half, I decided to take a tour of the ground, and was down the wrong end as Nelson added a couple more to their tally. Again it was the influential A Trialist who worked his magic and his low cross struck a Croston defender and past the wrong-footed goalkeeper.

The journeyman A Trialist, who seems to play for numerous clubs every pre-season since the dawn of time, soon grabbed another assist as he crossed low and hard and after a goalmouth melee Jonny Hession poked the ball over the line. Why A Trialist hasn’t got in a World Cup squad yet is beyond  me!

The game was disrupted a bit through the second half, as the inevitable changes took place and Croston grabbed what I thought was a deserved goal. They launched a quick counter after winning the ball, and their left winger hit a cross-cum-shot which fell to the unmarked #10 and the striker rolled the ball easily into the net.

Hard Standing

Hard Standing

Match Action

Match Action

Cricket Club end

Cricket Club end

Croston’s ‘keeper pulled off a wonderful save late on, when he palmed away a curling effort which looked destined for the top corner, but it mattered little, as Nelson kept their hosts at bay to record a 4-1 win, and they look good for their return to the NWCFL Premier Division.

After the game, I had to miss out the Sports Club itself to get back to near the station, but I did have time to make a stop off on the way back in “The Crown”, which looked rather nice as I walked past it on my way to the game. On entering, the pub is decorated in a modern, yet traditional fashion, and has a really comfortable, welcoming atmosphere to it. After buying a Kopparberg for £3.50, I watched the early stages of Brasil v Chile, whilst listening to a few entertaining stories being shared by a group of men from Leeds and the barmaid.

Royal Oak

The Crown

After finishing my bottle, I was soon on my way back to the station, where I boarded the train headed for Preston and then onwards back to Oxford Road despite many delays on the planned routes. Some over half an hour late. The looks on the faces of those still awaiting their rattler were not those of enjoyment. But, for me, it had been a pleasant visit to Croston, and one that I would encourage you to make, if you like your lower league football in quaint villages.

2014-06-28 16.07.50

 

My Croston Sports M.o.M.- The goalkeeper ( I don’t know his name, sorry!)

My Nelson M.o.M.- Liam Boswell.

RATINGS:

Game: 6- Pre-Season friendly, but was pretty good.

Ground: 6- Not much to it, put the pitch looked very good from the side.

Programme: N/A

Food: N/A

Fans: 5 Hard to judge if they had ‘fans’ for a friendly ( I heard a couple shout for Croston though), but a few had come down to watch the team and a few from Nelson.

Value For Money: 7- Free entry, so only travel to pay, at about £8. New ground is always good too!

Referee: 7- Doesn’t really matter in a friendly, but he did alright.