SATURDAY, April 26 – the final day of the North West Counties Football League campaign.
Atherton Collieries were involved in a game which would see one of two teams promoted to the Premier Division.
This was the day we had been dreaming of since our opening pre-season game in early July. Unfortunately, it was a day dream – we were not part of the promotion scenario; we were ensconced in fifth position.
A 5-0 win or defeat would have made no difference to our final finishing position. Our hosts, Formby, play at Burscough FC and they had to beat us to grab second spot. Failure to do so would see league newbie’s 1874 Northwich reach the “holy grail” in their first season in existence.
They completed their campaign with a 6-0 drubbing of Holker two days earlier. With so much resting on these games I was of the opinion the final games involving Formby and 1874 should have kicked off at exactly the same time, but organising fixtures in the NWCFL is so difficult, what with teams ground sharing and the usual fixture pile-up, it was a logistical nightmare for John Reid, our ace fixture secretary.
So we were 1874’s team for one day only. The tweets of encouragements from their fans were incessant and out of a crowd of 98 there were perhaps quirkily more 1874 fans in attendance than either of the competing teams. Formby were pre-match favourites and our odds lengthened dramatically when the team sheets were exchanged. We could only name one fit substitute and a number of our lads had to play out of position.
It was windy in downtown Burscough and we had it in our favour in the opening period. We had more possession and created more clear-cut chances, but it was goalless at the break. The Squirrels (Formby) looked nervous but then given the fact they were so close to finally gaining promotion after being denied last year through non-football issues it was hardly surprising.
They took the lead on the hour when a corner was whipped in and it hit the unlucky Chris Lawton and rolled over the line.
We could have folded but, backed by the Crazy Gang and our loaned 1874 massive, the lads were excellent. Aaron Cringle smashed a header against the inside of the far post and, perversely, the ball bounced out rather than in. Isaac Newton couldn’t have fathomed that one. Then, in stoppage time, the Formby keeper made a diving save to keep out a Daryl Patton blockbuster.
Without sounding dramatic it was a save-of-the-season contender. So that was it – Formby were deservedly promoted, in my opinion. A special mention must go to their skipper Mikey White – defender, goalscorer, penalty taker, referee, assistant referee and diplomat all rolled into one. A colossus.
1874 were unlucky but live to fight another day; their fans were genuinely appreciative of our efforts on their behalf.
As for the Colls – on our day we were as good as any side in Division One, but lacked the consistency needed from December onwards. We can only think of what might have been. To outgoing manager Steve Pilling; I can only express my gratitude at how easy he made my job as football secretary for nigh on five campaigns. Now time for a nice quiet close season. As if!