Oswestry Town 2 West Didsbury & Chorlton 1 (26th October 2019)
Had plans worked out I’d have been mixing a report around a Steeton AFC match at Keighley Cougars rugby league ground with location shots of Ripping Yarns’ Barnstoneworth United ground, and “Golden” Gordon Ottershaws house, which was filmed in the area.
Sadly heavy rain called for a drastic change of plan as we reached the end of the A43 at Northampton. With option after option also being called off, “anywhere with a 3G pitch” become the sole consideration, and a trek in horrible weather across the West Midlands almost to the Welsh border became the plan.
In the report from my Goole trip, I mentioned gloomy-sounding northern towns being mentioned occasionally on the Saturday afternoon football results, presumably located in hinterlands so remote that “dragons lived here” could have been etched onto maps of the area. While not northern (not that I knew any better) the name “Oswestry Town” certainly fitted into that category.
The Oswestry Town I’d be seeing would not technically be the same club I recall from those Saturday afternoon football results of my youth. Having folded in 1998, Oswestry reformed a few years later, before eventually merging with Total Network Solutions to form The New Saints, after losing their ground for housing.
This incarnation of Oswestry Town formed in 2013, and shared The New Saints’ ground, but very much as a junior partner. The sports complex appeared to have no signage at all indicating it was also the home of anybody other than The New Saints.
The building that served as the club bar was also a bowling alley and children’s play area, meaning any pre-match conversation was drowned out by screaming kids and the rattle of bowling pins being knocked over. It was partly due to this, and our early arrival, that the decision was made to find a pub in town for a pre-match beer. I can thoroughly recommend the all day breakfast in “The Griffin” – a fine old-style pub full of awkwardly adjoining rooms on different levels.
Sadly lacking in any kind of similar old style charm was Park Hall Stadium itself. You can’t knock the facilities of the sports centre, but the place was, perhaps understandably, clearly designed as a community asset rather than a football ground. A covered seated stand at one end, oddly off centre, was the best part of the ground. A temporary canvas roofed seated stand just round the corner did at least break up the cliff face of the high wall of the sports centre. The other half down that side had a raised balcony area just off from the cafe/bowling alley/kids play area, which offered a fine view, but did again just present a high blank wall on that side. With the turnstiles closed, access via this balcony was the only way into the ground.
Opposite was the kind of ridiculously over-engineered tv gantry that’s apparently a requirement for all Welsh Premier League club. I’m not sure who designed these things, but I suspect they must have shares in a steel company, going by how much is deemed necessary to support a small camera crew.
Directly beneath were seats for the players of both teams, with the steps and floor also oddly covered in (fake) grass, as if it had been partially reclaimed by nature.
Everywhere else was just hard standing with a mesh fence behind, including the end behind which was the overflow car park. A few saw little point in bothering to pay to get in, when they could just watch for free from there.
For much of the game it did look like those few not bothering to pay to get in might have made the right decision. It was a 1st v 4th fixture, but both teams seemed to just cancel each other out. Early on, WD&C were having most of the play, but not really creating anything. Oswestry got more into if after a heated minute or two, when a series of “competitive” challenges flew in, and probably had the edge after that.
Oswesty seemed intent on “working the channels” with many a ball played long and wide. It would have been a great tactic if the Oswestry forwards could stay onside to receive these balls. On or two did come off though, and one of these, towards the end of the first half, saw the first goal. The very mobile WD&C keeper tried to collect a ball toward the side of his box, but couldn’t get there. From a very tight angle the ball was cut back at pace, and found the inside of the far side-netting to put the home side ahead.
The second half was watched from the balcony. The view here was much better, as was the weather compared the journey up, but the game saw little improvement. Both defences, and the offside flag, were winning the battles, and the game looked set for a 1-0 finish. I wouldn’t have quite called it boring, but it was definitely rather too cagey for my liking.
Thankfully it burst into life in the last few minutes. An Oswestry run into the box from the right, and a powerful shot which came back off the post, injected some much needed urgency into the game. WD&C responded, and at last seemed to realise that if they were going to score an equaliser, it would be best to try to have a few shots.
They’d put one good chance badly wide, before a ball was cleared to the edge of the box by the Oswestry defence. It dropped kindly for WD&C’s No.8, and his low shot seemed to catch everybody out as it torpedoed into the bottom corner. The travelling fans, who must have made up close to half of the crowd ,celebrated, as the away team salvaged a point in the 88th minute.
Or so they thought. With the game going into stoppage time, Oswestry won a corner. A perfect set-piece saw a deep corner met with a thumping header from a player running in, and it was in the net before anyone could react, putting Oswestry back in front.
There’d be no more excitement though. The ball found its way to the corner flag, and just stayed there for the final minute or two. I can fully understand why teams do it, even when presented with free kicks around the box, but it’s not the most edifying spectacle. The home fans would hardly complain though, and with other games in the division postponed, it put them six points clear at the top. And on a day that had threatened to be a washout, I was just pleased with the late drama.