Former Northwich Victoria fans met at the Lostock Social Club in Lostock Gralam on November 15th 2012. By the end of the meeting, a new club had been formed and intentions had been stated to join the NWCFL. It had been a long time coming for the fans of Northwich Victoria who had seen their club go from one of non-leagues biggest names, to a laughing stock in a matter of years.
Northwich Victoria had played at The Drill Field in the centre of the town since their formation in 1874. However, due to the ground no longer meeting safety regulations the field was demolished in 2002. It took three years for the club to find a new home, in which time they ground shared at their local rivals Witton Albion.
In 2005, Northwich finally had a ground of their own when the Victoria Stadium was opened in the Wincham area of the town.
Despite a fantastic FA Cup run and now having a state of the art ground, the club was in trouble in October 2007 when another unpaid tax bill threatened the future of the club. The club applied to go into administration again, but a consortium led by Jim Rushe bought the club, with Rushe becoming chairman.
In May 2009, the club went into administration for the second time in five years. They owed £500,000 to various creditors. The club was threatened with a demotion to the Northern Premier League but were only demoted one division down to the Conference North after an appeal.
I had first seen the club play away at Ashton United in January 2012, totally unaware of what was about to happen to the famous Vics. It was revealed that The Victoria Stadium had been purchased by THOR Chemicals who had a site next door to the ground. The club were evicted and home games had to be played elsewhere.
In April 2012, The Northern Premier League expelled Northwich Victoria from it’s competitions. However, on appeal this punishment was deemed as excessive by The FA. The Vics had finished second in the league and were unable to compete in the play-offs before then being demoted one division into the Northern Premier Division One South. The placing in the South division came as a result of the club now playing their matches at Marston Road in Stafford.
With such long distances to travel and issue upon issue with the ownership, the Northwich Victoria fan base opted to start their own club, and that is where 1874 Northwich come into the equation. 1874 Northwich are the latest club to have been set up by a group of fans. The vote was passed by 141 votes to 4. The club is fully owned by supporters and is run by a democratically elected board.
On July 10th 2013, 1874 Northwich played in their first ever match, away at Lostock Gralam. The new club won 3-1, before beating fellow fans owned club AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3-0 at Widnes just three days later.
The clubs inaugural season began on August 3rd 2013 when they welcomed Oldham Boro to the Barton Stadium. 490 fans attended the match which finished 1-1. Attendances dwindled slightly after the beginning of the season, but the excitement and ambition amongst fans certainly didn’t.
I had missed the reverse fixture a fortnight earlier due to work commitments, which made me determined to attend this fixture. Colls had gone down 1-0 in a tight affair, with Mike Brandon scoring the only goal of the match.
I was disappointed with the fact we didn’t keep a clean sheet, so when centre half Chris Lawton offered me a lift to the match I thoughtfully prepared a few defensive lessons for him. I was sure I could teach him how to defend properly. Unfortunately my lessons never really took off as winger Mark Truffas – who was following in convoy – insisted on ringing us up every other minute to check we were going the right way.
Truffas didn’t have a clue where we were going. We hadn’t even reached Leigh and we had received two phone calls from him. We were convinced we’d lose him before we arrived in Winsford. Our fears nearly came to fruition when we were leaving junction 18 of the M6. Not realising we were coming off at this junction, Lawty swooped across two lanes just in time to reach the slip road. Truffas followed and found himself just metres in front of a haulage truck. The truck flashed it’s lights and fortunately Truffas just about escaped. Emil stated that if the worst did happen, we would form a pact and not let anybody know that we were involved in his disappearance.
We arrived in an overcast Winsford in one piece just after 13:00. There was plenty of parking available in front of the ground which by this stage had a few 1874 Northwich fans wandering around outside. I hadn’t looked at any photographs of the Barton Stadium, so was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place.
The Barton Stadium has plenty of character and is unlike any other venue that I have visited. It was once home to a greyhound track meaning that behind the goals you are quite far away from the field of play. The embankments behind the goal offer a strange view of the play.
The Main Stand at Winsford is home to club offices and a social club which is hidden from view. When eventually found, the social offered a brief respite from the cold, wet weather which had descended on the Cheshire town. However, that’s about all it offered. It was a bleak and dismal setting which was barely lit and is in desperate need of an overhaul. One plus was that there were many home fans congregated in the room, meaning that we could all huddle together like emperor penguins to keep warm.
I was told by all the 1874 fans on Facebook that I would have to purchase a Birtwisles pie, which appear to be a staple of the diet down in Northwich. Ultimately, I opted to buy a matchday programme instead from 1874 volunteer Jack who was manning the programme hut near the entrance. The programme was really well presented and certainly one of the better ones at this level of football, but a £2 price tag seemed a bit expensive for something which didn’t have a lot of content.
With the three wet Colls flags fluttering at the top end of the ground it was soon time for the players to come out of the changing rooms. Northwich were in their traditional green shirts, with Colls in the blue shirt with double white sash.
Paul and Karl Atherton were unavailable as was Jake Patton. Defender James Halpin was still recovering from a long term injury but a strong squad was still at Steve Pilling’s disposal.
Mike Mulrooney and Charlie Stoker played together up front for the first time this season with Mulrooney recently returning to the club. Captain Brad Cooke made his first appearance against 1874 after sitting out the last match with a hamstring strain.
1874 had won their last six matches, conceding only two goals in the process and had been boosted by the arrival of Sakeel Abdullah from Nelson. Abdullah scored against Colls earlier in the season when he was with Daisy Hill.
Neither side took control of the game as they matched each other like for like throughout. Northwich played very narrow at times whilst Colls tried to exploit the flanks behind the 1874 defence through the pace of Stoker and Mulrooney. Gareth Peet was sitting in at left back which prevented him from joining in the attack on occasions.
There weren’t many chances of note in the first half, despite it being a good match to watch. Cooke – in his usual manner – was adding a bit of bite to the match with his full blooded challenges which didn’t go down too well with the home faithful.
Defender Aaron Cringle was replaced by Rob Swanton after he sustained a groin injury.
It was Atherton who took the lead on 53 minutes when Kieran Halliwell scored his second goal in as many matches. The centre half rose well to head the ball into the right hand corner after it had been flicked on at the near post. Halliwell and Cooke steamed off to celebrate with manager Steve Pilling in front of a sombre home crowd.
Ian Street then made a triple substitution and played with five up front. It was make or break for 1874, they knew they had to get something from the match. Sakeel Abdullah, Daley Woods and Matty Wood all came on, while Brad Cooke who had been booked made way for Josh Peet.
Charlie Stoker came close to doubling the lead when he beat the offside trap. One on one with Conkie, the Northwich keeper made a key save to keep his side in the match.
On 79 minutes Northwich equalised and you could probably say that it was coming. An energetic Woods sprinted down the line and latched on to a through ball. Swanton was unable to close down in time as Woods glided a ball to the back post. When Mike Brandon stormed into the area the ball was always going to go into the back of the net. The league’s top goalscorer headed the ball into Priestley’s goal.
The vociferous Northwich fans were now acting as a twelfth man and they rallied their players in the final ten minutes. Just before the end they had two opportunities to claim three points.
The first chance saw the ball glance off the post from close range and out for a corner, before Abdullah looked to have sealed a dramatic last minute win. He received the ball in the centre of the goal before firing a ferocious effort which looked to be going in. Priestley pulled off what is arguably the best Colls save this season to keep the score at 1-1.
The referee unfortunately called time on what had been a thrilling encounter. Colls played with pride and that is all we ask for. It was the first time that Northwich have dropped points at home since the beginning of October when Irlam held them to a 0-0 draw.
We headed back into the clubhouse where the players were treated to a large buffet whilst the West Ham v Man United match was being projected on to a big screen. The 1874 fans stuck around to see the post match presentations before we headed back to Atherton. Overall, it was a very good match to watch and it could have gone either way. In the end, a fair result between two sides who didn’t stop trying throughout. I may be one of the more vocal sceptics of 1874 Northwich, but the attitude of their fans and committee is a credit to non-league, even if they do take it a bit too far at times.
I’ll finish with a quote which I had read on the 1874 Northwich forum after the match. I think it sums up just how well the club have done in their first season. Sometimes you have to stand back and realise what has been achieved.
“November 2012 – we started with absolutely nothing. Zilch!
August 2013 – we played our first competitve game.
April 2014 – we try and finish as high as we can, after an amazing season.
We have an amazing Club with amazing people linked to it, from the Board Room to the terraces.
We have 300 plus ‘Managers’ on the terraces. How terrific is that, what fantastic numbers.
It has been more than I had hoped for. Whatever position we finish in……we’ve already won!”
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 31.5 miles
- ADMISSION: Free with Colls
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2