Saturday, 13 December 2014

Ramsbottom United 0 Stockport County 3

FA Trophy, first round
Attendance: 907

I’ve been waiting for a good opportunity to visit Ramsbottom for ages – and not just because of its name. I’d read that the club has a great setting and it’s currently very much on the up having had two promotions to the giddy heights of step 3 Northern Premier League since I first saw them in the Cup at Barnoldswick three years ago. Stockport, of course, have gone in the other direction at roughly the same pace and now languish in the Conference North, an exceptionally low ranking for an ex-League club. I haven’t seen the Hatters since c 1982 when, as a student in Manchester, I caught the bus with a friend and County fan to Edgeley Park for a Friday night match featuring the wonderfully named Tommy Sword.

It’s fair to say that my companion and nephew, Toby, and I did not see Ramsbottom at its best. We left the sunshine behind on the other side of the Pennines and descended into a cold, damp, foggy murk, various forms of precipitation taking it in turns to sweep across the arena. The Rammy staff and volunteers – some of whom had been preparing the ground since 8am with heaters, brushes and flamethrowers – had done very well to get the game on.

Not canoeing weather, you might have thought, but we passed a group that had just got out of the River Irwell on our way to the ground alongside the East Lancashire Steam Railway. The Santa Special was packed and about to depart while O Come all ye Faithful played on the tinny tannoy. Canoeing or a packed train with steamed up windows? Mmm: tricky one. We’d have gone with the canoeing if forced to make a choice.

We passed a cabin that’s home to the Ramsbottom Homing (as in pigeons) Society and bought programmes from a lady wearing a blue and white santa hat with “Rammy United” written in blue pen along a stripe of white. We resisted the temptation to buy an “Up the ram’s bottom” mug. Turnstiles were accessed through ornate iron, garden-style gates set within arches in brickwork.

The traditional, homely ambience (which reminded me of Matlock) was reinforced inside the ground by the names of some of the clubs stalwarts adoring the pre-fabricated hospitality suite and three basic stands viz Frank Rothwell, Jack Wolfenden, Harry Williams (after whom the ground is also named) and Ellis Timlin. Some of the seats came from Maine Road and the floodlights and sponsor’s lounge from Boundary Park, Oldham.

The black scoring tower of the adjacent cricket club was barely discernable through the fog and the views over the trees up at the surrounding hills were similarly obscured. The video cameraman sheltered under a plastic sheet arrangement suspended over an aluminium frame like a toddler under a pushchair rain shield. Sleet and hailstones on the turf glistened under the floodlights providing the only Christmas sparkle while slide tackles carved soft furrows and the ball hit the grass with slap.

Full credit to the Stockport fans. An FA Trophy tie against a small club might have been insignificant but they turned out in number and were in good voice. They soon had plenty of cheer about. The visitors took the lead through a penalty after just two minutes. Hardly, the ideal start to a David/Goliath battle for us and the home fans but one that set the tone for the afternoon. Rammy rallied, kept battling throughout (not helped by some dubious refereeing) and had several great chances before Stockport extended the lead on 25 mins following a free kick. Any match highlights would’ve consisted of action from the first half and just Stockport’s third goal (a free header from a cross) from the second half which seemed to go on forever. Soon after the decisive strike we heard another mournful, haunting whistle of the steam train returning to the station. (Echoes, literally, of the North York Moors Railway at Pickering back in August.)

Many fans had left the ground by the final whistle and we came very close to following them as the players went through the motions. A Christmas cracker had turned into a damp squib but one that I still enjoyed in a gritty, northern, “God, isn’t this grim?” sort of way. I will return on a sunny day and linger longer.

Star turn: Stockport’s line-up included the son of Remi Moses (ex-Man U in the 80s), Tunji, whom I last saw playing for Hyde at Staveley. Brothers Grant and Scott Spencer were in opposition today.

Programme notes: Rammy News evokes the spirit of the club (in this case, proud and cheery) as every good programme should. Some quotes, first from a Tony Cunningham: “Let’s be honest. Not too long ago the prospect of little ol’ Rammy playing the might of County would have had us all being carted off!” Fan Darren Comer writes about the previous round at Banbury: “I found myself boarding the coach armed only with a rucksack containing the [Rammy] Ultras flag, a latex ram’s head, vuvuzela, a four-pack of beers and a couple of the wife’s lovingly prepared sausage and brown sauce muffins.”
Meanwhile, the supporters’ club rallies fans over Christmas thus: “When folks find themselves pacing the streets, bored silly after a day of mercilessly troughing their way through all manner of Christmas junk what better than to shake off the cobwebs and come down to watch Rammy.” All this and a retro ‘face in the crowd’ that looked like Scary Spice, notably absent from tonight’s X Factor final. Perhaps she was making a return trip to the Riverside Stadium ...

Photo credits: Bit murky for my camera today so thanks to Andy Nunn and the Onion Bag blog for letting me pinch their shots of the steam train and turnstile block respectively. Click on the links to see the full sets.