When I wrote down the remaining fixtures that I would be attending this season, the amount of games added up to 68 for the season. I decided that 68 was not a good number and that this had to rounded up. So, last Thursday night saw me head to the NWCFL Challenge Cup final between Runcorn Linnets and Formby to boost my game tally to 65 for the season and to help make it 69 (stop giggling) by the seasons’ close. I needed to find one more fixture to add to my schedule. For Bank Holiday Monday I had planned to head to Old Trafford for Manchester United U21s v Liverpool U21s, but on a quick peruse through the non-league fixtures I noticed that there was also a 15:00 kick off in the NWCFL. With the game at Old Trafford not kicking of until 19:00, I decided to make the ambitious attempt of attending two games in one day. My Bank Holiday Monday afternoon would begin at Rochdale Town.
It was a glorious day in Manchester, as I made way towards Manchester Victoria station (a nice change to my usual trips beginning at the more glamorous Piccadilly). The train journey to Castleton, where Rochdale Town FC (not to be confused with the league team Rochdale AFC) are located, was a short 20 minute trip; I was housing a hangover from hitting 90s night at Venue the night before, so I was relieved that the journey on the hot, stuffy Northern Rail train carriage was a short lived one. Of course, the traditional way to fight a hangover is good, old fashioned ‘hair of the dog’, so on arriving at Castleton and discovering the Midlands Beer Company pub next to the station, in I went for an early afternoon drink. A pleasant enough pub with pints for £2, but not much else to report on the pub. On asking a local did he know where the ground was, he escorted me outside and started to lead me down the street:
“I’m not going to the ground yet. I haven’t finished my pint.” I protested.
“I’m just showing you where it is now,” he assured me. The fact that the directions only involved “turn right out of the pub and right down the first street. Then keep going in a straight line” made me think that the demonstration was unnecessary, but I guess you can’t fault his determination in assuring that I knew the way.
When I did exit the pub and follow the local’s prescribed route to the ground, I was thankful I had asked someone for directions; the ground is very well hidden in the back streets of Castleton. I was beginning to think that the local had led me the wrong way as I still could not see any hint of a football ground or floodlights and all that appeared to be ahead of me were some fields. Just as I was thinking of turning back and going a different way I spotted a sign: “Welcome to Mayfield Sports Centre”. Found it.
On turning the corner into the ground, the first thing I saw was the NWCFL First Division trophy sitting on a bench outside the clubhouse, which had been brought along by the newly crowned league champions and today’s visiting team, Formby. This was to be second time I would be watching Formby in 5 days having watched them take on Runcorn Linnets in the NWCFL Challenge Cup final at Curzon’s Ashton’s Tameside Stadium on Thursday evening (Linents won 3-0 and lifted the cup for those interested). The clubhouse itselfwas very big with long rows of tables and chairs lined up around a small stage area, as well as a wooden decking seating area outside. It was in here that I met up with Gibbo, who had brought the Gibbons family along with him today as his sister and Dad had come along for game, as well as Swansea supporting girlfriend Lucy. In fact, they appeared to be the only people in the clubhouse on this warm Monday afternoon. The clubhouse had it’s own bar as well as a kitchen/tea hut on the right on entering. After a pint of Carling (priced £2.80) it was to food hut for a pie, which was excellent, fairly sizable and priced at lowly £1.20 – bargain! With pie in hand and the sun blazing down on Mayfield Sports Centre, we decided to head through the turnstiles and into the ground proper.
The club formed in 1924 as St. Gabriels, but did not move to their present home until 1979. Through the club’s early years the club would only let Catholics play for them (hence the original religious-themed name), until a decline in the team’s performances in 1960 saw the the club eradicate it’s player recruitment policy. The club joined the North West Counties League in 1990 and changed it’s name to Castleton Gabriels, but 10 years later the club went into free fall and the ground was left uncared for until it eventually failed the league’s ground grading criteria. However, the club remained in the league after agreeing to a ground share with neighbours Oldham Town, whilst the club were bought by Rochdale Mayfield Rugby Club, who went about improving their original home. In 2005, with the ground improved the club moved back to the Mayfield Sports Centre and soon changed the club name again, this time to Rochdale Town in a bid to attract more supporters and sponsorship from nearby Rochdale. The club now even play in the blue and black coloured kit of their local neighbours.
I’ll say it now: Rochdale Town’s home is one of my favourite grounds I’ve visited in the lower regions of non-league. The backdrop to it is great with the rural area of Castleton surrounding it and there is a pleasant, quaintness to the rickety stands. The main stand stands right in front of you as you enter through the turnstiles and step onto the concourse-like area behind it. There are a number of buildings on the area behind the stand, one which seemed to be a small warehouse storing sports equipment and what may have been a small indoor play area from the brief glance I got to look inside; the club also have a small building under construction, which I was later told would be a bar area with a balcony overlooking the ground on completion (it looked a long way from completion though). The main stand itself was completely sheltered and took up 3/4 of the one side of the pitch, as well as having a box/gantry area situated on its roof. To the right of the main stand is what is more of a sheltered walkway that curves around the pitch rather than a stand and directly opposite the main stand is another very small sheltered standing area. Behind the other goal is another an open standing area.
We opted to position ourselves on the open area behind the goal, so that we could enjoy the rarity of sunshine in the North West. In a nice touch, the home side, wearing their adopted Rochdale shirts, gave the away team a guard of honour on to the field to acknowledge their league triumph. Of course, Formby were led onto the pitch by their fearless captain Michael White, a player I lauded heavily and even dubbing as non-league football’s very own ‘Beckenbauer’ in my blog on my early season trip to Atherton Collieries. My ‘Beckenbauer’ comparison had arisen from learning that he regularly scored from set pieces/penalties and was generally a ball playing centre-back/sweeper; he was brilliant on that Monday night in August at Colls’ Alder Street home.
Despite Formby arriving at Rochdale Town as league champions, there was only ever one team in the game. Rochdale Town swept Formby aside almost effortlessly. 9 minutes in, Rochdale Town had the lead with a simple finish following some woeful defending and by the 17th they had doubled their lead to thanks to a powerful drive from the edge of the box. Formby were looking bereft of ideas as they were pinned back in their half for almost the entire duration of the first half. They had a lot to thank their goalkeeper Josh O’Connell for, as their young keeper made some superb saves to keep the score down.
The score remained 2-0 until half time and so we headed back to the clubhouse to discuss the first half (admittedly, the discussion was very brief as there was little else to say than Formby hadn’t turned up.) Just like Formby, Gibbo was having problems of his own as he searched the ground high and low for a programme to purchase, but none seemed to be forthcoming; no programme would appear all afternoon, although Gibbo was assured that the club would post him one if he wanted (there were claims of a mishap with the publishers). I’ve never been too big on the programme front so I wasn’t bothered really.
I was expecting Formby to come out fighting in the second half, but they remained stuck in the malaise of the first half. I had been impressed with Connor Belger when I had watched them play 5 days before and it was Belger who was looking Formby’s most dangerous player, as the player setup a 20 yard drive for a team mate, before almost scoring at the near post himself. However, shortly after the hour mark Rochdale made it 3-0; the goal came about from another defensive error as a long ball from a free kick near the halfway line was misjudged by the Formby defence, which led to the ball bouncing to the Rochdale striker who finished comfortably.
As far as I was concerned, that was the end of the scoring. However, hours after the game I learned that the final score was 4-0 – I’m assuming the final goal was scored whilst I was in the toilet (a trip that involved exiting the ground through the turnstiles and heading back into the clubhouse next door, as there was no toilets in the ground itself). Anyway, hours later I confirmed via Twitter that the game did indeed finish 4-0 to the home side – a result thoroughly deserved. Also, I was unaware of the goalscorers during the game, but post match I learnt that I had witnessed a hatrick – welcome to the Harrison hatrick club Rochdale Town’s Gareth Hill. Despite his three goals, I felt Hill was edged out of the Man of the Match award by Formby’ goalie O’Connell, who had an excellent game and greatly helped keep the score at only 4-0 for the away team.
Following the full time whistle I had to dash off back to Castleton station as I had just over ten minutes to make my train to Manchester Victoria, where I would hop on the tram to Old Trafford for the U21 game (the score finished 1-1 at Old Trafford between United and Liverpool’s U21 teams for those interested – Jonjo Shelvey scored a worldly 30 yard screamer). The Mayfield Sports Centre was not exactly as glitzy Old Trafford, but it was great nonetheless.
Highlights: nice, quaint ground, nice setting, cheap food/drink, decent pies, plenty of goals and great performance from Rochdale Town
Low Points: Ground quite difficult to find, no programmes