People have said they “haven’t witnessed a non league winter like this for years” and we haven’t even reached Christmas yet. Many fixtures in the NWCFL haven’t taken place for a month now, and teams such as Formby have only played 9 matches all season. We knew we’d be in for another long weekend when flood warnings were issued nationwide.
Originally I was planning a trip to Peterborough v Bolton, but after my mum inconsiderately booked me an opticians appointment at 10:40 on the Saturday morning, it meant I would miss the coach from The Reebok. Luckily for me, Joe Lawton was back from University, which meant he was back on groundhopping duty with me. With it raining, we made a number of backup plans.
Plan A: Rochdale Town v Atherton Collieries
Plan B: Lancaster City v Curzon Ashton
Plan C: Morecambe v Dagenham & Redbridge
Plan D: Colne v AFC Liverpool…. the list goes on really!
Unfortunately all fixtures in the NWCFL and Evo-Stik leagues were washed out, bar two. Lancaster City v Curzon Ashton… and remarkably Mossley v Ossett Town. Even Blackburn Rovers v Brighton was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, so we were really lucky to find a match.
I got the phonecall off Aaron who told me the referee up at Lancaster said “we’ll give it a go”. It didn’t fill us with confidence, but it was better than nothing. I passed the message on to Joe, and he picked me up 45 minutes later.
There was no traffic on the roads at all, and we arrived in Lancaster without the aid of a GPS. We knew that if we raced up the M6 and came off at junction 33, before following signs for Lancaster Train Station we would get there one way or another. Aaron arrived with his Dad at the same time as us, and we were ready to enter the Giant Axe.
The club have played at the Giant Axe since 1905. The original walls of the sports complex appeared to resemble an axe head when viewed from above, hence the name. The ground was refurbished in the 1970’s after a fire ruined the main stand. Further improvements were made in the 1990’s to leave the ground in its current state.
We had received a tweet off @nonleaguedogs which said they were relying on us to supply the images for the afternoon, with all other matches postponed. It was shortly after this that we had to break the tragic news to all non-league dog lovers. Lancaster City have banned admittance of dogs to the Giant Axe. It’s a good job we didn’t bring a dog to Lancaster! We’d have had to have left the poor thing strapped up to a lamppost outside the ground in the rain.
It cost £5 as a concession, and £1.50 for a brilliant matchday programme. The turnstyle operator was a bit confused when I showed him my student pass, and I had to explain to him that it was from a college in Wigan. He was really welcoming, and was certainly the best turnstyle operator I’ve come across in recent months. He introduced us to the ground, and pointed out where the supporters bar and pie hut were.
Walking through the turnstyle, the ground opens up in front of you. I was really impressed. It wasn’t as big as I had imagined it to be, but I had only seen it off the nearby train station platform a few years ago!
The John Bagguley Stand is the centre piece of the ground. It offers a great view of the play, even if it is situated quite far away from the pitch. It holds 513 seated spectators, and it is a really nice and tidy, well kept stand.
Opposite the John Bagguley Stand is the Long Side, which is home to the Supporters Bar and Sponsors Lounge. It’s a bit of an eye sore, but it is something different, and it provided us with some much needed shelter when we were stood on that side of the ground!
Found behind the two goals are terraces. On the far end of the ground is The Shed, which is a covered terrace, which is really traditional and well kept. The low roof means you can’t see much of the ground when standing at the back. It’s also where a Bradford City fan likes to smoke his pipe, so we avoided this area.
Opposite The Shed is the West Road Terrace. It is a similar style to the away end at Accrington Stanley, and not many people were daft enough to brave it in the given conditions. Although, Aaron took it upon himself to stand at the top of the terrace by himself for some of the match. He was obviously a bit upset when he couldn’t fit under Joe’s huge golf umbrella.
The pitch was still being forked by the groundsman, who had done a fantastic job. However, when I had a flick through the programme, it soon became clear why the pitch was in such good condition. Lancaster City Football Club have no fewer than 12, yes, 12 groundsman… they also have a club solicitor, and a club chaplain too!
The pre match music was flowing. We started off with some club classics from the ’90s which gave the Giant Axe a feeling that only Ibiza can produce in mid summer. That was until the DJ then decided to play a rather strange song for a family orientated club; JayZ and Kanye West – Niggas In Paris. It does make you wonder whether clubs listen to the lyrics of songs before they play them over their tannoy systems.
It was time for the teams to emerge. Lancaster were in their blue shirts with white shorts, and Curzon were in their all red away strip. The linesman on the near side had thankfully sourced some boots from somewhere, as he revealed pre match that he “had only brought his trainers”. My guess is he dashed up to Morecambe to borrow a pair of boots, given that their match against Dagenham had just been postponed.
The match started off brightly, with both sides having attacks. This boded well for me, considering the last two matches I’d seen Curzon Ashton play both ended 0-0. I vowed never to watch Curzon Ashton again… and as you can see, that statement lasted just little over a week.
Fortunately this was different, much different. The visitors opened the scoring on 5 minutes when Scott Metcalfe fired a ferocious shot towards goal. Keeper Danny McDonald tried his best to hold the shot, but it parried out of his hands, and fell to Super Tony Evans who slotted the ball home.
Just three minutes later, and the home side equalised when Darren Green lobbed Joshua Ollerenshaw from the edge of the box.
On 8 minutes, Curzon found themselves down to 10 men. Scott Metcalfe was adjudged to have elbowed one of the Lancaster players whilst challenging for the ball. It was a decision which went unnoticed by most of the crowd, and the Curzon Ashton bench. Given that none of the Lancaster players appealed for a free kick, nevermind a sending off says a lot in my opinion.
Despite being down to 10 men, Curzon just shaded the first half with shots raining down on the Lancaster goal. It was on 20 minutes when Jonathan Hunt put the visitors in front for the second time. Lancaster players claimed the ball hadn’t crossed the line after a goal line scramble, but the linesman got it spot on, awarding the goal.
It should have been 3-1 just a minute later when Tony Evans found himself one on one with the keeper. He rounded McDonald, but took the ball a bit too wide. He saw his shot blocked on the goal line by a back tracking defender.
The first half finished, allowing the pitch to be treated. It had held reasonably well, but it was beginning to cut up, and you sensed the referee could have abandoned the match if the rain continued. However, as Aaron rightly said: “He won’t call it off. He’s enjoying himself far too much!”
The referee loved being the centre of attention. At one stage in the first half, there was a blatant elbow from one of the Lancaster players. The referee calmed play down after pontificating. He then said, in full view of the crowd on the touch-line “Shutup. You’re just trying to get one of their players sent off. You’re a disgrace.” – That comment just wound Curzon up even more, and the match threatened to boil over.
I went to the Dolly’s Diner for my half time treat. I purchased a Steak Pie and Chips for £3, which was good value. My order eventually went through, after the bloke who was taking the orders looked straight through me. It was like Yoda had just turned up at the Giant Axe, and was in the queue behind me. The pie was of a good size, and was different. I didn’t have any complaints, but it didn’t stand out. Oliver said it looked as though “it had all life sucked out of it” which I thought was a bit harsh.
Pie eaten, we then took shelter in the Supporters’ Bar. It wasn’t the biggest space in the world, but it had such a great non-league feel to it. We opened the glass door, and were greeted by a smell similar to an old woodwork room at secondary school. The smell of varnish, wood and paint was rife. I quite liked it. The room was a rectangular shape, and had around 6 white chairs; similar to the ones you find on a hotel balcony.
Found in the corner of the cabin was a small, blank TV. We left it to one of the Lancaster fans to try and turn it on, but he failed. We all tried turning on this contraption, but all gave up. It had no buttons on it? Surely Lancaster City hadn’t invented the world first completely touch screen TV? No, no they hadn’t. We were soon presented with a remote, and cheers filled the place when Football Focus appeared.
Bolton were losing 2-1. This allowed the Blackburn fans who were at the match to wind me. This continued right the way through the match, as we eventually lost 5-4 away at Peterborough.
The second half began, and the rain continued to drown the players. Curzon looked comfortable, and you wouldn’t have noticed that they were down to ten men. They were defending superbly, but were undone on 58 minutes when Tom Kilfin fired the ball past Joshua Ollerenshaw from close range.
The Lancaster fans who were stood next to us went wild, and provided the vocal backing which their side needed to press on. It worked too, as just two minutes later The Dolly Blues scored again. The ball came in from the right, and Ryan Elderton headed it back across the face of goal. Ollerenshaw was beaten, as the ball bounced off the underside of the crossbar and nestled into the bottom right corner.
My favourite Lancaster song was definitely:
FAT JIM BENTLEY HAS AN STD
WITH A NICK-NACK PADDY WAG,
GIVE A DOG A BONE,
WHY WON’T MORECAMBE PAY THAT LOAN?
The Morecambe youth player who was at the match in his track suit made a swift escape to the other side of the ground before he was spotted by the home supporters.
Manager John Flanagan brought Matthew Purcell on for the last few minutes as Curzon searched for a much deserved equaliser. The tactical change nearly paid off, but Purcell was beaten by the lack of bounce in the pitch and the ball flashed across the face of goal.
The match finished, and the players raced in to get to the shower first. Joe and I went straight to the car and put the heaters on, and tried to navigate our way out of Lancaster without the GPS. It was hard work, and at one stage we nearly took the slip road on to the oncoming side of the M6! Luckily we lived to tell the tale, and we arrived at Atherton Collieries where I had a couple of pints before walking home.
It had been a frantic and extremely unplanned day. However, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I said I’d watch a match somewhere, and I did. I really liked the Giant Axe, and the supporters who we were stood next to were brilliant. At one point, I even said to Joe and Aaron – “Can we come here every week?”
I will definitely be back at the Giant Axe sometime in the near future.