The West Lancashire Leagues are an unknown entity to me. The names of the clubs can often be found adorning the small white signposts found dotted around the Lancashire countryside and are mentioned in passing when discussing the distant past.
Last season I visited Eagley and Turton and this whet my appetite for visiting more clubs who play in the divisions below the North West Counties. Admittedly, it didn’t interest me enough to go out of my way to watch a match at these grounds as I travelled to Coppull United with my beloved Atherton Collieries.
Chairman Paul picked me up from home at 12:45 and we headed over to Collieries where we would meet up with everybody else to squeeze travelling fans into cars. Only eight of us were making the journey from Alder House for this pre-season friendly, with others making their own way there which initially appeared to make everything look quite simple.
A discussion as to which way to take to Coppull followed, with every passenger offering up a different route. The drivers decision was final and we headed up through Blackrod and Adlington. All was going well until we arrived in Adlington to find a number of road closures. “I told you to go through Standish didn’t I?” moaned one passenger. “Well I didn’t know there’d be a bloody street carnival in bloody Adlington did I?”
Opting to turn around and head back the way we had just come from we winded through the country roads behind Haigh Hall and arrived in Standish. The last time I was in Standish we were all evicted from a house party at a three storey house by a number of tactical aid units, but we’ll save that story for another occasion.
Ten minutes later and we were still winding through roads not really knowing where we were going. “We’re in a bit of trouble. The map says there should have been a right turn there.” our chairman said apologetically. It was all becoming a bit of a laugh now, and Brighton our driver concluded that we were now “geographically embarrassed.”
Thankfully it wasn’t long before we arrived at our destination. Coppull is a small village which lies within the borough of Chorley. Like most towns and villages in the local area, Coppull was once a thriving mining and spinning town. These days it is a satellite town for Wigan and Chorley and is home to a dairy, bakery and a farm which produces eggs for large area of Lancashire.
Unbeknownst to me, on the day of our visit a 10km exclusion zone was being set up around Coppull due to a suspected outbreak of bird flu. At present I am feeling fine despite smothering a dead bird carcass around my mouth during the match due to there being no food available at the ground.
Found at the bottom of Springfield Road to the south of the village centre is Blainscough Park; the home of Coppull United. I can’t comment on how it compares to other grounds in the division, but the pitch is always renowned for being in pristine condition and the clubhouse is of a decent standard. There is no cover for spectators, which makes it one to visit in the summer on a day such as this.
When we arrived we parked up in the sizeable car park, which was nearly full and walked around the side of the clubhouse to enter the ground. It was free admission for this match and there was a nice relaxed feeling as both teams were warming up on opposite sides of the large pitch.
Collieries were down to the bare bones in regards to coaching staff, club officials and fans due to a number of peculiar and interesting reasons. I won’t go into them all, but it meant that Zach, Rob and I were in charge of collecting cones and balls in following the pre-match warm up. A prestigious role indeed. I would add that Zach wasn’t up to the standard required as he managed to get a ball stuck in a tree.
First team manager Michael Clegg was not able to attend this fixture as he was off to watch Ed Sheeran perform at Wembley Stadium. Assistant manager Warren Jones was on holiday as was player coach Andy Heald. Scott Campbell took on responsibility of the team for the afternoon, saying “You need me but I don’t need you.”
As spectators arrived at the ground Campbell could be heard muttering the team line up but he assured the players who we warming up that he was just “Thinking Out Loud.”
Collieries were told during the warm up that they had to respect their lower league hosts. Coppull are regarded as one of the best amateur sides in Lancashire, and I turned up believing it would be a very close match. United had recently won the Lancashire FA Amateur Shield and had a respectable finish in the Premier Division last season.
Despite this, the match was one sided and Collieries were allowed to play their style of football. The first opportunity of the match saw Mark Battersby flick a long ball on to his fellow striker Jordan Cover. Racing clear of the last defender he carried the ball towards goal before firing the ball well wide of the target.
Collieries continued to pass the ball around very well on a pristine pitch and it wasn’t long before they deservedly took the lead. Jordan Cover closed down the goalkeeper which saw the ball bounce out to the flank where further pressure from Mark Battersby saw the Coppull left back surrender possession. A cross was sent in and the ball fell to Josh Messer on the edge of the area who hammered the ball into the bottom right hand corner on the half volley.
Two minutes later and the ball was in the back of the Coppull net again. Gareth Peet travelled down the right hand flank and crossed the ball into Jordan Cover. The striker brought the ball down, pivoted on the spot and hit the ball past the helpless goalkeeper.
There were injury worries for Collieries on 18 minutes when defender Gareth Carson went down with a head injury. With physio Ben Ash not making the journey to Coppull it was down to Brad Cooke – who joined Scott as a coach for the afternoon – to provide his expertise. While most physios and medical staff would check for concussion and blurred vision, Brad strolled over, assessed the scene and squirted a bottle of water over the stricken defender.
Jordan Cover missed another one-on-one opportunity on 24 minutes in an almost identical chance to the one he fluffed in the opening minutes. Fortunately the score line was added to a minute later due to great work from left back Nathan Battersby. He carried the ball forward and played it into Mark Battersby who took his time and curled the ball into the top right hand corner.
Collieries further extended their lead less than a minute later when Jordan Cover ran on to a precise through ball. With a defender breathing down his neck he hit the ball low and hard at the goalkeeper and it crept through his legs into the bottom right hand corner.
The home side still offered very little in the way of attack and found it hard to keep possession of the ball. They earned themselves a couple of corners but these failed to test a comfortable Colls defence.
As half time approached a misplaced pass from a Coppull defender saw Mark Battersby and the goalkeeper go head-to-head to claim possession. As the goalkeeper stretched to avert danger Battersby nipped in and his touch which took the ball away was also enough to take it over the line and into the net.
It had been a fantastic half for Collieries and without sounding condescending to Coppull the 5-0 score line flattered the hosts.
At half time we headed to the clubhouse in search of some food. For some reason the club only stocked Quavers, to which one disgruntled spectator said “Man can’t live on crisps alone!” before squeezing his way back outside.
On reflection, I think it would be an entertaining challenge to see whether a man could live on crisps alone and I may be launching this in September when I go back to University and waste all my money on beer.
Anyway, back to the match.
Collieries started off the second half as they finished the first and continued to pass the ball around with fluidity and confidence. Coppull, much to their credit, grew into the game and began to push forward a bit more.
Eight minutes into the half Colls scored another goal. Jordan Cover was fed down the right hand side and he carried the ball towards the corner flag. The striker turned and pulled the ball back to Mark Battersby who curled the ball into the top left hand corner with a first time effort.
The best goal of the match came on 58 minutes through Gareth Peet. He dribbled past one Coppull defender, flicked the ball over another and in the same move volleyed the ball past the goalkeeper into the far corner. It was like watching Matt Le Tissier.
Coppull pulled a consolation goal back on 70 minutes when a fantastic cross was met at the far post with an equally impressive header.
Atherton continued to press forward but were unable to add to the scoring thanks to some brilliant goalkeeping from the second half stopper. On a number of occasions he clawed the ball off the line and tipped efforts around the post.
In truth, the match should have seen Colls rack up double figures but nothing can be taken away from a fantastic team performance against a well organised side.
It will certainly be a confidence booster ahead of Monday night’s Bolton Hospital Cup tie against Tempest United.
The journey home was a lot more straight forward than our journey there, which meant I was back in Atherton quite early. It made a nice change being in early on a Saturday and being totally sober. A downside to this is the fact I didn’t bump into any odd characters in local pubs and nothing could go wrong due to a drunken mistake. I’m sure this will all change next Saturday though when I head to Stone Dominoes with Matt!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 17 miles
- ADMISSION: Free
- PROGRAMME PRICE: N/A