Manchopper in….Widnes (Ford Motors FC)

Result: Ford Motors 2-0 Grappenhall Sports (Cheshire League 1)

Venue: Jaguar Land Rover Sports Club (Saturday 17th November 2018, 2pm)

Att: 10~

With a weekend with nothing set in stone on the horizon, I thought I’d let the decision on where I’d end up on this, the third Saturday of November, rest with the good folk of the twitterverse. With a few options on the table, the Grappenhall Sports retweet seemed to be the catalyst for the eventual victor. Unsurprisingly, it was swayed the way of their own game at Ford Motors in the North of Widnes and so it was to there I’d be headed for. With the trains being on their seemingly never-ending, much-maligned strike – which is also much to the chagrin of those brought in as replacements from other organisations – as I learned from someone who had been tasked with doing so with some ungodly shifts going around too by his account. They would also mean that I would be starting earlier than was ideal once again and after catching the train at just after 9am, I was arriving into Widnes station (made (in)famous by the Paul Simon legend regarding ‘Homeward Bound’) a little over 45 minutes later. With a fair amount of time to waste, I got my bearings of the area (despite having already been before), prior to making my way to the ‘Spoons to start the day.

Arriving at Widnes Market

Widnes High Street

The Premier – through a strange statue

Imperial

Waiting over my Punk IPA (£2.99) for ten minutes until my 11am allowed start time (yes, I really am that pedantic), I wasted away some time in the old cinema building named the Premier before heading a few doors down the road to the Imperial, one of those ‘Spoons-styled free houses. It wasn’t too bad here either and the prices were agreeable as well, a pint of Bud Light coming in at just £2.50 whilst I got talking to Tom, a Liverpool supporting ex-firefighter who also has the wide-ranging family issue of the blue/red split! After he apologised for boring me (that’s usually my fault) which certainly wasn’t the case, I left him to finish up his drink whilst I made up a plan of action for the rest of the pre-match tour de Widnes, starting with the Bradley Arms, on the corner of the same road and just at the top of the high street. A pint of Coors in here cost a fairly normal £3.50 before a walk through the aforementioned high-street – which is mostly pedestrianised, I should add – had me at the Derby, which stands at the mid-way point. The Derby also had the early-kick off on too, which was handy, and so I settled in for a while and watched the majority of the first half whilst supping at a Moretti (£3.50).

Completing the walk down the high-street’s more car dominated bit, I came to the Simms Cross, a pub that stands opposite the large Asda and not far from the Vikings stadium. Still working my way away from the ground at this point, this was actually all a plan with sense of you’ll trust me for once! A quick Dark Fruits, at £3.50 once again, was had here prior to crossing the road and along past said Asda to the Grapes, which would be my final pre-match stop, with the bus up to the ground leaving from just outside of it. This was probably the most odly-wordly pub of the day and was nice enough, a pint of Strongbow (due to lack of real options) being opted for though at £3, I couldn’t be too fussy. After wasting away the remainder of the time through to the bus in here, it was off to the ground, where I was due to arrive at around ten-to-2 and just in time for kick-off. You’d expect something to go wrong now, wouldn’t you?

Bradley

The Derby on the left

Simms Cross

Inside the Grapes

Well….it didn’t!! Not only did the bus come early, but I ended up at the Jaguar Land Rover Sports Club right on cue. Lovely. Straight into the ground it was and with little time to wait, I had a swift peruse of my surroundings. The near end, from which you enter, is home to the clubhouse/social club and with it all the usual footballing facilities, a small bit of cover to the front of said dressing rooms and a paved car park providing hard standing. To the far side is a nice stand, consisting of a few rows of benched seating, and this runs most of the length of the pitch and is flanked by hard standing. The opposite side also features hard standing, whilst the far end is home to little more than some catch-netting, though no-one is too bothered if you go around it seemed. So that’s the ground in a nutshell and this is the story of Ford Motors…..Luckily, not the car company….

History Lesson:

Ford Motors Football Club was founded in 1962 and would later go on to join the Lancashire Combination a decade later. They would struggle initially, before becoming a more solid, mid-table outfit ahead of a switch into the Cheshire County League Division 2 as a founding member in 1978, where they continued this trend. The Cheshire County League later merged with the Lancs Combination to form the North West Counties League in 1982, with Fords again becoming a founder member, where they would remain for the next four seasons, prior to being relegated in 1976 after finishing second-bottom. However, they would spend just one season in Division 3 as it was absorbed at the end of that season into Division 2, and after one further year in the NWCFL, the club left to join the Liverpool County Combination Division 2 for the 1988-’89 campaign.

After finishing runners-up and being promoted to Division 1 at the end of their first season there, Fords would remain in the First Division through to 1999, as the league ran with a single division for the following two years, before returning to a two-tier system for a year in 2002, before reverting back to its one division approach through to its eventual merger with the I Zingari League to create the Liverpool County Premier League, Fords having finished a best of 5th (in 1997) during their time in the LCC. Immediately placed into the Premier Division of the new league, Fords established themselves back into a solid mid-table side, before eventually recording a 3rd placed finish in 2011, prior to returning back down into the midst of the middle of the league for their final two seasons there. The club would depart the Liverpool County Premier League in 2013 after finishing second-bottom of the Premier Division and switched to join the West Cheshire League’s Division 3 instead.

Arriving at the ground

The clubhouse building

View from the Main Stand

Motors would contest three seasons in Division 3 of the West Cheshire League, finish 5th, 10th and 4th respectively, before taking up the opportunity to join the expanding Cheshire League for season 2016-’17. Placed into ‘League 2’, the club immediately found the new surroundings of the Cheshire League more to their liking, finishing 4th at the end of their first season here, before lifting the Cheshire League 2 title last season and being promoted to ‘League 1’ for this campaign. On a side-note, the club have also competed in the FA Vase during their tenure in the NWCFL, and made the 4th Round in 1984-’85, beating Graham St. Prims, Linotype, Staveley Works and Guisborough Town, before eventually bowing out to Newcastle Blue Star. Their last game in the competition to date was against Salford in 1990, where they went down in the extra-preliminary round by 2-1 at (a rather different looking than the current one!) Moor Lane.

The game got underway and, in truth, it was a real slow burner. There was very little action in the first half and by half-time I was wondering if my 0-0-less run was going to end just a couple of weeks short of a year. The few highlights that did come along during the first 45 minutes favoured Fords, with the hosts going close early on, when the Grappenhall ‘keeper was forced to tip over an effort, before Sports responded by going close twice in quick succession – first the #10 capitalised on a ‘keeping error but could only fire wide, before the #8 shot wide of the target shortly afterwards.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

However, just before the break, Grappenhall were reduced to ten-men, when one of the defenders was adjudged, pretty fairly in my book, to have been the last man and in denying a goalscoring opportunity when bringing down the attacking Fords man. He was off for an early bath, though Fords wouldn’t be able to take advantage in the last few minutes through to the half-time whistle, with the game remaining steadfastly goal-less and only the red card seemed to offer any real chance of it not ending as such.

The half-time break came and went quickly and with little of note to report on, we were soon underway once more. And wouldn’t you know it, just a few minutes into the second period the deadlock would be broken by the home side when good play by #7 resulted in him playing in the #9, Cameron Chambers, who fired high into the roof of the net. This seemed to simultaneously breath extra life into Fords, whilst draining it from Sports and it was Motors who almost added a second not too long afterwards, but the shot came back off the upright.  However, the second would eventually arrive and it would come from the spot. A foul by the ‘keeper resulted in a certain penalty for me and #4 Connor Tagoe stepped up to confidently convert the kick and give his side, almost certainly, the points.

#4 nets from the spot, despite the big dive!

Match Action

View from the ‘stand’ in front of the dressing rooms

Later, as the game went on into its final quarter of an hour, Chambers almost grabbed his second of the game but was denied by a good stop with his legs by the Grappenhall ‘keeper, before they were given some sort of hope in the last five minutes, when Fords themselves were reduced to a man light, rather harshly in my view on this occasion, when the #12, David Worsley, was dismissed for (I assume) what was thought of as a bad challenge. As I said, it didn’t look too bad from my view, though those of a Sports persuasion didn’t seem all too happy, so maybe I missed something. As it was, this didn’t effect the game at all and after a late chance for the hosts when the #7 found himself one-on-one with the ‘keeper, only to wastefully shoot wide, the whistle blew and I made a hasty exit for the bus which was due, got there in time, only to not be able to find my ticket and so I let the guy drive on whilst I strove away to find it….in my pocket. Damn, though its not a day out for me without something going slightly awry, now is it?!

Getting a bus some twenty minutes later, I was soon back in Widnes and decided to pay a visit to the far end of town and then make my way straight up the main road towards the station, a route that just so happened to have a couple of pubs on the way. I know, what were the odds on that? After an initial visit to the Kingsway Hotel, which I found a very friendly and busy place (Dark Fruits at £2.75), the Doctor’s pub opposite looked shut up and so I beat my retreat back off towards Widnes station, via the medium of the two pubs passively aforementioned – namely the Horse & Jockey and the Crown. A further Dark Fruits was had in the former (£3.20~) prior to visiting the Crown for a second time, after my visit to Widnes FC a couple of seasons back. It was far fuller this evening than it had been on that Tuesday night and I took my time over an Amstel (£3.75) whilst awaiting the time to the train to elapse.

A square I came across somehow

Kingsway Hotel

Horse & Jockey

Rounding off in the Crown

Eventually it did and off I headed back to the station for the train home, though this did come via Warrington, which is always slightly irritating (the stop-off, not Warrington!!). Anyway, I was soon off home in earnest to round off the day, which had been, to borrow something of a footballing summary – solid, but unspectacular. The game had been alright, the ground better than most in and around the level Fords are at, and the pubs around town had been ok on the pocket. Travel went smoothly enough (bar the minor hiccup) and that’s that for another week. Just the one to go and I’ll have made a full year without seeing a goalless draw. Wherever I eventually end up….DON’T YOU EVEN DARE!!!!!

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 6

Programme: N/A

Food: N/A

Value For Money: 5

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….

DSC02679

 

 

Manchopper in….Castleton (Rochdale Town FC)

rochdale townWidnes_Football_Club_logo

Result: Rochdale Town 1-3 Widnes (North West Counties League Division 1)

Venue: Mayfield Sports Centre (Saturday 23rd April 2016, 3pm)

Att: 17

As you may have read over my various social media outlets, this blog is going to become something of a budgeted venture for the foreseeable future, largely due to my income being severely reduced in the meantime. As such, when Rochdale Town’s offer of £5 in plus pie and drink thrown in for good measure, it seemed a perfect excuse to begin and explore just how I would survive doing the blog in this way after such a long while.

So, I set off for Manchester during the late morning and after a fairly brisk walk through Manchester to Victoria Station, I boarded my train over to Castleton, the home town of Rochdale Town FC, formerly the much better named Castleton Gabriels. Anyway, personal preferences aside I began my short ride over to just short of Rochdale only to realise that I was on an earlier train than I’d planned and now had an extra half hour to waste away in Castleton. Brilliant.

After a 15 minute ride or so, the train pulled into Castleton and I headed for the first pub I spied, not that it was difficult or a skilful thing to do as it was right in front of me. Yes, the Midland Beer Company was to be my first stop. I headed in and found what I considered a bit of a gem and with the Man City-Stoke game on the TV too, settled in with an Estrella to watch. Mindful of what this blog is becoming, it became my sole stop-off point pre-game.

Castleton

Castleton

The Midland

The Midland

Inside the Midland Beer Company

Inside the Midland Beer Company

So, after making my pint last the full 90 minutes(!), it was eventually time to head out of the Midland without any real happenings of any note and head down the road alongside towards the Mayfield Sports Centre, the home of Town and some Rugby sides too. After getting very slightly lost, I found my bearings and was soon at the entrance to the ground, confirmed by a large sign confirming this!

Heading to the turnstile, which is just lacking the turnstile, I handed over my £5 entry and on realising there were no programmes on hand, headed inside. About 5 minutes later, a Town official appeared and declared that “the programmes have arrived”. As such, out traipsed the majority of the 17 hardy souls who made the trip to Castleton for today’s tie vs Widnes to grab a piece of the action for a measly £1.

The Mayfield Sports Centre is within a largely rugby dominated complex, but is a little ramshackle ground which has it’s own charms to it. It’s main stand is in need of the bit of renovation it’s getting and the other small seating stand opposite is a little unkempt too. The right hand end, as you enter, features a covered standing area and you have to cross the grass to get to it from the far side. The opposite end features an open raised terrace, which leads round past a caravan (yes, a caravan) and back to the Main Stand.

Arriving at Mayfield Sports Centre

Arriving at Mayfield Sports Centre

Approaching the turnstile (minus the turnstile!)

Approaching the turnstile (minus the turnstile!)

Heading in

Heading in

As I mentioned above, it was Widnes who’d provide the opposition for Town today and, from what I can recollect in my memory bank, it was to be the first time I’d seen them play so a bit of a non-interesting side note for anyone else who isn’t me. Anyway, after a further 15 minutes, the teams re-entered the field for the usual pre-match niceties and we were all set to go in this North West Counties Division 1 tie. But first, a bit about the story of Rochdale Town FC…

History Lesson:

Rochdale Town FC was founded in 1924 as St.Gabriel’s FC and played in the Rochdale Sunday League, but players had to be church-going Catholics. Strictly. This was the case until the 1960’s, when this requirement was lifted to help out the, now struggling, club. It had the desired effect, with the club becoming more successful and gaining honours while playing in the Rochdale Alliance.

In 1979, the club moved to its current home, then known as Butterworth Park and made improvements both on the field and off it before, in 1985, making the switch to Saturday football in the shape of the Manchester League. In their second season, the club won the Division 1 and promotion, as well as lifting the Murray Shield. After a spell in the Manchester League’s Premier Division, the club moved to the North West Counties in 1990 and dropped the “Saint” prefix from their name.

Caravan

Caravan

Main Stand

Main Stand

In the meantime, the club became Castleton Gabriels but the club began to suffer financially during the ’90’s and early 2000’s. As the ground fell into gradual disrepair, Gabriels were relegated on account of ground grading but the stadium was purchased off the club by the current landlords, Rochdale Mayfield RLFC who began refurbishing Butterworth Park. After almost being expelled from the league, a short spell groundsharing at the now defunct Oldham Town, (latterly Boro), Gabriels returned to the newly named Castleton Sports Centre in late 2005, though this didn’t help the club on the field particularly with them ending the ’05-’06 season on one point (after points deduction).

At the end of the 2007-’08 season, the decision was taken (disappointingly in most quarters outside of the club as far as my travels have shown (we want Gabriels!)) to change the club name to Rochdale Town FC and to, hopefully, gain more support from the larger town next door. What this has done, though, is create links with Rochdale AFC and sees Town wear Dale’s old kits. Last season saw Town finish in 13th place in Division 1.

Line ups

Line-ups

The game got underway and, to be honest, lacked the cutting edge from either side. Both battled gamely but, ultimately, created little throughout the whole first half. But there was one flash point which would largely turn the game in favour of the visitors.

About 15 minutes in, the ball was played through to the Widnes striker who outpaced the defence and ‘keeper, forcing the latter to bring him down when through on goal. By the laws and all that, it’s a red but it really tends to ruin the game as a spectacle and I was hoping the scarlet card would remain in the ref’s pocket. Sadly, it did not and after a defender was forced to go between the sticks, he could do nothing to prevent Luke Edwards’ spot-kick giving Widnes the lead.

As I alluded to earlier, that was pretty much the only action during the first half, though there was some good battling/handbags being exchanged on the field throughout with Widnes’ #9 particularly liking to stay down after a couple of 50/50’s and their #7 having a humorous exchange with a supporter over who fouled who when he wasn’t too happy with a challenge. But, half-time arrived with the score still at 0-1 and to the tea bar it was, via a wrong turn into the director’s lounge bit.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Widnes' opener flying in

Widnes’ opener flying in

After being helped out/figuring out simultaneously where I’d gone wrong (which wasn’t tricky to figure out), I found my way to the queue for the tea bar, where I redeemed my pie (Meat and Potato) and a cup of tea. These were much needed as the wind was bloody bracing. Unfotunately, the half-time came and went and we were all forced back out into the elements for the second half. It had to be better right?

Experience tells me that in this league, second halves are always more open than firsts and, thankfully, this proved no different. I set off for a second lap of the ground, but instead got talking to the dad of Widnes’ #4 (another George on our day). I’m sure I picked up his name too, but I can’t for the life of me remember it sorry, but it was great to have the chat.

Whilst standing above the home dugout on a slightly raised area, we saw Rochdale’s 10 men unsurprisingly go level, with a clear double trip by two separate players at the same time giving an easy decision for the ref. Though, having seen some of the decisions, it was still debatable if he’d get it right. Still, Town’s Carl Fitton stepped up and converted comfortably to give the 10 men all the momentum going into the last 15.

The momentum, though, lasted all of 20 seconds as, from the kick-off, the ball was played out to the left and Edwards floated the ball over the stranded stand-in ‘keeper (who’d done mighty well all game bar this moment) and into the bottom corner. 1-2 then.

1-1

1-1

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Widnes went on to be the better side for the last 10, adding a further goal to their tally via James Ryan, who rounded the ‘keeper neatly before slotting in. 1-3, game over and despite the niggly nature of the game all the players still got on with handshakes and everything at the end. What they thought of the ref though is, I imagine, unpublishable! Quote one Town player “We’re being shafted by shit officials!” or something close to that!

Game over, it was back to Castleton station, dodging the occasional drops of rain before hopping on the train back to Man Vic where I was to meet Paul of “(occasional)pitcsidepints”. Paul, who’d been sampling the debatable delights of Bacup, had floated the idea of watching the majority of the United-Everton semi-final somewhere in Manchester. Problem was, all the bars were rammed, with the highlight being in the Old Nag’s Head pub with one fan doing a strange, gyrating, throw-in action at the screen. No idea what his feelings were, or what he wanted, but he was doing it with some gusto!

Eventually, we gave best and headed into the Britons Protection pub close to Oxford Road. No football in here though, that is until Paul whipped his phone out with the live coverage on! Perfect! Despite some crafty looks along the lines of “How dare you bring football into our establishment” from a couple next to us, Tony Martial’s late winner saw me pierce the silence once again, before we reckoned we should leave and head towards the station a bit more and avoid a banning order…

After a quick stop off in the nearby Temple, it was off to the station to catch our respective trains back home. Overall, a good day out despite the weather not being too kind, but credit (and thanks) to Rochdale for putting on the offer and hopefully the next one gets better publicity and attracts more than, well, that. They deserve it.

DSC02269

RATINGS:

Game: 5- Pretty poor, not helped by a rugby-affected surface.

Ground: 6- Bit ramshackle, but going through some upgrades. Nice caravan.

Fans: 4- There was a couple. A couple. a few Dale fans too it seemed.

Programme: 5- OK, worth a pound and pen-pic dominant.

Food: 7- Pie was decent enough and can’t complain really can I?!

Value For Money: 7- All round decent day for the money. No real complaints to be had.