Stockport Sports v Mid City Lions
The Neil Rourke Memorial Stadium / Friendly / 21st July 2013
So it was the day after the big trip to Anglesey to watch Glantraeth FC take on the mighty Atherton Collieries and I had woken up with the taste of beer still strong in my mouth and the throbbing pain in my left leg from my attempt at an over-zealous overhead kick on the Glantraeth pitch after yesterday’s game. For the first time in weeks, the sun was not out in Manchester, but I decided I needed to do something with my Sunday afternoon instead of lying around the house all day moaning about my leg. I was aware of a game that was fairly local and decided that I should occupy my Sunday afternoon with football (for a change) and head to Stockport Sports v Mid City Lions.
The who-what Lions?! My initial thoughts exactly. A bit of internet research led to the conclusion that the Mid City Lions are not your average football club, but instead more of a US ‘soccer’ academy based in Atlanta for young footballers to help develop and, hopefully for them, move them on to bigger things. It appeared that the current crop had been in the UK for a few weeks and according to Mark of No Clash of Colours fame, he had seen the visitors from across the pond in the crowd at Northwich Villa v Wigan the day before, as guests of the club. Certainly another strange club to add to my ever-increasing list of unusual teams that I’ve seen play on my preseason odyssey this summer.
I headed towards Manchester Piccadilly shortly after 1 o ‘clock giving me plenty of time to pick a few things up in town, travel to the area and enjoy a couple of pubs before the unusual 16:30 kick off time. Joining me for today’s ‘hop’ for the first time this season was Jason, although it was a close call as he just about made it onto the 13:45 train heading to Sheffield via our stop at Bredbury (I’d never heard of it either) in the south-east of Manchester.
I should say now not to be fooled by the name Stockport Sports – the club isn’t really in Stockport at all (although admittedly it’s not a million miles away); instead Stockport Sports FC find themselves located in the Manchester suburb of Woodley. The club was born as Woodley Athletic in 1970, before becoming Woodley Sports and eventually its latest moniker, Stockport Sports, last season. The only thing I knew of Woodley before going was that 1) It is home to the ‘biggest football facility in the Northwest’: Stockport Sports Village – the home of current North West Counties Premier Division club Stockport Sports and my destination this afternoon 2) It is also partly home to the ‘Ring of Death’ – a 20 pub-strong pub crawl that takes in Woodley and Bredbury amongst other surrounding suburbs and 3) my mate Aaron’s Dad, John Flanagan, had once managed the local club when they were still Woodley Sports.
We alighted at Bredbury station and we seemed to have found ourselves in a rather nondescript part of Manchester – nothing too pretty or eye-catching, yet nothing daunting or intimidating either. We followed the main road until we came to the Crown Inn. As we entered we noticed that there were two large gatherings going on inside and our slight hesitancy to enter caught the eye of the landlord who approached us to see if everything was alright with us:
“There’s a 30th birthday party over that side, but if you’re here to sign up, go over there,” he told us.
Sign up for what exactly? Well, it turned out that me and Jason had stumbled upon the home of the “Bredbury & South Manchester Manchester City Supporters Club”. It seemed that this Sunday afternoon was the day for a big recruitment drive for the new season, but as Swansea and Everton fans, neither me nor Jason were really interested in signing up. Overall, the pub was nice, large and open but we decided to head outside into the beer garden for our drinks.
Next stop on our walk up the road from Bredbury into Woodley was the Woodley Arms, a pub which I would describe as a traditional Mancunian boozer (we had decided to the dodge the particularly shady looking ‘The Palace’). Once again, mainly so Jason could smoke, we spent our visit outside in the small enclosed beer garden.
With the time approaching 16:00 we began the short walk to Stockport Sports Village. I should add here that the facility is fantastically well signposted considering, just like the sports village in Leigh, it is located next to a housing estate. After walking for five minutes we were greeted by the entrance to Stockport Sports Village and sadly for smokers and fans of Non-League Dogs there were signs to inform us that both smoking and dogs were prohibited.
Just like my blog on Leigh Sports Village, I can’t be bothered listing the facilities available so here is a copied version from their website:
- 5,000 sq. ft. state of the art Fitness Suite
- 3 Aerobics Studios with weekly class programme
- 2 x 11-a-side 3G Football Pitches
- 1 x 11-a-side Class 1 Grass Football Pitch
- 4 x Exclusive 5-a-side 3G Football Pitches
- 2 x Exclusive 7-a-side 3G Football Pitches
- 1 x 7-a-side or 3 x 5-a-side 3G Football Pitches
- 1 x 7-a-side or 4 x 5-a-side 3G Football Pitches
- 1 x 9-a-side or 11-a-side 3G Football Pitch
- 5 x Tennis Courts (Savannah Grass)
- Conference Facilities
- Function Room with Fully Licensed Bar
Basically, a whole load of football pitches!
We just about resisted the urge to abandon going to the game and go find the live band playing Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Child’ very loudly somewhere nearby and instead we found the turnstiles to the ground just around the corner from the bowling green by the entrance. We paid our £3 entry and we were into the ground where we immediately encountered No Clash of Colours Mark chatting away with the Stockport Sports club secretary.
We said hello and then went to have a closer look at the pitch; Stockport Sports have the novelty of being one of the very few clubs around to use a 3G pitch. In fact, when the 3G pitch was installed in 2005 the club were the first team to play in a competitive league on a 3G surface. Interesting stuff I’m sure you will agree. Like many others, I’m not exactly a huge fan of club’s playing on the 3G surface, but the one huge positive of such a surface is during the winter months there is practically no chance of fixtures being abandoned because of adverse weather conditions – a huge money saving resource to have for a club at this level.
I’ll be honest now and admit that I’ve regularly been presented with the opportunity to visit Stockport Sports, but I’ve never really had the desire to visit a place which I’ve read quite a few dub as ‘soulless’. However, my first impressions were….well I thought it was a bit generic and soulless as well to be perfectly honest. Behind the one goal is a small seated stand, whilst there is nothing behind the opposite goal apart from a tall net to keep balls from flying into the car park (the net failed to stop many balls from soaring out of the ground throughout the game, although that was largely down to some classic “Have it!” clearances). On the side of the pitch where we had entered, there is another much larger and modern stand adjacent to an ugly, grey, square building. A glance up at the building above me revealed that there was a gym overhead – there were actually people on the treadmill with a better view of the pitch than anyone else in the ground; essentially get a gym membership at Stockport Sports Village and get a Stockport Sports season ticket with it – as long you go for a workout on matchday and you fancy 90 minutes on the treadmill.
The ground is actually called the Neil Rourke Memorial Stadium and it did once resemble a more rundown non-league venue, until two local businessman arrived in 2005 and completely modernised and renovated the ground with new perimeter fencing (also an ugly grey colour), new treatment rooms and, of course, the installation of their synthetic playing surface. The re-development of the ground cost in the region of £3.5m.
The most appealing feature to me on entering the ground was ‘The Hatch’, the small hole in the wall that acted as the club’s food/drink hut. To add to the American feel of the day I noticed that ‘The Hatch’ was selling bottles of Budweiser, my football lager of choice, and decided that a bottle of Bud would go very nicely with my pie. But there was disaster once again: for the 2nd day and football match running, there were no pies being sold! What is going wrong with the world?! Instead I ordered a tray of chips. I was however very surprised and happy when the woman behind the counter let me drink my bottle of Bud (£2.90) out of the glass bottle – a usual no-go at football grounds. However, as I hung around waiting for my chips to cook a very important looking man appeared from the door next to The Hatch berating his staff for serving drinks in glass bottles to customers. “It’s illegal don’t you know!” he roared – his staff may have not known it, but I did and soon I was subjected to the timid girl behind the counter asking for my bottle back so she could tip it into a plastic cup. At least the chips were nice!
By now we were joined by Shrewsbury fan and fellow groundhopper Jake Moore, who had also been intrigued by the visiting American club and decided to come down to the ground. We both confessed that we were not that keen on visiting the ground really, but with the draw of an ‘exotic’ team a slight bit of an allure this was merely a ‘ticking off the ground’ exercise. Anyway, we were here now and we decided that it would be quite interesting to head over behind the American dugout to see/hear what was going on over there during the game; if there was even to be a game!
Not long after arriving at the ground I received a message from blog regular Aaron informing me that he had been asked to ref the game at very short notice as they didn’t have one! He couldn’t make it and it soon became clear that we were waiting for match officials to turn up for the game to start. I began to feel sorry for the club secretary who was running around everywhere trying to sort out a number of things including getting a ref for the game and teamsheets for the old men (and myself) who were moaning about not having one. Fairplay to the guy, even once the refs had arrived and the main problem of the day had been resolved, he still photocopied a whole load of team sheets for everyone. Great effort.
20 minutes later than advertised, but now with referees, the game finally kicked off and it was immediately obvious that there was a stark contrast between the two teams. Mid City Lions were very much a team of kids (I heard the guy with the crazy blonde mohican later say that he was only 16), whilst the Stockport team consisted of some big, tough, experienced, non-league footballers, including one of my personal favourites: Jimmy Holden. Holden used to play for my local club Salford City and he is certainly ‘no-nonsense’ to say the least, but also a great passer of the ball. Holden was the standout player for me during the first half. The Stockport team were also in a very feisty mood this afternoon, showing no sympathy for their younger counterparts, who clearly looked a little shell-shocked by the home team’s aggressive (but not dirty) nature. Stockport were also subjected to quite a few talks from the ref, especially Rob Kinsella, another ex-Salford player, who labelled the ref “a fucking cunt” after awarding a goal kick instead of a corner to the opposition. He was lucky to only be booked I thought.
Stockport took the lead through Dalton McLaughlin. The Americans, slightly against the run of play, pulled it back to make it 1-1, before Stockport retook the lead through James McShane just as the band in the distance began starting up their own version of Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ – it was like ad-hoc goal music!
Also joining us behind the away dugout was Northwich Vics chairman Jim Rushe, who had hosted the Lions the day before and who appeared to have come along to support the lads – although he was a bit irritating with his constant shouting of orders and general “I know what I’m doing” attitude. It’s putting it mildly to say he isn’t the most popular man in non-league anyway!
It was 2 -1 at half time, but despite Stockport being the better and more dominant team (physically and with the ball) the young Americans were showing great stamina and courage by going toe-to-toe with the Saxons. Also, I think purely for his great ponytail look, we had grown to love the Lions’ goalkeeper, Nathan Miles – he would have certainly been my ‘Hipster of the Day’ (our recently established award devised at Dinamo Bucharest v Hearts for the ‘coolest’ player that plays for a foreign team). He was even wearing number 6! A goalkeeper – number 6! Mentalist!
I completed my lap of the pitch during half-time to take some photos, as well as collect a beer off Jake that was apparently owed to me from a trip to Atherton Colls months earlier, before heading back to our perch behind the away dugout.
The Americans carried on in their spirited way, but soon it was 3-1 after the potty-mouthed Rob Kinsella scored a brilliant header. It looked game over, but a superb cross field through ball from the American number 8 (who’s name I have forgotten) was brilliantly finished by the on rushing striker. This was followed by another goal to the Americans and suddenly it was 3-3! The American bench by now had gone mad with joy. In fact, I had even cheered their goal and without realising I had put my support behind the American underdogs.
Sadly, the Lions’ celebrations were to be short-lived as almost immediately from the kick-off Stockport got the ball up field for the towering substitute Roderick Owusu Andrews to wallop in from close range to make it 4-3.
The score would finish 4-3 -a great game. Both sides had worked hard, but Stockport were just that little bit more experienced than their American counterparts. However, the young yanks can hold their heads high after a valiant effort against powerful opposition, especially to claw it back from 3-1 down as well.
We said our goodbyes to Mark and Jake and me and Jason headed out of the ground and back towards Bredbury train station. We walked past the Palace once again and once again we agreed that it probably best we not pop in for a drink. Maybe next time. Now it was time to make the ten minute walk back to the station and get on home.
Highlights: momentarily being allowed to drink my Budweiser from the bottle, good chips, good game.
Low Points: Dull, generic ground, 3G pitch, not big on this whole watching football at Sports Villages thing (that goes to you as well Leigh Sports Village)
Jake also wrote an account of the day on his blog, ‘In the Cowshed’, which can be read here.