I was invited to this damp eventful evening in Birkenhead by fellow bloggers Joe and Aaron. They are non-league geeks, so I thought I may as well go and see if I could learn anything from them. Joe wanted to go as he had never been to Cammell Laird, and with them sitting rock bottom of the league, he thought it may be his last opportunity for a while. I knew it would be raining – as is always the case when I travel to that part of the country.
I caught the 16:45 direct train from Atherton to Ashton, where Joe was awaiting me in his glamorous blue Citreon C1. I opened the door, and The Vaccines were playing, which could only be a good thing. We set off from Ashton, with the TomTom destination set as Warrington where we would pick Aaron up.
It was an entertaining journey with Joe’s iPod playing a One Direction megamix along with other household classics. Aaron and Joe only had one argument along the way, unfortunately for me, it was only a minor one. The GPS was running out of charge, and Aaron had the task of finding the wire.
We were approaching Rock Ferry, when suddenly the heavens opened. It was a cross between torrential rain and hail stones. Fantastic! Not to worry though, being Northern lads it was normal service for us and we still got out of the car in search of the social club.
Presuming the social club was inside the ground, we approached the turnstiles and paid the rather humorous turnstile operator. I purchased a programme for £2, which if you ask me was a very extortionate price for a piece of total rubbish. We soon realised the social wasn’t inside the ground, so we had to jump back over the turnstiles to go over the road.
The hotspot of Rock Ferry awaited us – Laird’s Sports Club. Boy were we in for a treat! From the moment we walked in we knew we’d be in safe hands as they had a stannah stairlift in the front entrance. Despite this warm welcome I immediately felt out of place. There was even a bloke in there who looked identical to Ricky Tomlinson (Jim from the Royle Family). This bloke however smelt of Pork Scratchings and stale sweat, so we avoided him. We purchased a couple of drinks and sat down in a corner by ourselves.
It wasn’t long before an old Witton came over and began to talk to us about the match. He couldn’t help but notice that we all had fixations with our mobile phones, so he concluded that we were “Busy calling our mates for marijuana”. After having a drink and laughing at many notices such as “NO CARD. NO BALLS” we exited the club.
Quite a queue had formed outside the turnstile, and I was anxious to get in after a drunk had stumbled past us, and felt up the man in front of us. He continued shuffling down the street until he came to an abrupt end. He fell in to the fence, and on that note… it was time to go in.
We went straight to Kirklands Kitchen and queued up for some food. I wasn’t in a pie mood, and so went for a cheeseburger which was quite nice… when it eventually arrived. Aaron also joined me on the burger front, where as Joe reserved a pie for halftime, which was just as well! 10 minutes before kick-off, and they had run out of pies.
“Go to Tesco and buy me some of those cheap Hollands Pies! Quickly! We’ve ran out!… Oh, and get me some milk too!”
I never did find out whether more pies were draughted in, but nonetheless, it was a schoolboy error on Lairds behalf. Hopefully they’ll learn from this horrific mistake.
In true Gibbo’s92 style I have put great effort and thought into naming the ‘stands’ at Cammell Laird; so here we go –
We perched ourselves on the fence of the Kirklands Kitchen Stand. The KKS comprised of a seated area with a roof, an executive enclosure complete with prawn sandwiches, a garden shed which was used as a turnstile and a club shop… which was shut.
To our right was the Volleyball Net End. Yes, this is in fact its REAL name. You may be wondering “Why Volleyball? Was he a past chairman? Was he a star striker down at Cammell Laird?” No. It is quite simply down to the fact there is a giant badminton net down at that end of the ground. So here is a top tip… If you are planning a trip to Kirklands, take a volleyball. Learn from our mistakes. We didn’t take one, and we got shouted at during the interval for borrowing one of the footballs.
The Volleyball Net End also houses a nice industrial roller in the far left hand corner, which looks capable of rolling even the most bobbly of pitches.
Directly in front was the First Bus Wash Family Stand. Never before had I seen so many buses! It was heaven for Aaron though, as he is an avid bus spotter. He particularly enjoyed it when an old P-Reg bus came in for its yearly wash.
The First Bus Wash Family Stand is completely covered. It has both seated and standing options, however the standing option doesn’t look particularly invited and offers a restricted view due to the dugouts.
To our left was ermmm… Well, I don’t know really? There was a goalpost.
Leading into the match I had heard a lot of positive comments about Wittons young striker – Alex Titchiner, or Titch as he is referred to by fans. I was disappointed to see that Witton coach Brian Pritchard had decided to leave him on the bench… but this was probably wise as the play-offs were fast approaching.
Witton were third in the table, and Cammell Laird were bottom. The Lairds needed to avoid defeat in order to stay up mathematically for another week. It was no shock that Witton looked far more dangerous on the attack than their hosts.
The first opportunity of the match came after 5 minutes when Anthony Gardner beat the Lairds defence comfortably, but his shot went straight across the face of the net.
Surprisingly it was the home team who then had the majority of possession and chances. They may not have looked as threatening as Witton, but at least they gave a good showing of themselves.
Cammell Laird had a very big lad up front called Aaron Bowen. Joe concluded that this height advantage could go one of two ways. He could either be a great playmaker, strong and committed… or he could be clumsy with an appalling first touch, ultimately leading to wasted opportunities. It turned out he was the latter, but good on him for trying.
Albion had a chance on 35mins when Ashley Stott weaved his way through the Lairds defence, which was now a metaphorical blanket; his shot hit the side netting.
Cammell Laird were unfortunate not to open the scoring on 38 minutes when Dan O’Brien sent Paul Cliff through down the left. Cliff then fired in a great cross to Bowen who only just failed to make contact with the ball. This move put the wind in the Shipyarders sails, and they looked like causing an upset.
The final chance of the first half came from Albions’ Chris Gahgan. Despite beating keeper Josh Molloy, his shot was cleared off the line for a corner. The corner was swung in and the resulting header was once again cleared off the line.
Half time was pretty uneventful. Joe picked up his pie which he had reserved, and we noticed Ricky Tomlinson was following us. The woman who cooked the burgers was soon running around shouting out the winning raffle ticket number. “668 BROWN! 668 BROWN!” – After a few minutes, we heard a bloke sounding pretty excited at the thought of him winning… that was until he realised he had 668 Purple.
For the second half we chose to stand in front of the KKS. Turned out we were stood with a load of Witton fans, who to be fair, had brought a large-ish following. They even managed a couple of songs!
Joes’ favourite non-league player, Aaron Bowen had an opportunity when he found the ball completely unmarked in front of the Albion goal. Bowen couldn’t get the ball out from under his feet, ultimately resulting in him falling over and scuffing his shot – much to the amusement of many.
Alex Titchiner was brought on, and from that moment Witton looked extremely dangerous down the right hand flank. On 67 minutes Titch did exploit the weakness in the Lairds defence, and cut inside before firing a powerful shot into the bottom left hand corner. It was a great goal.
Play was momentarily halted when a Carlsberg can invaded the pitch. Some yobs walking past the ground began to sing songs about how wonderful Rock Ferry is before then launching the can on to the pitch. In true non-league style, the Laird goalkeeper strolled over to the item (which was still full of beer… or urine) and launched it back over the fence on to the main road.
Knowing that if they didn’t score within the next two minutes, they would be relegated into the North West Counties, Cammell Laird went in search of a goal.
The goal came when Witton gave away a free-kick out wide. The Albion defenders were all marking Aaron Bowen, and the ball was floated to the back post. Defender Chay Dysart rose above everybody else and headed the ball into the far corner. 1-1.
An extract from Wittons official website claims:
“Cammell Laird, who have taken 4 points off Witton this season are clearly in a very false position in the league, and a neutral would find it hard to believe that there are 19 places between the 2 sides in the league.”
I couldn’t agree more. Even Cammell Laird coach Tony Sullivan asked us rather rhetorically “We’re giving it a good go aren’t we lads? Do you think we’re giving it a good go?”. He obviously felt the pressure of the whole situation, and seemed very apologetic to the Laird fans in his programme notes.
Sullivan even provided one of the humorous moments of the evening when a Cammell Laird player was booked for swearing at the referee. Sullys response to the referee was “IF THAT IS A BOOKING REFEREE…. THIS GAME IS BENT!”.
The match finished, and news began to filter through that both Woodley Sports, and more astonishingly Northwich Victoria had been expelled from The Evo-Stik Leagues.
The journey home will be remembered for the Grease megamix… and Breakfast At Tiffanys. We droppped Aaron off at home, before driving through Warrington and Leigh back to my house. It had been a long journey for Joe, but secretly he loved it.
You can follow Joe on Twitter – @lawtonjoe
You can follow Aaron on Twitter – @aaronflan
Joe and Aaron also have their own blogs which you can read.
Aarons great work covering non-league football can be found here – http://rustygoalposts.blogspot.co.uk/
Joes blog is like mine as he also groundhops, and his can be found here –