Runcorn Town v Rochdale Town
Pavilions / North West Counties Challenge Cup Quarter Final / 15th April 2014
Just like before my trip to Hyde the week before, my Saturday actually began in work. Originally there were plans to go for an early Saturday afternoon drink in Irlam, after our work was done for the morning, meaning I was either going to go watch nearby Trafford play or just head up the road to Silver Street take in an Irlam FC game. However, when the plans for a post-work drink were quashed, I opted to look further afield for a game. My scanning for games in the Manchester area produced very little of interest and I considered just going to Trafford anyway. That was until I spotted a game in a town that I have been meaning to visit for a long time: the town of Runcorn. It was decided – my Saturday football fix would come in the form of Runcorn Town v Rochdale Town.
When I mentioned my new plan to venture west to my colleague Adam, he kindly offered to give me a lift to Runcorn on his way home to Frodsham. During the 30 minute car journey to Runcorn, knowing Adam spent a brief time living in Runcorn, I asked him for some pub recommendations, “None of them,” came the helpful reply. Great stuff.
We were soon entering Runcorn and having been past the place a couple of times before, it is probably to safe to say that it is not the prettiest town in the country. I like to think of as Cheshire’s answer to Port Talbot. Like many towns in Northern England, the place had once been a small rural village, before the Industrial Revolution transformed the town into a bustling place of industry with a busy port on the south bank of the Mersey.
I arrived in the town centre shortly after 12:30pm and despite providing me with little pub information earlier, Adam mentioned that the Wetherspoons might be a good place to start on this sunny, yet crisp Saturday afternoon. It had been a good call as The Ferry Boat turned out to be one of the neater and tidier Wetherspoons pubs I’ve visited (although not a touch on the beautiful one I encountered in Darwen).
After one pint I decided to move on and see a bit more of the town. As I exited the pub I was met with the great sight of the Runcorn Silver Jubilee Bridge looming large over the town and the sight of it encouraged me to head down to the banks of the Mersey to get a better view of it before heading back up the road in search of another pub.
About 5 minutes up the road from The Ferry Boat, I found the far more characteristic Barley Mow. It was in here that I first noticed a running trend about Runcorn; the walls of the pub were covered in memorabilia and draped in the colours of Everton FC and it seemed that the few people in there were all talking about Everton. It seemed to me that Runcorn is very much a blue part of Cheshire, but perhaps I just happened to frequent the more bluenose-orientated places. More to my liking was the wall dedicated to the other club in town, Runcorn Linnets, the team who emerged from the debris of the old Runcorn FC. We won’t talk about them today though, it’s all about Town today.
My next stop was to be the Clarendon, probably the most rundown of the pubs I was to visit on this day. On entering, I was greeted by a practically empty pub with the barman, who I felt slightly resembled Bill Kenwright to carry on the Everton theme, sitting in the corner on his mobile, gesturing towards me that he would be with me in two minutes. I was eventually served and it even turned out that the Kenwright lookalike was indeed an Evertonian. Subsequently, talk at the bar turned to former Swansea manager and current Everton boss Roberto Martinez and the adoration we all have for him, before we then all declared our hopes of a big Everton win over Cardiff today (they just about won with the last kick of the game to make it 2-1 in the end).
After a few pints mingling with the few locals who turned up at the Clarendon and having watched some of Hull v Chelsea on the TV, I decided I could not be bothered making the supposed 30+ minute walk to Runcorn Town FC and instead I opted for a taxi.
Soon enough I was in a taxi with my predictably friendly (they always are on Merseyside) taxi driver was weaving his way through the streets of Runcorn, whilst reminiscing about the days that he used to follow the old Runcorn FC club.
Within ten minutes, the taxi was driving up the road alongside the large industrial buildings when the small ground of Runcorn Town FC appeared to the left of us. The entrance to the ground was found just around the corner with the ground being situated at the end of a small lane leading towards the turnstiles. Also situated in the area ahead of the ground itself was a large grassy expanse ahead of the Pavilions social club – essentially a big, red-bricked building that looks like a large pub sitting proudly at the top of the lawn. With such an expansive bar I thought it had to be worth a visit. However, I was surprised to find the building eerily quiet on entering. I headed one way and encountered a series of locked doors and empty rooms, before my ears finally clocked on to the hum of a nearby TV. Eventually I stumbled upon on a huge open room with a bar, but with no custom visible I assumed it was closed. That was until a gentleman in a light blue Runcorn Town scarf plodded into the room and a barmaid magically appeared behind the bar. It seemed apart from this one fan, Runcorn Town fans don’t really do prematch bevvying.
Before you arrive at the turnstiles of Runcorn Town’s home, there is another derelict football pitch on the left complete with crumbling stand and dugouts. What the story is behind this ghost pitch, I’m unsure, but I’m assuming it was a former home to the club I’d be hosted by today.
I headed for the hut-like building that beckoned spectators into the Pavilions and after paying my £5 entry, I began my exploration of Runcorn Town’s home.
The club began life as Mond Rangers in 1968 with the team originally competing in the Runcorn Sunday League, before stepping into the Warrington and District League in 1973. Mond spent the largest part of their history playing in the West Cheshire League with the club establishing themselves in the league from the mid-80s until 2010. It was also during this time, more specifically just before the 2005/06 season, that the club opted to change their name from Mond Rangers to Runcorn Town to make the club more appealing to prospective fans and for commercial purposes.
The club looked to develop off the pitch and in a bid to make the step up to the North West Counties leagues the people at Runcorn Town looked to improve facilities at the Pavilions ready for the step up the leagues. By 2010 and with the ground spruced up along with some newly added floodlights, Runcorn Town were accepted into the NWCFL Division One. The club’s first season at this new level was to be an unarguable success with Runcorn Town finishing second in the league and thus earning promotion to the Premier Division at the first attempt. The club has remained in the Premier Division since and done well in the league, although today’s fixture against Rochdale Town was actually a League Cup quarter final.
Unlike most non-league grounds I’ve vistited, on entering through the turnstiles I was not met with a view of the pitch, but instead a 2 foot high banking. A strange quirk of the ground is this banking that runs behind the one goal, leaving the pitch appearing to be slightly raised. To the right of the entrance is a small, standing shelter running alongside a blue-coloured cabin acting as the club’s lounge (more on that later). On the opposite side of the ground stands another stand, with this one being a sheltered, seating area. It is also behind this side of the ground that you can witness the unusual backdrop to the ground: the huge industrial buildings that tower over the Pavilions. Some would probably describe this backdrop as a smear on the ground, but in an industrial town such as Runcorn, I found it fitting that industry stands side by side with one of the town’s football grounds.
Next door to the ‘industrial side’ stand is the Tea Hut and it was here I headed first. You may ask how I knew it was the tea hut? Well, you can’t be denied when the large sign above the small shack reads in highly distinguishable lettering “Here’s the Tea Hut” – I believe in ode to Uwdi Krugg’s, another northern-based groundhopper, blog Where’s The Tea Hut? There it is. Alongside a very decent pie, it was also cool to see that the hut was selling club merchandise alongside its catering duties.
Just as I received my pie, the game kicked off and I decided to take in the opening exchanges from behind the goal. Only 2 days earlier I had seen today’s away team, Rochdale Town, comprehensively beat AFC Darwen 4-2 and last summer I had seen them win 4-0 against Formby; it seems that Rochdale like to score a lot when I watch them. Today looked like it was going to be no different as the away team scored in the first minute after a series of errors from Runcorn found Luke Bradbury completely unmarked to score from 6 yards out.
The game turned into an entertaining game with chances falling to both teams. It would take until the 35th minute for the second goal of the game and it would be an equaliser for the home team. A late tackle from the Rochdale fullback led to a Runcorn penalty, which was comfortably converted by Andy Potter.
By the time Runcorn had equalised, I had found myself in the standing area behind the dugouts and with half-time fast approaching I thought I would head into the portacabin/lounge to get a half-time drink. The lounge area was very impressive with another food servery, a small sectioned off area with plenty of memorabilia, but clearly cordoned off for the club’s VIPs, and plenty of room for us regular folk to enjoy a drink with a view of the pitch. However, it was to come as a stunning blow that no alcohol was served in here at all. With me not really in the mood for hot chocolate, I departed the cabin shortly after entering and headed back to the Pavilions.
Half-time: Runcorn Town 1 – 1 Rochdale Town.
Even at half-time, the club bar seemed empty, apart from me and the same Runcorn Town scarf-clad man from earlier. Inevitably I began chatting to this Runcorn fan about what was going on around the country football-wise that Saturday afternoon, as we digested the half-time scores that Jeff Selling was feeding us, and obviously about the half of football we had just witnessed ourselves. As we chatted away, I realised that my phone was on its last legs in the battery department, so I have to say a big thank you to the helpful barmaid, who agreed to keep my phone on charge behind the bar for the duration of the second half, whilst I watched the game.
For the second half, I joined ‘Runcorn blue scarf man’ who turned out to be actually called George, who was great company for the final 45 minutes as he filled me on some information about the club as well as introduced me to some other fans. Sadly, the second half was less pleasant for the home side.
The home side attacked well at the start of the half, only to see their efforts thwarted by a very good goalkeeper in the Rochdale net.
In the 49th minute, Rochdale retook the lead and it was once again down to a cock-up from the home team. A long hoof up pitch saw the ball head towards the Runcorn goal only for the goalie to venture from his line and be beaten to the ball by Kristian Evans, who lofted the ball into an empty net. 2-1 to Rochdale.
Despite Rochdale retaking the lead, Runcorn still looked undeterred and once again the game broke out into an end-to-end affair with good chances and good goalkeeping from both sides.
The 71st minute would put the final nail in Runcorn’s coffin as Rochdale made it 3-1. Once again, another defensive error. An uncomfortable backpass to Wills in the Runcorn goal saw the ball bounce awkwardly and Callum Smith retrieve the ball and bury it into the bottom corner to make it 3-1 and what looked to be game over.
There was still time for Runcorn to miss an unbelievable chance, as Runcorn’s number 9 blazed over the bar from 2 yards, attached with an ‘it was easier to score’ cliche, but ultimately the game would finish 3-1 to Rochdale Town.
Full-time: Runcorn Town 1 – 3 Rochdale Town – I think the Castleton-based club may be signing me up as a club mascot soon with the luck I seem to bring them; my record watching them now is 3 games, 3 wins, 11 goals and 1 conceded.
I said goodbye George and headed for the bar to retrieve my phone and to find out the final score at Swansea. They had been 1 – 0 up over West Brom at half-time and I was confident that I would enter the bar to hear of a resounding win – my heart sank when the vidiprinter flashed up a 2-1 loss though. However, I was sort of cheered up when Everton scored in the last minute to defeat Cardiff 2-1 ; one of the joys of really disliking your rivals – their losses can help you overcome your own team’s defeats.
After a quick pint in the Pavilions, I decided to call an end to my visit to the Pavilions and I headed up the drive and out into the industrial estate with the aim of walking back to the town. Predictably, my confidence in my sense of direction was misplaced and I miscalculated the route back to the town centre, but eventually I stumbled upon the train station I was to depart from and decided to visit the pub next door to there instead.
My day was finished off with a trip to Liverpool South Parkway station to catch a trip homeward to Manchester and for anyone that read my blog about my trip to Marine will know, a trip to Liverpool South Parkway means a visit to one thing: the talking toilet! Yes, having discovered the toilet on my first visit to South Parkway, I made a point of revisiting the bog that talks you through its workings as you piss away. A great end to a good day on Merseyside.
Highlights: good Wetherspoons, friendly pub landlords, who look Bill Kenwright, quirky ground, good game of football.
Low Points: ground away from the town itself, no pubs near the ground, apart from the empty social club (empty today at least).