The eight matches I had been to since non-league football was allowed to resume had all been advertised as ‘behind closed doors’. In reality, if you turn up at a ground which backs on to public land or it has a footpath through it, there’s very little that the club can do. All the clubs knew this and were simply putting messages out on social media discouraging spectators from attending purely to cover their own backs. They were still happy to receive fans through the gates; or bushes.
Down at Elton Vale on this Thursday night, they were welcoming fans with open arms, which meant I could *finally* watch a game without feeling like I was breaking ‘the spirit of the guidelines’ that were in place. Note how I used one of the governments favourite phrases there. Outside the large clubhouse, two volunteers stood signing guests into a track and trace notebook, while also, more importantly flogging bottles of beer.
Adam and I were both off work on the day of the match, so we headed up to Ramsbottom – which is a few miles to the north of Elton – and spent some time sampling a variety of beers in the Irwell Works Brewery. While sat on the balcony, overlooking Morrisons car park, we got chatting to three characters who had travelled by bus from Salford because they’d heard the brewery were serving a beer named ‘Costa del Salford’. I certainly hoped it was the worth the bus ride.
I think it showed just how bored people were becoming. In fact, I too had become increasingly boring, apparently, as Adam returned from the supermarket with a ‘Just Ham’ sandwich. It reminded me of the time Luton Town played at York City, with goalkeeper Elliot Justham being told repeatedly that he was ‘a really boring meal deal’ by a group of York youth. No swearing at Bootham Crescent.
With kick-off approaching, we drove down to Elton, which is a suburb to the west of Bury town centre. The area hasn’t had the best year football wise, with it’s professional club being booted out of the Football League. However, at non-league level, there’s a few clubs who often produce entertaining matches whenever you visit.
Elton Vale are one of these and they were formed in 1957 as Elton Fold FC, keeping the nickname ‘The Fold’ to this day. The name change came back in 2002 after a move to the current ground which is just a stones throw from the football club’s old pitch. As with a number of football teams in this corner of Greater Manchester, they share their facilities with a cricket club (amongst other sports) making the ground tidy for this level.
In their clubhouse, they have an interesting collection of newspaper reports framed on the wall as you enter. You could spend a while reading about the history of the club. In the bar area is a Tottenham Hotspur shirt, signed by current Atletico Madrid and England international defender Kieran Trippier. He was brought up in Summerseat which is just up the road and from what I can gather, I think his brother used to play for Elton Vale a few years ago too.
I’d last visited Elton Vale Sports Club two years earlier, when they put NWCFL side Barnoldswick Town to the sword with a 3-1 victory. Opponents tonight were West Lancashire Premier Division side Stoneclough, who had made the short six mile journey north to face Elton Vale of the Manchester League Division One. For context, the visitors play a division higher, albeit in a different league.
Carl and Zach, who I’d been at Atherton Collieries v Rochdale with the previous night had been talked into coming down to the match for some fresh air. We opted to stand leaning on the barrier of Stoneclough’s left wing. Colls legend Mark Truffas was now in his third season at the club, after opting not to make the step up into the Northern Premier League with us. It was actually his goal, an unstoppable free-kick against Abbey Hey which clinched us the NWCFL title.
As the story goes, one of Truffas’ finest moments during his five years with the club came after he’d ran rings around Chorley right back Matt Jansen in a Lancashire cup match. The following morning – apparently – Magpies manager Garry Flitcroft rang him up and asked him if he fancied a move to Chorley. He thought it was one of his mates winding him up, swore at him and duly put the phone down. They never spoke again.
Elton Vale, despite being a division lower, ended up wiping the floor with Stoneclough on this occasion, racing into a 3-0 lead after just 16 minutes. They did finish last season top of their league but were denied the chance to step into the Manchester League Premier Division when the season was null and voided. No doubt they’ll be the team to beat this coming campaign.
The home side’s fourth goal arrived on 27 minutes, before I headed into the clubhouse to find the toilets. It resembled a challenge from Takeshi’s Castle, sliding down the boggy embankment to the building, before then arriving into the gents to find signs above every urinal reading, ‘Tennis! Do not use this urinal!’ I had no idea what it meant but assumed it was connected in some way to the blokes on the other side of the fence who were busy knocking their balls around.
Stoneclough pulled a goal back on the half-hour mark after the striker had bamboozled his way through The Fold defence. The scoreline would remain the same until deep into the second half, when a trademark Truffas cross was headed in at the back post to make it 4-2 to the home side.
The light began to fade on yet another game. I realised it was my eighth match in nine days. Well, there’s nothing else to do at the moment is there?