Manchopper in….Abbey Hulton

Result: Abbey Hulton United 1-1 Cheadle Town (NWCFL Division 1 South)

Venue: Drayton Beaumont Park (Saturday 5th January 2019, 3pm)

Att: 125

I still had a free weekend with my destination still up in the air, as I set out on my journey during the morning of this first Saturday of 2019. I was also looking to start from scratch again on the no nil-nil front after my New Year’s Day blank at Chester and I had a trio of Stokie clubs on the radar at which I hoped to accomplish this:- Abbey Hulton Utd, Eastwood Hanley and Foley Meir. As I had only set off from Manchester at midday, the easier option was the first, with the Counties side’s game kicking off at 3pm, whilst the two Staffordshire County League sides began their contests an hour earlier. As such, I hoped for the former to prevail for ease purposes and that it did. As I arrived into Stoke, my decision had been made for me. To Abbey Hulton I was bound.

Upon arriving into Stoke, a quick exit from the station had me on a bus towards the outskirts of the city within a couple of minutes and though a change of driver at Hanley would delay me a little, I was arriving at the foot of Birches Head Road at around a quarter-past one. After a bit of mental planning on the pub front, I reckoned I’d start from on-high and loop around back towards the ground and Abbey Hulton itself and so made my way uphill to the Sneyd Arms. Upon my eventual arrival, I was glad for the warmth, though the cold refreshment of a San Miguel (£3.69) was just as welcome. After watching some of the early Manchester United-Reading game in here, I continued on down the road to the side and back down a rather steep decline to the Berwick which was complete with an old cricketing set, though I’m not sure of what its importance was. Anyway, I opted for a second, cheaper San Miguel for £3.25 in here whilst seeing the conclusion of the game roll around before heading ground-wards.

Sneyd Arms Mk.1

Berwick

Sneyd Arms Mk.2

After crossing the river and ending up on a country road along with a “Dukes of Hazard” horn-equipped car, I popped into the ground to secure a programme (as it was on my way round anyway so didn’t take me out-of-the-way) and took in a quick look at the remnants of the 14th-century abbey which lends its name to the area, before visiting my second Sneyd Arms of the day. A strange occurrence for sure and one I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced before – outside of the Royal Oak’s and the like – anywhere I’ve been. Seeing that the fine 61 Deep was on in here, I knew what I was having, and with a nice amount of time remaining to enjoy it and undertake the short, five-minute walk back to the ground, I was more than happy to sit in and wile away the time.

The area of Abbey Hulton on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent takes its name from the old Hulton Abbey, the ruins of which can still be seen in the local park and has ben part of the County Borough of Stoke-on-Trent since 1922, having previously been a part of the parish of Burslem and known as the lordship of Hulton. The area was mentioned in the Domesday Book as Heltone (hill town) and was grouped with the nearby areas of Julton and Rushton in the Pirehill Hundred. The abbey – dedicated to St. Mary – was founded in 1223 by Henry de Audley and belonged to the Cistercian White Monks in what was, at the time, a rural location in the county off the route from Stoke to Leek, in keeping with their usual site of choice. The monks would begin sheep farming and later began to produce tiles, whilst the abbey would later become the location for the tombs of James de Audley (notable for bravery in battle in serving the Black Prince at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356) and his wife, with legend saying that, upon the opening of the graves when the abbey was demolished, the latter’s hair had continued to grow despite death.

After being surrendered to the crown and dissolved in 1538, the monastery and its site was sold off and by the mid-1600’s, Hilton (as it came to be known by the late 16th century) was home to a manor house instead. After excavations of the abbey in 1884 and the 1930’s had brought it back into interest, some of the original stone was repurposed for use in buildings around the local area including the Abbey Farm, once home to the grandfather of the primitive Methodist church founder Hugh Bourne, John, not far from the ground. The crossing nearby is thought to be the 18th century crossing of the Trent on Birches Head Road, just outside the gates of Drayton Beaumont Park.

The old remains of the abbey

Trent, Horses, Football. Only in this hobby.

The coal mine worked by the abbey in Abbey Hulton continued on after its dissolution by Henry VIII, and continued on into the 19th century, with the early pottery industry also continuing on for many a-year. A year after being dissolved, the demesne of Hulton and Stoke and a coal mine in the ‘field of Hulton’ were leased to a Londoner who’d already purchased the abbey’s movables, before later being granted to Sir Edward Alston – along with the abbey site, the manor of Hulton and all other possessions in the nearby areas of Hulton, Sneyd, Baddeley, Milton and Burslem. The Sneyd’s would be conveyed the manor by Alston’s grandson in 1611 with the Keele family remaining holders of the manor, though they would sell off land with only a few farms remaining in their hands by 1951 and these too were offered up upon the break-up of the Keele estate later that year.

The Caldon Canal, opened in 1779 and linking Etruria near the city centre and Froghall, passed through Abbey Hulton and is neighboured by the former site of the Biddulph Valley railway line which opened in 1864 linking Congleton and Stoke-on-Trent before closing in 1988 and a fair bit remains as a walking route. The Housing Act of 1919 would transform the area into a housing development due to need to rid the slums of Hanley and Burslem especially. Upon becoming a part of the Borough of Stoke-on-Trent in 1922, it would get its own church, St. John’s, in 1963 and so left the ecclesiastical parish of Burslem.

Arriving at the ground

Soon enough though it was time to return back to Drayton Beaumont Park, with the game just getting underway as I arrived at the gate. Alerting the guys at the gate to my arrival, I handed over my entry fee (£5) and headed straight to pitch-side with the game, as I stated, in progress already. Drayton Beaumont Park is a tidy set up, with the clubhouse, dressing rooms and food hut located behind the goal from which you enter behind whilst two small at-cost style seated stands populate the far side touchline. Hard-standing is available at both these parts of the ground, whilst the remaining two ends are off-limits, the dugouts located on the near-side touchline where a raised banking does remain. That’s the ground in short and this is the story of Abbey Hulton United….

History Lesson:

Abbey Hulton United was founded in 1947 and is, according to their site, one of the oldest clubs still playing in North Staffordshire. They originally played upon council land in Abbey Hulton and remained here for the first fifteen years of their existence, despite the fact that, quite interestingly, the changing rooms were more than a mile from the football pitch! Eventually, the club decided to move and the Parks facility at Bucknall Park become The Abbey’s new home and they would remain there until their move to their current home on Birches Head Road in 1985.

During this period the club competed in local leagues, initially starting in the Longton League before having a spell in the Newcastle & District League, prior to joining the Burslem & Tunstall League. Despite not winning any silverware in either the Longton or Newcastle & District competitions, Abbey had more luck in the latter, finishing as Burslem & Tunstall League Division 2 runners-up in 1974 and being promoted, becoming champions of the league after winning the Division 1 and also lifted the B&T League Cup in a 1979 double-winning season. Moving to the Fenton & District League for the beginning of the next decade, the club would finish runners-up in both the league’s Division One and President’s Cup in 1982, but would go on to win a treble just the next year – consisting of the League title, League Challenge Cup and Charity Cup.

AHUFC

After moving into their new home, the club became more stable financially and thus their ambition grew. The clubhouse and other facilities were duly added swiftly and the club immediately joined the North Stafforshire Alliance League upon said move, remaining there for the next couple of seasons. Seeking, and being awarded, election to the Staffordshire County League (North) in 1987, Abbey Hulton would go on to spend just over a decade here, winning a League and League Cup double in 1998 before being switched into the Midland League (not the current one) for the next season, 1998-’99. Winning the Midland League title in 2004, Abbey would remain here through to the league’s merger with the Staffs County League in 2005 and were duly placed in the newly formed Staffordshire County Senior League’s Premier Division for the following year.

Abbey Hulton would eventually see further success in the Staffs County Senior League, though would have to wait a decade for their next silverware in the form of the league’s President’s Trophy in 2014, and then built on this to achieve a cup double in 2015 in the shape of the Leek Cup and the Staffs County League Challenge Cup – the former at their second attempt, having been defeated finalists in 2008 – and 2017 saw the club lift the Leek Cup for a second time, with Abbey also securing their first Staffs County Senior Premier League title at the end of the same campaign. This latter double would be the catalyst for The Abbey’s decision to seek promotion to the North West Counties League for the following year and this was duly achieved following major ground improvements, the club finishing their debut season at Step 6 in 13th in the NWCFL Division One ahead of its regional split for this season. This season has also seen Abbey Hulton make their FA Vase bow, though a difficult tie against Whitchurch Alport ended in a 2-3 defeat.

The game began rather quietly and sedate with little in the way of action early on. After Cheadle’s midfield loanee Laurence Taylor had seen his shot comfortably kept out by the home ‘keeper, his team-mate Ben Brooks had the best chance of the first quarter-hour, seeing his shot saved by the legs of Abbey Hulton custodian Jacob Holding. The hosts responded, with Jon Beaumont’s free header flying over the bar when he likely ought to have done better but unfortunately, aside from the odd effort going harmlessly off-target in the remaining twenty-five minutes or so, that was pretty much that in terms of action for the first forty-five, and I began to have the spectre of the nil-nil creep out of the shadows once again.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Surely, I pondered as I chomped away at a cheeseburger and chips, I couldn’t go over 13 months without one, only to have two in four days? Could I?! No. No. Surely. As a side-note, I did originally head to the food hut to partake in one of the area’s famed oatcakes but on arrival, I noticed that the only one around seemed to be a cheese one. Now, I like cheese. In fact, I’d say I love cheese. I couldn’t live without it. But in certain things, I think it seems disgusting – like cheese savouries or cheese & onion pasties. I don’t know why, it’s just what it is and a cheese oatcake rekindled those ideologies! As such, a cheeseburger had to indulge my cheesy needs. It was a shame the chips weren’t cheesy too…..

Aaaaaanyway, getting off that dairy tangent, let’s get back on with the game, shall we?! Abbey’s shooting continued to be awry, with veteran striker Lee Cropper and Angelo Errico both seeing a couple of efforts evade the target, whilst Joe Neild saw his own shot go wide, before the deadlock was eventually broken with twelve minutes to play, when a ball into the area eventually fell at the feet of the impressive Dylan Bath who lashed the ball beyond Cheadle ‘keeper Danny Whiting and into the net from close range to the delight of the majority of the fans in the ground.

HEADS!!

View from one of the stands

Phantom balls

Finally leaving my camping out posts of the pair of stands in the last five minutes or so after overhearing some Abbey fans experience-fuelled plans to beat the dropping of the tunnel bar come full-time, I watched the final throes of the game from the park-like area just by the gate/car-park expecting the action to wind down to the close. It looked to be going that way too until, in the 95th minute, Cheadle were awarded what looked to be a pretty stonewall penalty (even from my distance) and Joe Neild stepped up to nervelessly send the Abbey ‘keeper the wrong way and secure his side a deserved point in what was, despite the lack of true goalmouth action, a good game to watch throughout with the likes of the aforementioned Bath and Matty German standing out for either side.

After the game, I headed off up the nearby hill and down the road to the Birches Head Inn which shares the road on which it stands’ name of course. I was served without being asked for any ID, though when the girl behind me was asked – as she was lucky enough to look younger – I took distinct offence to this! Obviously, I jest and joked that I must be way past that point by now, which wasn’t exactly denied….hmmm. With the late kick-off just getting going as I arrived, I supped at my pint of Moretti (£4.30) in here before returning around the corner to the pub just next to the bus stop I required to get back to the station. It’s nice when everything works out quite as well as this as it definitely doesn’t happen so smoothly all too often.

Birches Head

Cheshire Cheese

Finishing off with a pint of Sharp’s Atlantic Pale Ale at the very economic £3 in the Cheshire Cheese, I spotted a few delays on the go and reckoned I’d cover myself with an earlier bus, just in case things went awry. The bus arrived right on time and I got back for the rattler a few minutes ahead of its scheduled arrival too, getting back into Manchester just nicely for my bus home. Honestly, is this a dream?! I wasn’t complaining, that’s for sure.

All in all, the day had been decent, especially considering it was all done on the fly. The pubs I visited were all welcoming and the beers were certainly kindly priced (especially considering what was to come the following day at Fulham), whilst the game was alright for the most part, despite the lack of goals for the most part. The food was lovely too and the programme not a bad effort for the £1.50 price tag. Not too bad and, having challenged somewhere to give me something negative to write (Chester, you did well on that front), it’s good to be back in a more positive mindset! Onto Sunday and I’m Fulham bound. Anyone for an upset…..?

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 5

Food: 8

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Chester

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

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

Att: 1,953

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

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

Chester Racecourse

Chester

Chester

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

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

Chester amphitheatre

Roman gardens

Chester Cross

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

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

Chester’s Spoon’s

Dublin Packet….

…whilst the other two are near the Xmas tree.

Chester Cathedral

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

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

Chester

Old King’s Head

Falcon

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

History Lesson:

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

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

Arriving at the Deva

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

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

In the busy clubhouse pre-match

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

“Shents” action

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

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

F&F – Fans & Flag

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

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

Olde Cottage – see above.

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

RATINGS:

Game: 2

Ground: 6

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Stafford (Stafford Town FC)

Result: Stafford Town 1-2 Redgate Clayton (Staffordshire County Senior League Premier Division)

Venue: Evans Park (Saturday 29th December 2018, 2pm)

Att: (no idea) 60 ish?

As my original planned game at St. Helens fell by the wayside due to travel issues, I was left with a free weekend for the first time in as long as I remember. With that being the case, I reckoned it best to head into Manchester and see what was on the go, but first I had to have some sort of an idea of where to go and when I had to get there. My perusing of the fixture lists of numerous leagues saw me eventually come across Stafford Town and Brocton, both of which were located in Stafford and so I would even have an option upon my arrival in the county town. It looked as though my likeliest destination had been sorted. But to which ground would I be headed?

I arrived into Manchester with still no plan set in stone, but a quick look at the screens showed the train down to Stafford was leaving in just ten minutes and it looked like it was meant to be. After buying my ticket and grabbing one of a number of, for once, available seats on a Crosscountry train, I was soon rocking and rolling down through Cheshire before getting to Stafford at just after 11.30am and having had a tour of the pretty Victoria Park opposite, I set my sights on the more important things as I headed through the strange mix of old and new in the centre (especially the shopping bit):- pubs and stadia.

Victoria Park

Lamb Inn

Old Rose Crown

Stafford is the county town of Staffordshire and derives its name from ‘ford’ by a ‘staithe’ (landing-place) and the original settlement was on a dry sand and gravelly peninsula that provided a strategic crossing of the River Sow and a large area of the marshland that surrounded the area then still remains. It’s thought that Stafford in its current form was founded around the year 700 AD by a Mercian prince by the name of Bertelin who, according to legend, founded a hermitage on the peninsula, seemingly named after himself:- Betheney. It had been thought that an old wooden cross from the same era had been found under the remains of the church which bears his saintly name, but it was later found to have been nothing more than an old coffin, dating from the founding of the “burh” by Ethelflæd, Lady of Mercia, in 913AD and may have been an offering of sorts to St. Bertelin. This “burh” was fortified and industrialised to produce Roman-style pottery known as “Stafford Ware”.

Already a centre for deliveries of grain during the Middle Ages, the town grew under the Lady of Mercia (who herself was a formidable military leader and tactician) and she was making attempts to, along with brother Edward the Elder of Wessex, unify England into a single kingdom under their father King Alfred the Great. She also founded the “burh” at Runcorn and Tamworth amongst others. Stafford became a major military base and began to produce meat, baking coinage and weaponry and the Lady ruled over Mercia in 918 AD until her demise in Tamworth. Around this time, the county of Stafford was formed within the Pirehill hundred and in 1069, Stafford was the site of the Battle bearing the town’s name between Eadric the Wild (rebelling against the Norman conquest) and Edwin, Earl of Mercia, would follow his lead two years later but would be killed leading to William the Conquerer dividing his lands between his nobility. A castle was added in 1090, the ruins that remain today date from the later 19th century iteration, though uses much of the original stone.

Stafford

Stafford

Ancient High House

Redevelopment in the 12th century saw a motte created overlooking to ford, and trades and crafts flourished in trade until the 14th century (likely due to the Black Death) and upturned in fortunes again during the mid-16th century. In 1206, Stafford received its royal charter from King John which created the borough of Stafford and it became a market town dealing in cloth and wool. King Richard II was paraded through the town as prisoner of the future Henry IV in 1399 and Charles I stayed in the town’s Ancient High House after the outbreak of the English Civil War. The 1st Viscount of Stafford, William Howard, would be executed for involvement in the Popish plot (before being later exonerated and beatified as a Catholic martyr). The railways arrived in the town in 1837 (from Warrington to Birmingham) and later became an important junction, thus attracting many industries and Stafford is home to the Stafford(shire) knot, a distinctive three-looped knot that is the traditional symbol of the county.

I first went off in slightly the wrong direction but did end up coming around to finding the Lamb Inn, a pub dating from the 19th century. Sadly, as I did receive a warm welcome, it was empty upon my arrival (though this was at opening time) and this didn’t change throughout my short stay as I supped at a pint of Stella (£3.70) as the twitterverse decided on my venue. By the time I arrived at my second stop, the Joules outlet by the name of the Rose & Crown, my destination was certain – I was off to Evans Park, home of Stafford Town – and my pint of Pale Ale (£3.35) was all the better for knowing.

Market Vaults

The Bear

Shrewsbury Arms

A swift one in the pub the other side of the large gallery in the town square, by the name of the Market Vaults saw me begin my switch onto cider with an Old Rosie (£4.05) and from there then I continued to the nearby The Bear pub right in front of the impressive Tudor-era Ancient High House. A quick Dark Fruits (£3.45) in here also saw me kindly be allowed to reserve a programme for my arrival via Stafford’s twitter, which allowed me a stop off at my final pre-match hostelry, the Shrewsbury Arms, where my strange concoctions of real cider tasting began with an Apple & Pear offering, which came in at £3.80. Finishing up, it was off to the ground via getting stuck in an ASDA car park. (NB: I was on foot, don’t worry, I don’t drive….yet!).

A ten minute or so walk later, I arrived at the gates of Evans Park and after navigating the car-park I got to the gate, paid my £3 entry and was pointed in the direction of my programme – the food bar. Handing over my £1 fee for the bible, kick-off had just occurred and the game was going through its early stages. Evans Park is a tidy ground with a new-ish 3G (or something like it, it’s all 3G to me) surface providing a good quality of play. A large stand dominates the otherwise featureless ground, with seating located more-or-less centralised over the “tunnel” and the sides empty, giving it a rather strange look. The remainder of the ground is open, hard standing with the dressing rooms located below the stand, the food bar between it and the turnstiles down in the near corner.  That’s the ground and this is the story of Stafford Town….

History Lesson:

Stafford Town Football Club was founded in 1976 as Stafford F.C. and joined the Midland Combination Division 2 for the 1977-’78 season, winning the division at the second attempt. They changed their name to Stafford Town in 1981 though left the Combination the next year and joined the ranks of the newly founded Staffordshire County Senior League in 1984. Finishing a best of runners-up in 1992, they would remain until the end of the following campaign (spending two seasons there as Stafford MSHD after a merger with a Sunday League team of the suffix’s name) when the club joined the West Midlands Regional League and won the Division One at their first attempt, earning promotion to the Premier Division.

Arriving at the ground

They would win the Premier Division of the WMRL in the millennium season of 1999-2000 and were promoted to the Midland Football Alliance. However, they would finish bottom in 2004 and were relegated back to the WMRL Division One. The club wouldn’t return until 2010 when they finished as runners-up to secure promotion back to the Midland Alliance – missing out on the title on goal difference alone – and transferred to the Midland Combination Premier Division in 2013 remaining there through the league’s merger with the Midland Alliance the next year and winning the Les James Challenge Cup before being relegated last season after finishing 20th out of 22 and returned to the Staffordshire County Senior League after a 25-year absence.

The game began with Stafford on the front-foot, putting in a number of early shots on the Redgate Clayton goal, the first of which clipped the crossbar and another few were either saved easily or ended up off-target. Stafford’s domination of the first-half was quite surprising given the relative position of the two teams in the table being so close, but it was the hosts who would continue to threaten to grab the opener, with Clayton hardly creating a chance or a real stop out of the Stafford ‘keeper.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

As it was, Town continued on but found the Clayton ‘keeper in good form. First, he found himself in a one-on-one situation against Stafford’s #8 but saved well, and then denied Tom Duffy’s effort from inside the area in more routine fashion. However, he would eventually be beaten just a few minutes before the break – and just after I’d finished up my meat and potato pasty – when, after Duffy went close on a further couple of occasions, firing wide and forcing a further stop just a few moments earlier, he would be third-time lucky, finding the top corner from the edge of the area and giving the ‘keeper no chance. Half-Time arrived soon afterwards, the hosts deservedly leading but only by the slenderest of margins.

After a rather uneventful break, I soon got talking to a trio of Town supporters ahead of me whom I believe were named Ted, Emily and a young lad whose name escapes me (though it is definitely possible I may have fabricated the other two as well as I did forget to make a note) and the conversation spanned the vast majority of the second-half before I headed for a whistle-stop second-half lap of the ground with around ten/fifteen minutes or so left. It was good speaking and meeting you, so please accept my name-related ignorance! Meanwhile, back on the pitch, it began to appear as though Stafford (who I’d decided at this point must be miles ahead of Redgate by this performance) would continue their dominant display as a good move ended with #2 hitting just over. How wrong this view would be.

View from the stand

Match Action

Match Action

From then on it was pretty much all Redgate. First, one of the midfield headed off target from around eight-yards when he really ought to have at least hit the target but the visitors would be level shortly afterwards when Ben Mathews netted direct from a corner, meaning I’d now seen two in the space of three weeks having (I think) never seen one live in person before. Crazy. Anyway, Stafford responded to the set-back when #10 gambled well but upon being presented with a chance to shoot, hesitated, and ended up giving the Clayton ‘keeper an easier save than he might have had otherwise.

Stafford’s #1 then showed his best by pulling off a pair of quick-fire saves to deny #9 one-on-one, then palming away a drive from long-range, but he would be eventually beaten by Mathews’ second of the game as a free-kick ended as something of a cross-cum-shot and ended up drifting over everyone and into the far corner of the net to give Clayton a lead they would hold onto fairly comfortably until the end, only having to survive a spell of in-box pinball and a late effort from #3 to secure the points. Full-time: 1-2.

Sun Inn

Floodgate Ale House

Picture House

Bird In’ Hand

After the game, the short walk back around the cricket club and to the town-centre was undertaken and I was soon within the Sun Inn where I had a quick post-match surmise with Ted before finishing up my pint of Stowford (£3.75) and heading to the Floodgate Ale House, where I opted to try out a pint of the Rhubarb cider which was lovely at £3.50. From there, it was a back-track around the corner to the Wetherspoon’s on this side of the town, the rather grand and interesting Picture House, still with the screen and projector in situ behind the bar area. I settled in for a while over a bottle of Balitka, before realising the train back was a little too tight to bother with and instead opted to go for a final one at the Bird In’ Hand, located a couple of minutes away from the station.

This rounded off the day before grabbing the train back at a little after 7pm, and I arrived back in Manchester around a half-hour later, before making my way over to Piccadilly Gardens for the bus back home, though I did discover that tripping over a tram-line isn’t a great thing to do….! Either way, that was the only blot on a day which had proved a pretty fun one. Having made a choice all but on the fly, it was good to truly see Stafford, my prior visit to Rangers a number of years back having been far too short for my liking. The game was decent enough and the ground smart too and it always gives nice memories and opinions when you meet fans as open and friendly as I came across here. Cheers, Stafford, for a good one and I look forward to being back soon. That’s a year with no nil-nil. Could January 1st see a change….? (SPOILERS AOTS!).

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 6

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

 

 

Manchopper in….Wythenshawe (Wythenshawe Amateurs FC)

 

Result: Wythenshawe Amateurs 1-0 Wythenshawe Town (NWCFL Division 1 South)

Venue: Hollyhedge Park (Wednesday 26th December 2018, 3pm)

Att: 583

The second of a four-day Wythenshawe double saw me following up my Saturday visit to Town’s Ericstan Park with a first-ever trip the short distance across town to the home of Wythenshawe Amateurs, within the leafy surroundings of Hollyhedge Park. Of course, being Boxing Day and all, the transport around was even worse than usual and so after grabbing a bus and two trams, I was arriving into Wythenshawe at a little before 11.30am, though this wasn’t exactly unplanned as I wanted to have a peruse of the park and its inhabitant – Wythenshawe Hall. As such, I got off at the met stop named as such, though this ended up being a decent walk off from the park itself and after traversing a few muddy tracks and playing fields (a former home of the Ammies), I eventually found my way back to something more resembling of terra-firma.

After heading past the hall and a statue of Oliver Cromwell for some reason, which would have been far more fittingly placed in Banbury (where I was the previous week), I decided it was time to seek out some more of Wythenshawe’s drinking holes – starting with the Farmer’s Arms in the Northenden area where I began my pre-match tour with a pint of Peroni (£4.60). Watching the build-up and very early stages of the early kick-off in here, I was soon heading for a bus which would drop me at another of the area’s older buildings, this time Baguley Hall which is sadly boarded up and fairly forlorn at this point. To recover from such a sight I figured another pint was required and so I made my way over to the Blackboy, a real football-centric pub I figured from the City/United boards and other paraphernalia dotted around. Getting a welcome handshake from a guy at the bar, I settled in to watch the remainder of the first-half of the above game over a pint of Amstel (£3.40).

Wythenshawe Park

Wythenshawe Hall

Farmer’s Arms

I was soon on my way once again, though turning the wrong way (by some means or another) meant my lazy plan was foiled and I was left to walk over to my next waypoint en-route to the ground which came in the form of the Firbank. A sort of mix between one of the newer-breed of eatery pubs whilst retaining a traditional pub feel too, it’s a nice enough place and I opted for a pint of Heineken (£4.25) in here with me not feeling like trudging around to the other side of the bar to see the remaining offerings – the cold glass fridge was enough of a tempter on this occasion. I ended up being a little more rushed in the end than I planned as it turned out as I decided I’d play it safe and pop the ground first to secure a programme for this more momentous game and so I quickly returned from whence I came and grabbed the tram for the few stops onwards towards the ground.

Baguley Hall

Blackboy

Firbank

Passing through the park, I soon came into view of the ground from a pathway outside where some youths were shouting proudly about their respective virginity losses. Scarred by this, I quickly escaped from earshot and grabbed a programme (£2) as I continued on my way to the couple of pubs that serve nearby Gatley, passing a “Welcome to Stockport” sign as I did so. You really do see the sights in this hobby, let me tell you! Anyway, I soon came upon the Horse & Farrier, a pub I’d already seen earlier this season when getting lost trying to get to Cheadle Town and put it in the memory bank and as such, I was happy to visit. An older pub, the walls bear the stories of a couple of sons of previous owners who went on to serve in the forces with one, Clifford Platt, earning the military cross for bravery at Passchendaele – in rallying a band of infantry together – whilst brother James sadly lost his life at a young age. I just happened to have settled into the seat next to these stories whilst supping at my second Amstel of the day, which came in at the unusual price of £3.78. A trip round the corner to another older pub, in the form of the Prince of Wales, ended up being rather brief with a Strongbow doing the job here though this also was tagged with a strange price – £3.48 – before I returned back to Hollyhedge Park, arriving within the first minute. Nice.

Gatley

Horse & Farrier

Prince of Wales

Handing over my £3 entry (not bad that!) I continued on through the car-park to pitch-side. As it stands now, Hollyhedge Park is quite a simple ground that only opened up again around a year ago. As I said, it does have unobstructed views from the park that cheapskates may use if it’s their want to (though none really did today, bar a passing few) with the ground itself being open, hard standing all around with only a small covered stand with freshly-installed (judging by the timber smell that still hung in the area) benched seating within. A smart clubhouse is located in front of you as you enter from behind the near-end goal and houses the tunnel and food hut too whilst there is a little raised standing in the form of some small, grassy mounds that don’t really offer too much in the way of altitude. That’s Hollyhedge Park in a nutshell and this is the story of the Ammies….

History Lesson:

Wythenshawe Amateurs Football Club was founded in 1946 (as was Town, interestingly enough), and after initially beginning life as a youth outfit at the Cleveland Playing Fields, eventually progressed to having players old enough for an open-age side by 1949 and The Ammies – with their Sheffield Wednesday-inspired kit – joined the South Manchester & Wythenshawe League advancing through the lower divisions quickly prior to lifting the Division One title in 1953 and moving to the Altrincham & District League thereafter all whilst at their home in Wythenshawe Park (since the move to adult football). In 1956, the club entertained Manchester United in the Altrincham & District FA Whitaker Cup final, with the Ammies holding United, featuring the likes of Bobby Charlton in their line-up, to a 1-1 draw and therefore earning the cup via the “shared” method, with each club holding the silverware for 6 months respectively.

In the meantime, Wythenshawe continued to climb up the pyramid and the club was accepted to the Lancashire & Cheshire League after just the one season in the Alty & District League where they won a league and cup double in their first season – winning the 3rd Division ‘A’ and Hellawell Shield and went on to achieve a further two successive promotions (as 3rd Division runners-up in 1956 & 2nd Division champs the following year) before lifting the First Division championship in 1962, whilst adding further cups in the form of the Rhodes Cup on three occasions (1958, 1961 & 1972) before they departed for the Manchester League in the wake of their final Rhodes Cup success after spells at two further grounds – the Christie Playing Fields and the Federation of Lads’ Club ground – saw their somewhat nomadic existence continue.

WAFC

In the Manchester League, the Ammies immediately won the 1st Division in their first season prior to going on to win the Premier Division on three occasions (1990, 1993 and 2003) alongside finishing as runners-up on a further ten occasions – including both of the club’s final two campaigns prior to this ongoing season. They also became the record winners of the league’s Gilgryst Cup, taking this honour on 7 occasions (1986, ’87, 1990, ’99, 2001, ’09 & 2018) whilst also lifting the Lancashire Amateur Cup on three occasions, these coming in 1976, 1990 and 1996, and were also beaten finalists on a further six occasions between 1982 & 1994, the 1990 season seeing a treble of the above secured. They also began to find more permanent homes during this period, spending a fair amount of time as tenants of Wythenshawe CC on Longley Lane prior to brief spells at the former home of Flixton FC, Valley Road, in 2015, St. Paul’s College for the next two years before finally finding what seems to be a permanent home in Hollyhedge Park from 2017 onwards. An interesting note is that the club’s first-team has never been relegated in its 72 years of existence, with 73 looking a fair bit likely (!) to be reached too, with the Ammies challenging for another swift promotion this season – their first in the North West Counties League Division 1 South.

The game got underway with the Ammies having the honour of the first kick of a semi-professional Wythenshawe Derby with several names with higher-level experience involved – the likes of Rory Fallon and Danny Egan especially so for the hosts. The latter was denied after around ten minutes by Ben Purdham who tipped an effort around the upright, with the resultant corner being headed goalwards by Joel Aikenhead and cleared off the line by Town’s Sam Heathcote (one of Town’s, number to have experience higher in the pyramid) only for the liner to flag and appear to indicate a goal. After consultation was carried out the goal was given and the Ammies were celebrating, much to Town’s chagrin.

Match Action

Match Action

Mix of viewpoints needed….

Unfortunately, the game began to settle down rather than pick up in terms of goalmouth action for the next twenty minutes, with little in the way of chances being created until, around the half-hour mark, Ammies’ Aikenhead fired narrowly over after fine work by Fallon before Egan spurned a one-on-one opportunity when he opted to chip rather than lace it and the ball, looped into the grateful hands of Purdham. The first half had been mostly the home side’s and especially so in chances created, but Town were still well in the game come the break and a trip to the food bar for some fine chips and a cheeseburger which cost just £3.50. Not at all shabby!

The second half began with me having a chat with the suspended Ammies midfield dynamo Will Ahern (which I know from Trafford is a huge shocker) and the usual response from the team behind that lasts around twenty minutes. However if you can get through that, I find you can be fairly confident of a result therein. Town saw Liam Crellin-Myers fire straight at Martin Blain early on before the hour mark featured their best chance when Adam Farrand broke clear of the Amateurs’ defence, only to be denied by a fine stop by Blain to keep his clean sheet intact as a sheet of mist began to descend from the hill beyond the far goal.

The mist rolls in

Match Action

Match Action (somewhere anyway)

As the hosts began to sit back on their lead in the final twenty, so Town continued to dominate the half in a similar fashion to the first, only for their opponents to have had the better of that one. Chris Middleton had a goal ruled out for an offside in the build-up before Sam Heathcote hot a few set-piece efforts from range off target prior to testing Blain’s concentration as the long-throws rained in upon the box at regular intervals, but the Ammies stopper was again equal to the task and ensured the points would remain at Hollyhedge Park and Wythenshawe Amateurs would take the spoils in the initial derby clash (if I hadn’t mentioned it before!).

Post-match I headed back towards the Park and a pub by the name of…. well, the Park which had limited choice on in all honesty and so I opted for a safe option of Carlsberg as I had a fair while to milk it, though it did only come in at £3.10, so no real complaints there. I watched the first bit of the evening game on TV before deciding it’d be rather rude not to make a revisit back to the tram stop neighbouring Gardener’s Arms for the second time in 4 days, though it was for research purposes I swear! I wanted to know how much a sole pint cost in here and soon found out – a Moretti set me back £4.20. I wasted away my remaining time in Wythenshawe in here before retiring back towards Chorlton and the bus home from there.

The Park (no, I didn’t realise how bad this pic is)

Gardener’s to round things off once again….

So the second journey to Wythy in a couple of days is done. Again it had been solid if unspectacular in the main, but on the whole I could have little complaint. Yes, the game could have had little more action for the neutral, but it was all played at a high tempo and give me a nervy one-nil over a boring 5-0 any day. Keep it alive! Pubs were all good in their own ways I suppose and the food and programme at the ground were good efforts as well. I need to become more critical on these pages, so someone give me a chance or anyone reading will begin to think I’m bullshitting somewhat! Anyway, onto the final Saturday of the year and just one game separates me from a calendar year with no 0-0. It think we can all guess what’s about to happen….

Manchopper in….Wythenshawe (Wythenshawe Town FC) (2)

Result: Wythenshawe Town 2-2 Stone Old Alleynians (NWCFL Division 1 South)

Venue: Ericstan Park (Saturday 22nd December 2018, 3pm)

Att: 54

As the run into the festive season begins, so the want to do a few closer games rises. Having not visited Wythenshawe Town since their “Invincibles” days whilst playing in the lower reaches of the Cheshire League, I reckoned a revisit was in order and in doing so, just happened to cement the plan of a Wythenshawe double in the span of a few days with my intended Boxing Day fixture seeing me head the short journey a little further on past the home of Town and to Hollyhedge Park, the home of Wythenshawe Amateurs – the first ever semi-pro clash between the two. When you consider the strength of talent that has derived from the area over the years, the fact it has taken this long for even one club to rise into the Counties ranks is pretty unbelievable. But they’re both there now and I was off to sample Ericstan Park under lights for the first time too.

The morning of the game provided me with a little bonus of sad proportions as I found out one of the more interesting Russian aircraft was in at Manchester and leaving early afternoon. As such, my starting point was pretty much set in stone and after grabbing both buses and Metrolink, I was disembarking in the Town Centre at a little after midday, though my journey en-route did throw up the fact I’d forgotten my camera and so my phone would be employed on this one. Anyway, a short walk later had me at the Portway which had seemingly had its supplies hit hard over the previous couple of days, judging by the amount of pint pots on taps. As such, I opted for a pint of Strongbow (£3) to begin with and had a bit of a chat with the guy I presume is one of the owners before I had to make haste and leave as the Airport was calling. I had to be quick too and a short jog later had me at the crossing towards the appropriately named Airport Pub, where I would get my viewing up close. Rather surprisingly, there weren’t more people out to see it and so I could sit outside in relative peace whilst enjoying a pint of the fine Big Wave. Lovely, even at the princely £4.95.

Portway

The Airport

Star of the early part of the trip

Spending a good half-hour here, it was soon time to drag myself away and head back towards Wythenshawe, with further planned stops in the nearby Red Beret and Cornishman hostelries. The Red Beret was by far the busier of the pair, with my comment about not wanting to get between a pair of “experienced” guys at the bar being met rather jovially. A pint of Boddington’s (£2.90) was the order of the day in here whilst watching the early part of the second-half of the Arsenal-Burnley game before seeing out the remainder in the aforementioned Cornishman over a pint of San Miguel for a pretty cheap £3.20.

Wythenshawe’s name seems to derive from the Old English words wiðign (“withy tree”) and sceaga (“wood” with the similar dialect word being “shaw”) and is made up from the ancient townships of Northenden, Baguley and Northern Etchells, who merged together in 1931 when the town was transferred from Cheshire to the City of Manchester. Until then, the name only referred to Wythenshawe Hall and the surrounding ground of Wythenshawe Park. For many centuries, much of this land was owned by the Tatton family and after being pressured by the Manchester Corporation – who were in desperate need for more land for housing – the Tatton’s parted with the land in 1926. The surrounding farmlands were subsequently transformed into one of the largest housing estates in Europe, with the hall itself victim of an arson attack in 2016 and it’s still undergoing restoration today.

Red Beret

Cornishman

Silver Birch

Wythenshawe is also home of Manchester Airport, the former RAF Ringway and before the airfield at Ringway was laid out in earnest, three farm fields in Northern Moor (now the north edge of the town) were used as Manchester Aerodrome. This was the UK’s first municipal airfield and operated for around a year between April of 1929 and early 1930. A barn was converted for use as a hangar and a farmhouse for admin purposes, with the last recorded flight departing from Wythenshawe’s Aerodrome in June of 1930. In other transportation affairs, the town’s railway station (Northenden for Wythenshawe) was closed in 1964, the nearest stations now being those on the Styal line and the Airport’s own. It has good links via buses and trams to the wider Manchester area with a new hub being completed in 2015 to take in the recently opened Airport Met line. The town now includes the areas of the aforementioned trio as well as Benchill, Peel Hall, Newall Green, Woodhouse Park, Moss Nook, Northern Moor and Sharston.

Upon the whistle it was back on the tram from the nearby stop and into the town centre once again for a visit to my final pre-match stop, the Silver Birch – not named after the Grand National winner from years back. Being a Holt’s pub, cheap-ish beer was always going to be likely and the Crystal Gold didn’t disappoint in that respect, setting me back at the usual random £2.90-odd price. Afterwards it was back on the tramways for the short hop to the ground-neighbouring Baguley stop from where it is about a five-minute walk to the gates of Ericstan Park, down a small back street behind the Tesco.

Wythenshawe

Wythenshawe

Paying my £5 entry, I met up with Dan once inside and was soon in receipt of the programme he’d kindly got me in upon his arrival and with just a few minutes to kick-off, I had little time to take in the improvements to the ground which included the small covered terrace right in front of where you enter having been extended quite a fair way and it has also had a fair amount of seating added. This is the case for the stand on the opposite side of the pitch too, which has more covered seating, whilst the far end is now open (though you may have to scale a bar to reach it) though isn’t paved as of yet. The majority of the far side is still to be paved too, with the bit nearest the clubhouse and car-park being the only bit to have received this upgrade to date. All facilities are located within the large, impressive club building including the food hut and dressing rooms. So that’s Ericstan Park and this is the story of Wythenshawe Town FC….

History Lesson:

Wythenshawe Town Football Club was founded in 1946 as North Withington Amateur F.C. and initially played in the local South Manchester and Wythenshawe League through to 1958 when they were switched into the Lancashire & Cheshire League, after winning the league’s Division 2 in 1950 and the Barker Cup the following year. They would go on to spend the next 14 years in the Lancs & Cheshire adding the Division ‘C’ to their accolades in 1959, before winning the Division 3 the next year and going on to have further success throughout the next decade, lifting the Division ‘B’ in 1964 and the Division 2 in 1965 prior to winning the Division 1 in five of the next six seasons thereafter, only missing out on the 1968 title during that period.

The club would have their application to join the Manchester League accepted in 1972 and two years after they joined, North Withington would move from the Hough End fields and into a new home on Timpson Road in Baguley which would later become known as Ericstan Park – named after two of the club’s hierarchy at the time in the form of Eric Renard and Stan Hahn. The club’s new badge incorporated a cockerel and a fox (with the former’s name deriving from the French for fox and the latter’s from the German “Hähnchen” for cockerel). During their spell in the Manchester League, the club won the 1974 Division 2 and won further silverware in the cups via the Manchester Challenge Trophy on five occasions (1977, ’78, ’80, ’93 & ’95), the 1980 Lancashire Amateur Cup, the 1985 Gilgryst Cup and the 2000 Murray Shield.

Arriving at Ericstan Park

Clubhouse

Changing their name to Wythenshawe Town in the mid-’80’s, Town would remain in the Manchester League for the majority of their existence, only departing in 2014 when a disappointing season saw them relegated from the Manchester League’s Premier Division. A further drop in league was suffered as a result of the switch which led the club yo begin their tenure in the League 2, but this would only serve to hand Town perhaps their most famed year as Lee McGregor’s side went through the season unbeaten in the league and cups, winning all of their 39 competitive matches and being promoted to League 1, earning the moniker of ‘The Invincibles’. Their quadruple winning campaign saw Town secure the League 2 title, the J.A. Walton Challenge Cup, Manchester County FA Cup and the Altrincham & District Cup to round off the season. A second straight promotion was secured the following year and Wythenshawe began 2016-’17 campaign in the Cheshire League’s Premier Division. After two further mid-table seasons in the league’s top division, the club joined the expanded North West Counties League for this season under boss James Kinsey and were joined by local rivals Wythenshawe Amateurs in doing so, enabling a semi-pro rivalry in the town for the first time.

As I said a little earlier, the game was underway soon after my arrival and it was the visitors who looked the more comfortable in the early stages and duly took the lead on 12 minutes when they were awarded a free-kick just outside the area and Jake Vernon curled his effort beyond Town ‘keeper Ben Purdham, despite the stopper getting a hand to the ball. As we continued on round, Dan and I spotted Gillian, whom we knew from our days at Trafford when new Town centre-back Nia Bayunu was becoming a staple in the side before later becoming captain. We got clued up here and there and he’s back at it once more which is good to see. Anyway, speaking of new centre-backs in blue with a connection to Trafford, Bayunu’s partner at the back, Sam Heathcote, almost provided the assist to the equaliser when he played in Justin Pickering, but the winger placed his shot narrowly wide of the target.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

As the half wound its way towards its conclusion, I continued on my lap of the ground as Wythenshawe looked to draw themselves back level, though never truly threatened the Stone goal in any real way. Lee Gregory saw a shot not trouble Adam Alcock between the Stone sticks, whilst Pickering again fired off target to wind up the first half of a watchable, if not too exciting game up to that point. For half-time it was into the clubhouse for us as we both managed to secure a pie with Dan getting the last one much to his delight. The Steak and Kidney offering I opted for was really good too and definitely worked as an effective warm up!

After catching up with the half-time scores on the doors it was back into the ever darkening evening and the new Ericstan Park floodlights were now beginning to take full effect. Once again, the start of the half was pretty uneventful with Stone standing firm (sorry) and looking rather comfortable in doing so. Vernon went close to repeating the feat of grabbing an early-ish goal but this time Purdham pulled off a fine stop to deny the Alleynians front-man. Wythenshawe responded in kind and had an effort cleared off the line following a corner, but they would draw level shortly afterwards when Adam Farrand struck an effort at Alcock who replied to Purdham’s earlier stop with one of his own.

View from the small area behind the goal

View from the seated stand

Match Action

At this point the game was beginning to fire-up and the hosts drew level on the hour when Pickering received the ball just inside the area and clipped it across the six-yard line where Liam Crellin-Myers climbed to guide the ball into the net. However, parity would be short-lived as Stone immediately restored their lead, a through-ball played into the path of Sam Wilson and he managed to beat Purdham to the ball and it duly rolled into the net. But there was yet more action to come as Town would again claw themselves back to level-terms within around ten minutes when a long-throw wasn’t cleared and Brad Byrne happily took on the task of firing the loose ball home.

Both teams went on to try and grab all three points and both had chances to do so, Luke Askey firing over when well placed for Alleynians, whilst Crellin-Myers could only head straight at the grateful Alcock as the game came to a close with the draw being a fair result in both myself and Dan’s viewpoints. Post-match, it was off down the footpath which separates the two pitches at Wythenshawe Town’s home and to the somewhat hidden Jolly Butcher (which I think has a team named after it in the Altrincham League if my sources are correct) and after one in there (around £7.60 for a round before grabbing a bus to the far side of Wythenshawe Park and paying a visit to the Gardener’s Arms, where we just happened to time our visit perfectly around the singer’s break. The round in here came in at somewhere around the same (I had a Moretti, so wasn’t too bad) before we hopped on our penultimate bus on the day back towards Sale – helpfully from right outside the pub door – and then our final one back, my phone surviving a dive out of my pocket en route. Cock.

Jolly Butcher

Gardener’s Arms

So there ends my final pre-Christmas 2018 trip and there’s now only two left until a calendar year without a nil-nil is finally secured. As for this one, the game was decent when it eventually got going in earnest and the ground improvements have definitely made it a good venue for the level. The food was good and the programme ok and is one of your glossy £2 productions and you can’t really moan at it! The tour de Wythenshawe had also been better than I’d expected to be honest and the added Ilyushin bonus appealed to my sad side (as if these blogs don’t say it’s there already) and so, all in all, a good day was had. Anyway, onto the Boxing Day clash between the two Wythy sides and it’s “Shawe” to be a good one….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 8

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Banbury

Result: Banbury United 4-1 Kettering Town (Southern League Premier Division Central)

Venue: Spencer Stadium (Saturday 15th December 2018, 3pm)

Att: 371

A rare dip into the Southern League and to a place I’ve wanted to visit for quite a while. With it being an easy, direct journey as well, there was little excuse not do pay the Puritans of Banbury a visit as they welcomed high-flyers Kettering Town to the Spencer Stadium. All I had to do then was hope that the weather was ready to play ball. However, this is Britain and that was never going to happen now was it?! Upon grabbing the 9.30-ish train out of Manchester, the drizzle started just outside of Leamington and never ceased pretty much throughout the day, only getting worse to a point of near freezing come the end of the match. But there’s a fair bit to report in the midst of the day before that, so let’s get on with it.

Arriving at just before midday, I quickly set about somehow getting lost when trying to make my way to the north of the town and the pair of pubs there, so retraced my steps back to the centre’s J.T. Davies pub instead, where I discovered I was just across a carpark from my intended target. Not too bad in the end and I ended up watching the start of the Manchester City-Everton game in here whilst having a pint of the Shipyard Pale Ale, prior to heading over to the pair of pubs I should have started off in – the neighbouring Three Pigeons and Bailiffs Tap. The first of the two I visited would be the latter, a somewhat strange little set-up, whilst being rather brilliant in its own way. The bar area was pretty much non-existent, with just the beers and the like populating the front room, along with a few chairs and tables. More were set down the back along a small, long room and I decided to sit in there along with an IPA. The couple (I assume) who run the Tap were very friendly as well and its definitely worth a trip, if only for the fine pint, which came in at a fair £3.60.

Banbury

JT Davies

Bailiffs Tap & Three Pigeons

Next up was the Three Pigeons, an old, low-ceilinged pub with steps leading down a little from street level to the bar. This was a fair bit more costly, a Peroni costing a cool £5.50, but the place had a fair option on and I just fancied one as I had my peruse of the offerings. The Three Pigeons is a quaint, dimly-lit place with a fair bit of character about it, and I certainly enjoyed my lounge in one of the armchairs there before it was time to brave the increasingly cold wind and walk slightly uphill back towards the famed Banbury Cross. However, before I got there, one or two stops were on offer, the first being the Dog & Gun, which looked far more interesting outside than within where it had sadly been, in my opinion, overly modernised into the sports bar-like place it has become. Still, it was pretty cheap and allowed me to watch some more of the game along with a Dark Fruits though I did swiftly finish up and continue onwards to the Cross and its neighbouring drinking holes the Horse & Jockey and The Swan.

Banbury is a historic market town on the banks of the River Cherwell in Oxfordshire. The name derives from ‘Banna’, a Saxton chieftain said to have built a stockade there, or possibly ‘Ban(n)a’, a byname for a felon or murderer and ‘burgh’ meaning settlement and is informally called “Banburyshire”, a term used by market towns in the 19th century to describe themselves. The Saxon spelling was Banesbyrig and appears in the Domesday Book as Banesberie and had also been known as Banesebury around these times. The area dates from at least the Iron Age of which remnants of where found dating to 200 BC and a Roman villa was later found in nearby Wykham Park. The area was settled by the Saxons in the 6th century and in around 556, Banbury was the site of a battle between the Anglo-Saxons of Cynric & Ceawlin and the local Romano-British. The Saxons would go on to develop under the influence of the Danes and built two towns – Banbury on the West bank of the river and Grimsbury on the other which later became part of Northamptonshire prior to being absorbed into Banbury in 1889. Neithrop is one of the older areas of the town, recorded as a hamlet from the 13th century before also being incorporated into Banbury the same year as Grimsbury.

Inside the Three Pigeons

Banbury Cross

The town stands on a junction of the ancient roads known as the Salt Way (now a bridle path) and Banbury Lane which is closely followed by the modern road and continued on through Banbury High Street towards the Fosse Way. The town grew up around these links with wool the main money-maker in medieval times, with a castle being added by 1135 by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln and Banbury Castle survived through to the Civil War when it was besieged. During the Civil War the town was, at one stage, a Royalist town on account of its proximity to the King’s capital, Oxford, but the inhabitants were strongly Puritan and so welcomed the Roundhead forces. The castle was demolished after the war, during which the town was a base for Oliver Cromwell and is reputed to have planned out his battleplan for Edge Hill in a back room of the Reindeer Inn. The later opening of the Oxford Canal in 1778 gave Banbury access to coal and included a boatyard upon the extension through to the city’s opening. The town used to be home to a cattle market in Merton Street, Grimsbury – a street which had its own rail station until the ’60’s – though this was closed in 1998 and is now built upon.

Sadly, the first of these was surprisingly shut as I attempted the door in vain and so across the way to the Swan it was. The Swan was fine if unspectacular and I settled on a pint of normal Strongbow on this occasion (£3.30) prior to setting my bearings for the Spencer Stadium, although upon exiting the Swan I would come immediately across Banbury’s Wetherspoon’s offering – the Exchange. As such, I decided to pay it a visit and a quick Hooch then rather than post-match, thus giving me a little more time to finish up in the older few in the town centre, which I considered a far better option. Indeed, the Spoons was solid if (again) unspectacular and so I traipsed off up the road and down past a Morrison’s before eventually passing along the railway and to the ground itself. Programmes were still fairly abundant upon my arrival with around five minutes to kick-off, though one had been kept back just in case, which was kind of the club, so thanks to them (I didn’t receive the notification until far later on so was unaware of this at the time).

Dog & Gun

Swan

‘Spoons

The Spencer Stadium is an interesting ground and is full of character. The Main Stand sits right in front of the turnstiles as you enter and straddles the half-way line and is flanked by offices on the turnstile side and the clubhouse/food bar and tunnel on the other. Behind the far end goal is a small, atcost-style seated stand, with open, hard standing at that end otherwise, the far side being the same, but becomes slightly more terraced as it runs towards the covered standing “Town End” to the right of the turnstile, where there is also a tea hut. That’s the ground in a nutshell and this is the story of Banbury United….

History Lesson:

Banbury United Football Club was founded in 1931 as Spencer Sports Club, the works team of Spencer Corsets factory. They initially played friendly matches before joining the Banbury Division of the Oxfordshire Junior League in 1933 and renaming as Spencer Villa and later that year, Banbury Spencer. They went on to win the league in their first year there and so joined the Oxfordshire Senior League for the following year where the club again won the league at the first attempt and were then elected to the Birmingham Combination for 1935-’36, whilst also entering a side in the Central Amateur League.

After the Second World War, 1947-’48 saw the club turn professional and finish runners-up in the Birmingham Combination and also reach the FA Cup First Round for the first time where they lost out to Colchester United. In 1954, the Combination folded and so Banbury Spencer moved into the Birmingham & District League and were allotted a place in the Birmingham & District League, finished 4th in 1954-’55 and were promoted to the Premier Division. The league would latterly be reduced to a one division competition in 1960 before becoming the West Midlands Regional League two years later for the season after Banbury’s second FA Cup 1st Round appearance, where they were again knocked out by stronger opposition, this time in the form of Shrewsbury Town.

Arriving at Banbury United

BUFC

1965 saw the club re-named Banbury United after a change in ownership before they undertook another move, this time into the Southern League Division One for the 1966-’67 campaign. When this division was regionalised in 1971, Banbury were placed in the ‘North’ section and went on to reach the FA Cup First Round in successive years in 1972-’73 & ’73-’74, but again they would bow out at that stage on both occasions, though they did force Northampton Town to a replay in the latter instance. After winning their first Oxfordshire Senior Cup in 1978-’79, the following season’s league re-organisation meant the club were again moved, this time into the Southern League’s new Midland Division and remained here until relegation to the Hellenic League Premier Division in 1990, their only real success in that time being a second Oxfordshire Senior Cup in 1988. They would go on to spend ten seasons in the Hellenic Prem before winning the Premier Division title in 2000 and promotion to the Southern League once more, but again would be in a “new” division – the Division One East.

Finishing 8th in 2003-’04, the club were promoted to the Premier Division on account of many clubs above being placed into the newly formed Conference North & South divisions and this season also saw silverware in the form of the club’s third Oxfordshire Senior Cup title, adding a further two of these to their trophy cabinet in 2006 & ’07 respectively. However it would take eight years for them to repeat the feat, lifting their sixth Senior Cup in 2015, but this time the season saw relegation to the Division One South and West (yet another new ‘un) in juxtaposition to their prior cup win. Banbury became community-owned ahead of the following season and this change in ownership saw United finish runners-up and qualify for the Division One South & West play-offs, whereupon they defeated Winchester City in the semi-finals before going on to defeat Taunton Town in the final to achieve an immediate return to the Southern League Premier. Upon yet more restructuring, the Puritans saw themselves in another Southern League divisional variation, this time the Southern League Premier Central Division for the 2017-’18 season, where they finished up in 9th place. In addition, the club have also won the Buckinghamshire Charity Cup on five occasions (2001-’02, 2011-’12, ’12-’13, ’13-’14 & ’15-’16).

The game got underway with the rain and wind becoming ever more prevalent and it certainly wasn’t the type of weather that you envy the players having to play in, that was for sure! Despite having some understandable early struggles with the conditions, the two teams put on a good display as they continued getting to grips with what they were facing. Kettering were unbeaten away from home in the league this year and this record has led them to be title contenders at this stage and the Poppies started strongly here with the vast majority of the play, though failed to truly create real chances.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Indeed it was Banbury who created the first sights of goal, with both Greg Kaziboni and Steve Diggin seeing efforts miss the target before the visitors then had a strong penalty shout waved away by the referee but it would be the hosts who would grab the opener with around ten minutes to play in the first half, when Charlie Wise met a corner from the right flank and powered his header beyond the helpless Paul White in the Kettering goal and allow most to get some feeling back in their feet. Kettering would have a late chance when re-debutant Adam Cunnington saw an effort well saved at close-range by White’s opposite number Manny Agboola as the half came to an end and I headed into the clubhouse for a warm and ended up meeting back up with the Kettering supporting Ellis clan once again. As such, I decided to afford myself a bit of warmth in numbers for most of the second-half and piled into the small stand along with them.

It appeared to have been a shrewd move in terms of the action being at close-quarters when Kettering won a penalty soon after the restart when the fiery George Nash brought down Marcus Kelly in the area and the spot-kick was duly awarded. Dan Holman stepped up and sent Agboola the wrong way to level up the scores and it looked set for the second-placed side to go on and dominate the game from there. How wrong that outlook proved to be when, just five minutes later there was a first (I think anyway) for me at a game as Ravi Shamsi’s in-swinging corner somehow evaded White’s grasp and flew into the far side of the goal unaided. A direct goal from a corner and I was delighted at that; those around me meanwhile…..er, not so much!

Holman equalises from the spot

Match Action

Match Action

Shamsi seemed to single-handedly decide to grab the game by the proverbial scruff of the neck at that point and he almost immediately added his second when firing in a shot from range that clipped the top of the crossbar on its way over before Greg Kaziboni would net the all important fourth goal of the game when he received the ball in the inside-right flank, cut inside and beat his man with nice skill before firing across White’s frame and into the far corner. Despite White pulling off a fine double-save soon afterwards to keep his side somewhat in the contest,  it would get even worse for the Poppies as Banbury’s probable best performance of the season so far was rounded off when the impressive Shamsi slammed home into an unguarded net from around the penalty spot after an unselfish pull-back. Shamsi also had a late chance to claim a hat-trick but could only hit his effort straight at White as the game came to a close to round off a fine win for the hosts, whilst the away fans down the far end from me at this point, were left to bemoan what they perceived to be a pointless team switch-up.

As for me, a quick exit was bid through the freezing rain conditions and I eventually found my way back to the town centre via getting lost at the Morrison’s en route, though Maps soon came to my rescue and directed me to the respite of The Wheatsheaf, an old and fairly unassuming pub that was unfortunately completely empty on my arrival, though did fill a little by the time I would leave. After a quiet pint of Aspall’s at the pincely £4.70, I again got put slightly off-track in my pursuit to find the neighbouring hostelries of the Old Auctioneer and Ye Olde Reindeer (the extra “e” isn’t needed in ‘olde’, of course) prior to discovering a small alleyway was the way to go. Back in the warmth of the bar area, the Old Auctioneer’s Heineken set me back the same as my previous stop, before the Reindeer would be a little, and I mean a little, easier on the pocket with a pint of Stowford Press costing £4.50.

Wheatsheaf

Old Auctioneer

In the Reindeer to finish (excuse the rain blur!)

Finishing up my final drink in Banbury, the short walk back over to the station was undertook and I grabbed the direct train back to Manchester having agreed with myself that it would be easier to do so than have to change at Birmingham. It definitely did prove good as it allowed me to have a nap and waste away the journey time before awaking at Stockport ahead of a final “one for the road” in the Piccadilly Tap after a long time away. In this case, the “one for the road” is accurate as it would again be a bus back from the Gardens for me as the RMT and Northern continue to do f*ck all bar make life difficult for everyone who relies on them for Saturday trips. Surely enough is enough on one of their accounts and, at this point now after so long, I don’t really care which. Anyway, I’m not getting into that mess.

So what of the trip as a whole? Well, Banbury was what I expected really, a mix of old and new with some historical pubs to enjoy within the pretty town centre, the church being the jewel of that. The ground was brilliant too and is right up there with my favourites and the food (hot dog and chips at £3 I think, I can’t really remember) and programme were both good efforts, though the chips were at a bit of a premium. Otherwise, all went smoothly in terms of transport and the drink prices were to be expected on the whole. Next up comes the festive season and the lack of transport (though not as impactful as recent years obviously as they don’t turn up anyway) sees me restricted to local matches. Not that this is a bad thing, though, as a Wythenshawe double sees me visit Town, Amateurs on Boxing Day for the first Wythy semi-pro derby clash then hopefully to FC St. Helen’s on the following Saturday. Have a good one all and I hope, like me, you wont be dr*hic*ing too much….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 9

Food: 6

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7

 

Manchopper in….Widnes (Ford Motors FC)

Result: Ford Motors 2-0 Grappenhall Sports (Cheshire League 1)

Venue: Jaguar Land Rover Sports Club (Saturday 17th November 2018, 2pm)

Att: 10~

With a weekend with nothing set in stone on the horizon, I thought I’d let the decision on where I’d end up on this, the third Saturday of November, rest with the good folk of the twitterverse. With a few options on the table, the Grappenhall Sports retweet seemed to be the catalyst for the eventual victor. Unsurprisingly, it was swayed the way of their own game at Ford Motors in the North of Widnes and so it was to there I’d be headed for. With the trains being on their seemingly never-ending, much-maligned strike – which is also much to the chagrin of those brought in as replacements from other organisations – as I learned from someone who had been tasked with doing so with some ungodly shifts going around too by his account. They would also mean that I would be starting earlier than was ideal once again and after catching the train at just after 9am, I was arriving into Widnes station (made (in)famous by the Paul Simon legend regarding ‘Homeward Bound’) a little over 45 minutes later. With a fair amount of time to waste, I got my bearings of the area (despite having already been before), prior to making my way to the ‘Spoons to start the day.

Arriving at Widnes Market

Widnes High Street

The Premier – through a strange statue

Imperial

Waiting over my Punk IPA (£2.99) for ten minutes until my 11am allowed start time (yes, I really am that pedantic), I wasted away some time in the old cinema building named the Premier before heading a few doors down the road to the Imperial, one of those ‘Spoons-styled free houses. It wasn’t too bad here either and the prices were agreeable as well, a pint of Bud Light coming in at just £2.50 whilst I got talking to Tom, a Liverpool supporting ex-firefighter who also has the wide-ranging family issue of the blue/red split! After he apologised for boring me (that’s usually my fault) which certainly wasn’t the case, I left him to finish up his drink whilst I made up a plan of action for the rest of the pre-match tour de Widnes, starting with the Bradley Arms, on the corner of the same road and just at the top of the high street. A pint of Coors in here cost a fairly normal £3.50 before a walk through the aforementioned high-street – which is mostly pedestrianised, I should add – had me at the Derby, which stands at the mid-way point. The Derby also had the early-kick off on too, which was handy, and so I settled in for a while and watched the majority of the first half whilst supping at a Moretti (£3.50).

Completing the walk down the high-street’s more car dominated bit, I came to the Simms Cross, a pub that stands opposite the large Asda and not far from the Vikings stadium. Still working my way away from the ground at this point, this was actually all a plan with sense of you’ll trust me for once! A quick Dark Fruits, at £3.50 once again, was had here prior to crossing the road and along past said Asda to the Grapes, which would be my final pre-match stop, with the bus up to the ground leaving from just outside of it. This was probably the most odly-wordly pub of the day and was nice enough, a pint of Strongbow (due to lack of real options) being opted for though at £3, I couldn’t be too fussy. After wasting away the remainder of the time through to the bus in here, it was off to the ground, where I was due to arrive at around ten-to-2 and just in time for kick-off. You’d expect something to go wrong now, wouldn’t you?

Bradley

The Derby on the left

Simms Cross

Inside the Grapes

Well….it didn’t!! Not only did the bus come early, but I ended up at the Jaguar Land Rover Sports Club right on cue. Lovely. Straight into the ground it was and with little time to wait, I had a swift peruse of my surroundings. The near end, from which you enter, is home to the clubhouse/social club and with it all the usual footballing facilities, a small bit of cover to the front of said dressing rooms and a paved car park providing hard standing. To the far side is a nice stand, consisting of a few rows of benched seating, and this runs most of the length of the pitch and is flanked by hard standing. The opposite side also features hard standing, whilst the far end is home to little more than some catch-netting, though no-one is too bothered if you go around it seemed. So that’s the ground in a nutshell and this is the story of Ford Motors…..Luckily, not the car company….

History Lesson:

Ford Motors Football Club was founded in 1962 and would later go on to join the Lancashire Combination a decade later. They would struggle initially, before becoming a more solid, mid-table outfit ahead of a switch into the Cheshire County League Division 2 as a founding member in 1978, where they continued this trend. The Cheshire County League later merged with the Lancs Combination to form the North West Counties League in 1982, with Fords again becoming a founder member, where they would remain for the next four seasons, prior to being relegated in 1976 after finishing second-bottom. However, they would spend just one season in Division 3 as it was absorbed at the end of that season into Division 2, and after one further year in the NWCFL, the club left to join the Liverpool County Combination Division 2 for the 1988-’89 campaign.

After finishing runners-up and being promoted to Division 1 at the end of their first season there, Fords would remain in the First Division through to 1999, as the league ran with a single division for the following two years, before returning to a two-tier system for a year in 2002, before reverting back to its one division approach through to its eventual merger with the I Zingari League to create the Liverpool County Premier League, Fords having finished a best of 5th (in 1997) during their time in the LCC. Immediately placed into the Premier Division of the new league, Fords established themselves back into a solid mid-table side, before eventually recording a 3rd placed finish in 2011, prior to returning back down into the midst of the middle of the league for their final two seasons there. The club would depart the Liverpool County Premier League in 2013 after finishing second-bottom of the Premier Division and switched to join the West Cheshire League’s Division 3 instead.

Arriving at the ground

The clubhouse building

View from the Main Stand

Motors would contest three seasons in Division 3 of the West Cheshire League, finish 5th, 10th and 4th respectively, before taking up the opportunity to join the expanding Cheshire League for season 2016-’17. Placed into ‘League 2’, the club immediately found the new surroundings of the Cheshire League more to their liking, finishing 4th at the end of their first season here, before lifting the Cheshire League 2 title last season and being promoted to ‘League 1’ for this campaign. On a side-note, the club have also competed in the FA Vase during their tenure in the NWCFL, and made the 4th Round in 1984-’85, beating Graham St. Prims, Linotype, Staveley Works and Guisborough Town, before eventually bowing out to Newcastle Blue Star. Their last game in the competition to date was against Salford in 1990, where they went down in the extra-preliminary round by 2-1 at (a rather different looking than the current one!) Moor Lane.

The game got underway and, in truth, it was a real slow burner. There was very little action in the first half and by half-time I was wondering if my 0-0-less run was going to end just a couple of weeks short of a year. The few highlights that did come along during the first 45 minutes favoured Fords, with the hosts going close early on, when the Grappenhall ‘keeper was forced to tip over an effort, before Sports responded by going close twice in quick succession – first the #10 capitalised on a ‘keeping error but could only fire wide, before the #8 shot wide of the target shortly afterwards.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

However, just before the break, Grappenhall were reduced to ten-men, when one of the defenders was adjudged, pretty fairly in my book, to have been the last man and in denying a goalscoring opportunity when bringing down the attacking Fords man. He was off for an early bath, though Fords wouldn’t be able to take advantage in the last few minutes through to the half-time whistle, with the game remaining steadfastly goal-less and only the red card seemed to offer any real chance of it not ending as such.

The half-time break came and went quickly and with little of note to report on, we were soon underway once more. And wouldn’t you know it, just a few minutes into the second period the deadlock would be broken by the home side when good play by #7 resulted in him playing in the #9, Cameron Chambers, who fired high into the roof of the net. This seemed to simultaneously breath extra life into Fords, whilst draining it from Sports and it was Motors who almost added a second not too long afterwards, but the shot came back off the upright.  However, the second would eventually arrive and it would come from the spot. A foul by the ‘keeper resulted in a certain penalty for me and #4 Connor Tagoe stepped up to confidently convert the kick and give his side, almost certainly, the points.

#4 nets from the spot, despite the big dive!

Match Action

View from the ‘stand’ in front of the dressing rooms

Later, as the game went on into its final quarter of an hour, Chambers almost grabbed his second of the game but was denied by a good stop with his legs by the Grappenhall ‘keeper, before they were given some sort of hope in the last five minutes, when Fords themselves were reduced to a man light, rather harshly in my view on this occasion, when the #12, David Worsley, was dismissed for (I assume) what was thought of as a bad challenge. As I said, it didn’t look too bad from my view, though those of a Sports persuasion didn’t seem all too happy, so maybe I missed something. As it was, this didn’t effect the game at all and after a late chance for the hosts when the #7 found himself one-on-one with the ‘keeper, only to wastefully shoot wide, the whistle blew and I made a hasty exit for the bus which was due, got there in time, only to not be able to find my ticket and so I let the guy drive on whilst I strove away to find it….in my pocket. Damn, though its not a day out for me without something going slightly awry, now is it?!

Getting a bus some twenty minutes later, I was soon back in Widnes and decided to pay a visit to the far end of town and then make my way straight up the main road towards the station, a route that just so happened to have a couple of pubs on the way. I know, what were the odds on that? After an initial visit to the Kingsway Hotel, which I found a very friendly and busy place (Dark Fruits at £2.75), the Doctor’s pub opposite looked shut up and so I beat my retreat back off towards Widnes station, via the medium of the two pubs passively aforementioned – namely the Horse & Jockey and the Crown. A further Dark Fruits was had in the former (£3.20~) prior to visiting the Crown for a second time, after my visit to Widnes FC a couple of seasons back. It was far fuller this evening than it had been on that Tuesday night and I took my time over an Amstel (£3.75) whilst awaiting the time to the train to elapse.

A square I came across somehow

Kingsway Hotel

Horse & Jockey

Rounding off in the Crown

Eventually it did and off I headed back to the station for the train home, though this did come via Warrington, which is always slightly irritating (the stop-off, not Warrington!!). Anyway, I was soon off home in earnest to round off the day, which had been, to borrow something of a footballing summary – solid, but unspectacular. The game had been alright, the ground better than most in and around the level Fords are at, and the pubs around town had been ok on the pocket. Travel went smoothly enough (bar the minor hiccup) and that’s that for another week. Just the one to go and I’ll have made a full year without seeing a goalless draw. Wherever I eventually end up….DON’T YOU EVEN DARE!!!!!

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 6

Programme: N/A

Food: N/A

Value For Money: 5