Saturday 4th August 2012
North West Counties League Premier Division
SQUIRES GATE 3 ALSAGER TOWN 3
Tea Hut Stuff: Diet Coke £1 (gagging after fish & chips)
Weather: Fading shower followed by continual sunshine
Parking: Very well maintained club car park
I'd promised the wife a special birthday treat and boy did she get it! What more could a woman want than a magical mystery tour in the Match Shed? I cannot understand how ungrateful somebody could be once they realise they're only going to Blackpool? Her mood worsened when the slap up restaurant lunch I'd publicised turned out to be fish and chips, her anger doubled when I bundled her out of the Match Shed at 2pm in Blackpool town centre... for goodness sake I thought women liked shopping? As regards football business I personally considered Blackpool to be the ideal location to catch the first league game of the new North West Counties Premier Division season. The Match Shed hit the coast at around 11.30am, as predicted it was all Fried Onions, Bingo and Beer Bellys. There are some wonderful sights to behold on the Golden Mile. The fish and chips I mentioned came courtesy of the award winning Bispham Kitchen Restaurant (posh cafe really), bloody good stuff it was too. I was packed out and had to unfasten my pants. Bispham is a couple of miles north of Blackpools main drag and it took the Match Shed almost three quarters of an hour to crawl through the promenade traffic to the School Road ground of Squires Gate FC which is just behind Blackpool Airport. The tidy little stadium is slap bang next to Blackpool Wren Rovers FC and their North West Counties League rivals AFC Blackpool are only across the nearby main road. An isolated shower was falling as I arrived so I sat in the Match Shed until just before kick off. Once inside the ground the first thing I noticed was the superb looking pitch, it was in top condition and almost seems to have a crown on it.
The stands and structures around the ground are all low level but they have a certain appeal and the sharp all-white clubhouse looks nice. A few 'seasoned' old timers had already taken up some of the bench seating in the tiny St Annes Fish Restaurant Stand which is positioned next to the notorious South Bank grassy mound behind the nets. As Alsager didn't appear to have brought any old timer ultra's of their own today, there was no need for the Pensioners to arouse the attentions of the Riot-Response police vans in nearby Blackpool town centre.
I casually ambled up the touchline past the clubhouse and came across three little stands all snuggled together, the first was just hard standing with a bit of grass whilst the other two stands had a few rows of benches in them. Some Gents following Squires Gate were sat together near the halfway line with Blackpool AFC away shirts on. I have to say these chaps were the most sporting spectators I have ever seen. Not only did they clap everything the Squires Gate team did, they joined in just the same for Alsager Towns players, even when they'd come off the pitch injured during some of the heated challenges midway through the game, some of which witnessed the home sides players disciplined. With a low attendance of only 35 on what turned out to be a lovely sunny afternoon, some of the crowd were muttering about the Olympics being a reason for football fans staying in to watch the games on TV. There seemed to be a consensus of opinion that the blanket over-hyped coverage from the BBC had brain washed gullible members of the public into not wanting to miss 'another crucial medal'. They may have a point? I'm personally getting a bit sick and tired of every single BBC News Bulletin being just about the Olympics and nothing else. A more balanced proportional approach would be better. Back to the football... Neither Squires Gate nor Alsager Town have been picked out to challenge for honours this season but in my view this was just the kind of traditional NWCL fixture to start the season off with. Both sides would be hoping to take something out of this game, the safe money was on a narrow Squires Gate victory but Alsager Town could not be under estimated.
What we got as a match was a bit like one of those 6 part mini drama's. You get to know the characters, a plot starts to form, theres more than a few twists, and just when you think its all over, the finale proves everyone wrong. This did turn out to be a 6 goal thriller, you cannot get any better (for a neutral) than a 3-3 draw on the opening game of the season. Mind you, it wasn't always pretty. This was a fiercely competitive match. Squires Gate had a player sent off and a string of bookings. Some may disagree but ironically I didn't think it was a dirty game, the referee had a task on his hands controlling all the action but generally I think it was a case that both of these sides really wanted a win today and they gave everything to try and get it. There were some classic outbursts from the players echoing around the ground, one in particular sticks in my memory, Russ McKenna had been (should we say) questioned about his weight by one of the Alsager centre backs, Russ, who I reckoned had a very good game, spat back the tactful and diplomatic response "F*ck off you big pr*ck... tell you what.. I'll keep eating the f*cking cheeseburgers, you just keep hoofing the ball over that f*cking stand"! It was that kind of an afternoon. The Alsager Town boss Andy Turner was shouting and balling at his players throughout the entire proceedings as he energetically passed on his instructions in the most frustrated animated way possible, he seemed to be kicking every ball and making every tackle. It was all good stuff for the admission money.
Gate went 1 up through Forbes early doors before Aspinall levelled midway through the half for Alsager. Then came the sending off of Squires Gate left back Andy Harvie, it was deemed to be an over the top two footed challenge? Being the closest spectator to the incident I have to say that a sending off was rather harsh. Both players went in fully committed and I do not think the player meant to maliciously hurt his opponent. To be honest, I wouldn't even have given a yellow card (but I'm not a referee). I think it was a full on 50/50 challenge and some slight misjudgement may have warranted a free kick, nothing more. The sending off caused a period of rugged attrition either side of half time. Gate defied the numbers on the pitch and took a surprising 2-1 lead in the 70th minute from a Shelmerdine strike which hit both posts before crossing the line. Dramatically Alsager surged back into contention when Aspinall got his second goal of the afternoon in the 83rd minute which was sensationally followed up by Rigby putting Alsager ahead 2-3 a minute later. The 10 men of Squires Gate would not conceed defeat! Next up we had a tremendous Benfield drive putting Gate level at 3-3 with just 5 minutes to play. What a finish!
A great start to the season. The old timers in the St Annes Fish Restaurant Stand were on oxygen. I was still re-living the action in the Match Shed when I went back into Blackpool town centre to pick the wife up. There she was waiting patiently (face like thunder) amongst mingling gangs of staggering drunken stag and hen parties already sloshed at 5.15. Blackpool was heaving at the end of a long sunny afternoon. 15 miles later as the Match Shed sped eastwards down the M55 the rain storms kicked in (and I was still full from my fish and chip dinner).