Atherton Collieries came away from Widnes with all three points and another four goals to add to their impressive tally at the beginning of the season. In truth, it could have been far more. On a personal level I managed to get locked in the trophy cabinet area of the stadium for a large portion of the match, meaning all silverware won by the rugby club could have been melted down and sold for a handsome profit. I could be writing this blog from my own island in the Bahamas, but it wasn’t to be.
Widnes Vikings FC had been elected into the NWCFL Division One at the start of the 2013/14 campaign, meaning that this was their inaugural fixture against Atherton Collieries. I really wanted this fixture to be at the start of the season and I got my wish. So much was the appetite for this match in the Gibbons household I even persuaded both my Dad and Grandad to come along for the afternoon.
The club was formed in 2003 as Dragons AFC with the aim of making football fun and informative for young children in the Widnes area. As the club slowly expanded they renamed themselves Widnes Dragons. By this stage, the club had over 200 registered players in the Widnes area from the ages of 6 to 18. Further expansion followed until in 2012 an agreement was struck between the football club and the town’s top flight rugby league side to join forces. The football club became known as Widnes Vikings FC.
The next stage of the club’s progression was made when the senior side was admitted to the NWCFL. The Vikings started their first campaign off with a 3-1 defeat at home to Cheadle Town, before a victory arrived at the third time of asking away to Northwich Flixton Villa.
The Select Security Stadium was opened in 1997 on the site of the demolished Naughton Park – former home of Widnes RLFC. Football has been played at the stadium before, with Runcorn FC moving to Widnes in 2000 after selling their Canal Street ground. They played there for five seasons before moving further away from Runcorn to Prescot.
More recently, the ground has been installed with an artificial pitch. It came under much scrutiny from rugby league fans when first fitted as it was a new venture for the sport. Despite being trialled at Leigh East it hadn’t reached the higher echelons of rugby league until it arrived at Widnes. Whilst I’m not a fan of the pitch, the fact it is in use practically every single day can only be a good thing for the local community.
It didn’t take too long for us to reach Widnes on the day of the match and there was plenty of parking at the ground due to the low nature of this fixture. Upon arrival there are no turnstiles in use, it’s a bit of a guessing game as to how you actually get into the place. Fortunately some of the Colls Crazy Gang were outside and pointed towards an entrance through a leisure centre.
You hand over your admission fee – much like you are going swimming at your local baths – and you receive a Widnes Vikings FC card in return. The woman behind the desk then told us to “head towards the vending machine and turn left”. I didn’t know whether this was a marketing ploy to gain more sales through the vending machine, but it didn’t work and we entered the pitch area through a back entrance.
Once through the door, two stewards are on hand to take your card off you, before then giving you a speech on where you can and can’t walk. We were only allowed in the main stand due to BT Sport setting up for a women’s football match the following day. I asked if I could walk around the ground as a club photographer, but was told I couldn’t as there were trailing wires. Of course, this was sensible as I am known to gain excitement through re-wiring all of the television equipment at stadiums.
Anyway, I thought that would be the last I would see off the two stewards who quite frankly didn’t seem to have a clue what they were doing. I was wrong however, as I had another choice meeting with them at half time, but we’ll come to that later.
The Atherton players had arrived, so I went on to the pitch to speak to them about the match and also used it as an excuse to take some photographs of the ground. It was certainly one of the more impressive venues that I’ve seen Colls play at. I just found it amazing that I was standing on the same piece of carpet that the likes of Wigan Warriors and St Helens play on each season.
Jasper, Aaron Cringle and injured stalwart Paul Townshend were squabbling over some wine gums on the bench as the teams emerged on to the pitch. Widnes were in their rather complicated rugby like home kit whilst Colls were in their blue away strip. A full strength Colls side was at Steve Pilling’s disposal, although winger Mark Truffas was hauled off early on as he felt sick. I felt this was a sensible decision as the vax may have had to be used.
Colls took the lead after just 90 seconds when Brad Cooke knocked a fine ball through to Paul Atherton. Atherton flicked the ball out wide to the advancing Gareth Peet who slotted the ball across the face of goal into the bottom right hand corner.
The home side were back in the match on eight minutes when a 50/50 ball was won in the middle of the park. The ball was fed out wide where it was swung into the box for Ben Tollitt to finish clinically.
It was just after Widnes’ goal that Batman walked past us and through the stand. I had no idea why Batman was in Widnes, but he appeared to be a bit lost.
Despite having a couple of efforts cleared off the line, Colls looked lethargic and a better side than Widnes would have punished them. A draw at half time would have been a fair result, but Colls snatched a goal rather fortuitously just two minutes before the break. Cooke once again provided, this time for debutant Kevin Towey. The striker latched on to a through ball and flicked it towards goal. The deflected effort was going wide, but a spinning motion and the friction of the synthetic surface sent the ball into the back of the net. It would not have gone in if played on grass.
Half time arrived and we decided to take full advantage of the half time hospitality. There was one problem though, we couldn’t get upstairs. Worry not, the stewards were on hand to radio through to somebody who rushed downstairs to let us in through the players tunnel. We were guided through the trophy cabinet area and upstairs until we reached one of the boxes which overlooks the pitch. The food was fantastic. It was that nice I didn’t need to have any tea when I got home.
In fact, I spent that long eating the food and having a cup of tea that the match had kicked off again by the time I headed back downstairs. I went back through the trophy cabinet area (on my own) meaning that I could have a nice browse of the array of trophies and shields that had been amassed by the rugby club over the years. Pressing on, I walked back down the players tunnel to find a locked door. I was locked in!
What did I do? I rang my Dad, who of course had his phone on silent and didn’t pick up. My next option was to ring Colls secretary Emil. His original response was to laugh before then informing the stewards that I was missing. The female steward approached the door and spoke through the small crack, saying “What are you doing in there? You’re not allowed to be down there!”. I resisted the temptation to be sarcastic and simply replied that I had gone upstairs, had come back down and now I couldn’t get back out. She then told me she didn’t have a key and there’s nothing she could do to help before strolling back down the tunnel to watch the match. Thanks a lot love!
I couldn’t believe it. The steward had just left me to fend for myself. I was stuck in the tunnel with no way of getting back outside to watch the match. Then, I had a brainwave. I wondered if Batman was still in the building, but unfortunately he was otherwise occupied upstairs in a children’s birthday party.
I took to Twitter. Thinking it would be quite amusing to inform everybody that I was stuck I posed for a selfie and sent it to my followers. Soon the NWCFL official account was having a laugh at my expense, as was league committee member Clipper who told me to come back upstairs where I could watch the match with him.
By the time I got back to where I had started I had missed ten minutes of action and Colls were now 3-1 in front. Paul Atherton scored his first of the afternoon, dispatching at the second attempt having had his original effort saved by the goalkeeper.
The three points were sealed by Paul Atherton on 81 minutes when he finished calmly after defender James Halpin had fed him through. It was a fantastic second half performance from Colls who could have scored more than four. In hindsight this would have been a little flattering given Widnes’ decent first half showing.
With the match over it was now time for me to attempt to find an exit route. My Dad and Grandad were down at pitchside shouting directions up to me, but I couldn’t hear them. Eventually I met them in the car park outside. It felt like I had been restrained from seeing my family during a match. The only experience I can liken it to was one of my periods of isolation at school when I was turfed out of class for wearing the wrong coat or for snitching on a teacher for stealing a yoghurt from the canteen.
The remainder of the season saw Widnes fail to get any sort of form, eventually finishing in 14th place. Another name change followed and for the start of the 2014/15 season they will be known as Widnes FC.
It was certainly an experience visiting Widnes Vikings. The facilities are incredible for this level of football, but watch out for those pesky stewards who will try and lock you in tunnels at any given moment.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 22 miles
- ADMISSION: Free with an Atherton Collieries pass
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1.50