Sandbach United v Greenalls Padgate St. Oswalds
Sandbach Community Football Centre / Cheshire League Premier Division /28th May 2016
Emil, Atherton Collieries’ Club Secretary, has always said that when it comes to a day out with me there is ‘always a story’ to be found. Generally, my only football experiences with Emil have come from when I’ve joined Gibbo at Atherton Colls’ home or on a Colls’ fans jolly day out. Atherton Colls’ season was long finished by the end of May, like virtually every other league, but there was still football to be found if you knew where to look: the Cheshire League. As May entered its final weekend, the Cheshire League was still to wrap things up. This presented me with the perfect opportunity to fit in one last game before the season finished and Gibbo also declared he was up for one last 2015/16 hurrah too. We were also going to be joined by Emil, who seemed curious to see how these ‘stories’ seem to levitate towards me. I felt pressure on my shoulders to deliver Emil a ‘proper’Lost Boyos outing and some of the usual wackiness that comes with them.
Today was also significant as it presented me with the opportunity to see my 100th game of the season and to end my 2015/2016 as a ‘centurion’. Two seasons ago I actually set myself the goal of getting to 100 games before I eventually finished on 107 games, but this season it was not a particular target for me at all. However, a football-packed January and February saw my game number rocket and by the time I got to 90 by the end of April I figured I’d be annoyed if I didn’t hit 100 by then. It had to be done.
So where was the destination of my 100th and final game of 2015/2016? Last year I finished up in Cheshire and more specifically Crewe, as we took in the rather bizarre fixture of Northern Ireland v Qatar at Crewe’s Gresty Road. There were definitely ‘stories’ that day! That day delivered one of the most fun-filled days of the season and so I put it to the county of Cheshire again to round things off for my Lost Boyos travels. I turned to Sandbach United, a club who would be playing their last game in the Cheshire League on this Saturday having been elected to play in the North West Counties next season.
I met up with Emil and Gibbo at Piccadilly station and we were soon on board the 10:04 from Manchester to Sandbach. It seemed none of us had ever been to Sandbach before and so we found ourselves heading through small communities with foreign names to us such as Chesford, Goostrey and Holmes Chapel. By 10:50 we did come across a name we did know, as we were pulling into Sandbach.
I’d done virtually no research into where the hell we were going or in fact where the football ground was located, but Gibbo had done a spot of swotting and informed us that getting to the town centre and the football ground would require a fair bit of walking. And so we began the trek along the rather pleasant, but quite anonymous road leading to Sandbach town centre. We commented that some of the more plusher houses looked like the sort you’d see in an American family sitcom, a comparison that was further heightened when we spot a basketball ring on the side of one such house. This was definitely Cheshire though with all its stereotypical ‘leafiness’ intact.
A solid 20 minutes after beginning our walk from the station, we arrived into the town centre. Gibbo claimed that he had read that one of Sandbach’s main landmarks is the drinking fountain that sits in the middle of one of the town’s roundabouts. As tourists for the day, we braved the traffic and crossed over to it only to find the thing full of bird shit. No water from here for us today. We ploughed on ahead.
Soon we were in the town square and it’s fair to say that the three of us were mightily impressed. It really was a beautiful little place with the town’s actual most renowned landmark sitting in the middle of the square: the Saxon Crosses. Apparently the crosses’ descendancy is a bit of a mystery with many speculating they could have been erected anytime between 7th to 9th century. Obviously, the three of us being such culture vultures, we headed over to examine them thoroughly and generally demonstrate awe towards them, right? No, we pretty much ignored them as we had Wetherspoons in our sights.
“You’re going to mention this on your blog like you always seem to these days aren’t you?” The fact that I’ve written this quote implies the answer to that question is ‘yes’. Gibbo was asking this question in reference to the fact that he had fallen in love with another barmaid. It seems we cannot take him anywhere these days without him falling in love with some sort of catering staff . Nothing was to come of his latest infatuation though and after the three of us had enjoyed our first Punk IPAs of the day, we decided we’d head to the town square and pick a pub from the few on offer there.
Gibbo and Emil went off to the bookies, so it was left to me to decide on the pub. Purely because it was a glorious day and it had the most benches outside, I plumped for the Ye Olde Black Bear. Behind the bar I met quite a character, who was busy training a young female member of staff by getting her to pull my pint of Hereford Pale Ale. His jokes to me and her were failing badly and I was quite happy to escape outside away from the awkward situation. It seemed he had been as equally weird to Gibbo and Emil as they eventually purchased their beers too. Clearly, this member of bar staff appealed little to Gibbo, but in case more barmaids were to come later in the day, Gibbo made a big deal of sitting facing the sun to get himself more tanned; like a good, selfless friend, I even moved seat to accommodate this request.
We now had three pubs left to visit in the town square and after a couple of minutes of deliberation, Emil took the lead and led us to the Lower Chequer in the corner of the square, whilst the nearby church bells banged on incessantly. On entering I was immediately distracted by the sheepskin-covered chairs for some reason…before we were then served by the very friendly lady behind the bar, who was well-versed in ales.
Back outside we headed to the pub’s beer garden out the front and as we sipped away at our pints of Joules, I noticed a familiar face taking photos of the Saxon Crosses across the square. I’d bumped into Prescot fan and photographer David at Prescot and Nelson in recent weeks and here he is was once again in a town frequented by Lost Boyos. I called him across and he was happy to join us for the rest of the day. He was definitely winning in the ‘hipster’ stakes too with his San Marino national shirt (actually bought in San Marino) and blazer combo; none of us could compete with that. It was also humorous having David’s very well spoken voice accompany us alongside Gibbo and Emil’s much more broad Lancashire tones, not to mention my twisted Welsh/Northern accent. It proved quite a contrast. We then endured a pony-tailed man, who Emil nicknamed ‘Swampy’, talk about the pros and cons of the double lead he had bought for the two dogs that were bouncing around us, before carrying on our pub crawl of Sandbach town square.
We headed next door to the Saxon Grill. However, we lasted seconds in there after the barmaid actively encouraged us to leave, as apparently the Market Tavern across the street would be more to our ale-seeking tastes. ‘It’s better than here too” – not the most glowing advertising for her own place, but we appreciated the honesty and headed a few yards across the square to the Market Tavern.
It was noted later that all the bar staff we’d met in Sandbach had been interesting: we’d had the weird man trying to be funny in Ye Olde Black Bear; the lovely, friendly lady in the Lower Chequer; and the lady who didn’t even want us in the Saxon Grill. So, we were wondering what to expect from bar 5 of the day. Nobody it seemed, as no-one showed to serve for a while, but then the clatter of footsteps confirmed the presence of someone coming. The gentleman that emerged was not exactly what we expected. Short, flattened bleach blonde hair, glasses, skinny and a rather camp demeanour – I think Emil summed it up best when he just muttered on his emergence, “My god…”
We’d realised by now that walking to the ground would be an arduous undertaking, so we asked our bleach-haired barman pal for a taxi number (he failed to provide us one) before finding one on online that would take us to the ground at 14:40 – twenty minutes before kick-off.
Usually when we head to such footballing outposts, we are the ones who end up directing the taxi drivers to the football ground with many not realising that their small town has a team; so it was a nice change to have a taxi driver who knew where he was taking us. The walk to the ground would have definitely been a long one, but a mere 10 minute taxi drive at the cost of £4 got us to the home of Sandbach United.
The football ground is located away from the town and is pretty much in the middle of some fields in the middle of nowhere; think a less glamorous AFC Fylde. That’s not to say that the facilities here were not up to scratch though. After paying our £2 entry I was surprised with the facilities we found there. Okay, so it is a bit basic with two sheds (yes, actual sheds) behind the goal acting as stands and another large building housing the club bar, changing rooms and all the other usual amenities. What was there though was rather plush with me even being enchanted by the elegant brickwork of the dugouts (they really were fancy I promise you).
The doors to the club bar were wide open with a series of high tables on the patio being used by punters enjoying their beer in the sunshine. We figured we may as well join enjoy everyone else basking in the Cheshire sunshine with a beer.
Also, strolling towards the clubhouse was groundhopping royalty: talkSPORT’s Tony Incenzo – the boradcaster who has visited over 2000 and is a true obsessive when it comes to groundhopping. Even if you are not familiar with his talkSPORT work, then anyone groundhopper who frequents Twitter will know of him thanks to his relentless quest to ‘like’ almost every single tweet that contains the words ‘groundhop’ or groundhopping’ or anything along those lines The action has taken on a cult of its own with recipients of the ‘likes’ then immediately tweeting #LikedByIncenzo. Well get a liking from Incenzo would not suffice for me today and so when he came over to say hello to Gibbo, who had met him a couple of times before (and even signed inside his scrapbook on his visit to Atherton Colls), I forced him into a double thumbs up photo – although he seemed sceptical of the whole situation at first. Immediately I was tweeting #PhotoedWithIncenzo (of course, he liked this later that later afternoon). Today was my 233rd football ground; it was Tony’s 2054th. I’ve got a long way to go yet…
Not long after our arrival, the teams were out on the pitch with Sandbach in claret and blue and their elaborately named opponents, Greenalls Padgate St. Oswalds, in a rather fetching green shirt. I remained on the patio for the opening exchanges, whilst Gibbo and Emil headed around to behind the Padgate goal to make themselves known to former Colls keeper and penalty hero Lee Novak, who was in goals for the away team today.
The game was a slow starter as I watched on from the patio sipping away at my pint. I then received a tweet off Paul Moran, who I’d met at Bootle FC a few months previous and who does a spot of non-league photography. It turned out Paul was in attendance here at Sandbach too and so on finishing my pint I went to find him. Remembering his love of Argentinian football, he was easy to spot in his Argentina football tracksuit. I should also mention here that his dad is rather famous too: Ronne Moran – former Liverpool captain, coach and member of the iconic ‘Boot Room’, who’d even briefly been caretaker manager at Anfield twice during the early 90s. More importantly, Ronnie was wearing a flat cap today, so a photo with the Liverpool legend was needed. It was great to catch up with Paul and a pleasure to meet his dad.
By now, the home team had taken the lead. With a lot of work to do at the edge of the box, the Sandbach attacker launched a low shot which went past former Colls favourite Novak to get the scoring under way.
There was not exactly a whole host of goalscoring chances, but the football on show was good with both teams trying to play neat and tidy, attacking football. I’d taken a particular shine to Sandbach’s no.4 Tommy Watkin who was bossing things from the middle.
The next goal was to fall to the away team though, as a ball into the box saw the GSPO attacker produce a clinical finish to make it 1-1 and to send us in all even at half-time.
There was still time for me to have one of my childish ‘chase after the ball’ moments, when a young lad tried to punt a stray ball back onto the pitch only for it to curve dramatically and head out behind the goal. Not to worry, I was there to claim the mishit and show him how it was really done. Sort of. My effort made the pitch at least, but went horribly wide of the keeper who I was passing it back to. “You wouldn’t even get near our reserves,” spat one old-timer behind the goals. My dream of getting a trial from the touchline will have to wait a while longer.
Half-time: Sandbach United 1 – 1 Greenalls Padgate St. Oswalds.
As the half finished, I had completed my lap of the ground and I’d decided that I really did like it here at Sandbach United. Obviously the place still needed a lot added to it for the club to progress further, but what was here was great with lovely views of the rural surroundings too; plus, the sheds behind the goal were in good nick to considering they must have taken a pounding from stray shots all season. Clearly, The Football Foundation and Nike (who both had their logos everywhere) have done a great job at creating a good base for football in the area. Nike had even put up possibly my favourite corner flags of the season – which is possibly the most groundhopper-ish thing I’ve said all season.
There was enough time to fit in a quick pint, before we were soon back out, this time congregating over on the side of the pitch opposite the bar. We couldn’t watch the game though until we had investigated the mass pile of seats just thrown in the corner of the ground. We’d heard word that these were some left overs from Stoke’s Britannia Stadium and that they were going to be used as part of a new stand here, but whether this is true or not I’m unsure.
The second half was a great showing of football and once again my favourite Hopkin was bossing proceedings. Skilful, powerful and with an eye for a pass – I declared that I had found the Cheshire League’s answer to Paul Pogba. Sadly, for my latest non-league icon, it would be Greenalls Padgate who would take the lead. A great through ball saw the attacker skip around the on rushing keeper and score easily to make it 2-1.
Cheshire Pogba was now looking absolutely knackered in the middle, but was still pinging accurate passes left, right and centre. However, it seemed his legs would let him down and without us even noticing at first, he disappeared from the pitch. Sad times.
The closing stages of the game were compelling, although my personal highlight of the game would come in redeeming myself for my earlier shithouse passing from behind the goal. A stray ball headed our way and Gibbo was the one to chase after it this time and attempt to kick it over the fence. His pass fell short as it headed towards my arse, but as the spirit of Zlatan seemed to suddenly flood my body, I took a step back before delicately backheel volleying the ball back over my shoulder, over the fence and right into the hands of the player about to take the throw-in. Both clubs should have been trying to snap me up for that piece of touchline razzmatazz alone!
There were a few half chances for either team, but not much else to report and so Sandbach United closed their time in the Cheshire League with a loss.
Full-time: Sandbach United 1 – 2 Greenalls Padgate St. Oswalds.
As it seemed we were stranded here for a bit, we decided to plop ourselves down on the comfy leather sofas in the bar with one final drink. A taxi was booked and as we thought we’d met enough interesting bar staff for one day, we opted to get it to take us back to the train station.
Debate on the train back revolved around the idea of whether we should go into perennial post-Lost Boyos day out pub The Piccadilly Tap; for a change, I was the one arguing against visiting the Tap, as I really wanted to get home to watch the Champions League Final. But, me being me, I obviously caved in by the time our train was rolling back into Manchester and so, as almost always after such outings, the day finished up in the Piccadilly Tap; although we had just the one on this pleasant Saturday evening as I rushed back to grab an Indian takeaway to accompany my evening in watching the glamour of the Champions League final. It seemed that I’d preferred Cheshire League to Champions League football though, as I fell asleep for a good chunk of the second half – although whether that was down to the game’s entertainment factor or the fact I had been drinking all day is debatable.
So, Sandbach United had brought the curtain down on my 2015/16. It had not been as mental as last year’s season finale, but I guess an 11th tier game out in rural Cheshire was always going to be a struggle to top last year’s Northern Ireland funday. Disappointingly too, I’d failed to deliver Emil one of my proper random misadventures, but he seemed to have enjoyed his day nonetheless.
I had no idea what to expect from Sandbach and Sandbach United, yet I had enjoyed both and I’m sure that when they step up next season, a lot of fans of other NWCFL clubs will enjoy visiting next season. Sandbach is a lovely little town.
Game 100 done and for the second time in my Lost Boyos groundhopping I can call myself a centurion. I didn’t create as much fanfare as to when I accomplished the achievement 2 seasons ago, but I was happy to get there. No need for sentimentality and reflection here though – I’ll save that for the upcoming annual end of season awards blog coming soon.
Highlights: nice town, lots of pubs, good Spoons, rural football ground, good facilities, decent game, meeting Paul again and Ronnie Moran, Tommy Watkin.
Low Points: ground a fair trek away, not much to the ground.
See all my photos from my trip Sandbach United here.