Radcliffe Borough v Bolton Wanderers XI
Stainton Park / Friendly / 27th July 2012
What do Frank Worthington, Alan Kennedy, Matt Derbyshire, Craig Dawson and Matthew Harrison have in common? They’ve all been at a Radcliffe Borough game, although Harrison has only spectated and not played for the club itself unlike the other names. Overall, quite an impressive lineup of ex-players – the club can also claim Premier League referee, Mark Halsley as one of its fans (according to the club’s Wikipedia page anyway). It was only fitting on 27th July 2012, on the day Danny Boyle would deliver his London 2012 opening ceremony to a worldwide audience, that I would be watching some preseason football in Boyle’s hometown of Radcliffe, as I witnessed Radcliffe Borough take on a Bolton Wanderers XI.
I first encountered the small town of Radcliffe just under a year ago, as the bus I caught to Bury to watch a Carling Cup tie between Bury and Leicester (which featured in my top 3 games of 2011/12 by the way) winded through the small town. I never thought I would find myself watching football in this small mill town less than 12 months later. Radcliffe’s Stainton Park was to be my first game of a footballing weekend bonanza, with visits to Curzon Ashton the next day and Old Trafford for Olympic football on Sunday. Watching Radcliffe Borough vs. a Bolton XI was not quite like watching Brazil (as I would be on the Sunday) but a good time was had nonetheless.
My journey began on the First Manchester’s number 98 bus that heads north of Manchester to Bury via Radcliffe. Thanks to a number of street closures, rush hour traffic and a particularly slow driver, the journey was a long drawn out affair. Just after 18:00 the bus finally pulled into Radcliffe bus station and I was free to venture into the town.
As far as town centres go, there was really very little to comment on and after a quick glance about town, I decided to make my way towards the ground, hoping to catch a pub en route. After eyeing up a couple of pubs I finally opted for the Royal Oak pub, about ten minutes from the ground for a prematch pint. The Oak was a much more eye-pleasing pub rom the inside and seemed to be quite a popular pub on this fairly warm Friday afternoon. There was a wide range of different ales on sale and all the locals seemed friendly, although most seemed to just be engrossed by the dog racing on the television.
Following a quick pint in Royal Oak, I began my walk to Stainton Park, which according to my Google Maps app was 0.3 miles away. A short walk later and I turned left to enter the ground, or so I thought, as I looked up to realise there was a cricket match underway – wrong sport and wrong ground. It turned out the football ground was only a brief two minute walk further on.
On entering Stainton Park’s car park, I was greeted by the chorus of Wheatus’ ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ blasting out from the club’s PA system – always a sign that it’s going to be a good evening. I paid my £7 and I was in.
Radcliffe Borough currently play in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One North along with my adopted non-league team Salford City FC. The club were founded in 1949 and their chairman for the past 22 years has been Bernard Manning Jr. – son of the controversial comedian. Manning Jr. has been in the press a lot recently following former Radcliffe player Craig Dawson’s inclusion in the Team GB squad. The story goes that Manning repeatedly berated the 17-year old Dawson, who worked in Manning’s local pub, for not taking his football career further than playing for Rochdale St. Clements after Manning witnessed Dawson playing at grassroots level alongside his son. After ‘bullying’ Dawson repeatedly, he convinced him to sign for Radcliffe, which led to the centre back eventually moving onto Rochdale and West Brom, playing for England U21s and now in the squad for Team GB.
Stainton Park is a classic non-league ground with standing terraces down either side of the pitch (one partially sheltered) and another smaller standing area behind one of the goals. Behind the opposite goals stands the Lodge End stand where 350 spectators can be seated and it was in this stand that I met Joseph ‘Gibbo’ Gibbons; for anyone that has not come across the blog ‘Gibbo’s 92’, I highly recommend it for all things groundhopping-related with the young Bolton fan Gibbo documenting in detail his bid to complete ‘the 92’. Having announced on Twitter that the next stop on my non-league travels would be Radcliffe, I was tweeted by Gibbo inviting me to join him and his pals at Stainton Park. I spotted Gibbo taking photos for his blog and I headed over to join him, where I was also introduced to another Joe (Buckley), a Wigan fan, and Aaron, a knowledgeable non-league fan whose Dad is the manager of Curzon Ashton (more on that in an upcoming post). Shortly after, we were joined by another Joe (Lawton), a Curzon Ashton fan, with the three Joes making the whole remembering names process very easy.
One of my favourite things about non-league is the leniency shown towards drinking beer in stands, and Radcliffe was to prove no different. We headed to the clubhouse down the side of the pitch for some some match-watching beers. The clubhouse was rather good actually with £2.70 pints (decent price for football), plenty of staff serving and even a dancefloor (complete with ‘Dance like no-one is watching’ sign), which I was told is used for ‘Manchester Discos’ after games. Unfortunately, the disco would not be going ahead following this game due to Mr. Boyle’s opening ceremony taking centre stage on the clubhouse’s screens.
We headed out to the opposite side to get a good standing spot on halfway ready for kickoff. Although Bolton fielded a team of unknowns, it seemed the stands were being roamed by Bolton’s ‘finest’ with Sammy Lee, complete in matching black and white stripe Adidas tracksuit, observing from just outside the clubhouse; he was soon joined by Bolton chairman, Phil Gartside and we had also spotted Bolton boss Owen Coyle, not on dugout duty today, roaming around near the clubhouse.
In regards to action on the pitch, there was very little to report really with Radcliffe playing down the sloping pitch in the first half. There were a couple of half chances for each team and a couple of full-blooded tackles from Radcliffe’s defenders. Eventually Chris McDonagh nabbed a goal to make it 1-0 to Radcliffe Borough. The goal was greeted with boos from Aaron and Joe Lawton and I was soon to learn that McDonagh was Curzon Ashton’s top goalscorer last season, but he decided to leave the club in an apparent pursuit of more money. Even non-league has its ‘moneygrabbers’!
At half time, after a photo with Lofty the Lion (Bolton’s mascot) and after navigating our way passed Sammy Lee’s protuding arse, we wandered around to the clubhouse for another beverage and whilst standing on the empty dancefloor area we noticed Bolton’s ‘elite’ of Coyle, Gartside and Lee heading into the boardroom next to the clubhouse for the complimentary buffet provided for them. When one Bolton fan went to the door of the boardroom to show off his new Bolton shirt complete with ‘PROMOTED 13’ on the back to Owen Coyle, we decided to nab the Bolton manager for some photos, which he was happy enough to do so. Despite Gibbo’s slandering some of his managerial decisions at Bolton earlier in the evening, I’ve always really liked Coyle and he came across well up in Radcliffe, posing for lots of photos with Bolton fans and stopping to chat when approached. Top guy!
We opted for a different vantage point in the second half behind the goal that Bolton would be attacking (at the bottom of the slope) in the second half. This proved to be a wise choice, as moments after we had arrived on the stand Bolton’s Alex McQuade was burying the equaliser to make it 1-1, to the delight of the Bolton youth near us.
Whilst cursing his defence, I remembered I had read in the afternoon that Radcliffe’s goalkeeper was none other than ex-Manchester United stopper Nick Culkin. Culkin broke a Premier League record in August 1999 at Highbury: when Manchester United goalkeeper Raymond van der Gouw had to leave the field in the last minute of extra time through injury, in stepped Culkin to make his Premier League debut; after taking a goal kick the referee blew for full time. Culkin would enter the record books for the shortest Premier League debut in its history, a record that still stands today. The game at Highbury would also be his only ever Premier League apperance. United loaned Culkin out to Hull City, Bristol Rovers and Livingston during his time at the club, but he was eventually released, which led to him joining QPR. After 3-years at QPR and after a succession of injuries, Culkin retired in 2005, only to come out of retirement in 2010 to play for Radcliffe, where he has won a series of personal awards and accolades.
The second half was a much more entertaining affair with both teams looking like they could seal the win, but eventually Radcliffe took the lead again thanks to an acrobatic volley from McDonalgh (BOOOO!!!) that the Bolton keeper could only palm into the net. However, Radcliffe would not hold their lead for much longer as Bolton made it 2-2 after a weak tackle from the Radcliffe defence helped Tom Eaves emerge with the ball one-on-one with Culkin, who he duly slotted past. The ref blew for full time and the game finished a 2-2 – a fair result on the night.
We finished our night with one last drink in the clubhouse, whilst Aaron roamed the room talking to various people and players – he does seem to know everyone in non-league football. After my beverage, I went in search of a toilet and after trying at least three seperate doors with the standard ‘Gents’ sign on it, all were locked. In the end, I was directed to use the toilets next door to the players’ changing rooms.
All in all, a good evening was had at Stainton Park and perhaps I’ll even make the journey up during the season when Salford City take on their local rivals. I was now very much enjoying my travels to the non-league grounds of Greater Manchester and when I was invited along to attend Curzon Ashton v Blackburn Rovers XI the day after, I jumped at the chance, espeically with the promise of John Flanagan, manager of Curzon Ashton and Aaron’s Dad, giving us a tour of the ground and the fact that Gibbo was given permission to become SuperNash, the mascot of Curzon, for the afternoon.
Next stop: Ashton.
Highlights: Decent clubhouse, photos with Coyle and Lofty, reasonably priced beer, the legend that is Nick Culkin
Low Points: Not a great game, sloping pitch, finding a toilet after the game