Curzon Ashton 1 Ilkeston 0 (2nd May 2015)
This write-up could easily have marked new lows in observation. With about half an hour until kick-off, I was still suffering a nightmare headache, which left me just wanting to crawl into a soft warm bed and die quietly.
The Tameside Stadium in Ashton-Under-Lyne wasn’t exactly a substitute in the comfortable warm place stakes. It may have been getting towards the fringes of summer, but on this Bank Holiday weekend, Ashton-Under-Lyne served up a mixture of cold, wind and rain so stereotypical that it could have been named “The Manchester Experience” and sold to tourists wanting an authentic trip to this part of the North West.
At least the locals were friendly. Lighter than feared traffic had us arriving well over two hours before kick-off, and a club official not only told us the location of a pub that might possibly be showing the Derby v Reading match, but offered to drive us there as well. In the end it was showing Leicester v Newcastle instead, but with it being one of Ashton’s many £2 a pint pubs, I couldn’t complain. As it was, with my headache growing, I could do little of anything at all, bar attempting to avoid being monosyllabic, and wondering how unhealthy taking three Ibuprofen with a pint of Guinness was.
Back at the ground, in the club bar, maybe the pills worked, or maybe news of Reading’s ridiculously unlikely 3-0 win at Derby revived me, but the family of badgers that seemed to burrowing through my head decided to move on, and I rejoined the land of the living outside.
In truth, I had been hoping the play-off semi earlier in the week between Curzon Ashton and their rivals Ashton United from across town would have ended in a home win for United, as their ground looked quite tight and atmospheric.
The Tameside Stadium, in contrast, is a modern venue, only 10 years old, and as so often happens, it was a little lacking in warmth, and not just in terms of the weather.
In fairness, there is a lot right with the stadium. For a start, it has proper terracing on all four sides, enough to get a decent view. Down one side, the terracing is even bigger, and covered, even if the roof looks to be of a height that suggests the builders were working in metres and the architect in feet.
Opposite is a functional and tidy main stand for about 500. OK, it doesn’t ooze character, but the facilities probably earn money that those characterful stands don’t. Twee gables and evocative pitched roofs look nice, but don’t pay the bills, and there are no view-ruining pillars either. Furthermore, a visit to the gents showed toilets that were clean, flushed, had a perfectly functioning lock on the door, and also toilet paper. None of those are extraordinary in most walks of life, but football often offers facilities only considered luxurious to those used to life in the trenches on The Somme.
Both ends were uncovered terracing, offering a decent view, no doubt, from the top, but as this day would prove, Greater Manchester is not really the place where you want uncovered anything. If the ends were covered, or even if just one was, it would push the ground much further towards being a good stadium, but the exposed nature of the ground, not helped by being in a field in the middle of nowhere, just robbed the place of any sense of intimacy.
If there was no sign of life in three directions from the ground, at least there was the constant trickle of locals into the ground from the other. A season’s best crowd of 1212 would no doubt please the officials, although even with this figure, the optimism of the owner of the ice cream van in one corner would surely have amounted to little more than flogging enough Zooms and 99s to break even. Ice-cream weather, it was not.
The crowd was boosted by a healthy contingent who’d made the trip up from Ilkeston. Boosted by their unexpected win at runners-up Workington, they must have been confident they could have seen of 4th placed Curzon Ashton too.
It wasn’t to be. An open game was battered about the head by the strong wind. Any high balls into it were already falling backwards as they dropped, and it was perhaps not a huge surprise that the team with the wind behind them in each half dominated.
In the first half, that team was Curzon Ashton, playing in a dark blue kit that looked a bit like it had escaped from the early 1980s, they looked determined to get the job done early. They took the lead inside 18 minutes, turning in a corner into the roof of the net at the near post, with most of the outfield players bundling onto the elated goalscorer. The rest of the half was pretty much one-way traffic, but Curzon Ashton couldn’t find a way through for that crucial second goal.
From the restart in the second half, it did look like that might be costly. Fired up, and with the wind at their backs now, they pegged the home side back for long periods. It did look like if they could equalise, they probably go on to win, but clear chances were elusive. Possibly the best was a back post header, but there just wasn’t enough power behind it, and the keeper saved gratefully. Other than that, it was mainly scrambled efforts and blocks, as Curzon Ashton did whatever it would take to secure their lead.
That “whatever it takes” eventually resulted in a second yellow late in the game, for a foul near the halfway line, meaning the home side would have to hold on with ten men for the last few minutes.
These were nervy moments indeed for the home fans, with the Ilkeston keeper pretty much playing the last few minutes half way up the field as a sweeper, as the ball swung time and time again towards the Curzon Ashton box. They just couldn’t find a way through though, and the whistle that greeted the end of the added five minutes saw a youthful and very slippery pitch invasion by the ecstatic home fans.
When Curzon Ashton moved to the Tameside Stadium they were in the North West Counties League playing the West Didsbury & Chorlton’s of this world. Twelve months ago they were celebrating promotion from the NPL Div 1 North. Next year they’ll be looking forward to inviting Stockport County, Boston and Telford – not to mention FCUM for another year. They are doubtless going to enjoy the experience of getting those big names and bigger crowds to the Tameside. Whether they’ll enjoy the wait to get out of the car park, if today’s 1212 crowd was anything to go by, is another matter.