Well, what can I say? My horse fell in the Grand National… and it was 5 degrees colder in Darwen than it was in Atherton. To compile my misery, I was left waiting for my Hollands Pie for a whole 15 minutes whilst they cooked, and I had to spend my afternoon with Blackburn fan Carly.
Originally I would have been off to The Reebok, but for FA Cup reasons, Bolton v Tottenham was postponed. It was a great opportunity for me to become part of the Colls Ultras and take in my first away match.
I was originally planning to get the train to Darwen, but I was kindly offered a lift to the match – which I am very grateful for! So thanks a lot for that. We agreed to meet at Colls’ Alder House ground at 13:00, so I set out from my house at 12:45 and took a leisurely stroll through the wilderness of East Atherton.
We arrived at Anchor Road at 13:30, exactly the same time as the Colls players pulled up in their cars. There wasn’t that much in the way of parking, as most of it was owned by Crown Paints, but as we got there early it wasn’t a problem. Walking in together, I missed the turnstile completely, which was probably for the best as the bloke who operated it didn’t look as if he aims to bring a smile to the faces of spectators. The turnstile operator is a well known crank amongst non-league groundhoppers.
AFC Darwen were founded at the end of the 2008/2009 season after Darwen FC had run up debts of more than £60,000. The club ceased trading, and had to start from scratch. It was a shame for a club who had such a proud history.
Darwen FC reached the semi-finals of The FA Cup in 1881 after they defeated Romford 15-0 in the quarter-final. Not only were they successful in The FA Cup for a short period, but they were also in the football league’s first division for the first couple of seasons ie The Premier League. Darwen hold the record for the most consecutive losses in the English First Division (18 losses). They nearly lost this proud record in 2003 when Sunderland were relegated.
The first thing that struck me about The Anchor Ground was how cold it was. A stern Lancastrian wind was whipping around the ground, and on that note it was time to go inside. The entrance was a bit shabby, and I wasn’t looking forward to seeing what lay in wait behind the second set of doors. In all fairness, it was nice inside. A nice laminate floor led to a bar, and to the right you could see out on to the pitch. Also in the club was a large plasma TV which was just as well seeing as everybody seemed to care more about the Grand National than the match. I took a seat when I eventually found one that didn’t have beer stains or slug slime on.
After watching BBC’s very own Clare Balding fantasize over horses for half an hour I decided it was time to hunt for a matchday programme. I galloped off to the turnstile, where the happy soul ignored me completely and left me stood there for a few seconds. I then jangled the money in my hand to grab his attention, and he reluctantly looked up from his chair.
“Can I have two programmes please?”
I then took the programmes which he was handing me, as any normal paying customer would do.
“WOW! There’s 4 there. Hand them back!”
This bloke obviously expected me to take the pile of programmes from him, and then count out how many I had paid for, and hand any remaining back to him. How lazy. Oh well, it made me laugh.
Lovely Carly soon arrived and we went for a lovely stroll around the ground. Usually I would take photos for Crap-NonLeague photos, but there was nothing strange or laughable about The Anchor Ground. It was basic and clean. It reminded me of Accringtons’ Crown Ground, but without the stands… if that is possible. Strangely though, the pitch at Darwen is far better than Accringtons mud bath.
In true Gibbo’s92 fashion, I will now name the ends of the ground.
The Anchor Ground has one seated stand, which I will call the “Airbus Main Stand” – This is due to the fact the seats are arranged like a plane… according to Carly anyway. Although some seats offer a restricted view due to the poles holding the roof up, the view is generally good. I like this stand as it offers vast amounts of leg room which enables the cabin crew to run their trolley up and down the aisles with no problems.
To the right was The Crown Paints End. I have chosen this name very carefully, as the Crown Paints Factory is behind the fence. Ironically, this end of the ground does need a lick of paint. This end of the ground also seemed to be a hotspot for local yobs who wanted to take in the match, and 3 legged dogs.
Opposite the Airbus Main Stand was the Field Terrace, due to the empty field which the ball often lands in. This side of the ground was so dull and miserable that not one person even ventured over there during the afternoon.
Behind the goal to the left was the McDonalds Terrace. The same principle applies as The Crown Paints End, quite simply, McDonalds can be found in the valley behind the fence.
After a bitterly cold walk around the ground, it was time to seek refuge in the social. However, the refreshment hut soon grabbed my attention, so I asked for a pie. Much to my annoyance the pies weren’t going to be ready for another 15 minutes, so I went inside and sulked for a while.
Time passed very slowly, and I think Carly was relieved when the 15 minutes were up as she couldn’t deal with me complaining any longer. I purchased a Hollands Steak Pie, and a cup of tea… which basically tasted of the polythene cup, but it did warm me up.
Whilst at the refreshments area, an old bloke was complaining as he wanted to put salt on whatever he had bought. Unfortunately for him the salt was wet. Yes, wet. I don’t know how or why the salt was wet, but there was uproar on the balcony.
My pie had a hard pastry, but once cracked I thoroughly enjoyed myself and even contributed to the stains on the red seats. There was pie everywhere.
It was whilst eating my pie that the Atherton Collieries team came out behind us. They were sporting a fluorescent orange Nike kit, which in all fairness was like marmite; you either love it or hate it. I don’t know why they weren’t in their usual Black and White kit, either way… red and orange clash!
It was soon time for kick off, and no sooner had we kicked off, Colls found themselves a goal behind. Atherton lost the ball in the centre of the field and Darwen took full advantage with a menacing attack down the right hand side. The ball was taken into the far corner, where it was laid back to a supporting player. A great first time cross picked out striker Corrie Costello who rose above everybody else to head past a helpless Josh Harris in the Colls net.
Atherton kept their heads, and tried to play football. Despite knocking the ball around the midfield, and exploiting the wings well, it came to no avail. It was a scrappy affair, and players were lucky that an ambulance wasn’t called to the ground.
Darwen continued to break the Colls defence, who looked tired after a busy fixture list. Josh Harris kept the away side in the game with a couple of fantastic saves. First he rushed out to the edge of his area to deny the Darwen attacker who was about to pull the trigger. Moments later the ball looked to be bouncing into the top right hand corner, but he managed to claw it to safety.
One of the worst tackles I have seen this season flew in from Colls Brad Cooke on 30 minutes. Costello, the Darwen goalscorer made the most of the tackle and rolled around the turf screaming like he had been shot. At first I thought the physio was running on to finish him off and put him out of his misery. Cooke was lucky to get away with only a yellow card.
Half-time arrived, and it was time for Colls to rebuild.
Everybody took refuge in the social, and I had another cup of tea. Polythene style of course.
Before going back outside for the second half, I had been talking to Vincent who does all the match reports for Colls, and his exact words were to me were “We are going to have somebody sent off straight away if we’re not careful!” – Well, Vincent had obviously looked into his crystal ball.
Just one minute into the second half and Brad Cooke was given a second yellow card, for nothing more than a mistimed tackle. There was no malice in it, and it could have easily finished off Atherton. I was later informed that the referee told the Colls players “If I’d have known that it was the same player that I’d already booked, I wouldn’t have shown another yellow.” – How pathetic.
Colls nearly equalised in the 65th minute when a thunderous shot from outside the box looked to be heading into the back of the net. However a great diving save from Darwen keeper Adam Chester kept the scores level.
It was then time for the majority of people to dash inside to watch The Grand National. Both mine and Carlys horses fell at the eighth, but I think I win as her jockey was unseated… and mine only fell! There was only one winner in the building, and she made such a scene about it. Congratulations love! You backed the favourite and won around 50p!
Back outside we went, and this time we perched ourselves upon the balcony. Colls kept breaking well down the right hand side, and it finally paid off when they gained a corner after the linesman made a laughable decision. Harris pumped the ball upfield to Gary Burnett, who couldn’t quite reach it by the time it went out for a goalkick. Despite this, the linesman pointed for a corner much to the protests of all involved with Darwen.
The corner was swung in, and poor defending allowed the ball to reach the far post where Simon Howard smashed it into the back of the net. 89 minutes – 1-1.
It had been a physical match, in which Darwen looked the better team. However, saying that, Atherton did extremely well to carry on fighting right until the end considering they were down to 10 men. There seems to be a never say die attitude in the Colls camp, which is always a great thing to have.
Darwen will feel aggrieved that the equalising goal stood, but at the end of the day Colls should have had at least one penalty. The referee had a poor match, and along with his linesman who insisted on having players booked for swearing, they had a petty day at the office.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 25 miles
- ADMISSION: Free with an Atherton Collieries pass
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1.50