After six weeks without a home game, Stalybridge Celtic need your support more than ever

On Saturday 23 November 2019, Stalybridge Celtic will end a six-week gap without a home game. Since the 2019 – 2020 season began, the ‘Bridge have only played seven home games in the Northern Premier League Premier Division. Of those seven, four of which were on Tuesday nights. The four Saturday league fixtures were against teams from Lancashire, and an hour’s drive away from Bower Fold.

Due to how the fixtures have panned out, the three Lancastrian fixtures could have been viable candidates for Tuesday night games. With few home games so far, we have (thankfully) got over our away day hoodoo. In our last five games, we have won four fixtures and are fifth in the table.

With the ‘Bridge being fifth in the table right now, that should be enough to attract neutrals and stay away fans. A fifteen-year-old Stuart Vallantine would have been attracted to the ‘Bridge thanks to Anthony Whitehead’s goal against Matlock Town last week. Yet, nearly 25 years ago, the creator of this blog discovered the joys of watching Stalybridge Celtic.

Back in 1994, Stalybridge Celtic were in the GM Vauxhall Conference. Bower Fold was months away from having a new covered stand over the Town End. The iconic wooden stand that dated from 1909 (when Herbert Rhodes founded the club) was present, this time with tip-up seats and brickwork along the front. The Popular Side, a covered terrace the season before, was converted into a Family Stand.

My first game was against Woking. Back then, Geoff Chapple’s team were famed for their F.A. Cup runs. After being one-nil down at half time, the ‘Bridge came back to win 2 – 1, thanks to a goal by Paul Wheeler and a penalty by Robert Jackson. From that day onwards, I was hooked.

Twenty-five years on, I have kept up the Celtic habit. I have seen the club through thick, thicker, thin, thinnest, even thinner than thinnest and seen goodness knows how many games. My father and I were among the 91 that saw Danny Burns embarrass us in a Cheshire Senior Cup match against Northwich Manchester Villa. We even went to ‘home’ matches in Mossley and Altrincham, due to problems with the floodlights and the pitch at Bower Fold.

Since our 2017 demotion from the National League North to the Northern Premier League Premier Division, the pursestrings at Bower Fold have gone tighter. Attendances fell in the first two years with the club being tantalising close to falling into the NPL First Division (or the NPL First Division North and West). Form may have been a deciding factor among the ‘Bridge faithful, choosing to stay away from Bower Fold. Present company might be a factor among some supporters. Other factors may include fixture clashes with other home matches in the Tameside.

It is this last point which has depressed attendances at Bower Fold as well as the previous two. Last season, a resurgent Mossley AFC under Dave Wild’s managership brought vim and vigour to Seel Park. The floating fans were going to Mossley instead of Bower Fold due to a more convivial atmosphere.

As with this season so far, the ‘Bridge had more Tuesday night home fixtures. Attendances at midweek fixtures are depressed due to fans commuting home (and not being able to get to the ground) and colder weather. Also other social activities and, most markedly, iffier public transport.

With less gate money going through the turnstiles, this makes paying players’ wages a challenge. This could mean having to let go of players, or parting company with managers to balance the books. In the six weeks without a home game, the ‘Bridge still had to pay for utility bills to keep the club running. To mitigate the shortfall, a fundraising race night was held in Bower Fold Events’ attractive clubhouse. In the last year, this has also been Stalybridge Celtic’s clubhouse, due to the closure of the portable building at the Town End.

Off-pitch revenue has also taken a hit with Stalybridge Celtic Football Club. If you compare and contrast an edition of the Bower Bulletin from the 2015 – 2016 season with one from this season, note the match sponsors’ page. So far this season, there has only been two Man-of-the-Match sponsors. Both of which by the same company for the ‘Bridge’s fixtures against Ashton United and Basford United.

As for the Programme Sponsor, Matchday Sponsor and the Ball Sponsor, not a single entry. Nothing. Nil. Nada. Nyet. It makes you wonder if any businesses in Tameside or the rest of Greater Manchester, Cheshire, West Yorkshire and Derbyshire are interested in backing the ‘Bridge. To the untrained eye, the empty sponsors’ panels give the impression of a club that isn’t maximising its off-pitch revenue. Perhaps we could pitch in and help.

“When I’m 65, I would still want to see first class football in Stalybridge…”

One never knows what might happen in 2044. Hopefully by then, we would have got rid of those nasty Pacer units on the StalyVegas Shuttle to Manchester Victoria. Greater Manchester could have orange, white and brown buses again. When I’m 65, I would still want to see first class football in Stalybridge 25 years from now. If so, I could collect my gold-plated season card for 50 years support off Lord Reynolds of Castle Hall. In front of about 2,000 fans against AVRO FC.

In all seriousness, losing a football club goes beyond the eleven men or women, staff and volunteers. Its loss affects a community, physically and mentally; fans have nowhere else to go and lose social networks. Pubs close, shops close, buses are cut back or withdrawn. Not only with Football League sides, also non-league sides (and one or two that have been Football League sides at some point in their life). Even a mere mention in the local newspaper or a website is enough to get people acquainted with Stalybridge Celtic, Hamilton Academical or Crewe Alexandra.

As the town’s badge (and club crest) says in English, there is “nothing without labour”. A motto that basically means, “get on with it”. Our part of the bargain is to spread the word around about The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic. This means telling your friends about the ‘Bridge; posting on social media – sharing Stalybridge Celtic’s own social media feeds. Anything more original than hash-tagging #UpTheCelts or #ComeOnCeltic should suffice. (If I do the Trans-Siberian Railway, I quite fancy the idea of packing my Stalybridge Celtic shirts and photographing myself wearing one in Vladivostok).

Instead of talking about the ‘Bridge, why don’t you go to one of the games? Why don’t you go to Stalybridge Celtic’s first home match after six weeks against Buxton? As Keith Trudgeon said on the Fans’ Forum:

“My plea is a simple one Anyone who is reading this and has the best interests of the Club at heart please could you put aside any differences you may have and turn up on Saturday to support us. We need the money and we need your support more than ever.

“If everyone of a Celtic persuasion who was able to did attend then that would be a considerable shot in the arm for the Club’s ailing finances. The varying opinions about that can be set aside for just one day can’t they?
Please turn up, buy a pie, a pint and a programme and enjoy the game.
Together we can make a difference.”

One day, one pint, one pie, one programme, and two hours of entertainment. Better still, make that two pies, two programmes and two pints if you bring a friend. With The Mighty ‘Bridge in fifth place, there’s no excuse to duck out of seeing a real football match with real people. Strikers, not skrikers. If you have got to the end of this article, there’s every chance I might see you there.

Here’s how you can help

1) Watch Stalybridge Celtic versus Buxton

This is the most affordable option. Admission is £10.00 (or £6.00 for concessions), whether you choose to sit in the main stand, the Lord Tom Pendry Stand opposite, or stand on the terraces.

  • League: Bet Victor Northern Premier League Premier Division;
  • Date and time: Saturday 23 November 2019, 3.00 pm (Like it should be! – Ed);
  • Buses: 236 and 237 (Stagecoach Manchester); 387 (MCT Travel);
  • Trains: Transpennine Express services from Manchester Piccadilly, Huddersfield, Leeds and Hull Paragon; also Northern services from Manchester Victoria, Wigan North Western and Bolton. (Catch bus or take taxi to Bower Fold);
  • SatNav Postcode details: SK15 2RT.

2) Sponsor a game

If you are a local business in Greater Manchester or surrounding area (i.e.: Deepest Cheshire, West Yorkshire, Derbyshire), give Stalybridge Celtic Football Club a call on 0161 338 2828. Sponsorship options are available, ranging from the cheapest (match ball sponsor) to the most extravagant (booking the Jack Thornley Suite). If you are an employee, try to mither your boss into sponsoring a ‘Bridge match or two.

3) Hire a hoarding

If you fancy seeing your company’s name along the perimeter of the ‘Bridge’s pristine playing surface, make that possible by calling Stalybridge Celtic Football Club on 0161 338 2828. Go on, you know you want to…

One more thing…

Anthony Whitehead’s screamer of a goal from last week’s game, which appears 2 minutes and 25 seconds into this clip.

S.V., 22 November 2019.

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