So, after a week back home in South Wales I was heading back up north to return to my northern dwelling. Originally, I had planned on returning to Manchester late evening on the 2nd April, but it was only whilst playing pool with Gibbo and Lucy before the Wales v Croatia that I realised I had overlooked a glaring fault in my schedule. “Are you going to come to the Flat Cap Derby next Tuesday?” asked Gibbo as we were being embarrassed by Lucy in our pool duel. I did not even realise that the second Flat Cap Derby of the season was approaching, but of course I was going to go. However, it turned out that the game was to be played the Tuesday evening I had planned to spend on a train travelling up the country. That had to change. My plan to catch a Tuesday evening train back up north was altered to a 10am train that would get me back up north in plenty of time to take in derby. I was literally travelling from another country just to watch a derby game in the North West Counties League Division One.
I’ve realised that I have been rather rude and I’ve not even introduced the Flat Cap Derby properly. The Flat Cap Derby is the game between crosstown rivals Atherton Collieries and Atherton Laburnum Rovers (LR). For the uninitiated the Lancashire town of Atherton is a small, former mining town situated just 5 mile east of Wigan. The phrase ‘Flat Cap Derby’ was actually coined by friends of the blog Tony 1Leg and Johnny the Rhino (the groundhoppers I went along to Barnoldswick with) after they attended the Colls v LR game in FA Vase last season. To the amazement of the ‘1 Leg on the Cup’ bloggers, both clubs have adopted the imaginative name for the derby ever since and the two clubs decided that the Man of the Match in future clashes between the two Atherton clubs would be awarded with a prized flat cap. The first league meeting between the clubs this season, played at Colls’ Alder Street home, was abandoned after 20 minutes on Boxing Day because of a waterlogged pitch with Colls leading by 2 goals. The game was eventually rearranged for the 4th March 2013 and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the rescheduled fixture on that Monday evening. It was to be my third visit to Colls, a club I was introduced to through Gibbo who regularly attends games at his local club and helps edit their excellent matchday programme. (I also wrote a blog about my first visit to Alder Street which can be read here). More amazingly, I was given the honour of choosing the MOTM for the game and handing out the ‘Flat Cap’ award to the winner. The game was a tight, scrappy affair which finished 1-1 and choosing a standout performer was tough, but having made my decision and consulted members of the crowd to see if they agreed, I awarded the accolade to Colls captain Brad Cooke.
I arrived back in Manchester by 2pm Tueday afternoon and after dropping my stuff back at home and having a bit of a rest, I headed to Salford Crescent station to catch the 17:13 train to Atherton. The derby was drawing a large crowd of my non-league football pals and I had arranged to meet Rob on the train up to the Atherton. As per usual, the train to Southport which goes via Atherton, was rammed, but fortunately it was only a 13 minute journey to our stop.
On disembarking at Atherton train station I realised I knew only one pub in Atherton from my other visits, so we headed to the Rope and Anchor which was located next to Coll’s Alder Street ground. I had visited the pub before the last Flat Cap Derby with Gibbo and his grandad, Bill. The Rope and Anchor is great pub,which apparently has been redeveloped recently, although I still do not the meaning to word ‘gradly’ which is emblazoned on the wall in the picture above. Rob and I both agreed that the pub poured a great, creamy pint, so much so that we decided to stay for another whilst watching Revista La Liga on Sky Sports. En route to the Rope and Anchor we had spotted The Lion, so we decided to make that our next stop.
The Lion had a far dingier look to it than the Rope and Anchor, but nonetheless the pub was still genuinely pleasant with a series of small rooms branching off from the bar. I then received a tweet off Lewis Dunwoody asking where we had got to, as him, Aaron and Rob (Clarke – I was with McKay) had just alighted at Atherton station; I informed them of our location and I was expecting the gang to walk in five minutes later. They took much longer. It turned out that Lewis had misread my earlier tweet about drinking in a pub near Colls’ ground and had led the others to Atherton LR’s Crilly Park in search of a pub near there. When they could find no pub near the ground, Aaron suggested that Lewis re-check the tweet only to realise that I had said I was in a pub near Colls’ ground. Back they went and eventually met up with us for a quick drink in the Lion, before heading back to Crilly Park.
Crilly Park is situated in a residential area near Atherton train station, an area where young Gibbo actually lives. I let the other lads lead the way as they had already made the walk to the ground once this evening and soon enough we were outside LR’s Crilly Park. At first glance, I was quite surprised at the sheer size of the main stand of Crilly Park, especially compared to the more humble surroundings of Colls’ Alder Street ground.
I’m sure you are wondering by now where the brilliant suffix of Atherton Laburnum Rovers actually comes from? I know I am. It turns out the ‘Laburnum’ part of the name derives from the Laburnum Playing Fields where the club played after their founding in 1956 – fields located just 50 yards away from their Collieries neighbours. The club was originally founded as a junior club, but obviously as the young lads who helped found the club got older they subsequently moved up into a U17 league and eventually in the summer of 1961 a new team was formed to compete in the Leigh & District League. The club wanted to progress further and decided in the mid 60s that to do that they would have to move to a new ground. The ground they opted to build their new home on was situated next to the railway line and the incoming club chairman Jack Crilly worked tirelessly to improve the ground and to keep it up to standard. In 1980 Jack Crilly died suddenly, but the club made sure his efforts for the club were properly recognised by renaming their ground Crilly Park. (If you want to know more on LR’s history then visit the History section of the club’s website here – very, very detailed.)
I paid my £5 entrance and we were into Crilly Park. Despite the large stand which can hold 250 spectators, the rest of the ground was rather quaint, yet not quite as brimming with the rickety character of Coll’s Alder Street. Opposite the main stand which runs down the one side of the pitch are two small standing shelters. Behind the one goal stands two shed like structures (I found an abandoned wheelbarrow in one) with the railway track directly behind – the perfect ground for those with an interest in non-league football and trainspotting. The opposite goal had nothing behind it apart from the fenced off back garden houses of the surrounding houses.
I decided that the best place to start was at the clubhouse, so I could squeeze in one last pint before kick off. In the clubhouse we met up with Gibbo, Gibbo’s Dad, Chris, Gibbo’s granddad Bill and his girlfriend, who is a fellow Swansea fan, Lucy. After saying our hellos and having one last prematch drink, we headed out ready for kick off.
Recently the small town of Atherton made the news for more tragic reasons, as 14 year old Jade Henderson was mauled to death by 4 out of control dogs. In a nice touch by Atherton LR the club held a minute’s silence to commemorate the young girl and both clubs released pink balloons into the air as well as wearing pink ribbons on their sleeves for the game. A lovely sentiment by the home club and well done to both clubs.
As the game was kicking off, I decided to head to the tea hut to get a pie (especially after the pie debacle at Bath City the day before) and with there being no steak pies left, I opted for a meat and potato pie. To be honest, it wasn’t anything to write home about though. It was great though to see some many in attendance had decided to get into the spirit of the evening by wearing a flat cap.
The pitch at Crilly Park is definitely the most sloping pitch I have come across on my travels and the Colls had the advantageous position of attacking downhill in the first half. The game struggled to get going and in typical derby fashion no side wanted to give anything away to the opposition. With the game struggling to explode into life, I began my lap of Crilly Park to explore the nooks and crannies of the ground and to take some photos. The game continued to ebb back and forth but with neither team creating too much.
The first half highlight up to a point was Atherton Colls’ club secretary, Emil, and his brilliant bit of heckling, as he labelled the referee a “fiddle fart” to rapturous laughter around him. By the time I had circumnavigated Crilly Park, there were only a couple of minutes left until half-time and many had already began to make their way into the clubhouse for their half-time snacks and drinks. However, with a minute to go until the interval Paul Prescott broke down the right wing and hit a cross towards the LR keeper, Chris Cheetham, who could not grasp it properly before Mitch Leece directed the ball home to make it 1-0 to Colls.
The Colls side of town were in joyous mood in the clubhouse at half time having just seized the upper hand in derby. The clubhouse was suitably full and the Atherton public (and beyond) had made a good effort to come out for tonight’s fixture, especially considering there were two big Champions League quarter finals on TV that night with Paris SG v Barcelona and Juventus v Bayern Munich. I was more than happy to settle for some live football and Bradley Cooke, Karl Atherton and Mitch Leece over Xavi, Iniesta and Messi anyway. The only thing lacking now was a bit more cutting edge on the pitch.
Unfortunately, the second half followed a similar pattern and there was little real action on the pitch, although admittedly the more combative side of a local derby was beginning to creep in. One particular argument amongst the rival teams led to another classic bit of heckling, this time on the field itself. When one LR player questioned the ref’s awarding of a freekick, Colls captain Cooke took particular dislike to the protests by shouting at the player and rounding off his derision with “And what do you know? You’ve got a perm!” That put an end to that argument. It’s moments like this that make me love non-league football.
I decided since there was such a big gang of us all reveling in the delights of the Flat Cap Derby that a big Lost Boyos photo was needed (which can be seen below). It was also good to chat to Graeme Holmes, an Evertonian groundhopper who I had briefly met at the last Flat Cap Derby. I informed Graeme that he made me feel sane, as when I find myself questioning the craziness of going to almost 60 games a season, I see on his Facebook page that he has already easily surpassed the 200 game mark. Now that is a dedicated football lover.
The game carried on in its scrappy fashion and despite LR having the downfield advantage Colls held out to secure a 1-0 victory. This time the awarding of Man of the Match and the celebratory flat cap was given to League Management Committee member Ian Williams, who awarded it to the deserving and the suitably named Karl Atherton. For the second time in a month Atherton Colls had claimed the treasured flat cap.
Instead of rushing off for the 21:45 train with some of the others, me and Rob decided to get the train an hour later and stay in Atherton to enjoy the post-Flat Cap festivities in the LR clubhouse. Brilliantly, the post match food for the players…pies of course!
Despite the game not being the greatest, a great night was had Crilly Park and it was good to see so many familiar faces. In regards to the ground, Crilly Park certainly grew on me as the night went on. There is certainly plenty of character to the place and the main stand is a pretty cool stand. However, as far as Atherton goes, I still prefer Atherton Collieries and Alder Street (although perhaps that is the Gibbo influence on me).
Highlights: a fourth trip to lovely Atherton, two good pub visits, ground had plenty of character, decent clubhouse, nice touch by the club commemorating the tragic death of Jade Henderson, good to get to see so many friends up at Crilly Park.
Low Points: pie wasn’t great, scrappy game of football.