The Manchopper Awards 2016-’17

Well, here we are again. Eventually. After a season consisting of 65 games (I know, a real cut-back this one), over 10 whole months, within three countries (nothing too exotic though!) and at levels from Premier League right down to the lower levels of amateur football on the public fields, it’s time to nominate and indeed award the good, the bad and the downright ugly of this last footballing year, as well as the stranger goings on that have cropped up here and there!

Whether it be attending the soon to be flattened White Hart Lane or standing on the touchline at Flixton Fields; from Ladybridge FC at the start of July through to Turton FC at the beginning of May, there have been things that have been seen and heard that deserve some recognition, not to mention some of the things overheard in the many “locals” I’ve popped into here and there!!

So, here you have it; Ladies & Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, here’s the cream of the crop from Manchopper’s Ventures 2016-’17…

*All players/teams considered must have been seen by myself during this season*

Celebrity/Former Player Random Appearance of the Season:

Nominees: Paul Dickov (at Lostock Gralam vs AFC Macclesfield) Timmy Mallett (at Middlesbrough vs Oxford Utd), Alan Kennedy (at Huddersfield Town vs Preston North End)

Winner: Paul Dickov. As the only person at a game whilst not involved in a half-time on-pitch draw, Dickov gets the nod on this award, which is surely a bigger memorable moment than the play-off goal.

Meeting Paul Dickov. Top Guy!

Cuisine of the Season:

Nominees: Middlesbrough’s Parmo, Clitheroe’s Pie, Whalley Range’s chips with chilli sauce on, Gretna’s Scotch Pie.

Winner: Parmo. I’d heard good things. They were true. The parmo is superb.

Its Parmo-O’Clock!

Clubhouse of the Season:

Nominees: Penycae, Turton, Skelmersdale Utd, Farsley Celtic, Witton Albion.

Winner: Witton Albion. Top clubhouse here. Triples up as a shop and a DJ booth!

Witton’s Clubhouse

City/Town/Village/Hamlet/other place of the Season:

Nominees: Ramsbottom, Tadcaster, York, Boston, Edinburgh.

Winner: Edinburgh. What a place. Enjoyed all the above, but the Scottish Capital is a great city.

Edinburgh

Worst Weather Experience of the Season:

Nominees: Beechfield United

Winner: What a shock, it’s Beechfield United. The only really poor weather I’ve experienced this year left all there damp and cold.

Strangest Moment of the Season:

Nominees: Discovering & watching a game at Millmoor, Light knocked off stand at Gretna, The 90-minute nil-nil at Charnock Richard (how?).

Winner: Visiting Millmoor. It was all a bit eerie and, for sure, a strange experience.

Millmoor

Welcome of the Season:

Nominees: Heyside, Richmond

Winner: Has to be a tie! Can’t split them and wouldn’t wish to!

Dan enjoyed Heyside’s hospitality.

My hospitality at Richmond!

 

Individual Performance of the Season:

Nominees: Jake Pollard (PARTINGTON vs Sale Ams), Tom Heaton (BURNLEY vs Manchester Utd), Jordan Gidley (BARNOLDSWICK vs Charnock R), Rick Tindall (POYNTON vs Eagle Sports), Connor Ripley (OLDHAM vs Port Vale)

Winner: Tom Heaton. Included the ‘Match of the Day’ “save of the season” as Heaton denied Ibrahimovic. The ‘keeper faced a record amount of attempts against his former club and still came away with a point and a clean sheet.

Heaton during a game last season.

Team Performance of the Season:

Nominees: Partington Rovers (vs Sale Amateurs), Curzon Ashton (vs York City), Leicester City (vs Manchester City), Old Ashtonians (vs Whalley Range), Altrincham (vs Boston United), Mold Alexandra (vs Caernarfon Town)

Winner: Old Ashtonians. With only ten men for the full ninety against title chasers Whalley Range, Old Ashtonians pushed them close before falling narrowly short. Great effort.

Old Ashtonians trying to hold out

Fans of the Season:

Nominees: Curzon Ashton, Oxford United, Colne

Winner: Curzon Ashton. It’s a second straight win for the Nash boys from the Nash Bar.

Curzon fans after the equaliser at Westfields

Programme of the Season:

Nominees: Charnock Richard, Boston Utd, FC Halifax Town, Ramsbottom Utd, Winsford Utd

Winner: FC Halifax Town. Still holds up with some football league clubs, as it should. But it’s a good issue nonetheless and the best I came across this year.

The Shay

Ground of the Season:

Nominees: Leek Town’s Harrison Park, Witton Albion’s Wincham Park, Boston Utd’s York Street, Colne’s Holt House, Turton’s Thomason Fold.

Winner: Turton’s Thomason Fold. It’s fairly basic, but it’s a gem. Just remember to watch the grass around the pitch!

Goal of the Season:

Nominees: Alex Murphy (PADIHAM vs Team NorthumbriaJosh Wilson (Ramsbottom Utd vs AFC TELFORD UTD), Chris Thompson (RICHMOND vs Liobians), Joe Gaughan (Charnock R vs BARNOLDSWICK T), Mark Adams (CHARNOCK R vs Barnoldswick T), Wes Benjamin (WITTON ALBION vs Kettering Town), Nathan Craig (Mold Alex vs CAERNARFON TOWN).

Winner: Witton Albion’s Wes Benjamin. Benjamin’s strike just pips it on account of it being a last-kick winner. And what a winner too.

Witton celebrations after the late winner!

Match of the Season:

Nominees: Tadcaster Albion vs Scarborough Ath, Leek Town vs Kettering Town, Middlesbrough vs Oxford Utd, Huddersfield vs Preston NE, Farsley Celtic vs Ossett Town.

Winner: Huddersfield Town vs Preston NE. A pulsating game saw the hosts take the points in the last-minute and, of course, they would go on to secure a play-off spot before taking a place at English football’s top table for next season.

Quaner sends the home fans crazy (bar the guy nearest the camera)!

Team of the Season:

Nominees: Curzon Ashton, Charnock Richard, Witton Albion, Huddersfield Town, Windle Labour

Winner: Pro: Huddersfield Town Non-Lge: Windle Labour. Huddersfield’s season was brilliant, with them bouncing back from a lower-end finish to achieve promotion to the Premier League. Windle’s was, perhaps, less spectacular, but to join the Cheshire League for a first season at the level and win the League’s League 2 is no mean feat. Congrats to both.

Player of the Season:

Nominees: Tom Heaton (Burnley), Rick Tindall, Connor Ripley (Oldham (loan)), Danny Rowe (Fylde), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea)

Winner: Connor Ripley (Oldham (loan)). Twice I saw him and twice he had great games. I also heard his double pen save from nearby Royton Town too, and played a huge part in keeping the Latics up. So he pips all the above to the honour. Big things lie ahead for him I’d say.

And that’s that for this season’s award. Congratulations to all those who have achieved one of these prestigious “Chopper” awards. Also, they’re very easy to accommodate on your mantelpiece as they take up exactly zero space! See you all again next year for the fourth “Chopper Awards” ceremony….

 

Manchopper in….Witton

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Result: Witton Albion 2-1 Kettering Town (FA Trophy Second Round)

Venue: Wincham Park (Saturday 12th November 2016, 3pm)

Att: 339

After missing out on the last round of the Trophy whilst roughing it in hospitality at Old Trafford a couple of weeks back, it was back on the true football trail with a trip to, well, where? The decision fell to the twittersphere (all 37 of them), with their big decision being between Kidsgrove, Nantwich or Witton. After a fairly close battle, it was the latter of the trio that came out on top, so a revisit to Wincham Park for Witton Albion vs Kettering Town it was!

It would also be the second time this season I’d have seen Kettering, with the prior time being at Leek Town during the early rounds of the cup. That game saw late drama, so more of the same for this game wouldn’t go amiss I thought, as I rolled into Manchester Piccadilly to await my connection down to Northwich. Once more, I decided to await my train in the Hourglass along with a quick drink. Before long, it was time to head for Cheshire.

After an hour-long journey, elongated by the loop round to Altrincham, I arrived into the traditional-looking Northwich station, from where you don’t actually see much of Northwich, lest you actually go into the town. Instead, you head away from it and head towards the village of Wincham where, somewhat unsurprisingly, the ground is located. Pub-wise, it’s a fairly sparse route with the only option being the Chesterway pub. Obviously, being a food-y pub, the prices are a little lofty, as shown by the £3.50-plus price for a Sol. I was quickly headed for the ground.

Northwich

Northwich Station

The Chesterway

The Chesterway

Way to Witton

Way to Witton

The navigating of the long and winding road complete for the first time, I arrived at a sign welcoming me to Wincham. After giving some vague directions to, I presume, a Kettering director due to his smart-looking outfit, I found the access route down to the ground and was soon within the clubhouse/shop. Despite not being a darker ale drinker of any description, I found myself torn between a lighter-looking ale and the interestingly named ‘Yeti’. I did think to myself that I couldn’t really pass up the Yeti and when the two guys next to me ordered their next round of the Tatton Brewery’s finest, I decided I should really join them. It wasn’t all too bad either, though it’s not converted me yet.

Anyway with kick-off fast approaching, I headed for the normal pre-game places before spotting Kettering fans Chris and Dave Ellis whom I’d met after the Leek game. After a quick greeting and a few tales of fellow fans’ misfortunes whilst on their respective ways to the game, with trains and cars both causing issues. Well, the latter was more alcohol related as a car was left stranded in Stoke of all places, but still…

Witton Albion FC

Witton Albion FC

Wincham Park

Wincham Park

Clubhouse

Clubhouse

With the clock now approaching three, the clubhouse began to empty en masse and to the turnstiles went the crowds. £9 later and it was into Wincham Park for, what I think was, a third time. Having already purchased a programme in the bar for £2, I could bypass the table where they were being sold, but this only made it possible for me to hear someone’s conversation end with “Well, everyday alive is a bonus”. A very easy way to get the juices flowing for the contest!

Wincham Park is a smart ground, with its former standing as a Conference ground still very obvious. It’s four stands are spread evenly around the ground, with the all-seater Main Stand being housed on the right-hand touchline as you enter, the clubhouse sort of underneath. A large covered terrace sits on the left-hand side, with this structure matching the Main Stand in stretching for most of the length of the pitch. There is a little uncovered terracing to the left of the roof. Behind both goals are further, slightly smaller, covered terraces with both very similar in size to each other. Before we get into the game itself, here’s some backstory to Witton Albion FC…

History Lesson:

Witton Albion Football Club was formed in 1887 and initially played in the local Northwich & District League. They also competed in the Crewe & District League, Cheshire League, The Combination (3 seasons), Manchester League and the Lancashire Combination during their earlier years. They won the latter’s Division 2 in 1914, with their stay in the league’s Division 1 stopped by WWI’s outbreak. 1920 saw the club become founder members of the Cheshire County League, winning three titles following WWII (1949, ’50, ’54), including the double in 1954.

After the formation of the Northern Premier League in 1969, Witton were denied entry initially and so stayed in the Cheshire County League, eventually earning their place in the NPL in for 1978-’79 as Cheshire County League runners-up. The sale of their then Central Ground to move to Wincham Park was completed in 1989 and in their second season at Wincham, Witton won the NPL title by 16 pts, meaning promotion to the Conference was attained.

The new home

The new home

WAFC

WAFC

The financial costs did mean that this was a struggle for them and the club suffered their first relegation in 1994, with a second following in 1997 as the club dropped into the NPL Division 1 for the first time. 2004 saw the biggest achievement as then skipper Brian Pritchard was sent-off for tripping a streaker in a Cheshire Senior Cup tie vs Woodley Sports.

Having been put back in the Premier Division of the NPL via league restructurings, Witton missed out on promotion by one goal in 2007 and they subsequently lost out in the play-off final. 200s aw them again miss out on promotion to Fleetwood Town and then in the play-offs for the second season running, but the following season of managerial upheavals saw Witton relegated to the NPL Division 1 South. This lasted until 2010-’11, when the club were switched to the Northern Section.

2012 saw Witton achieve promotion back to the NPL Premier Division, defeating Curzon Ashton in the play-off final. The following year, the club reached the Prem play-offs, but lost out in the semi’s. However, this was as good as it got, as struggles followed and 2015-’16 saw Albion back in the Division 1 North. Last season, Witton finished up in 11th place, before again being transferred to the South Division for this current campaign.

After a minutes silence for Remembrance, the game got underway with Southern League outfit Kettering on top. Therefore, it was little surprise when, just ten or so minutes in, a good move ended with a Spencer Weir-Daley through ball finding Liam Canavan who slotted past Witton GK, Dan Roberts. The away end, including Dave’s brothers Phil & Dan,  who I’d been invited to join for the afternoon, went into raptures.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Further chances were to follow for the Poppies, quite the appropriate nickname considering the weekend, but after dominating the first half of the first half (if that makes sense), they began to be outdone in the midfield by Albion. Despite their gaining of momentum, Witton struggled to really make any real chances bar forcing Town ‘keeper Dean Snedker into one stop. After I’d headed round to get some chips and beat the crowds, I took a seat in the stand for the dying moments of the half. This proved to be a decent shout, as I then had a good view of Witton’s equaliser.

After a fair bit of pressure, including Snedker saving well from Hopley and Prince Haywood (not a real Prince) shooting just wide, a free-kick was conceded out on the right flank. The resulting ball in landed on the head of Rob Hopley, with Snedker’s fine push onto the post being in vain as the rebound fell back to Hopley who fired home. That was pretty much the last kick of the half and gave something of a forewarning of what was to come.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

From the Main Stand

Kettering fans

Kettering fans

The half-time was uneventful, bar the groundsman having to dodge occasional efforts from the Kettering subs as he went about his business in tending the goalmouth, before the sides emerged once more from the tunnel and we were back underway. It was Witton who continued where they left off and began the half on top, a position that they never really relinquished. Kettering’s best early chance came through Weir-Daley, who almost took out us in the crowd, but Chris’ ‘football in slippers’ skills came to the rescue.

As shenanigans kicked-off on the terraces, nothing really did so on the pitch. Chances dried up and only the ever more wound-up Kettering fans were keeping any sort of entertainment going on, not that they’d consider it as such, I expect. The referee, though, did his best in trying to liven up the game, by not really booking challenges when he ought to and therefore planting the seeds to allow him to lose most of his control over the game. Both sides were feeling fairly put out by some decisions and the players’ frustrations reflected this.

Match Action

Match Action

Bright lights of Wincham

Bright lights of Wincham

But, as the clock passed into the 96th minute, Albion forced a corner on the left. The resulting set-piece was half-cleared, but probably to a distance and a situation that most would have considered safe. This was shown as one Poppies fan muttered “All this way for a replay”, only for his companion to reply Nostradamus-esque “It’s not done yet” as Wes Benjamin unleased a fizzing drive that whizzed into the top corner of Snedker’s goal. STUNNER! No chance for him & the Town fans views towards their boss became even less enamoured. Full-time, 2-1 and once again the three-time semi-finalists Witton had scored with the last real kick of the half! That was also to be Benjamin’s last Witton action, as he left for Clitheroe a few days after.

Witton celebrations after the late winner!

Witton celebrations after the late winner!

So, with the Town fans unleashing their frustrations, I bid goodbye to Chris & Dave and headed back from whence I came, reaching the station in good time for the train straight back. Despite East Midlands’ trains best efforts to ruin my journey back from Manchester, Northern came to the rescue with their own late service, thus meaning all’s well that ends well, so it was off to Urmston and to my parents’ very own bar for some birthday drinks for my sister with some more family. Remember, The Three Barrels, check it out if you’re in the neck of the woods!…

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RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 9

Food: 7

Programme: 9

Value For Money: 7