When the NWCFL fixtures were released at the beginning of the season, this was a match that I immediately searched for with Barnton being a new addition to the league. A relatively unknown but ambitious club – which sits to the north west of its bigger neighbour Northwich – was the setting for this adventure and it was one that nearly cost me my fingers and toes as the temperatures plummeted across the country.
I had travelled back from York on the Friday evening and got an early night at home ahead of another busy day of football. Waking up a bit later than I’d have liked I was in the middle of brushing my teeth when Colls manager Michael Clegg rang me with pick up details. I got water everywhere and probably sounded like I was having a fit as I tried to speak with a mouth full of toothpaste. I had just half an hour to get myself ready and down to Colls where I’d be hopping in one of the many fun buses heading down south.
I arrived at Alder House to find radiators and new windows were being fitted at the club; we really are going up in the world. I didn’t have much time to admire the introduction of central heating to our clubhouse as Cleggy and goalkeeping coach Greeny soon turned up in their van and we loaded on necessities such as water bottles and bibs.
Greeny had some belting 90’s club classics on in the van as we headed over the Thelwall Viaduct down to Cheshire. That was about as good as the music got for the afternoon as when we arrived at Townfield we were greeted by the sounds of a Michael Bublé album (one of his less popular albums in my opinion). Still, we had two hours to waste until kick off so I set about laying the kit out in the changing rooms whilst Mr. Bublé kept me company.
The changing facilities at Townfield were found next to the car park in two converted cabins. It was certainly something different. I did quite a good job setting out the kit and even received the seal of approval from players Jake Kenny and Wes Bancroft who were keen to seek some warmth. Luckily for Wes he won’t have to put up with the harsh conditions of non-league football for much longer as he moves to a new life in Australia in January. The changing rooms and clubhouse were just as cold as the exterior, meaning an uncomfortable afternoon in the cold awaited all of us.
Zach and I were then told to fill up the water bottles by Colls coach Scott, who looked like he was going through a midlife crisis with his various layers slapped on in a peculiar fashion. Whilst he paraded around the ground setting cones out we traipsed back to the changing rooms.
Immediately we faced a problem when the bottles couldn’t fit underneath the tap in the away changing rooms, so we were directed to a tap found in the corner of the ground. The area appeared to be the remnants of an Anderson shelter from the Second World War. It was a surreal experience, standing at the bottom of somebodies back garden filling up water bottles from a tap. I’m not sure of the water source, but I thought the following weekend’s Christmas party could be in doubt with a mysterious stomach bug cited as the problem.
Townfield is currently the most basic of venues in the NWCFL following the clubs move up from the Cheshire League. The league grants a seasons grace to perform necessary work to bring venues up to NWCFL standard and Barnton have just started this work, with floodlights being erected a couple of months ago. There are currently no seating areas at the ground, with two very small sheds either side of the ground providing the only shelter. Hard standing stretches around only half of the pitch, meaning the rest is closed off to spectators.
The village of Barnton has football history stretching back over 100 years, as Barnton Albion were the winners of the Cheshire Amateur Cup in 1897. There have also been sides called Villa, Victoria and Old Boys before the current Barnton AFC were founded in 1946. They competed in the Mid-Cheshire League (later renamed the Cheshire League) for the duration of the competitions existence up until this season. This leaves Knutsford as the only team left standing from the first campaign.
Barnton is one of the smaller settlements which has an NWCFL club, with a population of just over 5,000. The village boats some of Cheshire’s “most attractive inland waterways” and a battle was fought there during the English Civil War. Other than that, it’s your usual Cheshire village with nice houses surrounded by fields.
Since joining the NWCFL Division 1 at the beginning of the season, the club have had a managerial change and a relatively high turnover of players which has seen them climb up to fourth place in the table. Former Luton Town and Chester player Andy Burgess was in charge of the first team and he brought former Swansea City and Brightion & Hove Albion striker Leon Knight in as a player coach. Burgess stepped down and in came Allan Glover and Chris Lawton (who had started the season at Atherton Collieries before moving on to Runcorn Town).
I didn’t know until I read the matchday programme that Lawton could do programme notes. It would have saved me and Emil some work last season if he would have offered his services to our programme! The centre half was ever present in Colls defence last season, so it was nice to see him back in black and white stripes albeit for another club.
Collieries were second in the table, one point behind leaders Cammell Laird with three games in hand. They were looking to get back to winning ways in the league having surrendered their 100% record to Northwich Flixton Villa two weeks previously. Wingers Mark Truffas and Matty Boland were unavailable, alongside Kris Holt and Mark Ayres meaning Colls weren’t at full strength for this one.
To commemorate 100 years since World War I the FA had encouraged as many sides to have a photograph together in the #FootballRemembers campaign. As the two teams walked out on to the pitch, we organised the photographs and the match was ready to kick off.
The pitch was claggy and players found it hard to keep their footing, as expected at this stage of the season. It was a cagey opening with little football being played by either side. Barnton dominated the first 20 minutes and could have been 3-0 up if they’d have been more composed in front of goal following some poor Collieries defending.
On 20 minutes, Jordan Cover planted a head just over the Barnton bar and it wasn’t long before the visitors took the lead. Barnton could only clear the ball to the edge of the area where Matt Grimshaw fired it back towards goal. His fellow centre half Gaz Carson was on hand to apply the smallest of touches to guide it past his old Eagley team mate Danny Lever into the back of the net. It was definitely against the run of play, but from then on Collieries began to take control of the match.
There weren’t many other chances of note in the remainder of the first half, with Colls striker Mark Battersby firing over with the last shot before the interval. At half time we headed to the clubhouse where we huddled together like emperor penguins in a poor attempt to warm ourselves up. Thankfully the home club offered us hospitality in the way of a cup of tea with sandwiches and chips. I didn’t want to head outside for the second half, but I’d had all the remaining tea and had miraculously regained feeling in my toes.
Within two minutes of the restart the mighty Atherton Collieries doubled their lead. Jordan Cover rounded the defence and squared the ball to Mark Battersby who tapped the ball into the back of the net. Cover and Ben Hardcastle had various other opportunities to further extend Colls lead before on 64 minutes they were awarded a penalty. Battersby stepped up and placed the ball into the bottom left hand corner, just past the reach of an outstretched Danny Lever. That was Battersby’s 30th goal of the campaign, and we’re only in December!
The final whistle went and Colls celebrated yet another league win, making it 13 out of 14 for the season so far. I hadn’t yet sorted out a lift home so I had to beg some of the players to take me back to Atherton. Thankfully the suspended Mark Ayres had a spare seat, so I hopped in there and made a swift exit as I had a busy night ahead. On the way home Ayresy tried to groom me with a vanilla slice which he had conveniently placed on the passenger seat; I think he had always planned to take me back home. As a result I have been obsessed with vanilla slices since and not only has my student loan dwindled, but my weight has increased.
I reflected on what had been a truly horrible cold day watching football. The facilities and pitch at Barnton could do with some work, but they’re a new club into the league and everybody has to start from somewhere. They’re an ambitious outfit, who do things in the right way and the people at the club are friendly and hospitable which is the main thing in football. We play them again in the Division 1 Trophy in a couple of months, where hopefully it will be warmer.
A warm shower was needed before I headed out into Manchester to watch my guilty pleasure Nina Nesbitt at the Central Methodist Hall. I spent a good couple of hours staring at her on stage, wondering when I was going to propose to her before Leah and I headed out into Manchester for a few drinks in some scruffy pubs. I ended up getting back to Atherton at 03:00 slightly worse for wear and I prepared myself for the following weekend out in a mystery location with the Colls lads for the Christmas do.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 39 miles
- ADMISSION: Free with Atherton Collieries
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2