Fulwood Amateurs v Squires Gate
Lightfoot Lane / Friendly / 18th July 2015
Just like John ‘Hannibal’ Smith in The A-Team, ‘I love it when a plan comes together.’ However, it’s sometimes more fun when a plan quickly falls apart. In one fell swoop our Saturday football plans were destroyed. Me and Gibbo had been looking forward to going to Stone Dominoes FC all week, but as I arrived into Manchester Piccadilly on Saturday morning ready to buy my train tickets south into rural Staffordshire, I received a text off Rob McKay: game cancelled. Some quick digging and we unearthed that this was indeed the case, as their opponents, Wythenshawe Town, could not get a team together for the fixture. Stone Dominoes were frantically trying to find a replacement opponent via their Twitter account, but me and Gibbo opted not to chance a trip down to Stone. To Starbucks we went to conjure up a new plan. Fortunately, I already had a Plan B ready to unleash.
“Fulwood Amateurs,” was my simple response when the Dominoes had fallen. As Gibbo reeled off a list of other possible destinations I was unwavered. I wanted to go to Fulwood Amateurs and that was pretty much final. Gibbo didn’t exactly argue against it. So why Fulwood Amateurs? For the answer to that question, we have to go back to Longridge two weeks ago. It was here I met Ruth of Non-League Dogs fame and Richard. Richard had spoken very highly of West Lancashire League team Fulwood Amateurs and their ground with its one particular ‘wacky’ feature – we’ll get onto that later. He clearly had me persuaded that a trip to Fulwood was worthwhile at some point and so I messaged him to tell him that me and Gibbo were heading there on his recommendation today. I was then delighted to hear that Richard and Ruth would be at Fulwood too.
I’m sure many are unaware where exactly Fulwood is, so I’ll tell you now that you can find the small township on the outskirts of Preston. So, onwards to Preston we headed arriving into the Lancashire town a bit before midday. It seemed everyone was up for a party today with the whole train packed out with revellers with crates of beer and speaker systems ‘banging out some mega tunes’. I was quite envious of the beer, as me and Gibbo were without alcohol still.
This week I acquired myself a massive batch of #NoFlatCapNoParty stickers and I had stuck one on the train. I was a bit worried that this may be considered a major felony, as we arrived into Preston to be greeted by a host of police officers and riot vans. After initially thinking ‘They know Lost Boyos are in town’ or that maybe they were after Gibbo after his Young Persons’ Railcard altercation with a Northern Rail staff member back in Manchester, we soon realised that they were in fact there as Hearts were playing Preston today. There were a lot of Jambos in town for it and, in fact, everywhere we went we seemed to be able to hear a Scottish accent.
Unsurprisingly, our first port of call was Wetherspoons for beers and breakfast. We had a choice of two Spoons in town, but we began our day at the Twelve Tellers – a new Spoons which opened at the start of the year and a very nice one too; plus, it is huge!
Today was the first day of my 6 weeks holiday and to celebrate the end of term me and my colleagues had headed out and got smashed in Manchester the night before; this Saturday morning Tuborg was needed as a ‘hair of the dog’ opportunity to clear away any remnants of a hangover to get me through the day. As always, Tuborg was doing the job.
Gibbo had spotted a Hogarths pub across the road and, after declaring his admiration for the Hogarths in Bolton, led us into the Preston branch next. I was happy with this idea as it was my round and by golly was the place cheap! A pint of lager and half a real ale for Gibbo came to just over £3. Gibbo did manage to confuse the poor barmaid though by asking was the Hogarths-branded beer on sale here the same as the one on tap in Bolton. She really couldn’t get her head around the question for some reason, no matter how many different ways Gibbo worded it. Or as Gibbo put it, “She was really thick.”
Carrying on with the ‘Wetherspoons-hopping’ we made our way to the other Spoons in town; plus, we were told that the bus to Fulwood left from outside of this establishment. Weirdly, en route we bumped into Paul Settle randomly in town. Paul is the dad of West Didsbury & Chorlton player/manager Steve Settle who I had awarded my Lost Boyos Goal of the Season last season in my end of season awards blog. He was on his way to Preston v Hearts…in his Bolton hat! It was also shortly after chatting to him that I discovered that I’d made it into West Didsbury & Chorlton’s programme that day, as I had managed to have a quick chat with Steve at Daisy Hill v WD&CFC a week earlier and so got to officially congratulate him on winning his Lost Boyos gong.
It was after our drink in our 2nd Wetherspoons of the day that we met one of Preston’s more charming chaps. As the bus rolled up at the stop, nobody seemed in any rush to get on, so I stepped on first.
“Oh, mate. You weren’t first,’ stated an angry-looking, camouflage bucket hat-wearing young chav behind me. I made a joke of letting him pass me then whilst laughing at him and telling him to ‘chill out’.
“You’ll get a slap now mate,” was his reply to this, which led to me and Gibbo just laughing in his face whilst he stormed off to upper deck of the bus.
“Get a family pass for £5 lads. And don’t worry, we’re not all dickheads around here like him. If he gives you any trouble, I’ll kick him off,” said the far more friendly bus driver. Our bus ticket now declared that me and Gibbo were a family for the day – what roles we had in the family we were unsure of.
We were told to alight at the Black Bull pub and so we stuck to our instructions and then headed into the pub to get directions to the ground. I thought we may as well have another beer too. Google Maps was telling us that we had a 25 minute walk ahead of us, but the friendly barman was insisting that the walk was much less than that and it could be done in ten minutes. It seems that technology was the victor over local knowledge here.
There was ten minutes until kick-off and we realised we had maybe underestimated the walk to the ground and that Google Maps was not lying to us earlier. There was still no sign of the ground with kick-off now almost upon us, but just as it seemed that we were reaching the M55 a large sign emerged saying that we were entering the grounds of Preston Grasshoppers Rugby Football Club, a Fulwood driving range and, most importantly for us, Fulwood Amateurs FC. We’d made it.
We followed the sign for the football club, but somehow we ended up pitchside at the rugby ground, where we could hear the whistle blowing for kick-off somewhere nearby. We spotted football being played on the other side of a fence blocked off by a host of tall trees. We circumnavigated the rugby pitch until we eventually ended up at a locked gate out of the rugby ground, which led into the football ground. There was no way I was going back now with the game so nearby, so I decided there was only one thing for it: under the gate we rolled as if we were on some sort of army assault course (I say rolled, Gibbo performed some sort of distorted limbo under it). It wasn’t the most elegant way to enter a football ground to say the least, but we were there.
We entered and found ourselves under the only proper stand in the ground – well, I say stand, in fact it was more of a shelter with the changing rooms and food hatch built onto the back of it. Pretty much all of the ground is open with trees flanking both ends of the ground, but there is one very quirky feature to the ground, a feature I alluded to earlier that was the driving force in us coming today: a driving range. Yes, the one end of the ground houses the 20 bays used for golfers to practice their golf drive. Absolutely mental. Fortunately, for players, staff and spectators, the driving range was not in use during the game…or should I say games.
Me and Gibbo were here for Fulwood Amateurs v Squires Gate, but if we were bored we could go watch the other game going on on the pitch behind. We learned that the other game was Fulwood Amateurs Reserves v Croston Sports Club. We decided to stick with the big main event though.
You can’t beat a good grass banking at a football ground and the small one pitch side at Fulwood seemed a perfect place to sit and enjoy today’s football in the sun. It was here we found Ruth and Richard, of course joined by their two dogs Sid and Lou – the original ‘non-league dogs’.
We enjoyed the opening exchanges of the half on the banking whilst we all chatted about our love of Turton FC’s ground and their far superior grass banking; easily the best grass banking I’ve encountered at a football ground actually, even trumping Congleton Town’s fine grass banking (feel free to comment on what is your favourite grass banking at football). On the pitch, despite playing two levels below their opponents today, Fulwood were giving a good account of themselves and taking the game to Squires Gate.
The home team won the West Lancashire League Division 1 last season and will play in Premier Division of the league next season. A buoyant Fulwood were playing well and so it was against the run of play when Squires Gate scored with captain Danny Penswick finishing off a cross into the box.
By now, me and Gibbo were underway in completing a lap of the ground. Over by the dugouts we bumped into Squires Gate media man and Blackpool fan Mark Ashmore, who we chatted to for a bit before he had a double thumbs up photo with us – much to his delight judging from his tweet straight after it. It was only after we walked away that Gibbo informed me that the photo we had asked to take the photo was a man called Albert who used to be a photographer for the Daily Mirror apparently, but now helps out at non-league level.
Half-time: Fulwood Amateurs 0 – 1 Squires Gate.
We’re not sure how, but we veered from an opening in the wall around the ground into someone’s back garden. I quickly stepped out as Gibbo had more of a nose, before someone shouted “OI!” I hadn’t noticed it earlier, but in the corner of the ground is a large shed/garage-like structure and out of this emerged an elderly man. It was almost like he had emerged purposely in front of us to give us a history lesson on the place, as it turned out he had lived next to the ground for 40 odd years back to a time when the ground used to be used for farming and not golf or football. Then he stopped talking and went back into his shed, after he had invited us into his garden. We declined. It was all a bit strange.
By now we were at the part of the ground I wanted to explore the most: the driving range end. It really is strange. I could even watch the game in the mirror at the back of the area. Instead of playing golf though, I actually ended up on the field more kicking a football, as I began chasing every loose ball that the coach was crossing into the goalie warming up in goals.
For the second half, we headed back to the banking with Richard and Ruth to watch the final 45 minutes. There was no bar or beer being served today, so I went to the food hatch to get a coffee to keep me ticking over. *MUG KLAXON* Yes, that’s right. Fulwood are one of those brilliant football clubs who serve hot drinks in mugs. I was buzzing with this development as I went and rejoined the others with a big smile on my face.
As with most preseason friendlies, the second half was not as good as the first with changes now breaking the game up. The home team did equalise in the 75th minute when a freekick was spilled by the away keeper leading to a Fulwood player firing home.
By the time Squires Gate had scored two more, me and Gibbo were far too busy trying to get selfies with dogs to notice too much of the action unfolding in front of us; we did successfully get our selfie though.
Anyway, for those interested, someone called Clarke scored twice for Squires Gate to make it 3-1. The third saw him have an empty goal to score into and so I appreciated his thunderous shot from all of 2 yards to emphatically seal Squires Gate’s win.
Full-time: Fulwood Amateurs 1 -3 Squires Gate.
Richard and Ruth kindly offered us a lift back into town, although I was a bit worried when they opened their car boot and said ‘in you get’. Fortunately, this was for the dogs and not me and Gibbo. Richard said he was going to drop us off just outside the city centre at a pub he thought we’d like. Clearly Richard had judged our pub taste perfectly, as we were both big fans of The Moorbrook and its collection of real ales, as well as its aging decor.
We strolled down the road to the more ‘student-y’ streets of Preston and ended up in the Adelphi, although I was gutted that we were missing their brilliant sounding ‘Cowboy and Indie’ night. Gibbo was happy to talk to the Bolton-supporting barman about all things Bolton Wanderers and Atherton Colls, as we both battled slowly to get through a rather sickly tasting pint of Carling.
Our time in Preston was coming to an end, so we purchased a picnic of Coronas and Thai Sweet Chilli Sensations crisps for the train journey back to Manchester. Our evening still wasn’t finished though.
Gibbo was the bad influence on me for a change today and suggested we have a couple of beers in Manchester. Of course, we are talking about the now legendary Piccadilly Tap here. This meant more real ale and a game of table football, as I sought revenge for my defeats last time we took each other on here post-Chapel Town. Revenge didn’t come with me sinking to another disappointing defeat. To make up for it, I said we’d go to my new favourite Mancunian pub before Gibbo headed home: Corbieres – a truly awesome pub hidden down an alley and underground. It claims to have ‘Manchester’s best jukebox’ and is undoubtedly one of Manchester’s great hidden gem.
Today had definitely not panned out how I imagined it would when I woke up Saturday morning, but undoubtedly sometimes those spontaneous days are the best. We had begun planning to go to Staffrodshire, yet somehow we had ended up watching football on a driving range on the outskirts of Preston. And as Gibbo’s Facebook status summed up the second half of the day, ‘We started off watching football on a field in Mid-Lancashire. We’ve ended up in a dungeon that plays The Smiths and Happy Mondays.’ My sort of Saturday and a great way to start the summer off.
Highlights: spontaneity being the order of the day, Hogarths, quirky ground with driving range, not a bad game, mugs! The Moorbrook.
Low Points: game being cancelled, threatened by bucket-hat wearing chav, losing at table football (again).
Make sure to check out Gibbo’s take on the day over on his blog, which you can find here.
You can see all my photos of our day in Fulwood (via Preston) here.