From the sofa to…AFC Liverpool

The FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round Replay – Wednesday 10th August 2016
AFC LIVERPOOL vs West Didsbury & Chorlton – The Marine Travel Arena

As I write this, Liverpool are putting the finishing touches to a brand spanking new stand. However, it’s not just Anfield that’s growing. One would be foolish to discard the thriving non league scene happening away from the shadows of the big two clubs in Merseyside.

Affordable Football Club (AFC) Liverpool are among the cluster of teams from the region competing in the North West Counties League. 1,000 Liverpool fans helped form the club in 2008. By the club’s own admission, they bare no ill will towards Liverpool, more so the hierarchy that is continuing to price many a fan out of going to watch Premier League football.

Speaking in the matchday programme, club spokesman and former Radio Merseyside commentator Alan Parry stated “It’s about affordability. Far from wishing to be estranged from the club, we are hoping that Liverpool will look upon us as a little brother.”

An extra slice of FA Cup action was enough to lure me to Merseyside on a very wet Wednesday evening. The two sides had played out a stalemate in the sun at West Didsbury just four days earlier. The Merseyrail network provide great value on train tickets. A £5 day saver rate has a far reaching scope across the region. An unadvertised fight was almost an unwanted bonus just moments after my train left Chester. An unhinged male went bonkers at a young female when she politely declined hearing some of his literary work. Commuters within the vicinity quickly intervened, as the idiot hurled insults and made a nuisance of himself. Resting his folder of notes beside me, I can concur from a brief perusal that his work wasn’t up to scratch. Eventually a guard escorted the wannabe thespian to the naughty step at the back of the coach.

AFC groundshare with Evo Stik Northern Premier League side Marine. The closest railway station is Blundellsands and Crosby, which is a short 20 minute commute from Liverpool Central. While it wasn’t wet enough to swim to the ground, the walk was certainly brisk. I was soon taking refuge in the ‘Scouse House,’ munching on a pie and reading up on the club’s history.

The stadium seats just under 400 people. An elevated stand behind the goal was well covered, giving me a perfect view of the pitch and, most importantly, protected me from the elements. An adjacent standing terrace runs three quarters of the pitch. Its cover looks tidy from a fresh paint job and a long crash barrier made it somewhat reminiscent of a bus shelter. Side fencing shields the dugouts from people’s back gardens, although those people hanging out their washing get a cracking bird’s eye view of the action.

Many of Liverpool’s traditions are carried on by AFC. The pre-match playing of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ is matched by the display of the ’96’ slogan on the backs of the shirts, as a way to honour and remember the lives lost in the Hillsborough disaster.

Despite the miserable conditions, the pitch absorbed most of the water and didn’t hinder the game. West Didsbury’s pressing paid dividends when they took an early lead. Jonathan Pozier beat the offside trap and took advantage of goalkeeper Josh O’Connell’s hesitancy to close the angle by lofting the ball over him. To his credit, O’Connell got a touch, but neither he nor Jonathan Swatton could prevent the ball from trickling over the line.

The rattles quickly came out, proving that it’s not just Leicester City bringing back the gimmick. One fan even brought his megaphone, shouting loud and proud ‘come on you Reds. AFC’s the team for me.’ During all this, I spotted two Chinese students, each sporting a look which suggested they couldn’t quite comprehend the commotion going on around them.

AFC made a change at the break, introducing youngster Emini Adegbenro. The lively forward was camped out wide on the flanks and Liverpool tried to get him on the ball as often as possible. The Reds were cruelly denied an equaliser on two occasions. Matty Williams had a certain goalbound effort cleared off the line, then moments later Jason Carey touched the ball in following a goalmouth scramble, only to see his effort chalked off for an infringement.

To their credit, West Didsbury had a few chances of their own to make the rest of the game more comfortable, but couldn’t take advantage. They had goalkeeper Dean Williams to thank for a string of impressive saves. As the away side ran down the clock, Williams shouted across to the linesman to ask how long was left. Before he could answer, the PA announcer – quick as a flash hilariously quipped “just get on with your job, and don’t be telling him the time.” Unfortunately for the Reds, time did run out and their FA Cup hopes were dashed.

Judging by the formbook this was something of an upset. Prior to the cup ties, in the eight previous meetings between the two teams, AFC had won six and drew one, although West Didsbury’s one and only win was a thumping 6-2 victory in their most recent fixture. On another day, I suspected that the floodgates would have opened as much as the heavens. AFC certainly looked like a team that has goals in them. I’m sure I’ll see a few of when I next catch them somewhere down the line.

Final Score:
AFC Liverpool 0
West Didsbury & Chorlton 1 (Pozier 12)
Attendance: 161

Getting to know…AFC Liverpool

Ahead of visiting AFC Liverpool, I caught up with matchday programme editor Adrian Cork for a quick chat.

How did you get involved with AFC Liverpool?
I was secretary at Formby FC for the final three seasons of its 95 year history and was part of the committee that made the decision to disband the club in 2014. During my time there I also produced the matchday programme, a publication that won First Division Programme of the Year in 2012/13 and 2013/14. I continued to follow the progress of ex-Formby players at their new clubs and went to watch the occasional game. I went to AFC Liverpool last season after they appointed former Formby FC boss Kevin Dally as their manager. Kev managed to bring together the majority of the old Formby squad so it was inevitable I would attend more games. At one of them, AFC Liverpool approached me and asked if I would consider doing their matchday programme as their current editor wanted to step down and they liked the Formby one.

Best players to pull on an AFC Liverpool shirt?
Darren Torpey, Steve Jones and John Lawless would be three that spring to mind. I’m sure some of the current squad will make their mark though.

Where are some of the best/worst grounds you’ve visited as a fan?
Visiting non league grounds is a real pleasure as they all have their individual quirks. Best grounds would be Irlam FC, AFC Darwen, Barnoldswick Town. Worst would be Holker Old Boys, Atherton Collieries, but I sill like them. Holker is half way up a mountain in Cumbria so has more to deal with than most.

What’s the best AFC Liverpool game you’ve witnessed?
A defeat to Formby FC in the Liverpool Senior Cup. AFC were in the division above, but Formby took a two goal lead. AFC pulled it back to 2-2, but the game couldn’t be settled in extra time so went to penalties. Formby won the shoot out 5-4. It was a great match played in a great spirit in front of a three figure gate.

Any famous AFC Liverpool fans?
Not really. George “The Voice of Anfield” Sephton is a fan and comes to watch when Liverpool FC aren’t playing.

Which club serves the best pies?
I wouldn’t say pies. A favourite among NWCFL clubs are the Staffordshire Oatcakes served up at Eccleshall. Unique!

Thoughts on ticket prices in general?
Ticket prices for Premier League games are far too high, £50+ to watch a Premier League game has taken it away from traditional fans as has the difficulty of getting tickets. That is why AFC Liverpool were formed. You couldn’t spend £50 at a non league game if your tried and if you did the home club would invite you on to their board! Footy for a fiver is our mantra and I would encourage anyone who loves the game to visit the local non league club and get involved.