It’s time to set the record straight. My first non-league ground was Atherton Laburnum Rovers back in the 2010-2011 season. They were at home to Glossop North End, and it was a very, very boring result. I vowed to go back to LR regularly though seeing as though they are my local non-league side. One Saturday afternoon they were playing Atherton Collieries in an FA Vase match. I took it upon myself to write a biased blog in favour of LR… a decision which I would later regret.
Months after the match, I decided to watch Colls as I continued sampling what non-league football has to offer. I gradually fell in love with the black and white side of the town. I kept getting sucked into the Colls way of life. So much so, that I now help write the matchday programme.
It was the third flatcap derby of the season (after Boxing Days abandoned match at Alder House). Most of you will be wondering what on Earth the flatcap derby is, I know. To put it in simple terms for you all, here is a link to the recent history of the Atherton derby – http://www.nwcfl.com/news-articles.php?id=2568
Now that all of that is cleared up we can crack on with the day of the match itself. With it being half term, quite a few of my groundhopping friends came out to watch the match. Swansea fan Matt had rushed back from South Wales to watch his second Flatcap Derby of the season after presenting the man of the match award last time out. Aaron, Lewis and Rob had joined us from Warrington. Non-League expert Sam was home from University for the week which allowed him to watch Colls again. One of my best mates Danny was slowly recovering from playing in Wakefields 10-1 mauling at Curzon Ashton. Also in attendance was West Didsbury fan Rob and how could I forget the fact my girlfriend Lucy was up from Swansea to watch the match too? OH! And my Dad and Grandad had joined in the fun too. Basically everybody had turned up bar Joe Lawton who was probably sat at home tweeting about referees as usual.
A special mention also to Martin Stewart (Runcorn Town fan). You know the one? He likes to urinate in cups of tea at Pavilions when Linnets come to town! Well, Martin dragged himself off his sick bed to be at the match. He was there with Runcorn Town photographer and all around top man Philip Costello.
Usually it would take me about 2 minutes to walk to Crilly Park from my house. However, I had a doctors appointment near the ground which meant I could have a lift! After a quick appointment with my Irish doctor it was time to go the ground. We were there early, but we didn’t mind! In I walked, with my flatcap on my head and my black and white (Swansea) flag traipsing in behind me. This didn’t go down well as the LR turnstile operator shouted “You get worse each time you do Joe!”
After pinning the black and white flag on the far fence, we went into the clubhouse for a drink whilst we waited for everybody to arrive. The Colls Crazy Gang were already primed, and were causing a nuisance of themselves in the room which is usually a General Election Polling Station when I see it.
With the evening Northern Rail services between Manchester and Wigan rattling past, I decided to do a spot of trainspotting at the near side of the ground. I am joking of course. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will see on a daily basis that I hate Northern Rail with a passion. Talking about trains, if you ever watch LR play you will notice one of their fans standing there with his yellow and blue football rattle. If I remember rightly, this rattle once featured on Sky Sports News and they said it’s made out of old railway sleeper. I can’t find the exact video… so here’s one of the beautiful Stuart Holden with a few of the younger LR players.
Like many clubs, the Crilly Park ground isn’t as old as the club itself. The club was formed in 1956 and named after the Laburnum Playing Fields where they first played. Ironically, the fields are just a stones throw away from where Atherton Collieries play. In 1960, the club moved to the Hag Fold area of Atherton where they played for 6 years before purchasing a farmers field on Spa Road, where they now play.
Renovating the farmers field was hard, especially with a pond being on the land when it was purchased. At the time there would have been a large mill which stood next to the pitch, but that is long gone… and my house now stands on the old mill land.
The latest work on Crilly Park came in 1996 when a large metal stand capable of holding up to 200 spectators was built. From sitting in there when I was younger for firework displays etc I seem to remember some sort of seating, but there doesn’t seem to be any these days. Just a few rows of benches makes up the stand.
Opposite the Main Stand is a covered shed which comprises of separate sections which runs most of the length of the pitch. To the left of the Main Stand is another shed which stands well back from the pitch, and until recently was fenced off from public access.
I took my usual position on the fence which lives in the shadow of the large Main Stand. I always stand there… unless it’s a warm summers day, then I’ll stand at the back of the main stand enjoying the view of my hometown.
The teams were ready to emerge, when Colls captain Brad Cooke decided to pull his pants down. He later told me that he always does it to ensure his shirt is tucked in… I beg to differ. Anyway, Brad (with his pants) on led his team out. Colls in their Emerald Green and White kit, LR in their usual Yellow and Blue kit. The players were holding pink balloons in memory of Jade Anderson who had died just metres away from the ground the week previous when she was attacked by dogs.
After a minutes silence, the pink balloons were released into a similarly coloured sky. It was a nice moment, and full credit to LR for organising it.
The match kicked off, with Colls hoping to secure their first win over their neighbours since 2007. The visitors found it hard to play football on a pitch that hadn’t been cut or rolled in the lead up to the match. Thankfully though there did seem to be some grass left on the pitch after a relatively dry few days in the lead up to the match.
It was a relatively poor opening to the match, but that was expected with the pitch being so poor and with nerves of a local derby. LR had little to play for, with their only real aim trying to ensure Colls couldn’t sneak into the promotion places. This showed throughout the match as the home side just cancelled out anything the away side could muster up in the way of attack.
At times it was more interesting listening to the shouts from the sidelines as both sets of fans got behind their respective sides. My favourite shout (at the time) was from Colls secretary Emil who wears his heart on his sleeve, as has been stated before. When the referee booked Brad Cooke for kicking the ball back to the keeper after a foul had been given, Emil shouted “Referee! You are a bloody fiddle fart!” at the top of his voice. Even the league representatives couldn’t help but smile wryly at the long drawn out shout from the Colls Crazy Gang leader.
Colls took the lead on 43 minutes when Paul “Pecky” Prescott steamed down the right hand side. He didn’t seem to have the legs to beat the LR left back, but he somehow managed to fire the ball across the face of goal where Mitch Leece was on hand to scramble the ball past LR keeper Cheetham. It was a great moment for Mitch, who saw his 2 goals against LR ruled out on Boxing Day when the match was abandoned.
Half time arrived, and Colls took a slim advantage back into the dressing rooms with them.
Looking at the second half, we thought it may have been a bit easier for us as A) We are a second half team B) We seem to prefer shooting up the hill.
The second half was a cagey affair as Colls tried to play football, but it didn’t quite work for them. The whole side looked nervous against opposition who in all fairness, they should be beating relatively easily. Although, in fairness to LR, they have surprised a few of the better teams in the division this season.
My personal highlight from the second half came from the mouth of Brad Cooke. After a rash challenge from one of the LR players, an LR player then smashed the ball over the fence. If the referee was being consistent, he’d have booked the LR player for kicking the ball away… as he had done to Brad in the first half. The home players didn’t like Brads argument so they began to mouth off at him.
Brad then put his foot on the ball. Put his left hand on his hip, and pointed towards a gobby LR player with his right hand.
“Listen mate. You can say f### all. You’ve got a perm!”
It was a brilliant moment, and reminded me exactly why I had come out in the freezing cold to watch this match.
Colls held out for the win, and it gifted them an important three points. Now, I know the question that is on your mind… WHO WON THE MAN OF THE MATCH FLATCAP? The winner was Atherton Collieries’ Karl Atherton. Now, I know some of you will be thinking this is a fix (The fact the winner is from Colls again) but I can assure you it isn’t, as I asked Ian Williams from the NWCFL to pick the winner. Fittingly Karls’ last name was perfect for the occasion.
After the match, we went back into the clubhouse for another drink to celebrate what had been a successful evening. There were people from all over the NWCFL who looked quite happy at the result. This is testament to the friendly and welcoming reputation that Colls have built up with non-league fans over the years.
I was sat with Matt and Lucy when the players came into the social club after their well earnt showers. An unamed Colls managed to sneak me a pie out of the players food section, so thanks a lot for that! The evening was topped off though, when Brad Cooke came over and sat in the middle of myself and keeper Josh… and gave us both a kiss. It was nice to see Brad happy after a match, though I’m sure in his heart he felt for his former club.
It had been a brilliant evening. I was with all of my football friends, and we witnessed Colls first derby day win since 2007. At the moment it’s looking like we may still be in LR’s division next season… but who knows? We may get promoted?
My friend Matt also wrote a brilliant account of the evening. His is in far more detail as it was his first trip to LR. Well worth a read as usual! – http://lostboyos.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/lost-in-atherton-laburnum-rovers/
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 0.3 miles
- ADMISSION: Free with my Atherton Collieries pass
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1
- PIE: Free