Atherton Collieries vs Ashton Athletic, NWCFL Premier Division, 02/01/16, Alder House, Match 25
I had originally planned to watch Atherton Collieries back in November, the day before I watched Shrewsbury Town play Wigan, but the Colls game against Chadderton had been postponed due to the effect the weather had on the pitch, not that it would have mattered if the game had been on, as that had been the weekend that my car had broken down, so I wouldn’t have been able to get to the game anyway.
I was expecting the worse today, as the weather hadn’t been brilliant, but twitter confirmed that this game would be on, and I began to get excited about visiting a new ground. After dropping the wife and kids off in Chorley, I put the postcode for Atherton Collieries FC into my SatNav, and drove the twenty minutes between the two towns. I regretted not doing my homework before setting off, as there was a large amount of traffic around the turn off for the M61 near the Macron Stadium, this was because Bolton Wanderers were at home, and instead of using the M61 I decided to carry on along the A6.
One thing that had been bugging me, was the pronunciation of Atherton. I’m a Londoner, and that means I read and pronounce words a certain way, for example when I used to see the town name Euxton, I used to pronounce it like Euston, much to my wife’s annoyance, as it is actually pronounced Ex-ton. When people had been asking me where I was going I had been telling them “Ayy-therton”, which I’m assuming is wrong, and it is actually “Aff-erton”, but then again I’m probably wrong on that pronunciation, so if someone wants to try and teach me how to pronounce Atherton correctly, feel free to have a try in the comments.
Around the ground there is plenty of parking, and I soon found a space on a car-park on Rowland Street. From there I walked past Formby Hall, and down to the turnstiles. Once at the turnstiles I paid £5 for entry, and a further £1.50 for a programme.
Alder House is the kind of ground that I love, plain and simply it is a proper football ground, full of charm and character. The ground is as old as the club, and has seen a number of changes throughout the years. In the book ‘Dugouts’ one stand, which used to stand behind the dugouts, was described as “leaning forwards as if in prayer for its continued survival.” The stand was demolished in 2007, ending its prayers. From where I emerged through the turnstiles, I wandered past the goal, and the changing rooms, which stand behind the goal. In the corner of the ground stands the refreshment hut and the social club. The social club nearly stretches to the halfway line, and has a real Tardis effect, as it looks rather compact from the outside, yet on the inside it is a rather large space, and extremely well laid out. Past the halfway line stands a covered seated stand, which holds seats which were formerly used at Leigh’s old Hilton Park. Behind the other goal is a stretch of hard standing. Along the touchline opposite to the social club stands the dugouts, and near to the corner flag stands another covered seating stand, this being the largest stand in the ground.
One thing that is very noticeable about Alder House is the slope of the pitch, people used to say that Barnet’s Underhill pitch was a steep slope, but in all honesty I was surprised that there weren’t Sherpas to help the players up the slope. I kid, of course, but the slope is there, to get a real sense of the slope then I suggest standing behind the far goal, and looking up towards the changing rooms. The pitch wasn’t in bad shape for the game, but it was clear that it would turn into a mudbath by the end of the game, but isn’t that the best thing about non-league football?
Atherton Collieries were formed by a group of miners from the six pits which were in operation within the old urban district of Atherton in 1916. The club was formed as a means of providing welfare for those at home involved in the war effort. When the pits were nationalized the football club was given to the people of the town. The club first played in the Bolton Combination, until they joined the Lancashire Combination Division Two in the 1950 to 1951 season, before they left to play again in the Bolton Combination in 1952. The Colls won the Lancashire FA Amateur Shield in 1957 for a fifth time as they beat Burnley Albion 3-2 in extra time of a second replay, the club then won the trophy for a sixth time in 1965 as they beat Breightmet United 6-1. The club then rejoined the Lancashire Combination in 1971, before becoming founder members of the Cheshire County League Division Two in 1978, a league in which they played for the next four seasons. Colls then became founder members of the North West Counties Football League in 1982, winning the Third Division in 1987. The 1992 to 1993 season saw their best run in the FA Vase when they reached the third round, where they lost to Bridgnorth Town 4-0. Colls were promoted to the First Division in 1996 as they finished runners-up to Vauxhall General Motors. Atherton Collieries were relegated from the NWCFL Premier Division at the end of the 2008 to 2009 season, ending a twelve year spell in the top flight, it was to take the Colls until the 2014 to 2015 season to regain their place back in the NWCFL Premier Division, as Michael Clegg, the former Atherton LR manager, guided the Colls to become the NWCFL Division One champions.
Their opponents for today’s match, Ashton Athletic, were formed in 1968. Ashton Athletic joined the Lancashire Combination in the 1978 to 1979 season, but they struggled and finished bottom of the league. Athletic continued to struggle for the next three seasons, before they became founder members of the North West Counties League in 1982, like Atherton Collieries. However unlike the Colls, Ashton Athletic struggled in this league, as they finished bottom of Division Three in the first season, and after finishing in last place twice more, they left the league in 1986 having failed the ground grading. The club then joined the Manchester League for the 1988 to 1989 season, but results did not improve in the 90s with their highest position coming in the 1994 to 1995 season when they finished ninth. In 2005 to 2006 the club played their last season in the Manchester League, as they rejoined the NWCFL for the 2006 to 2007 season. Ashton Athletic were promoted to the Premier Division of the NWCFL in 2008, where they have stayed since then.
Before the match I was tempted to go and get a pint from the social club, so I did. Once at the bar I was reminded of possibly the second best thing about non-league football, as the barman asked me whether I wanted the pint for in or out, I’ve never been one to turn down the chance to drink beer whilst watching football, so I stated that I wanted my pint of Carling for outside, £2.70 later I was stood beside the pitch with a pint in my hand.
It was to be Ashton Athletic who would have the task of kicking uphill for the first half, with the Colls kicking downhill.
I had noticed before the game, that Atherton Collieries were going to be holding a bucket collection to help a fellow club, Tadcaster Albion. Tadcaster, like a lot of clubs, have been hit hard by the recent weather, with their i2i Stadium being submerged by flood water. The flood has caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to the club’s facilities as the pitch, clubhouse, clubshop, kitchen and groundsmans building are all under water. So when the buckets came round I happily chucked in £3 and I am pleased to have read on the Atherton Collieries twitter that they raised £140 to help. Tadcaster Albion have also set up a LocalGiving donation page, so if you would like to donate a couple of quid to help out, here is the link: https://localgiving.com/charity/tadcasteralbion.
To make the pitch even worse, it had begun to rain, which meant that the pitch was cutting up quicker than before, and both sides began to struggle with the pitch. Despite having the advantage of kicking downhill, Colls had been unable to create any real chances, and up the other end, Athletic had been attacking with some real precision, and had been unlucky not to take their chances.
Half time: Atherton Collieries 0-0 Ashton Athletic
At half time I decided to head to the refreshment hut, where I joined the queue. Inside there was a very hard working lady, who despite being rushed was friendly to everyone she served. The best thing about the queue was it gave me time to decide on what I wanted, I finally settled in a Meat & Potato pie, and it was lovely, possibly the best pie I have had at a football ground, and for only £1.80 it was a bargain. During the first half I had paid £1 for a ticket for the half time raffle, and I didn’t win.
For the second half I decided to stand by the dugouts, as it would make it easier to keep track of the substitutions. The grass on the touchline had disappeared, and the linesman was having to run the line whilst stood on the pitch, as it would have been near on impossible for him to run through the mud bath the touchline had become. (You Are the Ref had a brilliant strip in the Guardian recently, which involved this subject: http://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/dec/18/you-are-the-ref-no353-troy-deeney)
Colls made the first change of the game in the 61st minute as their number 10, Dave Sherlock came off to be replaced by Jordan Cover. (The Ashton Athletic number 6 is called Paul Watson, I’ll leave you to make Sherlock & Watson jokes)
Ashton Athletic then made a change in the 65th minute, as they also replaced their number 10, Daniel Smith, with their number 14 Adam Gilchrist coming on in Smith’s place.
Both sides were creating chances, but the pitch wasn’t helping matters as the ball either skidded off of the surface or held up in places, which meant that the players weren’t able to judge the ball’s movement. I have to say at this point that the pitch reminded me of the one at Shrewsbury’s old Gay Meadow ground.
Colls made their second sub in the 66th minute as number 14, Keith Wedge, came on to replace Colls’ number 11, Mark Truffas.
I was beginning to wonder whether I was going to see my first 0-0 draw of the season when Colls won a corner on the left hand side. The ball was delivered into the box, and Mark Ayres, the Colls’ number 5, managed to flick the ball home, to put Colls into the lead in the 67th minute.
Ashton Athletic made their second change in the 72nd minute, as their number 7, Daniel Regan came off to be replaced by number 12, Emwi Adegbenro.
Ashton’s third and final change came in the 78th minute, as their number 17, Alex Ashby (who is marked as wearing the number 13 shirt on the team sheet) came on to replace number 9, Joel Brownhill.
Even with four minutes added on to the second half, Ashton Athletic were unable to find a way back into the match, despite creating some good chances. Colls defended their lead well, and they were to emerge with all three points from this clash.
Final score: Atherton Collieries 1-0 Ashton Athletic (Ayres 67)
Following the final whistle, I joined the queue to leave the ground and then walked down to where I had parked. When I had parked up the car-park had been pretty empty, but by the time I left it had filled up nicely. Luckily there was no traffic on the way back to Chorley, and it took me half an hour to get back to my sister-in-law’s house, where I picked up my wife and kids.
Alder House is a brilliant ground, and I will be visiting again, although the next time I visit I would like it to be in one of the warmer months (if they exist in Britain). Whilst the pitch was poor, it was poor for both sides, and I feel that Colls coped better with the conditions. I was surprised to see that the best attacking play for both sides came whilst they were kicking uphill, as I thought it would be the other way around. I’ve got to be honest, I don’t envy the Atherton Collieries groundsman as they are going to have a difficult job of getting the ground to a good state again, and I don’t think the weather we are bound to have in January will help.
Both sides were very impressive, as they both attempted to get the ball down and play it, which is always admirable. As a club I found Atherton Collieries to be friendly and hospitable, and I hope that they do well in the rest of the season. Today’s victory sees Colls move up to 4th in the league, they find themselves 12 points off the top of the table, but have four games in hand over Runcorn Linnets who sit at the top of the table having played 18 games to Linnets 22. Ashton Athletic currently sit in 10th in the league, having played 23 games, whilst promotion may be out of their reach, they should be safe from the drop.
I might find myself back in Atherton sooner rather than later, as there is a second club in the town. Atherton Laburnum Rovers are based at Crilley Park, which according to Google Maps is only a stone’s throw from Alder House. Atherton LR play in the NWCFL Division One, which is the league below Colls.
Attendance: I’m not sure what the attendance of today’s match was, and as soon as I find out I will update this, if anyone reading this knows the exact attendance then please let me know.
Hat-tricks seen so far: 3
Next game: Bala Town vs Haverfordwest County, Dafabet Welsh Premier League, 9/1/16
Money spent: £15
Thanks for reading!
Atherton Collieries twitter: https://twitter.com/ACFC1916
Ashton Athletic twitter: https://twitter.com/AshtonAthletic