Ashton-in-Makerfield, not to be confused with the other Greater Manchester Ashton, Ashton-under-Lyme, sits just 16 miles west of Manchester and just over 4 miles south of Wigan. The town is your typical Lancashire mining town with the area housing 13 collieries at one point during the 1800s. Ashton also became well-known for its manufacturing of hinges. Perhaps these days the area is most famous for the horse racing at Haydock racecourse located nearby, although some of you may well be more interested to know that the town is the birthplace of former Hear’Say singer (remember them!) and Coronation Street actress Kym Marsh. I’ll be honest and admit that manufacturing history, horse racing or former talent show winners are not really my thing and I was only in Ashton for one reason: football…okay and obviously the pubs too.
The town can boast three football clubs: Ashton Athletic, Ashton Town and Ashtonians. I’ll admit that I hadn’t heard of Ashtonians, who play in the Lancashire Amateur League, until I encountered their coaching staff in a pub on this very afternoon. Originally, I had considered going to Ashton Athletic to watch Atherton Collieries play there, only to remember that that Ashton club now play 2 miles outside of Ashton in St Helens’ Brocstedes Park, so Town it was to be with them taking on West Didsbury & Chorlton – the team of Lost Boyos’ semi-regular Rob McKay – in the Men United Cup.
Ashton-in-Makerfield isn’t the simplest place to get to via rail, but after changing trains in Wigan I arrived at Bryn train station, located about a mile north of Ashton’s town centre. The walk from the station to the town didn’t fill me with massive optimism about what lay ahead with there being very little on show, but I was to be proved wrong.
I think I’ve said it on here before, but I’ll say it again: I do love a proper Lancashire town and Ashton is very much one of those. Okay, if you want a pleasant Saturday afternoon out with the family, I’m not sure it would be your cup of tea, but for my needs it was perfect. Despite being met with a high street jam-packed with pubs, I decided to go for a bit of a wander first. My wander led to me strolling through a labyrinth of red-bricked terraced housing, until eventually I arrived at a pub called the Hingemakers Arms; I thought this was as good a place as any to start my pub crawl towards Ashton Town’s Edge Green Street ground.
The place did resemble a house from the outside, so I was surprised to find a very plush pub stored within. Relatively cheap beer, Sky Sports News on the TV, friendly barmaid and a random old man to talk about football with – I was content. The old man turned out to be a Manchester City season ticket holder, so I had plenty to talk about with him with me having tickets for three games at the Etihad in the coming month. Also, if you are a smoker, then you won’t see many finer smoking areas than the Hingemakers with marble hi-top tables and comfy sofas.
I was soon back on the main high street and in the Golden Lion. Now this may well be a contender for Lost Boyos pub of the year. Firstly, it was very pleasant inside; secondly, there were big screens everywhere showing today’s early kick-off between West Ham and Manchester City; and thirdly, and most importantly, a pint cost £1.75. £1.75! Mental.The cheap prices saw me hanging around for two drinks there before moving on.
I popped into the Red Lion, the Sir Thomas Gerard Wetherspoons pub and the Robin Hood, intermittently watching the Manchester City v West Ham game as I pub-hopped up the street. All were very good, especially the Robin Hood, but none had lived up to the Golden Lion at the top of the street; The Golden Lion was definitely the winner of the Gerard Street pub crawl.
As the final whistle was about to blow down at Upton Park, I thought I better head up to Ashton Town’s home. According to my Google Maps app, all I needed to do was to walk 10 minutes up the road and the ground would eventually turn up on my right. However, I stupidly complicated things by trying to take a shortcut through a housing estate only to be met with the fencing surrounding Edge Green Street and a series of dead-ends. Even from the fence I could not spot an entrance into the ground and I resorted to phoning Rob to ask him how the hell I was supposed to get into the place.
Rob prompted me to aim for the clubhouse, which I could see, and after making my way back to the main road and circling the housing estate, I eventually found a lane which headed straight down to the turnstiles of Edge Green Street. On the other side of the gate I could already see Rob gesturing towards me with double thumbs up. £5 handed over and I was in.
The ground is fairly bare, but decent enough for a club residing in the North West Counties Premier Division. On the one side of the ground there are two stands: one wider stand with two rows of seating in it and the other much smaller but with a few rows of seats going into it. There is nothing of note behind each goal and the only other structure on the opposite side of the ground is the building housing the changing rooms. In the corner of the ground, directly next to the left of the entrance, you will find the clubhouse and it was here I headed first.
Despite being quite small, I really liked the clubhouse with bar and kitchen stored within and plenty of seating in front of the big TV. I was very much looking forward to perusing the menu, as having read my pal Gibbo’s blog about his trip to Ashton Town 2 years ago (here) I found myself salivating at his photo of the sausage casserole he enjoyed at Edge Green Street. Sadly, no such cuisine on offer today and instead I exited the clubhouse with a Bombay Bad Boy Pot Noodle. Not exactly exotic, but I do really like Pot Noodles so I wasn’t complaining too much.
We headed round to the two-standed side of the pitch as the teams rolled out onto the pitch and we were soon joined by the parents of my fellow groundhopping friend George Cheetham. George’s parents have started following West over the past few months, but today they almost missed kick-off having got their Ashtons muddled up and instead headed to Ashton Athletic’s ground. The were apparently met with bemused looks from the Athletic and Colls fans when they entered wearing their black West scarves.
The game got underway with West in their usual white shirts and black shorts and the home team in all red. I’ve said countless times this season that I’ve seen very few truly entertaining games, but today was a different story.
Ashton took the lead just past the ten minute mark with a simple tap in (or a ‘sweaty goal’ as the kids would call it these days – a term spawned from the FIFA online generation). The calls for offside were in vain.
More drama was unfolding off the pitch as Rob realised his poppy had fallen off his jacket, a poppy he was distraught to lose after having it proudly pinned to his coat for all of 4 days. However, whilst Rob lamented the loss of his poppy, his team were equalising on the pitch with Chris McDonagh finishing into the bottom corner following a corner to the away team.
Impressing us from the touchline was Ashton’s nippy winger Neil Weaver and it was Weaver who would regain the lead for Town with some style. A run down the wing saw him dodge two tackles from the away team’s defence, before surging into the box and dinking the ball over West’s keeper. 2 – 1 Ashton.
If that goal was excellent then the next one was truly a blockbuster moment. By now I had begun my lap of the ground to take some photos and I found myself by the two dugouts. As I turned my attention to the game, the ball bounced near West’s right back, Steve Settle, who from 35 yards hit a looping volley soaring into the top corner. I was right behind Settle when he hit it and it was one of those ones that you just know is in from the moment it is hit.
Half-time: Ashton Town 2 – 2 West Didsbury and Chorlton FC.
Half-time was spent with beer and the half-times scores in the clubhouse. Talk was of Steve Settle’s wonder goal, whilst his Dad seemed more worried that he was going to have endure his son reliving the goal in detail repeatedly on the car journey home.
I returned to the other side of the pitch for the second half and West took the lead within moments of the second half, as Alex Baird finished with the ball going in off the post, after bringing the ball down from a corner. 3 -2 to West.
The away team were probably the better team during the second half, but Ashton found themselves back in the game through some fortuitous circumstances. A clearance from West keeper Lundy hit Ashton’s Sean Robinson and trickled over the line to make it 3-3.
As the half wore on and the 90th minute approached, I felt quite bad for West blowing the 3 points to such a silly goal. Then Rob reminded that this was in fact a cup game and a 3-3 draw would see the game go to extra-time and penalties. Usually, I love the prospect of added time and penalties, but this evening I wanted to watch the Swansea v Leicester game, which was kicking off at 5.30pm. No worries though, as the Ashton Town Twitter account had assured me that they’d be showing the Swansea game in the clubhouse post match. Good stuff.
Full-time: Ashton Town 3 – 3 West Didsbury and Chorlton FC.
I headed to the clubhouse just to double-check that they would be putting the Swansea game on, only for my queries to be met by numerous blank faces and “I don’t know”s. Eventually, I did get someone to ask someone who might actually know and much to my annoyance I was told they wouldn’t be showing the mighty Swans, despite reassurances the night before.
I hate leaving football games early, and especially one which had been an entertaining affair, but my love of Swansea led to me leaving Ashton Town’s ground just as extra time was commencing. I’d really liked the ground and the club, so I was disappointed to be let down by something as simple as telling me they were going show my team’s game on Sky and then not.
With ten minutes to spare, I arrived back at the Golden Lion ready for the Swansea game. Tonight was also El Clasico night so all the various screens in the pub had Real v Barca already in full flow on them. Kindly, the barman changed one screen over especially for me, so that I could watch the Swans (who went on to beat Leicester 2-0 for those who care).
As the Swansea game started, I texted to Rob to asked what I had missed up at Edge Green Street; according to Rob, I had apparently missed the dullest extra-time and penalty shootout ever, with West eventually prevailing 5-4 on penalties. The lack of action made me feel better about missing the post-90 minute stages of the game.
With the Swansea game finished and several £1.75 pints of lager drunk, it was onwards to Bryn and back to Salford Crescent, via Wigan, to celebrate the Swans’ victory.
Highlights: plenty of pubs in town, Golden Lion (good pub, cheap beer), decent ground, good clubhouse, good game.
Low Points: missing extra-time/penalties, no Swansea game in the clubhouse.
Check out all of my photos from Ashton-in-Makerfield and Ashton Town’s Edge Green Street here.