Manchopper in….Richmond

Result: Richmond Town 2-0 BEADS (North Riding Cup Quarter-Final)

Venue: Earl’s Orchard (Saturday 11th January 2020, 2pm)

Att: 40 (approx.)

This weekend looked to be leading to a trip to one of the grounds that A) wouldn’t seem to be about for much longer, and B) the club may not continue either, for many a differing reason. As it was, this was how it turned out and it was to be probably the most spectacular offering that could have been given, and the town didn’t seem too shabby either! Yes, I was off to North Yorkshire and Richmond Town’s rather famous Earl’s Orchard ground, which sits in the shadow of the town’s old stronghold – Richmond Castle. The old fortification looms over the ground and allows this old venue to become one of the most picturesque venues in football, and today it would be hosting the North Riding Cup clash between the hosts and Beechwood, Easterside and District Social Club – or BEADS, as they thankfully go by more regularly, and will continue to be called from now on!

A train from Manchester to Darlington took up my morning, and after narrowly missing my planned bus, a rather windy twenty minute wait was navigated through before the next service rolled into the stop right outside the station. A half-hour ride later, I was stepping foot in the town centre of Richmond, right outside its Wetherspoon’s offering which, rather helpfully, was located right across the road from the return bus stop. Duly noted. Because of this, the ‘Spoons would be my nailed on final stop-off and I thus began my tour de drink with a visit to the Turf Hotel, just the other side from a barber’s named the “Men’s Room” – which looked as though it was within an old public toilets or something. Clever.

Arriving in Richmond

Turf Hotel

Castle Hotel

A rather uninspiring pint of Amstel was had here, before I headed slightly uphill to the market area that was taken up with cars for the most part today, along with a tree-cutting service at work alongside the military museum (or whatever the place was). I was mostly taken in with the King’s Head Hotel and wondering if it had a public bar or not. I wasn’t quite sure at first, and so played it safe; instead I made my way a few doors on where the Castle Hotel is to be found. A pint of Stowford Press was had in here, as I fancied something different for once, and this visit provided something unexpected. A programme. A Richmond Town programme. From other fans. For this match! Oh, be still my programme-collecting alter-ego.

Finishing up and now with a little extra haste in my plans (I wanted to ensure I grabbed one), I returned to the, apparently haunted, King’s Head and had a peer inside. Seeing fonts, I knew I was in luck and continued on through the doorway for a Bud Light. From there, I crossed through the car-park/square area and downhill via the castle steps, though these weren’t exactly in the best of shape in terms of being level, and almost led me to death. It’s a good job handrails exist! Anyhow, I soon got back down to road level and got to Earl’s Orchard – where the lady on the “gate” (just a table) took my £3 for both entry and programme, on the basis she’d remember me when I returned. I suppose they weren’t expecting a large crowd then?

King’s Head

All the close-quartered watering holes

Town Hall

The town of Richemond in Normandy was the origin of the Richmond name, which itself then derived from this rural part of North Yorkshire and spread around the world. Richmond, previously held by the Kingdom of Mercia and Edwin, Earl of Mercia, was handed over by William the Conqueror to Count Alan Rufus as thanks for his service in the conquests, and it would therefore become the Honour of the Earls of Richmond, with this dignity also held by the Duke of Brittany from the mid-1100’s to 1399. As a result, Rufus founded Richmond in 1071 and named it Hinderlag, later adding the castle to defend his lands in 1086, with the walls and keep encompassing the Market Place area. Upon the death of John V, Duke of Brittany in 1399, Henry IV took control with the Earldom later awarded to Edmund Tudor and merged with the crown upon his son’s coronation as Henry VII. During the English Civil War, Richmond’s castle was taken over by the Covenantor army, led by Lord Newark, David Leslie, and this duly led to conflict in the locality between the Catholics and Scottish Presbyterians.

In later years, Richmond grew as a centre of Swaledale wool during the 17th and 18th centuries, allied with the nearby lead mining industry in Arkengarthdale and it is from this era that the Georgian architecture began to be added to the town’s look. In 1830, one of Europe’s first gas works was built here and a permanent military presence was added in 1877, with a garrison stationed at Richmond Barracks. The railway station still stands, despite closing as such in 1968 after over 120 years service, and it is here that one of the “drummer boy” legends finds its roots – where a drumming lad was instructed to fit inside a small underground tunnel and drum to allow the soldiers above ground to follow the tunnel’s path into the castle keep. Alas, he fell silent along the way, his disappearance never explained. A few rugby players hail from Richmond, the likes of Calum Clark of Saracens, George McGuigan, Rob Andrew and Tim Rodber call it home, as do inventor of the lifeboat, Henry Greathead, J.J. Fenwick (founder of the department stores that carry his name), Olympic silver medallist, rower Zoe Bell, Theo Hutchcraft of synth-pop duo (and one of my personal favourites) Hurts, and Peter Aury – opera singer who provided vocals to The Snowman‘s “Walking in the Air”.

Richmond

Castle from the bridge over the river

Later in the day….

I returned back up the steep incline and back to the square, where I was soon deciding which watering hole to pick from out of the three in front of me, before I set eyes on a surprise fourth: the Town Hall Hotel, which I hadn’t known existed until this point. It looked the most interesting of them at that point too and so I duly opted for it, A swift Amstel whilst watching a bit of the early kick-off took up the majority of the twenty minutes or so until the game was due to start, before I took advantage of the steep hill once more, it being far kinder when going down-hill, that’s for sure!

Crossing the road bridge, I returned to Earl’s Orchard and headed back inside and passed the table, which had no moved a little more into cover, with the odd squally shower having begun to hit the town. The two teams were just about to kick-off too, so there was no time to waste. As for the ground itself, there isn’t much to speak of – with it being just a fully railed pitch, although the club building, which houses the changing rooms, food bar and all other facilities stands behind the far goal and, despite being a fair way from the pitch itself, offers a decent view with cover given from here. There are some seats too and these have been sourced from elsewhere, but not in the usual way. You’ve seen the likes of seats from Roker Park, Maine Road, Leeds Road and many other old stadia being used elsewhere, but Richmond have gone their own way and installed….BUS SEATS. Not only bus seats, but they are even equipped with seatbelts for when the action gets too much. Unfortunately, this game wasn’t going to offer up much to require those to be of use today. Anyway, with the castle towering over the twenty-two players and benches (well, people sat down or milling around, as it was too windy for the dugouts to be put out!) here’s the story of Richmond Town F.C….

History Lesson:

Richmond Town Football Club was founded in 1945 as Richmond AFC, although football has been played at the Earl’s Orchard ground for at least nine decades, and within Richmond itself for over a century. The current club has seen itself play under a number of guises aside from its original title, being named Cameron United and (perhaps unfortunately depending on your viewpoint) The Young Conservatives during the 1960’s, before returning to take on the town name – first as Richmond Town A.F.C., before dropping “A” for the current name. Unfortunately, the information out there is few and far between, but here’s what I’ve managed to source – with some thanks to the blog “put Niels in goal”. It does, however, seem as though success may have been thin on the ground, for the most part.

 

Arriving at the ground

Newsboard

Two fortresses?

They played, for a time in the 1980’s, in the Darlington & District League, prior to making the switch into the Teesside League in the latter part of the decade and then, latterly, the Wearside League in 2012. Indeed, Richmond Town won a quadruple that year too, bidding farewell to the Teesside League in style by lifting the league title (having finished as runners-up the year before) alongside silverware in three cup competitions – the league’s MacMillan Bowl, Lou Moore Trophy and the North Riding Saturday Cup. Unfortunately, they have found cup success to only come within touching distance since, reaching the final of the Wearside League Cup in 2013, the Shipowners Cup of 2017 and the Monkwearmouth Cup last season. They’ve remained in the Wearside League throughout this period, and finished last season in 4th place.

The game got underway with the hosts starting the brighter, their #9 giving the BEADS ‘keeper an easy stop, whilst #11 was played in moments later, but chose to try and chip the visiting custodian, only to see the ball, simply, clutched out of the air. BEADS’ own #9 was then guilty of his own striking faux pas, mirroring his opposite number’s chance by allowing the Richmond stopper a much easier save than he ought to have been required to, before the latter #9, of a Richmond persuasion, Ben Darville, finally opened the scoring around half-way through the first period, but was denied by a fine stop, but the gloveman was treated harshly by the footballing gods, with the rebound falling right back at the feet of the striker, who found the net. 1-0.

Match Action

Floored

Match Action

The ‘keeper than had to be at his very best to spurn #11’s shot when one-on-one with the attacker, before he again showed good awareness to keep #10 at bay, after the home forward’s good work had created a chance for himself out of very little. That would largely be that for the first half and, as such, my next job on the list meant a visit to the food bar was in order for me, and I opted to go all in with a sausage and bacon barm which, quite simply, was tremendous. Kudos for that, and for just the £3 too; I couldn’t complain with that.

The hosts again began on the front foot as the second half drifted through its early stages, and the way these early chances went, you began to think it may be one of those days. It was at this point I was offered some admission money when (unknowingly) manning the “gate” table, but made sure to be honest and decline! Not one, but two were cleared off the goal-line by a BEADS defender, as the visitors continued to frustrate their hosts – who hold ambitions to enter Step 6 next season. First, #7 showed a good touch to work some space, but saw his attempt cleared away at the last, whilst #8 was the next man to be denied at the final fence, as it were, his back-post drive blocked out and the danger was averted.

View from the “gate”!

Match Action

Match Action

BEADS then almost had a little luck go their way, as a cross in drifted on the wind and off the crossbar of Town’s goal, but it would be Richmond who would eventually add a second with around fifteen minutes to play, when #16, Ben Clarke, found himself played clean through and he duly raced away and fired home with aplomb. The impressive BEADS ‘keeper would keep his side in with a shout a few more times more before the final whistle, denying #11 on the challenge, #18 with a save at the near post after an old-school route-one attack and lastly showing good handling to keep hold of #8’s free-kick. But it would be Richmond who would deservedly progress on the balance of play by 2-0, though the game had been far more entertaining, thanks to the visitors’ defensive efforts – allowing them to never quite be out of the contest.

The bus seats!

It’s about to get soggy….

….but got through the worst!

Post-match, I was stopped on the footway just alongside the pitch by Town manager Neil Tarrant, who had a chat about the game and the club’s future plans (I best not say too much as I don’t know what’s official!), prior to making my way along the river and to a gate. The other side of this gate played host to fields. Wet fields. And streams. And mud. Lots of mud. It wasn’t fun. Eventually though, I was able to safely negotiate Richmond’s next attempt at claiming my life and got onto something a little more terra firma – the more solid towpath which leads to a few steps that take you up to road level and the old station building that not only houses a café/bar, but also its own microbrewery. As such, I opted to try out a bottle of Richmond Pale Ale and was happy I did so, it’s pretty good!

Finishing up where the rails used to lie, I returned into the centre and the trio of pubs that I had left to visit – the all-but neighbours of the Golden Lion and Bishop Blaize and the club sponsoring Talbot just across the narrow street that runs between them. As to be able to squeeze them all in and allow for a swift one back in the Wetherspoon’s, I reckoned I’d best switch onto the bottled lagers and found that Sol was seemingly the favoured option in these parts. That was fine with me, and I duly stayed on the stuff in each of the three, with a number of Richmond players in the latter enjoying a couple of jugs of beer in the corner, as they celebrated securing their semi-final place. Anyhow, there was little to really report on and I soon got back to the ‘Spoons – named the Ralph Fitz Randal – for a Strawberry & Line draught Kopparberg to round off my trip.

Station

Bishop Blaize

‘Spoons

The bus was caught in good time and I was dropped back outside the station with around ten minutes until the train back towards Victoria. However, delays whilst having my usual homeward nap saw my awakening at Leeds offer me an acceptable dilemma. I was certain to miss my planned connection now, but I could instead get into Oxford Road station where my connection would depart from, whilst I could wait out the time until the next one in the nearby Grand Central – a bar I’d not visited in some time. That was what happened and no further issues saw me home for 9pm so, all in all, can’t have too many complaints. That was that then and, overall, my trip to Richmond had been a good one. Yes, the game wasn’t great but – what with the weather – that was to be expected. Otherwise, the town, pubs and travel had gone well and the sausage and bacon barm was of elite levels! Nice one Richmond and, who knows, I could be back sooner rather than later….!

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 4 (but with backdrop, 10)

Food: 9

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 9

 

Manchopper in….Bournville (Bournville Rec. Ground)

Result: Cadbury Athletic Reserves 1-4 Gresley Reserves (Midland League Division 4/Reserves)

Venue: Bournville Recreation Ground (Saturday 28th December 2019, 2pm)

Att: 50

The final Saturday of 2019 saw me without a nailed on game once again. I’m not used to this freedom! With the weather again something of a factor, I was obviously on the lookout for an early bit of confidence to emanate from some parts of the country. Now, I’d been looking at doing Bournville – somewhat famed in ‘hopping circles – for quite some time, and this had only grown as I became more familiar with the ground as a….well, ground, i.e. more than just a pitch. As luck would have it, the Bournville Rec looked to be all set to go, as Cadbury Athletic’s Reserve side – who currently are the major side here with the first time in exile just down the road – saying the pitch was in good nick and all set for play. So no time like the present then. To Bournville it was!

A pretty problem free journey saw me heading through Manchester and to Birmingham New Street, arriving at a little before midday. Unfortunately missing an earlier connection by mere seconds, the frequency of the service meant this mattered little, the short hop to the purple giant’s suburb taking just the 10 or so minutes. Alighting in the shadow of the Cadbury factory (which I neglected to get a picture of for some unknown reason), I took a left turn out of the station and headed for the main road through the village. Well it actually turned out to be the adjoining Stirchley, but close enough!

Stirchley

British Oak

I began with a walk towards the far end of the road, where I was expecting to come across the Three Horseshoes. This I did, but I found it closed and within a state of flux – a sign outside stating it was to reopen under a different name shortly. To be honest, it didn’t look to be the case, but let’s hope I’m wrong. Anyhow, I returned back to the group of three bars that populate the area just a few minutes from the station itself, beginning with the rather grandiose British Oak. This pub looked like it was going to be more of your Carling, Fosters etc. establishment, and to a point it was. However, it was also home to a decent number of craft ales and the like, with me opting for a pint of the fine Clwb Tropicana (£5.20) – a hark back to my Millennium Stadium visit earlier in the year.

Watching a bit of the South Coast Derby clash between Brighton and AFC Bournemouth here, I soon finished up and crossed over the way to the Cask & Cage. This was a fairly strange set-up, offering Turkish dishes in a micropub-designed place, whilst having said micropub beers on offer. It felt a bit weird having a family lunch on one side as I sat in with a pint, although they left soon after, clearly not wanting this borderline alcoholic to give the kids any ideas! A pint of the Mancunian Cloudwater Pale Ale (at £5 and which I found to be similar to the Clwb strangely enough) was the tipple of choice here, whilst I scouted out any other possibilities. Be aware – it’s card only in here.

The two other bars here – the Wildcat Tap and the Cask & Cage

King Kong sighted in Stirchley

Attic Brew Co.

Bournville is a model village in the southern outskirts of Birmingham and is best known for its connection to the much mentioned Cadbury chocolate company. Historically a part of Worcestershire, it is also now a ward in the Selly Oak constituency and was even named as “one of the nicest places to live” in 2003. The area began as little more than a few farmhouses, cottages and the larger Bournbrook Hall, whilst parts of the ancient forest of Arden and Roman remnants have been found nearby. Upon the purchase of the area by the Quaker Cadbury siblings, they moved their factory from central Birmingham to allow for further expansion of their business, and required somewhere that would have good links by both rail and canal. Thus, the area that was to become Bournville was earmarked, with the future Birmingham West Suburban Railway being an obvious plus for them and it was already served by Stirchley Street station too. It gets its name from the nearby river Bourn and the French “ville” which, for anyone familiar with any kind of French language, shouldn’t need explaining!

The Cadbury workers were treated well by all accounts and the model village was cultivated to “alleviate the evils of modern, cramped living conditions”, which, to be fair, the brothers had a point about! Growing up slowly pre-World War One, it would go on to set the blueprint for the model villages of the future to follow, though completely unacceptably, there are no pubs due to the Quaker beliefs of the Cadbury’s. Terrible. However, this has been (apparently) rectified somewhat as the Rowheath pavilion is now licensed. Gw’arn! The pavilion, alongside which the recreation ground sits, held balls and the like, whilst the usage of the grounds were at no charge to those working for the business. In 1900, the Bournville Village Trust was set up to independently control the estate’s development and focussed on public amenities and to later oversee the in-keeping with its conservation area status, whilst Cadbury maintains its status as a large force both on the skyline and on the workforce.

Bournville station and the canal

Bournville

Bournville

The station, Bournville, is separate from the others, in that it’s painted purple, over the usual corporate WMR colours. The Worcester and Birmingham canal towpath can be joined straight from the station platform. Bournville has also been home to, along with the Cadbury family, “Hero of the Holocaust” recipient Bertha Bracey, suffragette and trade unionist, Julia Varley and actress Felicity Jones; whilst Cadbury Athletic has aided in the development of footballers like Daniel Sturridge, Ryan Burge, Corey O’Keefe and Demarai Gray – two of whom hold Premier League winners’ medals.

Options, as expected, were low on the ground and after an attempt at an art gallery/cafe-bar (I kid you not) was unfruitful, I decided to make my way to the Attic Brewery – one of those modern ones set up within an industrial unit. Having seen it wasn’t open for another half-hour past its scheduled opening time, another attempt at the gallery thing was again brought up a whole lot of nothing, and so I returned back to the industrial estate once again, whereupon I settled in with a pint of the brilliantly named Bob’s Revenge Pale Ale (£4.50). Lovely it was too, so whatever Bob wasn’t pleased about, he’s done a good job in getting his own back. Maybe; depending on his intentions….

Heading off groundwards….

….down towards the factory

and finally, arriving at the ground!

Time had ticked down towards the 2pm kick off time and after a five minute walk, I passed by the entrance to the Cadbury factory and came within sight of the fine pavilion that Bournville is home to. The sides were just heading out onto the field as I arrived and the pitch was, as promised, in fine fettle. The Recreation Ground is kind of a throwback. It shares a cricket outfield, though is flanked on the near side by a decently sized open terrace, with a larger set between the entrance and pavilion. The opposite side is where the cricket square is roped off, with the far end hosting open, hard standing, though may have been off limits, but I wasn’t aware and it hasn’t stopped me before anyway. Oooh, what a rebel! That’s pretty much that really for the Rec and with it being a Reserves game, I wouldn’t usually do a history lesson. However, with it unlikely to be revisited for the first team, let’s get on with the show!

History Lesson:

Cadbury Athletic Football Club was founded in 1994 and are, of course, usually decked out in the purple and white colours associated with the company’s branding. However, a Bournville Athletic side did compete in the Birmingham Combination from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, winning six straight titles between 1898 and 1903. Back to Cadbury, and the club were admitted into the Midland Combination’s Division Three and were promoted at the end of their first season, despite finishing in 9th. They remained in Division 2 until 2001, where a 4th placed finish was enough to secure promotion up to Division One, whilst the club also picked up their first piece of silverware in the form of the Midland Combination’s Challenge Vase, with a 1-0 victory over Rugby Town. In 2005, Cadbury finished as runners-up in Division One to reach the Premier Division of the Midland Combination and they would remain in situ through to 2012, whereupon they resigned from the division – despite finishing 12th – and voluntarily took the drop back to Division One.

Ground from the Cadbury World entrance

Despite losing out in the next season’s President’s Cup Final, this drop in divisions would prove fruitful in 2014, as Cadbury lifted the Division One title in the Combination’s final season, ahead of its merger with the Midland Alliance to form the Midland League. Despite their previous year’s title win, Cadbury were placed in the Division One here too and they have remained there through to this day, finishing last season in a solid 8th position, now playing just down the road in King’s Norton, having been forced into a move from Bournville due to a lack of floodlights. However, the Reserves continue on within the factory grounds, where they began life at the turn of the millennium, mirroring the first team’s origins by starting in the Midland Combination’s Division 3. They were immediately promoted to Division 2 after a 6th placed finish, and remained there through to (I assume) the first team’s voluntary drop and it seems the reserves joined the Reserve Division 2 and won the Challenge Urn in 2013, ahead of the league merger a year later.

Old-skool

Now in the Midland League, the Reserves finished up third in the Reserve Division 2, with the divisions being merged together into a single division for the following year. That season, 2015-’16, saw the reserves lift the Birmingham Saturday Amateur Cup with a penalty shoot-out win over Peugeot Millpool and when the Reserve Division was again re-designated for 2016-’17, as the long-winded Division 4/Reserve, they again secured a third placed finish. However, they struggled to 10th (second bottom) last season and have had something of a ‘hit-and-miss’ start to this campaign.

The game got going and within the first sixty seconds we had the opener, Gresley getting swiftly forward and giving the ball to James Shakespeare, who curled a fine effort around the Cadbury ‘keeper from around 20 yards out. A great start, and Gresley were almost two up shortly afterwards, when some good build-up play allowed Nathan Bowen a sight of goal, but he was denied by a fine stop from the home gloveman. Cadbury would respond, with good work by Deon Colstock forcing an eventual corner, from which the resulting delivery was headed over by John Baker. An exciting start and it belied the fact that this was, apparently, supposed to be the two sides’ reserves!

Match Action

From the raised path around the cricket

Gresley still maintained the slight upper hand over their hosts during the first 45 as a whole, and after Bowen had shown some good strength to force his way into a shooting opportunity, he’d have been somewhat frustrated to direct the effort wide of the mark. His strike partner, Shakespeare, who’d struck in the early seconds then wasted a fine chance to make it two, and was almost punished as Cadbury went right down the other end, but Baker’s attempt lacked conviction and resulted in a pretty comfortable stop for the Gresley stopper.

Cadbury though they had levelled it with around ten minutes to the break, when a challenge on the visiting ‘keeper led to him dropping the ball, and it being slotted in, but the officials adjudged him to have been fouled. However, to me anyway, it looked as though he may have got a little lucky, as he seemed to be mis-controlling the cross before contact was made; and if Athletic weren’t in the best mood after that, then they would go in fuming at the break. The visitors attacked, Gresley’s front two linked-up well, with Bowen unselfishly squaring for Shakespeare to side-foot home into the largely unguarded net.

Match Action

Match Action

Shakespeare nets number two

So it stood at 2-0 come the break and I wasted the ten minutes or so of half-time by wandering just around the corner and into the centre of Bournville itself – or what there is of it anyway. The entrance to Cadbury World wasn’t in any great use today either, and I was able to cross both ways in short order without the threat of being run over, which may not always be the case come the summer time, perhaps? Anyway, the sides were just getting underway as I walked back around to the pavilion entrance and Cadbury nearly got back into it almost immediately after the start, when Stuart Butcher outmuscled his defender and got something of an effort away, but the Gresley ‘keeper was able to block it out and onto the post. A close call.

Colstock went close shortly afterwards as the hosts strove to get back into the game and, as the bells behind the far goal began to replace Christmas Carols with ABBA’s “Supertrooper” for some unknown reason, a low ball in by Baker was turned in from close range by #10, Joe Busst, and it was game on! However, it looked as though the goal just arose Gresley from a half-way slumber and they began to gain a foothold once more – #11 forcing the Cadbury ‘keeper into another good stop, before a long ball by the Gresley ‘keeper looked to be heading to his opposite number directly, and with no danger seeming to be imminent, I looked away for a split second….

Criminals and proof

Match Action

Match Action

It was then I heard some excitement I hadn’t expected and glanced up just in time to see Bowen knocking the ball into the net with no-one near him and the ‘keeper accepting the blame for whatever the hell had just happened. For whom the bell tolls, I suppose?! This setback seemed to rouse Cadbury just as their strike had done for Gresley, and both Butcher and Baker (almost sound like a comedy duo) were both superbly denied by the visiting ‘keeper who, it has to be said, had a fine game between the sticks. Unfortunately, I can only link the scorers with their numbers for Gresley, so I don’t know who he is. (NB: I’ve since been informed by “Clive” that this was 16-year-old Charlie Leak. I look forward to seeing his progress over the coming years (God, I feel old!).

Soon after the fact, a poor ball gifted Gresley possession in the midfield, and the ball was slotted through to Bowen, who calmly slotted home to make it 4-1, a score that was somewhat harsh on Cadbury, though Gresley had, for the most part, taken their chances when they had come along. The home side would go close on a couple more occasions before the final whistle, a goalkeeper clearance being charged down, and the ball ricocheting wide, along with a drive from Dan Shea also being tipped over by said custodian, but the whistle would go to ensure the points would be heading back to the Moat Ground.

Late on….

Headin back Stirchley way

Upon the final whistle, I beat a hasty retreat under the railway and back to the main road, where the third of the trio mentioned earlier on was now open. Another micropub style place, the Wildcat Tap was certainly more of the usual in this respect, a good range of ales on offer too. Again, I stuck true to my roots with a Pomona Island Pale Ale (£3.90) before taking up a tip I’d picked up on twitter – that being that the newsagent next to the station was an off-licence, and with the offerings not exactly plentiful, I thought I’d give it a go. A Kopparberg was eventually decided upon, before a war between me and the bottle top ensued, my opener key ring isn’t exactly the best, it has to be said!

The journey back allowed me to catch the original train I’d hoped to catch in planning, before the one from Bournville was cancelled, so an earlier return from New Street home was more than welcome. The remainder of the journey was smooth sailing and, for the first time in what seems like an age, I’d had a trouble free trip. What is this sorcery?! Anyway, it had been a good day at a long-time target of mine. It’s certainly something a bit different and well worth a visit. The game quality was better than I expected too, but despite the few pubs being superb, the area itself was a bit of a let down in this respect (look, look, I’m being negative!). All things considered, though, the positives outweighed the negatives for sure (well, that lasted long). Onto New Year’s Day and, fingers crossed it isn’t a repeat of last year’s drab, drab beginning….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 9

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Brymbo

Result: Brymbo 2-4 Holywell Town (Welsh National League Premier Division)

Venue: The Crick (Saturday 21st December 2019, 3pm)

Att: 200 (approx.)

The final pre-Christmas weekend of the year saw a first trip over the Welsh border since the very first game of the season. Nor were either ground all too distant from each other either, as I headed to Weston Rhyn for Chirk Town’s first outing. For today, the venue was the Crick in the Wrexham suburb of Brymbo – or just outside to be exact – and I would be joined along the way by blog regular appearance maker, Paul. The morning journey saw me again head Cheshire-wards, passing through Warrington in the nick of time to catch the express to Chester. Once there, a 25 minute wait was split up by, first, being told I’d given the ticket office girl a Aussie cent (my reply of “I don’t remember that trip” made me feel like a comedian for a very brief moment) and a pint of Punk IPA in the Town Crier just outside the station entrance.

Before long, it was time to catch the train to Wrexham, where I would meet Paul in one of their two Wetherspoon offerings, prior to grabbing a bus up the Crick. This all went surprisingly smoothly, for once, and after a Bud Light each in the Elihu Yale, we were soon stepping onto the number 14 service from the bus station just around the corner, which also offered journeys to Ruthin, Denbigh and elsewhere in the country’s rather complex transport map. However, it was a little easier for us, and within 15 minutes, we were debussing outside the Rollers Arms in Tanyfron, complete with neighbouring stream. Now, the Rollers isn’t exactly a looker from the outside it has to be said, but inside it is pretty cosy and decent and the pints of Coors (£3~) went down well for each of us.

The Elihu Yale ‘Spoons

Rollers’ Arms

Brymbo is a large village local government community out in the hills to the North East of Wrexham, of which it is part of the county borough. It probably derives its name from the Welsh Bryn Baw (mud hill) and first appeared on record in 1339 although the area had been populated for a long while before that – shown by the Brymbo Man, a body dating back to 1600BC. Upon the times stated before, Brymbo had become a township, surrounded by a number of smaller outlying settlements and other unclaimed areas, whilst in 1440, the burgesses of nearby Holt were granted permission to mine for coal in “Harwd” and Coedpoeth – the former being a previous name for Brymbo, likely coming from the English “Harwood” (Hare Wood) and referred to a common in one part of the township.

Also in the 15th century, landowner Edward ap Morgan ap Madoc, gentleman, built a dwelling that would become Brymbo Hall, the perennial home of his descendants, the Griffiths. Coal mining continued on a small scale up to the 18th century when the activities grew, particularly John “Iron Mad” Wilkinson bought Brymbo Hall and began to develop its estate, mining coal and ironstone and creating ironworks which later became the village steelworks. By 1821, there was a total of 41 mines on the estate alone, whilst numerous deep mining holes were sunk around the area, with Brymbo village largely becoming a redevelopment for the workers in these industries. The village itself was built on the hillsides overlooking the Cheshire Plain and had a railway station until 1950.

Brymbo

The old steelworks’ remnants

Howver, this topography would later cause issues in the 1950’s, when new parts of the steelworks were built upon a vast artificial plateau of slag from the furnaces and then filling the valley and most of the village, the houses of which were demolished beforehand. The steelworks continued production whilst the pits fell aside financially and geologically by the Great Depression, the last deep mine closing in 1938, though the smelt drift mine continued to 1967. The steelworks finally closed in the early 1990’s, again adding to the financial problems of the area. The current Community of Brymbo also takes in the surrounding villages; Tanyfron and Bwlchgwyn and other smaller settlements around them. It was in the county of Denbighshire until 1974 and then Clwyd to 1996, when this was abolished and it’s now a part of Wrexham County Borough. It has recently had new houses added and further redevelopments of the steelworks’ brownfield sites is to follow.

As with last week, we had another 2pm kick off on our hands and, with Brymbo village being a fair way off still considering the time frames involved, I followed Paul’s plan to instead pay a visit to the Brymbo Sports Club itself. You see, I can play it safe if prompted! Anyway, it was a decent choice, as the uphill walk soon showed up our recent lack of respective fitness and by the time we arrived, we were very much in need of some refreshing, frosty ones….and not a snowman. The bear outside the club was already on it as we arrived, perhaps our spirit (mythical) animal had finally been discovered?

Arriving at Brymbo F.C.

Alky Dragon

After a Holsten had been downed, it was time to head outside and to the ground, although we weren’t quite expecting the entrance we would see upon turning the corner. A few flights of steps lead up to the crest of a hill, upon which stood a club building, the gate, and the Crick’s two pitches in behind. Once we’d cambered up groundhopping’s answer to Everest (OK, maybe I’m exaggerating), we paid our entry dues of £3, but discovered a lack of programmes on the day. Apparently, they do usually issue, but expected the game to be off, and so didn’t print any. It has to be said, though, that I haven’t seen much evidence of these anywhere as it is, but who am I to speculate? Paul was even spurned in his quest for a team sheet. Not sure he’ll cope!

Back onto matters at hand, and we reached pitch side just as the game was getting going. The ground itself is a tidy set up, with hard standing around 3 sides and the far end being netted off to avoid balls flying off down the hill. Though it has to be said, I did skim around it, so it is possible. Both sides of the pitch play host to stands, the near side featuring a seated and small covered, metal terrace and the other populated by an older stand, whose seats, it can be certainly stated, have seen better days! Behind the near goal are the aforementioned club building (housing food bar and dressing rooms), as well as the secondary pitch, which wasn’t in use today, but seems to be kept in some nick. So that’s the Crick and this is the back story of *ahem* Crimbo Brymbo…

History Lesson:

Brymbo Football Club was founded in 1943 as the works team of the Brymbo Steelworks, however the village has hosted a football club since the late 1800’s, with Brymbo Institute (1890-1897; 1907-’09), Brymbo Junior (1899) and Brymbo Victoria, all representing the area during the more formative years. During this time, it was Victoria that saw the majority of success, winning a Wrexham & District League title in three successive seasons through 1904-’06, although these are stated as two Division One’s and one Division 2 – in that order. Strange, as the year after the apparent Division 2 win in 1906, the club then moved into the Flintshire League for a season, before returning to the Wrexham & District League system, alongside the re-formed Institute side. Institute would win their own Division 2 title in 1909, although this proved to be the last season of their existence.

Brymbo Victoria continued on, moving into The Combination to take on Birkenhead’s fixtures in 1909 and were joined on the field by Green United who joined the Wrexham & District League too, just as their predecessors. They spent two years there before seemingly disappearing in 1912, one year after Victoria had also seemed to halt playing. Brymbo Institute restarted life in the two seasons pre-World War One playing in the North Wales Alliance, and continued there upon the restart of football, now alongside Brymbo Green, whilst Brymbo Junior re-joined the area’s footballing scene in 1921, competing in the Ffrith & District League, although this seemed to be a bridge too far and they again lasted the one season. Meanwhile, Institute carried on to 1924 in the Welsh National League North’s Division One until merging with Division 2 East’s Brymbo Green and continuing under the latter moniker, whilst another brief rekindling of Junior back in the Ffrith League again fizzled out after the one year.

The “Mount Everest” incline

Green continued on, playing in the Wrexham & District League Division One for the next few years, though apparently disappeared in 1936, though came back as Brymbo Steelworks, it seems, post-World War II. Competing in the Welsh National League’s Senior Division, the club finished 2nd in its first year, before enjoying a golden era in the WNL’s Division One through to 1983, where they won a total of 12 league titles, and won the Welsh Amateur Cup in 1967. Anyway, in the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division, the Steelworks continued until 1991, whereupon they simply became Brymbo F.C. and moved to the Cymru Alliance, finishing as runners-up in 1995, before merging with New Broughton to form the, imaginatively titled, Brymbo Broughton F.C. and winning both the 1996 North East Wales F.A. Cup. and the same year’s Cymru Alliance President’s Cup.

The club remained in the Alliance until 2002, when they were relegated back to the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area), where a poor season, as Summerhill Brymbo following a merger with Summerhill United, saw them end 2005-’06 in 16th place, but Brymbo avoided the drop, before the simpler Brymbo F.C. name returned once again. Back under their former name, they immediately won the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) title for two straight seasons, though remained in the league regardless, and added to these the F.A.W. Trophy in 2007. They have since remained in the same league system, although they did suffer relegation in 2017 to Division One, they bounced back immediately to take the 2017-’18 Division One title and finished last season, their Prem return year, in 15th.

The Crick

They were also re-joined on the field by the reformed Brymbo Victoria, who took on a place in the North Wales League – again ensuring two clubs playing senior football in the area. However, the season wasn’t without an interesting footnote, as Brymbo actually finished 3rd before having a whole 63 points deducted (somehow only the second highest in Welsh footballing history), though still avoided an undeserved drop due to the demise of FC Nomads of Connah’s Quay, and the acceptance of relegation by Hawarden Rangers. As Steelworks, the club also won eight WNL (Wrexham Area) League Cups (or alternative, spanning 1948-1986), four N.E. Wales Cups (through 1970-1985) and, as Brymbo, have added a further two Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division, in each of 2008 and 2013.

The game got underway with an early strike for the second successive game, the visitors striking within the first five minutes. After earning a free-kick just outside the angle of the area, Sam Jones’ ball in evaded everyone and nestled into the bottom corner. A great start for the visitors almost got even better seconds later, but Mark Connolly struck the bar, but it would be two on 10 minutes – Connolly seeing his headed effort kept out by Brymbo ‘keeper Declan Morgan, only for the ball to be forced over the line by the alliteratively-pleasingly-named Dan Dobbins.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

With a two-goal advantage, it looked as though Holywell may well have been on course for another high-scoring victory (they’ve scored more than ten on a few occasions this season already), but Brymbo had been unbeaten against the Wellmen up to this point, securing a point away from home and defeating them in a cup game a few weeks earlier. However, despite denying Town a third by the time the half-hour ticked by, another ball in would just evade Jones and run to the back-post where Dylan Allshorn pounced and finished with aplomb. Allshorn would be booked for apparent simulation just before the break – though it did look to be a penalty from my view – but the sides headed in with Holywell remaining three-up and in control; so much so that this led one visiting player to declare Brymbo a “pub team” on his way to the dressing room. This could have come back to bite him hard.

Finishing up a hot-dog (it was that or a Chicken & Mushroom Pot Noodle) from the food bar, the second half began and it was pretty much the same as the first had started – only that it was the hosts that were now in control of the early stages. Indeed, they netted soon after the restart, a cross from the left-hand side being met at the back-post by Charlie Bell, who found the net only a few minutes into his debut, having come on at the break. It was pretty much his first meaningful touch too, so not a bad start to a career! Minutes later, it was game well and truly on, when an awful error by Town ‘keeper Mike Platt saw him drop the ball right at the feet of, the surely disbelieving, Billy New, who made no mistake. 2-3!

Brymbo net their first

Match Action

From the seats

This proved to be the catalyst for Brymbo to start testing Platt a little more with high balls, but despite one shaky moment soon after, he regained his composure well. Indeed, Jones almost made it 4-2 to the Wellmen, when he outpaced the Brymbo skipper Vito Mbolokele and rounded Morgan, but his poked shot towards the empty net was cleared off the line by another back-tracking home defender. The hosts responded with a free-kick being well saved by Platt, before Town began to gain the upper hand once more in the last twenty minutes or so. After a fizzing drive by right-winger Luke Edwards cannoned off the crossbar, full-back Jake Cooke showed good persistence which allowed him to capitalise on an error by his opponent on the right, advance forward into the area, whereupon he showed good composure to work himself a better position and fire home beyond the helpless Morgan.

Substitute Lee Butterworth also hit the woodwork late on for Town, whilst Brymbo almost netted a late third in stoppage time, when good play by Jamie Cumming allowed him a sight of goal, but alas, the home #7’s drive would only clear the cross-bar and that would be that. Holywell avenged their 4-2 defeat here a few weeks earlier in the FAW Trophy by inflicting the very same score-line on their hosts and for us, it was off up to Brymbo itself.

Miner’s Arms

George & Dragon

Post-match, Paul and I beat a hast retreat back down the stairs and out to the road to catch the apparent bus service up the remainder of the hill to the village. However, this proved to be something ghostly and couldn’t be seen and so we set off on foot, arriving into the Miners Arms pub at the crest of the hill slightly more sweaty (in my case anyway) than would be ideal! Our stay here would have been rather uneventful, had it not been for Adrian Lewis almost hitting a nine darter, whilst two games we were mentioning both tied in with goals just as we spoke. Sadly for Paul’s bet, the Tractor Boys wouldn’t play along.

Coors (£3.30) finished, we headed onwards to what I think was the highest point in Brymbo, where we came across the George & Dragon which, surprisingly, was a J. W. Lees pub, rarely seen in these parts. However, I reckoned I’d play it safe and so couldn’t partake in their Mancunian offerings, although Paul bypassed his Scouse inclinations to sample a Manchester Lager. I plumped for a Corona (no lime, £3~) before we paid a visit to the Railway Tavern a short distance away where I had a Corona (with lime, about the same) and Sam Smith (though not officially one I think) was defeated. Nice.

My camera was defeated by darkness at this point!

Y Cai standing out from up in the park.

We rounded off our trip with a stop off at Y Cai, from outside of which we would catch the bus back down to Wrexham Station. Inside, we met dogs and their humans, Paul indulged in mince pies and I had a pint of either Coors or Stella (for some reason this one escapes me) whilst watching some of the pretty underwhelming Club World Cup Final which Liverpool would eventually be successful in, lifting Paul’s footballing mood, after his Ipswich-related setback!

Bus duly caught, we returned quickly back to Wrexham, where we had time to waste and so I introduced (maybe, Paul wasn’t sure) my companion to the Turf Hotel, right outside the Racecourse Ground. Always a pleasure to visit, and the Amstel rounded off the trip….well, if you don’t count the can of Foster’s I was forced into having on the train back to Liverpool. Connection easily caught to round off the day, and it had been a festive thriller. Six goals, a near comeback and a bit of silliness on the side. Pubs had been good, the ground nice enough and so was the company as always (aw, football fwend!). Merry Crickmas, all!

RATINGS:

Game: 9

Ground: 6

Food: 4

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Middlewich

Result: Middlewich Town 6-2 Eagle Sports (Cheshire League Premier Division)

Venue: Seddon Street (Saturday 14th December 2019, 2pm)

Att: 40 (approx.)

After yet another rain-hit week had seen many a fixture list thrown into disarray, it seemed like my planned visit to the Cheshire town of Middlewich would have to be postponed for what was, at least by that point, the third time. However, my decision to wait for a late call paid off, as the news came through that the pitch was a-okay and so it was to Seddon Street as planned. The only problem now was the usual tale of delayed Northern trains, these almost putting paid to my efforts by the time I’d arrived into Liverpool. However, a immensely quick change – which included a sprint up, down and across the South Parkway footbridge – saw me hop onto the service over the water to Runcorn, just as it was due to depart. Phew.

I was still faced with a pretty lengthy delay as I awaited the train to take me into Winsford, from where I’d catch the bus the short distance through to Middlewich, the 2pm kick-off keeping time at a premium, especially considering I had to go through a change at Hartford (where I visited last year, incidentally, for a Middlewich Reserve fixture), although a pint of Amstel at the station-neighbouring Coachman Inn helped me deal with this! Eventually, I arrived into Winsford station and, not wishing to risk the bus missing out the stop at the station entrance, instead made my way down the road to the next one, from where the six or seven minute bus ride saw me into the town centre with around 25 minutes to kick-off.

Finally arriving in Middlewich

Pre-match stop: Newton Brewery Inn

Middlewich is a town and unitary authority of Cheshire East, in the ceremonial county of Cheshire and upon the confluence of the rivers Dane, Wheelock and, brilliantly, the Croco. It likely derives its name as simply being in the middle of two wiches – namely Nant and North. It is also home to three canals; the Shropshire Union, Trent and Mersey and their linking Wardle Canal, whilst the town itself dates back to Roman times, under the name of Salinae – due to its salt deposits. It duly became a major area of salt production for the Romans, an activity that was centred around nearby Kinderton and which was also inhabited by the Iron Age Cornovii peoples, a Roman fort having also been discovered at Harbutt’s Field. Middlewich is also located on the Roman Road, King Street, which links it and Northwich. However, the Norman invasion would largely end the area for a while, the Domesday Book stating it had been “wasted” by William the Conqueror, on account of revenge against rebellious barons.

However it did soon recover and saw two battles around the Civil Wars era, both in 1643, and centred around the church. The population of Middlewich continued to rise throughout the following years and largely through the 19th and 20th centuries, as it became both linked to other nearby parishes and more labourers in the local farming, fabric, salt, chemical and textile industries. Losing many of the younger men of the area during the First World War, house building between the two world conflicts saw significant growth and new roads allowed for greater movement and ease of travel. Further additions have been added more recently, upon the old saltwork sites and also on the old station, the railways having not served Middlewich since its closure to passengers in 1959, although the branch line remains in situ as a freight line and an occasional diversion route. The railway service had begun in 1868 and (rather amusingly) featured a football fans’ fight in 1888 between supporters of Crewe and Nantwich, with the latter’s fanbase storming the platform occupied by the Alex fans.

Arriving at Seddon St.

Seddon Street and its unused gate

I quickly located the road leading to Seddon Street and decided I had just enough time to pop into one of the two pubs that populate it. I decided upon the first one I came across – namely the Newton Brewery Inn – though there didn’t seem to be much evidence of a brewery in the vicinity and custom seemed at a premium, so much so that I actually thought I’d best check up on if they were open by that point! Indeed, I would be the only one in from my entrance to my exit, upon finishing up on my pint of Coors. Within five minutes, I was arriving at the entrance to the Seddon Street ground’s car park and through the unmanned gate at 1.59pm precisely. Time-keeping en pointe.

Seddon Street is a rather quaint and tidy ground, housing two stands; one a raised seated affair that I will term the “Main Stand” on the near touchline, with another covered standing area upon the other. An old dugout seems to add a little extra cover, if needs be. The remainder of the ground is open, hard standing, with the near end housing a small 3G pitch and the clubhouse/dressing room/food bar building located at the entrance, between it and the Main Stand. Both sides were out on the field ahead of the first whistle, which followed shortly after the checks of the nets and the readiness of the respective goalkeepers. However, before we get onto the action in this more back-to-front “report”, here’s the story of the witches of Middlewich….

History Lesson:

Middlewich Town Football Club was founded in 1998, following on from Middlewich Athletic, who’d played at Seddon Street from their inception in 1912. Athletic had previously won the Mid-Cheshire League title on five occasions – these being 1962, ’65, ’72, ’73 & 1975 – this last title win preceding a move up to the Cheshire County League. The club were relegated to the league’s Division 2 in 1979, and upon the league’s disbanding in 1982, as it was absorbed into the North West Counties League, they returned back into the Mid-Cheshire League ranks, playing in the league’s Second Division.

After one season, the division was dropped in favour of one sole competition. Middlewich would leave the league for four years in 1986 and seemingly not playing senior football until 1990 and their return back to the Mid-Cheshire League and it’s newer version of a Division 2. They ended as runners-up in 1993 and were promoted to Division One, where they spent two seasons before joining the North West Counties League in 1995. The club spent a three season spell here, prior to returning back into the Mid-Cheshire League once more, joining up with Middlewich Town FC Youth teams and taking on the Town suffix in becoming their de-facto senior side.

In the clubhouse

View from the Main Stand

Since then, the club has recorded runners-up placings in both of 2000 & 2003, before they finally went one better in 2004 to win their first title under the Town name. Another runners-up spot was recorded the next year, ahead of two successive titles in each of the next two years. Again, they wouldn’t quite secure a hat-trick of championships, with further 2nd places being racked up in 2008 and 2009, but the club had a strange blip in form throughout the 2013/’14, when they were relegated after finishing bottom of the Cheshire League First Division, having not finished lower than 12th since their name change – that being back in 2002. They would continue playing in the First Division though, on account of the fact the divisions had been renamed, and further renaming to League One followed shortly afterwards, from where they would be promoted in 2018 after securing 3rd place. Last season, Town finished up a strong 4th in their return year back in the top-flight.

The game began with Middlewich quickly asserting themselves upon their visitors, seeing an early free-kick flash wide, before some poor defending allowed Oliver McDonough in and the Town #7 made no mistake in sliding beyond the Eagle ‘keeper Liam Marlow. Steven Hughes then gave Eagle a warning of his intent when he got into a scoring position, but for seemingly no apparent reason, he squared the ball when it looked odds on he’d shoot and, most likely considering his record this season, find the net.

Eagle finally awoke somewhat after a very lacklustre start and Jack Nolan had their first sight of goal, but only fired over, whilst Middlewich’s striking pair of McDonough and Hughes again saw chances go begging. However, if Eagle were hoping that this was to be an off day for Hughes, they were soon to be left in doubt that this wouldn’t be the case. Yet another poor piece of defending by Eagle’s back-line allowed Hughes another go at goal and this time he wouldn’t turn it up – the hot-shot drilling across Marlow and into the far corner.

Match Action

Match Action

View from the other stand

And the defensive turmoil continued soon after, when Nick Chambers misjudged a long ball, #7 capitalised, and the ball ended up in the net off of the other of the Eagle full-back. However, left-back Chambers would atone for his error before the break, when he played in Danny Hutchins, and despite the striker seeing his shot kept out by Town ‘keeper Charles Masters, the loose ball would eventually fall kindly for Ed Burthem to slot home. Half-time, 3-1 and it had been rather eventful to say the least!

After paying a visit to the food bar (for some brilliant chips and gravy made by the bubbly ladies there) and clubhouse for a pairing of warm-ups respectively, we were soon back underway for the second half. The beginning of this was the Jamie Garner vs Marlow show – the midfielder first wastefully firing straight at Marlow from the edge of the box, prior to then being presented with another sight of goal by a lovely touch, only to again be denied by Marlow. Instead it would be Hughes who would net number four for the hosts, taking the ball down well after a cross from the left and finishing with aplomb.

Garner again went close in firing over, before it looked like he had finally managed to find the onion bag from close range, but it was adjudged an own goal, so he was still out-of-luck in this respect. Bad luck was also to return the way of Chambers when he committed a trip on McDonough and, as last man, he was duly dismissed. However, Eagle would still net their second goal despite this set-back, sub Craig Bishop’s driven shot deflecting beyond Masters and in. With a man’s advantage, Town were never under any real threat of a miracle comeback and Hughes came mightily close to grabbing a hat-trick shot, but saw his close-range shot cleared off the line by a brilliant block by an Eagle defender.

Match Action

Match Action

But he wasn’t to be denied and after sub #12 had seen his shot ruled out for offside, Hughes would secure his third of the afternoon and Town’s sixth, heading in off the back of his head somehow which is something I’m not aware of seeing before! Eagle’s disappointment was rounded off in stoppage time, when Lee Boardman’s frustration got the better of him and he rashly took out the Middlewich full-back he’d just had a mini set-to with to see a second yellow. That would be that and though Middlewich’s convincing win didn’t flatter them at all, the two sending offs definitely don’t reflect a dirty contest. Town climb above Eagle in the table, though the visitors have five games in hand.

With darkness quickly enveloping this part of Mid-Cheshire, I made my exit and returned the way I’d arrived from, popping into the welcoming-feeling Big Lock so named, I presume, as there is a big lock on the canal, just behind it somewhere. Whatever the case, a fine pint of Moretti was had as I warded off the cold before returning to the town centre itself for a few more beverages prior to grabbing the bus back to Winsford and onwards home. Best laid plans and all that!

Big Lock

White Bear

Middlewich

It started off well enough, with my first stop-off in the Christmas light filled centre being the historic-looking White Bear, which took precedence for me over the nearby bar on the corner, just because of that as they tend to be a little more interesting for me. Another bonus was the option of Amstel (£3.90~) whilst settling in for a time in the beamed interior. From here, I made my way up past the church and to the King’s Arms which again looked to be an older establishment. However, it was….erm….slightly more lively than the White Bear. Christmas parties and outings were in full swings, elves and Santas (both sexy and otherwise) were numerous around – including one that had to be shoved outside by a mate upon lighting up just prior to the door. Lighting up? Eh? Eh?? Oh never mind. A bottle of Moretti was fine enough for me within the craziness of people swapping turns at the pool table with conversations at the bar, before I headed back out into the chilly December evening.

Around the other side of the church and back on the main road are the neighbouring Kinderton Hotel and Boar’s Head, whose location made it easy to grab a bus from outside, before I had other smart ideas. Will I ever learn? Probably not, and why would I want to?! I reckoned I’d be better off plumping for the hotel whilst in a lesser inebriated state, another Coors here costing £3.90 – which is decent considering it’s a hotel bar and pretty swanky-looking overall, whilst the Boar’s Head was more of your usual pub fare, the dogs populating the bar area being friendly as I entered and supped at a bottle of the quite brilliant Big Wave (£3.20). It was here that I calculated I might just be able to squeeze in the Golden Lion – the problem there being is that it was back across the other end of the town centre – some five minutes away.

King’s Arms through the old battleground

The neighbours

Golden Lion to round off with

I had about twenty until the bus, but I guess my phone hadn’t updated the time when I looked as, upon arriving at the bar and opting for a Bud, I turned down the barman’s offer of keeping the bottle top on in favour of having it sat in and wasting away the remaining minutes before grabbing said bus from the stop just outside. However, I sat down and checked up on the time, just to be safe, only to see I had about five minutes in hand and I thus wanted to give myself a further five in hand, again, to ensure I was there in good order. This all went ok, I popped the remainder away for the train back and headed out for the bus stop….which then appeared to be non-existent. I headed past its stated location and then returned back half-way, whilst the service whistled past and left me with a half-hour’s wait until the next service which, just to add a little extra flavour into proceedings, was heading in the opposite direction and would drop me at Sandbach station with four minutes in hand prior to the train to Manchester. Why do I do these trips?!

Having a chat for some of the time to a lady outside who did state there had been a sign at the stop at some point (though it almost certainly isn’t in situ now), I caught the bus to Sandbach and caught the train nicely, and was joined at Macclesfield by a group of, I assumed, Bradford fans on their way back from their game at Moss Rose against the Silkmen. This provided some good entertainment and allowed the journey to pass on through quite nicely, prior to catching the connection through and back home by half-eight which, all things considered, wasn’t too bad at all.

In closing, it had been a good day overall, with Middlewich being a lovely town to pay a visit to and the ground being something a little different too. Both teams offered up an entertaining contest (for better or worse!) and the money spent wasn’t all that bad considering all the travel mishaps experienced throughout the day. So, onto the penultimate weekend of the season and a first venture of the actual campaign over the Welsh border to be enjoyed. Here’s hoping all is just as good, and everything transport-wise runs a little bit smoother….!

 

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 7

Food: 9

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Congleton

Result: Congleton Town 2-2 Longridge Town (AET, 1-1 after 90 minutes) (FA Vase 3rd Round)

Venue: Ivy Gardens/Booth Street (Saturday 30th November 2019, 3pm)

Att: 225.

As another weekend rolled around, my intended plan to continue on with the FA Cup rounds fell apart pretty early on during, as the contracting of one of the many colds flying around largely did for me. As such, visits to the likes of Cheltenham & the Posh were off limits and I instead turned to the FA Vase fixtures. There was a few worth considering, but one stood out more, despite being a revisit. The fact being that (brace for a real shock) my previous blog to Congleton had missed out the vast majority of pubs in the town, and I’ve long since wanted to put that right. This Vase fixture against Longridge Town ticked those boxes and so I was off to Beartown once again.

Not without issue, however. Having queued for a good four minutes or so at the ticket office, I was then issued with a wrong ticket and told to buy on the train instead. First issue, no conductor was available on the journey into Oxford Road, and I hadn’t had time to put in for a “Promise to Pay” notice, as the train was about to leave. “No bother, I’ll buy at Oxford Road as I’ve done countless times before”, I thought – but OH, WHAT A MISTAKEA TO MAKEA! Making my way to the ticket office and still with the correct fare in my hand, that wasn’t good enough for the Northern jobsworth, and I was soon in possession of a penalty fare notice. Great. My own notice to Northern is….I’m not paying; it was already issued wrongly as I was allowed to start the journey by one of your employees. Check your T’s&C’s!!

I needed one in here. Not the best, though.

Arriving in Congleton centre

Beartown Tap

Anyway, all that idiocy was soon out of the way and I was arriving into Congleton without further issue. I began with a brief visit to the Railway for perhaps the second flattest pint of Amstel (£3.60) I’ve ever had (a pub in Manchester owns that, ahem, distinction) before heading off on the short 15 minute walk into the town centre. I decided to make the Beartown Tap my second stop of the day, with the barman being quite pleased with my answer of “Anything, really!” to the question “What do you like to drink?”! I eventually opted for a Berliner Pilsner – lovely stuff too, at £4.40!

Congleton is a town and civil parish within the unitary authority of Cheshire East – part of the wider ceremonial county of Cheshire. The first more recent reference to the town’s name was made in 1282 when it was spelt as Congelton and it is theorised that the name of the town may derive from the Old Norse kang, meaning “bend”, and the Old English word tun, referring to a settlement. However, the area has history dating back to the Neolithic era, with both Stone and Bronze age artefacts having been discovered around the town, whilst the thought that Congleton grew up during the Roman occupation has since become less likely to be true. Instead, it became a market town upon the destruction of nearby Davenport by the marauding Vikings. Godwin, Earl of Wessex, held the town during the Saxon-era, and the town was mentioned in the Domesday Book as Cogeltone: Bigot de Loges upon the arrival of the Normans, with William the Conqueror giving the lands of Cheshire to his nephew, the Earl of Chester.

Congleton

Christmassy Congleton

A castle was added in 1208 and the de Lacy family who came to own Congleton during the same century granted the town a charter to hold a market and fairs – whilst also being allowed a mayor, behead criminals and have an ale-taster. I know which one sounds the more attractive proposition! 1451 saw Congleton gutted by the flooding caused by the River Dane and the resultant recovery saw the river diverted and the town rebuilt upon higher ground. It was during the 1600’s that Congleton’s links with bears came into being, with the unfortunate “sports” of bear-baiting and cockfighting becoming popular with the locals, though crowds soon became lower due to the lack of aggression in the town’s bear and the lack of funds to purchase a more ferocious beast. The bear/bible trade legend comes from this, with bible funds collected being used to purchase a bear instead, with the fund replenished upon the bear’s arrival drawing larger attendances! So, it was not to actually purchase a new bear directly, as per the tale. The town’s nickname “Beartown” is duly derived from this folklore.

The Civil War involved Congleton indirectly, as the town’s former mayor, John Bradshaw, became the sitting President of the court that condemned Charles I to the hangman’s noose in 1649 and his signature, as Attorney General, was the first upon the King’s death warrant. The White Lion Hotel is said to have been the location where the articles where served by Bradshaw. After the return of the monarchy and under King Edward I, Congleton was granted permission to construct a mill and this allowed the town to become a centre of textile making – particularly leather and lace – in addition to its older silk-making mill from the 1700’s and despite steadily declining, the industry remained in the form of silk labels right through until the 1990’s.

The town has been home to a Saint, Margaret Ward, who was executed by order of Elizabeth I for enabling a priest’s prison escape, the great-great-great grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II, Robert Hodgson, Cpt. Percy Wilson MC (WWI flying ace) and Victoria Cross recipient G.H. Eardley VC MM. Olympic gold-winning couple Ann Packer and Robbie Brightwell have also lived in the town, as have their sons; ex-footballers Ian and David Brightwell. Other older footballers include Hugh Moffat (ex-Burnley and Oldham Athletic), Bill Fielding (Manchester Utd, Bolton Wanderers, Cardiff City) and George Cawley (Stoke City, Southampton, Manchester City), along with the far more recent England international striker, Daniel Sturridge.

Young Pretender

Prince of Wales

Olde King’s Arms

White Lion

From the Tap, I continued back towards the high street, bypassing another pub bearing (sorry) the Beartown name, this time the Beartown Cock (a pub, not an unfortunate nickname) for the moment and instead diving into the rather easily missable Young Pretender- somewhat fitting considering my visit to Dumfries the previous weekend. Another continental pint here, this time Flensburger (£4.10), went down well, before I began to visit the more historic, listed offerings Congleton has to offer. The first of the three that are in close formation with each other was the Prince of Wales, a Joules’ pub, which of course offered up the usual Joules choice of mine – the Pale Ale (£3.40). With time beginning to run short after popping into the small, yet striking Olde King’s Arms for a San Miguel (£3.80) , the White Lion was ticked off the list via a bottle of Corona (£3.20), before I headed on the few minutes walk up to Booth Street – or Ivy Gardens, whichever you prefer!

Paying the £6 entry at the gate in the corner of the ground, you have to climb a couple of steps to get up to pitch level, where you quickly come across the programme hut. Another £2 was paid here, prior to a visit to the food hut (for a fine portion of chips, peas and gravy) which is connected to the clubhouse, and situated in behind the ground’s all-seater Main Stand that straddles the halfway line. Between this and the turnstiles, there is a small club shop and a covered terrace area, with another one at each end too – the latter of these being the most recent addition to Booth Street. The other side of the field is home to another, fairly recent, covered standing area, which is neighboured by the dugouts out front, interestingly across the field from the dressing rooms/tunnel. The remainder of the ground is open, hard standing, with the old banking still in situ at the far-end, now flanking the new stand. That’s the ground in a nutshell, and this is the story of Congleton’s footballing bears….

History Lesson:

Congleton Town Football Club was founded in 1901 and originally joined the Crewe & District League, which they went on to win in each of their first three seasons, alongside the 1904 Crewe & District Cup, prior to joining the North Staffordshire & District League in 1906. They finished runners-up in 1915, before ceasing playing during WWI, returning for one post-war season there, whereupon they became 1919-’20 champions. They subsequently joined the Cheshire County League where they lifted a first Cheshire Senior Cup in 1921, whilst finishing 2nd to Winsford United in their first campaign there. The club remained in the league through to 1939, winning their second Cheshire Senior Cup a year earlier, whereupon they spent a sole season in the Macclesfield & District League, finishing as equal-winners in the table prior to defeating Bollington Cross in a title-play-off to be crowned champions.

After the end of World War II, the Bears returned to the Cheshire County League, but struggled for the most part, finishing bottom in 1948 and never getting out of the bottom-end of the table during the next decade. They again finished bottom in 1965, and so joined the Manchester League instead, where they spent three seasons before joining Mid-Cheshire League. Finishing runners-up in each of 1970 and 1972, 1974 saw Congleton win the league and they repeated the feat two seasons later. They again finished 2nd in 1977, before winning their third Mid-Cheshire League title the next year (alongside the 1978 Cheshire Saturday Cup), a win which preceded their move back up to the Cheshire County League for the following season, where they became champions in the league’s final year, 1981-’82, prior to its merger with the Lancashire Combination to form the North West Counties Football League, which Congleton duly became founder members of.

Arriving at Booth St.

A bear clubhouse

Playing in the new league’s Division One, the Bears finished runners-up in 1986, missing out on the title on goal difference alone, before they joined another newly-formed division – the Northern Premier League’s Division One – in 1988. When here, Congleton made the First Round of the FA Cup, defeating Witton Albion in the 4th Qualifying Round before going down to local Football League side Crewe Alexandra 2-0. However, for the most part they struggled, and after finishing bottom in 2001, the club was relegated to the NWCFL Division One once more. Interestingly, the club lost the 2002 Mid-Cheshire Senior Cup final to Northwich Victoria, despite the Trickies having subbed their final penalty-taker during the match. Despite this, the result was allowed to stand and Vics remained the…ahem…victors, although the Bears got their day in the sun in 2007, when they did lift the trophy. The club have remained in the Counties’ top-tier, through its 2008 name change to the Premier Division, to this day, finishing last season in 3rd position under manager Brian Pritchard.

After a minute’s silence for a number of reasons which I couldn’t quite catch due to being in the queue for the food bar, we were underway in this all-North West Counties Vase clash. Longridge began slightly on top with marginally the better of the play, but it was the hosts who created the better sights of goal. Dan Cope would go close on a couple of occasions, before the same man then thought he’d broken the deadlock with a finely taken, acrobatic effort, only for his strike to be ruled out by the linesman’s flag. The dangerous Cope then saw his header held on the line by Longridge stopper Lee Dovey, and the visitors responded to this with Finlay Sinclair-Smith forcing Bears ‘keeper Riccardo Longato into a fine stop – the debutant gloveman tipping his drive onto the post.

Match Action

Match Action

Getting darker….

After going close again through Scott Harries, Longridge then also found themselves on the wrong end of the offside flag, a George Thomason finish from close range being ruled out by the other assistant, but it was Congleton that almost grabbed the elusive opener, Cope once more being denied by a fine stop in the latest chapter of his battle against Dovey. That was largely that for the first half, a half that had been highly watchable, but despite having seen the ball hit the net at either end, still remained goalless. Half-time saw me and Richard (the other half of non-league dogs) come across each other during what I assume was a lap of the ground and this thankfully, considering the cold that was beginning to envelop the Booth Street ground, was to keep me entertained for the next 45, so cheers Rich!

Anyway, the second half got going with the visitors this time seeing largely the better of the play, though there was less in the way of overall chances for both sides, compared to the first period. Indeed, it took the best part of fifteen minutes for the first one of note to come around and even then it was one made out of nothing. Tom Ince advanced forward into the hosts’ half before meeting a loose ball and unleashing a fizzing, rising volley that cannoned off the crossbar and over onto the grass bank behind Longato’s goal. As the half wore on, Congleton centre-back Josh Ryder saw his headed effort cleared off the line and Longridge were again denied by Longato and after Cope had gone close yet again for the Bears, Tom Ince looked to have won it five minutes from time, when he calmly slotted into the bottom corner from just outside the area.

Match Action

50/50

It looked like the Bears’ Vase run would end on this chilly Cheshire evening, but Bevan Burey had other ideas. On 92 minutes, the striker, who’d come on half-way through the second forty-five, reacted quickest to Kyle Diskin’s low shot being tipped onto the bar, to slot beyond the helpless, luckless Dovey and send the home fans into raptures. Extra-time it was and the first 15 yielded a second Longridge goal, as Scott Harries fired in after 102 minutes of play to become the second player from the Lancastrian side to seemingly be sending them through to Round 4. But again, the hosts wouldn’t go down without a fight, and the final quarter-hour saw them again draw level, Cope finally seeing one of his strikes find the target without issue – the forward latching onto a free-kick at the back-post to knock home.

Extra-time, from the stand

The ball in for the leveller

Dramatically, Kieran Brislen almost won the tie for Congleton with the last meaningful kick of the game, but saw his shot fly narrowly wide of the mark, and that would be that, the 2-2 draw meaning both sides would meet again in midweek to settle the score once-and-for-all (Longridge would take it 2-0 back up Preston way). Post-match, I returned back through the frosty, slippery back-streets and towards the centre once more, paying a visit to another of the town’s elder statesmen, the interestingly named Lion & Swan Hotel. A pint of Estrella (£4.20) was had in here as I took in a very enjoyable warm (though was chilled by a “ghosthunting” poster I spotted, before continuing on to the town’s Wetherspoon’s offering, the Counting House, where I tested out the Monkey Mango cider. This was a very decent pint and you can’t go far wrong with the price at £3.09 anyway, can you?

Lion & Swan

Counting House

After returning to the Beartown Cock for a Berries & Cherries Old Mout offering, I headed back uphill to the station, nicely in time for the train back to Manchester. No issues here, though the next two trains home were then cancelled (oh, the irony – I wonder if the penalty fare ties in, perhaps) and so it was a bus job instead….which included a jog down to Piccadilly Gardens to give me any chance of catching it. Thank God nothing can keep to timetables is all I can say!!

So that’s that for my third visit to the home of the Bears. A good game which had been a highly entertaining watch, regardless of it being goalless for almost the whole 90. Congleton is a great little town in my opinion, and the ground has the rustic charm that is often missing nowadays. Richard’s company kept the cold off somewhat during the second-half although, as he said later, I’m sure the replay was even colder still. So another week is done, a small courts visit may still be on the cards at time of writing, so there’s another new experience peering over the horizon! Footballing-wise, it’s off to somewhere that brews up quite a fair bit, but not trouble, I’d hope….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Programme: 6

Food: 8

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Chapel Allerton (Yorkshire Amateur FC)

Result: Yorkshire Amateur 1-2 Hemsworth Miners Welfare (Northern Counties East League Premier Division)

Venue: Bracken Edge (Saturday 16th November 2019, 3pm)

Att: 118

With the weather once again causing widespread havoc around the country, I found myself with the dilemma of yet another morning trying to sort out an alternative venue for my footballing entertainment. The rain had well and truly taken its toll on the pitch at Cheshire League Billinge’s pitch, so much so that it was called off some 15 hours in advance of kick-off. Despite this, the moment of truth would have to wait until the following morning, what with the weather still hanging around.

Eventually, at around 10am, I seemed to receive some very positive news from Yorkshire Amateur – a club who featured in one of my earlier experiences of live football when playing Trafford in a FA Vase tie back in t’day, and so had been long due a visit in the books. As such, all, directions led to Bracken Edge – though I’d still have to encounter a cancelled train, and so was delayed a further half-hour. Further delays saw a little more time lost as I headed into Leeds, catching a bus from the centre up to the Chapel Allerton area of the city, near to where the Ammas play. It looked a decent enough area, though upon arriving, it became apparent that I may have undersold it. Chapel Allerton is quite the attractive suburb, with a mix of traditional and more modern builds around the centre, many of which were of the pub/bar nature. What a shame….

The Mustard Pot was slightly the furthest away on the short run through the centre, and appeared to be some kind of converted Manor house or something, the interior and painting of a reception room definitely pushing this theory. With time at a bit of a premium, I was going to opt for a pint of one of my usual, designed swift drinks – but the appearance of the rarely-spotted draught Red Stripe (£4.50) soon changed that! From there, I undertook the short walk back, slightly downhill, to a pair of all but neighbours, the Kith & Kin and the Pit.

Arriving in Chapel Allerton

Mustard Pot

The Kith & Kin

The first of the two yielded a pint of Estrella (£4.60) in one of those kind of modern gastro-pub-style places, though this one was if the rustic variety and kept an air of being a bar primarily too. The Pit, meanwhile, was somewhat similar in decor, though was definitely more solely focused on being a bar, despite the fact that the tap of my initial choice, Blue Moon, died as I was being served. This proved something of a blessing in disguise, as I had spotted bottles of Big Wave (£4.40) in the fridge, and so was disappointed I’d missed out. Obviously, the alternative was sorted quickly!

Chapel Allerton is an inner suburb of Leeds, located to the north-east of the city centre and was noted in the Domesday Book as Alreton (likely derived from the Old English ‘alor’ (alder) and ‘tūn’ (estate or farm)) and was then named in a 1240 charter as land “which lies between the road which goes to the Chapel of Allerton and the bounds of Stainbeck”. The chapel itself was linked with Kirkstall Abbey, but was demolished in the 18th century and the town’s name was shortened to “Chapeltown” (first attested in 1427) whereupon both names were used and co-existed and became interchangeable.  During the 17th century, the area had grown from its medieval farmland beginnings to something of a resort, for the wealthy residents of this area of Yorkshire and continued to grow through into the 19th century, being named in the Leeds administrative area in 1869 as a civil parish.

The Pit

Chapel Allerton

And looking festive during the evening

However, it did continue to be considered a village into the 1900’s, but construction of housing and roads in the open lands between it and the surrounding areas saw it become less isolated overall and more a part of Leeds itself. It has many older, rather showy dwellings and impressive public buildings dotted around from these times, and the Leeds Tramway once ran through the town, though this was dismantled and taken up in 1959. It is now a part of a highly served bus route. It’s most notable former resident (apart from an ancestor of Captain Oates of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition), is Margaret Scriven – a four-time tennis Grand-Slam champion, including back-to-back French Open titles in 1933 & 1934.

Finishing off in the especially cold glass I was served, I continued on to the northern end of the town, where the fittingly-named Further North can be found. A true real ale place, I was given a warm welcome by a customer’s dog prior to ordering a pint of Grapefruit stuff from somewhere called Schoffe hauffen…or something like that! I’ve had a few beers that claim to be of a grapefruit taste, but aren’t in truth, but this offering was truly pink and it really was like having the fruit’s juice. Lovely stuff!

Further North

The Regent

(Un)official signage!

I began to head back groundwards and to two pubs slightly off of the main road that also happened to be the more traditional, older pubs Chapel Allerton has to offer. However, I had time for just the one for the moment, and came upon the Regent first. A small, largely timbered interior place, a fine pint of Heineken (£4.30) did the trick, before I embarked on the ten minute or so trek over to the Edge. Just be prepared for the incline getting there! Arriving, I purchased a programme (£1), along with my £6 entry (paid in many coins) before I decided to go for an early pie. Chips weren’t on anyway, so it was a steak and kidney and peas for me (£2.50). Not bad, though the peas did come at something of a premium.

After using the clubhouse as a restaurant and having a peruse of the light on content programme (though you can’t complain at a quid), it was back out for the game. Bracken Edge is a decent old, school ground flanked by a 3G cage at the far side. The ground is mostly open, hard standing though a bit in front of the clubhouse provides some cover in this regard, as well as a few seats. The Main Stand, meanwhile, sits at the far side of the pitch, separated from the clubhouse by the tunnel/changing room building, the dugouts situated out front. That’s the ground in short, and this is the story of the Ammas….

History Lesson:

Yorkshire Amateur Football Club was founded in 1918 and became a founding member of the Yorkshire League two years later. Initially leaving after four seasons, the club would return in 1930 and finished as runners-up in the Section ‘B’ of the league’s Subsidiary Competition at the end of their first year back, though would go on to achieve success that same season in the form of the West Riding Challenge Cup. The following season saw the Ammers reach the FA Cup’s First Round, where they bowed out to 3rd Division North outfit Carlisle United, whilst continuing their cup runs that year with a semi-final appearance in the FA Amateur Cup, which ended in defeat to Marine at Leicester City’s Filbert Street. Meanwhile, Yorkshire Amateur also went on to secure the Second Competition of the Yorkshire League, though did lose to First Competition winners – Huddersfield Town ‘A’ – in the championship deciding game.

Cup success continued in the pre/mid-war years, 1933 seeing the club lift the inaugural Yorkshire League Cup, whilst going on to add another two West Riding Challenge Cups to their tally – these coming in 1933 and 1945. Season 1945-’46 saw another FA Cup First Round appearance made by the club, though they would go down in a two-legged tie to Lincoln City – this despite the Ammers having led 1-0 from the first game. Soon after, the Yorkshire League gained a Second Division in 1950, with Yorkshire Amateur place in the First Division and despite being relegated in 1952, returned at the first attempt as Division 2 runners-up. The drifting between the divisions continued through the decade, with 1956 seeing the drop suffered for a second time, with the club this time having to wait for three seasons before returning to the Yorkshire League top-flight as Division 2 champions.

Arriving at the ground

1963 saw the Ammers return to Division 2 once again, and this time they would have to wait almost a decade to return to the league’s top-table, the club ending as runners-up in 1972 and, in doing so, ended a nine-year absence. They were relegated once again in 1975, after finishing bottom of the First Division table, but worse was to come two years later as the club suffered the drop into the league’s Third Division for the first time. However, this stay would prove brief, the Ammers being promoted as Division 3 winners in their first attempt, and they remained in Division 2 through to the league’s merger with the Midland League in 1982; thus the North East Counties League came into being, with Yorkshire Amateur placed in Division Two North initially, before a third-placed finish in 1984 secured them a spot in the restructured Division One North for the next season, before further league changes saw them back in a Division 3 the year after.

Clubhouse seat action

Upon the abolishment of Division 3 after just a sole year in 1986, the Ammers took a place in Division 2 and remained there through to its absorbing into Division One in 1991. The club duly joined the Division 1 ranks, and won the league’s “Wilkinson Sword” Trophy in 1999, though league success has been rather hard to come by, the club having remained in Division One right through until the 2017-’18 season, when they finally escaped as runners-up and achieved promotion to the Premier Division, and NCEL, top flight for the first time. Last season saw Yorkshire Amateur record a highly creditable 5th place in the Premier Division at the end of their first campaign.

We were underway pretty much bang on time, and it was the hosts who really should have struck first early in the day, when a long ball forward was taken down and squared to Matthew Sykes, but he somehow struck wide when it looked easier to score. Hemsworth responded, with Brice Tiani getting a badly-timed bounce that resulted in his effort striking the bar and eventually the danger being cleared. They were almost gifted the opener shortly afterwards too, when a poor clearance by the Ammers’ GK Ed Wilczynski, allowed the visitors in, the eventual cross was deflected goalwards and only just kept out by the ex-Huddersfield youngster, atoning for his earlier error.

Keeping a watchful eye on things

Match Action

View from the Main Stand

Harrison Blakely blazed over for Yorkshire Amateur before the visitors eventually grabbed the opener, when a good ball into Ryan Carroll by Dec Parker saw the initial shot kept out well, but the rebound fell kindly for Carroll to duly finish off. Nash Connolly almost made it two shortly after, but mishit his shot and the crucial moment, but centre-half Eddie Cass, would find the target shortly before the break, when he met a corner and directed a looping header into the back of the net. Dangerman Ash Flynn created a chance for himself to grab one back on the stroke of half-time, but his good work and endeavour eventually came to nought, as his effort flew straight at the ‘keeper. Half-time and 2-0 to the visitors in this top-half clash.

An uneventful half-time interval came and went and we were soon back playing as the lights began to take full effect at Bracken Edge. The home side needed to come out of the blocks swiftly, and only a fine double stop by Hemsworth ‘keeper Jordan Greaves stopped them from getting back in the game almost immediately. A good save down the other end denied Carroll his second and a third for Hemsworth, whilst his opposite number Flynn didn’t quite get the connection he was looking for following on from the counter-attack. Soon after, Ammers sub Steve Smith showed good pace to enable him to get in position to deliver to the back-post, where the arriving attacker was again denied by the ever busier Hemsworth stopper.

It would be Gibraltar international Adam Priestley’s replacement Smith who would give his side a lifeline with around his shirt number left on the clock, when he was brought down by Greaves in the area, and Matthew Sykes duly stepped up and did the honours with some confidence. We were now set for a grandstand last quarter-hour, though it wasn’t quite all hands at the pump for Hemsworth as you might expect. Yorkshire Amateur did dominate the play for the most part, but only really had a Flynn free-kick that flew over the bar to show for their efforts.

Down the line

#11 hammers home from the spot!

Far-side action

However, they were given another bonus when Hemsworth sub Luke Danville, was dismissed for a second yellow (much to the chagrin of a number of away fans near me), but the visitors held on right through until the game was inside stoppage time. Following a goalmouth scramble, the ball ran loose from a set-piece delivery and fell to centre-back Ryan Serrant, but he would only fire well, well over from a great position, this miss ensuring that it would be Hemsworth’s win and the points would be heading back to Fitzwilliam along with them.

Post-match, I returned townwards, passing by various Canadian-inspired roads before coming across the Nag’s Head. I entered, to find in what is now a mix of happiness and horror, that it was a Sam Smiths. No technology here, as it seemed like I was transported back in time to around when the place opened. Well done, Smithy boy. Anyhow, the trademark good part of the brewery is the £1.40 pint of Arctic Lager. I suppose that, if you’re going to run your pubs like their in the past, the prices should reflect that too!

Nag’s Head

The Woods

Three Hulats ‘Spoons

Heading back, I ended up at the final central pub stop, the Woods, where I caught the end of some live music they had on, whilst imbibing upon a pint of Sagres, the Portuguese beer setting me back a cool £4.85. It’s bloody lovely though, so no complaints! From here, I undertook the short walk down the road to the Wetherspoons – which again seemed to be an old house of stature or something – and went for a Kopparberg Mixed Fruits prior to crossing the road for the bus opposite. Eventually, one did turn up and safely delivered me back to Leeds, though I was again tripped up by the reverse ticket scanner used in these parts. Damn technology!

After a period of getting slightly lost in the city centre, which included two visits to the same roundabout somehow, I eventually managed to get to the station for an earlier than planned train back to Manchester. Delays work in your favour, sometimes! No further drama and the rest of the journey passed smoothly. It was good to have finally managed to get to Bracken Edge after a few close calls; the ground is decent and the game was OK too. It turned out to be the final game at the club for the Hemsworth manager too, so a good way for him to bow out. Chapel Allerton is well worth a visit also, and I must say that the service received in the pubs as a whole was some of the best I’ve come across, so kudos for that, all. Onto another week and a rare cup trail, where North meets South….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 4

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Tamworth

Result: Tamworth 4-0 Leiston (FA Trophy 1st Qualifying Round)

Venue: The Lamb Ground (Saturday 26th October 2019, 3pm)

Att: 385

Another weekend of action in the FA competitions rolled around, with this one seeing the FA Trophy version of the ‘Road to Wembley’ move on a step closer to finals day under the arch. But this weekend’s weather would throw all plans out of the window – even going as far as to threaten any chance of seeing a game at all. However, persistence pays off on occasion and this, thankfully, was one of those days. Although, this would be a plan made on the fly and all quite last minute at that, as flooding, delays, cancellations and postponements all played their part in one way or another.

Eventually deciding to play it safe and make headings to Tamworth’s 3G Lamb Ground pitch, on account of the likelihood of a call off of my planned game at Radcliffe (which soon came to fruition), I made my way into Manchester and jumped on one of the delayed, rammed trains headed for Euston. My plan was to get to Crewe and then grab the connecting service down to Tamworth and, with a good twenty minutes in hand, my split ticketing theory (which saved about a fiver) would all go smoothly. I did catch the train without issue, though the delays reduced that 20 minute bracket down to just four – a sprint through the station underpass seeing me catch it just in the nick of time. Regardless, I was on my way, safely, to Tamworth where the flooding, that had apparently been prevalent earlier in the morning, had now seemingly subsided.

Arriving into Tamworth

Looking past the Globe towards the King’s Ditch

I arrived into the station’s lower-level platforms at a little before 12.30pm and after traversing the steps up and down again from the high level station, I made my way towards the town centre’s hostelries, whilst making a note of the Albert pub, not too far from the station entrance itself, as I went. I arrived at the narrow high-street-like area ten minutes walk later, and first came upon the small, unassuming taphouse by the name of the King’s Ditch. The downstairs area is more akin to a small front room, though now complete with tables and a bar in the corner, whilst the barrels are shown on a screen, so you can watch your drink being poured ‘while you wait’; different! I opted for a pint of the Shipley Brewery’s Harvest Muse Pale Ale (£3.60) before heading over the way to the Globe….though not before a few guys in with me blamed my exit on their acquaintance’s ‘boring conversation’!

The Globe was packed full, with quite a number seemingly having been out and about watching England make the World Cup Final a few hours earlier, and space was definitely at a premium. Unfortunately for me, I arrived just at the point where another guy was seemingly buying a round for half the place, but my wait wasn’t extortionate if I’m honest and I settled in to watch the remainder of the first half of City-Villa over a pint of Hop House 13 (£3.90). Thankfully, the rain began to abate during my brief abode in the Globe, which meant my hopes to pay a visit to Tamworth Castle just across the town centre were definitely becoming more positive as the minutes went by. As such, I bypassed the other couple of pubs in the centre and continued castle-wards before coming across the interestingly named ‘Crafty Two’. However, upon entry, I found the small bar to be rather bare, with not much on tap or draught to choose from. As such, I opted to sup at a bottle of Blue Moon (£3.70ish) and it was as I took it into my grasp that I saw the blackboard outlining all the options they did have along the way. The lesson here is to always take in your full surroundings.

Inside the Crafty Two

White Lion

Tamworth is a Borough and large market town in Staffordshire, standing to the North East of Birmingham and derives its name from the River Tame that flows through it. Upon the arrival of the Romans, the area around Tamworth and the Trent Valley was already home to the British Coritani tribe, and evidence of Roman building materials in the area suggest it held some importance, lying close, as it did, to the Roman Wartling Street Road and larger town of Letocetum. Following the Roman departure, the area fell under the rule of Anglo-Saxon peoples, likely the displaced Angles. The flood victims found their way to an “open meadow by the Tame” and christened it as such – Tomworðig, whilst also creating an enclosed estate named Tomtun, which was fortified by palisade walls. These people then named themselves as the Tame settlers, or Tomsaete.

They became more wealthy and Tomtown became ever more fortified due to their fighting tendencies, though their success led them to become the dominant force around the Midlands. This later would become the Kingdom of Mercia and Tamworth became the Royal Centre under King Penda and then the capital under King Offa, due to its far larger size and importance over any other nearby settlements. It was the ideal place for trade too, with it standing at the meeting point of the Tame and Anker rivers,but this also led it to attract unwanted attention and it was sacked and left a ruin by the invading Viking Danes in 874AD. It remained in this state through to 913, when Lady of the Mercians Eathelraed, daughter of King Alfred the Great, rebuilt the town and constructed a burgh to defend it from further raids. This proved successful and she remained there until her death.

Tamworth

Tamworth

An 11th century Norman castle was later constructed on the probable site of the earlier Anglo-Saxon Fort, with Tamworth becoming a market town during the 1300’s and being granted Royal charters to hold fair celebrations due to its history as the Saxon seat. Sadly, much of the town burnt in a 1345 fire, but was soon rebuilt once more. James I, the first Stuart King, visited Tamworth Castle in 1619, though this was later besieged during the English Civil War by Parliamentarian forces in 1643. Capturing it, the order was given to destroy, though this was, for whatever reason, not carried out.

The next few centuries saw Tamworth continue to grow in size and stature and the railway arrival of the 18 & 1900’s only proved to aid this, with both mainlines meeting there, and it was linked to the canal system by the Coventry Canal. Victorian PM Sir Robert Peel was MP of the town and later came up with the modern idea of the police force – lending his name to the “Bobbies”. In more modern times, Tamworth switched from its 19th century gas lighting to electric in 1924 and continued to grow around wartime as an overspill for influx of peoples in the West Midlands. It became home to the Reliant car factory, famed for its three-wheeled Robin, and the more racy Scimitar.

On to the Market Tavern….

….and then the Brewing Co.

Heading to the Castle

The drizzle returned once more as I departed the Crafty Two and so I dove into the nearby White Lion, which lies on the road junction just a couple of minutes down the road from the castle and its surrounding gardens. This seemed to be one of the cheaper places on offer in the town, a pint of the ‘new’ Carlsberg Pilsner coming in at the wallet-pleasing £2.50, though my stay would prove brief, as time began to go against me.  Following this, I arrived into the market area of the town which housed a couple of my target pubs – a Joules’ place, the Market Tavern and the Tamworth Brewing Co. – where I indulged in a Joules’ Pale Ale (£3.60) and rather large bottle of Aspalls Cider (£5) before finally making haste ground-wards….but not before a visit to the castle, of course. Going up and down as swiftly as the Grand Old Duke of York, I then navigated the gardens below and crossed the rather swollen Tam before the Lamb Ground’s floodlights began to come into view.

Soon after crossing a dual carriageway, I found myself arriving into a sprawling car park and leisure centre complex and couldn’t find my way out of it. Shock, I know. As it was, I found a few guys with football shirts on and thought I’d follow them to the ground….until I spied what I thought, in my unequalled wisdom, was a shortcut across an area of grass. Now, considering how much rain there’d been and the length of the grass that lay just the other side of the waterway bridge, there really should have been an appropriate amount of warning signs there to point out that this was probably not the smartest idea. However, my brain thought differently to any relatively smart person and I soon found myself wading (no exaggeration) through what seemed like shin-like hidden puddles within this waterlogged piece of hell.

 

Passing through the castle gardens

Down the river….

I’m seeing double….and penguins….I’m worried!

Finding a bit of refuge in the tarmac jungle of another underpass, I soon came upon the main entrance of the Lamb Ground and I made my way to the club shop where I’d seen that programmes were on sale. This visit also gave me the opportunity to try and get some sympathy for my watery misadventures, though they didn’t seem all too sincere….if they existed at all! Anyway, I digress; after picking up a ‘bible’ for £1.50, I made my around the other side of the ground and to the turnstiles at the bottom of a street I’d come across on Maps during my peruse of possible ‘ticks’ during the week. This all went fine and dandy and after paying £12 on the gate and receiving a paper ticket in exchange, I entered into ground 323 – Tamworth’s Lamb Ground home, which is a mix of both old and new, though even the newer bits actually lend themselves to its overall charm.

Both ends house terracing, though only the ‘near’ end is covered, the larger ‘far’ end being left open to the elements. Down one side runs a covered standing area, onto which the clubhouse/food bar backs onto, the entrance to both found at the far side of it – in the gap between this stand and the open terrace. Meanwhile, an all-seater stand runs the majority of the opposite side, with a small bit of open standing on either side, the tunnel, dressing rooms and other amenities) including an additional food trailer located around here too. The 3G pitch does take away from the overall look and feel of the ground as a whole of course, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives – especially so on days like today. As with Buxton, you feel these will become the norm at some point in the not-too-distant future and, to be honest, they play far, far better than their predecessors ever did. Grass is always preferable, of course, but I don’t have the resistance to the artificial surfaces that some others do, indeed a number of higher-level pitches are already (as I understand) hybrids of the two. Anyway, before I fully ramble, here’s the story of Tamworth FC….

History Lesson:

Tamworth Football Club was founded in 1933, following the demise of predecessor Tamworth Castle, with the new club originally taking up residence at the Jolly Sailor Ground prior to moving to their current Lamb Ground home after just one year at the Jolly Sailor. They began playing in the Birmingham Combination from their formation, where they won their first silverware in the form of the 1937 Bass Charity Cup (which, incidentally, Castle had won a decade earlier) and went on to join the West Midlands League (re-named the Birmingham League in 1963) during the 1950’s. The following decade saw Tamworth win two Birmingham League titles – in 1964 & ’66 respectively – whilst the club would also add the West Midlands League Cup (1965,’66), Birmingham Senior Cup (1961, ’66 & ’69) and Staffordshire Senior Cup (1959, ’64, ’66) to their honours roll during the same 10-year span. 1972 saw Tamworth promoted to the Southern League, though their stay here would only yield poor attendances and financial issues, with these eventually leading to the club returning back into the West Midlands League once more in 1985.

Arriving at The Lamb

The club had seemingly not been helped by being moved around from the Southern League’s Division One North to the Northern Premier League in 1983, and back to the Southern League’s Midland Division four years later, but a change in ownership saw fortunes (no pun intended) change for the better. The club again won the league in 1988 to return back to the Southern League ranks, where 1997 saw the Lambs take the Midland Division title and win promotion to the Premier Division, a position they’d hold through to 2002 (despite a near miss the year before) and their achieving promotion to the Football Conference as Southern League champions. That season also saw the Lambs end as FA Trophy runners-up to Burscough. Before that, however, Tamworth had added their first major cup silverware to their cabinet in the form of the 1989 FA Vase, the club overcoming Sudbury Town 3-0 in a replay at London Road – after the original game at Wembley had ended 1-1, lifted two further West Midlands League Cups – in 1986 & 1988 respectively – and two Harry Godfrey Trophies in 1994 & 1997.

The clubhouse/food section

After a spell of two matches with Paul Merson in the playing squad ahead of his 2006 retirement, Tamworth were spared the drop at the end of that year due to Canvey Island’s demotion, though didn’t make the most of this sparing, the club being relegated the very next season to the Conference North – though the FA Cup proved a somewhat happier hunting ground, with the Lambs reaching the 3rd round in both seasons. A poor initial season in 2007-’08 yielded only a 15th place finish, though the next campaign was far more successful and ended with Tamworth returning back to the Conference Premier as Conference North champions. They would go on to spend five-years back in non-league’s top-tier, and despite another 3rd Round FA Cup appearance at Everton in 2012, relegation back to the Conference North was suffered in 2014. Here they remained through to 2018, when relegation back to the Southern League saw the club in the ‘Premier Central’, where they finished last season in a seemingly disappointing 12th position.

The game began with Tamworth quickly asserting themselves as the likely dominant force going forward. A few chances came and went during the first ten minutes, with Tyrell Waite being the main threat, his best sight of goal being a shot that deflected wide off of a centre-half. Despite their dominance, it would take until the stroke of the half-hour for the hosts to finally break the deadlock; James Fry becoming the creator moments after firing narrowly wide. On this occasion, he advanced into the space in front of him before sliding in Rhys Hoenes who gleefully rounded Leiston ‘keeper Charlie Beckwith and slotted home. 1-0 the Lambs.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

As the half continued on into the final 15 minutes, Leiston were finally able to attempt some kind of threat to the Lambs’ goal, but stout defending saw the shot cleared before it troubled Jasbir Singh between the sticks. This then allowed Tamworth to double their advantage as I awaited my chips and curry from the food trailer, when Waite used his pace to rush on through the visiting back-line and wrongfooted Beckwith, rounding him and sliding into the net via the desperate lunge of a defender on the line. Joe Magunda also went close just before the break, when he headed over at the back-post following a corner, but the score remained 2-0 through to the break.

Following a visit to the clubhouse for a dual case of a warm and dry, it was soon time to head back out onto the terraces for the second half, which again Tamworth began on the front foot. The impressive Waite fired over after good walk by #10, before Dan Creaney made it three, when he met a Jordan Clement free-kick in the inclement conditions (eh?!, eh?!….oh, ok then) and directed his header into the net via the inside of the far post. Waite was mightily unlucky soon after, when his fizzing drive cannoned over off the crossbar, whilst fellow winger Hoenes was denied by the upright after he’d executed a quick free-kick and one-two.

Match Action

From the trailer terrace

From the ‘Main’ Stand

Bilal Yafai’s curiling effort was kept out by an acrobatic Beckwith, whilst the experienced Singh was eventually forced into some kind of action as the clock ticked on, the Lambs’ ‘keeper having to be watchful in the conditions to keep out Mason Sinclair’s long-range drive. But it would be, rather fittingly considering the gulf in the play, Tamworth who would add gloss to their victory late on; Waite’s replacement Delano Reid seeing his ball in met by Creaney, who diverted the ball past Beckwith for number four. Full-time arrived shortly afterwards with the game as one-sided, if not more so, than the score-line suggested. That’s not to say Leiston were hammered, though, they just never really made an impression on Tamworth’s back five.

Post-match, I returned back to the high-street area and to the first of two pubs I’d earmarked on my way ground-wards. I’d been spurned first time around by the Sir Robert Peel due to it being closed past its usual opening time, though it was in full flow by the time my second attempt had come around. Probably the nicest in the way of traditional pubs I visited during my Tour de Tamworth, the Bobby Peel yielded a swift Dark Fruits (£3.70~) as time remained at a premium, before I returned station-wards to the Albert I passed on my arrival earlier in the afternoon. A bottle of Desperados (£3.60) was had prior to the train, which was a little delayed anyway as it turned out, so the rush wasn’t as needed as I’d expected. A bit of a doze back to Crewe passed the time on that leg of the return trip, with the connection at Crewe being swift and easy, and I was back in Manchester by a little after 8pm and home half an hour later or so.

Back to the Centre and the Sir Robert Peel

The Albert to round off the day

Can’t complain with the day as a whole in the end, though the game was rather one-sided and the weather a bit….well, shit, the Lamb Ground itself was nice to finally tick from my ‘wanted’ list and Tamworth a decent little town too with a number of nice drinking holes to visit. Up next is my first addition to my ’92’ quest of the season (in November, no less), as I come down to a bridge, although I’m not certain that’s quite in the correct tense….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 5 (Cut-back issue, I guess?)

Value For Money: 6