Prestwich Heys vs Whitchurch Alport, North West Counties Football League First Division, Adie Moran Park
This season has gone fast, far too fast and I am nowhere near ready for it to end. However many leagues are pulling to a close, with the NWCFL playing its last fixtures of the season today, there will be the play-offs, but then after that there will be no more football until the pre-season friendlies start to be announced. I had a couple of ideas for today, one being Atherton Colleries’ game against Runcorn Town, one being Chorley’s game against FC Halifax and the other being Prestwich Heys vs Whitchurch Alport. Whilst Colleries and Chorley were interesting prospects, my sense of adventure kicked in and I decided to make my way over to Prestwich. Although, I would like to say congratulations to Atherton Colleries for their promotion, and I’m planning to follow them around a little more next season, to see how they get on.
I had intended to go to Prestwich earlier in the season when they hosted Chorley in the Lancashire Trophy back in September, I’m not sure why I didn’t get to that game, I’m guessing work may have gotten in the way, but part of me is glad that I saved my visit for today. My family are from Shropshire, and whenever I see a team from Shropshire I tend to support them, with the exception of AFC Telford, there is nothing that would ever lead me to support them, even if I watched them play Wrexham, I’d just support the referee. There was also to be a blast from the past in Whitchurch’s team today, as a certain Kevin Street took a place in their midfield. Kevin played for Shrewsbury during the Jimmy Quinn Conference era, and I always remembered him as a battling midfielder, who assisted us back to our rightful place in the Football League. The last I had heard of Kevin, he was in management, although I was glad to see him doing what he did best, controlling the midfield.
The journey to the Adie Moran Park was an easy one, as Prestwich are situated on the outskirts of Manchester, and therefore benefit from excellent transport links, which was good as I wasn’t sure I would have my car, as it had recently gone in for its MOT. If I hadn’t had the car, it would have been easy to get there on public transport, but I had my car back, so it was a quick drive down the motorway. I pulled into the Adie Moran Park car-park at around 2.30pm, and paid £4 to get in, with a further £2 spent on a programme and a golden goal ticket. From the turnstiles I walked a lap of the ground before heading into the clubhouse, where I paid £1.80 for a can of Diet Coke and a Mars Bar, the clubhouse is a fantastic little place with live sport shown on the big screen. Adie Moran Park is a good little ground, with plenty of room for expansion should the club ever need to do so. From the turnstile I emerged behind the goal, with a small section of covered standing to my right. Along the touchline, nearest to the turnstile, stands the changing rooms and clubhouse, beside these stands a small seater stand, this stand stretches up to the halfway line, before giving way to hard standing. Around the far goal stands more uncovered hard standing, and on the other touchline stands the dugouts, with more hard standing. As I have mentioned Prestwich are blessed with plenty of land in which to grow, one thing that impressed me was how tidy the ground was, with a volunteer making a regular walk around the ground to tidy up any mess, without people like this volunteer the ground wouldn’t look as impressive as it did, so hats off to you sir. (I would like to add at this point, that I put my rubbish in the bins around the ground, of which there were plenty, so there really is no excuse for littering!)
Prestwich Heys’ origins can be traced back to the 9th of February 1938, when a meeting was called at the Music Room of the Heys Road Boys School at which the idea was put forward of forming an Old Boys Association. Following the Second World War the club gradually progressed through the Bury Amateur League and in to the South East Lancashire League claiming the Championship in 1960, 1961 and 1964, the club changed their name in the 1964 season to Prestwich Heys AFC, and acknowledgment of the fame they had achieved by the club as they proved themselves to be one of the top amateur clubs in the nation. In 1967 the club won the Lancashire Amateur League, and followed this by winning the one and only Lancashire Combination Grand Slam in the 1970-1971 season with Heys bringing all four trophies back to Grimshaws. The onslaught of professionalism in the 70s saw the club struggle to maintain its winning ways. The trophy cabinet was to remain bare, apart from a Manchester Amateur Cup won in 1972, and in 1982 the club moved into the newly formed North West Counties League. However ground grading issues were to see them fall into the Manchester Football League in 1986, but this was to be a positive as the club picked up their first trophy for over a decade as they got their hands on the First Division title in 1988. Bury Council relocated the club in 1991 from their Grimshaws home on Heys Road for a new base at Sandgate Road. After suffering relegation in 1996, the club bounced back with the Manchester League double of the First Division Championship and Murray Shield. The 2004-2005 season saw the club take the major prize of their first Manchester League Premier Division title, and they followed this up the next season by retaining the trophy. It was to be hat-trick of Premier Division titles as the club retained the trophy again during the 2006-2007 season, and also lifted the Goldline Trophy after beating Charnock Richard on penalties at the Reebok Stadium. The unfortunate death of Adie Moran on the eve of the 2007-2008 season, left Heys reeling, and in the next four seasons the club struggled, and in 2011 they turned to former player Jon Lyons to resurrect their fortunes. Since then the club have been making steady progress in re-establishing themselves amongst the area’s leading clubs culminating in their return to the North West Counties Football League after a 30 year absence. Heys set their goals, and achieved them, the Manchester League Premier Division was won by 13 points, the Bolton Hospital Cup was secured in a 1-0 victory over Atherton Colleries, this was followed by another 1-0 cup final win, with Heys winning the Gilgryst Cup Final against Manchester Gregorians. This season has seen Heys play well, and they come into this game in 8th in the league, Heys aren’t in the position for the play-offs, but this should be seen as a positive season for them.
Whitchurch Alport were formed in 1946, and took their name from the nearby Alport Farm, which was the home of local footballer, Coley Maddox, who lost his life during WWII. Alport started life in the Shrewsbury & District League, winning the title two years after their formation. The club went on to spend a year in the Birmingham League before becoming a founder member of the Mid Cheshire League in 1948. In the 1969-1970 season the club became the first side to take the Championship out of Cheshire, they also won the Shropshire Country Cup, but were denied the treble by Kidsgrove Athletic as they were beaten 4-2 in the League Cup Final. Whitchurch have strong links with Crewe Alexandra, with a number of players having worn the red jersey of both clubs. Peter Gowans, Billy McGinley, Willy Mailey, Richard Wainwright, Kevin Rafferty and Nick Longley are all fine examples of the link between Alport and the Alex. A certain Jimmy Quinn was to start his playing career for Whitchurch Alport. Alport were to be the first English side to win the Welsh Amateur Cup in 1974 as they beat Cardiff College 2-1. However a decade later and Alport were in decline, a disastrous decision to field on local players resulted in back to back bottom place finishes. Alport then approached Pete Wainwright, then manager of Kidsgrove Athletic, who set about abolishing the local player only policy. With his assistant Willy Mailey, they set about transforming the club’s fortunes. In 2009 the club won the Shropshire County Cup, with a 1-0 win over Wellington Amateurs, however just four years later they club resigned from the Cheshire League only a few weeks before the campaign began, and barely survived. The club took a place in the Mercian Premier Division, but life was to be far from plain sailing, with the club unable to attract the right caliber of players it was only down to the dedication of Gavin Brocklehurst, Phil Denson and Rich O’Keeffe that the Alport managed to stave of the threat of the gates being locked on Yockings Park forever. After a couple of seasons in the Mercian, Alport made the decision to apply to join the NWCFL, however their original application was declined, but a successful appeal was heard at Wembley Stadium, with Alport being allowed to join the NWCFL First Division. A lot of hard work had to be carried out, with their ground having to be bought up to ground grading criteria, not to mention having to build a team ready to compete at this level. In August 2015, Whitchurch played Rochdale Town, at Alport’s highest ever level, with a 1-1 draw resulting in Luke Woollam becoming the first player to score for the club as a NWCFL outfit. Alport are in the play-offs, no matter the result of this game, but the result today will decide on where they sit in the league and who they will face in the play-offs, as a 5th place finish will see them travel to City of Liverpool FC, whereas a 6th place finish would see them face Litherland REMYCA.
With the Mayor of Bury in attendance, the first half kicked off, with both sides playing good football. Prestwich set themselves up in a 3-5-2 formation, with one of their wing-backs remarking that he had the hardest job on the pitch, Whitchurch on the other hand seemingly set up in a 4-4-2 with their wingers pushing forward. The first half was to be an entertaining one with both sides having good chances, but neither was to find a way to get into the lead.
Prestwich were forced into a change in the 35th minute, as Paul Tierney going down in obvious pain, he was replaced by Michael Itela, and after the game it was confirmed that Tierney has ruptured his Achilles tendon, best wishes to him as he looks to make a speedy recovery to the game.
Half Time: Prestwich Heys 0-0 Whitchurch Alport
At half time I glanced at my Golden Goal ticket and sighed, as it read the 12th minute, but then again knowing my luck I could have bought 90 of them, and still not won. Also at half time I made my way round the other touchline and took a position by the dugouts. Prestwich made a change at half time with Chris Baguley coming on to replace Brad Lyons.
It didn’t take long for the deadlock to be broken, as in the 51st minute, Alex Hughes netted the first goal of the game, putting Whitchurch into the lead with a lovely low finish past the Heys’ keeper.
The 58th minute saw Heys make their last change of the game, with James Hampson coming on to replace Greg Wills, with only 14 players on duty, it clearly appeared that Heys were down to their barebones.
Alex Hughes did it again in the 68th minute, as he latched on to the ball in the area, following a defensive error, and slotted the ball past the outstretched Heys’ keeper’s fingertips into the back of the net. Whatever had been said at half time had clearly spurred Whitchurch into action, and they were beginning to show why they had made the play-offs.
The 78th minute saw Alport make a double change, with Callum Jones coming on for Dean Twigg, and Louis James coming on for Alex Hughes.
Prestwich were still very much in the match, despite the score line, and clearly wanted to finish the season on a high. They were handed a lifeline in the 87th minute as they were awarded a penalty. Lee O’Brien stepped up to take the penalty and hit the ball perfectly into the back of the net, scoring what will be his last goal for the club as he retires this year. Alport made a switch before the goal, with Stevie McNichol coming on for Carl Everall.
Prestwich continued to push for an equalizer, with their keeper making his way forward for a corner kick. Part of me hoped for the keeper to score, as that would’ve been bloody brilliant (who doesn’t love seeing a keeper score?) and part of me wanted to see Alport clear the ball and score a long range effort. In the end neither happened, and the referee bought the game to an end.
Final Score: Prestwich Heys 1-2 Whitchurch Alport (O’Brien 87 – Hughes 51, 68)
Following the final whistle I made my way out of the ground, and got back into my car. There was a heart in mouth moment as the car seemingly refused to move, as I had marked with my front wheels on some grass, but after a few seconds the wheels found some traction and I made my way back to Chorley. Earlier on in the blog I bemoaned my luck when it came to the Golden Goal, but in reality I shouldn’t complain. On the M60 there were some delays, as a car had ended up on its roof in the fast lane, and I can only hope that no-one was injured as a result of this.
Three points for Alport sees them remain in 5th place in the league, and they will now face City of Liverpool FC in the play-off semi-finals, best of luck to them in that clash, as with Whitchurch being a Shropshire side, I would obviously love to see them do well. The other play-off semi-final will feature 3rd placed Litherland REMYCA taking on 6th place Sandbach, a game that I am tempted to attend.
Prestwich remain in 8th despite the defeat, and hopefully will be able to build on this season. Prestwich Heys is a wonderful club, and with it being so well placed near to a number of transport links I would whole-heartedly recommend anyone to go and pay the club a visit.
I feel I should end this blog by congratulating Widnes and Charnock Richard. Widnes have won the NWCFL First Division, and Charnock finished as runners-up meaning that both clubs will move into the NWCFL Premier Division, replacing New Mills, Nelson and Cammell Laird who have all, unfortunately, been relegated. The question now is who will be the third side to be promoted? My hopes are that Whitchurch will make their way up the leagues, but the play-offs are a lottery.
Thanks for reading.
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