Northwich Manchester Villa v Litherland REMYCA
Manchester Regional Arena / North West Counties Football League Division One / 19th December 2015
I’m still not sure what Northwich Manchester Villa are. My first encounter with the club came during the season before last when they were playing at Valley Road in Flixton – near where I work in Irlam. Since my first encounter with them back then, I’ve seen them a few times since, yet I’m still not a 100% sure what they are. So, I’ve Googled it. For those unsure why I’m confused, I shall try to elaborate. The team only formed in 2005 after Woodley became Northwich Villa and the club began life playing in the Cheshire League. Then somehow they ended up getting absorbed into Northwich Victoria as a sort of feeder team…but not really a feeder team. I’m sure I’m getting this wrong, but anyway…the club left their home in Flixton last season and moved to the semi-grand surroundings of the Manchester Regional Arena – a ground I’ve wanted to get to for a while.
The Manchester Regional Arena is basically an athletic stadium in the shadow of the Etihad Stadium and was built as a warm up track for the 2002 Commonwealth Games; the main events were held at the adjacent City of Manchester Stadium (before it adopted its ‘Etihad’ guise). Since Manchester hosted the Commonwealth Games, there’s not been much use for the arena, although it has hosted Manchester City Reserves, until they moved to Hyde and then the new Academy Stadium, and Manchester City Ladies, who also moved across the road to the Academy Stadium. Having never got around to watching the Ladies team in this particular arena, I thought I’d blown my chance of a visit, so I was personally very happy when Northwich Flixton Villa decided to become Northwich Manchester Villa and move in at the start of the current season.
The Friday was my final day in work before my 2 week holiday for Christmas, so obviously an alcohol-fuelled night out was in store. This was another reason why a Northwich Manchester Villa game was attractive, as I woke up on the Saturday morning without a particularly strong desire to travel far. Not that I was deterred from the idea of my usual footballing drinking frivolities. In fact, I decided to make the day a celebration of my love for Manchester by going to all of favourite Mancunian pubs. So this is how I ended up strolling down Swan Street at 11am, en route to Bar Fringe – a wonderful place that sells a huge array of world ales and lagers. However, I was greeted with a closed door. That was not start I wanted, but I decided it was a chance to broaden my horizons in regards of Swan Street pubs and so over I headed to the more traditional-looking Burton Arms.
The Burton Arms is a small pub on Swan Street and by golly is the service slow in there. It felt like an eternity for me to get served, despite there being a mere 5 people in the bar. 2 of the folk in attendance were laughing at my visible exasperation about the speed of service and on spotting one of them wearing a FC St. Pauli t-shirt, I initiated a conversation. It turned out they were father and son Eddie and Dave, both Celtic fans who were in Manchester for the weekend for a gig, but were planning on spending their afternoon at FC United. Obviously, still a bit drunk from the previous night, I incessantly talked at them about my FCUM experiences, as well as going into detail about my incredible February trip to Celtic Park. They were great company though, so I invited them over to Bar Fringe with me with it now being past midday and under the assumption it’d be open. Once again, closed. The whole idea of visiting all my favourite Mancunian bars was not going well. Instead we ended up in the Crown and Kettle across the road – another pub in Manchester I’d yet to visit.
After a pint of some sort of malty stout, it was time to say goodbye to my new Scottish pals as they began their journey over to Moston to watch FC United. I on the other hand had only one destination in mind: the one, the only, Piccadilly Tap.
Where do I even begin with this place? Anyone who knows me will undoubtedly have heard me talk reverently about ‘The Tap’. The bar, located next door to Piccadilly train station, has been open for less than a year and life was much darker without it and it’s extensive and ever changing choice of beers. Frankly, I could lavish paragraph upon paragraph of praise upon this fine establishment, but instead just go there and see it for yourself. I did on this Saturday afternoon and enjoyed two pints of Mosaic (a worldie of a beer I discovered in Macclesfield a couple of weeks earlier). The Tap was also conveniently placed today, as located in the underbelly of the adjacent Piccadilly station is Piccadilly’s Metrolink and from here it is a simple 3 stop journey to the Etihad Campus.
I always enjoy getting off the tram at the Etihad Campus, as on walking up the steps you are immediately greeted with the awesome sight of the Etihad towering above – still my favourite stadium in the top flight. I’d got my Etihad Stadium fix just a week earlier as my beloved Swans were cruelly denied a draw against Manchester City by a stoppage time winner. But today I would not be exorcising the ghosts of that visit and instead I was heading to the athletic stadium next door. The entrance was located simply enough and on paying my £5 I was ushered into the ground by the guy on the entrance asking, “Will you be supporting home or away today?” When I stuttered my response, he quickly realised the drill and informed me that there were about 10 groundhoppers there today and about 8 folk over supporting Merseyside club Litherland REMYCA. It was implied that us groundhoppers should be supporting the home team. I’m sure many groundhoppers will be heading up to the ground over the coming season to visit a quite unique ground; they don’t seem to have any fans of their own, so I thought maybe they could be Groundhoppers FC for the season (although the club could probably do without another name change).
So, the Manchester Regional Arena…well, it’s a bit of an odd place to watch football. Really odd. I’m not usually one to be too snobby about a running tack – my eyesight still seems able to cope with looking a bit further to watch a game – but today I did feel particularly far from the action. Plus, the ground had already lost brownie points for the lack of bar. Coffee would have to suffice.
Kindly, the chap who seemed to be in charge had told me that I had free reign and that I could go for a wander of the ground properly. First though, I watched the teams come out on the pitch – NMV in green and white stripes, Litherland in red and white – and took in the opening exchanges of the game from the back of the stand with the small gathering of spectators.
The game itself was not exactly a blockbuster, although Northwich Manchester Villa played some nice stuff at times without really creating much. If the players were having to work hard on the pitch, it was nothing compared to the young ball boys placed at different points around the running track and left with the arduous task of chasing every runaway football.
By now, I was getting a bit bored, so off I set on my (long) lap of the ground. It was from the other side of the ground, away from the ‘main stand’, that I decided that the ground looked at its finest with the imperious figure of the Etihad over looming and backdropping the action on the pitch. Of course many attempts at sexy Instagrams were undertaken.
On the pitch, the game remained a tepid affair, although it looked more and more likely that NMV would score, something which they eventually did in the 38th minute. A simple passing move saw the home team get in on goal, before the attacker finished from 10 yards.
Half-time: Northwich Manchester Villa 1 – 0 Litherland REMYCA.
Half-time gave me time to try to hunt down the toilets and on being told of their location in the corner of the ground by the friendly lady serving the drinks, I headed through some double doors into another building. This definitely wasn’t a typical toilet visit. What I found en route to the toilet was a huge indoor athletics arena complete with another running track and crash mats and general sporting paraphernalia. Of course, one lad visiting today couldn’t resist sprinting across the hall and attempting the high jump (he failed).
Back from the toilet, more coffee was purchased (damn the lack of bar) and instead of completing a cross-country around the ground this half, I opted to take a seat at the back of the stand ready for the second half.
The second half was subjected to the worst of Mancunian clime as it began to hammer down. This definitely didn’t help to improve the quality on the pitch, but it did add a bit more feistiness to the occasion.
NMV made it 2-0 (I’ll be honest and say that I can’t quite remember the goal – which usually means it wasn’t a screamer), but my highlight of the game was to come later – I think. I add in ‘I think’ as I’m not sure whether I witnessed the best headed clearance of all time or not. A Litherland shot at an empty goal from close range looked to be flying in only for the ball to cannon off the bar; whether it was diverted onto the bar by the crazy diving header by the heroic defender on the line, I’ll never be sure. Amazing if it did though.
There was still time for one more goal and it went the way of the Litherland, which made for a slightly more interesting closing. A passing move into the box saw Litherland’s striker comfortably finish from 8 yards out in the 70th minute.
There was still a bit of excitement when Litherland fired a shot goalwards straight from a corner, but after some shaky goalkeeping to keep it out, Villa held on to earn themselves the 3 points.
Full-time: Northwich Manchester Villa 2 – 1 Litherland REMYCA.
Not exactly the most inspiring afternoon of football or groundhopping, but, nonetheless, the Manchester Regional Arena had been ticked off. Being in East Manchester, there was only one place to go now.
You can’t go to the Etihad / Academy Stadium without visiting my beloved Corner Shop – the roguish-looking pub located in the middle of a housing estate next to the Etihad. It’s demeanour may be intimidating, but it is still a beauty of a pub. I’m still unsure of what makes it such a Lost Boyos favourite as the Carling tastes horrible in there too and it’s hardly pretty within, but the pub has become a staple of the Lost Boyos Manchester menu. I think it’s just the rather working class vibe to the whole place and the fact it is a far cry to the bars in town.
After a quick tram journey back into the heart of the city, I decided to give Bar Fringe a third go at letting me in. Success! The bar was abuzz on this Saturday evening and there was only one thing for it: Jupiler – the Belgian lager which featured prominently on me and Gibbo’s Belgian odyssey in the summer of 2014. I only went in for one beer but the excellent company of the folk at the bar and barman Johnny (who informed me he would have opened at midday if I had banged on the window) led to me staying for one more Jupiler. Then, I was recommended another Belgian lager and so I had to try that too (it was so good in fact that the memory of its name has been totally erased).
I’d done the Tap, The Corner Shop and Bar Fringe, which left just one of the Harrison specials left – and probably my favourite bar in the whole of Manchester too. If you ever happen to walk through Manchester with me at any point, there’s a good chance I’ll say to you “Corbieres?” Conveniently located near the bus stop which takes me to my home just outside the city centre, Corbieres has become the bar of choice for me over the past 12 months; although every time I take people there for the first time their face looks slightly panicky at first, as the bar is located down a back alley and accessed by a small doorway, which leads down into depths below street level. Inside you’ll find a small cavern-like bar and undoubtedly the finest jukebox in the land – as the bar proudly self-proclaims anyway. This was the perfect place to finish my evening, before I headed home for takeaway and Match of the Day. Although my evening wasn’t over it seemed.
On getting home I received word from Gibbo that him, Aaron and Joe, plus some of Joe’s uni mates from York, were all in Waxy O’Connor’s in town and that I should come back out. With it being the week leading up to Christmas, it is almost sacrilege to turn down any form of alcohol-related gregariousness and so out the door I headed. I convinced my German and French housemates Niklas and Muriel to join us too and it was a pleasant way to finish my day out in Manchester (for the second time today). Predictably, I made us all go back to Corbieres to conclude our evening too.
If this was an Aesop Fable instead of a ‘Matt Harrison tale’, I suppose the moral of the story would be: ‘watching football at the Manchester Regional Arena is weird – so make sure you combine it with a day visiting Manchester’s finest bars too.’ A sound moral if ever there was one.
Next few adventures are coming in the days after Christmas, so have a good Christmas everyone!
Highlights: drinking with the Scottish lads, visiting all my favourite Manchester bars in one day, finally getting to visit the Manchester Regional Arena.
Low Points: odd place to watch football, no bar, not a great game.
See all my photos from my day out in Manchester and Northwich Manchester Villa here.