If you had said the word ‘Irlam’ to me over two and half years ago, I wouldn’t have known what, who or where you were talking about. I would think it was a silly, nonsensical word. The first time I would ever stumble across the word would be in April 2011 as I began perusing the internet for a place to begin my teaching career. For whatever reason, on an April afternoon in my room in Liverpool, where I was undergoing my teacher training, the place Irlam, which I learnt was in Salford, just seemed to appeal to me and I was soon filling in an application form for a teaching vacancy at Irlam and Cadishead College.
I write this now having completed my second year of teaching in Irlam and now very much accustomed with the place. Well, I say that, but when I actually think about I realise I haven’t really explored Irlam that much at all, largely thanks to the fact that the train station I arrive into Irlam on is right next door to my workplace. My only real ventures into Irlam have been before parents evenings; with an hour or two to blow before the parents arrive I’ve wandered up Liverpool Road (the road is practically Irlam – the only road in and the only road out) to the large Tesco for supplies and I’ve even visited everyone’s favourite local takeaway Caddy Fried Chicken – or as everyone locally knows it ‘The Caddy’.
So, what better excuse to go and explore the small satellite town and one of the most western points of Greater Manchester than for a spot of football. I should add this was not just any ordinary game either; no, this expedition into Irlam was to see the big Salford Advertiser Cup final – a final played annually between the two Salfordian clubs of Irlam FC and my local team, Salford City, and a cup which Salford City had won every year since the competition’s inauguration 6 years ago. I was actually at last year’s Salford Advertiser Cup final at Moor Lane (the venue alternates between Salford’s and Irlam’s home), a 2-0 triumph to Salford, meaning that this was slowly becoming an annual event for myself. Now I just had to decide who I was supporting: my local club or the local team of my place of work (who some of my colleagues play for) – I decided I would decide at the game.
I arrived into the familiar Irlam train station shortly after 13:30 and straightaway began my walk up Liverpool Road, after walking past my school. There a few pubs on Liverpool Road: The Railway, RVP Bar (not named after Robin Van Persie I’m told), the White Lion and The Ship. In my time working at Irlam I had already sampled the delights of the Railway and RVP in the past, so I decided that for today’s prematch pint I would give the Ship a go. Admittedly, not my greatest idea. In fairness, the Ship seemed a decent pub and it is absolutely massive! However, there was no-one in there apart from me and the young barman, who had Guns & Roses slamming out of the sound system (which I didn’t mind really). With Axel Rose for company I had a couple of goes on the Match of the Day quiz game, which i won £2 on and then subsequently lost, before leaving and making my way towards Silver Street – the home of Irlam FC.
In my head, I was under the impression that I would walk down Liverpool Road just passed Princes Park and I’d find Silver Street straightaway. How wrong I was! Liverpool Road seemed to go on and on and on and on until finally I found the sign signalling me to the turn left onto SIlver Street and towards Irlam FC’s ground. I thought the street sign for Silver Street was the sign that I had finally arrived at the ground, yet even Silver Street seemed to go on for a fair bit through the estates of Irlam, until I finally arrived at the turnstiles reading ‘Irlam FC’ that confirmed to me I was at the Silver Street ground.
The small suburban town of Irlam was home to a lot of industry back in its heyday, especially steel manufacturing, and it was through industry that the football club would spawn – yet not in Irlam itself. Irlam FC was formed under the name of Mitchel Shackleton FC in 1969 by a group of workers from a nearby engineering works in Patricroft. The club began life at the Oddfellows Arms in Patricroft before moving to Peel Green. The club would not move to Irlam until the early 2000s, when the club would finally drop the name Mitchell Shackleton and become plain and simply Irlam FC. The club has spent the large part of its history playing in the Manchester Leagues, but in 2009 they made it into the North West Counties Division One – where they still play to this day.
On entering through the turnstiles (a bargain £2 for today’s ‘big’ cup game) I was greeted by quite a pleasant little ground. All the main facilities for the ground are housed in the corner as you enter with a small building housing the changing rooms and a classic ‘shipping-container-come-piehut’ sitting next to it. On the halfway line is a reasonably sized (for this level of football) sheltered seating stand with the only other sheltered area being the standing area behind the goals nearest to the entrance. Next to the ‘food hut’ is a small patio area with classic picnic benches for the spectators and it was here where I found Salford’s ‘Tangerine Army’ (a more sizable army than Tuesday night anyway) enjoying some prematch drinks. To the food hut I headed where I purchased a can of Fosters (in the new style ‘vintage’ look – if that makes sense) for £2 and joined them.
I was immediately greeted by Rich who berated me for my last blog about my trip to Wigan Robin Park for claiming he ‘rarely misses a game’ when in fact he NEVER misses a game (I’ve since edited that blog to clean up that disparaging claim by myself). Amongst all the prematch chat I spotted a lonely figure; there sitting in the Irlam sunshine, quietly by itself was the Salford Advertiser Cup itself – the big one. Of course, it goes without saying that I had to have a photo with it and I even put forward the idea of drinking a can of Fosters out of it if Salford won it again (I forgot to chase that up though).
Some pupils from my school walked past referring to me as ‘sir’ which gave the Salford fans a chuckle; however, I was more surprised to find a pupil from our school walking out onto the pitch as part of the Irlam: 16-year-old John Main. Also in the Irlam starting XI were two of my colleagues Gary Prescott and Steven Mills; so with a decision incoming on who to support today, I opted to back Salford, but to cheer on any contributions from colleagues/pupils from my school. I thought that was a fair compromise.
As the Salford fans began their chants of “We’ve won it 5 times”, it was actually the home team that started the better as the game got off to quite a frantic start. There was clearly a contrast between the two teams with a young Irlam team taking on a much more physically imposing Salford, but Irlam were getting stuck in and creating the early chances. The best chance fell to Gary Prescott who was put through after a shot deflected to him off a Salford defender, but he was to be denied by a superb save from the Salford goalie Ince.
After completing my lap of the ground taking photos, i joined the Salford fans behind the goal, who told me off for repeatedly collecting the ball for the Irlam goalie from behind the goal. “Leave the ball for the keeper! We want him to run the Salford fan gauntlet,” I was told – I obeyed the Ammies support. However, Salford didn’t find themselves too near the Irlam box enough to put the ball behind the goals much. The Irlam keeper even chipped in at Salford’s lack of attacking prowess; after one wayward Irlam shot flew over and was greeted by the compulsory shout of “Wheeey!” from the away fans the Irlam goalie turned around and stated, “More than what your lot have had!” He was right in fairness to him.
Unfortunately, for Irlam’s charismatic keeper, he would soon be beaten by Salford substitute Gill. Gill had been Salford’s best player since he’d come on halfway through the first half and he’d definitely helped changed the game in Salford’s favour; although the corner he eventually scored from was questionable to say the very least – in fact, the referee was having an absolute mare.
HT: Irlam 0 – 1 Salford. The first 25 minutes had been quite quick paced, but the half died down into a very scrappy game.
The 2nd half continued as a scrappy battle and the ref had even decided to carry his first half form on into the second by continuing to give some shocking decisions against both sides. The highlight had to be the superb last-ditch tackle made in the box by the Irlam defence, which saw the ball roll back innocently into the hands of the Irlam goalie. Suddenly the ref blew his whistle and nobody knew what for. It turned out he had awarded an indirect free kick to Salford for a pass back. A crazy decision, but to be honest I was delighted as I’m a firm believer that there is nothing more fun in football than a close range indirect freekick! However, Salford blazed over and I guess justice prevailed.
The game appeared to be going nowhere until one moment of sheer genius lit up the game. Irlam had looked to have cleared a Salford corner as the ball soared high up into the air at the edge of the box; the relatively small Gill came flying in with a big header towards Danny Brown who was about 10 yards out to the right of the Irlam goal; Brown let the ball drop over his shoulder before swiveling on the clichéd sixpence and smashing the ball first time and left footed into the far left corner. What a goal! It was Van Basten-esque! Easily the best goal I’ve seen so far this season and as good as anything I’ve seen in a while.
The game seemed to be effectively over from then and the game slowed down once again. With ten minutes left the Salford fans began their new “We’ve won it 6 times!” chants and soon the final whistle was blowing and confirming Salford’s cup victory. Salford had now won the trophy 6 times in its 6 year history. Sadly, no on field presentation or lavish spraying of champagne, just a humble photo of Salford manager Barry Massey holding the trophy outside the changing room cabin.
Rich kindly offered me a lift back home to save me making the arduous trek back to the station, after it transpired that he lived relatively close to me – a gesture that was very much appreciated.
Overall, Irlam is your standard modest football ground, but I liked it nonetheless. I’m a bit annoyed I haven’t visited it sooner considering I spend so much time in Irlam. I’ll certainly try t make more effort to go along to Silver Street during the upcoming season.
Highlights: decent NWCFL ground, friendly club, that Danny Brown goal – wow!
Low Points: hell of a trek from the station, quite scrappy game, the ref’s performance.