I was back in downtown Atherton for the weekend, leaving York at midday on the Friday having just done an assessed presentation at University. It had been a bit of a challenge presenting the thing as I was knocked out a couple of weeks ago and my memory has been pretty crap ever since. In fact, I wondered if I was still in a daze following what became one of the most bizarre days I’ve ever had watching football.
Before I get to all of that though, we had Friday night football at Atherton Collieries. Not only did we have football, but the annual Beer Festival was in full flow and I hadn’t really drank for two weeks. Aaron, Rob and I started early and were in the festival from practically the minute that it opened. The night was a long one, and a lot of beer was consumed after the Colls match against Nelson was abandoned at half time due to the weather.
We had three Woking fans at the match. A bit odd, of course. What made it odder was the fact they had flown over from Holland the morning of the match. Essentially, they had flown from Holland to watch Atherton Collieries play Nelson. I’m pleased to say that they were treated like royalty, as you would expect, and went away with a Colls shirt, pin badge, programme and scarf each.
Saturday arrived. Slightly hungover, Aaron and I woke up and headed over to Manchester. He was off to Gainsborough Trinity v Curzon Ashton but kindly dropped me off at Piccadilly on his way through to Tameside. While he had his day planned out, I had no idea where I would be going. Matt and George were already in our usual meeting place at the train station discussing options when I arrived.
Croissants and tea were ordered and as I prepared myself for the briefing from my groundhopping companions. Places such as Sutton Coldfield, Leeds United and even Ladybridge were bandied about before we came up with the ultimate plan. I told them in no uncertain term that I wasn’t going to go to Ladybridge. I once scored a back post header there in an U9’s league title crunch match against Bolton BSS and no visit to the place would ever top that. Fortunately, Nantwich Town were confident their match was on, and Whitchurch Alport equally so. Both were on the same train line and meaning that if one fell foul of the weather as we travelled south, we could always rush to the other. This good planing saved our day.
We caught the 11:30 train from Piccadilly to Nantwich and claimed a table seat despite it being adorned by a plethora of reservation signs. Informing each other we would punch peasants from Stockport and Crewe if they tried to move us, we settled down and kept an eye on social media to see what the situation was like in the Cheshire town of Nantwich. As we arrived into Wilmslow, a long haired fellow told George that he was in his seat. Would he punch him, or would he not? I waited in suspense to see what the outcome of this exchange would be.
George was respectful and moved to one side for our fellow passenger. As the three of us discussed topics such as, “What is your favourite acid?” and “Which members of parliament would be best suited to particular roles within the Village People?” we could see Paul wanting to join in. I will never know if he will agree with my strong opinion that Ed Balls should be the Red Indian, but Paul later tweeted that he enjoyed our banter. It also transpired that he is an actor and was trying to rehearse lines for his latest role when we were talking utter rubbish, so I hope we didn’t distract him too much.
Anyway, we were now in Nantwich and as the Village People would say if they were to ever travel to the hometown of Aston Villa midfielder Ashley Westwood, we were in a new town and there was no need to be unhappy. We stumbled over the level crossing and made our way into the town centre. On our left we came across some stocks which was a first for us on our groundhopping adventures. I posed for a photograph but struggled to get my head through the centre hole, leading to me questioning rather loudly, “Do people in Nantwich all have really small heads?”. Fortunately a local woman who was nipping to the neighbouring chippy found this rather amusing.
Having gone home and done some research for this blog entry I must now break the news that they are not called stocks, and are in fact called a pillory. I won’t go into much detail as I don’t see much point. Instead, I shall let you read quite a tedious and odd rant from a local on another blog about why the Nantwich stocks should stop being referred to as that, http://www.dabbersnantwich.me.uk/letter105.htm.
George was full of useful anecdotes throughout the afternoon, and he even indulged us with a tale of how he once bought a pen in Nantwich on his way to a match. We followed his lead as having heard this we now considered him to know the place like the back of his hand. Reaching the Crown Hotel (our pub of choice), conversation turned to whether the local church would benefit from having a dubstep remix of it’s bells played at midday to encourage more tourists to the area.
The Crown was built in 1583 and was amongst the more respectable pubs we’ve been to in recent years. A piano player was on hand to create the atmosphere as I sat enjoying a pot of tea. It was all quaint and relaxed. This was until I went to the toilets. As I stood at the urinals, I noticed a mirror directly above the fitting on the wall. I won’t go into much detail, but when I arrived in the market town of Nantwich, I didn’t expect to be put in a situation where I would be staring at my willy in a mirror.
I had just about recovered from this experience and had half of my pot of tea remaining when Matt broke some truly terrible news. He groaned and looked up from his phone. “The match is off boys.” This was deja vu from the last time we tried to watch Nantwich play. Just before Christmas we headed to Frickley Athletic and were in the pub next to the ground when we found out the match was off. This time we had two hours to find an alternative fixture.
Annoyed, I left my pot of tea behind as we ran back to the train station on the other side of town. The pros and cons of getting the next train down to Whitchurch had been discussed by Matt and George. All I could shout back to them was, “I have spent £9 to travel to Nantwich for half a pot of tea!” A one carriage service pulled, very slowly, into Nantwich. As we walked towards the doors I noticed a Warrington Town fan about to get off, so advised him that the match had been postponed. He mumbled at me and walked off. Just behind him was a Stourbridge fan called Mark who had travelled all the way to see his team in the FA Trophy.
Fair play to Mark, he had five seconds to make a decision. Did he stay in Nantwich drinking tea and staring at his willy in a mirror? Or did he head off to a town he had never heard of with three strangers to watch a match that may or may not be on? Granted, many would have picked the first, but not Mark. Our new friend from Stourbridge jumped back on to the train and joined us. What a hero. Even more of a hero was the train conductor who didn’t charge us any extra after we explained what had happened to us. He did tell us we should be going to watch Crewe Alexandra instead though which didn’t go down well with George for some reason.
13:45 and we had arrived in the market town of Whitchurch. We were now in Shropshire and just two miles from the Welsh border. Further afield, we were 20 miles north of Shrewsbury, 20 miles south of Chester and 15 miles west of Wrexham. It was relatively quiet leaving the station, which seemed about right for a place that had a large sign reading “Walkers are welcome in Whitchurch!” Seemingly it wasn’t just walkers who were welcome, you can add groundhoppers who have no idea where they are to that category.
We traipsed up a small hill towards the town centre as we went in search of a pub. The Wheatsheaf was the first one that we came across, and what a place it was. It had only recently re-opened, and the smell of fresh wooden furniture hit you as you entered through the door. A large log fireplace kept us warm as we stood deciding what to drink from the fantastic selection they had on offer. I had a pint of Yakima Red, from the Meantime brewery in Greenwich and said immediately it was possibly the nicest drink I’ve supped on my travels this season. Even more delightful was the barmaid Steph who we had a good laugh with along with an old couple in the corner who were downing wine like it was going to be rationed at any stage.
Usually when we go to towns and ask where the football ground is, we are met with a blank look and a shrug of the shoulders. Sometimes, as with Chapel-en-le-Frith, we find ourselves being told that the town doesn’t even have a football club. Fortunately, Steph used to play football for the ladies team at Alport so was able to point us in the right direction.
Half an hour to go until kick-off and we made our way up to Yockings Park. We had seen the large floodlights from the train, but the ground seemed to stay hidden right up until the moment we arrived as we ventured through a neighbouring housing estate. I took my usual photographs of the ground when we did get there, and a bloke who was getting into his car genuinely asked me why I was taking photographs of his house. I tried to explain to him that I wasn’t, pointing at the large Whitchurch Alport sign that towers above his garden.
Baffled by my exchange with the neighbour, I was looking forward to seeing a friendly face when I reached the turnstile. “Through here please!” came a loud, booming voice from within the confines of the breezeblock structure. I hopped through a large puddle and handed over £5 for admission and a programme to the bloke who whistled and sung to himself for the majority of the afternoon. He seemed to be a character.
Yockings Park, in my opinion, is the most basic ground in the division, but that is to be expected as they only made the step up this season. I don’t mind it being basic though. That is why I love this level of football. Having said that, the main stand at the ground is impressive and unlike anything else in the NWCFL. Next to the main stand is a small clubhouse, that felt a bit more like somebodies front living room with the assortment of chairs and wallpaper on show. In the far left of the clubhouse is the kitchen, neighboured by the bar which served cans of beer.
The football club itself was formed in 1946 and was named after Alport Farm, the home of local footballer Coley Maddocks who was killed in action during World War II. They initially joined the Shrewsbury & District League and became founding members of the Mid-Cheshire League in 1948. Alport were successful in the 50’s and 60’s and once played a cup final at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground in front of 5,000 spectators.
As previously mentioned, the club joined the NWCFL at the start of this season. They are a welcome addition to our leagues and it was pleasing to see them come on board. They had to fight to be accepted though, as the FA initially turned them down despite having the league’s full backing. An appeal was lodged, a meeting at Wembley was scheduled and after a lot of hard work, Whitchurch made the step up.
While clubs such as West Didsbury & Chorlton, Hanley Town and Stockport Town have settled immediately in recent seasons, it’s fair to say that Whitchurch have struggled. They have won just once this campaign and recently lost 8-0 at Holker Old Boys. Today’s visitors, Eccleshall weren’t doing much better, sitting one place and one point above their hosts… although Whitchurch had played a staggering eight matches more than the team from Pershall Park!
I saw Eccleshall take on Atherton Collieries pre-season, and they gave us a really tough game. They lead 3-2 with three minutes to go, before we scored twice to win. With that in mind, I expected them to do well this season, but what do I know? I do have a bit of a soft spot for Eccleshall though, so I was kind of hoping they could pick up three points after a midweek 6-0 drubbing at Stockport Town.
Whitchurch were in their completely red home strip, while Eccleshall were in their home kit of navy blue shirts and black shorts. It rained throughout the match as Eccleshall convincingly beat Alport despite nearly going behind after just ten seconds.
Eccleshall had numerous chances to open the scoring following the early scare but Whitchurch goalkeeper George Brookes kept his side on level terms. Jordan Elcock and Adam Jones saw shots well saved, whilst the ever lively Angelo Errico blasted one over after crafting his effort.
The game was end to end with Whitchurch having the same problem as Eccleshall. However things changed on 18 minutes when Eccleshall took the lead through Dan Counter who was allowed to move forward with the ball from defence and hit a low shot to beat Brookes and find the corner of the net. Admittedly, I was in the toilet at the time and missed the goal. Groundhopper Anthony was on hand to inform me when I re-emerged and we spent the remainder of the first half watching from the window of the clubhouse.
Eccleshall were good value for their half time lead, but it could have been more if it wasn’t for a spot of bad luck. Jack Warren found Angelo Errico with a square ball and his thunderous shot hit the crossbar with Brookes beaten. Steve Hughes then had a shot from distance which Brookes went down to save. Elcock then hit a drive which crashed against the right hand post.
At half time everybody piled into the clubhouse to regain some warmth. The hospitality area was roped off to the side of me, and that was when I cracked. I needed some food. A fellow Bolton fan was stood in the queue as I waited for my pie and chips, along with a cup of tea, which of course came in a mug. I always love it when you get a brew in a mug at a match, as more often than not the mug is completely random and drafted in from somebodies kitchen as they no longer want it. My mug this time was one that celebrated the Millennium, stating that it would be “A year to remember”. Of course, this would be true if you weren’t four years of age at the time. Yeah, I bet that makes some of you reading feel really old!
The second half provided a flurry of goals as we watched from the shed on the other side of the ground. Eccleshall went 2-0 up on 49 minutes when a great cross from Elcock was met at the back post and Steven Hughes headed home.
Alport tried to get a goal back with Dan Tinsley shooting from outside the box but it was easily collected by Spencer martin in the Eccleshall goal.
The home side suffered a further blow when their goalkeeper suffered an injury and had to be replaced. The perpetrator was an Eccleshall player who ran half of the pitch to put in a 50/50 challenge on the goalkeeper next to the corner flag. The mind boggles. A lengthy stoppage followed, and play was eventually back under way when an outfield player had taken position between the sticks. It didn’t bode well when he had to be helped to put his gloves on.
Inevitably, Eccleshall scored again on 66 minutes when Elcock found Twigg who slid the ball home with the static Alport defence appealing for offside. A minute later and it was 4-0 with Hughes prodding home his second of the game. On 71 minutes it was 5-0 when a poor throw by the stand in goalkeeper went straight to Twigg and seeing the keeper of his line chipped him from distance. Eccleshall had a further goal ruled out for offside, and the makeshift goalkeeper pulled off some outstanding saves to make up for his earlier error. The match ended 5-0.
A fantastic result as it means Eccleshall leapfrog Atherton Laburnum Rovers who now find themselves second bottom.
Mark decided enough was enough five minutes before the end and he headed off to the train station to catch the earlier train back to Crewe. We were tempted to join him, but decided we weren’t quite finished with Whitchurch and we had promised Steph and Elaine in the Wheatsheaf that we would be back after the match for another pint.
Wet, cold and shivering we were looking forward to being by the log fire in the pub. I had another pint of Yakima Red. Steph had previously promised us free tequila as it was George’s birthday, but she went back on her promise. Fair play to Elaine though, who gave George a pint on the house… and he even got a Jagerbomb which he spilt over the bar.
This was when our day took a turn for the worst.
Not because George had spilt some of his Jagerbomb over the bar, but because the already sparse service that Arriva Trains Wales operate between Whitchurch and Crewe had just become even more sparse thanks to flooding near Newport. We were now stranded in the town for at least two hours and were unsure whether any train would come to rescue us after that. A positive did come from the flooding, as it meant we had time to go for a drink somewhere else before we headed back off to civilisation.
There were quite a few pubs in Whitchurch considering the size of the place. We opted to go into Percy’s Cafe Bar which had been described to us as “very strange”. Of course, we like things that are strange so walked down the hill until we came across a chalk board advertising the place. The rest of the locals seemed to be in the Last Orders opposite, but that was a bit too mainstream for our liking.
Through a narrow door and up a couple of steps and we entered Percy’s Bar. It certainly was strange. There was a large moose head, a Victorian female human skull, funeral items, theatre seats, aircraft seats, a temporary war grave cross and a dentist’s chair. The toilets were found through a door that read “Danger!” while the till behind the bar resembled the one from Open All Hours. On offer were a variety of lagers and real ales, along with spirits that went up to around 80abv. We had a good chat to the nutter who worked behind the bar. Just before we left he reached towards the stuffed fox wearing sunglasses where the light controls were situated. It became like Blackpool Illuminations, as the plastic bottom from a mannequin that was on the ceiling began to twinkle and the large jukebox danced.
On our way back to the train station there was silence amongst us in the main. We couldn’t really comprehend what we had experienced in Whitchurch, but we were more than happy. That was until we arrived back at the station and the trains were still on their arse. Nothing, and I mean nothing could prepare me for the nightmare journey I still had in front of me though.
The three of us, and a pensioner called Frank, who had made us toast the Queen in the Wheatsheaf earlier in the evening, eventually made it to Crewe. Frank headed to London after I had sang Chas and Dave – Rabbit at him. Next up, a slow journey to Piccadilly with Northern Rail, which eventually resulted in me missing the next train to York by a matter of seconds. Not to worry though, Matt and I would wait for the next train. We were in no particular rush.
40 minutes had now passed and we were boarding the train to York and Huddersfield respectively. George had gone off by himself into the night, having a pint in the Piccadilly Tap just to annoy Matt and I. There was a sizeable scramble to get on to the train, but an even bigger scramble when we were all thrown off it minutes later thanks to an engine failure. Not to worry, we would catch the next one.
The next train arrived. We made it to Stalybridge, when unbelievably this train was also withdrawn due to engine problems. This meant that six carriages worth of passengers descended upon Stalybridge station. Nobody had a clue what was going on. The broken down train drove off, only to reappear on another platform five minutes later, leading to everybody to run over to another platform, only to return moments later. Matt had bailed me by this stage and caught the next train to Huddersfield.
In total, I stood at Stalybridge for around half an hour with nobody knowing if we would ever get home. Fortunately, I had bonded with a group of Sunderland fans who were on their way back from Liverpool. I stayed with them all the way to York which helped pass time slightly. Taking one for the team, I had to look after the nutcase of the carriage who had tried to start a fight with “a group of yuppies”. His words, not mine. It was like babysitting, and I soon became conscious that the other passengers would think we were together.
Myself, the bloke who was clearly on day release, and the four other Sunderland fans arrived in York just before midnight. They had missed their connection to Newcastle, so conversation now turned to what they would do next. No staff were around to help them, so while they decided what to do, we had a pint in the York Tap. They came very, very close to having a night out and staying at mine, but all we wanted to do was get to sleep, and they were beyond caring at this stage. If I would have ended up on the lash with four Sunderland fans to the early hours of the morning, it would have ended the day in the bizarre fashion that it had been throughout.
As I said goodbye to the lads, who had now taken care of the nutcase from the train, I walked across Lendal Bridge towards my house. People were staggering everywhere by this stage, having had a long day on the drink. One woman was leaning back horizontally as she made her way towards the takeaway, with her mates propping her up. Another woman was crawling around the floor trying to change from heels to flats.
The one drunk that I will forever remember however is the one who had just emerged from McDonald’s. With his bag of food in one hand, and his phone in the other, he dropped his chicken nuggets before then proceeding to swear at them all as they lay losing heat on the cold, wet floor. When I stood looking at my willy in a mirror in Nantwich, I didn’t think 10 hours later I would be watching a man call his chicken nuggets “horrible b*stards”.
It had been a fairly entertaining day. It annoyed us when later on we saw a photograph of the pitch at Nantwich Town and there was absolutely nothing wrong it. However, if it would have been on, we wouldn’t have had the day we had. Next up, Newcastle Town v Market Drayton Town at a ground that is used as a velodrome.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 48 miles from Atherton
- ADMISSION: £5
- PROGRAMME PRICE: Including in the admission. £1.50 if separate.