West Didsbury and Chorlton FC may not be the catchiest name in football (in fact, I’m going to help my keyboard out a bit here and now only refer to them as WD&CFC) but the club name has been stuck in the back of my mind since the summer months. As you may recall from much of my blogging and tweeting during those summer months, I went on a massive non-league football binge whilst I was on my 6 weeks holiday from my work as a teacher. After writing a blog entry for my trip to Trafford FC’s Shawe view (read here), someone with the username of ‘Katy Cat’ commented on the piece and signed off with the post script: “a tip for a trip – West Didsbury and Chorlton taking in Chorlton Green and a couple of very good pubs (The Beech and the Trevor Arms).” I bookmarked the tip in the recesses of my football mind somewhere. Since then I have always been looking for a gap in my football diary to make the short journey into South Manchester, but after a couple of postponed visits to WD&CFC’s Recreation Ground on Brookburn Road, I opted to go on a free Saturday (Swansea were playing on the Sunday live on Sky Sports) towards the end of November.
What did I know about WD&CFC? Absolutely sod all. This was not good enough for someone that was about to pay the club a visit the very next day, so a brief Friday night football club research was required – not my wildest ever start to a weekend. Nonetheless, here is what I found out. First of all, I discovered that I no longer had to refer to them as West Didsbury and Chorlton FC or WD&CFC in this blog and instead I could refer to them by their even more keyboard friendly nickname of ‘West’. The club began its existence in 1908 as Christ Church AFC with the club’s founder being a local Sunday School Superintendent. The club were forced to change their name in 1920 as the club joined the Lancashire and Cheshire League, who would not let any team be associated with any other body: the club became West Didsbury AFC. The club spent the vast majority of it’s existence playing in the Lancashire and Cheshire League playing at Didsbury’s Christie Playing Fields, before the club moved to their current ground at Brookburn Road in 1997. To reflect the club’s change of location, the club changed it’s name to West Didsbury and Chorlton FC in 2003. The club were elected to the Manchester League in 2006 where they had plenty of success, before they stepped up to the North West Counties Leagues at the start of this season. The club is the definition of a community club and many loyal volunteers have helped keep the club afloat over it’s history and continue to do so, improving the club and it’s facilities year on year.
As the clock ticked over 10am, there was an initial scare that West’s First Division Trophy game against Atherton Laburnum Rovers could be called off, but fortunately my following of the club’s Twitter account (@WD_CFC) soon let me know that the game was very much on. I began my journey from North Manchester (well, technically Salford) to South Manchester around 11am. One short bus journey from Piccadilly Gardens is all it would take for me to get to Chorlton, where Brookburn Road was located. Humourously, I informed my pal Jason, who had agreed to attend the game with me, that I’d be in Chorlton by 12.30am – he replied with: “I thought West Didsbury were playing?” I soon informed him that West Didsbury and Chorlton were one club and that unfortunately for his own West Didsbury dwelling, he’d have to make the short way across to the club’s Chorlton-based home.
By 12:30 I found myself in the heart of the Southern Manchester suburb of Chorlton. For some reason, I had Chorlton pinned as quite a tough area of Manchester, but as I soon began my wander down towards the recommended Chorlton Green I realised the place was far from a tough, gritty area of Greater Manvchester; in fact, it was quite the opposite. My stroll down Beech Road took me past suburban detached houses, a pleasant looking park, quaint coffee shops, a fine looking Tapas bar and a handful of beautifully scented chip shops. More to my liking, after 5 minutes I encountered the Trevor Arms – actually the sign read the “The Famous Trevor Arms” – which was the pub recommended to me in the Trafford article comment mentioned previously. I entered the pub (opting for the lounge area over the bar) and I was greeted by very friendly staff and a welcoming atmosphere, plus a decently priced £2.70 a pint. Whilst I waited for Jason to make his way across from his home in West Didsbury to Chorlton, I tried my luck on the pub’s quiz machine and won a whopping £2 on the Match of the Day quiz! Jackpot! As I waited for Jason, two men entered the pub talking about various football issues with a fellow who worked in the pub; I could not help getting stuck in to their discussion . It soon transpired that the two men were Manchester City fans, but they would also be attending the West’s game this afternoon. When one of the men, Rob, commented that he’d done a lot for WD&CFC’s attendance by bringing along one other person, I informed him that I could trump that by telling him I was bringing along two people: Jason and Cath. I’ve not mentioned Cath yet. Basically, Cath works with me in the English department of our school and she is a novice to the live footballing attending scene having only attended one Bradford City game (her hometown club) and this year’s Soccer Aid. On a free lesson on Friday afternoon, I began to tell Cath about my trip to Chorlton and soon I had persuaded her to join us for a Saturday afternoon non-league trip to Chorlton.
After joining my new pals Rob and Birdy for a drink whilst they regaled me with some of their football travelling stories, most notably their interesting trips to Swansea and Prestatyn (let’s just say, they felt that the girls are prettier in South Wales than up North Wales) until Jason turned up. We finished our drinks and decided to sample another one of Chorlton’s drinking holes, the Horse and Jockey. This was to be one of the more surreal pub visits of my Lost Boyo journeys.
The pub had a very crisp yet antiquated look to it with its Tudor style timber appearance, but the thing that caught the eye the most was the fact that pub’s front beer garden seemed to have a variety of market stalls in it, selling things such as jewellery and Christmas puddings. If this wasn’t strange enough, I soon realised I was walking under a sign which read ‘More Stalls Inside” – was this place a pub or market? As the sign foretold, on entering we were met with a busy bar, a strong smell of fish (but nice smelling fish) and a large array of small stalls selling all sorts of things. I don’t usually like my pub’s to encompass a bustling market in the middle of it, but actually I quite liked it – it certainly gave the place character anyway. Another big thumbs up to the Horse and Jockey as it sold my favourite lager, Estrella Damm, even though it was priced at a wallet-crippling £4.20 a pint. With kick off approaching and still with no clear idea of where the ground was actually located, we waited for Cath to join us before embarking on a search for the Recreation Ground. Google Maps led us to a small housing estate where we found a large, very helpful banner pointing the way towards the ground. Our good sense of direction was confirmed by a much smaller sign nailed to a fence pointing down a narrow country lane. At the end of the muddy track leading past the sign, we found West Didsbury and Chorlton Football club.
There was a humble lack of gate or turnstile when we reached the entrance to the club and we were instead greeted by two illumionous jacket-clad men standing outside of a small shed asking politely for our £4 entrance fee (probably the cheapest I’ve paid for non-league football). The ground consisted of very little apart from a large clubhouse behind the far goals which had a small, sheltered stand built into it.
The clubhouse was fairly plush by non-league standards, thanks to National Lottery money being pumped into the club at the end of the last century to help revive it’s ailing stance. The clubhouse ‘canteen’ acted as the ultimate hub to the ground with the polite old lady behind the counter selling the club’s programmes, scarves, hot drinks, alcohol and, most importantly, pies. The first order of the day would be a bottle of Stella, poured into a plastic cup, (priced £2) and a steak and kidney pie at £1 – the cheapest I’ve probably ever paid for a pie at football (although the pie was fine it was nothing to get excited about). The most eye-catching feature of the club’s clubhouse was the large piece which spanned the one wall, documenting the club’s whole 104 year history. We had enough time to polish off our Stellas and pies as we took in the closing moments of Sunderland v WBA being broadcast on the clubhouse’s large TV screen.
As we walked out to find a perch to spectate, the players began to walk out onto the field; West wearing white shirts with black sleeves and Atherton LR wearing a horrible blue and yellow striped combo. Both teams play in the North West Counties League Division One (10th tier on the football league pyramid), but today West and LR would be battling it out in the league’s First Division Trophy for a place in the cup’s quarter final. Despite there being a light drizzle in the air, we opted to stand and view the game unsheltered on the halfway line, about 5 yards away from the car park behind us; inevitably, several stray passes and hoofs up field resulted in a number of cars being hit, with a silver Volkswagen Golf coming in for some particularly rough treatment from this non-league fixture.
There was very little to report in the open exchanges of the game, but it was clear that West were trying to play some decent passing football only to be denied by the wet and muddy surface. In regards, to clear chances there were very few, until Cath went to buy more alcohol and suddenly a slick passing move played through WD&CFC’s number 7, Danny Summers, who neatly finished with his left foot to make it 1-0 to the home side. The highlight of the first half had been the performance of West’s centre back, the number 4 who we think was Callum Schofield (might be wrong though). He was superb, reading the game brilliantly, completely composed on the ball and putting a few tasty tackles to boot.
The score remained 1-0 at half time and we headed for the warmth of the clubhouse for another bottle of Stella and to get the half time scores from Jeff Stelling and the boys who were partaking in their usual ‘banter’ on the TV screen. We even got to have a chat with our new pals Birdy and Rob, before heading back out pitchside to a noticeably darker and more ominous looking afternoon sky. The drizzle was transforming into real heavy rain, so we opted to watch the second half from the shelter of the clubhouse stand, a sound decision that the majority of the other spectators present also decided to take.
The second half continued in a similarly uneventful fashion with WD&CFC having the better of Atherton LR, who’s only tactic appeared to be lumping the ball high through the rain-filled air. Whilst watching the second half, I was soon distracted by a small dog fluttering around the three of us – my opportunity to snap another non-league dog had risen (read my post about my trip to Glossop to learn of my love for the website ‘Non-League Dogs‘). Shortly after photographing the hound, West found themselves through on goal, but were denied by a clear foul – a penalty was duly awarded and easily converted by Mike Aston. 2-0 to West and game over for a poor Atherton LR team on the day. The game was closed out in the same uneventful malaise that had dominated the duration of the game, although I have to say that WD&CFC looked a very tidy team throughout and maybe the weather was slightly scuppering their play. West through to the quarter finals of the First Division Trophy, where the club have drawn Ashton Town away.
One last bottle of Stella post match to see off our evening at Brookburn Road, before heading back up the small lane back towards Chorlton Green. On our walk out of the ground we were even semi-star struck to see our favourite player, West’s number 4 (maybe Scholfield), get out of a car right by us. After a brief chat whether to go over and praise him for his performance, we decided it would be a bit creepy to confront him in a dark, quiet street by himself and instead headed back to the Trevor Arms to watch the Aston Villa v Arsenal game on TV. The Trevor Arms was much busier than earlier and there was a nice little atmosphere in the pub. Rob and Birdy had rejoined us for post match analysis whilst Cath got chatted up by an elderly man called Leo, who would have surely pulled had he been 30 years younger.
Not the greatest game or the most interesting ground, but nonetheless a good day spent in the Chorlton Green area and another friendly and welcoming non-league club. All the best to West!
Highlights: Cheap entry fee, cheap drink, cheap pies, good, clean clubhouse, good pubs near to the ground around Chorlton Green, the Horse and Jockey and it’s surreal ‘in pub’ market
Low Points: Poor game, not the most interesting ground I’ve been to.