After a staff night out in Manchester on the Friday night, I awoke at 9am on the Saturday morning slightly groggy, but ready enough for today’s ‘Lost in…’ trip. So with my flat cap on my head, what lovely part of the UK would I be visiting today? Today I would be heading into ‘leafy Cheshire’ and more specifically the small town of Winsford, located on the River Weaver and just south of Northwich. The latest ground to be ‘ticked’ from my list was to be Winsford United’s Barton Stadium, yet today was not Winsford United; no, today was all about their fellow ground sharers, 1874 Northwich.
For those unfamiliar with the tale of 1874 Northwich, I suppose I better give you some history on the club’s short existence. The concept of 1874 Northwich truly came to life on 15th November 2012, as members of the Northwich Victoria Supporter’s Trust agreed almost unanimously to break away from the Vics and form a new fan-owned, community club; two weeks later, the fans voted to name this new club 1874 Northwich.
The breakaway from Northwich Victoria was the ultimate sign of frustration with the famous club from the fans, as the club plunged itself into repeated financial dire straits, even losing their Victoria Stadium home in Northwich after a nearby chemical company purchased it. From what I gather, this action was to be the final straw for Northwich Vics fans and the chief catalyst that triggered the backlash from Vics fans against the club and owner, Jim Rushe. What remains of Northwich Victoria now plays at Flixton, slightly west of central Manchester and the location of my first game of my 2013/2014 travels.
For the start of the 2013/2014 season, the new club, 1874 Northwich, were welcomed into the North West Counties Division One and actually found themselves at the top of the league before Saturday’s kick off. The clubb had further cemented itself at tue league’s summit by beating the ‘old’ Northwich Vics team at Flixton 3 days before my trip to Winsford.
As per usual, before my visit I had done a slight bit of research on the town I was gracing to see if there was anything particularly exciting that I should be keeping an eye out for, yet I found nothing really illuminating apart from the word ‘salt’ cropping up a lot (the town of Winsford is famous for producing salt apparently). To be honest, I wasn’t expecting too much from Winsford as a town and after arriving there, via a train change at Crewe station, I thought my inkling was correct. It was as nondescript a place as I had anticipated.
As I began the 30 minute walk from the train station to the town centre of Winsford through what seemed to be just one long road through a plethora of housing estates, I spotted the floodlights of the ground enveloped in the middle of one of the housing estates. However, for now, I thought I’d carry on and see what the town centre had to offer.
And what did the town centre have to offer? Quite simply, nothing really. I did find a retro shopping centre, but it did little to encourage me to continue exploring the town centre, so off I went back towards the ground; although I did depart the Key Cross shopping centre with a beautiful cone of chips from Lee’s Fish Bar – that chip shop smell sauntering out of the shop door, possibly mixed with my slight hangover, made me unable to resist that purchase.
Soon I found myself inside the Red Lion, just over a 5 minute walk away from the Barton Stadium, and I have to say what a brilliant pub! The pub is located directly next to the River Weaver and there was even a canal boat moored next to the pub. On this Saturday afternoon, the pub was a haven of calm and serenity with the inhabitants enjoying a drink whilst reading their Saturday papers. I thought I may as well join them, so I snatched a copy of the Guardian from the bar and went and enjoyed my pint outside on the riverside seating area. It was all very nice.
With my hour or so of relaxation done, I headed up the hill to the Tophouse pub, which, I had been informed beforehand, was right next door to the ground itself. After the tranquility of the Red Lion, the Tophouse was far more lively with the pub brimming with Liverpool fans, as the Newcastle v Liverpool game was the early kick-off on Sky. I’d notice on my previous travels into this part of the company, that there seems to be much more support in Cheshire for the neighbouring Liverpool clubs, than there is for the Mancunian clubs- why this is I’m unsure. Anyway, the Liverpool fans I met in the pub were all very friendly and revelled in mimicking my Welsh accent. One I spoke to had even lived in Cardiff for a while, so he took particular relish in semi-mocking my beloved Swans.
“Hello Matt,” came a voice from behind me and I was soon joined by 1874 supporter Craig Thompson, who had encouraged me to visit 1874 Northwich on Twitter and agreed to meet me at the game. Following the final whistle at St. James Park, the sound which would confirm a 2-2 draw between the Toon and Liverpool, we headed out of the Tophouse and next door into the Barton Stadium.
The Barton Stadium has been the home of Winsford United since it’s reformation as a club shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. However, the ground only acquired the name Barton Stadium in 1913, in honour of then chairman Mr. R.G. Barton; the ground had previously been unimaginatively titled the ‘Great Western Playing Field’.The ground has also played home to greyhound racing in the past, which would explain the strange layout of the ground.
On entering through the turnstiles (today’s match, 1874 Northwich v AFC Darwen, in the NWCFL First Division was the usual £5 entry for this level) at the back of the ground, it is immediately noticeable how far away you are from the pitch when standing behind the barriers behind the goals. This is due to the curving walkways and fencing, which were once the outline of the curves of the greyhound racing track. Down the one side of the pitch is a long sheltered standing terrace, whilst on the opposite of the pitch is the bigger main stand, which houses the changing rooms, main seating area, food hut and fairly big clubhouse. The only other structures present in the ground are the strange sheltered area at the back of the ground, which I noticed was full of tables and chairs today, a ship cargo crate, which contains the club shop and a small shed entitled ‘Jack’s cabin’. My first port of call was to be ‘Jack’s Cabin’, as young 1874 fan Jack Owen had asked me to come and say hello to him on my arrival, whilst he was selling programmes from the cabin. With my greetings complete, as well as getting Jack to perform a trademark Lost Boyos double thumbs up pose, we headed to the clubhouse for a prematch pint.
As me and Craig bought our drinks (well, Craig bought them as he had promised me a pint if I visited 1874 one day), the game was just about to kick-off. Conveniently, there’s a windowed viewing area in the stand, which meant that we could take our time with our drinks and still watch the opening ten minutes of the game from the window.Of course, watching football through glass is no true way to experience football, so once our pints were consumed, I dragged Craig along with me for a lap of the ground to take some photos.
I think I should add here that, as I had expected, the attendance at today’s game appeared very healthy and the 1874 fans had turned out in good force. There was also a clear sense of a community club resonating around, as I noted that everyone seemed to know everyone else, which is always great to see at this level. My only disappointment was that there was a lonely drum sitting unused in the corner of the ground – after my recent stint drumming for the Morecambe fans in their cup game against Newcastle, I almost went and manned the thing myself!
I think it would be accurate to say that 1874 had dominated Darwen for the majority of the first half, although arguably the better chances had fallen to a Darwen team who were massively depleted by injury for today’s game, Then from nowhere, 1874 were to take the lead on the 39th minute. The ball fell to Lee Jones 20 yards out from goal and he curled the ball into the far corner of the goal with such precision that the goalie didn’t even move. A classic FIFA style ‘R2 goal’ for those who have ever graced EA’s virtual pitch (for those who are not FIFA-literate, apologies for the reference). The goal even led to someone actually bashing the drum in celebration; yet it was only to be goals scored that would see the drum get any sort of action during today’s game.
Moments later, it was 2-0 to 1874 as Mike Brandon sauntered through the middle untroubled and latched onto a pass, before slotting home past David De Gea look-alike Stewart Holden in the Darwen goal.
Half-time: 1874 Northwich 2 – 0 AFC Darwen.
Unsurprisingly, half time was spent in the bar getting the lowdown on the rest of the nation’s football scores from Mr. Stelling on the clubhouse’s large screen. And of course, I could not have a half-time without a pie. I was rather fortunate in that I got the last remaining pie before it was sold – an excellent steak pie, which came in a hefty portion. Top pie effort!
Once again, we watched the opening exchanges of the second half through the window area in the stand, before heading around to the left of the stand to watch the rest of the game with Jack and his Dad.
By the 70th minute it was 3-0 to the home team, as Matty Ward scored a simple goal after a series of ricochets and blocked shots inside the box lead to the ball dropping to him and for him to comfortably finish. The goal seemed to be the cue for the sky to turn a threatening shade of grey and the weather was certainly looking ominous to say the least. The distant sound of thunder prompted us to begin making our way around to the standing terrace on the opposite side to avoid the inevitable torrential rain that was about to arrive over the ground.
As we made our way around the curving fence behind the goals, Jack asked me “Did Darwen just score?” I assured him they didn’t as I must have only taken my eyes off the game for a couple of seconds, but he swore that he had heard the announcement over the public address system (remember, tannoy is a brand name) of a first goal for Darwen. We made it to the stand just as the heavens truly opened and it soon began to absolutely pissed down. A quick peruse of Twitter and Jack did confirm to us that Darwen had indeed scored through Steven Lee. Not sure how I missed that.
There was still enough time for Lee to scupper a good chance, after he failed to get a shot off in time when through on goal. The away team would be punished once again in stoppage time, as 1874 made it 4-1 from a misjudged pass back from the Darwen defence. Holden did well to save the first effort, but Brandon scored again to finish off the scoring for the afternoon.
Full time: 1874 Northwich 4 – 1 AFC Darwen. 1874 Northwich maintain their place at the top of the league, as their maiden season continues to go well.
I agreed to join Jack and his Dad in the clubhouse for post match celebratory drinks, but as we were on the other side of the ground, we had to run the gauntlet of the tempestuous weather that had engulfed the Barton Stadium. Even though I had sprinted around the outside of the ground, like many greyhounds had done in that very same place in the past, I still arrived in the bar suitably soaked. Fortunately, I had beer, Jeff Stelling telling me that Swansea had won 4-0 against Sunderland, good company and free sandwiches to make me forget the weather.
You can follow 1874 Northwich on Twitter at @1874Northwich and my 1874 pals Jack and Craig at @Jack_Owen7 and @1874Craig.
Highlights: great pubs – Red Lion and The Tophouse, decent ground, great pies, good fanbase with friendly fans.
Low Points: I found Winsford pretty dull, crappy weather.