Alternative Title: Whatever Happened To The Mighty Onions?
The history of Tameside’s footballing sides past and present is worthy of a tome itself. Besides Mike Pavasovic’s books on his beloved Hyde F.C., there is little of great detail about the borough’s non-league sides. Stalybridge Celtic and Ashton United are chronicled in Gary James’ excellent ‘Manchester: A Football History’. The ‘Bridge is also covered in Dave Twydell’s ‘Rejected F.C.’ owing to its history as a Football League Third Division North club.
In the association game’s formative years, there was a number of football clubs in today’s borough who tried to compete with the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Bury. The Football League was years away from adding a third division. In 1895, Stalybridge Rovers broke new ground with Arthur Wharton becoming Tameside’s first black professional footballer. His next club, Ashton North End, was future Arsenal and Huddersfield Town manager Herbert Chapman’s first club (before swapping places with Mr. Wharton).
Today, the likes of Fairfield Athletic and Ashton North End have long gone. For the borough’s six non-league sides, it is harder than ever to compete with the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City. Or Bury. Or F.C. United of Manchester. It is each town’s distinct identity and rivalry between clubs which has, thankfully, scuppered any chances of a Tameside United football club from forming.
In living memory, two Tameside clubs have changed grounds. One merged with their rival club and returned to their old ground after a short stint elsewhere. The other moved to a new Conference Premier Standard venue in Crowhill. Both former grounds have disappeared, replaced by housing development.
This is before we go to the lost grounds which have disappeared before the Second World War. East of the M60 will also cover these venues.
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Former clubs and former homes of existing clubs:
- Stalybridge Clarence: Clarence Street;
- Stalybridge Rovers: Crookbottom, Stalybridge;
- Mossley A.F.C.: Luzley Road, Mossley Cross, Mossley;
- Droylsden F.C.: Moorside Trotting Stadium, Littlemoss, Droylsden;
- Ashton North End: Manchester Road, Ashton-under-Lyne;
- Fairfield Athletic: Gransmoor Road, Fairfield;
- Ashton National/Curzon Ashton/Dukinfield Town: National Park, Katherine Street, Ashton-under-Lyne.
- Stalybridge Celtic A.F.C.: Clarendon Fields, Dukinfield (one game, 1909, versus Tranmere Rovers).
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Stalybridge Clarence (Clarence Street): the club probably took its name from their location, which is assumed to be off Clarence Street. It was on that ground where St. Marks (Gorton) recorded their first ever win, a 3-1 victory. The visitors, after numerous venue changes, would later be associated with Joe Mercer and its recent rise in British footballing aristocracy. Today, they are a tram or bus journey away from Ashton or Droylsden.
Stalybridge Clarence’s ground was probably on the corner of Clarence Street and Stamford Street. It is occupied by private and former municipal housing development.
Stalybridge Rovers (Crookbottom): Stalybridge Rovers was formed in the late-1880s to early-1890s, and in its short life, had a footnote in football history with Arthur Wharton and Herbert Chapman its most famous players. The club folded in 1908 after fulfilling 30 out of 38 matches in the Lancashire Combination Second Division.
Getting to Crookbottom was awkward to say the least. Despite backing on to the Riverside cotton mill, access to the ground was gained by… walking through Stalybridge Old Tunnel on today’s Transpennine Express route! Smurfit Kappa’s depot and John Hargreaves’ Tameside Paper Mill is on the site. Access for its employees is gained through a bridge off Northend Road.
Mossley A.F.C. (Luzley Road, Mossley Cross): before Mossley A.F.C. moved to their present ground in 1912, their original home was off Luzley Road, Mossley Cross. The club was founded as Park Villa in 1903 before changing its name to Mossley Juniors the following season, and to its present name in 1909.
Today, it is now fields, though some evidence of its former use is apparent. The site can be accessed by walking up Luzley Road, or along a bridleway off Mossley Road past the underground service reservoir.
Droylsden F.C. (Moorside Trotting Stadium, Littlemoss): from 1949 to 1952, Droylsden had two clubs. There was the original Droylsden F.C., formed in 1892. Then there was Droylsden United, who were hitherto known as Belle Vue F.C. After joining the Lancashire Combination and changing their name, they took over the lease at The Butchers Arms. The original Droylsden F.C. moved to Moorside Trotting Stadium, and this turned out to be short lived as a truce led to the absorption of Droylsden United by the original Droylsden F.C.
During their three year exile, poor facilities and its distance away from the town centre led to poor crowds, prompting the merger. Moorside Stadium opened on the 25 June 1927 as a cinder track for speedway. This arrangement lasted till the 20 April 1929. After then, it became a trotting stadium.
For many forty-somethings and fifty-somethings in the Tameside area, it was best known for Carriages Social Club as well as trotting displays. In its last years, it was owned by Roland Bardsley Builders whom in the late 1980s would turn the site into an housing estate.
Ashton North End F.C. (Manchester Road): not a million miles away, on the other side of Ashton Moss was the home of Ashton North End. The name itself was probably a bit of a misnomer geographically, but the influence of a certain team who beat Hyde F.C 26 – 0 may have inspired their name. They were formed in the early 1890s and nicknamed ‘The Onions’ owing to their proximity to Ashton Moss. Herbert Chapman began his footballing career there before joining Stalybridge Rovers. The club went bankrupt in 1899.
Their Manchester Road ground backed on to the Snipe Colliery. Today, the A6140 road to Guide Bridge and Lord Sheldon Way is on the site of The Onions’ one time humble abode.
Fairfield Athletic (Gransmoor Road): Fairfield Athletic was formed sometime in the 1880s and entered the Lancashire League in 1892. They had had in their short life made three applications to join the Football League and failed thrice. In 1896, they polled more votes than Tottenham Hotspur despite having three votes. In 1897, their last attempt, they gained more votes than Crewe Alexandra and Millwall.
It is likely that Fairfield Athletic’s ground could have been on the corner of Stopford Street. If so, a secondary school may have been built on the site. This has since been replaced by a new housing estate.
Ashton National F.C./Curzon Ashton F.C./Dukinfield Town/Caernarfon Town F.C. (National Park): National Park opened in 1920 as the sports ground for Ashton National Gas and Oil Company’s football team, Ashton National. The Nash entered the Cheshire County League in 1920, finishing mid-table. In December 1932, they hosted what was thought to be the UK’s first truly floodlit match, a friendly versus Hyde United.
By 1945, Ashton National disbanded, but National Park would soon be put to good use. In the early 1970s, Dukinfield Town played its home matches there whilst members of the Lancashire Combination. By then, the pitch had turned 90˚. At around that time, it also became the home of Curzon Ashton F.C. A new social club was opened on the north-easterly part of the ground, behind a terrace by Sir Matt Busby in 1978. The proceeds of a F.A. Vase run in 1980 (semi-finalists, losing to Stamford F.C.) funded a new covered stand backing on to the Harewood Timber side. In 1982, it was fitted with 330 wooden seats from the then recently closed White City stadium, Old Trafford.
By the 1990s, it added a floodlit 5-a-side pitch and, thanks to a daft ruling exiling Welsh clubs in English leagues, it was for a short time Caernarfon Town’s home ground (who also played in the Northern Premier League First Division with Curzon Ashton at the time)! Whilst the artificial surface was being stripped at Ewen Fields, it was a temporary home for Hyde United.
Though Curzon Ashton’s present surroundings is an improvement on National Park, it lacks the charm its former home had. Today, some rather charmless semi-detached houses occupy the site of National Park, but two things remain from their old home. One is its friendliness. Its other one in my opinion, purveyors of the best brew in non-league football.
Stalybridge Celtic A.F.C. (Clarendon Fields, Dukinfield):
Since its formation in 1909, The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic’s only home is Bower Fold. Contrary to popular belief, there was one home match away from its humble abode. Their second ever match in the 1909 – 10 season took place on Clarendon Fields cricket ground, Dukinfield versus Tranmere Rovers. Their changing rooms was The Angel public house. This temporary arrangement came about as their Bower Fold ground had yet to be completed properly.
Today, both The Angel and Clarendon Fields cricket ground remain in use. The Angel is a thriving public house which has been invigorated, courtesy of a refurbishment and greater emphasis on real ale. Dukinfield Cricket Club was formed in 1870 and compete in the Lancashire County League. Their clubhouse was opened by David Gower in 1987, and though players of the association game no longer share their pitch, it does retain a footballing link. During the winter months, it is also a clubhouse for Dukinfield Amateurs F.C.
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As ever, feel free to add some more lost footballing venues in Tameside, or comment on the above. If you have any memories of National Park, or even the Moorside Stadium as a Droylsden fan, comment away.
S.V., 19 January 2014.