Despite Ashton Athletic and Atherton Collieries not being in the same division as each other this was our fourth visit to Brocstedes Park in less than a year. Granted one of those matches was against their tenants St Helens Town in the FA Cup. It was becoming a bit of a joke. Every single cup competition we managed to draw either Ashton Athletic or Radcliffe Borough – who we play again in a cup competition in a couple of weeks time.
I had first visited Brocstedes Park last season when we were drawn against Athletic in the Lancashire Cup. It was a cold and windy Tuesday night which came after a long tiring day at college. I set my stall out and stated that I would not be blogging that night’s events and would simply go to get some fresh air and to relax. It was far from relaxing as the hard core of Colls fans froze to death and saw our team come from behind to knock Ashton out 3-1. Brad Cooke (who used to play for Athletic), Mark Truffas and Paul Atherton (who now plays for Athletic) scored our three goals that evening to take us through to Chorley in the next round.
It’s fair to say that the two clubs share a lot of players who have pulled on both the black and white stripes and the yellow in the borough of Wigan. Aaron Cringle for instance had left us in the summer and was now playing for Athletic, but was sitting the afternoon out so opted to stay with former Collieries and Athletic player Paul Townshend in the clubhouse. Both of them tried to bully me throughout the afternoon but I was having none of it.
Collieries had gathered quite a large following in recent months and we took around 40 fans to Brocstedes. We all had our own ways of getting there, with the Gibbons family finding a really odd way of doing it. We picked up my Grandad and Auntie at 13:45 and set off on the relatively short journey to Ashton… which soon turned into one of the most bizarre and scenic away days I’ve ever done. I know the area pretty well as Brocstedes was the nearest ground to my college but even I was baffled when we wound off the motorway and embarked upon a journey through farms and cattle grids.
You could see the floodlights standing out above the surrounding fields but the GPS was adamant that we were still seven minutes from our destination. A sheep lorry pulled out in front of us and I could see the Collieries players warming up in the far distance. We couldn’t help but laugh. It wasn’t the most scenic journey to a match that I had done, but it was surprising to see so much vegetation in Wigan.
The car just about survived travelling down the dirt track which leads into the car park at Brocstedes Park. There was plenty of space to dump the Citroen which is on it’s last legs and in need of retirement, a bit like a certain Colls player who can’t be named but only made it on to the bench for this match.
Walking through the turnstiles at Athletic you’re greeted by a volunteer with a distinctive Wigan accent. It cheered me up and made me feel like I was back at home having now lived in York for over a month. Admission was only £2.50 for me as a student and there were a variety of badges and other memorabilia on sale.
The clubhouse is immediately on the left when in through the gates and we had a special visitor for the match which was perched close to the tunnel. The league had decided that the League Cup should be on display for this fixture as the current holders and cup hopefuls went head-to-head. The cup this season has been renamed The Men United Cup in support of Prostate Cancer UK, so Dave – a volunteer from the charity – was on hand to give out advise and generally spread the word about the charity. You can read more about the charity here: http://prostatecanceruk.org/
I of course had to have a photograph with the trophy to add to my collection; nobody could stop me. I went into the clubhouse where the Colls fans were having a laugh at me as they’d seen me with yet another trophy. What can I say? I’m like a non-league magpie. If it’s shiny I will have my photograph with it (bald heads do not count).
Ashton Athletic were founded in 1968 and started off life in the Wigan Sunday League. In 1982, they became founding members of the NWCFL along with Atherton Collieries. Despite being founding members their ground failed ground grading two years later and the club joined the Manchester League which they stayed in until 2006. After just two seasons back in the NWCFL the club gained promotion into the Premier Division following a third placed finish.
The facilities at Brocstedes Park are fantastic, with the clubhouse being one of the best ones in NWCFL football. A wide range of alcohol is available in a nicely furnished room which shows Sky Sports on two plasma screens. The facilities were that impressive they managed to attract two West Didsbury & Chorlton fans to the match. I thought it was slightly odd that they turned up to our match plastered in West gear, but then it clicked with us… they had turned up at the wrong match. Their side were playing away at Ashton Town which is a couple of miles up the road.
West Didsbury appear to have form for this and it’s no rare occurrence in Ashton either. In pre-season, West Didsbury were playing at Atherton Town but one of their strikers turned up at Atherton Collieries instead. There was also another time when West were playing at Colls that one of their defenders went to Atherton Laburnum Rovers. I personally blame Rob McKay for failing to organise his troops.
Possibly the funniest cock up with the Ashton sides came last season when some Skelmersdale United fans turned up at Ashton Town. It took them 15 minutes to realise that they had turned up at not only the wrong Ashton club, but they were in the wrong town and were watching a level of football three divisions below their own side. They were meant to be watching Skem away at Ashton United… on the other side of Manchester!
I’m sure there have been plenty of other instances of people not realising they’re at the wrong Ashton as there are four of them in Manchester, but enough of that, that will all feature in my non-league sitcom when I’ve retired from teaching.
The remainder of Brocstedes Park is pretty basic, with two seated stands either side of the dugouts. There is a reasonably sized standing shed at the end of the stand on the right hand side and that is basically it. The opposite side of the ground backs on to the motorway which leads into Wigan meaning that if you are a fan of the Eddie Stobart spotters club you can have an absolute whale of a time.
Just before kick off we did a small photo shoot on the pitch where Ashton captain Ian Rowlands and our captain for the day Mark Ayres posed with the trophy alongside the representative from Prostate Cancer UK. If I was trying to make a trophy or a charity look good or presentable then I would not have picked Mark Ayres.
With photographs taken it was time for the two teams to emerge. Ashton were in their traditional colours of all yellow whilst the mighty Collieries were in their controversial all red away kit. When Emil and I decided to pick a red kit in the catalogue at the start of the season there was uproar. We were sworn at by members of the committee and I was nearly banished from the town. The decision was made and we now look like Manchester United for the season… something that will never ever happen again apparently. Think we’ll have to go for a sky blue colour next season.
Going into the match Ashton Athletic sat in fifth position in the Premier Division whilst Collieries were at the top of Division One having won 11 games out of 11, conceding just six in the process; a form which gives them the best record in English football at the time of writing.
The game started off pretty evenly and stayed that way throughout. I don’t think either side performed to the best of their capabilities. It was a game where both defences were on top, preventing respective striking forces from having much joy in front of goal. It was an end to end encounter with a lot of space available in midfield.
The blustery conditions meant a lot of football was played on the floor, but poor passing often meant play was cut out in the final third. The first real attempt on goal came on 19 minutes and the Colls took the lead from it. A great flowing counter attacking move saw Matt Boland run into the box with the ball. With an Athletic defender about to take the ball away from him, Boland managed to poke the ball through to Ben Hardcastle at the back post who smashed the ball past Ashton goalkeeper Jay Foulds.
The home side could have been on level terms just moments later when Adam Howard made his way through the visiting defence. He hit a strong shot towards the near post but an inform Danny Taberner got down well to pull off a fantastic impulse save.
Collieries should have doubled their lead on the half hour mark when they once again broke on the counter attack. Matt Boland swung a cross in where a rare Mark Truffas header was well saved by Foulds. It was the first time that we had seen Truffas head a ball since August 2013 when he scored from a yard out at Holker Old Boys. Join us again next year when Truffas has another go.
With one minute left of the first half Collieries came up with the move of the match and can count themselves extremely unlucky not to have scored. Truffas picked the ball up in his own half and set about running down the wing past two defenders. He wound his way into the area where he chipped a delicate ball to the back post where Hardcastle was on hand. The wind took the ball away from him and he sliced it centimetres wide from a matter of metres. Leader of the Crazy Gang, Phil, said that he could have scored it with his walking stick.
The second half offered more of the same and Collieries doubled their lead on 61 minutes. Mark Truffas fired in a low ball from the right hand side into Mark Battersby. The league’s top goalscorer got in front of the Ashton defender and steered the ball towards goal. Foulds did well to get behind the ball but the power of the effort saw it trickle over the goal line to make it 2-0.
On 70 minutes Mark Ayres had a shot out of nowhere that fell just wide of the left hand post before Battersby came close to grabbing his second of the match.
With five minutes remaining, Atherton manager Michael Clegg brought on Jordan Cover to replace Battersby. His first touch saw him win a corner for his team. His second touch saw him head the ball just wide… and his third touch saw him score a fantastic goal. A long ball over the top was latched on to by Cover who delicately lobbed Foulds before wheeling off to celebrate before the ball had even crossed the line.
That sealed the win and took Collieries through to the last 16 of the League Cup. They had knocked out the current holders and had made it four wins out of four at Brocstedes in the past year. We headed back into the clubhouse for a drink and the players soon joined us. This time around the cup draw was being held at Silsden so we waited around for news to filter through on the phone. We have been drawn away at Premier Division side Abbey Hey in the next round; the scene of our 2012/13 FA Cup exit.
I’ve enjoyed both of my visits to Ashton Athletic and despite it’s location it is well worth a visit if you get chance to do so. No doubt Collieries will play there again a few more times before the end of the season if recent events are anything to go by!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 10 miles
- ADMISSION: £2.50 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1.50