Fallen Giants

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Saturday October 27th 2012, KO 15:00 at Wincham Park, Northwitch. 

The FA Trophy 2nd Qualifying Round, Witton Albion (Red/White Stripes/Navy Blue) 2-3 Skelmersdale United (Royal Blue/Royal Blue)

Attendance 346, admission £9, programme £2, hot dog and tea, £2.50. 125 year badge, £4.

Witton Albion are situated in the town of Northwitch.  Their ground and that of neighbours Northwitch Victoria are both sited on an industrial estate in the North East of the town. Northwitch lies in the heart of the Cheshire Plain, at the confluence of the rivers Weaver and Dane. The town is about 18 miles east of Chester and 15 miles south of Warrington. The area around Northwich has apparently been exploited for its salt pans since Roman times, when the settlement was known as Condate. The town has been severely affected by salt mining with subsidence historically being a large problem, which might explain the tools on the club badge?

One of the museum displays

History lesson over, I’d say it’s quite unusual in having two fairly well established and large non league football clubs in the same town. Although saying that, the Vics were evicted (pardon the pun) from the Victoria stadium, and have this season being playing in Staffordshire at Stafford Rangers FC. The tall floodlights at the Victoria stadium loom high nearby to Wincham Park, seen from the terrace opposite at Witton, hanging over an empty Victoria Stadium, actually looking a little sad,  like a ground hopper in a club car park having just heard a game has just been called off!   How a town of 20k has sustained two football teams is a mystery, but historically both have been quite well supported, although it seems due to the  club ownership issues few Vics fans are bothering to follow their team to Stafford, looking at the gates they have been posting there.

This Trophy tie looked quite tasty on paper. And having overnighted in Chester, this was an ideal venue to visit on the way home. Both clubs had good cup pedigree, and I’d never previously seen either clubs.

In 1991 Witton Albion had gained promotion to the Conference, the top-level of non league football in England, but returned to whence they came in 1994. They were also FA Trophy runners-up in 1992, losing to Colchester at Wembley, a fact I’d forgotten until perusing their excellent museum located at the ground.
So perhaps not exactly a ‘giant’ of NL football, but their recent history of the last 20-25 years seemed to suggest better things than their current NL Step3 position.
Skelmersdale have dropped even further down the ladder, and are now plying their trade in the Northern Premier League D1 North, one division below Albion. Their history is even more impressive, having been formed in Lancashire in 1882, in 1967 Skem made it to Wembley to play in front of 75,000 in the Amateur Cup Final, but losing  the replay to Enfield. FA Cup 1st round appearances followed before success in the Amateur Cup Final of 1971 beating Dagenham 4-1 at Wembley.
Slow decline down the leagues followed before over the last decade, like a phoenix they have re-emerged from the flames, and going into this game, they were unbeaten in the league. So all looked set for an entertaining tie on a sunny but distinctly cool afternoon.

The night before at Connah’s Quay Nomads FC, I’d been wrapped up like a christmas turkey to avoid the cold, today with a bright winters warming sun, I decided to take up residence in the main stand for the first half and absorb the sun rays, the glare was a pain, but the warmth outweighed this inconvenience.

Skelmersdale attacked from the off, and with better finishing could have been two or three up, before ten minutes had passed. Instead it was just the one, after Anthony Hickey,  headed in, unmarked from a corner on eight minutes. After this, slowly, Witton came more into it, attacking the end I was sitting nearest two, the car park end. Only some poor keeping on 33 from Skems keeper Sam Ashton allowed Albion back into the game, as he didn’t deal with a free kick, and the deflection came off Shaun Tuck to loop over the line, 1-1 but undeserved. really. On 40 a little more luck came their way, as Tuck and keeper Ashton clashed, and the ref decided it was an infringement, penalty, which looked far from clear-cut from where I sat, 2-1, penalty easily converted by Gardner.

Industrial backdrop

At half time I had a good look round the amazing museum housed at the back of the club shop, a real labour of love, and worth a visit to Wincham Park alone. For the second half I stood on the terracing opposite the main stand, in the shade, but my first half sun drenching had warmed me nicely enough for the 45 mins 🙂

Skem started like they had the first 45, but this time, they didn’t really allow Witton a foothold, and it was no surprise when they equalised on 65 from sub Gary Burnett, a neat finish in the area, 2-2. The play was interspersed with shouts from the crowd, a northern cry, “Come on lad”, or “well done lad”, in the South you are more likely to hear the term ‘son’ rather than lad, it’s quite endearing and one of the quirks of following the game around the country.  On 73 fellow sub Adam Morning scored a similar goal, after a ball was lofted over the top splitting the defence, he ran on and tucked the ball nicely into the corner, 2-3 and Skem tails were well and truly up now. Albion huffed and puffed, but they didn’t look convincing, and so I finished the game at the car park covered end, with the 50 or so Skem fans now quite excited at this small cup shock, which their team fully deserved.

Victoria Stadium lights behind the trees

Wincham Park has been home since 1989, it’s a decent venue, with cover on all four sides, although a little out-of-town it has a nice feel, and I should imagine on a day when a couple of thousand are in attendance is an atmospheric venue. I only hope that the Vics move back to Victoria Stadium at some stage in the future so I can complete visits to the two Northwitch grounds.

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