Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chorley FC 3-0 Blyth Spartans

It's Sunday morning and I'm navigating the Rolls Royce around the tight streets of the Old Meadows area in Nottingham. It's an inner city area that has produced a host of professional footballers such as Jermaine Pennant, Wes Morgan, Kelvin Wilson and Pedro Richards.

I park up on the tree-lined Trent Embankment and head towards a plethora of football pitches hosting pub leagues and junior soccer. Two lads from the same ale-house team fall out and start to push and shove one another. Their man-mountain of a manager, a huge Asian chap, marches onto the pitch and cuffs both players around the back of the head.

I notice a guy sat on a mountain bike viewing the game with astonishment. He's wearing a T-shirt and shorts. I stroll towards him and engage in conversation: "I bet you have played in a better standard than this?" "Just a bit" he replies, with a huge smirk on his face. It's none other than former Notts County and Lincoln City midfielder Phil Turner. I saw him lift the play-off trophy at Wembley. Now, he was a player.

It's Tuesday, midday. I dash out the doors at work. I'm treating myself to a midweek excursion to one of the gems of non league football. Murphy the Budgie shares chicken and mayo in pitta bread. He mops up all the crumbs as Jeremy Vine plays King's 1984 smash hit ';Love and Pride.'

Mrs P didn't bat an eyelid at the announcement of my sojourn to Lancashire: she is due to jet off to Barcelona with the girlies on Thursday. Nevertheless, there are chores to be carried out before the pass-out is rubber stamped. I vacuum up and clean the bathroom, before heading out to Gotham to swap cars with Phil.

The journey is straight foward; the A50 onto the M6. The usual predictable bottleneck occurs at Junction 20. We exit at Junction 27. We pass a young family basking in the sunshine, licking away at their cornet and ice cream at Frederick's Ice Cream Parlour in Heath Charnock, as we head towards the village of Rivington and its chain of reservoirs. Dog walkers stretch their legs as their canine friends bound into the water to retrieve balls launched from the water's edge.

The pub I've chosen is a short drive away. The Yew Tree Inn is perched on top of a hill, with sweeping views of the Pennines. Its flagstone floors, oak furniture and open fire give it a warm and cosy feeling. I have a pint of golden local ale. Pre-match tea is a rump steak sandwich covered in blue cheese and caramelised onions.

We park up a side street a few minutes walk away from Victory Park, named so to commemorate the end of the First World War. Chorley is a market town in Lancashire, ten miles north of Wigan, with a population of 30,000. It is located at the foot of the West Pennine Moors. The town's wealth came from the cotton industry and coal-mining. The Royal Ordnance Factory, a manufacturer of munitions, played a major part in the Second World War. It's famous for the Chorley Cake - a close relative of the Eccles cake.

Notable people from Chorley include: rugby union player Bill Beaumont, comedian Phil Cool, former Labour 'spin doctor' Derek Draper, actor Ken Morley (Reg Holdsworth), Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson, footballers Paul McKenna and David Unsworth, singer John Foxx, the group Starsailor, and sugar magnate Sir Henry Tate, who established the Tate Gallery. Chorley FM found fame in the cult Channel 4 comedy series Phoenix Nights.

I enter the turnstile to the left of the black wrought iron gates. It's £9 entrance and £2 for an information-packed programme. A pea-souper of a fog is forecast later this evening. The rolling mist adds to the atmosphere of this glorious old ground. With its picturesque main stand and pedicured playing surface.

There are two rooms in the Social Club. The back room has a covered, full length snooker table. I notice framed replica England and Ipswich Town shirts signed by former Chorley youth team player Paul Mariner.

I cling onto the rail as we trudge up the metal black-painted steps, shuffling up the aisle and plonking ourselves on the back row of the ground's show-piece stand. A huge dog turd causes us to move down a row or two. On the opposite side of the ground a lone orange-jacketed steward patrols the steep grass bank above the terracing.

Blyth Spartans have made the gruelling 175 mile trip south from Northumberland. The Magpies of Chorley are top of the pile, whilst Blyth, unbeaten on their travels, lie in eighth position.

The football is sublime as both teams make use of the carpet-like surface. The bald-headed James Dean (not the actor) is posing problems for the visitors. He's like a rabid dog, hunting down his prey. Chorley take a two goal lead in a crazy five minute spell through a Darren Stephenson header and a deflected shot from Dean.

All I can hear is "Come on Charlie." The poor sod, get off his back. I peruse the line-ups, but there is no sign of a Charlie playing. Silly old me, they're shouting "Come on Chorley."

I scroll down my twitter feed, glancing at the half-time scores rolling in. The Chorley disc jockey plays the tune of the season. It's 'Rescue' by Echo and the Bunnymen. It was number 176 on the jukebox in the Keyworth Tavern public bar many moons ago.

The teams have been playing for two or three minutes in the second half before the DJ  surrenders to the heckling of the crowd and fades out Shaun Ryder and 'Reverend Black Grape'. A family behind me have spent the entire game gossipping and passing comment on all and sundry. It's like being in Norris Cole's Kabin.

Blyth play a smashing game in the second period; it's glorious to watch. They pass and move and torment the Magpies with triangular football. Chorley's Sam Ashton pulls off some spectacular saves to keep Blyth at bay. Shots dip over the bar or go wide of the mark. There are last ditch tackles; they even strike the base of the post.

Spartans leave themselves skinny at the back. The deadly Dean converts a cross in the dying moments. The result flatters Chorley, but they themselves played some champagne football in the first 45 minutes. They are managed by former Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers midfielder Garry Flitcroft. He is assisted by his pal Matt Jansen, who spent six days in a coma after a motorcycle accident in Rome back in 2002. It's been a festival of football and a cracking day out. I can't half pick them.

Man of the Match: James Dean

Attendance: 685


Anonymous said...

Good choice of hostelry, the Yew Tree's a fine venue. One point of pedantry, Paul Mariner turned out for Chorley's first team. I remember - I was there! He was sold to Plymouth and from there to Ipswich. Chorley received a substantial sell-on fee (for the time). Lee Trundle was a more recent 1st team regular who went on to greater things. Times are good at the moment under Flitcroft. I've stood on that grass bank since being a kid in the late 60’s (sadly health and safety nutcases have now fenced it off), and seen many ups and downs. Wigan Athletic were the big rivals back in the day, the mind boggles. Some magic memories of Lancashire derby games on winter evenings at Victory Park, the atmosphere was hostile and I can still feel the air crackling. Probably only 2,000 on the ground but the tension was palpable.

Andrew Ashton said...

Yes I remember those days well too. Strange (but good) how the old ground has become something of a retro icon of Non-League football.
Great Blog really enjoyed reading thanks.