Before I write about the match, I’d like to draw your attention to the fantastic work that Bolton Hospice do on a daily basis. The Hospice is a well respected part of our community, and has been helping people for many years. The charity relies on donations from local people and events such as this match to cover costs. The Hospice offers all of their services for free, and aims to carry on doing so for as long as possible. You can visit the Bolton Hospice website to find out more information – http://www.boltonhospice.org.uk/
In a competition that has been dominated by the town of Atherton in recent years, it was time for me to finally attend a cup final. When the semi-final draw was made, it looked to all like an all Atherton final was on the cards – (A flatcap derby as it is affectionally known). However, Eagley soon put an end to that when they beat Atherton Laburnum Rovers 4-0 in the semi’s.
Joe, Lewis and I were looking forward to attending Atherton Collieries semi-final, but after torrential rain throughout the day, the match was postponed. However, being the idiots that we are… we didn’t check Twitter! We arrived at Crilly Park to find the whole place deserted. The evening ended in us going to the cinema to watch The Hunger Games.
This match was put straight on to my calendar when Colls progressed, there was no way I was missing it. In a season that had offered very little in the way of celebration for my local teams, it was a great opportunity to put all that behind. It had been Colls goal for the past couple of months to win the Hospital Cup.
It was my Mum who offered the transport for this match, as she ran Lewis and I up to Horwich for around 18:00. We nipped to KFC before proceeding to the front of the stadium where we congregated in the Main Reception for around 10 minutes. En route to the reception we bumped into Bolton chairman Phil Gartside who has kind enough to say hello to us. The security guards in the Main Reception obviously weren’t that happy with having mere peasants like ourselves within the posh bit of the stadium, so they kept coming up with loads of excuses to kick us out.
The turnstiles were soon opened, and luckily they opened the best turnstile in the world. TURNSTILE D – LOWER! For those of you who wonder what is so good about Turnstile D; I have my season ticket there. I was shocked to see that the price was £2 for concessions, I was adamant it was only £1. Before I had time to open my mouth, a steward came out with a Sharpie pen to amend the mistake. It then struck me. Why was I bothered about £1? IT’S FOR A GOOD CHARITY GIBBO!
Matchday programmes were on sale for just £1, and with that you also received a free raffle ticket. The prize being either a Bolton Wanderers signed shirt or football. Unfortunately, I didn’t win.
I took my place in my season ticket seat, and waited for the match to begin with Lewis. Dan and Dan had decided to leave us as it was “a better view on the front row” – Yeah, okay. The music began to play, and Colin McGreavy – The Reebok tannoy announcer to you and I, waved at me. I was having a successful evening so far!
The West Stand Lower had filled up quite well, and it was soon time for the teams to emerge. Atherton Colls were in their usual Black and White stripes, and Eagley were sporting a dark blue and yellow strip; like Oxford Uniteds.
After the fairplay handshakes, and player presentations, it was time to kick off the 82nd Bolton Hospital Cup. Eagley who are in the division below Atherton started the game by far the better of the two teams. Passing the ball around well with neat touches, Colls found it hard to dispossess them. It was a case of weathering the storm.
The first attempt of the match came when Eagley striker Mark Truffas cut in from the left hand flank, before unleashing a tame shot towards goal. His effort went just wide of the post, but it was a warning sign to a complacent Colls defence.
As is so often the case at The Reebok, the team that has all of the possession and pressure then concede a goal against the run of play. A long ball was fired upfield to Colls striker Gary Burnett. Burnett controlled well on the halfway line, and found himself one on one with the goalkeeper. He raced forward, before rounding Eagley keeper Danny Lever. Burnett scored in an open net, and sent us all ecstatic.
Two minutes later, and Eagley nearly levelled. A cross came in from the left, and it was met on the volley by Mitchell Leece. Leece had a lot to do, but did well to swivel his body to get his shot away. It was heading for the back of the net, but Colls keeper Lee Novak did very well to keep his effort out with an instinctive save.
On 19 minutes another attack came from the rampant Eagley. Gary Whiteside fired in a cross from the right hand touchline, where he picked out Phil Regan. Regan looked odds on to score as Atherton keeper Novak was left in no mans land. As the two players challenged in mid air, a brave effort from Regan saw the ball headed towards an empty net. Unfortunately for him, it looped agonisingly over the crossbar.
Atherton finally found a foot hole in the game, and enjoyed a spell of 10 minutes where they got into a passing rhythm. Paul Townshend was bossing the midfield for Atherton, so it was a bit disappointing when twice in quick succession he went down injured.
The final opportunity of the first half came when Colls defender Steven Rothwell fired just over the bar. Fantastic play from Gary Burnett in the centre of the park teed Rothwell up for a 30 yard shot. His effort went just over the bar, much to the relief of the Eagley keeper.
Half time arrived, and it was an opportunity for us to stretch our legs. I also showed Wigan fan Lewis the route of my misery walk which I often partake in after every single Bolton match. I showed him the steps I stomp down. The wall I punch… and the seats I kick!
The concourses were quite full, which was pleasing to see. We didn’t know when to go back to our seats though, as the plasma screens weren’t showing the match!
Half time went by quite fast, and it was soon time to enjoy another half of end to end, physical football. We all felt as though we wouldn’t have to wait long for an Eagley goal, and it would probably come from a cross.
How wrong could we be? The first chance of the second half brought a goal. Gary Burnett doubled both his and his clubs tally for the evening in similar circumstances to the first goal. The ball was threaded past the Eagley defence, and Burnetts pace and anticipation proved too much as he again rounded the keeper.
Eagley didn’t let the second goal get to them, and they were soon attacking Atherton again. Phil Regan and Mitchell Leece were spearheading the Eagley attack, and they were very unlucky not to pull a goal back on 62 minutes. Great play between the two of them completely threw the Atherton defence, and Leece found himself through on goal, at a tight angle. He snatched at the ball, and it went out for a throw in. Wasted opportunity.
Just a minute later, and Eagley again nearly scored. Dave Sherlock cut inside the Colls defensive line, and found himself in plenty of space on the edge of the area. From a tight angle, he curled the ball towards the top right hand corner. It looked all but in, until Lee Novak stretched and got a hand to it to claw the ball away.
On 80 minutes, Eagley found a way back into the game. The ball was bouncing around in the Colls box, when suddenly, out of nowhere Andy Walker made an “unfortunate” chest high karate kick challenge on the Eagley striker. Penalty. Andrew Warburton stepped up, and slotted the ball past Novak. 2-1.
The goal put wind in Eagley sails, and deflated the previously buoyant Colls. Atherton were now hanging on, and were penned into their penalty area by wave after wave of Eagley attacks.
Eagley got a deserved equaliser in the 92nd minute. Poor defending led to Liam Carr smashing the ball past Novak on the half volley. The Eagley players were running all over the pitch after pulling off a dramatic comeback.
The final whistle blew, and the match was to be decided by the lottery that is a penalty shootout.
I won’t go into too much detail about the penalties… as I can’t really remember what happened. I was too drawn in by the moment. Even Lewis, who wasn’t entirely bothered who won admitted that he was nervous!
Atherton scored their first 3 penalties, and Eagley scored only 1. This meant that if Mike Mullrooney dispatched the next penalty, Atherton Collieries would be crowned Bolton Hospital Cup Winners 2012. Mike stepped up, and finished superbly to secure the cup for Colls.
Man of The Match award was given to Gary Burnett for his instrumental role in helping Atherton win. His pace and anticipation was superb throughout, and he thoroughly earnt his award.
The ceremony was Wembley-esque, with the losing team walking up the steps to the executive balcony to pick up their medals. They were then followed by the champions; Atherton Collieries Football Club.
The stewards wouldn’t let me in for a closer look, but I could watch from a distance. It was a fantastic moment for the club, and it was great to see the players having a good time. The question now is… Which Atherton team will win the cup next year? Collieries… Laburnum Rovers… Town?!