It took a few months of nagging from Aaron and Joe to get me to my first Curzon Ashton match. It’s not that I didn’t want to go, as I had been looking to visit the club for a few years after their well publicised exploits in the FA Cup. With a free day in my busy pre season schedule, I decided I would venture down to the Tameside Stadium to watch them take on a young Blackburn Rovers side.
Now you may be wondering why Aaron and Joe were so keen to get me down to the Tameside Stadium? Well Joe is a Curzon Ashton fan, with his Dad being the clubs all time leading goalscorer. Aaron on the other hand? Well his Dad, John Flanagan is the current Curzon Ashton manager. So as you can see, I was in very good company.
Catching an early train from Atherton, I met up with Swansea fan Matt at Manchester Victoria before we caught the train to Ashton-under-Lyne. We had both shaken off our hangovers after the previous nights groundhop to Radcliffe where they were flogging ciders for only £1.
Joe Lawton was meant to meet us off the train, but for the third consecutive time, he hadn’t turned up. He instructed us to “mill around” outside the station until he arrived, which he assured wouldn’t be long. I am now bored of being told to “mill around” outside Ashton-under-Lyne train station, so instead, we went for a walk… or an inspection of Ashton if you like.
Matt was in need of a cash machine, and I really wanted to see what Ashton was like as a town. I had checked up on Wikipedia beforehand, and it was described as “bare, wet and almost worthless”, so I was really looking forward to seeing if this was true.
No sooner had we got into the town centre we encountered a dodgy looking bloke flogging dodgy looking “NEXT Collection” towels. Matt, fresh from the cash machine was tempted, but I advised him against the purchase, and we carried on. Nothing though, prepared us for what we were about to see.
Just as we were leaving the town centre to meet up with Joe Lawton, I saw a piece of bread fall just short of my right foot. Slightly confused by what had just happened, I looked up, expecting to see a Warburtons lorry tumbling from the sky, with the promise of free bread for all. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
It turned out to be a man who was quite literally chucking bread at the pigeons. I was halfway through tweeting the RSPCA to inform them what the residents of Ashton do to pigeons. However, to avoid any confusion or any unnecessary discomfort for bystanders, the man was kind enough to shout “FEEDING THE BIRDS! FEEDING THE BIRDS!” – You know, just to clarify what he was doing.
Luckily for Matt and I, we were soon rescued by Joe and we set off on the long tedious walk to the ground. All respect to Joe though, he did attempt to make the walk as enjoyable as possible by feeding us with useless snippets of information about Ashton. I’ll quote one for you now:
“Here on your right is the TALLEST IKEA in Britain”
After overcoming the obstacle of the Metrolink line which was being built, we soon arrived at the vast site of the Tameside Stadium. Aaron was arriving in the car at exactly the same time, which meant it was just Joe Buckley who was missing after failing to catch his connecting train from Manchester. Typical.
The first thing your eyes are drawn to when walking up to the ground is a large bronze statue. Now, you may be wondering why a non-league side has a statue outside their ground? Well, it isn’t just any statue. Oh no. It is a triple statue, celebrating Tamesides World Cup Winners. There’s Sir Geoff Hurst (Ashton), Jimmy Armfield (Denton) and finally Simone Perrota (Ashton). All three players stopped throwing bread at pigeons at an early age, and moved out of the area pretty swiftly.
With us arriving at the ground around 2 hours before kick off there was no need/way of paying an admission fee, and we were straight in through the main entrance. It was like a maze of footballing excitement, and eventually Aaron dumped us in a long narrow room, where there was a kitchen and bar. There was nothing homemade on offer, but that was reassuring as I wasn’t in the mood for catching some sort of non-league disease with Olympic football to look forward to the following day.
On the TV was the Olympic Womens Beach Volleyball. Now, this was my first big decision of the day. Did I go outside to take some photos of the ground before thousands of Blackburn fans arrived, or did I whet my Olympic appetite with such an artistic sport? You guessed wrong. I went outside and took some photos.
The Tameside Stadium holds 4,000 spectators, and this includes 527 seats. The seated stand really does look impressive at the level Curzon are currently playing at, and it wouldn’t look out of place at many football league grounds.
Opposite the seated stand is a covered terrace, which runs the length of the pitch and is capable of holding 1,100 spectators. The remainder of the 4,000 capacity is achieved through small, uncovered terraces behind either goal.
Found at the very top of the seated stand is the tannoy box, and this is where we occupied ourselves for a good 20 minutes. After playing a Ben Howard megamix, we thought it would be highly hilarious to blast out the Champions League theme tune whilst the Blackburn players strolled around the pitch. We are amused far too easily.
The programmes were now ready to be purchased, and it was quite a lazy attempt at a programme from Curzon. However, you can’t complain. At least they bothered to make a programme, and as it was pre-season, it was quite a rarity! Whilst on the subject of programmes, if you enjoy collecting older programmes I strongly advise you visit the programme shop at Curzon Ashton. I could have spent all day in there, it was fantastic!
Having flicked through the matchday programme, and taking in a bit more of the womens volleyball, the time had arrived. That’s right ladies and gentlemen! SuperNash was about to grace the pitch of the Tameside Stadium for the first time this season! All the club needed was somebody stupid enough to dress up as a dodgy looking superhero.
You guessed it.
I was handed a large cardboard box, which contained a large cartoon head, a blue cape, and a strange looking costume. I won’t lie, I was thoroughly looking forward to viewing a match from a mascots point of view. I had been studying videos of Lofty the Lion for weeks leading up to the match, and I felt I could match, if not surpass his world famous performances.
Aaron and Joe bundled me down the tunnel, and shoved me in the physios room where we unpacked SuperNash.
It was quite eerie seeing a mascot lying on the floor with nobody in it. It was like all life had been sucked from the once energetic and iconic community figure… right, I’m getting far too emotionally attached to the role of mascot aren’t I?
It was a struggle getting me into the costume, but fortunately Aaron was on hand to help me out! I wasn’t quite tall enough to make it fit perfectly, but we managed. My knees appeared to be halfway up my thighs, and my SuperNash super shoes were halfway up my shins. I surely had to be the smallest person ever to be a football mascot. Rather spookily, SuperNash’s head does look slightly like my own, but on a bigger scale.
10 minutes later and I was ready to entertain the crowd. I was instructed to stay in the tunnel until after the teams were read out, so then I could come out to music etc etc. After doing silly dance moves in the tunnel for a couple of minutes, the music began to play… the adrenaline started pumping. I knew it was my time to shine.
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! PLEASE WELCOME TO THE PITCH… SUPERNASH!”
I was tempted to play about with the tannoy announcer, and pretend not to hear it. I just couldn’t resist though, and I steamed out of the tunnel like a child running downstairs on Christmas Day.
I didn’t know what to do. Do I sprint out and do a Nani style flip, running the risk of losing my head, and more importantly my identity? Do I just walk out, acting cool and composed like it’s just another match in the life of SuperNash? Or did I run over to a Blackburn fan, unzip my costume to reveal a Bolton Wanderers shirt? The possibilities were endless.
If you really want to see my entrance on to the pitch, you can watch the video of it on Youtube… well worth a watch!
After all that excitement it was time for the teams to come out. I recognised the majority of the Blackburn players from my days of being a hooligan at Blackburn Rovers Reserves matches down at Leigh Sports Village. Down the years we have watched many young players go on to prove themselves in the Premier League, with the most recent being Phil Jones and Junior Hoillett.
Blackburn (still playing in their Premierleague kit despite being relegated) started the better of the two sides, but it was Curzon who were handed the first opportunity when a crossfield pass by Hugo Fernandez fell slightly astray, and gifted the home side with a goalscoring opportunity.
Again it was Curzon who kept making progress deep into the Blackburn half; this time through Brian Summerskill. After beating Danny Devine down the right hand side he failed to provide a good cross and it was cleared by a strong Blackburn defence. A minute later and Blackburn nearly opened the scoring when Myles Anderson connected with a corner from the right. His effort however was cleared off the line by a defender to keep the score goalless.
I was still parading around the stadium as SuperNash at this stage, and after making three children cry, and tripping over a water bottle, I thought it was time to return back to the Physio Room to change back into Joseph Gibbons. It had been a fun half hour, and one which I will definitely do again given the chance! The chairman now even calls me SuperNash. Success.
When I returned back to the stand, I was subjected to all sorts of strange looks. However, some good did come of my performance. One fan did say, and I quote:
“He’s the best SuperNash we have ever had!”
Anyway, back to the match! The young Rovers side had their best chance of the first half when Jordan Slew fired a hopeful long-range effort just over the bar. It was the story of the first half with neither Jordan Slew or his striking partner Nick Blackman causing too many problems for the Curzon Ashton defence.
Curzon Ashton’s best chance of the half came when Nick Blackman gifted possession to the opposition. This was a common theme from the young Blackburn side, and they gave away the ball far too many times. It was Kristian Dennis who picked the ball up, and found himself running through on goal. However, his shot was tame and Seb Usai had no problems saving.
Half time arrived, and it was time for more me to get a cup of tea. Matt on the other hand was eagerly anticipating the raffle. Somehow he won, and he dashed up to the tannoy box where there were two prizes on offer: A Coca-Cola t-shirt and a bottle of wine. It was a no brainer really. Matt took the bottle of wine, and left the poor straggling woman as the proud owner of a Coca-Cola t-shirt.
As the second half began, Aaron called me into the lounge found at the back of the stand. “Gibbo! Come here. Jack wants to meet you!” In I went through a door, and inside was Curzon Ashton President and former Manchester United player, Jack Crompton. Now at the age of 90, he is one of the oldest former Manchester United players having played 191 times for them as goalkeeper. I had met Jack back in 2002 when I was on a tour of Old Trafford, and it was nice to meet him again.
“I met you when I was 7 years old Jack. We were on a tour of Old Trafford, and you were on it too!”
Jack then looked me up and down, before pausing and saying
“It couldn’t have been that long ago then!”
Great. So I can now add Jack Crompton to the list of people who have bullied me for my lack of height. Before leaving Jack to watch the rest of the match, his wife pulled out an envelope from her handbag and asked Jack to sign it to me. I was made up to say the least. Such a lovely couple, and it was a pleasure to meet them both.
We were now standing on the terracing, and luckily for us the deadlock was broken on 52 minutes. Nick Blackman picked the ball up on the right of the Curzon Ashton penalty area. He turned the defence well, and smashed the ball past Joshua Ollerenshaw in the Curzon net.
Just minutes later and the away side doubled their lead. Danny Laverty fired towards goal, and Joshua Ollerenshaw could only parry the ball out to the feet of Curtis Haley. He tucked the ball away with no problems, and that looked like game over in a match that had offered very little entertainment.
The home side pulled a goal back on 70 minutes when Anthony O’Connor was adjudged to have fouled Scott Metcalfe in the area. It was Matthew Kay who was handed the responsibility of the spot kick, and he stepped up with confidence before sending Matty Urwin the wrong way to make it 2-1.
Curzon were now playing the better football, despite Blackburn having the fresher team on the pitch. The home side were good at putting Blackburn under pressure, and it paid off on 80 minutes when a trialist defender surrendered possession to Super Tony Evans. The Curzon player then went on to beat two defenders, and the keeper before finishing what was one of the best goals I had seen all pre season. That concluded what had been a pretty tedious and uneventful pre-season run out for both teams.
After the match we went back to the bar and enjoyed a drink, whilst nicking a few of the players sandwiches. It had been a good afternoon, but it hadn’t ended yet. It was time to go on a behind the scenes tour of the ground, with Curzons very own John Flanagan. The highlight of the tour was definitely going into the home changing room where we were partially subjected to one of his team talks.
We stayed around for another hour or so before setting off home. The journey home was a very long and wet affair, after it decided to tip it down just as we were walking back to the town centre. Despite a soggy end to the afternoon it had been a very good day out, and it offered a nice insight into what goes on behind the scenes at a more advanced non-league side. I’d like to thank all at Curzon Ashton for making us feel welcome, and I will be back again sometime soon!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND – 21.3 miles
- ADMISSION – Free (Sneaked in)
- PROGRAMME PRICE – £1.20
- PIE – £1.50