Manchopper in….Fulwood

Result: Fulwood Amateurs 5-0 Coppull United (West Lancashire League Premier Division)

Venue: Lightfoot Lane/’The Green’ (Saturday 11th May 2019, 3pm)

Att: ~250

My penultimate weekend of groundhopping saw another double-header which would begin with this very visit to the outskirts of Preston. Having looked local for Saturday’s game with a trip down to the south coast and Southampton coming up the following day, this contest saw hosts Fulwood looking to take the West Lancashire League title, whilst their rivals Slyne-with-Hest also looked to home advantage to pay dividends for them as they looked to overturn the slight advantage Fulwood held going into the final day.

Both teams welcomed sides from the other end of the table – Fulwood entertaining Coppull United, whilst Slyne took on Southport Hesketh. As for myself, I took full advantage of a later than usual start to a trip before heading via Warrington up to Preston whereupon I was finally able to pay a visit to the city’s famous bus station where I’d catch a service onwards to Fulwood. But it wouldn’t just be Fulwood I’d be heading too, oh no – it would be a very specific bus stop which, perhaps unsurprisingly, had a pub just a few steps away by the name of the Sherwood.

Preston’s Famed Bus Station

The Sherwood

Black Bull

The pub gains its name from the road it is located upon and I watched the majority of the first half of the play-off between Aston Villa and West Brom before finishing off my pint of Boddington’s (£2.60) and grabbing one of the regular services back down the road and past the hospital, getting off just before the dual-carriageway, which was crossed over to reach the Black Bull where I partook in an Estrella (£4.25) whilst wasting away some time before grabbing another bus up the way towards to foot of Light….erm, foot Lane which the ground sits not too far along. Before heading ground-wards, however, I paid a visit to the, slightly hidden from roadside, Phantom Winger – a Hungry Horse hostelry – for a pint of Coors (£3.50) and took advantage of their charging points before finally heading for the ground.

Fulwood is a town in the unparished northern area of Preston and has remained separate largely due to the fact the town in encompassed within the Fulwood Conservation Area. It has been governed independently since 1974. Noted in 1199 as Fulewide, it has since gone through name changes of Fulewude in 1228 and Fulwode in 1297 and was part of the ancient forest of Fulwood where Preston race ground was located. In Victorian times, said to be a township-chapelry in Lancaster parish on the railway linking Preston and Lancaster with its own station which closed in 1930. The vicarage was noted as being in the diocese of Manchester.

Fulwood-entrance to Preston

Way to the Phantom Winger….

Inside the Phantom Winger

I arrived after a fifteen minute walk and struggled to make up £2 in change for admission/programme (inclusive) and didn’t want to hand over a tenner just due to ease more than anything. However, this did prompt the guys on the gate (well, table to be more exact) to say that they’d take whatever if I was struggling for it (on account they apparently take some grief for charging) which was nice, though I assured them I was fine and that I was more than happy to hand over the couple of quid. I eventually got some silver together and handed over my dues and headed through the gate (an actual one this time) and into the ground itself before immediately paying a visit to the cozy clubhouse/food bar at the rear of the stand/equipment store/former driving range behind the goal for a hot-dog, which was decent enough for a quid, which you can’t exactly complain about now, can you?!

With all this out of the way, the teams were out on the field and ready to go. As for the remainder of the ground, a small covered standing area sits back away from the pitch somewhat and houses the dressing rooms and toilets and is flanked by a raised grass banking that separates it from the entrance area. The majority of the rest of the standing is all open, hard standing with just the far side being a little hard to get through due to the overhang of trees near the far side of the “driving range” stand. So that’s “The Green” in a nutshell and this is the story of Fulwood Amateurs….

History Lesson:

Fulwood Amateurs Football Club was founded in 1924 and originally played on a field behind a local pub by the name of the Black Bull before moving over onto a pitch on Watling Street and making use of another pub’s facilities for changing instead. Fulwood joined the Lancashire Amateur League in 1928 though would have to wait almost a decade for their first silverware – this arriving in the form of the (not at all long-winded) Manchester and Salford Medical Charities Hospital Cup, defeating South Salford to achieve the honour. The following year saw success continue for the pre-WWII team, the club winning the Lancashire Amateur League Aggregate Trophy, Lancashire Amateur Cup and also winning the league (though all three divisions are listed as this honour, so no idea which is correct.).

After the war, Fulwood would win the 1950 Division 2 title back in the Lancashire Amateur League, though after seemingly being relegated after a sole season in the top tier, they returned back to Division 2 which was won again in 1952 along with a second Aggregate Trophy. Moving to a plot of land in Grimsargh in 1955, things seemed to go awry and Fulwood ended up in the 3rd Division North of the LAL, though did win this in 1960 along with promotion to the Division 2 once again which was then won in 1971 though their rise back up to the top division was again seemingly short-lived with the club back in the 3rd Division North by the time this was won again in 1975.

FAFC

The next season saw the Second Division again won, but again the visit to the top division was brief and the drop rather alarming, though the move to land alongside the ground of Preston Grasshoppers proved fruitful with the 3rd Division North again having to be lifted in 1983 and the Second Division title once again following immediately afterwards, alongside the third and final Aggregate Trophy and the LAL’s Norman Archer Trophy. 1987 saw Fulwood win the “Premier Division” title and this was followed with a move into the West Lancashire League in 1993 – whereupon things are a little easier to follow.

After immediately being promoted from the West Lancs League’s Division 2 as runners-up, they then went on to win the First Division at the first attempt, becoming West Lancs League champions in the process. After lifting the Lancashire FA Amateur Shield in 1998, re-organisation in 1999 saw the First Division become the Premier Division – which Fulwood won in its first season under the new title and retained the LFA Amateur Shield too. The club remained in the top flight right through until 2015, winning various cup silverware in the form of three WLL Houston Cups (2005, 2007 & 2008), another Richardson Cup (2010), though rarely looked like repeating their title wins of the ’90’s and their best was a runners-up spot in 2010 before relegation to Division 1 was suffered in 2014.

In the clubhouse

However, their stay there was brief, as Fulwood won the Division 1 title at the first attempt, as well as lifting the West Lancs League President’s Cup and Wilf Carr Memorial Trophy, and returned back to the top-flight in strong fashion – finishing their first two seasons in 3rd before dropping away slightly to 6th last season, though they did win the LFA Amateur Shield for a third time that year. However, this season has been strong and Fulwood had this very game today to win their third West Lancashire League title but the first under the “Premier Division” banner.

We got underway with Fulwood being slightly sluggish and indeed it was the visitors who made most of the early running, though didn’t make too much despite their dominance during the first fifteen – however they should have been one up just moments into the contest. A good touch and through ball by #11 released #9 who just beat the ‘keeper to the ball but his poke crawled wide of the far post. Fulwood responded with a flick-on testing the visiting ‘keeper’s handling, which faltered at first, but was recovered quickly.

The “sort-of-a-stand” Stand

Match Action

Opener flies in from the spot

#11 then had a chance for himself but his shot on the turn was hit straight at the home ‘keeper, but Fulwood gradually began to gain a foothold and impose themselves upon their visitors and soon after #4, Sam Braithwaite, had fired over the bar from the edge of the area, a pull-back in the box was given as a spot-kick (just about right from my viewpoint behind the goal) and #11, Adam Stammers, duly dispatched from the spot to begin the quell the nerves of the home support and players themselves. The jubilant celebrations showed as much; half-time 1-0.

A rather uneventful break came and went and we were soon back playing with Fulwood this time coming out and looking like champions-elect. They dominated from the outset with Stammers and #7, Jonty McDonald playing a good one-two to allow the former a shot on goal that forced a good stop, before the resulting corner was headed wide. #12, Jake Connolly, then almost netted when found unmarked at the back-post, only to be denied by a fine goal-line block by #4, but the second was finally recorded soon after. Connolly again got in and after his initial drive was spilt by the GK, #9, Hugo Rodriguez, was sharp in following up and gleefully dispatched the loose ball.

First goal celebrations!

Match Action

AAAAAANNNNDD 2!!

Connolly continued to give the Coppull defence all sorts of problems to think about and after he’d again forced the GK into action down low, a fairly obvious second penalty was awarded after a trip and McDonald sent the ‘keeper the wrong way from the spot. This began an absolute siege of the Coppull goal and the fourth arrived shortly afterwards when good hold-up play and lay-off by Rodriguez gave #5, Dan Cooper, the chance to shoot from 20 yards, he unleashed a fine drive that left the ‘keeper helpless. A great goal.

AAAAAANNNNDD 3!!!

Match Action

Fulwood lift the title

That wouldn’t be it on the goal-front though and a third Fulwood penalty soon came around, this one being converted in carbon-copy fashion to the previous one only this time it was Rodriguez who was given the task of netting from 12 yards with the other takers having been subbed (I think) by this point in the play. Fair play to Coppull, they came on strong late-on and ought to have grabbed a consolation as #5 headed just wide and they then hit the post with the last-kick of the game, but they would end with ten men as #4 was sent-off for a second yellow which, let’s be honest, didn’t really need to be given out. Anyway, it was and full-time arrived with Fulwood’s title win being confirmed and the celebrations could begin! Congrats to them.

Post-match, I figured out that buses weren’t all that great in terms of helping me get back to the pub trail and instead I opted for a swift walk back down some back-roads which eventually had me passing over a small stream and eventually back at the bus stops on the route I’d taken to get there, having seen that I could just about get there in time to jump back aboard a service up to the three close by (sort of) public houses I passed nearby en route. As such, I travelled the few stops along to the interestingly named Plungington Hotel where I took advantage of the warm sunshine that was now enveloping this part of Lancashire and the walled garden the pub played host to.

A strangely grand looking bus-stop

Plungington Hotel

Withy Hotel

Brook Tavern

The garden – basically just an old bowling green area – was nice enough for a swift Amstel (£3.85) before I headed along the road for a quick Strongbow (£3.50) in the Withy Arms as I’d just about calculated I could squeeze in the last watering hole nearby, the Brook Tavern, and upon finishing my cider in here I duly did make it for a Dark Fruits (£3.95) which was most enjoyable, though I was put off by the straw like bubble formation inside my glass. I thought this some strange coincidence until I got down to a low-enough point to see a small straw protruding from the liquid. Ah….there we go. Whatever the case, I quickly headed back for yet another bus (Preston Bus Service, you served me well) and was quickly back in the station in good time for the train home.

The remainder of the journey passed very smoothly indeed and I was home nice and early ahead of my long trip down south the following morning. As for the day at hand first, though, and it had been a very decent one indeed. The game was tight enough for long enough as to keep me interested before becoming something of a slaughter and the crowd number added to the occasion too. The ground is decent for the level (though I have heard a murmur it may not be about all too much longer, though this may be just some hearsay) and the programme/food at Step 7 is always a nice little aside too. Travel simple enough and only a little rushed due to the self-imposed constraints and Fulwood was, on the whole, worth the trip. On to Southampton we roll for my penultimate “hop” of the season….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 6

Food: 5

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Blacon

Result: Blacon Youth 1-2 Lostock Gralam (Cheshire League One)

Venue: Cairns Crescent (Saturday 4th May 2019, 3pm)

Att: 70~

As the first weekend of May rolled around and the May Day Bank Holiday came upon us, I had something of a dilemma on my hands. With an early start the following day over to the City Ground and Nottingham Forest vs Bolton Wanderers for their 12.30pm last-day kick-off, I didn’t really want to travel too far and so looked local for a game to go watch. As luck would have it, the very game I was aiming for when I ended up at Saltney Town a couple of months back between Blacon Youth and Lostock Gralam still looked to be a promotion/title clash in the Cheshire League 1, and so off to Cairns Crescent I headed.

Arriving into the county town of Cheshire yet again for around midday, I would be joined by blog-regular Paul a little later in the afternoon and so I did have a little time to pop-in a couple of places until he arrived from Merseyside. As such, I first ended up visiting the Old Harker’s Arms in an old canal side mill and began the afternoon with a pint of Hoegaarden (£3.80) and even picked up a piece of paper outlining the pub’s creation from derelict mill to the fine, bustling place it is today. Fair play to the guy who did it!

Looking down the canal to the Harker’s

Cornerhouse

The Cellar

From there I popped back up to street level and visited the Cornerhouse which is, surprisingly, located on a corner and found this to be the sister-arm of the pub that me and Paul planned to meet in just over the way called the Cellar. As it was, they did have a flat cider in a box (I’ve sold that well, haven’t I?!) by the name of Seacider (£4.50) and, due to the pun more than anything else, went for that. I was pleased that I did too, bloody good stuff. Paul was due not too long after, so after drinking up I crossed over for the Cellar and after purchasing an Erdinger (£4.80), met him watching the Spurs (again!) game down on the south coast in Bournemouth. The highlight of the game during our stay was either the blatant pen that wasn’t or Son’s lash out from nowhere. Crazy.

I told Paul about my plans for the day which included going around the old city centre pubs I’d missed out on during my New Year’s Day 0-0-fated trip to the Deva Stadium and he was happy to go along with it and, as such, next up was the Old Queen’s Head where we both opted for something we had yet to have a try of – the Guinness brewery’s Old Gate pilsner. Decent enough too and fairly priced at £3.80, so can’t complain all that much. Finishing up, we decided to play it safe and not risk the lottery of the bus network and instead made our way over to the bus station, via Poundbakery where I inherited a sausage and bean bake or something though its innards mostly fell out into the bag. Thankfully, the bus arrived shortly after to whisk us on up to Blacon and we got there about 25 minutes before kick-off. Just enough time to pay a visit to the local Waggon & Horses, we thought!

Queen’s Arms and celebratory bus!

Heading through Chester

Waggon & Horses. Paul seemed desperate!

Blacon is a large suburb just outside the city of Chester and adjacent to the border with Wales and was, at one time, considered one of the largest council housing estates in Europe, but this area is now partly privatised. In the past, Blacon was originally named Blakon Hall and was owned by the Marquess of Crewe before the Parish of Blacon-cum-Crabwall was founded in 1923 with the majority of this, in turn, being transferred to the Chester County Borough in 1936. The area transformed from its small farming village beginnings into a larger, more suburban, area through the 1950’s with the old army camp close by being built upon as the estate expanded. The camp itself was in use from just before to just after WWII and contained both aircraft and PoW’s – with areas being visible for a while afterwards. Indeed, the southern part of Blacon is still referred to as ‘The Camp’ by locals, apparently!

With time against us, I opted for a Dark Fruits (£3~) to ensure I’d be finished in good time to make it to the game without missing any – after all, I wasn’t chancing anything after Hanley! Anyway, all went down in good time and we arrived at the gate of Cairns Crescent around a minute into the game and hadn’t missed anything…..though we were given a mini heart-attack each on arrival as a guy there said to us it was a 2pm kick-off! It quickly became apparent it was indeed an hour later and all was well once again. Phew. Not a whole lot to say about the ground really, it’s barred off all around, has a small club cabin in the corner alongside sturdy dressing room blocks and a dugout sits on each side of the pitch. That’s the ground and this is the story of Blacon….

History Lesson:

Blacon Youth Football Club was founded in 1964 as two local men, Bob and Len Evans, began a side and entered them into the local Chester & District League. With little information at hand about their time here, the club joined the West Cheshire League in 1981 and took a spot in Division 2 where they would finish a creditable 6th at the end of their first season. They remained there right through to 1997 (winning the West Cheshire Bowl in 1993) when they finished runners-up and achieved promotion to the Division 1.

Founders’ Memorial Gates.

A memorial bench too.

The club would spend four years in the West Cheshire League’s top-flight before being relegated in 2001 whereupon they returned to Division 2 where would remain for the next half-decade prior to again finishing as Division 2 runners-up in 2006 and again being promoted. Their return back to the top-flight was a struggle with Blacon largely battling the drop and indeed finished bottom in three consecutive seasons between 2009-2011 – though were spared the drop on each occasion.

They would climb off the bottom for the next four seasons, though still were down at the wrong end of the table and 2016’s three-point deduction rounded off a relegation season, and indeed their final campaign in the West Cheshire League, as Blacon switched to compete for a season in the Chester & Wirral League Premier Division, which was won, before moving up to join the Cheshire League instead – being placed in League 2. This proved an inspired decision, as the club were immediately promoted to the League 1 last season, after finishing in 3rd place, and look in fine shape to repeat the trick this time around to reach the Premier Division in no time. Not a bad turn around!

With the match ongoing, we continued on around a lap of the ground, anti-clockwise for the interested (i.e no-one!) and it was the visitors, Lostock Gralam, who were beginning the stronger of the two. Indeed their #11 Robbie Hatton struck the post not too many minutes in but the game wasn’t too open – which I guess was pretty understandable with what was riding on it. Not too long after though, #9 Jack Woolley headed narrowly over as Gralam continued to hold the front foot.

Early threat

Match Action

As it was, they would get their reward around the half hour mark. Winning a corner on the right, the ball was swung in and met by #5 Alex Wilson who climbed highest to power a header beyond the home ‘keeper and the Grey Lambs bench were up and celebrating. They almost went two up soon after too as Hatton saw his effort deflected narrowly wide of the upright.

Blacon would eventually find their feet and began to wake from their (perhaps enforced) slumber and their first true chance of the game saw a curling effort well kept out by the visiting ‘keeper. and this was followed up by #11 cracking one just wide of the upright. That was the end of the action on the outside pitch, but on the inside pitch, it was just getting going….

Match Action

Match Action

Table football in the clubhouse!! It started well as I stormed into a 1-0 lead, but soon slid into a 4-1 deficit with Jamie Carragher clearly posessing one of my centre halves as he netted two own goals. Then some of the Black kids asked to get involved and that gave me an excuse as I went on to a final result of 10-1 to Paul. Luckily, the game outdoors was getting back underway and so he had little time to gloat over his success!

Just minutes into the second period, Blacon drew level as #7 played in #10 Omar Ramo and the forward duly found the net to draw his side level and now it was the home bench who had thoughts of the title rekindled. Lostock responded forcing the Blacon ‘keeper into a fine stop of his own to keep the scores level for the time being. But Blacon would again gain the upper hand over their opponents and after going close on a pair of occasions- #2 heading just wide of the upright and #10 with firing wastefully straight at the ‘keeper, before Robbie Hatton hit a fine effort into the back of the net to again send the Lostock bench up and down and all around the pitch.

Watching on intently….

Lostock Gralam celebrate their second!

Surprisingly, with about 25 of minutes still to play and plenty of huffing and puffing from Blacon as they tried to level it up once more, nothing else would really be created of note (though this may be a lie as I sort of forgot to carry on noting things down) and that would be that. Lostock Gralam effectively won the title bar a crazy turn of events, but their promotion was a definite and they thoroughly deserved the celebrations through the few times I’ve seen them this season. Congrats to them and Blacon still seek that second spot, battling it out with Broadheath Central to join the Grey Lambs in the Premier Division next season.

Post-match, our bus back came about around ten minutes or so after the game and despite Paul’s ticket meeting a needlessly violent death at the hands of the driver, the short hop back was uneventful, though I did get to spy the old Blacon station site which, unfortunately, I didn’t know existed. As it was, we ended up back in the city centre, paying a visit to a couple of pubs up in the old rafters of the buildings along the main street – namely the Victoria and the Boot Inn, both truly old taverns and equally superb. The former did feature a hen party and a random guy whipping his top off on a few occasions though and we were swiftly out after finishing off our respective Amstels (£4.10 ea)! (NB: the hen party were all the calm ones!).

The Victoria

Sunny Chester

To The Boot

The Boot was a Sam Smith’s which duly meant a cheap pint of Taddy Lager (£2.50) which is always a great way to round off any trip and upon our return to the station, I bid Paul farewell as he made use of “girlfriend taxi” and headed off for the train into Liverpool where I’d catch my connection home from. Well, it should have been that smooth, but I was soon joined by a fairly rowdy, but fun, group of younger locals en route, though one guy decided to rat them out to the guard and got responders going, because reasons. I can’t abide those kind of people and I like my quiet, so that says a lot! I then missed my connection by mere seconds as I arrived on the platform to see it pulling away leaving only one option for the next half-an-hour. Spoons!!!

I eventually caught the next train and got home without further issue and that ends off the first trip of the May Day weekend. It had been a good one too, as it had been a fair while since I’d been joined on a trip anywhere and the game was watchable and what with it having something on it, always kept the interest peaked and congrats to Gralam on their deserved promotion. The ground was as to be expected for the level for the most part and a good crowd added to the atmosphere and it was a bonus to finally get these few drinking holes in that kept trying to keep me out. I bet they’re not the only ones, I just hope Nottingham is kind….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 4

Food: N/A (cold snacks on)

Programme: N/A

Table Football: 10

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Sutton Coldfield

Result: Sutton Coldfield Town 3-0 Dunstable Town (Southern League Division One Central)

Venue: Coles Lane (Saturday 27th April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 206

The final weekend of the regular season for most of the non-league clubs around the country saw surprisingly little games with much riding upon them – well, those that were of any interest to me, that is. However, one game offered up something a little different, with both sides having something to play for, but ultimately at the end of very different seasons. Hosts Sutton Coldfield were looking to secure a play-off spot, whilst Dunstable Town aimed for survival. Decision made and off to the Midlands I headed.

Trains via Manchester and Birmingham had me arriving into a blustery Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield (to give it its full title) at just a tad after midday. Upon getting my bearings, I eventually traipsed up a fairly steep short hill to the town hall (which is haunted by an ex-caretaker apparently – thanks to Dion Dublin for that nugget) for a bit of a peruse before heading down to the nearby main road and the Royal Hotel that has its rear facing opposite. Spotting a rare opportunity for a pint of Asahi that doesn’t include a ‘Spoons, I duly opted for a pint of the Japanese lager (£4.80) whilst watching the early part of the West Ham-Spurs game on TV prior to heading on a few doors down to the nearby ex-coaching inn – judging by the old, repurposed entrance looking corridor down its middle -the Three Tuns for a lovely (and surprisingly fairly cheap) Warsteiner. A good start!

Haunted Town Hall. Woooooooo.

Royal Hotel

Three Tuns

After supping at this whilst watching the game continue, it was eventually time to move on, but this time I’d be heading slightly away from the pedestrianised centre of town and to the King’s Arms. However, I hadn’t truly factored in the walk there and back (only about 6-7 mins combined, mind you) but this mean the Moretti had to be dismissed somewhat quicker than what I’d have ideally liked. Not to worry, this was completed and I also got to meet the lovely Tilly the Labrador too. Nice.

The Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield is a town and civil parish within the city of Birmingham which it lies 7 miles to the north of. Considered a rather affluent part of the city, Sutton Coldfield was historically a part of Warwickshire before becoming a part of Birmingham and the wider county of the West Midlands in 1974 and, in 2015, it was elected as a parish town/council in its own right. It derives its name from being the “south town” (of Mercian capital Tamworth) on the edge of the “col field”, with the suffix usually being mentioned upon the existence of charcoal burning pits in the area or land that was open to the elements. It is thought the area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, when excavations for the M6 toll uncovered remnants of burial mounds etc., and Iron Age houses have also been found ranging from 400-100 BC. The iron age hill slopes mentioned in 18th century works have since been decimated and are only really noticeable from the air nowadays.

The Romans also inhabited the area during their invasion and later settlers created a gravel-based roadway connecting Metchley Fort in Edgbaston to Letocetum (now Wall, Staffordshire) of which some 1.7 miles is still preserved. After their era had come and gone, the Anglo-Saxon period saw the area become part of the kingdom of Mercia and it is believed that Sutton Coldfield came into being around this time as a hamlet with a hunting lodge for the Mercian leaders located close by. The Manor would go by the name of Sutone and was held of Edwin, Earl of Mercia, in the reign of Edward the Confessor but upon Edwin’s death, the manor and Mercia itself fell under the control of William the Conqueror. The area of Sutone forest became a Royal Forest and Sutone itself was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Sutton Coldfield

The area remained in royal hands through to King Henry I in when he exchanged it for areas in Rutland with Roger de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Warwick with the town becoming Sutton-in-Coldfield. It would remain in the Warwicks hands for a span of 300 years (with many breaks due to royal feuds and the like) but in 1640 it passed to the Mountfort’s under King Henry VI, however Richard Neville of the Warwicks regained influence an the manor in turn, with it going into Plantagenet hands for a time, with Anne Neville never quite able to get it away from her, despite her seeming best efforts! It was only in her death in 1492 that it again went back to the Crown’s ownership, where it would stay through to its incorporation in 1528. The town began to grow through from its market beginnings in the year 1300 and got a military connection when Sir Ralph Bainbridge gained a life-long lease of the area from the Earl of Warwick and it became an important training area for English soldiers for the wars with France.

Sutton Coldfield

It would decay somewhat through the Wars of the Roses and rekindled importance in industrial means during the 16th century as watermills and pools became the area’s focus. The English Civil War starting in 1642 saw the Battle of Camp Hill and despite Birmingham being pillaged by Royalist forces, Sutton Coldfield emerged unscathed although it was visited by both armies at differing times. The Priestley riots centred on anti-Presbyterian feelings saw Joseph Priestley take refuge in the town’s Three Tuns pub for a time and another who had his house attacked, William Hutton, was eventually forced to move on to Tamworth due to locals’ fears of the safety of both the town and themselves due to his presence. The railway arrived during the 19th century and Sutton Coldfield duly became a tourist spot for those escaping the city and then a commuter town later on, with the wealthier starting the move away from the pollution initially before the rest of their workforces could begin to join them.

Barracks would be added during the 1800’s to house the Edinburgh and Sussex militias and the 7th Dragoon Guards as well as a unit of artillery. The town continued to grow through the 20th century with the rural fringes of the district being swallowed up after WWI. WWII saw both German and Italian PoW’s held around the town and after hostilities ended, the town was regenerated in the 1960’s with a new centre being built, though many weren’t too impressed with the new arrival. The merger with Birmingham came around in 1970’s before 2015 saw it gain powers as a civil parish separate from Birmingham.

King’s Arms

‘Spoons. Bwoah.

Duke Inn

After a quick stop for a refreshing Kopparberg in the unspectacular ‘Spoons (the Bottle of Sack, after a line in Shakespeare’s Henry IV that mentions Sutton Coldfield in it), I decided it’d be safer if I popped into the little micropub not too far up the road pre-match. This would prove a shrewd move as it would turn out, as you’ll see later. This unplanned diversion saw me only have time for a half and I opted for a Paulaner which was decent enough before I finally made a more direct route for Coles Lane….not before one final stop-off at the Duke Inn on the way there for a pint of Thatcher’s before finally making my way to the ground in earnest.

Arriving at the gate around ten minutes prior to kick-off, with the turnstile being located almost in the corner, between a marquee-thing and the lovely, old main stand. Pretty much directly opposite the entrance is a far newer covered seating stand, neighboured by the clubhouse which also houses the food hut – the latter of which I utilised for some decent enough cheesy chips. The far end is home to a small covered terrace of only a few steps, though this runs about three-quarters the length of the end. It is flanked by open, hard standing between it and the main stand, with some portakabins hosting “facilities” in the middle, whilst the open half of the far side between the two other stands is home to open terracing. A small “dog training area” is also in situ behind the covered bit. That’s Coles Lane and this is the story of “The Royals”. Sutton Coldfield Town….

History Lesson:

Sutton Coldfield Town Football Club was founded in 1879 and originally competed in the local Central Birmingham League, Aston & District League, Small Heath League and Suburban League through to around the 1930’s. Then, upon their move from Sutton Park to Coles Lane, they began to compete in the higher Birmingham Alliance and Birmingham Combination with little success. Post-WWII and competing under the name of Sutton Town until 1964, the club played in the Walsall League and spent a time back in the Birmingham Combination before moving leagues once more, this time into the Birmingham & District League (soon to be renamed as the West Midlands (Regional) League) in 1954.

Arriving at Coles Lane

After spending a decade here, which saw the club promoted to the top division in 1960 after a 3rd placed finish in Division 2, the club eventually met financial issues and after having to field teams of amateur players, took the step down into the Worcestershire Combination (which would go on to be the Midland Football Combination) and won the title here twice prior to heading back into the West Midlands (Regional) League in 1979 – a return which was far more successful immediately as the club became champions at the end of their first season back. Finishing as runners-up in 1982, Town were promoted to the Southern League’s Midland Division and were again immediately successful, being promoted to the Premier Division at the first go of it, though would be relegated back after just the sole season in the top division.

There they would remain there right through until 2010, through its name change to the Western Division in 1999 and being placed in the newly created Division One Midlands upon league re-organisation in 2006, when they were switched over to the Northern Premier League’s Division One South, though did miss out in a play-off for a spot in the newly restructured pyramid in 2004 to Banbury United. 2011 saw Sutton Coldfield Town appear in their very first Birmingham Senior Cup final which they won 1-0 over Nuneaton Town and a switch to the 3G pitch was made that close season.

SCTFC – spot the weirdo taking pics of signs!

Long-serving manager Chris Keogh left the club after 12 years at the helm, being replaced by his assistant Neil Tooth. Tooth went on to oversee the club’s promotion in 2015 to the NPL Premier Division through the play-offs, defeating Newcastle Town and Leek Town in doing so, prior to their relegation last season, upon which they returned back to the Southern League’s catchment and took up a spot in the Southern League Division One Central, where they qualified for the play-offs and would meet Corby Town.

The game got underway with Sutton Coldfield striking almost immediately. Winning a corner shortly after kick-off, the resultant ball in was met in the middle by Mitchell Clarke, whose header back across goal was met by James Hurst who crashed the ball home from a matter of feet out. They went close again shortly afterwards when Jonathan Letford cut inside his man and advanced into the area, only to see his shot rebound off the upright via a slight deflection from a defender.

Match Action

Match Action

Letford finds the net

Dunstable grew into the game after a sluggish start and Davide Pobbe saw his header well saved by Royals’ keeper Lewis Gwilliams, but Sutton Coldfield would seemingly put the game to bed before the break with a second goal just before the half-hour. Reece Gibson robbed the ball in midfield and advanced into the space left behind, prior to playing in Letford who clinically fired home. Ryan Nesbitt then went close too, forcing Dunstable stopper Coulson into a decent stop before Alex Moore & Hurst again both almost sealed the victory just before half-time as both saw an effort kept out on the line by a fine defensive block and a superb save respectively. Half-Time, 2-0.

An uneventful break came and went and we were soon back and playing once again after a school-style bell alerted the teams that their break time was up. Dunstable, perhaps unsurprisingly table-wise, never really looked like a threat to their play-off chasing hosts in the second half, with that second goal really seeming to have taken the stuffing out of them, and after Nesbitt had rattled the crossbar Gibson sealed the three points and the Royals’ place in the play-offs as he hammered a shot from just outside the area high into the roof of the net.

From on high

Down the side

Match Action

A couple more close shaves followed as the hosts looked to add some gloss to the score-line, with a volley flashing wide but that would largely be that and the Royals had done enough to secure a shot at promotion, whilst Dunstable’s game effort came to nought as their relegation was confirmed despite the efforts of striker Chris Wreh (no, I don’t think that one’s still going!). However, at least it wasn’t one of those close-call, heartbreak moments, I suppose – although I guess that won’t be of much solace.

My post-match plans were immediately scuppered as I overheard a conversation in the covered terrace about trains being cancelled and thought I’d best look and there it was – everything was done for due to a fallen tree. It hadn’t been THAT gusty, come on. Grow a pair (of roots)! Poor tree-related (I hesitate to call it a) pun aside, I now had I dilemma in how I was about to find my way back to Birmingham, never mind compile a full trip home. I opted to pop into the station neighbouring, and imaginatively named, The Station for a pint of Amstel to hopefully come up with some kind of plan that would lessen the impact of some rather large wood.

Post-match avian sighting

The Station. Looks like God approves.

As it came about, I eventually saw that tickets were being accepted on the buses back which meant only a twenty minute or so extension to my trip, though a connection was going to be tight to save an hour. All this meant I sadly had to give the other pub there a miss, though it had become a Craft Union chain pub so wasn’t too disheartened due to that. Grabbing one of the X-whatever buses, I was whisked off back to the second city, which I haven’t been so happy to see since the start of the year and my pair of cross-country trips down to Plymouth and Exeter. Knowing little of the make-up of Birmingham, I eventually found my way back to New Street and made the train back with moments to spare. Disaster averted and the rest of the journey went smoothly, thankfully!

So another trip rounded off as we approach the season’s end. As for Sutton Coldfield, I really did enjoy my experience of the town (despite the efforts of Storm Hannah) and its pubs were decent offerings too. Ground-wise, Coles Lane is a nice, smart set-up and its main stand is certainly appealing to those who appreciate something a little different, though the rest is fairly standard. The artificial pitch wasn’t too noticeable to take away from the overall ambience either, which was a bit of a worry, though makes my thoughts on eventual trip to Bath more optimistic! Food, programme etc. all fine too. On to next week and yet another double and another double the one after. Pile ’em on….

 

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Hanley

Result: Hanley Town 0-4 Congleton Town (NWCFL Premier Division)

Venue: Potteries Park (Monday 22nd April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 117

I rounded off my trifector of Easter fun with a second visit to Stoke in just about as many weeks. Having visited City’s Britannia Stadium home the Saturday before the Easter weekend, I returned once more via the medium of the twittersphere, though not quite as clear cut as it ought to have been admittedly. The original winner, Market Drayton, was unreachable by any reasonable public transportation options and so the runner-up was promoted. Off to Hanley I was.

Grabbing the train from Manchester, I arrived into Stoke-on-Trent station at about 11am and set about on the short walk up to Hanley, passing the university buildings as I went. After paying a visit to Hanley Park for a bit of culture, I made haste for the more pleasurable part of the trip to date. Pubs. Did you expect any less?! Having been given some tips of where to try out from Stoke native Dave on twitter, I had some expectations of what was to come, though my first sighting was to be the Coachmakers Arms – and it was here that history was made….

Hanley Park

Coachmaker’s Arms

Down Piccadilly to the Bottle & Tap and Unicorn

ID?! I exclaimed incredulously and it was only my answer that prompted the question of my age. Yes, at 27, I had finally been ID’d for alcohol. Madness, but I’m not complaining, especially when you are feeling the aches and strains at this point! The guy was apologetic for some unknown reason and felt a bit embarrassed. I assured him he had no reason to be as he’d already made my day! A pint of Mango cider (£3.70) was had before I set off the short walk around the town hall towards Piccadilly – though this one was a fair bit more serene than its brethren in Manchester & London, that’s for sure.

Hanley is a constituent town in Stoke-on-Trent and was first incorporated as a municipal borough in 1857 and then became a county borough in 1888. In 1910, it merged together with another five towns:- Burslem, Longton, Tunstall, Fenton and Stoke-upon-Trent to be federated into the new county borough of Stoke-on-Trent (see here for a little more on that), and after a bit of a struggle, Stoke finally became a city in 1925 via royal intervention with the six towns continuing to make up the area. Hanley became the de facto city centre and is home to most of the retail and other commercial businesses and outlets. Piccadilly, here, hosts an annual Sanity Fair and a French market and the town is also home to Stoke’s LGBTQ pride events.

Hanley Town Hall

Hanley

It derives its name from either “haer lea” (high meadow) or “heah lea” (rock meadow) and was once a large coal mining area, with the town’s deep pit being the deepest in North Staffordshire at a depth of around 1,500ft. It closed in 1962 with much of the pits left in situ before finally being cleared away in the 1980’s and being turned into Hanley Forest Park. The miners of Hanley and Longton became the focal point of the General Strike of 1842 and the Pottery Riots associated with the strike. The town is home to a main bus station and is connected elsewhere via the canal waterways of the Trent and Mersey Canal and the Cauldon Canal and in-keeping with the water-based theme, it was home to the RMS Titanic’s skipper Edward Smith whilst, away from that side of things, Sir Stanley Matthews is the town’s vaunted sporting son, a statue of Matthews stands in the town centre.

On my arrival at the Hanley version of Piccadilly, I set my sights on one of Dave’s recommendations, the Bottle & Tap – so named as it sells bottles and has taps, I assumed. What I hadn’t assumed was that the pint would cost me a cool £6.30, though on the basis I was asked, it wasn’t actually listed as a pint and the fact the Wylam & Deya Orange Wit was bloody gorgeous, I’ll let it slide. Great place too, and well worth a visit. Just choose smarter that me if you are tight on a budget!! After going on a fruitless foray to a closed up pub near a theatre, I returned to Piccadilly for the Unicorn where another surprise awaited.

Unicorn

Auctioneer (Market Tavern opposite)

‘Spoons

I entered the old building and rounded the corner only to be met by a lady wielding a magazine around the doorway. “I almost got you then!” was her response to my appearance and after an apology and the fact that it was the flies she was after and not me (Father Ted-type reference there) I settled in over a pint of Heineken (£4) whilst keeping a close eye on the magazine rack.

I left the friendly pub and continued on the crawl over the way to the Auctioneer & Market Tavern which stand just across the way from each other. Both were alright but nothing much to shout about and after a couple of Dark Fruits, at £2.40 & £2.65 respectively (time was against me and I wanted to recoup some cash after my earlier minting), I paid a swift visit to the neighbouring Wetherspoons for a quick bottle of Hooch as I planned on grabbing a bus to the ground or, failing that, it wasn’t too far. Oh, how wrong I was. No bus, the walk was further than it looked and I eventually arrived around 7 minutes in and had missed a goal. Superb. I should also add that I had jogged to the ground from the centre too and I don’t recommend it! At least I’d saved a programme. Got to look at the positives, however little they are.

Potteries Park, Hanley’s home, is a tidy little ground, it’s turnstiles are located behind a pair of atcost style stands on the near side of the pitch, whilst an older covered standing area stands opposite. Both ends are open, though the clubhouse to the left side sits in the corner and has a few seats and tables around it. It also houses the bar, food hut and dressing rooms etc. That’s the ground in a nutshell and this is the tale of Hanley Town….

History Lesson:

The original Hanley Town Football Club was founded back around the early 1880’s with the club later going on to join the Combination in 1894 for a single season before leaving and subsequently folding in 1912. The name wouldn’t reappear until a Sunday pub side known as the Trumpet took on the town name in 1966 and switched to Saturday football, entering the local Longton League and winning the title at the first attempt. Playing on a pitch on Victoria Road he club moved up to the Staffordshire County League after this success and went on to achieve swift success there too, taking the Division 2 title, again at the first attempt, and being promoted to Division One which was also won first time around. A decent start to life for the new Hanley Town outfit.

HTFC

In the Premier Division of the Staffs County League for 1969-’70, Hanley lifted the league’s Premier Cup that same year and went on to finish runners-up in the league too. They would finish second for a further two consecutive seasons before finally taking the title in 1973 and then again in 1976 this latter season leading the club to take the step into the Mid-Cheshire League’s Division 2 and also saw them move to their new Potteries Park home, after spells at Trentmill Road (with Eastwood Hanley) and Leek Town’s Harrison Park. Again they saw silverware arrive quickly, their first season seeing them win the 1977 Division 2 Cup with a win over Knutsford and a third-placed finish come the end of the following campaign saw Hanley promoted to Division One. They would win the title in 1983 but it was here they eventually hit a road-block – the North West Counties refusing entry due to ground-grading issues – and after a few years in mid-table, the club finished bottom of Division One in 1994 and dropped into junior football for a couple of years.

Returning to the Mid-Cheshire League in 1996 and again joining in Division 2, Hanley would this time spend just two seasons competing there before making a switch to the Midland League instead. They would win the Midland League title in 2005, becoming the league’s final ever champions after the league subsequently merged with the Staffs League to create the Staffordshire County Senior League from then on. Hanley also then claimed the honour of being the new league’s first champions, taking the Premier Division championship in 2006 before then just missing out on defending their crown the next season, ending as runners-up.

Memories….

The club would go on to finish as runners-up once again in 2011 but would then take successive titles in both 2012 & 2013 which led them to take promotion to the North West Counties League for 2013-’14. The latter season was hugely successful for the side as they achieved a quadruple via also lifting the Staffs County Senior League Cup, Leek Cup and Staffordshire FA Vase. Joining the Counties’ Division One, the club finished fourth in 2015 and thus qualified for the First Division play-offs but after defeating Holker Old Boys in the semis, they lost out to AFC Darwen in the final. However they would go one better next time around, winning the Division One the next season and being promoted to the Premier Division, where they finished a highly creditable 8th last season, though have battled the drop this time out.

As I said earlier on, I’d arrived a little late and with the score already at one-nil there was little surprise that Congleton were on top. As it turned out, the away fans I spoke to during the first half informed me of the opener’s details and, of course, I’d missed the best goal of the lot. John Main was the man who grabbed it, apparently finding the net with a fine curling effort from just inside the area. I wouldn’t have to wait long to actually see a goal myself though, luckily and it was the Bears who would double their advantage as Tom Morris was played in and coolly finished past the Hanley ‘keeper Dane Jackson.

Match Action

Match Action

Signed.

The visitors would add a third to all-but kill off the game within the first half-hour as tall frontman Saul Henderson fired a free-kick beyond the home stopper from around 20 yards. The Bears continued to be well on top through to half-time, with Hanley barely mustering an effort of note to work Craig Ellison in the away goal, whilst Congleton would go close on a couple more occasions and it could have easily have been five-nil at the break. Speaking of which, the whistle must have come as a welcome shrill sound to ears of those of a home-team persuasion. 3-0, half-time.

During the break and over a fine portion of pie, chips and gravy which really was some of the better food I’ve had the pleasure of feasting upon over the previous couple of months at least, I got talking to a Hanley committee member (whose name escapes me at this later date of writing, so I do apologise but it was great speaking to you)who’d offered me a seat at the table so I could get on with devouring the food in my grasp and speaking about the football scene here and there more than passed the time through to the second-half getting going once again. Back on with the show!

The beginning of the half saw a response of sorts from the hosts as they forced Ellison into action early on in proceedings but despite being on top for the first fifteen minutes or so they couldn’t find a goal to give them any kind of hope going forward. As such with around twenty minutes or so left on the clock, Congleton were awarded a corner and despite the delivery not being the best, the ball eventually fell to Billy Hasler-Cregg and the wide-man side-footed home off the inside of the post.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Despite this, Hanley didn’t give in and went about searching for any kind of consolation which may have turned out to be crucial in their battle with the drop as you just never know what might pop-up before the season’s end. Indeed, they really ought to have recorded at least one goal, with an Ellison double save and a fine defensive block in quick succession denying them first time around, Jake Alcock then firing over when well placed and Serkari Ahmadi striking across Ellison but also against the foot of the far post in the last real action of the game, as Congleton held on to the clean sheet by the slimmest of margins. Full-time, 0-4.

The post-match trip back to Hanley was a little more serene and after popping into the (Dave informed) newly reponed and rather impressive looking Woodsman’s Arms for a second Lilley’s Mango cider of the day (£3.60) I continued on to my final stop, the Albion back opposite the town hall for a Strongbow (£2.40) whilst a DJ did his thing to a small audience. The trip back was uneventful and I was home nice and swiftly. Thank God for that!

Woodsman’s Arms

The Albion

The day as a whole had been decent enough with Hanley proving decent enough on the pub front, whilst the ground and game were both on the positive side of things too, though the ground more so as the game was rather dead as a contest for the most part. Transport was easy, programme and food decent and excellent respectively and, all in all, it had been a good round off for the three games in four days extravaganza. Back to normality for a week and a trip to Sutton Coldfield for a play off vs relegation clash, before the May Day holiday provides more multiple options. Excitement doesn’t come close….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: 8

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Crewe (Crewe F.C.)

Result: Crewe 1-3 Eagle Sports (Cheshire League Premier Division)

Venue: Cumberland Arena (Saturday 20th April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 25 (approx.)

The second of the three game days of Easter saw me heading to the town of Crewe and the Cumberland Arena for the second time this season, although this would only be the first successful venture of the dual goes I’d attempted. I awoke surprisingly fresh after the previous day’s exploits at Field Mill and the surrounding area however I was quite thankful, for the couple of extra hours of rest during the morning to get everything together for the short hop through the Cheshire countryside.

After stopping at pretty much each an every stop on the slow route to Crewe, I finally arrived at a little before midday and after completing the fifteen minute or so walk from the station, arrived into the town centre which the Cumberland Arena is pretty much right next door to. After finding the Duke of Bridgwater closed, I continued further into town and eventually came across the decent looking Albert’s Corner, whilst trying to located where the much lauded Hops Belgian Bar was over a pint of Moretti (£3.70).

Albert’s Corner

Old church across from….

….Hops!

I eventually located it a short walk back on myself just across the way from a ruined, yet quite intact, church which provided something of a village feel to the outskirts of the centre. The cottage like buildings within what the Hops bar is located also give off this impression and, once inside, I opted to try the Sparta lager (£3.40) which was very decent and a nice pint to enjoy out front in the balmy Cheshire sunshine. Soon enough, though, it was time to head back into the hustle and bustle of the centre proper.

Following on from a swift visit to the war memorial, I headed for the nearby trio of pubs – namely the Cheese Court, Crown and Grand Central. They were all solid, if unspectacular affairs, with the former two being traditional style boozers, whilst the latter was more widespread inside and had one of the stranger “beer terraces” I’ve been on, with it pretty much just being an iron walkway. A pint in each, Amstel & Coors (both £2.50) and Dark Fruits (£2.70) as the refresher were supped away, before it was time I made my way a little more towards the ground. But not before a couple more stops, of course!

Crewe town centre

Cheese Court. Football & beer – a good duo

Crown

A short walk away from the centre is the duo of the Borough Arms and King’s Arms, whereupon I opted to maintain my now cider-related focus by having a Thatcher’s (£3.70) in the former whilst having a bit of a chat with a local propping up the bar here, prior to crossing the road to the King’s for a second Dark Fruits of the day, this one setting me back £2.75. Not too shabby, all in all!

On my way to the ground via the roads opposite, I came upon Tom’s Tap hidden somewhat within an unassuming industrial estate. Inside I came upon a small, narrow bar area and a few taps on. With time at something of a premium and actually being somewhat sensible for a rare moment, I opted to just have a half of the Mango Cider (£2.10) out front in the beer “garden” before finally completing my walk to the Arena, where I paid in my £2 entry and was duly allowed entry.

Grand Central

Borough Arms

King’s Arms

Sadly, the programmes here were long gone and I made do with a couple of pics of the team sheets that were kindly offered and, even though I’m not that anal in that respect, I felt it rude to say no. The Cumberland Arena is little more than an athletics track, though does have a smart pavilion building with food and drink on offer. The area within the track is roped off, meaning you are pitch side rather than miles away, which is always a bonus. Not much more to say, so here’s the history of Crewe’s ‘other’ club….

History Lesson:

Crewe Football Club was founded in 1998 and immediately joined the Mid-Cheshire League, where they have spent  their entire existence to date. Their second season saw the club achieve promotion as Division 2 runners-up to the Mid-Cheshire League’s Division 1 and remained there until 2005 when they were relegated after finishing up bottom. A return to the top division would have to wait until 2012 when Crewe again finished as Division 2 runners-up and they have since gone on to stay in the division through its name change to the Cheshire League Premier Division in 2014, though they have faded a little over the past two seasons after a strong start to their return in the previous couple of campaigns – the 2014-’15 season seeing Crewe record their best finish of 4th.

Arriving at the Cumberland Arena

Last time out they finished up in 13th position out of 16 and this season has been a story of two-halves, an underwhelming start was rectified around the turn of the year and they look to have a decent shot at equalling that best finish of 4th place, behind the runaway title rivals Pilkington, Alty Reserves and opponents today, and rivals for 3rd place on the day, Eagle Sports.

The game got underway in the balmy temperatures us in Crewe were being treated to and it quickly looked to be set to be an open contest with both sides looking to gain the points, the visitors knowing a win would secure third-place, whilst Crewe had to win to keep in the race for the position. Indeed it took only a few minutes for the deadlock to be broken and it was the visitors who grabbed the opening goal as Chris Quirk fired in. Quirk then nodded just wide shortly afterwards and it looked like the hosts had ended the season a little early.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Crewe did grow into the game slowly and after both sides had seen sights of goal blocked off by each’s respective defence, Eagle ‘keeper Liam Marlow had to be sharp to keep out an effort by (I think) Crewe’s unreal form man, and captain, Nathan Southern. Eagle would again go close through dangerman Quirk who beat the offside trap before firing over the bar and they were made to pay for this miss as skipper Southern fed Nathan Tickle and the latter bent an effort off the post and beyond Marlow to level up the scores.

That was pretty much that for action during the first half and, at the break, I ventured inside the pavilion building to have a peruse, having seen that there was some refreshments on the go during my pre-match visit. Indeed I soon found that there was some hot food on which was a welcome sight and I opted for a hot-dog (£1) thanks to it being pointed out by a board outside. Decent enough and thanks to the leagues at this level not being fond of lengthy half-times, we were soon back underway.

Inside the pavilion

The second half was largely dominated by the visitors and it began strongly for them as Quirk latched onto a long ball and managed to knock the ball beyond the ‘keeper and into the net to ensure the lead was Eagle’s once again. Despite being on top, though, there wasn’t a glut of action in the second period and if it had been a mid-winter’s game, it would likely have been quite a struggle to keep somewhat attentive to the action!

Match Action

Match Action

However there was a chance as the half wore on, but again the effort on the home goal went awry and over the bar from a good position, but Eagle would be given the golden chance to all-but secure the points as a clear trip in the area was duly penalised with a point to the spot by the man-in-the-middle and skipper Adam Coleman duly stepped up to confidently fire home and secure the win and third-place for his side. Full-time came around shortly afterwards without any further real action of note and the score remained as 3-1 Eagle.

Coleman converts from the spot

The Rising Sun

Vics represented!

Post-match I headed off to the Rising Sun (which seems to serve as the unofficial Crewe F.C. clubhouse) for a pint of Stella (£3.50~) and, I was told, fish and chips would be around too. Sadly the latter would end up coming a bit too late for me and I left the Eagle lads to finish up their hospitality and returned back to the station – though I did end up accidentally boarding the stopper service in my haste to jump on a train bound for Manchester, though I was able to rectify this via a change at Wilmslow onto an express service to get me home earlier and without any further issue, thankfully!

As for the day as a whole, it had been a surprisingly decent one with the town centre of Crewe being somewhat a more pleasant experience overall than the parts around Gresty Road in my opinion. The weather allied with a decent game was an added bonus and the hot dog at the ground was fine as well. Onto Monday and I finally complete a league with a second visit to Stoke in as many weeks. Scenic….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 4

Food: 5

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Keighley (Steeton AFC)

Result: Steeton 6-1 Daisy Hill (NWCFL Division 1 North)

Venue: Cougar Park (Saturday 6th April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 96

Another month, another attempt to make it to the fine old girl that is Cougar Park, however I’d not be going for its primary purpose. No, I’d instead be heading to the home of Keighley Cougars to watch football of the more circular variety, as groundsharers Steeton welcomed divisional strugglers Daisy Hill in the First Division North of the North West Counties. Incidentally, it had also been a year since I’d visited Steeton at their traditional, and ever so slightly less sizeable, Doris Wells Memorial Field home too, so quite a nice fit there.  Anyway, I set off bright and early during the morning to enable me to catch a quicker connection through to Leeds which all went smoothly and by the time I’d jumped on the carriage that would take me across to Keighley, the time had barely passed 10am.

40 minutes or so later, I was arriving into the station alongside the ever welcome sight of an old steam train on the local heritage line, its smoking, proud locomotive and plush carriages a far cry from the pacers and the like that are still running. Even the new ones won’t be as impressive, but technology beats all, I suppose. Shame. Anyway, I began my day in the station bar that is, somewhat cleverly, named Café Choux Choux where, upon entering, a lad at the bar proceeded to regale me about his trials and tribulations regarding his two-day hangover and bemoaning the passing of time. At the other end of the spectrum (for now at least) I began on a pint of Amstel (£3.90) and settled into one of the window-side sofas to plan out the rest of the day’s journey.

Arriving in Keighley

Café Choux Choux

Next up along the way would see me head right across to the far side of town before back-tracking steadily towards the ground. As such, my second stop was planned to be the Royal Oak but with its opening times not being all that obvious on the board outside, I chose to leave that for the one just around the corner by the, again smartly titled, Percy Vere – see what they did there?! In here I opted for a pint of the Saltaire Brewery’s Blonde Ale and also gave a bit of change to a fella that came around for donations for a charity walk across to Skipton. Fair enough, especially considering the pint here was only £2.70 too! Heading back towards the centre of Keighley once more, next up was the Albert Hotel, a large, old building with a horse-shoe style bar. A nice enough place for a quick pint of Carlsberg (the options weren’t all too exotic overall and £2.80 wasn’t bad) before continuing on around the corner to the interestingly named Red Pig. Why is it red? Nobody knows.

Anyway, this pub is the survivor of two neighbouring hostelries, with the adjoining Commercial being shut down at some point in the not too distant past it seemed and the pint of Staropramen in here was decent too, especially so when it set me back just the £3.50 and my next stop wasn’t too far away once again either. In fact, it was just across the road this time, situated alongside the imposing church it neighbours and seemed to be one of, if not the oldest pub still standing in the town. The Lord Rodney would be home to by far my dearest pint of the day, the Peroni setting me back £4.60, but it wasn’t as if it wasn’t a pleasant place and I certainly don’t mind that sort of price considering some of the trips I’ve been on have shown me the worst side of beer prices, here and there!

Percy Vear

Albert

Red Pig and the closed Commercial

Keighley is a town and civil parish within the City of Bradford in West Yorkshire at the confluence of the Rivers Aire and Worth. Historically in the West Riding of the county, Keighley is home to the terminus of the Keighley and Worth Valley Heritage Railway and itself dates from back before the Norman Invasion, its name meaning Cyahh’s farm or clearing, with it having gone through many different spellings throughout its years. It was granted a market charter in 1305 by King Edward I as he allowed Lancastrian knight Henry de Keighley the right to hold one in the town and it remained as a market town through to the industrial revolution when the market was joined by the advent of textile mills and the like. In the meantime, the Union stage coach departed from the town’s Devonshire Arms and which linked the area to surrounding towns. The textile industry was largely made up of wool and cotton and lasted through to 2008.

The town was incorporated as a municipal borough in 1882 and in 1938, its civil parish boundaries were expanded to take in the areas of Haworth, Oakworth, Oxenhope and Morton from the recently abolished Keighley Rural District and a small part of the Bingley urban district. In 1974, Keighley became a part of the City of Bradford Metropolitan District in the newly formed county of West Yorkshire, with this apparently causing disapproval with the Keighley residents who weren’t exactly keen on becoming part of the city. Civil Parish status was restored in 2002 with Keighley once again having its own town council in place. Despite losing many historic buildings over the years, a few Victorian and outlying manor houses do remain. There was also a case when the Hindenburg airship flew over the town, a package was dropped and two boys picked it up. It was a small cross and flowers for a German POW who’d died in the area and it still remains there to this day.

Keighley

Keighley Church (and Lord Rodney)

Toby Carvery

After stopping off in Steeton sponsor the Boltmaker’s Arms for a quick half of Warsteiner (I’d visited there last year too) I decided it was high time I got near the ground a little more and so made a beeline for what seemed to be the only real pub in the area immediately around Cougar Park which was one of your generic-style Toby Carvery’s and you all know what comes with the scenery there. It was fine enough, the pint of Stella coming in at £3.70 and upon finishing up, it was finally time to go and get the elusive old ground ticked off. Arriving at the ground, I handed over my £5 entry fee and £2 for the programme before sorting out my pre-arranged and agreed pictorial tour of the ground, which pretty much meant a high-vis jacket was all that was required, though this wasn’t all that much for one security guy who still had to go check I was allowed to be doing this, as though I’d pre-planned all of this for some evil means, even going as far as to turn up in a ground-specific bloody high-vis. Sometimes.

Cougar Park is as great as it looks and it’s just a shame it was, as expected of course, rather devoid of numbers on the day. It’s large bench-seating stand dominates the ground it towers over and it’s traditional style is pleasing on the eye. On the opposite side of the pitch is the large, sprawling expanse of an open terrace that runs the length of the pitch, whilst a further, rather deep covered terrace is located behind the goal. The near end plays host to a similar sized terrace, but this one is open to the elements. The dressing rooms, tunnel and press box are all located within the Main Stand, the box right at the rear (which I visited to grab my aforementioned, not quite clear enough for some high-vis), with the clubhouse and other buildings located to the left of it and down off behind to the rear. That’s the ground in a nutshell and I won’t truly go into the history of Steeton here (having already done so last season) and so will just say they have made a good fist of things at their first season at NWCFL level after taking 3rd place in the WRCAFL last time out.

In the clubhouse

After I made a swift visit to the clubhouse for a steak slice (£2), the game got underway and it was a rather turgid start, especially so for the hosts and they were stunned after around 15 minutes when their lowly visitors took advantage and went ahead, Nick Hepple getting in and sliding beyond Steeton stopper Fletcher Paley. This did seem to awaken Steeton from their early match slumber and they quickly began to assert themselves upon the Cutters of Daisy Hill (great nickname, btw) and when Ben Clarkson had forced Joe Leather into a pair of fine stops – with the first being especially good – they drew level when centre-half Sam Rooke headed home from a fine delivery from a free-kick.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Daisy Hill almost responded immediately and a close-range chance was spurned, and this proved costly just a few moments later as the Chevrons would forge ahead. A ball through found forward Angus Maney, the #11 duly finishing with aplomb, and they then still had time to wrap up their final fifteen minute comeback by putting daylight between themselves and the blue-clad visitors when another fine ball from another free-kick was nodded in by Clarkson, showing that third-time lucky was alive and well within the open expanses of Cougar Park on this sunny, fresh West Yorkshire afternoon. Despite a couple of late chances for Daisy Hill, they couldn’t quite reduce the deficit before the break and so we reached half-time with the score-line of 3-1.

Following my swift shift as a ball boy as steward Bryn had to go off and retrieve one of the balls that flew off over the stands, the half-time break saw me relinquish my high-vis without any further questionings and I decided to camp out within the Main Stand for the second half and get a couple of different viewpoints of the action from up high above the field of play. Speaking of play, the sides were soon back out there and we were about to get started once again.

The second period began with a quick kill-off by Steeton as they swiftly added to their tally twice in the opening moments. Firstly, Clarkson ended a swift attack with number four as he duly added his second, before Jack Richardson then added number four, finishing off beyond the beleaguered Leather, who’d pulled off an initial stop from a close-range volley, after a spell of pinball within the box. This really did end the game as a contest, unsurprisingly, and there wasn’t a whole lot of action in the next half-hour or so.

Match Action

From the stand

Cougar Park

What action there was saw Clarkson denied his hat-trick by a fine goal-line clearance from Jordan Hussey, whilst the Cutters responded with Clarkson’s opposite number at #10 not quite connecting perfectly with his attempt and seeing it kept out by Paley. Then, with a few minutes left on the clock, Richmond would join Clarkson in recording a brace as he latched onto a long ball from the back to deliver an excellent finish, smashing beyond the unfortunate Leather, who I don’t think really deserved to have beaten six times.

Post-match, I headed back into Keighley and first paid a visit to the town’s Wetherspoon offering, the Livery Rooms, for a Punk IPA whilst Tiger Roll wrote himself into National history, before I continued on past the war memorial across the way and to the little and large neighbouring watering hole duo of the larger Cavendish for a second Carlsberg of the day (£2.80) whilst I opted for a Strongbow (~£3) in the smaller Volunteer before walking the short distance back to the station for the train back to Leeds and an easy journey back in the company of a few women and a dog. No, an actual canine – I’m not like that!

‘Spoons

Heading to the final two….

So there ends an entertaining trip to Keighley and to the friendly Steeton. It’s always enjoyable to get in a “tick” at an unusual venue and especially so when it is as historic as Cougar Park. It is certainly a different proposition to Langtree Park in St. Helens that’s for sure! The town is decent and the beer is cheap, whilst the ground is superb and it’s good to see goals though it’s always a bit of a shame when it becomes an early dead rubber and the interest wains somewhat. Steak slice and programme was decent too, so really can have no complaints. Onto next week and to the city of five towns….

 

 

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 9

Programme: 7

Food: 7

Value For Money: 9

Manchopper in….Hartford (Hartford Sports Village)

Result: Lostock Gralam 5-1 Middlewich Town Reserves (Mid-Cheshire District FA Cup Semi-Final)

Venue: Hartford Sports Village (Saturday 16th March 2019, 1.30pm)

Att: 40 (approx.)

The day began with me heading into Crewe on the basis that the long-standing Crewe vs Eagle Sports Cheshire League clash had somehow survived the weather. However, I was just approaching the end of the road leading up to the Cumberland Arena when the message came through. Game OFF. It was indeed too good to be true. So began the process of looking to find a replacement game (this is why I’ve started getting places early, honest) and eventually reckoned that Crewe Alex would be the safe bet – with Middlewich Town just a little too far off.

But just as I had returned to the station a thought hit me. The other semi-final which would decide Middlewich’s opponents in the final a few weeks later was being played at Hartford Sports Village, a ground not used above u21 level as far as I can determine and, as luck would have it, the train to Hartford was due in a few minutes allowing me to get to the high school it’s situated behind just in time for the 1.30pm kick-off. This was a welcome fact too, as the weather was fairly blustery and the odd sleet shower was never too far away.

Arriving in Hartford

Hartford church

Lostock Gralam itself is a village and civil parish located in the centre of the Cheshire Plain and its main street follows the route of the famed Watling Street Roman Road that linked Manchester and Chester. Transport-wise, it hosts its own station and the Trent and Mersey Canal. The area also includes the neighbouring hamlet of Lostock Green. Hartford, meanwhile, is another village and civil parish in Cheshire West and Chester within the ceremonial county of Chester and forms part of the Weaver Vale constituency. It lies on the West Coast mainline between Liverpool and Crewe (Hartford station itself dates from 1837 and also has Greenbank right next to today’s venue) and the intersection of the A559.

Recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, Hartford was the manor of Gilbert de Venables and part of the Barony of Kinderton. Prior to the reign of Edward III, it was held by a family who assumed the local name and it passed through numerous families thereafter. In 1644 and during the English Civil War, a battle was fought at Hartford Green when the Royalists of Chester met the Parliamentary forces of Northwich. The village church, St. John the Baptist, dates from 1875 and is on the site of a former chapel (c.1824) which was replaced as the village grew and rendered it too small. Hartford was originally a township split into two ancient parishes – the greater belonging to Witton chapelry of Great Budworth and the smaller to Waverham-cum-Milton. It also formed part of the Eddisbury Hundred prior to being designated as a civil parish in 1866 and later became part of the Northwich rural sanitary district in 1875.

A bit of Hartford history

Hartford

After a short hop over on the train opposite a toilet that seemingly had seen some unsavoury happenings at some point judging by the reactions to it, I arrived into Hartford village at a little before 1pm and a slow walk had me arriving at the school gates with around 5 minutes to kick-off. Walking down the road the leads through the numerous buildings that make up the campus, I eventually navigated my way around the tunnel….well, taped off area with some cones, and into the cage where the game was just getting underway. The cage itself features a standing area that runs 3/4 the length of the near side, but not much else bar floodlights. Lostock Gralam finished last season in 6th place in the Cheshire League 1, whilst Town Reserves recorded a 5th position in the Reserve Division. The sides currently sat 1st and 6th respectively in the same divisions, as the latter looked to meet their firsts in the final. Would that even be able to happen?! Either way, let’s get onto the game…. (NB: For those who are interested, Lostock Gralam’s history can be found on my blog about my visit to the Park Stadium here).

Arriving at the ground & “tunnel”!

The game got underway with the ‘hosts’ quickly going on the attack, though the first twenty minutes or so was, on the whole, very quiet as both sides got used to unfamiliar surroundings. Eventually, it would be the hosts who would break the deadlock as Jack Woolley finished from around the penalty spot. Strike-partner Robbie Hatton almost doubled the advantage soon afterwards with an almost identical chance, but his effort flew over and into the cage behind the Town Reserves goal. Speaking of the visitors, they responded to this early set back and #11 sliced wide from a promising position, but it looked as though they’d gone two down moments later when Woolley nodded home but was adjudged to have been in an offside position. He looked on to me though.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

The Witches began to grow more into the game more after the half-hour and had a pair of decent sights of goal, with #4 clipping an effort narrowly over the bar from a corner and #8 followed this up shortly afterwards with a drive that flew just wide of the mark. Their best chance came with around ten minutes to the break, when a miskick in the Gralam defence allowed #9 in, but he would be denied by a fine stop by the Grey Lambs’ keeper Dane Rigby in his first real action of the game. This proved to be a vital moment because, with a couple of minutes remaining before the whistle, a ball though split the Town defence and Hatton fired home to give Gralam the comfort of a two-goal lead at half-time.

An uneventful short half-time came and went, the game getting going again with an immediate third and it was Gralam who would grab the game’s decisive strike. Just a couple of minutes into the second period, Hatton was tripped in the area, the ref duly pointed to the spot and Jack Woolley netted his second of the day to seemingly wrap up the Grey Lambs’ place in the final. However, Town would continue on with their spirited challenge and after #8 had seen his, admittedly weak, effort saved when well-placed, “home” stopper Rigby than evaded a red when bringing down a forward who was advancing towards him one-on-one. However, with his touch taking him wide and defenders likely to have duly covered in time as a result, the resulting yellow was JUST the correct call, in my view.

Match Action

Woolley grabs his second from the spot

On the run….

It would be another ‘keeping error that would result in the game’s fourth goal and it was a totally avoidable one at that. A weak effort crawled towards the visiting ‘keeper, but he somehow allowed it to creep under his body in a Massimo Taibi-esque manner and full-back Connor Hooks was on hand to knock the ball over the line after a highly opportunistic run to much fanfare from his teammates! The Witches’ Reserves wouldn’t go down with a whimper though and, to their credit, continued to fight on and really deserved a consolation for their efforts. After Town had forced the Gralam defence into a pair of last-ditch blocks, Matthew Cann curled just over the crossbar in something of a prelude to what he would do minutes later when he drifted a free-kick, likely wind-assisted admittedly, over the ‘keeper’s head and into the far side-netting. There was their goal.

But it would be Lostock Gralam who would stamp their mark on the game last and head into the final in emphatic fashion as they grabbed fifth with around ten minutes to play, when pressure on the defence forced them into a mistake and  sub Myles Wadey capitalised on the weak clearance to finish and that was that. Woolley had a late chance to secure a hat-trick, but drove his shot over as the Grey Lambs advanced to meet the Middlewich Town first-team in the final in a few weeks time. Full-Time, 5-1.

Post-match I returned back to the village via the new-build housing route I’d taken to get there and dived out of the rain and into my first stop of the day – Relish, a smart café-bar type of place. Not only did it give me a welcome respite from the elements, but it also had Blue Moon on draught (£4.95) and I was more than happy with myself and my decision making at that point! Just across the way from the village church, it sits not far from a pair of neighbouring watering holes – though they are a fair bit different from each other when it comes down to it. Anyway, more on them later on.  Upon the rain’s abatement, I headed off down the road and out of the centre – heading for the Hartford Hall, an 18th century former nunnery. It was pleasant enough too, and surprisingly on the cheap side, with a pint of Amstel coming in at £3.65. Not too shabby.

Relish and the much-seen road junction

Hartford Hall

I headed off before the remainder of the guests for the party that were beginning to arrive did so and once again retraced my steps, this time back past the grand “White Hall” (unsurprisingly, a large white hall) and an old schoolhouse which had a claim to fame I can’t remember off the top of my head) before again reaching the junction at the church and this time peeling off and beginning to head towards Hartford station, via the two places I mentioned earlier. I reckoned I’d pop into the first of the two, Chime, just to be safe, and found it to be as I expected from the exterior – a food-centric place with a selection of gins and cocktails aplenty, it seemed. Not having any of that was I, instead opting for a Hop House (£4.50) before heading next door to the far more traditional Red Lion for a San Miguel (£3.90).

Chime & the Red Lion

The Coachman

Finishing up in the Red Lion, I set off on the ten-minute-or-so walk back to Hartford station and this was completed with little issue. It mercifully stayed dry for once throughout this leg of the trip, allowing me to get to the station-neighbouring Coachman for a final pint of Amstel (£4.35) where I could take a bit of time to recoup and await my train back to Crewe for the change onwards to Manchester and home. This all went easy as and I even had time to pop into the Crewe Hero on the station for a Desperados for the train home (though this wasn’t exactly the shrewdest option I’d made, so I retract my earlier self-congratulation) and this set me back just under a fiver. It’s nothing short of daylight robbery that, is it?! Anyway, best that than losing it somewhere along the way and so I boarded my train back the short hop to Piccadilly with little in the way to cause any problems…..

Well, look at that. Something had happened up the tracks somethwere and we were turfed off at Wilmslow, only to be immediately re-trained and told that we were actually now continuing on as the “issue” had been cleared away. None of us had any idea what had just happened and it turned out that I hopped back on along with a couple of Wycombe fans, Mark and Paul, who’d been watching the Chairboys’ away game at Shrewsbury. We swapped a couple of stories and the like during the short time we had whilst trying to make sense of the swiftest cancellation/reinstatement known to man, before we finally pulled into Manchester in one piece. However, this travel-related problem would be dwarfed by next week….

A good day on the whole and one that had continued on my recent run of pocket-friendly trips. The game had been a decent one despite the one-sided scoreline as this wasn’t fully reflective of the whole game’s story. A bonus also to get Hartford in during a senior game too (though I’d guess Hartford FC themselves may pop up sooner rather than later in the Cheshier League or something). That’s that for this cut-back bite-size issue and it’s on to next week and ground #300. Let’s hope it’s not too grim….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 2

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8