Mossley v Northwich Victoria
Seel Park / Northern Premier League Division One North / 8th April 2014
Mossley AFC and their Seel Park had sort of become my groundhopping Holy Grail. Since I started this whole groundhopping thing a couple of years ago, I’ve heard countless stories about the wonder and beauty of Seel Park. Obviously, I’ve wanted to go since hearing such tales, but for the past two years I’ve had to delay my trip on numerous occasions thanks to match postponements, fixture clashes and general other impracticalities that have randomly risen over times. Plus, the few times I had finally decided to go were all for wintry, midweek games, resulting in my fellow ground fanatics urging me not to go for these fixtures, as apparently the ground will not reveal its true magic on such dark, cold nights. I heeded the advice and saved the ground visit for a rainy day…well, hopefully a nice, sunny day.
With the 2013/2014 season entering its final weeks, I decided it was now time to get Seel Park ticked off, so I browsed the club’s fixtures list. Sadly, all the club’s home Saturday games clashed with other plans I had and once again it looked like Seel Park would elude me once again. However, I then spotted that the club had a Tuesday night fixture against Northwich Victoria, days into my Easter Holiday break. With the clocks now having jumped forward and with lighter nights and hopefully brighter weather ahead I decided I was going for it. I was finally going to visit Mossley AFC. The only worry now was that with all the hype and build-up, I felt that Mossley and Seel Park was never going to live up to my expectations was it? How wrong I was – it was not to disappoint one bit.
Shortly before 4pm on this clear and fairly sunny Tuesday afternoon, I found myself stuck on the train for 25 minutes in Stalybridge station, as the train ahead of us had apparently hit an object on the track. Once safety checks were completed, we were soon underway again and I arrived in Mossley around 16:20.
Mossley is a small town located in Tameside and just under 9 miles east of Manchester. The town is set amongst some stunning scenery with Mossley being positioned on the edge of Saddleworth Moor and in the shadows of the Pennines. Apparently Mossley means “a woodland clearing by a swamp or bog” for anyone interested in a spot of toponymy (cheers Wikipedia).
I had read up on the geography of the place before my arrival, so I knew what I was letting myself in for with this rural town; however,on alighting the train and arriving at the town, it still blew me away with its picturesque setting – the place seemed to be stuck in a different era to the rest of us with its charming quaintness.
Before my visit, I received several glowing recommendations about the Rising Sun pub, so after a quick pint in the Commercial Inn, I decided to make my way towards there. One other thing I had repeatedly heard about Mossley is that it is very, very hilly, but being a born and bred South Wales valley boy, this was never going to worry me. I began the ascent up the hill from Bottom Mossley up towards the upper part of the town and then down Stockport Road towards the Rising Sun.
I knew I was going to like the Rising Sun immediately on entering as Idioteque by Radiohead was playing in the background – probably my favourite band and probably my favourite song of theirs (although this does change almost daily). The pub has not made its name on the music that is played in there though, it is the beer and the cider that have led to this place winning countless awards, so in that spirit I decided to go for a real ale. Having eyed up the various names across the pumps, I eventually plumped for a pint of Tiger Rut, brewed by the local brewery, Millstone Brewery. I’m no connoisseur of real ale, but this stuff was bloody gorgeous! I’m pretty crap at describing the taste of beers, so I stole this description of this ‘golden ale’ from a beer website: “Aroma of pineapple, barley, citrus and yeast. Similar flavours with a tasty passion fruit hop character.” Sexy stuff.
“You know, if that lad on his phone there was up to trouble and the government were after him, they’d find him like that (clicks fingers) with that smartphone of his,” came the strange comment from one of the two gentleman to my right. I assured them I was not in any bother with the British Government (or any others as far as I’m aware) and instead conversation turned to more conventional things such as weather, beer and Mossley itself. They also pointed out over the hills to the area where Paul Scholes apparently lives these days. “He always used to get a kebab from the Spice of Life and sometimes have a drink in the Butchers Arms opposite it. You should go there next.” I took their advice.
Heading towards The Butchers Arms led me back towards centre of the town and about 5 minutes walk from the ground. I had heard great things about the food at Seel Park, so I resisted the urge to get an early evening kebab from the Spice of Life – even though it is apparently good enough for the great Paul Scholes.
Although slightly less light and spacious than the Rising Sun before it, The Butchers Arms was also a nice pub complete with several red leather settees that reminded me of the one we had in the study of our old house back home (yes, my family did once have a study). Also, similar to my home village back in South Wales, Mossley was increasingly striking me as a place where everyone knew everyone else with all the locals trading gossip at the bar about names they were all clearly familiar with. And predictably they were soon informing me, the outsider, that apparently Paul Scholes used to drink in here occasionally and usually got a kebab from across the road on his way home from a match. This was clearly a source of pride to Mossley-ites, who would then all finish the stories with “But he’s just a normal, nice guy” something I concurred with having briefly met Scholesy at Salford City just a few weeks before.
I followed the directions one of the locals had given me to Seel Park and soon enough I found myself in front of the club’s famous turnstiles. I’ll go back to talking about the ground later, as I still felt it was too early to enter and instead I went into the pub next to the ground called the Highland Laddie. The place was devoid of customers as I entered and to be honest it was a bit run down and generally a bit crap. When I had to pay £3.40 for a pint of Carling as well, it was soon clear to see why there were only a 3-4 people in there. I should have just gone straight to the Seel Park clubhouse instead, which was my next stop.
So the entrance to ground – well, it is a beauty (as far as entrances/turnstiles go) with the hills in the background almost framing it and the rest of ground perfectly. You might already have the impression that I’m going to deliver very little criticism of this place and you would be right, but if I was to nit pick, I could mention the fact that I paid £8 to enter this ground, instead of the £7 I’ve usually paid for at this level; I won’t complain over a £1 though.
First stop was the clubhouse and a brilliant one at that. The place acted more like a pleasant lodge (with a bar) neatly tucked into the hills rather than a typically rundown non-league football team’s clubhouse. I may be wrong, but I got the impression that the clubhouse had been redeveloped fairly recent, as the place was rather plush looking with a neat Mossley badge on the far wall, next to the large screen in the corner, which was currently showing Emmerdale. Having had a quick pint, I headed out of the bar and finally to explore Seel Park proper – and boy was I excited. Probably too excited over an old football ground.
Mossley AFC were formed as Park Villa in 1903, before changing their name a year later to Mossley Juniors and eventually to the current guise of Mossley AFC in 1909. A couple of years after changing their name, they moved to Seel Park, which at the time was a disused cricket ground, although the newly housed football club dubbed it Seel Fold. After a couple of decades of ground improvement, the ground was eventually renamed Seel Park during the 1930s. Over the next 80 years or so, the ground would go under several renovations with the building and rebuilding of certain parts of the ground. Disaster would even strike in 2009, as two floodlights collapsed and consequently the other 6 remaining lights were condemned, forcing the club to play the second half of their season at Ashton United’s Hurst Cross ground. Fortunately, the club’s fans, along with Tameside council and local businesses, raised £30,000 to reinstall floodlights and to return Mossley to their rightful home. And what a home!
I entered the ground and found myself on a small terrace attached to the club bar, which looks out on the ground. Next to the clubhouse is the ground’s main stand, which is a small covered seating stand which sits on the halfway line and holds 220 seats with open stands terrace either side of it. To the right of the main stand, behind the near goals, is a decent sized, covered standing terrace with a small cabin next to it, emblazoned with the word’s ‘Supporters’ Club Shop’; the place was dormant tonight, but I’m told that it is usually open and is a neat treasure trove of old programmes. Behind the far goal is an open standing area, whilst running down the other side of the pitch is another standing terrace that runs the length of the pitch with a small section of this side near the halfway line covered by shelter. The stands are plentiful with character, however, the real showpiece of the whole ground is the scenic backdrop to Seel Park with the hilly surroundings stretching out behind the ground, which stands 850 feet above sea level, making it the 4th highest ground above sea level in the country.
Having heard nothing but good things about the food served at the ground, I made my way to the food hut, past Northwich Vics manager and Stockport County managerial legend (County fans had sung his praises on my visit to Edgeley Park just over a week before) Jim Gannon, who was talking with the travelling Vics fans. For £2.50 I bought a steak and ale pie and a portion of chips and the portions were hefty and definitely more than you usually get at non-league football grounds for such a price. More importantly, both pie and chips tasted gorgeous and I was beginning to think that this ground was just never going to let me down in any department. Hopefully the football would live up to its superb surroundings.
Northwich Victoria had been on an excellent 13 game unbeaten run since February and things had improved dramatically at the club since Gannon took over from Lee Ashcroft. Tonight, the early signs were that the Vics were going to carry on their imperious form as they dominated the opening exchanges. Vics would claim the opening goal 14 minutes in as a Matt Greenwood freekick was cleared to the edge of the box to Brian Summerskill (love that name), who buried his volley past the Mossley goalie to make it 1-0.
The lead was doubled in the 31st minute as Gary Burnett was clearly tripped to earn his side a stonewall penalty, which was finished confidently by Summerskill again to make it to two goals to Northwich and two goals to Summerskill.
As I made my lap of the ground to explore all the nooks and crannies of this beautifully ramshackle ground, the Vics were playing some excellent football and unsurprisingly they made it 3-0 thanks to a brilliant strike from Jordan Hadfield. Mossley were utterly shell-shocked and were probably quite happy to enter the interval just the 3 goals down.
Half-time: Mossley 0 – 3 Northwich Victoria.
The night was now turning a little chillier, so I made sure I warmed myself up in the clubhouse, before heading back out for the second half.
After the quite frantic pace of the first half, the second was a bit slower to get going as Northwich Vics seemed content with their lot at 3-0. It would be Mossley, who would go on to grab the next goal and hint at an unlikely comeback, as Dougie Carroll converted a penalty to make it 3-1.
However, any chance of a fight back was quashed by the persistently busy Vics striker Gary Burnett, who shot powerfully across goal and past the Mossley keeper into the far right corner. 4-1 to Northwich Vics.
As the away team made it 4-1, I did something that I never do: I headed to the clubhouse to watch the remaining 15 minutes from there with a beer. This also meant I could watch the remaining moments of the Champions League tie between Chelsea and PSG with Chelsea just needing one goal to progress to the semi-finals (a goal they did eventually grab in the 88th minute, much to the delight of many in the club bar – I didn’t realise the depths of Tameside were a hotbed for Chelsea fans).
From my seat by the clubhouse window near the big screen showing the Champions League tie, I watched the final goal of an entertaining game and it was to be a late consolation for the home team. Mossley skipper James Blair rounded off the evening’s scoring with a 20 yard drive to make the final score 4-2.
Full-time: Mossley 2-4 Northwich Victoria.
I had heard talk of a shortcut to get to the ground from the train station, but earlier I had purposely avoided the shortcut as I went in pursuit of pubs instead. Now I was quite willing to make use of the shortcut to get me back to the station hastily for the 21:55 train back to Manchester. I’d been warned that the shortcut is an almighty gradient meaning it is chore to make it up to the ground – they were not wrong. However, I was in the fortunate position of heading down this slope meaning that I was back at Mossley station within minutes.
Overall, what an evening! Mossley, the place and the football club, is virtually faultless in my eyes: pleasant town; good pubs – especially the Rising Sun; beautiful, scenic football ground with plenty of character; welcoming and friendly people at the club and even an entertaining game on show on this early April evening. I’m regularly asked what my favourite ground is, a question I always find quite difficult to answer. However, I’ll have no qualms about saying that Mossley’s Seel Park is potentially my number one favourite. If you get the chance to visit, just go. You won’t regret it.
Highlights: nice town, The Rising Sun, friendly locals, superb, scenic ground with plenty of character, good food, good game.
Low Points: struggling here…I guess the pub next to the ground was a bit rubbish.