Our Lips Are Sealed

STEETON 1 GARSTANG 4

NWCFL First Division North

A game of two halves they say. Well this was kind of like that, if one half was 30 minutes long and the other 60.

Following a nice tootle over the hills of Lancashire and into Yorkshire passing through Cowling, a ground there seen that I need to head back for. We dropped down to Cougar Park, home of Keighley Cougars and Steeton AFC. This is a gem of a stadium for non-league footy, another Rugby League ground I have seen footy at, a list that I hope to continue to grow beyond the few I have already attended. I need to look into getting to more.

Money paid, last programme bought, raffle tickets bought (not sure if we won or not) we went into the clubhouse for a bit of food and a drink and straight back out for kick-off. It was a good job we did as seconds into the game a burst of speed by the hosts Jeffery saw him through on goal and he slotted the ball past the keeper Kitchen, 1-0.

Garstang were straight into the game after that but just could not get going. Ten minutes in we had a delay; after a 2 minute wait for the hosts keeper to change his boots, then another minute whilst he put his gloves on we got back underway. The game was even, both teams trying to create without quite managing it, a number of balls disappearing into the Industrial Estates surrounding the ground it looked increasingly like we had were in for a cagey game.

Then came a game changing moment, Steeton wasting an outstanding chance to make it 2-0, a goalmouth scramble ensued, but the score remained the same. That was their chance. Five or so minutes later instead of being two goals ahead they game was level. A deep cross from the reds right-back Melling was perfect, Coar of the #10 variety simply nodded it in through Thorpey’s grasp. Maybe those gloves hadn’t been put back on correctly. 1-1.

After the break the game was as one-sided as I have seen for a while. Yes Steeton had moments, but they were too late and too infrequent. A minute after the restart and we had another goal at the Terry Hollindrake Stand, this wasn’t as stylish, but very simple. Coar #10 crossed to the far post for Coar #9 to nod in. 1-2.

Garstang controlled things so much from here on in you had to wonder if they would regret not taking the number of chances they created. Luckily for the Lancashire side they didn’t. With 10 minutes to go they made the game safe. Again scorer turned provider, Coar #9 passing to Hothersall who had the simple task of putting the ball home. 1-3.

The final goal came courtesy of the guy who didn’t have the greatest afternoon of his life; Steeton’s keeper Thorpey. He dropped a corner straight to Coar #9. He did the rest. 1-4.

On this performance and having watched a few teams from this league this season, how on earth are Garstang near the foot of the table?

Attendance: 106

Moment of the Match: Not a match moment. The main stand at Cougar Park is a beauty. If you have not been then go. It is a gem.

Match Tunes: Beauty and the Beat – The Go-Go’s

It Ain’t What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It

MOSSLEY 3 OSSETT UNITED 2

Northern Premier League North West Division

I hope that those present remember this game for the good that happened, this was a decent end to end match with both teams creating a number of chances.

In a game where one set of fans or the others seemed to be unhappy with the referee I thought he got most decisions correct, including the early penalty awarded to United for a foul on Greaves. The striker picked himself up, dusted himself down and scored to give the visitors the lead. 0-1.

It didn’t take long for the Lilywhites to draw level, substitute Hanley cutting in from the wing and shooting low, unfortunately for Ossett’s stopper Souter, they ball somehow evaded him and found the back of the net. 1-1.

Greaves then saw Mossley’s stopper Roberts deny him when through on goal and shortly afterwards with a spectacular save from his header. Then Basic curled in a free-kick on target, Roberts saved well, he had been warned. The break came with the game in the balance. Mossley having more of the possession, the visitors the better chances.

When we got restarted it was Souter’s turn to impress with a brilliant one handed stop from a Halfacre header.

Despite both teams pushing forward we looked like we could be heading for a draw with both sets of forwards having an increasingly frustrating afternoon. Step up United’s number 10, Basic. His free-kick from 20 yards out was curled perfectly over the wall and beyond Roberts’ grasp. Had the visitors snatched the game? 1-2.

Cue Mossley’s second inspired substitution. With Hanley already on for the injured Abadaki, the hosts changed Rainford for Halfacre. It worked a treat. With 10 minutes to go he turned and played a perfect cross-box ball to the oncoming Hanley who buried beyond Souter. 2-2.

A couple of minutes or so later Rainford hit the post. He had lifted his side. He then got the winner. Well I thought he did. Substitute Hanley fed another replacement Fitzgerald, his shot saw Souter get a hand to it, but he hadn’t stopped it. The ball hit the post and bobbled along the line. Rainford tapped it in from 2 inches out. 3-2. The man on the tannoy gave it to Rainford but then took it away. Either way the game was won.

A bloody good game.

Attendance: 341

Moment of the Match: When the ball was bobbling along the line before Rainford turned it in. Heart stopping moments like this are brilliant. Well, unless you were from Ossett.

Match Tunes: Fun Boy Three – Fun Boy Three

No Dancing

CHADDERTON 1 DAISY HILL 1

NWCFL First Division North

This was a pretty decent game. A fine Dean Singleton header gave the visitors the lead shortly before half-time and the equaliser came with 15 minutes to go through Jordan Butterworth, though I am sure the Cutters keeper Dryden will be unhappy about letting it in.

However. With the visitors leading 1-0 Chaddy got a free-kick at the Fire Station end. I was down the other end. it looked about 25 yards out. It was hit well. It beat the keeper. It hit the bar. It came back out.

For those a little older than me, their man is Roger Davies of Derby County. In the early 1970s playing at Chelsea, he went on a run, went round the keeper and missed. He overran the ball. He missed a sitter.

My generation will remember Gordon Smith of Brighton & Hove Albion. In the dying embers of the 1983 FA Cup Final he was presented with an incredible chance against Manchester United. He managed to hit the ball straight at Gary Bailey. The match was drawn. United won the replay 4-0. He missed a sitter.

Those a little younger. Ronnie Rosenthal. Playing for Liverpool he latched on to a log kick by David James, he takes the ball round the Aston Villa keeper with aplomb. He takes the ball towards the empty goal and from 7 yards out he hits the bar. He missed a sitter.

Kids, they will think of Fernando Torres. Chelsea trailing 3-1 at Manchester United with 5 minutes or so to go he is played in on goal. He side steps van der Sar, the goal is at his mercy. He puts it wide. A deflating confidence is destroyed. He missed a sitter.

For the 73 in attendance at Chadderton, we will remember Leon Ilube. That ball that hit the bar came out and from what looked like about 5 yards out with the keeper prone, the goal gaping he missed. The ball went into orbit. He missed a sitter.

Attendance: 73

Moment of the Match: Chadderton’s second half onslaught. Hit the bar twice, had another kicked off the line. Should have won this comfortably.

Match Tunes: My Aim is True – Elvis Costello

Tora! Tora! Tora!

HYDE UNITED 1 GAINSBOROUGH TRINITY 1

Northern Premier League Premier Division

Much like my history with Hyde United, their own has been one very much of ups and downs since their original forming in 1885.

I am sure all reading this will be very much aware of the 26-0 scoreline that the club lost to Preston North End in the late 19th century, though some sources advise that the true score was actually 28-0. Not the best of starts for the club. I first saw them in 2013 when they lost 2-0 at home to Gateshead in the then Conference Premier Division during a season when they only won once, away at Welling United. The club at the receiving end of a Twitter account @HasHydeWonYet which tweted after every game ‘No’.

After moving to their present home early in the 20th century, the club disbanded during the Great War. My next Hyde experience was on New Years Day in 2015, and a 7-1 humiliation at the hands of rivals Stalybridge Celtic in another season of woe and relegation.

Things would soon improve though, the club reformed in 1919 and went from strength to strength, winning trophies, runs in the FA Cup before joining the Northern Premier League in the 1980s. I saw United involved in another 7-1 scoreline in September 2015 when they at last won in my presence, thrashing Stamford as the club started to gain a foothold and stop the rot, just over a month later they overcame Colwyn Bay 3-2.

After a new main stand was built, runs in the FA Cup continued along with a couple of appearances in the FA Trophy semi-final where the trip to Wembley eluded them in consecutive years. I next saw them on a Monday night in February against Whitby Town. The visitors arriving late due to traffic and the game finishing very late, though the Tigers ran out 2-1 winners.

Following promotion after a controversial title award in 2005, money trouble, a partnership with Manchester City they reached the Conference Premier Division in 2012. They were on a high. It would be nearly 2 years after my visit for the Whitby Town match when I saw United again, beating Colne 1-0 on a bittely cold February afternoon in 2018.

Good times don’t last and the afore mentioned Conference freefall soon occurred with the Tigers eventually finishing up in the Northern Premier League Division 1 North. It was at this level when I saw them lose 1-0 at Trafford in March last year. Promotion followed for Hyde and they currently find themselves mid-table though not in the best of form. An indifferent November finished with a 0-0 home draw against Witton Albion. December has seen them lose at lowly Atherton Collieries before another 0-0 home draw in the League Cup against Lancaster City; they did win on penalties.

So to this game against bottom of the table Gainsborough Trinity. The first half was a non-event, neither side producing anything of note. The game took a turn for the better after half-time. United taking the lead through Dyche after five minutes or so of the second period, Trinity deservedly levelling with about 15 minutes to go through Dunne. My over-riding memory of the game will be of 2 misses by Trinity’s Hannah, luckily for him the second was given as offside, it was a sitter, of the bib variety. A draw was a fair outcome.

Attendance: 323

Moment of the Match: Trinity’s goal. One of the very few moments of class in this game. Wonderful through ball to Dunne who stuck the ball away with ease.

Match Tunes: Speak & Spell – Depeche Mode

There Will Be Chances

MANCHESTER UNITED 4 ALKMAAR ZAANSTREEK 0

UEFA Europa League Group L

This was the final group match and I had been to all 3. To be honest, after the Astana game I would have questioned if I would have stayed the course. However, following a much improved performance against Partizan I was up for this. But then the weather kicked in, I ummed and aahed over it and eventually decided it would be better than staying in, but only just.

So after an hour’s stroll I found myself crossing the railway line and entering the Munich Tunnel at the Stretford End and taking my seat near the tunnel. I was ready.

The opponents on this wet Thursday were Alkmaar Zaanstreek, although incorrectly referred to as AZ Alkmaar just about everywhere you look. A quick look at their history showed a list of some pretty decent ex-players. Anyone a bit older will surely remember Johnny Metgod, also once of Real Madrid and Nottingham Forest, where he scored a quite brilliant free-kick vs. West Ham United , the recently deceased Fernando Ricksen, Graziano Pelle and United’s keeper for the night, Sergio Romero. My other nugget of information is their nickname, they are wonderfully called ‘The Cheeseheads’. Love it.

Both sides came out in red, the visitors dispensing of their tracksuit tops that saved and amusing spectacle and played in black. I thought the visitors were the better side in the first half, restricting their host to very little attacking wise and creating a few decent half-chances, with their left winger Idrissi in particular catching the eye.

The second half was somewhat different, this time it was the hosts left winger, Pereira, who started to rattle the opposition. A cool finish from a tight angel by Young, sweet strike number 1 from Greenwood, penalty from Mata and finally sweet strike number 2 from Greenwood all within 12 minutes early in the second half finished this game off.

Both sides progress into the draw for the next round, with United’s potential opponents including Rangers and Roma, AZ’s could be Arsenal and Inter Milan. I’m sure both will hope for an easier tie in February.

Attendance: 65,773

Moment of the Match: More of a general nod. After seeing the ‘mob’ that AZ had brought I expected a din, but it was United’s new singing section that were in fine voice barely stopping all night.

Match Tunes: Different Days – The Charlatans

Happy Endings

BRADFORD CITY 1 NEWPORT COUNTY 0

Football League Two

Following a late change of plan due to reasons that I will not go into here, I was left looking for a new adventure. So three games picked as alternatives, the choice would be picked by whichever bus turned up first. Valley Parade, as I and most of the footy world know it has been on my list for a while, and so when the number 15 turned up a short bus ride followed by a tram to Victoria Station. Ten minutes later than scheduled we set off over the hills to Bradford.

Arrival kept down to the same ten minutes delay a 25 minutes stroll to City’s home followed with a fair number of police along the route and I was at my destination. After exchanging some money for a ticket I made my way inside to be greeted by a Salvation Army Brass Band and two of the most pleasant females serving at a kiosk that I have ever encountered inside a football ground.

I was told as a kid by my Gran that if I didn’t have anything good to say then it was better saying nothing at all. So after the sides came out for the second half a football match finally started. The home fans had finally found their voice, and drum, and things started to happen. County went close with their first effort of the game, before City took the lead. County’s Inniss passed back from must be 50 yards out, those of us on the upper tiers could see Vaughan waiting, he pounced, with all the time in the world he went round the visiting keeper Townsend. The keeper pulled Vaughan down, was lucky to get away with a yellow. Vaughan dispatched. 1-0.

The yellow card was a decision that was to keep the score down to just the one goal. City kicked on and the Welsh side’s stopper was in form, two great saves keeping the Bantams out. So the only other thing of note was due to the number of players with head injuries, mostly County, we finished with 9 minutes of added on time. Though this saw a return to the first half standard. Off I trundled into the dark Christmas lit night and my train and follow-on journey home.

Attendance: 14,016

Moment of the Match: The half-time whistle! Put an end to the worst 45 minutes of football I have seen in a long time. If not ever.

Match Tunes: His ‘N’ Hers – Pulp

Down the Dip

CLITHEROE 6 OSSETT UNITED 1

Northern Premier League North West Division

It has been over 5 years since I visited this neck of woods and a return has been long overdue. As was seeing the hosts win a game. Six previous games had resulted in 3 draws and 3 defeats, including a quite bizarre 6-1 defeat at Burscough.

Burscough raced into an early lead and wiped the floor with Clitheroe, 3-0 up inside 10 minutes or so, the 6th came shortly after the half hour. The visitors claiming the consolation 10 minutes into the second half. The floodlights started going out at one end, the end Burscough were attacking, with the hosts obviously desperate that the game finished they practically refused to attack, the visitors wanting the game stopped as half the pitch was getting darker and darker. The referee finished the game keeping half of those there happy at least.

So here I was, back at Shawbridge and in search of that, so far, elusive Clitheroe victory. It’s a great ground Shawbridge, love the little bits dotted around, though changes have been made at the Castle End since my last visit the rest seemed pretty much the same. Including the pitch. This is one of my favourites. It slopes from side to side with dips and rises seemingly all over it. It is brilliant and if this was ever to be levelled then football will have lost a gem.

A friendly welcome at the gate by club volunteers, excellent food at the Tub Grub and a pretty decent clubhouse too; friendly smiles and greeting awaits all around this ground.

Underway it took a little while to get going, but once we did the hosts were in charge, though the opening 45 minutes were pretty much a tale of them wasting chances. The other action of note was a game changer. The blues forward Gaul was through on goal, fouled by Knowles and awarded a penalty, the red that followed for the defender looked a little harsh to me, but that would be being picky against the official. Especially when he and his colleagues looked to be spot on with their decisions for the rest of the afternoon.  Back to the penalty, Gaul coolly trotted up to the ball and scored.

Following the obligatory break the match continued and it struggled to get going for a while. Gaul added his second, played through, this time with no defender to foul him he scored and with 10 minutes remaining the score was 2-0. Then things went a bit crazy, Clitheroe’s sub Strizaker headed a third, United pulled one back through Greaves, who must have the whitest teeth in non-league football. Carney scored a fourth with a strike from outside the area, Strizaker scored again before Carney added the sixth with the defence just allowing shots from wherever the blues wanted.

As the ref blew time on this game and the fans headed for the warmth, United’s manager Benn must have breathed a sigh of relief that this was only 6.

Attendance: 416

Moment of the Match: When United decided after pulling a goal back to make it 3-1 to totally neglect any defensive duties. Opened the gates for another 3 from the hosts

Match Tunes: High Land, Hard Rain – Aztec Camera

Blue Pastures

MANCHESTER CITY 2 CHELSEA 1

FA Premier League

So it was onto the Etihad Stadium from Dukinfield Town, just a 10 minutes bus ride followed by 20 minutes on a tram and you are a million miles away. Football at the top in this country is so far removed from the rest of the game it is unbelievable. A bit like society really.

So after a security check just shy of airport standard I am into City’s home. Taken over after the Commonwealth Games and moved into in 2003 there was little further development until the present owners took over. Since then the ground is continually being developed, an extra tier behind one goal and a ‘tunnel club’ just scratch the surface of what has gone on in this east Manchester complex.

My father, a season ticket holder for 30+ years and a regular for 30+ more years on top of that was away on holiday and gave up his seat to me. He had told me he was close to the City bench, just how close was revealed upon me taking my seat. Any closer and I would have been sat with them. Great seat Dad.

A group of men waited for their moment in ‘Silva 21’ shirts after sponsoring some part of the afternoon, the Tunnel Club patrons shown to their seats, kids ready for their photo with the team. All part of the modern day Premier League experience. The two sides came out and finally after all of those who had partaken in the pre-match moments had gone we were going to get a game.

Though you don’t do you? I had 3 people to my left continually trying to take photo’s of those on the bench, there were a number on the four rows in front of me doing the same and I am sure all around the ground a similar number of tales were unfolding. The Premier League is a different ball game to when I fell out of love with it. Not for the better.

The match? City came from behind to win 2-1. After De Bruyne and Willian both wasted excellent chances, Chelsea took the lead midway through the first half with a goal by Kante. The midfielder through on goal after Pep had screamed at his defence not to drop deep. They stepped up, Kante walked through and was away. His finish bobbling over the line. City looked a little nervy.

It didn’t take long for them to draw level though. De Bruyne’s shot deflecting off Zouma to take it past Kepa and level the scores and then we had the best moment of the game with Mahrez cutting in from the right wing between 2 defenders, as he was being closed down his shot along the ground giving Kepa no chance. 2-1 City.

Aguero missed a sitter given to him on a plate by Kepa. Both sides had further chances to add to their tally without taking them before in the embers of the game Sterling put City 3-1 up. His name was announced in the ground as the scorer of the third before VAR decided NO! Bit farcical this now isn’t it?

Attendance: 54,486

Moment of the Match: Finally getting to the match.

Match Tunes: Whiplash – James

The Number of the Beast

DUKINFIELD TOWN 3 STOCKPORT GEORGIANS 0

Manchester Football League Premier Division

With my father’s season ticket for City in my pocket for the next few weeks and an evening kick-off I had a spare afternoon. I had to find my 666th game. Plan A; Droylsden v Workington. Bad plan, due to them playing each other in the Trophy a few weeks before, one of them was going to be engaged today. I had required Droylsden to win and then get drawn at home. Workington won. Damn. Daft plan. Plan B?

I grew up in Dukinfield, left in my teenage years and rarely been back. However, I have long since promised myself a visit to watch ‘Duki Town’ and so with here was my opportunity.

I thought I would make the most of the buses and after a 50 minutes journey to Stockport I boarded another for a 35 minute journey to Dukinfield before a final 15 minutes stroll to Woodhams Park.

For 45 minutes I wondered if I had made the correct decision. The game struggled to get going, as both sides were cancelling each other out. Town managed to hit the bar, but other than that neither keeper was really tested. As the referee signalled the end of the first half both sides (and officials) took the break on the pitch due to the distance they would need to go to the changing rooms.

Maybe the need to warm up on this bitterly cold afternoon had both sides ready to go at it from the off, but go for it they did and within minutes the game had vastly improved for the spectators. Ten minutes into the half and the referee made 2 penalty calls within 2 minutes of each other. He got one wrong, a Georgians player was pushed over in the box, the referee’s view was blocked by the defender but a penalty it was, I was 10 yards away. Down the other end he got it correct and awarded Dukinfield a spot-kick which was scored, 1-0. From that moment on Town took control of the game.

A second followed late on with an effort from just outside the box leaving Georgians’ keeper with no chance as it flew into the top corner, a slight deflection not making much difference to the outcome, 2-0. A third followed up the death as the visitors keeper was unable to hold onto a low effort and the follow-up was thumped home from close range 3-0.

That said Georgians had their moments, an effort kicked off the line with the score at 1-0 and a penalty after the third, not the best struck effort you will see and it was saved quite easily.

Attendance: 37 (Head Count)

Moment of the Match: Dukinfield Town taking the ball into the corner to waste time when 3-0 up. Why?

Match Tunes: The Number of the Beast – Iron Maiden