Saturday 6th August
North West Counties League Premier Division
Runcorn Town 2 Padiham 2
Attendance: 93 (no way, my head count was only 63)
Tea Hut Purchases: Luke warm tea 70p, Multipack bag of crisps 40p
Weather: Started sunny, went dull, remained dry
Parking: In the Pavilions function rooms car park, next to ground.
Take a wrong turning in Runcorn and you could be lost for days. I'd done my revision and memorised the fact that the Match Shed had to take the 4th exit off the Liverpool bound express-way posted for Runcorn Docks. I couldn't trust armchair navigator Frugal Glenn with such important directions regardless of the fact that he was wearing his glasses. Diesel is just too expensive these days. We hit the Runcorn Town ground a bit before expected, 1.45pm in fact. As I slung the Match Shed up against the Pavilions Function Rooms (which just looks like a rather large pub) there was the welcome opportunity of a pint before kick off. As this is the only hostelry for miles around you would think it might be open just before Runcorn Towns first ever game in the NWCL Premier Division, nope.... it was padlocked and very clearly shut. Me and Frugal watched a bit of a local league game on the adjacent pitch to the Runcorn Town ground before we got attracted by the large 'Bar & Lounge' signs just through the gates inside the stadium. We made a B-Line to the turnstiles (new this season I believe) and raced after the arrowed signs for our pints. It was like a treasure hunt... we eventually went past a long blue building and entered into the well advertised 'Bar and Lounge'.
After a couple of minutes walking around what looked like a Tea Hut seating area, opening a couple of broom cupboards, a door to the ladies toilet and stumbling into the committee-only section we were left scratching our heads where this bloody bar was? "Can I help you lads" said a friendly bloke in shirt and tie, we mentioned we were looking for the bar, "Oh there's no bar here" chirped up a nice lady beside an over-smoking griddle pan, "You need to go in the Pavilions for ale". I politely mentioned it was shut, the bloke in the tie cut back in... "They usually open around 4 o-clock unless Man United or Liverpool are playing".
What this had to do with all the Bar and Lounge signs in the ground I do not know? The immensely tight Frugal Glenn had begrudgingly agreed to buy me a drink for my birthday (today), he was made up that a possible 3 quid hit on a pint of fizzy continental lager had now down-sized considerably into a meagre 70p cup of tea, the only liquid on offer! I decided to have a pie as well just to get my moneys worth, "Theres no pies here boys" replied the nice lady again, "I can do a hot sausage though"? I decided to take my cup of tea and get some air. The tea was barely luke warm, almost cold, I'd bought a bag of crisps, I was met with a label on the packet which read, 'this is a Multipack item and is strictly not for resale', you understand why when you get half the content of a normal bag of crisps, oh dear, this was not the best Tea Hut experience I'm afraid. The Runcorn Town ground is apparently being developed to meet the demands of higher status football, to be honest its still got a long way to go.
Work has recently taken place in fitting a new turnstile entrance and a small all seater stand is taking shape down the touchline, it just needs a roof. Down the opposite touchline we have the phantom Bar and Lounge building which in reality is a snack bar seating area and changing rooms facility (might be an idea to remove the Bar & Lounge signs). Further down either side of this building we find a couple of shack-style structures which offer some plastic chairs cemented into what look like flowerpots, on closer scrutiny its cut up plastic piping.
The far end of the ground is out of bounds despite there being some bike shed type cover behind the nets, its probably just as well this end is out of bounds following the number of Padiham players having a slash at the edge of the pitch down there during the warm ups.
The end of the ground nearest the entrance is just hard standing with a handrail to stop you falling down the banking behind you. Theres plenty of rough and ready character at the ground and it brings a certain charm, half the place is surrounded by greenery (ok some of it is weeds and the like) whilst the other half of the ground is overlooked by towering power station looking developments, something quite common around this part of the world. I pity the bloke who was constantly fagging the balls being hoofed out the ground, especially as numerous signs were posted warning people to keep off contaminated land with terms like 'Danger - Corrosive Chemicals'! Here's a bit about todays sides, Runcorn Town got promotion from last seasons Division 1 by finishing runners up with only 2 defeats, they knocked in 114 goals and conceeded just 39. I saw them at the end of last season when they just got pipped in the NWCL Cup Semi Final to the very impressive 'big-money' New Mills side, I have the opinion Runcorn Town will hold their own in this higher division and may even put in a challenge for a top 4 spot. The visitors, Padiham (from over near Burnley way) are a consistently hard side to beat and always provide stern opposition. In my opinion this was Match of the Day in the Premier Division today.
The first half witnessed some fast paced attacking from the home side and the impressive Graeme Mitchell put them 1-0 up with a superb dipping volley (come lob) from well outside the area. Padiham looked to be rocking. I predicted a 4-0 win to a snoozing Frugal Glenn as more waves of attacks swept down on the Padiham goal. It was a shame that there was only a small crowd of locals here to see it, I counted 63 although the official attendance total later referenced 93 (perhaps they included the players). Just when it seemed only a matter of time before Runcorn got the second goal to clinch it, Padiham got a penalty, it was 1-1 and it gave the visitors something to hold onto. Despite Runcorn getting that second goal before the break, the dominance was gone, Padiham passed the ball around and now looked like a side who could put up a challenge. Padiham took this better quality football into the second half and seemed more balanced, Runcorn lost the initiative and a lot of their play became forced and rushed. Padiham quietly went about the business and it was no surprise when they got the equaliser from a fine counter attacking move superbly finished off by Chris Ridehalgh.
Despite further chances at both ends the game finished a bit scrappy but it had been an enjoyable game and I think both these sides will be in the top half of the table longer-term. A draw reflected a fair result. As for the ground-match day-experience, I liked Runcorn Towns place, its not prim and proper but its got character and they are very friendly people, they've come a long way in a short time and I'm sure things will get even better for them. Dont come expecting a pint in that bar though! Perhaps they might add a few pies to the sausages as well one day (although I did see someone with a burger at half time)? Good ground to visit.