A few weeks ago I wrote quite extensively about how in one quiet corner of Bolton there is a thriving non-league scene, with three grounds neighbouring one another in the Lostock area. The second episode from this quirky trio comes in the shape of CMB FC who were hosting Atherton Town in a pre-season friendly.
The football club can trace it’s roots back as a works team that was founded in 1971. Carnaud Metal Box ran a large factory a little bit further down the road in Westhoughton. Here, up until just after the turn of the millennium they produced metal cans for the food and drink industry. By the late 1990’s, the football team – which played on land opposite – had folded, coinciding with a decline in the manufacturing industry.
By this stage, the Sports Club side of the company had set up a number of junior sides and the decision was made to carry these sides on. The handful of teams left were renamed as CMB Nomads due to their nomadic existence around the local area. This was my earliest memory of CMB, as I regularly played against their junior sides growing up and always relished tussles against them. I still relive my one and only goal against them – on the very ground which I was now visiting – with vivid recollection. A tap-in from a few yards out.
The site at CMB Sports Club was acquired and moved into in 2000 but it wasn’t until 2007 that the club decided to reintroduce their men’s side, entering the pyramid at Division 2 of the Lancashire Amateur League, which I calculate to be the infamously glitzy 15th level of English football.
It’s worth pointing out at this stage, that with the works factory demolished in 2003 and with the club now playing down the road in Chew Moor, they seemingly renamed themselves from Carnaud Metal Box FC to Chew Moor Brook FC. Conveniently, it meant that they could still be named CMB. This needs to be confirmed but if it’s true, it’s a very happy coincidence.
Two consecutive promotions in their first seasons back playing saw CMB reach the top division of the Lancashire Amateur League, allowing them to then successfully apply for election into the West Lancashire League in time for the 2012/13 season.
Comprising of three divisions, the West Lancashire League is often considered quite a tough step up with the amount of travelling involved and the need to improve facilities in-line with ground grading. After two years of gradual progression, CMB won Division 2 in 2015/16 and then finished second in Division 1 to end up in the Premier Division in time for the 2019/20 season.
Four promotions gained since being founded is good going by anyone’s standards. It meant that the facilities at CMB Sports Ground have also improved substantially in the past decade, with a spacious clubhouse and bar sitting next to a carpet of a pitch which has had rustic wooden barriers assembled around it. It now feels like a proper ground and is testament to the hard work which has obviously gone on behind the scenes.
Kick-off for this friendly was at 19:00, which was going to prove slightly problematic on two counts. The first being that my parents had kindly booked us in for an Indian meal in Atherton, as we continued to
rinse make the most of the government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme. The second issue was whether the match would finish before daylight faded. Yes, it was pre-season, so a 19:00 kick off usually works… but we were now midway through August!
It took me less than ten minutes to reach CMB, parking up right outside the ground as the car park was already full to capacity. Just as I pulled up, the 30 degree sunshine which we had enjoyed all week typically turned into heavy rain with a scattering of thunderstorms.
A small congregation of enthusiasts in attendance sought shelter underneath the small cover available outside the home changing room. The guttering was working overtime, with most of the rainwater spilling over and creating a water feature just in front of the changing room doors.
Despite there being just four miles between CMB and the visitors, Atherton Town (who I played for at youth level) they don’t really have chance to face each other unless they are drawn out together in a local cup competition such as the Bolton Hospital Cup. While Atherton play in the second level of the Manchester League, CMB compete in the West Lancashire League. The two leagues are at a similar level on the pyramid but the hosts were ranked a division higher… but you wouldn’t have guessed that based on the opening exchanges.
When I first started watching Atherton Collieries, our prolific striker was the aptly named Paul Atherton. He and his identical twin brother, Karl, notched up a great deal of goals between them over the years, with Paul bagging over 100 before leaving when manager Steve Pilling departed the club. The much loved striker went on to play a handful of matches for Ashton Athletic before seemingly hanging up his boots.
I was delighted when I saw Paul dancing through the CMB defence to open the scoring after just three minutes. By 18 minutes, he’d helped himself to a further two goals and Town found themselves 3-0 up. He was brought off shortly after half-time and he told me that this was the first time he’d played football properly since leaving Colls six years earlier. Fitness levels aside, he’d hit the ground running.
He wasn’t the only former ‘Colls mon’ on show for Town, with centre half Kieran Halliwell and goalkeeper Josh Harris helping to transport me back in time. Kieran once blasted me when I was forced to be a make shift linesman at Pennington v Wilmslow Albion and gave the most obvious throw in decision against him. Fortunately, I’m over the incident now and was able to say hello to him after he had cleared yet another CMB long ball with one of his trademark headers.
CMB meanwhile were able to call upon their most experienced player, Andy Bishop. The former York City, Bury and Wrexham striker – who racked up nearly 300 Football League appearances – was still his usual bustling self but he didn’t have a great deal of joy up against Halliwell. His only real highlight came on 36 minutes when he jinked his way through the Atherton defence and slotted past Harris.
As I made my way around the ground, I got chatting to a bloke called John who told me he tried to follow CMB home and away whenever he could. He’d been watching the club for a few years, after previously watching another Bolton club, Castle Hill FC. It was clear that he admired the set of players that had moved from Castle Hill to CMB, so joined them and has carried on following the club even when many of those have since moved on. He feels a part of something here.
“I’m th’only CMB season ticket holder!” he proudly joked. It was nice to be able to chat to people like him again after months of not really being able to converse with strangers. Up the other end of the ground, watching proudly from the back of his car was Atherton Town secretary Gerald. He’s a stalwart. 50 years of service under his belt and a few years back members of the club overwhelmingly agreed to name their ground Butler Park in his honour.
By half-time, the downpour had stopped which meant I could shake off my Bolton Wanderers umbrella and rest it firmly in the grass next to me. An unstoppable free-kick on the stroke of half-time from Matty Meskell saw Atherton take a 4-1 lead into the interval, leading to unrest amongst the CMB players who began to lose their cool with one another. “Speak to me like that again on a football pitch and I’ll rip your f*cking face off!” was a particular highlight.
Whatever was said behind closed doors appeared to work for a short while, at least, as in the second half, CMB pulled it back to 4-3 thanks to a defensive mistake and a deflected effort which looped into the back of the net. Andy Bishop made way, hobbling off with what appeared to be a hamstring twinge.
The home side were really going for it now, throwing bodies forward and looking far more likely to get the next goal. Typically, Mark Prince’s Atherton side broke and made it 5-3 through Andy Miller before Calam Will rounded off the scoring in the dying stages to make it 6-3 to Town. By this point, daylight had practically faded and it was a bit of a challenge to see the far end of the pitch. A fellow spectator kindly started his car and lit up a section of the left wing with his headlights. This was pre-season in non-league… and it was perfect.