During my years in compulsory education I found myself having to sit exams in lessons I detested and knew I wouldn’t need in life again. French was one of these. However, when I saw that we were going to Chapel-en-le-Frith I immediately regretted my lack of effort in Modern Foreign Languages as I thought we were off to France. It turns out that Chapel-en-le-Frith is a small town in Derbyshire… and not a suburb of Paris. Regardless of this, I still ate a croissant and saw a woman in Piccadilly Tap wearing a beret.
My season had begun in warmer climes back at the end of June as Cheadle Town hosted Dinamo Bucharest at Mottram Hall in Cheshire. 93 matches and 311 goals later I was stooping down to the Manchester League for what I thought would be one final day out before concentrations actually begin to turn to my University work!
It had been a fantastic week for me having photographed pitch side at Wembley for the FA Vase Final the previous Saturday, before then doing the same at St Helens v York City Knights the previous night. I didn’t have a clue what to expect from Chapel Town v Walshaw Sports but I knew that there would be none of the glitz and glamour I had acclimatised to as of late. Admittedly, I was beginning to feel a bit big time and needed to knock myself down a peg or two.
Matt and I had been making full days of our trips this season and this was no different. Planning to arrive in Chapel as early as possible, various critics came forward on Twitter to advise us that there was absolutely nothing there other than a brake factory.
Unperturbed – as usual – by the cynical and small minded world of social media, I caught the 08:20 train from Atherton to Manchester Victoria. Fortunately, when I arrived into Victoria there was a Metrolink service heading to the Etihad so I hopped on that, arriving into Piccadilly just under an hour from when I was lying in bed. Rapid transport and nothing went wrong, I felt as though I had woken up in London.
I hadn’t yet been in contact with Matt but I knew that I would probably find him in Starbucks at Piccadilly as I usually do. My Welsh friend really is a creature of habit. Rob soon joined us and we boarded the train to Buxton. Entertainment was provided by Rob who had taken it upon himself to complete today’s football crossword in his newspaper of choice. Needless to say, the West Didsbury & Chorlton club secretary went into full anorak mode as we rattled through Stockport and New Mills before arriving in Chapel-en-le-Frith.
The handful of other passengers who alighted in this idyllic setting were all wearing waterproofs, hiking boots and were lugging around rucksacks. I did not stand out at all as I plodded down the country lanes in my double denim with mittens and flat cap. On paper, it doesn’t work, but it did… honest! We looked like a boy band.
Chapel-en-le-Frith, as I previously mentioned, is a small town in Derbyshire. The strange name derives from “Chapel in the Forest” due to the small chapel which sits in the town centre. A mile walk downhill from the train station through a residential area appeared to be the way to the town centre, however Rob was convinced that the signs were pointing in the wrong direction.
This was the kind of town where six cars on the high street resulted in a traffic jam, where a cattle trough and some old stocks were the main landmarks and where nobody had heard of their local football club. We loved it.
It was now 11:00 and I really wanted a cup of tea while Rob wanted some breakfast. Rather predictably, there was no Wetherspoons to be found so we went to a small café called Stocks, of course, named after the block of wood outside. Matt was far from impressed by our choice of establishment and as he sat gazing out of the window looking at the pub over the road it wasn’t long until he bailed us.
On the wall in the café was a large mural which illustrated the once bustling market place where the café is situated. Breakfast finished, Rob and I ventured over the road and found Matt who was sat in the corner of The Roebuck supping some generic beer.
In recent adventures I have refused to drink normal beers and have found myself drinking halves of real ale; no such things sold in this establishment. To occupy myself I befriended a Manchester City supporting dog who came and joined us as we talked about which football pundits we hate the most. If Charlie the dog could talk I’m pretty sure he would share my hatred of John Motson.
Unfortunately we had to leave Charlie as his owner wouldn’t let him come to the football with us. Over the road we went to the Royal Oak pub where a lovely bar man let us sample the various beers before making our choice. I went for the Windgather that is brewed in Macclesfield, while George and Dan who had now joined us also had the locally sourced Desparados (Tequila beer from Mexico).
All was quiet until an old and unkempt character staggered past the window. It was one of those moments where you see somebody and hope they are not heading in your direction. I could see his figure through the stained glass window serving as the entrance to the pub; he was stood there completely still.
“BOO! Did I scare you lads?” came a booming and jovial voice as the door finally opened. Neville – who is obviously a well-known character in Chapel – moaned that we had stolen his seat as he slumped down opposite us.
On our travels we have met some characters and we assumed we’d meet some in a small inclusive community like Chapel-en-le-Frith, but Neville was something else. “Where are you from?” he asked us all.
Having all given our various answers, he paused and stated “You’ve got all sorts around here lads… women.”
Neville never got around to listing anything else.
The local piss pot then proceeded to ask Matt which part of Wales he was from (a couple of times). The local seemed more than familiar with Merthyr Tydfil and replied with a smile on his face, “I used to go on holiday down there. It was full of bastards. Probably all dead now.”
Our new friend went through his itinerary for the day, so as he prepared to stumble down to Morrisons to purchase a litre of brandy we headed down to the New Inn which was a few minutes walk up the hill. We headed in this direction as Matt stated that “Things always get better going up hill”. He was right as the New Inn was lovely.
The landlady knew all about Neville and could even talk to us about the local football club, which every other local had strongly denied existed. It was a Robinsons pub which meant I could enjoy a nice real ale for just £1.50.
With 40 minutes until kick off, we set off to Rowton Park, the scenic home of Chapel Town FC. Found in a residential area, next to a house which is guarded by a collection of life size gnomes, Chapel Town’s ground is a typical Manchester League venue with the added bonus of boasting one of the nicest clubhouses in non-league football.
Football has been played in Chapel-en-le-Frith since 1921 when the local side played in one of the various local leagues in and around Manchester. The current club was formed in 1958 when Chapel United merged with Chapel Celtic to become Chapel Town. Spells in the Fairfield League and the Hope Valley League followed before joining the Manchester League where they currently play in the Premier Division alongside my local sides Atherton Town and Hindsford.
Chapel have played at Rowton Park since the early 1960’s after the club moved from across the road at the Memorial Park. This match had the ingredients to be a goal fest as second placed Walshaw Sports took on Chapel who found themselves at the bottom of the table having won just three matches all season.
A couple of weeks earlier, Chapel had lost 15-0 to second bottom placed East Manchester, while the reverse fixture saw Walshaw win 7-2. Watching the match as a neutral you would never have guessed that Chapel were struggling in the manner they are as they played decent football and played their part in a thrilling comeback.
As we strolled past the cricket club, down a long dirt track, we could hear the distant thud of footballs behind the impressive pavilion. Chapel-en-le-Frith were taking on Hollingwood and we watched a couple of deliveries from the large bowler before we arrived at the football ground.
From the exterior the unassuming white building which acts as a clubhouse and changing facility doesn’t look to offer much. Stepping inside was akin to walking through the infamous wardrobe into Narnia. Leather couches from a local airport sat impressively against walls decorated with framed shirts, signed by the likes of David Beckham.
As kick off approached, I stepped outside and bumped into my hairdresser, Joanne. Matt couldn’t get his head around the fact I had my own stylist with me and neither could I. She had cut my hair the evening before, and had asked me where I was off to for football the following day. I informed her, thinking she wouldn’t really know where Chapel was, but it turned out that her boyfriend lives just streets from the ground. She jokingly said she was going to turn up, but of course, I didn’t believe her.
Admittedly, she was expecting there to be stands and other facilities at the club, as she rightly compared it to Atherton Town where she had spent many Saturday mornings watching us lot play when we were younger.
The two sides soon emerged from the changing rooms and walked across the car park before squeezing through a hole in the fence to reach the pitch. Chapel were in yellow and blue stripes (the colours of Atherton LR) and Walshaw were in beautiful black and white stripes (the colours of Atherton Collieries). With this in mind, I was fully backing the away side in this match.
Chapel manager Jed Merrick has been at the club since 2006 and today was his final match in charge. He opted to stand on the opposite side of the ground from the dugouts, citing that he doesn’t like to become distracted by the opposition. Instead, he found himself being mithered by Matt who wanted a trial after retrieving the ball from the car park, and Rob who wanted to arrange a pre-season friendly between Chapel and West Didsbury & Chorlton.
The home side opened the scoring after only a few minutes when a striker found himself one-on-one with the Walshaw goalkeeper. The original shot was kept out, only for the rebound to be slotted into the bottom right hand corner. Could we be about to witness a Chapel Town win?
It didn’t take long for Walshaw to equalise when a scrappy goal was bundled in at the near post. Hoping to rally the home team, Matt broke out into a chorus of “I’d rather be a Chapel than a Church!” which ultimately did more harm than good as Walshaw grabbed a second in quick succession.
As a Northern Rail train rattled along the back of the valley behind the far goal Walshaw made it 3-1. It made for the kind of photographs that Northern Rail could use on adverts and other marketing exploits, but I hate them so I refused to tweet it to them.
Half-time arrived and we headed back to the clubhouse where we joined the various other groundhoppers who were scraping the barrel for matches. Cans of beer were still being bought at short intervals from the small bar. I think the volunteers at the club were considering dashing to a local supermarket to replenish stocks as we carried on drinking throughout the match.
We strolled around to the other side of the ground for the remainder of the match where fortunately we were sheltered from the gale force winds that we were faced with earlier.
The second half was very entertaining and was up there with some of the best competitive football I have seen all season. Chapel pulled a goal back with around ten minutes to go, before equalising late on with an absolute screamer. A deep cross was put in to the area and was volleyed into the top left hand corner off the post.
Chapel pressed for a winner and it nearly arrived, but it wasn’t to be as the final whistle was blown.
We left the ground and made our way around to the cricket club where a wicket had just been lost. As we sat down on the benches next to the pavilion, the new batsman faced his first delivery. Out first ball; a golden duck. To make matters worse, that was the end of the innings. We had been sat down for thirty seconds as the players walked past us to go and fill their faces with an extensive buffet that had been laid on by the home club.
I think it speaks volumes about sport in our country and how funding is provided to lower levels. Chapel-en-le-Frith cricket club had nobody watching them, yet had a two tier pavilion, beautiful bar and an abundance of free food. The football club, who had nearly 40 watching them literally had nothing. It goes to show that the ECB have their priorities in order, while the FA couldn’t care less.
The only negative of the cricket club was that the couple of volunteers who were there seemed extremely unsure of our motives and why we were in the pavilion. Having been glared at and examined for half an hour while drinking beer that was double the price of the football club, Matt and I decided we’d had enough and set off to the train station.
In a similar fashion to Oostende we had a daunting walk back to the station. While it wasn’t along a coastal path, it was uphill all the way and we had just 12 minutes to jog about a mile. As we approached the station, we could hear the train rattling through the valley. As we staggered breathlessly across the level crossing the train arrived; we had somehow made it in time.
Admittedly, I paid for our exploits. I can’t decide whether I fell asleep or fainted when I sat down on the train but when I was awoken in Stockport I struggled to move. Matt was about to ask me the usual questions that people are asked when they are concussed, before my mood was buoyed by the mention of a pint in Manchester.
The newly opened Piccadilly Tap caught our eye as we walked down the ramp at the station. It was a peculiar place to have a bar, but it is an area that has been calling out for one for years. A Waitrose has also recently opened as the area looks set to undergo a huge regeneration programme in the coming months, meaning more fantastic places to drink may spring up.
Craft ales and local produce aplenty in the Tap. Matt bought us a pint each, with mine acting as a present for accompanying him on so many trips this season. One final football match was to be had, as I convincingly beat my Welsh friend 7-3 on the table football upstairs. He has sworn revenge, so no doubt we will have a rematch during pre-season.
Rob had caught the next train from Chapel-en-le-Frith and caught up with us in the Piccadilly Tap before we headed for one final pint in the Printworks. I didn’t have long before I had to catch my train back to Atherton, leaving my two travelling companions to drink on long into the night.
Manchester League football, while not a great quality, offers a day out in parts of the region that you wouldn’t otherwise bother visiting. Chapel-en-le-Frith had been kind to us, with pubs, scenic views and a football ground. Admittedly, I may never visit the place again now that I have ticked it off, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 40 miles
- ADMISSION: Free
- PROGRAMME PRICE: N/A