We had waited 7 years for this moment. I remember where I was when I found out that this huge event was happening. I was sat in my Year 4 classroom, experiencing the tastes of Indian cuisine, when I was told that Bolton would be playing at Radcliffe Borough in 2012. Okay, obviously some of that isn’t true. I was told that London had won the Olympic bid.
So on an evening which I had waited 7 years for. What did I do? That’s right. I went to a pre season friendly at Radcliffe Borough. However, the Olympic spirit wasn’t lost as I was actually in Danny Boyles home town. So if anything, if you couldn’t get a ticket to be in London… Radcliffe was the second best place to be!
I had only arrived home from Malaga the day before the match, so I was still very tired. I moped around to Atherton train station at 17:05 and caught the train to Manchester Victoria. Here I met up with Aaron, who was sucking on a Magnum, and Joe Buckley who had just caught the metrolink from Sale. After punching a couple of touch screen monitors in an attempt to get Metrolink tickets it was time to catch the tram up to Radcliffe. We didn’t have to wait long as the trams up to Bury are every 6 minutes.
A 20 minute journey later, and we arrived at Radcliffe Station. For those of you wondering where Radcliffe is, it is found slap bang in the middle of Bolton and Bury. We walked off the platform and didn’t really know where we were going. This resulted in the three of us scaling down a hill in order to reach the car park. In all honesty, it probably looked like we were fare evaders.
We hadn’t really researched where the ground was, so it was down to Aaron to direct us with his dying phone. It was whilst waiting at a set of traffic lights on the first road that a car with 4 girls in it pulled up next to us. They had the distinctive sound of LMFAO – Sexy & I Know It blasting out, and I couldn’t help but start dancing.
After dancing, we continued with our walk and reached the ground around 10 minutes later. It wasn’t too busy in the car park as we approached the one turnstyle in operation. It was £2 for me to get in as a 16-18 year old, which was very good. In fact my food cost more than the admission. What was even more pleasing was that I got handed a leaflet which enabled free admission to next Friday nights match against Huddersfield.
Entering the ground I could see that there was a mini soccer match taking place on the pitch. It automatically brought back memories of my last visit to Stainton Park back in May 2004. I myself was playing in a mini soccer football tournament, and on that day we got to the semi finals! A memory which stays with me to this day is sitting behind the net, too small to see over the advertising boards. I was fascinated by the noise my boots made when I scraped them along the floor, and I was obsessed with the nice patterns I was carving into the concrete. To cut a long story short, a young and naive Gibbo wore down his metal studs on his boots.
As I say, we reached the semi finals that day. Before being beaten by a team from Farnworth called Lourdes. I distinctly remember being the final defender. This large lad who was obviously playing in the tournament illegally pushed me over before slotting past the keeper. I was in tears on the Stainton Park pitch.
Enough of the sob stories. Back to the match.
After exploring the ground for a couple of minutes it was time to get some food from Pauls Cabin; found just behind the turnstyle. Paul instantly won me over when I found him bopping and dancing his way around his little trailer to ‘The Wanted – Chasing The Sun’. I just couldn’t help but join in… and take a photo of him. He had a wide variety of different burgers, and other exotic foods such as a “Steak Canadian” which Aaron bought. I myself went for a Double Cheeseburger. At £3.20 it was very expensive for a burger, but it was very nice and extremely filling.
Now you may think that Paul just sits in his burger van, dancing all the time. Well you are wrong. Very wrong. There is a sign next to his van which advertises his window tinting company. So whether you want an overpriced burger, or a nice new window; Paul is your man.
After enjoying our food, we decided to go for a walk around the ground. It is quite a nice little ground with quite a bit of character compared to some others at the same level. The capacity at Stainton Park is 3,500, and this includes the fully seated Lodge End stand which can be found behind the goal. It was a bit strange having the main seated area behind the goal, but it certainly didn’t look out of place. The Lodge End houses 350 seated spectators along with James TGOTT’s Tannoy box. TGOTT is short for “The Guy With The Tannoy” – You’ll meet this character later.
Found opposite the Lodge End is The Pilkington Road End. This is a small, basic terrace which backs on to a row of residential houses. Here you can usually find a group of Indie lads who like to be abused by passing spectators; such as myself.
Running the length of the pitch is the Stainton Park Close End. This is a standard terrace with a few metal bars along it. Also found on this side of the ground are the two dugouts.
Opposite the Stainton Park Close End is the Club House Side. This is where you can find the recently refurbished Club House and the standing covered section, or The Shed as the Boro fans call it. Also on this side of the ground is the burger van where Paul dances to a selection of modern pop songs.
After listening to the selection of brilliant songs which had been blasting out of TGOTT’s portable speakers, fellow blogger and Swansea fan Matt arrived. You may wonder why a Swansea fan was in Radcliffe? Well, he lives up here now. Don’t worry, he’ll be a Bolton fan soon! It happens to the best of us. However, to be honest Matt has already pledged himself to Salford City FC as they are his local side. Matt was rather disappointed when I broke the news to him that former Swans Sam Ricketts and Darren Big Prat Pratley wouldn’t be playing.
It was soon time to get the beer in, and it turned out to be cheaper than the burgers, which wasn’t hard to achieve really. I began to wish I hadn’t bought a burger then I could have bought another two pints! Joe Lawton then arrived; McDonalds in hand, and we perched ourselves on the Stainton Park Close End terracing.
The teams came out under the watchful eyes of Owen Coyle, Sandy Stewart, Sammy Lee and Phil Gartside. I doubt even they were prepared for the hilarious sight which presented itself to us on the near touchline. The linesman. He was brilliant. He was wearing what can only be described as hiking trainers… complete with a pedometer. I mean, I know there’s a slight slope in the pitch at Radcliffe, but that’s taking it a bit far isn’t it?
The teams came out, and with Bolton playing Crewe Alexandra the following day it was inevitable that we would be struggling to recognise many of the players. I did however recognise Lynch, McQuade, Blakeman, Eaves and O’Halloran which was quite pleasing. Also on the bench for Wanderers was Jack Sampson who had been on loan at Southend United the season previously.
It was the home side who had the better of the opening exchanges and they could have gone in front when Matthew Chadwick volleyed from long range. His effort came off the crossbar after leaving young Bolton keeper Jay Lynch helpless.
Boro had another chance just moments later when Ben Wharton was fed through superbly. However, the home side didn’t have to wait too much longer for their first goal when summer signing Chris McDonagh netted. A great cross from Matthew Chadwick was met at the far post by the former Curzon Ashton man.
The fact McDonagh had recently left Curzon Ashton and moved to Radcliffe didn’t go down too well with Aaron and Joe, who booed the “money grabber” at every opportunity. I’m sure he was deeply affected and hurt by their inconsiderate comments.
It was a physical match, and this was demonstrated when a stern challenge flew in on the near touchline. The Boro defender took the Bolton winger straight into the linesman. The linesman looked to be falling to the floor before regaining his balance, somehow managing to raise his flag in the process. I couldn’t help but shout:
“It’s those shoes that kept you up liner!”
Half time arrived with the home side taking in a 1-0 lead. We were a bit stuck for things to do at halftime, so Matt suggested we could walk around the ground and slap Sammy Lees protruding arse. I thought against the idea. Maybe a few years ago when he was managing The Wanderers I’d have given him a kick up the arse, but not tonight. How can you possibly want to slap him when he had quite blatantly made an effort by dressing up in his full Adidas Classic tracksuit?
Whilst en route to the club house we came within a metre of Sammy Lee; bending over the perimeter fencing, but we decided against it. Waiting for drinks inside the club house we saw a sign next to the dance floor which said “Dance like nobody is watching”. Joe suggested it would be funny for me to have my photo taken in front of it; whilst doing a funny dance. It was during my entertaining and rather strange performance that Phil Gartside and Owen Coyle walked straight past me. They saw Bolton fans for what they are. Complete idiots.
Despite slagging Owen Coyle off for most of the evening I decided to stick around so I could grab a quick photo with him. Now if Owen Coyle thought I was an idiot, he hadn’t yet met the lad who had “Promoted 13” on his back. The Messiah pretended to see the funny side of it, but we all know deep down he thought he was a complete loser.
It was time for me to have my photo with Owen Coyle! I had waited two years to meet the reclusive scotsman. What do I say to him? Do I ask him why he signed David N’Gog? Should I congratulate him on letting Johan Elmander leave? Do I ask him to look me straight in the eyes and say “Barclays Premier League”? So many things I wanted to do… so little time. So in the end I just said “Can I have a photo please Owen?”.
What happened next was absolutely brilliant. Joe Lawton was struggling with my camera. It was silent. People were watching. Owen Coyle then looks at Joe and says:
“I think usually you have to push the button down.”
Joe had just been ripped by Owen Coyle.
After that excitement it was time for the second half. It took only five minutes for Bolton to equalise through Tom Eaves. At long last, I had seen this “young prospect” score. He had been rotting in our reserves and academy system since we signed him from Oldham Athletic in the summer of 2010. Hopefully we will see far more of him in the Championship next season.
The score didn’t stay level for long, and it was Boro forward McDonagh who came up with his, and his teams second of the evening. It wasn’t a great goal – coming from a goalmouth scramble – but it was a goal nonetheless.
With just a few minutes remaining Bolton youngster Alex McQuade found the ball on the edge of the box. He smashed it first time, low and hard past Nick Culkin in the Radcliffe goal. It was only after the game that Matt told me of an interesting Nick Culkin fact.
“He holds the record for the shortest debut in Premier League history, replacing Raimond van der Gouw in stoppage time against Arsenal at Highbury on 22 August 1999, the referee blew up immediately after Culkin took the resulting free kick.”
After that amazing insight into Nick Culkins career, it was time for the referee to blow for full time. It had been a decent match, and one which Radcliffe can safely say they held their own. The young Bolton side were better, but Boro never gave in.
BUT WAIT! The action wasn’t over yet! We went over to TGOTT as we wanted him to take our photo in the ground. It was then that Aaron said “Can we go on the pitch?”. After much persuasion we hurdled the advertising boards – well most of us did – Matt struggled. Another photo to add to our collection was taken, and it was time to go home.
My Dad picked me up from the ground and I was home in 15 minutes. This suited me as I was home to watch most of the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Directed by Radcliffes very own, Danny Boyle.
Overall, I really like Stainton Park. A proper non-league ground tucked away the back of a town. Everybody there is welcoming and into their non-league football which helps. It’s just a shame not more of the community comes out to support the club. Surely with a bit more support the club is capable of success in the future.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND – 8.9 miles
- ADMISSION – £3 as concession
- PROGRAMME PRICE – N/A
- PIE – N/A