Padiham v Runcorn Linnets
The Arbories / North West Counties Football League Premier Division /7th May 2016
Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. That’s the petering away of my time living in the north-west and, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I still have a huge list of grounds I wish I’d gone to during my time living in Manchester. Now, only 2 or so months remain of my time as an adopted northerner and the list, despite my best efforts, hardly seems to lessening. Frankly, there’ll still be grounds I wanted to visit, but never did, when I finally head for pastures new – yet that was and will always be the case in the perpetual hunt for ‘ticks’ in this pursuit known as groundhopping. Maybe it’s just an excuse to move back to the north in the future. This realisation has almost made me feel guilty about the places I haven’t visited and so my decision making on where to go before I leave has been higgedly-piggedly to say the least. Hence, why once again I dumped the decision making process in the hands of my Twitter followers.
As much as I enjoyed visiting Nelson FC and their Little Wembley home the previous weekend, I suppose there was a slight staleness to events due to the game being a rather meaningless mid-table clash at the season’s end with Nelson, nor their opponents Maine Road, having anything to play for. However, this weekend coming up was the final weekend of the NWCFL Premier Division and there was still plenty at stake for a few clubs. This weekend I wanted a game with some stakes, so I delved into the NWCFL Premier Division fixture list and league table to search for a potential ‘humdinger’ and then broke my options down into three game shortlist:
- Padiham v Runcorn Linnets: could win the league if they won at Padiham and league leaders Colne dropped points away at 1874 Northwich.
- Bacup Borough v Daisy Hill: Bacup were in the driving seat for the final play-off place and a win or bettering the teams below them would see them keep that spot.
- Silsden v Bootle: Silsden needed a win to stay in the league.
I put all three games to my Twitter public and after 24 hours of voting it seemed my ‘tweeps’ wanted me to head to the potentially title-deciding clash at Padiham. Any of the games would have satisfied me with me hearing great things about all three clubs and grounds, but I suppose a potential league-deciding game was the best place to head. For the second Saturday in a row, I was heading into the heart of Lancashire and another satellite town of Burnley.
It would be Burnley itself that I would head first today on board x43 ‘Witch Way’ bus with my journey fittingly soundtracked by me almost perpetually pressing repeat on Radiohead’s latest effort Burn the Witch (such a tune). I arrived into Burnley so early that I even had time to visit both Wetherspoons in town, having never frequented either of them before on previous visits to Burnley, and the clock hadn’t even struck 12pm yet. It seemed I was not the only one out early in Burnley either as the place was awash with the claret shirts of the local team – for good reason too.
The Bank Holiday Monday earlier in the week had seen Burnley FC secure promotion to the Premier League and a win in their early afternoon televised game at Charlton would see them win the league outright. Obviously the town was out in force for such a fixture. But with kick-off still an hour away in that game, I headed back to Burnley bus station and hopped on the first bus to Padiham.
Padiham can be found 3 miles from Burnley and near Pendle Hill with the River Calder running through it. Like virtually everywhere in this part of Lancashire, Padiham is a classic market town-cum-industrial town with the village’s economy thriving from the coal mining and weaving industry once present there. However, also in a familiar tale for the area, the town has seen an economical decline since the crumbling of local industry.
Padiham was the typically hilly sort of Lancashire town that I had expected it to be. The pub across the road from the bus stop, the Hand and Shuttle, seemed as good a place to start as any. And it really would be. Inside I found a small collection of friendly locals with many trying to watch the Charlton v Burnley game on their phones with the bar being devoid of Sky television. Although less interested in the Burnley fixture was the gentleman playing darts in a 1968 West Brom shirt.
As usually happens in places like this, questions soon turned to what the hell I was doing travelling to Padiham to watch the local club before one lad intervened, pointed to a gentleman at the bar and declared, “He’ll give you the tour probably.” Indeed, the chap next to me did prove remarkably friendly and it transpired that this was the club’s ‘Commercial Manager’ Bob Clark. I must have been speaking to him for a matter of minutes, before he kindly gave me his card and insisted that entry into the game was on him today. I stated I would still pay entry, but Bob was very insistent so I compromised and said I’d spend plenty of money in the bar (as per usual) and donate the entry fee to the charity we’ve been raising money for since the turn of the year for the big NPL Group v Lost Boyos charity match.
I was well aware that there was a junction in Padiham with three pubs on each other’s doorsteps, yet the locals in the Hand and Shuttle were adamant I should avoid this part of town known ominously by them as the ‘Bermuda Triangle’. Their repeated warnings just got me more and more intrigued and so it was to the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ I headed next.
I decided to pick the first pub I arrived at of the three and so I headed into the Starkie Arms wondering if I would disappear into thin air like the poor souls consumed by the infamous western region of the North Atlantic Ocean; I’m writing this now, so obviously I’m alive and well. In fact, I wondered if all the other customers had evaporated into thin air as it seemed that I was the only customer in there – even a barmaid took a long time to appear. With it being a sunny day and through fear of vanishing, I headed to the beer garden out the front to watch the Padiham traffic go by. I was soon bored though by the lack of activity (there’s only so many times you can check Twitter and Facebook on your phone) and so I chugged away at my drink so I could head to the much more heralded Free Gardener Arms.
I immediately understood why this was indeed much more heralded: great pub. Plus, this pub was in far more of a party mood with the small pub rammed with Burnley fans watching on as their side led 1-0 down in London. With my ale in hand, I watched on as Burnley then scored a 2nd and then a 3rd and the party was in full swing. It was now approaching 2pm and so I thought I should head up to my final pub stop of the day.
Rather conveniently, at the bottom of the lane leading up to Padiham FC’s ground, sits a lovely pub called the Hare and Hound. Getting there involved ascending the hills of Padiham town until I spotted another group of Claret fans celebrating outside the pub. However, within, there was less sign of Burnley life and more of a Runcornian (?) feel to proceedings. Linnets had brought a hell of a following with them into this part of Lancashire today, obviously with them potentially having the opportunity to seize the league title this afternoon at the Arbories. I resisted the urge to purchase a pint of Flat Cap (I’m not a fan of it ironically) and instead purchased the other ale on tap (name already forgotten) before finding myself a place to watch the final minutes of Burnley’s game in this rather snug establishment.
The sun was blazing down on the streets of Padiham as I headed out the door and made the 30 second walk up the lane to the ground. I flashed my Bob Clark business card and was allowed through for free, although I was disappointed to learn that Bob hadn’t yet arrived, as the least I could do was buy him a drink. Instead it was just myself I’d be buying drinks for for now, but at least I got to enjoy my beer in the sunshine on the patioed area in front of the clubhouse.
Padiham FC are one of the oldest clubs in Lancashire, having being formed in 1878, and they were one of the first to support the legalisation of professional football. Although, this would prove to the club’s detriment, as they failed to establish themselves and compete with the bigger clubs nearby such as Burnley and Blackburn. The club folded in 1916 and lost their original home on the banks of the River Calder with the ground remaining dormant.
Padiham would re-emerge after World War II at a newly-opened ground: The Arbories Memorial Sports Ground – the club’s current home. They restarted in the Lancashire Combination, before becoming founder members of the North West Counties. where they’ve played ever since, aside from a 2 year stint in the Northern Premier League Division One North for the two seasons before the current one.
I was a big fan of The Arboroies. As Gibbo had stated when I sought his opinion of the place before visiting: “It’s your sort of ground.” And it definitely is. The Padiham locals probably wouldn’t want me comparing it to their neighbours, but the ground reminded me a bit of Colne’s Holt House with the Lancashire hills rolling around in the background and those traditional terraced housing zig-zagging along the landscape down below. The Arbories only has one small seating stand with the rest of the ground largely consisting of sheltered standing terraces. However, regular readers will know that I have a strange thing for a good grass banking at a non-league ground and The Arbories definitely has one of those with one side of the pitch being completely dominated by a grassy gradient. It seemed the signs forbidding anyone from standing on the banking were completely redundant, as many had already taken to the grass to sunbathe and to lounge around with their dogs.
The stand behind the near goals was a scene of green and yellow as the Linnets fans packed the space out with their flags, banners and their general attire, as they greeted the teams onto the pitch. There was definitely a buzz in the air from the away fans and even before a ball had been kicked, I actually started to believe that they may actually pull off their unlikely league triumph today. Linnets needed to win here at Padiham and Colne to lose at 1874 Northwich, although if Linnets could win by 6 or more here and Colne draw, they would be crowned champions on goal difference.
Before talking football, I need to applaud Padiham FC here for their classy act before kick-off. Through my pal Rob, I do have a bit of a soft spot for West Didsbury & Chorlton FC (the club he’s secretary at), but there was to be sad news coming to of the club this week with club stalwart and Vice-President Rob Turley sadly passing away aged 41. From my experiences with West, I’d met Rob a couple of times and although I can’t proclaim to know him well, he always came across as a very friendly, warm-hearted man and was always more than welcoming. I know he is held in high regard at the club and across the league,l so it was nice to see Padiham to hold a minute’s applause for the man before the game. Very well-played Padiham FC and nice to see another example of the non-league football family standing together like always.
From the off, Linnets looked the better team with their large fanbase cheering them on from behind the goals. With pie and gravy in hand, I began making my way around to the banking. I didn’t make it all the way around before Linnets had taken the lead.
With the ball bouncing 20 yards from goal, Kyle Hamid took his time for the ball to bounce one more time, before launching an unstoppable volley into the far corner. I thought to myself that there couldn’t have been many better goals scored at the ground this season, but I was to be proved wrong moments later.
Eventually, I made it around to my pal Lewis, who appeared in a few Lost Boyos blogs a couple of years ago. He’s gone big time since the days of frequenting pubs before crappy non-league matches with me though, as he now helps coach at Linnets and coaches at Liverpool FC, where his Facebook photos make me jealous as he travels Scandinavia coaching kids. Today, he found himself on the banking filming for Linnets and I’m not sure we could have had a better view of the utter worldie of a goal we were about to witness.
The brilliantly named River Humphreys controlled the ball from just in front of the halfway line and then took a few steps towards goal; with no-one closing down and with hardly any run up, Humphreys let rip with a ferocious 35-40 yard who which soared through the air and crashed over the line via the crossbar. An absolute pearler and most definitely a contender for the best goal I’ve seen on my travels this season.
It was the 36th minute and Linnets were definitely going all out for goals, however, up on the banking was a more relaxed affair with many sunbathing and just enjoying the weather. There were a lot of dogs too and so I made sure to capture a photo with Alfie for my pal Non-League Dogs (she’d asked me to say hello – she has dog friends at every non-league ground in the country it seems).
Padiahm battled on until the end of the first half and only had the two wonder goals to blame for heading in 2 goals down at half-time.
Half-time: Padiham 0 – 2 Runcorn Linnets.
A quick top up was needed at half-time and then I headed back out onto the patio as we waited for the teams to re-emerge. The Linnets were getting a bit excitable as Colne were drawing 0-0 at 1874 Northwich meaning that if that result turned in 1874’s favour and Linnets hung on here, the title was theirs. Admittedly, as a neutral, I was more in favour of Linnets deploying the gung-ho strategy and going for the 6 goals.
It wasn’t too long before Linnets had their 3rd and once again it was Hamid with the goal. The finish from Hamid was brilliant again, as a ball across the box seemed to have eluded him, before he swung a foot at the ball and directed into the far corner, leaving the incoming goalie stranded. 3-0 and time to carry on pushing for 6.
Linnets pushed and pushed, but were seemingly not getting anywhere in the closing 20 minutes. Instead, with the sun still out, I began to admire the view from atop the banking and I have to say that The Arbories, and Padiham below it, looked wonderful on this late Saturday afternoon. Gibbo was spot on – this was definitely my sort of place.
Sadly for Linnets, with 10 minutes left here in Padiham, word began to spread that Colne had scored at 1874 and thus looked en route to the lift the league title. Linnets continued to knock on the door though and they were eventually awarded with a 4th goal late on when a dangerous cross led to Padiham’s defender putting the ball over his own line.
Full-time: Padiham 0 – 4 Runcorn Linnets.
The evening would prove a disappointing one for Linnets as Colne hung onto their 1-0 lead at 1874 Northwich to win the title and promotion to the Evo-Stik Leagues. Well done to Colne who have a great team and a very loyal and vocal bunch of fans too – I’m sure they’ll do well next year. However, I had to feel sorry for the Linnets staff and fans around me who looked dejected, as everyone in the ground applauded. Amazingly, Linnets had hit 98 points and finished second; plus, this was the 3rd season in a row they had got over 90 points and not achieved promotion. As the famous end of season inspiriting, yet rather uninspiring, cliche goes in football: “there’s always next season.” Padiham had been delightful hosts anyway, but it was now time to leave, although I did try to find Bob one last time to thank him as I hadn’t seen him all game. I did give him a Lost Boyos sticker in the pub, so hopefully he comes across this and he can read my thanks here and accept my apologies for not meeting up with him to give me the lowdown on his club, a club he clearly cares deeply about.
As I had sort of predicted, I ended up back in the Hand and Shuttle because of the friendly atmosphere to the place earlier (and also because the bus stop for the bus back to Burnley was conveniently positioned in front of it). Incredibly, the place had the exact same punters as earlier. It seemed that the locals are loyal to their pubs here and they were soon around me asking about how I had enjoyed Padiham; although most of the questions seem to revolve around the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ and what had I made of my experiences there. I think I’m going to have to have a night out in Padiham one day just to see what all the fuss is about those three pubs and their notoriety. Pub notoriety actually leads me nicely onto the end of my day…
Back in Burnley, after the short 15 bus journey and with the sun still out, there was only one place I wanted to visit: the Swan Inn. Our first and only (and I presumed) last visit to the Swan Inn is still talked about to this day. I chronicled the infamous pub visit from 2011 in my Burnley blog from last season, but to summarise quickly: 3 of us walked into the pub wearing Swans shirts before a Championship game between Burnley and Swansea (despite warnings not to drink in town centre); the pub seemed quiet so we bought a beer in there; it was a hot day so we went into the beer garden with aforementioned beers; in the beer garden we found a gathering of Burnley FC’s more notorious-looking fans surrounded by flags emblazoned with the infamous words ‘Suicide Squad; they didn’t take kindly to Swans fans in ‘their’ pub; we got mocked and threatened, but tried to be brave for 15 minutes; eventually, downed drinks and scarpered away from the place as ‘boys’ were coming over from another pub for us apparently. Fun times. So, with no Swans shirt on tonight, I headed back to to the Swan Inn as a sort of cathartic experience; I just had to prey that Burnley fans weren’t passionate Super Mario fans as I was wearing a rather garish Sonic the Hedgehog t-shirt.
In the beer garden, still adorned with Burnley flags, I found that there were some still celebrating Burnley’s league triumph from earlier in the day, but it was all rather subdued and I enjoyed my pint in the Lancashire sunshine undisturbed and unthreatened this time. Quite a nice pub is the Swan really.
The Arbories was now ticked off that slowly shrinking list of ‘grounds I should have visited in the northwest when I had more time’ and I was delighted that it had been. I had chosen (well, Twitter had chosen for me) the perfect day to come too, as the ground is very much a ground more suited for the sunshine. A very friendly club and they treated Runcorn’s potentially big occasion brilliantly. Well done Padiham FC and all the best for next season.
Highlights: good pubs, free entry (cheers Bob!), nice club bar, friendly club, good atmosphere created by Linnets, scenic ground, two wonder goals, surviving the Swan.
Low Points: didn’t experience the real ‘Bermuda Triangle’.
See all my photos of my day out in Padiham (and some of Burnley) here.