Result: Hanley Town 0-4 Congleton Town (NWCFL Premier Division)
Venue: Potteries Park (Monday 22nd April 2019, 3pm)
I rounded off my trifector of Easter fun with a second visit to Stoke in just about as many weeks. Having visited City’s Britannia Stadium home the Saturday before the Easter weekend, I returned once more via the medium of the twittersphere, though not quite as clear cut as it ought to have been admittedly. The original winner, Market Drayton, was unreachable by any reasonable public transportation options and so the runner-up was promoted. Off to Hanley I was.
Grabbing the train from Manchester, I arrived into Stoke-on-Trent station at about 11am and set about on the short walk up to Hanley, passing the university buildings as I went. After paying a visit to Hanley Park for a bit of culture, I made haste for the more pleasurable part of the trip to date. Pubs. Did you expect any less?! Having been given some tips of where to try out from Stoke native Dave on twitter, I had some expectations of what was to come, though my first sighting was to be the Coachmakers Arms – and it was here that history was made….
ID?! I exclaimed incredulously and it was only my answer that prompted the question of my age. Yes, at 27, I had finally been ID’d for alcohol. Madness, but I’m not complaining, especially when you are feeling the aches and strains at this point! The guy was apologetic for some unknown reason and felt a bit embarrassed. I assured him he had no reason to be as he’d already made my day! A pint of Mango cider (£3.70) was had before I set off the short walk around the town hall towards Piccadilly – though this one was a fair bit more serene than its brethren in Manchester & London, that’s for sure.
Hanley is a constituent town in Stoke-on-Trent and was first incorporated as a municipal borough in 1857 and then became a county borough in 1888. In 1910, it merged together with another five towns:- Burslem, Longton, Tunstall, Fenton and Stoke-upon-Trent to be federated into the new county borough of Stoke-on-Trent (see here for a little more on that), and after a bit of a struggle, Stoke finally became a city in 1925 via royal intervention with the six towns continuing to make up the area. Hanley became the de facto city centre and is home to most of the retail and other commercial businesses and outlets. Piccadilly, here, hosts an annual Sanity Fair and a French market and the town is also home to Stoke’s LGBTQ pride events.
It derives its name from either “haer lea” (high meadow) or “heah lea” (rock meadow) and was once a large coal mining area, with the town’s deep pit being the deepest in North Staffordshire at a depth of around 1,500ft. It closed in 1962 with much of the pits left in situ before finally being cleared away in the 1980’s and being turned into Hanley Forest Park. The miners of Hanley and Longton became the focal point of the General Strike of 1842 and the Pottery Riots associated with the strike. The town is home to a main bus station and is connected elsewhere via the canal waterways of the Trent and Mersey Canal and the Cauldon Canal and in-keeping with the water-based theme, it was home to the RMS Titanic’s skipper Edward Smith whilst, away from that side of things, Sir Stanley Matthews is the town’s vaunted sporting son, a statue of Matthews stands in the town centre.
On my arrival at the Hanley version of Piccadilly, I set my sights on one of Dave’s recommendations, the Bottle & Tap – so named as it sells bottles and has taps, I assumed. What I hadn’t assumed was that the pint would cost me a cool £6.30, though on the basis I was asked, it wasn’t actually listed as a pint and the fact the Wylam & Deya Orange Wit was bloody gorgeous, I’ll let it slide. Great place too, and well worth a visit. Just choose smarter that me if you are tight on a budget!! After going on a fruitless foray to a closed up pub near a theatre, I returned to Piccadilly for the Unicorn where another surprise awaited.
I entered the old building and rounded the corner only to be met by a lady wielding a magazine around the doorway. “I almost got you then!” was her response to my appearance and after an apology and the fact that it was the flies she was after and not me (Father Ted-type reference there) I settled in over a pint of Heineken (£4) whilst keeping a close eye on the magazine rack.
I left the friendly pub and continued on the crawl over the way to the Auctioneer & Market Tavern which stand just across the way from each other. Both were alright but nothing much to shout about and after a couple of Dark Fruits, at £2.40 & £2.65 respectively (time was against me and I wanted to recoup some cash after my earlier minting), I paid a swift visit to the neighbouring Wetherspoons for a quick bottle of Hooch as I planned on grabbing a bus to the ground or, failing that, it wasn’t too far. Oh, how wrong I was. No bus, the walk was further than it looked and I eventually arrived around 7 minutes in and had missed a goal. Superb. I should also add that I had jogged to the ground from the centre too and I don’t recommend it! At least I’d saved a programme. Got to look at the positives, however little they are.
Potteries Park, Hanley’s home, is a tidy little ground, it’s turnstiles are located behind a pair of atcost style stands on the near side of the pitch, whilst an older covered standing area stands opposite. Both ends are open, though the clubhouse to the left side sits in the corner and has a few seats and tables around it. It also houses the bar, food hut and dressing rooms etc. That’s the ground in a nutshell and this is the tale of Hanley Town….
The original Hanley Town Football Club was founded back around the early 1880’s with the club later going on to join the Combination in 1894 for a single season before leaving and subsequently folding in 1912. The name wouldn’t reappear until a Sunday pub side known as the Trumpet took on the town name in 1966 and switched to Saturday football, entering the local Longton League and winning the title at the first attempt. Playing on a pitch on Victoria Road he club moved up to the Staffordshire County League after this success and went on to achieve swift success there too, taking the Division 2 title, again at the first attempt, and being promoted to Division One which was also won first time around. A decent start to life for the new Hanley Town outfit.
In the Premier Division of the Staffs County League for 1969-’70, Hanley lifted the league’s Premier Cup that same year and went on to finish runners-up in the league too. They would finish second for a further two consecutive seasons before finally taking the title in 1973 and then again in 1976 this latter season leading the club to take the step into the Mid-Cheshire League’s Division 2 and also saw them move to their new Potteries Park home, after spells at Trentmill Road (with Eastwood Hanley) and Leek Town’s Harrison Park. Again they saw silverware arrive quickly, their first season seeing them win the 1977 Division 2 Cup with a win over Knutsford and a third-placed finish come the end of the following campaign saw Hanley promoted to Division One. They would win the title in 1983 but it was here they eventually hit a road-block – the North West Counties refusing entry due to ground-grading issues – and after a few years in mid-table, the club finished bottom of Division One in 1994 and dropped into junior football for a couple of years.
Returning to the Mid-Cheshire League in 1996 and again joining in Division 2, Hanley would this time spend just two seasons competing there before making a switch to the Midland League instead. They would win the Midland League title in 2005, becoming the league’s final ever champions after the league subsequently merged with the Staffs League to create the Staffordshire County Senior League from then on. Hanley also then claimed the honour of being the new league’s first champions, taking the Premier Division championship in 2006 before then just missing out on defending their crown the next season, ending as runners-up.
The club would go on to finish as runners-up once again in 2011 but would then take successive titles in both 2012 & 2013 which led them to take promotion to the North West Counties League for 2013-’14. The latter season was hugely successful for the side as they achieved a quadruple via also lifting the Staffs County Senior League Cup, Leek Cup and Staffordshire FA Vase. Joining the Counties’ Division One, the club finished fourth in 2015 and thus qualified for the First Division play-offs but after defeating Holker Old Boys in the semis, they lost out to AFC Darwen in the final. However they would go one better next time around, winning the Division One the next season and being promoted to the Premier Division, where they finished a highly creditable 8th last season, though have battled the drop this time out.
As I said earlier on, I’d arrived a little late and with the score already at one-nil there was little surprise that Congleton were on top. As it turned out, the away fans I spoke to during the first half informed me of the opener’s details and, of course, I’d missed the best goal of the lot. John Main was the man who grabbed it, apparently finding the net with a fine curling effort from just inside the area. I wouldn’t have to wait long to actually see a goal myself though, luckily and it was the Bears who would double their advantage as Tom Morris was played in and coolly finished past the Hanley ‘keeper Dane Jackson.
The visitors would add a third to all-but kill off the game within the first half-hour as tall frontman Saul Henderson fired a free-kick beyond the home stopper from around 20 yards. The Bears continued to be well on top through to half-time, with Hanley barely mustering an effort of note to work Craig Ellison in the away goal, whilst Congleton would go close on a couple more occasions and it could have easily have been five-nil at the break. Speaking of which, the whistle must have come as a welcome shrill sound to ears of those of a home-team persuasion. 3-0, half-time.
During the break and over a fine portion of pie, chips and gravy which really was some of the better food I’ve had the pleasure of feasting upon over the previous couple of months at least, I got talking to a Hanley committee member (whose name escapes me at this later date of writing, so I do apologise but it was great speaking to you)who’d offered me a seat at the table so I could get on with devouring the food in my grasp and speaking about the football scene here and there more than passed the time through to the second-half getting going once again. Back on with the show!
The beginning of the half saw a response of sorts from the hosts as they forced Ellison into action early on in proceedings but despite being on top for the first fifteen minutes or so they couldn’t find a goal to give them any kind of hope going forward. As such with around twenty minutes or so left on the clock, Congleton were awarded a corner and despite the delivery not being the best, the ball eventually fell to Billy Hasler-Cregg and the wide-man side-footed home off the inside of the post.
Despite this, Hanley didn’t give in and went about searching for any kind of consolation which may have turned out to be crucial in their battle with the drop as you just never know what might pop-up before the season’s end. Indeed, they really ought to have recorded at least one goal, with an Ellison double save and a fine defensive block in quick succession denying them first time around, Jake Alcock then firing over when well placed and Serkari Ahmadi striking across Ellison but also against the foot of the far post in the last real action of the game, as Congleton held on to the clean sheet by the slimmest of margins. Full-time, 0-4.
The post-match trip back to Hanley was a little more serene and after popping into the (Dave informed) newly reponed and rather impressive looking Woodsman’s Arms for a second Lilley’s Mango cider of the day (£3.60) I continued on to my final stop, the Albion back opposite the town hall for a Strongbow (£2.40) whilst a DJ did his thing to a small audience. The trip back was uneventful and I was home nice and swiftly. Thank God for that!
The day as a whole had been decent enough with Hanley proving decent enough on the pub front, whilst the ground and game were both on the positive side of things too, though the ground more so as the game was rather dead as a contest for the most part. Transport was easy, programme and food decent and excellent respectively and, all in all, it had been a good round off for the three games in four days extravaganza. Back to normality for a week and a trip to Sutton Coldfield for a play off vs relegation clash, before the May Day holiday provides more multiple options. Excitement doesn’t come close….
Value For Money: 6