Growing up I used to love the FA Cup, and I still do. While my attitude and feelings towards football have changed over the years, my love of the cup grows more each year. I would say my earliest FA Cup memory is of Michael Owen scoring past David Seaman to win the 2001 final for Liverpool. There was the time I was obsessed with Manchester United and ran around the garden when Cristiano Ronaldo scored past Millwall; I was only a young naive nine year old at the time. The lowest point of my love affair with this competition was probably when I travelled to Wembley to see Bolton Wanderers lose 5-0 against Stoke City.
Since watching non-league, I have seen a totally different side of the FA Cup. From my first Collieries away day to Dinnington Town, to this well planned and entertaining trip to Bootle. I tend to be away on holiday for the Extra Preliminary Rounds, meaning I have missed ties against Alsager Town and St Helens Town in the last couple of years, but with no Spanish excursion this year it meant I could go to Bootle.
It had been a long week, with a lot of people doing a lot of jobs to ensure our players had the best chance of proceeding into the next round. Whether it was a member of coaching staff doing some scouting, a committee member washing the kit… or me, organising a pre match breakfast and itinerary with first team manager Michael Clegg. When I first started watching Atherton Collieries I never for one moment thought we would get to a stage where we would be sending our players for a pre-match breakfast in a hotel.
On the Friday evening a nice relaxed drink in my local turned into an appearance on BBC Radio Manchester. That’s how spontaneous my life is becoming. I had joked with BBC Manchester’s non league guru Ian Burke that next time Cleggy is on the radio I should come along for a nosey. Little did I know that the following week the Collieries manager would be the guest. A cheeky little text message to Burkey and it was all set, I could finally go for a look around the impressive Media City.
Cleggy picked me up and with traffic being surprisingly calm we had parked up at Media City within 25 minutes. The last time I had been here I had seen Bryan Robson in Booths, before strolling past Gary Lineker next to a mock tardis from Doctor Who. No such strange events this time as we had a pre-radio drink in the Holiday Inn bar next door. The show was due to start at 19:00, so we had arranged to meet Burkey downstairs at around 18:45.
While waiting in the main reception you could watch the Sports Desk in live action. It later transpired that we had missed John Barnes by minutes as they flicked between an interview with him and live coverage from 1874 Northwich v West Didsbury & Chorlton. I was getting a bit giddy, and as I had my photograph on a pretend set of BBC Breakfast we were collected by Burkey.
In the lift we went, following in the footsteps of the many greats who call this building their office. On the BBC Manchester floor the local news presenters and anchors had just finished presenting North West Tonight. This meant that in an unlikely turn of events, I came face to face with a man that I regularly moan about and throw objects towards when he is on the television. This man is Roger Johnson. I won’t go into detail about why I don’t like the man, but to put it simply he isn’t as good as Gordon Burns who was one of my childhood heroes.
Speaking of childhood heroes, as Burkey made me a cup of tea, the one and only Jack Dearden walked over to grab himself a drink. “Alright Gibbo”, he said as I began to blush like a teenage girl who had just met One Direction. Over the years, Jack became one of my favourites as he covered every Bolton Wanderers match home and away for the local radio. I used to take a radio to every home match and I used to listen to him to give me another perspective or insight into the action. Unfortunately I find very little time to watch Bolton these days, but still occasionally listen to his commentaries when I can.
By the time my drink had arrived it had been decided that I would now be going on air. I really wasn’t keen about the idea and began feeling a little nervous, but then I came to the conclusion that I may never get an opportunity like this again. Cup of tea in hand, I walked past Roger Johnson and Richard Askam into the studio with glass walls and a beautiful view over Salford Quays. “Just remember the question that is asked to you” was the advice from Cleggy as we sat down and put on our headphones.
Amazingly, Burkey’s non league part of the show wasn’t just thrown together. I know, you’re as shocked as I was! There is paper everywhere and a lot of planning goes into this hour of fun. As team news from Aston Villa v Manchester United was discussed we prepared to go on air. It seemed completely and utterly bonkers. People from across the region would be tuning in to hear interviews with Louis Van Gaal and co. but would have the fortune of listening to me chat utter rubbish too.
During the course of the show, attentions turned to the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round. One thing that shone through was Michael Clegg’s love of the competition and I’m sure all listeners would have been won over by his attitude. “It’s the FA Cup. I want to do everything properly.” was the statement that the Colls manager came out with, and my word, did we do just that.
In fairness, we didn’t have the best of preparations as we remained in Salford for an hour after the show because somebody had left the lights on in the van and flattened the battery. Apparently these things happen. By the time we got back to Atherton, Cleggy and I were getting fed up with each others company and knew we’d see each other again in less than 12 hours as our FA Cup day began.
Part of the whole “I want to do everything properly” philosophy involved bringing all the players together for a pre-match FA Cup breakfast. We booked them into the Park Hotel near Bootle’s ground where all the first team and coaches would have some downtime before the big match. Emil and I were picked up from Colls ground by midfielders Brad Cooke and Mark Truffas with the latter driving.
I had printed out an itinerary sheet for the day, adding to the ethos of doing it properly. All players were seated and at their tables for the set time, with all mobile phones confiscated. Their omelettes were served soon after. Of course, there was a bit of complaining about the food, but fortunately I had requested beans of toast for last seasons top goalscorer Mark Battersby and defender Mark Ayres. I’m glad they enjoyed their food, as we wouldn’t want them leaving for another club who could feed them beans whenever they wanted.
When breakfast was over it was time for a football quiz. It wasn’t any old quiz though, as the questions were written by me and read out by Emil in his best voice. My favourite question was “This one is for Truffas. In England’s 4-2 victory over Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final, what was the scoreline?” to which Truffas wrote down “2-2”. Unsurprisingly, his side did not win.
In the end, the table with the management team won by just a single point. There was a tie break for second, with the Salford based players losing out after another team answered the all important question correctly. “As of today, how many grounds has Gibbo visited?”, and the winning team got it spot on somehow. It’s nice that the lads actually do occasionally take an interest in my adventures and don’t think I’m just a sad football obsessive with nothing else to do with my life.
Next up were a couple of pre-match speeches. First was Matt Boland who gave an emotional and heartwarming insight into how much he loved playing for Colls, and how with the support of his Dad he was able to enjoy football since he was a boy. Then came Mark Ayres, who gave us a detailed medical history of his life and explained his decision to return to Collieries having played for Ramsbottom United for the business end of the last campaign.
In all it had been a fantastic morning and went exactly to plan. The lads now had half an hour to get to the Delta Taxis Stadium (based on the itinerary), which meant there was more than enough time to go and place bets on today’s footballing action and virtual greyhound racing… if they so wished! James Brooks won some money in the bookies, but Truffas grabbed the coupon off him, accepted the cash and drove off before informing everybody that he “would buy him a pint later on” which I thought was kind of him as poor old Brooky could have bought more than a few pints with the winnings.
I had been to the Delta Taxis Stadium, or Vesty Road as it’s traditionally know, a couple of times in the past year. The first occasion was for a regional NWCFL meeting while the second visit was for a match I would rather not talk about at the end of last season. In short, we lost the NWCFL First Division Trophy Final 2-0 against AFC Darwen on a night when nothing went in our favour.
The ground is a bit of an odd one, reminding me largely of Chester’s and Skelmersdale United’s grounds in the fact it is found in the middle of an industrial estate. It must be something to do with this corner of the country. Of course, the football club doesn’t take sporting precedence in this town as Aintree Race Course is found just a couple of streets away.
One of the newer grounds in local football having only being opened in 2005, the Delta Taxis Stadium boasts an impressive clubhouse and changing facilities. It’s construction meant that Bootle no longer had to groundshare with Waterloo Dock FC, allowing them to once again compete in the NWCFL having passed ground grading regulations.
There was a large away following for this match and it more than trebled the crowd that Bootle had attracted in their previous home match. The Colls Crazy Gang and Barmy Army were out in full force, with a plethora of flags draping from the metal cladding on the Dodge Kop, while an air horn that I had found in the changing rooms at Colls earlier in the day kept me and young fan Zach occupied for the afternoon. It was nice to see quite a young crowd cheering the lads on too, and I had even persuaded Lucy and Alex to come along as they were now hooked following the recent Bolton Wanderers match.
I was bollocked on a couple of occasions from some of our more elderly fans about the sound of the air horn, but it was FA Cup day and it was definitely going to be used no matter what. Fortunately, it was a joyous afternoon and I’ll be able to use it in the next round against Brighouse thanks to a fantastic performance from the lads. The pre match omelettes obviously worked.
Bootle started brightly and went close to opening the scoring on two occasions. The first chance saw Josh Hamilton release Michael Ordish who crossed for Tom Peterson but the Bucks forward fired wide from inside the six-yard box.
From the resulting goal kick Colls had their best chance of breaking the deadlock. Danny Taberner’s long ball forward caused hesitation in the Bootle defence. Striker Jordan Cover capitalised on this and burst through on goal before unleashing a stern shot at goal. The effort was saved by Dave Moran, before Ben Hardcastle’s effort was blocked by Shaun McCartney moments later.
Josh Hamilton and Tom Peterson both saw shots saved by Taberner in the Colls goal, as the Bucks began to pile on the pressure. It was becoming an end-to-end affair and Collieries began to settle cheered on by a vocal travelling crowd in possession of an air horn.
On 23 minutes Atherton took the lead. Jordan Cover picked the ball up on the left hand wing and half volleyed the ball against the far post having lobbed the advancing Moran. You sensed a goal was coming and from the resulting period of play the deadlock was broken. Ben Hardcastle crossed the ball in from the right and Kris Holt was on hand to smash the ball into the roof of the net at the back post.
Bootle reacted well to going a goal down and went close to equalising when Michael Ordish released Tom Peterson who struck a perfect half-volley which was pushed away by Danny Taberner. The goalkeeper was dealing with everything thrown at him and he was certainly putting in a Man of the Match performance.
At half time Collieries were a bit short on substitutes and I was invited to go in net to save some shots. If you’ve ever met me you’ll appreciate that I’m not the tallest and as a result I found it a bit hard to keep the shots out. I think Joe Hart’s spot as Manchester City goalkeeper will be safe for the time being.
The second half saw Bootle drop their relentless nature in attack as they resorted to playing longer balls. The Collieries centre half pairing of Matt Grimshaw and Mark Ayres more than coped with the potential threat that Bootle possessed, and snuffed out the vast majority of attacks before they could materialise.
The closest the Bucks came to finding an equaliser in the second half, was when Hamilton pounced on a loose ball inside the Colls box – but the midfielder could only fire over.
With 13 minutes remaining Colls wrapped the game up, and in the process sealed their place in the next round. Ben Hardcastle collected Mark Ayres pass before dancing his way through the Bootle defences and poking the ball underneath the on-rushing Moran, to seal victory for the visitors. It was reminiscent of his goal on the opening day of last season when he scored at Cammell Laird.
It wasn’t a brilliant performance, but with Mark Battersby, Brad Cooke and Josh Messer all missing through suspension it was another win to be proud of.
When the match had finished I helped tidy away everything in the changing rooms, had a pint and then it was time to head off back to Atherton. It was a nice journey home having experienced another win, knowing that we will go into the next round as underdogs.
Back in the Atherton Collieries clubhouse we talked about the match for a while until I nipped back home to get changed before hitting the town for the night. When I say hitting the town, I just stayed in the Rope & Anchor… but I was in such a happy mood that I stayed in there until around 03:00 in the morning, well after Lucy and Alex had bailed me to head back to Warrington!
I stumbled home, no doubt waking up the neighbourhood with the chant of “We’re all going to Brighouse, We’re all going to Brighouse… NA NA NA NA! NA NA NA NA!” – I can guarantee no other set of supporters have ever chanted that before and never will do, ever again.
A fantastic way to finish off one of my favourite weeks being involved with a non-league club. So much effort and hard work had gone in it was fantastic to go through to the next round to keep the dream alive.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 25 miles
- ADMISSION: Free with Colls
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2
Thanks to Rob Clarke for use of his photographs as I was a bit busy doing the match report. You can see his full set on Flickr by clicking here.