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:

Programme Review: 2022/23 Yorkshire Amateur AFC

Fixture: Toolstation Northern Counties East League (NCEL) Premier Division

Date: Tuesday 28 September 2022

Venue: Roxholme Road

Result: Yorkshire Amateur 0 (0) – (1) 3 Hemsworth Miners Welfare

Programme cost: £2.00

Pages: 20

Front cover

Leeds may have only one professional football club but has a host of clubs playing in the non-league system. Among them, is Yorkshire Amateur, a club based in the north east part of the city and less than three miles out of the centre.

The Ammers as they are nicknamed, were founded in 1918, but didn’t start playing matches until the following season. The club played at Elland Road after Leeds City FC were dissolved in 1919 due to financial irregularities. However, Yorkshire Amateur’s decided in 1920 to sell the lease to the newly formed Leeds United for just £250. The clubs have since has driven down very different paths, with Leeds United one of the best clubs in the country in the 1960s and ‘70s and now back in the Premier League. The Ammers meanwhile were founders of the Yorkshire League in 1920 playing in it until 1981/82 when it was merged with the Midland League to form the Northern Counties East League (NCEL).

Following the disrupted seasons in 2019/20 and 2020/21 due to the global pandemic, The Ammers were promoted to the Northern Premier League, East Division (Step 4 of the National League System), their highest ever playing level. Despite a respectable mid-table finish, the club was relegated back to the NCEL due to failing ground grading. This led to major changes to the club both on and off the pitch.

With so much upheaval it has not been an easy start to the 2022/23 campaign for the Roxholme Road team. Coming into this fixture they were bottom of the league after nine games, having won just one game, drawn one, with seven losses and suffered early exits in both the FA Cup and FA Vase. Despite all this and with crowds averaging just 77 from their five home games, it was great to see that The Ammers produce a physical programme (and it should be noted provided a link on their website to a free pdf version).

Back cover

The 20 page offering is as most non-league programmes tend to be A5 size and printed on glossy paper and in colour throughout. The cover is of a thicker material to the inner pages and has the club nickname splashed large across the front with the usual match details – opposition, club badges, date, league logo and additionally the FA club accreditation badge. It also has the image of one of the Ammers players.

Inside, page 2 provides a “Welcome to Ammers” with a brief mention of the recent defeat to Barton Town and the standard greeting to the visiting players, fans and officials. It is unfortunate that it contains a couple of typos including opening with “Good afternoon” despite this being an evening fixture. Page 3 is taken up with the league sponsor’s advert, leading into a double page spread (pages 4 & 5) dedicated to the “Club History”. It is in the main an interesting read for those unfamiliar with the Ammers story, but once again contains typos and provides no real update of the Club since 2007/08 which is a real shame. Pages 6 & 7 contain headshots of the current squad, with the manager allocated pages 8 & 9. Page 8 is completely taken up with a picture of Mark Maspero, with page 9 “Ammers Challenge” notes from the manager with an honest appraisal of the teams current plight acknowledging, “we have a very young side with an abundance of technical ability, but very little league experience.” The centrespread (pages 10 & 11) are given over to the fixture list and results, with the next two given over to a history of the visitors Hemsworth Miners Welfare. This material is provided by the opposition and suffers from a lack of proofreading as a number of typos are evident. Pages 14 & 15 are given over to the NCEL Premier Division table, with page 16 advertising the next home game and page 17 providing brief details about the club set-up. Page 18 is a simple “Thank You for Your Support” and the penultimate page is given over to an advert for the Football Foundation. The back cover is dominated by the club badge, with additional details including the ground address, club twitter details and logos for league sponsor Toolstation and FA club accreditation.

The club is to be praised for producing a physical copy, which is well designed, has some cracking graphics and is in full colour. However, where it falls down is that it suffers from a number of easily avoided typos and a lack of content with too many pages just large graphics simply describing the facing page (i.e. fixtures and league table). Eradicating these typos will help improve the read as well as the addition of more content, which can be provided by for instance the Non-League Paper (and can be requested by contacting who will produce a free weekly column, as well as sites like ourselves who are happy to provide free content.

The Ammers are going through a tough transition after the trauma of relegation and the impact on the club, but one can only hope that there are better times around the corner in this part of Leeds.



Lincolnshire has a long and proud footballing history. Its broad acres are home to dozens of clubs, from the Football League to local parks football. Come on a journey to discover those grounds and find out more about the county’s clubs, both present and past.

Includes club information, admission prices, team colours, logos, maps, road and rail travel details, pictures of more than 50 grounds plus an enthralling history section of former clubs and grounds.

(Publisher: Penny for Your Sports Publications. August 2022. Paperback: 166 pages)

Programme Review: 2021/22 York City

Teams: York City v Morpeth Town

Venue: LNER Community Stadium

Result: York City 1 (1) – (0) 1 Morpeth Town

Programme cost: £1.50

Pages: 16

The debate about digital v physical programmes has featured in our opening two reviews (Selby Town and Chadderton) and continues here with York City producing both a digital and physical version for their FA Cup tie v Morpeth Town. Looking at the Club’s on-line store, it seems that ‘The Minstermen’ have done this all season, for both their National North and FA Cup games to date, for which they should be applauded since it gives fans the option of which to purchase. One thing to notice though, is that for league fixtures the programme is £2.50, so is presumably a more substantial production than the 16 page version costing £1.50 for the FA Cup.

So what of this offering in the FA Cup, which celebrates 150 years in the 2021/22 season? Well, seven pages are given over to adverts (44%), with club/ground sponsors jmp, LNER, York Gin, DWA, and go store accounting for five of these. The remaining two are for The FA Player app and Kick it Out, although this is advert from the 2020/21 campaign. Since the Club will undoubtedly be contractually obliged to these companies and organisations to carry these in the programme, it will mean York have no option, but given that, couldn’t the programme be at least 20 pages?

The programme cover leaves you in no doubt that this is a FA Cup tie with an image of the famous trophy dominating and is a template used in the previous home ties. It is titled. “The Citizen” a nod to the founding of the city by the Romans. Colour-wise it is in the red club colours with the club badges of York and Morpeth and the standard match information – venue, date, competition and price. Additionally, the logo of shirt sponsor jmp features as does the Emirates 150 Years FA Cup logo. A nice little feature is at the bottom right hand corner, where a print effect looks to reveal that this is No: 9 of the programmes this season.

In terms of content this is where it feels a little strange. Page 3 is the first non-advert material of this edition and rather than being a welcome or game scene-set from the Chairman or manager, there is an article from youth team player Kyle Lancaster who was an unused substitute in the previous round v Whitby Town. Whilst an interesting article about the youngsters recent game against Notts County and thrill at being involved with the senior squad, it just doesn’t feel that this is a introduction to the game ahead. Incidentally, came on for the last ten minutes to mark his senior debut.

The programme is generous in the pages given over to visitors, NPL Premier Division, Morpeth Town with pen-pics and head-shots of the squad featuring on pages 4 and 7, and a club history on page 12, all very useful to fans on the day. However, the history for ‘The Highwaymen’ is curious in that it cuts off at the end of the 2014/15 season, with no details after that date. Pages 8 and 9 are the centre-fold of this edition and detail the ‘classic’ fixtures, results and line-ups common to all programmes. Additionally there is the National North League table as well as the current seasons appearances and goalscorers. The space on page 9 (games yet to be played), is used to provide a profile of a York volunteer, details of the other FA Cup fixtures involving National North teams and a picture of Olly Dyson the ‘Man of the Match’ from the last home game v Southport. That fixture provides the content for page 10, titles “Action Replay” with six images from the game as well as a brief match summary including the York line-up. All that leaves is the back page, which contains the common squad lists, with respective clubs badges and details of the match officials and the forthcoming games at the LNER Community Stadium.

Overall, whilst this is a tidily produced programme, however, the overriding feeling is that with the addition of four more pages it would have been improved in having a better flow and more bang for your buck. These could easily have been provided through the addition of some of the following – a welcome from the Chairman, a preview of the game from the York manager, a full list of the other ties taking place rather than just those involving National North teams, a look at both sides game played in getting to the Fourth Qualifying Round or indeed a summary of the record of ‘The Minstermen’ over the 150 Years of the FA Cup.

Website: Home | York City Football Club

Programme Review: 2021/22 Selby Town

Fixture: West Riding FA County Cup – First Round

Date: Wednesday 05 October 2021

Teams: Selby Town v Ossett United

Venue: The Fairfax Plant Hire Stadium

Result: 2-2 (Ossett United won 4-2 on penalties)

Programme cost: £1.50

Pages: 24

Who would have thought that the global pandemic COVID would have an impact on that staple of the football matchday, the programme? Well with concerns about maintaining social distancing and people having to handle money etc. some league’s allowed their clubs to produce a digital version rather than a physical edition. This has been met with some resistance by fans, with reports of a number of groundhoppers refusing to attend a fixture if the home club only provides an on-line edition.

Another victim of COVID has been the playing of County Cup’s, with some cancelled during the last two or three seasons to free up midweek dates for league fixtures and the FA’s three competitions, FA Cup, Vase and Trophy. Over the years the County Cups have become pushed further and further down the lists of many of the senior clubs in the National League System, with teams from the National League often fielding no more than a Reserve/Academy XI simply to fulfill the fixture. This lack of enthusiasm for the competition has also been reflected in attendances for these games and so clubs have tended not to produce a programme, with a teamsheet often the only offering available and sometimes not even that.

Given this fairly gloomy picture of the state of the County Cup, it was therefore a treat to attend the West Riding FA County Cup First Round game at Selby Town. Not only did ‘The Robins’ produce a programme, but on a night of heavy and continuous rain, 152 hardly souls witnessed a cracker of a cup-tie. Selby, who play in the Northern Counties East League (NCEL) Division One, sit two divisions below Ossett United (Northern Premier League, East Division), but belied their position with a spirited display. Indeed ‘The Robins’ were twice ahead, only to be pegged back each time, with Ossett’s second equaliser coming in the final minutes. With no extra-time, the game went straight to penalties, with United winning 4-2 to take their place in the Second Round.

COVID meant that the last time the competition was completed was in 2018/19 with Ossett United in their first season, lifting the West Riding trophy after beating Guiseley 2-1 in front of a 1,118 crowd, and therefore still the holders after the loss of the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons.

So to the programme designed and printed by Footie Print & Digital, a 24 page colour offering on a good quality glossy paper with 10 pages given over to adverts including that of the league title sponsor Toolstation, ground and shirt sponsor of Selby, Fairfax Plant Hire and a very worthy cause in a local mental health support group, It’s Ok Not to be Okay – Talk Tonight Selby CIC.

The cover is in the club colours of Selby, red, featuring a colour photo of the players celebrating a goal and also features all the usual information you would expect to see such as club crest, date, opposition, competition and venue. It is topped with the Clubs nickname the ‘Robins’ with a nice design feature of the bird sitting amongst the letters and which is used again throughout the programme. The figure ‘08’ is also prominent on the cover, indicating the eighth programme of the season and adorned with a robin. Page 2 is given over to an advert to the club sponsor with page 3 containing a Welcome from Chairman David Haddock, offering his view on the teams disappointing two last league defeats, but balanced by positive news about the clubs expansion of their junior section. The page is completed by an “Officials & Information” block providing standard but useful details about the Yorkshire club.

Pages 4 and 5 are an informative and balanced match report from Phil Dearnley from Selby’s home defeat against Glasshoughton Welfare, which includes team line-ups, and scorers. Page 6 is an advert, with page 7 a useful one detailing the NCEL Division One table and forthcoming fixtures for October. The next two pages are given to more adverts before a two-page spread on the Selby squad with pen-pics and playing stats for the season to date. It’s a feature of non-league programmes that clubs often include pen-pics of the home side although is rarely seen in the programmes of Premier or Football League clubs.

The centre spread (pages 13-14) are the programme ‘classic’ of the results and fixtures grid, detailing date, opposition, competition, result, attendance and line-ups, with notes provided as to the various additional information such as bookings, sendings-off and scorers. One interesting thing to note from the grid is that in the NCEL Division One players can be sin-binned and ‘The Robins’ look like they have had a few! Where the fixtures are yet to be played, the space is cleverly utilised with a story and photo about the Under 9s participation in a recent tournament at Worksop Town.

Page 14 is an advert, with the return to content on page 15 with the scores from previous West Riding Cup encounters with Ossett United’s former parts, Albion and Town. The page though is dominated by Player Sponsor and Ground Sponsorship opportunities. A match preview and history of Ossett United feature on the double-page spread of 16 and 17 from Phil Dearnley, with the club badge and an advert for Selby’s next home game part of page 17. The next three pages are all given over to adverts, with page 21 detailing a condensed history of the club, which was formed in 1919, providing an informative read for visiting and neutral fans alike. Page 22 and 23 are adverts, with the back cover (page 24) once again the staple of programmes down the years, with the team squads, details of the match officials and next game, as well as the useful information that, “If tonight’s game ends in a draw after 90 minutes we will have a penalty shoot-out to decide the winner”.

Overall a decent programme and good value at £1.50 providing enough reading pre-game and at half-time, with all the essential information included. The use of the robin logo throughout is a nice touch, with useful detail like the clubs social media details in the page footer also welcomed. There were some minor typos, but they were so few that they didn’t detract from the read. Useful additions? Well, maybe the inclusion of pen-pics for the visitors and possibly an expansion of details around the previous County Cup games. However, if you find yourself at a game at Selby be sure to pick up a copy.

Website: Selby Town FC


Magazine/Fanzine Review – Are You The Clown?

(C) Atherton Collieries

Atherton Collieries are a non-league club based in the town of Atherton, surrounded by Bolton to the North East, Leigh to the South West, Manchester to the South East and Wigan to the West. As the club badge proudly shows, the football team was founded in 1916 from it mining roots. The Colls played in various Lancashire leagues during their history and were founder members of the North West Counties Football League in 1982. In 2016/17 Atherton gained promotion to the Northern Premier League (NPL) and in their first season caused an upset by winning the League Cup beating Coalville Town 2-1 in the Final. Building on that The Colls then won the NPL Division One West in 2018/19 to achieve their highest position in the Football Pyramid (level seven, taking the Premier League as level one). As we now know the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons were declared ‘null and void’ with all club results expunged.

(C) Atherton Collieries

With the prospect of no football until the 2021/22 season, clubs have been creative in getting revenue into their coffers and maintaining connection with their fans and sponsors. In the case of The Colls, this has taken the form of a magazine produced by their matchday programme team and curiously title, “Are You The Clown?”.

This first issue is an informal look through the club archives, with interviews, photographs and stories from throughout their 105 year history. Contained within its glossy colour 36 pages are an explanation as to the title of the magazine and some articles that will appeal to both Atherton fans and football fans of all persuasions alike. These include an exclusive interview with former Colls, Manchester United and Bournemouth player, Russell Beardsmore, and an interesting piece from Zach Pierce who discusses the differences between the theatres of football and the arts.

The content wonderfully sums up football at non-league level – some history, a volunteers story, an interview with an ex-player who went into the professional game, and pictures and features that connect with its fans community.

Why not help support non-league football during this difficult time and order a copy for £3 plus £1 postage and available via:

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 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 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