It’s that time of the season again. Champions League football is back! What better way to celebrate than to watch a bit of NWCFL action in the pouring rain? Whilst many decided to stay at home and watch Real Madrid v Manchester City, we decided to head a few minutes down the road to Ashton-in-Makerfield.
Joe Lawton drove down from the similarly named Ashton-under-Lyne to pick me up from Atherton at 18:30. From there we went on to pick up Zack in Leigh. It had taken many months of persuading and mithering to get Zack to his first non-league match, and with college been cancelled for the day due to a burst water pipe, I saw my opportunity. The pressure was now on though. If the match was a complete borefest with horrible weather, he may never watch a non-league match again.
It took us only 12 minutes to get to Ashton from Leigh after we travelled down Slag Lane with no problems. Arriving at Edge Green Lane just after 19:00 we parked Oliver up on the dirt track leading up the ground and headed up towards the turnstyle.
Stepping out of the car, the cold arctic conditions hit us straight away. It made me rather emotional, as it made me realise we were now on track for a long, cold, harsh winter of football. Gone were the days of glorious pre season football. It was time for my thick Bolton Wanderers coat to make a premature appearance.
Operating the turnstyle was a pleasant bloke who got us into the ground with no problems at all. At only £2 each as students it was very good value for money. I also purchased a very well presented programme for £1.20. The programme consisted primarily of recent match reports. Some of which were essays! Very impressive for this level of football. Included in the reports was one from Atherton Collieries recent FA Vase exit at the hands of Ashton Town – one which I’d rather forget about, after we fell behind with just 18 seconds on the clock!
Having taken a few photos of the ground we headed for the warmth of the social club. I was hoping not be recognised by any of the Laburnum Rovers supporters, as they may still want to kill me for switching my allegiances to Collieries last season. The social was nice, and I instantly fell in love with the place when I saw a signed photo of Wigan cult hero Paul Scharner. – ♫ Paul Scharner! Woahhhh! Paul Scharner! Woahhhh! He comes from Austria! He’s now a Wiganer! ♫
On offer in the kitchen was a wide variety of great value food and drink. All pies were priced at just £1 each, and were satisfactory. You could buy a large hotdog for just £1.40… or if you wanted to treat yourself, you could hand over £1.50 in return for a homemade sausage casserole. To wash all the lovely food down, you could even buy a brew for just 60p! We really did feel a bit spoilt for choice!
Coronation Street was on. The pies were flowing… the whippets were barking. I really did feel as though I was in my element. However, it was soon time to leave the loving warmth of the social club, and expose ourselves to very Northern weather conditions outside.
The AM Property Group Stadium (I know…) doesn’t offer much to talk about. On one side of the ground you have the changing rooms which looked a little cramped to say the least. Found in front of this you could find the dugouts, which are some of the nicer ones found in the division. The dugouts were obviously fairly new, as the old ones could be found rusting away in a bush behind the changing rooms.
On the opposite side of the ground you could find the seated areas of the ground. However, if you are able to stand, I would strongly suggest you do. The red seats looked like they could snap at any minute. One nearly came off in my hand when I was testing it for a Gibbo’s92 health and safety blog certificate! Also, I say the seats are red; they used to be. The vast majority of them are now a shade of green due to various vegetation growing on them.
The seating was split into two separate areas; a type of segregation perhaps? One area was a normal bog standard metal shed, similar to many others found at this level. The other? Well Joe and Zack likened it to a cinema. It was basically a holding pen for spectators who didn’t want to get wet. It was such a peculiar site, but at the same time… it did look very cosy!
It was soon time for the players to come out, and as is so often the case, the heavens opened. With some encouragement from the referee the players eventually strolled out on to the field of play, and shook hands. You felt if the rain continued like this for much longer the match would be abandoned before half time!
A headcount revealed there were around 40 in attendance for the match, with a handful of those making the trip from Atherton. Everybody was huddled underneath the relatively watertight shed on the far side, apart from one bloke who insisted on standing behind the net by himself. Those of you who have ever seen Atherton LR play will have encountered their fan who brings his football rattle to each match. If I remember correctly, the yellow and blue football rattle is made of old railway sleepers, and is very old. It even once appeared on Sky Sports News!
The first half was a pretty dull affair, with neither set of players adjusting to the horrible weather conditions. Ashton were by far the better of the two teams, but lacked that final bit of quality to punish the visitors.
After many failed attacks, Ashton Town finally hit the target on 38 minutes when Phil Davis fired towards goal. It took a good save from the exotic looking Sam Curtis to keep the scores level. I am sure Sam Curtis isn’t called Sam Curtis. He looked like a French international keeper at least with his long dark hair. Credit to Curtis though, he did keep Atherton in the game with a string of decent saves in testing conditions.
Sam Curtis wasn’t just the goalkeeper though. Oh no. He was more than that! With a lack of people standing behind the net ie. Nobody, it was left to Curtis to retrieve the ball each time it went out of play. However, it was a bit more complicated than that due to there being a number of parked cars behind the net, including a porsche?! It was proper Jumpers for Goalposts scenes. Remember playing football as a young lad on the street? When your ball would disappear under a car, and you’d have to lie down on your back and stick your leg under, hoping you wouldn’t get burnt by the exhaust pipe? Well yes, that’s what was happening.
Atherton Laburnum Rovers best chance of the second half came when former Ashton Town player Lee Unsworth headed towards goal from a corner. The Town defence failed to pick him up and Nathan Brabin tipped the ball over the bar with a great reaction save.
The deadlock was broken on 45 minutes when Sam Wilkie threaded a great ball through the Atherton defence. It was Mikey Cummins who latched on to the ball, and kept his calm to finish calmly past the helpless Sam Curtis. It was 1-0 to the visitors, and it was nothing more than they deserved.
Half time arrived and it was time for Joe Lawton to have his 178th brew of the evening. We went back inside the social club to watch the halftime highlights of Real Madrid v Manchester City. There were also a few teenagers inside the social club, who seemed a bit confused by the amount of people who came in at once. This baffled me. Who goes to a social club at a football ground, and gets confused when loads of football fans come it at once? Oh well… Wigan for you!
We were sat there quite quietly when suddenly, the woman in the kitchen opened the door in a daze. At first glance it appeared she was participating in Ashtons very own Stars In Their Eyes, then we realised she had put her chips on a bit too high and their was a smoke cloud everywhere. A bloke ran over pretending to be Manuel off Fawlty Towers, and that was our half time entertainment over with.
The second half was the total opposite of the first half, and turned out to be one of the best second halfs of football I am likely to see this season. Ashton Town came out of the blocks faster, and were unlucky not to go further ahead with shots from Mikey Cummins and Sam Wilkie. However, it was Atherton who came closest to scoring when Andy Olsen rather dubiously beat the offside trap to find himself one on one with the keeper. Despite a great effort he saw his shot come bouncing off the post, much to the despair of the travelling Atherton fans, who were spinning their rattles like there was no tomorrow.
The home side deservedly doubled their lead on 69 minutes when Brad Smart picked up the ball on the right, and cut inside the LR defence. He then curled a brilliant left footed shot into the bottom left hand corner from the edge of the box. It was a fantastic goal, and it looked to all like the goal had put Atherton out of their misery. This attitude was further implemented when just minutes later the referee – who had controlled the match absolutely fantastically – awarded the home side a penalty. Michael Boyle smashed the resulting spot kick against the crossbar.
The second goal seemed to wake up the away side, and Atherton grabbed an unlikely goal back with around 10 minutes to play. A corner swung in from the left, and was met by a header. The ball somehow stayed out, before Mark Adams bundled the ball over the line whilst he was falling to the floor. The ball could have been only a centimetre over the line, but the linesman (who had also had a brilliant game) correctly signalled for a goal. Game on.
The goal sparked a frantic last section of the match, and it was great for neutrals like ourselves. However, my hometown allegiances suddenly sprung into life. Living only a minutes walk from Atherton Laburnum Rovers, I couldn’t help but want them to score again. Rather surprisingly, it looked likely.
The away side were on the attack again, and after a mixture of poor defending, great pressure and a slippy surface the referee found himself pointing to the penalty spot again. Daniel Regan had done well to find himself in the area, before he was brought down by the aptly named Ryan Stamper. Dave Sargeant converted the spot kick to bring the scores level. 2-2. 89 minutes.
Now you may be thinking at 89 minutes, that would be the end of the action. Well, you’d be much mistaken. After Athertons exotic goalkeeper got clattered halfway through the second half, we had 8 minutes added time. By this stage the keeper had handed kicking duties to his defenders, and he was hobbling about like he had been shot.
The match really was end to end, and after Atherton narrowly missed the target to take all three points, the home side went straight up the other end and somehow missed the target from a couple of yards out. Either side could win, and the final opportunity of the game fell to Michael Boyle. His shot looked like it was set for the bottom corner, but somehow the wounded Atherton keeper managed to keep it out. It really was a heroic performance from the keeper, who could hardly stand up by this stage.
The referee unfortunately blew for full time. It had been an extremely entertaining affair, with 26 shots on goal during the night. I felt on reflection Ashton Town were by far the better footballing side, but Atherton showed an attitude typical of the town and kept fighting to the death to secure themselves a point in this local Wigan derby.
Whilst Ashton Town doesn’t have much to offer in the way of a ground, the people there were friendly and have high expectations of their team this season. The fact we thought Ashton played really well, and they were unhappy says a lot about the aims of the club. I will no doubt be back sometime watching one of the Atherton sides, and I hope it will be another thrilling match.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND – 8.2 miles
- ADMISSION – £2 as student
- PROGRAMME PRICE – £1.20
- PIE – £1