From the sofa to…Runcorn Town

North West Counties Premier Division – Wednesday 31st August 2016
RUNCORN TOWN vs 1874 Northwich – Pavilions

Everyone makes mistakes in life. Myself included. Having declined two prior opportunities to venture out on a Wednesday night, I’d missed out on 16 goals from the two games I passed up (Runcorn Town 3-4 Congleton Town and Cheadle Town 5-4 Chadderton) I wasn’t going to miss out on a third midweek treat, so set about choosing a game.

I had two viable choices. Runcorn v Northwich or the lesser known Litherland REMYCA v Stockport Town. I put it to a democratic vote in the NWCFL Facebook group, with Runcorn gaining a landslide victory. One kind soul even offered me a free cup of tea. A lovely gesture, however, as strange as this may seem, I’ve never been partial to hot drinks. Nothing against Litherland either. I’ll get round to them at visiting them at some point.

My one and only other visit to Runcorn occurred a couple of months earlier for a trip to the town’s Brindley Theatre. Prior to the evening performance, I went for a walk – primarily to check out the Silver Jubilee Bridge which dominated the skyline. I’ve always liked bridges. Now, picture the scene. The sun was setting, the bridge was providing a beautiful backdrop. I was all set to snap the perfect photo when I heard a female voice from behind shout across the road to her friend. “I’ve just been to the doctor’s. I’ve got that pelvic disease.” I didn’t know what was more shocking. The revelation of the supposed STD, or the fact that she was wearing it like a badge. Nevertheless, the moment was ruined. Coming out of the station again, as I caught a glimpse of the Jubilee bridge, my mind was instantly transported back. I digress.

Pavilions is around a mile and a half from Runcorn train station. For those inclined, there is a taxi rank at the station. However, it was a nice evening and I opted to stretch my legs. A dog walker re-affirmed that I was on the right path as I begun the walk through an industrial estate. The industry buildings provide a unique backdrop to the ground. Think of the Power Plant in the Simpsons and you’re not far off the mark.  I found myself having to walk around the outskirts of the ground to get in. A former shortcut has been blocked by overgrown greenery and next to Pavilions lies a derelict pitch with an abandoned dugout. Some post-match research led to the discovery that the pitch was the former home of General Chemicals FC.

The ground lies at the end of a small lane. Not ideal for walkers, perfect for car parking spaces. In addition to an unused grassy verge, there is a Pavilions social club, which I guess is the main calling point for those looking for a pre-match beer. After wrestling (quite literally) through the stiff turnstile, a small gap of banking behind one of the goals needed to be negotiated in order to reach pitch level. The netting put up behind the goal didn’t really deter many balls from whistling over, meaning a poor member of staff had to get a regular jog on to retrieve the wayward balls.

A hut in the far corner of the ground had a sign painted on saying “Here’s the Tea Hut.” Except it wasn’t there. It’s moved to a more central location by the players changing area. The former location was now being used as a covered shelter for some of the fans. I quickly realised that around 75% of the attendance was away fans. 1874 Northwich – a phoenix club set up by the fans have a very healthy fanbase. The demise/resurgence of Northwich will be discussed in a future blog. A small standing area behind the dugouts had been commandeered by the away fans, so I walked around and found a seat on the opposite side in a stand that runs around 3/4 the length of the pitch.

Runcorn had their tails up, having claimed bragging rights in the recent derby match, brushing Runcorn Linnets aside 3-1. That win sparked a run of three straight victories and new manager Chris Herbert was enjoying a baptism of fire.

The game had an aggressive tone right from the get-go. Plenty of post-watershed tackles were being put about and numerous Runcorn players were soon walking a disciplinary tightrope. Numerous planes from (I can only presume) nearby Liverpool airport passed over. Runcorn’s goalkeeper Louie Mackin looked like he was watching the aircraft when he misjudged a clearance and came haring out of his goal. A poor headed clearance was almost seized upon, but a Beckham-esque lob from the halfway line went narrowly over.

1874 had fired a warning shot and went ahead shortly after, thanks to a moment of brilliance by Scott McGowan. The forward beat his marker then produced a deft chip from the edge of the box which Mackin could only tip into the net. Tom Bailey should have doubled the lead, but he lashed a half volley inches over the bar.

Things went from bad to worse for Runcorn when defender Danny Jarrett and Mackin were involved in a nasty collision which saw the second half halted for ten minutes. Both players received treatment and ended up being substituted. Thankfully, they both left the field on their own power.

Runcorn looked to top scorer Craig Cairns for a way back into the game. The marksman had bagged nine in his last five outings coming into this match. He was put clear, but fluffed his lines by shooting over. It was perhaps the one time he truly escaped marker Ryan Mitchell, who was doing a stellar job of shackling the Runcorn frontline.

The game was effectively killed off when Runcorn went down to ten men, following Joseph Heath picking up a second yellow. From the resulting free-kick, Rick Bailey picked up a loose ball and unselfishly squared for Stuart Wellstead to smash home and secure the three points. Runcorn hit the self destruct button and went down to nine men after Kevin Exell received a straight red for a bad challenge on Bailey.

The football contest was over. Match of the Day had been replaced by Fight Night as the atmosphere both on/off the pitch became tense. The referee added on a massive chunk of time to compensate for the lengthy stoppage, but 1874 ran out comfortable winners and have to be considered as serious contenders for promotion.

I checked the other score out of curiosity on the way back to the station. Litherland had won out 5-3 against Stockport Town. D’oh!

Best line: “Ooh I think I’ve shit myself.” Someone sharing a little bit too much information within earshot, early in the second half.
Match ticket: £6
Match programme: £2.00. “Talk of the Town” is a full colour and well presented edition. 1874 wrote their own piece and players to watch out for, while Runcorn profiled other successful phoenix teams. Concise and to the point squad bios helped familiarise myself with the Runcorn squad.
Cost of food: £1.50 for a meat and potato pie.
Food rating: 3/5. A hard crust protected a soft centre which caved in quite easily once a fork was stuck into it. Not too dry, a little bit crumbly and spillage kept to a minimum.

Final Score:
Runcorn Town 0
1874 Northwich 2 (McGowan 14, Wellstead 90 )
Attendance: 237