“@lewisdunwoody: @mophead_88 Lee Trundle has signed for Marine!”
Pathetically, that simple tweet from my non-league loving pal Lewis Dunwoody, telling me that Swansea legend Lee “Magic Daps” Trundle had signed for Marine AFC, is all it took. I was going to visit Marine AFC. On receiving the tweet, I realised I had not decided where I was going on Saturday 6th April and after quickly perusing the Evo Stik Northern Premier fixture list I spotted that Marine were playing at home that very Saturday. Sorted. A trip to Crosby, a suburb just 7-8 miles north of Liverpool, was penciled in for that Saturday.
I’d be lying if I was to say that Lee Trundle wasn’t a massive part of me going to Merseyside to watch some non-league football, but there were certainly other alluring factors. For one, anyone that knows me will know how much I adore Merseyside after my year living there and I’ll take any reason to go back and visit. Also, whilst living in Liverpool, I had always wanted to visit the iron men statues by Anthony Gormley (the artist who also created the ‘Angel of the North’) on Crosby beach – a visit I had constantly delayed.
In typical hero fashion, Trundle was to score the winning goal on his debut for Marine, a 2-1 victory over Nantwich Town. However, disaster struck the day before my conquest to Marine, as I heard news that Lee Trundle had been injured for their previous game against AFC Fylde and that scouse-born Trundle was a a slight doubt for the game I had already planned on attending. I won’t pretend I didn’t have a look around for another fixture to attend, but I had my heart set on a trip to Marine by now, so I decided to risk it and hope that Trunds would pull through and make an appearance for my Lost Boyos adventure.
It really was a beautiful sunny day in the North-West of England for a change as I made my way to Manchester Piccadilly station. Today also happened to be the day of the Grand National, so the train was suitably rammed with people dressed in their finest gladrags. After a train change over at Liverpool South Parkway, shortly after 12 o’clock I arrived at Blundellsands & Crosby station.
The first port of call was Crosby beach to finally visit Gormley’s iron men display titled ‘Another Place’. The beach was a 10 minute walk away from the station and soon enough I found myself face to face with an iron man. The iron men are scattered randomly across a 2 mile stretch of the beach with all the statues facing out to sea. Of course, I took my Swansea scarf to showcase on one unfortunate iron man and after making one a certified ‘Jack Bastard’ I left the beach (the coldest place to be it seemed on such a warm day) and headed towards Crosby village.
Grand National fever was sweeping Merseyside and I still hadn’t sorted my own bets out. After visiting William Hill and getting a bag of chips from a chippy, I was stopped in the street with “Lost Boyos? That’s you isn’t it?” It certainly was. This was Dickie Felton (@dickiefelton), a Marine supporter who had recommended some places to visit on the Marine messageboard the night before. Similar to my travails around the UK watching football, the Morrissey-loving Dickie had once followed the former Smiths singer on tour around the world and even wrote a published book about his experiences, which I think I will get around to reading soon. I agreed to meet Dickie in the club bar before the game and then headed towards the recommended Crows Nest pub. The Crows Nest was a classic local boozer and I was told it sold great ale. My ‘drink more real ale’ New Years resolution had fallen by the wayside slightly, so I decided to jump back on the real beer bandwagon with a pint of Lightfoot. It was a beauty! Of course, all the talk was of the National as everyone discussed their bets and tips by the bar. The locals were all very friendly and pointed me in the direction of my next destination – Stamps.
En route to Stamps I remembered that I had been given a Grand National tip on Twitter by Jay Anderson (@jaymondo7) to put a bet on Cappa Bleu. His simple logic was that it had been a good year for Welsh sport and thus the Welsh-trained horse had to be in with a shout. I made another visit to William Hill to put my bet on Cappa Bleu and then headed to Stamps, another pub recommended to me and who incidentally sponsored Marine. For the occasion, I opted for a pint of ‘National Hero’ and enjoyed some indie classics from the likes of Blur, Morrissey and, a personal favourite of mine, James. Next stop, Marine AFC.
The club’s Arriva Stadium is one of those brilliant stadiums that finds itself engulfed by the terraced housing surrounding it. Despite being on the main road through Crosby village, the ground is quite well hidden, although there are a series of large signs shouting the name of Marine.
The club came into being in 1894 with the club taking its name from the name of a hotel in Waterloo on the River Mersey where the founders met. In 1903 the club moved from Waterloo Park to play at their current home, Rossett Park, which was renamed the Arriva Stadium for commercial reasons in 2006. The ground holds close to 4,000 fans and the club’s main stand can seat 389 spectators. Over the past few years the ground has slowly been renovated with the newest feature being new, eco-friendly floodlights. The club are looking to continue improving the facilities at Arriva Stadium by building a new 130-seater stand with a snack kiosk at Crosender Road end of the ground.
Possibly my favourite fact about Marine is that in 1948 in front of a 4,000 strong crowd at Rossett Park, Marine played a fixture against Nigeria. Marine’s other claim to fame is that they hold a Guinness World Record for the longest serving manager in football: Roly Howard was appointed manager in 1972 and would manage thje club over 1,975 games and 33 years, before retiring at the end of the 2004/2005 season. Howard managed the club over the most successful period in their history with them winning 30 trophies.
Just before entering the clubhouse I had one of the most joyous tweets I’ve ever received – it read as so:
“@dickiefelton: @mophead_88 HE STARTS!”
“HE” was of course ‘Lee Trundle, My Lord’.
On entering the clubhouse just in front of the turnstiles to the Arriva Stadium, I bumped into Dickie again and joined him for a drink and a lowdown on Marine FC. It seemed a fair amount of the clubhouse was now aware of a Swansea City supporting groundhopper coming to watch the Crosby-based team, and many came over to say hello to me. Immediately, it was apparent that this was one friendly club. Dickie introduced me to the man he claimed was Marine’s biggest fan, Barry Lenton, who was a top bloke, as well as the club’s lovely photographer Sue. Within only a minute of meeting her she was already arranging a postmatch photoshoot with me and Trundle, so I was already buzzing! A Jack legend….meets Lee Trundle (I joke). This was followed by a man, who did not even introduce himself to me, walking over to our table and merely putting the teamsheet in front of me and pointing at Trundle’s name. “I bet you’re happy,” he said. I informed him I was and then formerly introduced myself to him. My teamsheet-wielding friend turned out to Dave, a man of all trades at Marine AFC it seemed (programme editor to Vice Chairman as his Twitter profile states). Finally, I was introduced to Rob, a man who like myself is a teacher, but also, more importantly, Rob was a fellow Jack who lived in Liverpool. Rob had been present at Marine the week before, with his Swansea City flag, to witness Trundle’s match-winning debut.
With the cast of Marine AFC all introduced to me, I enjoyed a couple of pints in the club’s very neat bar before heading out pitchside to catch some Evo-Stik Northern Premier action. I walked up to pitchside and the first thing I saw was Lee Trundle attempt a 25 yard dipping left volley which landed comfortably in hands of Hednesford’s goalie. In spite of that, the audacity of the attempt – I knew I was watching Trunds.
After getting over my initial ‘Trundle-struck’ moment, I began to look around at my surroundings and slowly realised what a brilliant ground I was standing in. Of course, the most eye-catching aspect is the club’s main stand, which Barry had informed me I had to sit in at one point during the game to take in the supposedly excellent view. To the left of the main stand is a sheltered stand that runs the whole length of the pitch, whilst the opposite touchline was not even accessible to spectators; the other side of the pitch was only home to the dugouts and a large fence which attempted to stop stray balls flying into the neighbouring back gardens – the fence was failing miserably (or I guess the players were for getting it over so often). This unique feature made the ground an unusual three-sided ground. Finally, opposite the main stand, behind the other goal was an open standing terrace and it was here where I took my perch for the first half with Rob and his Swansea flag.
Hednesford Town (incidentally, the club where the career of Wales captain Ashley Williams began for another Swansea link) were in the hunt for top spot before kick off and predictably had the better of the opening exchanges against mid-table Marine. Elliot Durrel was perhaps closest to opening the scoring for the Pitmen with one free kick going agonisingly close followed by a powerful drive going just wide of the post. However, as the half developed, Marine began to play some nice passing football and led by their excellent number 9, Will Jones, who impressed me all afternoon, they began to dominate the away team much to their frustration. Hednesford did not take kindly to Marine’s passing game all afternoon and at times seemed determine to batter them off the ball with the ref not penalising the away team enough for my liking. However, I did feel the ref was correct to turn down a Trundle penalty appeal, as I felt the former Swan was fairly bundled off the ball – I have seen them given though.
Marine came close to taking the lead when the dangerous Stephen Johnson put an excellent cross across the box only for Hednesford’s Ben Bailey to almost direct a glancing header into his own net with the keeper frozen to the spot.
Trundle had shown some moments of brilliance but generally the Hednesford defence had him well-marshalled, particularly the beastly and brilliantly-named centre back Francino Francis. The powerful defender was the Man of the Match for me (he undoubtedly won best name on the pitch anyway!)
Half time came and the sides remained deadlocked at 0-0. Undoubtedly the villain of the first half had been the Hednesford Town manager, Rob Smith, who’s outbursts towards the referee were nothing short of vile. Considering how ruthless his players were being in the tackle, he had nothing to complain about.
Half-time was spent in the club bar watching Sky Sports News and enjoying a quick pint. I had a peruse of the Marine shirts mounted on the club bar walls, as well as noticing a lone England shirt framed alongside the Marine classics. ‘England internationals at Marine?’ I thought, but I was soon made aware by Dickie that Everton Ladies also use the Arriva Stadium and that one of their international players had donated it kindly to the Marine wall of fame.However, I’ve since been informed that the England shirt actually belonged to semi-pro international Brian Ross.
For the second half we stood on the standing area in front of the main stand, behind the goal Marine were attacking in the second half. The second half continued in a similar fashion to the first half with Marine playing some good football, but Hednesford always looking dangerous on the counterattack. Trundle came close to breaking the deadlock with a deflected left foot volley which bounced off the crossbar, before minutes later he drilled a shot just wide. On the 85th minute, Trundle left the pitch to rousing applause from the Marine support (and myself and Rob) to be replaced by Nick Rogan.
I decided that Trundle’s departure was my cue to go sample the stand just as Barry had recommended earlier; he was spot on – it was a great view from there and the ground looked superb on this sunny afternoon. As I made my way back down to Rob and Dickie – complete with Chilean Los Marineros flag – Marine almost clinched a winner. Shortly after Hednesford’s Jamey Osborne had hit the bar with a cross-come-shot, Rogan’s looping header looked like it was flying in, only for Dan Crane to make an incredible flying save to deny Marine victory in the closing minutes.
The final whistle went and I had witnessed my second non-league 0-0 scoreline of the week. Once again, Rob Smith’s behaviour was a disgrace as the Town manager angrily berated the referee – clearly a case of a sore loser. How the ref had not dismissed the manager during the game was a mystery to me as Smith appeared to be relentless towards the man in the middle throughout the majority of the 90 minutes.
I returned to the bar following the game thinking how great a club Marine AFC are, only for my afternoon to get much better. Sue the photographer headed to the bar and greeted me with the words “Lee Trundle is outside waiting to meeting you.” A Swansea legend was waiting for me. Brilliant. I headed out from the bar with Rob also coming along to say hello to Trunds and there he was. Lee Trundle waiting to greet me. More amazingly, he remembered me from when I briefly met him at Everton only three months previous. Sue thought it best we have our photo with the “Welcome to Marine AFC” sign on the entrance to the clubhouse and Rob also made sure we had his Swansea flag with him for our photoshoot.”Ah, so you were the guy with the Swansea flag last week,” exclaimed Mr. Trundle. We had been told that Trundle was in a rush to get off, but full credit to the man as he did not rush us at all and posed for photos, signed Rob’s flag and chatted with us about his Swansea years for a good few minutes. We said goodbye to Lee (of course I plugged the hell out of Lost Boyos to him) and headed back indoors.
We were now joined by scouse train driver Chris, who had arrived at half-time for the remainder of the game. Chris began to tell me about some other groundhoppers he had met last year:
“There were these two fellas I met at Ashton Town that did a blog as well. They were so funny.”
Straight away, I knew who he was talking about: my old pals from my trip to Barnoldswick Town, the “1Leg on the Cup” Tony 1Leg and Johnny the Rhino, the most famous duo in groundhopping-blogging circles. “I got mentioned on their blog,” Chris proudly boasted.
By 6 o’clock the club bar was closing and we decided to head next door to the Edinburgh, a pub that had been recommended to me on my earlier crawl around the Crows Nest and Stamps. The pub was literally right next to the ground itself and of all the pubs I had visited on that sunny afternoon north of Liverpool it was probably my favourite. A proper pub.
Soon it was time to head back to the station and time to say my goodbyes to Rob, Dickie and Chris – they had all been top company on the day. However, there was still one small matter to deal with. Remember I mentioned that I went back to place a bet on Cappa Bleu – well it only went and came second and won me £14! Cheers for the tip Jay! Bets collected, it was back onto the Merseyrail train to Liverpool South Parkway station; on a side note, if you ever visit South Parkway station you MUST go to the toilet cubicle there – it talks to you! The toilet politely explains to you where the loo roll is located, where you can wash your hands and how to exit the booth – top bog! With one of the more magical toilet visits of my life, it was back on the train and back to Manchester. Brilliant day out.
Highlights: the iron men, The Edinburgh pub, very friendly club (thanks to everyone once again), nice club bar, nice ground, seeing Lee Trundle play again, meeting Lee Trundle after the game, winning a bet on the grand national.
Low Points: another 0-0 draw in one week, no Trundle goals.