Tuesday 2nd February 2016 7.45pm
North West Counties League Premier
Bootle 2 Atherton Collieries 5 ht: 1-0 att: 86 Ent: £5 Prog: £1 Coffee £1
Ellis 3, Hamilton 88 : Cover 55, Ayres 59 (pen), Truffas 66, Holt 78, Sherlock 87
from the Delta Taxis Stadium
It was Groundhog day – the annual celebration of this blog. In Pennsylvania, the groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil, was teased out of his lair by blokes with beards and top hats, to read selected writings of my substantial oeuvre. To top things off, the evening’s football was to be my landmark 400th ground. Originally planned for Nelson, we swerved off the M6 to the hastily arranged fixture of Bootle v Atherton Collieries. Google maps had the ETA for Nelson at past kick off, so we took advantage of a game arranged not 24 hours previously, after the Collieries’ original game at AFC Blackpool was postponed due to floodlight failure on the Monday.
Even better, I was being chauffered to this auspicious match by the other Dave (the one who isn’t a rodent). We’d planned on going to Little Wembley, home of Nelson, one of only six grounds in the top flight I’d yet to do. However, with time pressing, Bootle at 20 miles nearer and the option of a pre-match drink, was a no-brainer. As we came off the M62, we just happened upon a pub called CASK Liverpool Micropub. What a find. Five carefully chosen beers plus two ciders in this small pub, just off Queen’s Street, in West Derby. A light and hoppy Resolution by Abbeydale brewery later, we continue to skirt around Liverpool, up Queen’s Drive, into Bootle and the back end of an industrial Estate to Vesty Road.
The Delta Taxis Stadium, or Vesty Road, completes my threesome of North Liverpool clubs. I didn’t realise but the first Bootle, founded in 1880 got to the quarter finals of the FA Cup in 1890, losing to Blackburn Rovers 7-0. They also spent one season in the football league, being founder members of division two. Despite finishing eighth they dropped out due to financial reasons, to be replaced by neighbours Liverpool. Bootle Athletic then emerged at the same Hawthorne Road ground and lasted until 1953.
Then came the new incarnation, starting as Langton in 1953. They played in the county leagues of Liverpool, Lancashire and Cheshire before becoming an inaugural member of the North West Counties League in 1982. They were Division One champions in 2009.
As the game was only arranged a day ago, I would be willing to forgive them not having a programme. After all, I’d been to some NWCL venues for long arranged ties, to find no programme. A pre-printed effort with a sticker over the top would be a bonus. A team sheet would do. But no – full blown programme with the away team hard-printed on the cover – great work at short notice, massive kudos to Bootle for such short notice professionalism. Nothing was going to spoil ground number 400.
The Delta Taxis Stadium has two seated stands, one with white seats, one with blue. Both the drag and drop variety. Next to these along the same side is a matching block of covered terrace. Behind the goal is the ‘Dodge Kop’, a two step covered concrete terrace.
A few intense rain showers had us worried about the game, but we arrived to see the lights on and the pitch looking heavy but playable. And the wind was almost strong enough to give us another doubt on the commencement of the game, as storm Gertrude continued to blow. Others in the area were PP. Despite the conditions the game was a classic. Atherton Collieries were third in the table, in a three horse race for the NWCL title, with Colne in second and Runcorn Linnetts in top spot, but having played many more games. The Colls needed to win to keep the pressure on. Bootle were in sixth.
In the first minute Atherton should’ve taken the lead, when the Bootle keeper was rounded, but the side netting was hit from an angle. Despite the early falter Bootle were rampant in the opening half hour, taking the lead on 3 minutes, with a clever one-two on the edge of the box and smash in to the net from 15 yards, by Ellis. A few minutes later a right footed shot from 20 yards crashed down off the crossbar. Atherton were being overwhelmed and judging by the first half performance, you’d guess an upset was on the cards.
The wind was chilling so a coffee was required from the snack bar down by the Dodge Kop. It was good coffee for the standard non league £1.
No-one could have predicted the outcome of the second half, as Atherton moved up a gear or two. After a one-on-one with the Bootle goalie left the ball loose in the area, Cover hooked it into an empty net for the equaliser. Minutes later a penalty that Bootle hotly disputed was converted calmly by Ayres. The pendulum had swung violently in the space of four minutes, and the penalty decision seemed to put Bootle out of kilter. Then Truffas side-footed a third from a byline cross, seven minutes later. At this stage Bootle were still looking to get back in to the game, but they’d lost a bit of the fluency they had in the first half and missed a bit of a sitter to get back to 2-3.
Holt put the nail in the coffin with a brilliant individual goal 12 minutes from time, curling an 18 yarder round the keeper. Another penalty, three minutes from time was saved, but only as far as Sherlock who tucked away an elementary tap in from the rebound. Bootle immediately responded with a nice finish into the corner from a simple cross. 2-5 it finished, but one wondered how it would’ve panned out if the shot off the crossbar had landed the other side of the line for 2-0. Bootle were a good side who somehow managed to let in five second half goals. Credit to Atherton for the amazing turnaround and also for their away support, which given the short notice of the tie and it blowing a gale on a sodden Merseyside came out in their droves.
I’d be quite happy if this particular Groundhog Day kept repeating although I don’t know how it could get much better.