My footballing weekend was beginning 24 hours earlier than usual with a trip into the high peaks planned on the Friday night on the last weekend of November. I attempted to visit New Mills last season, but my visit was derailed by the January freeze. With my local team Salford City playing up at the Derbyshire town, I thought this was as good an excuse as any to make the trek to New Mills, located 15 miles south of Manchester on the edge of the Peak District.
After a long week in work, I was more than happy to be venturing to a footballing outpost as the end of work on the Friday beckoned in the weekend properly. By 17:00 I had got myself to Manchester Piccadilly and it was here that I met up with Rob (West Didsbury & Chorlton’s Press Officer who I went along to Blackpool with last weekend), who had decided to come along on the trip as he had also never visited New Mills’ ground.
Shortly before 6pm, we arrived into New Mills Central station and after not buying alcohol for the 30 minute train journey, we went in search of a pub as we arrived into town. The place itself seemed rather charming and quaint, just as I had expected really, but the only problem was that the night had taken away some of the scenic views of the town and its surroundings (note to self: visit New Mills in day time next time). Our quest for a pub was a very short one, as one appeared directly ahead of us as soon as we finished the ascent up the small hill from the train station.’The Pride of the Peak’ pub was to be our introduction to the town of New Mills.
Within seconds of walking through the door, an old man sitting in the corner called me to me, “So where are you from lad?” clearly a sign that this is the sort of town where everybody knows everybody. I informed him of where I was actually from, which was then preceded by more quizzing. He made it very clear to me that he was happy to see me in the town before asking “Are you married?” I informed him that I was not. “Oh! Are you gay? We don’t mind up here.” I told him I was not. However, in possibly the scariest moment since that trip to Harry’s Bar in Wigan, my new friend clutched my hand, said it was nice to meet me and then gave me a creepy wink. I’m not sure how I entice these crazy people in – I think it must be the flat cap. Although I joke about such things, the people in the pub were genuinely very friendly and there was a nice Friday evening feel to the place. With one pint down and with the time heading towards 19:00 we decided to move on.
We headed down the hill just as the landlord of the Pride had told us, past the numerous cash machines and towards the Queen’s Head pub, which we could see at the bottom of the hill. From here we could also spy the floodlights of Church Lane a short distance away, which gave us comfort knowing we did not have a huge trek to the ground ahead of us. Once again, thanks to the darkness of night time we were also denied a good view of the The Torrs hydro station below us, one of the main attractions in New Mills I had heard.
We arrived at the Queen’s Head and it’s fair to say that it wasn’t quite as well maintained as our previous pub, but it was fine nonetheless. Just like the Pride of the Peak before it, a round of two lagers cost £7, which for me, having dwelled in Manchester long enough now, is an average price, although Rob, who is from South Manchester, argued that it was expensive. Anyway, after a dose of the BBC local news with a small crowd of 4 pub dwellers we headed to the ground.
We were unsurprised to find a large church next New Mills’ Church Lane ground (I guess the clue is in the name ) and I did attempt to capture an atmospheric photo of the ground and its floodlights through the darkened trees and graveyard of the church’s ground, but my crappy camera was having none of it. Artistic photography is just not my speciality and having had that point corroborated, we moved onwards to the turnstiles.
The original football club of New Mills was formed over 120 years ago, before calling it day and then relaunching again in 1919. It was after the club’s second coming that New Mills would move to their current Church Lane home, having played at several grounds before that. The club went through a successful stint shortly after the ground move with league successes in the Manchester League and cup success in the Derbyshire Divisional Cup. However, the 1970s saw the name of New Mills fall out of existence momentarily, until two amateur clubs, Birch Vale and Thornsett FC, merged 12 months later and adopted the name New Mills as they moved into Church Lane. After thirty years of moving around the Lancashire, Cheshire and Manchester Leagues, New Mills eventually returned to the North West Counties in 2004. Then in the 2010/11 season the club rose to the Evo-Stik Northern League for the first time in their history, and it was in this league, more specifically in the Division One North league strata of the league, that I would witness New Mills take on Salford this evening.
Almost as soon as we entered the ground, after paying a strangely priced £6.50 entry fee, we seemed to be hit by a cold blast of air as the Friday night air turned rather chilly all of a sudden. The ground itself is fairly basic with only one side of the pitch having a sheltered stand with only a small amounting of seating. On the opposite side of the ground are the dugouts with caged off 5-a-side pitches in the corner. On the right of us as we came through the turnstiles were the changing rooms, the food hut and the clubhouse. It was for the latter we headed first.
As far as non-league clubhouse’s go, New Mills’ offering is great with TV’s showing Spanish football from some random satellite channel, the usual collection of club memorabilia (including mementos from the club’s game against Manchester United in 2010/11 to celebrate the Millers’ 125th anniversary), a pool table and of course a bar. To the bar it was!
With drink in hand, I went over to join Salford ‘superfan’ Richard, who as always with any Salford game, was present to support the Ammies this evening. I’d first met on my first ever trip to Salford’s Moor Lane home and since that day I’ve joined him several times on the Moor Lane ‘Kop’. Richard has more than earned his tag of ‘superfan’ with the New Mills trip being his 259th consecutive Salford game home or away and, interestingly enough, the run had started almost exactly 5 years to the day.
With kick-off getting nearer, it was time to depart the warmth of the clubhouse and head out into the New Mills cold. Only one way to warm up: pie! I headed next door to the food hut, but was struck with disappointment as I was to learn that there were no pies on sale. Nightmare! Usually, my backup for a ‘no pie situation’ is a tray of chips or maybe a burger, but in a football ground first for myself I went for something far more exotic than usual: a chip butty. It did the job of filling me up and keeping me warm for a short while at least.
By now the game had kicked off and I dragged Rob around to join me with the small tangerine contingent of Salford fans behind the far goal. As we made our way around to the ‘away end’, I noticed that there was something different about Salford City. At first I thought it must have just been the light blue away shirts they were playing in, instead of their usual home colour of tangerine (just like Blackpool, not orange), but then I realised what it was: it was the way they were playing football – it was good! I’ve always enjoyed watching the Ammies, but they’ve never exactly been the most aesthetically pleasing on the eye. However, tonight they were playing some nice football from the first minute and it only took the away team 6 minutes to open the scoring, as Matthew Purcell coolly finished from just inside the box past New Mills’ Peter Collinge.
We made it down to the away end to join Richard and Andrew, shortly after the goal and had the pleasure of enjoying the usual ‘away team/home goalkeeper’ banter that unravels at such non-league games. However, any communication becdame more difficult as Church Lane began to live up to its name, as church bells began ringing loudly nearby; clearly, a rehearsal for a wedding the next day or maybe the people of New Mills just enjoy late evening weddings. Whoever was commandeering the bells got in a good practice as the ringing continued on and off for the duration of the game.
There were very few chances as the half went on, but the Ammies looked comfortable throughout and were the better team as the ref blew time on the opening 45 minutes.
Half-Time: New Mills 0 – 1 Salford City.
We rushed back to the warmth of the clubhouse and to get in the next round of beers. As we entered the clubhouse, it dawned on me how many people were actually at the game tonight – the clubhouse felt rammed and it wasn’t exactly a small dingy clubhouse either. A great turnout for a Friday night fixture.
As the second half kicked off, me and Rob decided not to rush our pints and take advantage of the window from the clubhouse to watch the opening exchanges of the half. And as the half developed, Salford only seemed to get more dominant. Then, from our window view, we witnessed Salford score once again, as Danny Browne broke down the left and got into the box, before firing home at the near post. That looked to be effectively game over.
We went and rejoined the Tangerine Army, who were now joined by Laura Flint, who was still delighted after I referred to her as one of the ‘first women of non-league football’ in my Wigan Robin Park blog. The Salford fans were now positioned behind the goal in front of the clubhouse with a slightly elevated vantage point, thanks to the small banking rising up from behind the goal. It was from here that I once again bemoaned the fact that I had visited Church Lane for a night game, as it was quite evident that the backdrop to the ground, which was obviously clouded in darkness on this occasion, would be something special during the daytime.
Salford continued to attack Collinge’s goal, whilst any New Mills attack was thwarted effortlessly by a very resolute looking Salford defence. The most exciting part of the game for me was the introduction of Salford’s new winger Damase Kiwanda, who caused absolute havoc down the left side of the pitch for the last 15 minutes of the game. When I spotted Hyde fan and general non-league observer ‘Breezeblock’ (I only know his Twitter alias) near us, I went over for a chat with him and he informed me that Kiwanda had come from Hyde and could be a very good player. I was more amazed to learn that Kiwanda was still only 18! It was an electric display from the youngster and I hope to see more of him in a Salford shirt this season.
Despite a succession of away corners and free kicks and Kiwanda marauding down the left, Salford couldn’t add a third and the game finished 2-0 to the away team, who thoroughly deserved their victory.
Full-Time: New Mills 0 – 2 Salford City.
With goodbyes said to the Tangerine Army, we opted not to head back to the clubhouse for postmatch watering and instead headed back up to the Pride of the Peak near the station, to ensure we could not miss our train back to Manchester.
The Pride of the Peak was much the same as we had left it earlier in the evening, but, thankfully, my ‘friend’ had left his armchair and gone home. The pub had now morphed into more of a Friday night attraction though with the locals queuing to have a go on the karaoke machine. Our New Mills experience was to end with locals murdering Robbie Williams’ Angels. I love a bit of karaoke, but I resisted the urge to get involved; as anyone who has heard me on karaoke before will know, this was for the best for the fol of New Mills.
Overall, a very enjoyable evening. New Mills is a pleasant little town and the ground, although a bit basic, is a good one. A second trip to New Mills is definitely on the cards in the near future, but this time during daylight hours.
Highlights: nice town, Pride of the Peak pub, good game, Salford played good football, good clubhouse.
Low Points: no pies, being denied the scenic views thanks to attending a night game.