League champions Atherton Collieries played their fifth game in six days. There was a palpable sense of disappointment in the Wigan air as the team and fans alike realised that they wouldn’t be spending the day with each other tomorrow. In fact, we all had a full 24 hours without having to play or witness another match; however would we all cope?
It had been less than 14 hours since we had all left Darwen when we reconvened at Alder House ahead of yet another match. We had lost at Darwen the previous night and we were all hurting. Exhausted, I grudgingly woke up at 10:00 and rang club secretary Emil to ask him what time I’d need to be at Colls for a lift. “Come down at 1 o’clock and you’ll be fine.”, “Alright, I’m going back to sleep for an hour then.”, “I don’t blame you.”
That was the attitude in our camp now. It seemed none of us had the energy to do anything. My mum dropped me off at the entrance and the troops were there already drinking bitter. It was at this stage that we all opened up to each other; indeed none of us could be arsed with today’s match. We just wanted it to stop. You go for the love of your team though don’t you?
Vincent was on driving duties and I was shoved in the back with scouse Arthur and Lazarus – walking stick and plastic bag in hand. Traffic was a bit hectic heading through Leigh as the Centurions took on Super League’s Salford in the Challenge Cup. The drunken Leythers were already staggering around as we reached Slag Lane, so I dread to think how they looked following their heroic performance to reach the next round.
Ashton, or Ashton-in-Makerfield to give the town it’s full title sits in the borough of Wigan, as does Atherton making this match a Wigan derby apparently. Of course, us lot in Atherton are currently staging a Scotland style protest and are trying to form our own town council away from Wigan, due to us lot having absolutely no links with the place.
This was our fourth match in Ashton this season having played Ashton Athletic twice and St Helens Town once at Brocstedes Park. If you count an imminent end of season trip to Haydock Races – which sits just under two miles from Ashton Town – then you could say that we are frequent visitors to the area.
Despite our vast amount of jaunts made across the borough this was the first time Colls had visited Edge Green Street in daylight since 2009. It made a pleasant change and the weather was beautiful as we parked the car outside a row of houses which lead up to the entrance to the ground.
The original Ashton Town were formed in 1903 and competed in the Lancashire Combination. This saw them play competitively against the reserve sides of Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton, Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers. In 1910 the club withdrew from the league and their fixtures were taken over by Tyldesley Albion.
The current club was formed in 1953 as Makerfield Mill FC. They started off life in the Wigan Sunday School League before joining the St Helens Combination League for three years. A further move to the Warrington and District Amateur League arrived in 1958.
It was while competing in the Warrington League that the club was forced to move from its original ground at Windsor Road because of land development. It was at this point the club renamed themselves Ashton Town. Home matches were played on a public park in Bryn until 1964 when the club purchased Edge Green Street from Stubshaw Cross Rovers.
In 1982, Ashton Town became founding members of the NWCFL alongside Atherton Collieries. They have competed in every season of the competition except in 1985 when they spent a season in the Manchester League while essential ground maintenance works took place.
These days the club is run by an ambitious and community minded chairman in Mark Hayes who is a Wigan Athletic fan in his other life. He arrived at Ashton Town in 2009 and since then he has introduced many initiatives to the club, with the most high profile seeing him hand out over 1000 free season tickets to children at the local high school. For this match, he organised for 30 dementia sufferers from Liverpool to have a day out at the football, organising the transport and allowing them to come in for free.
It was the first appearance of the season for Colls green away kit and it will probably be the last, if not for this campaign but forever. The reliable green number has served us well but it will be stored in the cellar until the end of the season when its fate will be decided. To celebrate it’s last appearance I dusted off my replica and found some matching sunglasses.
“Circa Waves – T-Shirt Weather” is going to be my song for the summer, so with temperatures decent I listened to this prior to the two sides emerging on to the pitch. The atmosphere was that of a typical end of season match with neither side at their best. Collieries were league champions while Ashton were sitting third bottom in a season which they will quickly want to forget.
Unfortunately for this match the Ashton Town assistant manager Billy Bristow wasn’t available for selection following his 40 second cameo at Holker in midweek, although reports suggest he was dropped by the no nonsense John Brownrigg.
Michael Clegg’s side played very well in the first 15 minutes and could have been out of sight had the Ashton defence not been in inspired form.
The deadlock was broken by Colls on eight minutes when Mark Battersby volleyed a cross to the back post. He picked out his fellow striker Wes Bancroft who powered his header into the top left hand corner past Ashton goalkeeper Michael Lowe.
Lowe was picking the ball out of his goal again four minutes later when centre half Luke Gibson was first to meet a Tom Shaw corner. While Bancroft’s header was powerful, Gibson’s was even better and it flew into the right hand corner.
The home side could have sat back and gone for damage limitation after Colls relentless start, but they didn’t and they were rewarded with a goal on 23 minutes. Marcus Cusani linked well with Connor Tagoe in the middle of midfield. Cusani carried the ball to the edge of the box where he hit the ball low and hard into the bottom right hand corner past Danny Taberner.
Kristian Holt was linking well with Mark Battersby and Wes Bancroft and the trio looked threatening each time they moved forward. On the half hour mark Michael Lowe had to rush off his line to deny Holt a goal when he was threaded through by a smart flick from Battersby.
Half time arrived and Keith Wedge replaced Nathan Battersby at right back. It became a typical end of season affair with both sides allowing each other far too much time and space on the ball. The game ultimately became stretched and only a mixture of poor finishing and last ditch defending kept the visitors tally at two.
In a half that was reminiscent of Colls’ victory at Abbey Hey in November, no matter how hard Michael Clegg’s side tried to score it just would not creep over the line. If you don’t take your chances you will be punished and that is exactly what Ashton did.
On 80 minutes they capitalised on a rare and uncharacteristic mistake from goalkeeper Danny Taberner. A clearance fell to Marcus Cusani on the edge of the box and with no defenders around it was left to the striker to squeeze the ball in at the near post.
The final ten minutes saw the hosts pinned in their penalty area with Colls looking for the winning goal. Substitute Jordan Cover surged through the Ashton backline but his chipped effort was saved by Lowe and the resulting corner was cleared off the line. Three more close range shots were scrambled away and Ashton and Colls shared the points.
Unfortunately the result meant that Atherton could no longer reach 100 points in the league, but we’d have never in our wildest dreams have imagined that we’d get anywhere near that a year ago. The car journey home was a quiet one as we headed back to Colls to watch the Reading v Arsenal FA Cup semi-final. I didn’t stick around for long as I really could not be bothered with football anymore.
A nice day out at a community minded club who quietly do things the right way. I hope Mark, John, Billy and everybody else at the club have a decent campaign next season as they more than deserve it.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 8 miles
- ADMISSION: £2 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1