Clitheroe v Radcliffe Borough
Shawbridge / Evo-Stik Northern Premier League First Division North / 12th March 2016
It would be in the summer of 2012 when I would properly discover non-league football. I’d lived in Manchester a year when I started to go watch my local club, Salford City, and this led me onto snooping around other non-league clubs: Trafford, Stalybridge Celtic, Radcliffe Borough, Curzon Ashton and, blog favourites, Atherton Collieries, were all visited in quick succession as I began to fall head over heels in love with football life outside ‘the League’. Recommendations began flooding my way: ‘You must go to this ground,’ ‘Have you visited here yet?’ ‘When are you going to so and so?’ and slowly, but surely, over the coming years those exotic names like Ramsbottom, Colne and Mossley amongst many, many others were visited and relished. All those names I had stumbled upon in the summer of 2012 had now been visited and non-league ventures further afield began. However, there’s been one club in the heart of Lancashire which seemed to repeatedly elude me over the years. For one reason or another, despite repeatedly being told I need to visit, Clitheroe FC have seemed to have circumvented my ‘ground tick’. ‘Oh, I’ll go in a couple of weeks time,’ seemed to be my perpetual thought, but I decided it was enough of that now. It was time to finally go to Clitheroe.
The train journey from Salford Crescent to Clitheroe is a fairly numbing one with the train seeming to stop at every little town, village and field between Manchester and East Lancashire. After stopping at charmingly named places such as Entwhistle, Hall i’th’ Wood and Langho, the train finally rolled into Clitheroe at 10.20am, giving me plenty of time to explore.
Charmed – that’s how I immediately felt as I walked up the winding streets of the town. There was a distinct lack of high street brands and chains here and everything felt very ‘local’. I even found a man walking through the streets with his pet owl – who almost shit in a passerby’s shopping bag (“You’re lucky that didn’t go on my carrots!”). It was a strange sight and introduction to the town.
My first destination was easy to spot too from the bottom of the town: Clitheroe Castle. Being Welsh its sort of compulsory that you love castles. The walk up to the castle involved walking past a multitude of pubs, but all were closed at this hour so I was not curtailed en route towards the castle.
‘Castlehopping’ seemed to be a regular part of these blogs during one particular castle-fuelled period, yet a castle has not appeared on these pages for a long while – too long. To be honest, there’s not too much to say about Clitheroe Castle (well it’s 800 years old and it is is argued to be the smallest Norman keep in England), but on climbing up to the summit where it is mounted I was offered awesome views of Clitheroe town below and the surrounding valley. From my lofty position, it dawned on me just how isolated a town Clitheroe is with it seeming to have the whole valley to itself. Also, from here I could spot Clitheroe FC’s Shawbridge ground and from above I could plot my pub stops through the streets of Clitheroe towards the ground. All towns should have elevated positions for pub crawl planning in my opinion.
And so I made my way back down from the castle, through the surrounding park and on to my first pub of the day: The New Inn. I’d say that this is exactly what I expected of Clitheroeian (?) pub at 11am: men reading their papers, chatting about local gossip and sipping their ales – and what ales they were were too. I opted for a pint of Golden Prospects – a wonderful ale to start off my day.
In typical ‘local town’ fashion I was being queried on what a ‘Taff’ was doing in Clitheroe, before my explanation prompted one Burnley-supporting local to point out that many of his favourite players to have graced Turf Moor were Welsh (Leighton James and Brian Flynn, as well Sam Vokes – who scored later that day). I said my goodbyes to the friendly locals in the New Inn and headed up the hill and towards the main high street.
Next stop was the Swan & Royal; it had the word ‘Swan’ in it which is always a good thing, but there were not many punters to be found within. Talk at the bar centred around how busy the pub had been the night before with AC/DC apparently playing a gig there. I thought I’d better clarify with the barmaid that it had been a tribute act and Angus Young hadn’t rocked up in rustic Lancashire in his school uniform to perform an impromptu rock concert in a pub-cum-hotel.
Onwards I plodded down the main street until I noticed that the White Lion weas showing the early kick-off between Norwich City and Manchester City, so in I went. The place had one of those ‘bleachy’ smells to it, which usually is the cue for a crap pub (or at least that’s what seems to be the case with me anyway). In fairness, the White Lion was harmless enough even though the blonde Dunscar beer (no ales on tap) I ordered was pretty disgusting. With the football on TV not up to much either, I figured I’d head across the road to the Ale House.
Now this was more like it! There was a small variety of ales on tap in this pokey little pub, but all looked glorious. Eventually I opted for some sort of golden ale, which I’ve forgotten the name of, before I got chatting to the barmaid and a Leeds fan, who was in jubilant mood with his team 2-1 up at Blackburn. The barmaid on the other hand looked to be concentrating on keeping warm with her fleece pulled over her chin, as there was a distinct lack of heat in the rather staccatoed layout of the pub (there were random boxes and crates scattered about the place).
With the ground now just over 5 minutes away I decided there was still time to uncover one more pub on the road. I wish I had stayed in the Ale House to be honest as I ended up in some crappy Sports Bar ominously called ‘The Dog’ (once again, another place reeking of bleach). Plus, no ales for me here either. Within though I did find a couple of Radcliffe fans, including Mark who I’d met at a few Radcliffe games in the past meaning there would at least be one familiar face at the game. The small Radcliffe contingent had opted to stay in the The Dog for another beer, but I was done. Onwards to the home of Clitheroe FC.
Moments after leaving The Dog, I spotted the floodlights of Shawbridge poking out in the midst of a residential area. Spotting a sign for Shawbridge Road, I figured I’d follow that and there’d soon be a gap in the housing to let me access the ground. There was no such entrance to be found and so I retraced my steps and realised I had ended up walking down the wrong street and not Shawbridge Street. Along the actualShawbridge Street I spied a little alley down the side of the Original Factory Shop and at the entrance to this lane was a sign welcoming you to Shawbridge. I’d found it. I headed down the lane and was recognised at the turnstile by the gentleman behind the club’s official Twitter account (“You’re our Swansea friend aren’t you?)
Like many clubs in Lancashire, Clitheroe have been around for a long while with the club being formed in 1877 under the name of Clitheroe Central. The club played locally before joining the Lancashire Combination at the start of the 20th century. These days the club play in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League First Division (Step 4) and today could be found chasing a play-off place in the league against league strugglers Radcliffe Borough.
The club’s Twitter account had recommended I visited the club bar prematch to sample the Bowland Brewey beers they had on tap today – a brewery within Clitheroe itself. Cheers to Clitheroe FC for the tip off as undoubtedly the two best beers I drunk all day were the two types of Bowland beers they had on tap. I had plenty of time to enjoy my beers whilst I got chatting to some of the locals in the bar, who seemed impressed with my knowledge of the Trafford area of Manchester.
“So are you a Trafford fan then?”
“Nope, I’m a Swansea fan.”
“Oh…right…” said one female fan who then eyed me with suspicion as if I was trying to closet the fact I was a Trafford fan (not that I have any issues with Trafford FC by the way).
As the team walked out on into the pitch – Clitheroe all in blue and Radcliffe in a rather snazzy red and black away strip – I headed pitchside and to take a look around the ground for the first time.
Shawbridge is a textbook non-league ground for this level and it is difficult to find anything to really dislike about it. All four sides have some form of shelter with standing terraces behind the two goals and another sheltered standing area down the one side of the ground. On the opposite of the pitch is a small seating stand behind the managerial dugouts. My first destination was the food hut next to the stand, where I walked away with what can only be described as a superb steak and pepper pie doused in gravy. It’s been weeks since I’ve had a pie at football, so this was a welcome return.
The game itself was competitive, but not exactly jawdropping stuff either. Clitheroe were seeking a win today to push them into the play-off places, whilst Radcliffe languished in the lower regions of the league. The gulf in positions showed throughout the first half with Clitheroe dominating the away team.
It took just 10 minutes for the home team to grab a lead and it was scored by the coolest named player on the pitch: introducing Sefton Gonzales. What a name! Gonzales was allowed time to work his way into the box before finishing easily past the Radcliffe keeper. 1-0.
Radcliffe had a few half chances, but it was still Clitheroe dominating the game by the time I had completed half a lap of the ground. It was halfway around I met Martin, who was on the terraces supporting his son Scott Harries playing for Clitheroe. Martin filled me in on his son’s career and it soon transpired that I had once seen his son score. I remembered the game well as it was a preseason friendly at Flixton’s Valley Road between Scott’s then team, Northwich Victoria, and league club Fleetwood; in fact, it was the first game of my 108 game odyssey during the 2013/14 season.
Me and Martin chatted all things football, alongside me joining him in cheering on his son. Martin proved good company and I promised I’d catch up with him in the second half as I headed off to the club bar with moments left until half-time.
The Bowland Brewey was calling me.
Half-time: Clitheroe 1 – 0 Radcliffe Borough.
Outside the clubhouse I found a fairly distraught Mark, who was none to impressed with Radcliffe’s measly first half showing. I encouraged him to join me in the clubhouse to get over Boro’s poor performance.
In the clubhouse, the big England v Wales Six Nations game was beginning. Now, I’m a ridiculously proud Welshman, but I do admittedly let myself down a bit by not having an undying love for the egg-shaped ball. To be honest, if it wasn’t for Facebook and my pals back home hyping the game on there, I probably would have had no idea about the clash against the ‘old enemy’ as nobody up north seems that bothered about rugby union (although admittedly many stayed in the bar to watch the rugby in the second half here in Clitheroe rather than watch the live football outside the bar).
Seconds after I had walked out for the second half, Radcliffe scored from nothing with the travelling support still in the bar missing the moment. It would be Dominic Smith coolly getting a hold of the ball in the box before firing home to make it 1-1.
I rejoined Martin to watch the second half with us now positioned in the corner by the entrance, where the words ‘CLITHEROE FC – WEMBLEY 96’ are proudly emblazoned across the wall in ode to the club’s 1996 FA Vase Final victory at Wembley 20 years ago.
The goal had caught Clitheroe off guard and slowly, but surely, they found their feet again in the game and began to dominate. The home team were creating opening and opening after, although every time the moment came to pull the trigger, the moment went by or the ball flew over.
Gonzales and Harries squandered good chances, but eventually Clitheroe would retake the lead. The away team failed to clear their lines and Louis Mayers curled the ball in superbly from the edge of the box to make it 2-1 much to the joy of Martin next to me.
The goal seemed to hinder proceedings and the rest of the game was a bit of a non-event and so I began incessantly rambling on about my travels a whole lot more to Martin, while he gave Scott encouraging looks and claps to keep him going until the end.
There was one final chance for the away team to steal a point when an almighty goalmouth scramble ensued near the Clitheroe goal line, but the the home team eventually got the ball away to secure back-to-back wins to lead them closer to the play-offs.
Full-time: Clitheroe 2- 1 Radcliffe Borough.
Despite probably talking his ear off during the 90 minutes, Martin was very kind and bought me a drink post match, whilst my home nation were getting well beaten by the English. Mark soon joined us in the bar for our post match analysis.
My train was rolling out of Clitheroe at 18:45 and with that in mind, I said my goodbyes to Martin and headed back into town for 1-2 more pub stops before rolling out. Mark had seen enough of Clitheroe FC too and opted to come along with me.
Somehow, we ended up back in a packed out New Inn as the locals crowded around the TVs to watch Wales attempt a spirited comeback in the rugby. No doubt when I actually watch Wales in the rugby, the Welshman in me erupts as I found myself cheering on my nation whilst Lancashire eyes stared me down. My emotions clearly got too much for me as I blurted out “For fuck sake,” at ine England turnover, which led to me getting a bollocking off a local sitting nearby as he proclaimed that they’d have “none of that sort of stuff in here!” It seemed I’d painted myself as some sort of thuggish Welshman with one spontaneous and emotional expletive. Wales’ comeback was close, but no cigar and once the 25-21 scoreline was confirmed in England’s favour we departed and made our final pub stop of the day.
My day in Clitheroe was finished off in the slightly classy-surroundings of the Inn at the station – unsurprisingly located across the road from the train station. In a move away from ale, my final beer of the day was to be my beloved Catalan lager Estrella Damm, before the seemed to soar towards 18:45 and it was time to leave Clitheroe.
I guess the real question that arose from this trip was why had I delayed going to Clitheroe for so long? My usual entourage of football travel companions would tell you that I do have a sort of criteria for a ‘classic Lost Boyos’ place and undoubtedly Clitheroe ticks many of the boxes on that criteria. A town with football, lots of pubs and a castle all within 5-10 minutes of each other is a winner in my books. Plus, you can walk your pet owls around the streets.
Highlights: Clitheroe Castle, nice town, New Inn, Ale House, decent ground, good clubhouse, good pie.
Low Points: Dunscar blonde beer (yuck), quite a scrappy game.
See all my photos from my trip to Clitheroe here.