Lost in…Widnes

Liverpool Ladies v Manchester City Women

Select Security Stadium / Women’s Super League / 25th May 2016

“I’d rather have AIDS than go to Widnes.” – Joseph Gibbons

Widnes is one of the few towns in the north-west that I’ve never even stepped foot in. I did once suggest going to Widnes when we were in Starbucks deliberating where to go one Saturday afternoon, when Gibbo shot the idea with his glowing review of the town quoted above. Gibbo can be prone to the odd spot of hyperbole, so I didn’t read too much into it, although I did wonder why he had such opprobrium for the place. Obviously, I was keen to find out was Widnes the cesspit Gibbo implied that it was.

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Welcome to Widnes.

Widnes FC actually play at the rugby league stadium – a stadium clearly too big for a NWCFL club of their stature – so visiting there wasn’t exactly propelled to the top of my priority list. However, Wednesday nights are not exactly my most action-packed evenings so when a chance to visit on a Wednesday evening arose, I figured I may as well take it – I decided to dub the day ‘Widnesday’… I wouldn’t be watching Widnes FC though: this Widnesday was all about women’s football, more specifically Liverpool Ladies v Manchester City Women.

Gibbo was once again offered the opportunity to join me in Widnes, but it seemed his views on women’s football were as scornful as his views on Widnes. In fact, he declared he couldn’t think of anything worse to do on a Wednesday night than spending time in Widnes, in a rugby league stadium, watching women’s football. His views were clear and so I let him be.

I was not to be deterred by my groundhopping pal’s disparaging comments on women’s football or Widnes, so after a busy day in work, I headed straight for Irlam train station and soon found myself arriving into Widnes around 4pm. For those not as familiar with the geography of the north-west, Widnes can be found about 15 miles east of Liverpool and 8 miles west of Warrington with the town sitting alongside the northern bank of the River Mersey.

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Vcitoria Park seemed nice…

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…although this view may have spoiled the scenery a bit.

Finding the town centre was a walk in the park…literally, as I headed from the train station through the pleasant Victoria Park. From here I got my first glimpse of what Widnes is probably most renowned for; through the greenery of the park and down through the streets of terraced housing, I could see the huge chemical plant towering over the landscape in the distance. The town was once mere moorland, but the introduction of the chemical plants saw the town blossom and grow, with the town still being a big manufacturer of chemicals to this day. I was in search of chemicals of my own – specifically ethanol – and that was why my Google Maps was directing me towards a familiar name: Wetherspoons.

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Spoons! Spoons! Spoons!

Widnes’ Wetherspoons is located at the top of the town centre and is called The Premier; with a name like that, it won’t surprise you to find out that the building was the town’s local cinema from 1915 until the 1960s. I’d not eaten since lunchtime so some food was needed. Now, I love peri-peri chicken as much as the next person, but undoubtedly out of Spoons’ midweek ‘clubs’, Chicken Club is the most inferior, but I rolled with it and with a pint and chicken in my belly, I headed further into Widnes town centre.

Next stop was The Imperial, a rather more tacky-looking place which was clearly trying to be upmarket, yet I suspected was a hotbed of a chavs on the dancefloor on a Friday/Saturday evening. Maybe I was just annoyed with the place because of the sign on the door that made it clear that caps were not welcome – and we all know its #NoFlatCapNoParty. One pint here, whilst I watched the season highlights of Ligue 1 on BT Sports, and away I went from this cap-hating establishment.

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The cap-hating Imperial.

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Widnes town centre.

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The Derby.

I decided I’d just head towards the ground by this time and see what happened en route. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to go in the rather crappy looking The Derby pub and it was in here I’d witnessed one of the strangest events of my travels this season. It seemed The Derby was the place to be after the working day in Widnes with it proving much livelier than everywhere else I had witnessed on this evening. The pub was a bit ‘rough and ready’ and so I wasn’t too surprised to find a lad trying to covertly sell stuff out of his small suitcase to punters. I thought he was either peddling a) dodgy pirate DVDs or b) drugs. So, as he approached the lads near me I was surprised to hear him ask in whispers, “Do you want any Kit Kats lads?” Now, I’d like to think I’m fairly streetwise and I thought that this must be a street name for something more sinister, but it seemed that he really was just selling Kit Kats as I witnessed some middle-aged women purchase some from him. There must be a black market for KitKats in Widnes, as soon the barmaid was shouting “Not you again.! Get out!” to which the lad dropped his case, spilling KitKats on the floor in front of me, before tossing them back in his bag and scarpering. Really, really odd stuff. Following my tweets about the incident, respect to the several people who replied along the lines of ‘He should have been given a break’. Normality was needed so off to the stadium I headed.

There was a small crowd of people in Liverpool FC-branded clothing heading in the direction of the stadium, so I decided to follow them. 10 minutes after leaving the pub, I was directed down an alley heading towards a residential area and the stadium just seemed to pop up from nowhere. For the second midweek game in a row, I had to go past a bowls game to get to the ground, but here I was outside the Select Security Stadium. My first thoughts? ‘Meh.’ My pulse wasn’t exactly racing.

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First view of the ground.

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Outside the stadium.

A ground had stood on this spot since 1895, when Widnes’ rugby league team began playing on the site at Lowerhouse Lane. The ground would be known as Naughton Park for most of its lifetime after club secretary Tom Naughton raised funds to stop the council building housing on the site in the 1930s by buying the ground outright for the rugby club. Sadly, he died in a car crash before the deal was formally concluded and so the ground became known as Naughton Park. However, once financial difficulties struck in the 90s, the club were forced to sell the ground to Halton council. The council, along with the rugby club, decided to build a new ground on the site of Naughton Park, which was completed in 1997 and then added to over the following decade with all the usual other amenities you associate with modern grounds: conference suites, function rooms, a gym and even a rugby league museum. The stadium hosted a whole load of teams in over the past two decades too: the current teams who call this hoem are Widnes Vikings (rugby league), Widnes FC, Liverpool Ladies and Everton Ladies, but the stadium has hosted the likes of St Helens RFC and even the old Runcorn FC whilst the former built their new stadium and the latter after selling their ground (before going bust completely).

Kick-off was looming, so I headed straight into the ground, which cost £6 to enter for tonight’s Women’s Super League game. On the concourse, it seemed the stadium folk had maybe underestimated the crowd heading here tonight, as the queue for food and drink was already ridiculous with only two members of staff manning the food/drink outlet. No grub for me then and so up into the stand I headed.

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In the ground – does anybody knwo the name of the local rugby league team?

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For some reason the exclamation mark at the end of ‘SELECT!’ really annoyed me.

The stadium was still failing to capture my imagination and on heading pitchside it sort of lived up to what I was expecting: four single standing, all-seater stands and a horrible-looking plastic pitch. At least the attendance was good with over 900 here to watch tonight’s game. The Liverpool fans had congregated over one side of the stand, so I veered right towards the Man City fans, since I suppose they are my women’s team of choice having seen them twice before. Manchester City Women are currently top of the league with a 100% record from their first 5 games and they had brought a fair few fans over from Manchester

As the teams came out onto the pitch, just like the men’s game, the Liverpool team were greeted by You’ll Never Walk Alone. It wasn’t exactly the most rousing version of the song you’ll ever hear, but if you’ve ever been to Anfield for a standard Premier League game it’s not as spine-tingling as they make out anyway (at least it hasn’t been from all my experiences of going there with Swansea).

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YNWA.

I had never been to a women’s football match until this season, but this was to be my 4th of the season (3rd time watching Manchester City Women). In a bizarre trend, every women’s game I had seen so far had ended with the winning team scoring 6 goals. I was well aware that Liverpool and Manchester City are two of the better teams in the league and may cancel each other out, but I was still expecting goals to be on the cards.

The opening moments set the tone for a dull game and the most interesting battle occurring in the ground was which set of fans could shout “Oh when the (insert relevant colour – Reds or Blues) go marching in!” the loudest; City fans had brought a small drum with them, so I think they won.

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Match action.

The most exciting player of the pitch for me was Liverpool’s winger Shanice van den Sanden, who looked terrifyingly fast and powerful at times. She had a great chance to open the scoring as she burst through on goal only to scuff her shot wide.

There were a few half-hearted long range shots, but there was nothing really to get excited about. The lad a few rows in front of me had the right idea by bringing in a big box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts to keep himself entertained.

Half-time: Liverpool Ladies 0 – 0 Manchester City Women.

Once again, queueing was ridiculous at half-time with the queue heading along the whole concourse and out into the stand. There was no point even bothering. Back up to the stand I headed in hope of seeing some goals – there’s always goals in women’s football I’ve learned.

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Were they waiting for a new signing on the concourse at half-time?

How wrong I was. The second half was as dull as the first, even though Manchester City were making more of a go of it now. Lucy Bronze produced two good efforts, one which had to be tipped over the bar, before Liverpool probably had the best chance of the half to win the game, when Laura Coombs sent a header goalwards, only for it to crash off the bar.

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Match action.

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Match action.

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Double thumbs up time.

There was still time for my favourite women’s footballer Daphne Corboz to come off the bench, a player now dubbed by us as ‘Hipsterella’, purely for being a cultured American playmaker (I’ve got to give credit to Craig for the nickname otherwise he’ll kick off that I didn’t acknowledge it was his idea), but not even her cultured, playmaking ways could turn the game. Amazingly, it was to finish 0 – 0 – my fourth 0-0 of the season.

Full-time: Liverpool Ladies 0 – 0 Manchester City Women.

After such a yawnfest, I needed something exciting: Punk IPA at Spoons it was to be. It seemed a few others had the same idea too as there were a few blue and white scarves in there and I was guessing they hadn’t waited until the final whistle to head to the pub.

Back at Widnes station, I found my pal Rob McKay, who is now too big time to sit with me in the lowly commoners’ seats, as he was doing press for the game tonight. As well as Rob being at the station, he was with a Scottish lad called Andrew, who I later learned was Andrew Gibney – a French football aficionado and journalist who I’d been following on a Twitter for a long while now. Both Rob and Andrew are well-versed in women’s football, so I just smiled and nodded as they discussed the topic on the train home.

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Good to meet Andrew Giney on the train home.

The game had been a shocker tonight and the town of Widnes hadn’t exactly sparked my imaginative. To be honest, the evening had not been the most memorable (apart from the ‘Kit Kat Man’) and I was happy to be heading home. Not many people will know that the Simon & Garfunkel song Homeward Bound was actually penned by Paul Simon at Widnes train station as he waited for an early morning train back to London. “If you know Widnes, then you’ll understand how I was desperately trying to get back to London as quickly as possible. Homeward Bound came out of that feeling.” said Paul Simon. I know the feeling Paul. I was happy to be back in Manchester and to get home.

Game 99 of the season done. Onwards to my final and 100th game of the season 3 days later.

Highlights: nice Wetherspoons, the ‘Kit Kat’ saga.

Low Points: dull stadium, dull game.

See all my photos from my evenin in Widnes here.

 

One thought on “Lost in…Widnes

  1. Hmm. Interesting post about the town of my birth but you are entitled to that opinion. You know that old saying “Give a dog a bad name and it sticks?”…..this is a classic case of that. I was born in Widnes in the 1950’s and lived there until I was 19…….life was I guess just like many towns in the North of England but it had an identity back then – nowadays Widnes could be any town anywhere in the country with the same set up. Notice I say country? Because very few towns have kept their identity as the pub chains and high street chains take over every town. The Paul Simon tale has a lot to answer for – at a stroke he gave Widnes a black name and the perception of Widnes was set. I returned to Widnes for a visit a couple of years ago and although it wasn’t as bad as I feared – the soul of the town was no longer there. Like I said – if you want to base your verdict about Widnes on a visit to see a football match then that is fine. My reply is just an attempt to show you that Widnes is not unique in being a souless town but a good town it was….until Paul Simon put his oar in :-). For all that – I enjoyed your story into the unknown 🙂

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