Ground Nº 106 – Moss Lane
Saturday 12th Nov 2005
Conference Altrincham 1 Exeter City 1 HT 0-1 Att: 1,366
Altrincham was the start of a ritual of my Dad and I watching random games. Normally we’d watch Brighton but I’d got fed up of the lack of value for money in the Championship and the bitter disappointment and wretchedness that comes with having spent £25 to see overpaid loanees and hasbeens have an off day.
My Dad (see pic above) was now an AFC Wimbledon fan. He was busy sweeping up the non-league grounds of the South East with the Dons, so he had a bit of a taste for non-league now. We decided to start doing choice pyramid games when he came up for weekends now. He fancied the Altrincham tie and wanted to be an Exeter fan for the day. I wanted to watch Total Network Solutions just for the obscurity. They weren’t playing until Sunday so we went with Alty.
Altrincham FC are one of the better known and successful non-league teams. They hold the record for most league scalps in the FA Cup. There are thought to have been founded in 1893 as Manchester Broadheath FC and were founder members of the Manchester League, changing their name to Altrincham ten years later. They first played at Moss Lane in the 1910-11 season and have done so ever since. They spent their early years in Manchester and Cheshire Leagues before becoming founder members of the Northern Premier League in the sixties.
They were founder members yet again, this time of the Alliance Premier League in 1979 (now The Conference), and were champions the first two seasons. Unfortunately there was no automatic promotion then; you were elected. They missed out by one vote in 1980. They got to two FA Trophy finals in 1982 and 1986, winning the later and gained notoriety in the FA Cup by knocking out many a league side.
In 1986 they beat top-flight Birmingham City at St Andrews 2-1. This is one of the biggest cup upsets in the history of the competition and definitely THE most unsung one. Nobody remembers it. Well, I’m sure some Robins fans do and, reluctantly, some Birmingham fans, but you’ll be pushed to find anyone else, maybe with the exception of Angus Loughran (Statto) and John Motson.
Everybody remembers Sutton United beating Coventry 2-1 two years later. It was back page news for months and still to this day when the ‘magic’ of the FA Cup is mentioned it is only a matter of seconds before footage of Tony Rain’s and Matthew Hanlan’s goals comes on, the players legging it away on the cut-up pitch celebrating, their shirts riding up their backs. You ask somebody now about FA Cup shocks and Sutton will be mentioned, maybe second to Hereford (2-1 Newcastle 1972) depending on their age, but it’ll be up there. Even people too young to remember the game know about Sutton. But Altrincham? Complete blank.
If you were to ask the Yanomani Indian tribesmen of the Amazon rain forests in Brazil, or the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert, or the non-urbanised Australian Aborigines to name a famous FA Cup upset they would all reply with Sutton United. People living in South Manchester and Cheshire don’t even remember Altrincham’s finest hour since 1893.
So they made a bit of a name for themselves in the 80s (to those paying attention!) and in 1990/91 just missed out on promotion to the league again, this time ousted by Barnet. I remember them that season, amazed at their two consecutive wins of 9-2(home) and 6-1(away). I’m fairly sure they won about 12 on the trot. Alty fans – please confirm or correct.
This was their first season back in the top-flight of non-league. Today’s visitors were recently relegated Exeter City. My Dad and I drove up the A34 through Cheshire to the game. The historic market town of Altrincham is a very wealthy residential town now. (Altrincham was granted its Royal Charter as a Free Borough, to authorise the holding of a market (or fair), by Baron Hamon de Massey in 1290. *wikipedia – helping ignorant people seem savvy since 1995).
It is home to many players of Mans City and United along with Coronation Street stars and Manchester band members such as the Smiths and The Stone Roses. Moss Lane lies in a residential area itself, and while it looks nice and surburban and all that, ultimately, it could be a residential area anywhere in England. Maybe when you pay two or three times as much for a property you have to believe that it is somehow special, so perhaps we should forgive a little swagger and haughtiness. Location snobbery is something I find very difficult to get my head round.
Just up from Moss Lane is a friendly pub which we enjoyed a pre-match pint in. Directly opposite the ground is a wonderful chip shop, where we queued and enjoyed some banter with a few Exeter fans. The Exeter turnout was superb and surprised me. There were a good few hundred who had made the long effort up the Ms 5 and 6 today. They were top of the league with Altrincham near the bottom.
We stood with them on the 20/20 Hale End, an open terrace holding 1,434 behind the goal to the right of the main stand. The main stand seats 1133 with the smaller family stand sat to its right with 190 seats.
At the other end is a covered terrace for 1,554
To the right of us is the covered popular side terrace that seems to be home to the singing contingent. It holds 1,774 fans but can be split to allow away fans in.
I liked Moss Lane. It was in the traditional style, the kind of image you’d conjure up if asked to think of a generic non-league ground. Being almost 100 years old it had that lived in feel, like well marinated food, it had soaked up all those cup wins and memories into its stands and terraces. Both sets of fans were a credit to football at this level. Exeter turned up in numbers and both were vocal throughout the game, especially in the second half, as the Alty faithful moved towards the away end and the goal their team were kicking into.
Exeter looked like table toppers in the first half. They were crisp, well organised and up for the win. They squandered a few chances before taking the lead on about 40 minutes with a firm header into the top middle from a fast cross. Altrincham started getting back into it in the second half and, to the amazement and chagrin of the Exeter following, equalised after a defensive mix up. They almost won it too. It finished 1-1, Exeter should have had it won by the break, they looked quality. It was a surprise to see them plummet down the league afterwards.