I never really know where to start with the annual blog post documenting Atherton Collieries Jolly Boys Outing. Usually things happen that can’t be put into the public domain. Admittedly, things have taken a turn for the worse over the last two years as our current squad are complete and utter idiots… which is always a good thing!
For me, this was my fourth Jolly Boys Outing after I had previously made appearances at Glantraeth, Whitley Bay and Eccleshall. I was put in charge of our excursion to Whitley Bay in 2014 and took a bit of a back seat last summer when we headed to Staffordshire.
I was back in full control of this summer’s trip and as you can imagine I took my executive role very seriously. Starting back in March, I began firing e-mails to clubs in the hope that at least one would be up for hosting us. Maltby Main was the dream. Yes, that is a sentence that has probably never been written before and never will be again… but it was! Founded 100 years ago, like ourselves, the Yorkshire based Colliery side would have been ideal and I soon created visions of a Centenary Cup being fought for.
Unfortunately, Maltby Main’s manager was on holiday the date that we could do (poor excuse, what are assistant managers for?) and our manager was getting married on the date that they could do. Maltby Main was a no go. Tadcaster Albion were seemingly willing to play us but with their promotion from the NCEL last campaign and their hopes of playing the likes of Leeds United it was always going to be a tall order. I did try and sweet talk their manager Billy Miller into playing us during an evening in Grimsby (we instantly bonded as he knows the former landlords of a pub in Atherton).
I sat and contemplated Tadcaster Albion v Atherton Collieries and began to realise I would receive endless abuse off our players and fans as they are convinced I now support Taddy since my move to York for University. Tadcaster was a no go.
Liversedge wanted to play us and we were close to signing on the dotted line but then a text came out of the blue from our captain supremo Brad Cooke. Carlisle City had been accepted into the NWCFL just hours beforehand and he suggested we asked them for a friendly. Brad was born in the city, so I informed him we would not be going up to Cumbria if all the local players performed like he does.
Without a further moments hesitation I quickly messaged Carlisle City on Twitter and got through to their pleasant club secretary Brian. Within minutes we were on the phone providing each other with dates of when we can play and by the following morning the match was confirmed. As simple as that. It was a bit like pre-season Tinder. There was uproar from Bootle manager Joe Doran at the League AGM a few weeks later as he told us he had exactly the same idea and we beat him to it by a matter of hours.
This fixture really was a bit selfish on my behalf as Carlisle City had recently moved into Gillford Park Stadium, the former home of Celtic Nation FC. Matt and I had planned to tick the ground off two years ago when we found a double in the city; only to be left disappointed. The cities more famous club Carlisle United were taking on Portsmouth on the Friday and Celtic Nation were hosting Shildon in the Northern League on the Saturday afternoon… this double header also allowed us to enjoy a night out on Botchergate in between.
Unfortunately, Celtic Nation’s match was postponed due to Shildon’s progression into the final of the Durham Cup or whatever the tinpot competition is. This left us fixture-less as nobody else seemed to be at home. In the end we took in some lower league Scottish football at Heston Rovers who ground share with Queen of the South. Oh, I also closed an entire carriage of a ScotRail service bound for Glasgow as our previous night’s antics on Botchergate made me feel a little bit ill to say the least.
Anyway, it gave us a chance to both visit Botchergate again and more importantly finally tick off Gillford Park Stadium. I knew for a fact that my soon to depart groundhopping partner Matt would be up for this trip. He famously scored the winning goal in our fans penalty shootout at Glantraeth in 2013 to conceal himself in Jolly Boys Outing folklore.
On the day of the match I arrived at our humble Alder House home at 10:00 ahead of our scheduled 10:30 departure. I had my register ready but I was yet to fill in my risk assessment. I was back in Primary School teacher mode after my experiences of dragging Year 2 to Flamingo Land last year and Year 5 to Bar Convent in York this year; the latter was a cracker as one of the lads told a nun he was an atheist. I was hoping our fans would be a bit more polite to our hosts and driver for this one. Unfortunately the driver nearly refused to take us home after the match but I’ll get to that later.
Matt and my housemate-to-be, Ollie arrived at Colls just before 10:30 after my mum had apparently picked them up from the train station and taken them on a beer run to ASDA. That really is top notch service for you. I’m not promising all ground hoppers that my mum will pick you up from the station and take you for beer but if you ask nicely enough she might do.
Our coach was quite multicultural (for Atherton at least) as not only did we have Colls’ only Welsh fan in Matt, but we had dragged along two new signings who spiced things up a little. The majority of us (from a strong former Colliery town in Wigan) might have voted to leave the EU but we were more than happy to have Polish winger Lukasz Malkowski (who was playing in the Norweigan second division last season) and a lad called Dajour who has a cap for Montserrat according to Wikipedia. Our new friend from Montserrat wasn’t really getting into the spirit of a Colls away day as he sat there with his eyes shut with his headphones on. A very poor effort and you sensed his days in a Colls shirt were numbered before he had even kicked a ball.
It took a couple of hours to reach Carlisle and our grumpy coach driver kindly dropped us off on Botchergate close to the train station. Before we had even reached Wetherspoons we had passed three hen dos, of which two were subsequently invited to the match by our fans. After much deliberation both groups turned down the chance to watch a pre-season friendly between two NWCFL sides. Their loss.
We spent a good couple of hours in the Wetherspoons, opting to stay in there for the duration. Matt and I weren’t fans of the other one when we went last time so were more than happy to remain where we were. By our reckoning, we ticked off every single pub on the stretch during our previous journey although we only remembered them when we saw them again in broad daylight. We came to the conclusion that things went west after we stepped through the door at the Border Rambler which was next to our hotel.
With around half an hour to go until kick off we headed on mass to the taxi rank at the train station. The vast majority of us got to Gillford Park with no issue. However, one taxi carrying a group of Colls fans who shall remain unnamed ended up at Carlisle United’s Brunton Park and they subsequently missed a large chunk of the match. More worrying was the fact none of us actually noticed they were missing. I do love the romantic naivety of some of our fans actually thinking we were playing away at Football League side Carlisle United in a friendly.
Gillford Park Stadium is found down a large dirt track by the side of the main railway line which heads up to Scotland. Services regularly rattled past behind the stand at the front of the ground throughout the match. There was some confusion over the alcohol regulations at the beginning of the match which caused a few moments of uproar inside the clubhouse which is detached from the ground. Poor Zach had purchased a pint and headed into the ground to set up our vast collection of flags, only to be told he had to down it before entering through the turnstile. I initially thought this was fantastic as it will prepare him for life at University in York with me this coming September but then my attentions quickly turned to breaking the news to our alcohol obsessed travelling army.
Fortunately Brian was on hand to deal with matters and we were allowed into the ground with our beers. Rules were obviously different in the Northern Alliance League that Carlisle had been promoted out of last campaign.
The ground is very impressive for this level of football and is a welcome addition to the NWCFL for the upcoming season. Two large stands and a very long covered terrace that stretches the length of the pitch on the far side mean there’s ample space within the ground. This may prove a bit of a disadvantage for the club though as the sparse crowds in the division will easily be able to spread out around the ground making it seem like there literally is nobody in attendance. The disadvantage of having a four sided ground, eh?
It must also be mentioned that next to the main stand there is a green van that says Racing Pigeons. Either we had travelled to the continent and were playing CD Racing Pigeons, or the ground is also home to a group of local twitchers. It’s certainly a quirky feature, I’ll give them that.
The match itself was pretty straight forward with Colls outplaying a team who were just about to enter the division below them. First half saw Collieries run riot in front of a group of fans who were more than happy to sing along for the afternoon. Our new Polish superstar even had chants of ‘Polska!’ directed at him throughout the game, something he was extremely made up with as after the match he snapchatted us all singing it to his mate back home.
At half time we headed back out of the turnstiles and into the clubhouse. Logistically, I don’t know whether this will be possible or not in the NWCFL. There was a large queue as we all aimed to cram a pint in before heading back out for the second half. It was nice to bump into Geoff who we had met at Carlisle United a couple of years ago; he wasn’t on any duties today and rumours that he was only there to see the pigeons have yet to be proven.
The second half didn’t have as many goals but the home side did get one back quite early on.
With around ten minutes remaining attentions turned to the paraphernalia that was in my rucksack. I had been walking around with the bag carefully all day as I really didn’t want two smoke bombs to ignite in my bag while we were enjoying breakfast in Wetherspoons. Not only would I have been banned from the establishment but it would have also been a great waste of some pyrotechnics.
Colls are getting quite a name for themselves in pyrotechnic non-league circles. First there was the flare at Eccleshall, which despite asking permission and only setting it off after the match in a safe environment we were still fined for. Next up were the two military grade rockets that are designed to light up dark battle fields; these were both set off over the pitch at one of our derbies against Atherton Laburnum Rovers. We’ll never know where the second one landed but my guess is that a whole street in neighbouring Tyldesley will have thought the world was coming to an end.
Pete was in charge of the pyrotechnics this time around. We didn’t feel Carlisle City deserved the hassle of having military style rockets in their ground, so it was simply two smoke bombs. The first failed and the second one was passed to me… you know… because I’m an expert at this kind of thing. The pressure was on and I succeeded in pulling the metal ring and suddenly there was a stream of hot red smoke surrounding my head. A flag and my arm were singed during the burning period but it added a bit of colour to the game. Am I an ultra yet? Absolutely not.
The final whistle sounded and we all headed back to the clubhouse for the third time. Players and coaches from both teams joined us and it appeared that everybody who was involved or watching the game were enjoying a pint together. We certainly delivered when we told Carlisle they’d do a decent amount of business behind the bar! Also doing well was the old looking jukebox that was in the corner of the room opposite the pool table that was being hogged by Zach and Rob. Artists such as New Order and David Bowie made a few appearances and we finished with a Happy Mondays megamix. Meanwhile, one of our supporters Karl had managed to fall down a hill in the car park much to the amusement of all of the team who were half expecting it to happen.
It was around 18:30 when we headed back to the coach. My first question of “Can we just nip to the shop at the top of the road that we’re passing for some beer?” was met with an initial growl from our driver and then a stern telling off. Apparently we’d had ample time to purchase beer and he would not be stopping. In more colourful language, I informed him that there would be uproar if he didn’t stop for us. I felt like an international peacemaker trying to deal with a hostage situation as I persuaded him to allow us a four minute break. All was going well until one of our players at the back opened the emergency exit to get off and all hell broke loose once again.
I started giggling slightly as it reminded me of the Peter Kay sketch where he plays coach driver Utah. He states to his passengers that “The emergency exit is not a toy. We had a lad bounce out en route to Torquay once and now he’s fed through a tube!” Needless to say, when the cloth cap came around for the drivers tips at the end of the journey I refused to give the grumpy git any of my money.
The journey back, as always, consisted of the players downing bottles of any spirit that had been brought along. There were some absolutely horrible concoctions available but fortunately nobody threw up this time around. Matt and I had a decent chat with our new Polish favourite Lukasz on the way back and he even taught us how to properly pronounce his name; this trip had been very cultural for all of us. He asked me twice why our players drink after a match as he had obviously never witnessed this at his previous clubs on the continent.
We got back to Atherton at around 20:00 and headed into the Rope & Anchor where we stayed drinking for an hour or so. Ollie and I then went off to get changed before meeting back up with the players in the pub. From there we headed further into Atherton and then onwards to Leigh because obviously we hadn’t drank enough. In the end, we got back to mine at around 04:00 in the morning to conclude what had once again been a monumental drinking session.
Once again, the Jolly Boys outing did not disappoint. All that is left to say now is if anybody wants to host us next pre-season or you want the mighty Colls to come to a town near you, please do get in touch. Obviously it would be a one off match; we’re not a boyband. We’re not going on a nationwide tour and doing numerous dates. However, if you’re a foreign reader and know a local side who would host us that would be absolutely mental and more than welcome!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 107 miles
- ADMISSION: £2 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: N/A