Chorley v Barwell
Victory Park / Evo-Stik Northern Premier / 7th December 2013
“Chorley FM: Coming in your ears.” The slogan of the fictitious radio station from Peter Kay’s brilliant Phoenix Nights was, until I moved up north, my only knowledge of the Lancashire town of Chorley. Since then, I’ve learnt that Chorley is a rather famous Lancashire market town and, more importantly for someone like myself, home to an iconic ground of the non-league circuit: Chorley FC’s Victory Park.
My Saturday trip to Chorley began shortly after 11am, yet not from my usual departure lounge at Piccadilly station, but the more humble Salford Cresent, my gateway station to many of Lancashire fine towns such as Preston, Bolton and, of course, Wigan. As anyone that has ever visited Salford Crescent will know, the greatest thing about departing from there is the ever-present Caribbean Northern Rail worker, who roars at anyone who dares goes near the platform line. There were a few terrified rail travellers feeling his wrath today.
By 12pm, I had arrived into Chorley and it was time for a spot of prematch exploration. However, the exploration was prematurely halted, as I spotted the Leigh Arms pub across the road from the station. It seemed that not many people frequented the Leigh Arms at midday, so after a swift pint I headed into the town proper to see what Chorley had to offer.
One thing it did have in abundance were pubs – many open, but just as many closed down and boarded up. I made my way past St George’s Church, apparently designed by one of England’s greatest ever architects Thomas Rickman, headed through the small shopping centre and into one of the features that makes Chorley famous: its market. I had been asked, via Twitter, before my visit to find out what the difference between a Chorley Cake and an Eccles cake is, but sadly I found no Chorley cake in the market as I had hoped. With me saddened by my lack of Chorley cake, I headed into the suitably named Prince of Wales pub next to the market.
The Prince of Wales is a standard, but very nice, Wetherspoons-esque, yet slightly smaller, sort of pub. I was also delighted by the fact that as I entered the establishment coverage of the early kick-off between Manchester United and Newcastle was beginning. I opted to stay put to watch the first half of the game next to a large family who were having a Christmas dinner outing (it was still too early in December for my liking).
For the second half of the United v Toon game, I decided to switch pubs and so I went for a wander back down the road until I arrived at Pearsons, which I decided to enter as there seemed to be more people in this bar than any of the others I had encountered on my stroll through Chorley. Once again, Pearsons came across as a generic bar, but a large one at that; although I’m not sure the bouncers know what they are on about making me take off my flat cap. Speaking of clothing, one man in the bar had clearly let himself down by purchasing a ‘Skrtel 37’ shirt – what sort of Liverpool fan is he? Anyway, it was he who celebrated the most vociferously as the pub erupted into mocking cheers and disgruntled moans as Newcastle took the lead at Old Trafford courtesy of Yohann Cabaye.
As the anti-United Brigade continued to bask in the continued regression of David Moyes’ Manchester United, I decided to head towards the ground, as I was still not too sure where it was exactly. In fact, even as I made my way down Bolton Street into the area where the ground was supposedly situated, I still couldn’t spot the comforting sight of floodlights. Google Maps was informing me to walk into a housing estate, but looking around I was sure that the ground wasn’t down there. Just as I was thinking of turning back at a cul-de-sac, I noticed a sign for ‘Chorley Sporting Club’. ‘Could that be the football club?’ I wondered. My wondering led me to fellow the signposts arrow to the end of the cul-de-sac and suddenly I spotted two hi-vis jacketed stewards, confirming that the ground was indeed there.
As I walked down to the opening at the end of the cul-de-sac, the ground suddenly appeared in front of me with the rickety turnstiles greeting me alongside the clubhouse. I paid my £9 entry and entered into the realm of Chorley FC – and what a realm it is. What a ground!
As far as non-league goes, there are very few teams that are steeped in as much history as Chorley. Firstly, they are one of the oldest clubs in the country, after the football club formed in 1883 following 8 years as team for egg-chasers. The club were rejected entry to the Football League in the last year of the 19th century and experienced several off field problems right up to the First Wolrd War. By now the club had played at several grounds: the Dole Lane Ground the Rangletts Ground and St. George’s Park. When the club departed the latter in 1919, they moved to the newly built Victory Park (named in ode to the end of the World War that year and the ‘Victory’ that it brought) and then began one of the golden eras in the Magpies’ history with the club winning the Lancashire Combination First Division on 11 occasions between 1919 and 1964 amongst other trophies.
As you would expect with a ground that is almost a 100 years old, the ground has changed significantly over the past century. A large factor in this is the fire that decimated the club’s main wooden stand in 1945, shortly after a game against Accrington Stanley. The main stand that stands in the ground today is a thing of beauty – a large, classic-looking, raised seating area, sheltered stand with wooden benches added for that authentic classic ground feel. Behind the goals nearest to the entrance is a deep, sheltered standing terrace and behind the other goals is another sheltered standing terrace, but far more narrow with a grass banking running up either side of it. Down the other side of the pitch, opposite the main stand, runs an open standing area with the bankings behind fenced off (although I have been told that the bankings were once used by spectators to sit and watch the game).
On entering through the turnstiles, I was greeted with a car park stretching towards the ground just a short walk away from the entrance and with the clubhouse to my left, I made this my first port of call.
The clubhouse was one of the largest and best I’ve encountered in the non-league world. The hub of the clubhouse is the large room open room complete with stage and wooden dancefloor area, as well as a small room hidden away in the back that looked like it sold old programmes (I never did go investigate that now I think about it). As well as this large open room, there’s also a smaller bar area in the next room complete with pool table. However, the highlight of the clubhouse visit had to be the moment when I ordered a pint of lager and discovered that a pint was £1.50! Bargain! The price of the beer just about overshadowed my discovery of former Chorley player Paul Mariner’s signed England shirt on the wall. Chorley was the former Arsenal and Ipswich striker’s first club before he transferred to Plymouth and began one of the most prolific spells of his career.
After a bit of prematch beer indulging and watching Soccer Saturday on the big screen, a crowd was beginning to gather at pitchside, I decided to exit the clubhouse and head into the ground proper. Of course, this didn’t mean it was time to take a seat; no, it was time to hit the pie hut – or the Magpies’ Nest as it is known at Victory Park. The small building located to the left of the Main Stand had a queuing heading out of the door as I headed towards and on entering it was clear to see way. Beautifully laid out in front of me was a regiment of pies, joyously being warmed by the heating devices overhead. On perusing the pie menu, I noticed the usual suspects of meat and pie and steak, but there was also an unusual intruder on the menu: what on Earth is butter pie? Usually I would delve into such experimentation (like my Macaroni pie at Partick Thistle), but I bottled it as I was asked to order my pie and played it safe with a steak pie (which was beautiful by the way). I will say though, that not buying the butter pie played on my mind all day – if you have had one, let me know your thoughts and whether I need to seek out this delicacy. Also, for those seeking something slightly different at a football ground, I noticed that hot pot was on the menu – but I’ll always be a pie-at-football-sort-of-man.
With pie in hand, I headed up the steps into the antiquated main stand and to take a seat on one of the wooden benches just as the teams were coming out onto the pitch. Obviously, Chorley were the ones in black and white kit, hence the Magpies nickname, but as Barwell walked out in their yellow and green shirts a thought entered my mind: where the hell is Barwell? I asked the man sat in front of me, who was trying to keep control of the two small kids he had brought along with him to the game, this very question and after a lot of umming and ahhing, he convinced himself that Barwell is in Leicestershire. He didn’t exactly convince me, but Wikipedia eventually confirmed to me that Barwell is indeed in Leicestershire, near the town of Hinckley.
With Chorley flying high in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier and with their 13 game winning streak, as well as being undefeaten in 15, the home side were very much the favourites for today’s game. So it would have been to the disappointment of Chorley manager Garry Flitcroft (yes, the ex-Blackburn player; Flitcroft is even assisted by player/coach Matt Jansen – another Blackburn legend), when his side started the game in such a lackadaisical fashion and gifted Barwell a goal in the 18th minute. Tyrone Kirk converted from an unmarked header at the backpost after a great cross from the left wing.
I had heard beforehand that Chorley are a team that plays football ‘the right way’, yet there was little evidence of this in the first half today, although Barwell were clearly up for battling for every ball today. So it was perhaps no surprise when Barwell made it 2-0 in the 22nd minute with another unmarked header – this time scored by Luke Barlone at the other post to the first goal.
Barwell continued to push for a third as Chorley remained utterly shellshocked, but after Daniel Spencer put his shot just wide of the post, the Magpies seemed to find some composure and slowly pulled themselves back into the game, but with little goal threat up to half-time.
Half-Time: Chorley 0 – 2 Barwell.
By now I had completed a lap of the stand and explored all the nooks and crannies of Victory Park, so I rewarded myself with a half-time pint and 15 minutes with Jeff Stelling and the lads. One barmaid made a right kerfuffle of my order by serving me and somehow getting another man to pay for it. I was honest enough to explain the fact that I hadn’t paid for my drink, as the lad near me patiently waited with a confused look on his face for his , but the concept was just too much for the clearly confused barmaid to understand. When we eventually got the issue cleared up, it turned out, much to my disappointment, that the £1.50 pints were only a prematch offer and now prices were back at the £2.70 mark – which I guess isn’t exactly bad at all when you think about it.
As the rain began to pick up, the players re-emerged out onto the pitch, whilst I finished my pint and watched the opening minutes of the second half from the clubhouse.
By the time I returned back to the standing terrace, Chorley had taken control of the game and were pushing for a goal that would hopefully launch a comeback. In the 52nd minute such a goal would come, as Adam Mather buried a freekick into the bottom right corner. There was now plenty of noise coming from the Magpies’ fans standing in the narrow standing terrace behind the goal that Chorley were now attacking.
I decided to stay on the other standing terrace nearest the clubhouse for the first part of the second half and I soon got chatting to another spectator, who turned out to be football badge maker (I assume that’s the job title). Somehow our conversation turned to the excellent Fernhurst pub near the away end at Ewood Park, but I was saddened to learn from my badge-making pal that the pub is no longer the hub for away fans on matchdays at Blackburn and it now doesn’t even welcome football fans at all apparently. My new friend was equally saddened by the ‘defootballisation’ of the Fernhurst, as he told me of the healthy profits he used to make from selling badges at the club on a matchday at Ewood Park. I left the standing terrace complete with my badge-making friend’s business card (perhaps some Lost Boyos badges are needed in the future) and headed around to join the more vocal home support around the other side of the pitch.
Chorley continued to push, but the ball or the decisions were just not falling their away, including a goal ruled out for offside. Much to the home support’s annoyance, Barwell were also clearly employing time-wasting tactics with the away team’s goalie taking an age to take goal kicks, which, as the home fans pointed out in no uncertain terms, the ref was doing nothing about. In fairness, there were 6 minutes of added time, but even by the hour mark it had began to feel like it just wasn’t going to be Chorley’s day and the final whistle drew a close on their impressive winning streak.
Full-Time: Chorley 1 – 2 Barwell.
I was not ready to leave the surroundings of Victory Park quite yet, so once again I headed into the clubhouse for a final drink for the road. After catching up on the scores via Jeff Selling as always, the Chorley and Barwell teams appeared in the clubhouse at opposite ends of the room. It was great to see the Man of the Match awards for both teams awarded to the players in front of a very busy clubhouse and for the guy hosting the awards to congratulate Barwell for their performance and win. A nice touch.
By 6pm I found myself in another bar on Bolton Road, which I can’t remember the name of now; it was suitably pleasant, but nothing special – it was merely used as a pit stop to another pub. A Twitter pub recommendation from Morecambe fan Harry Quinn had told me to visit the Malt and Hops pub near the train station. I thought that would be a practical way to end my day.
After a stroll through the town centre I found myself back at the train station and 5 minutes later, outside the Malt and Hops. And what a great little pub! The pub only consists of one two fairly smallish open areas with a smaller room at the top of a small staircase. However, easily my favourite feature of the pub is the piano placed right in the middle of the room with a skeleton sitting on the stool as if he is playing it. Very strange indeed. As great as the pub was, I made the mistake of buying Crystal lager. I’m still not sure what possessed me to make such a purchase, as as soon as the stuff touched my lips I recalled how horrible the stuff is from last time I’m had it. It tastes like someone put salt and vinegar in a pint of lager. And apparently it’s ‘award winning’! Nevermind, I bought a bottle of Budweiser to clear the taste away, whilst I watched the Sunderland v Spurs game on the TV.
Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable day. Chorley FC quite simply possess one of the grounds I’ve visited in non-league football so far.
Highlights: nice town, plenty of pubs, superb ground, nice pies, good clubhouse, brilliant main stand.
Low Points: Not a great game really, Crystal lager.