Stalybridge Celtic 2 Histon 1 (2nd Nov 2013)
Of all of the things that Stalybridge’s Bower Fold ground possessed yesterday, a driving winter gale howling through the dales, dragging bullets of rain sporadically across the stadium, was certainly least welcome. Close behind was the fact that the Hare & Hounds pub, directly next door and my planned destination for some pre-match refreshment, is now an art gallery.
Everything else though, made the place a fine ground to visit. Approaching the ground from the south it was clear that while Stalybridge is part of Greater Manchester, it’s hardly an area of endless rows of Coronation Street housing. The comely stone buildings and rising moors are enough – for southerners at least – to think of the landscape of Yorkshire, just a few miles away over The Pennines that rise up on Stalybridge’s doorstep.
Bower Fold has a rich history. It hosted League football for two years in the early 1920s, when Stalybridge were picked to be a founder member of the newly formed Division Three (North) although nothing remains from those days. In fact it seems that nothing at the ground even predates the 1970s “The Big Match” ITV theme tune that the teams run out to, but despite that, it still has a traditional “proper ground” feel to it.
Both ends are of a respectable size and covered, which always helps hugely. The wedge-shaped town end slices off from about halfway down to the corner flag, and would offer a good view for the hardy souls willing to stare directly into the wind. The opposite end was larger overall but less popular, possibly due to being a much longer walk from the warmth of the bar. Both ends gave the impression of a ground that regularly holds crowds that wouldn’t be out of place in the football league, although sadly Stalybridge’s support is more around the 450 mark.
The two seated stands are more modest, although both would still look fine at conference level. One the East side, with the moors rising in the distance and curry house (sadly not open during the match) underneath the seats, is the main stand. Seating about 700, this steeply rising stand offers a fine view of the game. On its own it’s not terrifically exciting to look at, but there’s enough about the rest of the ground to make that not matter.
Access to the main stand is slightly chaotic due to presence of the players’ tunnel between the edge of the stand and the ground entrances. This is avoided on the Lord Pendry (known to many football fans as Tom Pendry MP) Stand opposite, where access is via staircases at the front. While this is a big improvement, and the very fact of having all rows of seats raised up means every seat has a good view, it does mean you get an ugly grey concrete wall at the front of the stand, which a sliver of terracing in front does little to hide. Fortunately a high semi-wooded hill looms behind the stand, so you hardly notice. It also offer a great view of both the game and the start of the Pennines directly ahead.
Kicking into the wind and up the slope, Stalybridge took the game to their visitors and were good value for a 2-0 half-time lead. The first came from a good through ball, with a one-on-one chance finished from a slight angle. For a team that looked to be concentrating on playing a passing game rather than just playing a long ball into the wind, is was a just reward.
It didn’t take long for the lead to double. A blocked shot couldn’t be cleared and it was thumped back in from 15 yards, and Stalybridge looked set for a convincing victory.
It looked that way for most of the second half too, but whether it was complacency or just a big Histon improvement, the men from Cambridgeshire started taking control. The home side started to look a little nervous as Histon got closer with every attack. It just didn’t seem to be quite happening for them though, perhaps summed up by one cross dropping at the far post. With a clear shot at goal, from about 6 yards out, the ball could only be hit into the grateful keeper’s chest, and the chance was gone.
A nervy last few minutes were set up by a virtually unstoppable Histon spot kick with four minutes left, but there were no further late dramas. The whistle went on the first dark-skied afternoon of the season, and Stalybridge had the win they deserved overall.