My last ground hop saw us dash up to Lancaster, as the country had seen a washout of non-league football. This week, it was the snow which was proving our downfall. Original plans of Chadderton v Atherton Collieries had gone down the drain straight away, so I resigned myself to a day of revising for my exam on Monday.
I woke up at 11:30 on the Saturday morning, and had a text off Aaron asking me if I fancied going to watch Stockport Sports, as the match had been passed as playable. It was no surprise really. The fact that they play their matches on a synthetic playing surface, along with the fact there wasn’t “as much snow in Stockport” meant North West ground hoppers had at least one match to attend.
A quick wash and I was out of the front door, skating towards Atherton train station. Aaron had told me to get the train to Bredbury… which I had never heard of before. Neither had the man at the ticket office, as I stood there spelling it out in front of a large queue of shoppers.
I caught the 12:45 train, and arrived at Manchester Piccadilly shortly after 13:30 after changing train at Salford Crescent. I had arranged to meet Aaron, but as usual, he was running late which left me wandering around Piccadilly for around 40 minutes.
In that time, I managed to frighten the life out of Joe Buckley. You’ll remember him from my Swansea v Wigan blog, amongst many others. He was sprinting through Piccadilly, obviously running late for his train to Wigan v Sunderland… when suddenly I jumped in his path. Now, I didn’t mean to frighten him… but that is no excuse to scream like a little girl!
A few minutes later and I nearly screamed myself when a British cult hero walked past me. No, it wasn’t Brian Blessed or one of the Spice Girls. It was Mark Wright… off The Only Way Is Essex. Unfortunately I didn’t have my shot gun for this particular ground hop.
Thankfully it was soon time to press on to Bredbury.
Stockport Sports Village was only a 10 minute walk from Bredbury Station, and we arrived there with ease. Aaron had watched hundreds of matches at the place due to the fact his Dad used to manage the team when they were called Woodley Sports.
The development is situated at the end of a housing estate. A subdued and quiet, snow covered bowling green welcomed us as we made our way down the approach to the ground. As we turned the corner, the pitch came into sight through the caged fence.
Approaching the turnstile, I noticed that admission was £7. I thought this was a bit steep for the level of football. Having looked through the internet after the match, it became clear that many ground hoppers decided to stay at home, as they didn’t agree with the £7 admission price. Fortunately, I was in possession of my NWCFL pass which allowed me in for £2.
I also purchased a matchday programme. The club had been keen to advertise their publication in the run up to the match. I knew I’d be running late, so the club had very kindly set aside one for me. First impressions were that the programme was very well presented, and looked professional. The printing quality was superb, and it made me very jealous that I can’t do that with the programme at Atherton Collieries! Perhaps the programme could be made better by introducing more content, as there wasn’t much to read. If you’re struggling for contributors… you know where I am!
Entering through the turnstile, the 3G pitch opens up in front of you. When the 3G was installed in 2005, the club became the first ever team to play competitive league football on one of the brand new surfaces. Synthetic surfaces have their critics, including myself, but at least the club had the peace of mind that the match would actually go ahead. This is key for clubs, as it means food doesn’t go to waste… and on a personal level, matchday programmes don’t go to waste!
Walking into the ground, the first thing I came across was a sign saying “Welcome to Pitch 1”. It turns out there are around 2000 artificial pitches at the Stockport Sports Village. We were very fortunate that we started at Pitch 1. We could have been walking around for hours trying to find the correct pitch!
The ground has a Main Stand, which holds 187 seated spectators. It was built in 2002, to help the club achieve the correct ground grading to enter the then Unibond League. Also found in the Main Stand is the Boardroom, which offers a great vantage point, looking over the action.
In 2005, Woodley Sports was backed by two local businessmen, who helped develop the whole area surrounding the ground. An injection of £3.5million saw the Main Stand refurbished, a gym and leisure centre built next to the Main Stand, and saw the introduction of various other surrounding pitches.
The introduction of the gym really was a stroke of pure brilliance. It means that if the action on the pitch gets a bit tedious, you can turn around and watch the women on the treadmills in the windows.
At the end of the 2011-2012 season, Woodley Sports were kicked out of the Evo-Stik First Division due to issues with ground grading. That meant the club moved down one division into the North West Counties Premier Division.
AFC Liverpool on the other hand have had no such problems, as the club is only 4 years old. Founded in 2008 by a group of Liverpool fans who had become tired of modern football, they started off in the NWCFL Division 1. It took them only two seasons to gain promotion to the Premier Division; where they find themselves now.
The refreshments at Lambeth Grove are found at an area; called “The Hatch”. This is where you can purchase your usual football cuisine. You know? Pies etc. Well, that’s only if you turn up half an hour before kick off. It was only 14:30 when I went to the window, and ordered the last pie. It took a while to order the pie, as there was a huge mist of confusion when talking to the lad who was serving us…
“Can I have a Steak Pie and Chips please mate?”
“Yeah, sure. What pie do you want?”
Oh well, it cheered up the other people in the queue who were moaning at the fact all food had been sold. If you’re reading… the pie was lovely, and the chips accompanied it brilliantly.
Whilst Aaron caught up with his various “football friends” in the words of The Inbetweeners; I walked off to take some photos. Unfortunately I didn’t have the decent camera from college, due to the fact they sent us all home in the snow before I had chance to collect one. I was stuck with my camera for the day, but I still took some decent images. My personal favourite was of the permanent, wiggly half way line.
The smell of Deep Heat was rife, and the motivational shouts began to erupt from down the tunnel. It was time for the teams to emerge, ahead of this NWCFL Premier Division fixture. Stockport Sports were in their white kit, and AFC Liverpool were in their red kit (obviously). Going into the match, Stockport were sitting in 8th position, whilst Liverpool were 17th.
The match began, and both teams looked a little rusty. Especially the visitors, who hadn’t played a match since mid November. Neither team really stood out in the first half, and there were no clear cut chances.
Jimmy Holden was making his debut for The Saxons. The former FC United man had signed from Salford just in time to be included in the teams starting line up.
The Saxons kept trying to play the killer ball through the Liverpool defence, but on each occasion it was cut out, or went flying out of play.
We felt the first 30 minutes of the match were a little bit tedious, so we went to look for one of our favourite Twitter users who we knew was at the match today. Those of you who don’t follow @iBreezeblock, I command you to do it now. He is comedy gold, and he once lived in Atherton… which is obviously where he picked up his ability to write such brilliant tweets. We did find out his real name, but we will leave it off the blog to keep his identity anonymous. All we can say is that he definitely isn’t called Howard.
Back to the match, and a nose bleed had brought a momentary stoppage to play. This allowed the Stockport manager to give his players a proverbial kick up the arse. A move which went well, as just a minute later Liverpool scored.
Liam Loughlin chipped the ball over the Stockport defence. John Lawless ran on to the pass, and scored a sublime goal. From a relatively awkward angle, he flicked the ball over the oncoming keeper Mark Pullman. The ball looped for what seemed like an eternity, and bounced right on the goal line, into the back of the net. Joshua Symons tried his best to hook the ball away from the goal, but he failed, and ended up tangled in the netting… lying in a pile of snow.
For half time, we were invited into the Boardroom. They had a lovely spread on, and more importantly Jeff Stelling was on the wall for all to see. No such problems getting the TV working like at Lancaster, where we thought we’d discovered the worlds first buttonless TV. We had a nice chat with the people at Stockport Sports, who made us feel very welcome. Thank you for your hospitality.
Just before the second half began, we ventured up to the Saxon Suite which is joined to the gym. It was a nice little suite, which was very clean and modern. The large windows offered a great view of the pitch, and really, we should have watched the match from in there!
The second half began, and no sooner had we all settled down, Saxons’ boss Darren Finch made a triple substitution. Stockport were the better side in the second half, and tried valiantly to grab an equaliser. Unfortunately the ball just wouldn’t drop in the right areas for them. Ricky Anane was working hard for his team, but it didn’t quite work for him and his efforts were in vain.
For most of the second half, we stationed ourselves underneath the gym… next to fellow ground hopper Alex. You may know him off Twitter as @GroundHopBuck. The only problem was, he didn’t realise who we were, despite talking for months on Twitter and Facebook. It was only later on when I got home and told him he said…
“Really? That was you?! I imagined you to look uglier than that in person!”
Back to the remaining exchanges of the match, and Stockport nearly grabbed an equaliser. Craig Flowers unleashed a shot from thirty-five yards out. It looked to be sailing into the top right hand corner, but narrowly missed. With that the final shot of the match, it gave a worrying statistic. The home side failed to record any shots on target.
With my hands and feet now turning a bright shade of purple, I was all set for the gruelling two hour journey home on Northern Rail trains. Thankfully, Brock kindly offered me a lift back to Atherton. Brock is the Curzon Ashton assistant manager… and more importantly he is a teacher at my college. He knew I had some revising to do ahead of Mondays exam, so he said his “Good deed for the day was to get me back quickly so I could get revising!”
Overall, the day was a very disorganised one, but at least we saw a game of football. The match wasn’t brilliant, but an attendance of around 200 braved the elements, which was nice to see. The members of Stockport Sports were really hospitable, and I was made to feel welcome. The ground itself will always have its critics, and unfortunately nothing can be done about that. Personally I don’t mind it. I quite liked the modern feel to the Saxon Suite which had been built next to the Main Stand.
It’s another ground ticked off my list, and who knows… maybe Atherton Collieries will gain promotion and will be playing them next season!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 25.4 miles
- ADMISSION: £2 with my NWCFL pass
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1.50
- PIE: £2