Holker Old Boys v Atherton Collieries
Rakesmoor Lane / North West Counties Football League Division One / 11th April 2015
“There’s always a right fucking tale with you isn’t there?” – Emil Anderson, Atherton Collieries Club Secretary.
This was said to me about 11.45 am on Saturday morning. Fairplay to Emil, he has a point – there is always some sort of ‘tale’ on these football adventures. Even on a seemingly quiet day, I know to just wait and something will inevitably happen. However, this day, it didn’t take too long for the ‘tale’ to unfold.
Atherton Colls got promoted at their crosstown rivals Atherton LR on the Monday and days later my groundhopping sidekick Gibbo had convinced me that I needed to go on a legendary Atherton Colls coach trip on the upcoming Saturday – this trip to Holker Old Boys in the darkest depths of Cumbria. Gibbo sold it to me well in fairness and I was sharply signed up and had a place on the coach. Plus, I had joined the Colls lot on a preseason coach trip to Glantraeth FC in Anglesey last preseason and had a great time. Same again please!
After getting a rail replacement bus from Salford to Atherton, I met up with Gibbo and went to ASDA to purchase some alcohol for the coach before heading over to Alder House, the home of Colls. Now just for the bus.
10 minutes…20 minutes…30 minutes…40 minutes…this coach wasn’t coming. 11am it was supposed to arrive and by midday most of us had written off the idea of it turning up, especially when the company wasn’t answering any phone calls. The players had already sorted themselves out into cars and us supporters (well I feel a bit generous classing myself as a ‘supporter’ here) were left back. Admittedly, I had given up on the idea of making it to Cumbria and I had already expressed that I’d happily hold back and go to the pub to watch the Swansea v Everton game instead, which was on TV at 12:45. However, Emil had other ideas and he soon sorted out lifts for everybody. The 60 odd players, staff and fans were now all thrown into various cars and we were ready to go.
Earlier in the day he had told me that in my blogs I seem to see everything, so he informed me that I was to write in this blog of my hour waiting in Atherton that it was ‘character building’. He seemed to think I was going to paint the Colls’ in some sort of bad light – something I would never do to so a club who have been great to me over the years.
Shortly after midday, I found myself in the back of Frank’s, Emil’s Dad, Citroen C3 with my pals Gibbo and Lee with Scouse Colls fan Arthur riding shotgun. Delightful stuff. Despite being promised a coach, the ride up to Cumbria was a pleasant one. We still enjoyed beer in the back seat whilst Frank regaled us with stories of supporting Colls over the years and Arthur told us the story of how he ended up moving from Merseyside and eventually becoming a Colls loyalist.
I should probably explain where we were heading. Holker Old Boys is, put bluntly, located in the middle of nowhere. Holker’s ground is technically in Barrow-in-Furness, but there was a little sign of the town on our arrival at the ground. This really was the outskirts! Anyway, we arrived there a lot quicker than I had anticipated – roughly 1 hour 40 minutes. The company en route up was good and the scenery was magnificent, so the journey from Atherton seemed a quick one. Although our dash up the country meant a lack of toilet breaks and it is fair to say that after three bottles of Budweiser I felt I may piss on the backseat.
We were just a few miles away from Barrow when Gibbo said it was near the golf course we were passing. Suddenly, one sharp right turn late and we were heading down a country lane and the floodlights of Holker Old Boys’ Rakesmoor Lane were nearing. It did very much appear that we were truly in the middle of absolutely nowhere – only a few residential houses and a farm seemed to reside nearby.
As soon as we got out of Frank’s car, I could tell that I was going to love Rakesmoor Lane. It seemed to follow a similar theme to when me, Gibbo and Lee visited Turton FC 4 days previous to this venture into Cumbria. It was by now a wonderful spring day and the hills and scenery surrounding us looked stunning in the Cumbrian sunshine. We headed through the turnstiles (£4 entry today) and we were into Rakesmoor Lane. I did try to take in my wonderfully scenic surroundings, but I was literally seconds away from pissing myself, so I just legged it to the toilet.
Now finally relieved, I took in my surroundings a bit more. Obviously, I now found myself with the confines of the clubhouse, but what a good clubhouse it was. Slightly retro club-looking, but it had all you wanted: plenty of space, a food hatch, a decent size bar and a big screen showing the footy – more importantly, the football being shown was my beloved Swans taking on Everton. We had arrived with 30 minutes left in the game, but with Everton winning 1-0 the Swans grabbed a penalty not long after our arrival. Jonjo Shelvey converted and I went a bit crazy, so much so half the bar flew out of their seats as I screamed wildly. The Colls clan and the minuscule gathering of Holker fans all scorned in disdain at a Welshman celebrating a goal so extravagantly. Admittedly, the Colls lot were a lot more verbal towards me and informed me that if I had the audacity to celebrate in such a manner again that’d they’d leave me up here in the Cumbria heartland. I informed them that for another Swansea goal I’d take that (no other goals were forthcoming and the game finished 1-1, which meant I didn’t have to celebrate vociferously again and I was allowed a lift home too).
One thing I’m yet to mention is how wonderful the toilets are at Rakesmoor Lane; I’d argue more money had been thrown at them than the rest of the clubhouse and my companion Lee was very much in agreement. After the stress of worrying about the coach (or lack thereof) in the morning, everyone was calm now and spirits were good. Undoubtedly, Colls were in for a tough game today, but having already achieved promotion 4 days before, Colls were going for the title now – something which looks ridiculously inevitable.
Colls opponents for today, Holker Old Boys, were formed in 1936, originally as an under 16 club, before moving to an open age league in 1939-40. The ‘Old Boys’ part of the club name comes from the under 16 ‘Old Boys’ who came to the club from nearby Holker Central Secondary School in Holker Street, Barrow-in-Furness (the school no longer exists and is now a supermarket instead). The club would not join the North West Counties until 1991-92 and it is within the NWCFL they have played ever since.
Holker Old Boys originally played on local playing fields and then moved onwards to Thorncliffe Road. Eventually, ground was obtained at the current site of Rakesmoor Lane, where allotments once stood, and Holker moved to their current home during the 1970s.
I was still in the bar as the teams came out onto the pitch. In fairness, I worked out that I could literally stand in the bar all game and watch the game quite easily, but I suppose that beats the point of visiting. With that in mind, seconds before the game kicked off I strutted out into the fairly gusty, yet pleasant spring afternoon at Rakesmoor Lane.
There isn’t too much to the ground really with one small seating stand in the corner of the ground and one small sheltered stand down one part of the side of the pitch (one part of it has the structure in place, but no roof). The ground’s ‘X-Factor’ really comes from its surroundings. It really is spectacular with Cumbrian hills jolting into the air proudly with hypnotic windmills clambering up the hills on one side too.
I made a lap of the ground as Colls attacked downhill for the first half. The ball rolled out near me and as I was giving it back into play the ref shouted, “Lost Boyos!” That’s definitely not happened before. In fairness, the ref, Andy Sykes, had tweeted me a few times in the past and had informed me that he was a fan of the blog. I gave him a sheepish nod and let him get on with the job in hand.
Colls have been absolutely slaughtering teams at times this season with them having already notched up 116 goals in 29 league games before today’s game. I’ve seen Colls play a few times this season and when they are on form, they are a joy to watch. However, today they were struggling to find their feet for some reason. Admittedly, Holker are no pushovers and very few teams win up in the windy hills of Rakesmoor Lane, but despite having the advantage of playing downhill, the Colls were slow to get going.
I continued my lap of the ground, until I was confronted with Holker’s very own ultras: a gang of 10-year-old boys behind the goal who had clearly had too much sugar this morning with their hyperactive nature. They come with my favourite heckle of the season though towards Colls goalkeeper Danny Taberner:
“Keeper, what’s the difference between you and this grass?” (Child points at floor) “This grass is actually good.” Cue fits of laughter from his pals and actually it did make me chuckle. The I thought they were trying to win me over by repeatedly shouting the Swansea fan war cry of “JACK ARMY!”, until someone pointed out to me that they were probably shouting “STAG ARMY!” as Holker are nicknamed the Stags.
Eventually, I reconvened with Gibbo, Lee and Colls’ media man Zach near the halfway line. The game had died down a bit and there was not too much happening on the pitch – the hills were still the most thrilling thing on show. So with little happening on the pitch, I headed into the clubhouse to get some of the sausage, chips and gravy on offer from the small food hatch within. It was only £2 but it wasn’t the finest cuisine I’ve ever had – the gravy was a bit watery to say the least.
As I tried to enjoy my food, Colls suddenly scored from nothing. And in superb fashion too. In the 36th minute a crossfield ball was played out to the right to Ben Hardcastle, who cut inside before releasing a powerful left-footed drive which flew into the top corner. We had a great view of it and it was one of those shots you know is going in as soon as it has left the player’s foot.
Colls looked to have a bit of their swagger back, but then the home team were awarded a penalty for a supposed shove in the box. Mike Rushton stepped up and sent Taberner the wrong way to make it 1-1.
Half-time: Holker Old Boys 1 – 1 Atherton Collieries.
A half-time pint was enjoyed and I was in no rush, so I enjoyed the opening exchanges of the second half through the bar window.
When I did rejoin the others, we placed ourselves behind the goal which the Colls were attacking with the away team now playing uphill. The game was still fairly even, although Colls were now beginning to work the Holker keeper. Unfortunately for the away team, Holker’s goalie, Oliver Bell, was in brilliant form today.
In the 82nd minute Colls would bring on their star striker Mark Battersby and suddenly the game was to turn on its head. In non-league football this season, I’ve seen few better players than Battersby, who had notched 57 goals before today, including a hatrick in the Flat Cap Derby on the previous Monday. The goal he’d score for Colls with just 2 minutes left of normal time, I’d rank as one of my favourites of the season.
A ball was played down the right to Jake Kenny, who whipped in a low hard cross to the near post. It looked like it was inevitably going to head into the arms of Bell again, who was waiting to collect. However, somehow Battersby appeared from nowhere, threw himself towards the ball and connected with a low diving header that soared past the goalie. I couldn’t believe he had got on the end of it, let alone put it in. It was only when Gibbo and Emil were running around going crazy that I truly clocked that he had scored. I’m still not sure how he scored it. Brilliant goal.
Colls’ second goal had come late, but in injury time Colls were presented with an opportunity to make it 3-1 as they were awarded a very soft penalty. Battersby was adjudged to have been taken down by Bell and as last man Bell was sent off, despite protests from both sets of players and even the Colls fans behind the goals. Bell even came and joined us behind the goal for the taking of the penalty with an outfield player taking the gloves for Holker. We all tried to comfort him by saying that he had played brilliantly, but he was more concerned about the £50 fine he’d have to pay. Anyway, Battersby stepped up again and made it 3-1 to the Colls and netted his 59th goal of the season.
Full-time: Holker Old Boys 1 – 3 Atherton Collieries. A hard-earned 3 points for Colls who are now looking to win the league in the next few days with a crazy 5 games in 7 days. Quite a fixture pile up!
Of course, there was a jovial atmosphere in the club bar post match with everyone seeming to be in good spirits, even the Holker lot, who had been very warm and welcoming. I think we were all happy to have eventually made it up to Holker in the end, especially after the morning’s drama.
Finally, Colls’ manager Cleggy gets to feature on this blog with a double thumbs up photo; the Colls manager deserves special mention on these pages for sorting me with free entry to both Peterborough and Rhyl this season – he does seem to know someone everywhere in football! Plus, he even roped in Mark Battersby to join the photo.
There was a worrying moment when I thought I’d lost my keys, but I found them on the floor near Frank’s car in the car park. I headed back to the bar for one last pint and it was here that I was greeted by referee Andy. It is probably fair to say that some of the Colls contingent were not thrilled with his display, but I was far more diplomatic and gracious towards him. Although I did tell him that he had got the penalty decision at the end wrong. It was good to finally meet him though.
Soon, Frank was rounding us up and we headed back to his car ready for the Colls convoy to roll out of Cumbria and head back south to Atherton.
Until the Friday before, when me and Gibbo went to Carlisle, I had never set foot in Cumbria. Now I’ve been twice in the space of 8 days! From my two recent experiences, I need to go more. Similar to Turton on Tuesday night, I loved the whole scenic vibe of Rakesmoor Lane and I was now happy that I had let Gibbo talk me into heading up to Holker – even if the ‘coach trip’ element of the trip was to prove non-existant in the end.
I clearly hadn’t learned my lesson from the drive up, as I continued to drink Budweiser in the back of the car and soon I was busting for the toilet again. I was mightily relieved when we pulled into the Alder House car park and once again I made a mad dash to the toilet.
The plan was to have a quick drink in the Colls clubhouse and then hop on the rail replacement bus back home to Salford. However, the festivities in the Colls clubhouse were too much for me to resist and more beer was bought to watch the ‘Bushtucker trial’ that awaited 3 of the Colls’ players yet to be ‘initiated’. The ‘trial’ consisted of the ‘uninitiated’ players being served a variety of some sort of paste, consisting of different flavours. There was a lot grimacing whilst the lads tucked in (I definitely heard ‘cat food’ and ‘dog food’ mentioned at different points). Fortunately, for the uninitiated players, they were not forced to down the shots of maggots that team captain Andrew Heald had presented them with. That was enough for me for one night though and following the trials I decided that my away day adventure with Atherton Collieries was at an end. Cheers to Colls for letting me tag along for the day!
Highlights: scenic ground, cheap entry (£4), good clubhouse (and showing the Swans game), friendly club, Colls win, Battersby’s diving header.
Low Points: the coach’s no-show, not much around the ground (but guess that’s why I liked it really), poor food.
See all my photos from my day out with Atherton Colls at Holker Old Boys’ Rakemoor Lane here.