As we set off from Ashton-under-Lyne to the leafy town of Harrogate, we knew that the evening which awaited would either be one of the biggest in the history of Curzon Ashton or would be a massive – and I mean massive – anti-climax. In the end, we arrived back in Manchester extremely drunk, smelling of oranges and on a more personal level, unable to walk after an accident.
Curzon had surged to the top of the table in recent months after seeing off fellow promotion contenders Warrington Town (5-1) and Darlington 1883. The Nash hadn’t conceded in ten matches and victory would see them crowned Evo-Stik Division 1 North champions.
The trip formed part of a jam packed weekend of football which started for me on the Saturday. I travelled to Nelson to watch my side Atherton Collieries lose 4-2 to the probable league champions, before then hitting Atherton hard with a trip to the brand new £1 pub which sits on the corner of Market Street. It is a fantastic establishment which has featured in national tabloids in recent weeks, ensuring my home town is put on the map. I then had a few hours to recover from my hangover before being picked up by Aaron for the Evo-Stik Player of the Year Awards night in Barnsley.
As an admin for the Northern Premier League Group I was allowed to attend this prestigious event with a few other muppets who had blagged a ticket through social media involvement. I was due to go to the evening last year, but college the following day left me following the event from home on Twitter. Fortunately it was the Easter holidays, meaning I could travel to Barnsley without a care in the world. Aaron arrived at mine at 16:30, and we pressed on to Glossop where we caught the Curzon mini-bus up to Yorkshire. It didn’t take long and we were soon dining with various league representatives – and Joe Royle.
We were on our best behaviour, squabbling over who should have the complimentary beer, doing white wine shots and moaning about a distinct lack of gravy. It was soon time to present our own award “The NPL Facebook Fans Player of the Year Award”. I handed over the third placed award to Leon Mettam of Worksop Town before Tom Greaves of FC United claimed second place. The main award was won by Stephen Thompson of Darlington 1883 – who wasn’t at the evening. Typical.
In recent months I had seemingly stalked current Chorley manager Garry Flitcroft. The former Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City player had been scouting at matches which I had attended, had been stuck in a lift with myself and Matt Jansen at The Reebok and had even managed his side to victory over Atherton Collieries. I was fearing that he’d soon take out a restraining order against me. It was in the toilets of the Holiday Inn in Barnsley that things went too far. I went for a wee, and guess who was there? Garry Flitcroft.
I made myself scarce and headed back upstairs to carry on with proceedings. A few drinks later and we were on our way back to Glossop. I was staying with Aaron for the evening with his Dad John, who is of course the Curzon Ashton manager. I tried my best to convince John to give me five minutes at Harrogate the following night but he was having none of it as we watched Match of The Day 2. Aaron was getting a bit giddy about the day ahead; it was a bit like Christmas Eve to the Flanagan family.
The logistics of this trip were going to be daft and this was confirmed when we woke up and saw the weather forecast. A planned trip to Wetherspoons in Ashton-under-Lyne looked a bit doubtful when it began to rain. Aaron had work to do, so dropped me off at Joe’s house where we would be staying when we came back from Harrogate. I was by this stage beginning to miss my own bed and had concluded that I do use my house as a hotel.
But, why would I want to stay at my house for a Curzon Ashton promotion party? If you wanted a promotion party you had to be at Joe’s house. Why you ask? Well, Joe was once the Curzon Ashton mascot (no mean feat I hasten to add as I have also been Super Nash). Also, and more importantly, Joe’s Dad is the clubs all time top goalscorer. Rodney was definitely going to be on the Jagerbombs with us when we arrived back in Ashton.
A full coach left the Tameside Stadium at 16:30 and the excitement was palpable. Joe had brought along some party necessities such as smarties, popcorn, cider and bucks fizz. Nothing screams a promotion party like bucks fizz. The rest of us had had a pit stop at Sainsbury’s meaning we were on the beer as soon as we hit the motorway. Our next stop was somewhere near Huddersfield where we picked up another couple of players before pressing on to Harrogate.
The journey went pretty quickly and we were soon pulling into Station View; home of Harrogate Railway Athletic. I was pleasantly surprised. I had purposefully not looked at any photographs of the ground as I wanted to write about my first reactions. I’ll be honest – and I don’t want to sound condescending – I was expecting something a bit rough and ready, and basically a bit rubbish. I wanted something that screamed local pride, a bit like Atherton Collieries. We didn’t really get that. We had a large luxurious clubhouse which is surely the envy of the majority of non-league clubs. They had a pool table and Irn-Bru on tap. What more could you possibly want?
One question was on everybodies lips as we climbed the stairs up into the bar. Will they have Jagerbombs in Harrogate, or will the place be a little bit too upmarket? After all, Harrogate is famous for water. Not only can you find the stuff in practically every supermarket in the country, you can also wash yourself in the liquid in the local Baths.
Whilst the name Harrogate Railway Athletic may not necessarily reflect how nice the town is, it is in fact one of two clubs which sits in one of the most affluent areas in England. Not only are the house prices high, but so are the chances of finding love – apparently. In 2013 a study found Harrogate to be the third most romantic destination in the world, ahead of destinations such as Paris, Venice and even Wigan.
Despite all of this going for the place, they still allowed us to get a bit merry before the match on the jagerbombs. We grabbed the pool cues and started a little tournament whilst the bombs and beers were ordered. I could have stayed in the clubhouse all night, I didn’t really care about the football anymore. The Curzon Ashton players who had come along for the occasion soon joined us as did NPL Facebook Group dictator Bradley Dobson, a Halifax fan at heart.
Kick off time was fast approaching, so we finished our drinks and made our way downstairs to the turnstile. It cost me only £3 for concession admission, which I believe to be the cheapest in the division by at least £2. Programmes cost £1.50 and I managed to purchase the second to last one.
The ground itself is pretty basic, but it’s got everything you need. A small little stand straddles the halfway line on the far side of the ground, whilst another covered seating area sits behind one of the goals. A small refreshments area is in the corner of the ground, along with a media office which houses the most eccentric tannoy announcer in non-league football.
He rattled off the names of the Harrogate players in an incredible style. He had a little slogan for each member of the squad and we just couldn’t stop laughing. It really was fantastic. My personal favourites were “He’s the Kosovan crossing King” and “Here comes the Harrogate Railway express!”. He certainly added to the entertainment of the evening and well done to him for being able to pronounce names such as “Vasileious Katsamagkas”.
I loved Harrogate Railway Athletic, and I hadn’t even seen them kick a ball. The club was formed in 1935 when workers from the Starbeck LNER locomotive shed formed a side to compete in the Harrogate & District League. In 1946, the side consisted solely of railway workers when they reached the British Railways National Cup Final.
The club then moved to their current home, after workers struck a deal to finance the move. The LNER said that they would lend the club £1,500 if 300 rail workers agreed to having 1d taken from their wage each week until it was repaid. The mascot at Railway is a beaver, apparently originating from the work ethic displayed by railway workers down the years. However, I think it’s probably because it was the last mascot costume left in the fancy dress shop.
Arguably the most memorable moment in Railway’s history came in 2002 when they competed in The FA Cup. After winning eight matches, they made it to the second round and drew Bristol City at home. Harrogate became the lowest ranked side to reach this stage of the competition since Coventry Sporting in 1975. Over 3,500 piled into Station View to watch the match, with the football league side coming out on top with a 3-1 victory. Steve Davey scored for the home side live on Sky Sports 1. The television crews brought £100,000 to the club, with £40,000 of that money going towards three temporary stands which allowed the match to be staged at their historic stomping ground.
In 2007, the club reached the Second Round of The FA Cup yet again, this time drawing Mansfield Town at home. Only 1,486 turned up this time as the Railway went down 3-2 in front of the BBC cameras.
Those days however, those days are a distant memory, and with just 168 in attendance for this Monday evening match it was hard to believe that 3,500 spectators had piled into the place just over a decade ago.
Out from underneath the clubhouse the two sides emerged. Curzon Ashton were in their all blue home kit whilst Harrogate were in their traditional red and green strip. Both sets of fans were singing. Yes, the average age was probably around 15 years old, but it was great to see so many local youngsters coming out to support their local side and behaving well at the same time.
The match was a tense one, with Curzon up against opponents who had absolutely nothing to lose. It was open throughout with Curzon having most of the play. It took 13 minutes for the first shot on target to arrive and it came through Matty Warburton. The striker had been fed in by Sam Walker, but he couldn’t get enough power on his shot to trouble Railway goalkeeper Peter Crook.
Crook was in action again minutes later when Walker let a shot go from the edge of the area. The home side broke from the set piece and it was left to Simon Woodford to head the ball away from danger when it looked to have beat Hakan Burton.
The Nash were settling into the game and Ryan Brooke was lively down the wings. He created a number of opportunities throughout the match. On 25 minutes he broke down the wing and pulled a low cross back to striker Niall Cummins. The former Burscough man missed it, as did Warburton. Any connection would have sent the ball into the back of the net.
Curzon felt aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty on the half hour mark when Cummins was clipped from behind as he ran through on goal. I’ll be honest, we were too far away and a bit too drunk to know what had happened.
Half time arrived and we headed back into the clubhouse for a quick pint. The timings worked well, and after gulping down another it was time for one of the biggest halves of football in Curzon’s history. Yes, they had many other opportunities to seal promotion, but we needed it to happen in Harrogate to top off a magical season.
The second half brought more of the same pressure from Curzon. Ryan Brooke saw his early effort kept out by Crook, who was performing wonders in the Harrogate goal. Jordan Wright then set Cummins up, but he couldn’t get enough purchase on the ball to send it past the goalkeeper.
Harrogate were a well organised side, and they showed this again when they went close after a long spell of possession. Despite this, Curzon still appeared favourites to snatch a goal in this tight affair.
Further chances came and went for Curzon. A Warburton free kick was headed off target and a corner was headed just wide before Cummins and Brooke were denied once more. A further corner followed, with this one bouncing off the top of the crossbar following a goal line scramble.
With 15 minutes remaining Curzon defender Andy Watson brought down Steve Bromley in the area. It was a horrible moment for the league leaders, who sensed that a goal here would leave them waiting another week. Just as our party looked to be slipping away Hakan Burton saved the spot kick with his legs before the ball was smashed away.
Wave after wave of attack reigned down on the Harrogate defence. Four minutes of added time had been signalled. A minute into the added on period a corner was awarded to the visitors. Niall Cummins positioned himself on the back post and strolled towards the front; totally unmarked. The ball floated in and Cummins was on hand to head the ball past Crook from a matter of metres. We all ran on to the pitch. The players ran over to the fans, and the fans ran towards the players. It was a collective moment for Curzon. I ended up running into one of the defenders and losing my trainer in the process, but it was worth it. The club was eventually reported for the pitch invasion, but I’m sure nobody cares.
Overall, seven minutes of added time were played due to our invasion and an altercation. Then, the time had arrived. We all ran on the pitch again. 37 matches had taken Curzon to this point, 3330 minutes of football, 87 goals. Joe celebrated by drenching his heroes in Bucks Fizz. I’m sure they were thrilled.
It is often said that a word can define a generation, and at the moment, that word is selfie. There are many people out there who aren’t part of the selfie-brigade, but I don’t see why not. How else are you going to record a pitch invasion away at Harrogate Railway Athletic on a Monday night? There were more selfies taken that evening than you can shake a proverbial stick at.
I was covered in Bucks Fizz and my socks were soaking wet. There was only one thing for it. More jagerbombs and beer were in order. We dashed back into the clubhouse to get our beverages before the players arrived for theirs. The tannoy announcer had already made it upstairs and had his microphone in his hands, ready to announce in his dulcet tones that Curzon Ashton had been promoted. He honestly is one of my favourite people in non-league football.
A few drinks and speeches later and it was unfortunately time to get back on the coach to Manchester. It looked like it was going to be an alcohol free trip home. That was until the coach driver pulled over at a co-op on the outskirts of the town and began to speak down his tannoy system. “There’s a shop here. Go and get some beer if you want it!” – Fantastic stuff. Five crates of beer were soon loaded on and shared out around the coach.
The journey home seemed to go pretty quickly, with Curzon Ashton songs being created almost every five minutes. It was a fantastic atmosphere to be involved with, and the only thing that would have made it any better was if it were with my own team; Atherton Collieries.
I have no idea what time we arrived back at The Tameside Stadium. All I know is that it was lashing it down with rain, my socks were muddy and my hair was sticky. I’d have loved my own bed, but as it was we had to walk across Ashton to get back to Joe’s house. This is when the problems started. I fell over a kerb and badly twisted my ankle. Fortunately, on the way back we had witnessed somebody from Stalybridge trying to put his crutches into a bin. We duly took them off his hands and I used them instead. Stalybridge, I love you.
My ankle was out of bounds for the following two weeks as it turned every shade of purple known to man. It was extremely unfortunate that my accident had occurred in Ashton-under-Lyne as it is currently home to an NHS trust which is constantly under scrutiny. If I had gone into the hospital for an x-ray, I’d have been lucky to escape with my life. If anybody can learn anything from this, it would be Tameside Council. If they had the decency to paint their kerbs in a fluorescent and/or glowing paint then none of this would have happened.
Overall, what can I say? It truly was a fantastic evening. I had visited a fantastic club, seen a dramatic ending to a match and celebrated so much that I could no longer walk. If only every season produced such excitement. I’d urge you to go and visit Harrogate Railway Athletic at some stage. It’s by no means the pinnacle of football in the division, but the people there are lovely and the facilities are simply incredible. I’ll definitely try and get back to Station View at some point next season.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 67 miles
- ADMISSION: £3 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1.50
- PIE: I’d already had three McDonald’s burgers back in Ashton