Saturday, 19 February 2011

Chorley 0 Chester 1

Northern Premier League First Division (North)
Attendance: 3,223

On the face of it a low-level league fixture in deepest Lancashire in February doesn’t sound up to much but I’d been looking forward to this match for months. It was a great chance to see reformed Chester packing out one of the finest traditional grounds in northern England. What’s more by the time the fixture ticked round it was a second versus first encounter. Tasty or what?

I wasn’t the only one salivating. A casual check of the Chorley website on Monday revealed that it was all-ticket. Only just time, then, for an SAE order. Heavy snow in Yorkshire this morning caused another minor panic but thankfully it was clear on the other side of the Pennines.

So to Victory Park. Great name for a ground – and thoroughly worthy of being spelt out on the wrought iron gates to the club. The first part of the ground you see is a steep grassy bank backed by brambles and a big dip towards terraced houses. Men standing on a hillside gave a tribal, gathering-of-the-clan feel to the occasion. Incongruously, the bank has just a handful of sturdy crash barriers within it.

The grandstand is guaranteed to thrill the groundhopper. It’s a two-tier affair, seats above and a paddock for standing below. A pair of floodlight pylons poke through the roof like weeds growing through matting and there are two matching pylons either side of it. The underside of the corrugated roof is a lattice of rusting girders and the flip-up seats are secured with cast iron brackets. Even Millwall fans would have trouble ripping these out.
Talking of which, it all started kicking off during the players' warm-up. The two rival sets of fans were separated by two lines of temporary fencing like you get at building sites. First there was some baiting then the yobs start heaving the fences back and forth until one section collapsed and they got to trade a few brief blows with each other. Mostly, though, they were just posturing. The orange jackets (stewards) watched – as did Victor the Magpie and friend – then the yellow jackets (rozzers) stepped in to create a no man’s land. The scene was played out to the music of JLS over the tinny tannoy. (Click here for some video plus highlights of the match).
Suffice to say the whole place was now buzzing with a cup-tie like atmosphere. In fact, the kick-off had to be delayed 15 mins because of crowd congestion. Once the match was underway the queue for small bog was 20 men long and three small boys climbed up trees for a free vantage point in the corner occupied by the Victory Snack Shack. Set beneath a slate grey sky, the whole scene – and the punch-up – was a throw-back to a fourth division match in the seventies. OK: so today was obviously a big match but Chorley regularly draw crowds of 700+ for home fixtures and, with that sort of following and such a substantial ground, you can’t help wondering why they aren’t higher up the pyramid. (They had two seasons in the Conference in the late 80s). Sleeping giant and all that.

Fast and fiesty though it was, the action itself didn’t quite live up to the occasion and was rather overshadowed by the aggro. Chester were the better side. They took the lead mid-way through the second half when a defensive error by Chorley presented the ball to a Wilde who squared it to Booth to stroke home. Chester’s Horan hit the bar with a header shortly afterwards. Chorley’s best chance fell to Stepien who blasted over the bar after a team-mate had skilfully chested the ball down and crossed from the byline. The game needed an equaliser but it didn’t come.

As I left the ground I kept passing lads rubbing their eyes and complaining of not being able to see. It appears that the cause was some sort of spray the police had used to neuter the two rival groups of fans on the pitch after the final whistle. Cheaper than dogs, I suppose. One group of policemen formed a welcome party for Chester fans at the station, another group shepherded them there (circled by Chorley swarms) and, as I got into my car, a helicopter hovered, rotors whirring.

It was a vintage afternoon – as edgy as Droylsden and as grittily northern as Shildon. Well worth the wait and every penny of the £7 for that hot ticket.

Star turns: Chorley’s manager is ex-Man City and Blackburn star Garry Flitcroft. His brother Steve played for the team today. John Cunliffe, meanwhile, has an extraordinary CV which includes spells in Chivas USA, San Jose Earthquakes, Carolina Railhawks … and Rossendale United.

Big fish in small ponds: Reformed teams give such a fillip to the lower leagues as they start to paddle their way back to where they came from. Perhaps Conference sides should take it in turns to drop down a division or two as a sort of non-league national service.

Bad romance: What a shameful attendance for the FA Cup fourth round replay just down the road from Chorley between Wigan and Bolton this week. Just 7,515 showed up for the match between towns nine miles apart. I don’t like the way that most fourth round replays were played on fifth round day since the ordinary replay date clashed with international fixtures. Hope this jumbling up isn’t a sign of things to come. David Lacey wrote a very good piece about the Cup’s lack of romance in The Guardian today echoing some of the points I made in the Bolton/York blog post.

Names of the season: Nothing to do with today’s match – but let’s hear it for Robbie Crapper of Hemsworth Miners Welfare and Tyrone Crapper of Handsworth. Brothers, surely. Both clubs play in the Northern Counties League. A mention in dispatches also to Marvellous Entiriwaa of Rushden & Higham United from the United Counties League (as cited in the NLP this weekend). Finally, how many puns is it possible to get out the name of free-scoring Guisborough Town striker David Onions? Click here to find out


Michael said...

Seen a few reports about Chorley now (usually a bit more sedate than your experiences). I'll have to check it out myself before the end of the season.

Michael said...

Hi Paul,
I'm organising a Northern League Day for April 9th:

As you can see from the site, we're trying to produce visitors' guides for NL stadiums as part of the day. Would it be possible to use your Ryton post as the basis for one? I'd credit you and link to the site, of course.
Any help or plugs you could give would be very gratefully received too!

Paul Kirkwood said...


By all means draw on my Ryton post. Thanks for asking my permission. Appreciate that.

I'll put a link to your Day in my next post. Good luck with it!

By the way, I liked your write-up on Blyth/Gateshead which I spotted initially on The Real FA Cup. Sounded like a cracker.


PS My direct email for future ref is