Ground – Shawbridge
Saturday 29th September 2007
FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Rd Clitheroe 8 Spennymoor Town 2 HT 2-1 Att: 330
Entrance £7; Hot drinks 70p/80p; Programme £1.30
I had agonised for over a week about where to go for a match for the 2nd qualifying round. There were many tempting grounds such as Gainsborough, Barrow, Boston, Halesowen, Stourbridge and Garforth, but Clitheroe won on account of its location and castle, and just because it appealed to me. What a choice it turned out to be, the highest scoring tie of the round and breaking my goals in game all time record!
It was an eighty mile drive for my Dad and I. (My Dad was visiting for the weekend, interrupting his normal schedule of watching AFC Wimbledon all over the south east) An hour up the M6 and then right at Preston, through to the rural Ribble Valley, the heart of which lies the affluent town of Clitheroe.
Clitheroe lays claim to an old Norman Castle, which reputedly has the smallest Norman keep in England. It is one of the oldest buildings in Lancashire. It is a very impressive castle, right in the middle of town, with wonderful views over the town and of the rolling hills of the Forest of Bowland, the Ribble Valley and Pendle Hill, I believe (famous for its witches). More important than all that, though, is the wonderful view of Shawbridge Stadium!
Clitheroe FC date all the way back to 1877. They started as Clitheroe Central until 1903 when they dropped the Central. They played in various Lancashire Leagues until 1982/3 when they became founder members of the North West Counties League; but their most famous moment was undoubtedly the 1995/6 campaign when they got to Wembley in the FA Vase, only to lose to Brigg Town 3-0, in front of 7,500 fans.
This sign in Shawbridge Stadium commemorates the occasion. I’m not sure what the rusty wheelbarrow signifies, though.
Clitheroe’s FA Cup opponents, Spennymoor Town, also began in 1877 as Spennymoor Utd. They were fairly well known in the higher reaches of the non-leagues until recently, being stalwarts of the Northern League for a long time, and then the Northern Premier. However, after collapse in 2005 they took over another club in the area that had recently folded, Evenwood Town, changing their name to Spennymoor Town, and started their new life in the Arngrove Northern League Division Two (Step 6). Which they won last year.
Shawbridge looked like my kind of ground, from what I saw on the website. I wasn’t disappointed! It was like the non-league equivalent of Oxford’s old Manor Ground. A hodge podge of different stands and terracing all nestled snugly side by side, completely oblivious to continuity or form, and all the more charming for it. It also had a width-ways slope to the pitch, the like of which I’ve never seen before. It made Barnet’s Underhill look like a billiard table!
The slope was so pronounced that corners, such as the one about to be taken in the picture, need only to be struck dead level to be perfect for a striker’s head. Attacks down the right were positively downhill. Conversely, corners from down the other side needed some serious elevation!
Shawbridge had one main stand that seated about 200 in flip down blue wooden slatted seats. This is where me and my dad sat throughout. The view was excellent from here.
Further down were the toilets and food stand, and also a tiny little stand, probably the smallest I’ve ever seen, with the few seated quite obviously asking the question of me – what the hell are you looking at with your camera?
Behind the end that you come in at was the bar area with the corner having a makeshift roof. The whole was a covered terrace, a few steps up, the first of which looked like crazy paving, but the further up you went the more it became your more usual stadium foundation of large slabs of concrete. The Spennymoor fans congregated in numbers here in the first half. (The Spennymoor support was fantastic. Not only did they turn out in numbers but they were vocal throughout, even singing heartily at 4-1 down!) The far side was a long terrace with a bit of a cover and the other end was another small covered bit and a few steps up.
The far side close up.
From a distance.
The match was an absolute classic and the standard of goals was a credit to both teams. Believe it or not, the game could have turned out very differently. Had Spennymoor taken a gilt-edged chance to make it 3-2 they could well have been replaying. However, Spennymoor’s woeful defence was taken full advantage of in the end. Their abysmal defence was exposed very early on when a simple tap in made it 1-0. But Spennymoor’s attack was confident, well organised, quick and accurate. When they were on the break you could almost believe they were the team from a higher division .
Their equaliser could have been a Goal of the Month contender on Match of the Day – a 25 yard screamer into the top corner. In less than a minute their celebrations were muted by a Clitheroe reply. It was only 2-1 at half time and Spennymoor had everything to play for except that their defence actually got worse in the second half. They stood around like so many static subbuteo players waiting to be flicked as first one, then another, Clitheroe player belted in goal after goal. No giant hand came down to flick the statuesque defenders as they they witnessed an embarrassment of goals. To be fair, some of them were sublime finishes, belying Clitheroe’s status in Unibond One North.
To summarise, an excellent ground, full of character, and a charming town too. Definitely recommended.