Atherton Collieries v Bolton Wanderers
Alder Street / Preseason Friendly / 2nd July 2016
It’s not for everyone, but I adore preseason football: beer, sunshine, random scenic football grounds and with the fixtures being meaningless, none of that stress football brings along with it at times. Over the last few years, my summer months of football have arguably been my most enjoyable. So, where to start off the 2016/17 season? Well, actually I’d jumped the gun and started my season with European football in Rhyl on Thursday night with Connah’s Quay taking on Norwegian side, Stabæk. However, Saturday afternoon is the true home of football and so something good was needed for the first Saturday 3pm kick-off of the season. A Lost Boyos favourite. A Lost Boyos legend. Atherton Collieries – Alder Street. Oh, and there was the small matter of them playing Bolton Wanderers too.
“But Matt, you’ve blogged about Colls before haven’t you?!” Yes, I know, I know. I certainly have. But, if there’s one blog on this site I hate more than any other it is that Atherton Colls blog. Quite frankly, it doesn’t come close to doing that football club justice – nor even the town of Atherton, a town I’ve grown massively fond of. I’ve said for the best part of two years, ‘I’m going to rewrite a blog that does the mighty Colls justice.’ I repeatedly delayed this composition, until today, as what better time to pen my reboot blog on Atherton Colls than the day they took on their neighbouring ‘goliaths’, Bolton Wanderers.
Colls is one of the iconic clubs from my travels: it was them after all who influenced the flat cap headgear choice that has become my signature of sorts. Back in 2012, when legendary groundhopper duo Tony One-Leg and Johnny the Rhino dubbed Atherton Colls v Atherton LR as the ‘Flat Cap Derby’ it was Colls who ran with the title and decided to make the Man of the Match award during their local derbies an actual flat cap. For my first taste of the Atherton derby, I wore a newly purchased flat cap and even got to go on the pitch and present the first ever ‘Flat Cap Man of the Match’ – a great honour indeed. And so, the flat cap sort of stuck around and became a part of Lost Boyos mythology. From having one flat cap on that cold March evening back in 2013, I’ve now got over 30 of them (not including other hats which have joined the headwear party).
If there’s another piece of Lost Boyos mythology that has stuck around from Atherton Colls it’s been my good pal and ardent Colls fan Gibbo. Starsky had Hutch, Thelma had Louise and even Hale had Pace – since that fateful night when we first met in Radcliffe, my groundhopping adventures have had Gibbo. So with me exiting the north-west soon, I promised him one last hurrah in my favourite Lancashire town.
Atherton genuinely is probably my favourite of the Lancashire towns – probably because of the relentless assault of pubs as you walk down the streets. With this in mind, I was in Atherton by midday heading towards one of its hallmarks: the Pound Pub – yes, it does do what it says on the tins…sort of. A pint in this establishment costs just over the advertised eponymous ‘pound’ but it was still definitely in the ‘dirt cheap’ category (although don’t exactly expect quality for your measly dosh). Equally to my liking was the fact that the pub were repeatedly showing Hal Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn for Wales from the night before as Wales triumphed 3-1 over to make it to the semi-finals of the Euros (it was kind of a big deal). I’d been out in Manchester the night before with some fellow compatriots (plus Gibbo) to watch the Wales game, so this first pint here was sort of ‘hair of the dog’. Hal Robson-Kanu’s goal will go down in Welsh folklore – so much so that if former Swansea midfielder Darren Pratley, now of Bolton, was to be at Colls today, I’d have to break the news to him that he’s been demoted to my 2nd favourite goal of all-time (see Swansea v Nottingham Forest Championship Play-off semi-final 2011 for that aforementioned effort).
Gibbo is part of the furniture Atherton Colls these days, so he was still at the club helping the many volunteers get the ground ready for their big day. I, on other hand, was still making my way through Atherton’s drinking haunts. I realised I had done most of the pubs on the high street on previous visits (there really are a lot) and I was particularly sad to see the Jolly Nailor closed again. So with no Jolly Nailor I made my first visit into the Mountain Dew – another remarkably cheap pub. I was one of three people in here, but I was happy to hear that the two others frequenting the pub were discussing the Welsh football heroics of the previous night. Of course, I was more than happy to oblige in contributing to the chat (I promise I was not too boastful).
I had planned on meeting Colls regular Lee in here, but with him running late we agreed to meet down the road in the ultimate Colls HQ: The Rope and Anchor. It seems that the pub that people most associate me with is my much-cherished Piccadilly Tap in Manchester; well if that’s the case, Gibbo is defined by his local, the Rope and Anchor. The pub is brilliant and I always have a good time in there. In recent years, it seems to have generated more of a buzz too with it being packed out on the weekend for post-Colls drinks and its array of local bands performing. More importantly for me, the place had now even drafted in bottles of Punk IPA, apparently after Gibbo’s incessant requests.
I’d met Lee whilst walking down the road and somehow, on arriving into the Rope, he even diverted me away from the Punk IPA with some Cumbrian ale called Cumberland (admittedly very nice too). There was quite a crowd gathering in the Rope with a large attendance expected at Colls’ home up the road today. Joining our little party in the corner were Bolton fans Jake and Sam and my regular travel companion Craig. We found ourselves stood next to the jukebox, a jukebox which seems to have every single song ever written on it, so I fought the urge to let my Welsh patriotism, still running at ridiculously high levels from the night before, take over and hammer the jukebox with Welsh bands. I resisted…for now.
By 14:30 it was already busy at Colls. Gibbo was on duty somewhere in the ground, so we had to use the magic words, “We’re with Gibbo” to go find him as he had all of our tickets. In we went in hunt of our Athertonian chum.
There was a real festival feel to the occasion and it was great to see Alder Street full. The rise of Atherton Colls has been great to watch over my years living in the north. The first few times I attended with Gibbo saw a sturdy, loyal bunch of fans at every game. However, the support has grown over the years and there really is an awesome buzz around the club these days, especially since storming their league the season before last and lifting themselves into the North West Counties Premier Division. With players like freescoring Mark Battersby up front and pacey winger, and personal favourite, Ben Hardcastle, Colls have been a thoroughly entertaining outfit to watch over the past couple of seasons.
Alder Street is the embodiment of a proper non-league ground. It’s a largely open ground with one small sheltered standing area on one side of the ground and a rickety, old stand opposite. Already the back fencing was adorned with Colls’ collection of flags, as we made our way to the ground’s fine clubhouse – genuinely one of my favourites in non-league. However, for a beer today entry to the club bar was not required, as to deal with the bumper crowd, Colls had setup outdoor bars. With no queues there, beer was acquired from one of these outlets. Serving the beer was Emma, wife of Colls secretary Emil, and it was moments after purchasing our beer that we spotted Emil come scurrying past us making sure everything was sorted for the big day here. Emil is quite probably my favourite person in non-league. His dry northern wit has me laughing all of the time, but more importantly for Atherton, I don’t know many people more passionate about their football club.
I was disappointed to learn that I wouldn’t be meeting former Swan Darren Pratley and in fact there would be very few noteworthy names on the Bolton team sheet with the club deploying a youthful side. For the game’s kick-off we headed behind the goal that Colls would be attacking.
This year is an important season for Colls as they are not only looking to build on an excellent 3rd place finish last season, but the club will also be celebrating their centenary. As is traditional in football these days, such a season requires a special kit and Colls were in their fancy new centenary kits for today’s game – complete with special centenary badge for the season designed by Gibbo. I must admit, the kits were rather dashing. Bolton’s yellow away number was rather cool too I thought.
As marquee friendlies go, this game was played at a great pace. It took Colls just 7 minutes to take the lead after Gibbo’s footballing icon Brad Cooke broke into the box, before being fouled. Penalty to Colls and duly converted by Mark Ayres.
Colls doubled their lead moments later when Cooke scored with a 20 yard piledriver and it seemed that the youthful Bolton XI were mimicking the abject showings of the relegated Bolton Wanderers of last season.
It was one of those sort of days when I wasn’t properly paying attention to the football – I was probably still on cloud 9 and replaying Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn in my head. Also, with a lot of familiar faces around, this was the first chance to catch up since the end of last season. Football, beer and friends – a lovely afternoon. Because of this ignorance towards the football (although the game was actually great) I sort of missed Bolton’s first goal en route to the bar.
Colls were looking the stronger team throughout the game, but sadly for them Bolton scored with moments left of the first half with Constantin Sandu getting on the scoresheet. Bolton’s levelling wouldn’t last long though as Jordan Cover – famous for being a part of the Blackout Crew who released the semi-legendary Put a Donk On It – gave Colls the lead again (another goal I missed whilst queuing at the bar). Two days before I had watched a 0-0 draw between Gap Connah’s Quay and Stabæk, so it was nice to see some goals in the first 45 minutes.
Half-time: Atherton Collieries 3 – 2 Bolton Wanderers.
Refuge was taken in the clubhouse for the half-time interval, before Craig and I went and had a nose in the cabin housing some of the Colls merchandise. Craig loves plastering his car, Paddy, in random football crap, so to go with his small Valletta FC pennant, Shaw Lane Aquaforce bumper sticker and Crawley Town mini-football kit, he purchased himself a Colls mini-football kit.
For the second half we stood behind the opposite goal with Atherton Colls now fielding a completely different eleven and in last season’s home kit. We even had ourselves a hipster footballer on the field for Colls in the form of their Polish right back Lukas Malkowski.
Colls came close to scoring with an overhead kick from Luke Coleman, before Gaz Peet then almost scored only for his effort to be tipped onto the post. I was enjoying Lukas Malkowski marauding down the right too.
It seemed that Colls were onto secure a great result in their first preseason friendly, but they were to be cruelly denied. A long-range shot Tom Grivosti was just about tipped onto the bar by Danny Taberner, only for the rebound to be finished by Bolton’s wonderfully named Ronaldo Pearson.
Full-time: Atherton Collieries 3 – 3 Bolton Wanderers.
Preseason friendlies can usually be damp squibs, but today definitely did not fall into this category. A great showing with plenty of goals and all played in the right spirit. More importantly for the club, the game was played in front of a bumper crowd of 1740 – a record for Colls I’m led to believe (but don’t quote me on that).
Before heading back to the clubhouse, I bumped into Colls legendary manager Michael ‘Cleggy’ Clegg who wanted to know what I made of his new Polish lad. A thumbs up for me and with Colls now seemingly taking a shine to European footballers, I promised Cleggy that I’d do some scouting for Slovak football talent when I move out there next month; the only problem was that also in the crowd today was West Didsbury & Chorlton manger (and winner of Lost Boyos Goal of the Season 2014/15) Steve Settle and I’d promised him some future Slovak prospects. So basically, expect an influx of Slovakians in the NWCFL Premier Division over the next 2 years.
Away from my proposed future Slovakian football revolution in the north-west, it seemed like the rest of my gang were jumping on the ever-growing Atherton Colls bandwagon. Within the club bar, a stall had been setup at the back for people to place orders for the new Colls centenary shirts. It seemed to be very popular and there was a steady flow of people heading to the stall, including a lot of my pals. I still regret not pushing to get one of Colls’ beautiful yellow away shirts from last season, but even though I was a fan of the new kits, I opted against a purchase.
After a couple of drinks were sunk in the gregarious surroundings of the clubhouse, we decided to head back to the party capital of Atherton, the Rope and Anchor. Unlike earlier, I was now on the Punk IPA and with the punk spirit now within me, I even defied my English surroundings by filling the jukebox with Welsh songs. We had the Manics anthemic Euro 2016 song Together Stronger (C’mon Wales) followed by a mix of Feeder and Stereophonics (it’s a law that if you are from the South Wales valleys, you must love the Phonics).
Gibbo was insistent that I hung around for the legendary band slot later that evening, as The Rope and Anchor has become the gig central of Atherton with bands like local favourites ‘Green Army’ and more wackily named collectives such as ‘The Sex Penguins’. Sadly, the time was ticking on and the beer was hitting home, and I wanted to go home and watch the big Euro quarter-final between Germany and the Italy. The allure of my own sofa, tournament football on the TV and a lovely chicken tikka kebab from the heroic Spices of Kashmir proved too strong and so Atherton’s latest amateur band would not be graced with my presence on this evening.
When I think of non-league, I think of that warm, unsullied community feel that comes with with such football; the biggest compliment I can pay Colls is that when I think of ‘non-league’ they are the first club I think of. If I I had to try swing someone on to trying non-league football and getting them hooked, Atherton Colls would be the club I would take them to and use to sway them. I’ve been there to witness several people experience Colls for the first time and I’ve never seen anyone not be won over by the place – many come back for more too.
Highlights: day out in Atherton, cheap beer, Rope and Anchor, Alder Street is great, grteat clubhouse, good crowd, good game.
Low Points: not enough Darren Pratley for my liking.
See all my photos from my day out in Atherton here.