Burscough v Brighouse Town
Victoria Park / Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One North / 23rd January 2016
Peaceful: that was how I’d describe my Saturday morning stroll through Burscough. What I didn’t know at the time was that just over 24 hours later I would be put through the ringer at Goodison Park as my beloved Swansea fought gallantly and nervously at times to claim a 2-1 victory over Everton – the first time the Swans have ever beaten Everton in the league and at Goodison Park. Fair to say, that the final 20 minutes or so were excruciating as Swansea had their backs against the wall and I had several near heart attacks. Unbeknownst to me, my pal Craig decided to film a rather tense looking me in the final minute of the game and the video does certainly capture the pain (as Everton miss a sitter with the last kick of the game) and the elation (as the full-time whistle blows to confirm the Swans’ win in my case) of being a football fan. I could imagine David Attenborough in the away end here narrating over my rather primitive actions like in one of his nature documentaries.
Anyway, so rewind 24 hours earlier and it’s fair to say that that pleasant canal walk I made alongside the Leeds/Liverpool canal, which runs through the village of Burscough, was probably good preparation for the more energy-sapping exploits of the next day.
Of the non-league teams in my part of the north-west of England, there are few I’ve yet to visit; Burscough was one of them. In fact, I think it had to be one of the nearest clubs to my Salfordian abode in the top 10 divisions of the English football pyramid that I was yet to visit. A Saturday afternoon in January seemed as good a time to visit as ever.
I arrived into Burscough Bridge station at shortly after 11.30am and I figured that instead of hitting the first pub that came into sight, like I usually do, I would go for a wander down the path alongside the aforementioned canal…okay, I may sort of be lying there, as I was fully aware that halfway down my planned route I’d find a pub.
After passing a decrepid-looking fun fair site that looked like something out of Scooby Doo, I amused myself by chanting ‘You quack bastards!’ at ducks (Swansea fans shout ‘You Jack Bastards!’ at each other to show affection for those who are unclear as to why I found myself so funny). Eventually, I spied the rather quaint looking Slipway pub on the other side of the canal and I was happy to have made it without slipping in any mud and falling into the depths of the canal to be honest.
The time had only just ticked over midday and so the pub was virtually empty, barring a few other Saturday morning walkers. Entertainment within the pub was provided on TV by the channel ‘Movies4Men’ (not as dodgy as it sounds) showing some low budget action film that seemed to be ripping off Under Siege 2, whilst refreshment came in the form of Wainwright’s cask ale – apparently the ‘Greatest Golden Ale in the World according to its tagline; it was decent – nothing more, nothing less – and certainly not worthy of the use of superlatives. I will say though that the pub was great and once again it furthered the relaxed mood of the day.
By 1pm I was back in the village centre itself. For those unaware, Burscough can be found just north of Ormskirk and Skelmersdale with much of the village being surrounded by farmland; in fact, the village was formed after the coming together of two small farming communities – Burscough Bridge and Burscough. There’s not really too much to the village itself, apart from a few local shops, the Burcough Wharf (cafes and shops next to the canal) and a large Tesco, but I was more concerned with getting myself in the Hop Vine – a pub that had come with multiple recommendations from folk who had visited Burscough before. It didn’t disappointed.
Incongruous with the rest of its surroundings, The Hop Vine was abuzz with life as soon as I strolled in. There were waiters and waitresses flying about the place serving food, which looked great (I sadly did not sample the menu), and there was a liveliness at the bar too. Plus, the staff all seemed friendly and knowledgeable about the ales on tap. I figured it would be wrong not to try the Burscoughian (?) Burscough Brewery ale, which proved to be a good one.
One thing I had noticed about the locals during my couple of hours in Burscough was their slightly warped accents. Undoubtedly, the scouse came through strongest in them, but there was a massive tinge of Lancashire to their cadence. From my time living in Liverpool, I believe these folk are what the Liverpudlians would dub as ‘wools’ (have a google of it). Nonetheless, the men I spoke to at the bar were all good company and more importantly for me they were Evertonians. I informed them that they could probably expect their usual win over Swansea the next day (oh, how little I knew then). We chatted all things Everton/Swansea-related and the barmaid even started offering/practically pouring me another drink with a good portion of my original still to go; not that I refused.
The barman informed me that the home of Burscough FC could be found just two minutes down the opposite street and so I headed over there with an hour to go until kick-off and with the knowledge that they’d be showing the early kick-off between Liverpool and Norwich; usually, I wouldn’t have been too bothered about catching the early game on TV, but on hearing that it had gone to 3-3 with 20-30 minutes left and with Liverpool originally being 3-1 down, I figured it might be worth catching.
Beforehand, I had been told that Burscough’s club bar was found outside of the turnstiles and after some initial confusion when I found a derelict cabin with a sign claiming to be the bar, I then found the real thing: Baron’s Club. I was a fan. The bar is split into two large, yet rather cosy feeling, rooms and much to my liking was the whole host of football memorabilia – ranging from local to European scarves- adorning the majority of the walls and ceiling.
Predictably, everyone had their eyes fixed to the TV and the quite extraordinary game unfolding at Carrow Road with everyone within supporting Liverpool (myself included, as a loss for Swansea’s fellow relegation contenders Norwich would do my team wonders). Much to the distress of everyone, Norwich scored a last minute screamer to make it 4-4; however, much to the joy of everyone in the bar, Liverpool’s Adam Lallana then followed this up with an even later volley to make it 5-4 to the Reds and to cue scenes on the pitch at Carrow Road, in the away end at Carrow Road and in the Baron’s Club in Burscough. Burscough’s 3pm kick-off against Brighouse Town would struggle to top the pulsating second half of that game, as would any game.
£8 it would cost me to get in to watch today’s 8th tier game, although the real issue looked like it could be getting through the ridiculously narrow turnstiles; I’m not exactly the largest, so the entrance wasn’t too taxing for me, but I’m sure for a larger gentleman and/or lady it would prove a tough battle getting through.
I was then presented with Victoria Park and I have to say that I immediately found it joyously ramshackle. Sadly, and one of the main reasons I had been meaning to visit for a long while, there are talks that Victoria Park may not be with us in the near future as there are talks of the club moving to a new ground. There has been football in the area since the late 1800s, but the first form of football at Victoria Park came in 1908 when Burscough Rangers moved to the ground. Burscough’s current club would not come to fruition until 1946 and they have called Victoria Park home ever since – apart from in 2011 when the owners thought it would be a clever move to try sell Victoria Park and move the club to groundsharing with Skelmersdale United. This lasted until February 2012 when the club returned to Victoria Park, although, as some fans told me during today’s game, some fans never returned because of the strong feeling of disaffection towards with Burscough’s ownership.
The most eye-catching edifice of Victoria Park is clearly the main stand which sits alongside the halfway line and has three separate parts, holding 250 fans, and with the changing rooms housed below. Adjacent to the stand was a small refreshments area, although I was confused where the ladies went to the toilet and where to get a pie (see the photo below) – hopefully there hadn’t been too many mix-ups there.
Behind the far goal is another sheltered standing terrace with a similar structure running down the majority of the opposite side of the pitch to the main stand.
As alluded to earlier, much of Burscough is surrounded by farmland and this also applies to the football ground too. It is on the land behind Victoria Park that the club’s owners plan to build a new ground in the near future. However, from the fans I spoke to, most see the build as a pointless exercise and are more than happy with life at Victoria Park.
As the teams took their places on the pitch – Burscough in their traditional green and white and Brighouse in orange – I decided I would begin my lap of the ground to explore all the nooks and crannies.
The game itself took its time to get going and there wasn’t too much to get you utterly engrossed. And to be honest, I was in one of those moods when I just didn’t feel that arsed about the game today; those days do sort of crop up sometimes. But I was more than happy exploring Victoria Park. I got chatting to some fans behind the goals who were more than happy to talk about the club and give me the lowdown on all things Burscough FC-orientated, including their thoughts on the proposed building of a 6,000 capacity new ground in the future (to summarise: they were not positive thoughts).
It would be Burscough who took the lead when MJ Monaghan was played through on goal, before firing into the roof of the net left-footed and from close range. 1-0 to the home team to the delight of the green and white clad fans around the ground.
As I continued my lap around the ground, past some ASBO-ish looking youths piled in the corner of the ground, Burscough almost scored again with an effort that went just over the bar, but I watched the remainder of the half from the shelter of the other sheltered terrace as the clock ticked towards half-time and towards finishing a fairly uneventful half.
Half-time: Burscough 1 – 0 Brighouse Town.
The skies above Burscough were beginning to look rather ominous and I was quite happy to seek refuge in the club bar before the skies opened upon us. Once again, there was a nice cosy, warm pub-feel to this place with everyone huddled around TVs looking at the half-time scores from around the country. By now, I had drawn attention to myself with my silly Welsh accent and the locals wanted to ask what the hell I was doing there. When I replied I had come to watch the Burscough game (obviously) they just seemed to find it all very funny. Once again though, they were friendly people, especially my friend for the afternoon David Hardisty – the chairman of BISA (Burscough Independent Supporters Association) – who I watched the opening exchanges of the first half with through the club bar window.
As soon as I walked back outside, the cold pierced through me straight away and so I quickly navigated myself around to the Grandstand to take shelter and try to find some warmth. Icy rain was now beginning to pelt away at me too and it suddenly felt like proper non-league weather.
By the time, I had made it over to the stand, Brighouse had equalised. A crossed freekick into the box was not dealt with by the home defence and soon it was being headed home by Tom Robinson to make it 1-1.
With the weather woeful, the football turned that way too with tackles flying in from everywhere. However, it was a moment of class from Burscough that would put them back in the lead in the 66th minute. A cross to the back post was met with a first time volley, from their centre back, that flew in to make it 2-1. Brilliant finish.
Burscough hadn’t won in a while and so they were desperate to hang on in there, but they were forced to worry. Burscough’s keeper found himself injured and with no keeper on the bench outfield player Matty Devine was forced to play between the sticks. Fortunately, for him and Burscough, Brighouse failed to attack much at all in the closing 20 minutes.
The rain was biblical now and I decided that with ten minutes left I was going to chicken out and rejoin David at the bar window to watch the closing stages; plus, I wanted one last beer before hopping on the 17:10 train back to Manchester. There was still time for one of my favourite bits of abuse of the season though as in reaction to Burscough’s number 6 supposedly making a bit too much of a challenge, the away manager came out with, “I bet your Dad is right proud of you 6 – you fucking soldier.” Got to love an angry non-league outburst.
It seemed my call to watch the rest of the game from the bar window proved a good one, as the rest of the game proved a bit of a non-event and the home team hung on to claim an important 3 points and to halt their recent slump.
Full-time: Burscough 2 – 1 Brighouse Town.
Beer drunk and it was straight out the door to the conveniently placed train station next door; equally convenient was also the Tesco next door where I could get myself train beer to keep me company on the journey home.
Apart from the rather savage weather at the end of the day, I’d had a very pleasant, quite relaxing day in Burscough. Nice walk by the canal. Nice pubs. Nice ground. Just nice.
And did I mention that Swansea beat Everton for the first time in the league the next day…oh, I did?
Highlights: nice canal walk, The Hop Vine pub, nice, old ground, friendly fans, good club bar.
Low Points: not a great game, not that much in Burscough.
See all my photos from my trip to Burscough here