Saturday 22nd October
Blue Square Conference North
Stalybridge Celtic 5 Altrincham 1
Tea Hut Purchase: Meat & Potato Pie £1.60, Coffee £1.20
Weather: Mild, sunny afternoon
Parking: Sidestreet 5 minutes walk away
A visit to Bower Fold, one of the prettiest charismatic non league football grounds around, is always a treat, today was better still, Bridge were right up at the top end of the table and their much-fancied visitors from nearby Altrincham were tucked in the pack right behind them. Swelled by a good crowd enjoying the unusually warm autumnal sunshine this Conference North local derby had the makings for a classic. I didn't fancy paying a quid for the pleasure of putting the Match Shed in block-stacked-grid-locked parking in the club car park so I opted for a quite side street just off the main road. It was pretty early but I was starving, me and Frugal Glenn went straight in the ground and joined an already lengthy queue at the Tea Hut.
There were loads of assistants, helpers and cooks in the hut but only one girl serving. I was immediately disappointed to find that the choice of hot pies lent itself to only the meat and potato variety, the pie warming shelves seemed fit to burst with them. I almost went for a cheese burger but they looked a bit like those large thin ones of the economy back street slaughterhouse variety. A pie it was then, and a trifle steep at £1.60 me thought. I soon wished I'd had the burger, the meat and potato pie didn't have any meat in it and appeared to be filled with a dry tasteless gunge which had probably originated from potato slurry? It was pretty naff really and I didn't enjoy it. Frugal Glenn had one of those bovril/oxo drinks but said it was crap.
My pie was so dry I had to get a coffee, to charge £1.20 a cup was a bit cheeky although it did come in a slightly larger than normal polystyrene cup. With Bower Fold such a good looking little ground you'd think the Tea Hut would be bang-on, sadly this didn't appear to be the case. We had a stroll around the ground and took up some seats in the main stand near the halfway line. There are seated stands down both touchlines at The Bower and spacious covered terraces behind both ends, when matched to the lush tree lined scenery and the rolling hills behind the ground it is simply a perfect setting.
It was a bit of a sun-trap in the main stand and people were soon taking their jackets off. Altrincham had brought a good number of supporters with them and it was good to note that there wasn't a sign of any trouble as they mingled with the home fans without the need for segregation.
Stalybridge immediately got things (even further) on the boil by roaring into the game with some very smart passing football, they appeared mighty confident as they skipped around the Alty midfield before mercilessly skinning the one paced back four. Bridge look to have a real star in Connor Jennings, he's razor sharp with quick feet and a deadly eye for goal, he was causing all kinds of problems all afternoon. Alty went a goal down in the 6th minute, Jennings the scorer, a shot slammed home with the utmost lack of respect. Alty rallied and imposed themselves as much as they could but they looked a bit clueless upfront and soon started fluffing chances. Youth product turned decent player Greg Wilkinson got a slightly fluky second goal for Bridge in the 37th minute but to their credit the visitors bounced straight back with a well placed Damien Reeves header. Bridge were having none of this fightback nonsense though and a couple of minutes later Phil Marsh struck home a curling shot to make it 3-1, a scoreline that took us into the half time break.
The game had ebbed and flowed throughout the 45 minutes which was emphasised by the dancing size 13 feet of a female Altrincham supporter who was (unfortunately) sat right behind me in the stand. 'Twinkle-Toes' must have made every pass, booted every shot and crunched every tackle, sadly for me her heavily timed footwork was kicking the backside out of my plastic bucket seat. She simply couldn't keep those bloody big feet under control and kept on relentlessly kicking my seat. It got so bad I had to move, the woman couldn't keep bloody still. "Move up Frugal" I loudly pronounced "I'm black and blue from this arse-kicking", Twinkle Toes just glared at me blankly, completely unaware of what misery she'd been unleashing for the last 40 odd minutes. It was getting so uncomfortably hot in the main stand we decided during the break to go and sit in the shaded Tom Pendry stand, this proved a great decision because we not only got a great view of Bridge confidently taking the game firmly away from a gallant but extremely unlucky Altrincham side... we also got to witness some top drawer 'international class' flat-capper agitated moaning and groaning.
There were a few Alty flat-cappers sat around but one in particular was getting more and more worked up regarding the misfortune of his heroes going 5-1 down. It erupted big-time in the final quarter of the game. Never have I seen more high octane 'F'ing and blinding in such an open and blatant manner. This old timer was telling everyone to F*ck Off, the people sat behind him, kids politely asking if they could squeeze past him to get to the toilet, the referee, the linesman, a bloke with a bald head stood down on the terrace (who was also called a Bald Headed B*stard at least 5 times in 5 minutes) and needless to say, all of the Stalybridge players. He was so out of control to such a deranged degree that even his fellow flat-cappers tried to quieten him down (without much success). It was a top performance and had most people in stitches. The football on the pitch had not been as fast and furious as the first half, Bridge got another lucky break with an Alty own goal and that more or less sealed it, Altrincham still had some clear cut chances but missed the lot of them. When Connor Jennings put the fifth one in quite a few Altrincham fans made for the exits.
I suppose they didn't really deserve to get beat 5-1 but this Stalybridge side are on a bit of a roll (despite a blip in the FA Cup against Guiseley and a lapse last week at Colwyn Bay), it seems good times have arrived at Bower Fold for a while, it should be an interesting season. Keep an eye out for that flat-capper if you get to see Altrincham anytime soon.