Manchopper in….Widnes

Widnes_Football_Club_logoWarrington Town

Result: Widnes 2-1 Warrington Town (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Halton Stadium (Tuesday 26th July 2016, 7.30pm)

Att: 233

My first midweek game of this 2016-’17 season saw me head towards Merseyside and to one of the easier grounds for myself to get to that I’d not yet visited. This very arena was the Halton Stadium in Widnes, the home of the town’s rugby side, the Vikings, alongside their ground sharing partner and stars of this very blog, Widnes FC. Widnes did use the Vikings suffix during their first season as a North West Counties side, but dropped it with the intention on being more of a separate entity (if I remember correctly).

After the short 35 minute train ride through Warrington and the surrounding areas, I was soon setting foot in Widnes for the first time and immediately set my sights upon visiting the town’s Wetherspoon’s, which sits in the town centre and about 15 minutes from the ground. I figured I’d take a slight detour through Victoria Park on the way, just to escape the usual concrete jungle routes which are so often traipsed down en route to games all over.

Victoria Park

Victoria Park

Victoria Park looking summery

Victoria Park looking summery

Waypoints

Waypoints

After passing by a Butterfly House, which was somewhat unexpected, I found myself heading into the town’s shopping hub. With the time approaching half-six, the place was akin to a ghost town, with all the shutters down and only a few stragglers dotting around the pathways. It was a little unnerving to walk through, for some reason, though I imagine it’s quite a pleasant place when it’s really buzzing. Alas, tonight was not that time and I was happy to escape to the sanctuary of ‘Spoons.

The Premier is a former picture house and it’s differing look is striking compared to its neighbouring structures. Inside, the place is quite comfortable to stay in for a while but with kick-off looming ever closer, the ever dependable Punk IPA was finished up and I made for the Halton Stadium, where I was due to meet with fellow groundhopper (and reluctant blogger) Paul.

The Premier

The Premier

Widnes

Widnes

Arriving at the ground

Arriving at the ground

However, upon making our respective ways towards the ASDA, we ended up crossing paths there and then and after a further pit stop to the green-clad supermarket, we both headed for the ground with only a matter of minutes remaining before the local derby friendly between the Vikings and the newly promoted Warrington Town. After getting slightly stuck around the perimeter fencing off the stadium, we eventually navigated our way to the car park and the turnstile, which was hidden away from view. £1 later and the Halton became ground #186.

The Halton Stadium is a very stereotypical all-seater ground, with there being very little to differentiate three of the stands from inside of the ground, other than the wording displayed within the seats of them. The East Stand, behind the goal, is slightly smaller than the others but does house the Widnes rugby museum. The stadium, though being a fairly recent development, stands on the same site as the original ground (from 1895) on Lowerhouse Lane and currently features an artificial surface. As for Widnes FC….

History Lesson:

Widnes FC was formed in 2003 under the name of The Dragons A.F.C. They later added the Widnes prefix to the name to become Widnes Dragons and competed in the West Cheshire League. The club moved into the Halton Stadium in 2012 and became the Widnes Vikings FC as part of the Vikings brand, though this only lasted for 2 years until the club decided to move away from the brand to become a more separate identity under the current name.

Widnes Vikings

Widnes Vikings

By this time, the club was competing within the North West Counties Division 1, which Widnes joined in 2013 and have been consistently in the lower half of the table during their tenure so far, though they did register their best finish, 13th, last campaign.

Not too soon after we’d taken our seats alongside the vacant posh seats, we were underway with Widnes being surprisingly dominant over their higher placed opponents. Widnes were playing some good stuff and it was little surprise to anyone, not even the vocal Wire fans, that they took the lead after just five minutes, Kevin Towey firing confidently home from the spot following a trip on in the area.

Just ten minutes later and Widnes were two up, this time the rapid Darrhyl Mason, who’d won the earlier penalty, running at the defence and finishing well into the far corner of Karl Wills’ net. The Warrington defence were strugging to cope with Mason’s pace and direct play and he almost had his second before the break, only to see his effort bounce back off the post with Wills beaten.

Towey fires home

Towey fires home

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Warrington did finish the half on the front foot as they began to get to grips with the pitch, but they couldn’t find a way to breach the Widnes defence before the break and thus the half-time score read 2-0. Half-time saw a couple of the kids teams from the club put on a good show. Eventually, we were underway again for the second period and Warrington had the ball in the net almost immediately, but Ben Deegan was ruled offside.

Just before the hour, Warrington did have the ball in the net again and this time it was above board. A good move approaching the box saw the ball fed to the impressive Lewis Codling and he placed the ball wide of ex-Wire ‘keeper Richie Mottram and into the bottom corner. This prompted Town to dominate the remainder of the game, with the Wire fans pulling out the Icelandic clap (which I maintain shouldn’t be seen anywhere outside Iceland) but despite this and James Dean hitting the woodwork, they couldn’t level and Widnes saw the game out to secure a good-looking victory.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

On the way out

Quizzical looks…

With the game finished up, Paul and I headed back off towards Widnes station, famed for allegedly being the inspiration behind Paul Simon’s Homeward Bound of course (though it should probably not be as celebrated if Simon’s quote is to be believed). Paul’s penchant for the PokémonGO craze was a large feature of the walk as he proceeded to catch a few on the streets of Widnes as we approached the The Crown. With my train a further 50 minutes away, we went our separate ways with Paul heading for his train along with some loud Warrington fans, and me for a Heineken in the aforementioned pub.

That was pretty much that then, and it was good to finally tick off Widnes’ home which had become one of those which keeps being put off time and again. Next Saturday is still up in the air, as my plan was probably to head to nearby Halebank and to another Widnes game (now cancelled), so fixture lists are again open….

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Manchopper in….Warrington

Warrington Townprescot

Result: Warrington Town 6-1 Prescot Cables (Evo-Stik NPL Division 1 North)

Venue: Cantilever Park (Saturday 19th April 2016, 3pm)

Att: 1,411

I’d been to Cantilever Park on numerous occasions back in my days of watching Trafford, but never had a game at this ground had so much riding on it. That’s because, today, Warrington Town had the big chance to secure their place in the Evo-Stik Premier Division for next season after dominating the North section. Could they do it? Well, if you’ve somehow missed the “result” line above or missed the result via the numerous media outlets, let me keep you in suspense.

As for myself, I set off into Warrington at just before 11.30, arriving just 20 minutes later. From there, it was into the town centre and firstly to the Hop Pole pub, which is the first one you come to after leaving Central station. The Hop Pole would serve as a base for me to figure out where to head before making the walk to the ground and in the company of a Corona and the off-putting sight of George Michael looking to be singing to “Hotel California” (a radio/TV channel mix), I laid my plans for the foray around the town.

Heading into Warrington

Heading into Warrington

Warrington

Warrington

Plans set, I headed out of the Pole, and slightly out of the centre to one of the two Wetherspoons that Warrington plays host to. The Looking Glass was apparently the better of the two so I’d heard, so I decided to follow the tips and head for that. A good decision, as the Looking Glass is certainly an interesting building, set out over two floors and with a distinct architecture to it.

But alas, as I sat down with an IPA, it wasn’t long until one of those people with a most annoying, high volume laugh began to unleash it upon the other unsuspecting punters in the pub. It was so annoying, in fact, that I just couldn’t stay in there as it was ongoing and I don’t think I was alone, as quite a few people took their leave at the same time as me. Coincidence? Possibly, but it was a bit inconsiderate to be so loud.

Luckily, the next pub on my list was right next door and is a slightly famed one. The Lower Angel’s claim to fame is a picture that hangs on the wall in the bar area of the 130-year-old pub. Yes, as the “Famous Grouse” plaque states, the picture shows a Victorian-time man and boy with a “ghostly face” looking at them through a window. Spooky. But, not to be put off, I remained in there and ordered one of the guest ales the pub had an offer today, an Elizabeth Rose from the Ossett Brewery. Pretty decent too.

The Lower Angel

The Lower Angel

The Feathers

The Feathers

Unfortunately, my stay here had to be a short one, as I had to keep making progress towards the far side of the town centre and thus towards the ground. So, the next stop was The Feathers, a craft ale pub that has apparently been reopened as such quite recently. But it’s certainly not cheap, with my pint of San Miguel costing me no less than £4.20!! So, having been sufficiently put off having another one by pure inflation, I nursed the pint whilst watching the first half of Norwich-Sunderland.

Eventually, though, it was time to leave and head down the long main road alongside the River Mersey to Cantilever Park. After 20 minutes I was arriving at the big Union Flag house that signifies your turning point. Not a bad marker as you can’t miss it! A further five minutes or so from here and the home of the Wire comes into view in earnest. Upon arrival and getting the usual strange looks while taking pictures, I had to then find the steward who had my ticket to gain entry.

After sorting this out, the gate steward headed off to speak to Town’s chairman Toby Macormac whom I’d sorted the arrangement with. Eventually, the steward came back and said “in you come!” Can’t beat a name on the gate happening! Cheers!! I also have to say that everyone was very helpful, so again thanks!

Arrived!

Arrived!

Busy turnstiles

Busy turnstiles & a very Swedish welcome!

Cantilever Park is a nice little ground, featuring three stands and is overlooked by the bridge which lends its name to the ground. The “main” all seater stand is situated on the far touchline and sits on half-way. A covered terrace sits behind the far goal and another sits alongside the clubhouse, snack bar and other facilities on the near touchline and is located towards the far end too. The social club roof also provides a small amount of cover. The near end is open and is home to a 3G pitch. The changing room/hospitality building sits towards the near corner, between the turnstiles and social club.

With an hour still to go to kick-off (I arrived early so not to get in the way of the stewards etc), I headed into the function room area within Warrington’s social club. I wasn’t having another drink just yet, though, and instead had a look through the impressive, glossy programme which is certainly a fine effort. Eventually, though, time was ticking by and I headed back out to now find the ground pretty full. As such, I decided this was the time to find some food and so the snack bar was sought, as was a £2 steak pie, which was well worth it.

Soon enough, the players were finishing their warm-ups and heading inside the changing room building for their final pep-talks. But, before kick-off, there came the biggest moment seen so far…A BOAT!! Yes, a boat just appeared behind the main stand on the far side and trundled its merry way along the river. As you can tell from this, I’m very easily pleased/impressed! Enough of the boat now, and as the players make their way back onto the field for kick-off, along with the Warrington Legend, who, earlier, I did see unmasked (controversy!), here’s a spot of history about the Wires…

History Lesson:

Warrington Town FC was founded 1949 as Stockton Heath Albion and played in the Warrington & District League until 1953 whereupon they moved into the Mid-Cheshire League. 1953, ’54 & ’55 saw the club win three straight Mid-Cheshire League Cups and 1960 saw Albion win the Mid-Cheshire League title. The club also featured a player by the name of Roger Hunt during this period, but I doubt anyone’s heard of him….

1961 saw the club adopt the Warrington Town FC name and they became founder members of the Cheshire County League Division 2 in 1978, before becoming founders of the North West Counties League Division 3 upon the CCL’s merging into it in 5 years later. After earning promotion as runners-up in the first season, they remained in Division 2 until 1987 when another runners-up placing saw Town promoted to Division 1. The Wire also reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase in 1986 and the final of the competition in 1987, losing to St.Helen’s Town.

WTFC

WTFC

Today's Teams

Today’s Teams

1990 saw Town promoted as champions to the Northern Premier League Division 1 and reached the 1993 FA Trophy quarter final. The club also sold Liam Watson to Preston North End for a NPL record £60,000, but were relegated in 1997 back to the NWCFL Division 1 and were again relegated the next season to find themselves back in the NWCFL Division 2.

2000 saw Town win the Second Division Trophy and 2001 saw the club back in Division 1 after winning the Second Division. As part of restructuring, a 5th place finish in Division 1 in 2004 was enough tho ensure Wire a place in the NPL Division 1 after the creation of the regional Conference Divisions and upon the NPL Division 1’s own regionalised split in 2007, Warrington were placed in the Southern section. This only lasted a season, though, as they were quickly switched to the North Division.

Here they have remained as a largely mid-table side, but in 2014 Town did finish third and compete in the play-offs, but lost out to Bamber Bridge. 2015 saw Warrington feature in the FA Cup 1st Round and their famous win on TV over Exeter City thanks to Craig Robinson’s early goal. Later that season, Wire lifted their first silverware for 14 years by beating Farsley on penalties to lift the NPL Challenge Cup and this season has, of course, seen the club’s push continue and despite the mid-season departure of Shaun Reid, Warrington have gone on to march towards promotion regardless.

Non-League Boat!

Non-League Boat!

A Busy Cantilever Park

A Busy Cantilever Park

After the usual pleasantries and both teams’ pre-match huddles were completed, we got underway and it soon became apparent that there were little to no nerves within the Yellows’ camp and if any did exist, they were soon tempered as league top-scorer Ciaran Kilheeney slotted in from close range, to send the vocal Warrington support behind me into raptures. They were soon off once more as Scott Metcalfe rifled in from the edge of the area with his right foot, which Scott himself later said “Don’t get many like that with my right”. Not exactly a quote, but along those lines!

Anyway, there wasn’t much to cheer for the travelling Cables support but at least at 2-0 they were still in the game. Well, they were for another 17 minutes, before Ged Kinsella lashed home from point blank range right in front of me, which prompted a younger Wire fan to say he “thought it was coming straight through the net” and hit him in the face. But that was Kinsella’s last action, as he was immediately replaced. This certainly didn’t affect the home side though as they went into the break at 4-0 up. Chris Gahgan, a long-term favourite of mine in the non-league circles, knocked the ball in from close range to all but secure Warrington’s promotion.

Celebrating the opener

Celebrating the opener

Metcalfe nets #2

Metcalfe nets #2

Pick that out

Pick that out

So half-time came and went though I did come across Scott’s dad Ray (I know both from Scott’s Trafford days). Ray was still being ultra cautious and saying if Cables get two back they could wobble, though there didn’t look too much threat in that category, though when Cables pulled one back through Rob Doran’s wonderful free-kick, the thought did cross my mind!

But Warrington were having none of it and set about on the offense once more and they soon restored their four goal advantage through Daniel O’Donnell (no, not the 50-something Irish crooner). O’Donnell had received the ball from a cross after a short corner to thump past the helpless Burgess in the Cables goal for 5-1 and only a couple of minutes later came the Yellow’s sixth, Kilheeney converting a rebound, prompting the shout “We’ll be running round Latchford with the cup!” from a Wire fan. (Latchford being the area in which the ground is situated).

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

The vocal Wire fans

The vocal Wire fans

After a brief meeting with Rob who was on his photography missions, the game wound down to its conclusion and the final whistle sounded to ensure that Warrington were going up and cued the celebrations, with the players being joined by their kids before the champagne was sprayed of course(!), all to the soundtrack of the usual “We are the Champions” and the lesser used “Movin’ On Up”. But that wasn’t before a pitch invasion and impromptu kid’s football game was curtailed by the PA blaring “Please stay off the pitch until after the presentation!”.

Celebrations about to begin

Celebrations about to begin

Champions!

Champions!

Spray the bubbles...

Spray the bubbles…

So, on the conclusion of the trophy being lifted and the bubbles being sprayed, I headed into the clubhouse once more, but this time into the smaller of the two rooms that wasn’t open beforehand. Another San Miguel was had for the much cheaper price of £2.60, before I eventually realised that most of the goings on were in the other room and I made my way over to say a well done to Scott and to Ally Brown too, another ex-Trafford man.

Soon after, though, it was time to exit the ground and head back towards the town and Warrington Central station. With the bright sunlight continuing unabated, I wondered when the last time was I’d worn sunglasses for the entirety of a game and most of the day in general, you know, ’cause I’m so interesting like that. Before long, my very interesting self pondering was ended upon my arrival back at the station where the guards who’d checked my ticket on arrival, didn’t care at all on the way back. Must have been too upset at missing the game.

So, here ends our tale. It will be good to see Warrington up in the Prem of the NPL next season and I hope they do well as I always remember that time a few years back when I lost my college pass along with some money and it was all handed in together. Things don’t go forgotten and as such I really wish Warrington all the best in the higher division as Champions….

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RATINGS:

Game: 7- One sided, but still entertaining with goals raining in.

Ground: 8- Always liked Cantilever and it’s nooks and crannies.

Food: 7- A pretty nice pie, nothing to go overboard on, but definitely OK for £2.

Programme: 9- Has to be one of the better at the level and all presented well too.

Fans: 9- One I can rate finally! Good vocal support and all round decent fan base I always find.

Value For Money: 9- Come on, how can it not be this high?! Bar the overpriced beer in town…

 

 

 

 

Manchopper in….Prescot

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Result: Prescot Cables 0-3 Warrington Town (Evo-Stik NPL Division 1 North)

Venue: Hope Street/Valerie Park (Saturday 19th March, 3pm)

Att: 376

Going back a few weeks to the New Mills trip, “pitchsidepints” Paul had floated the idea of heading to Prescot Cables’ beer festival. With it tying in nicely with the visit of title chasing Warrington Town, it was as close to a no brainer as you can get. As such, it was confirmed earlier in the week that we were indeed going to visit the town that sits just within “Merseyside”.

After also persuading the Slovakia-bound “lostboyos” Matt to join us and exorcise some of his previous Prescot demons before his travels to the continent, Saturday morning arrived and so did the usual work to the station for the service into Manchester, though I did have to see some kids from school whilst waiting, which is always a bit of a strange occurrence, especially as I don’t think I ever saw any of my teachers out of school and indeed think I thought they lived in the building until I was about 7.

Anyway, enough of my early life stupidity. After transiting through Oxford Road, it was onwards to Wigan and a further ticket onwards to Prescot, the split ticket saving a fiver! Happy days. After a half-hour wait in the pie capital of the world, I eventually caught the stopper over towards Cables’ home.

Around a half hour later, I arrived in Prescot and after getting slightly lost in a housing estate, eventually found my way into the town itself. After heading through the Cables Retail Park, I took the uphill walk towards the Wetherspoon’s where Matt had already informed me he was indulging in the delights of the local customs.

The ‘Spoons in question was The Watch Maker which is, unsurprisingly, watch themed. This is, apparently, harking back to Prescot’s heritage as a timepiece making town. Famous figures that have lived in the town include the former F1 doctor, the late Sid Watkins and even the current 007 (according to Wiki, so God knows if it’s true). Anyway, I did find Matt here, indulging in some Einstok Icelandic beer in tribute to his beau, Gylfi Sigurdsson. After some slight persuasion, I joined him, but not after some hard work helping the bar staff to locate it I the fridge.

Prescot

Prescot

The Watch Maker

The Watch Maker

The Pub's Cables Wall!

The pub’s Cables Wall!

We eventually decided that we wanted to head to the ground for the start of the beer festival at 1pm. But, with the ground no more than three minutes walk away, we figured we could squeeze in a further stop en route and with the cleverly named Hope and Anchor sitting on the corner of Hope Street, this was our temporary abode for the next 20 minutes or so.

The Hope had that horrible bleachy aroma filling its air though, which I absolutely despise and I couldn’t wait to leave, even if the people in it were good sports, with the barman in particular providing some light entertainment. After Matt had enquired if they’d be showing the Swansea game later in the day and the Everton-supporting man seeing his side go one down to Arsenal, he declared to the lady behind the bar with him without warning, “Right, I’m off to Dublin. See you in a couple of days”. And he was gone.

Hope & Anchor

Hope & Anchor

Today's Game

Today’s Game

Graffiti

Not bad…

And so were we not too long after, heading down the neighbouring street and down to the end of the road where the ground sits, only to find we were too early for the turnstiles and so headed for the players’ gate. After being told all the ins and outs of admission for the double header of entertainment for the day, we decided to plump for the easy option and just pay to get in (£7), before paying a further £2 for the very good quality programme. It must be one of the best in the league, no doubt.

As we were heading in, the gateman shouted over to us that the guy who’d done Cables’ graffiti art had also done the Eagle at Benfica’s Estadio de Luz too, which is quite a bit different you’d imagine? With that great bit of trivia in our minds, we headed into the clubhouse, which sits under the large, old-style stand. It really is a beaut and Matt was rather taken with it. I, having seen it before, was slightly less so, but it is nonetheless a good one.

Having also paid a fiver for four halves of the ales/ciders/beers in the barrels included in the fest, we began to indulge and were soon joined by Wycombe fan and full-on ‘hopper Russ. From the clubhouse, we also saw a long line of flags being erected behind the far end goal, which I immediately recognised as the impressive calling card of the Alfie Lund Fund. The fund is named after 6-year-old Alfie, who has the very rare medical condition MECP2 Duplication syndrome. But, not ones to be put off by something like this Alfie, along with Dad Mark, roam around the country watching football and have a scarf train measuring up towards 3 miles long (or 5 tractor wheels, according to Mark).

Cables' Clubhouse

Cables’ Clubhouse

Beer Fest!

Beer Fest!

After having a chat with Mark about his travels and his and Alfie’s fundraising (as well as Alfie having a go for my half of beer), they headed off for their next engagement, having also added Russ’ Wycombe scarf to their collection which he kindly donated. Read more about the fund here. & see Matt’s blog for pics.

After receiving a call from Paul about where we were at, he finally arrived to join us at gone 2pm, having made a late decision to join us and make the trip over from Liverpool. So, with four of us now swelling the ranks, we kept on supping our way through the ales and soon it was time to head outside ready for kick-off, with both teams lining up ready to get the game underway. Speaking of getting underway, here’s how Prescot’s story began…

History Lesson:

Prescot Cables FC was formed in 1884 originally named as simply Prescot. The “Cables” suffix came from the largest local employer: British Insulated Cables, and as such the Cables name is one that is frequented around town.

Cables joined the Lancashire League in 1927, taking over Fleetwood’s record upon their resignation. In 1932, Valerie Park hosted over 8,000 fans for a game against the brilliantly named (to me anyway) Ashton National. After winning numerous local cups: 3x George Mahon (1924, ’27, ’37), 4x Liverpool Cups (1928, ’29, ’30, ’49) a Liverpool Non-League Senior Cup (1953) and two Lancs Combination Cups (1939 & ’48), the club won the Lancs Combination in 1957 and managed a further six runners-up spots, as well as managing to win the Second Division in 1952. The club achieved their biggest win (18-3 vs Great Harwood Town in 1954-’55) and also reached the FA Cup First Round twice, losing to Hartlepool Utd & Darlington on respective occasions.

After adding further silverware in the shape of another two Liverpool Non-League Senior Cups (1959 & ’61) & a Liverpool Challenge Cup (1962), the club joined the Mid-Cheshire League which they won in 1977 and won another Liverpool Challenge Cup the next year. 1979 saw the club join the Cheshire League as founders of Division 2, which they won in 1980 to mean promotion to Division 1.

1983 saw Cables become founder members of the North West Counties League and in 1987 they achieved promotion to Division 1, having played in the bottom division since its formation. 2002 saw Cables win the NWCFL League Cup and finish runners-up in the league. The following season, 2002-’03, saw the club finally make it up to the Northern Premier League as champions and play in Division 1. 2004 saw Cables playing in the NPL Premier after changes to the pyramid and made the play-offs, losing to Workington.

Going up!

Going up!

Ron, Cables' one man band

Rod, Cables’ one man band

2009 saw the club drop out of the Premier Division and return to Division 1 where they remain, largely as a lower mid-table team. Last season saw Cables finish up in a lowly 20th place though, but under fairly new manager Andy Paxton, results have picked up and Cables currently sit in 15th place after a sticky start.

As I have previously mentioned, Prescot’s ground is a nice one, even if it is a little run down. But for me and I’m sure many others, this just adds to the charm. In addition to it’s large raised Main Stand, it also houses a covered terrace behind the Hope Street end goal, which appears to have been shortened at some point, with the terracing outside of the roof showing some forms of old stantion settings. The other two sides are open standing, but with the far end providing a slightly raised view and the far touchline being home to a grass mound giving a similar option.

The game got underway in front of people on all sides. The game, to be honest, wasn’t all that exciting and never really was. So, we kept ourselves entertained by setting off on a lap of Valerie Park, which led to Matt even being papped (yes, he really is that famous now). We headed round to behind the “Safari Park End” goal where we met Prescot’s “one man band” Rod, who bugles and bangs his drums throughout Cables’ games and photographer Dave.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

It was while we were having these conversations that the first goal finally arrived, Ged Kinsella heading home a pin-point right wing cross by full-back Ally Brown. Following this rare moment of excitement, Paul and I left Matt to continue his duologue and headed round to the clubhouse to get some of the club’s brilliant chicken curry, but not before Ciaran Kilheeney had doubled the Wire’s advantage over the Cables, slotting home from inside the area. 2-0, half-time, beer festival time!

After finishing off our fine foods, it was time to head out for the second period and we had decided to save the best until last. So we headed up the stairs and into the Main Stand itself for the second half, with me just about to start off a game of “Spot Russ” when he arrived on cue behind me to mean Matt won the first, and likely only instalment of this which I imagine won’t take off as “Where’s Wally” did.

After Matt had unleashed his “I’d rather be a Cable than a Wire” chant which he’d debuted to me earlier on and we both decided we were going to support Scott Metcalfe (after his times with our local clubs), we settled in to watch the second half, but unfortunately there was little happening once more until, with around 10 minutes left on the clock, Warrington earned themselves a penalty and with it the chance to absolutely put their stamp on this game. Kilheeney stepped up and confidently struck the ball into the right-hand side of the net. Three goals, three points.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Kilheeney nets in front of Alfie's flags!

Kilheeney nets in front of Alfie’s flags!

So, we headed out of Hope St with Russ heading on his way back towards Wycombe and the rest of us to the Royal Oak, which Matt had had recommended to him numerous times on twitter as he strove to find the best place to watch the Swans. Unfortunately, I’d had my fill of beers by this point, allied by having been up early watching the travesty that was the F1 qualifying session and also the prospect of being up at 4.30am for the race the next day, though Paul found it rather amusing that I had kept a half going for the best part of an hour and a half.

At 7 I decided to bid farewell with the Swans at 1-0 against Villa and headed back to Prescot station for the return journey over to Wigan and back onwards home. I quite enjoyed my experience of Prescot itself and certainly its football club, which I’d always found a nice club previously and this view was cemented and improved upon ten-fold. If you get the chance to visit, then do. You won’t be disappointed. Oh, and try and get the beer fest in too….

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RATINGS:

Game: 5- Poor game in truth (especially for the neutral) but at least there was goals.

Ground: 8- A proper non-league ground if ever there was one.

Food: 9- Lovely. Quite cheap too if memory serves me right (under £3)?

Programme: 9- As I said earlier, has to be one of the better, especially if you like stats.

Fans: 8- Mostly on Ron!

Value For Money: 8- Great day, great club, game a bit meh, but I’ve seen much worse.

 

 

 

Manchopper in….Abbey Hey

Abbey_Hey Warrington Town

Result: Abbey Hey 3-2 Warrington Town (The FA Cup Preliminary Round)

Venue: The Abbey Stadium (Saturday 29th August 2015, 3pm)

Att: 156

THE FA CUP IS BACK!!!! Well, for me anyway. Best of all, you won’t here me mentioned any sort of sponsor’s name around here. The FA Cup with Budweiser was just about acceptable, but now….

With that out of the way, it’s back onto the day at hand and the game itself. To be honest, quite how I’d contrived not to have blogged Abbey Hey until this very day is something of an error. Hey has always been a club that I have found to be most welcoming, with ground improvements steadily going on, as well as on pitch performances growing over the past few seasons. So, when the Cup draw gave Hey a home tie against last season’s giant-killers, Warrington Town, who famously knocked out Exeter City at Cantilever Park, it was a no-brainer where I was headed. To The Abbey Stadium!

Come the day of the 29th of August, I was at Urmston Station ready to board the 12.20 service to Manchester. having renewed my Railcard for the next 12 months, therefore ensuring cheaper passage for the season, I was looking forward to “starting afresh” as it were. But, not if Northern Rail had anything to do with it. With the Manchester Pride festival on in the city centre, the midday service rocked up full. And, before long, there were passengers backed up to the doors, with me amongst those left stranded for at least a further half-hour. A 2-carriage train was to suffice? Not a chance. Poor and unsafe, in my view.

Eventually, I was on board the train an hour later, but the delay had unfortunately robbed me of the chance to visit the World Monuments Fund Watch List of 100 most Endangered Sites in the World-list (thanks Wikipedia) featured Church & Friary of St Francis, better known as Gorton Monastery. It shares the above list with places such as Pompeii, the Taj Mahal and the Valley of the Kings. Illustrious company! (thanks, again, Wikipedia!).

Ryder Brow Station

Ryder Brow Station

Gorton Monastery

Gorton Monastery

The Abbey Stadium from the neighbouring hill

The Abbey Stadium from the neighbouring hill

Eventually, I had transited through Manchester Oxford Road and Piccadilly and was passing by the monastery before disembarking at Ryder Brow station, which is about a five minute walk from Abbey Hey’s home. Walking straight on down the road, you come up upon the ground on your right, where you are met by a gate, which is manned by a few guys doing the usual jobs: taking money, marking down attendance and programme sales, the latter two within small hutches. The entrance is also the way into the ground for cars, which are parked around the clubhouse side and near-end goal, with one Merc looking decidedly in harm’s way!

Gates of Hey-ll

Gates of Hey-ll

Badge on dugouts.

Badge on dugouts.

AHFC

AHFC

Upon entry, the ground sits on a plateau like area, slightly raised above the road level. The brick-build clubhouse/dressing room structure sits on the half way line, joined by the two benches in front of it. Opposite, the only stand in the ground runs the majority of the touchline and is a mix of benched seating on two sides, sandwiching a standing area. Both ends are open, hard standing. With this set out and me arriving about a half-hour before kick-off, let’s delve into the history of the Hey.

History Lesson:

Abbey Hey F.C. were formed in 1902, under the moniker of Abbey Hey W.M.C. During the periods of wartime, the club disbanded and reformed a number of times. The club started out in the Church Sunday Leagues before progressing up through the Manchester Amateur Leagues during the years between the conflicts, but the club really began to gain a foothold in the 1960’s upon taking players in from the Admiralty Gunning Engineering Dept. following its closure. They went on to win the 1964-65 Manchester Amateur League & two South East Lancs League titles (’66-’67 & ’68-’69) as well as the 1966 South East Lancs Shield and the Manchester United Memorial Cup. Hey also lifted three Manchester Amateur Cups in 1964-’65, ’67-’68 & ’68-’69.

In 1978, the club decided to apply for the Manchester League. Their application was successful and the following season, Hey began playing in the Manchester League Second Division, winning promotion in their first season at that level. Having achieved this, Hey had to find an enclosed ground to host the games at. Due to this, their home became St. Werburgh’s Road in Chorlton. After a deal with a local car company led to the club agreeing to install ground improvements, the company backtracked on the agreement, leading to Hey becoming homeless once again.

After a local councillor had donated land to the population of Abbey Hey, the club took the land as their home for the next 18 years. At this point, the club were informed that they were no longer able to use Godfrey’s, despite doing the ground up from a derelict state and being assured that as long as they were solvent, they would be able to use it. After a short stay at the old English Steel ground in the area, the club acquired the current Goredale Avenue site, with the aid of the council, who were going to make the land part of a compulsory purchase order. As such, the club’s offer was accepted.

After more success in the 80’s and 90’s, including five Manchester League Premier Division titles and a Gilgryst Cup, in 1997 the club applied for the North West Counties League, which was duly accepted for the 1998-’99 season. They immediately achieved promotion from the Second Division as runners-up and after installing floodlights and constructing the dressing rooms/clubhouse structure, they were all set for Division 1.

Clubhouse

Clubhouse

Plaque

Plaque

Stand

Stand

In 2010, the club were relegated from the Premier Division, as the 1st Division was now known, but did win the NWCFL Challenge Cup. After just three seasons, Hey were again promoted as runners-up, back to the Premier Division in 2013. last season, Abbey Hey finished up in 14th place in the Premier Division.

Back onto the day’s big FA Cup contest, now, and Hey were looking to giant-kill last year’s famed side, the yellows of Warrington Town. Both sides came out to a good ovation from the, relatively healthy, crowd in attendance down at the Abbey Stadium, including the vocal Warrington fans in the stand, who gave a rendition of most of their players’ songs. With their Swedish flag now joined by a Brazilian and Polish one, they definitely looked a colourful bunch and with the occasional blow of bubbles floating away from the area.

Ground looking good

Ground looking good

Good game, good game

Good game, good game

Town huddle

Town huddle

Town's fans in fine voice

Town’s fans in fine voice

The game got underway, and it was the visiting Wire who had the better of the opening exchanges with Scott Metcalfe, who gained rave reviews for his performance in that game against Exeter on TV last season, proving an effective outlet for them, whipping in a number of dangerous deliveries, but to no avail. On my way around the ground during the first period, I bumped into Scott’s dad, Ray, whom I know well from Scott’s time at Trafford, back in the day. Always a pleasure to talk to him and good to see you again, if you do happen to see this!

As it was, Warrington looked rather slow up front, pumping balls up to the tall strike force, but Hey coped pretty well and then broke clear quickly. With Town light on the right side of the play, a ball was whipped in and #10, Sam Hind, converted a free header at the back post, before wheeling away in delight. 1-0, and an upset on the cards, perhaps?

Sam Hind celebrates his opener

Sam Hind celebrates his opener…

...before Craig Robinson cancels it out.

…before Craig Robinson cancels it out…

...and celebrates his goal.

…and celebrates his goal.

Hey grew in confidence after their opener and began to look as though they may score again when, slightly against the run of play, Warrington grabbed an equaliser. A left wing corner was whipped in and skipper Craig Robinson, brother of MK Dons’ manager Karl and hero of the game against Exeter, glanced a header inside Hey ‘keeper Jonny McIlwaine’s left hand post. 1-1.

It looked as though it was two on the stroke of half time to the Wire, when McIlwaine appeared to drop the ball into his own net from another left wing corner. Despite there being no obvious foul to my, or indeed many other, eyes the referee decided he’d seen an infringement on the ‘keeper, much to the bemusement and anger of the Warrington players and management, including Shaun Reid, who stormed into the dugout to vent his frustration!

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Disallowed!

Disallowed!

But, it was one-a-piece at the break and I headed upstairs to the clubhouse, where a pie, cider and copy of the 2nd edition of Non-League Magazine was purchased for a total of about £8.50. Pie was very good and quickly disappeared from the plate, before the second period was about to get underway and I headed back down to pitch level for the next stanza. And there was immediate drama as Warrington struck the crossbar soon after the restart, when a fizzing drive cracked off the top of the bar and over.

But, again, it was Abbey Hey who’d take the lead, when a good, quick move ended with pacey #9, Ashford Blake, coolly placing the ball beyond Town ‘keeper Karl Wills. This prompted Hey’s manager to ask how long they’d played, which he was disappointed to learn was only 10 minutes! But there was some relief when the assistant pinged the  ball across the pitch, prompting one on the bench to shout “You’ve not kicked one like  that in your life!”

Ashford Blake restores Hey's lead.

Ashford Blake restores Hey’s lead.

Match Action

Match Action

Physio at the ready.

Physio at the ready.

5 minutes later, it was three. A horrible moment for Town defender James McCarten saw him and Wills have a miscommunication, and his pass back roll beyond the glove-man and into the bottom corner. 3-1 and the underdogs definitely fancied it now!

But, they were pegged back soon after, when sub Steven Gillespie seemed to have an age to nod home via the underside of the crossbar for 3-2, and it was game on once again! It was now that I met twitter legend Breezeblock, who I was told very helpfully by football spoon that he resembled a building block. As it was, he didn’t, and I spent the remainder of the game chatting with him along with the occasional input of McIlwaine.

Late pressure...

Late pressure…

Late pressure

…and even more…

But Hey hang on to spark celebrations

But Hey hang on to spark celebrations

Despite late pressure by the visitors, including having the ‘keeper up for a late corner, McIlwaine didn’t really have a save to make, and Hey greeted the final whistle with scenes of jubilation, with manager Luke Gibson running onto the pitch to embrace his players. I bid goodbye to breezeblock and headed back inside to wait until it was time to head home.

After getting another Strongbow and speaking football to a couple of Abbey Hey committee members and congratulating and commiserating Hey’s Sam Freakes, who’d had another good game as he usually does (and no, I’m not giving him preferential treatment as I know him previously!) and Warrington pair Metcalfe and Ally Brown, who again I know from his time at Trafford. Good to see all the lads again before I left for Ryder Brow station and learning of some, rather amusing, shenanigans elsewhere!

I then had the best of return journeys possible, straight into Piccadilly, over to Oxford Road and making the train home a half-hour earlier than I should have. Makes up for the Fail’s troubles en route, I guess. Thanks to Abbey Hey for a good day yet again, down at the Abbey Stadium. Plan to see you again at Thackley in two weeks!

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RATINGS:

Game: 8- Entertaining cup contest with an upset too.

Ground: 6- Simple, but very tidy.

Fans: 6- Decent backing.

Programme: 5- Average for the level.

Food: 7- Pretty good and decent priced.

Value For Money: 8- Cheap day overall, £11 in clubhouse, £5 in, £1 programme & £2.60 travel.