Northern Premier League, First Division (North)
I feel like joining Darlington away supporters’ club this season. Like Halifax and Chester before them, reformed Darlo are paddling their way back up the divisions, bringing a cup-tie like atmosphere to lots of appealing northern grounds which I haven’t yet visited. First up (for me): Clitheroe, which I’d heard likened to a less rural Bacup.
Shawbridge certainly has plenty of quirks to say nothing of the pronounced slope. I particularly like the way that one of the goal nets is supported: by blue string tied to the fascia of the shelter behind. The main stand has some retro wooden tip-up seats and a sealed in press box (empty) formed of double glazing panels that could double-up as an escapologist’s water tank.Then comes the obligatory Portacabin and shipping container tea bar (the ‘Blues grub tub’) and a small stand, lovingly crafted from corrugated steel and plywood with wire mesh between the top row of bench seats like an unfinished priest’s confession box. Everywhere the paint peels. Finally, we have a stand made from more corrugated steel supported by a lattice of scaffolding and with a crazy paving base.
Again like Bacup, the backdrops are impressive too. The town’s castle (which I visited earlier for the view towards Shawbridge, below) looms behind one corner and the spire of a church pokes above the main stand with Pennine moors beyond while some rustic stone properties à la Barnoldswick loom over one corner. I like a ground which reminds you where you are.
Writing from at length in the programme and perhaps taking after his namesake, Clitheroe skipper Jack Higgins apologised profusely for his side’s capitulation in the two previous matches – a league defeat at Bamber Bridge and FA Cup elimination at the hands of other arch local rivals, Padiham – and promised an improvement. The home fans got one: Clitheroe were two up at half-time (first goal pictured, below). You always felt that the eager visitors had a lot left in the tank, though, and so it proved.
Sadly, I’m missing a couple of qualifying rounds of the FA Cup but this match more than made up for it. Darlo got one back early in the second half, levelled it with nine minutes to go and grabbed the winner in injury time to send their 300 or supporters wild. The attendance was so big the bogs were blocked by half-time – so I was told by a Burnley fan at Shawbridge for Non League Day. That’s the big time for you.
The programme recalled Clitheroe’s 2001 Vase semi-final against Taunton. “The game only just surviving an absolute deluge, the Blues went in at half-time 5-0 down and reduced to 10 men. There was not much good humour among the 150 travelling fans over that cup of Bovril”. I can’t imagine the mood was any merrier among Jack and his team mates after this one.
Easy listening: Here is a novelty: a new FA Cup trail blog in the form of podcasts. Meanwhile, the Northern Premier League has launched a podcast (starring Swampy and recorded at a pub in Stockport) and I also read in the Clitheroe programme that Whitby Town now has its own “codcast”. Love it!
Changing places: While going to and returning from the match I passed the Lancaster City lads en route to and from Harrogate Railway. The coach party won 3-1.
Let’s hear it for Harry: Among all the names (mainly of foreigners you’ve never heard of) in the list of transfer deadline day deals one stood out like a sore thumb: Harry Bunn who has been loaned to Sheff United by Man City. Sounds like he belongs in the 1930s.
Perfect pitch: A junior football pitch is set up within a square of former slate miners’ cottages at Easdale Island near Oban which I visited on holiday last month.
PS Got a lot of strong pics today, too many for the write-up. For the complete set click here.