Let the Real Football Season Begin…

Weaver Stadium, Nantwich
Weaver Stadium, Nantwich, during Stalybridge Celtic's FA Trophy tie against Nantwich Town, December 2009

The European Champions League and the World Cup may be seen by many commentators as the finest footballing competitions the world over. For many fans of a non-league persuasion, the FA Challenge Cup, FA Trophy and FA Vase are way up there. I for one would put a qualifying round tie between Norton and Stockton Ancients v Billingham Town on a higher pedestal than England v Switzerland in an early qualifying round having watch The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic for 16 years.

For Tameside’s six clubs and the two High Peak sides (Glossop North End and New Mills), the FA Cup is of greater importance over the international or European competitions. Getting to the later rounds and the potential for a league scalp warrants greater publicity than a 600 word match report in the local ‘papers; that of Sky Sports, BBC, ITV and the national press charting your side’s progress. Thanks to Web 2.0 technologies, this includes the joys of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, et al and a potential global audience.

The FA competitions, on a personal level, mean an opportunity to visit weirder and more wonderful grounds outside your league (though nine times out of ten The Mighty ‘Bridge usually start with a crack side in the same league). For me, the qualifying rounds and the wide ranging nature of teams in the FA Cup competition makes it my favourite competition.

FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round, 20 August 2011

Glossop North End begin their road to Wembley early with a home tie against Boston Town. Formed in 1964 as Boston FC, they first reached the First Round Proper in 1976, facing Barnsley. Should they beat Boston Town, the Hillmen will face a trip to Radcliffe Olympic or Heanor Town.

Another club east of the M60 motorway, Chadderton will be starting their road to Wembley early. They have the joys of a short trip along the East of the M60 to Cheadle Town. The victors of that tie will make a short journey to Shawe View, entertaining Trafford.

FA Cup Preliminary Round, 03 September 2011

Two of Tameside’s clubs enter the FA Cup at this stage. Mossley face a home tie with either AFC Liverpool or Runcorn Linnets. Both clubs are newly formed sides owned and founded by their supporters. The former was a reaction to Hicks and Gillette’s ownership of their bigger brother on Anfield Road. The latter is a Phoenix club formed by Runcorn/Runcorn FC Halton fans, who play in the North West Counties League. After being disillusioned by the original club’s move to Widnes and their eventual demise, their home matches are played at the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Murdishaw Avenue.

Curzon Ashton too face a home tie. Their visitors will be Bamber Bridge, whom in 1996 could have won promotion to the GM Vauxhall Conference had Irongate fulfilled Conference standards. Shortly after, Irongate had its highest attendance when 2,500 saw Bamber Bridge play the Czech Republic international side. Also at home, Woodley Sports, where the victors of Bootle v Wigan Robin Park face a trip to Lambeth Grove. Wigan Robin Park are newcomers to senior level non-league, playing their home matches at Robin Park, adjacent to the DW Stadium. Bootle by contrast can trace its lineage to a former Football League side.

New Mills have a home tie with Rainworth Miners’ Welfare, a club who were runners-up to Forest Green Rovers in the 1982 FA Vase final. Both New Mills and Rainworth MW have enjoyed promotion to the EvoStik Premier League First Division South last season.

FA Cup First Qualifying Round, 17 September 2011

Only one Tameside club will begin their Wembley pilgrimage in the first qualifying round. Ashton United face a home tie with either the victors of Congleton Town or Eccleshill United v Runcorn Town or Brighouse Town. Runcorn’s other club were formed in 1968 as Mond Rangers. Brighouse Town too are a relatively new side, formed in 1963 as the works’ team for Blakeborough Valve Company.

Should Mossley overcome AFC Liverpool or Runcorn Linnets, they face an away trip to Squires Gate or Colne, Atherton Collieries or Irlam. Squires Gate is one of three footballing sides which play off Common Edge Road. Like Solihull Moors, it too has an airport on its doorstep. Colne FC play their home games at Holt House, famously the home of the late revered Colne Dynamoes FC. Atherton Collieries’ Alder House ground is a must for real ale loving football fans due to its proximity to CAMRA Listed pub Old Issacs. Irlam FC’s home matches are held at Silver Street, former home of Irlam Town, one time Northern Premier League First Division members. The club adopted its present moniker in 2008, following its move to Silver Street, and were originally known as Mitchell Shackleton, one-time members of the Manchester League.

Curzon Ashton’s reward for beating Bamber Bridge would be a second home tie to either Prescott Cables or Warrington Town. Should Woodley Sports beat Bootle or Wigan Robin Park, they will face a lucrative trip to Gigg Lane where FC United of Manchester could be their opponents.

Victory in the first qualifying round for the above clubs would see the likes of Curzon Ashton potentially playing Stalybridge Celtic, Hyde and Droylsden, whom are exempt till the Second Qualifying Round.

Absent from this season’s FA Cup competition are Oldham Borough and Abbey Hey.

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FA Trophy Preliminary Round, 08 October 2011

Mossley begin their FA Trophy campaign at Brigg Town which could well be a plum tie for the Lilywhites. The Zebras, one of the oldest clubs in the world (formed 1864) have won the FA Vase twice in 1996 and 2003. Rail enthusiasts would recognise Brigg for its limited train service to Scunthorpe which also passes Gainsborough Trinity’s ground The Northolme (three return Saturday journeys). New Mills have a home tie against Radcliffe Borough, as too do Woodley Sports, who will entertain Skelmersdale United.

FA Trophy First Qualifying Round, 22 October 2011

The next round promises to be both an exciting and tricky one for Ashton United. They face a trip to the Deva Stadium where they will face Chester FC. Formed as a phoenix club from the ashes of Chester City, they have seen increased gates since being ran as a supporters’ owned club. Lucrative? yes. Easy tie? I think not, but it aims to be an exciting fixture.

Remaining on the subject of phoenix clubs, Curzon Ashton too are away to one. Instead of the M56, they will take the M62 for the Throstle Nest Ground, home of AFC Farsley. In the last five years, the original club, Farsley Celtic, won promotion to the Blue Square Premier via the play-offs. In their only season they finished in the fourth relegation place. By the following season they struggled to complete their fixtures in the Blue Square North.

Should Mossley conqueror the might of Brigg Town, they will face a second away trip. This time, their opponents in the First Qualifying Round could be Witton Albion at their modern yet stingily terraced Wincham Park ground. Under the good old days of Bob Murphy, one of Mossley’s main rivals were Witton Albion, whom at the time played at the Central Ground (a Sainsburys store now occupies the site). In the 1979 – 80 season, Witton Albion finished second to Mossley. As both Central Ground and Seel Park didn’t meet Alliance Premier League standards, third place Frickley Athletic gained promotion, with Westfield Lane (APL standard at the time) seeing seven seasons at the top level of non-league football. The latter club will host FC United of Manchester in this season’s competition.

Woodley Sports‘ reward for beating Skelmersdale United is another home tie, this time against Whitby Town. For New Mills, their reward for overcoming Radcliffe Borough is a second home tie. Coming to Church Lane (or Stainton Park) is Harrogate Railway Athletic.

Stalybridge Celtic, Hyde and Droylsden are given byes to the third qualifying round.

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FA Vase First Qualifying Round, 10 September 2011

Both Oldham clubs east of the M60 motorway have home ties. Oldham Borough entertain Daisy Hill at the Whitebank Stadium whereas Chadderton face Alsager Town. Both Oldham Borough and Daisy Hill have changed their names at some stage of their history. In a bid to increase attendances, Daisy Hill briefly changed their name to Westhoughton Town in the early 1990s. This proved to be disastrous, so they promptly reverted to Daisy Hill. Oldham Borough was originally known as Oldham Dew, and the works team of the George Dew construction firm. Formed in 1964, it changed its name to Oldham Town in late 1980s. In the 1990s, they moved to the Chamber Colliery Welfare Ground, now known as the Whitebank Stadium. In 2009, they changed their name to Oldham Borough.

FA Vase Second Qualifying Round, 24 September 2011

Glossop North End face an away trip to Shirebrook Town or Radcliffe Olympic. If the Hillmen beat Boston Town (should Radcliffe Olympic conquer Heanor Town), it could become a case of ‘Groundhog Day’. Abbey Hey begin their FA Vase campaign at Barnoldswick Town or Irlam. Should Oldham Borough beat Daisy Hill, they will entertain Wigan Robin Park at the Whitebank Stadium. If Chadderton beat Alsager Town at Andrew Street, they will be rewarded with a trip to Formby.

FA Vase First Round Proper, 22 October 2011

Glossop North End‘s reward for beating Shirebrook Town or Radcliffe Olympic would entail a home tie with either a Lincolnshire or Nottinghamshire side. Potentially making the trip to Surrey Street could be any three from Louth Town, Borrowash Victoria or Blidworth Welfare.

Should Chadderton‘s path to the first round proper be successful, a home tie awaits them with possible visitors to Andrew Street being Ashville or West Didsbury and Chorlton. Ditto the above for Oldham Borough whose first round proper opponents could be Padiham. Should Abbey Hey beat Barnoldswick Town or Irlam, another away trip awaits the Goredale Avenue side. This time, one of three from Bootle, Runcorn Linnets or Congleton Town.

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Best of luck to all those clubs concerned. East of the M60 wishes them well on their trip to Wembley. The season, and real football cannot come soon enough.

S.V., 09 July 2011.

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