It was an FA Cup weekend. Preliminary Round One to be exact. On the Saturday I had watched Atherton Collieries beat Congleton Town, to take them through to the next round… and on the Sunday I was off to watch Northwich Victoria take on Curzon Ashton. I had been collecting as many Northwich tourist information brochures as possible in the days leading up to the match, when suddenly the bombshell was dropped. Northwich Victoria now play in Stafford.
Northwich Victoria were established in 1874 and named in honour of the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. They are one of the 100 oldest football clubs in the world, and are founder members of the Football League Second Division.
They played at The Drill Field; which at the time was believed to be the oldest ground, still in use, in the world. However, in 2006 the club moved to play at The Victoria Stadium in Wincham. The stadium was opened by Sir Alex Ferguson. The stadium saw some success, before in January 2012 chairman Jim Rushe failed to purchase the ground. Chemical manufacturer Thor Specialities Ltd, who neighbour the ground bought the premises and subsequently evicted the football club.
The Victoria Stadium now lies redundant and unused, whilst the club groundshare with Stafford Rangers at Marston Road, Stafford.
It was too late for me to research Stafford, so off I went to catch the train into Manchester. I waited outside Manchester Victoria for a while, before thankfully Joe and Sean turned up in the car. The 10 minutes which I had spent waiting for them seemed like an eternity, especially after a tramp had touched my left nipple.
The tramp seemed intrigued with my Atherton Town coat, and he approached me asking me about Atherton. To give the tramp credit though, he was multitasking. He was busy ripping off shoppers with his fake car parking tickets, whilst following me around the car park. Never before had I been so relieved to see Joe Lawton.
We set off from Manchester, and it didn’t take too long to reach Stafford thanks to a Robbie Williams sing along. Parking outside the ground itself was impossible, so we parked Oliver (the car) outside the ground at 13:30. We could see the floodlights of Marston Road sticking out above the neighbouring houses, so we knew exactly where to go.
We were going into the social club which backs on to the ground when I found a programme seller. I was getting a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to find a programme. The girls were around the same age as me. I handed my money over. When I was receiving my change one of them brushed my hands. They obviously loved my hairy chest which was peeking out over my v-neck top. It wasn’t a groundhopping romance, but I wasn’t too fussed as I’ll never see them again.
After that, we entered the bar which was full already. It was great to see that so many Northwich fans had travelled down to watch the match. Stoke v Arsenal was on the TV, and it looked pretty boring. Aaron was sat down at the back in his Curzon Ashton shirt, and the home fans were busy handing out free food. A packet of sausage rolls, a plate of homemade sandwiches, a box of scotch eggs and a couple of pints later we were ready to enter the ground.
It cost me £5 to get in with my brand new college pass which I had received a couple of days prior to the fixture. The ground was a strange one. It wasn’t poor… and it wasn’t impressive. It was certainly better than I expected, but it just seemed a bit bleak and lacking in areas. I suppose that’s what happens when you move your team from Northwich to Stafford though, isn’t it?
Another problem soon became apparent. When Stafford Rangers were in the Blue Square Premier, the ground had two temporary stands behind the goals. However Stafford Rangers were relegated to the Blue Square North in 2008, when Steve Bull was in charge. The clubs demise increased in 2011 when they were relegated into the Northern Premier League. A drop of two divisions paid its price, and with lower attendances, it was time for the temporary stands to disappear. The ground now appears incomplete.
As the ground stands in 2012, it has two prominent stands/terraces. Found directly in front of you when entering the ground is the Main Stand. Capable of holding 530 spectators, it has a frighteningly steep gradient. It definitely wins my award for “Most painful stand to fall down”. Found opposite the Main Stand is the Lotus Side. Definitely one of my favourite terraces which I have had the fortune to stumble across on my travels so far. Running virtually the length of the pitch, it is a real treat to see such an old stand, believed to have been built in 1921.
The other two sides of the ground have nothing to report really. In front of the Social Club End is a walkway. Opposite the Social Club End is the Shed End, which is now just a bleak and desolate terrace, forgotten and unloved by the rest of the ground.
The ground was still relatively empty. Nothing was happening. What do we do to liven up the afternoon? That’s right. Queue “Jim Rushe hunting II”. What is Jim Rushe hunting you may ask? Well, when Aaron, Joe and myself went to Skelmersdale United in pre season, Northwich Chairman Rushe was walking around the ground. We took a couple of photos of him to post on Twitter, when suddenly we had an idea. Jim Rushe Hunting was born. Whenever you see Jim Rushe at a football match, you take a photo of him.
It was nearly time for the teams to emerge on to the pitch, when suddenly the bloke next to us thought he’d liven up the afternoon even more by covering himself in chips. I don’t know how Northwich fans get their kicks, but I think dropping food all over yourself is going a bit too far.
The Stafford sunshine was clear for all to see, and it summoned the two teams on to the glistening pitch for the worlds favourite cup competition; The FA Cup. It was the first time the teams had ever played each other competitively which I found a bit hard to believe.
The first opportunity of the match fell to Sam Walker. He had his shot stopped well by Gary Spotswood, but the ball then dropped to Super Tony Evans who somehow fired over from close range. I could sense it was going to be a very long and tedious afternoon, so I sat down right next to the action. I was waiting for a steward to come and have a go at me, but they didn’t seem too bothered.
Tony Evans was involved again just minutes later when he flicked a header on to the waiting Kris Dennis, but he volleyed just wide.
It took 10 minutes for Northwich Victoria to have their first shot of the match. It came from a free kick and it fell just short of Joshua Ollerenshaw’s right post.
Curzon felt aggrieved on 35 minutes when they had a goal disallowed for offside. Sam Walker played the ball out wide to Tony Evans, who linked up well with Scott Metcalfe. Metcalfe then unleashed a shot towards goal, and it was deflected into the net by Northwich defender Calum Henry. The visiting fans were in a state of discombobulation.
Half time arrived, and this week Joe Lawton was on pie duty. So here is what he had to say on his trip to the catering department at Northwich Victoria – “I have a meat and potato pie, with chips and gravy that comes to an eye-watering £4.40. The chips are excellent, but the pie is rock hard and the filling
tasteless. Half of it is quietly shoved into a nearby bin.”
The second half was a complete bore fest, with the first shot only arriving on 65 minutes. It was an extremely poor effort from Super Tony Evans, and you sensed it was going to be one of those days.
Matt Walwyn had Victorias best chance of the match. Great work and persistence down the right paid off, but he could only flash the ball across the face of goal.
Curzon nearly nicked the tie on 85 minutes when Kris Dennis headed towards goal. It looked to be going in, but Joe Guest cleared the ball off the line to force a replay back at The Tameside Stadium.
I can honestly say it was the most boring match I have had the misfortune to watch in months. Neither side looked interested, and appeared to be put off by playing on a Sunday afternoon. Perhaps the Northwich players were getting a bit tired after all the travelling they had been doing in the Evo-Stik South Division? Who knows.
The replay at The Tameside Stadium saw a 2-2 draw AET. Curzon won 4-2 on penalties to take them through to the next round of The FA Cup, and rightly so.
At the time of writing, the future of Northwich Victoria appears unstable. Jim Rushe has since been declared bankrupt, and has failed the fit and proper persons test. Two weeks ago a Northwich Supporters Club voted in favour of setting up their own supporters run club – 1874 Northwich. One would imagine they will be applying for membership into The NWCFL Division One for the beginning of the 2012-2013 season, which means they may be playing at Atherton Collieries in the near future!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 61 miles
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2