Turton FC v Prestwich Heys
Thomason Fold / Bolton Hospital Cup / 7th April 2015
Easter Monday was to be a day of joyous celebration. At the time of the year when people are celebrating the arising of Jesus, many of the natives of Atherton were celebrating the rising up the leagues of Atherton Collieries with the club achieving promotion to the NWCFL Division One. The promotion was made all the sweeter with the club winning 3-0 at the home of their crosstown rivals, Atherton LR, in the ‘Flat Cap Derby’. Since I have a massive soft spot for the Colls I made sure I was in attendance for such a big derby and to see their historical win. I was delighted for the club (and for my pal Colls supporting pal Gibbo of course) as you won’t find many more welcoming and friendly clubs in the land. Of course, I made sure I followed the party back to the Rope and Anchor where the festivities properly got underway. In the midst of the celebration, I declared that I wanted to go watch a game the next day too and this is when Gibbo threw an idea my way.
The Bolton Hospital Cup. I heard of this competition when I first started attending non-league games a few years ago, but I was yet to attend a game in the aforementioned competition. The competition consists of teams under step 6 in the Bolton/Lancashire area playing in a knockout format with the final being held at Bolton Wanderers’ stadium.
Gibbo started describing a place called Turton to me. Well, I say describing, he knew very little about the place or club either apart from that it was somewhere north of Bolton and that he had heard that the ground was next to a reservoir. Sounds good to me. To Turton!
Lee had kindly agreed to drive us to Turton with me eventually finding out that it is rather isolated rural area somewhere between Bolton, Darwen and Blackburn. In fact, it turns out that Turton isn’t really a village anymore and it is now called Chapeltown. More confusingly, Turton FC do not even play at Chapeltown either – they play a bit further up the road in a small village called Edgworth.
I met with Lee and his mate David, who was coming along for his first taste of non-league football tonight, in the Atherton Arms – yes, I was back in Atherton again. The reason we were hanging around there? Gibbo was having his haircut and taking his time about it too. The time was approaching 17:30 when Gibbo finally gave us the call to say he was ready and so off we shot, via the Gibbons household, hoping to be at the ground in time for 18:15 kick-off time.
Our journey saw us head through Bolton town centre and then up into the more scenic hills of Lancashire. My Google Maps app was leading us through the country roads until we eventually turned off on to a car-filled residential area. There was no sign of any football ground, but we now knew we were close, as we could hear the thudding of footballs being kicked. We headed down a small alleyway (I refuse to conform to this northern word ‘ginnel’) and all of a sudden a little opening with an elderly man holding a glass of change confirmed to us that we had arrived at Turton FC’s home. We paid our £2 (all the money goes to charity in Bolton Hospital Cup ties) and we were stepping into Thomasson Fold.
I literally had no idea what to expect from Turton FC, but as soon as we walked in I was immediately saying one thing: ‘Wow’. This is was as quaint and as wonderful a ground as you are ever going to find. I know some groundhoppers generally avoid grounds without any stands, but they would sadly miss out on this hidden gem of a ground. Essentially, all the ground consisted of was a small building in the corner, a few picnic tables next to it, a bit of fencing and a small hill imposing over the one side of the pitch. It really was delightfully scenic on this sunny day in the heart of rural Lancashire.
Turton FC lay claim to being the oldest football club in Lancashire having being formed in 1871. Initially, they were a leading force in Lancashire football with it even being suggested they taught Bolton Wanderers the modern rules of the game. Sadly, for Turton, the increasing move towards professionalism in football left them behind and despite being such a renowned force in the area in the nascent years of football, Turton did go on to fold twice.
The original home of Turton FC was Tower Street down the road in Chapeltown itself. The ground is still being used by Lancashire Amateur League club Old Boltonians and Tower Street is considered by some to be the oldest football pitch in the world with it believed that football was played there as far back as 1830. But now Thomasson Fold is Turton’s abode and what a wonderful place to reside.
It became apparent very quickly to me that there was going to be no bar or beer here – something I coped with surprisingly well actually. En route we had gone past a whole host of takeaways and David kept looking longingly at them as he was starving. We had warned him at very best we’d maybe find a burger van at the ground – placing emphasis on ‘maybe’ – but even we were surprised by scant catering offering. Hidden away in the small corner of the building housing the changing rooms was a lovely old man behind a makeshift counter and alongside a few washing machines offering tonight’s menu of: a variety of flavours of Golden Wonder, Twirls, Mars Bars and Blue Ribbons. That’s your lot. Although applause for the fact that the club were serving tea and coffee in mugs; still possibly the best thing that can happen at football. Nevermind beer, I would be more than content with coffee in a mug later that evening! Now for the game and a bit of exploration.
The game had been delayed until 18:30 as some of the players were stuck in slow traffic after leaving work, but eventually the players were out on the pitch, Turton in white and blue and Prestwich Heys in red. Prestwich would be the favourites coming into the game with them playing in the Manchester League and heading into the North West Counties League next season, whilst Turton find themselves in the West Lancashire League Division 1 – 1 league below Prestwich’s current standing.
As the team’s kicked off, we went for a walk round the ground and it felt more like a rambling holiday than circling a football ground, with the trees, the country lane and the cottage-like houses next to the ground. It carried on to continue like a day out walking when we began climbing the hill adjacent to the pitch. Of course, we couldn’t resist bursting into, “The hills are alive with the sound of music!” as we ran up the hill, but then all of our jaws dropped as we reached the top. Below us was the most stunning view: the Wayoh Reservoir glistened in the sun below us and we could see all the quaint little villages sat cosily across the hills. It really was stunning and we stood on the hill for most of the first half watching the game below us and admiring the view.
Also, not too far away, we could see another game of football going on a bit further down the valley. It genuinely would have been possible for us to watch one half here at Turton and then have a pleasant country stroll to another half down in this other ground. But what game was it and what ground was it? Well, after a bit of digging we learned that in fact it was another Bolton Hospital Cup tie and it was in fact a game going on at Tower Street – the aforementioned previous home of Turton FC. I’m sure we will end up there sometime soon.
There was a lot going on to distract us from football, but I have to say that the game we witnessed was brilliant, yet barmy at the same time. Gibbo had explained beforehand how the Hospital Cup is usually a friendly affair and that refs rarely brandish cards – in fact, he had never seen a single yellow card given out in all the fixtures in the competition he’d seen. All great, but they were definitely needed tonight. Definitely.
The game had been lively during the opening 20 minutes, but after that, there were signs starting to creep in that it was going to get more intense. Nothing set the tone for the rest of the game more so than an absolute leg breaker of a tackle on one of the Prestwich players. The noise of the challenge reverberated around the hills with everybody in the crowd wincing as the challenge hit home. Amazingly, a foul was given and nothing else. This led to a lot of four-letter words being thrown in the referee’s direction from players, staff and quite a few from the crowd. I watch a lot of football (you may have noticed) and swearing is just part of it at times – I know I can sometimes swear like a trooper in some of the more nervy Swansea matches – but as the game went on, even I was starting to become shocked just at the way the players were speaking to the referee. However, the referee didn’t help himself as he literally did nothing about the abuse he was getting.
A ball into the box led to a Prestwich player beating the keeper to the ball and then quite clearly being brought down. The ref rightly awarded the penalty. However, the home team keeper was having none of it and was straight in the referee’s face telling him he didn’t have a clue (but with far more expletives). Once again, it was all a bit out-of-order. Anyway, the penalty was converted and Prestwich had the lead.
The lead would not last long as literally moments away from the half-time whistle Turton were provided with a tap in after some poor defending from the away team.
Half-time: Turton 1 – 1 Prestwich Heys.
I happened to be getting a coffee (in a mug!) as the teams entered the dressing room. BANG! BANG! There were clearly a lot of angry players entering the dressing room with doors being almost slammed off their hinges. Behind the players came the staff, who were absolutely slaughtering the ref verbally and basically telling him to sort it out. Once again, the ref just took it.
For the second half we positioned ourselves on the side opposite the hill and if we thought the first half was x-rated then this half certainly raised it to xxx-rated. Every 50/50 tackle I braced myself for a crunching noise, as the ref was still not doing anything about the carnage on the pitch.
Prestwich very much dominated the second half with the number 11 on the left wing particularly impressing. I think the 4 of us all found ourselves actually wanting Prestwich to win, purely because of the Turton goalie’s constant moaning and berating of team mates, opposition players and, of course, the ref. More goals past him would have been nice.
The game continued to be foul after foul and as sickly entertaining as it was at times, I actually lost it eventually. I think everyone who knows me will support the fact that I’m not one to rant and rave about anything really, so for me to feel the need to burst into an impassioned speech meant something wasn’t right. It went something like this:
“Right this is getting fucking ridiculous now. This competition needs to sort itself out if there is some sort of unwritten rule that players can’t be booked. If this was up to me, I’d fine the lot of them and give all their fines to charity. Sod that! Fine the staff who are abusing the ref too…actually fine the ref too as he has been fucking useless! Give the lot to Bolton Hospital. If this carries on somebody is going to lose their leg at this rate. Fucking joke!”
And there was me being cynical about swearing earlier. Anyway, feel free to pass on my idea to whoever organises this competition.
It seemed that the referee may have heard my speech as moments later finally…FINALLY…there was a yellow card for one of the Turton defenders. As the number 11 flew past him he gave him a blatant push and sent him landing awkwardly on the part of the pitch which slightly sloped. In fairness, it was one of the least devastating fouls of the game but at least the referee was finally doing something.
Prestwich continued to dominate, but Turton’s defence were holding strong. Amazingly, another yellow card was shown for a late tackle and we were now on 2 for the night; the first 2 Gibbo had ever seen given in the cup.
As the sun went down behind the hills in the distance, the ground began to darken with no floodlights to aid proceedings. It then dawned on me that if this game went to extra time there was no chance of being able to continue; fortunately, Gibbo soon informed us that this game was going straight to penalties if the scored remained level – which it did.
Full-time: Turton 1 – 1 Prestwich Heys. Penalties to come.
The referee was completely undermined at the final whistle again when a home team player launched a ball in his direction. The ref blew his whistle and asked to speak to the player, but the player just stormed off and stated “I don’t want to fucking talk to you. Go away!” Did the ref do anything? No. He just stood looking embarrassed and let the player go and do what the hell he wanted.
It was now rather dark, but fortunately the penalty shootout was a quick one. Despite being a bit annoying during the game, the Turton keeper was superb in the shootout and saved two pens – one save which was unbelievable – to win the tie for Turton, as all 4 of their penalty takes finished confidently.
Immediately after the winners were confirmed, the whole crowd were squeezing out of the ground and down the small alley back towards the car.
Tonight had been brilliant. A mental game of football, which despite being ill-disciplined was very entertaining, but the highlight of the night had to be just walking into Thomasson Fold and realising almost instantly we had found something a little different and a little bit special. Biggest surprise of the season for definite. Although admittedly, I don’t think I’d want to visit on a wet, cold winter night though! Tonight, it was perfect though.
Lee was kind enough to drive me all the way back to Salford and then he mentioned three words which will light any night: ‘Spices of Kashmir’. For those who don’t who follow me on Twitter (and why not? – @mophead_88) I regularly tweet my love for ‘Spices’ – the kebab shop round the corner from my house. Quite simply, it produces the finest kebab in the land. For the first time ever I actually sat in the Spices to enjoy my lamb tikka kebab (immense as always) with my other 3 companions and we all sat there quietly plugging away at our kebabs, grunting in approval of the awesomeness of said kebabs. What a way to finish a pleasant April’s evening.
Highlights: what a ground – scenic and pleasant and a proper hidden gem, coffee in a mug, great views of the area, entertaining game, kebab from Spices to finish.
Low Points: middle of nowhere, no bar, game was a bit too rash at times – ref had no control.
See all my photos from my trip to Turton here.