Additional: Entrance £10, Programme £2.00, Coffee/Tea £1.00
Bower Fold in pictures
This should have been a classic. This was the game of the day in the Conference North. Stalybridge were fifth, but with enough games in hand to go top. They were the form team, playing the current leaders, Southport. Their last defeat was at Southport, so there was a revenge element also.
Well so much for the build up…the game was so awful even the floodlights went home early, dozing off one by one in the 85th minute, thus making the game a potential ghost match, a bad memory in a few fans’ heads, to be replaced by the replayed game. Neither side deserved a point in all honesty, but a match abandoned after 85 minutes must be a contender for the latest abandonment?
Bower Fold was, I’d recently discovered, yet another ground within a forty mile radius of me. (cf Geographical). Driving the scenic route through Buxton and Glossop put it a tad under 39 miles. Bower Fold looked to have plenty of character from the pictures I’d seen, so it was a must for a day in which not all leagues were playing, and a lot of games in my vicinity were called off with frozen pitches.
It’s funny how the greater the anticipation you have for a football match, the more likelihood there is of jinxing it,or something unforeseen happening. It’s as if your pre-match excitement is inversely proportional to the actual enjoyment. Everything seemed set for a great game; Stalybridge’s amazing run of form since their three-defeats-out-of-four start, the last of which at, yes…Southport. They’d had two scorelines of 7-2 and a 5-3 away win at Alfreton, so they weren’t short on goals, either.
The snow was still thick on the ground on the pavements of Stalybridge, after my journey through the white hills of the Staffordshire Moorlands and the North West Peak. Volunteers from the club had helped to remove the pitch of snow in time for the big match.
Approaching from the south the ground is very easy to find, being off the main route in, Mottram Road. There is free car parking within the ground, but if you wanted a quick getaway, would be better off back up the main road off one of the side roads. Aside from the adjacent road the ground is totally surrounded by trees. If you look at a satellite image of the ground it is so verdant that the pitch is obscured by overhanging trees.
There has been a ground at Bower Fold since 1906, the year an amateur club first played there, although most put the year 1909 as the club’s official inauguration. It’s a big ground by Conference North standards with four covered sides, 1,500 seats and a 6,500 capacity. Celtic’s average attendance is not great at about 400 but I reckoned there were close on 1,000 at today’s game if not more. Helped by a good 200 from Southport.
The ground consists of two big stands on either side of the pitch. The Lord Tom Pendry Stand, opened in 2004, a six seats up steep stand offering great views (it’s where I sat). Opposite this is the Joe Jackson Stand, roughly an 8 by 85 stand, built in 1994. At each end are substantial covered terraces.
There was a very varied selection of food on offer in the snack bar including a bacon bap, which was packed full of crispy hot bacon and good value for £2. I had gone in the Hare and Hounds pub next door before the game, with a view to eating, but left in disgust. There was a peculiar single file queue to the bar, which just didn’t move at all in the five minutes I was there. I can understand slow service on match days, but static service was unacceptable.
Satiated on crispy bacon and hot coffee, I awaited kick off between the two best sides in the division and the entertainment they would bring. It just didn’t materialise. The first half was played at a frantic pace, with little skill or invention. Stalybridge were particularly disappointing and I wondered where on earth they got their goals from. Sturdy midfields tended to cancel each other out in a rather tedious pinball of a half.
The second half improved somewhat, with Celtic a lot improved and they did come quite close to scoring. However, 0-0 seemed written on this game from the very first minute and it was frustrating to see two teams so high up in the league produce so little entertainment. It would be my very first 0-0 non-league scoreline, amazingly. But another first got in before it, my first ever abandoned match, at any level.
With 85 minutes gone a floodlight went out, to ironic cheers. A few moments later a second followed suit. It was almost a fitting end to the anticlimax of the match. After a five minute break in which somebody somewhere tried to resuscitate the disillusioned and disilluminated floodlights, the other two died in sympathy, to close the curtains on a dreadful game. I’m sure the referee’s final whistle in a pitch black Bower Fold had a note of pathos in it, a ‘let’s just end this shit’ wheeze.
Fans shuffled out, chuntering in the freezing cold, not sure whether the floodlight failure was early parole from the prison of the awful match or the death knell of the much vaunted but bitterly disappointing fixture. Nice ground though.
Bower Fold in pictures