Lost in…Ashton (Ashton United)

Ashton United v Buxton

Hurst Cross / Northern Premier League Division One North /8th January 2014

Winning bottles of wine in raffles, watching Runcorn Linnets lift a trophy and gazing at a statue of Simone Perrotta. These are just some of the things that have occurred on my only two previous trips to Ashton-under-Lyme, the Tameside town located just 6 miles east of Manchester. However, the list of events that opened this blog only occurred at the home of local club Curzon Ashton, the Tameside Stadium. My only two other appearances in Ashton were for a preseason friendly between Curzon and a Blackburn XI in the summer of 2012 and to witness the North West Counties Challenge Cup Final, which is held at the Tameside Stadium every year, between Formby and Runcorn Linnets.

However, when it comes to football in Ashton, Curzon do not have a monopoly on the sport. Far from it. In fact, there is another football club in town who play a division higher than Curzon: introducing Ashton United.

Whilst Curzon play in (and at the time of writing top) the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One North, Ashton strut their stuff in the Premier Division above them. Also, United are considerably older than their Curzon neighbours with the latter being formed in 1878, originally as Hurst F.C. – a whole 85 years before Curzon’s earliest incarnation. Ashton United can even lay claim to having had legends such as Alan Ball and Dixie Dean grace their red and white shirts, although more importantly to this site, Lost Boyo Trevor Hockey’s last club of his career was to be Ashton United. Another reason why I was excited to visit Ashton United is because their home, Hurst Cross, is one of the oldest in world football with it being used as the Robins’ home since 1880. Since I started this whole groundhopping malarkey, I’ve also heard the name of Hurst Cross crop up a lot as one of those grounds you just have to visit, so it was nice to finally tick off this semi-legendary ground.

Today’s trip was a deviation from the unplanned, yet seemingly established, rule of ‘do new grounds on Saturdays’, as I made the 10 minute train journey from Manchester Victoria station to Ashton shortly after 5pm on a Wednesday night. It was a fairly chilly early January and the clouds looked ominous to say the least. As the train rolled past the illuminated structure of the Etihad Stadium, which was hosting the League Cup semi-final first leg between City and West Ham tonight, I began to think that that game might have been a far cosier option, but I’d made my choice and I was happy with it.

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A wet Ashton town centre.

I didn’t expect to arrive into Ashton as early as  I had, as I didn’t really expect to leave work as early as I had, so I was left with some spare time to kill in Ashton. To the pub.

With my extra time I decided to have a bit of a wander of Ashton town centre, something I’d not really had the opportunity to do on my other two visits. Admittedly, after completing a lap of the square and the indoor shopping centre, there wasn’t much to see at this hour of day and instead I headed to the two pubs I could spot just across the road from the indoor market.

The first pub stop came in the form of the town’s Wetherspoons, the Ash Tree. I’ve always liked Spoons without ever being exactly awe-struck by the places, but I have to say this was a pretty cool Spoons with a quite strange layout. At the bar, I decided to revert back to my efforts of drinking more real ale and randomly chose a beer which was actually very nice; sadly, I can’t remember what it was called apart from that it was from the Isle of Wight.

After my Isle of Wight-based beer, I headed next door to another Spoons-esque pub called the Engine Room, where I reverted to my default mode and automatically ordered a lager without even considering my newfound quest for real ale. Nevermind – it did the job.

By 18:30 I was exiting the Engine Room and working my way in what my Google Maps app informed was the correct direction to Hurst Cross. As I made my way through the red bricked streets heading away from the town centre towards the ground, there was a very noticeable steepening of the hill and on spotting the Oddfellows Arms, I thought another pub stop was required, especially when I could see the what appeared to be the glow from a floodlit football ground going into the night air a short distance away.

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In the Oddfellows Arms with Rob and Ritchie.

And what a great choice it was to call in the Oddfellows Arms. The pub is a great little pub situated less than 5 minutes down the road from Hurst Cross and the people I encountered in there were very friendly. On asking the barman for confirmation that I was indeed near the ground, talk quickly turned to my accent: “You’re not from Buxton are you?”. Buxton were to be Ashton’s opponents this evening just in case anyone was thinking that that was a very random question. Evidently I was not, which led on to the usual questions of where was I from and what the hell was I doing in such a place? On explaining I was in this neck of the woods for football, I got the usual looks of ‘you’re mental’, but the pub was very welcoming and my fellow pub-dwellers Ritchie and Rob chatted away with me about football – with particular emphasis on Swansea’s glorious victory at Old Trafford only a few days previous – for the duration of my stay in the pub. A great little pub which is well worth a visit en route to Ashton United’s home.

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Arriving at Hurst Cross.

By the time I had exited the pub, it was now beginning to piss down well and truly, so I entered a bit of a jog to get to the ground. I found the ground within minutes and as I had read long before my own visit to the ground, I was in front of a brilliant ground.

I paid my £9 entry, the standard for a game at this level, and entered into a very wet Hurst Cross. On entering I found myself in the corner of the ground right next to the food hut, which smelled delightful. To the left of the entrance is the open standing terrace behind the goal whilst running down the far side of the pitch is sheltered standing terrace, the Popular Stand. Behind the far goal is another open standing terrace, although there is a small, almost bus stop-like sheltered structure that acts as the only protection from the elements on that side of the ground. Finally, the only other stand in the ground is the Sid Sykes Stand which can seat 250 fans.

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On entering Hurst Cross.

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Behind the dugout.

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Behind the main stand.

Anyone that reads this regularly reads this blog will know that I usually make a beeline for the club bar on entering a non-league ground. Tonight was no different, but the only problem was that I couldn’t find the damn place! I found a locked wooden door with a sign that suggested that this was either a back door to the clubhouse or this used to be an entrance to one, before then coming across a long fancy conservatory-like building which had a sign above it with ‘Directors Box and Matchday Sponsors’. Worth a go I thought – I am from the mighty and famous Lost Boyos after all, so they might treat me like a VIP. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t and within about 2 seconds of opening the door I was approached by a lady asking what I was doing in there, before being asked politely to leave.

I abandoned my quest for the club bar until half-time and with the rain still battering the ground, I headed for the small shelter around the food hut and to buy myself a steak pie, which was delicious. I decided to keep my place under the shelter whilst the teams came out onto the pitch – Ashton United in their red and white kits and Buxton in their usual blue. I was expecting big things from Ashton this evening as before the game they were statistically the most in form team in Europe having won 7 games in a row. Also another bit of trivia for tonight’s game: the referee was a Football League assistant, but more interestingly the two assistants for tonight’s game were father and son. Thanks to @AndyJSykes on Twitter for that bit of trivia.

As the rain continued to hammer down, the game got off to a superb start with a real moment of brilliance from Ashton. With only minutes on the clock Matty Chadwick picked the ball up and from 20 yards out and  hit an unstoppable left footed shot which flew past former Rotherham goalie Andy Warrington into the top corner.

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The main stand and the food hut.

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Over on the Popular Stand.

The view from the Popular Stand.

I was soon joined by Aaron, who had been waiting outside for his Dad before giving up and entering the ground shortly after Chadwick had nearly taken the net off with his opener. Not long after, thanks to traffic problems, we were joined by Aaron’s Dad John, who is the manager of Ashton’s near neighbours Curzon Ashton.

The Bucks reacted well to going a goal down and created several chances of their own without finding a way past the Ashton keeper. Matt Thornhill went through on goal to only be thwarted by Paul Phillips in the home goal, before Buxton then curled a freekick way over.

However, it was to be the home team that produced another wonderful moment to make it 2-0. As Ashton whipped in a corner, the ball was heading just behind their defender Jason Gorton, who adjusted his body and scooped his leg around to hit a superb right footed volley which flew in. Not bad at all for a centre back. By now I had made my way around to the Popular Stand and I was joined by groundhopper Graeme Holmes, who regaled me with some tales of his European travels as I informed him of my trip to Berlin next month, and we were both suitably impressed with Gorton’s finish.

Half-time: Ashton United 2 – 0 Buxton.

Now back on to the quest for the fabled clubhouse. Despite one fan assuring me that I had to exit the ground to get to the clubhouse, I soon spotted that the locked back door I had noticed earlier was now wide open and with the rain still pounding down, I made a dash for the door. Finally, I found myself in the Hurst Cross clubhouse and I was even more surprised that I couldn’t find my way into the place earlier, as it was bigger than a lot I’ve been in. The combination of club memorabilia, tacky red carpet and several TVs gave the place a classic clubhouse feel and I was more than happy to frequent the place in the warmth away from the cold rain outside, whilst watching Manchester City demolish West Ham in the League Cup semi-final on Sky; so much so, that as the second half kicked off outside, I took my time drinking my pint and instead watched the opening moments of the half from the shelter of the bar’s back door.

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In the clubhouse…finally.

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The conditions worsen as we enter the second half.

The pitch was now very heavy from the rain and as I made my way back around the ground, I even spotted Ashton’s corner taker laughing at the bog forming in the corner of the pitch. Predictably, the weather led to a less action-packed second half, although there were chances for both teams to add to the goal tally with Buxton having a couple of half chances at the start of the half.

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Out come the umbrellas.

The only other real action of the second half came when Martin Pilkington had his shot tipped onto the post by Warrington, before Dale Johnson had another good chance for the home team, which he hit wide, and Buxton’s Jacob Hazel, on loan from Chesterfield, was halted by Philips after a good run into the box.

I watched the closing quarter of the game back in the Popular Stand with Aaron and John and with managers such as Jim Bentley and Darren Peacock performing the trademark Lost Boyos double thumbs up pose this season, I explained to John that it was only right that he join such a prestigious managerial club by performing the action himself before leaving the ground.

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Curzon Ashton manager *and Aaron’s Dad) John Flanagan joins the double thumbs up Managerial Hall of Fame.

Full-time: Ashton United 2 – 0 Buxton.

There was no hanging around after the game as we made a dart for Aaron’s car, but not before we had picked up our Buxton supporting mate Alex (with Buxton supporting friend), who had spent the 90 minutes filming the game for ‘BFC TV‘, the club’s YouTube channel; I wish more clubs had such media at this level. Alex did however express his frustration at me being at the game as apparently Buxton always lose when I watch them; this fact is false: I once saw them lose to Stocksbridge at their home ground Silverlands on a freezing Wednesday night at the end of October, but on my first visit I did see the Bucks come from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Witton Albion (which I wrote about here).

Anyway, enough of my history with Buxton FC. I enjoyed my trip to Hurst Cross and I can see why so many people hold it in such high regard. However, I think I’ll have to make another visit on a dry Saturday afternoon to appreciate the ground fully. And at least I’ll know where the club bar is next time I visit!

Highlights: the Oddfellows Arms, great ground, good pie, good goals, good clubhouse.

Low Points: it really did piss down, my frustration at trying to find the clubhouse.

2 thoughts on “Lost in…Ashton (Ashton United)

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