Tuesday 23rd August
North West Counties League Division 1
AFC Darwen 3 Holker Old Boys 0
Attendance: 43 (My head count was 59)
Tea hut purchase: Tea at a quid a bag
Weather: Dry, fair, reasonably mild
Parking: Half way down Anchor Road, 2 minutes walk
The Anchor Ground is just up the road from Blackburn Rovers Ewood Park 'the home of finger licking chicken' (or is that another sponsors brand)? Anyway, there weren't many chicken nugget fans at AFC Darwen tonight, there were only 43 die hards in total, which included a few long distance Holker supporters all the way from Barrow. I got the crowd to an unofficial head count of 59 but there was a gang of noisy young kids running around the stand playing hide and seek for most of the evening... perhaps I counted them twice? I had earlier been greeted at the entrance by the 2010 winner of 'Most Unwelcoming Turnstile Operator'...Bert. I can see why he won it! Bet he got straight tens from all the judges. Bert later doubled up as someone who yelled stuff at the players, the referee and even a security guard in a neighbouring storage yard, he doubtless supplies hours of endless fun over a full season. AFC Darwen are currently bottom of the league, they've played 4 and lost 4, goals-for totals 2, goals-against is a worrying 18! The old Darwen club went bust at the end of the 2008/09 season. Re-born via the efforts of Derek Slater as a non-profit making concern they've bounced back as AFC Darwen. Having fought their way up from the West Lancashire League they currently reside in Division 1 of the North West Counties League.
The Anchor Ground is a bit of a rough diamond. I get the impression it was once quite a place? Today it still holds a character and charm sadly missing from quite a few other grounds at this level. The jewel in the crown is the Main Stand which runs almost the entire length of the clubhouse touchline. Its got a large water-tight roof (I think) and is reasonably well maintained. It has rows of very well spaced red bucket seats all offering excessive leg room, you certainly get some good views of the pitch (despite most of the seats being a bit dirty and dusty, best to wear a cheap pair of pants).
The other 3 sides of the ground are uncovered but they all offer a few steps of terracing.
Strange thing tonight was that not a single person (other than me) stood on any one of these 3 sides of the pitch throughout the whole match (apart from a photographer from the local paper)!
Most of the small crowd seemed to cram onto the raised level adjacent to the entrance to the clubhouse down near the corner flag? The tea hut is also part of the clubhouse, I just got a tea which was slightly steep at a pound a tea bag but I can live with it at a small club, they need the money, its when the bigger clubs rip you off that it bugs me. There is quite a lot of red trim around the ground which compliments the all red strip of the home side. Tonights visitors Holker Old Boys (average age 57) turned out in their traditional green and white kit and didn't look at all jet lagged after the long trip down the M6 from Cumbria. The Old Boys (ok, they're not that old) had enjoyed a few decent results in the opening throws of the season and were one of a number of sides in second spot (on points). Apparently they usually do rather well against AFC Darwen, no wonder Bert was in such a bad mood. We kicked off to a backdrop of unruly 'unsupervised' screaming kids charging around the stand (in fact they kept it up into the second half), why bring them if they have no intention of watching (just a bit of) the match? Kids are kids I know but this was ridiculous, the adult in charge should have kept them in order. I decided to sod off to the completely empty side of the ground, at least the screaming lessened in volume. The game was a bit direct and 'the hoof' was the chosen move of the evening. AFC Darwen had the bulk of territorial advantage but the possession brought little reward. Holker seemed a bit more tactically aware and created a few sitters which they duly fluffed, much to the annoyance of Jon Balm and Maurice Watkin the management team on the touchline. The home side stuck at it, none more so than the beefy Gaz Brown, he was getting some clattering tackles in, much to the disbelief of some of the younger 'Old Boys'.
0-0 at half time seemed fair enough (bet Bert would disagree with that). As the committee went to scoff their corned beef and pickle complimentary sarnies to the backbeat of a bootleg Shirley Bassey cassette, I had another stroll around the ground... dodging the kids from hell. Second half action witnessed some cutting 'go-forward' stuff from the home side, bet there was a major rollicking on offer from Kenny Langford as part of his half-time team talk? The pressure paid off with well taken goals coming from Carl Lonsdale, Bobby Langford and Carl Turner. Holker Old Boys had 20 minutes to turn around a 3-0 deficit. The well timbered Old Boys keeper spurred the Cumbrians on with a silence splitting yell of "We've not come all this f*cking way for bugger all"! I'm afraid they had, the home side kept a tight ship and despite a bit of huffing and puffing the Old Boys went home empty handed. Bert was in dreamland as he held court outside the clubhouse entrance "We're off the bloody bottom" he boomed out across the pitch.