It was Easter weekend, which meant one thing. Lots of chocolate, and lots of derby matches in the football pyramid. However, not being a fan of chocolate, I could concentrate on the football… and trying to persuade people to come with me.
Joe took seven days of persuading, but he eventually gave in to mounting pressure and agreed to take us to Runcorn. He was arguing that watching United get knocked out of The FA Cup would be more entertaining, and that he’d rather go and watch his side – Curzon Ashton. We then told him that watching Curzon Ashton at home would be boring… how wrong could we have been? They went on to thrash Wakefield 10-1. Oops.
It was a sunny, but cold morning in Atherton. We had to wait a further day for the Atherton LR v Atherton Colls derby, or the Flatcap Derby as it is now called. I caught the 12:45 train from Atherton to Ashton-under-Lyne, where Joe picked me up at 13:20. The next step was to pick Aaron up from Warrington, where he was late as usual.
Winding around the industrial streets of Runcorn, we soon pulled up at Pavilions. Parking was scarce, so we had to park on the main road close to the driveway which leads up to the football ground. We got out of the car, and strolled across the field which sits in front of the Pavilions social club. Continuing past the large social club, we first passed a football pitch on the left which neighbours Runcorn Town FC.
A small Hollister front like hut was used as a turnstyle. There was a queue outside, which was very pleasing to see. It cost only £2 each to get in with our Atherton Collieries passes, and £1.50 for a well designed matchday programme which club photographer Philip Costello put to one side for me. Thanks a lot for that!
Meeting us inside the ground were blog regular and Warrington Town fan Rob Clarke, and Runcorns very own Lewis Dunwoody, who himself follows Warrington Town home and away… apart from on this occassion, where he was running the Warrington Town Twitter account from Runcorn. I never did ask Lewis how we was providing live match updates when he wasn’t at the match, but credit to him for trying!
Unlike the majority of grounds, once through the turnstyle, the first thing you see is not the pitch. The pitch is about 2 metres above ground level. A small set of steps with yellow rails lies on a dusty bank, leading you on to a small viewing gallery. There is a small standing area, around a metre in depth, meaning walking around the ground was somewhat difficult with a crowd of 665. It was quite cosy, and gave you a sense of involvement being so close to the pitch which was superb.
To the left was a small seated stand, which was built in 2011. With 4 rows of red seating, I’d say it looks slightly out of place in a sky blue territory, but it’s quite a nice little stand. Again, walking around the ground in front of this stand was incredibly difficult with the structure placed around a metre away from the perimeter fence of the pitch.
Opposite the stand you can find the clubhouse. The clubhouse is a nice size, and stands fairly close to the pitch. Again, due to the size of the crowd it was hard to get into the clubhouse to have a proper look around. I did see a plasma screen on the wall which was displaying the team lineups and latest scores from the division which I thought was excellent.
Found to the right of the clubhouse looking towards the pitch are two fairly small covered areas. The first is placed quite far away from the pitch, and offers a fairly limited view of the action. The second is a small blue bus stop type shed, which stands closer to the pitch. I had seen it described as an “IKEA flatpack” on another blog, but the seating has now been taken out of the shelter and it now serves for standing spectators only.
The end of the ground furthest from the entrance was fenced off. I couldn’t get an answer as to why, but it seems like a shame. When I first looked at the ground on (http://wherestheteahut.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/runcorn-town.html) I quite liked the look of this end. Unfortunately, it looks like it has now disappeared.
With kick off fast approaching, we stationed ourselves at the far end of the ground with the noisy Linnets fans. The yellow and green army were fairly timid when I visited Linnets in pre season, but how wrong could I have been. Every single decision the referee gave against them they seemed to take it personally. Even if it was a blatant corner kick to Town they would kick off. You had to admire the passion shown from both sets of supporters though.
Going into the match, Linnets had been unbeaten since December 15th. The derby match came just 48 hours after they saw off Division One side Cheadle in the cup on Saturday. The match went to extra time and penalties, and the Linnets eventually secured their place in the final at Curzon Ashton on May 2nd. Town on the other hand had experienced a mixed bag of results having lost to fellow league challengers Maine Road, before thrashing Stone Dominoes 10-1, before then drawing 1-1 away at AFC Blackpool.
The opening minutes of the game were uneventful. The match was played in the middle of the pitch as neither side were allowed to settle into a rhythm. Former Atherton Collieries striker Paul Shanley had the first opportunity of the match for Town when he headed over the bar from close range.
Both sides were playing a physical game, as they both tried to take hold of the match. Linnets had the best opportunity of the first half when Lee Madin threaded a through ball to Chris Lomax. Lomax then squared the ball to Adam Wade who beat the defenders and the keeper, but saw his powerful shot bounce off the top of the crossbar.
Linnets keeper Richie Mottram had to be aware to keep the scores level when Town forced a couple of goalmouth scrambles from corner kicks. Both sides began to press, and it was Town who looked more dangerous when breaking through counter attacks. Credit to Linnets who were unscathed, and carried on passing the ball around, being patient in their build-up play.
The home side should have had a penalty when former Wigan Robin Park striker Phil Howard was quite obviously brought down when going through on goal. Somehow though, the linesman (who I have already had issues with this season) and the referee both waved away the claims. This gave the first half the momentary spark it needed, and set both sets of fans off.
Linnets’ Kyle Hamid could have given the away side an advantage after he met Martin Crowders cross, but a deflection took the ball away from goal at the last moment.
Half time arrived, and what had been a fairly tame affair so far promised much more in the second half.
Usually at half time I would buy my usual pie. However, looking at the queues I really could not be bothered. Also, Runcorn Town fans had playfully put on the internet that they would be weeing in the brews to greet their visitors. Everybody could clearly see it was a joke… apart from the Linnets fans who took it upon themselves to boycott everything sold by their neighbours. It really is a far cry from Atherton Collieries v Atherton Laburnum Rovers, where we appear to get on quite well with our rivals!
With the sun peeping out of the clouds every so often, it was time for the second half. As a neutral, I just really wanted to see some goals. I wasn’t bothered who won. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long, as Linnets came out fighting in the second half and gave their hosts a match.
On 53 minutes, Towns Mark Keddie fouled Matty Atherton close to the left touchline. Keddie picked up a yellow card for his poor challenge. Martin Crowder floated the ball in from 40 yards. The ball appeared to be far too close to the keeper. That close in fact that it sailed straight into his hands… for a second. Keeper Wills fumbled the ball when landing from his high jump. The ball then bounced off the post, before creeping into the net. There was some confusion from the far end of the ground, as the ball squeezed through the netting next to the post, appearing to go out for a corner. The Linnets players celebrated like they’d just won the World Cup.
As the Italian bloke says on the Ladbrokes adverts… GAME ON!
Just 3 minutes later, former Atherton Collieries striker Paul Shanley equalised. As usual, the Linnets fans seemed unhappy at something the referee did or didn’t do… That didn’t matter anyway, as Shanley fired his side back level. Shanley went and celebrated in front of the Linnets fans. Brilliant.
The away side set about regaining their lead. Mike Burke’s long ball set Chris Lomax free on the left hand side. Town keeper Wills came dashing out, and missed the ball completely as Lomax tapped the ball down the line. The keepers momentum clattered Lomax down to the ground, right in front of my favourite linesman. More importantly, the challenge was also directly in front of the Linnets fans who went berserk.
With 15 minutes remaining, Town scored the winning goal. Again, the Linnets fans weren’t happy at the awarding of the corner. I fail to see why. The ball came in from the corner, and Danny Dalton was on hand to send a bullet header past the helpless Linnets keeper. Pavilions erupted as the Runcorn Town players raced down to the other side of the ground the celebrate in front of the quiet Linnets fans.
A few more mandatory derby day bookings were dished out before the referee blew for full time. Town players went running to the fans to celebrate with them. It was a nice moment to watch as a neutral, and one I’m not sure I have seen before in the NWCFL. The match meant so much to both sides, probably more so Town who did their chances for automatic promotion no harm at all.
Leaving the ground we went for a drink in the Pavilions before heading home. It had been a great day out. I’ll definitely visit Town again sometime in the near future. It will be nice to see the ground in full when it is less busy. Pavilions certainly has its critics, but I really like the place. A small, compact ground with an industrial backdrop which is fitting for this part of the world. Despite what the Linnets fans have been saying, the people at Runcorn Town were friendly and did incredibly well catering for a record crowd. I feel the ground will need significant improvements if they’re looking at progressing, but I like it as it is.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 29 miles
- ADMISSION: £2 with my Atherton Collieries pass
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1.50
- PIE: N/A