What is British pride? It means different things to different people and I am sure my personal opinions differ to your own. Obviously in recent weeks we have had the EU Referendum, which allowed people to bang on about British values, regardless of which side they voted. We’ve also had Euro 2016 and while it’s fair to say England disappointed, Wales and Northern Ireland did the side proud. Coming up next is the Olympics, the first one since that glorious summer when the nation was brought together back in 2012.
For me, when I think about being British I think about famous films such as Four Lions (maybe not) and The Dam Busters; more specifically the music. Of course, the main attraction throughout the film is the fleet of Lancaster Bombers. The majority of these were designed and built in the Chadderton area of Oldham by AVRO from 1939 onwards.
So, with the pre-season schedule underway I thought it would be a nice idea to head down to AVRO FC to see if I could find any links to the area’s proud past. Prior to World War II, the majority of AVRO’s work was based down the road in Newton Heath. With more of a demand for planes to help with the war effort, AVRO moved the majority of their production further out of Manchester towards Chadderton.
In 1936, Failsworth Lodge (the building now used as the clubhouse at AVRO) was purchased by Sir Roy Dobson, manager at AV Roe’s. A football team for the workers was founded but it wasn’t until 1950 that the Lodge was opened up fully to the employees of AVRO and the club moved here. It was at this time the Lodge was renamed The Lancaster Club after the famous plane the workers once built.
Having done my research (from the little information available online, thanks to Manchopper for rescuing us all) I had a feeling this would be one of the more obscure and ‘tinpot’ grounds I would be visiting this year. As far as I was aware there were no stands and the pitch was just about railed off, but it was still somehow a Manchester Premier Division ground and as any groundhopper will tell you, a tick is a tick. Although some of the sadder ones – the ones who lick the turnstiles and only watch a match if there’s a programme – may only have this as a bracketed tick as we don’t think it was played on the first team pitch. Crisis.
The plan for this groundhop adventure was formulated a couple of days beforehand when I was at West Didsbury & Chorlton v Bamber Bridge with Zach and Rob Clarke. We had had a cultural day visiting the People’s History Museum, shopping for posters and other decorative gear for our student rooms in Afflecks before hotfooting it down to the trendy suburb of Chorlton. I even bumped into my cousin on the way to the match, so I felt like one of those inbred types who bumps into family members while out doing the weekly shop.
While at West Didsbury we could hear Beyonce performing at Old Trafford Cricket Ground. I somehow came to the conclusion that our upcoming trip to AVRO wouldn’t hold such glitz and glamour; was I right? Of course I was, but we didn’t head to a working mans club in Failsworth to indulge ourselves. We did it purely for the tick… and because Dianne Oxberry clearly stated on the weather that it wouldn’t be raining. As always – as much as I hate to say this – my favourite weather woman let us down. It rained intermittently throughout the day and we feared the worst as we plodded around a flooded Manchester thinking about the evening ahead.
I met up with West Didsbury & Chorlton secretary Rob McKay in the Arndale (Rob Clarke couldn’t be bothered making the journey from Sheffield, and who could blame him?) It took him a few minutes to arrive at our meeting point and I had never been so glad to see my friend as he rescued me from being hassled by a plethora of people selling things or begging for charities. I nearly punched the woman from Sky who asked me four times if I wanted a free bag of popcorn; she even asked me if I was watching my figure when I declined. I just didn’t fancy popcorn! I was off to watch AVRO v Maine Road, not Finding Dory! It was all pretty stressful, so off we went for a drink at Wetherspoons on Deansgate.
As we sat there supping Krombacher and coffee respectively (I’ve become a bit of a coffee man over the last few weeks) we waited for Zach to arrive from Bolton. He had been releasing his inner student at an informal meeting with Mayor of Manchester candidate Andy Burnham. It has been great witnessing the development of one of our countries future politicians in recent years, although I think even Zach will admit he may be even a too bit theatrical for the chamber.
Rob was all for catching the train to Moston when we decided to start heading out of the city centre towards the match. This option hadn’t crossed my mind and my plan of jumping on the Metrolink to Failsworth hadn’t crossed his. I won the non-existent battle and was labelled ‘a very clever boy’ which provided the daily inflation that my ego requires.
Services to Failsworth from Manchester Victoria were very frequent as it is served by the Oldham and Rochdale line which was quite busy due to the rush hour. Admittedly, as we headed out of the centre we came across pockets of the city that I had never heard of; after all, East Manchester is a completely different world for somebody from West Manchester.
Found after Newton Heath & Moston (the station closest to FC United’s Broadhurst Park), Failsworth was relatively quiet when we arrived. Exiting the station, there were a few locals stood outside the Bricklayers Arms drinking pints of mild outside in the rain. Mills – the few that are still remaining – loomed over the red brick terraces which were broken at regular intervals with chippies and more pubs; unfortunately the majority ceased trading many years ago.
The chippy close to the station provided us with a quick respite from the deluge that was hanging over the town. We assumed there wouldn’t be any food at the ground so delved into the underworld that is associated with chippies in suburban Manchester. You can travel from town to neighboring town and find completely different menus which I always find astounding. I played it safe in this establishment, a scollop barm with red sauce. Basically just a blob of carbohydrate that geed me up for the monotonous trudge down the dual carriageway towards the ground.
We only passed one other human being on our travels; a scruffy type returning from a day at school, perhaps he’d been in detention? The Lamb Inn was our choice for a pre-match drink and it could be seen on the other side of the road, resplendent in it’s white colour which added a bit of cleanliness to the area. Ignore the bullet shot through the front window of the establishment and the 1970’s style decor and you can enjoy a pint of Boddington’s amongst a range of families who were yet to return from the school run. Not much attention was paid to the notice behind the bar saying all children must vacate the premises by 19:00.
I was beginning to frown upon Failsworth, when I received a message from my mum who was on holiday in Majorca. She informed me that my Great Grandmother is from Failsworth and she even married in a church close to where I was drinking. It seems wherever I head in Greater Manchester I seem to find some sort of link I was never aware of.
With around ten minutes to go until kick off we finished off our drinks in The Lamb Inn and headed over the road to the Lancaster Club, home to AVRO FC. The ground is found just off Broadway, the same road that Chadderton play on albeit a few miles further north. The large car park was pretty full and a mesh fencing at the end of it allowed us sight of the pitch where the match was about to kick off.
I quickly came to the conclusion that this was the most basic ground I had ever been to but it didn’t bother me. Stood underneath some trees, three metres behind the goal, dodging all of the dog excrement that was dotted around us I felt quite at home. The other 8 people who were in attendance alongside us had all brought umbrellas meaning they could remain on the only bit of hard standing close to the car park.
Maine Road are two divisions above their Manchester League opponents. Many of their players were away on holiday or partying somewhere as the majority of them are college and university students. That’s the thing with Maine Road; you never know which players are going to line up against you but you know it will be a tight contest and you’ll be run ragged for 90 minutes.
This match was no different as the range of young trialists, keen to impress the Maine Road management team allowed AVRO very little time on the ball all evening. It was the Sky Blues who took a 2-0 lead into the half-time interval mainly thanks to their pacy striker who could do well in the NWCFL this season if he carries on.
We knew the interval wouldn’t be a long one so we quickly headed off into the Lancaster Club in search of beer. The grand Edwardian manor really was a bit of an odd venue for a non-league clubhouse, that big that we managed to lose Rob. It became like a scene out of the Chuckle Brothers as Zach and I opened numerous doors and ventured down a few corridors to find our missing companion before he eventually emerged. By this stage we had disturbed a couple of the regulars who were now chasing after us, enquiring why we were taking photographs and what we were up to. I resisted temptation to say I was from the TV Licensing Company, demanding them to pay an on the spot fine.
The overall impression I got was that we weren’t welcome and the club aren’t used to groundhopping types. It says everybody is welcome, but every door still says members only. Perhaps this is why there were only two people in the bar watching the Euro 2016 match that was on? It’s a shame really, as the decor inside is beautiful and the building is huge.
Back to the match and for the majority of the second half we stood leaning on the metal railings next to the hard standing. It offered a restricted view of play, as the shrubbery to our left cut off the wing and corner flag up the far end. Every time there was a throw in or corner up in that area of the pitch it seemed as if the player was literally kicking the ball out of a bush.
Maine Road continued to play fast football, trying to knock a long ball to the attackers at every given opportunity. AVRO were still fighting back with some stern challenges in midfield and pulled a consolation goal back after the visitors had taken the scoreline to 4-0.
The game became a bit boring towards the end and as soon as the final whistle sounded we made the walk back to Failsworth metrolink station. A couple of local scallies in tracksuits decided to cross the track, as apparently it was quicker than walking underneath the bridge. I sat there feeling relieved that they didn’t get squashed as I assumed I would have then missed the 21:45 train back to Atherton.
In the end, I missed my train by 30 seconds anyway. The next service was in 70 minutes time, such is the frequency of Northern Rail trains to the major conurbations of Greater Manchester. As I headed off into the night with Rob for a pint to pass the time, my Dad offered to pick me up from Bolton which saved me from heading to some pretentious hipster bar in the Northern Quarter where I would most likely make new friends and end up partying until the early hours.
I finished the evening by feeding a drunken girl in our carriage some chips; she seemed interested in Zach and I but we declined her advances as she’s from Clitheroe and we all know that they knocked Colls out of the Lancashire Cup last year.
So, what were my overall thoughts on AVRO? As I stated very early on, it was purely a tick. There was very little excitement in the town of Failsworth or at the club itself. I could never see myself spending a Saturday afternoon here; even if every other match was postponed I think I would rather lie in bed or do the big shop with my mum.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 19 miles
- ADMISSION: Free
- PROGRAMME PRICE: N/A