There have been some notable deaths in 2016. David Bowie, Mohamed Ali and Prince to name just three. Between them, these figures brought communities to a standstill as fans paid their respects. One loss from this tragic year that nobody cried over was the sudden disappearance of Northwich Manchester Villa, a club who will go down as one of the strangest and nomadic in history.
Originally formed in 2005, the club was then called Woodley FC and they competed in the Cheshire League. Five years later they became a feeder team for Northwich Victoria and subsequently moved into their impressive Victoria Stadium home, while also being renamed Northwich Villa in the process.
In 2011, the club made the step up into the NWCFL playing their first match away at Atherton Collieries. All was going well until Northwich Victoria were booted out of their ground and both sides were subsequently left homeless. Villa made the move to Flixton FC’s former ground, before Victoria then joined them the following season.
For the beginning of the 2013/14 campaign, the club was renamed Northwich Flixton Villa to reflect their latest geographical location. They lasted two seasons at Valley Road before both clubs had to vacate the ground for one reason or another, leaving both homeless once again.
While Northwich Victoria headed back to Northwich and ground shared with bitter rivals Witton Albion, Northwich Flixton Villa relocated to the Regional Arena at the Etihad Campus. Of course, this meant another name change and the club became Northwich Manchester Villa for the 2015/16 campaign. Peculiarly, they decided to keep their Flixton orientated badge which looked to have been designed by a child on Microsoft Paint.
Playing 25 miles away from the town that their name suggests they represent, they had no fan base. I think it would be fair to say though, this was a club that never had any intentions of attracting one. A few of us went to watch them every now and again when there were no other matches on and that was it; the attendance consisted purely of groundhoppers, neutrals and a few away fans if they were lucky.
I had seen Villa play a couple of times at Flixton with the first occasion being a 5-1 victory for Atherton Collieries. It was an evening that saw their goalkeeper threaten me, informing me that he would have me after the match. There was nowhere for me to hide as I was wearing our illuminous orange away shirt. I lived to tell the tale. The second occasion was the much anticipated first meeting between themselves and newly formed protest club 1874 Northwich, which was proper tasty.
Their home for the 2015/16 season was the Manchester Regional Arena, a venue that was originally built along with the Etihad Stadium for the Commonwealth Games in 2002. The running track around the pitch was used as a warm up facility for all the athletes, along with the athletics hall that backs on to the ground.
watched endured a match there a couple of seasons ago when I saw Manchester City Women take on Liverpool Ladies. It was the most tiresome and boring sporting event I had seen in my life and I have been to the UK Snooker Championships in York. The reason for heading to the women’s match was simple, the Academy Stadium – just a stonesthrow away – was in the process of being built, so I was unsure whether the Arena would be mothballed by Manchester City.
There was some controversy when Northwich Manchester Villa initially moved into the Arena, as peculiarly it didn’t meet ground grading standards for the NWCFL. There is no clear walkway from the changing rooms to the pitch, the toilets are found down the same corridor as the changing rooms, the tea bar is the media room while the match officials don’t even have their own facilities.
Opportunities to watch Northwich Manchester Villa at the Arena were quickly running out, with just three home matches remaining. I had heard rumours that the club were preparing to move Mossley so wanted to tick this venue off properly while I still could. This match against NWCFL new boys Stockport Town came on a Tuesday night when I was home for Easter; I couldn’t really be bothered going but knew I would regret it at a later date if I didn’t make the effort.
League committee member (and my hairdresser) Clipper picked me up from Atherton Collieries at around 18:30, giving us just over an hour to fight our way through the traffic in Manchester to reach the ground. Found at the front of the Etihad Stadium you’d have thought there would be plenty of parking available but all cars had to squeeze into the small car park that serves the Badminton Centre.
Initially we parked in front of an emergency entrance, designed to allow ambulances into the ground. We tempted fate when we said that the car would be fine there as an ambulance wouldn’t be needed. The match was later abandoned due to a Stockport player breaking his leg.
We approached the large gate that acted as the entrance into the ground and I paid £2 to get in with my league pass. I also bought a programme for £2 and immediately noticed something strange. This publication had been labelled as the official programme of Manchester Diamonds FC and a brand new badge was also present. You’ve guessed it, this was a fifth rebrand in nearly as many years. Unbelievable.
Pre-match, the clubs chairman/first team manager Bill Prendergast was running around making sure all of his guests for the evening were made to feel welcome, while also making sure his players were warming up. He tried his best, but some members of his young squad were strolling out in dribs and drabs just 20 minutes before kick off. You have to admire Prendergast whenever you see him because the amount of energy he possesses is simply admirable. I think he maybe stands out more in the NWCFL because of his loud, booming southern accent.
While Prendergast then went off to do his secretarial duties I bumped into the Manc-hopper himself, George. We had nothing to do, so went in search of a pint knowing that our quest would most likely turn out to be fruitless. Many hopper had tried and failed to find a drop of alcohol at this venue, including my good friend Matt who is an expert at sniffing out beer.
First port of call was the media box which had been turned into the tea hut for the night. I was a bit shocked when I approached it and saw former Wigan Athletic midfielder – and current NWCFL referee – Jason Jarrett standing there in his boxers. In front of him was a woman serving cups of tea to fans. As previously mentioned, the officials don’t have a changing room at this ground, so they have to get changed in the room that is also used for half time hospitality.
No alcohol there. We were advised to head inside and see if we could find any. There appeared to be no clear route into the neighbouring building, so George and I just started trying random doors. Many were opened and I even ended up in a stock cupboard at one stage before we found the correct one… and the situation just became even more bizarre. Now inside the athletics hall, we interrupted a training session that was taking place. Local teenagers were sprinting and jumping all over the place and it all became a bit disorientating.
I wanted to join in on the high jump, given my immense height advantage that I would have over the other competitors but George had to hold me back, reminding me of our initial aim, beer. We curved around the track until eventually we came to the main reception area where there appeared to be a snack bar. There, in the fridge, standing out from every other product was a golden, glistening can of Boddingtons. Unfortunately, there was nobody there to serve me so I had to head back to the ground without any beer and in need of a cup of tea. So near, yet so far.
Coming into the match Northwich Manchester Villa found themselves in 12th place while Stockport Town were occupying a play-off place. On paper, the visitors were the clear favourites and despite playing some nice football in midfield they couldn’t get through a determined Villa defence.
Villa were wearing a yellow kit, the former away kit of Northwich Victoria in fact. Stockport were in their smart red and white stripes with blue shorts, prancing around like star spangled banners.
The first half, in truth, was a complete and utter bore fest. It was amongst the worst halves of football I have ever had the misfortune to watch.
Would the second half improve?
A Stockport Town player fractured his leg, was left lying in the centre circle for 45 minutes and the match was subsequently abandoned. There wasn’t even a stretcher in the vicinity of the ground to move the stricken player off the pitch which I found astounding considering we were less than 50 metres from Manchester City’s stadium.
As the poor player waited for the ambulance, talk in the stands soon turned to what would happen to the newly rebranded Manchester Diamonds in the following season. Rumours – that were later confirmed – suggested that they had ditched a groundshare with Mossley and had instead opted to move to their Tameside neighbours Hyde United. The problem was Hyde were turning their pitch into an artificial surface over the summer but their own supporters hadn’t even been made aware of this change, leaving everything up in the air.
So, as it was, the season finished and Manchester Diamonds were set to move over to Hyde and have another season of NWCFL action. That was until Bill Prendergast took up the vacant manager’s job at Radcliffe Borough (for the second time in a year, he lasted two weeks last time) leaving Diamonds without a chairman or manager. This goes to show that Prendergast was the blood that kept this nomadic and strange club going.
His departure signalled the end for the club, who resigned from the league and disbanded just a couple of days later.
Northwich Villa changed very little in football. No records were broken and no hearts were ever won over. Their initial aim was to become a feeder team for Northwich Victoria. The great irony in all of this was that the only notable player that ever came through the Villa ranks was a young striker called Gary Burnett, who ended up joining Atherton Collieries. He then moved to Skelmersdale United before Northwich Victoria paid a handsome fee for him when they could have had him for free just two years beforehand.
Resigned to history and placed firmly on the NWCFL scrapheap, Villa’s disappearance has opened the door to clubs such as Prestwich Heys and Sandbach United. Proper clubs who have a true identity and will bring an awful lot to a league which will highly appreciate it.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 18 miles
- ADMISSION: £2 with league pass
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2