Saturday November 16th 2013, KO 15:15pm at Victory Park.
FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round.
Chorley (BlackNWhite Stripes/Black) 2-0 Matlock Town (Yellow/Yellow), attendance 772.
Admission £9, Programme £2, Pie and Coffee £2.70 (or thereabouts). Badge £3.
Sad that I am, I keep a note on my phone of grounds not yet visited that other hoppers have recommended to me. Victory Park was high on this list. And fitting in nicely with a weekend taking in Rugby League World Cup quarter-final fixtures in Wigan (Sat eve, Eng v France), and in Warrington (Sun, Samoa v Fiji), Chorley was ideally situated just ten miles north of our overnight billet in Wigan.
Chorley is deep into Lancashire, and the local dialect reflects that. Although only about twenty miles west and north of Manchester, the nasal Manc drone is replaced by a more fulsome Lancastrian burr. My telephone enquiry midday to their office that the game was definitely on met by a quizzical tone, until I explained I’d recently been caught out with a postponement at Sheffield FC. But no such worries here I was advised. And I arrived in the once Cotton rich market town with plenty of time to spare.
Chorley FC are going through a bit of a renaissance, currently vying with nearby Skelmersdale for top spot in the Evo Stick Northern Premier League, errrr Premier Division, and, drawing healthy gates through their turnstiles, one had the feeling of a club on the up, and they look ideally places to push for automatic promotion to the Conference North. The club shop and office is situated in the car park before you pay into the ground. Exchanging pleasantries with the Middlesbrough supporting chap in the office, then chatting to the young lads selling the programmes, I was firmly aware I was Ooop Naaarth, Why? Because people have the time of day to stop and chat, little things, like “Enjoy the game”, can mean so much, when you have been all morning on the road to reach that particular fixture, and people are genuinely interested in why you might be at their game.
Victory Park is an old-fashioned venue, a little rusty around the edges, but characterful for that reason. A large main stand dominates with covered terracing at either end. Opposite the main stand it’s largely flat, although a little rise on a bank on this side appealed to many spectators who took up residence there, behind me. Kick off was delayed due to an ambulance being called to attend to a spectator behind one of the goals, apparently I found out later an elderly man had been knocked down by a ball struck by a Matlock player during the warm up, a pure accident, and it was reported the following day that he was fine. This delay was to have a knock on effect later, as Ros was standing in a dark car park at nearby Astley Manor soon after 16:30, and because of the delayed KO I did not arrive until 17:15, Ros was fine (ish) about it, but this is the time of the year when I’m not comfortable about her standing around dark street corners or car parks, and wished she drove, so she could have the car and I can wait for her outside the football ground.
Pre-match from the walk in tea bar, I sampled the staple diet of a visit to a football ground in Lancashire, the meat pie of course. And the steak pie was very edible indeed, pukka in fact! A pie experience always reminds me of my initial forays up north in the 1970’s with Palace, when meat pies were nowhere to be seen on southern menus, but guaranteed in Lancs/Yorks and usually in the West Midlands. Having that, it is still rare to find a pie at a non league venue in the South, although most league grounds have cottoned onto their popularity and stock them.
I’d seen Chorley play and win 1-0 in the first qualifying round of the trophy at Whitby Town in October, and liked what I saw. Today up against same division and sixth placed Matlock Town, ‘The Gladiators’ of Derbyshire, I was expecting a close game. And that was exactly what I got. On another day Matlock may have progressed or at least of taken Chorley back for a replay. But although their committment was total, their end product was lacking, on many occasions undoing much neat approach play. Having said that, on a day when the Magpies had their feathers ruffled, they kept working so hard to stay in the game. Striker Darren Stephenson, who caught my eye at Whitby, was forever tracking back into midfield, and the back four put their bodies on the line to block numerous efforts from Matlock. Chorley came more into the game as the minutes ticked by, and although they failed to create much in the way of clear-cut chances, this tie was hanging in the balance late on. That is, until the intervention of super sub Josh Hine, who struck two very late goals (84 and 90+2), blasting home from about ten yards out, then in injury time meeting a cross at the far post to notch again with a diving header. Honestly, the result had been pretty cruel on Matlock, but Chorley are a very good side, looking capable even on ‘off days’ of grinding out a victory, and I believe it will take a very good team to knock them out of the trophy this season.
Victory Park is a classic timeless venue, if you want to visit a NL ground that still looks like something from the 1970s, visit, you won’t regret it 🙂
NOTE: Chorley have since progressed from Round One with a 2-1 home victory over Northern Prem D1 North side Curzon Ashton to set up another home tie with Forest Green Rovers in Round Two with Josh Hine again striking the winning goal on ninety minutes!