“I can’t decide which balloons to have for my party. This is a lovely shade of white but the black would go well with what I am wearing. Then again, the pink is so cute!” It was a typical Saturday morning back in my hometown of Atherton. I found myself in the shop purchasing a celebratory card for my sisters impending birthday. While I do miss the lethargic and languid nature of conversation and general life in Atherton, I do find it is impossible to do anything quickly during the weekends.
Having flicked through a small collection of suitable cards I headed to Greggs where most of the Howe Bridge Mills FC players were stocking up on pre-match necessities. I wondered whether I would ever get back to Alder House for the start of another away day. As I wove down the cobbled streets of ‘Bent a couple of beeping cars travelled past me signalling that the Colls players were already on their way.
Our destination was Litherland, an area which sits five miles away from Liverpool city centre. On a smaller scale, the area neighbours Bootle, home of a well established NWCFL side. A quick browse on various internet pages and it becomes obvious that Litherland isn’t famous for much. The Beatles played a few gigs at the local town hall in their early days and that’s your lot.
On our way to Merseyside we listened to the best sports show on regional radio. It was Super John McGinley’s slot on Tower FM – the local radio station for Bolton. Ironically, it’s hard picking up the station when driving through Bolton, but we had no issues as we crawled down the East Lancs to The Proclaimers. McGinley’s show was typical Alan Partridge radio and it kept us entertained until we received a distressed phone call from Rob who had got off the train at Seaforth and wondered where to go next.
Rob was on his own Magical Mystery Tour. The Day Tripper had a brand new camera from 1970’s Germany and he had used most of his film by the time we had caught up with him at the ground which is modern enough not to feature on Google maps… which posed the question, does it actually exist? Our GPS didn’t seem to think so as we pulled into Litherland on our accord and geographical knowledge.
The football club have played at the modern Litherland Sports Park for the past five seasons and it is what it is really. It’s a Sports Park, so that means the usual athletics track with an overlooking gym and a host of other state of the art facilities. For the local community it is great; for a ground hopper it’s not the best.
Much like the set up at fellow Division One sides Widnes FC and Wigan Robin Park the entrance to the ground takes you through the foyer of the sports centre. REMYCA signs are plastered on every door to give visitors the impression that it is their facility and that is certainly achieved. Admission is paid at the counter and you are given a ticket which you show when entering the ground itself.
Everybody was given a hospitable welcome by the committee members who were on hand selling club merchandise and programmes. I picked up a publication for £1.50 and headed over to the rest of the Colls fans who had already arrived. Here Comes the Sun; it was shorts weather when I perched myself on the wooden seating found on the grass behind the goal. I knew I should have listened to my mother when I left the house with my thermal underwear on.
As we sat admiring the Good Day Sunshine we got speaking to more of the REMYCA officials and fans who were more than happy to share with us their vision for the club. During their tenure at the Sports Park the club have funded hard standing down one side of the ground while also adding in a small 50 seater stand; another is due to be built next to it in the coming weeks. Despite upgrading their current home – which they only rent – the club are in talks with the local council over moving to a ground of their own at some stage, which would become a hub for the various football teams under the REMYCA title.
All of this is a long way away from when the club was originally formed as St Thomas FC in 1959 in the Seaforth area of Liverpool. They began life plying their trade in the Church of England League.
Players were mainly brought in from Bootle and the team later became known as Bootle Church Lads Brigade FC. A large number of working class players joined the club and links were formed with Bootle YMCA which provided a club base and facilities to train.
In 1967 the club changed it’s name once again, this time to REM Social as a local workingman’s club offered to finance the running of the club. One year later and REMYCA United FC came into being with the name deriving from connections with both REM Social Club and Bootle YMCA.
The club became founding members of the Zingari Premier League which demanded improved playing facilities and the club left its spiritual home at Moss Lane, Litherland to move to Maghull High School before a further move to their current home.
In 2013 the Management Committee of REMYCA began exploring the potential to grow and develop the club. Their primary focus was to encourage youth activity and development within the community so a further name change to Litherland REMYCA was made to identify the club with the local area.
Last season, REMYCA secured a 5th placed finish in the Liverpool League allowing them to be accepted into the NWCFL; the highest level the club has ever competed at.
Alongside the gradual development and progression off the field, on the field REMYCA are outweighing expectations for their first campaign in this division. Phil Stafford was brought in from Maghull FC in mid-October and has assembled a competitive side with many players following him up the pyramid.
This isn’t the first time that a Maghull side has been uprooted and dumped in the deep end in the NWCFL, with Ashton Town doing it three years ago when John Brownrigg moved to Edge Green Street. Ashton sides became feared for their vociferous and physical approach to the game, so I went into this match expecting more of the same. What made the battle even more interesting was the fact the Colls team is made predominantly of Manchester and Salford born players, meaning it was a true Manchester-Liverpool battle.
Having only suffered one defeat at their spacious Sports Park since Phil Stafford took over, hopes of an upset against promotion chasing Colls were high but a dogged display from Atherton gained them another three points.
Collieries arrived in Merseyside with the notable absences of top goal scorer Mark Battersby, captain Brad Cooke, manager Michael Clegg and goalkeeping coach Adam Green who was a no show. Meanwhile, defenders James Brooks and Matt Grimshaw were still out with long term injuries. Warren Jones and Scott Campbell took charge of first team affairs for the afternoon and they rallied their troops against a determined Litherland outfit.
Both sides took the field of play with a group of young Litherland mascots who had been invited along for the day. It was nice to see so many young players being encouraged to get down to their local club on a day where neither Liverpool or Everton were playing.
There was nearly an embarrassing moment when I tripped over the shot-put area while taking photographs. I shouted “Help!” but the REMYCA players opted to laugh at me and carry on walking.
Many of Collieries early passing exchanges were disrupted by a concoction of persistent pressure from the opposition and a series of unfortunate bobbles on a deceivingly flat playing surface; typical of most pitches at this stage of the season.
It was no surprise that the first effort of the game came from a set piece. Mark Truffas floated the ball to the back post from a corner kick where striker Jordan Cover powered his header towards goal. Sean Lake – who had a very good match – prevented the ball from travelling over the line as he got two strong hands behind it.
The home side settled better as Collieries continued to look disjointed and unsettled. Gareth Carson played a pivotal role in rallying and motivating his fellow defenders as the home side pressed forward.
A long ball was knocked over the top to Cover on 16 minutes but he couldn’t quite get ahead of the defender. Claims for a free kick were turned down by a referee who did well considering the eventful and action packed match which was about to unfold.
The deadlock was broken by the home side on 26 minutes with a fantastic solo effort from Louis Austin. While the Collieries defending was poor for the goal, nothing should be taken away from Austin who twisted and turned his way down the line and into the area before firing into the bottom right hand corner.
After falling behind the visitors began to play some fluid football but often found a Litherland player getting a foot in the way of the final ball. On 28 minutes Jordan Cover found himself through one-on-one with goalkeeper Sean Lake who grasped the ball at the strikers feet just before he was about to finish.
Five minutes later and Cover was through again after the ball had ricocheted past two defenders following a Kristian Holt challenge. This time Cover was allowed space and time to pick his spot but once again Lake was able to get a part of his body to the ball.
On 38 minutes Collieries got the goal which they deserved after a spell of pressure in Litherland’s defensive third. A scramble in the area led to Jordan Cover being scythed down; a penalty was the outcome. Mark Ayres stepped up and hit the ball into the left hand corner past Sean Lake.
A minute later and Colls were on the attack again. Good link up play between Gareth Peet and Kristian Holt saw the ball fed out to the wide right for Ben Hardcastle. Having had a couple of wayward shots the winger may have opted to cross this time around, but another speculative effort was volleyed towards goal and it nearly crept past Sean Lake at the far post.
From this attack the home side hit Colls on the counter. Louis Austin – who was Litherland’s stand out performer – found himself through on goal and looked to have edged his side back in front but his effort hit the left hand post.
A minute later and Phil Stafford’s side were on the attack again. Left back Rob Swanton kept up with Austin and managed to do enough to prevent a shot, but the ball only fell as far as REMYCA striker Josh Wright. From the middle of the area he fired a strong shot but Danny Taberner spread himself in a Schmeichel-esque manner to keep the ball out.
The final effort of the half saw Collieries take the lead through a trademark Mark Truffas free kick. From the edge of the area Truffas curled the ball into the bottom right hand corner past Sean Lake who proceeded to unwrap his gloves and arguments ensued amongst team mates.
Half time arrived and it allowed both teams time to regroup. Collieries closed the half the better of the two sides, but knew they were lucky to be going in with a narrow advantage. We trudged back to the grass area to do some more sunbathing before heading back to the small stand which had been taken over by the 50 or so travelling Colls fans.
The second half kicked off and somebody in the office obviously missed this as the local radio station which was being played through the PA system continued five minutes past the interval. It felt a bit strange watching Collieries on the attack while a PPI advert filled the ground but I’m sure stranger things have and will happen.
Rather ironically, we were listening to an advert about local blood banks when Colls stand in captain Kristian Holt was sent his marching orders for a second bookable offence. The advert obviously played some trick with the players as minutes later Gareth Carson avoided serious injury when he was thumped in the throat with a wayward Litherland arm. If this was a rugby match, the REMYCA player would have been put on report.
Now down to ten men, Andy Heald was introduced to bolster the Collieries defence. It proved to be a smart decision as he calmed the team down while cutting out many long balls from REMYCA.
With eight minutes of the match remaining a poor ball back to the Litherland ‘keeper – who was clad in the colours of a Yellow Submarine – allowed Gareth Peet to capitalise. He carried the ball to the byline and cut back inside before firing the ball into the top left hand corner. The large following of Collieries fans celebrated as much as the men in blue on the pitch.
A substantial amount of time was added on at the end but the three points were Colls and they were carried victoriously back down the East Lancs. Results elsewhere mean that Michael Clegg’s side now need just three more victories to secure promotion into the heavenly land of the Premier Division.
It was a tough match which had all the ingredients of a banana skin, but Collieries held out and did themselves proud once again. The two sides meet again towards the end of the month in the semi-final of the Division One Cup.
With no clubhouse or pub to congregate in after the match we headed straight off, hanging the black and white bar scarf out of the car window as we headed back to Atherton.
Not my favourite of grounds; it was never going to be. However, it is a decent set up at the Sports Park and the club are definitely an asset to the local community. The volunteers were all very welcoming and I wish them the best in developing their current ground and whatever they choose to do in the future.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 25 miles
- ADMISSION: £2 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1.50