As the popular saying goes, “It never rains but it pours” and that has been true on both of my visits to Shawbridge, the quaint and sloping home of Clitheroe FC. On this New Years Day trip into the depths of Lancashire the cobbled streets surrounding Shawbridge had turned into tributaries to the River Ribble and the yellow kit worn by Lancaster will probably never be seen as radiant again.
Ideally, I would have liked to have visited historic Clitheroe properly. By properly, I mean by catching the train, visiting pubs, sampling local real ales and then watching the match. Unfortunately, both trips here have been extremely spontaneous meaning that wasn’t possible.
I always knew that my plans for New Years Day would be decided at short notice. Having toyed with the idea of going to either Rushall or Halesowen I settled for the local derby between Ashton United and Curzon Ashton. It would be a pain to get there on the train from Atherton but I made exactly the same journey three years ago to the day so I saw it as an opportunity to replicate my first ever non-league ground hop.
My plans were changed when I was having a drink in the Atherton Collieries clubhouse on New Years Eve when Emil and Jasper said they’d be off to Clitheroe the next day. Not my preferred option of match but it was a far simpler match for me to attend with door to door service.
The Curzon Ashton fans weren’t happy that I had bailed them but I cited a scouting mission as my excuse as we faced Clitheroe in the Lancashire Cup semi-final a month later. I may have been on a scouting mission, but I didn’t want my cover to be blown so I opted to don my old Atherton Town jacket which appeared to work quite well.
As we drove past BAE Systems in Samlesbury the heavens opened and it was typical Lancastrian weather. Stuck behind a haulage truck down the winding roads of the Ribble Valley it took a bit longer to get there than it usually would. When we did arrive in Clitheroe we got a bit lost near the ground and ended up driving around the back streets of the town looking for floodlights. Eventually we recognised the area and parked the car on the main road outside Shawbridge.
Like many small towns in Lancashire, Clitheroe has a love of food. Wigan is famous for pies, Bury has black puddings and Clitheroe? Well, Clitheroe loves sausage. That’s according to the local tourist board anyway. Not a huge fan of the banger, I wasn’t too devastated when I found out that for the second year running I had missed the prestigious Clitheroe Sausage Day by days.
Going back to my Wigan/Bolton roots I couldn’t wait to get into the ground to have what I consider to be one of the best pies, peas and gravy in the north. Accompanied by the biggest cup of tea in non-league football everything comes in at just £3.30! There’s even a lovely Great British Bake Off style cover on the condiments table.
While I overheard a group of Lancaster fans labelling Clitheroe FC “fancy barmpots akin to t’south” for having put such thought into their culinary offerings I think it is a great part of a club.
The club was founded in 1877 in the Swan Hotel by a local businessman. They were originally named Clitheroe Central. They played in a variety of local leagues before joining to infamous Lancashire Combination in 1903, dropping Central from their name in the process.
Clitheroe’s first ever piece of silverware arrived in 1893, when they claimed the Lancashire Junior Cup at Deepdale beating Barrow.
Except for breaks during both World Wars, Clitheroe competed and remained in the Lancashire Combination until they became founding members of the NWCFL in 1982. Shawbridge was adjudged to have been in a poor state, so the club started in Division 3. What followed was the most successful period in the clubs history, winning all three divisions consecutively.
More success followed in 1996, when Clitheroe reached the final of the FA Vase and played Brigg Town at Wembley, eventually losing 3-0 in front of a crowd of 7,500.
Clitheroe play at Shawbridge which was once just a field sitting at the foot of Pendle Hill. This is an area of the world which the award winning pub in Atherton derives it’s name from; The Pendle Witch. The story of the Pendle Witches is well known not only in Lancashire but across the country. In 1612, twelve local women were accused of murder through witchcraft. One of which was executed just minutes down the road from where I currently live at the Knavesmire at York Racecourse.
The ground at Clitheroe is one of my favourites. It never has and never will be easy on the eye, but the rugged metal sheds which act as cover against the busy backdrop of Lancastrian stone houses make it special. It has been improved in recent years, helped through the sales of Carlo Nash – who went on to play for Manchester City – and Jon Penman.
Clitheroe, managed by former Blackburn Rovers striker Simon Garner, came into the match unbeaten in three and hoping to record their second win over Lancaster this season. Lancaster were not to be outdone on the bench as former Newcastle United defender Darren Peacock was in charge, with former England international Trevor Sinclair as his assistant. Peacock and Sinclair’s side had accumulated just four points from a possible fifteen in their last five matches.
The sides had met three times already this campaign, producing 18 goals. The previous match alone accounted for nine of those with Clitheroe winning 7-2 at the Giant Axe.
This match wasn’t as entertaining as the game against Ramsbottom that I had seen here a year previously, but the weather was better. Yes, that is right. The weather was better at this match than the last time I had been at Shawbridge.
The first half was dominated by Clitheroe, with Sefton Gonzales having the first opportunity of the match. His rather tame effort was well saved by the Lancaster goalkeeper Mike Hale.
Clitheroe continued to pile on the pressure, but lacked the quality in the final third to test Hale further. At the other end, Matthew Poole had a decent chance for City but his strike flashed just the wrong side of Alex Palffy’s goal.
The second half was a complete contrast with Lancaster taking control of the game and looking the far better side across the pitch. Matthew Poole and Josh Draycott both came close on a number of occasions, only to be denied by Palffy.
Roberto Bonaminio came to the rescue clearing a header off the line as the Blues were pushed as far back as they could go.
Draycott went on to hit the bar from close range before Clitheroe eventually worked their way back into the match.
The rain continued to batter the players, getting heavier and thicker as the game drew to it’s conclusion. The final 20 minutes saw the encounter open dramatically, with both sides on the attack, full blooded challenges and the unpredictable surface serving up a classic.
Ross Dent hit the post for Clitheroe in the 82nd minute before Reece Pearce curled an effort towards the top corner. It was parried out by Palffy and scrambled away as the clock ticked down.
Then, one of the more controversial goals you’ll see this season occurred in the final minute of the match. An extra ball entered the field of play as Lancaster surged forward on the attack. The extra ball took centre stage as a scramble took place in the Clitheroe area. Fans and players were urging for play to be stopped, but the officials failed to notice the extra ball, and Gary Hunter was on hand to slot the correct ball into the bottom right hand corner.
In all, an appalling and baffling decision had allowed Lancaster to win the game. A draw would have been a fair result in conditions where many players would have simply given up.
Drenched, we waddled back to the car, jumping over the puddles which had formed in between the cobbles down the ginnel leading from the ground. The heater was on full blast on the way back to Atherton fortunately, otherwise I don’t think we’d have lived to tell the tale.
Hopefully, one day, I may pluck up the energy to visit Clitheroe properly.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 35 miles
- ADMISSION: £4 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1.50
Photos from the match against Ramsbottom:
Photos from the match against Lancaster: