AFC Emley v Congleton Town
Welfare Ground / FA Vase / 3rd October
‘You’re not nineteen forever, pull yourself together’ – The Courteeners, Not Nineteen Forever.
And so Liam Fray once famously proclaimed that we are ‘not nineteen forever’ and that we indeed need ‘to pull ourselves together’ at some point. Well, my pal Gibbo had tried to cling to nineteen for as long as possible and was in no rush to pull himself together at all during the week that he would turn from a 19-year-old teenager to a 20-year-old man. In the space of days he had smashed up his right hand and ended up in A&E, partied in his local until 3-4am-ish in the morning and decided that the best way to spend his actual birthday was to wear a shower curtain whilst watching non-league football in the middle of the Yorkshire moors. What? Isn’t it every boy’s dream to spend their birthday in Emley? If not, then it should be. Let me elaborate.
Friday night, the night before the big birthday, a few of us watched on with Gibbo as his beloved Atherton Collieries triumphed in the Flat Cap Derby with a 6 – 2 win over Atherton LR, but with no plans for the Saturday I asked Gibbo where he wanted to go. Shaw Lane Aquaforce was the original frontrunner (obviously), but with them party-pooping Gibbo’s big day by moving their game to the Sunday we sought out another fixture. For whatever reason, all roads kept pointing to Emley. AFC Emley v Congleton Town in the FA Vase it was to be for us. And what a choice.
Today was all about celebrating the 20th birthday of my good pal and regular football travel companion Gibbo, but we were also both delighted that the day would also entail a reunion with possibly groundhopping’s greatest ever double act. Sod when Take That that reunited, this was far bigger. Today we were joined by 1 Leg on the Cup duo – Tony 1 Leg and Johnny the Rhino; their blog, 1 Leg on the Cup, which sadly now seems to be defunct, had a large influence on both these pages and Gibbo’s blog.
Strangely enough, last time I attended a game with Tony and the Rhino it also featured AFC Emley in FA Vase action. That time was back in December 2012 at a wintry Barnoldswick Town as the home team were ‘giant-killed’ in the FA Vase by the mighty AFC Emley of NCEL Division One. It seemed fitting that I would reunite with them for a Vase day featuring AFC Emley.
Also adding to our party today was George ‘The Manchopper‘ Cheetham, who I met up with at Piccadilly station, before we were joined by Tony, Johnny and the birthday boy Gibbo. I should add here that birthday boy was in a bad way…no, he wasn’t hungover (well, he was a bit), but he found his right hand all plastered up after a midweek altercation with a door at his uni home, which had left him with a couple of broken fingers.
Within moments of boarding the train, the festivities were underway as I provided Gibbo with a birthday can of Fosters and Tony dished out party hats to us all, as well as the young ladies sitting next to him and Johnny (changing my usual ‘No Flat Cap Party’ mantra to ‘No Party Hat No Party’ for the day). Then it was time for Tony and Johnny to provide Gibbo with their present and they had got him a gift which will be the envy of lads up and down the country: a duck-covered shower curtain. To explain, Gibbo’s uni once fined him for having an unclean shower curtain, so this gift was thoughtfully bought to deter such an event again.
The train journey to Huddersfield was an amusing one to say the least; I’m fairly sure that the two ladies who Johnny and Tony had befriended did consider getting off the train with us and carrying on the party instead of heading to their planned destination of Harrogate. They probably took the wiser option though and opted not to join us.
Having alighted in Huddersfield, I placed full responsibility for the day’s itinerary in the birthday boy’s hands, so it was fairly inevitable where we would end up first: Wetherspoons of course. The Cherry Tree was a decent Spoons, although Tony was not impressed when the barmaid refused to show him the rest of her showy tattoo on her chest.
We were then joined by adopted Huddersfield local Craig, who said he knew a ‘pub that you will definitely like – not that I’ve been in there, it just looks like your sort of place’. As we left Spoons, Craig pointed out where it was, but we were soon distracted by a grimmer looking pub called the Wellington and so we headed in there.
This was my sort of tacky shithole: dark, dingy and with a room with a danger sign on the door warning of ‘Carbon Dioxide’. It was in here we discussed our plan for the rest of the day and with the time creeping over 12.30pm, we figured we’d hop on the bus to Emley and see what Emley was all about; none of us knew what to expect as none of us had done any real research on our destination.
Despite leading us on that he might come to Emley with us, Craig then led us up the hill to Huddersfield bus station before abandoning us because he figured (stupidly) that he’d have more fun going to watch Curzon Ashton v Tamworth. We kept ourselves amused with the talking bus stand, which told us about our bus route, before the number 232 arrived to take us to Emley.
15-20 minutes was the forecasted time for our bus journey, but it took us a good 10 minutes just to zig-zag our way through the streets of Huddersfield and to leave the town proper. However, once we had cleared the town and our double-decker bus – a Yorkshire Tiger bus apparently – began climbing (and struggling to climb) the surrounding hills, we were well and truly heading out into the Yorkshire sticks. Gibbo had dubbed Emley a ‘non-league outpost’, but I think we were all a bit taken aback by how ‘backwater’ this place seemed to be. Sprawled ahead on the lofty roads ahead of us was field after field with the odd little village hidden away amongst the mist. Then almost menacingly appearing through the mist was the area’s most notable (probably only) landmark: Emley Moor transmitting station.
I’d heard that this tower was the tallest in the UK and I’ve just read that it is the 23rd tallest tower in the world. Nice one Emley. I’d even heard that the tower was taller than the Eiffel Tower, but wasn’t able to confirm it; this was a fact we sought to confirm all afternoon.
Just as we were about to enter Emley proper, George came out with the bizarre question of “What’s a German egg?” We all looked at each other baffled by the strange question before George pointed to a sign outside the small restaurant outside. The sign actually read ‘Gammon, egg and chips’. After fits of laughter, we decided to make it our mission to find some ‘German eggs’ in Emley (if such things exist).
Using my Google Maps as guidance, I was now fairly sure that we were heading into the small village of Emley and we were sure that we could spot the football club’s floodlights. From our position on the top deck of our bus we spotted a pub called the White Horse and so we smashed the stop button and alighted in the small village square of Emley.
So, Emley…I’m not even sure where to start here, as there’s not much to start or finish with. Emley is probably the smallest and one of the remotest places I’ve ever watched football. More worrying was the fact that this was a one pub village, although strangely enough the place has two sports bar (one of them within AFC Emley’s ground; the other next to it) We made the short walk down the road to the pub, whilst Johnny queried some locals about was there anywhere else to go; Tony told him to stop hanging around and started shouting at Rhino to “Stop pretending to be a landmark – they’ve already got one.” In fairness, he did look a bit like a landmark with his pointy red party hat as he stood alone next to the village square cross.
Despite the village only having one pub, at least it was a belter. I was a huge fan of the White Horse; despite the clear Royston Vasey-esque ‘you’re not from around here are you?’ look from the locals; admittedly, they were friendly enough. Plus, we were soon joined by some away fans who had made the arduous trip over from Congleton and who looked equally bemused by their surroundings.
The time was edging over 14:30 and so we made the short walk back up the road and towards the Welfare Ground. And what a lovely ground it is.
The home of AFC Emley is tucked away down a little lane leading behind a residential area. We were soon heading through the turnstiles, paying our £5 and ready to explore the delights of the Welfare Ground. Well, we went to explore before we were stopped by a friendly man on the gate who insisted we bought raffle tickets. To entice us, he had the 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes all on display by the entrance. Fair to say, I was desperate to win the can of ‘Premium Haggis’ that lurked within one of the hampers. One of the other prizes seemed to be some gammon and eggs to which we obviously queried “Are they German eggs?” much to the bafflement of the Emley official.
The bar is hidden away at the back of the building adjacent to the stand and despite being fairly diminutive, the bar is tidy enough. Plus, it has the club badge decorated on the carpet – always a classy touch. Less classy was Gibbo’s actions in the bar. One minute he was good, old Gibbo, next minute I turned around and he looked like someone who had escaped from a local institute and had run across Emley Moor. I turned around to find Gibbo wearing his duck-covered shower curtain as a poncho and a pink party hat. Why? Who knows, but it was his birthday and he was happy so we just let him get on with it.
After finishing my pint, I headed around to the back of the stand to find the food hatch. Originally, I ordered pie and chips only to then spot a tray of something quite unusual looking.
“What’s that?” I queried.
“It’s my homemade pie – minced meat with mashed up carrots and turnip,” answered the lovely woman behind the counter. I figured, ‘When in Emley…’ and ordered myself some of the gravy-covered, pastry-less pie. And do you know what? It was bloody beautiful. Quite possibly the best food I’ve had at football so far this season. £2.50 well spent. Time for the football now.
Today’s hosts, AFC Emley, were technically not formed until 2005, but football had resided in the village since 1903 in the shape of Emley AFC. That club would move to Wakefield in the early 2000s and eventually become Wakefield FC, who folded a few years ago, whilst Emley formed a new club in the village – the North Counties East League club we were watching in action today in the FA Vase against Congleton.
The teams came out on the pitch with Emley in burgundy and blue and Congleton in a hideous colour combination: I’m no fashion guru, but surely black and yellow striped shirts and socks do not go with bright green shorts? Luckily for us, fashion would not be the main topic of conversation during the game, as the game we watched unfold before us could simply be described as an epic.
Despite Emley playing at a level below Congleton, albeit in a different league structure on the other side of the Pennines, there was nothing between the two teams in the admittedly fairly scrappy opening exchanges.
Me and George went on a bit of a wander of the ground to take some photos when Emley really should have taken the lead. A ball across goal left the home team attacker with an empty net to slot into, only for him to drag his shot wide of the post much to the incredulity of the Emley locals near us.
The miss would prove costly as just as we got to the stand containing the majority of the Congleton fans, the visitors took the lead. A ball into the box was sent goalwards from close range only for the keeper to block first time before the rebound was forced in. Cue the Congleton goalscorer soaring past us in passionate celebration.
I walked back down the side of the ground when a lady wearing a Emley coat stopped me and said, “Your mate wearing the shower curtain is looking for you.” I never thought I’d hear that phrase. I found my shower curtain-wearing pal down by the far corner flag casually chatting to the subs warming up – mostly about Atherton Colls winning the Flat Cap Derby the night before and enquiring to whether the transmission tower looming over the ground is in fact taller than the Eiffel Tower. From here, Gibbo also had the opportunity to throw ‘banter’ towards Congleton goalie Darren Farrimond, who apparently is a former Atherton LR player.
Just before half-time the home team blew another glorious chance with their forward missing a one-on-one with Farrimond when put clean through on goal.
Half-time: AFC Emley 0 – 1 Congleton Town.
Soon we were back in the bar for some quick alcoholic refreshment, but clearly not quick enough as it felt like the teams were back out on the pitch just moments after I had bought my pint. Not to worry though, there was a handy window looking out onto the pitch and I watched the opening minutes of the second half on my own from the club bar window.
From my window, I watched the home team grab a deserved equaliser. A great ball into the box was bundled home by Michael Tuncliffe and this was to be the cue for the game to truly explode into life.
Not wanting to miss much more, I finished my beer and headed up into the stand for the second half to watch the action from a vantage point. There would be plenty of action to watch.
In the 68th minute, Emley took the lead as Ashley Flynn powerfully fired home from the edge of the box, but the best was to come moments later.
Some neat Barca-esque passing by Emley in their own half led to them playing in Flynn again, who this time didn’t bother with the unnecessary nonsense of taking on the goalie one-on-one and instead executed an incredible Karel Poborsky-style (circa Euro 96) lob over the keeper from 20 yards out. Probably my favourite goal of this season’s travels so far; although it’s tough to decide between this goal and Sam Madeley’s peachy volley for FC United a weeks back. Flynn’s goal was so good that the whole team ran to celebrate with the attacker, as well as the manager pegging it down the touchline to celebrate with his team. Amazingly, that is Flynn’s 27th goal of the season so far. Wow.
I should apologise to Emley for giving them the kiss of death by saying, “I’ve only seen them twice before and both times they’ve knocked out higher-placed opposition in the Vase.” Of course, minutes after I made this statement Congleton pulled one back as a ball across the box was slotted in by Declan Fletcher. Game on. Very much so.
In the 80th minute, Congleton equalised to make it 3 – 3. Fletcher took it around the goalie, failed with his initial effort before then passing to Scott McGowan who eventually finished.
It seemed inevitable now that Congleton would win this contest and to stop us going into extra-time that inevitable goal came in the 85th minute courtesy of Fletcher again. A brilliant ball into the box was headed in by Fletcher and the away fans behind the goal went suitably crazy.
We didn’t really want the 30 minutes of extra-time, but at the same time I wanted Emley to equalise. Deep into extra-time they almost did as a long ball into the box resulted in a back post overhead kick from an Emley player, but the ball bounced agonisingly wide. Then, the ref’s whistle pierced the Yorkshire evening to confirm the end of a 7 goal thriller.
Full-time: AFC Emley 3 – 4 Congleton Town.
Probably just pipping the FC United v Curzon Ashton game I witnessed last month to the best game I’ve watched so far this season. An incredible game.
Gibbo carried on being mental shower-curtain maniac and decided he was going on the pitch for a kickabout with some kids. I figured I’d follow for supervisory purposes (and, more importantly, to get a few more photos of the stand like the cool guy that I am).
Once Gibbo had completed his pitch invasion, we decided to head to the sports’ bar found just outside the gates; a visit here also meant we had actually ticked off all 3 of Emley’s drinking joints (so we were led to believe at least). The Wentworth proved to be a far more modern establishment than our other Emley drinking conquests, although the barmaid was the first person we’d spoke to all day who could confirm that the transmission tower was indeed taller than the Eiffel Tower (it turns out it stands at 1084ft compared to the Eiffel Tower’s mere 984ft).
Buses back to the (semi-)civilised world of Huddersfield were sparse and so we made sure we were at the bus stop in plenty of time to catch our ride back; I say bus stop, it was really just a sign practically on the road – no pavement or doublie-lining to protect us from the passing traffic, so I suppose it was lucky that Emley does not exactly have convoys of vehicles flying through its country roads.
During our boredom waiting for the bus, we invented the myth of ‘Duckman’ – Gibbo’s alter-ego who roams the moors of Emley; rumour has it that if you say ‘Quack! Quack! Quack!’ three times on the moor, he’ll appear before you (that’s the myth we are hoping spreads around the streets of Emley anyway).
It wasn’t long before our bus was slaloming back down the hills through the country roads and back into the thriving metropolis of Huddersfield. Once again, responsibility was placed on the birthday boy to direct us and I was very happy with his choice; others in our party were not e.g. The Rhino. Gibbo had us head all the way back to Huddersfield train station and into the King’s Head pub. I say ‘pub’, the place appears to be just a large, barren room where someone has thought, ‘Do you know what this place could do with? A bar,’ before hastily throwing some wooden benches and tables and chairs into the aforementioned barren room and then erecting a bar rather haphazardly. Obviously such shitness charms me and we enjoyed a good 45 minutes in here (I’d made Gibbo take off his shower curtain by now in case a local thought he was a dickhead and stabbed him).
Our train to Huddersfield had been eventful and the one back would prove eventful too as ‘Duckman’, now back in his cape, went on the pull. Imagine Paddy McGuinness’ banter-filled ITV romp Take Me Out transferred from the TV studio to a Transpennine train and that would pretty much sum up our journey home, as Gibbo tried to impress a whole table of young ladies opposite us. Amazingly, the girls were loving the duck cape (they clearly hadn’t heard of the Duckman menace who marshalls Emley Moor) and Gibbo emerged from the whole affair with the phone number of a rather punky-looking Northern Irish girl. So, there you have it: duck-covered curtains are the way to pull.
As always on arriving back in Manchester we headed into the Piccadilly Tap to reflect on our day over some fine ales. I guess the best way to sum up our day was ‘weird and wonderful’ – admittedly, my favourite sort of days. We’d ended up on some Yorkshire moors watching football in the middle of nowhere – but what a game of football; I should add in here that AFC Emley have a lovely little ground too; I’d eaten some lovely concoction of mince meat, turnip and carrot; we’d witnessed Gibbo looking like a loon wearing a shower curtain all day and then subsequently woo women with it. Although I guess the chief highlight of the day was having Tony and Johnny on the road with us – they were superb fun as always and I hope one day their blog rises again and that they join us again very soon.
You’ll all be devastated to know that Gibbo will be offering no account of his day out on his blog (Gibbo’s 92 if you’ve missed that bad boy of a blog) as his broken fingers deny him the ability to type on a keyboard it seems. But if you do find yourself missing my Athertonian friend, you know what to do: head to Emley Moor and say “Quack! Quack! Quack!” I promise you the legend is true.
Highlights: Tony and Johnny reuniting with us, train party, White Horse in Emley, nice ground, superb game of football, Ashley Flynn’s goal, Gibbo in a shower curtain, King’s Head, Take Me Out antics on the train.
Low Points: Emley is a pain to get to, not much there (but pleasant nonetheless).
See all my photos from our big day out at Emley here.