Result: Stone Old Alleynians 0-1 West Didsbury & Chorlton (NWCFL Division 1 South)
Venue: Yarnfield (Saturday 18th January 2019, 3pm)
The weather affected weekends returned for this one, although I can count myself somewhat fortunate to have found my way out of a situation that, usually, would have become sticky rather quickly. Upon arriving into Manchester Piccadilly and ensuring my seat for the next week down to the Big Smoke (I’m supposed to get the damn train, C. J.), I had a bit of a brainwave to double check that my planned game was, indeed, still going ahead. NOPE. Game off, and just in the nick of time too – my train down to Congleton for Staffs Victoria vs Wyrley Titans was just five minutes from departing….
Over a pint in the station’s Hourglass, I perused the fixtures in search of a viable alternative – one that would still allow me to make use of my southbound ticket and so not set me back too much extra. I was floated the ideas of the likes of Sandbach, Mossley and, as an obvious last resort, Euxton as alternatives and a first revisit to Sandbach since their Cheshire League days looked on the cards until I got (all but) confirmation that Stone’s home game with West Didsbury & Chorlton (not just West Didsbury – that’s a completely different club!) was going ahead as planned. Good stuff and after buying a ticket onwards to the North Staffordshire town, I was all set.
Arriving into the station after a change in Stoke – which also allowed me to discover a new station bar there – the short hop one stop down the line to Stone was completed with little issue and, all things considered, my arrival time of a little after 12.30pm was decent. With the station a short distance out of the town centre, ten minute walk soon had me there and, more specifically, the Crown and Anchor. By far the oldest looking pub around these parts, the inside was sadly far more modernised for my liking, although the layout was still original looking. Anyhow, after an Estrella (£4.35) whilst watching a smashed window be replaced at the speed of sound, I was heading off down the pedestrianised High Street which plays host to my next couple of stops; namely the Crown Hotel (yes, another “crown” based place) and the Red Lion a little further on.
The Crown looks good from outside, but this pales in look when you see what the hotel hosts within. The wooden decor is effervescent and gives a ton of character to the hotel that some can lack. The Praha (£3.50) wasn’t bad either! The Red Lion, thereafter, was your more traditional pub, though still fine within itself. A popular choice for many in the area, I’m sure I may have forced a few away with my sneezing fit, whilst attempting to polish off my pint of Amstel (£3.65)!
I had planned then to visit both the canal-straddling Star Inn and the road-level Swan Hotel pre-match, as the bus leaves from outside the latter, but it soon became apparent that it would be a ‘one and done’ situation, as the buses aren’t exactly frequent, shall we say. The Star looked to be the better option for the moment, the former butcher’s (yes, really) not showing much in the way of signs from its former use. Having said that, it has been a pub for over a century, so there’s little surprise there! A nice place and a good welcome too, although I did waste a good five minutes at the wrong bar. I’m really, really stupid sometimes* (*most times).
Stone is a market town and civil parish within the county of Staffordshire, around half-way between Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford. Previously being both an urban and rural district council, it became a part of the Borough of Stafford in 1974 and likely dates back to around the Bronze Age, with a ring ditch at Pirehill suggesting prehistoric occupation of the area. Stone (stān in Old English) lies within the lands once home to the Iron Age Celtic tribe known as the “cornovii” (meaning “people of the horn” – likely pointing towards a geographical feature or horned god), and has gained its own medieval myth, concerning the murder of two 7th century Saxon princes by their father, the Mercian king Wulfhere, who reputedly had his centre in Darleston (Wulfherecester). The two slain princes, killed due to their conversion to Christianity, were then interred under a cairn of stones, thus giving the town its name. However, this 12th century story has since been shot down as “historically valueless”.
A church was built on the site in 670 and remained until the 9th century, when it was destroyed by the Danes. Its Augustinian replacement then stood from the mid-1100’s until Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and later collapsed in 1749, with the present St. Michael’s church built in 1758 to replace it. All that remains of the original site is the undercroft, which now lies below the town’s Priory House. Stone gained its market charter in 1251, courtesy of Henry III and duly went on to cement its market town status – later going on to become an important stagecoach stop and turnpike by the mid-19th century, on the road between London and Holyhead. Many of these old coaching inns are still standing – many named on this page! Many Romano-British sites lie around the area, and it was perceivable that Stone gets its name from a bridge, milestone or waypoint on the Rocester-Blyth Bridge Road, or even a megalith. It could also be that it is, more basically, named after a rock/geographical feature or a place where Stone was obtained – a Keuper sandstone outcrop being located to the north of the town. Also, a huge stone was once sited on Common Plot and it could even be from this that Stone derives its name from.
Incidentally, Common Plot was the site of the Duke of Cumberland’s winter camp and fortifications, with signs of these still visible upon the landscape. The reasoning for this was to bring the Duke’s army down from the freezing Peak District and Staffordshire Moorlands, where they’d been stationed with the aim of stopping the transit of Jacobite cargoes and any possible advance on London or into Wales by the rebels. However, they too soon retreated back north of the border. The River Trent, which had been used for transport since Roman times, allowed for transit inland, but only smaller vessels could be used from thereon. With land transport slow and laboured, the Grand Trunk Canal now the Trent & Mersey canal) was mooted, and later built, to link the Rivers Mersey and Trent and this eventually ran through to Burton-on-Trent, with both Stone and Burton going on to become brewing strongholds for a time. To celebrate their new Star Lock, a cannon was fired to signal its opening….only for the shot to hit the lock and require a replacement to be built. Brilliant.
The railways arrived in Stone in 1848 and shoeworks became a stronghold for a time, though soon declined upon taxation by main importers, Australia. The brewing industry in Stone dated back to the Augustinian monks, with the most notable being Joules’, whose name is still carried on numerous pubs in and around the area. However, it was then bought by Bass Charrington in 1968 and closed in 1974, with Bent’s following shortly afterwards upon an “aggressive takeover” by the Burton-based brewers. The industry continues to this day, though, through microbreweries such as Lymestone – fittingly based in part of the old Bent’s brewery building. Notable people from Stone include a comrade of Lord Nelson, the 1st Earl of St. Vincent, John Jervis, the once world’s oldest living person Eva Morris and St. Werburgh – an Anglo-Saxon princess who was beautified due to her body’s remarkable preservation when viewed again some eight years after her death. A major player in the reform of convents in the country, she became a widely venerated saint and the patron saint of Chester.
Finishing up my time-constraint orchestrated Dark Fruits (£3.60 ~), I popped out and over the road to the bus stop, where the no.14 turned up in short order. For around a fiver return, I was dropped in Yarnfield village itself, with no stop nearer to the ground. Somewhat annoyingly, you actually bypass the ground to get here too, and even then, the pub here is closed early on, it seems. At least it was today, and so this led me to get lost somehow, having just got off the bus. I’m stupid sometimes* (*most times*). Yes, I’ve repeated the “joke”, please enjoy.
I eventually rocked up back at the Yarnfield gates at around 2.30pm and headed in through the doorway declaring itself as the home of “Stone Dominoes”. Awkward. Almost more awkward was heading down the players’ walkway (which I was oblivious to) and getting to the end whilst having bypassed the gate. Now, I could have been an awful person and snuck inside and nicked a programme whilst I was at it, but there’s none of that in these quarters! The guy soon arrived and I paid in my £4 entry, plus a very fair £1 for the programme, prior to returning back outside to the clubhouse, where I waited out the remaining time over a steak pie. Not bad.
With 3pm approaching and having been accosted for a go on the Golden goal (on which I got an awful time, which shall remain anonymous), I returned back out and into the ground the proper way this time. Don’t worry, I didn’t have to pay twice! Yarnfield itself is a tidy, if unspectacular ground; one which is fine for the level as it stands, but will require further additions to continue to move on, I’d guess. All spectator cover is located within the one pitch-length stand, which houses standing areas at either end of a group of seats in the centre. The remainder of the ground is open, hard standing, though there is an off-limits, somewhat uneven, grass mound if you fancy being a rebel. That’s all there is to say about the ground, so let’s move on to the story of the Alleyne’s old boys….
Stone Old Alleynians Football Club was founded in 1962 as a team of both former and current pupils and staff at the town’s Alleyne’s Grammar School. They began playing in the Stafford Amateur League, just prior to its name change to the Mid-Staffordshire League, following a first season which was truncated by poor weather. However, they would have success in their first full year there, winning promotion from the Division 4, as well as just missing out on the 1964 Staffordshire President’s Cup, prior to achieving two further consecutive promotions, with the latter resulting in the club’s first honour – the league’s Division 2 title – in 1965-’66. Now in Division One, Stone would win the league again in each of 1972, 1975 and 1979. This period also saw the Alleyne’s win a number of cup titles; these being, namely, the Stone Charity Cup in 1969, 1974 and 1975 (beaten finalists in 1973), as well as the Pageant Cup in both 1975 & 1976. The first of these two triumphs ensured 1974-’75 was a treble-winning campaign. The Division One Borough Cup success of 1979 rounded off a silverware-filled decade for the Old Alleynians, this being their third attempt at the final, having been beaten finalists in both the 1973 and 1976 editions.
Switching into the North Staffordshire Alliance in 1980, immediately after their would-be promotion back to the Mid-Staffs Division One, the club were beaten finalists in the Alliance’s League Cup at the close of their first season there. They continued to go close to adding to their trophy cabinet throughout the 1980’s, but ultimately fell just short on each occasion, being runners-up in the Uttoxeter Cup in both 1982 & 1984, the Pageant Cup in 1984 (allied to the 1974 & 1979 competitions), but were “relegated” to the Alliance’s newly-created Division 1 (a Premier Division was created to head up the league) upon its inception, though soon returned to the top-tier as Division 1 runners-up in 1988. Upon the Alliance League’s 1995 folding, the first team returned to the Mid-Staffordshire League, but success ended up being thin on the ground, with the club’s only true notable performance during the next decade being their losing effort in the “Bourne Sports” Trophy of 2005.
2007 saw Old Alleynians make the move into the West Midlands League, competing in Division 2. They remained here through to 2010, when they achieved promotion to Division One, though did suffer some disappointment that year in being defeated in the Staffs FA Cup final by Kidsgrove Athletic. After a five year stay in the First Division, Stone were promoted, once again, as runners-up and duly took a spot in the Premier Division for 2015-’16, but cup silverware continued to narrowly evade the club – that season’s JW Hunt and Staffs FA Vase both being missed out on in final appearances. The club continued to slowly cement themselves in and around mid-table over the next few years, before Stone were switched into the North West Counties League’s newly-founded Division One South, along with town rivals (and groundsharers) Stone Dominoes, who’ve sadly (seniors, anyway) gone to the wall again at time of writing. An impressive first season yielded 3rd place, but this wasn’t quite enough to ensure promotion to the Premier Division, but Stone are again having a crack at doing it second time around.
The game got going with a pretty uneventful first few minutes, but soon burst into life when the visitors were awarded a penalty after just seven minutes of play, a defender adjudged to have handled the ball. Stephen Hall stepped up, only to see his spot-kick kept out well by Stone ‘keeper Adam Alcock; although it was at a nice height to aid him in getting to it. West would go close again shortly afterwards, George Blackwell chipping over the bar from a decent position, whilst Stone responded through Jack Tomlinson’s low shot which flashed across goal, but, eventually, just wide of the mark.
West would take a deserved lead on the half-hour as Hall, having received the ball on the edge of the area after some good build up play, made amends for his earlier penalty miss. The West forward lobbed the onrushing home gloveman Alcock who, despite getting a hand on it, could only watch on as the ball nestled into the net. The last fifteen minutes passed by with little in the way of further action, and the sides headed in still separated by the odd goal. After a largely uneventful break, it was back outside and into the chilly Staffordshire afternoon for the second half.
The second period began with Stone putting pressure on the visitors’ defence and they had a chance to truly test West ‘keeper Andy Jones for the first time in the game early on, but a deflection allowed the save to be far easier than it ought to have been otherwise. Stone forward Matt Thomas ballooned over when well placed after a well worked corner, but he looked all set to equalise on the hour mark, when, just seconds after a Jones had pulled off a fine stop from another deflected effort, he directed a header downwards towards the bottom corner, leaving Jones rooted to the spot. But unfortunately for him, he was a few centimetres off and the ball ricocheted back into play off the upright, leaving Thomas with his head in his hands and cursing his luck.
As Stone pushed on and began to throw a little more caution to the wind, West took advantage of the spaces left by them as the minutes rolled on. First, Blackwell shot straight at Alcock when he ought to have done a little better with the chance, before they were given a golden chance to secure the points, courtesy of a second penalty, this time due to a messy foul on substitute Reece Coley. Callum Jones had the responsibility either handed to him, or chose to give himself it, but whatever the case, it didn’t go well – his powerful kick lacked direction and cannoned over off the crossbar. Two missed kicks from 12 yards; could Stone grab a late equaliser to gain something from the game?
The answer would, unfortunately for them, with only a low Sean Kinsella effort – which forced Jones into a comfortable stop – going close to getting them a share of the spoils. Full-time, 0-1. Post-match, I unfortunately had a good 50 minutes until the bus back, and so I waited the vast majority of this out in the clubhouse whilst watching the few remaining final scores roll in from around the country. After a chat and thank you from the (I assume) Stone secretary (whose name escapes me, sorry) and a later free sausage on a roll (neither a sausage roll nor true hot dog) I returned down the initially darkness enshrouded Road back to Yarnfield village. Annoyingly, the pub had been opened by this point, having looked pretty dead in the water upon my arrival earlier in the day.
The bus soon rocked around the corner and I was back in Stone within fifteen minutes or so and to the Swan I headed. Standing room only! A pint of the fine Blue Moon (£4.66) was my tipple of choice in here, before I returned centre-wards to visit the Wetherspoons for a swift bottle of Kopparberg, prior to continuing on station-wards, this time via the doors of the Titanic Brewery-filled Royal Exchange (half of Steerage at £1.60) and the Talbot (Corona £3~) which, usefully, stands proud at the foot of the road leading to the station. Finishing off both in good time as to allow a five minute stroll down there and over the footbridge, my service back to Stoke soon came into view and a short connection as per the outward journey had me back in Manchester in simple fashion.
No problems with the remainder of the trip and there we finish up this story which, you could say, was set in Stone. I’m so sorry. Overall, the day had been decent, especially if you consider the fact that this was all largely planned out “on-the-fly”. Yes, the game and ground weren’t the best or most interesting respectively, but the club at Old Alleynians seems great and the town itself was a pleasant surprise, with regards to its pub offerings. That’s that and, as alluded to earlier, it’s off to the capital next week – it’s Hammer Time.
Food: 7 (plus extra point for the free hot-dog!)
Value For Money: 6