Manchopper in….Cardiff (Millennium Stadium)

Result: Manchester United 2-2 AC Milan (5-4 pens) – (International Champions Cup (Glorified Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Millennium Stadium (Saturday 3rd August 2019, 5.30pm

Att: 65,982

The final weekend of pre-season finally came around to signal one of my most anticipated trips in quite some time. I’d been looking forward to getting back down to Cardiff for another visit, what with my trip to City being a rather rushed, short one, though I was expecting my return to be a watching brief at a Cardiff Met Welsh Prem game. However, when this “International Champions Cup” contest was announced for one of my long-term and fairly unlikely targets, I was in no doubt from that moment that I would be there – a bonus being, of course, that I could watch United whilst finally managing to ‘tick’ the Millennium Stadium.

Having had to miss out on my previously intended game – when Spain were the visitors – here a few months back, this was quite the pleasant surprise and I was upbeat and ready to go by the time I’d caught the 9.30am departure from Manchester through to Cardiff Central. It was a good job I’d pre-booked a reservation too, as the train down was absolutely packed and, indeed, by the time we got to Cwmbran, no one could manage to board. Having said that, a two carriage service at that time was something of a joke though, knowing the old Arriva service well, it seems that TfW are following the same mission statement.

In the square

Duke of Wellington

Cardiff (ft. seagull on his head)

The journey down was spent opposite another pair of lads travelling down to the game. I only really got talking to them in the last hour as they were working through the final few train beers each had in tow, though I was given a can of Coors on account of our shared journey-suffering. Dylan and Tom, cheers lads and hopefully your return journey was a little more restful than mine ended up being….but more on that later. For now, I arrived into Cardiff for just after 1pm and after the lads and the rest of their travelling party headed off on their way into town, I did the same but on my own pre-constructed itinerary. Starting off with a visit to the Callaghan square (where a number of things around there are named after politicians), I back-tracked slightly and headed for my first planned stop for the day – the Duke of Wellington. Unfortunately, the Duke was serving in plastics only and, to my immense horror, this became the norm throughout. Amstel down and I continued on my merry way.

I continued on along past an island of stalls and towards a church and rather grandiose museum where I came upon both the Old Market Tavern and, just across the way, the Owain Glyndwr. In the former, a pleasant surprise was had initially as I saw that they had Punk IPA on draught – but then I was brought crashing back down to earth by the £5.05 price tag. Ouch! After spending my time here watching dual TV’s showing both the First Ashes Test and Salford City’s league debut (see both of my blogs here and here for both versions of that ground), I headed for The Owain Glyndwr, hoping for a cheaper time of things. Sadly, this wasn’t the case as the Mephesto IPA came in at £5.25 and was something of an acquired taste, but still decent enough nonetheless. A welcome bonus was that the F1 quali was added to the former two sporting events here, so I was in my element. Lovely stuff.

Cardiff

Old Market Tavern

Owain Glyndwr

From there, I made my way up towards the castle end of the city centre and popped into the Goat Major, the place being packed full of United fans outside. Inside it was a little more spacious and I opted for a Heineken (£4.05) in here to get back onto more familiar ground! A few lads here had the unfortunate happening of trying to start off a song, only for no-one to join in; though they took that well at least! Anyway, upon finishing up there, I began to back-track towards the stadium, coming across the nearby Tiny Rebel (kind of) taphouse as I did so. Entering inside, it was again a popular stopping point and with many a beer to choose from, I reckoned I’d play it kind of safe and go for the Clwb Tropicana (£4.95) owing to my liking of tropical stuff and the back-of-my-mind feeling I’d had it somewhere before.

A final stop was made in the neighbouring City Arms (actually a revisit following my brief terminated one a half-hour earlier) before I reckoned I’d make an early-ish entrance to the ground. This proved inspired as I initially headed in for some food having not seen any programmes out and about, before spotting someone with one as I was queuing for a bite to eat. Asking where he got it, he said “outside the ground”, to which I took he meant before coming in….not the obvious answer of OUTSIDE. A failed attempt to playfully bribe a security guy to find me one followed before I eventually found a steward who could point me in the correct direction which, it turned out was just around the corner which I took to be blocked off. Idiot. Panic over and with a £5 (decent sized A4 issue) bible in tow, I returned to my block once again and returned to the queues for a steak pie. Worth the wait too; piping hot it was.

Castle Walls

Breached!

Goat Major

Taking my pastry-based snack up to my seat, the impressive expanse of the ground opened up in front of me and I have to say, what a ground it is – made all the better by the closed roof, meaning this would be my first “indoor” match. Yes ok, that’s a stretch, but let me have it?! I took my given seating entrance, but this turned out to only mean that I disturbed the whole row I was joining as I continued right on over to the far side seat….right next to the next set of steps up. “Oh, but of course” I muttered to the guy next to me, a fellow United fan who I’d soon come to know be named Dan. A relative local, I talked to him throughout the majority of the game (though he may have wished he’d chose one of the other 65,000+ seats at points!) which, as it would turn out, would be a highly enjoyable affair.

As I said a little earlier, the Millennium Stadium really is an impressive structure – from both outside and in. It is a bowl shape with all corners filled in of course and is the same size the whole way around courtesy of the roof system. Each of the stadium’s sides made up of three tiers, with the bottom tier appearing to be a fair bit smaller than those above it, especially the top level, though this may be skewed somewhat by the large square-like areas behind the goals where both middle and top tiers merge. The dugouts, dressing rooms and tunnel are all located straddling the half-way line and were just to the right of the corner in which I was sitting. Not much else to say, really, so let’s get straight on with the action!

City Arms and Tiny Rebel to finish up

To the Millennium Stadium (no sponsors here!)

Welsh (and German) flavours

The game got going as United began the stronger and they were ahead within the first quarter of an hour when Marcus Rashford cut inside and fired low beyond Gianluigi Donnarumma. However, their lead would last only ten minutes as former Liverpool prospect Suso, who had curled just over moments earlier, this time made amends – adjusting his sights to find the top corner, leaving David De Gea grasping at thin air. One-a-piece!

Following their equaliser, Milan began to gain the initiative and almost – indeed probably should have – gone ahead when the energetic Suso provided the impetus once again and delivered a fine ball for Krzysztof Piatek to attempt a diving header, only for his attempted…er, attempt to almost become the perfect dummy, but De Gea was alert to fling himself and divert the ball away. Piatek then had another chance on the stroke of the break, but his lob was palmed over by the Spanish gloveman to ensure the sides headed in level at the break.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

An uneventful break which saw a venture down into the concourse for no apparent reason came and went and we were soon back underway. Piatek again spurned a chance when he failed to shoot with any conviction during the early stages. United responded with chances for Victor Lindelof and Andreas Pereira, but either truly troubled Buffon’s second coming. In fact, Lindelof would prove more potent moments later but, unfortunately for him, his side and the majority of those within the Millennium Stadium, it would end up with the ball nestling into his own net.

Another direct Milan attack led to a ball in being met by the head of Samu Castijello and his header deflected off of the head of the Swede behind him and Lindelof was fairly unfortunate to be awarded an own goal to his name. The usual glut of substitutions followed, one of which saw Donnarumma replaced by former Liverpool stalward Jose “Pepe” Reina – who proceeded to become the pantomime villain for the majority of those in attendance, being booed upon each touch of the ball he was afforded.

Match Action

Off-target

However,he would become a little more liked when he was beaten with around 15 minutes to play, when Anthony Martial played in sub Jesse Lingard and the Warrington native fired a blistering low drive past Reina to level up the scores once more. A number of youngsters were introduced to the fray for the final ten minutes or so – Angel Gomes, Dan James and Mason Greenwood for United and the likes of Daniel, son of the legendary Paolo, Maldini for Milan. Despite a large amount of pace and trickery from them, there was no more goals despite a late Lingard chance, and so we headed for penalties.

The first eight penalties all hit the net mark – Hakan Calanhoglu, Lingard, Giacomo Bonaventura, Ashley Young, Andre Silva, Mason Greenwood, Rade Krunic and Angel Gomes all finding the net, before the young Maldini was the unfortunate player to miss, the 17-year-old seeing his spot-kick kept out comfortably by De Gea. This left the new signing Daniel James, back in his “homeland” (he is English-born, after all), to win the game and he did just that, converting the fifth United penno to win possibly the most pointless shoot out of all time – Benfica had already taken the tournament. BENFICA!!!

James converts the winning pen

Post-match pubs via blurred vision

After the game, I had a good amount of time before the train home (ha, famous last words) and so I popped into the stadium-neighbouring Zerodegrees Microbrewery and the neighbouring Queen’s Vaults but, being mindful to get to the station with time in hand, I opted to have just a half of Czech Pilsner (£2) in the former, which was interestingly showing Lancashire’s T20 clash vs Nottinghamshire on a big screen behind the bar, and a can of Dark Fruits (£3.25) in the latter, purchased from a separate, little side-bar. With a good twenty minutes or so until the train, I left for the station just up the road, only to see a kind of organised mayhem, with queues here and there heading in all different directions. I was initially pointed into the Birmingham queue where I was assured I’d be placed on the train back to Manchester (I did have the reservation, after all) but I felt a little iffy after ten minutes waiting and no movement of said queue. A further five minutes of nothingness in terms of help meant the train came and went and wouldn’t you know it, I was stranded. Superb stuff. Clusterfuck.

I was eventually allowed to enter the station after actually getting it through to security what the situation was (though my initial joking denial to move for a family to get through could’ve gone wrong had I not thought on about it!) and, to be fair, the lads in the station building itself did do their level best to try and sort me out a way back. Of course, there was little they could do and so I was left with one option and one option alone. Crewe: end of the line. God, there’s something about that bloody place! Assured that I could claim back money for my troubles (watch out for it whomever is at fault here), I boarded said train which did have one bonus to it – it was empty as anything, meaning a far more peaceful journey back was had than I’d have endured on the Manchester service. Also, my cousin had offered to be my personal taxi for the evening to drop me home from there too, meaning that, all in all, the whole furore had cost me about half-an-hour. Crazy. Back in at just after 1am and with that horrible tiredness pain you get inside your brain itself setting in, that was that until a little later on Sunday morning!

Aside from all that shit at the end, the day as a whole couldn’t have gone much better. The game was far better than expected, the ground superb, Cardiff was fun (despite the plastic crap) and getting to meet some good guys during the day’s events was a pleasure too. Back to competitive action next week for the FA Cup’s Extra-Preliminary Round and with a number of ties jumping off the fixture list, I’m spoilt for choice in where to head….that is as long as the journey back is easier than this one!

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 10

Food: 7

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 6 (Marked down due to the obvious)

Manchopper in….Leyland (County Ground, Lancashire FA HQ)

Result: Morecambe 0-2 Accrington Stanley (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: The County Ground, Lancashire FA HQ (Saturday 27th July, 3pm)

Att: 350-400 (approx.)

My penultimate weekend of pre-season saw myself without a destination set in stone come the morning of the day in question. However, I did have a few options, both new grounds and revisits, to choose from, but thought I’d see what the Great British summer would throw up weather-wise. As it was, it looked a fair bit of unsettled (and wet) stuff was on its way and so I reckoned I’d play fairly safe and go for a ground with a good surface and, likely more importantly, a fair pit of cover from the elements. As a result, Leyland’s County Ground – the home of the Lancashire County FA – ticked these requirements and my fate was decided. Off to Lancashire!

The journey was smooth despite the added rail traffic due to works on the West Coast mainline and, after a couple of changes in Manchester and Bolton respectively, I hopped off the stopping service bound for Blackpool upon its arrival into a rather damp and miserable Leyland for the second pre-season in a row, having started last season off with a visit to Leyland United’s home ground, Centurion Park, which lies in the Farington area of the town, around a mile out from the centre. Incidentally, the history of Leyland can be found on that blog here. The County Ground is somewhat easier to do due to its location slap, bang in the centre of the town and, as a result, I reckoned I’d get the majority of the walk out of the way and headed on past the ground itself and down a leafy street before reaching the old-looking Eagle & Child on the main road to the juxtaposing modern Asda and the small “old town” in area opposite.

Leyland Motors clock

Church

Leyland

The Eagle was indeed a traditional haunt and I reckon I was the first customer upon my at just before quarter past midday – something I’ve become somewhat accustomed to over my travels! Anyway, I started off with a pint of Estrella (£4.10) and settled in next to a window looking out on the road as the rain began to fall….and wouldn’t stop again throughout my trip. Finishing up, I continued on the short distance, past a raised-up church and the aforementioned out-of-place supermarket, before arriving at the two old town pubs (a far better name for a song in my view) that stand across the way from each other and just beyond the Leyland Cross which holds steady within its more modern surroundings.

I headed for the Withy Arms freehouse first where I plumped for a pint of McEwans Lager at £2.89 (I’m sure Leyland is the only place outside of Scotland that does this seemingly somewhat regularly!) whilst seeing that this place has apparently had a few previous names, according to a few bits and bobs decorating the walls, and has again seemed to have opened with another new look. Opposite stands the more steadfast Fox & Lion (nope, no idea either) which seemed to be the quintessential “local” for this part of town, it being well occupied by punters during the early afternoon. I had a pint of Kronenbourg (£2.90) here before crossing on through the supermarket car-park and towards the ground, with a couple of stops before I got there, of course.

Eagle & Child

To the old town & Withy Arms and Fox & Lion

Bannisters

First up was Bannisters which was a mix of modern and traditional and was a pleasant place to visit to – although my slight cold was making me lag somewhat, making me look as though I was three-times as drunk as I was….though I probably just look quite bad anyway, so it doesn’t make much of a difference! Anyway, I polished off the last of my pint of Hop House 13 (£3.40) in there before continuing on just up the road to the corner-straddling Gables, a large building that dominates its corner and surroundings thereof. My unintentional and non-existent drunkeness continued as I first handed over the wrong amount for my pint of Boddingtons (£3.25), before struggling to climb onto a bar stool. Luckily, no-one seemed to notice. Or maybe they were just feeling a bit sorry for the alky in the corner!

Following there, I found myself nobbing along to the small real ale place at the foot of the road to the ground – known as the Market Ale House. Unbelievably, I was actually quite sensible and, with time not quite on my side, chose to just partake in a half of the Lancaster Pale Ale here (only £1.55 too) though I did perk up a bit too which was timely as kick-off was fast approaching. Heading up the road opposite, I arrived at the gate (a few tables and tents and stuff) where I paid in via student concession and was into the County Ground for a second time, my previous visit being a cup final between Blackpool Wren Rovers and Prestwich Heys, back in t’day.

The Gables

To the Market….ale house

At the ground

The County Ground is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a smart and tidy set-up, but one that still maintains its feel of history. Of course, the modernisation is seen in the large all-seater Main Stand that runs along the majority of the far side, whilst the side from which you enter is populated by the large LFA club building and all that comes with it. Behind the museum end goal, there is a decent sized covered standing area that seems to have been in situ as other parts of the ground were built up around it, and this is flanked by the food bar and clubhouse/turnstiles – the latter of which weren’t on duty today due to the need for an outside bar there. The opposite end has a bit of open terracing, as does the corner between the two stands – again showing the traditional side of the town centre ground. That’s that in a nutshell and let’s get onto the game….

The game got underway with Morecambe slightly on top early on, though the game was even-stevens on the whole. Morecambe had the only real sights of goal in the first half-hour or so, with a shot across goal by Kevin Ellison missing the far post and a poor back-pass being seized upon by the Shrimps’ #8, Lewis Alessandra, only for him to be denied by a good stop by Stanley stopper Dimitar Evtimov. Accrington’s one and only real chance of the half saw Sean McConville, wearing the #11 shirt, played in, before he wastefully shot wide. Morecambe almost grabbed the opener towards the end of the half – some poor Stanley defending led to an Alessandra effort being brilliantly blocked, with the looping ball eventually having to be cleared off the line.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Barry Roche then made a pair of good stops to deny a couple of headed Colby Bishop efforts, Half-time arrived to end a rather turgid first-half which really did mirror the weather and mid-afternoon lighting around Leyland, and whilst many too shelter in their well-suited clothing, mackintoshes and umbrellas I, as per usual, took shelter under the slight overhang of the Lancashire FA’s clubhouse roof which proved to be decent enough cover during the fifteen minute sojourn. Anyhow, I would soon be venturing out into the damp Lancastrian weather once again as the players had made their way out back onto the field ahead of the second period.

The half began with the Shrimps again seeing the better of the early chances come their way; the best of which came when a counter-attack ended up at the feet of Alessandra who, after some later, patient build-up play, saw his low drive kept out by Stanley ‘keeper Evtimov. Down the other end, Accrington’s first chance of the second half came from a set-piece, the ball in being met by the head of the #7, Jordan Clark, but the ball was pretty comfortably kept out by Roche between the Morecambe sticks.

Balls & Brollies

View from the stand (ft. back of guy’s head)

Real and fake together

A further chance came the way of both sides, McConville & Aaron Wildig firing over for Accrington & Morecambe respectively, before the Shrimps were awarded a clear-cut spot-kick around ten minutes into the half when the quicksilver John O’Sullivan was brought down by Seamus Conneely inside the box. O’Sullivan dusted himself down and stepped up, but saw his kick bounce back off the upright via the fingertips of Evtimov and clear of danger. His mood would only be worsened when this miss was punished soon after by Stanley. A good cross was delivered by Callum Johnson, and found Stanley #9 Colby Bishop who guided his header beyond Roche and into the net. One quickly became two when, following some good build up play, the ball was back-heeled for McConville and he placed his effort across the Morecambe stopper and into the bottom corner.

Accrington, by now and regardless of the score-line, had well and truly gained the upper hand in the contest. Indeed, they almost went three-up when Bishop clipped an effort over Roche, but was unlucky to see it not quite dip in time, the ball instead clipping the top of the crossbar on its way over. Both teams had a late sight of goal too – Morecambe again seeing a swift attack give them a shooting chance, but sub Rhys Oates was denied by another good low stop by Evtimov and his opposite number equalled this in denying (I kid you not, as ‘A Trialist had already started) ‘B Trialist’ in the last meaningful action of the contest. Full-time, 2-0 to the League One side.

Heading back towards the station

Leyland Lion post-match

Post-match, I had a fair bit of time until the train back and so nipped into the Leyland Lion Wetherspoons outlet just around the corner from the ground, where I indulged in a bottle of the Chinese beer, Tsingtao (£3.15), another one of my more obscure faves. This provided a decent shelter from the elements through until I took my leave and headed for the train back once more. The journey back was uneventful on the whole and so that brings to an end my penultimate pre-season venture.

Overall, if you discount the weather, it had been a good day out. The remainder of Leyland’s hostelries I’d left for just this return visit were all decent places for a pint, whilst the ground is always quite a low-key, decent affair. The game was okay for what it was (albeit far better in the second half) and the short journey was welcome ahead of my trip down to Cardiff and the Millennium Stadium next week for my last pre-se….oh, er….International Champions Cup clash. How prestigious….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 8

Food: 7

Programme: Teamsheet from hut

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Worksop (Handsworth FC)

 

Result: Handsworth 2-2 Worksop Town (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Sandy Lane (Saturday 20th July 2019, 3pm)

Att: 207

Having already visited Sandy Lane in the past for a Worksop Town match against Trafford back in t’day, I’d always harboured a hope to get back at some point to see Handsworth Parramore, the current landlords, play there and if there was any luck, play against Worksop too. Unfortunately this wouldn’t ever come to fruition….but only because Parramore has been dropped from the Handsworth name! The rest of the criteria was ticked for this pre-season derby clash and I was there for it.

A trouble-free trip across via Manchester and Sheffield had me arriving into the Nottinghamshire – but Sheffield-postcoded – town at just over two hours after setting off. With a few showers here and there around the area, I thought I’d play safe upon arrival and so dived into the Vine Inn a short walk away from the station and heading towards the town centre. Upon entering and throughout the majority of my stay, I was given a warm and highly chatty welcome by a young lad and even younger sibling who, despite not being truly able to string sentences together as yet, was showing signs of following the same path!

Arriving in Worksop

The Vine

Worksop

Finishing off my pint of Amstel (£3) here, I headed on out just as a shower hit, though luckily it was only a quick one and, regardless, my next few stops were all around each other too. First, I opted for the Queens Arms which was very….blue inside and had a low selection of drinks (Carlsberg was opted for over Carling, of course at £2.30) before heading on over the way to get the usual ‘Spoons tick via a bottle of Baltika Russian beer (£2.85); a true favourite of mine, for sure. From there, I back-tracked a little and popped into the Unicorn where a second pint of Amstel (£2.75) was had prior to me discovering an old castle mound was located a couple of minutes away, and I always like to indulge in a bit of history here and there. Indeed, with hardly anything interesting occurring in the pubs here (I guess it has to happen now and again), I need something to flesh out the early part of the blog!

The castle site revealed a graffiti-covered stone and a grassy mound and not much else and, as a result, I popped on over the road to the first of two pubs that are set out of the way somewhat – the Greendale Oak, where I was offered a paper to read during my stay, which was a nice touch. Finishing off my Dark Fruits (£3.65) pint here, I hopped (not literally) over to the next street and the Shire Oak where I indulged in a pint of Grolsch (£3~) before deciding I best get on with returning back ground-wards a little. This idea soon got me down a bit, as I came upon the Dukeries Brewery Tap – a place that had completely gone out of my mind in the meantime and now I, pushed for time, thought it best to give it a miss for the moment and instead stop off at the Waterfront pub instead, as this was a fair bit nearer the ground. As it would turn out, I could’ve fit them both in quite nicely, but I wasn’t to know. At least I have an excuse to come back to Worksop now!

Queen’s Head

‘Spoons

Unicorn

Worksop is the largest town within the Bassettlaw district of the county of Nottinghamshire and lies upon the River Ryton. Located at the northern edge of the famous Sherwood Forest, it has grown into a commuter town in recent years due to its closeness to motorway and rail links, as well as its overall geographic location near to Sheffield, Derby and Nottingham. It is known as the “Gateway to the Dukeries, due to the four former ducal principal sites that were located just to the south of the town, these being: Clumber House, Thoresby Hall, Welbeck Abbey and Worksop Manor itself, whilst Rufford Abbey and Hadsock Priory also lie a few miles further afield. Worksop itself pre-dates the Norman Conquest of 1066 onwards and evidence is provided of this by the Domesday Book, published twenty years later. Around the year 1103, William de Lovetot established a castle and Augustinian Priory at Worksop )of which the majority of the latter still stands) and the town duly grew up around these features to become a market town – whilst also seeing a skirmish within the Wars of the Roses in 1460, which would become known, imaginatively, as the Battle of Worksop.

Worksop Town Centre

Castle remnants

A little more into the recent past, the Chesterfield Canal was introduced to Worksop in 1777 and this allowed the growth of coal mining in the area, upon the discovery of numerous coal seams in the area and, subsequently, the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway was linked to Worksop in 1849 to enable quicker and more efficient transportation to the cities with jobs in the mines etc. leading to further growth for the area in terms of both size and population, though the closing of these by the 1990’s led to mass unemployment and the issues that come with it. The additions of the motorways and major arteries within the 20th century allowed for ease of travel too, with links to the A1 and M1 introduced. Nowadays, the manufacturing, distribution and retail industries are the major employers there, as well as pubic services; i.e. the NHS.

Worksop also has a pretty impressive list of alumni, its sons and daughters including golfer Lee Westwood (who helped out Worksop Town a few years back), Iron Maiden singer and airline captain Bruce Dickinson, ex-England manager, the late Graham Taylor, Mary Williams (wife of the founder of Rhode Island), WWI Victoria Cross recipient William Johnson, 1900 Olympic Gold Medallist Henry Haslam and current England Women forward, Jade Moore…..as well as George Best (the ex-Blackpool ‘keeper, no strange new-found happenings with his namesake there) amongst numerous other ex and current footballers.

Greendale Oak

Shire Oak

Waterfront

Finishing off the swift dark-fruity-goodness (£3.70) in the Waterfront that stands right upon the Chesterfield Canal, I set off on the ten-minute-or-so walk over to Sandy Lane itself and decided to take advantage of the small gate that has “WTFC” still emblazoned upon it before arriving at the turnstiles. No programmes on for this, so just the £5 was taken from me before I was into the amber-coloured ground for a second time and a visit to the food hut for a lovely chips, peas and gravy (£3) was much welcomed. The ground itself is a smart one but it also has its fair share of rustic charm too. The Main seating stand runs the majority of the left-hand side of the pitch as you enter, whilst a few rows of open terracing adorn the side opposite. There’s a covered standing area at the far end in behind the goal, whilst the clubhouse/dressing room end you enter from houses all amenities, including a shop (closed today) and another small covered standing area. That’s the ground in a nutshell, and this is the story of Handsworth (nee Parramore) FC….

History Lesson:

The current Handsworth FC were formed in 2014 after a merger of Worksop Parramore and the older incarnation of Handsworth. The latter of the two clubs had played in the Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior League since their own formation in 2003, where they had some success – being promoted from Division 2 in 2005 as runners-up and then winning Division One in 2008. They would be promoted upon this latter success to the Premier Division and they finished third there in 2010, being promoted into the Northern Counties East for the following campaign, whereupon the club won the NCEL Division One title in 2012, but could not be promoted to the Premier Division due to ground-grading issues at the club’s spiritual Oliver’s Mount home in Sheffield, and instead moved back down into the County Senior League ranks.

Winning the County Senior League title for the first (and only) time in 2014, the club merged with Worksop Parramore Sports weeks later to become Handsworth Parramore F.C. and thus returned back to the NCEL under their new name, taking the place of the former Parramore outfit in the process and remaining in the Premier Division through to this season. They won the 2014-’15 NCEL League Cup by overcoming Cleethorpes Town 4-3 in the final, overturning a 3-1 deficit they faced with six minutes left on the clock. The club have inherited the lease on Sandy Lane that was taken by Parramore Sports back in 2008 upon original tenants Worksop Town’s eviction.

Handshakes

Clubhouse building (and executive balcony!)

Parramore Sports, meanwhile, have a longer history and date back to 1936 as the works outfit of F. Parramore & Sons and thus competed in local works leagues for the majority of their existence before finally switching into the Sheffield & Hallamshire County League themselves in 1985. Here, they flitted between the Division One and Premier Division for most of their time, before joining the Central Midlands Football League in 2008 and moving into the former Football League (and sadly no-longer existing) venue of the Don Valley Stadium. After a sole season in Division One of the CMFL, Parramore were promoted in 2009 to the prestigiously named Supreme Division and changed their name to Sheffield Parramore a year later, with this change proving a lucky one – Sheffield Parramore winning the Supreme Division in 2011 and thus achieving promotion to the NCEL Division One.

Upon their promotion, Parramore boss Peter Whitehead bought the Sandy Lane ground and thus the club became Worksop Parramore, with the ground being leased to its former (and intended) inhabitants, Worksop Town. Again, the newly-titled club achieved immediate success and were promoted from Division One at the end of their first season in the NCEL and thus took a spot in the Premier Division for 2012-’13, a promotion which earned the club debuts in both the FA Cup and FA Vase ahead of the aforementioned merger with Handsworth F.C. and after finishing 8th in the Premier Division last time out, the club retook the Handsworth name for this season, perhaps (playing devils advocate somewhat) with a sight on returning to a revamped Oliver’s Mount in the future.

The game got underway with the young Handsworth side coming out of the blocks with some gusto and they struck early to break the deadlock too. Just three minutes-or-so into the contest, a pull back was latched onto by Jamie Austin and he finished with aplomb to give the “hosts” a fine start to proceedings. However, Worksop weren’t going to take that lying down, especially so after their promotion back to the NPL last term and it didn’t take them all too long to draw level. A corner wasn’t fully cleared by the Handsworth defence and Craig Mitchell took full advantage to plant the loose ball home to level-up the scores once more.

Match Action

From the terracing

Match Action

To be fair, chances were fairly few and far between after the quick start and it took until around the half-hour mark for either side to come close again. It would be the Ambers of Handsworth who would do so though, and they really ought to have retook the lead as Luke Francis’ header was well kept out by the “visiting” Tigers ‘keeper when the attacker ought to have done a little better, having gone close before too in firing over. However, it would be Worksop who would go closer to going ahead just before the break when another corner caused problems for the young defensive line of Handsworth and Steve Woolley’s header had to be cleared off the line to ensure the sides went in at the break still level-pegging.

An uneventful half-time came and went and we were soon back under way as I set off on a reverse lap of the pitch, safe in the knowledge I could take refuge in the stand for much of the second half! Andy Gascoigne went close early on, his volleyed effort flying over the bar, before Handsworth again came close as the dangerous Austin forced his way forwards and cut in before unleashing a drive which unluckily came back off the upright with me in close attendance just behind the goal. Another close call came along down the other end, as #18’s goal-bound shot was deflected wide and #2 curled wide for Handsworth as they returned the favour before Worksop’s #9 the forced the Handsworth stopper into a good stop, after being played in. A bit of handbags was another highlight of this period, when the usual, regular sub breaks come to the fore and the game settled down somewhat for a ten minute period as I settled back into a seat in the stand.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

But, with ten minutes remaining on the clock, the youthful, impressive Handsworth side again went ahead when Leon Howarth’s effort from just outside the area beat the sub Worksop gloveman and nestled into the bottom corner. It looked as though the “home side” had done enough to gain an impressive win (albeit in a friendly, of course) against their newly-promoted hosts but, as time ticked down into stoppage-time, Worksop’s Matt Sykes was released and he calmly finished across the Handsworth ‘keeper to ensure both sides got a share of the spoils at the ground they each call home. Full-time, 2-2, and back off to the WTFC gate which I strangely took a liking to….but not in one of those “marrying the Statue of Liberty” types of things – but each to their own, I suppose.

Post-match, I had to convince myself to put off a visit to the Dukeries and instead play it safe. This took some doing, but my somewhat sane part of the brain came out on top and I instead made my way station-bound…. the Station pub, I mean….you should have got the hang of this by now. A pint of Kronenbourg was supped at in here and I also got talking to a couple of well, er….couples in here too before I made my way to the station proper as this just so happens to have its own bar too. Named the Mallard, the pub looks out onto the Sheffield-bound platform and so allows for late, last-minute departures from the bar area, with the toilets handily placed on the way out too! I had a good forty-five minutes in hand and so could actually sit in and relax for once safe in the knowledge that only the Great British railway system could ruin the day from here. Of course, the very thought of this then got me panicking!!!!

Station Hotel

Mallard to round off with.

As it was, the train and connections all went nicely and I again made a rather tight connection in the nick of time – allowing me to jump on my train home around a minute before it was due out – though it would then be delayed five minutes anyway, meaning my successful feelings began to be muted a little. As it was, it proved the end to another good pre-season trip out. The game had been a good one to watch, the ground is one I like and the town was pretty cheap on the whole too – so can’t really have too many complaints on this side. Travel, food and beer were fine, though I do still wish the Dukeries could have been popped in. Ah well, onto next week and the penultimate weekend of friendlies with just an unknown to go ahead of a trip down to Cardiff and the Millennium Stadium. Compared to other friendlies I’ve been to, United vs AC Milan sounds rather normal now….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 8

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Cheadle Heath (2)

 

Result: Cheadle Heath Nomads 0-8 Stockport County (Pre-Season Friendly)

 

Venue: The Heath (Saturday 6th July 2019, 3pm)

Att: 1,005

As pre-season rumbles (or maybe crawls is a more appropriate word) on, I was on a quest to discover somewhere local for a revisit for this weekend as I wanted to be on something of a tighter budget ahead of the following week’s trip over to Scarborough. This resulted in a trip into town to meet regular ‘hopping accomplice-in-chief, Dan, to sort out a final destination. Over a pint in Piccadilly Gardens’ Wetherspoon’s outlet, options such as Hindsford and Stockport Town, amongst others, were floated, but were discounted for varying reasons before we settled on a Father Ted-inspired visit to Crilly Park for Atherton LR vs a Witton Albion XI. So we were off to Atherton….

Or so we thought! Moments before we were to set off, Dan had a check of the NWCFL website and discovered the game was postponed (it actually wasn’t as it turns out, so no idea what was going on there) and so back into the pot of grounds we dipped, deciding on one of those options already mooted – Cheadle Heath Nomads vs Stockport County. Splitting our transportation routes to suit our respective needs and budgets, Dan headed for the bus station whilst I was off back uphill towards Piccadilly station for a service the short way over to Stockport – deciding this was an easier option than waiting for one bound for the closer stops of Cheadle Hulme or Davenport. Indeed, the plusbus would see the onward bus journeys be a breeze anyway….or so I thought; but more on that later!

Anyways, for the moment, all was running smoothly and I headed into and out of Stockport in quick time, arriving into Cheadle Heath for a touch after 1pm. With Dan still en route via the joys of Greater Manchester’s bus system, I reckoned I might as well squeeze a pre-Dan pint in before returning to our pre-planned meeting point in the Cross Keys. So upon disembarking at said Cross Keys, I instead took the short-ish walk around the corner and within five-or-so minutes was arriving at the March Hare, which is set back quite some way from the road itself and is accessed by its own, rather lengthy, access lane which is lined by old-school lights all the way down, giving it a quaint look. The pub itself was pretty too and a warm welcome was received which is always a bonus.

March Hare

Foxy

With a pint of Amstel (£3.50~) in hand, I settled into the largely timber-framed inside and was pleasantly surprised to hear the dulcet tones of Dawes over the stereo system; this had been a decent start to proceedings! With that said and Dan’s arrival becoming ever more imminent, I finished up and headed out on up the lane back to the main road only to, at that moment, catch a fox with its cub in the middle of the road. The cub soon made its exit into the vacant lot alongside, whilst the adult gave me a long, watchful stare before joining its youngster the other side of the wall. A definite first for me doing this….at least I think so!

Cheadle Heath is a suburb of Stockport within Greater Manchester, eight miles to the south east of the city centre, and has and still is home to numerous engineering companies. A large factory was built in Cheadle Heath by Henry Simon in 1926 and its distinctive tower went on to be used for testing of experimental flour milling equipment, whilst it has also been home to large oil equipment manufacturers and underwater sonar companies too. The town did have a railway station through to 1967, but this has gone the way of many a football ground and is now a Morrisons.

Cross Keys

Micker Brook

Park

I arrived at the Cross Keys once more soon after and waited only a short while for Dan to join me whilst supping a pint of Holsten (cheap at £2.75). Our initial coupling would be brief though as he headed off to the ground a little earlier so to enable him to not rush, whilst I (being quite happy and rather used to last minute arrivals by now) headed for a final pre-match beverage in the Micker Brook Smokehouse a short walk down the road. Not much to really report on here though and upon swiftly finishing my pint of Heineken (£3.80) I cut through the park on the opposite side of the road, to the bus stop to catch the carriage the few short stops up the way towards Nomads’ home – The Heath.

With the bus running a little late (shock, horror!) I had to do a short jog to ensure my arrival at the ground in time for the game’s beginning – well within earshot of the whistle anyway. The clubhouse building, set back a fair way from the pitch itself, was still rather busy with people finishing off their own last bits of respective drinks ahead of making their way to the turnstiles – a new addition since my previous visits here in the Cheshire League. A nice touch was when, upon handing over my £5, I was pulled up to ensure I awaited my match ticket, which it turned out was actually a free pass to a game at any point later in the Nomads’ season. A good idea too, considering they’ll likely pick up some extra numbers on the attendance figures here and there.

Tunnel vision

Heading on in….

Whilst league surroundings have changed for the Nomads, so their ground itself has changed a bit too. Along with the pre-existing, but itself rather recent, changing room building, the ground now plays host to a covered standing and all-seater at-cost-style pair of structures at its far side which, on myself and Dan’s last visit here was not much more than a sodden swamp, so that’s quite the improvement, for sure! The pitch is fully-railed and is open, hard standing for the majority of the remainder, with a small food bar to the rear of the dressing rooms, between it and the turnstile, whilst another barred-off pitch lies behind the near-end goal. A railway runs right behind the other end too, for those who like that sort of thing, whilst the Manchester Airport flightpath allows excitement for those of a aluminium-based avian variety persuasion. That’s The Heath in a nutshell and this is the story of the Nomads of Cheadle Heath….

History Lesson:

Cheadle Heath Nomads were founded in 1919 with the club’s founders later purchasing land which would become the present Sports Club site in 1921. The club went on to join the Lancashire & Cheshire AFL soon after and bar a brief stint away in 1927, remained as members of the league right through until 1994 – a period which saw their pre-WWII season’s become a struggle money-wise, resulting in an enforced kit change to all-white, with all players having to supply their own tops! Post-war, Nomads took on their claret and blue kit which has become their regular scheme, although a switch back to their original yellow and green kit has been introduced for this, their centenary season.

Cheadle Heath grew stronger in the aftermath of the Second World War and the 1950’s produced a somewhat golden-era for the club and the expansion of facilities at the sports club as a whole. Springing forwards to 1994, and after maintaining regular strong showings in the Lancs & Cheshire League, the club finally undertook the much-mooted move to the Mid-Cheshire League after the pitch-clash with the cricketing outfield was solved by the demise of the leather and willow section. They immediately won the Second Division title at the end of their first season in the league and they remained in the First Division there through the best part of a decade prior to the club merging with fellow Mid-Cheshire outfit, Linotype, based in Timperley – a move which saw the Linotype name remain in the league (they were struggling to ensure their home at the Silver Wings Club) and enabled Nomads own struggles were somewhat abated.

At The Heath

Nomads

Competing as Linotype/Cheadle Heath Nomads, the side maintained a place in the First Division through a league name change (to the Cheshire League) and a divisional name swap (to the Premier Division), finally winning the league title in 2014-’15, a season which allowed Nomads to maintain a place in the upper echelons of the table for the next few seasons, with them just missing out on a successful defence of the title the next season, eventually ending up as runners-up. Attentions soon turned to aiming for the North West Counties League and swift ground improvements allowed for entry upon the league’s expansion ahead of the 2018-’19 season – with floodlights, further spectator cover and improved pitch barriers all being installed, with the second pitch also being spruced up. They finished last season, their first at Step 6, in a highly creditable 9th place.

County’s first pre-season outing ahead of their long overdue Conference return started off well for the Hatters as they struck to open the deadlock just a few minutes in. Nomads’ centenary-season special colours of canary-yellow and green did little to aid them against their illustrious neighbours as Ash Palmer got up highest to guide a header beyond Cheadle Heath ‘keeper Aaron Tyrer. Around quarter of an hour into the game and it was two when Frank Mulhern’s powerful long-range drive burst the gloves of Tyrer and hit the back of the net; the keeper surely feeling he ought to have done better.

Match Action

Match Action

However, he was pretty helpless just a couple of minutes later when left one-on-one against Elliot Osborne, with the County man rounding Tyrer and slotting home, before it was four on 25 minutes when Mulhern hit one across goal on the turn, the ball hitting the far corner beyond the beleaguered Nomads gloveman. The dangerous frontman then clipped the top of the crossbar as he searched for a double-quick hat-trick and was denied by a fine Tyrer stop from a well struck free-kick, but it wouldn’t be for Mulhern and instead it would be Jake Kirby who would make it five on the half-hour as he knocked the ball home after a corner wasn’t cleared. The rest of the half was largely uneventful outside of my visit to the food hut (well, the BBQ next door) for a cheeseburger; though was denied access to the chips being cooked as they were bound for those with the blue blood (no pun intended).

A much-changed County line-up emerged for the second half which seemed to be made up of a number of younger players, but this didn’t seem to dampen their forward forays. First, Michael Elstone hit a low drive which Tyrer was able to get down well to and push behind, though he would beat the Nomads stopper at the second attempt soon after when, after a cross was only half-cleared, a calm pull-back was fired home from the edge of the area. A couple of further Stockport chances came and went but the game was beginning to fizzle out at this point in truth – though Cheadle Heath did eventually get a sight of goal well into the second period when Jake Wright’s low drive was saved comfortably by the long-serving County stopper Ian Ormson.

Corners

Match Action

It’s all black and white

The hosts began to fashion a couple of chances against the ever-changing Stockport on-field personnel with a couple of chances coming and going – Andy Simpson nodding narrowly wide of the mark, but the Hatters would finish strongly and add a pair of goals late on. Number seven would come courtesy of Elstone’s second strike of the game – a close range knock home from a low cross – and Szymon Czubik added the eighth seconds later after charging down Tyrer’s attempted clearance in the flank. Eight-nil it would finish to a strong-looking Hatters and Cheadle Heath can take heart from the fact that County have since gone on to tonk Stockport Town for ten without reply and also defeated Curzon Ashton. Of course, friendlies are notoriously unreliable when it comes to a season’s predictions and outlooks, but the Hatters will be hoping that this isn’t the case for them!

Post-match I came up with the plan to undertake the walk in the opposite direction from whence we came, towards Cheadle and the Farmer’s Arms. Dan didn’t take too much in the way of encouraging to tag along(!) and upon arriving we were soon in possession of a pint of Boddington’s and a Carling…..bet you can’t guess which one is mine. The round was only £6.25 though, which wasn’t too bad and certainly not as bad as the attendance at the Women’s World Cup 3rd-place play-off on the TV, that’s for sure. We soon headed on out for the bus back towards Stockport only for a different one to turn up immediately meaning we jumped on. Of course, in my haste, I couldn’t find the plusbus ticket, but the driver allowed me on nonetheless. Despite much checking of all nooks and crannies of my bag, the ticket still wouldn’t show up but, to be fair, the guy said he’d give me the benefit of the doubt and only charged a quid to get back – which was decent of him, to be fair. Of course, I then found it almost immediately.

Farmer’s Arms to round off with

When I was getting off though, the driver actually apologised for charging me an extra £1 which was good of him as he’d actually done me a good favour anyhow, and I arrived at Stockport station to find all trains in disarray once again – though one was just pulling in much delayed which helped me at least, though I’m sure many more weren’t as lucky. A few minutes later and I was back in the sprawling metropolis of Piccadilly and took a sojourn to the Piccadilly Tap, a place I’ve been a stranger from for far too long. A pint of Budvar was enjoyable here (£4) before heading back to the station and the couple of connections through town and home to round off week two of 2019-’20. Goals galore, one-sided games aren’t my favourite, but in pre-season I couldn’t care less if I’m honest. It’s always nice to visit the Heath and I’ll be certain to make use of my ticket later this season. Food was good, the pubs were too and the programme was a fine edition, though I’m not sure quite what the regular size will be as this covered all PSF’s. Anyway, up next is Scarborough for football – but not at a football ground….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 5

Food: 7

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Weston Rhyn

Result: Chirk Town 0-2 Plas Madoc (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Weston Rhyn Recreation Ground (Saturday 29th June 2019, 3pm)

Att: 65 (approx.)

Well, isn’t this a quick turnaround! With my final blog of last season finally out of the way, it is already time to get season 2019-’20’s write-ups going with my first game of the season. That very game would see the first outing ever for new club Chirk Town, who would be welcoming their neighbours from just up the road in Cefn Mawr, Plas Madoc, but the game would be played at the non-regular venue of Weston Rhyn which, to my knowledge anyway, hasn’t hosted regular football since the demise of the Shropshire League side of the same name bowed out of existence a few years back (Chirk look to be using the leisure centre in the town).

So, as such, it was one not to be passed up and come the morning of the final Saturday of June, I was heading over towards Liverpool to grab the first connection to Chester where I’d then continue onwards the short way over to Chirk, just the other side of Wrexham. Interestingly, the game would be taking place between two Welsh sides whilst being played within the boundaries of England – not too dissimilar to a WPL club a stop down the railway.

Arriving into Chirk at just before midday, I headed into the centre of town to catch the bus up to the first pub within one of the few, small, outlying areas around Weston Rhyn. However, when I pressed to get off and was met with some surprise within the driver’s response, I soon understood why; the pub was closed and getting a spruce up. Brilliant. As such, I was then faced with a walk back down the pathless and rather busy country lane back towards the crossroads, where I’d seek refuge in what was due to be my second stop anyhow – the Butcher’s Arms pub within a small group of pretty smart houses.

A somewhat different road sign

Towards Weston Rhyn

Butcher’s Arms

Of course, being about 1pm at this point and with little in the way of passing trade (bar the odd nutter like me) the place was empty, but they landlord was a friendly guy and we got talking about the Brasil-Paraguay Copa Sud-Americana penalty-shootout taking place on the TV whilst I supped at a pint of Holsten (£2.80). Happily, I was just finishing up when the first of the regulars popped in and so off I headed back through Weston Rhyn and right across to the other side of the small village to the Plough Inn, an older pub located just near the railway crossing on Station Road – though there was no signs of any station nowadays, of course. What the walk did allow me to come across was quite possibly the smallest, furriest baby bird I’ve seen. Awwwww.

Weston Rhyn is a large village and civil parish in Shropshire and straddles the border between England and Wales, lying between the Welsh town of Chirk and the English town of Oswestry. Recorded as Westune in the Domesday Book, its name derives from “ton/tun” meaning settlement and “Rhyn” seems to derive from the name for Rome or a Roman person. Weston Rhyn and nearby Bronygarth were in the parish of St. Martins originally, but were given their own ecclesiastical district in 1870 known as “the Lodge” (where the inn gets its name) before becoming the civil parish of Weston Rhyn in 1898. It was originally a mining village and has grown around commuters after the pit closures and it did have its own station (originally named Preesgweene and later Weston Rhyn) through until its closure in 1960.

Plough Inn

The Lodge

Weston Rhyn Rec

 

The Plough also allowed me to watch some of the MotoGP qualifying (a real rarity on any trip), courtesy of a couple of guys’ interest in the sport over a San Miguel (£3.10) as I wiled away some time here, because I still had a good hour-and-a-half until kick-off and there was only the one watering hole at the foot of the road leading to the ground left to pop into and I planned to leave Chirk itself until my return to watch Chirk AAA at some point. Eventually, with the clock passing two, I left the Plough and back-tracked to the almost ground-neighbouring Lodge Inn, which is situated at the crossroads of a number of streets and a rather old church. After a pint of San Miguel in here too (£3.40), it was finally time to pop around the corner and to the sunbathed Weston Rhyn Rec. Game on.

The ground itself is basic, with only a barred off pitch and dressing room block to speak of, though there are two well-protected benches for the teams in situ too. Spectator facilities are non-existent in truth, though the large expanses of grass around the pitch provide a fair amount of car parking for all and sundry in attendance today. History-wise, with Chirk Town being a brand new club, there isn’t much to comment on (duh!) and so let’s move straight onto the action, shall we?!

The game got underway with me falsely being led to believe that the teams were in the opposing colours when Chirk’s subs walked aroubd with a shirt bearing the Plas Madoc name upon the back, which was quite confusing as the new outfit looked surprisingly well drilled….because these were actually Plas Madoc. Anyway, with all the mix-ups out of the way, Chirk suffered an early injury with one of their defenders being forced off after a couple of minutes and it would be Plas Madoc that would have the first true sight of goal, when #7 fired over and #10 followed this up shortly afterwards by spurning a great one-on-one chance. The Chirk ‘keeper ensured the match felt like a true pre-season contest by asking his centre-half “What’s his name again?!” when trying to get the attention of one of his team-mates!

Match Action

The Secret Weapon warming up!

Heads up.

Both sides’ #7’s then forced both respective ‘keepers into good stops and but it would be the visitors who really ought to have again gone ahead – this time through #8 – but his effort was poor and allowed the Chirk stopper a more comfortable save than he really ought to have been. As before with the two #7’s, it would be his opposite number that would have the next opportunity, with Chirk’s version forcing another good stop out of the Plas gloveman and it would be the latter’s side who would eventually grab the opener when #11’s chip just managed to get through the ‘keeper’s full stretch grasp and drop into the net. 0-1 and the season was up and running!

There would be chances at both ends as the half came to its conclusion, with #14 firing a decent effort over and #9 seeing a shot kept out when adjudged on by the sole ref for Chirk, whilst Plas’ #2 really ought to have doubled his side’s lead between these two attempts, but somehow managed to guide his header wide of the mark. Half-time came and went in quick fashion with nothing of note occurring and we were soon back underway with round 2, which was more on the quieter side of things as seems the norm when it comes to friendlies, on the whole.

Match Action

A close shave

Match Action

The impressive Plas Madoc ‘keeper pulled off another good stop to deny a Chirk shot from the angle, before the away side then began to have the majority of the next twenty minutes or so of play, which began with them netting their second through #14 – who latched onto a pull back by #10 to plant the ball into the back-of-the-net. The equally impressive Chirk ‘keeper then denied #14 a second shortly afterwards and #8 shot wastefully over as Madoc looked to add to their tally, but Chirk weren’t out of it by any means and went close through #17, but the ‘keeper’s confident call of “over” seemed to show his judgment was en point.

As the game entered its final stages, Plas Madoc should have added a third when a free-kick was spilled into the fray only for #9 to miss in pretty bad fashion but #3 was somewhat more successful in getting his shot on goal heading in, only for the home stopper to pull off another fine stop. Chirk then almost grabbed a goal back only for the woodwork to keep them at bay late on and that would be that as Chirk’s first outing ended in defeat (in juxtaposition to my initial understanding), but both sides seemed to look quite decent in their early foray.

Chirk & Hand Hotel – home of the old CTFC!

Heading back from Chirk

With heavy rain drops beginning to threaten something more substantial, I dove into the Lodge once more to await the bus back into Chirk and it was here that I discovered that the trains had began to go to pot. Start as you mean to go on, I suppose?! Eventually, things were sorted out and after finishing up a Carlsberg (£2.80) and catching the bus back for a final pint back in Chirk at the pub – whose team actually carried the Chirk Town name in 2001-’02 in the Welsh National League, but didn’t last the season – Hand Hotel (Grolsch, £3.50~) at the foot of the road leading back to Chirk Station, I was returning home just the hour later….though the connection back from Warrington was delayed too – though this one was more welcome as it took the pressure off the cross-town walk, so allowing me to sweat just a little less than usual.

So there ends a decent enough season opener. Not a whole lot to comment on, but the area was nice enough and the game was fine; helped of course by the weather. Next week will see a return to a centenary-celebrating club who welcome a lauded former Football League neighbour. Take Stock….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 3

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 6

 

Manchopper in….Garswood

 

Result: Garswood United 2-3 Newcastle Blue Star (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: The Wooders (Friday 27th July 2018, 7.15pm)

Att: 55 (approx.)

The first of what was supposed to be a midweek double, prior to Helsby’s game the next day being switched without obvious prior notice, saw me heading to just outside Wigan and to the small village of Garswood. Here, I’d be visiting the home of the town’s Cheshire League outfit, Garswood United, the Wooders but, before I could get there, I would have to brave the unpredictability of a Friday evening Northern service. As such, the first question was whether the journey would work out, or would I be thwarted by those pacers.

Fortunately, I was only subjected to a six minute delay, which was nowhere near enough to make anything go awry and, after a walk through the warm late-evening Warrington sunshine, I was soon headed from Bank Quay up towards Wigan, where I’d catch the electric service which would deliver me the short distance down the track to Garswood. This all went smoothly enough, the highlight of the trip coming whilst sat on the stationary rattler at North Western, when a train passed through full of timber. Never seen that before. After reading that sentence back, the only thought that went through my mind was “God, am I that boring?!”…..

Arriving at two railways!

An interesting climbing frame

Obviously the answer is yes, and so let’s move on before I send you to sleep. After completing the ten minute or so hop over to Garswood, the station access road led straight to the haven of a pub, namely the Railway. In here, I opted for a pint of Hop House 13 which came in at a round £4. Heading out to make the most of the seemingly never ending sunshine, I came across a climbing frame in the shape of, what I assume was, Stevenson’s Rocket in the beer garden. An interesting touch for sure, but that was really the only thing of note and so I swiftly polished the pint off and continued up the slight incline and to the Stag. This was another decent boozer, with the pint of the fruity Boon Doggle Ale turning out to be a fine choice, made all the better by its £2.80 price tag. Bloody lovely!

The Stag

Simms Road Inn

Leaving the rugby shirt adorned pool table area to the rear, I set off on the ten minute walk from here towards the ground. As luck would have it, there is another pub just a few seconds from the gates of the Wooders, and this would prove to be a great little stop-off to wind away the remaining half-hour before the game. Getting in an Amstel for £3.60, I settled in whilst watching the WRC Rally of Finland (something I can’t ever remember seeing in a pub before) and also came across this interesting bit of the building’s history while doing so:

Bit of history…

Speaking of history, Garswood was firstly a farming before also becoming (perhaps unsurprisingly when looking at the above) a largely mining community in the past, the last drift mine closing in 1992. Opencast mining has taken place in more recent times and still continues to this day.

Soon enough it was time to cross the road with kick-off now imminent. After getting a beep from a car behind me whilst aimlessly wandering in between the middle of the gates (though the driver’s car-pool mates reckoned he was a “dick”(!)), I headed through the front of the stand/clubhouse/everything else and waited for the side’s to finish up their pre-match preparations and get underway. As I say, all the Wooders’ facilities are located in this main building adjoining to the car-park and behind the near-end goal. It houses a small area of covered terracing to one side of the clubhouse door, and a few rows of benched seating to the other.

Arriving at the ground

The Wooders

The tunnel stands between the “terrace” and car-park. Elsewhere, the ground only has a thin strip of open, hard standing surrounding the pitch, with a pair of dugouts on the right touchline for both sides to use, and an older one still remaining standing on the opposite touchline. It was the latter that the Blue Star boys would choose to make use of, which seems to be the way in most grounds set out this way for some reason. Anyway, we were soon all set to go but, before we get onto the game, here’s a bit of history with regard to Garswood United….

History Lesson:

Garswood United Football Club was founded in 1967 and initially played at the no-longer standing RAF camp at Haydock. They soon set their eyes on their current Simms Lane site (despite warnings the land wouldn’t take to grass growth), and the residents decided to take on the task of improving it. There’s little else I can find about the club’s formative years, though they won numerous local cups and joined the Liverpool Combination at some point (these seemingly centred in the 1970’s and ’80’s from the slightly faded honours boards) and remained there through to 1988, their final season in the Combination’s Division 2 seeing them finish 12th out of 16 teams. After that year, the club moved to the Mid-Cheshire League and took a spot in their Division 2, which they won in their second season and were duly promoted to the Division 1. They would remain there for the next six campaigns before becoming champions in 1996 and achieving promotion to the North West Counties League’s Division 2.

Honours….

….and more!

After spending two seasons in the Counties, finishing 3rd and 8th respectively, they voluntarily returned to the Mid-Cheshire League’s top division. Garswood would go on to stay there for the next nine years through to its re-christening as the Cheshire League, finishing a best of 3rd in their return year before slipping into mid-table for the majority of the remaining years, though did win the Wigan Cup and the league’s Division One Cup in 2006. Upon the re-naming, they finished 6th in 2008 and regained the Wigan Cup before again falling away and finished bottom of Division 1 in 2010 (despite winning a third Wigan Cup), but avoided relegation. The next two seasons showed little in the way of progress, with 11th and 14th positions following, but a resurgence in form saw a fourth-placed finish attained in 2013, before United took the Division One title in 2014, alongside another Wigan Cup, and were promoted to the league’s Premier Division. They would go on to spend the next three years in the top division, finishing 7th and 13th in their first two seasons, but 2016-’17 would see them end the season bottom and thus return to ‘League One’, where they finished 13th out of the 15 teams last time out.

The game got underway and it was a very tight affair for the opening fifteen minutes. There was hardly a chance created in earnest, with both sides fashioning what can only be described as a half-chance each. After a good seventeen minutes or so, the deadlock was broken by the hosts. A fine through ball was latched onto by the tall striker wearing the #9 shirt and he coolly slid the ball beyond the Newcastle ‘keeper for one-nil.

Garswood take the lead

Match Action

Match Action

Newcastle Blue Star hadn’t really got into the game by this point, but they did grow into it after the half-hour and began to be the more dominant force. However, their best chance came just before the break, when a corner from the right led to a spell of disarray in the middle of the box, with a couple of efforts blocked out, and a free-header being spurned – the ‘keeper making a more comfortable save than he really ought to have been allowed to. As it was, that was that for a rather quiet first half, the sides heading in with just the solitary goal between them.

I headed for the clubhouse at the break and after initially not spotting any hot food on the go, I opted to give the club some money in the form of a bottle of Corona. This magically turned into a Desperado’s, though the guy at the bar offered some words that I’d definitely agree with “Well, it all goes down the same way!”. Indeed, it does and I wasn’t at all fussed as, let’s face it, it’s something of an upgrade. £3 less in the pocket, I took in a lap of the room, looking at the number of shirts and honours boards dotted around which eventually led to me spotting the pie oven in the corner. Lovely stuff! Handing over a further £1.50, I opted for a minced beef and onion offering which was really good too. As soon as I reached the door, the players were all set to get the game underway once again.

Clubhouse

Garswood again began the half in the ascendancy, though their rise was put to an end around ten minutes into the half, when their #17 was adjudged to have been the last man when bringing down the NBS forward and was sent-off for his troubles. Now, when I say sent off, it’s usually one of those “go off and sub him” but, no, he was actually red carded! It’s been a long-while since I’ve seen one of those, if ever, and it certainly breathed more life into the game in my eyes at least! A few minutes later, Blue Star were level when the #11, Richard Coulson, hit an effort from just outside the area and his shot took a slight deflection which took it beyond the ‘keeper and into the bottom corner. One-a-piece!

Newcastle were now playing with confidence against the ten-men of United and they soon forged ahead when a fine, swift move saw #19, Dave Parker, get in down the right-side of the area and he stayed calm and finished nicely to send his side ahead. However, the lead didn’t last all that long as Garswood soon levelled, when another good move forward saw “Ste” play in “Scotty” and the latter rounded the ‘keeper to make it two-each. It was all action now, and both teams went close to netting a third, the Garswood #9 seeing his half-chance well blocked out by a Newcastle defender, resulting in a comfortable save for his ‘keeper, and Newcastle’s Parker had a chance to double his tally, but a unfortunately timed bounce saw him only able to slice well wide.

View from the seats

Match Action

Match Action

After helping to locate a wayward ball that had found its way into the roadside undergrowth beyond the clubhouse building, the game looked to be meandering through to the end as we entered into stoppage time. But then, the touring Blue Star side grabbed the winner when something or other happened which allowed #17, Kurt Blacklock, to nod home from a couple of yards to send the visiting bench into scenes of jubilation/shock (delete as appropriate), before the biggest cheer of the night came just before the kick-off as their manager brought himself on for the last few seconds. They were definitely enjoying their first game of the weekend and why not? Full-time soon arrived and an entertaining contest ended up 2-3.

A swift return to the station saw me beat the rain and I was quickly back into Wigan where, for once, delays played kindly into my hands. A short wait saw me catch the Manchester-bound Trans-Pennine service, which took away any questions on whether I’d be able to make the earlier connection home. A good start to the weekend, but that was as good as it got, both football and transport-wise! Ah well, onto the “proper” season now and a trip down to the South Coast’s famed military port city….

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 6

Food: 8

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Lytham

Result: Lytham Town 1-3 Longridge Town (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Ballam Road (Saturday 21st July 2018, 3pm)

Att: 35 (approx.)

As teams’ pre-season preparations and schedules continue to roll on as the season gets ever closer, I decided that a trip to the seaside was in order. However, I wasn’t heading there for sun, sea or sand nor any other beachy paraphernalia that you may come across once there – I was instead headed for Lytham Town, the West Lancashire coastal town famed for its windmill, nearby golf course….and brewery, of course! So, having enticed Gibbo into joining me on this venture, I set off into Piccadilly to meet up with him, via a £226 stop-off at the ticket office for trips that will become apparent over the next month or so. I need my head testing, I swear.

Anyway, I digress. Having sorted all the above out in good time, I found Gibbo amongst the crowds on the platform before we managed to scout out the better carriage option for seating. This went well for once (it wouldn’t if it was me alone) and a pair of Brewdog’s Pale Ale’s were soon being supped at as we headed off towards Preston where we would have a ten minute changeover before the train to Lytham. Well, that was how it was supposed to go down anyway but, alas, Northern’s classic failings decided to rear its ugly head once more and we were subjected to a further twenty-minute delay. Why? Because the planned four-car train arrived with only two and another pair had to be sourced from elsewhere and, just to add insult to the injury, the two then struggled to attach together. I was forced into a second Brewdog as this was going, just to get me by!

Finally in Lytham

Lytham

Eventually the two stopped butting heads like a pair of angry rhinos and we were finally en route to the coast. Arriving at around 12.30pm, we were greeted by a number of Northern staff and police who were on guard at the station due to the expected crowds for the ongoing Lytham Festival which was today featuring the likes of Bananarama. Gibbo was highly excited for this and even more so by the Lytham sign up on the station wall, with one of the aforementioned staff being roped into taking a pic of the couple of us in front of it before we headed off into the centre of town for a bit of a peruse of the area, prior to continuing on towards the front and a look around the festival area itself. Much to Gibbo’s disappointment, the windmill was off-limits due to it being within the festival’s grounds and so had to make do with a further pic in front of more signage. Then, it was finally onwards to the most important part: pubs!

Lytham dates back to around the Bronze Age and 900AD saw a village by the name of Kilgrimol or Kilgromhow established by, who are believed to be, expelled Vikings from Ireland. The Fylde area, known as Amounderness by the Anglo-Saxons, where Lytham is situated saw the town named in the Domesday Book as Lidun. It was later handed over to the Benedictine monks of Durham in 1199 and later became part of the crown after the dissolution of their home. The Cliftons took over in 1606 and built Lytham Hall, a new house replacing the former one, in 1757. For many centuries, relied on the fishing and shrimping trades prior to the advent and rise of tourism, along with the arrival of wealthy industrialists spreading out from the nearby strongholds of Manchester, Liverpool and Preston. Its most famous landmarks include ‘The Green’, a strip of grass running between the shore and main road, the aforementioned windmill and the neighbouring old Lifeboat House – now a museum.

The Clifton name resonates around Lytham, the former leading family giving their name to numerous streets and buildings. Their estate on the outskirts of Lytham and Ansdell originally occupied a large area, with Lytham Hall playing host to the family seat. This remained in the family until 1963 when it was passed onto the Guardian Royal Exchange Insurance and later, the Lytham Town Trust in 1997. This plays host to open-air plays and car shows etc and several gates and walls of the original estate still survive. Lytham is also home to the Foulnaze cockle factory, though this has only been opened thrice in the last twenty years, the last time being in 2013. The town’s station lies on the single line between Blackpool South and Preston, with two other stations:- Station Road, Lytham and near to the Old Links Golf Course having shut in 1874 & 1949 respectively.

The Lytham Festival not quite at capacity….yet

Lifeboat Museum & the famed windmill

Ship & Royal

First up was the Ship & Royal, which was eventually located after I’d forgotten where it was. It wasn’t quite worth the effort as it turned out, the place being very disorganised. The two staff were having to do all things out front, serving, changing barrels and serving and collecting dishes. They were doing their best to keep up, so no blame on them per se, but they desperately needed more help, which eventually did arrive after a good fifteen to twenty minutes and a few people having left after waiting a fair while. Anyway, after Gibbo had something resembling a half (served in a pint glass for some reason) of Lytham Ale and I played it safe with an Amstel – the round costing £5.30.

Next up was a far more serene experience in the small bar known simply as “The Craft House”. In a weird happening, the guy in front of me turned round to enquire what his partner “George” was having. She’d already left, though, leaving me to be the only person there. Of course, I’d unfortunately just ordered mine in, so couldn’t take advantage of his kind, yet unintentional, offer! Now on first name terms with half the people in the Craft House and the barman, I grabbed an outdoor table on Gibbo’s orders (who, being an Atherton native, had just returned from a pie shop), the pint of the Lancaster Ale going down nicely and, at £2.80, was just as good on the pocket as it tasted.

Strange indoor roadway

Craft House

Gibbo’s happy with his Jaeger decision

With kick-off time approaching, we crossed over the way and to the town’s Spoons, the Railway. It was a different kind of ‘Spoons from outdoor appearance, with its covered outdoor seating seeming more akin to the bistros in the town centre. After a pair of Jägers were consumed (courtesy of Gibbo as it was his idea, honestly) a pint of the Windermere Ale was consumed at the always cost-effective Spoons price of £2.19 before setting off on the few minute’s walk back over the railway and to the ground, passing through the adjacent park to get there, entrance gained through a gateway in the perimeter fencing, Gibbo being the model for this below…

Into the ground we go

Lytham’s Ballam Road ground is a fairly simple one, but is also one that has its fair share of character. The pitch is fully railed off, but has no hard standing immediately around it. However, a raised patioed area behind the goal at the Ballam Road end does give a bit of an alternative, with a few park benches upon it too, with a covered area alongside it hosting a barbecue today. The clubhouse stands to the rear of this and the walls feature pictures and the like from through the years, but it is only a small, narrow room though does have a few tables within too, should the weather not be too great. That’s Ballam Road in a nutshell and this is the story of Lytham Town….

History Lesson:

A Lytham F.C. was first formed around the turn of the 20th century and joined the Lancashire Combination in 1904. However, they competed here for just the one season, finishing bottom, before departing for parts unknown. They would enter the FA Cup for the first time in 1925, reaching the First Round prior to being knocked out in convincing fashion by Oldham Athletic 10-1.

They re-joined the Combination in 1929 and this time remained there until 1936. After the war, the club again returned to the Lancashire Combination, playing in its second division. Here, they finished in the top half in every season through to 1959 and eventually then gained promotion to Division One. They remained there until 1963 when they were relegated back. However, 1968 would see both divisions merged.

Lytham clubhouse

LTFC

Lytham were again relegated from the Combination in 1971, but were absent for only four years prior to returning once again. The period of the late ’70’s also saw the club reach the FA Vase Third Round on two occasions, prior to the Combination’s merger with the Cheshire County League to create the North West Counties League in 1982. Lytham thusly became a founder member of the league, but would soon depart it. After being relegated from their founding placing in Division Two in 1984, they competed for one sole season in Division Three, finishing 6th, before folding at the end of the 1984-’85 season.

Somewhere in the meantime, the current Lytham Town club came into being and played in the Preston & District League prior to their move into the West Lancashire League in 2007. They joined the league’s Second Division and spent four campaigns there before achieving promotion to the Division One in 2011 as champions. They have remained there to this day, finishing up last season in ninth out of the sixteen teams competing.

The game had just gotten underway as we were heading over the road bridge across the railway and it didn’t take all that long for the first goal to arrive. As we were talking to one of the few Longridge officials who had made the short trip out, Longridge’s new signing Jay Hart finished nicely from the edge of the area to open the scoring for the day after around eight minutes and so it looked as though there could be more to follow. Unfortunately, the game became a fairly sedate one with little in the way of chances coming at either end.

Match Action

Match Action

As such, Gibbo and I continued on up to the clubhouse to indulge in Lytham’s self-proclaimed “famous(ish)” 3 for £5 Budweiser offers, though this almost became something else, with the lad behind the bar having to be told in panicked tones that it was only the Bud that was on offer and nothing more. Anyway all was sorted out in this regard and the game had largely been sorted out on the pitch too, with Hart skilfully keeping the ball up in the air and under control, nodding it up before laying it off for Stuart Vasey to fire home for two-nil. That was largely that for the half as the BBQ became the more interesting thing on the go for the next half-hour or so. Cheeseburger in for just a quid. Can’t complain with that, can you?

Having now set up shop on the opposite side of the ground for a while and listening in on the Lytham side’s half-time team-talk, the second half was soon underway. I guess the manager’s words did get to them as they got tighter at the back and thus the game became an even more turgid affair than the first half. I honestly can’t remember all that much going on up until the usual raft of substitutes after around an hour’s play began to liven it up a little. But, to be honest, it didn’t have much to improve on.

Match Action

Good save, but he’ll be beaten by the rebound

Ainsworth buries the pen

Either way, further goals were to eventually follow late on. After Lytham had created and spurned a few decent opportunities, Longridge would net a third goal via a rebound that James Sloane capitalised upon, the ‘keeper rather unfortunate in this as he had pulled off a good save from the initial effort from outside the area. However, Lytham continued to battle on and were awarded a pretty stonewall penalty in the last-minute of the game, the spot-kick duly converted with confidence by Ross Ainsworth.

So that was that and it was back into town for another couple of hours before the train back, in the hope of catching some of Bananarama’s set, of course. As I alluded to earlier, this would sadly not come to pass for one reason or another, so Lytham’s watering holes would continue to be a more than decent substitute. The Taps was the first up post match, the nicely decorated pub offering up a decent pint of Hop House (that just managed to survive me elbowing over) whilst Gibbo opted for an ale with some kind of ‘punnage’ to it that I can’t remember right now. I don’t think I was too impressed as it was certainly no Obi-hops Kenobi, that’s for sure.

The Taps

The Queen’s

Back at the Station to round off the day

After leaving Gibbo to finish up his pint in there, I made the solo trip over to the Queen’s on the front which was packed with festival-goers unsurprisingly, who were still waiting on crossing over the way to the gates. As such, I was actually held at the door for a while on account of the numbers, before getting in after a short wait. Sadly, this trip wasn’t too worth it, Dark Fruits in a plastic glass coming in at the inflated sum of £4.85. Four…eighty-five…

The trip ended with a brief sojourn in the Station bar, located in the station building which was definitely a little more cost-effective with a bottle of Sol costing £3.35. Gibbo soon joined me once again in here for a final helping of putting cash into the local economy before grabbing the train back out of the ever more crowded town, on account that the Bananarama fans would soon be going bananas I’m sure. Upon getting back into Preston, we went on our separate ways, with going via Warrington a far better option for myself, whilst Gibbo still had to endure the long trip around the houses to return to Atherton at some point next year.

So there ends off the penultimate weekend of pre-season for me. It had been a good one, Lytham’s a great little town and the ground was decent too. The game was a bit ‘meh’, but I’m not too fussed when its free (bar £1 on the football card!). Onto the final weekend then and a bit of a double is in the offing. A Cheshire League side, a former Cheshire League side, a newly reformed team and an old Merseyside non-league powerhouse all feature. It should be pretty good….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 6

Programme: N/A

Food: 6

Value For Money: 7