So, day 2 of my weekend football bonanza was underway with today’s trip being a journey into Tameside for the 2nd time in just over a week after my trip to Stalybridge the Friday before. I had never been to Ashton-under-Lyme before and I had no idea what to expect from the town, as our train from Manchester Victoria headed east out to Tameside. As we approached Ashton we could see Curzon Ashton’s Tameside Stadium on our left and it appeared to be isolated outside the town centre with only an astroturf pitch and an athletics track for company.
On arriving in Ashton, whilst waiting for Joe (Lawton) to meet us at the station to guide us to the ground, we went for a wander into the town centre. The town centre was a lively square on this pleasant Saturday morning with fairground rides, market stalls (complete with a dodgy Next Collection market stall) and ice cream vans pleasing the Ashton public. My personal favourite feature of Ashton town centre was the man throwing bread to the pigeons and declaring out loud to his public, just to reassure them “Feeding the pigeons. Feeding the pigeons. Feeding the pigeons.”
After our sojourn into the town centre, me and Gibbo met up with Joe (whose Dad, Rodney Lawton, was a founder member of Curzon Ashton and is the club’s all-time top goalscorer with 369 goals) and headed towards the Tameside Stadium. En route to the ground, I also found out that the Ikea that we had to navigate our way around to get to the ground is apparently the tallest in the UK. Anyway, after a ten minute walk away from the town centre, the Tameside Stadium was in sight. It must be said, that the ground looks very impressive for a non-league ground, especially compared to my visits to Salford City and Radcliffe Borough’s grounds who reside in the same league as Curzon. Outside the ground I found the most unlikeliest of tributes –a statue of the Italian and 2006 World Cup winner, Simone Perrotta! Perrotta found himself in statue form next to two England World Cup winners in Jimmy Armfield and Sir Geoff Hurst. Some may think that the Italian midfielder seems quite incongruous standing amongst two of the class of 66, but the reason why all three stand in statue form outside a ground in Ashton is because all three are born in Ashton (Armifeild was actually born in nearby Denton) – yes, even Perrotta!
We arrived at the ground about an hour and a half before kick-off so our first port of call was the bar, now joined by Aaron. The main bar area upstairs was closed off ready for a party the day after the game, so we were led into a small hut-like room under the main stand. I’d also realised I had not had any breakfast, so a meat and potato pie was ordered promptly to accompany my pint – the breakfast of champions. With no-one really in the ground we went for a wander and the ground was just as impressive inside as outside. The ground features one main seating stand on the one side of the pitch, complete with function rooms, bar, executive box etc. with another large sheltered standing terrace opposite. Running behind each goal are two other standing areas, which I imagine during a night game must be freezing as the ground has very little shelter around it to protect it from the elements. Whilst talking about the quality of the ground, I must also mention the pitch – the club’s groundsman had done a brilliant on job on it and really did look a Premier League pitch as we walked alongside it; it was still in very good condition following the game as well.
Curzon have been housed at the Tameside Stadium since the start of the 2005/06 season, after moving from their previous brilliantly named stadium, National Park. The club play in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One North and are one of the favourites for promotion this season.
After doing a lap of the ground we headed up to the PA box to hassle the young stadium announcer to play certain music over the PA. When we found a football mix that had the ‘Champions League theme’ on it, there was only one thing for it; after a lot of convincing and bullying it was all fired up and ready to blast out around the ground – the first time I would ever hear the Champions League theme in a football ground would be at an empty Tameside Stadium in Ashton: something I never expected to say. We even looked down at the Blackburn youth players that were sitting in the dugout below to say how they reacted to the inspiring music, but they did not even bat an eyelid. Before we left, we also made the boy put on ‘World in Motion’ and then left the youngster to carry on his PA person duties. Next up, was Gibbo’s transformation into SuperNash.
As I mentioned in my previous post about my trip to Radcliffe the night before, Joe and Aaron had made some phonecalls and it was soon agreed that Gibbo could be the club mascot, superhero SuperNash, for the game. During the suspense waiting for SuperNash, a man that had been haranguing us to buy raffle tickets all afternoon (and actually the night before, as we’d seen him selling them up at Radcliffe as well) came back for one last plea and I caved in and bought a strip of tickets for £1. “It’s for a good cause” he claimed, although when I asked him he didn’t really answer what the cause was. When I asked him what the prizes were he also didn’t answer properly before mumbling something about a bottle of wine and a t-shirt. Nevermind, I never win raffles anyway. After a couple more minutes of waiting for the emergence of the blue-caped crusader, the music suddenly changed to introduce the arrival of SuperNash and he soon came excitedly sprinting onto the pitch to a good ovation (see video below). SuperNash was clearly very popular with the crowd with one spectator even musing that ‘this is the best SuperNash we’ve ever had.’ Shortly after SuperNash’s barnstorming performance, the teams emerged from the tunnel. Similar to yesterday, the Championship club brought a team of unknowns, but perhaps more disappointing was the fact that Steve ‘We’re going to finish top half and win the Carling Cup’ Kean had not made an appearance. We did later think that perhaps the driving ban might have made it very awkward for him to get to Ashton.
Similar to the game up at Radcliffe the night before, the first half was very uneventful or ‘languid’ as Joe described it via Twitter, although there was far more, tidy, passing football being played in this game than the game the night before up at Radcliffe. Score at half time: 0-0.
We headed back to the bar to get another pint and I also made sure I got some chips to keep me going. Whilst standing outside the small room accommodating the food hut and bar, I heard the number “456” called over the PA – it sounded familiar and when checking my raffle tickets it turned out I had won! Chuffed, I headed up to the PA box again to claim my prize; as I was first there out of the two raffle winners, so I was presented with the choice of the two prizes: a Coca-Cola Olympic t-shirt or a bottle of white wine; despite being a fan of red wine, there was only one winner and I exited the box holding my bottle of wine proudly above my head in triumph (winning a raffle was a big deal to me).
With the second half about to kick off, we decided to abandon our seats and head to the standing terrace opposite. Whilst walking around to the other side of the ground, I noticed a familiar face on the pitch in Scott Metcalfe, a winger at Salford City last season and a player they were disappointed to lose for the forthcoming season. As we made our way around Blackburn also scored the first goal of the game, thanks to a neat finish from Nick Blackman, a player that I thought had looked good for large parts of the game. Soon after, Blackburn made it 2-0 through the imposing Curtis Haley and Curzon looked buried. However, the 2 goal deficit seemed to relax Curzon and they began to dominate possession and began forcing a number of corner kicks in their favour. I was particularly impressed with Metcalfe who was beginning to trouble the Blackburn defence and it was through Metcalfe that Curzon secured a penalty after he and a Blackburn defender both went in chase of a ball towards the penalty area; the ref adjudged the defender to have upended Metcalfe and Matt Kay slotted home the penalty, sending the keeper the wrong way to cheers from my two Curzon supporting companions. It seemed now only a matter of time before Curzon scored the equaliser, as they kept the pressure mounted on Blackburn. Eventually, Tony Evans broke through one-on-one against Blackburn’s goalkeeper; he took a neat touch passed the goalie, but he appeared to get the ball stuck under his feet; with one more awkward motion he got the ball onto his right and smashed it passed the Blackburn defender on the line emphatically to make it 2-2 – a brilliant finish. There were some half chances for either team to secure the win, but the game finished 2-2 after an entertaining second half.
With it now beginning to drizzle we headed for the bar for postmatch chat, drinks and buffet and to watch some of the Olympic highlights from the day. Once the place had quietened down Curzon manager John Flanagan (and Aaron’s Dad) had kindly offered to give us a tour of the facilities. We were taken into the home changing rooms where John explained to us where the various characters of the club would sit and how he delivered his rousing team talks to the team. We then headed for the almost identical looking away dressing room to survey the mess left behind by Blackburn Rovers; I even claimed myself a memento from the Rovers entourage having noticed a crate of small bottles of ‘Lucozade Alert Plus’ – the small bottle is still sitting on my windowsill as the ‘Sharpen up, in a shot’ slogan has quite intimidated me. It was very good of John to agree to show us around and his hospitaltity was much appreciated on the day – a nice guy and a top man!
We finished our drinks, said our goodbyes to the few people remianing at the bar and we headed for the exit. Unfortunately for us, our departure coincided with the sky turning a very intimidating black and soon we were being pelted by bibllical-esque rain as we ran passed Hurst, Armfield and Perrotta.
Overall, Curzon Ashton’s Tameside Stadium is the best non-league ground in regards to facilities I have visited; in fact, I was told by Aaron that an additional 300 seats and the addition of an extra stand to make the ground 3-sided would bring the ground up to Football Leagu standard. Everyone at the club was hugely accommodating and friendly and the game wasn’t too bad either after the first half. An excellent day out all round and I look forward to returning sometime in near future – who knows, maybe I’ll even get to be SuperNash next time.
Highlights: Good facilities, friendly and welcoming people at the club, John Flanagan giving us a tour of the ground, Gibbo as SuperNash, nice pitch, getting the Champions League theme blasting out over the PA, winning a bottle of wine!
Low Points: Ground is a bit isolated, first half of the game was quite dull, the wine I won was white not red! (but bloggers can’t be choosers…that was awful)