The Doodson Sport Cup may be one of the most hated and detested competitions in the history of football, but did that stop us driving to Matlock Town on a cold Thursday night? No. It was semi-final time, and it was time for the underdogs to shine.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Doodson Sport Cup, it is the new name for The Northern Premier League Challenge Cup. Teams from all three Northern Premier League divisions take part in the tournament, with Premier Division sides receiving a bye to the round of 32.
The cup this season was seen as more of an inconvenience than usual. With bad weather hampering the schedules of most teams, the competition was widely regarded as a nuisance and as yet another round of pointless fixtures to squeeze into an already tight window.
Curzon Ashton had one very complicated and controversial route to the semi-final. Their cup campaign began in November when they beat Salford City away 1-0. The Nash then travelled to Lancaster on a Tuesday night where they once again won 1-0.
Their next fixture against Burscough was scheduled to be played in December, but after a harsh winter had played its hand – the match was eventually played in February! Even then the match nearly got called off. I went to the match against Burscough, and it was a boring affair with neither side looking bothered. Definitely not worth waiting two months for!
A 2-0 win over Burscough was followed by a 3-0 win over Kendal Town. Remarkably Curzon hadn’t conceded a goal in the competition so far. That run came to an end though when they went to Nantwich Town and won 3-1.
As if the two month postponement of the Burscough match hadn’t been difficult enough, Curzon were handed Witton Albion away in the Quarter Final. They were beaten 4-0, but a couple of weeks after the defeat Witton were thrown out of the competition for fielding an illegible player.
This set up the evenings fixture against Matlock Town who had experienced a far more comfortable route to the semi-final.
I caught the train from Atherton to Ashton-under-Lyne where I would meet our regular chauffeur Joe. He put on his “driving shoes” and we were all set to go. We decided to set off in rush hour which shows just how well planned our groundhop was! It took us around 40 minutes to crawl through Stockport before we eventually reached the snow covered hills.
It had last snowed around three weeks before, but the snow was still deeper than the size of the car at some points! Every corner we turned, a snow wall would present itself in the middle of the road. We really weren’t looking forward to travelling back over the hills.
After performing a U-turn/reversing manuever in the park which lies opposite the football ground we parked Oliver up on the kerb outside the turnstile. The local Church was filling the valley with its joyful tunes as the local bell ringers had a night out. It carried on for two hours. I honestly believe the bell rings of Matlock were high on meow-meow.
Joe had changed out of his driving shoes, and we approached the turnstiles. We were shocked at how much Matlock were charging for the match. £5.50 for a concession, and £9 for an adult. I’m sorry, but I feel that is steep for this level of football… especially when it’s a cup competition that nobody particularly cares about. The people who run the club were that tight arsed they checked my student card like I was an asylum seeker with a dodgy passport.
Already forking out £11 when I assumed it would be around the £6 mark, I then had to buy my matchday programme. £2 it was. As a programme editor myself, I felt completely cheated that they charged that much. I pay only £2 for my programme at The Reebok (depending on what mood the sellers are in).
A quick flick through the programme and I found a merchandise list. I was tempted to buy a Matlock Town Pin Badge for £5, but to be honest, I really couldn’t be arsed.
Walking around the ground we soon broke the rules when we wandered behind the net at the far end of the ground. Apparently we weren’t allowed to walk in front of the temporary wooden fence which separates the football pitch from the cricket pitch.
After scaling up some steep steps we walked into the state of the art clubhouse. It was impressive, and it made me really jealous that we don’t have something like that at Atherton Collieries.
Aaron was already in the building having a drink; no surprise there. We joined him. I had a pint of the local real ale which was on offer… Joe of course didn’t drink anything as he was the “designated driver” as they say over the pond.
We took our drinks outside and perched ourselves in front of the new Main Stand at Causeway Lane. Within a minute the steward asked us to move as we were “blocking peoples views” – Of what? The snow slowly melting on the hill tops? The steward knew he was being pedantic and seemed really apologetic… Bless him.
The two teams emerged from underneath The Twigg Stand. Matlock in their traditional blue strip cascaded down the elevated access running on to the touchline, closely followed by their visitors who were sporting their red away strip.
Curzon were the underdogs as Matlock plied their trade in the division above their visitors from Tameside. However, with nothing to lose and keen to make some success from their faltering campaign Curzon took the lead after just 7 minutes. Scott Metcalfe received the ball out wide before beating the Matlock defence easily before he fired a ball across the face of goal. Matlock defender Laurence Gaughan tried to head the ball behind but he glanced the ball into his own net.
It took Matlock 12 minutes to have their first decent chance of the match. Looking to make up for his own goal, Gaughan connected well to a free kick but headed just wide.
Curzon had the next opportunity when a long clearance fell to in form striker Kristian Dennis. He had time to place his shot, but fired over the bar leaving the ball to bounce over the boundary in the encroaching cricket pitch for a well taken four.
Matlock produced their best move of the game shortly after. A sharp ball came in from the wing and NPL icon Massiah McDonald was waiting to pounce. Everybody in the ground expected McDonald – who is famous for his appearances on Soccer AM’s Showboat – to slot the ball past Ollerenshaw, but he put his header well over the bar.
Curzon nearly doubled their lead after Matlock failed to clear their lines after a free kick. Eventually it fell to Kristian Dennis who poked the ball wide. Shortly after that the match turned sour after a couple of brilliant old fashioned tackles. Simon Lakeland was cautioned after a wild lunge on McDonald before McDonald then took his frustrations out on Simon Woodford just moments later.
Half time arrived and it allowed me chance to warm my purple hands up. The temperatures had plummeted and the hot air which was a constant from Joe’s mouth was no longer sufficient in keeping us all warm. I didn’t mind it being half time though as the clubhouse at Matlock grew even more on me during the interval.
I had another pint of the beautiful local ale that was on offer – again, at an extortionate price. The football which was on the TV was boring me (Spurs v Inter Milan) as Gareth Bale continued to dive and moan throughout the 30 seconds that I could bear to watch.
Time to brave the elements again as I went in search of some much needed food… at yet more expense. There was quite a lot on offer and the lure of a Chicken and Mushroom Pukka Pie proved too much for a lad brought up in Wigan. All the locals appeared to be getting baked beans on their pies. Being the cultural explorer that I am I thought I’d try some local cuisine. It later turned out that they were only pouring baked beans on the pies as the local supplier hadn’t provided any mushy peas. It was like one of those awful “swaps” you get when you delve into online shopping. “Sorry Mr. Gibbons. We didn’t have peas, so here’s some beans for you instead!”
I tweeted a photo of my food. The feedback was sensational. I had all sorts of people telling me not to eat it, including the Food Standards Agency who were severely worried for my welfare. Fortunately I lived to tell the tale, and to be honest… I really enjoyed having baked beans on my pie. If I was to ever repeat the experience I would have to ensure the contents were of a chicken base and not steak. I feel that steak and beans would just cross the line.
Talking about beautiful food and beautiful beer, the beautifully named Liam Bromley-Blackburn replaced the injured Lakeland (post McDonald challenge) at half time. Unfortunately beautiful Bromley-Blackburn soon made an ugly pass across the centre of the pitch. The ball fell straight to Matlocks’ Ben Algar who delivered a great cross to the far post where Joe Leesley headed past Ollerenshaw. The score was now 1-1 and you felt Curzon had to work even harder in the remainder of the match to reach their first Northern Premier League Final.
Extra time was looming. It got to the stage where the Matlock fans next to us weren’t bothered who won, they just didn’t want to see any more football. Lee Blackshaw had only been on the pitch two minutes, when he closed down Micky Harcourt and dispossessed him. Blackshaw then squared the ball to Scott Metcalfe who somehow dug the ball from underneath his feet to clip a looping shot into the top right hand corner.
Joe went running off down the terracing, losing his flask in the process. I’d never seen him so animated at a football match. Not since we went to York v Gillingham anyway.
Curzon held on for the remaining few minutes and secured their place in their first ever Northern Premier League Cup Final. Their opponents would be Premier Division leaders North Ferriby United.
Before we set off home there was still time for another ridiculously priced drink. I’d say there were around 20 people in the clubhouse afterwards. On the other side of the room was a large spread of post match snacks for the players (and if your club isn’t tight arsed – everybody else who’s turned up!) The large mountains of sandwiches meant the sandwich to person ratio must have been about 17:1. However, despite this being obvious to everybody in the room, there was a woman guarding the sandwiches with her life.
Desperate times call for double measures. I begged and pleaded with Aaron to go and ask one of the players to get me a couple of sandwiches. But no. Despite getting on with all of them brilliantly, he refused to get me any sandwiches. I had had enough of Aaron and his childish games, so I went straight to his Dad to lodge a complaint. For those of you who don’t know, Aarons Dad is the Curzon manager. If anybody could get me some sandwiches… it was John.
John walked over to the large table with food on, where the woman inspected how many plates he had picked up. After being interrogated by her, John managed to smuggle me two small sandwiches which he handed to me in the corner of the room. It was like we were dealing Class-A drugs or something! *Please note. John Flanagan and Curzon Ashton do not condone drug dealing and it was just sandwiches*
After all of that drama and frustration, it was time to go home. Well… nearly. Joe had lost his flask. We knew he’d left it outside, but where, we didn’t know. Things were made even more interesting when we walked outside and the floodlights had been turned off!
Unfortunately Joe found his flask, and we were soon back in Oliver with the heating on. The journey home went a bit quicker and we managed to avoid the snowdrifts in the hills.
Overall, we really enjoyed our evening in Matlock. The modern but yet traditional ground is set in a picturesque part of the country. However, you have to pay a great deal (in non-league terms) to enjoy this gem of a club. I was shocked that they could charge a concession £5.50 for a pretty irrelevant cup match on a weekday. Even more shocked that they can charge adults £9! I’ve made my opinion pretty clear, everything is overpriced at the club. The evening was made very enjoyable by the brilliant facilities and of course the scoreline.
I’ll leave you with this final thought though. You know the woman who was guarding the sandwiches? Aaron later tweeted that she threw half of them away when nobody ate them. She didn’t even offer them out to the people left in the clubhouse.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 59.4 miles
- ADMISSION: £5.50 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2
- PIE: £3