2019/20: An Incredible Journey. A Pause.

And then came the Coronavirus Pandemic!

A country in lockdown – no more spectator sport, no more football.

When the situation eased in Germany, I tried getting my footie fix by watching the Bundesliga on TV but found it unbearable. I think it was the lack of crowd noise and probably because I don’t have any affiliation with a German side.

When the Premier League came back with added crowd noise I did find that better, and of course I had a greater interest through being a Chelsea supporter and the knowledge and familiarity that brings in terms of the Premier League. Given the blanket coverage by Sky, BBC etc. I also got the opportunity to see all of The Blues league games and the conclusion of their FA Cup involvement.

2020 FA Cup Final programme cover

It proved to be an exciting end to the Premier League season especially with the tense run-in to see whether Chelsea would make a top four finish, which they finally did with help of the woeful form of Leicester City. The Blues also made it to the FA Cup final beating Manchester United in the Semi-Final at an empty Wembley Stadium. Obviously, I was sad about the final result against Arsenal, but also disappointed with the level of refereeing. Mateo Kovacic should never have had a second yellow for that challenge, and I would have loved to have seen a replay of Gunners ‘keeper Emiliano Martínez “handball” incident in the second-half but can’t find a replay of it anywhere!!

However, it all looks good for next season with Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech already in the bag, and fingers crossed for Kai Havertz – we look stronger going forward. The club did well in blooding some youngsters through the season and it will be good to see this continue. I think Mason Mount will be a regular, Reece James has to unseat Dave at right back, but we have great cover there. Other youngsters I hope get more game time next season would be Billy Gilmour, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Fikayo Tomori. But we need to shore up the defence, we need a left back – shame we sold Tariq Lamptey to Brighton last season but need a defensive option with experience. We also need a commanding centre half, Christensen, Zouma and Rudiger, are too similar, and I feel we need another JT (John Terry). I think Fikayo can be this player but is too young and inexperienced so needs to be brought through without affecting his confidence.

But what of last season and my Incredible Journey?  What an adventure and a strange ending to boot. First of all the statistics, let’s get the boring bit out of the way:

    • 28 matches attended, 22 new ones to add to my list of grounds (current and previous members of the Football League and FA Cup winners)
    • I mingled amongst 137,781 fans, the biggest being at Turf Moor for Chelsea’s victory over Burnley (20,975) and the smallest being 2 – myself and one of the players girlfriends, at the Clapham Rovers vs Ladzio cup game, the next smallest being 54 at Shelley. An overall average attendance of 4,921.
    • 12 wins, 6 away wins and 10 draws. 55 goals (33 first half, 22 second half. 31 home goals and 24 away goals).
    • On the road I travelled 2,476 miles, slightly skewed by a trip to Edinburgh to see Hearts vs Stenhousemuir (as part of holiday) and a trip to London, but I did manage to squeeze three games into that trip. The Clapham game being Sunday football was free and I was treated to a few games from Paul, Frank and Nick – cheers lads, but in total I spent £415.50 for my tickets, I would say extremely good value’


Let’s start with the least favourite game. Lincoln City away at Blackpool. An awful journey, sheeting rain all the way there and all the way back, delays on the M62 for the usual unknown reason other than the volume of traffic. I arrived twenty minutes after kick-off, missed all the goals and Lincoln lost. There’s always going to be one of these games a season and to be fair I kept drier at this game than others I had attended – it’s grim up north!

Clapham Rovers and guest!

The London weekend was definitely one of the highlights, not just the trip down to see my friends and family but the football aspect too. Two games on the Saturday – Brentford and AFC Wimbledon, and an absolute cracking time talking football and music with my mate Paul. We also got to see the developing new Brentford ground and on the Sunday I went to see the new stadium at Plough Lane.  I followed this up watching Clapham Rovers in my old stomping ground in the Wimbledon/Southfields area. I had a great chat with their captain and manager Chris Kew, talking their plans for the coming years which (fingers crossed) might include a game against Charterhouse Old Boys, who of course are Old Carthusians FC winners of the FA Cup in 1880/81 – Rovers having already played against another Victorian FA Cup winning team, Wanderers FC in a charity game. On that Sunday I managed to get some cheeky photos of the team with me as their added guest. They invited me to the pub after the game, unfortunately I had other plans (a family meal) but wondered if perhaps they went to one of my old drinking haunts, The Pig and Whistle. I shall definitely be watching them again next time I am in London.

Stamford Bridge before development
Sincil Bank before development

Favourite grounds visited. I have enjoyed every ground I have visited during my journey for a multitude of reasons but primarily from a historical perspective. There are two grounds I have seen evolve over a number of years, Chelsea’s home, Stamford Bridge from the late 1960s and Lincoln City’s Sincil Bank stadium, from the early 1970s. It has influenced my preference for authentic and historic grounds, so unsurprisingly my favourite grounds on this journey have an element of history attached to them. The trip to London saw me visit Griffin Park, unique due to having a pub on each of the four corners of the ground and has been the home of Brentford since 1904. It was a privilege to attend what turned out to be the penultimate home game in front of their fans. The visit to Moss Rose – who knows what future lies for Macclesfield Town – was also a highlight, attending a ground which has been their home since 1891.  Probably my two favourites were Turf Moor where Burnley, founder members of the Football League, have played since 1883 and the Anchor Ground where AFC Darwen now ply their trade and where the original Darwen FC played from 1899, where the clubhouse draws upon their historic beginnings.

As we have seen through lockdown and the coverage of football on TV, the game is nothing without fans in the ground. Most games have gone to form as opposed to offering the smaller home side the advantage of having a crowd baying them on. Throughout this journey, the fans have been brilliant right from the small 50+ attendances at both the Shelley games I attended to my visit to Turf Moor. The Bolton Wanderers (another founder member but sadly no longer at Burnden Park – I think I shall add visits to former ground sites for future seasons) vs Coventry game had a fabulous atmosphere, I really felt part of the crowd and was jumping up and cheering Bolton on. The primary reason for my support of The Trotters on the day was due to Bolton’s dire financial situation and their decision to play a team with an average age of 19 who absolutely ran their socks off and received a standing ovation from both sets of fans at the end. The Stalybridge Celtic vs FC United of Manchester game at Bower Fold, where they have played since 1906, was a Charity Day and so which boosted the attendance. In addition, it was a local derby and ‘Staly’ were also at home to a side who had spent some time as tenants at the ground and have a good away following, so all contributing on the day to a crowd three times the average home gate. I would also say that this was probably the best game I watched over the journey bar one.

Burnley v Chelsea programme cover

Of course it has to be Chelsea, but not just for Chelsea sake. Firstly, the company – one of my best friends who had stuck by me and helped me in my hour of greatest need and my gorgeous daughter. It was also a birthday treat from Frank and Michelle just before my birthday. Secondly, the history of the ground and the home team. Additionally, the seats were perfect, with a view just above pitch level and close to the action – it’s a very compact ground. It was to be the only Premier League game of the season I attended, although I think I have come to prefer lower league football, given that it is usually a much closer game and better matched quality wise than the higher leagues which are usually determined by money. However, at Turf Moor, the quality of the players on show, the athleticism and speed of the players was evident. It was a joy to marvel at the technical ability of the players and to have the opportunity to see a number of Chelsea’s new stars, and of course Pulisic stood out with his perfect hat trick. A game of six goals – Chelsea 4 – 0 up and cruising until their leaky 2019/20 defence managed to ship two late goals – an exciting game throughout.  And lastly but not least, probably the best match programme of the journey.

So what of the season ahead? Well unsurprisingly, it all depends when they start letting fans into the grounds. I would attempt 51 games in 2020/21 but I can’t imagine at that stage that the season will start with fans, and I fear there is likely to be a second peak of the coronavirus or perhaps a mutation which will probably see us in lockdown again. Fingers crossed it does not hit over the winter during the periods of high influenza across the nation.

Badge of Loch Ness FC

However, if/once fans are allowed to return, I think I will concentrate on adding to my collection of Football League games as well as local midweek games in the local leagues.  I have plans to visit friends and family in London again, so clubs such as Leyton Orient, Millwall, and grounds like the Emirates Stadium, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London Stadium, new Plough Lane and Brentford Community Stadium, all are on the list and of course if Clapham Rovers are at home Sunday league football, I would make a return trip. I also plan to visit friends in Devon so possible destinations include Torquay United, Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle and if I plan properly I might be able to catch a game on the way down and back on both trips. I also have a cousin who lives near the Bescott Stadium (home of Walsall), so I can get the opportunity to visit some Midlands clubs too. I also have two good friends in the village where I live – one a Manchester United fan and the other a Leeds United fan and we are planning a trip to the Highlands to take in a game at Loch Ness and Fort William, no doubt we will be able to find a Warrior games around the same time.

For now though, we will just see what happens.

I’ll leave you with the list of games that comprised my Incredible Journey:

24 July 2019 – Betfred Cup Section A: Hearts 2-1 Stenhousemuir

03 August 2019 – Sky Bet Championship: Barnsley 1-0 Fulham

10 August 2019 – Sky Bet League One: Bolton Wanderers 0-0 Coventry City

13 August 2019 – Vanarama National League: Stockport County 3-2 Barrow

17 August 2019 – Sky Bet Championship: Blackburn Rovers 1-0 Middlesbrough

24 August 2019 – North West Counties League First Division North: Nelson 0-0 Shelley

27 August 2019 – Carabao Cup – Second Round: Rochdale 2-1 Carlisle United

31 August 2019 – Sky Bet League Two: Scunthorpe United 0-1 Carlisle United

03 September 2019 – Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay: Glossop North End 3-1 Eccleshill United

07 September 2019 – Sky Bet League Two: Macclesfield Town 1-1 Crawley Town

21 September 2019 – Sky Bet League One: Rotherham United 0-0 Shrewsbury Town

27 September 2019 – Sky Bet League One: Blackpool 2-1 Lincoln City

05 October 2019 – BetVictor NPL Premier Division: Stalybridge Celtic 2-3 FC United of Manchester

08 October 2019 – Vanarama National League: FC Halifax Town 0-0 Chorley

19 October 2019 – Sky Bet League Two: Oldham Athletic 0-1 Macclesfield Town

26 October 2019 – Premier League: Burnley 2-4 Chelsea

02 November 2019 – Vanarama National North: York City 1-1 Kidderminster Harriers

11 January 2020 – Sky Bet League Two: Salford City 1-2 Northampton Town

21 January 2020 – Vanarama National North: Guiseley 1-2 Darlington

28 January 2020 – Wigan Athletic 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday

04 February 2020 – North West Counties League First Division North: Shelley 2-1 Garstang

08 February 2020 – North West Counties League First Division North: AFC Darwen 3-3 Daisy Hill

18 February 2020 – BetVictor NPL Premier Division: FC United of Manchester 2-1 Stafford Rangers

22 February 2020 – Sky Bet Championship: Brentford 2-2 Blackburn Rovers

22 February 2020 – Sky Bet League One: AFC Wimbledon 0-0

23 February 2020 – Frank Blunstone Cup: Clapham Rovers 1-1 Ladzio (Ladzio won 6-5 on penalties)

07 March 2020 – Vanarama National North: Bradford (Park Avenue) 2-1 Chester

12 March 2020 – BetVictor NPL North/West Division: Pontefract Collieries 4-0 Droylsden

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 27 (Game 28) – Thursday 12 March 2020: Pontefract Collieries v Droylsden

What did they used to say about Arsenal under Arsene Wenger? Something like – they don’t fancy it much on a wet and windy Wednesday night at Stoke City. Well goodness knows then what they would make of storm conditions on a Thursday night in Pontefract.

Matchday programme cover

Little was I to know that this would be my final game of the season, Pontefract Collieries versus Droylsden in the BetVictor Northern Premier League, and tonight I was afforded VIP treatment with a couple of free coffees and access to the warm club room. It was good that my last game of the season was with Paul too as he had reignited my journey following my dip in mood over the Christmas period, but he was here in an official capacity hence my access to club room.

Pontefract Collieries origins are a little sketchy to say the least. A team called Tanshelf Gems acquired the Ackworth Road ground and renamed themselves Pontefract United. Pontefract Collieries became United’s local rivals shortly after the Second World War, but by the 1960s Collieries had disappeared and the name was adopted by a local youth side which merged with United and adopted the Collieries name.

This season, we have been to some wet games before tonight, namely at FC Halifax Town and FC United of Manchester, but this was a different level and there were doubts whether the game would go ahead. We got the nod, one of the only games that took place that night. Whilst most of those games were postponed due to the wet weather, others had gone the same way due to concerns about COVID-19. Little did we know that night what was to follow.

Down-pour at kick-off

For kick-off we took our place in the main seated stand, and I learnt that the seats had been obtained from Manchester City when the Maine Road ground was demolished. At the whistle to start the game, another burst of rain hammered down. Ponte were in the Play-Off positions and dominated from the off, going ahead within the opening quarter of an hour. Droylsden (nicknamed The Bloods, due to their early red playing kits) lost possession in midfield, with the ball eventually falling for Michael Dunn who slotted home from six-yards out. Droylsden though undaunted created chances to level the game, Jackson Hulme having his shot tipped over the bar by Colls ‘keeper Seb Malkowski and he was called into action again to thwart Travis Boyle who was put through on goal. Ponte made their visitors pay though just after the half-hour. Dunn was brought and Connor Smyth did the rest from the penalty spot. Then just seven minutes later, it was 3-0, when Joe Lumsden headed in from a corner. At the half-time whistle we were glad to get into the club room and warm-up with a hot coffee as officials from both clubs mulled over the first forty-five minutes.

Second-half. View towards main stand.

For the second-half, Paul and I changed our watching position, going behind the goal under the covered terracing, chatting with the Droylsden Club Officials. With a gale blowing, The Bloods played into the wind and barely got out of their half, as wave after wave of Ponte attacks came. But for Elliot Wynne in goal for the visitors it could easily have been eight or nine, as he made some superb saves. Brad Dockerty did get a fourth for Ponte on sixty-four minutes, but they couldn’t add any more as Wynne continued to make saves and the home side wasted a number of other opportunities. The Colls were worthy winners, on a night that despite the conditions provided good entertainment for the 123 hardy souls who attended.


Thursday 12 March 2020

Bet Victor Northern North West Division

Pontefract Collieries 4 (Dunn 14’, Smythe 31’ pen, Lumsden 38’. Dockerty 64’) Droylsden 0

Venue: The Football Family Stadium

Attendance: 123

Pontefract Collieries: Malkowski, Greenhough (Williams), Smythe, Picton, Clarke (Rothery), Ible, Broadhead, Cromack, Dockerty, Lumsden, Dunn (Starcenko)

Unused substitutes: Retford, Baxendale.

Droylsden: Wynne, Antoine-Clark (Wych), Lattie, Rooney, Coveney, Hulme, Bianga, Smith, O’Neill (Diakite), Boyles (Wright)

Unused substitutes:: Holford, Wolland.


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 26 (Game 27) – Saturday 07 March 2020: Bradford (Park Avenue) v Chester

Matchday programme cover

Back up North and  a trip to geographically one of my closest ex-league clubs in Bradford (Park Avenue) who had been inconveniently playing at times I was unable to get to games so this was my first opportunity. I’d been warned by Paul that I might be disappointed with the stadium, as it’s in the style of European clubs with a running-track meaning spectators are a bit away from the action.

Bradford (Park Avenue) – the Park Avenue suffix was added to distinguish them from the towns other major team Bradford City – were formed in 1907. The Club was originally founded as a rugby union club in 1863 and in 1895 were founder members of the Northern Rugby Football Union (essentially what today we know as rugby league). A further split came in 1907 when some clubs left the Union and switched codes to association football. Bradford FC were formed with Bradford Northern (now the Bradford Bulls) taking up the rugby code.

Park Avenue were elected to the Football League into the Second Division in 1908 after playing a season in the Southern League (their closest away game being Northampton 130 miles away and included trips to Plymouth, Southampton, Portsmouth, and Brighton), where they finished thirteenth, with Queens Park Rangers claiming the title.

They were promoted to the First Division in 1914, when they achieved their highest ever league position of ninth. Following the First World War their decline began, and they spent the majority of their Football League existence in the third and fourth tiers. Their struggles saw them not be re-elected at the end of the 1969/70 season and they were replaced by Cambridge United. Worse was to follow, with the club now playing in the Northern Premier League (NPL), when in 1973 they were forced to sell their Park Avenue ground. The Club completed the 1973/74 season, playing their games at Bradford City, but in May 1974 went into liquidation.

A Sunday side emerged which did return to the old Park Avenue ground, in the mid to late 1980s, finally leaving at the end of the 1987/88 season. In order to make the switch to Saturday football a new club was formed and started in the West Riding County Amateur Football League and progressed via the Central Midlands League and then the North West Counties League, with home games played in Bramley and Batley at their respective rugby league venues. In 1992 the Sunday team merged with the Saturday side, with a move to their current home, Horsfall Stadium in 1995, which also saw the Club promoted to the NPL. Since that time, Park Avenue have predominantly played at Step 3 (National North) level.

BPA Subbuteo style

I have always been a lover of football kits, the Chelsea one I first saw in 1969 had their stylish blue shirts, blue shorts, and white socks (stockings for the purist). The Blues were the first team to have this sort of combination as all other teams socks matched their shorts or shirt. Additionally, I have always loved hoops, stripes, and slashes on shirts. Sadly, those types of design features have not regularly graced Chelsea shirts, although I do have a black and blue striped replica shirt from the European Fairs cup in 1966. However, my favourite Chelsea shirts are the away ones from the 1974/75 season, with a red and green vertical stripe on a white shirt, the blue and black version of this in 2003/04 campaign and the light blue slash on a white shirt worn in 2012. I’ve loved Bradford PA’s red, black and amber hoops since being a Subbuteo fanatic in the 1970s.

Chester break in front of pavilion

The Horsfall Stadium is a curious mixture. Along the length of the pitch is the main seated stand, and opposite is a wonderful pavilion which houses the changing rooms and the media area. Also dotted around are some small sheltered coverings. There is I believe a social club, but I didn’t venture inside and missed getting a glimpse of a brilliant model of the old Park Avenue ground.

As befits a Saturday in early March it was a cold and windy day, which in an open arena like the Horsfall impacted the game. Park Avenue seemed to adapt better than Chester who showed little for a team chasing promotion. The breakthrough came just five minutes before half-time, with a goal that can only be described as ‘scruffy’. From a Ryan Toulson cross, Tom Clare’s shot hit the post. There was then an almighty scramble on the goal-line and in the attempt to clear it, the ball ended in the net, with Clare credited as the scorer. Chester protested with the Assistant Referee all to no avail. However, they all count, and Bradford went in 1-0 up at the break.

Chester though were back in the game early in the second-half on fifty-one minutes, with the weather playing its part. Matty Waters scoring directly from a corner after Avenue ‘keeper Tom Nicholson failed to get near the wind-assisted ball. However, the home-side didn’t panic and went ahead again on sixty-six minutes. A long throw from Lewis Knight found Avenue skipper Oli Johnson who headed in to make it 2-1. The visitors responded by making a couple of substitutions and despite plenty of possession and some half-chances, they never looked like getting an equaliser, leaving Bradford to celebrate a  first win since the opening week of December.

With the season ended due to COVID-19, Park Avenue finished bottom of the table and would have been relegated in any other circumstance. However, with the Northern Premier League having voided its season, they escaped the drop and will look to 2020/21 in the National North League with renewed optimism.


Saturday 07 March 2020

Vanarama National League North

Bradford Park Avenue 2 (Clare 40’, Johnson 66’) Chester 1 (Waters 51’)

Venue: Horsfall Stadium

Attendance: 525

BPA: Nicholson, Toulson, Demetriou, Lund, Priestley, Nowakowski, Knight (Hall 77’), Hurst, Clare, Johnson (Clee 74’), Hibbs.

Unused substitutes: Green, Byrne.

Chester: Gray, Waters, K Roberts, Grand, Jones, Stopforth (Burton 14’), G Roberts, Jackson, Johnston, Elliott (Asante 66’), Dudley (Waring 65’).

Unused substitutes: Morgan, Ngwatala.


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 25 (Game 26) – Sunday 23 February 2020: Clapham Rovers v Ladzio

For my final game on my London weekend trip it would be Sunday League Cup match in my old stomping ground in Wimbledon Park just up the road from my local Youngs boozer and rugby team, The Pig and Whistle. Clapham Rovers FC vs Ladzio – yes Ladzio, who play in the same colours as the Italian giants, with another team in the same league are called Real Ale Madrid and of course play in all white – at Aspire at Southfields, Kimber Park.

Original FA Cup trophy

Clapham Rovers FC were one of the leading sporting clubs at the end of the 19th century running both a successful Association Football and Rugby Football Club. Their first football game was against Wanderers in 1865, who were another successful club from the same period, winning five of the first seven FA Cup finals between 1872 and 1878. Wanderers too still have a Sunday League side running which will no doubt feature in a future visit to “the smoke”.

Clapham Rovers were one of the fifteen entrants to the inaugural FA Cup competition in 1871/72 and Rovers Jarvis Kenrick, who later moved to Wanderers, with whom he won three winners medals, scored the first ever goal, the first of his brace against Upton Park in a 3-0 win. They were defeated 1 – 0 by eventual winners Wanderers in the Second Round.  They reached the Semi-Finals in 1874 where they were beaten 1-0 by Oxford University who went on to lift the trophy beating the Royal Engineers 2-0 at The Oval. Rovers made the Final in the 1878/79 competition and they were beaten 1 – 0 by Old Etonians through a Charles Clerke goal in front of 5,000 fans at Kennington Oval. The following year they went one better, lifting the famous cup. Rovers journey to the Final began with them beating Romford 7 – 0 in the First Round, South Norwood 4 – 1 in the Second Round, Pilgrims 7 – 0 in the Third Round, Hendon 4 – 0 in the Fourth Round, Old Etonians 1 – 0 in the Fifth Round and then received a bye in the Semi-Final, meaning they would meet Oxford University at the Kennington Oval.

Rovers played in their cerise and grey halved shirts whilst the University team turned out in their familiar blue and white halved shirts. There were well known players on both sides –  for Rover, there was Reginald Birkett who represented England at both football and rugby union, in goal, and captain Robert Ogilvie, Edgar Field, Norman Bailey and Francis Sparks, who also won caps for England.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet replicated below is an article about the Final and a curious piece about Oscar Wilde.

The Oxford team that had conquered much-fancied Nottingham Forest in the Semi-Final immediately took the initiative in the Final. Phillips’ early free-kick, given for hands, went within an ace of its intended destination. Then Clapham, recovering their poise after this sudden attack, moved forward in fine style and caused their opponents’ backs many anxious moments.

Lloyd-Jones’s cross was only cleared to outside-left Ram and his shot came back off a post, Lloyd-Jones tried a shot himself which went over the tape and that proved to be the last noteworthy incident of the half.

Oxford, with the wind, carried ail before them in the first few minutes of the second half and immediately forced two corners in quick succession. Play then proceeded so evenly that thoughts of an extra half-hour’s play were being entertained. But with ten minutes to go, King failed to cut out Sparks’ cross and Lloyd-Jones rushed up to shoot between the posts.  Birkett, an England international at both football and rugby, moved smartly to save from Childs as Oxford launched a counter-attack, but the Clapham goal was not seriously threatened again.

The myth of Oscar Wilde at the FA Cup Final, 1880 – Oxford University, when they played Clapham Rovers in the 1880 FA Cup Final, were so certain of victory against the lowlife of London SW11 that they called in the great Irish playwright – then 26 – as a “trophy striker” who would raise the game to exquisite levels of artistic sophistication. Unfortunately, Wilde was wholly unconvincing as a footballer. He drifted languidly round the edges of the pitch in blue satin culottes, carrying a lily. Play was held up as he upbraided the midfield in drawling epigrams (“To muff one pass, Mr Hallsworthy, may be regarded as a misfortune; to muff two looks like perversity”). A crucial cross in the 89th minute landed at his feet, but he disdained to kick the ball. “Take that horrid thing away,” he said to the goalkeeper, “before it soils my loafers.” Asked afterwards by reporters for his view of the game, he replied: “Twenty-two men struggling to possess a bladder of air – the perfect metaphor for the London marriage market.”

FA Cup Winners 1880

Rovers continued to compete, though unsuccessfully in the FA Cup through to 1889 by which time the professional clubs of the north were starting to dominate the competition.  There were still reports of Clapham Rovers playing through to the First World War which is when the original club was eventually dissolved. Since 1996 a Sunday league team has been in existence which is the incarnation I would watch today. The Club with a nod to its past carries on the badge, ‘FA Cup winners 1880’.

The match was played on AstroTurf and there was a strong wind blowing down the pitch which spoilt the game. It was a good end to end affair which saw Ladzio score the first in the second half against the wind. With the wind at their backs Clapham pressurised Ladzio and they finally equalised ten minutes from time, to take the game to penalties which Ladzio won 6 – 5. James Cunnah was the hero, saving the 12th penalty. To show how windy it was, some penalties required someone to hold the ball in place (rugby union style), so the kicker could take it!

PS. Many thanks to Rovers for inclusion in the team picture. Nearest I’ll get to being in a FA Cup winning line-up!

Sunday 23 February 2020

Frank Bluntstone Cup

Clapham Rovers 1 (Smith) Ladzio 1 (Sam) [Ladzio won 6-5 on penalties]

Venue: Aspire at Southfields

Attendance: 2

Clapham Rovers Squad: Sprotson, Ford, Booker, Cerenko, Hill, Keenan, Kew, Louis, McKee, Nicou, Smith.

Ladzio Squad: Cunnah, Goldwater, Jack Gravestock, Joe Gravestock, Martinez, Persson, Robbins, Sam, Stevenson-Steels, Sweeney, F Gravestock, M Gravestock


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 24 (Part 2) – Saturday 22 February 2020: AFC Wimbledon v Blackpool

As mentioned in Part 1 of this Match Day adventure, we left Griffin Park with about fifteen minutes to go. I’ve never been a fan of leaving games early, but time was of the essence. So with the Brentford game still in progress we walked to the car through relatively empty streets, along with a few others who had also left early, possibly heading to the local pubs to avoid the queues. Fortunately, we didn’t miss any goals, however with Brentford having levelled with a penalty as we left, they had the momentum and it wouldn’t have been a surprise if they had come up with a late winner.

Kingsmeadow – The Cherry Red Records Stadium

So onward to Kingsmeadow for AFC Wimbledon versus Blackpool game in the Sky Bet League One. It was a fairly uneventful journey other than the masses of people in Richmond Park exercising and taking their dogs for a walk which immediately brought to mind the YouTube sensation “BENTON! BENTON!” especially when we saw a few herds of deer scattered around the park. Being uneventful traffic wise gave us the opportunity to chat about the two most important things in life, football, and music. We’d both started watching ‘the beautiful game’ around the same time and in a similar part of London, although my early days were primarily Stamford Bridge, whilst Paul’s were just down the road at Craven Cottage. It also turns out we also have a very similar music taste too; a bit of rock, a bit of indie, a bit of prog, plus there was a similarity to our gig history too, so a very enjoyable jaunt over to Kingston upon Thames, home of AFC Wimbledon, Kingstonian and Chelsea Ladies up until 2017. We parked up just in front of a car we saw park on an off road area very close to the ground, looking back on it, all a little too easy given how close it was to kick-off. More of that later.

AFC Wimbledon are another club founded by disgruntled supporters following the relocation of Wimbledon FC 60 miles up the road to Milton Keynes. My last house in London was in Wimbledon Park, so Plough Lane was about 20 minute walk from where I lived and I attended a few games as they rose through the top four tiers, primarily following Grimsby Town with my friend Nigel. I was at the “Harry the Haddock” FA Cup tie in 1988 and also a game in the “old” Second Division where around 16 Grimsby Town supporters turned up and me and Nige had a chat with Nigel Hatch the Grimsby ‘keeper whilst the ball was up the other end. The Wimbledon team that day was managed by Harry Bassett and included players who had seen them promoted the previous season and would see them promoted to the First Division in time, including Dave Beasant (who would move to Chelsea in the future), Alan Cork, Wally Downes, John Fashanu, Glynn Hodges, Ian Holloway, Lawrie Sanchez, Andy Thorn, Nigel Winterburn and a future Chelsea favourite, Dennis Wise. It was shortly before my old school football team member Dave Gilbert, joined the Mariners in 1989 where he spent seven seasons, playing 259 games, and scoring 41 goals before following manager Alan Buckley to West Brom.

Matchday programme and ticket

Wimbledon were formed in 1889 as an Old Boys Team from Old Central School on Wimbledon Common, Wimbledon Old Centrals and moved to Plough Lane in 1912.  They plied their trade in the Amateur Leagues lifting the FA Amateur Cup in the 1962/63 season, the season I was born. At the same time they dominated the Isthmian League winning it three years in succession before turning professional and joining the Southern League. An extraordinary FA Cup run in the 1974/75 season which saw them make their way through to an away game at Turf Moor against Burnley, a First Division side. They’d entered at the First Qualifying Round and had seen off Brackley Town, Maidenhead United, Wokingham Town, Guildford & Dorking United, Bath City and Kettering Town to book a date at Turf Moor in the Third Round. They became the first non-league team that century that had beaten a team from the top-flight courtesy of a single goal from Mick Mahon. Their next game was against the First Division Champions Leeds United and incredibly they drew 0-0 at Elland Road, with Dickie Guy saving a Peter Lorimer penalty. The replay was switched to Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace with the Dons narrowly losing 1-0 in front of 40,000 fans through an own goal. They won the Southern League twice out of the following three seasons and gained election to the Football League, replacing Workington in the 1977/78 season. I saw Lincoln beat Wimbledon 5-1 in 1981 at Sincil Bank, but this was before their dramatic progress through the divisions which saw them rise to the First Division with three promotions in four seasons. Their crowning glory was a 1-0 FA Cup Final victory over Liverpool in 1988, when as BBC commentator John Motson famously put it, “the Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club”. With the ruling on all-seater stadium for all top-flight clubs in England, the Club were forced into moving to away from Plough Lane to Selhurst Park. Following relegation from the Premier League there were attempts to relocate the Club and it was a dark day for football when a move to Milton Keynes was sanctioned by the football authorities. In 2002/03 AFC Wimbledon started life in the Combined Counties League Premier Division. Five promotions in nine years, saw the Dons once again grace the Football League and plan to return to Plough Lane on the site of the Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium for the 2020/21 season. 2015/16 also saw another promotion for the Club as they won the League Two Play-Off Final and have been in League One since.

Their current home, Kingsmeadow is a compact ground, with a capacity of less than 5,000 and today you can see why they need to move, with cramped conditions in the Rygas Stand where we found ourselves standing.

Break in play.

The Dons started brightly and forced an early save from Blackpool ‘keeper Chris Maxwell from Anthony Hartigan’s shot. They also had the first corner of the match with Kwesi Appiah’s header just wide. The positive opening fifteen minutes also included a good chance for Appiah, as from a Luke O’Neil cross the resultant header was just over the bar. Blackpool though responded with former Aston Villa striker Nathan Delfouneso through on goal, only for Joe Day to make an excellent save. The Tangerines in fact went on to dominate the rest of the half with Delfouneso and Matty Virtue the main threats. However, with defences on top it was not s surprise that the teams went in at the break level at 0-0.

Blackpool started the second-half on the front foot, with Day the busier of the ‘keepers, having to tip an early corner over the bar. However, he was a spectator just before the hour when from a cross, Taylor Moore just ten yards out, managed to blaze over the bar. The Dons were struggling to get any foot in the game and midway through the second period, the visitors had another great chance as Delfouneso was clean through, but he delayed his shot and the ball was eventually scrambled clear by Mads Sorensen. Wimbledon though ended the match on top, and in the final fifteen minutes substitute Adam Roscrow, forced Maxwell into a decent save. Then in the final minutes fellow sub Daniel McLoughlin, popped up at the back post but his shot was superbly saved by Maxwell. The home side had started and ended well, with the visitors dominating during the middle part of the game and in the end a draw was probably just about the right result.

Au revoir Kingsmeadow

As you may remember from my visit to Blackpool for the Lincoln City game, the traffic was a nightmare and I missed a large part of the opening half. Well the curse of cars and Blackpool struck again. At the whistle we made our way out of the ground to return to the car, sadly what we didn’t notice when we had initially parked up, was the ‘No Parking’ sign and therefore came back to a parking-ticket plonked on the windscreen. However, we had made it to two games in a day and even this could not dampen what had been a cracking Saturday in the capital. Whilst Paul returned to the North on the train that evening, Sunday was to provide another Match Day opportunity for me!


Saturday 22 February 2020

Sky Bet League One

AFC Wimbledon 0 Blackpool 0

Venue: Kingsmeadow

Attendance: 4,593

AFC Wimbledon: Day, O’Neill, Thomas (Rod McDonald 88’), Wagstaff, Hartigan, Appiah (Roscrow 66’), Rudoni, Sorensen, Reilly (McLoughlin 77’), Osew, Pigott.

Unused Substitutes: Trott, Pinnock, Lammy, Guinness-Walker

Blackpool: Maxwell, Feeney, Turton, Moore, Husband, Calum Macdonald, Virtue, Ronan, Dewsbury-Hall, Delfouneso, Madine (Nuttall, 81’).

Unused Substitutes: Sims, Howe, Bola, Edwards, Spearing, Ward


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 24 (Part 1) – Saturday 22 February 2020: Brentford v Blackburn Rovers

“The BIG Weekend!”

Matchday programme cover

At the beginning of the year Paul and I had started making plans to go and see Brentford at their Griffin Park ground before they moved to their new home, the Brentford Community Stadium. Paul had initially sent me a message confirming that he had bought a ticket and his seat number in the Braemar Road Stand for the Brentford versus Blackburn Rovers game on Saturday 22 February. I was all over the Brentford website in an instant and managed to book the seat next to him. Stage 1 of the plan achieved.

Then Sky TV intervened. The game was selected to be televised so what was a 3.00pm kick off was moved back to 12.30pm. So being the good Project Manager that I am I did a quick SWOT analysis. Strength – the game was still on. Weakness – change of kick-off time, so needed to get to the ground earlier, thankfully I would already be in London, but more of that later. However, Paul had to be able to change his train ticket to get down and across London in time. Opportunity – we could go to more than one game and try to get to a 3.00pm kick off in too. Threat – transport between games. However, I had arranged to take my car to London for the weekend. Good contingency planning and mitigation!

So which other game could we attend? The following were all considered at some stage in our conversation.

  • Leyton Orient, Millwall and along with Griffin Park, were grounds in the capital I hadn’t attended. I have been pretty much to all the other grounds in London primarily following Chelsea including stadiums no longer used, such as Highbury, White Hart Lane, and Plough Lane. I’ve also attended games at both the old and new Wembley, but still had to visit the Emirates Stadium and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. In addition, I hadn’t visited Kingsmeadow, the home of AFC Wimbledon’s. On the Saturday of the Brentford fixture, The O’s (Leyton Orient) and The Dons (AFC Wimbledon) were both at home.
  • Harking back to my desire to watch on this journey previous FA Cup winners from the end of the 19th Century. The following teams still existed and had teams playing in the London area, however playing at a much lower level than the 10th tier of the football pyramid that AFC Darwen (whose forerunners Darwen FC who had featured in Netflix’s The English Game drama series). These included, Wanderers who play in the Surrey South Eastern Combination, Clapham Rovers of the Southern Sunday Football League, and Old Carthusians plying their trade in the Arthurian League.
  • There was also the option of non-league teams with Bromley, Dagenham & Redbridge, Sutton United, Welling United and Wealdstone all at home in the National League.

So what did we decide? All will be revealed in Part 2 of Match Day 24!

Griffin Park

This was to be Brentford’s final season at Griffin Park, and they would be starting the 2020/21 season in their new Community Stadium. Chelsea haven’t played at Griffin Park in the League since 1947 with their last visit in the FA Cup in January 2013. Whilst I was living in London, I was going to Chelsea home games and primarily only their away games with the capital. However, I have travelled further afield in my time following The Blues. I think my longest journey has been from London to Grimsby to see them promoted as Champions of the old Second Division (now the Championship). My only tenuous connection to Brentford was that I did play cricket in Hounslow and Griffin Park was the closest football club, and I didn’t have any friends who support The Bees.

Brentford have played at Griffin Park since 1904 and is probably most famous for being the only ground in the English Football League with a public house on each corner of the ground – The Brook, The Griffin, The Princess Royal and The New Inn. The grounds name of Griffin Park comes from the emblem of the Fullers brewery who owned the orchard where the ground now stands. In February 1983, the Braemar Road Stand caught fire and the then groundsman, Alec Banks, was rescued by Stan Bowles who was playing at the club at the time. Brentford also hold the top four tier record of winning every home game (21) in the 1929/30 season in the Third Division South, so it has been a fortress in the past.

Behind the Braemar Road Stand

After securing a car parking spot close to the stadium for a quick getaway for game two later in the day, and then a stroll round the stadium to photograph all four pubs around the ground I met Paul met at the Braemar Road entrance which is the only side with any real evidence that there is a football ground hidden amongst the housing. Griffin Park will no doubt be missed, with its quirky alley behind the Braemar Stand, wall adorned with former Bees Legends and the narrow double-decker stand which today houses the travelling Blackburn fans. This fixture was one of the last seven league games at Brentford for fans to pay their respects to the ground, but little did we know that day that only one more of those would see fans in the venue (v Sheffield Wednesday, 07 March 2020) as COVID-19 struck. Funnily enough (as this is published – 22 July 2020) the day will see the final Behind Closed Doors games in the Championship, with The Bees hosting Barnsley. Depending on results, it could see Brentford start 2020/21 in the Premier League, or it could see Brentford have one final game at Griffin Park as they take play in the Play-Offs. Either way, the pity is that the Bees faithful won’t be there to witness the final action.

Of the game itself, The Bees backed by a vociferous home crowd started the better of the two teams. However, Brentford were done by a ‘route-one’ goal on eleven minutes. Visiting ‘keeper Christian Walton launched a huge kick downfield aided by the wind, which Bees defender Ethan Pinnock completely misjudged and allowed Adam Armstrong to cleverly lob over David Raya to give Rovers the lead. Brentford though responded and Walton was forced into a save from Bryan Mbeumo. Blackburn though were dangerous on the break, through goal-scorer Armstrong, whilst The Bees had had to settle for mass possession and the odd half-chance, with a Mbeuemo header from a corner going narrowly wide. Rovers though were happy to sit back and were content to go in 1-0 up at half-time.

Armstrong puts away Rovers penalty

Just as in the first-half, Rovers caught Brentford cold in the opening spell of the second-half. On fifty-four minutes, The Bees once again contributed to giving away another goal. Armstrong got behind the home defence, with Raya making the save, as the ‘keeper went to collect the loose ball he was adjudged to have bundled over John Buckley. Armstrong stepped up and coolly slotted into the bottom left-hand corner as Raya was sent the wrong way. Brentford now 2-0 down responded quickly, when on sixty-two minutes, Ollie Watkins latched onto a long-ball with Blackburn claiming offside, and he lashed it home to reduce the deficit. The comeback was complete with nineteen minutes remaining when substitute Mads Roerslev got into the box between Bell and Johnson and went down. The referee pointed to the spot and Saïd Benrahma did the rest to level the game at two apiece. With the penalty slotted home, it was time to make a decision. If we wanted to make it to our second game of the day for kick-off, we would have to leave this game early. It’s not something either of us would normally do, but reluctantly with fifteen minutes to play we said farewell to Griffin Park. Highlights show that Benrahma had a chance to win it, when played in, which Walton saved with his feet. However, we didn’t miss any further goals with the game ending 2-2, but by that time we were on the road and heading out of West London for Part 2 of Match Day 24.


Saturday 22 February 2020

Sky Bet Championship

Brentford 2 (Watkins 62’, Benrahma 71’pen) Blackburn Rovers 2 (Armstrong 11’, 54’pen)

Venue: Griffin Park

Attendance: 12,082

Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Jeanvier (Roerslev 54’), Pinnock, Henry (Dervi?o?lu 84’); Marcondes (Baptiste 60’), Nørgaard, Dasilva; Mbeumo, Watkins, Benrahma.

Unused Substitutes: Daniels, Oksanen, Fosu, Valencia

Blackburn Rovers: Walton; Nyambe, Lenihan, Adarabioyo, Bell; Johnson, Travis, Buckley (Gallagher 65’); Downing; Samuel (Bennett 73’), Armstrong. 

Unused Substitutes: Leutwiler, Graham, Davenport, Brereton, Bennett, Carter


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 23 – Tuesday 18 February 2020: FC United of Manchester (FCUM) v Stafford Rangers

Matchday programme cover

Another Tuesday night out courtesy of Paul. A rainy night in Manchester, and boy was it wet. It rained all the way on the drive across to Manchester, and when we arrived the pitch was already looking in a very wet state, with what looked to be developing a large puddle/small lake on the far side of the pitch. The facilities at Broadhurst Park though are splendid, even more so for this level of the game, the seventh tier, but this is a very new club.

FCUM were formed in 2005 by Manchester United fans in response to the takeover of The Red Devils by the Glaziers and initiated by the United Fanzine Red Issue. The club are the largest fan owned football club in the UK and the club is democratically run by its members who all have equal voting rights, owning one share each. They initially were tenants at the now sadly defunct Bury FC at Gigg Lane, but in 2015 moved into their own stadium which we are visiting tonight. There were a number of names put forward after the FA rejected FC United for being too generic – AFC Manchester 1878, Manchester Central, Newton Heath United but FC United of Manchester was officially registered by The FA in June 2005. Their early plans for their own ground were in Newton Heath in the area of the original Newton Heath FC who became Manchester United. However, the local Council did not approve the planning request and new plans were drawn for the Broadhurst Park Stadium in Moston.  They finally moved to their new home after playing primarily at Gigg Lane but also took in a further six venues for home fixtures, including, Altrincham’s Moss Lane, Radcliffe FC’s Stainton Park, Hyde United’s Ewen Fields, Stalybridge Celtic’s Bower Fold, Flixton FC’s Valley Road and Curzon Ashton’s Tameside Stadium, who all accommodated the club during the various promotions, which saw FCUM rise through the divisions of the North West Counties Football League and Northern Premier League (NPL), and then into the National League.

Teams out on the pitch

Tonight’s visitors were Stafford Rangers. I had already seen FCUM at Stalybridge Celtic earlier in the season in a cracker of a game and with The Red Rebels riding high in the NPL Premier Division I was hopeful of another good game. Despite the persistent rain before kick-off including a couple of heavy bursts, the game was on. Rangers came into the game bottom of the table, but their recent form had seen them only lose one in their last six matches.

Indeed, the visitors nearly took an early lead when Jaiden White broke down the wing and crossed into the box. FCUM ‘keeper Cameron Belford unable to hold the wet ball parried it out with it falling to Rangers’ Joshua Burns who drove it goal-wards, only to be cleared by FCUM. From the long ball downfield the Stafford ‘keeper Lewis King made a hash of his attempt to clear his lines, and he was grateful to see the effort from FCUM’s top scorer Tunde Owolabi thankfully sail over the bar with the goal unguarded. FCUM though did strike first, when following a free-kick on the edge of the Stafford box, Luke Griffiths curled home past the Rangers wall and King who was wrong-footed in goal, after eleven minutes.

Rather than deflate the visitors, it spurned them on, and following a throw and cross into the box, Jake Charles (grandson of the late ex-Wales, Leeds United and Juventus legend), got above the FCUM defence with a header that ‘keeper Belford just managed to scramble away. Before the break, the home side had a couple of decent headed chances themselves, both from corners. However, that elusive second goal wasn’t forthcoming and FCUM had to settle for 1-0 at the half-time whistle.

With the rain still belting down in the second-half, Stafford got back level on fifty-five minutes. From a free-kick out wide, FCUM ‘keeper Belford didn’t claim the cross and it was knocked back for Rangers skipper Jon Moran to tap in from close range. As the teams went back for the restart there was an incident which neither Paul nor I saw. However, the FCUM website filled in the blanks as follows: In the aftermath of the goal there was a silly exchange between Cameron Belford and Stafford’s Danny Burns, who in the heat of the moment threw the ball towards Belford’s face. Burns missed with his petulant throw, but the referee quite rightly booked both players for the coming together. Unfortunately for Burns, he had been booked for a cynical challenge in the first half and the second yellow card saw him dismissed. 

As so often when a team goes down to ten-men, they seem to pull together and make it difficult for the opposition. Stafford certainly achieved that and although ‘keeper Lewis had to pull off a good save from Adam Dodd, on the whole Rangers were holding their own. Then with just eleven minutes remaining, Dodd found substitute Morgan Homson-Smith, who took a touch, cut inside and curled home past King into the corner. With Stafford tiring, Dodd was involved once again, getting behind the Rangers defence with his cut-back put the wrong side of the post by the usually lethal Owolabi. FCUM continued to look for a third goal in the closing stages and sub Paul Ennis forced King into a save at his near post, which proved to be the last significant action of the game. A final score of 2-1 to FCUM which they were made to battle for.


Tuesday 18 February 2020

Bet Victor Northern Premier League

FC United of Manchester 2 (Griffiths 11’, Homson-Smith 79’) Stafford Rangers 1 (Moran 55’)

Venue: Broadhurst Park

Attendance: 1,336

FC United of Manchester: Belford, Morris, Dodd, Griffiths, Doyle, Elsdon, Hawley (Ennis 54’), Potts, Owolabi, Donohue (Lenehan 46’), Sinclair-Smith (Homson-Smith 63’).

Stafford Rangers: King, Burns, Hill (Grayson 81’), Moran, Burns, Harvey, White, Coulson, Charles (Luckie 86’), Diau, Thorley (Sheratt 80’).

(Both sides used all available substitutes)


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 22 – Saturday 08 February 2020: AFC Darwen v Daisy Hill

Matchday programme cover

A trip back in time and over to Lancashire to the Anchor Ground in Darwen.

The original Darwen club featured in the drama The English Game which looked at the rise of professionalism in football as the working class teams challenged the elite of the old boys sides that dominated the FA Cup such as the Old Etonians. The story is partly based on fact but is dramatized and well worth a watch, as is A Captains Tale about West Auckland FC winning what is seen by some people as the first World Cup, the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy in 1909 and 1911.

In terms of the inaccuracies of The English Game, a significant one is that the show features only one Blackburn team whereas the reality was that there were two, Blackburn Olympic (FA Cup winners 1882/83) and Blackburn Rovers (who won their first FA Cup in 1883/84). However, one of the central characters is Fergus Suter (who did exist), who went onto win the FA Cup in 1883/84, 1884/85 and 1885/86 with Blackburn Rovers but these victories took place after the timeline of the series. Suter was a Scottish footballer who caught the eye when Partick FC toured Lancashire and played against Darwen and Blackburn Rovers in 1878. He later joined Darwen where his friend Jimmy Love was already playing. Suter gave up his trade as a stone mason as he was paid to play football, unheard of at that time and is therefore regarded as one of the forerunners of the professional game. In 1880 he caused further controversy by moving to close rivals Blackburn Rovers where he would win the FA Cup three years in succession and was also a runner up against Old Etonians in 1881/82.

Darwen were one of the more successful northern working class football teams in the FA Cup which at that time was dominated by teams consisting of the gentry and public school boys. They reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup in 1879 when they had to travel to the Oval to play Old Etonians on three occasions drawing 5 – 5, 2 – 2 and finally losing 6 – 2. In 1881 they went one better and reached the semi-finals where they were beaten by eventual winners Old Carthusians 4 – 1. They joined the Football League in 1891 when it was expanded to 14 teams, but finished bottom of the table and relegated to the newly formed Second Division. They spent a further season in the top-flight in the 1893/94 season only to be relegated once again. In their final league season they suffered a record 18 successive defeats and conceded 141 goals in the campaign, their final statistics for the 1898/99 season were:

Played Won Drawn Lost Goals For Goals Against Points
Home 2 4 11 16 32 8
Away 0 1 16 6 109 1
TOTAL 2 5 27 22 141 9


Gates at Anchor Road

Following relegation to the Lancashire League they moved to the Anchor Ground where they play today. The club never hit the heights of its Football League days, plying its trade for the majority of its existence in the Lancashire Combination League and latterly, the Cheshire County League and were founder members of the North West Counties Football League in 1982/83. They created another FA Cup memory in 1931/32 when in front of 10,000 at Anchor Road, in the Second Round they beat Chester (then a League Club) 2-1. Darwen then travelled to Arsenal in the Third Round and were beaten 11-1, with The Gunners going onto the Final only to lose 2-1 to Newcastle United. Sadly in May 2009, Darwen FC were wound-up due to significant financial debt, only for AFC Darwen to form, the name the club carries today.

Darwen artefacts

Despite that, in the clubhouse there are many pictures from their history at the end of the 19th Century and their most famous years, and the ‘new’ club is seen very much as connecting to the original Salmoners (the nickname due to the fact that during their first two seasons in the Football League (1891 to 99) they played in salmon and pink shirts.

On a typically grey February afternoon, the visitors to the Anchor Ground today were Daisy Hill, a club based in Westhoughton near Bolton. The game got off to a slow start with both teams testing each other out spreading long balls down the wings. In the opening quarter hour the referee whistled for a penalty to Darwen, the crowd were just as flummoxed as the players as to the reason for the decision, it appeared to be a simple cross in from the left and easily cleared by the Daisy Hill defence. No VAR at this level to confer regarding the decision. Up stepped Nyle Ellis to take the spot kick which he put to the keepers right and the Hill keeper, Dean Williams, pulled off a brilliant save. Unfortunately for Williams, Ellis was there to follow up and put the ball into an empty net.

Game underway

Ten minutes later there was more fun with the referee when he broke down trying to keep up with play. The game was paused for around five minutes and a member of the Darwen coaching staff came on to run the line. Shortly after Daisy Hill got a free kick on the right side of the field. Sam Howell put the ball in, and Tyler Rufus’ half volley was blocked and ran to Jacob Ridings who put the ball in at the far post. Darwen started to pressurise the Daisy Hill defence and were rewarded with two quick goals towards the end of the half. The first came from the right hand side when the Darwen full back Kallum Banks curled in a cross and Ellis nipped in front of Williams to head Darwen into the lead. The second was also a Banks/Ellis double act. This time Banks crossing to the far post where Ellis was unmarked and placed his header inside the near post. 3-1 to Darwin at half-time.

After the break Daisy Hill came out looking to make a mark on the game. Jamie Ramwell hit the post following a corner being flicked on at the near post.  Daisy Hill brought on two fresh attackers on the hour mark, Jordan Hussey and Matty Knowles. With quarter of an hour to go Daisy Hill went on the attack through Sam Howell down the right wing, his cross was met on the volley by Jamie Ramwell who gave the Darwen keeper Lewis McPartlan no chance.  Shortly afterwards Daisy Hill attacked down the right again and Ridings met the far post cross and headed past the Darwen keeper for his second of the game. Daisy Hill tried hard for the winner in the final ten minutes but the closest they came was a Jordan Hussey volley that was fired high above the bar. So in very much a ‘game of two-halves’ it finished 3-3 – value for money indeed!


Saturday 08 February 2020

North West Counties First Division North

AFC Darwen 3 (Ellis 14’, 32’, 33’) Daisy Hill 3 (Ramwell 24’, Ridings 75’, 81’)

Venue: The Anchor Ground

Attendance: 139

AFC Darwen (Squad as per programme): McPartlan, Johnson, Lonsdale, Ashburner, Edwards, Langford, Mason, Jones, Bond, Knowles, Banks, Creech, Holt, Gibson, Prince, Bannister, Jarrold, Hamilton, Williams, Ogundaisi, Greenhalgh.

Daisy Hill: Williams, Riddings, Fairhurst, Worrall, Singleton, Critchley, O’Brien, Howell, Ramwell, Rufus, Mills.

Substitutes: Mullarkey, Calaky, Knowles, Kilasa, Hussey


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 21 – Tuesday 04 February 2020: Shelley v Garstang

Matchday programme cover

I moved up to York from London in 1996 and then to Huddersfield in 1997. I wasn’t a bad footballer, I played for the school team and a Sunday Catholic Boys Team which is probably the highest level I played at schoolboy level. We reached the East Midlands Regional Final and I was playing for a Catholic School St Peter and St Paul in Lincoln, although I attended a different school, I qualified being a Catholic. At this time there was a Catholic schools national football competition where any Catholic school could enter a team at various age groups, and we reached the Regional Final. The reason for my “ringer” status was that I was a fairly decent centre half, over six feet tall and very quick, a better option than their incumbent centre half. My school team was pretty good too, I played with Dave “Diddy” Gilbert who made it to the professional game and played second tier football with Grimsby Town, Julian Rose who was a’ keeper on the books of Coventry City before he had an accident, along with a couple of players who had played for Lincoln Boys, Vinny Morris comes to mind. Back to the final, we were playing a team from Derby (East Midlands was Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Rutland) and they had an extremely quick centre forward who had scored a lot of goals during the competition, he was on the books of Derby County, he was short and squat and had a low centre of gravity.  He tried to turn me in the first 10 minutes, so I gave him a knee to the thigh and a dead leg.  That was the only time I have ever been booked, but he fairly anonymous throughout the rest of the game, he moved out to the wing and I swept up behind the full back a few times.  Sadly, we lost the game 1 – 0, we just couldn’t put the ball in at the other end and they scored from a goalmouth scramble following a corner.

So back to moving to Huddersfield…The one sport I was quite decent at was cricket, I was a fast bowler and an opening batsman (although the lads in Huddersfield wouldn’t have known that). In the 80s I had started wearing contact lenses and had damaged my right eye which affected my depth of vision and perspective. I was okay if the ball came at me at speed as it was more of a reaction but anything medium pace or below, I just couldn’t read the flight. So I ended up just being a rapid opening bowler. When I moved to Huddersfield, I wanted to find a cricket club and a colleagues husband played for Shelley Cricket Club where I ended up and enjoyed ten years of cricket through to 2007 before I moved to Leeds. The football club used to play in the field next to the cricket field, so on Saturday’s during April, May, August, and September often saw cricket and football played side by side. The players had to change in the Social Club, cross the road, walk up a hill and a ginnel to the football ground (Shelley Village isn’t very flat, nor is much of Huddersfield). The pitch was on a slope which always reminds me of Bostocks Cup run and the sloping pitch, strange that the game where this journey pauses at Pontefract. Seriously, if you played up hill against the wind then it was difficult to get it out of your penalty area, let alone your half of the pitch. The same could be said of bowling uphill into the wind, which fortunately I didn’t have to do too often.

When thinking about going to watch the football club as part of my journey, I couldn’t believe that Shelley still played on that sloping pitch but that is what I had in my mind. The reality is that where they do actually play is quite mind blowing. I’d seen Shelley play earlier in the season at Nelson, one of the reasons for going to Nelson that weekend was because of my cricketing connections. This Shelley fixture against Garstang was another game with my fast becoming best pal, certainly my regular footballing companion, Paul who I picked up at Huddersfield Railway Station. Two nice pubs at the Railway Station, although goodness knows what they are like at this moment in time as they emerge from lockdown. The Head of Steam is more well-known but the better of the two is the Kings Head, resplendent with a pub sign featuring an image of Jimmy Hendrix, as you turn left out of the station entrance.

Covered terrace and bench seating

We drove out to the ground as the sun was setting, it was in a part of Huddersfield I didn’t really know, and is based what feels like a student campus, in Storthes Hall Park. We turned out of the campus onto an unmade road, well track, would be a better description and drove through the woods for what seemed like quarter of an hour and then the lights of the football ground appeared in the distance. Quite a surreal approach to the ground. The pitch itself is surrounded by trees and set out on a plateau. It is also the home of Huddersfield Ladies Football Club and the clubhouse is modern and well set out.  It was a re-arranged game and they hadn’t managed to print the programmes, so we arranged to have the artwork emailed to us and Paul has a friend who can print off batches which he kindly sorted. It’s a ground we will be visiting again at the beginning of the season, we think that it will be quite a spectacular ground in the summer sunshine. The visitors, Garstang had been held up due to an accident on the M62 but the game was still on, and I think we got kicked off around 8:30.

At least the pitch was flat, not like the sloping pitch in the village, but it was windy, with primarily a following crosswind. Garstang had the conditions in their favour in the first half but you could still see that Shelley were the stronger side. However halfway through the first period Daniel Squires caught the defenders square and slotted the ball past the ‘keeper in the twenty-fourth minute to give the visitors the lead. Garstang were rallied by the goal and put more pressure on Paul Day the Shelley ‘keeper but the Shelley defence held out and finished the half the stronger.

Shelley ran out for the second half with the wind at their back and it had started to rain. They dominated possession from the start and their pressure was rewarded when Mathew Waller scored eleven minutes after the break with Antony Brown slotting home a second on sixty-six minutes. Garstang fought back and Hothersall and Squires both hit the woodwork.  As the game wore on, Shelley laid siege to the Garstang goal but couldn’t put the ball in the back of net, the closest they came was hitting the woodwork. Garstang were valiant losers and played well on the counter on a few occasions, but Shelley, the better team won, and probably should have scored more.


Tuesday 04 February 2020

North West Counties First Division North

Shelley 2 (Waller 56’, Brown 66’) Garstang 1 (Squires 24’)

Venue: The Stafflex Arena

Attendance: 54

Shelley: Day, Pownall, Leech, Greenwood (Daffern 69’), Alderton, Waller, Dyson, Keane, O’Keefe (Magida 78’), Billington (Brown 45’), Awty

Unused Substitutes: Bradshaw, Tinker.

Garstang: Kitchen, Hanslip, Richards, Rossall, Basterfield, Joyce, Maddox, Squires, A. Coar, Murphy (Hothersall 68’), Salisbury

Unused substitutes: Dickson, Hartley.


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 20 – Tuesday 28 January 2020: Wigan Athletic v Sheffield Wednesday

Another night game – I do love going to watch games under the floodlights, and this one was only about an hour down the road at the DW Stadium in Wigan.

Matchday programme cover

Wigan were formed in 1932, the same year as my Dad was born and spent most of their early life in non-league football. They earned election to the league in the days before automatic promotion and relegation, which was not introduced until 1987. The Latics actually finished in second place in the Northern Premier League in the 1977/78 season, behind Champions Boston United. However, Boston’s ground and facilities did not meet the Football League criteria for a League club, whereas Springfield Park, the then home of Wigan did. They replaced Southport (another ground to visit on the list) for the start of the 1978/79 season. The club languished in the lower echelons of the professional leagues up until the mid-90s. Then in 1995 the club was taken over by former professional footballer and local businessman Dave Whelan (he played for Blackburn Rovers, including an appearance in the 1960 FA Cup, when he broke his leg and later, Crewe Alexandra), famous for the JJB Sports empire. He put together a plan for the club to reach the Premier League which they finally achieved in 2005 and unexpectedly remained until their zenith of the FA Cup Final win over Manchester City in 2013. However, that same season they were sadly also relegated and have remained either in the Championship or League One since. As I write, the club has become embroiled in controversy, as at the start of July 2020, less than a month after a change of ownership, the Club announced it had gone into administration.

The Latics moved from Springfield Park to the DW Stadium for the start of the 1999/2000 season and it is also home to the town’s Rugby League team the Wigan Warriors. I opted for a seat in the Springfield Stand on the west side of the ground on a night when the conditions kept the attendance to under 10,000, but my overall impression was that it was a tidy ground.

Handshakes before kick-off

It was a quiet start to proceedings with the first real chance not coming until about twenty five minutes in, when Wigan’s Antonee Robinson had space in the box but fired over and wide as Wednesday ‘keeper Cameron Dawson advanced out to close him down. Just five minutes later it was the visitors Sheffield Wednesday who nearly went in front. Poor defending from The Latics in giving away possession provided an opportunity for The Owls Newcastle United loanee, Josh Murphy, however much to the relief of the home fans after a driving run, the forward dragged his effort wide. Wednesday though went ahead on thirty-two minutes, Morgan Fox got out wide and his cross was headed in by Murphy who out-muscled his marker on the edge of the six-yard box. Samy Morsy responded for the home side with a shot from 35 yards which Dawson did well to push away. Just before the break, The Owls had another good chance, when from a knock-down, Fox fired wide from the edge of the area. At the half-time whistle, the visitors held a 1-0 advantage.

The home fans didn’t have to wait too long to have something to cheer in the second-half, when on fifty-six minutes, Wigan levelled. After good hold-up play a ball into the box found Keiffer Moore who did well to control and then turn and fire home despite pressure from The Owls defender Julian Borner. With their tails up after the goal Wigan went in search of a second goal. A good chance came with about fifteen minutes remaining as Cedric Kipre broke into the box following a corner, but his effort lacked power and Dawson was able to save comfortably at his near post. More opportunities came as the game entered the closing stages. Michael Jacobs had a glorious chance to put Wigan ahead from a Jamal Lowe cut back but The Owls ‘keeper Dawson saved well. With just seven minutes remaining, Jamal Lowe got behind the Wednesday rear-guard, but goal-scorer Moore, couldn’t connect properly and another opportunity went begging. With some fans starting to drift away in the last minute of the game, Wigan pumped a hopeful ball into the box and after a flick-on Jamal Lowe was first to the ball and looped his header over Dawson into the Wednesday goal. The Latics though had to endure six minutes of time added-on and survived a last gasp goalmouth scramble to claim all three points in a 2-1 comeback win.


Tuesday 28 January 2020

Sky Bet Championship

Wigan Athletic 2 (Moore 56’, Lowe 90’) Sheffield Wednesday 1 (Murphy 32’)

Venue: DW Stadium

Attendance: 9,759

Wigan Athletic: Marshall, Byrne, Kipre, Naismith, Robinson, Morsy, Evans (Garner 89’), Lowe, Gelhardt (Jacobs 66’), Dowell (Williams 66’), Moore

Unused Substitutes: Jones, Dunkley, Roberts, Massey.

Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson, Fox (Lees 50’), Harris (Reach 71’), Pelupessy, Bannan, Winnall (Rhodes 58’), Borner, Murphy, Nuhiu, Odubajo, Iorfa

Unused Substitutes: Wildsmith, Borukov, Hunt, Urhoghide.


Steve Blighton