I woke up with an awful hangover. The previous day Atherton Collieries had clinched promotion with a 3-0 win at bitter rivals Atherton Laburnum Rovers. These things happen once in a generation, so I was keen to celebrate. Various drinks, shots and copious amounts of champagne had been supped in the Rope & Anchor before we headed off to star striker Mark Batterby’s pub in Swinton.
The final part of the evening was completely spontaneous as was this trip to a club that I had seen about a year previously. I had watched Turton bow out of the Bolton Hospital Cup against eventual winners Hindsford in a semi-final at Atherton Collieries. Lee and Matt would be joining me for the second day in a row, while David would be experiencing his first taste of non-league football.
The original Turton FC were founded in 1871 and became arguably one of the leading teams in Lancashire football at the time. They were believed to have been the first team set up in Lancashire but academics have recently discovered a club called Hulme Athenaeum who date back to 1863. It is disputed how much of a football club Hulme were though and Turton are still considered to have brought “no hands football” to the North West of England. In 1879 Turton were one of the first entrants into the Lancashire Cup and entered the FA Cup for the first time.
Turton are also accredited with teaching the modern rules of the game to the embryonic Bolton Wanderers Football Club.
Despite boasting such a rich early history the club has twice folded resulting in large periods of inactivity for the club. The club nearly disappeared for good in 2009 when The Tigers were relegated from the West Lancashire Premier Division. Players left and thousands of pounds were owed. Long standing club member Ernie Charnock stepped in and appointed Craig Allardyce, son of Sam, as manager.
The club currently play in the West Lancashire Division 1, two divisions below the NWCFL. Their home ground of Thomason Fold is the club’s second home having originally played at Tower Street down the road in Chapeltown. A football match took place at that venue as early as 1830 making it possibly the oldest football pitch in the whole world.
The Chapeltown venue was taken over by Lancashire Amateur League side Old Boltonians in 1952. Old Bolts as they are more commonly known became one of the first clubs to re-organise after the war and bought the land in 1970. Ironically, from the hill overlooking Thomason Fold you could see Old Bolts taking on Breightmet United in the other Bolton Hospital Cup tie of the evening.
This time of the year is a fantastic time for local football as the Bolton Hospital Cup kick off. Atherton Collieries are the highest ranked team in the competition along with Atherton Laburnum Rovers. Then come the Manchester Premier and West Lancashire Premier sides, with tonight’s visitors Prestwich Heys being among them.
When the draw was made a couple of weeks ago, this match was due to take place at Prestwich but I assume with ground improvements ongoing to get the club ready for the NWCFL next season it was switched. Originally it was due to take place last week but bad weather meant it was postponed for a week. Fortunately for the four of us who made the winding journey to the hills in between Bolton and Blackburn it meant another match and another ground to tick off.
Turton – according to various internet sources – is no longer officially a place. It was once a village named Turton but it is now called Chapeltown. However, Google maps still shows a small area named Turton. All I know is that the football club now play a couple of minutes further north in Edgworth which is just in Blackburn with Darwen.
The area has three large reservoirs which supply the Bolton area; Jumbles, Turton and Entwistle & Wayoh. The latter backs on to Turton’s ground which we found quite difficult to find. Down a small residential estate we came across an area which had yellow cones across a number of drives – usually a tell tale sign there is a football match close by. Various work vans suggested that players had arrived straight from work. Groups of families squeezing down ginnels at the bottom of cul-de-sacs pointed us in the right direction.
Signs were dotted everywhere stating “No balls games” were to be played. It struck me as a place which housed quite a lot of pensioners as we strolled past conservatories and greenhouses which grew a variety of colourful floral displays. We had no idea if we were walking the right way and it felt like a true football adventure.
Approaching the end of a long ginnel the distinctive noise of footballs being kicked around during a pre match warm up came into ear shot. We had arrived and an old volunteer holding a beer glass full of admission money greeted us through a wooden fence. £2 to get into Turton for this Bolton Hospital Cup match with all money going to local charities.
The competition was set up in 1930 and was initially known as the Bolton Royal Infirmary Cup. Initially the money raised helped to pay for the broadcast of Bolton Wanderers matches to local hospitals via a specially installed line. Unfortunately the live services came to an abrupt end when workmen began to construct the A666 through the town centre. Farnworth were the first winners of the competition and with Burnden Park hosting the finals the cup flourished with over 60 teams entering in the 1970’s.
In 1995 the competition looked to be coming to an end with fewer clubs entering. A handful of volunteers worked tirelessly to carry it on and in 2001 Bolton Wanderers agreed to allow the final to be played at their brand new stadium, bringing a new lease of life to the competition.
Quite a crowd was in attendance for this one as the late evening sun set over the reservoir and Winter Hill. Fresh cups of tea were being served in mugs from the small kitchen area which doubled up as a laundrette. Price lists were easily confused with washing machine instructions. Down the corridor a couple of metres were the changing rooms which looked to be cosy for a seven a side team let alone a full squad with various coaches and physios.
Kick off was delayed by 15 minutes as players struggled through rush hour traffic to reach the ground. Prestwich were first to enter the pitch from the far corner which housed a variety of tractors and other machinery which had evidently done a fantastic job on a pitch which was very good considering the recent weather. The Heys were in red and despite being fare more of a Mancunian side than a Boltonian side put in their all to get through to the next round. Unfortunately for Heys luck just wasn’t on their side and they were knocked out of penalties by Turton.
Prestwich possessed a superior attacking ability with great wing play and the star of the show was Greg Wills who will take the NWCFL First Division by storm next season if the club are successfully accepted. He caused a plethora of problems for the Turton defenders, especially Adam Street and Mike Waterworth whose physical approach to play worked for the majority.
It wasn’t just at the back where play was physical as it turned into one of the feistiest encounters I have seen this season. The referee lost control after just five minutes and as the match progressed it turned into a match that was far from charitable as the locals were subjected to some colourful vocabulary. I have been watching the charity cup for three seasons and had never seen a yellow card brandished before but two were brandished during this duel.
Matt had a solution to the poor etiquette that was shown to the officials and players alike. “Book the lot of them. Fine them all £10 each and all money goes to charity. I don’t care if it’s a charity cup and the referee is trying to be nice. Book them and make some money!” My Welsh friend did have a point. It comes to something when a Turton player threw the ball at the referee at full time and nothing came of it because the player refused to listen to the man in black.
The first chance of the match came in the opening minutes when Prestwich won a corner. Jonathan Lyons swung the ball in and Mark Powell rose the highest to head towards goal where Josh McGreavy was on hand to make a save.
Heys had another opportunity to open the scoring on 20 minutes when Liam Dunn floated a cross into Ashford Blake. The striker met the ball well but his effort fell just wide of the post. Shortly after Blake went off injured after turning his ankle and it looked to be a bit of a blow for the visitors.
Josh McGreavy pulled off his best save of the match on 27 minutes when he denied Chris Mackay whose shot was heading for the bottom left hand corner.
The worst challenge of the match arrived on 34 minutes when a Turton player was scythed down from behind. We watched this from the top of the hill overlooking the reservoir but the screeches could have been heard on the other side of the water. No yellow card was given, somehow, but I don’t really mind that… as long as the referee is consistently lenient. The resulting free kick was hammered into the wall before the ball was headed over by former Heys player Damion Keegan.
On 42 minutes the deadlock was broken. Conor Landers carried the ball into the Turton area and he was bundled over by McGreavy. The goalkeeper claimed he got the ball, giving the referee another wave of abuse in the process. Correct decision and the spot kick was dispatched by George Powell.
Prestwich looked to be taking a one goal advantage into the interval but as we made our way around to the small clubhouse area Turton grabbed an equaliser. Poor defending allowed the home side to tap in from a few yards out.
Half time arrived and we headed inside in the search of food. David was starving. “Do you do food?”, “Yeah, we do.”, “Great, what do you have?”, “Twirls, Mars, Blue Riband and Crunchies.” While our non-league virgin wasn’t expecting to be able to purchase a full meal he was hoping to get his hands on more than a piece of chocolate. I was quite happy with the selection available and bought a cup of tea in a mug with a mars bar. The mug was worth the purchase in itself as it celebrated Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.
The second half well and truly belonged to Prestwich as they bombarded the Turton defence with wave after wave of attack. As much as it pains me to say it, former Atherton Collieries defender Chris Lawton kept his side (for the evening) in the match with block upon block and tackle after tackle. On 50 minutes the Runcorn Town player somehow blocked three shots in a row.
Five minutes later and Turton hit the post from a free kick following what the Prestwich twitter account described as “Michael Powell’s 18th foul”. It showed how out of hand the match was in parts in the clubs were even having a laugh about it.
Chances came and went and as the sun set the ground became very dark. By the time the managers had written down the order of their penalty takers torches were needed in order to see the ball. Prestwich missed two penalties, with both spectacularly kept out by Josh McGreavy. It went down to Chris Lawton to win the match for Turton and he calmly fired the ball into the bottom left hand corner past Rob Sadler.
Prestwich did not deserve to be knocked out but that is the beauty of the Bolton Hospital Cup; Turton are now just two wins away from playing at Bolton Wanderers in the final. They will face Ladybridge at home in the next round following their 7-0 demolition of Atherton Town last week in another match which we managed to attend.
Everybody left the ground in unison, squeezing back through the entrance ginnel and spilling out into the housing estate where notes had been left on cars who had parked on grass verges and over people’s driveways. Did neighbours not realise there was a Bolton Hospital Cup match on?
Our spontaneous day ended as spontaneously as it had started with the four of us heading for a kebab in Broughton where we dropped Matt back off at home. Matt thanked me for convincing him to visit Turton as opposed to Monton and we said our goodbyes until Saturday when we are off to Barrow to watch Holker Old Boys v Atherton Collieries.
I would definitely recommend visiting Turton FC. A club brimming with a rich and important history, set in amongst rolling hills and vast reservoirs. The only thing that would make the place better is a pub next to the ground. Having said that I thoroughly enjoyed my cup of tea and loved meeting the Queen at Thomason Fold. Grab a deck chair and a picnic and perch on the hill and watch one of the best spectacles in Lancashire non-league football.
Turton: Josh McGreavy, Adam Street, Matt Eckersley, Mason McLelland, Mike Waterworth, Chris Lawton, Damion Keegan, Ste Fitton, Dylan Winstanley, Jordan Lomax, Kieran Sissons – Subs: Dave Hanlon, Rick Battersby, Danny Taylor
Prestwich Heys: Rob Sadler, Liam Dunn, George Powell, Shaun Johnson, Lewis Smith, Mark Powell, Chris Mackay, Jon Lyons, Ashford Blake, Conor Landers, Greg Wills – Subs: Matt Jolly, Danny Noble, Darius Photiou
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 11 miles
- ADMISSION: £2
- PROGRAMME PRICE: N/A