Stocksbridge Park Steels 2 Irlam Town 3 (24th August 2019)
Nice weather, nice ground, nice scenery, nice number of goals…a tick in the box for them all. OK, I’ll gloss over an eight hour round trip in a car that was rather too warm, and being honest, I wasn’t totally taken with the large pork pie in the club bar. It was a bit too large in, truth. I asked to borrow a knife to cut it up, and was presented with what looked more like a machete, but overall it was one of the better club bars.
The bar, being perched up on the first floor, was also a popular spot for those wishing to drink while watching the game, offering a fine view of both the pitch and the hills to the north.
The ground itself was up a steep hill, round a hairpin bend, passing an odd castellated tower, leveling out just enough for it to have only a moderate slope. A cricket pitch beyond also had a slope. The two teams in whites, playing as we arrived, no doubt, opted to knock the ball to the downhill boundary whenever possible.
Stocksbridge Park Steels’ ground also used to be a cricket ground. The clubhouse and offices are in the corner, pavilion style, which one empty side which looks like is used to be a cricket outfield, but now is home to a permanent looking fence. The field beyond doesn’t look like it’s hosted cricket for quite a while, looking more like a training pitch for the football club now.
The main stand opposite is a decent structure, named “The Jamie Vardy Stand” after their most famous ex-player, who had three seasons at Stocksbridge between 2007 and 2010. Beyond here is a steep grass bank. Signs telling you to keep of the banking are possibly redundant, as the five foot high sheer wall before the banking even starts would deter all from climbing up, beyond those who regularly attend football matches with crampons and a climbing pick.
There is another grass bank at far end, although with this one climbing up is not only possible, but allowed. The slope of the pitch causes this to be higher at one side than the other. The man who took our money for the car park was stretched out on a blanket at the top, with his wife, having been released from car park duty on the grounds that Irlam weren’t expected to bring any supporters.
The near end, as well as the terracing rising up to the start of the clubhouse, featured a covered end terrace. Such is the slope of the ground, that the roof of this was below ground level as you walked in. The terrace itself would probably be a more popular vantage point when the winter sets in, despite its distance from the pitch. On this day though, with the sun beating down, only a handful of fans used it, one of whom appeared to have dropped a whole pie onto the terracing, lying there, semi-squished, like a meat & potato roadkill.
Also squished, were Stocksbridge Park Steels’ FA Cup hopes. Top of their division after two games, and facing an Irlam team categorised as a division below, they would have at very least fancied their chances. The early signs were that this was well-founded, with the home side doing well in the opening stages. Had an early laid-off chance hit the target, rather than being blazed over, the afternoon could have been different.
As it was though, Irlam, in their first meaningful attack, took the lead, blasting a powerful shot past the home keeper after just four minutes.
Just two minutes later the lead was doubled. A through ball put the Irlam attacker away in what used to be called “the inside left channel” and he took advantage of a keeper seemingly in two minds about whether to come or stay, dinking the ball past him when he did eventually advance.
This was not in the script, and the home side were rattled for quite a while after, not being able to get their game going at all, with Irlam content to play on the break. On a very warm day (especially for Yorkshire) this was understandable, but a little risky. They got away with one chance when a flicked header from a corner had to be cleared away from nearly on the line. They were also fortune when their keeper spilled what looked a routine save. The Stocksbridge player following up was deemed to be offside, sparing the keeper’s blushes, and saving the 2-0 advantage.
The second half started with the home side looking stronger, now attacking down one of the slopes the pitch had. The early pressure told, with the home side curling a fine shot across the keeper, into the top corner, to put them back into the game.
The equaliser always looked on the cards after that, and it was a surprise that it took as long as the 65th minute to come. This time, a cross into a crowded box was controlled and brought down, before stumbling forward and thumping the ball past the Irlam keeper to level the scores.
There looked only one winner now, but Irlam had other ideas. Not long after, a break down the left saw the ball crossed in. The home keeper came out to claim, but didn’t get near enough, and it was flicked over him to drop into the net. Irlam back in the lead.
After working so hard to get back into the match, this goal seemed to really knock the stuffing out of Stocksbridge, and they never quite got on top of the game again, and Irlam saw the game out with probably more comfort than the few that came from Irlam thought at the time. The liveliest moment was probably when a frustrated Irlam played angrily kicked out a ball that had rebounded after going out for a throw, only managing to take out one of his own teammates in the process. So well done to Irlam. Commiserations to Stocksbridge Park Steels. You may have lost, but if nothing else, at least it was a nice day for it.