2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 19 – Tuesday 21 January 2020: Guiseley v Darlington

Matchday programme cover

During Christmas Paul and I had been messaging about going to games over the period and in the New Year. I was still in a lull mood wise over the Festive period and one of the things I do is avoid social contact, although this is hard being quite a social character. The dip had happened whilst I had been at work, and I was avoiding after work gatherings or planned lunches. At one point I remember bursting into tears in the middle of the office talking to a good friend about an evening out she was arranging, with a number of friends from an old team that I had worked with for many years, but had disbanded after delivering a programme of business change work. Re-reading through old messages from friends over this period, I think I must have been missing a number of engagements on purpose. I had forced myself to go to the Salford City game, but it is the one game of the journey I have very little memory of, in fact the only recollection is a group of Scandinavian fans standing behind me. They were having a good time and starting up some chants, with the rest of the crowd joining in. The Scandinavians giggled at this and talked excitedly to each other in their own tongue, I can only assume that they were taking the mickey a bit, but it was quite amusing listening to them.

At the beginning of January Paul contacted me again and invited me to a game at Brentford, being one of their last at their Griffin Park stadium, but more of that epic day later. We made arrangements for the Brentford game and had other footballing discussions and he suggested we went to the Guiseley versus Darlington game at Nethermoor Park. I lived in Guiseley for nine years but never visited the football ground, these were pretty barren years in terms of going to games, I’d get to the odd Chelsea away game and a trip to Stenhousemuir but not to the level I used to. I had previously walked past Nethermoor Park on my way to the pub (The Station, a nice little meeting place as it’s close to the railway station as its name suggests) to watch football on Sky for the Chelsea games, not only a part time supporter but a part time football fan – sacrilege! Darlington of course are a former league side and shall no doubt feature at some point in this journey being northern and closer to home.

We met up in the Guiseley clubhouse which doubles up with the cricket club in the summer. Now I must admit I have walked a few laps of that cricket field, especially when I was feeling down. On arrival, Paul was his ever ebullient self and had been chatting with the locals and the visiting fans and officials. We got talking about how my journey had been going since we last met, which to be honest was terrible – I had been to just four games since going to Halifax with him in early October. “You’re going to have to change your strategy young man!” he said, rather Brian Clough like. We talked about visiting lower league games all the way down to tier 10, which is where the likes of Darwen and Nelson ply their trade and not necessarily to clubs that have been members of the top four tiers. To my list of new teams to visit, I added FA Cup winners, including teams still going such as Old Etonians and Wanderers – more of them later in the journey. Whilst watching the game we chatted to a number of home and away supporters and had some very interesting conversations about the demise of Darlington, unfortunately another sad story of fiscal mismanagement. I was addicted to going to football again, especially night games, thank you so much Paul!

Given the time of year it was no surprise that it was a windy and damp night under the lights of Nethermoor Park. My thanks to the Guiseley website for the following match report:

Darlington penalty

The visitors got off to the best possible start as the Lions conceded an early goal for the second game in succession with five minutes gone. The penalty resulted from Marcus Dewhurst diving at full stretch and pushing the ball away with both hands but also took out his opponent in the process and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. From the resulting penalty Adam Campbell put it straight down the middle as Marcus Dewhurst dived to his right. Not that it took the home side long to level things up with a brilliant solo effort from the in-form Kaine Felix who skipped past two defenders, was nearly felled but still kept his composure to beat Christopher Elliott from close in seven minutes later. A great touch from Aaron Martin shortly after saw him create room for himself but his shot was charged down. With both sides playing at a high intensity this absorbing contest took another twist midway through the half as Guiseley gave Hatfield far too much room and his sweet shot from 25 yards out found the bottom corner. This briefly took the wind out of the home sides sales, but the second half saw them launch a series of early attacks and force several corners which they couldn’t capitalize on. Prince Ekpolo replaced Andrai Jones to make his home debut as Guiseley looked for an alternative way to open up the Darlington defence as Lee Shaw and Dylan Barkers also joined the fray replacing Aram Soleman and Kennedy Digie respectively. But despite the three substitutions and near misses from Martin, Gabriel Johnson, Hamza Bencherif, Shaw and Felix and aided by some desperate defending at times, Darlington hung on to maintain their slender advantage.


Tuesday 21 January 2020

National League North

Guiseley 1 (Felix 12’) Darlington 2 (Campbell 5’ pen, Hatfield 29’)

Venue: Nethermoor Park

Attendance: 859

Guiseley: Dewhurst, Jones (Ekpolo 58’), Cantrill, McNally, Nicholson, Bencherif, Soleman (Shaw 65’), Felix, Digie (Barkers 79’), Martin, Johnson.

Unused Substitutes: Sheppeard, Newall.

Darlington: Elliott, Laing (Martin 20’), Watson, Storey, Hatfield (Holness 83’), Rivers, Wheatley, Headley, Reid, Campbell (Atkinson 73’), Donowa.

Unused Substitutes: Bascombe, Thompson.


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 18 – Saturday 11 January 2020: Salford City v Northampton Town

Matchday programme cover

A New Year and 71 days since my last game. I’d had quite a dip in mood due to a number of issues that were going on in my personal life.

I think I am a strong person, I’m 57 years old, I have been employed all my life since leaving school in 1981, I have had a mostly comfortable life financially, strangely I find myself in a similar financial position now that I did when I was 21, but that’s a whole other story. I have lots of close friends and a wonderful family, I have been healthy all my life, with the exception of sporting injuries, I was still playing football up to the lockdown.

So why would I suddenly go from being primarily happy to become so sad that I was contemplating suicide at Newark Railway station in the space of six months? That was four years ago, and I had a complete breakdown and was under the care of a psychiatrist and diagnosed as suffering from severe depression and started on a course of anti-depressants. Shortly afterwards I had a further severe dip in mood and took myself to Leeds General Infirmary as I was feeling a danger to my welfare. I never made it to the hospital, instead I walked for miles along the canal and railway line, for some reason I have a fascination with trains when I am feeling suicidal, contemplating which would be the best way to go – instantly being hit by a train, or slowly drowning. I’d heard that drowning was a calming experience once the panic was over. Also it would affect very few people, possibly the person that found me. If I got hit by a train, I knew it would pretty certain to be over, but what about the trauma it would cause the driver? So I walked and walked from Leeds City Centre to Shipley Railway station, around 18 or 19 miles, and then caught the train home to Guiseley. I’d left the house around 6am, returned home at around 3.30 pm, my ex-wife got in at around 4:30 pm. Do you know, not once did she try to contact me at any time from waking to find me not in the house to returning home at 4.30pm.

I’ve analysed a lot in the past ten years and fortunately haven’t dipped as low as that again for a long time. But at the back end of 2019 something had caused me to go into a funk, and not the James Brown type of funk either. However, the New Year was a fresh start, so I began my football journey again with added verve.

Salford City were the team I had chosen to restart my journey. A fairly new team to the higher echelons of football pyramid, with 2019/20 being their first in the Football League. They are probably best known for their takeover in 2014 by some of the ‘Class of ‘92’ from Manchester United – Ryan Giggs, the Neville Brothers – Phil and Gary, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, with David Beckham taking a stake in the club in January 2019. The Club also featured in a BBC documentary series, Class of 92: Out of their League which ran for two series. However, an abiding memory of one of the Class of ‘92 is Dennis Wise getting Nicky Butt sent off by pinching the hairs on his legs. I still find it funny to this day!

Following the takeover Salford had a meteoric rise to League Two, which saw them climb from playing in the Northern Premier League Division One North in 2014/15 to the Football League in just five years. Moor Lane has been their home ground since 1978 and is unrecognisable from those days having been substantially redeveloped and is now known as the Peninsular Stadium. Northampton Town were the visitors for my first game of 2020.

Goal-mouth action

Like my visit to York, the weather was not at its best and there were some sustained periods of torrential rain during the game. So to a brief summary of the match. The Ammies went ahead after twenty minutes when Jack Baldwin, on-loan from Sunderland, headed home Craig Conway’s corner to put Salford one-up. The lead though lasted just nine minutes, when The Cobblers levelled. Salford failed to clear the ball properly and Northampton swept the play from left to right via Nicky Adams to Sam Hoskins, who arrowed a great shot into the corner – it had a touch of the Carlos Alberto about it (circa 1970 World Cup Final – the fourth Brazil goal). Half-time, all square 1-1.

Northampton started the second-half brightly and had a couple of decent chances with Vadaine Oliver hitting the side netting, before Andy Williams went round Salford ‘keeper Kyle Letheren but was forced wide and was unable to get a shot in. Williams though made up for that just after the hour mark. The Cobblers broke from half-way and after Salford couldn’t clear the cross, the rebound dropped to Williams who volleyed it home much to the delight of the travelling Northampton fans behind the goal. Salford battled for an equaliser and created a good chance after some patient build-up with Thomas-Assante slicing the chance wide from the left edge of the six-yard box. Substitute Hunter then nearly made a name for himself as his cross caused chaos in the Town box, with ‘keeper Cornell grateful to cling on to the loose ball. He then had another effort as his curling cross was just kept out by Cornell as fellow substitute Adam Rooney just failed to get a touch that would have surely brought an equaliser. However, The Cobblers held on for a 2-1 win and three points in their promotion push.


Saturday 11 January 2020

Sky Bet League Two

Salford City 1 (Baldwin 20’) Northampton Town 2 (Hoskins 29’, Williams 63’)

Venue: Peninsular Stadium

Attendance: 2,919

Salford City: Letheren, Wiseman (Pond 86’), Hughes, Burgess, Touray, Jervis, Baldwin, Towell, Conway (Hunter 70’), Thomas-Assante, Armstrong (Rooney 70’).

Unused Substitutes: Neal, Hogan, Lloyd-McGoldrick, Doyle.

Northampton Town: Cornell, Goode, Wharton, Turnbull, Hoskins, Lines, Watson, Adams (Harriman 87’), Anderson (Warburton 77’), Williams (Roberts 90+4), Oliver

Unused Substitutes: Hall-Johnson, Pollock, Martin, Arnold.


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 17 – Saturday 02 November 2019: York City v Kidderminster Harriers

Matchday programme cover

So having seen on this journey so far, Chelsea, Stenhousemuir, Fulham and Lincoln City (partially at Blackpool) all priority teams ticked off my list, it was time for York City, in the season they are due to leave their Bootham Crescent ground which has been their home since 1932 – coincidently the year my Dad was born.

I had lived in York, well Bishopthorpe just on the outskirts of the city, and had my first marriage in Bishopthorpe too shortly after leaving London. From Bishopthorpe I moved to Huddersfield and met one of my best friends, another Steve. Funnily enough, he is also a Chelsea fan and we have attempted to get to games together whenever possible. We went to the Aston Villa and Arsenal cup finals together, but our best trip was to Amsterdam to watch a few games during the 2014 World Cup. The original plan was to attend the Holland vs Spain opener, however, this was the weekend of my daughters 16th birthday so went for the Holland vs Australia and England vs Uruguay games instead. The Dutch love their football and I have been a big fan since the early 70s sides of Cruyff, Haan, van de Kerkhov brothers, Krol, Neeskens, Rep and Resenbrink – how did they never win the World Cup with that talent?

This wasn’t our first visit to the city, and we knew exactly where we were going to watch the game. We’d bought replica 1974 Dutch shirts and made our way with the locals towards Dam Square and our favourite little brown bar Café Mooy which we’d discovered many years before. We arrived in plenty of time for the kick-off, which was fortunate as the doors were bolted about half an hour before kick-off and everybody lit up. A group of lads started speaking to us in Dutch, fortunately their English was far better than our Dutch. We had a great conversation about Dutch football. I’ve followed Vitesse Arnhem for a number of years since Chelsea started a partnership with them regarding their youngsters, so we were not only able to talk about international football we also had a really great conversation about Dutch league football too. The other bonus was that we didn’t have to buy a drink from that point on. The Oranje went on to beat Australia 3 – 2 and England more or less went out of the Cup losing to Uruguay.

On the day of the York game, it was absolutely pouring down with rain as I drove over the pick Steve up. “It’s cold and wet outside mate you’ll need a coat” I said, and he only then produces exactly the same coat as I was wearing. This is going to be fun I thought, someone will think it’s the geeky brothers day out in the community! We drove to York in the rain which never gave up all day. It was a nightmare to find a parking space, but we eventually found somewhere and walked to the ground. We made it into the away end and a female steward was giving us a few strange looks. “Is it because we’re both wearing the same coat?” I enquired, “Yes!” she said losing her battle to contain her laughter. “It’s alright we don’t get out much!” Steve replied. We managed to hold out in the rain on the open Grosvenor Road terrace until half time before giving in and paid our extra quid to get into the covered Poplar Stand.

View from Polar Stand

On days like this, invariably the weather is the winner and so it proved to be. The opening twenty minutes were pretty forgettable as both sides tried to adjust to the wet and windy conditions. Kidderminster though had the best of that early period with half-chances created for Hemmings and Williams. York finally tested Cameron Gregory the Harriers ‘keeper just after the half-way point of the first-half when he saved from Griffiths. Despite Kidderminster coming into this game in 17th spot, they continued to create the best chances, with Davidson, Williams and Hemmings all firing off-target though. As so often happens, teams then score against the run of play and that happened on thirty-eight minutes. From an Adriano Moke cross, he picked out Griffiths who was able to turn and fire past Gregory and into the bottom right corner to put The Minstermen 1-0 up, an advantage they held at the break, but perhaps didn’t deserve.

Into the second-half and Kidderminster continued to dominate the possession without creating any guilt edged chances with York seemingly content to hold onto their one-goal lead. York brought on Green to give them greater numbers in midfield just before the hour mark and he nearly scored for York later in the half, but Gregory saved his strike. Harriers though continued to battle to the end and got their reward eight minutes from time. From a cross Hemmings and York ‘keeper Jameson went after the loose ball with the Kidderminster striker winning the race and slotting home for the equaliser. Almost immediately after the restart, Kidderminster then nearly took the lead, but substitute Ollie Shenton dragged his shot wide when well placed. It was the last real chance of the game which at the whistle ended 1-1 which was probably the right result. Not a classic, but at least I had a chance to say goodbye to Bootham Crescent.


Saturday 02 November 2019

Vanarama National League North

York City 1 (Griffiths 38’) Kidderminster Harriers 1 (Hemmings 82’)

Venue: Bootham Crescent

Attendance: 2,586

York City: Jameson, Griffiths, Ferguson, Newton, McNulty, Tait, Moke, Bond, Burrow, Maguire (Green 58’), Kempster (McFarlane 85’).

Unused Substitutes: Durrell, King, Whitley.

Kidderminster Harriers: Gregory, Austin, Davidson, Butterfield, Moyo, Johnson, Weeks, Williams (Diau 87’), Chambers (Shenton 77’), Hemmings (Prosser 88’), Peniket.

Unused Substitutes: Palmer, Higginson.


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 16 – Saturday 26 October 2019: Burnley v Chelsea

Matchday programme cover

A BIG day! I have loved getting around to see different clubs and grounds on this journey, but there is nothing like watching your own team. Chelsea away at Burnley, a birthday present from one of my best mates Frank and Michelle for me and Tianna. I met Frank and Michelle through my ex-wife who was from the Burnley area, but despite many of my friends gained in Burnley turning their backs on me when I got ill, they have stood by me and been a tremendous support through difficult times. Frank and I have plans to go to Accrington Stanley, and I often visit the pair of them when I am in the area watching a game or meeting up at Lowerhouses Cricket Club during the summer.

I recall seeing Chelsea versus Burnley at the Bridge in that first season in 1969/70 and throughout the 70s and 80s in both the top-flight and the Second Division, but I hadn’t been to Turf Moor before. Burnley Football Club a founding member of the Football League, is another club added to fellow founder members Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers I’ve seen this season and all in the north west. The Clarets have a long an illustrious history, one of the first professional football clubs in 1883 following their 1882 formation. They entered the FA Cup for the first time in 1885/86. They have won the top-flight twice (1920/21 and 1959/60), the FA Cup in 1913/14 and are one of five sides to have won every one of the top four tiers of the football ladder.

I remember going to a Burnley game with my Dad in 1974 at the Bridge at the end of the summer holidays, we had moved to Lincoln by then. The game finished an exciting three-all. Chelsea were a mix of the old Sexton team, Bonetti, Harris, Hollins, Cooke, and Houseman as well as a legend in the creating Mickey Droy and some exciting new players in Steve Kember from Palace and David Hay from Celtic. I was working in London in the 1980s and 90’ and the mother of one of my colleagues worked at Stamford Bridge in the laundry room. His younger brother was having a 21st birthday and who turned up, only Mickey Droy, Gary Locke, Colin Pates, John Bumstead and Colin Lee. They spent an hour with the other guests and wandered off, at that time probably to one of the public houses along the Kings Road. Burnley had some of my favourite players of the time in Martin Dobson and Leighton James as well as some of the good old fashioned professionals you had in the 70s and, probably suit the description of the current squad, in Frank Casper, Ray Hankin, and Brian Flynn. Chelsea went 3 – 0 up in the first half through goals from Houseman, Garner and Cooke and Burnley pulled three goals back from Hankin, Dobson and Fletcher. Strangely enough the next game of the season saw Chelsea win away at Burnley 2 – 1.

No Room For Racism

Back to the game and I’ll leave you with the match report from the Chelsea website:

Christian Pulisic had yet to score for Chelsea before today but how the American, handed his first league start since August, changed that record in Lancashire! He scored twice in the first half after carrying the ball at speed and finishing decisively with each foot. Both goals stemmed from the Blues stealing possession high up the pitch with plenty of claret shirts ahead of play. Pulisic's and our day got even better 10 minutes after the interval as the American registered a treble for the ages with a cute header from a fine Mason Mount delivery. Willian got in on the act shortly afterwards, firing home to round off another speedy Chelsea break. The Brazilian’s replacement Callum Hudson-Odoi thought he’d won us a penalty, but VAR overturned the decision. Burnley, who wasted a couple of good chances when the game was more evenly balanced at 1-0, had the final say with two goals in the final five minutes. The first was a Jay Rodriguez thunderbolt from a good 30 yards, the second a deflected Dwight McNeil effort. It spoiled Chelsea’s clean sheet, but not the result or the overall performance, yet another exciting display. For the first time in Chelsea’s history they have won four consecutive top-flight away games scoring three goals or more in each, while Lampard can celebrate a fourth straight league win for the first time in his short managerial career.

The boss made a solitary change to the side that began the midweek win against Ajax, with Pulisic coming in for Hudson-Odoi. For Burnley, Ashley Barnes and former Blue Jack Cork returned after injury, but Chris Wood was not deemed fit enough to feature. Aside from a Willian shot over and a nasty collision with the advertising hoardings for Kurt Zouma, the opening 10 minutes passed by with little incident. It was however immediately apparent the Blues were in for a battle, with and without the ball. Chelsea’s brightest player going forward had been Pulisic, and it was the American who opened the scoring midway through the half. It was all his own work, too, pinching possession off the dawdling Matthew Lowton and then haring goal wards. A drop of the shoulder took him past James Tarkowski, and then he arrowed a cute left-footed finish back across Nick Pope. Burnley reacted strongly. Tomori sprinted to thwart Barnes who had got free down our left, and from the resulting corner the striker headed wide after Tarkowski had won the first header.

The Clarets kept pressing. Zouma headed another cross away as far as Pieters, whose well-struck volley deflected off Azpilicueta. The ball looked like it might loop up over Kepa, who was already moving to his left, but the keeper superbly reacted to claw it away. It was Kepa’s opposite number Pope who was next to keep out a deflected effort. Willian’s diagonal pass found Pulisic in space, and he chested and shot in one movement, with the slightest of touches forcing Pope to adjust and palm behind. Burnley’s best chance of the first half was not surprisingly from a set- piece, with Mee heading back across goal and Barnes nodding wide from a yard out, perhaps unsighted by the jumping Tammy Abraham in front of him. Pulisic’s next shot was blocked by Tarkowski, who atoned for a weak clearance, and Abraham curled wide from 20 yards as the Blues enjoyed our best period of controlled possession. It looked like we would head in at the interval 1-0 up, but Pulisic had other ideas. Willian stole possession and fed the American, who again had space to race into. Just as for the first goal he slipped past Tarkowski, and this time his right-footed drive took a significant deflection off Mee and fizzed into the bottom corner.

Lampard sent his charges out early for the second half with the intention of killing the game. That’s exactly what we did before the hour. If Pulisic’s first two goals had all been about clever dribbling and changes of direction, his third was the perfect exponent of how to head a ball. Mount’s corner was cleared back to him, and the whipped cross that followed was superbly guided into the top corner by Pulisic, who was facing away from goal as he made contact with the ball. Pulisic raised three fingers to the jubilant travelling support behind the goal. There was no doubt this was his day! That goal was in the 56th minute, and with two more played it was 4-0. Abraham did well in the centre of park before moving it on to Willian. He made it look so simple standing his defender up before shimmying and drilling a low effort beyond Pope. Chelsea continued to show their capabilities defensively, with Tomori sprinting at full pelt to superbly thwart Rodriguez who was one on one and looked certain to score. Reece James came on for Alonso and immediately made two blocks, and another sub, Callum Hudson-Odoi, thought he had won us a penalty, but VAR overturned the decision and the youngster was booked for simulation. But it was a pen!! It looked like the game was winding down to a gentle conclusion, but two late Burnley goals briefly livened things up. Rodriguez’s was the best goal of the day, a stunning long- ranger that gave Kepa no chance on 85 minutes. McNeil, the hosts’ best performer, then saw his speculative shot take a nick off Tomori and fly past Kepa.

What a performance and oh the best programme of the journey so far!


Saturday 26 October 2019

Premier League

Burnley 2 (Rodriguez 86’, McNeil 89’) Chelsea 4 (Pulisic 21’, 45’, 56’, Willian 58’)

Venue: Turf Moor

Attendance: 20,975

Burnley (4-4-2): Pope; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Pieters; Hendrick (Brady 84’), Westwood, Cork, McNeil; Barnes (Vydra 63’), Rodriguez.

Unused substitutes: Hart, Taylor, Bardsley, Long, Lennon.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Zouma, Tomori, Alonso (James 63’); Kovacic, Jorginho, Mount; Willian (Hudson-Odoi 72’), Abraham (Giroud 70’), Pulisic.

Unused substitutes: Caballero, Guehi, Pedro, Batshuay


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 15 – Saturday 19 October 2019: Oldham Athletic v Macclesfield Town

Matchday programme cover

The M62 motorway that runs east to west in the north of England is a main artery for travelling fans during the season. I’m on it again today as I make the twenty odd mile journey from Huddersfield to Oldham. Interestingly the footballing clash between the respective clubs is referred to as the M62 or A62 ‘derby’. Today though Oldham’s opponents are Macclesfield Town. It will be interesting to note which teams I see on the most occasions on this journey, this being the second Macclesfield match I will have attended, having also seen Carlisle twice so far.

Boundary Park the home of The Latics, is no distance at all when you turn off the M62 at Junction 20. The venue was originally called the Athletic Ground when it opened in 1896 for Oldham County FC. When they were disbanded in 1899, Pine Villa FC (founded 1895) moved in and changed their name to Oldham Athletic. Boundary Park is known as a cold ground and sometimes mistaken as the highest venue in the top four tiers, it is in fact second highest, the highest being the Hawthorns, home of West Bromwich Albion, but do you know the third?

My memories of Oldham come from them reaching the Final of the League Cup in 1990 and getting promoted to the newly formed Premier League in 1992. There was also the 1993/94 FA Cup Semi-Final under Joe Royle, when Oldham were denied progress to the Cup Final when Manchester United equalised in the last minute of extra-time. I remember exactly where I was that night! I was watching the game in a pub on the Fulham Road, The Somerset Arms the local of my girlfriend at the time. When we got home, we found out that we had been burgled, and the Police informed us that we had probably disturbed them, so it’s all Mark Hughes fault for taking the game into extra time!!

View across to Joe Royle Stand

So to the action on the pitch, which in all honestly was a quiet one for the first-half. The only real moments of note were a header from a corner that ex-Oldham player Theo Vassell put wide and a long-distance effort from Oldham’s Tom Hamer that flew past the post shortly before half-time. Macclesfield edged the half on possession, but at the break it was goal-less.

The Latics came out better in the second-half and had an early chance from a free-kick, that Mohammed Maouche directed wide. However, Macclesfield gradually worked their way back into the game and Theo Archibald had a couple of decent half-chances as the last twenty minutes approached. The breakthrough for the visitors came with just four minutes remaining. Oldham conceded a free-kick on the edge of their box, allowing substitute Jack McCourt, who had only been on the pitch six minutes, to step up and fire past De La Paz and into the far corner. Oldham nearly snatched a point in the final minute of the game as a header from a corner was somehow cleared off the line. At the whistle though, it was The Silkmen who went back to Cheshire with the three points courtesy of a 1-0 win.


Saturday 19 October 2019

Sky Bet League Two

Oldham Athletic 0 Macclesfield Town 1 (McCourt 86’)

Venue: Boundary Park

Attendance: 4,428

Oldham Athletic: De La Paz, Hamer, Wheater, Stott, Iacovitti, McCann, Missilou, Sylla (Eagles 90’), Maouche (McKinney 69’), Smith, Azankpo (Wilson 59’)

Unused substitutes: Woods, Smith-Brown, Gaskell.

Macclesfield Town: Evans, Kelleher, Vassell, Gnahoua (Horsfall 90’), Harris, Ironside, Archibald, Welch-Hayes, Kirby (McCourt 80’), O’Keefe, Osadebe

Unused substitutes: Charles-Cook, Stephens, Gomis, Ntambwe


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 14 – Tuesday 08 October 2019: FC Halifax Town v Chorley

Teamsheet and programme

As you may have noticed much of my journey has been unaccompanied, with the exception of the Barnsley, Bolton Wanderers and Stockport County games all attended with a couple of friends both coincidentally called Sally, Glossop North End with Nick and of course the first game with Tianna. As an only child I was very happy with my own company and this has extended into adulthood. It means that going to games on my own is generally par for the course and it does provide an opportunity to speak to the locals and fellow football fans at the fixtures I attend if I choose to. All of that was about to change.

I had been posting my journey on my Facebook page and an old friend from work contacted me and asked if he could accompany me to a game and we agreed on a midweek trip to FC Halifax Town. Paul was to become a frequent companion on my journey and provide me with a huge amount of support and inspiration to achieve the 50 games target. This game in West Yorkshire was to ignite a great friendship in the coming New Year. I first met Paul at work, where we shared an office but worked in different departments and we’d often have a chat about football. I didn’t realise at the time, but we were both going through a pretty traumatic period in our lives, but I really enjoyed his company and our footballing chats. Paul left the Council to pursue a career in football, primarily journalism. We kept in touch as you do through social media and met up at the West Riding County Cup Final in April 2017, Tadcaster Albion versus Farsley, incidentally another trip with Nick too.

I’d had a breakdown in 2016, partially brought on by the death of my Dad in 2014, partially being within, what I was to find out later, was a toxic relationship followed by a four year bitter divorce and access proceedings, hence the games with Tianna at the start of this journey being extra special. I have suffered from depression, probably before, and since and have been on medication. I suffer swings of mood between highs and lows and I try to recognise and manage the lows and sometimes set myself ambitious challenges, such as this journey, to give myself a target to drive myself through those lows with something to look forward to that I enjoy. Along this journey I have experienced both and Paul has been a great help during these times. More of this in the articles to come.

Back to the game with FC Halifax Town hosting Chorley.

Halifax Town AFC was a former league club who in 2008 were dissolved with the phoenix club, FC Halifax Town placed into the Northern Premier League (NPL) Division One North in the 2009/10 season. The original club, nicknamed The Shaymen, were a founder member of the Third Division North in 1921 ten years after their formation and remained in the third and fourth tiers all of their years in the league before relegation to the Conference in 1993. They regained their league status for four years between 1998 and 2002 but suffered relegation back to the Conference and then went into administration at the end of the 2007/08 campaign. The ‘new’ club from 2009/10 worked its way through the NPL and have since 2017/18 been in the topflight of the non-league structure.

For this game, I met Paul in the Three Pigeons for a couple pre-match drinks and by the time we left it was absolutely throwing it down of rain. We walked down the hill to the stadium joking at the prospect of seeing a goalless draw on such a miserable night, having told Paul of my misfortune at the recent Blackpool fixture. The entrance to The Shay, is the new part to the stadium, with the site itself having been Halifax’s’ home since joining the league in 1921. The main stand itself is an impressive structure but is slightly odd in that one corner section has not been completed and has been that like for a number of years, a reminder of the clubs troubled financial past. We took up our seats fairly close to the half-way line but had a group of “Soccer YEAH!” boys sat behind us who talked incessantly through the game. They proved to be at times amusing and at others irritating.

First-half Halifax free-kick

Going into this game, Halifax sat at the top of the table, with Chorley in the lower reaches having had a poor start to the campaign. Therefore it was no surprise that the Magpies set off from the start with a back-five and were happy to allow The Shaymen plenty of possession. Ironically though it was Chorley who had the first real chance of the game after fifteen minutes, when a dangerous cross from Marcus Carver just eluded the Chorley forwards. This was followed moments later by a chance for Adam Blakeman, who despite being in a good position, fired well over the Halifax bar. What with the wind and rain and the resolute defending from Chorley, the home were struggling to make their possession count, but four minutes before the break, Liam McAlinden created a chance for himself, only to see his shot sail high and wide.

The second-half started where the first had left off with Halifax seeing plenty of the ball with half chances created for Michael Duckworth and McAlinden. Halifax manager Pete Wild tried to mix things up with substitutions on fifty-seven and sixty-nine minutes to get the breakthrough and it nearly worked with nineteen minutes remaining. Sub Jamie Allen played in Jerome Binnom-Williams, but his shot was straight at Chorley ‘keeper Matt Urwin. Into the last ten minutes, with Halifax still plugging away, substitute Cameron King had a shot blocked, which fell to fellow sub Allen, however his effort could only find the side netting. It was the last real chance and Chorley had earned a point with a resolute rear-guard action.

Paul had up and until that evening watched nineteen games and not seen a 0-0. The curse of ‘Blighton’ had struck and we laughed as we reflected on our pre-match predication. To cap it off it was still bucketing down as we left the ground and dashed for the car. Football you’ve got to love it!


Tuesday 08 October 2019

Vanarama National League

FC Halifax Town 0 Chorley 0

Venue: The Shay Stadium

Attendance: 2,117

FC Halifax Town – Johnson, Duckworth, Binnom-Williams, Clarke, Nolan(Sho-Silva 80’) , J King (C King, 57’), Staunton, McAlinden, Williams (Allen 69’), Cooper, Southwell

Unused substitutes –Appleyard, Maher.

Chorley – Urwin, Challoner, Blakeman, Meppen-Walters, Cottrell, Baines, Nortey, Massanka (A Newby 69’), Ross, Dodds (O’Keefe, 77’), Carver (Holroyd, 90’)

Unused substitutes – E Newby, Eccles


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 13 – Saturday 05 October 2019: Stalybridge Celtic v FC United of Manchester (FCUM)

Matchday programme cover

A local ‘derby’ just down the road for me featuring Stalybridge Celtic against FC United of Manchester at Bower Fold in the Northern Premier League’s top division. Two clubs that have interested me for different reasons, we’ll leave FCUM to later in the season. Stalybridge Celtic for me were a cup team, and I also remember them because of the Celtic suffix, in the time when I used to play games as a boy, like ‘name all the suffix’ of the league clubs’ (I think there were 26 at the time, the question and answer will be different now). Celtic wasn’t a suffix of any league club then or now in the English top four divisions but (Glasgow) Celtic are one of the largest sides in Scotland and were the first British club to lift the European Cup. So I naturally assumed that Stalybridge played in green and white hoops and had origins from a Roman Catholic church or church school.

There is some question around Stalybridge’s actual formation year in that whether it is 1906 or 1909, and no they didn’t spring from a Catholic but by Herbert Rhodes a local businessman and philanthropist, additionally they have always played in blue. How wrong my misconceptions were! Celtic were a former league club and were one of the founder members of the Third Division (North) for the 1921/22 season, along with another 19 teams from the north, some of whom have and will feature in this journey at one stage or another.

Handshakes before kick-off

It was local Football Charity Day at Bower Fold and there was a carnival atmosphere with a large FCUM contingent joining the home fans – the bar will have done very well today. Good footballing weather, a nice compact ground and a boisterous crowd, let’s hope that we had a game to match.

Stalybridge came out the block quickly and scored within two minutes. Darius Osei was fouled outside the box and Declan Walker took the resulting free-kick. Paddy Wharton in the FCUM goal couldn’t hold the effort and Osei had a simple tap in to give Celtic the lead. FCUM were nearly level just three minutes later when Jordan Buckley was denied by Alex Fojticek who dashed out of his goal to make the save. The opening of the game continued at a pace with Wharton having to save a Craig Hobson effort with nine minutes gone. It was an end-to-end encounter with play switching from one end to the other. Stalybridge’s Jonathan Ustabasi was a constant threat down the left-wing and managed to pick out Hobson and Osei on a number of occasions. The tempo couldn’t be sustained and eventually the game settled down. As the first-half was coming to a close Celtic had the ball in the net. However the effort was disallowed after the referee ruled that Osei handled the ball in the build-up. At the break the home side went in 1-0 up and deservedly ahead.

FCUM were eager to get a leveller early in the second-half and did so after fifty-seven minutes. The lively Tunde Owolabi firing home ball past Fojticek. Owolabi was then involved ten minutes later when he nipped in to collect a wayward Celtic back-pass which allowed Ennis to stroke into an unguarded net. FCUM held the 2-1 advantage as the game entered the final ten minutes, but the home side struck with eighty-two minutes on the watch as a Walker free-kick was headed home by Osei for his and Stalybridge’s second of the game. Celtic then sensationally nearly went ahead as another free-kick was met by the head of Valentine only for his effort to come back off the post. There was to be a winner though, but it came for the visitors as a free-kick from Ennis evaded everyone and nestled in the Celtic net as the game entered time added on to clinch a 3-2 win for FCUM.

What a great game, a five-goal thriller, the best of the season for me, especially the second half. The three United midfielders, Luke Griffiths, Alex Babos and Mike Potts ran the game and were the difference between the two sides. A great advert for the standard of football at this level (Step 7 of the football pyramid).


Saturday 05 October 2019

BetVictor Northern Premier League – Premier Division

Stalybridge Celtic 2 (Osei 2’, 81’) FC United of Manchester 3 (Owolabi 56’, Ennis 66’, 90’)

Venue: Bower Fold

Attendance: 1,188

Staylybridge Celtic: Fojticek, Walker, Mantack, Dent (Whitehead 71’), Lees, Smalley, Ustabasi,

Valentine, Hobson (MacDevitt 83’), Osei, Freedman (Bakkor 55’)

Unused substitutes – O’Halloran, O’Leary.

FC United of Manchester: Wharton, Morris, Dodd, Griffiths, Doyle, Jones, Babos (Lenehan 76’), Potts,

Owolabi, Buckley (Ennis 55’), Curran (Joyce 90’)

Unused substitutes – Rodney, Belford


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 12 – Friday 27 September 2019: Blackpool v Lincoln City

A Friday night adventure with a visit to Blackpool to see the mighty Imps!

My links to Lincoln City go back to the ten years I lived there. My dad came out of the Air Force after being posted to RAF Scampton (about 6 miles from Lincoln), home of the Dambusters Squadron 617 and we stayed on in the area. My dad would take me to local games such as Nottingham Forest and we would make regular trips to London to see my nan, (my dad’s mum), but primarily Lincoln City who were languishing in the Fourth Division (what is now League Two). We used to stand on the old Sincil Bank terrace along the west side of the ground. When I got older, I used to go with school friends Rob and Julian. In 1972 along came Graham Taylor as manager. He won promotion for Lincoln in 1975/76 and moved to Watford – you all know his story from then.

Lincoln City 1975/76

However, that Lincoln team still lives on in my memory. Dennis Booth (a journeyman midfielder who came via Charlton, Blackpool and Southend), Ian Branfoot (best remembered for his managerial career with Reading, Southampton and Fulham), Terry Cooper (not the Leeds United one), Sam Ellis (former Sheffield Wednesday centre half), John Fleming, “Big Percy” Freeman, Peter Grotier (former West Ham keeper), Dick Krzywicki (as well as an answer to an old football question, former Huddersfield and West Brom winger and Welsh international), Dennis Leigh (a local lad via Doncaster and Rotherham), Phil Neale (the footballer/cricketer who played for Worcestershire CCC and also Scunthorpe United with Ian “Beefy” Botham), Dave Smith (long standing outside left – number 10), John Ward (a local lad and prolific goal-scorer better known for his managerial career where he took charge of nine clubs) and Tony Woodcock (on loan from Nottingham Forest before he became an England international, First Division winner and European Cup winner).

Matchday programme cover

It’s 70 miles to Blackpool, I’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and I’m wearing sunglasses…Hit it!! It’s all motorway from Huddersfield to Blackpool M62, M61 and M55, but it’s a Friday night and I have to go through Manchester at the tail end of the rush hour so I thought I would give it two hours, well…It was pissing down all the way, road works, traffic hold ups round the M62/M62 junction and when I hit the outskirts of Blackpool the traffic was backed up all the way along two miles of Yeadon Lane heading into Blackpool. Fortunately, I managed to find off-street parking close to the ground but had missed the first 25 minutes. I picked up my ticket from the club shop, which was closing, there no vendors left outside the ground, so no programme and I had to almost batter a door down to get a steward to let me in. I took my seat and the score was already 2 – 1 to Blackpool.

So what had I missed dear readers? Well, here is what the Blackpool FC website said about the opening of the game:

It was Lincoln’s on-loan Nottingham Forest forward Tyler Walker who had the first opportunity of the game, cutting inside and forcing a save out of Jak Alnwick. Minutes later, Blackpool opened the scoring. Sean Scannell, making his first league start since signing for the club, latched onto a cut-back from Liam Feeney and rifled the ball into the top corner. The Seasiders then had Alnwick to thank again for preserving the lead, as he scampered across goal to push away an 18-yard drive from Jack Payne. At the other end, Armand Gnanduillet was frustrated to nod over the bar when left unmarked from a Liam Feeney corner. Then came an individual bit of brilliance. Jordan Thompson picked up the ball off Feeney on the edge of the box, nutmegged his marker and curled the ball into the far corner to put Blackpool two goals up. The visitors weren’t affected by that goal though and quickly reduced the deficit. A cross into the box deflected into the path of Jack Payne, who blasted the ball into the net.

Match action

Once I had taken my seat, Blackpool were then forced to scramble the ball away when a Ben Heneghan clearance rebounded off Matty Virtue and presented a chance to Lincoln’s Payne. However, he was denied by ‘keeper Alnwick. Later the half the other real effort came via Lincoln’s Harry Toffolo whose cross just evaded Walker at the back post.

Into the second-half and in a lively opening, Blackpool nearly went 3-1 up when a Gnanduillet shot took a deflection and went just past the post. Lincoln responded with the Imps captain Jason Shackell having a real golden opportunity to level the game as from a free-kick he headed wide of the goal. The home side looked to change things up with a double substitution just after the hour mark, and it nearly gave Blackpool a third goal when Thompson had a great chance but was denied by a cracking save from John Vickers. The game became more cat and mouse as it entered the final quarter, but despite the efforts of the Imps, it was Blackpool who took the points with a 2-1 win.

Blackpool were to feature later in the season on my journey and ironically another incident involving the car…watch this space.


Friday 27 September 2019

Sky Bet League One

Blackpool 2 (Scannell 11’, Thompson 21’) Lincoln City 1 (Payne 24’)

Venue: Bloomfield Road

Attendance: 9,203

Blackpool – Alnwick, Turton, Heneghan, Tilt, Husband, Spearing, Virtue (Guy 62), Thompson, Feeney, Scannell (Macdonald 62), Gnanduillet.

Unused substitutes – Mafoumbi, Bushiri, Edwards, Shaw, Hardie.

Lincoln City – Vickers, Eardley, Bolger, Shakell, Toffolo, Connelly, Morrell, Andrerson (Grant 49’), Payne, Carvalho Andrade, Walker.

Unused substitutes – O’Conner, Chapman, Smith, Lewis, Melbourne, Akinde


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 11 – Saturday 21 September 2019: Rotherham United v Shrewsbury Town

Subbuteo team chart

A return to my football journey after missing out on a game last Saturday. Today a trip to South Yorkshire and Rotherham United, which is less than thirty miles from Huddersfield.

Strangely, I first got interested in the Millers through Subbuteo. As a kid, I used to get catalogues advertising their products which had a sheet which detailed which teams were represented by the kits the miniature figures wore. The red shirt with white sleeves, white shorts, and white stockings (as they were called in the day) represented Arsenal, Rotherham United, St Patricks Athletic, HVC Amersfoort and VVV from the Netherlands and Reims from France.

My favourite Rotherham story, and always reminds me of the Arctic Monkeys lyric “you’re not from New York City you’re from Rotherham” on the track, Fake Tales of San Francisco. Anyway, I was in Prague for a week, my mate Neil and I had decided to take our holiday to coincide with a stag-do for another friend. They were there for the weekend, we spent the week there. Absolutely great time. One of the nights me and Neil had ended up in this nightclub and speaking to some lads from England. As the drinks and conversation flowed, we got onto the serious questions of what team do you support. Neil supports Liverpool, is Scouse through and through and comes from the Wirral. The other two lads were both Sheffield Wednesday supporters. One of them got a bit uppity and insisted the Neil was a glory hunter and should be a Tranmere Rovers supporter because he was from the Wirral, of course I got some of the flack but then it’s a bit difficult supporting a Singapore side. It all got a bit heated but then as usually happens it swings one of two ways. I think the moment that broke the tension was when Neil asked the vociferous lad, with the proudly displayed Sheffield Wednesday tattoos which part of Sheffield he was from, “Rotherham” was his response, oh we laughed for ages and ages, but to this day I still think that he was being serious!


Back to the game and another goose bump inducing walk to the stadium – another new ground for me and included going past Millmoor. It’s quite strange in that the stadium is pretty much still intact. It was first home to Rotherham County FC between 1907 and 1925, with the Millers taking up residency when Rotherham United were formed with the merging of County and Rotherham Town. United moved out in 2008, and after playing at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield moved to their current home, the New York Stadium in 2012.

View to South Stand

I opted for a seat with the home fans in the North Stand on what was a balmy Autumnal afternoon. The Millers wore red and white, but not in that distinctive way that the Subbuteo kit of my youth was, and as is the modern way despite Shrewsbury’s traditional blue and yellow kit not clashing with the home team, opted for their all-purple second strip. Coming into the game Rotherham were in 14th in League One, having played seven, won three, drawn two and lost two, for a total of eleven points and had scored six in their last home game against Bolton. The Shrews were just one spot above their hosts and from their eight outings, had a record of three wins, three draws and two loses, and twelve points.

In all honestly the ninety minutes was fairly forgettable, with neither ‘keeper required to make a serious save and incidents of any real note were few and far between. Perhaps the pleasant September sun had becalmed the players, and as a result the game finished 0-0.


Saturday 21 September 2019

Sky Bet League One

Rotherham United 0 Shrewsbury Town 0

Venue: ASSEAL New York Stadium

Attendance: 8,380

Rotherham United – Iversen, Jones, Mattock, Wiles, Ladapo (Smith 67’), Morris, Robertson, Lindsay, Crooks, Ihiekwe, Hastie (MacDonald 83’).

Unused substitutes: Price, Wood, Barlaser, Lamy, Cooper.

Shrewsbury Town – O’Leary, Williams, Beckles, Whalley (Walker 90’), Norburn, Lang (Cummings 74’), Giles, Love, Goss, Ebanks-Landell, Laurent (Edwards 86’).

Unused substitutes: Agius, Golbourne, Vincelot, Udoh.


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 10 – Saturday 07 September 2019: Macclesfield Town v Crawley Town

Matchday programme cover

As detailed in an earlier article (Match Day 3), 2019/20 had seen Bury expelled from the Football League and Bolton Wanderers clinging onto their league status by their fingernails. Another club on the brink of financial ruin along with them were Macclesfield Town, and they became my destination of choice on this opening Saturday of September.

Macclesfield Town had never come across my football radar until they made it into the Football League in the late 90s, but they do have a long and illustrious amateur record. They were formed in 1874 as Macclesfield and have played at Moss Rose since 1891, so a long standing ground still being used in the Football League (15th in the list). The beginnings of Macclesfield Town Football Club can be traced, at least in part, to the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers who were formed in 1873 and played regularly in Macclesfield from October 1874. It was agreed at a public meeting on 21 October 1876 that the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers and the Olympic Cricket club teams be merged to form Macclesfield F.C. and initially matches alternated between association and rugby rules. At the beginning of the 1878/79 season Macclesfield United Football Club merged with Macclesfield Football Club. The club played in the FA Cup competition for the first time on 18 November 1882, losing 4-3 to Lockwood Brothers and first entered the Cheshire Senior Cup in the 1879/80 season, winning this competition for the first time on 22 March 1890 when they beat Nantwich 4–1 and went on to be winners on three more occasions before the turn of the century. Macclesfield became members of The Combination League at the start of the 1890/91 season and moved from Victoria Road to the Moss Rose on 12 September 1891 which remains the home of the Silkmen today. In terms of honours, they are two times FA Trophy winners (1970 the season my football journey begins and 1996), three times National League champions (once refused promotion due to the state of their ground) and three times Northern Premier League winners. With such a history, it would be a shame should they go out of existence.

The visitors to Moss Rose, Crawley Town are another relatively new team to the Football League becoming members following promotion under Steve Evans in 2010/11.

Teams prior to kick-off

The game kicked-off on a bright afternoon, with the Silkmen quickest out of the blocks as Theo Archibald fired a shot over the bar in the opening minute. It was though an even opening to the game with Bez Lubala looking dangerous for the visitors Crawley. Macclesfield though took the lead on twenty-one minutes when Theo Vassell stabbed the ball home following a corner that Crawley failed to clear. Chances were few and far between in the rest of the half, but the visitors had two good opportunities in the final five minutes before the break. First a defensive lapse by the Silkmen let in Lubala with Vassell’s tackle saving the situation and then Nathan Ferguson had a golden chance to level when inside the box but blazed over the bar.

Crawley dominated the start of the second half with Macclesfield playing on the break and but for two excellent saves from the visitors ‘keeper Morris from Archibald and Stephens would have had a second goal. However, the pressure from Crawley finally told, when with seventeen minutes remaining, the lively Lubala scored with an excellent free-kick. He nearly manufactured a second just five minutes later as his shot was saved and fell to Ollie Palmer, who put the rebound wide with the goal at his mercy. Both sides went in search of a winner in the closing minutes of the game, but at the whistle it finished 1-1, which was probably about the right result.

As I write, the EFL have ended the League Two season and implemented Points Per Game to decide on the final league placings. The Silkmen because of an eleven point deduction due to failure to pay players and cancellation of fixtures earlier in the season, find themselves next to bottom, with Stevenage in the relegation spot. However, the EFL has brough further charges against the club in relation to wages issues and if Macclesfield are docked three or more points they would then drop into the National League. Worrying times for all associated with the Moss Rose club.


Saturday 07 September 2019

Sky Bet League Two

Macclesfield Town 1 (Vassell 21’) Crawley Town 1 (Lubala 73’)

Venue: Moss Rose

Attendance: 1,788

Macclesfield Town: Evans, O’Keeffe (Horsfall 78′), Welch-Hayes, Kelleher, Vassell, Archibald, Kirby, Harris, Osadebe, Stephens (Gnahoua 67′), Ironside (Gomis 90′)

Unused substitutes: Charles-Cook, Clarke, Ntambwe

Crawley Town: Morris, Sesay (Young 76’), Tunnicliffe, Dallison-Lisbon, Doherty, Bulman, Camaro, Grego-Cox, Ferguson (Enigbokan-Bloomfield 45’), Lubala, Palmer

Unused Substitutes: Francomb, Nathaniel-George, Allarakhia, Gallach, Luyambula.


Steve Blighton