AFC Blackpool v West Didsbury & Chorlton
Jepson Way / North West Counties Premier Division / 16th November 2013
Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside. With nothing planned for my forthcoming Saturday football fix, I received a text off Rob on the way home from Hednesford Town asking whether I would like to head to AFC Blackpool with West Didsbury & Chorlton on the following Saturday. That sounded like a plan to me.
I rolled into Blackpool shortly after 11am and went for a peruse of the town centre. I was aware that AFC Blackpool’s ground was a bit away from the centre of Blackpool, so I had hoped to get the tram there. However, when I looked at the tram stops, I noticed that none headed to Squires Gate – the place where AFC Blackpool is located. So the idea popped into my head that I could walk to the ground – it didn’t look that far away on the map anyway. How wrong I was.
I began the walk down the seafront with the idea in my head that once I got to Pleasure Beach, which was clearly visible in the distance, that it wouldn’t be too much further to the ground. The walk down the seafront seemed to be a constant cycle of deja vu – fish and chip shop, shop selling tacky accessories for hen-dos, amusement arcade, repeat. The ‘Pepsi Max’ rollercoaster didn’t seem to be getting any closer either.
Eventually, I made it to Pleasure Beach and the area was like a ghost town – it wasn’t exactly seaside and funfair weather I guess. I thought I better get my bearings here and a look on Google Maps finally confirmed to me what I was beginning to fear:I still had a fair trek ahead of me. As my voyage down the Blackpool promenade continued, I noticed that the buildings on the seafront had certainly shifted from the colourful shops of the main part of town to rundown hotels and boarded up buildings – things were slightly grimmer south of the three piers. Even more worrying was the fact that there were no pubs to be seen!
I’d walked far enough that I actually got to the end of the promenade and far enough that I found myself confronted with the ‘Welcome to Blackpool’ sign that welcomes you as you enter the resort. As I turned off the seafront and up Squire Gate Lane, I finally spied a pub – ‘The Air Ballon’. I’m guessing the name spawned from the fact that the pub sits directly next to Blackpool Airport, which had a constant stream of light aircrafts taking off from there as I walked by.
The Air Balloon is just a typical ‘Fayre and Square’ pub, so not much to really report from there. Whilst I was there I received word from Rob that the West Disbury & Chorlton contingent (I think I’ll start shortening that to their nickname ‘West’ from now on) were not too far from the ground now and that they were heading to the Shovels pub just opposite AFC Blackpool’s ground.
On the walk from the Air Balloon to the Shovels, one of the more embarrassing moments of my travels struck. On leaving the pub I had tried to take a bit of a shortcut across the car parks of the neighbouring warehouses, but instead found myself on the wrong side of some fencing. ‘No worries’ I thought to myself, ‘there’ll be an opening soon.’ A solid ten minutes of walking led me to the end of the fencing and what seemed to be a dead-end. I really couldn’t be arsed to walk all the way back to the start of the fence and to my delight I spotted a hole in the fence ,where someone who was clearly equally as frustrated as me had forged a way through. I’m not exactly the largest of figures so I thought I’d get through comfortably. Once again, another misjudgment on my part. Just as I thought I was through the hole, my jacket got caught on the fencing. As I stepped back to readjust myself, I got myself further stuck. The ultimate embarrassment. My status of looking like a dick was further compounded by the fact that I was next to a busy main road for many people to see me flounder in the fencing and in view of a pretty young lady who was walking past; I showed that I saw the funny side of things by laughing and I’d like to say that she was laughing along with me, but I’m fairly sure she was laughing at me. Anyway, I lived to tell the tale, but sadly my coat didn’t, as one of the buttons shot off and I was later to learn, on further inspection, that I had also ripped the back of it.
5 minutes after my ordeal, I found myself in the car park of the Shovels. Instead of heading straight into the pub, I had my head turned by a game of football going on on the other side of the car park wall. Literally right next door to the pub are two football grounds: the game I was watching from the pub car park was at the home of Blackpool Wren Rovers, and directly next door to that ground is North West Counties team Squires Gate’s ground. Throw in the fact that AFC Blackpool are another minute away and you have yourself three football grounds practically on the same road. Brilliant stuff for the locals!
Inside the pub I was greeted by Rob, who was with his mate Westy and Paul (the Dad of West’s Steve Settle), as well as groundhopper Mark, who had joined the lads on the team minibus up to Blackpool. The Shovels is a great pub, but easily my favourite feature of this large pub has to be the Football Trivia question placed on the bar and which apparently changes every day (today’s question was fairly easy case of naming the 10 overseas managers in the Premier League). Just like it had at the Cross Keys in Hednesford Town the week before, the question on the bar had prompted that the conversation turn towards football trivia and Mark unveiled a gem of a question that was even shiftier than the trick Ian Botham question that I posted on the blog last week: Who is the only person to have played in goals for Newcastle and up front for Manchester United? Having thought it through and judging by the cheeky smile on Mark’s face, I knew it had to be some of sort of trick.I’ll post the answer at the end of this blog to give you some thinking time – you’ll need it.
With us well watered in the Shovels, we decided to head to the ground shortly after 14:30. We found our way to AFC Blackpool’s Jepson Way home by walking down a small side road (incidentally called Jepson Way), which led onto a small alleyway behind a housing estate where the ground was found – complete with overflowing skip and abandoned refrigerator either side of the ramshackle turnstiles. I passed over my £5 entry fee and I was into the realm of AFC Blackpool.
The name of AFC Blackpool came to fruition in May 2008 as the old club, Blackpool Mechanics, merged with Squires Gate Juniors FC to form the new club; it was decided that the new era should mean a new club name. The original club began life as Blackpool Metal Mechanics in 1947, before the name was shortened to Blackpool Mechanics shortly after. The ground has since been renamed ‘The Mechanics’ in ode to the club’s roots. The club played in the Fylde District League, the West Lancashire leagues and the Lancashire Combination leagues until the formation of the North West Counties saw the club step up to that league. To aid their rise up the non-league ladder, the club merged with Lytham St.Annes FC in 2005, 3 years before the merger with Squires Gate Juniors and the name change to AFC Blackpool. The team currently plays in the North West Counties Premier Division – the 9th tier for those unfamiliar with the footballing pyramid.
Over the past 5 years the club and ground has undergone some redevelopment with the club purchasing another pitch adjacent to The Mechanics and renovating areas of the ground. As we entered the clubhouse, it was also very clear to see that that had also had lot of work done to it. From the inside, the clubhouse real was one of the best and most plush looking that I’ve seen at this level with its leather sofas and the newly laid down wooden floor (it seemed new anyway).
After a quick pint in the clubhouse, we headed pitchside just in time for the kick-off as AFC Blackpool came out in their orange shirts (of course) and West came out in their white shirts/black shorts combo. Just as the game was about to kick-off, I remembered I had not purchased myself a pie, so I rushed back into the clubhouse and re-emerged with a steak pie covered in gravy. A decent effort, but nothing too spectacular.
Shortly after the kick-off, much to the delight of the small gathering of West fans who I was with, West took the lead through Rick Gleave who poked home from close range. However, the goal was controversial as the linesman had appeared to flag for an offside against West, only for the away team to eventually be given a throw in which they immediately scored from.
Just as I was about to begin my lap of the ground to take some photos, the game took a nasty turn as an AFC Blackpool player’s head collided with the knee of an attacking West player. The player was clearly out of it and in a time where head injuries have become a topic of much debate, the player was rightly taken off and attended to by paramedics who had arrived at the ground.
I began my lap of the ground and there was plenty to take photos of with 4 separate stands. The main stand, which houses the clubhouse and changing rooms, consists of a small, sheltered seating area; on the opposite side of the pitch, behind the dugouts, is another, slightly longer, seating stand which is also sheltered. And behind each goal are two very similar, smaller sheltered stands with no seating.
West continued to dominate the first half, but with little goalmouth action apart from an excellent save from Phil Priestley, the former Atherton LR manager, in the Blackpool goal. I completed my lap just in time for the half-time whistle and I made it back into the warmth of the clubhouse just before the half-time rush for beer (if you can have a rush with 51 people in attendance).
I’d not exactly been in a rush to finish my half-time beer and with the second half about to kick-off, I opted to watch the opening exchanges of the second half from the warmth of the clubhouse with Westy, whilst the others headed out pitchside. The second half took a while to really get going, but once I had headed back outside into the cold Blackpool air ten minutes into the second half, West were back dominating the game once again. Also, although I somehow missed the incident that caused the injury, as I went out for the second half, paramedics were wheeling away another Blackpool player – this time with his leg in a cast. It really wasn’t Blackpool’s lucky day at all.
It got worse for the home team as West made it 2-0 and effectively kill off any sort of fight from Blackpool. The 2nd goal came courtesy of Rick Gleave again, as he finished after Steve Settle’s shot was blocked by the keeper, before rebounding towards Gleave to finish easily. Priestley, who had had a good game in goals, protested the goal rather too verbally to the linesman. Our small contingent of West fans got behind the linesman and told him that he shouldn’t accept abuse like that and soon the linesman raised his flag for the official to give the goalie a telling off. As the ref put it: “NO MORE PHIL!” We were in stitches and this became the catchphrase of the day with any involvement from Priestley now being greeted with shouts of “NO MORE PHIL!”
With the evening darkening, a beautiful orange sky unraveled over the ground, as West continued their dominance. Tre Badlwin-Willis was finally rewarded after causing Blackpool trouble all day, as he went through on goal and to neatly chip the ball over the advancing goalie. 3-0 to West.
As the game came to a close and the sky began to look even more pretty (I couldn’t stop taking photos of it), West ended their romp with a fourth goal. Once again, it was Baldwin-Willis with an almost identical goal to his first, yet his chip was blocked this time, before he scored the rebound.
Full-time: AFC Blackpool 0 – 4 West Didsbury & Chorlton FC.
A thoroughly enjoyable game, even if it was very one-sided, especially in the second half. The West gang were all heading back to the clubhouse for a couple of celebratory post match beers, whilst they waited for the players to rejoin them for the bus home, so I thought it would be rude not to join them. Rob and the gang had arrived at Blackpool via the ‘team bus’ – a minibus with a handful of players and fans on board. With one player dropping out and getting a lift home with someone else, I was offered the opportunity to ride the minibus back to Manchester; as I recalled the soul-destroying walk through Blackpool from earlier in the day, I decided that I had seen enough of the famous seaside resort for one day – I was getting on that bus.
Sadly, just as I had earlier in the day with the incident with the fence, I once again made myself look like a twat. Rob had kindly donated some of the beers out to me for the journey home and after finishing one I went in for a second. However, as I went to throw away the empty can I had just drunk, I knocked over the newly opened second can on the small table/tray in front of me and sent Carling flowing over the empty seat next to me. Of course, I instantly picked the can up and placed it back on the tray and I thought I had countered the spillage – sadly for me, I had placed the can upside down on the table and sent a small river of Carling flowing down the bus. I had a nightmare! Fortunately I had my now redundant jacket to mop the beer up with.
With the bus now dry, we pulled up at Chorlton Green for a couple of beers in one of my favourite parts of Manchester and with the beer drunken throughout the day, I was soon suitably steaming. The jacket was left on a bench in a beer garden – unlike myself, it had had a bad day.
Highlights: The Shovels near the ground, three clubs on one road, nice club, nice clubhouse, enjoyable game.
Low Points: My soul destroying walk down the whole promenade of Blackpool, getting stuck in a fence, dousing the team bus in beer.
(And the answer to that trivia question, ‘Who is the only person to have played in goals for Newcastle and up front for Manchester United?’….The Honey Monster of course! In the Sugar Puffs adverts for those that do not have a clue what I am on about).