Barnton FC v AFC Darwen
Townfield / North West Counties Football League Division One / 7th March 2015
Unlike my previous groundhopping seasons, non-league football has been placed on the backburner slightly this season. However, this week saw me visit Atherton Collieries (again) on Monday night as they continue to romp towards the NWCFL Division One title and I also decided that the Saturday would see me head to a non-league destination. But where to go? Only one way to decide: a Lost Boyos Draw! 31 clubs were placed in a flat cap and the last one left would be Saturday’s destination. And so after much suspense on Twitter to see where I would head, Nelson were the eventual winners. Nelson FC tweeted me their delight at winning the draw before then casually declaring that they didn’t actually have a game on Saturday, as their original opponents Glossop were playing an FA Vase replay. Oh. So, instead of a re-draw, I chose the one but last team left in the flat cap: Barton FC. Earlier in the day a couple of people had told me that Barnton might be one to avoid as there is very little to the place or the ground, but I refused to defy the outcome of the draw. Plus, former Swansea striker Leon Kinght now plays for/coaches Barnton FC, so that made the trip more alluring.
At 10.15am I found myself on Platform 12 of Piccadilly and as people may have seen on Twitter, I was delighted with this as I’m sure it is the only platform I’ve never been on in the station. Only I would find something like this exciting I know. Soon we were heading through the heart of Cheshire, going through places such as Mobberley, Plumley and Lostock Graham – all lovely sounding places – until we eventually arrived at Northwich where I alighted.
I wasn’t getting off at Barnton train station as there isn’t a Barnton train station. In fact, there isn’t a lot in Barnton at all. Quite a few people tweeted me throughout the day asking, “Where the hell is Barnton?” so perhaps I should throw in a bit of a Geography lesson here. The village, which has approximately 6,000 inhabitants, is located just two miles north of Northwich, on the other side of the River Weaver. The town also finds itself positioned on many of Cheshire’s finest waterways giving the village a certain charm – unlike the large chemical works adjacent to the village.
Having being informed beforehand that there is very little to do in Barnton itself, I opted to stay in Northwich town centre for the early part of the day, taking in the local Wetherspoons, the Penny Black, before heading across the road to The Quayside pub.
I’ve been through Northwich a couple of times, but I’ve never really had a chance to explore the town properly. I have to say that I found the town centre surprisingly nice and I had planned to stay longer, but on walking towards the town’s market, I spotted the number 4 bus heading to Barnton and so I hopped on.
The bus winded out of Northwich, over the River Weaver and, 20 minutes after setting off, into Barnton itself. I got off the bus opposite the Barn Owl pub, the only pub in Barnton I was told. As I was in a little village in Cheshire, I expected to find a quaint, traditional pub, but it would be nothing of the sort. I was greeted by a smashed window on the front door and on going in I found something more attuned with an ageing working men’s club than a rural tavern. The spacious pub is divided into two rooms and so I headed into the main bar area, which housed the only 4 drinkers in the whole pub on this Saturday afternoon. Appearances aside though, everyone was very friendly and intrigued by how a Welshman had ended up visiting Barnton of all places. I enjoyed my beers in the Barn Owl, watching the FA Cup quarter-final between Bradford and Reading on TV and being filled in on all things Barnton, before the barman then kindly showed me the route to Barnton’s Townfield Lane ground.
I noticed that Barnton itself largely consists of a lot of red-bricked housing and not a lot else. By now the sun was out and I found myself walking down Townfield Lane keeping an eye out for a lane leading to the football ground of the same name. It would not be hard to spot though, as I spotted the signs for Barnton FC (and their little letterbox on the gate) and turned off down the small lane into the ground itself. I was greeted by the town hall, which is built on the same site as the ground, and then an opening leading onto the humble-looking football ground. £5 entry and I had arrived at Barnton FC.
This is Barnton’s first season playing at North West Counties level (Step 6 of non-league football for those unaware) having applied for entry to the league successfully towards the end of last season. Before that, the club, founded in 1948, had spent the other 60+ years of its existence playing in the Mid-Cheshire League, starting as one of the league’s founder clubs and winning the league 11 times.
Their Townfield Lane is rather basic with most of it being open to the elements; I was pleased that today was a fairly pleasant spring afternoon and not a wet, windy day – a sort of day where I can imagine the ground is not very forgiving. On either side of the pitch you can find a small, sheltered standing area but that’s about it in regards of stands. Although, the club have just had the go ahead to add two new, modular stands to the ground in the summer, providing 111 seats and a disabled viewing area. Behind the goals you can find the a large cabin which contains the clubhouse, as well as a couple of others housing the changing rooms and toilets.
I headed straight into the clubhouse and despite being housed within a small building, I was surprised by not only the size of it inside, but how decent it was too. The bar was stocked with cans today and so I bought myself a can of Carling for £2.50, before then heading over to the kitchen area on the other side of the room to buy pie, chips and gravy; I did ask for a steak and kidney and ended up with something with chicken in instead, but all was lovely. A proper prematch meal.
I headed out to watch some of the warm up and in particular to watch Leon Knight take shooting practice with the Barnton forwards. Knight has to be one of the finest finishers to feature for Swansea in the last ten years with him scoring a hatrick on his Swans debut, as well as scoring important goals at Brentford for the Swans in the 2006 League One Play-off final. After 19 goals in just 25 league appearances, Knight was released by Swansea’s no-nonsense manager Kenny Jackett in 2006 for reasons linked to his apparent ‘ poor attitude’. A lot of Swans fans I know still lament that Knight’s time at Swansea didn’t really work out on the pitch. Knight went on to play for a host of other Football League clubs, Hamilton in Scotland, Thrasivoulos Fylis in Greece and Coleraine and Glentoran in Ireland, bef0re perhaps surprisingly turning up at Barnton this season. It’s fair to say that Knighty is still a lively character judging from his presence on Twitter and I was very excited to hopefully see him play today. His shooting in the warm up still looked quite lethal still too, as the Barnton keeper got nowhere near his efforts. Sadly, Knight has placed his Assistant Manager role ahead of playing these days it seems and so he would be starting the game on the bench (although he spent most of the game patrolling the touchline with manager Allan Glover).
Following the warm-ups, I took a spot behind the near goals ready for the game to kick-off. I was expecting a good game today with Barnton battling towards the top of the league and Darwen always seeming to provide me with goalfests (the last two occasions I’ve seen Darwen play I’ve seen them lose 4 – 3 and win 7 -2). They wouldn’t disappoint today either.
Firstly, big shoutout here to Barnton’s Twitter account (@barntonfc) here for their excellent coverage of the game via their tweets – they are helping me recap the game a bit here. The game started lively with both teams seemingly intent on attacking from the off, but it was to be the home team who would seize the early advantage. A James McShane shot wasn’t cleared and the rebound fell to Shaun Tuck to finish. Tuck is a very astute and clinical striker and undoubtedly lethal at this level, but sadly controversy has followed him throughout his career – that’s a story for someone else to tell though. Tuck went on to score again moments later only for his effort to be ruled out for offside.
As the game unfolded, I found myself chatting with 1874 Northwich board member Rob. There were a few 1874 fans in attendance today with 1874 Northwich playing all the way up in Barnoldswick. It was great to see them all showing support for Barnton too with Barnton actually playing closer to Northwich than the phoenix club 1874 Northwich (who I went to see play at their adopted Winsford home last season). I even heard murmurings of 1874 possibly shifting to Barnton in the future to be closer to their spiritual home in Northwich.
I made my way around the ground to take some photos just as Barnton goalie Dan Lever (who had started following me on Twitter a few hours before the game) made a ridiculous save to deny Darwen. A close range header was powered at goal, only for Lever to stretch across his goal and claw the ball away. Equally impressed by the save was photographer John Rooney, who came over to say hello to me as I circled the ground. We talked general non-league football chat, before John showed me his great photo of Lever’s save; I’ve decided to steal the photo for this blog – with John’s blessing of course. Perhaps more amazing than Lever’s save though was the gentleman I witnessed turning his walking stick into a makeshift seat – clearly more seating is needed at Townfield, as the desperate measures this man took looked ridiculously uncomfortable.
Darwen did eventually grab an equaliser around the half hour mark with a simple finish. The game was still ebbing backwards and forwards with both sides attacking and not holding back. There would be one more goal before half-time as the home team grabbed another goal just before the whistle. A break down the left wing saw Barnton’s attacker cross the ball across the box, for top goalscorer and skipper Colin Quirk to control and fire home emphatically.
Half-time: Barnton 2 – 1 AFC Darwen.
I headed back to the clubhouse for half-time for another can of Carling, whilst the more important people in attendance enjoyed tea from Barnton’s finest china. The main talk in the clubhouse seemed to be about the darts on the TV; I opted to go back out pitchside.
Soon the second half was underway and it was to be as entertaining as the first. It took Darwen 8 minutes to equalise after a through ball into the box saw Darwen’s striker slip the ball under Lever from close range.
The second half continued to be a thrilling affair, although there were slightly less chances. The next real chance wouldn’t come until the closing 20 minutes when a long punted clearance from the Barnton defence put Tuck through on goal. The striker finished easily and wheeled away in boisterous celebration.
5 minutes later, Darwen were back on level terms as their striker had his standing foot taken away from him when shooting in the box. Penalty awarded and rightly so in my eyes. The penalty was calmly slotted away and it was 3 – 3.
Then the moment I had been waiting for: Leon Knight was coming on! On he came in the 87th minute for James McShane, but sadly there was not enough time for Knight to show the striking prowess I recall so well from his days at clubs like Brighton, Huddersfield and Swansea.
Full-time: Barnton 3 – 3 AFC Darwen. A very entertaining game indeed.
I headed back into the club bar where talk was still of the game and whether Darwen’s penalty was the right call or not (I added that I believed it was the correct decisiosn). Soon the Darwen players were in the clubhouse enjoying their post match grub, shortly followed by the Barnton team, which gave me the opportunity to congratulate Lever on his incredible save.
Just as I was talking to one of the Barnton fans at the bar about my travels, Leon Knight walked into the bar and I suddenly turned all fanboy-ish. Fortunately, Knight was more than willing to pose for a photo whilst I spouted a lot of stuff about how great he was for the Swans during his brief spell. Clearly, he was a bit bemused by me judging from the photo below.
I finished my beer, said my goodbyes to the fans I had been spoken too, once again lavished praise on Leon Knight and then headed out into the warm Cheshire evening.
Instead of heading back to the Barn Owl, I hopped on the bus back into Northwich, where I revisited the Quayside pub. Before heading off home I nipped into the Witton Chimes opposite the Quayside, only to find myself in a pub full of…well, we’ll say more ‘character’. It was one of those places despite being very busy on this Saturday evening, where I felt like I wasn’t too welcome as an outsider. I wasn’t in there too long, before I decided to call it a day and head back to Manchester.
I went to Barnton with very low expectations but the place did certainly catch me off guard a bit. Admittedly, there isn’t too much to the ground, but there’s no doubt that the ground will develop over the coming seasons as the team continues to play at this higher level. Ignoring the ground, what I did find at Townfield Lane was a very pleasant, humble and welcoming club, who certainly hosted an excellent game on the fairly sunny Saturday afternoon. Plus, it’s always nice to meet a former Swansea player, especially when its the charismatic Leon Knight. All the best Barnton FC.
Highlights: finally visiting Northwich properly, Barnton is a welcoming club, good pie and chips, excellent game, meeting Leon Knight.
Low Points: not much in Barnton really, basic ground.
See all my photos from my day at Barnton here.