Denton Town host Tameside’s first Saturday senior league game of the 2020 – 2021 season
For many clubs, the football season starts in a fortnight’s time. My usual team, Stalybridge Celtic, begin their Northern Premier League campaign that very same date (at home to Lancaster City). In a week’s time, they face Stocksbridge Park Steels in the F.A. Cup Preliminary Round – and a date with the BBC. The ‘Bridge’s cup tie will be televised on the Beeb’s Red Button service with a 12.30pm kick-off.
In the North West Counties Football League, league cup ties were resolved today. There will be an all-Cheshire Macron Cup final between Runcorn Town and 1874 Northwich, thanks to Northwich’s 6 – 1 demolition of Shelley. The ‘Bridge, the Robins and the Lilywhites played their last pre-season friendlies. The Manchester League will begin their fixtures on the 19 September.
Today [Saturday 05 September], I had the choice of travelling to Longridge for Stalybridge Celtic’s friendly, or Tameside’s first Saturday league game in the non-league pyramid. With yours truly not fancying a big shop on Sunday, I chose Denton Town’s game against Styal. Easy enough to get to, walkable from Chez Vall on a pleasant day though I chose the bus.
I had heard of Denton Town, having seen the signs off Stockport Road aboard an odd 347. The ‘Bridge have also had training sessions at Whittles Park. At present, Denton Town are members of the Cheshire Association Football League First Division. As to where they stand in the football pyramid, they are an equivalent league below Dukinfield Town in the Manchester League’s Premier Division. They are five leagues below Stalybridge Celtic, Hyde United and Ashton United; six below Curzon Ashton, seven below Stockport County, and eleven below Manchester City.
The club was founded in 1920 as Bradford Parish, playing on a shale pitch at David Lewis Recreation Grounds off Ferry Street. It was known as ‘The Red Rec’ or ‘Donkey Common’, and stood in the shadows of the Midland Curve railway line between Ardwick and Miles Platting. Since the early 2000s, state-of-the-art houses have stood on the site. In 1935, they moved away from Beswick to the Ashton Moss Athletic Ground. This was their home for ten years till bomb damage saw to that.
After the Second World War, they moved to the Melland Playing Fields in Gorton. This was where they stayed up to 1995. That year saw the club return to what is now known as Tameside, to their present home at Whittles Park. Its home takes its name from Whittles Farm, with the ground accessed from Heather Lea. If you are new to the area, it isn’t one of the easiest grounds to find.
With this year being the Centenary season, there was good reason for me to get a 347 down to Whittles Park. Not least the fact that league action and cup action would trump pre-season friendlies in my book.
The match day experience
Having seen a good article about Denton Town on the Tameside Reporter website, I expected a bit more local interest. I arrived early at 2pm, with the inner groundhopper in me wanting to walk around the pitch and see the game from more than one side of the ground. The first port of call was the club house (usual contingencies: weigh up the beer selection, pies, tea, etc). I was impressed: small but perfectly formed, yet enough room to allow for social distancing policies to be upheld. With the pandemic, the next thing I did after ordering my bottle of Birra Moretti was sign the Test and Trace form.
The first person I spoke to besides the bar person was a groundhopper from Telford. He chose to visit Whittles Park as it was one ground he had yet to visit. He had had been to all the other Tameside grounds (Bower Fold, Butchers Arms, National Park, Seel Park, etc), albeit in the late 1980s. When I told him how Bower Fold has changed since his previous visit, he was amazed. This was after he asked me who Lord Pendry was, pointing to a plaque that commemorated the opening of Denton Town’s clubhouse in 2015.
As one would expect at Cheshire Association Football League First Division level, there was no programmes. Admission is free, which meant any monies could be spent in the clubhouse instead. The clubhouse is a single square building that is shared with the Home and Away changing rooms, gents and ladies toilets, and the Officials’ changing facilities. Thankfully, you could inspect the team sheets in the clubhouse.
The game kick-off at 3.02pm, a couple of minutes late due to a slightly late running referee’s assistant. Most of the fans congregated on the same side as the clubhouse, which may have been a little awkward for social distancing. Shortly after the referee’s whistle blew for kick-off, I saw two of my friends, whom I have known from a poetry group I attended in Manchester Central Library. One, an exiled Stretfordian, who has now gained his stripes as a Fully Fledged Tamesider. His other friend from Salford (another Genesis fan like yours truly, the writer of this piece) also came, both walking from the north side of Denton next to Audenshaw.
Coincidentally, I had mentioned both friends to my work colleagues yesterday and a previous match we went to in 2017. That was Hyde United’s New Year clash against Glossop North End, where a favourable refereeing decision helped the Tigers to snatch victory from the Hillmen.
Throughout the first half, Styal (if you pardon the pun) turned on the style. Denton Town, on the other hand, lacked the Cheshire side’s eloquence up front. Each Town finish barely troubled Styal ‘keeper Connor Beard. Styal’s shots were more accurate as they attacked at the Whittles Farm End. The Cheshire side led one-nil at half time, thanks to a 26th minute goal by Jack Mather.
By the second half, the weather had changed from cloudy to overcast and heavy showers. This was a brief interlude, though one that was long enough to make the cloying pitch even more softer underfoot. This was telling as players from both sides suffered from leg cramps later in the game. Attacking the Moorfield Avenue End, Styal doubled their lead thanks to Joe Knight’s 64th minute goal.
A minute later, Town pulled one back. Spencer Jenkinson opened his account. Denton raised their game and could have easily got an equaliser. The conditions underfoot and damp weather didn’t make for fast flowing football, but the home side looked more confident. Two clear chances were thwarted by Beard, but Denton’s search for an equaliser was a source of frustration for the home side.
To compound the misery, Styal extended their lead in stoppage time. Alex Whelan made it 3 – 1 to the visitors. Adding insult to injury in Denton Town’s centenary season was the fact that Whelan scored his 100th goal for Styal. On a happier note, Town’s reserve side beat Golborne 5 – 0, thanks to goals by Richard Farrington (2), Michael Bennett (2) and Yunis Ridai.
Would I go to Whittles Park again? I certainly would in the near future, depending on where the ‘Bridge are playing that week. Obviously, other NPL and NWCFL fixtures might sway my decision (great Oxo at Chadderton and homemade pies, as I found one Saturday in January 2019). That view of Wild Bank and Harrop Edge could be another deal breaker, as well as a decent clubhouse and a good, flat walk from the 347 bus stop. We wish them well for the rest of the season.
Denton Town’s next home match will be against Knowsley South, a proper Greater Manchester/Merseyside Derby which should be exciting to watch. In their opening game of the season, Knowsley South beat Windle Labour 6 – 0 at home.
S.V., 05 September 2020.