Congleton Town 0 – 2 Leek Town
Booth Street / Friendly / 15th July 2014
With preseason now well underway, I felt like I was getting back into the swing of things with the whole watching live football malarkey, after spending most of June sat on my settee watching a highly entertaining World Cup. However, only a couple of weeks into the season and something strange was already occurring. The upcoming Saturday would be a football-less one! (*gasps*) Of course, I wasn’t being boring, but instead I was off to Frodsham, a small town in Cheshire I’m yet to visit, for a barbecue in one of my work colleague’s homes to say farewell to him as he heads onwards to his new job. Sadly Frodsham have no football club (although there is an idea for some crackpot local billionaire). I had already planned to go to AFC Liverpool v Morecambe on Wednesday night, but with a Saturday without football on the horizon, I decided that I would head to another game Tuesday night.
By 4pm on Tuesday afternoon I found myself back at Manchester Piccadilly, the first time I had been to my second home this season, and after some deliberation throughout the day where to go, I opted to head to the platform where the Stoke train was departing. No, I wasn’t heading to Stoke, but instead to the Cheshire town of Congleton just north of Stoke.
I can safely say that I knew absolutely nothing about Congleton. I had heard of the place, only because of the football club, and I knew roughly where it was on the map, but aside from that, Congleton was an unknown quantity to me – the town and the football ground. I had been assured by people in work that place was actually rather nice, as I debated in my mind whether the name ‘Congleton’ made it sound quite exotic or really rather rough. I was going to find out for myself whether it was exotic (well, at least pleasant) or rough.
I arrived into the Cheshire town shortly before 5.30pm and there really wasn’t much to see at first, although I was pleased to see two pubs next to the train station. Always a plus point. However, I decided to leave them for now and instead head towards the town centre where I knew the football club was located after the briefest pieces of research earlier that afternoon. I had slightly misjudged the distance to the town, as the trek from the station down the main road, which regularly branched off onto typically pleasant-looking Cheshire housing estates, to the town centre was much further than I anticipated. I began to even wonder whether there was even a centre to be found, but just as such dismal thoughts crossed my mind, a pub appeared on my left, the Beartown Tap, and suddenly a road leading into the town.
I skipped the Beartown Tap and headed into the town centre and it was now clear why some of my colleagues had described the town so positively. There was a lovely town centre and most importantly lots of quaint, little pubs on every street. The first pub I hit was Ye Olde Kings Arms (I’ve learned I’m a sucker for a pub with ‘Ye Olde’ in the title), an unsurprisingly old-fashioned looking establishment. It was also in here that I learned about the town’s infamous links to bear-baiting (explaining the pub name earlier and why the football club are nicknamed the Bears). Apparently the story goes that during the 1600s the town were struggling to garner interest for their bear-baiting contests because of their rather tame bears. To purchase a new bear to attract a crowd, the town bought a more aggressive bear with the money that had been saved up to buy a Bible. The tale even inspired a song by folk singer John Tams that went: ‘Congleton Rare, Congleton Rare/ Sold the Bible to buy a bear.’ Fortunately, the town was very quiet on this Tuesday night and there appeared to be no such bear activities going on in Beartown tonight (unless there was and that explained why the town was so quiet).
I do enjoy a good Wetherspoons building and the Congleton branch, The Counting House, of the nation’s most famous pub chain is certainly one of the nicest I’ve been in with it being housed in the town’s former bank. I should also add that all of a sudden a whole army of pubs had appeared around me with there being about 5 on this one street.
Google Maps confirmed to me that I was less than 10 minutes away from Congleton’s Booth Street home so I decided to head into the fairly dull and generic Maskery pub, before walking up the road for one last drink in the Lion and Swan Hotel, housed in a mock-Tudor building. Much to my liking, the bar stocked bottles of my favourite lager, Estrella Damm, but sadly, there was no-one else in the place, so after quickly drinking my bottle of Barcelona’s finest, I headed to the ground.
As Google Maps correctly informed me, the ground was a short walk away from the town centre, yet if it wasn’t for the usual brown football road sign that you find pointing the way to football grounds up and down the country, I would have probably missed it. The ground sits wedged in the middle of a housing estate with the turnstiles located halfway up a small sloping residential street. Tonight’s game against local neighbours Leek Town was £6 entry; I was quite surprised by the price for a non-league preseason friendly, but and even Congleton’s Twitter account was apologetic: ‘@CongletonFC: Sorry about the price tonight, £6. However, 90 mins “entertainment” for the price of two pints!’ That’s one way of looking at it I suppose. Anyway, I handed over my loose change and I was into Booth Street.
Congleton Town FC currently play in the North West Counties Premier Division, the 5th tier of non-league football, but since their formation in 1901, The Bears have played in a whole host of local North West football leagues such as the Manchester League, Mid-Cheshire league after starting their existence in the Crewe and District League.
The ground, Booth Street is not the easiest on the eye, but its shabbiness does add a certain charm to the place. The entry to the ground places you behind the main stand that sits on halfway and holds around 250 fans with the fairly large clubhouse and food hut also behind this stand. This side of the pitch also houses a small club shop/hut, which I thought was a neat touch to the ground and certainly a little bit different. Down the opposite side of the pitch is a small, sheltered standing area behind the dugout and behind one of the goals is another sheltered standing area. The part of the ground I liked best personally is the area behind the far goal, which is completely open, but has a convenient banking sloping up behind the goals, providing a great vantage point to watch the game.
The clubhouse is a large one and on entering I was greeted by the odd sight of a large plastic bear (although it does look a lot like an aardvark) wearing a Congleton shirt in the corner. “If we ever get to Wembley, he’s coming with us,” proudly declared one of the Congleton officials, who had seen me photoing the strange figure. There wasn’t long until kick-off so I had a quick drink and perused the various photos and Congleton memorabilia adorning the walls in their very neat bar area, before heading out just as the whistle was going for the start of the game.
Congleton started the game well against a Leek Town containing a few trialists, but the away team, who play in the league above the hosts, soon began to show their class and it was unsurprising when they took the lead through Mike Keates, who reacted quickest to a loose ball after the goalie had parried a shot across the 6 yard box. Keates was actually an early substitute after Leek sustained two injuries within the first 15 minutes.
The Bears battled well and deserved the penalty they won in the 36th minute. Congleton looked set to equalise, but Brandon Moores stepped up and blazed over the bar spectacularly; I’ll be surprised if I see a worse penalty on my travels this season. I think it’s probably still rising into the air now!
By now, I had circled the whole ground and found myself up the banking watching the closing moments of the half. Before the whistle could go, I decided to sneak off to the food hut for a half-time pie before the rest of the small crowd descended on the clubhouse.
Half-time: Congleton Town 0 – 1 Leek Town.
Chat in the clubhouse amongst the Congleton fans and board seemed to be centred on Class of 92’s takeover of Salford and I obviously couldn’t help but tell them about my experiences with the club of recent since their prestigious backers arrived on the scene. If Congleton can win at Parkgate, Congleton are set to welcome Salford City to Booth Street in the FA Cup preliminary round – something that seemed to excite people at the club. I do have to say that everyone I spoke to at Congleton were all very friendly and welcoming and with the Congleton Supporters’ Trust clearly having a significant impact on the club, as I was told that the ground had been substantially improved over the past decade.
As the second half kicked off, I couldn’t resist a nose in the ground’s snug, little club shop with two men, who I assumed were the shop attendants, sitting out on white deck chairs in front of the shop. I resisted the urge to buy the various Congleton merchandise on show and instead headed back to the banking to watch the second half.
The second half was dominated by Leek Town as they went to kill off the game. They came close when Michael Husbands hit the post from an acute angle followed by Leek being denied by some excellent goalkeeping from the Congleton keeper on a few occasions.
As the sun began to set over Booth Street I decided to work my way around to the standing terrace behind the other goal where there was a gathering of Leek fans. As I walked down the side of the ground, Leek had the ball out on the right wing with Ash Jackson laying the ball off to number 14 Tom Lowe. Some quick feet and Lowe was tricking his way past 3 defenders and finishing past the Congleton goalie. A brilliant goal to make it 2-0 with 80 minutes on the clock.
Full-time: Congleton Town 0 – 2 Leek Town
I had decided to make the long walk back to the station and head to one of the pubs opposite the station. One of the Congleton officials had recommended the Queens Head so that was to be my final stopping point, after the 25-30 minute walk back to the station.
There were plenty of pub options in Congleton, but of all the ones I visited it seemed that I had saved the best to last. It was now past 10pm on a Tuesday night, yet the Queens Head was still alive with plenty of punters in the bar area. The place was huge and the staff friendly and it would definitely be my pub recommendation for anyone who ever ventures into Congleton.
The step into the dark unknown of Congleton proved to be a good one; a very nice little town indeed. After initially not loving the ground, it grew on me throughout the evening, thanks to the excellent clubhouse, the friendly folk there and probably the summery weather too.
Highlights: nice town, plenty of pubs, friendly club, nice clubhouse, great goal from Leek’s Tom Lowe.
Low Points: bit of a trek from the station to the ground, £6 entry a bit steep for a friendly at a NWCFL club.
I’ve recently signed up to a Flickr account, so for those who have the misfortune of not being my friend on Facebook can see all my pictures from my football travels here https://www.flickr.com/photos/125327149@N05/.
Here’s my album with all my photos from my visit to Congleton Town https://www.flickr.com/photos/125327149@N05/sets/72157645804403745/