Friday night football is the latest wave in a tsunami of revolutionary ideas to be introduced to the NWCFL scene. While Atherton Collieries don’t claim to be the first ever club to play on a Friday night, we do claim to be proud advocates of staging matches under the lights. While many football purists may argue that football should be played at 15:00 on a Saturday there most definitely is a market for Friday night football.
Earlier in the season we hosted local rivals Daisy Hill at Alder House on a Friday evening. A match which would have attracted around 120 hardy souls (even less if Bolton were at home) saw 609 turn up to the amazement of everybody involved. Having had a successful trial evening we decided to switch our home and away matches against Barnton to Friday nights.
While we didn’t get as many people in as we’d have like (231) it was still a fantastic attendance figure for our level of football. Having beaten third placed Barnton 2-1, moving to the top of the table in the process, we now had a free Saturday to fill.
There are 34 football clubs in Greater Manchester from the Premier League down to the NWCFL Division One; the lowest level where floodlights and seating are required. Being home from York for the weekend I wanted to tick off another one of the Manchester grounds with Salford City, Wigan Robin Park and Irlam being the only ones left on my hit list. Both Salford and Wigan were away from home, with the Robins due to take part in El Pie Classico against local rivals Ashton Town. This left Irlam as the only option remaining and to be honest, I was quite happy with that as it should have been relatively easy to get to as it sits just 13 miles from Atherton.
However, the ‘smart motorway’ is currently being installed and Sale Sharks were at home to Scarlets at the Salford City Stadium. With these two hurdles in our way we opted to take the scenic route through Leigh, Glazebury and Culcheth. Granted, Leigh was far from scenic. As we wound through the rolling countryside of Cheshire there were sheep grazing and a plethora of alpacas strolling around. The alpaca of course is more used to sitting in the hills of Chile, not the fields of Chat Moss, the peat bog which makes up a third of the City of Salford.
Chat Moss of course is where George Stephenson managed to construct a bridge on the Manchester to Liverpool railway line in 1829, floating the line above the vegetation. Like Stephenson’s famous Rocket we were moving forwards at a decent rate and arrived in Irlam just after 14:00.
Irlam is a suburb of Salford in Greater Manchester which sits on the banks of the River Irwell, from which it takes its name. The construction of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894 saw the town grow as an inland port. The town was then built on steel manufacturing, hence why Irlam has another side – who play in the Manchester League – named Irlam Steel.
The Irlam side who I was watching today were founded in 1969 by a group of employees who worked for Mitchell, Shackleton and Company. The engineering firm was based in Paticroft, Eccles and they named their football club Mitchell Shackleton FC. Mitchell Shackleton FC played at Salteye Park (named after the neighbouring brook) in the Peel Green area of Eccles.
In 2001, the club was renamed Irlam Mitchell Shackleton ahead of a proposed move further down Liverpool Road. The club were forced out of Salteye Park in 2003 as the land was to be redeveloped. Nine years later and the new home of Salford City Reds was opened at the very site on which Mitchel Shackleton had once played.
Fortunately, Irlam MS were given compensation and a large grant from the Football Foundation which enabled them to build a ground in Irlam. Silver Street was the chosen location having once been home to Irlam Town FC who competed as high as the Northern Premier League.
Town went bust in the early 1990’s and the ground at Silver Street fell into disrepair. The local authority flattened the ground and it lay empty for nearly ten years until Irlam MS moved to the area.
A final name change occurred in 2004 when the club became Irlam FC. The club were plodding around in the Manchester League until the start of the 2007/08 season when they were allowed to move up into the NWCFL. Silver Street is found at the rear of a large residential estate next to the M62.
The distant cacophony of the motorway was blocked out when I walked through the turnstile and League Management Committee member, Clipper, began to shout abuse towards me. “Gibbo! Did you nick your coat off a 22 stone man?” My prized bargain buy from Bolton’s club shop deserved more respect. I wondered whether I had taken it from him at some stage but I couldn’t quite remember.
Conversation became nicer when the turnstile operator thanked my Dad and I for our support before I bumped into Irlam’s ebullient club secretary, Warren. Warren was stood proudly in front of the club’s brand new clubhouse which should be open before the end of the season.
Apparently there have been plans to construct a clubhouse since the club moved to Silver Street twelve years ago but there have been various obstacles to overcome. We weren’t allowed in to have a quick look around for health and safety reasons, but a nearby fan jokingly said that they’re going to keep it in a state of construction to hide all the cannabis the locals have growing in there. It was pointed out that Barton Aerodrome is just up the road, so the police helicopters would sense the heat from above.
The ground will be fantastic when the new facility is open. The only place for warmth at the moment is a small refreshments cabin which held a handful of chairs and a portable television which was showing the Six Nations rugby. Although, I’m told by Rob that there was a pre-historic drama on the box before I arrived… whatever that means!
Going into the match both sides still had hopes of reaching the inaugural NWCFL Division One Play-Offs. Irlam sat in 14th place with 26 points while Cheadle were faring better, occupying 8th place with seven points more. So tight is the table it is basically impossible to predict who will grab those four lucrative spots come April, but based on this match I wouldn’t put it past either side.
The last time I had seen Cheadle play was in pre-season when they hosted Dinamo Bucharest at Mottram Hall Hotel. The surroundings were slightly different this time but it was good to be back to reality. Admittedly, I don’t know much about the Park Road outfit’s side but I noticed that Nathan Neequaye was missing from the squad. The striker has been in good form for Town over the past year since he dropped down a division from Glossop North End.
Meanwhile, Irlam had their own problems up front with Icely going off injured just ten minutes into proceedings. Cheadle were the better side for large parts of the game and would have won all three points had they not sat back when they went 2-0 up. However, they were lucky to leave Silver Street with a point following an Irlam onslaught in the last ten minutes of the match.
The opening exchanges saw Irlam go close twice through Connor Martin and Ryan Ledson. The home side lost their top goalscorer, Icely, just ten minutes in when he was scythed down by a physical Cheadle side. It was a theme that was to continue throughout the match, but both sides got on with it and there were only minimal complaints from fans of either side.
Cheadle came close to opening the scoring on 20 minutes when Niall Cannon crossed the ball into Ashley Smallwood. The midfielder fired just wide of Irlam youth product Jordan Hamilton’s left hand post.
Christian Lawlor was Icely’s replacement and he had the ball in the Cheadle goal moments later but he was adjudged to have been offside by a set of officials who didn’t put a foot wrong all afternoon.
The deadlock was broken on 34 minutes by the away side. Full back James Dunne crossed in from the right hand side and Luke Hincks was on hand to dink the ball over Hamilton.
The lead was doubled six minutes later from a similar route when Richard Whyatt tapped in from a tight angle at the back post.
The second half belonged to Irlam, who came out fighting after the interval. However, Cheadle had every man behind the ball and it looked as though the home side would never penetrate a strong defence.
Connor Martin forced a couple of saves from the ever impressive Stephen Piggot in the Cheadle goal. The deficit was deservedly halved with six minutes remaining when a cross was punched out to Karl Cassell on the edge of the area. He thumped the ball into the bottom corner on the volley and the home side set about launching their next attack straight from the restart.
Shooting from outside the area worked a minute ago, so why not try again? Gareth Mooney carried the ball forward and saw Piggot off his line. His looping and curling volley flew straight over the shot stopper and hit the top corner to bring the scores level. As the game moved into added on time, Piggot pulled off two fantastic saves to earn Cheadle a point.
It had been a decent NWCFL match and the relatively large crowd by Irlam’s standards left Silver Street happy with what they had seen. It was enjoyable ticking off a ground in the league as a neutral for once; it meant I could relax for the afternoon. No doubt I’ll be back at Silver Street in the future and I look forward to seeing the new clubhouse!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 13 miles
- ADMISSION: £3 with an Atherton Collieries pass
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1.50