After missing my weekday taste of NWCFL action last week, I was determined to get to a match this week. I was now feeling a lot better, despite still being annoyed that I missed Cheadle Town 4-5 Atherton Collieries. With Colls playing Rochdale Town at the weekend, Jasper (Colls coach) was off to Nelson for a scouting mission. He loves being in my blogs that much this season, he asked me if I fancied coming along too so I could tick another ground off my non-existent list.
He picked me up outside Athertons favourite restaurant – The Far Pavilion – at 18:30. It was quite cold, so I was tempted to persuade him to come for a curry instead… but we had scouting to do so off we went. There was no need for a GPS as Jasper knows how to get to all the non-league grounds, and we made good progress travelling through half of Lancashire. Travelling up the M65 past Blackburn, Accrington and Burnley we arrived in Nelson at around 19:10.
Nelson is an old traditional mill town found in East Lancashire. The town was originally two separate villages; Great Marsden and Little Marsden. However, the town in time was renamed after Admiral Lord Nelson. This also explains why the clubs nickname is The Admirals.
Coming off the M65, I could see some floodlights but I wasn’t sure whether that was the ground. I could also see a ground that had its floodlights turned off, with a neighbouring fun fair lighting up the night sky. I quickly came to the conclusion that the match was off as the colourful, travelling death trap had wired itself up the floodlights. Luckily I was wrong, and we soon pulled up next to a fully lit Victoria Park.
With the ground being in a small valley off the road, you could watch the match from the comfort and warmth of your car. It was tempting, but Jasper and I aren’t that cheap! Plus he wasn’t chancing spending a couple of hours down a dark road with his engine on, with a young lad in the passenger seat…
Upon entering Victoria Park through the single turnstyle, we were greeted by polite and welcoming members of the club. They actually spoke to us and had a laugh with us, which makes a nice change in this division. Far too often in the last couple of seasons I have been grunted at by some old man who sees operating a turnstyle as his only bit of power of control in this world we like to call non-league football. I bought a well presented, but average programme for £1.
Once in the ground, you are immediately drawn to the traditional Lancastrain houses which serve as a backdrop to the football. Holme Terrace residents are treated with a beautiful football ground serving as their garden. The players have a warming up paddock right in front of the neighbours windows. It really does look nice… and when a house goes up for sale there, I am going to take full advantage of George Osbournes latest plans to help me, as a first time buyer, buy a house. Yeah right.
Opposite the Holme Terrace is the Main Stand. Again, it’s beautiful. Painted in a dark green colour, it backs on to a small little stream which will explain why there is a little wooden boat found just to the side of it. All of the stand is seated apart from one small paddock on the right hand side which I used as a Photography station for the evening.
Behind the far goal stood the clubs refreshments and players facilities. The dressing rooms/toilets are situated far back from the pitch in the corner of the ground. A white building with a sign reading “Nelson FC Ltd” presents the surrounding area with a rife smell of deep heat. Next to the dressing rooms is a small clubhouse, which has a few leather couches and tables which look like they’ve been taken from a school classroom.
The ground is called “Little Wembley” and I know which Wembley I’d rather go to. Why travel down to London when you have this gem of a ground less than 40 minutes drive away? The pitch is almost as good as the one at national stadium with only one divot and a pile of sand in one area preventing it from taking Abbey Hey’s title of “Best NWCFL Pitch”. Nelson have played at Little Wembley since 1971 when they moved from their former ground Seedhill.
Little Wembley began to fill up with spectators, including quite a few older fans who were kitted out in the blue of Nelson which was great to see. Unfortunately Sky Sports hadn’t turned up at the match having visited just a few weeks ago. When Manchester United faced Real Madrid in the Champions League, somebody pointed out that Nelson have history with both clubs.
In 1923 Nelson gained promotion into the Second Division. In preparation for the season, the club went on a pre season tour of Spain. After beating Real Oviedo 2-1, they then went on to play Spanish giants Real Madrid. The Lancashire side beat Real 4-2, making them the first English club to beat Real Madrid in Spain.
Upon return to the country, their season didn’t go too well. Despite finishing second bottom, they did beat eventual champions Leeds United at home, before beating Manchester United at Old Trafford.
The glory days have since disappeared. The Admirals now ply their trade in the NWCFL Division 1, having rejoined the league after resigning a couple of seasons ago. They currently sit mid table, and are out of contention for a promotion place this season. Nelsons squad has been through a transitional period of late. From an outside perspective having seen them play on numerous occasions this season they have improved steadily since August. The current squad looks superb. A mix of youthful exuberance and a front line that allows no time on the ball for the opposition makes them one of the more dangerous sides in the division. If they carry on into next season, I can see them challenging for one of the top places.
With the temperature dropping, the two teams emerged on to the field of play. Nelson were in their blue kit. Rochdale Town were in their white kit which appears to have been given to them by League One side Rochdale. Making their debuts for the home side were defenders Tommy Doyle and Joe Wilkinson. Ash Higgins was left out of the squad as he is heading to Stockport Sports; possibly to replace Marsden who has signed for Premier League Stoke City.
From the off, Nelson looked the better of the two sides. However, chances were few and far between. The best chance in the early stages came on 25 minutes when Brandon Barski managed to find some space on the edge of the box. His shot however went just over the bar. Following that, the Admirals then had two free kicks in quick succession. Both were dealt with by Joe Brobbin in the Rochdale goal.
The match then had a long delay when the referee pulled his calf. I shouldn’t laugh really, but for a big lad he didn’t half make a scene. Jasper and I were packing our bags in case the match was abandoned. Then, after 5 minutes a new face appeared on the touchline. It was the “Referees coach”. Since when do referees have coaches? They’ll have agents soon! The new linesman told us he had “just arrived from a 10 mile jog” and that he was “a bit stiff”. Just what you want really!
What made this incident really spooky was that when researching Nelson FC on the internet, I came across a blog on last seasons Nelson v Rochdale match. It turns out that during that match the referee had to be replaced after he pulled his calf after 15 minutes. Has to be one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen at a football match.
Play thankfully restarted and despite Nelson having the vast majority of possession they found themselves behind. With 43 minutes on the clock, and inswinging corner was met by the powerful head of Nick Hodson who sent the ball flying past the Nelson goalkeeper. It was a brilliant header, which took the visitors in at the break with a 1-0 lead.
Half-time arrived and I went for a trip to the toilet after having numerous brews to keep me warm. I won’t lie; I struggled. I know I’m not the tallest, but even on my tip toes I couldn’t reach the urinal. I felt totally humiliated and thoughts soon turned to how Jimmy Krankie manages to empty his bladder when he visits Little Wembley. So next time I go to Nelson, I’m going to make sure I take a small step ladder with me so I can have a wee.
I ventured back into the clubhouse where Jasper was sat compiling his first half scouting report. I told him about the problems I had just had. His response? He bought me another brew.
We left the clubhouse to get ready for the second half when out of the corner of my eye I saw a tyre swing over a compost heap in the corner of the ground. It would have been rude not to have a swing on it wouldn’t it? I also sat in the boat which can be found on the grass embankment next to the swing. It is a truly magical corner of the ground.
Nelson came out intent on claiming the three points. They dominated possession and aimed to break at every possible opportunity. The Rochdale defence simply couldn’t cope and looked totally out of their depth. The home side equalised on 56 minutes through a spot kick. Nat Taylor controlled the ball well in the area, before he was brought down in what can only be described as a Rochdale sandwich. The referee/linesman pointed to the spot and it was left to Tom Anderton to bring the sides level. A fantastic penalty which flew straight into the top right hand corner.
Just thirty seconds later and Nelson were on the attack again. Rochdale had given the ball away from the kick off which allowed Thomas Doyle to pump a long ball up front. Brandon Barski flicked the ball on to Tom Anderton who picked it up on the halfway line. A heavy first touch presented the ball to the Rochdale defender, but unable to control it, Anderton won the ball back straight away. He then raced clear of the last defender before slotting the ball into the bottom right hand corner.
The match had truly sparked into life, and so had one of the brand new floodlights. Whilst the match was in play, one of the lights began to flicker and spark before it blew. This left a dark, gloomy shadow over the Rochdale defence, and it was soon to get worse.
On 77 minutes, Rochdale once again gave the ball away far too easily. Nelson broke within seconds creating a 4 on 1 attack. Brandon Barksi was at the centre of the attack again, as he set up Tom Anderton for his hatrick. He delayed his shot, allowing the Rochdale defence to get back and pressure him. Trying to curl the ball into the top right hand corner, Brobbin could only parry to the edge of the box where Adam Stockdale was on hand to volley the ball into the back of the net with a beautiful shot.
The match seemed to be over as we headed for the exit gate. On 89 minutes, Rochdale gained a free kick on the right hand touchline. The ball was swung in, and the vocal Nelson keeper told his defence to leave it. Trying to punch the ball out with his right hand, he missed it completely, allowing Matty Russell to glance the ball into the net from close range.
The score was now 3-2 and the referee appeared to add around 7 minutes added time. Where he got that from, none of us will ever know. However, as neutrals we weren’t complaining. Nelson were now on the back foot, and Rochdale mounted three more attacks. They came close to nicking a point before one last attack occurred. With the Rochdale striker about the fire at goal from the edge of the box, the referee amazingly blew his whistle. It was a very daft place to blow a final whistle, but it would have been a harsh scoreline had Rochdale equalised.
We left the ground, and set off back to Atherton. It had been a nice night out, and I will definitely be back at Little Wembley in the daylight sometime so I can some better photos. The people who run the club are friendly, and obviously take pride in their club and ground. Best of luck to Nelson for the rest of the season, and I look forward to seeing you all again sometime down at Atherton Collieries.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 39.2 miles
- ADMISSION: £2 with my Atherton Collieries pass
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1
- PIE: N/A