With the thermometer hitting 30 degrees in some parts of the North West, I simply couldn’t sit inside all day. I needed to get out of the house and make the most of the heatwave which was sweeping across the nation. My mum claims it’s the hottest she has known it in the living room since she was pregnant with me. Now, if that isn’t an accurate comment to gauge how hot it really is, then I don’t know what is.
I travelled only a few miles for this Thursday night of pre-season, with quite a few fixtures pencilled as original options. The hot favourite was Vauxhall Motors v Marine, as I wanted to see how Vauxhall were preparing for life in the lower tiers of non-league football. Other than that, there was Glossop North End v Stalybridge Celtic or Eagley v West Didsbury & Chorlton.
Having been past Eagley in the car, I had always marked it as a ground to tick off in the summer. I couldn’t imagine enjoying myself there in the depths of winter, stuck in a fog filled valley. In fact, I came close to visiting Eagley a couple of weekends ago when they announced that they would be hosting troubled Hereford United at Dunscar.
Hereford had unveiled a host of pre-season friendlies, but with ownership issues, financial irregularities and fan boycotts their opponents all chose to withdraw to join the protest. It came as a surprise when Eagley announced that they would be hosting the Bulls at Dunscar on a Saturday afternoon. Within an hour of the announcement, Hereford fans were taking to Twitter urging everybody in Bolton to boycott the match. Others took it further and organised a protest to take place at the match.
I could see how much controversy this friendly against Hereford had created. Inevitably, the match was moved to a secret location (an academy high school in the back streets of Bolton) where Eagley are rumoured to have lost 16-0, however there is no report of the scoreline on the internet. The match made the BBC Sport website due to the location being switched only an hour before kick off, with no word to fans who had travelled. It was all a bit of a mess, and it seemed a bit unfair on Eagley who had been caught up in it all.
Fortunately, things were back to normal for this late July evening, with NWCFL Premier Division side West Didsbury & Chorlton the visitors. Joining me for the trip were fellow Colls fan Zach – who classes Eagley as his local side – and Stew from Non-League Review.
The afternoon began in bizarre circumstances from a personal point of view, when I somehow forgot how to work out the 24 hour clock. As a result, I rushed around the house in an effort to make the 15:40 train from Atherton to Salford. It was only when I stepped on the train I realised that I had set out an hour early. The fact I can no longer perform basic tasks such as telling the time bodes well for a lad who hopes to be a Primary School teacher this time in three years.
There were two different ways for me to get to Eagley. I could go to Salford and then get the direct train to Bromley Cross, or I could go to Hindley (on the outskirts of Wigan), change to get to Bolton where I would then change again to travel two stops to Bromley Cross. I love making things complicated, so I opted to head via Hindley. I had never stepped foot at Hindley station before, despite passing through it for the last two years on the way to college. The station had become a popular location for twitchers, who regularly popped down there to take photographs of a peacock that had made Platform 1 it’s home. However, the peculiar bird wasn’t there any longer having been decapitated by an 08:47 service to Southport back in March.
I had a Bombay Bicycle Club t-shirt on which I thought was a suitable choice of garment for such a hot day. It was a white cotton number, which went well with my white shorts. I had a few looks from older people who wondered why on earth a teenager liked bicycles from Bombay, but that was nothing compared to a comment I received whilst standing at Bolton train station. “Why are you supporting those lot?!” came an angry voice. I looked up to see what I can only describe as a sunburnt chav standing in front of me, wondering why I was supporting an Asian extremist group. I tried to explain that Bombay Bicycle Club are an English indie rock band from Crouch End in London, but it fell on deaf ears as the train arrived.
Passing through the beautifully named Hall ‘ith Wood, I arrived in Bromley Cross a couple of minutes later. Bromley Cross apparently is the fifth best place to raise a family in Britain; quite a claim. Zach lives there and he’s not common, so that’s all I can support this claim with at the moment. Bromley Cross is a lovely quiet place which thankfully had some nice pubs to visit before the football.
Zach met up with me, and took me to the Sportman which is a nice Thwaites pub which sits on a main road. I’m not often a fan of sitting outside next to the road having a drink, but it didn’t bother me on this occasion as we watched the world go by whilst doing a spot of sunbathing. Our next stop was the Spread Eagle, which stands next to the Eagley Mills. This pub was my favourite of the two, feeling a bit more modern. It felt like being in Atherton, with both pubs decorated in various Bolton Wanderers memorabilia.
A wander past the Eagley Mills, through a forest and underneath an overturned tree and we had arrived at the Dunscar Sports Complex. There is of course an easier way into the ground, it’s just that I asked Zach to take me the scenic way. The Sports Complex consists of a football pitch with clubhouse and changing rooms, a cricket pitch with a clubhouse and a pavilion along with a tennis club and an archery area. It is a real community facility and the football and cricket clubs demonstrate this, running a number of youth teams.
In a repeat of Bacup a couple of weeks ago, both the football and cricket pitches were in use at the same time meaning that we could watch both sports. It got a bit dangerous at times when the cricket players had to shout “heads” to warn the footballers that a ball hit for six was coming their way, and vice versa.
On one occasion, the fielder closest to us shouted it at the top of his voice. Crouched down on the floor with my hands covering my head, I stayed in that position for at least thirty seconds. It turned out the ball had landed in the centre circle, causing no harm to anybody. It would have been nice for the cricketers to shout “landed” or something else to acknowledge that the danger was over. I could have been crouched down for another over if it wasn’t for Stew telling me my skull was no longer in danger of caving in.
The original Eagley FC was founded in 1874; becoming one of the very first football clubs in Lancashire. They became founding members of the LFA in 1878 and are said to be the first ever opponents of Preston North End. The club can also boast to be the first ever opponents of Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup, with this draw coming in 1881. The match ended in a 5-5 draw, with Bolton winning 1-0 at Eagley in a replay.
Eagley then disbanded before being revived as Eagley Mills FC at the end of World War II. A highlight for Eagley came in 1960, when they beat my side Atherton Collieries in the Lancashire Junior Shield at Grundy Hill; former home of Horwich RMI.
These days, the club compete in the West Lancashire Premier Division and are widely regarded as one of the top amateur football teams in Bolton. I have seen them compete at The Reebok Stadium twice in the last few years in the Bolton Hospital Cup Final, and was impressed with them on both occasions. Their squad has been weakened somewhat over the last couple of seasons, with the departure of some of their stronger players to clubs in the NWCFL.
The match kicked off in front of a sparse crowd which had gathered for this quiet fixture. A large Nat Lofthouse sign formed part of the perimeter to the pitch, apparently having been given to Eagley by Bolton Wanderers when a lot of the sponsorship signs were replaced a few years ago.
Eagley were in their traditional yellow and black home kit, whilst West Didsbury & Chorlton were in their home kit of white and black. The visitors team consisted of a handful of first team players who featured at Atherton Town on Tuesday with a mix of reserve players. The West goalkeeper turned up late, meaning one of their management team had to go in goal for the first ten minutes of the match before he got moved up front later on in the match. A versatile coach is always needed at this level of football.
West started the match the better of the two sides but couldn’t find a way through the Eagley defence. West striker Tre Baldwin-Willis was caught offside on a number of occasions, but did find a way through down the wing halfway through the half. His pace and strength saw him easily shrug off the young Eagley left back before his shot was saved as it was heading for the bottom right hand corner.
Eagley took the lead into half time after a sublime goal. A midfielder picked the ball up around 30 yards from goal and delicately chipped it over the goalkeeper into the back of the net. Even the fielding side in the cricket applauded the effort, which is the best goal I have seen so far this season…
Half time arrived, which allowed us to pivot 180 degrees to stand on the cricket boundary. We got chatting to an old bloke who was fielding and he didn’t look like he had a clue what he was doing, but bless him for trying. He was in the middle of talking to us when an ice cream van hurtled down the road between the two pitches. The chimes were blaring, meaning that the bowler had to pause his run up as it put him off completely.
We all purchased a 99 each, before it was time to watch another 45 minutes of football. Eagley looked the better side in the second half, registering many shots on goal. At one stage the West Didsbury goalkeeper made a double save before at the third time of asking, the home side hit the crossbar. They did however double their lead minutes later.
The final ten minutes belonged to West Didsbury who kept possession well in the opposition half. Their efforts were rewarded with a consolation goal before the full time whistle sounded. The match had been alright; nothing spectacular. I think the small narrow pitch at Eagley made for a lot of offside calls, meaning most attacks were halted before anything could be produced.
I liked Eagley’s ground as it is in a nice setting, but the facilities are basic. I won’t be in a rush to go back but may return one summer if I can watch the football and cricket simultaneously again. Unfortunately, they have lost their manager and long standing secretary along with a few key players in recent months, meaning the club is now in a transitional period for the forthcoming season. They may struggle as a result.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 7.5 miles
- ADMISSION: Free
- PROGRAMME PRICE: N/A