Fanzine Review: Are You the Clown? (No: 3 – February 2023)

Back in February 2021 FBR reviewed the first edition of Atherton Collieries Supporters Club Fanzine Are You the Clown? A link to the review is here:

Just over two years later, a third edition is out. It is as with the first issue in an A5 full colour format with an increase from 36 to 52 pages. It is of course centred on events at the Skuna Stadium, Alder Street, the home of the Colls and is therefore primarily aimed at those of a Black & White persuasion. However, there is more than enough interesting content for those interested in football and the non-league game in particular.

In this edition, the articles include the thoughts of a Colls fan who attended the World Cup in Qatar, which whilst interesting would have benefitted from been expanded to include more about the writers thoughts and experiences from what was acknowledged as once of the most controversial hosts down the years. This is followed by one of the longer pieces within the fanzine from Tony Mooney, and is a cracking read. Mooney tells of how he fell out of love of the professional game during his time supporting Bolton Wanderers and how he has rekindled his joy of the sport through following Atherton. His story of the friendship, and connection to the club is both heart-warming and familiar to all those who follow the non-league game.

Elsewhere, the experience and life of match officials are explored through a couple of articles, A week in the life of an EFL Referee from current man-in-the-middle, Darren Handley and Who would be a referee? from retired non-league match official Patrick Hayes, both offering interesting perspectives.

Also amongst the 52 pages is an extensive review of the calendar year 2022 from fan Emily Madden, which charts her highs and lows as Colls settled into life in the NPL Premier Division. There is also a pictorial review of the 2021/22 season featuring the programme covers from the Colls league and cup fixtures from the season.

Throw in articles about how 85 year old fan Eric Lancaster cycled 52 miles to watch Atherton in FA Cup action in Ossett, and one that nearly saw the Wimbledon FC ‘Crazy Gang’ play the Colls to christen the Alder Street floodlights and you can see that there is plenty of content to enjoy.

One thing to finish on and which adorns the back page is a ‘thank you’ dated November 1918 from Fletcher, Burrows & Co. Ltd who owned all the collieries and built cotton mills in Atherton. It praised the efforts of all those employed in the collieries and their contribution to the war effort. What it illustrates and is hugely important to the non-league community then and now, is the importance of community, of roots, of history – something the modern day professional game has long since lost.

This publication is a credit to the Club and the hard work of those involved in putting it together, such as Club Secretary Emil Anderson and Media Team, Rob Clarke and Zach Pierce.

For copies of all the issues to date please visit:

Book Review: Soap stars and burst bubbles: A season of Yorkshire football by Steven Penny

This book from Steven Penny was born out of his record of matches he attended during the 2002/03 season, documented on his website and which focuses on the game below the top four professional leagues in England. The book produced at the time proved popular but then went out of print, so prompted by repeated requests since, it was republished in February 2021.

Structure wise the book follows a timeline from August 2002 through to May 2003, and within each month, each game attended is afforded its own chapter. Given this format, it would be all too easy to fall into the trap of this being another book which just provides match reports, team line-ups, scorers etc. Penny’s great advantage that as a journalist he provides an interest story within each game, so that readers get interviews with players, managers, club officials and fans, which gives a wider perspective on the clubs featured, the realities of football at this level and some interesting tales indeed.

One such gives rise to part of the title of the book, with Helen Worth (soap star, Gail from Coronation Street), the Honorary President of the Ossett Albion club back in 2002/03 featured in the opening chapter. Another features a Goole supporter who was banned from attending matches at their Victoria Pleasure Grounds venue, but still bought a season-ticket!

The book very much focuses on life in non-league with trips to games within the Northern Counties East League dominating, however, this is supplemented by games featuring Yorkshire clubs, in the Northern Premier League, Humber Premier League, Northern League, and Central Midland League, as well as County Cups and the FA Vase and FA Cup. There are a handful of trips to watch games in the top four divisions, but in the main are not experiences that Penny enjoys, and his love for the non-league game which affords him his living as a journalist is evident.

Penny had intended that there would be a follow-up, in which he revisited and updated events at the various clubs he had taken in back in that 2002/03 campaign, however the global pandemic has had other ideas. Instead, his intentions are that a second volume will be produced once football at all steps of the National League System returns, with visits to completely different clubs to those featured in Soap stars and burst bubbles, and further down the line a third book, re-visiting and updating clubs’ stories from the first two volumes.

Reviewing this republished version, eighteen years after its first publication, it is evident that any follow-up will have many tales to tell and be able to reflect on much that has changed. For instance, there are clubs featured from 2002/03 that are no longer with us, even a new club in the form of Ossett United, from the merging of Albion and Town, and others that have either plummeted through the divisions or have equally soared to new heights. Fingers crossed that 2021/22 will see an uninterrupted return of football allowing Penny to tell the stories of those changes and bring fans once again more entertaining tales of his travels.

(Victor Publishing. February 2021. Paperback 267 pages)


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Book Review – The Early Years of Belper Town Football Club 1878-1912: From Windmill Lane to the Acorn Ground by Mike Smith

Belper Town Football Club, nicknamed The Nailers, are a club based in Derbyshire, in a town approximately 7 miles north of Derby, who in the 2020/21 football season were plying their trade in the Northern Premier League, South/East Division (level 8 of the English Football Pyramid, where the Premier League is level 1).

Their unusual nickname came about because the craft of nail making began in Belper in the Middle Ages when it was the site of a hunting lodge for John of Gaunt. The huntsmen needed nails for the shoes of their horses and the trade in nails eventually grew. It was a domestic industry with the Nailers working in family groups but, in 1861, the introduction of machinery to manufacture nails was the beginning of the end for the local trade which died out altogether at the beginning of the century to be replaced by modern industry and commerce in the town. Like the nail making industry, Belper Town FC has faded away in the past and Mike Smith’s book, The Early Years of Belper Town Football Club 1878-1912: From Windmill Lane to the Acorn Ground tells the story of the first incarnation of the football club.

The clubs current badge (see right) states 1883 as the date of formation, Smith though in the book states, looking at various precedents I would argue that Belper Town were formed in 1878 rather than 1883. Part of this conclusion from the author is the existence of Belper St Peter’s FC (who changed their name to Belper Town FC for 1883/84 season) playing games as early as 1878.

This book which is an incredible piece of research and which must have taken an inordinate amount of patience and persistence, seeks to detail the highs and lows of the club, both on and off the pitch, during The Nailers initial manifestation as a football club. In addition to a season by season description and match reports of the games played by Belper Town, there are sections, which highlight some of the important names involved with the club in the late 19th and early 20th century and also contains a number of photographs and a detailed statistical record of the club including results, scorers and league tables.

Amongst the early highlights of the club was an FA Cup First Round tie against Sheffield Wednesday on 15 October 1887 in which Belper were narrowly defeated 3-2 by the Yorkshire giants. However, to put this into context, in the 1887/88 season this was before the age of qualifying rounds. Belper had other success during its early days, with Derby & District League titles in 1899/1900 and 1900/01 as well as five Derbyshire Divisional Cup wins between 1901 and 1907.

It is all too easy to forget that the game back then was a very different one to that we watch today. As an example, goals were still able to be scored by “scrimmage” i.e. where players bunch together to force the ball over the line, as still occurs in rugby union today. Smith also details how often games were not ninety minutes, for instance, due to teams turning up late and the light not being sufficient to complete a normal game, or where the pitch conditions or weather reduced playing time. In addition, many games took place with teams not able to play with a full compliment of players and so teams scoring six plus goals was not uncommon, with many netting double-figures.

Alongside the realities of Victorian football, the author provides readers with some absolute gems of stories, such as from the November 1896 Derbyshire FA meeting. Buxton Football Club complained about injuries to several of their players, caused by a member of the Bonsall Football Club who had an artificial arm…After a long debate it was decided that players with artificial arms should take them off before taking part in any game.” Additionally, Smith details events such as the mind-boggling “Man v Elephant” football games and even drops in an outline of Belper Town’s brief flirtation with baseball in 1900. IT is easy to forget that the game was popular in England with the Baseball Ground, first used as the home of Derby Baseball Club from 1890 until 1898 and then for football as the home of Derby County from 1895 until 1997.

Whilst the game was very different back then, there are some things in the sport that don’t change and that is in relation to finance and the pull of the professional clubs. The Nailers demise, as they were unable to complete the 1911/12 season, came about through the declining gates that meant the club were running at a loss, due in part to the draw of other clubs in the area especially of Derby County who were one of the 12 founder members of the Football League in 1888. The reality though for The Nailers was that it would not be until 1951 that Belper Town got back on its feet and become the club that exists today.

Some might argue that books such as this have a very limited market, but the reality is that it will appeal to anyone interested in the early origins of the game and social history of the time, especially those in the Derbyshire region, as the background to the rivalries with the likes of Buxton, Gresley Rovers, Matlock Town and Ilkeston Town are detailed from the Victorian era.


(Michael John Kirk Smith. April 2020. Paperback 260 pages)


For copies of the book (£12.00 plus £2.50 postage and packing), please contact:

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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 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