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.

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

Manchopper in….St. Helens (Pilkington F.C.)

Result: Pilkington 2-0 East Villa (Liverpool County F.A. Cup Semi-Final)

Venue: Ruskin Drive (Saturday 9th March 2019, 3pm)

Att: 65 (approx.)

As the stormy and unsettled weather began to well and truly strengthen its grasp on the country, it began to become apparent that the 3/4G joker cards would begin to have to be played. As my planned game in Keighley expectedly fell foul of the conditions, I was then left with the dilemma of just where I was to end up instead and, to be honest, there was little in the way of attractive options – with many of the grounds not being too enticing at the worst of times, never mind the best.

Eventually I was swayed by a game at the Cheshire League’s Pilkington’s Ruskin Drive as they were due to welcome Liverpool County League side East Villa in a semi-final clash in the Liverpool County FA Cup and so to St. Helens I headed for the first time for non-league football since visiting Knowsley Road over a decade ago (I feel so old) – but not before having been remembered in the Hourglass due to my out-of-the-ordinary ordering of Boddies at pro-11am! The lad who said as much said his style of customer service does tend to cost custom and cause himself trouble…..and that’s definitely the case with me now…..nah, can you imagine if you take that seriously?!

Arriving into St. Helens

Swan Hotel

The George

I eventually arrived into St. Helens at a little after 11.30 and having not initially realised just how far removed St. Helens Junction actually is from the town itself, decided to grab the bus that stops immediately outside and head up to Central station instead. Now if this had worked, I may have realised the pub opposite there was shut and so not left myself with a rather lengthy wait on the way home, but instead I missed my planned disembarking point and instead was off at the bus station instead. What did this do, though, was alert me to the existence of the Swan Hotel – something that didn’t show up on Maps for some reason – and so I dived in there to begin the day with a pint of Coors being the order of the early part of day at £3.10.

From there I continued on into the centre of the town and my second stop of the day :- the George, helpfully located on George Street. Obviously this was pretty easy for me to remember (which is always handy with my track-record) and after a Grolsch (£3.10) in here it was off through the pedestrianised area and to two pubs opposite each other – the Market Tavern and the Nelson. The Market Tavern is sort of one of those ‘Wetherspoons without being a ‘Spoons’, though does maintain something of its own identity where others do not in fairness. It was cheap too, an Amstel coming in at just £2.50, with the Nelson being just as pocket-friendly as its predecessors – the pub/chippy duel establishment seeing a Dark Fruits setting me back around £2.90.

St. Helens

Market Tavern

Nelson

Continuing my heading towards the ground, next up came the Sefton Arms, not all that far way from the previous two and helpfully within sight of my final planned stop of the Lamb. The Sefton was decent enough and again saw a cheap Amstel being attained (£2.50) before the Lamb had very little in the way of choice on draught, so much so that I sought refuge in a bottle of Becks (£2.50). I also got talking to two ladies in here by the name of Carol and Cath who were very friendly and humourful and the time passed through far quicker as such, so much so that I was pushing kick-off time with the walk still to come as I said goodbyes and exited on to the home of both Pilkington and St. Helens Town, the latter playing in the evening as part of the Counties groundhop.

In the Sefton

Looking at the Lamb

St. Helens Town Hall

A ten minute walk later had me at the gates of the sports complex and after passing by the cricket pitch and its adjoining pavilion and bar arrived at the ground and was faced with a small kiosk. It transpired it was free to get into the football, so I guess the rugby being played alongside on the second pitch must have been a pay-to-watch double-header contest, though I did pick up a programme from the rugby that was on offer, what with me not having to give anything to the club itself, I thought I’d help out where I could at least. The ground itself is basic but tidy, a sole at-cost covered seating stand runs about three-quarters the length of the near side, whilst the remaining two spectator accessible areas are open, hard standing. The far side hosts the dugouts – but is otherwise just the cageside. That’s Ruskin Park and this is the story of Pilkington FC….

History Lesson:

Pilkington Football Club was founded in 1938 officially, though this date is actually supposedly 1933 with five years added to make up for the lack of playing years during World War II. However, football within the Pilkington Glass factory dates back almost as far as the factory itself, beginning well within the 19th century with teams believed to be made up from workers from each individual works, such as the Sheet Glass Makers side of 1907. The teams from the St. Helens factory were eventually amalgamated together to form a unified Pilkington Amateurs AFC in 1933 before the above change to history was made.

There is little known about the club’s early years from thereon, with in being known the club played out of Crossley Road and competed within both the Liverpool Business Houses League and St. Helens Combination League. The club was also drawn to play Liverpool ‘A’ at Anfield in a game that drew over 2,000 supporters. Pilkington moved to their current Ruskin Drive site in 1948 and they entertained an Irish League XI in 1957 at City Road ground in the town before competing in the Liverpool Combination League throughout the 1960’s, steadily finishing in mid-table during their tenure here. In 1970 the club toured Portugal and drew many a local to their games as due to Pilkington being touted as Recs Pilkington de Liverpool, many believed it was THE Liverpool who were around.

Spot the ground?!

Pilks would depart the Liverpool County Combination in 1983 and join the Mid-Cheshire League where they would largely struggle for the most part and were relegated to Division 2 in 1991, thus meaning their Reserves were deprived of their own Division 2 spot after just one season. They narrowly missed out on an immediate return and again the following year – finishing 4th and 3rd respectively – as well as losing out in two Cheshire League Cup Finals before 1998 finally saw Pilkington return to the top-flight though they would finish their first season back bottom of the table though were reprieved from the drop due to the loss of AFC Zeneca.

The early 2000’s saw success for Pilks as they lifted the 2001 Liverpool Junior Cup and finished 3rd in the Cheshire League that same year. A second Liverpool Junior Cup title was won in 2005, with a League Cup final appearance in 2007 ending in defeat to the double-winning Middlewich Town. Another 3rd placed finish was recorded in 2008 before they would suffer heartbreak in 2011, missing out on the Cheshire League Division 1 title on the final day on goal difference alone. Many of the side would depart at the season’s close and the Pilks dropped down into mid-table and they only staved off the drop in 2014 due to the resignation of Cuddington from the League.

Pilkington’s Ruskin Drive complex

2014-’15 saw the club make a strong start to the newly named Premier Division and lead the way early on before falling down the table as changes on-field took their toll and they were eventually relegated at season’s end back to Division One for the first time since 1990. 2017 saw the club lift the Cheshire League President’s Cup and finish up 3rd before making their return to the Premier Division after finishing as runners-up last season with their new-look home seemingly proving a welcome change. This year has seen the club make the move up to the Prem easily and they are currently challenging for the title as the season draws to its conclusion.

Having been re-instated shortly before the game due to another side falling foul of the “ineligible player” curse, Pilkington set their sights on the final against a strong East Villa side who I’d seen at the start of last season and tipped for a successful near future. Both are challenging for their respective titles and so it was to be expected this would be a closely fought contest. Chances were few and far between following an early chance for Graham Boylan, whose shot was saved by the Villa GK and from then on, very little happened during the first 45 minutes.

Match Action

Match Action

At close quarters

An early effort flew wide for the hosts and an East Villa header was comfortably saved down the other end and it was truly hard to see where the opener would come from. But just before the break, Pilks’ Adam Dixon almost got that elusive strike on two occasions – first going close in seeing his shot curl just wide before the visiting custodian tipped his back-post header against the crossbar. Half-time arrived shortly afterwards and I headed to the bar in a vain attempt to seek out some food. The queues at the bar itself were not worth bothering with for crisps.

The second half began and turned out to be a marked improvement on the first, largely helped by the fact the deadlock was finally broken just five minutes or so after the whistle had blown. A corner was met at the near post by the onrushing Boylan who nodded in from close-range and the decently sized crowd were largely pleased with this happening! Pilkington continued to have chances, their left-back firing in a pair of long-range efforts either side of the goal which both flew off-target and they deservedly doubled their advantage when some poor defensive play allowed #8 Luke Sephton to latch onto a poor clearance by the ‘keeper and knock home. 2-0, and it looked all over.

Match Action

Boylan heads Pilks in front!

View from the stand

To their credit, however, East Villa seemed to be spurred on by the fact they now had absolutely nothing to gain from being conservative and made a few fair chances at goal in the final twenty-five or so minutes after Pilkington’s second strike. First, the #10 pounced on poor defensive work by the home defence on this occasion only to be denied by the home ‘keeper Sammy Tickle’s legs and as the half wore on towards its conclusion, the #16 headed wastefully wide when well placed after a fine ball in.

Late on saw both sides have chances to add to the score-line, East Villa seeing their striving efforts come to nought as #14 shanked horribly wide after great work to chase down the ball and pull it back to him and #10 headed wide from a good position. Opening scorer Boylan then really should have added the gloss to the score with pretty much the final meaningful kick of the game, but the Villa stopper kept him out with another good stop but it mattered little in the grander scheme of things and Pilkington took full advantage of their tournament reprieve to advance to the final. Full-time, 2-0.

News Room

Running Horses ‘Spoons. Smart.

Post-match I headed onwards back towards the town and for the easier to reach Central station – stopping off at the fine, compact News Room on the way down for a pint of Timmermans Strawberry (£4.50), before finishing up at one of the town’s two ‘Spoons outlets the Running Horses – which derives its name from a far older tavern that previously occupied the site – for a quick Hooch (£2.25) prior to heading to my planned ending visitation of the Royal Alfred, only to find it had clearly been closed for some time. As such, I was left in the station for a good fifteen minutes with not being worth the rush to spend six minutes or so walking to the other nearby ‘Spoons and after missing one connection that wasn’t pointed out to me by any of the apps, the planned one I had was caught problem free and the transit through Wigan went problem-free too, and I was home nice and early for once.

The day had been an ok save, the game wasn’t great admittedly, the ground isn’t all too interesting either, but it was at least a semi-final with all that comes with it and the tour of St. Helen’s had been fun…and easy on the pocket as well, especially so when you factor in the free game! Can’t complain too much that being said and, little did I know, this would be almost followed the next weekend as the stormy artificial card would be played again….

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 5

Food: N/A

Programme (rugby-based, of course): 7

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Saltney

Result: Saltney Town 1-2 Brymbo (Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division)

Venue: Saltney Community Centre (Saturday 2nd March 2019, 2.30pm)

Att: 25 (approx.)

With a free weekend ahead of me, I decided I’d pay a visit to Blacon of the Cheshire League and have a nice, easy day out in Chester before grabbing the bus the short way out to the outskirts of the historic city. I’d been contacted late last year by said club on twitter and they had invited me down at some point and so I thought I’d take the opportunity to get one of the Step 7 grounds done and dusted ahead of the likelihood of them all being put to one-side by the soon-to-be-implemented nonsense of sin-bins, of which I will have no part of! Honestly, is football going full circle and returning to its rugby-inspired roots?

Whatever the case, I arrived in Chester after a trouble-free journey and with the clock approaching midday, decided against venturing away from the station and instead, after some self-persuasion, popped into my regular Chester haunt – the Town Crier – just opposite. After planning out something resembling a walk over to take in some of the more interesting hostelries that had eluded me on New Year’s Day when I visited Chester’s Deva Stadium (where my 81 game nil-nil run came to a sorry end), I hopped on a bus which I planned to take to the foot of the Eastgate and hang around there. That was until Lostock Gralam – the planned visitors to Blacon on this fine day – responded to my rare arrival announcing tweet by informing me something along the lines of “Game OFF”. Yes, game off. No rain, no snow, no cows munching on the pitch (I haven’t fact checked the last one, I must admit) and so I now had a dilemma. I had no game.

As luck would have it, only one team not using the sin-bin system currently (I’m looking at you Chester & Wirral League) was playing close-by and it was one that would see my Welsh trips this season added to. Indeed, my new destination was the border-straggling town of Saltney and Welsh National League side Saltney Town who, interestingly enough, were hosting divisional leaders, Brymbo. Again, the groundhopping gods must have finally felt for me, and God knows it’s taken them long enough, as a bus bound for Saltney was due immediately and I was swiftly whisked out towards the border.

Arriving in Saltney

Saltney High Street ft. Brewery Arms

Saltney is a town adjoining the City of Chester and straddling the border between the countries of England and Wales, with one street in the town seeing the border run down its centre and therefore both sides are under the jurisdiction of the other country’s governance. Saltney derives its name from the old salt marshes by the side of the River Dee and grew up largely between the mid 19th and 20th centuries and was once the terminus of Sir John Glynne’s canal.

Disembarking after around fifteen minutes, a short walk later saw me arriving at my first Saltney pub, namely the Brewery Arms. A real locals pub, it was friendly enough with a couple of regulars giving me a greeting, including an “experienced” couple and their similarly world-wise dog. Even more welcoming in my eyes was the news that the £2.50 a pint cover on the Prava was indeed not covering the tap, oh no. It actually was £2.50 a pint and I couldn’t get the money out quick enough. Inject it into my veins!! Next up was the City Arms which, once upon a time, proclaimed itself as the “last pub in England and the first in Wales”. This sign seems to have bitten the dust at some point though, more importantly, the pub still stands and with time a little on the tight side with regards to my now earlier kick-off, I opted for a Dark Fruits (£3.60) before moving on down the main road, on which each watering hole stands, rather helpfully.

Across the road and under the old rail bridge I continued, soon coming upon the Anchor Hotel. A fair pub once again, I got in a pint of San Miguel whilst watching a little of the North London Derby, including Harry Kane’s leveller from the spot. With time to squeeze in one more and make my journey back home a little easier, the Corner Pin, just the other side of a sizable retail park was the next proverbial ‘cab off the rank’. With not too much to inspire on offer, I reckoned I’d go for a reliable Strongbow (£3.40) and sat alongside the window with the ground safely in sight and whilst getting some much-needed charge after my on-the-fly switcheroo.

City Arms

Anchor

Corner Pin

Finishing up in the Corner Pin, it was off to the Saltney Community Centre where I arrived at the gates just as the whistle blew. Finding it was free-entry and with little to convey to anyone that a game was going on outside of those in the know, I followed the road/path round to pitch-side where I found the game continuing on through its early stages. There is little in the way of overall facilities here, though there was a café operative at some point, as I spied it at half-time within the same building as the toilets and dressing rooms. Another classroom looking portacabin joins this one, set quite some way off from the pitch itself. Speaking of the pitch, it is fully railed and is largely surrounded by grass, with hard standing offered down the near-side as you enter and there is also a small, pretty smart covered seating stand straddling the half-way line too. The dugouts stand opposite, along with a wall that looks suspiciously like a dugout/stand in progress, and gives a little respite from the grass this side. That’s Saltney’s home in brief and this is the story of Saltney Town and its football….

History Lesson:

Saltney Town Football Club was founded in 2010, though football in the town dates back to at least 1908 when a Saltney F.C. team joined the English “The Combination” league and competed there for three seasons – finishing both of their first two seasons as runners-up (including finishing above Tranmere Rovers) before the league’s disbanding and the club’s entrance to the wild blue yonder. Post-war a side named Crichton’s Athletic started up in the Cheshire League and played under that name for two seasons before becoming Saltney Athletic in 1921. After a further two seasons there as Saltney Athletic, the club left the league and again went into hiding it seems until 1975 and the creation of Saltney Social. Once again, this club’s existence was for two campaigns, this time in the Clwyd League.

Another side would pop-up years later, now in the Welsh pyramid, and known as Saltney Community Centre as with the club’s home base. The club started out back in the Clwyd League and finished their first season in third place, ensuring promotion from Division 1 to the Premier Division, where they would spend two seasons, finishing runners up before taking the title and promotion to the Welsh Alliance was secured. A further two years would be spent by this side in the Welsh Alliance from 1996-’98 prior to their folding.

STFC-The Bordermen

Beluga makes an appearance

However, the current club came into being in 2010 and has gone on to be the longest-lasting Saltney club by a fair distance. Joining the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area)’s Division 1, the Bordermen had immediate success- lifting the League and Horace Wynn Cup in their first season and the club would lift the divisional title in their second outing and were duly promoted to the Premier Division in the process, with original title winners Borras Park United seeing three points deducted from their tally, therefore handing the trophy to Saltney. They have remained there to this day, finishing a best of 7th last time out and look on course to match that at least this campaign.

The game got underway with it quickly becoming apparent that this would be a tight, closely fought affair. Little in the way of chances came the way of either side, though it was the title-challenging visitors from Brymbo who would have the better of the play early on, but not by much as the defences remained well and truly on top. Saltney would have the first of what could be termed as a chance when a shot on goal was deflected onwards by a forward, only for the ball to creep wide.

Match Action

Match Action

Talking Tactics

But it would be the visitors who would break the deadlock with around ten minutes to play in the first-half, as a corner ended up at the feet of #7 Mark Beech and he turned the ball goalwards with the ball adjudged to have crossed the line. Both sides would have chances to add to the goal tally before the whistle, with Saltney’s #6 firing straight at the Brymbo stopper and a scuffed volley being scooped behind by the home ‘keeper down the other end, before a Saltney full-back fired against the outside of the post, but the sides would go on with just the solitary strike separating them.

After an uneventful half-time, the game was soon back underway and Brymbo quickly added a second to well and truly stamp their authority upon the game. A low ball into the area found Jordan Deer at the edge of the box and he fired a fine shot past the ‘keeper. This spurred the hosts on and, with nothing to lose, began to well and truly dominate the remainder of the game, though didn’t threaten the visitors too much all things considered. As the half went on, I got talking to the Brymbo president Norman, who told me about the club and his past forays in the footballing world. Nice to chat and thanks for being interested enough to welcome me to your ground at some point in the future!

Back on the field, Saltney did manage to grab a goal back with around twenty minutes to play, when a forward was tripped in the area and the referee duly pointed to the spot. Up stepped #8 Stephen Chiochi who confidently dispatched the kick and we were set up for a grandstand finish, but despite huffing and puffing, the hosts were unable to grab an equaliser and Brymbo saw out the game to ensure their title aspirations continued on unabated.

Brymbo grab their second

Match Action

Saltney get their (as it transpired) consolation

Bidding goodbye to Nortman and watching the injury time whilst slowly edging towards the exit way, post-match I headed just over the road to the Saltney Ferry where I indulged in the rare pleasure of “Jeff Stelling FC” (as it came to be known by me and Dan during those freezing couple of winters a good few years back), Soccer Saturday, with two lads waiting on Ole and United to do the job for them and their accas – caring little for my update about Pogba’s pen miss. Whatever the case, I wasted away the time through to the bus back to Chester from just outside the pub over another San Miguel (£3.50), before catching said carriage back to the station, nicely in time for the train back over to Warrington, the walk over for the connection being, thankfully for once, not pressed for time. The final step of the journey also went without a hitch and that ends a good recovery trip!

Saltney Ferry

The game was tight, but watchable enough, the ground simple, but ok, and the pubs steady if unspectacular on the whole – and that pretty much sums up the full day. Steady, but unspectacular. However, thanks to the WNL and Saltney for helping me out, even if they knew nothing of my plight! Another week and another new ground to follow and, speaking of the connection between rugby and football, I’m planning to be off to a venue where the two collide – somewhere everyone seems fond of a “Keith Lee”….?!

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 4

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….North Ferriby

Result: North Ferriby United 0-4 Gainsborough Trinity (NPL Premier Division)

Venue: Grange Lane (Saturday 23rd February 2019, 3pm)

Att: 314

My late season “vulture job” of getting to grounds whose very existence is in some doubt continued for a second weekend with a trip to the outskirts of Hull and the small village of North Ferriby, where I was to pay a visit to North Ferriby United’s Grange Lane ground. This would mean going against my usual standing of not giving money to owners who are (in my distinctly humble opinion) running a club into the ground for whatever reason (which is why Hull, Charlton and Blackpool have remained off limits, though the Tangerines have recently been thankfully rescued and I only did the Ricoh for a cut-price game, but with many seemingly still happy to give money to the club, it seemed OK morally to do the same.

Now, I’m sure many of you with any sort of internet access/non-league knowledge had heard of the recent goings on surrounding the club and its swift fall from grace and I’m not going to speculate on what may or may not be going on, as it really isn’t my place to do so. Plus, with what happened during the game, I really don’t want to risk any future bans that may cloud any return visits – be that at Grange Lane, Dunswell Park or anywhere else… *suggests one-off game at Craven Park, selfishly*. Anyhow….

Setting off into Manchester, the local train delays returned, meaning I had a full hour to waste in the surroundings of the Manchester Piccadilly concourse. To make this a little more bearable, I headed up to the mezzanine and my favoured in-station haunt of the Hourglass where I was forced into breaking my 11am rule – though 10am was close enough I figured! A pint of Boddies was bought to accompany me through the wait until the next Hull-bound train, as I looked to figure out some kind of trip/plan to get over to North Ferriby from Brough station – where the train has its penultimate stop. With a few little villages along the way, I reckoned I might as well go that way and stop off here and there on my way over to the ground, rather than fork out the unbelievably costly £6+ return bus ticket for what would have been about five minutes. No chance, guys and girls.

Following an hour and a half’s journey, the train eventually pulled into Brough and I set off on the hour-and-twenty-minute walk to United’s home. Foregoing Brough’s own watering holes (on account of them having their own based club there which I’ll likely visit at some point too), my first stop was in the nearby village outpost of Welton. Here, I found a pub by the name of the Green Dragon, and what a find it proved to be – this being the very pub that the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin was apprehended in during the 18th century. Well worth the effort to get there for sure, as was the pricing and overall setting – a pint of Amstel costing £3.65 and the pub and village itself being highly pleasant on a fine, sunny day.

Welton

Green Dragon

Melton’s Sandpiper

From there, the long and winding old road to Melton was undertaken, crossing a footbridge en route to the Sandpiper – a new-build modern food-based chain pub. Having been pressed in this way with a lack of overall options for the day (not that it was a surprise), I was more than happy to drop in for another Amstel (£3.65) before deciding to forego a pre-match visit to North Ferriby’s one-and-only pub, the Duke of Cumberland, as I’d come up with the idea of maybe heading towards the Humber Bridge post-match for a little bit. Also, I’d said I’d pop to say “Hello” to Matthew, one of the lads involved with the North Ferriby fanzine known as ‘View from the Allotment End’, which has gained a little infamy over the last few days. Having done so and gave a bit of money to both he and the guys collecting for the homeless charity outside, he said to me they’d be congregated around the dugouts during the game. Of course, as it turned out, that wouldn’t happen as Matthew would be banned from Grange Lane minutes later for apparent comments in said fanzine, so I’m watching my tongue here too in fear of more reprisals against independent writings!!!

North Ferriby is a village and civil parish in the Haltemprice area within the East Riding of Yorkshire and stands on the North bank of the River Humber and is where the oldest boats ever found in Europe were discovered – dating from the Bronze Age estimated to go back to the region between 2030 BC-1680 BC. Iron Age and Romano-British archaeology has also been discovered in the area, suggesting that the settlement continued to exist through these times too, prior to the arrival of the Danes around 900 AD, with each ship arriving apparently setting up their own settlement and amongst these was the modern territory of North Ferriby (derived from the Danish ‘Ferja bi’ meaning place by a ferry, with both North and South Ferriby linked by said transport).

North Ferriby

North Ferriby

During the medieval period, Ferriby was home to a Ferriby Prior – belonging to the, somewhat infamous (whether in truth or exaggerated fiction), order of the Knights Templar. The abbey, dating from c.1160, was founded by Lord Eustace Broomfleet de Vesci and remained standing until the dissolution in 1536 with the village having passed through the hands of the families of the Mortimers, the Poles and the Barons, with mansions being added by merchants from Hull from the mid-18th century. It’s All Saints Church is Grade II listed and is recorded in the National Heritage List for England and maintained therefore by Historic England. The village also hosts part of the Transpennine and Yorkshire Wolds walkways, with the former being where the three Ferriby boats were discovered on the banks of the Humber. For a small area, they have a pretty impressive list of alumni including:- Alex Deacon (BBC Weatherman), Zara Holland (Miss GB and of Love Island fame (apparently in the case of the latter!), Phil ‘team talk on the pitch’ Brown and, most impressively, the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce.

Paying my £5 entry as a student (nice bit of saving there), I headed inside Grange Lane and over to the club shop where I’d been told by Matthew I could find the programmes for the game today. £2 for that and 20p for a teamsheet (because I might as well for that), the game was soon upon us and the teams heading out of the tunnel. Grange Lane itself is a bit of a strange ground on the basis that apart from its “Main Stand” there is little to suggest it has ever hosted Conference-level football, though this allows it to retain its charm. Despite this, it is a pretty smart set-up and there seems little reason for the relocation in any way, shape, or form that would be beneficial in the long-run on the face of things, though I could just as easily be wrong.

Anyway, back to the day at hand. The near-side plays host to all facilities, a food bar flanked by the club shop and a raised, rather strange-looking disabled viewing area, which the dressing rooms are located to the rear of. A further hospitality building, and what I assume is the clubhouse, though I couldn’t actually ever locate it myself, is situated towards the far end, which itself is open, hard standing and features a couple of steps of terracing, as does the opposite end. The Main Stand backs onto a railway embankment (with trains running above the stand for those interested) and houses all seats in the middle, these flanked by small amounts of covered standing at each end, which I suppose were planned to have seats installed in the future too, had the need come around. A second snack bar is located next to the old away end turnstiles. That’s Grange Lane in a nutshell, and this is the story of North Ferriby United….

History Lesson:

North Ferriby United Football Club was founded in 1934, first taking part in the local East Riding Church League, winning the Division 1 title in 1938. After WWII, the club was admitted to the East Riding Amateur League and Ferriby went on to enjoy a successful period with various pieces of silverware being brought to the club’s trophy cabinet. In 1969, North Ferriby stepped into the Division Two of the Yorkshire League in 1969 and won the title at the end of their second season in the division, winning promotion to Division 1 in the process, and also added the East Riding Senior Cup title the same season. 1975 saw Ferriby lift the Yorkshire League Cup with a 2-0 triumph over Lincoln United before finishing Division 1 runners-up the next year.

In 1982, the Villagers joined the newly formed Northern Counties East League and immediately finished as runners-up in Division One North, though promotion was declined due to ground issues. This setback was soon rectified and 1986 saw Ferriby win the Division One title and with it promotion to the Premier Division. 1990 saw the club reach the FA Vase semi-finals, losing out to Tamworth in the semi-finals, before going on to achieve a “what might have been” moment in defeating the following year’s Vase winners, Guiseley, in the 1991 NCEL President’s Cup. A cup double was secured too, as the club lifted the East Riding Senior Cup. Ferriby reached the 1997 FA Vase Final after overcoming Guisborough Town in the semi-finals, but their day at Wembley would end in disappointment at the hands of Whitby Town. Two further consecutive NCEL President’s Cups were won in both 1999 & 2000.

Arriving at the ground

Myself & Matthew ft. the ‘trouble-making’ fanzine!

The 1999-‘2000 season also saw the Villagers take the NCEL championship and were duly promoted to the Northern Premier League’s Division 1 and the following season’s East Riding Senior Cup triumph ensured a fifth consecutive win between 1997-’01. A sixth straight East Riding Senior Cup duly followed in 2002 and the next season saw Ferriby make the NPL Division 1 play-offs, losing out to Radcliffe Borough, before breaking Hull City’s record for consecutive East Riding Cup wins with a 7th to offset the disappointment a little (they’ve since won 19 between 1971 and 2014). They would achieve promotion in 2005 to the NPL Premier Division, foregoing the play-offs on this occasion to take the title and immediately had success, being long-time Premier Division leaders until fading a little and finishing 5th, losing out in the play-off final to another village club:- Farsley Celtic.

Spending the next seven years in the Premier Division and winning a pair of NPL League Challenge Cups (2012 & 2013), Ferriby would eventually secure promotion in 2013, again as champions, after defeating Ashton United on the final day of the season to ensure a place in the National League North. They immediately finished as runners-up, narrowly missing out on promotion, but the next season would see major silverware won in the form of the FA Trophy, the club’s ‘return’ to Wembley this time being a successful one, as the club eventually saw off Wrexham on penalties after a 3-3 draw. The next season saw yet more success for the Villagers, as they went and got promoted to the National League, defeating AFC Fylde at Grange Lane by 2-1 AET. However, it’s all gone downhill from there, with two straight relegations seeing the club return to the NPL and it’s about to become three – likely within the next few weeks – a number of managerial changes and changes in ownership failing to arrest the slide, it seemingly more akin to a downhill slope.

The game got underway following a minute’s silence for a long-standing home supporter and it was a fairly evenly matched first ten minutes or so, though it wasn’t long until I heard a bit of a something going on at the gate and rumours of a banning order began to go around between some in the NFU supporters’ ranks. Back on the pitch, it was the hosts who had the first clear chance when Alex Knox saw his shot parried away and the acrobatic overhead follow-up was clawed away by the recovering GK. However, Gainsborough steadily took control, and after left-back Ben Gordon had shown good persistence to drive into the box, his pull back found Alex Byrne, who could only fire wide.

Match Action

Match Action

Watching on….

But the visitors would break the deadlock shortly afterwards when Anthony Wilson showed a good touch before feeding his strike partner Ashley Worsfold who confidently slotted home. They went close again soon after when Will Longbottom curled a free-kick narrowly wide of the Ferriby goal, and despite the hosts coming back into it and fashioning a couple of good sights of goal, Trinity’s #11 Longbottom would be denied by a fine double stop by the Ferriby GK Lewis Exall, but the visitors would strike again just before the break, when they were awarded a penalty and Worsfold doubled his and his side’s tally – hammering the spot-kick down the middle. 2-0, half-time.

Worsfold nets from the spot

Spending half-time munching away on a decent portion of chips, mushy peas and gravy, the second half soon began and it wasn’t long until Gainsborough killed off the game. Within a couple of minutes of the restart, Anthony Wilson found space just outside the area and curled a fantastic effort just inside the angle of the far corner woodwork. A fine strike. That goal ended Ferriby’s hopes of salvaging anything from the game in truth and their heads seemed to drop as Gainsborough took full control and pretty much peppered the home goal from then on in, only for a combination of wasteful finishing and good ‘keeping at times to keep the score down.

Match Action

Match Action

NFU ultras branch

Byrne and Longbottom continued to create problems and both saw shots fly over, before Shane Clark should’ve really done better when he capitalised on some indecisive defending to nip the ball away from the home defence, but saw his shot eventually saved, as did Longbottom, seeing another well hit free kick kept out by Exall. Wilson then scrambled the ball against the post after a quick break, before the game settled somewhat until the final throes saw sub Damian Reeves slot home number 4 and add gloss to the scoreline. Full-time, 0-4.

Post-match, I bid farewell to the ousted Matthew still positioned at his gate viewpoint (though I have since seen that it was actually someone else involved with the fanzine and not him, which just shows the disconnection from the top) and headed back to North Ferriby high-street and to the Duke of Cumberland, which was packed full and is clearly the centre of the community. Luckily, I managed to just beat the evening rush and so was able to secure a seat with a pint of San Miguel (£3.40)whilst trying to figure out with the trip to the Humber Bridge was truly worth it, over an easier (and earlier) trip home. I reckoned that, no, it wasn’t, and so after wasting the best part of the hour’s wait in the pub, I headed through the evening foggy haze that was beginning to fall over the village.

Duke of Cumberland

The Buccaneer in Brough

On the way to the station, I ended up being startled by one guy coming out of his driveway without any sound whatsoever. I began to ramble something, thinking he had seen my startled brief stop, but it soon became apparent he hadn’t and so I assume I seemed like a crazy drunk from out-of-town! That’s usually correct, so I wouldn’t blame anyone assuming this! Anyway, upon grabbing the hourly local stopper the one stop down the way to Brough, I had a good hour’s connection here too and so I was enforced to visit one of the local hostelries, the nearest to the station being the Buccaneer – seemingly an aircraft with a connection to the old airfield just across the tracks.

After milking the pint of Amstel whilst watching Wales overcome England in the Six Nations, it was finally time to head back to Manchester – a trip which was going well until my local connection was allowed to leave before a slightly delayed train for once and I ended up back on the bus home, a circuit I’m well versed in after the last six months or so! A good day had been had on the whole, and I sincerely hope that the problems at Ferriby are sorted through one way or another, as long as the club survives as it has been able to for years to this point. The village and surroundings are lovely (some of the houses wouldn’t look out-of-place in the Hollywood Hills) and the pubs I managed to visit were all decent too. Game was fine until the third killed it off, the ground nice to visit too and everyone about around the club I met seemed very welcoming too, which is always the way around these parts I find. On to another weekend we go and, hopefully, no banning this time….on or off the field!

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Workington

Result: Workington 0-3 Basford United (Northern Premier League Premier Division)

Venue: Borough Park (Saturday 16th February 2019, 3pm)

Att: 511

The strikes are over!!! Finally, Northern rail is (hopefully, when and if they turn up) back up and running on a Saturday and with that comes the possibility of getting to places that had been out of reasonable reach for quite some time. One such place just happened to be Workington and with Borough Park not long for this world, I figured what better time to make the trip to the Cumbrian Coast and the historic old home of “the Reds”.

Catching the twenty-past eight train into Warrington during the morning, having to bypass the ticket machine due to its seemingly ever-present technical issues, the usual walk through the town to Bank Quay was made prior to catching the connection up to Carlisle. Arriving a few minutes late was beneficial for once, shrinking my waiting time a little before the ride over the rural route to the coast. Arriving at a little before midday, the staple ‘getting lost’ part of the trip was overcome with little overall waywardness and upon coming to Wetherspoons, I figured I’d start off in their tried and tested environment. An old theatre/cinema building (not as impressive as others I’ve been in, though), it was a pleasant enough place to plan out the rest of the day’s itinerary over a Punk IPA, alongside a bit of people-watching/being a weird line drinker, depending on whose point of view you want to look at it from!

Arrived in Workington courtesy of a bit of its history

‘Spoons

Miner’s Arms

As a little drizzle began to fall from the sky, I headed over to a back-road that was the strangest place for a pub hotbed I’ve ever come across. 4 pubs are located in pretty much a straight line, with three all but neighbouring each other. After visiting the local-centric Miners Arms for a Kronenbourg, the next pub along by the name of the Grapes was quiet though welcoming and, more interestingly, had Singha on draught. Of course, with that being one of the lesser-spotted draught beers – outside of Indian restaurants – , I opted for a pint of that, with it coming in at a pocket pleasing £3.10

Finishing up, I headed the few doors down to the neighbours of the Blue Bell and the Old Red House, though neither were overly blue or red, which I suppose is to not put off any Worky or Carlisle fans from either establishment! Both were decent, the former having only racing on for their punters (Coors £3.20), but the latter had the early kick-off on to get me in the football mood. A pint of Amstel and its old Champions League connotations, also at £3.20, helped this feeling along too, before I walked over to Borough Park to secure a programme (I was kindly allowed inside to do so) before back-tracking for a final pre-match drink of Dark Fruits at the nearby Waverley Hotel.

Workington is a coastal town and civil parish on the mouth of the River Derwent and is on the West Coast of Cumbria. Historically in Cumberland in the Borough of Allerdale, it has history from the Roman era in defences and forts protecting from attacks by the Irish Scoti and Scottish Caledonii. A Viking sword was also found on the Northside of the River Derwent, suggesting a settlement may have been sited there during the era of their invading and later settling. The Roman fort (likely Magis), now known as Burrows Walls, was also on the North side of the river and further fortifications and watch towers suggest that the era was an extension of Hadrian’s Wall to protect from sea invasions. The town’s current name is derived from the old-English “Weorc” (likely a man’s name) and the suffixes “ingas” (people or sons of) and “tun” (settlement). The settlers were followers of Weorc and would have named themselves “Weorcingas” (Weorc’s People), though the town’s name has since been written in 105 different ways over a millennia. Later, it was beleieved monks connected to those at Lindisfarne had a community in the area and lost their gospels on trying to cross to Ireland, though returned safely themselves.

Workington

Remains of Workington Hall

The Curwens, Lords of the Manor of Workington, were heavily involved in the First War of Scottish Independence and their motto is said to derive from the arrival of their troops at the Battle of Falkirk – turning the battle in favour of the English King Edward. It was here William Wallace was defeated and it’s been claimed since that Sir Gilbert de Curwen left his arrival strategically late as to join the winning side, as he had allegiances in both armies. Upon Wallace’s execution, Robert the Bruce was duly crowned King of Scotland and would go on to contest the Second War, also against King Edward. After claiming his knighthood in battle in France – fighting on behalf of King Edward III’s cause to take the French throne, he would become a victim of the infamous Black Death in 1403, which also claimed his son who’d taken on his mantle. The family would also (allegedly) feature at the Battle of Agincourt, later fights against the Scots and the Wars of the Roses, supporting both sides where the crown went. Mary, Queen of Scots, spent her first night in England in Workington Hall after defeat at the Battle of Langside prior to being escorted to Carlisle Castle to begin her ill-fated imprisonment.

Later, politician John Curwen introduced acts to lift restrictions on the Catholic community in the country in the late 18th century and helped to forest the area around Windermere. He would also be a strong supporter of the abolition of slavery and introduced social security and mutual benefit schemes for his farm and colliery workers, of which coal would continue to be a long-term industry along with iron ore and steelworks throughout later years and centuries. Most of these would depart the area in recent times, with chemical, cardboard, the docks and recycling companies largely becoming local employers along with the nearby nuclear facility at Sellafield and those that go with it. The British Cattle Movement Service (a government agency which oversees the beef and dairy industry) is also based in Workington and the town also produced Leyland Buses and the much-maligned Pacer trains, the bus factory later taken on by Eddie Stobart. The Cumbrian Coast rail line gives connections to Lancaster/Preston and Carlisle and a temporary station was once hosted here (Workington North) which operated during the flood recovery times in 2009, connecting the main Workington station and Maryport.

The Grapes

Blue Bell and Red House

Waverley Hotel

After heading back to Borough Park once again, I paid my student discount (thank God that’s back for even further savings) of £7 and was into the sprawling expanses of the covered terrace. The old main stand which was closed and largely dismantled after the Bradford fire, though it remains in spirit with the bottom part still standing and housing the dressing rooms, clubhouse and other facilities. The opposite side is home to what had become the defacto main stand, a covered seating and standing affair, with the standing area at the rear separated by a wall bearing the W. A. F. C initials upon it. To the front is further terracing protruding from under the cover, with the far end (and intermittent parts) all being expanses of uncovered terracing. That’s Borough Park in a nutshell, and this is the story of Workington A.F.C….

History Lesson :

Workington A.F.C. was founded in 1921, though, in very early and different guises, the game of football dates back from at least the 18th century, with one of the earliest records of a match dating from 1775, which states the match is “long contested”, suggesting the game’s history goes back further than this. A local game of “Uppies and Downies” continues to be contested annually alongside Workington’s Borough Park home. Association football was brought to the town in the 1880’s and it’s thought a group of migrating steel workers from Dronfield (current home to Sheffield F.C. of course) further popularised the game and eventually founded the original Workington AFC in 1888.

The original side became a founding member of the Cumberland Association League shortly after their own founding, playing at Lonsdale Park, and remained in the League through to 1894 when they moved to the Cumberland Senior League, before a further switch of scenery saw the club move to the Lancashire League in 1901. However, the League would fold just two years later and thus Workington returned to the Cumberland Senior League for one season prior to their admission into the Lancashire Combination in 1904, remaining there until 1910 when switching leagues one last time to compete for a sole season in the North East League before folding. Post-war, the Workington AFC name was re-introduced, with the current club starting life where their predecessor ended its own. In 1933-’34, the club achieved their best FA Cup run, making the Fourth Round before bowing out to Preston North End. Workington won two North Eastern League Challenge Cups in 1935 &’ 37 too and lifted their first Cumberland Senior Cup in 1887, the first of five consecutive triumphs, winning the Cup on 24 occasions up to 2009.

Arriving at Borough Park

Moving to Borough Park just before the outbreak of the Second World War, and in 1951 the club were voted in to join the Football League’s Third Division North at the expense of Wirral-based New Brighton. However they would struggle in their initial couple of years, finishing the first two seasons in bottom and second-bottom place respectively. But fortunes changed when they appointed a man who would go down in management folklore – Bill Shankly. He would only remain at the club for just under two seasons before moving on to pastures new, but Workington had somewhat settled into Football League life by that point. In 1957-’58, Workington hosted the famed Busby babes of Manchester United, just a month before the Munich Air Disaster, a match which attracted a record 21,000 fans to Borough Park to watch the ill-fated young side.

Come the end of that same season, Workington would be placed in Division 4 of the reorganised Football League and in 1964, the Reds would finish up in 3rd place and achieve promotion to the nationalised Third Division. During that season, as well as the following campaign, Workington reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup – bowing out to West Ham United and Chelsea (after a replay) respectively, the ’64 run seeing them overcome Blackburn Rovers 5-1, though the following season would see an occurrence go from being remembered fondly to one tinged with sadness years later, as Workington’s Tony Geidmintis was given his Football League bow aged just 15 but would sadly pass away at the young age of just 43. This period also saw the club field Peter Foley, who’d go on to receive an OBE for his work in combating racism in football.

WAFC

1966 would see Workington reach their best-ever finish, 5th in the Third Division, before slipping down to bottom of the table the next year to return to the Fourth Division. They would never bounce back from this and would eventually become something of a staple at the wrong end of the table, ending up second-bottom in each of 1974 and 1975, prior to ending up bottom of the League in 1976. They would be re-elected on that occasion, but the following season saw the Reds record just four league wins all year in again finishing bottom, and this would be a contributing factor for the death knell of Workington as a Football League club, as they were replaced by Wimbledon. In being relegated, Workington became the penultimate side to be ousted from the League by this rule.

Now back in the non-league ranks, the club would end up dropping into the Northern Premier League, but would never finish higher than 7th before dropping into the NPL’s First Division in 1988, though did win the league’s President’s Cup in 1984. However, their struggles wouldn’t end there and after a decade in the Division 1 of the NPL they were relegated to the North West Counties League’s top-level. Their stay in the NWCFL Division 1 would be a short one though, and they would win the title at the first attempt, defeating Mossley in a title decider (with Grant Holt on the Reds’ scoresheet) and, in doing so, lifting their first ever championship – some feat for a former league team!

Back in the NPL’s Division 1, the club would remain there until 2004 when a 7th placed finish was comfortably enough to ensure a spot back in the Premier Division upon the pyramid’s restructuring. This enabled Workington’s progress to continue and, after finishing as Premier Division runners-up the next season, would achieve promotion to the Conference North through the first-ever NPL play-offs. The Conference North would become a long-term home for Workington over the next decade, with the club reaching the play-off semi-finals in 2007 (losing out to Hinckley United) and 2010 (losing to Alfreton Town) before eventually being relegated in 2014 and returning to the NPL Premier Division. After reaching the following three season’s play-offs – losing out on each occasion to Ilkeston Town, Salford City and Stourbridge (the latter two in the semi-finals) respectively – 2017-’18 looked to be heading a similar way only for injuries to tell and Workington to drop away from 2nd to mid-table. This season has seen the struggles return, with the club battling the drop to the Division 1 again.

Getting underway after a minute’s appreciation for the legendary Gordon Banks, there was another “blast from the past” between the Basford sticks by the name of Saul Deeney who helped Burton Albion (when still a non-league outfit) secure a replay with Manchester United way back when. The Northern Irishman was called into action early on in the piece too, denying both Workington front men, before Basford were awarded a spot-kick upon a fairly needless trip and it was another veteran of the same Burton side, Shaun Harrad, who stepped up to confidently find the net. 1-0 Basford.

Match Action

View from the ‘Main’ Stand

Match Action

Workington would have the majority of the play during the remainder of the half, though it was only sparingly that they truly troubled the visitors’ defence. Niall Cowperthwaite had an effort blocked and Conor Tinnion headed over, before the latter had a shot brilliantly tipped over the bar by Deeney. A late first-half bit of aggro livened things up as I exited from the old stand rooms with a tray of chips and curry but the scoreline would remain the same as the referee’s whistle signalled the break.

The second half saw Basford seek to be more proactive in their attacking approach, as they took advantage of the hosts’ own forays forward in search of a game-clinching second. After Workington’s Brad Carroll had seen a disappointingly tame shot easily saved, Basford front man Watson broke clear but with only the ‘keeper to beat, he chose to go for a chip, which proved a poor decision akin to that of the guy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade….okay, maybe not that bad, but the ball drifted a fair way wide and the chance had gone.

Match Action

Match Action

From the covered terracing

The hosts responded with some great chances to level – the dangerous Cowperthwaite firing across goal but the ball narrowly avoided the far side-netting, before fellow wide man Tinnion unleashed a great drive from 20 yards which Deeney again met with a brilliant stop. Tinnion would then also see a header loop up and off the top of the crossbar, but you felt these missed chances would come back to haunt the Reds, and so it proved when, with around twenty minutes left, Basford grabbed the all important second goal of the game when James Reid’s delivery was met by the unmarked substitute Zak Goodwin who duly nodded in. If that wasn’t game over, then it definitely was a couple of minutes later, as a free-kick was only half-cleared to Jack Thomas and he judged a chipped effort to perfection from a fair way out, the ball dipping in at just the right moment. 3-0 and game over.

Late on…

A pair of late chances for both sides could have seen the score-line added too, Goodwin showed good footwork to work a chance for himself to double his tally, only to wastefully send his shot wide and Cowperthwaite was denied by Deeney in the last real action of the game but that was that and Workington’s recent resurgence was over. Basford’s quest for another promotion to continue their impressive rise up the pyramid continues on. Post-match saw me unable to find the pub out near the waterside the other side of the station and, as such, I thought I’d set off home a little earlier and pay a visit to Carlisle station’s 301 miles bar. On the way there, though, I was asked for travel guidance to get to Kendal by a girl from California (culture shock or what?!) and my attempts at initially explaining my reasons for being in Workington for football again ended up with it being taken that I was playing there. I didn’t lie, I just didn’t ruin the experience!

Eventually guiding her to the correct place (my unfamiliarity with Carlisle likely giving the unintentional ruse away), the visit to 301 miles was undertaken, a pint of Amstel (£4) had before it was back on the train to Manchester, which slightly broke down near Wigan. Lovely. Luckily, whatever the issue was, it was quickly rectified and the rest of the journey passed without issue and that was that. Good to get Borough Park done and it was a good experience too, the history really resonates around the ground. Workington as a town was OK, with food and programme beivg decent enough. Onto another culture job next week as I ferry myself Northwards…

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 9

Programme: 6

Food: 7

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Eccleshall

Result: Eccleshall 0-0 Cheadle Town (NWCFL Division 1 South)

Venue: Pershall Park (Saturday 19th January 2019, 3pm)

Att: 56

A trip down to rural Staffordshire was on the cards as the twitterverse once again had the opportunity to decide my footballing fate. Extra responsibility was put upon them too, as it would be my first meet up with fellow hopper Paul in over a year but a draw would be the result for a second consecutive week – Lex and Eccleshall coming out on top. A meeting of our minds (or lack thereof in my case at least) was had and an executive decision made. To the, slightly tricky to get to, town of Eccleshall we would be off.

Grabbing the train into Stafford, I had a short wait, until Paul’s train from Liverpool would arrive and so I set about getting some of my Pontefract blog done because, you know, that’s definitely normal. Anyhow, Paul was soon setting foot in Staffordshire too – tales of a loaded guy paying out £118 to get to Southampton being the highlight of his trip down – as we caught the bus from outside the Lamb Inn (which I visited on my visit to Stafford Town a few weeks back) to the outlying market town.

Eccleshall

Eccleshall

Little George and its Barber Chair

After travelling through the midst of seemingly nowhere, a few villages and farmhouses being the only signs of civilisation on that route, we eventually pulled into Eccleshall. Disembarking, we quickly set about what we’d come here for. Pub…er, I mean a rest before the football. Definitely that. Unfortunately, we could only find pubs, along with a barber shop with a Carling pub board outside it, and so with the clock just approaching 11.30 (the buses were two-hourly, don’t judge us) we headed for our first stop of the day:- the Little George. The Little George wasn’t all too small in truth, a sizable bar aside a hotel with a fair amount of craft beers and the like on offer. Being a Bent’s tap, we each opted for a pint of their 30J’s which came in at a decent £3.70 each.

Sorting out our bets and the like in here alongside an interestingly placed barber’s chair at our table, we finished up and returned back up towards the bus stop and to the King’s Arms – a pretty old establishment, especially when it came to the kitchen/outdoor area. A pint of Warsteiner each was the order of the day in here (£3.90 pp) before we settled in within the beamed hostelry. From there, we began to work our way groundwards. After popping into the Bell for a pint of Sharps Atlantic each (£3.30 pp), that was still the intention, until I spotted a sign taking us down a narrow road and to the slightly out of the way Eagle.

King’s Head

The Bell

Eagle

A “Sports Bar” (it had a pool table and a few TV’s of racing/football) we had a quick bottle of Marston’s decent Resolution, bringing back memories of our visit to Alfreton (yes, I remember things like that), before swiftly returning to the town’s main streets and a pair of pubs standing on either side of the road from each other. First up came the Joules tap by the name of the Royal Oak where I coaxed Paul into having a Lakota-which I think he ended up being happy with – before, with a bit of time in hand, crossing and backtracking slightly to the Belgian Bar which was what you might expect from a bar with that name. With time beginning to conspire against us, just a half of Hell (it wasn’t Hell luckily) was had whilst Paul sampled the other type from the same brewer that was on offer before proceeding to almost bleed to death after making the mistake of locking the toilet door. Get the paper towels out…. 🙂

Eccleshall is a market town in Staffordshire and was mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book as a small village of around 100 inhabitants. The church that currently serves the town dates from the 12th century, eventually being completed by the 15th, though stone found on the land surrounding it suggests a chapel may have stood on the site from around the 10th century, with a cross stood outside the church dating from this time. The church is also host to the tombs of no less than five Bishops of Lichfield, with the slightly later castle being the Bishops’ Palace, with the estate having been given to the Bishops in the few centuries preceding the Norman Conquest.

Eccleshall had become an important market town from the mid-1100’s when it was granted the right to host a weekly market from 1153, eventually growing to gain “Borough” status by the early 1200’s and would go on to become a largely agricultural-based area. Land was apparently given originally to St. Chad and this would later pass onto the Bishops of Lichfield, with Geoffrey de Muschamp granted a licence to build a castle in 1200 by King John and the land on which this was built would go on to be in regular use by the Bishops through to the mid-19th century. However, 1867 would see the Bishop of the time decide to sell off the castle to distant relatives of Jimmy Carter (who’d later become U.S. President, of course) due to, amongst other things, the lack of railway access. Things haven’t improved much on this front, with the nearest station, Norton Bridge, rarely, if ever, used.

The old church and cross

Important dates

The castle ruins that our visible today are actually from a slightly later construction, dating from 1305 and the Bishop William Langton, who would later go on to become Chancellor of England. The impressive stronghold would later play a role in the Wars of the Roses, when it became a base of operations for Queen Margaret of Anjou and her Lancastrian troops ahead of their eventual defeat at the 1459 Battle of Blore Heath. Later, the castle would again feature in a civil conflict, as the Civil War saw it besieged by the Parliamentarian forces led by Sir William Brereton who camped out around the church. The Royalists held out for a good two months until late August of 1643, when it eventually fell – the Roundheads finding the Bishop dead from a heart-attack whilst many of the defenders were either drunk, or had abandoned the fight to drink in the town. My type of guys. The castle was sacked and the remnants becoming a prison for the Royalist high-brow.

As the years rolled on, Eccleshall has spells being a glassmaking area (when Bishop Overton brought French family glassmakers over) for a short period from 1580-1615, before later going on to be an important leather and shoemaking centre through to the late 1800’s when the industries in the town had largely died out on account of the growing machine-based factories in the nearby county town of Stafford. It also spent time being an important stop-off point for travellers on the main route between Chester and London as coach travel and road improvements began to improve and become more widespread and favourable. The largely Georgian high-street is a conservation area and the town regularly is placed in the Britain in Bloom competition. The market continues as a farmer’s market and is held bi-weekly, whilst an annual Eccleshall Show is held on the town’s Sugnall Parks.

Royal Oak

Belgian Bar

Arriving at Pershall Park

Finishing up and with the blood still pouring like he’d been shot, we headed onwards up the winding country road, eventually arriving at the Pershall Park gates with around ten-fifteen minutes to kick off. Programmes had sold out by that point (only around 10 were printed apparently), though I was lent one for a while by the gateman. £5 in, we headed to the bar for a warm before kick-off where I decided to see if I could get any extras printed out. I was pointed out Anthony, and on getting to him, Paul found out a couple had been kept back per our request and, with debts cleared, we headed out for kick off.

Pershall Park is quite a quaint, smart little ground and consists of three stands. As you enter from the car park in the corner of the ground, you have the bar/tunnel/food hut building on your immediate right and this has a few rows of covered seating out front. Behind the near end goal is another bit of covered seating and standing, though some of the latter is currently home to some deckchairs, giving you that holiday feel! The far side features a small covered terrace that straddles the halfway line, whilst the far end is open, hard standing, as is the remainder of the area around the pitch. That’s Pershall Park and this is the story of Eccleshall FC….

History Lesson:

Eccleshall Football Club was founded in 1971 as Eccleshall Old Boys by members of the town’s Secondary School. The club would join the Mid-Cheshire League’s Division 3 and went on to lift the Division 3 Cup in 1974, whilst finishing as runners-up in the league and so were promoted to Division 2. The Division 2 Cup was won in 1975 and, soon afterwards, the club changed its name to, more simply, Eccleshall. Eccleshall joined the Staffordshire County League in 1979, playing in Division 1. Promoted to the Premier Division in 1981, they lifted the League title, Premier Division Cup and May Bank to complete a 1983-’84 treble.

Eccleshall FC

This would prove to be the club’s final season there too, with the team becoming founder members of the Staffordshire Senior League – becoming champions in 1990. In 1994, the league was renamed the Midland League and Eccleshall remained here through to 2003 when, after winning their second successive Midland League title, alongside that year’s Staffordshire FA Vase, the club were promoted to the North West Counties League Division 2, which became Division 1 in 2008 upon the “old” Division 1 becoming the Premier Division. They have remained there to this day, though silverware has dried up in the meantime.

The game got underway with the visitors starting the stronger, Matty German going close with a headed effort, before Eccleshall somehow survived a goal-line scramble in blocking out two consecutive shots from Rhys Clooney and Callum Knight prior to ‘keeper Louis McCarthy keeping out Connor Naughton’s own follow-up. Eccleshall would respond soon after and were awarded a spot-kick on 27 minutes when Tom Wakefield was brought down in the area. Up stepped Luke Walsh, but his shot was at a perfect height for Dan Whiting in the Cheadle goal to palm away to safety.

Match Action

Whiting saves from the spot

Match Action

Both teams would have a late chance each at the end of the half – Knight being denied by McCarthy for the hosts and David Neligwa firing wide but the teams would go in still deadlocked at nil-nil, whilst I managed to get the penultimate pie, one of the steak variety, along with peas and gravy too. Good stuff too for £3.

Back underway soon after I’d finished up and with Paul getting ever more distracted by Liverpool’s score, the game was a fair bit poorer during the second period than the first. Eccleshall did find the net after ten minutes, but Walsh was well offside. Namesake Isaak Walsh then had a shot creep narrowly wide despite Whiting seemingly deciding it was safely covered off, before Cheadle responded with a shot from range that McCarthy was forced to tip over.

Match Action

Match Action

Lesser-spotted half-way line flag!

The game continued to wind down and the spectre of another goalless draw began to loom large as Cheadle were reduced to ten men with a couple of minutes left when, seconds after a bit of a kerfuffle between the two, Oliver Hatfield-Banton needlessly pushed Brad Carr over off the ball. After a slight scuffle, the red card was brandished. However, this made little difference to the closing stages as Cheadle dropped in to secure their point.

The game finished up with a draw being fair and the final whistle meant that, after going 81 games and thirteen months without one, I’d now seen two nil-nil’s in the space of five games, over 18 days. Unbelievable. By this point, Paul had reappeared safe in the knowledge the Reds had secured a vital three points and we had kindly been offered two lifts back into town to save us from certain death. We accepted both, just in case something went awry along the way, but eventually our original offerer Malcolm returned to drop us back at the Eccleshall clock.

Old Smithy. The planned final stop!

Thanking him for doing so, we bid goodbye to him and the younger lad Elliott in with us before heading around the corner and to what should have been our final stop, the Old Smithy. A pleasant restaurant/bar, we settled in to await our carriage back, me with a £4.20 Moretti. We headed out to the bus stop where I spotted an issue. The bus seemingly didn’t exist. As such, I headed up to the top of the road to see if I could shed any light as Paul assured me that was the correct stop. Then the bus came around the corner. Only problem was it was on the wrong side and past it went. Cab? I asked.

The answer was to the affirmative, as was Paul’s suggestion of waiting somewhere a little warmer. On account of the fact the (I assume) landlord of the Bell had put the football on for us in the back room off his own back, I thought it’d be nice to head back to wait out there. They rang us a cab, we had a pint (more Moretti for me) and we were soon rocking and rolling back to Stafford a fair bit quicker than the bus would have allowed us to do. £13.80 too wasn’t too shabby for a twenty minute trip. Back at the station, we said our goodbyes and headed for our simultaneously arriving trains, a now normal nap on the way back allowing the hour-long journey to pass smoothly. Well, bar the mates’ attempted scuffle behind me just after I’d awoke! I tried to offer some help, but was called off, probably fairly, by one of the group, though did talk to one to lessen any tensions. It’s all fun and games in this world!

So that ends another trip. Bar the nil-nil result, it had been good one. Eccleshall is a very pleasant place to visit, as is Eccleshall as a club too. Nice people and places are what I’ll take away from my visit, I can’t recommend it enough. The only issue is getting back in truth of you’re not of a driving persuasion. Aside from that, beers were good, food at the ground fine and the game was decent considering it was goalless. That’s that and it’s off to the seaside to see the seagulls….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 7

Food: 8

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 8