Ground: Pershall Park
Date: Saturday 9th August 2008, 3.00 pm
Competition: North West Counties Division One (first game of new season)
Match: Eccleshall 3 Rochdale Town 2 HT: 2-1 Att: 94
Spence 8, 30 Eastham 21
Dematto 56 Russell 69 (Pen)
Additional: Entrance £3 Programme £1 Hot drinks Coffee 60p Tea 50p
Pershall Park PHOTOS
It’s the first day of the new season in nearly all leagues, except the Premier. It’s an exciting day for football fans everywhere, after fasting for nearly 3 months! Despite the close season being a desert of football action, I think it is essential to have some time away from the game – it is to the football season what sleep is to the day. It is a necessary break, to build up ones appetite again, to recharge, so by August one is positively salivating for football!
So I’m well up for today, my last live football being Stoke City’s promotion to the Premier League against Leicester in May. Today’s match is one of a full fixture list in the North West Counties League First Division (which last season was the second – they’ve succumbed to the old Prem and 1st nonsense – tssk).
It is good to see two new teams in the division who have made the big jump up from step 7 – Wigan Robin Park and Irlam. Wigan Robin Park were only founded in 2005 and play in the Robin Park Arena, adjacent to the JJB Stadium. They came up through the Manchester League and are showing a lot of ambition. Irlam, too, came up through the Manchester League – they were founded in 1969 and used to be the Mitchell Shackleton Football Club. It’s good to see fresh faces in the league.
There is another new club, formed this year – AFC Liverpool; run and owned by fans of Liverpool, disgruntled at Premiership prices and talks of takeovers. I have no problem with this concept, and agree some action needs to be taken against the Premiership; but I find something inextricably annoying about clubs that have done this after Wimbledon. For starters, these new teams always have to share someone else’s ground, in AFC Liverpool’s case, Prescot Cables’ Valerie Park. Whether they end up being the tenants of the ground or not, the fact is that they don’t have their own home and identity. They other thing is – why do they bloody well call themselves AFC _______. Is their some rule I don’t know of that makes it mandatory? It’s excruciatingly boring and messes up A-Z lists of clubs. Soon most lower leagues will have half the clubs starting with the letter A. Why not Liverpool City or Liverpool 2008?! It is so uninspiring.
As I say, this irritation I have with breakaway clubs is difficult to explain. I can’t articulate a proper intelligent argument against. It just irks me. I get the feeling that since AFC Wimbledon took off, there’s a bunch of fans of every league club that are secretly hoping that their club do something to anger them; any old thing that would give them an excuse to flounce off and form an AFC version of their club, starting from scratch. It’s like when you play these football management games on playstation or PC, where you get bored of winning the Premier League all the time, so you start from the beginning again with some terribly minor club, in the conference, to enjoy the glory of all those promotions back up the leagues to the Premiership.
On a similar theme, there have also been two name changes in the first division and another in the ‘Premier’. Blackpool Mechanics, an enigmatic and wonderful name for a football team, that in quieter moments might inspire one to search on Wikipedia for their name derivation, are now AFC Blackpool. Well I hope they didn’t pay the marketing consultant too much money. In the Premier League, ambitious Kirkham & Wesham (a perfectly fine name), promoted last season, are now AFC Fylde! The other club to change their name are Eccleshall’s opponents today. They must be credited, however, for changing to a good solid name – Rochdale Town; from Castleton Gabriels.
Now that they don’t sound like a bunch of choirboys, they may now sing mildly provocative songs such as Will you come to Rochdale Town? to their opponents. As Castleton Gabriels they had been struggling in the NWC League for a few years and so are hoping a name change and links to the big Rochdale club might improve their performances. They were founded as a church team in 1924 as St Gabriels FC. In 1990 they changed their name to Castleton Gabriels when they joined the NWCL. They finished second bottom last year to Daisy Hill.
The hosts today, Eccleshall FC, finished fourth bottom last term, and they too have struggled in this league, since being the last club to be promoted up from the Staffordshire Senior County League, in 2002. This was following improvements to their ground. They were founded in 1971. Eccleshall is a very well-to-do little Staffordshire town which lies between Stoke and Stafford, out in the sticks. It is the sort of town that regularly wins Britain in Bloom awards. It was actually mentioned on a recent episode of University Challenge, in a question which mentioned its biofuel power station that is fuelled by elephant grass. Paxman pronounced it incorrectly as Eccles Hall, instead of Eccle Shawl.
It really did feel in the middle of nowhere as I drove ten miles through countryside down the A519 from junction 15 of the M6. Pershall Park is actually a way out of town. Driving through the middle of town, coming from the North you take a right down High Street. In about a mile or two you come to the village of Pershall – shortly after the sign you can just make out some floodlights and a right turn. The ground is completely surrounded by fields, so it is potentially easy to miss the turning.
There is parking on the left for officials and players etc, fans being directed down a mud track to more parking behind the goal on grass. The ground is basic but smart, reminding me a bit of Market Drayton Town, a club just a bit further down the A519. It has a wooden fence that encloses it all the way round, just under 6ft high, with gates on each side to retrieve the balls from the trees and fields that lie just beyond on all four sides.
The only other structures were the two dugouts, between which was a corrugated iron bus shelter affair with a wooden bench at the back.
There was a good crowd today for a step six encounter. However, most of them were staring at me as I came in. I started to feel a bit uncomfortable, walking up to the clubhouse to get a coffee, as people were looking back over their shoulders to continue to stare as I passed. I started to know how Edward Woodward felt in the Wicker Man. Maybe everybody there knew everybody else there and I was something of a novelty. I just hoped to escape without being tarred and feathered and paraded through the streets of Eccleshall. Maybe it was just that a bird had crapped on my head?
The match was good and I was really impressed with both teams. It never fails to surpise me how good teams at this level are capable of playing. Eccleshall’s opener was a textbook move, involving many great passes. It fell to the left winger who crossed in for a close finish from Spence. It was a beautiful move. Rochdale’s response was just as good, but this time a sublime individual effort. Eastham, who I thought was the classiest player on the pitch and woefully underused by Rochdale, saw the Eccleshall keeper slightly off his line and lobbed him delightfully from at least 30 yards.A header, again by Spence made it 2-1 before the break. A really soft goal off a corner made it 3-1 to the Eagles. Rochdale missed a hatful of sitters and really should have won the game. A penalty got them back into it at 3-2, but not utilising Eastham more down the left, the Eccleshall post and crossbar, and some jaw dropping misses, allowed the home team to take all three points.