Colne v Salford City
Holt House / Friendly / 12th July 2014
As was well-documented on my last outing to Daisy Hill last weekend, I’m sure you will have heard that some former Manchester United legends have decided to pump some money into non-league club Salford City FC – my local team these days. For the second consecutive weekend I was opting to go watch The Amnies play away on their preseason travels. This is no bandwagon jumping on or Class of 92 chasing I promise you, it was just that Salford seemed to be playing at grounds I’ve wanted to visit for a while. Plus, I probably will not get to see them play as much as I would like over the coming season as my travels take me elsewhere. So with that in mind, that is how I found myself on the 10.06am train to Colne this Saturday morning.
My train journey to Colne would see me requiring a train change in Blackburn, where during my half hour wait, I acquired an immense bacon and sausage teacake from the adjacent food hut. To be honest, I wasn’t too sure what a ‘teacake’ was – one thing I’ve learned since living up north is that there are a whole variety of ways of saying ‘roll’. With me sutiably filled up, I headed onwards to Colne and arrived in the Lancashire town shortly after midday.
Colne is situated on the edge of the Penines and just 6 miles north of Burnley. Along with Nelson, it is one of the larger towns that make up the Borough of Pendle. I’ve grown quite fond of these small, old Lancashire towns that sit in rather rural environments and Colne is no different with hills forming the backdrop to the town.
After a quick pint in the Crown Hotel, located next to the train station, I commenced the walk up the hill to the town centre itself. To the left of the main road, up on top of the hill was a rugby ground and the green shell of what appeared to be the football ground – I made a note of this for later.
First stop on my wander through the town was the town’s Wetherspoons, appropriately named The Wallace Hartley, the name of the bandleader on the Titanic, who it is said continued to play music as the ship went sank; Hartley was born and raised in Colne and his body was returned to the town following the ship’s tragic demise. There was no sinking feeling (see what I did there) as I entered, as the place was quiet and welcoming as people sat around reading their papers and chatting over their meals. However, one man sitting near me made sure the pub knew all about each and everyone of his beloved cats (there were a lot) and their defining characteristics. More worryingly, he then went on to detail how he still hadn’t sussed out what had happened to his cat who’d had his throat ripped open. “Another cat couldn’t do that!” he bellowed. So cat people of Colne beware, there is some sort of cat devouring monster on the loose.
Having heard enough about one man’s felines, I made a short walk up the street to the Market Street Tavern. This was a much smaller and dingy pub, exactly how I like them, with some of the clientele draped in Burnley shirts (there’s a lot of Burnley supporters in Colne). Of course, I got talking to them immediately over a £2 pint of Budweister (bargain) about their upcoming Premier League campaign and their first away game of the season at Swansea.
Speaking of Burnley fans, you may recall 2 years ago when I visited nearby Barnoldswick (if you do not, go back and read the blog here) I befriended Jack, a local of Barnoldswick and a massive Burnley fan, who spent half of his time living it up out in Malta. So I bet you can guess who walked in the door as I was leaving? Jack! “Jack! Barnoldswick!” was the exact greeting I gave him as he entered the pub. Fortunately he remembered who I was so I didn’t come across like a madman. Obviously, I had to stay for another drink with Jack, before he suggested I join him in the Red Lion across the road. The time was now ticking towards kick-off so I thought I better head up to the ground, but when Jack informed me that a taxi up there would only cost a couple of quid, I opted for the pub instead.
A stroll across the road and we were into the Red Lion, where once again, like every pub in Colne it seemed, beer was ridiculously cheap with two Taddy lagers coming in at barely over £4. I did try to convince Jack, who seemed to know everyone in Colne, to join me at the game, but he had people to meet and more pubs to visit, so I said goodbye and headed to the taxi rank outside the pub.
There was one hell of a hill to get up to the ground and I felt thankful that I had dodged the walk. 5 minutes after leaving the town centre and after paying the driver a measly £3 (everything is so cheap in Colne!), I found myself at the top of the hill next to the Colne rugby club and with the football ground at the end of the path. I’m a big believer that one of the chief criteria for a great ground is its location and Colne certainly gets top marks in this category. The views from atop the hill are stunning with the town below and the Penines in the distance.
“Is Ryan Giggs coming?” two young boys asked the turnstiles operator as they entered the ground ahead of me. Unlike at Daisy Hill the week before, there had been no word on ‘The Class of 92’ making an appearance at the ground today, so the gentleman informed the two lads that they would have to wait and see (SPOILER: they didn’t show up). It seemed that many of the local youngsters had shown up hoping to see their United heroes judging by the amount of kids in Manchester United shirts, some with ‘Giggs 11’ on the back.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Colne’s Holt House ground (or the XLCR Vehicle Management Stadium to give it its sponsor-influenced name), but it’s fair to say that I absolutely loved the place and it is one of my favourite grounds that I’ve visited in a long time. It has everything I love about old, non-league grounds. As mentioned previously, the location with the views of Colne still visible inside the ground; the variety of stands that didn’t seem to quite match, which seemed to add to the ground’s idiosyncratic charm and the little clubhouse that sits just past the halfway line in this compact little ground. On entering you are met by a sheltered standing terrace, which leads to a food hut in the corner. To the left of this is another smaller sheltered standing terrace, which leads down to an abandoned gantry structure that sits there looking unwanted on the halfway line. On the opposite side of the pitch, stands the ground’s main stand, a small, green, classic looking stand. Behind the far goal is an open area which looks out onto the terrace houses of Colne below, rising and dipping along the hills beautifully.
Colne FC have been playing at Holt House since their formation in 1996, yet before their formation the ground had been home to the infamous Colne Dynamoes. Colne Dynamoes played at Holt House before Colne FC and the ground would witness one of the most rapid rises through the non-league pyramid during the club’s successful period during the 1980s. Dynamoes were backed by millionaire chairman-manager Graham White, who propelled Dynamoes through the non-league pyramid with money that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Football League – they even had Liverpool legend Alan Kennedy playing for them at one point! Colne were to win the Northern Premier League First Division in 1989, but were to be denied entry to the Conference leagues as Holt House was judged to be not up to standard. White tried desperately to organise a groundshare with Burnley at Turf Moor, but the board at Burnley snubbed the idea and a week before the new season, White pulled the plug on his project and the club folded (some believed that his money had run out). Ultimately, Holt House, which had seen a lot of redevelopment during Colne Dynamoes’ surge up the leagues was left as the home to Colne British Legion FC until 1995 and then for the current club Colne FC, who now play in the North West Counties Premier Division. Back in 2014, as I walked into Holt House, there was one strikingly obvious flaw to the place, which I’m sure wouldn’t have aided Dynamoes’ bid to get into the Conference: the slope of the pitch. It is crazily steep. In fact, I can’t recall encountering a steeper gradient at a ground (although I’m sure others have and will undoubtedly let me know).
The usual Salford fans were milling around the ground with some in their tangerine shirts and having got a can of Carling from the club bar, I met up with Salford fans Richard and Andrew and headed around to the far corner of the ground as the teams were emerging onto the pitch. Salford were playing in their white away shirt, just as they had last week, whilst Colne were wearing their usual red.
For the first half, Salford found themselves having the advantage of playing downhill, whilst the home team would be playing towards their fans in the standing terrace behind the goal. I should add a very vocal support too, which was nice to see, especially as there were a lot of young faces amongst them – that can only be a good thing for the club.
With the slope on their side, Salford dominated the opening exchanges with a few attempts on goals and it was unsurprising that they took the lead. The lively Sam Madeley got onto the end of a Salford freekick and directed his header downwards past the Colne keeper to put the away team 1-0 up with just 7 minutes gone.
By the 15th minute, it was 2-0 as the former Droylsden striker Madeley got his name on the scoresheet for a second time. This time Madeley cut in from left side of the box, before firing home past Chris Thompson. 2-0 to Salford and it could easily have been more in the opening 15 minutes.
After a great start to the game by Salford, the game slowed down and Colne began to come into the game a bit with a few testing shots for Salford goalie Andy Robertson to deal with. Colne’s full back even had the audacity to attempt to lob Robertson from about 40 yards out and came agonisingly close to catching out Robertson, only for Roberston to just about tip the ball over the bar as the ball looked to be dipping into the net.
There was a good 400 strong attendance present at Holt House and the ‘Red Army’ behind the goal decided to sing out the half by singing “Where’s the Class? Where’s the Class? Where’s the Class of 92?! Where’s the Class of 92?” I’m not sure if this was meant to be ‘banter’ directed towards the Salford contingent, but I’m fairly sure Colne must have been a bit gutted that the legends hadn’t shown up as surely it would raise the profile of the game and their club a little bit.
Half-time: Colne 0 – 2 Salford City.
Another can of Carling was purchased to accompany me throughout the second half as well as a meat and potato pie – pies which me and my fellow pie-eaters all agreed were delightful. For the second half we placed ourselves in the small standing terrace just past halfway line and the Colne fans decided to parade past us singing “Every Single One of Us, loves Cunny’s Colne FC” en route to the opposite end of the ground towards the goals the Reds would be attacking in the second half.
Colne were much better in the second half, even if the game did lose some of its quality. Colne’s Si Nangle then added a moment of class to proceedings with a 20 yard free kick that floated past Robertson and left him diving at thin air – it was perfectly placed and virtually unstoppable. We now had a game on our hands.
There were a few chances for both teams, but Salford’s play had really dropped in the second half after playing so well in the opening 30 minutes of the game. It was to be Robertson again who would keep Salford in the lead by making a superb low save to deny what looked to be a certain goal.
Full-time: Colne 1 – 2 Salford City.
A lively first half, but the second half was far less entertaining. Still Salford showed that they have plenty of quality in their ranks for the coming season, just like they did last week, even if it was just in the opening 30 minutes. They’ll definitely be going for promotion next season.
I said my goodbyes to the Salford fans and headed for one last can in the cramped clubhouse, before leaving the ground myself. No taxis for me this time as I enjoyed my walk back down the hill towards the town. I reflected on what had been a very enjoyable day in the Lancashire town. The weather had certainly helped and the town itself was charming, but the real winner on the day was Colne’s ground. I fell in love with the place and I would certainly cite it as one of my favourite grounds in non-league. Nice one Colne!
Highlights: nice town, plenty of pubs (and everything is really cheap!), randomly bumping into Jack again, superb, scenic ground, Nangle’s freekick.
Low Points: not a great game (especially 2nd half) – typical preseason game really.