AFC Darwen

AFC Darwen vs Cammell Laird 1907, North West Counties Football League Premier Division, 07/05/16, Anchor Ground, Match 37

My TimeHop app informed me that a year ago today I had bought my Ford Focus, and as it had taken my family and I down to Truro and back this week, I decided to keep it local this week, to avoid putting even more miles on the car. This led to me spending part of my morning scouring the Non-League Paper and then estimating the distance on Google Maps. Whilst there were a few tempting matches, the journey to AFC Darwen looked to be the easiest, so that’s where I decided on. It was also going to be nice to go to a football match on a Saturday, seeing as how I’ve now fully moved out of Wrexham.

I was right in thinking that the journey would be easy, as it was as simple as getting to the M61, taking the turn off for the M65 towards Blackburn, and then getting on the A666 (unfortunately I didn’t have my iPod with me or I would have greeted this road with “Highway to Hell” by ACDC), I was surprised to see signs for Ewood Park, but then again I’ve never been to Blackburn before so I think I can be forgiven for not knowing the geography of the area. It was 14.25pm when I pulled into the car-park outside the Anchor Ground, home to AFC Darwen, as a number of signs declared.

At the turnstile I was greeted by a friendly, young lad, and I paid £5 for entrance and £1.50 for a programme, I did feel slightly bad as I paid with a £20 note, but they had plenty of change. Once through the turnstiles I went for a walk around the ground. The Anchor Ground is a typical non-league ground, with three sides of terracing and a main stand offering the only seats of the ground. From the turnstiles I walked past the social club in the corner and past the front of the Howarth Timber & Building Supplies Stand, or as I’ll refer to it the Main Stand. I’m guessing that the stand wasn’t built with seating in mind, as the seats seemed to be slightly at odds with the slope of the stand, and there was plenty of leg room in the stand. The director’s seating and press box are in the middle of the stand but these were to sit empty for the game. Just past the Main Stand, behind the goal, stands a couple of rows of terracing which are uncovered. Along the other touchline are the dugouts, and a few more rows of uncovered terracing. Finally, completing the lap, is the other goal, which again is made up of a few rows of uncovered terracing, in the corner of this stand, near the corner flag, stand the changing rooms. The Anchor Ground reminded me of Market Drayton’s ground, with its looks, and I must say that I was impressed by the scenery around the ground, with green, rolling hills providing a wonderful backdrop.

Football in Darwen can be traced back to 1875, when Darwen Rugby Football Club adopted Association Football rules, and in their early years they reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup in the 1880 to 1881 season, and were also members of the Football League between 1891 to 1899, the club returned to local football in 1900. AFC Darwen were formed in 2009 following the winding up of Darwen FC due to debts in excess of £60,000. The FA instructed that the newly formed club would begin their life in the West Lancashire League and in their first season the club finished 8th following a poor start to the season. However despite their 8th place finish, the club were re-elected to the North West Counties Football League, playing the 2010 to 2011 season in the First Division. In their first season, the club finished 13th and therefore cemented their place in the NWCFL. AFC Darwen then improved upon this by finishing in 5th place in the 2012 to 2013 season. AFC Darwen’s third season in the NWCFL was to be a disappointing one as they finished 9th in the league, however there was to be a good run in the Lancashire Challenge Trophy, were they reached the semi-finals before narrowly losing to Chorley, this meant that AFC Darwen were the first club at the NWCFL level to reach a semi-final in a prestigious competition. The 2014 to 2015 season proved to be a successful one for AFC Darwen, as they managed to secure promotion to the Premier Division of the NWCFL after they negotiated their way through the first ever NWCFL play-off final, this despite the fact that they played a mammoth 9 league games in 20 days, winning 8 and drawing 1. Also in this 20 day period the club played Atherton Colleries on the Reusch First Division Cup Final, a final which they won. In the NWCFL play-off final, AFC Darwen beat Hanley Town 5-3.

Cammell Laird 1907 are also a reformed club, and they can trace their roots back to 1899 when a team from the Upper Boilers Shop of Laird Bros played in Birkenhead Park, however they soon turned to the rugby code. Cammell Laird Institute AFC were established in June 1907, and this is the year from which the current club take part of their name. In Institute’s first season they finished 9th in the West Cheshire League. The outbreak of the Second World War saw the club disband in 1939, before reforming in 1946. The 1970’s and 1980’s were to prove to be a successful period in the club’s history as they regularly won the West Cheshire League. The early part of the millennium saw the club reach new heights, and in the 2005 to 2006 season the club reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase, and they became the first club to win the championship of the second division (now the first division) and the first division (now the premier league) of the NWCFL. The club won promotion to the Unibond Premier Division in 2008, however they were relegated in the following season due to ground grading. In 2014 the club decided to resign from the Evo Stik Northern Premier League due to ownership issues, and a new club was formed in the shape of Cammell Laird 1907. This new side began life in the NWCFL Division One, and won promotion to the Premier League in the same season as AFC Darwin, as they finished 12 points clear of AFC Darwin who finished the season in 3rd place.

Cammell Laird came into this game assured of their place in next season’s NWCFL Premier Division, but today was to be a must-win for AFC Darwen, as they teetered near the relegation zone, sure they could have relied on results elsewhere to ensure their survival in the league, but that’s never a good strategy. AFC Darwen also have the, on paper, worse defensive record in the league, as they have conceded 110 goals all season, which when combined with their goals scored (78) meant that they had a goal difference of -34. The last time these two teams played, the game ended 4-2 with Cammell Laird emerging as the victorious side.

Following my walk around the ground, I headed to the social club, and was greeted by a very smart bar. On the bar were copies of the team-sheet, and I snapped a picture of one, and I must say that AFC Darwen had exceeded my expectations at that moment, as too many clubs that I visit do not display a team-sheet, or make one readily available, if only more clubs would follow AFC Darwen’s example! From the bar I bought a pint of Strongbow for £3, and as it was served in a plastic cup, I took it outside and enjoyed the sunshine. Once I finished my pint, I headed down to the main stand, and took a seat in the front row for the first half.

It didn’t take long for Cammell Laird to find a way through the AFC Darwen defence, as in the 3rd minute, the ball found its way to number 7, Paul Foy, on the edge of the area. Foy hit a lob over the onrushing keeper, but his shot hit the crossbar and dropped into the path of Cammell Laird’s number 9, Joe Gibiluru, who tapped the ball into the empty net.

AFC Darwen’s strikers were playing on the fact that Cammell Laird had set out with a high defensive line, and in the 15th minute it was to pay off, as Darwen’s number 9, Jonathan Hessian sprung the offside trap, and raced into the box where he was met by the Cammell Laird keeper, Jack McGovern. McGovern did enough to stop Hessian, but he was unable to stop Hessian passing the ball into the feet of Anthony Lynch, Darwen’s number 8, who tapped home the equalizer.

In the next couple of weeks, once the season has finished, I will be writing a review of my season, and I think Mark McKay, the Darwen number 7, has guaranteed his place in the review, possibly as the winner of goal of the season. The ball fell to McKay, in the 21st minute, and from around 30 yards out he thumped home an absolute screamer straight into the top left corner.

Darwen were now firmly in control of this game, and in the 36th minute, they increased their lead, as their number 10, Bobby Langford, beat the offside trap, before unselfishly squaring the ball for Anthony Lynch to tap home for his second og the game.

Half time: AFC Darwen 3-1 Cammell Laird 1907 (Lynch 15 & 36, McKay 21 – Gibiluru 3)

At half time I walked around to the refreshment hut next to the social club, and when asked what I wanted I went with the failsafe of chips, which I thought was a great choice, especially at £1 for a portion, but then I heard that they were selling meat and potato pies for £1.50, I’d already received my chips when I heard this, and I decided to just content myself with chips. I wandered off, and headed round to the opposite touchline to the Main Stand, and sat down on one of the terracing steps. However when I finished my chips, I decided that I did in fact want a pie, and I quickly walked back to the refreshment hut to buy a, rather tasty, meat and potato pie.

It didn’t take long for Darwen to get a 4th, as Bobby Langford was bought down by Jack McGovern in the box, in the 55th minute, the ref pointed for a penalty, and I began to ready myself to pay £5 to charity, as I fully expected Anthony Lynch to complete his hat-trick. However it was to be Luke McKenna to take the penalty, and he fired the ball low and hard past McGovern to all but confirm AFC Darwen’s place in the NWCFL Premier Division.

With the game all but over, the two sides seemed to just be happy to see the game out, with neither side pressing forward with much attacking intent.

The 61st minute saw Cammell Laird make their only change of the game as they bought on their number 12, Dan King, for their number 10, Joe Byrne. Cammell Laird had only named 3 subs, and I expected them to use each one, but I was to be wrong.

AFC Darwen named 5 subs, but only one of them was to get on, as in the 74th minute they replaced their number 11, Declan Cunliffe, with their number 14, Bailey Wallace.

With both sides safe, the game had petered out, and to be fair it seemed to have become a countdown to the final whistle. Daniel Jackson in the AFC Darwen goal did have to be awake to deal with a couple of close shots, but all in all the final couple of minutes passed without any major incident.

Final Score: AFC Darwen 4-1 Cammell Laird 1907 (Lynch 15 & 36, McKay 21, McKenna 55 – Gibiluru 3)

Following the final whistle, I headed out to my car and sat and listened as Aston Villa all but ended Newcastle’s stay in the Premier League. The drive back to Chorley was an easy one, and I’m still surprised by how close Ewood Park is to my house, I may have to pay it a visit next season, I might go when Newcastle visit.

With an excellent performance, AFC Darwen have secured their place in the NWCFL Premier Division for next season. I’m sure that the 18th place finish won’t have been what the club would have wanted at the beginning of the season, but hopefully they’ll improve next season. If the club are to improve, then they’ll have to work on the defence side of their game, as they conceded 111 goals this season. On the bright side, they are good going forward, and if they can fix their defence then I am sure they’ll be a dangerous side next season. AFC Darwen are a good club and I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the Anchor Ground, which I found to be a fantastic example of a non-league ground.

Cammell Laird have finished this season in 15th place, and have also secured their place in next season’s competition. This defeat will be a disappointing end to the season for them, as it is never nice to lose by such a margin, but at the end of the day they came into this game safe, and I’m sure they won’t be too disheartened by this defeat.

The only thing left to say on this blog, is well done to Colne who won the NWCFL Premier Division today, with a late winner at 1874 Northwich securing them the title. Commiserations to Runcorn Linnets who missed out on the title by 2 points. Further commiserations must go to Alsager Town, Silsden and AFC Blackpool who have been relegated from the division.

Attendance:230

Cost: £13

Hat-tricks seen so far: 3 (I’ll do it again, next hat-trick I see I will donate £5 to charity)

Next game: Not sure yet, I’m sure the Non-League Paper will reveal an interesting fixture.

AFC Darwen’s twitter: https://twitter.com/AFCDarwen1

Cammell Laird 1907’s twitter: https://twitter.com/cammelllairdfc

Pictures: https://www.flickr.com/photos/139632000@N07/albums/72157667436914080

Final League table: http://www.nwcfl.com/league-tables.php

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