Clitheroe 0 Kendal Town 0 (21st January 2017)
It has to be said, there are times when I wonder if leaving the house at 8 am, to spend the best part of the next six hours trekking up to the wilds of northern Lancashire, is really a sensible thing to be doing, especially when my in-car thermometer was suggesting it was -6C outside.
I’d leaned towards Clitheroe because the ground looked decent, it was in the town centre, there was a chance of seeing some hills as a backdrop, and the clincher – there was a small castle nearby that overlooked the ground. The quality of the match I was likely to see didn’t feature that heavily, which is just as well really.
First up, I’ll say Clitheroe is a really nice little town. It’s full of attractive stone buildings, older pubs, and full of so many little independent shops that seeing a chain establishment like WH Smiths is almost a novelty. One such place, just up the road from Clitheroe’s ground was a shop specialising in hoodies. The name, “Hoody Marvellous” needs to be said in the local accent to make sense.
A little walk through the centre will find you at the tiny Clitheroe Castle, where you can walk up to the keep, with its fine view, for free. As well as being able to see across the town, and the football grounds, there’s also a view of the hills rising up on either side the Ribble Valley. Rising up to the east is Pendle Hill, famous for its witch trials in 1612, and also more bizarrely, for a string of UFO sightings over the years. In fact it seems there have been so many that Steven Spielberg could film a remake of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the Ribble Valley, albeit one starring Jane Horrocks and the shouty man from the SafeStyle double glazing adverts.
The top of Pendle Hill was being scraped by low cloud, so no chance of seeing any witches or UFOs on this day, or goals as it would turn out. Just as well that Clitheroe’s Shawbridge Street ground was interesting enough to feel that wiping out an entire Saturday to watch a 0-0 was almost worth it.
For a start, one side featured one of the smallest stands I’ve ever seen, probably only about ten yards long, with four rows of wooden benches. The back row is partitioned into three sections with a mesh that almost makes each end seat look like a priest’s confessional, if only they had a curtain at the front. With the tiny roof needing four pillars to hold it up, and people standing in front of it, the curtain wouldn’t make the view from the stand much worse any way.
Also on this side is a better and larger main stand which somehow looks much older than it probably is. It has the look of a structure that should only be seen in sepia photographs, and frequented by men in hats and stiff collars, and works well with the grey stone buildings that can be seen behind.
The ground also has a sloping pitch, most marked in the north-east corner, which must be a good three or four feet higher than the goal at that end. I can only think of Wycombe’s Loakes Park that sloped as steeply in all the grounds I’ve been to. Surprisingly Clitheroe didn’t seem to now how to play on the slope to their advantage, but then again their wing play on the flatter parts of the pitch was no better either, as both teams played a game that implied they believed the pitch narrowed to about 40 yards wide at either end.
I think there comes a point about 30-35 minutes in to many goalless games, where it strikes you that both teams seem to be forgetting how to set up a shot at goal. There was plenty of attacking intent, but little idea behind it. There was almost a reliance on mistakes to present chances. The Kendal keeper didn’t look the safest pair of gloves about when trying to claim high balls, especially when he tried punching away, but he did prove to be a decent shot-stopper in the 2nd half when Clitheroe tried a few edge-of-the-area efforts. Threading the ball through seemed beyond them.
Kendal had the best chance of the game right at the end of the first half. A penalty decision, which seemed about as believable as many of those nearby UFO sightings, went Kendal’s way, but the kick was easily saved by the Clitheroe keeper. It fitted the tone of the game so far, which had seen a stream of “comments” about the officials and their competence, come from the terraces.
The 2nd half was a phrase which the phrase “less haste, more speed” could have been invented for. Clitheroe had actually had a shot and a header hit the Kendal bar in the first half, so they did have chances, but the 2nd just saw them get more and more frustrated as time went by. Try a quick ball, and it would invariably be block or flagged offside. Be patient, and a bad pass or miscontrol would see the chance wasted.
This frustration probably contributed to the games last notable moment, when a Clitheroe sub went in hard for loose ball and connected with a Kendal player instead. The straight red and resigned trudge off down the tunnel matched the home side’s mood.
Kendal went for the last-gasp winner they really wouldn’t have deserved, but luckily Kendal’s attacking ideas were just as lacking as Clitheroes’s had become. Lucky, that is, for Clitheroe. Any neutrals facing a 5 hour journey home after a goal-starved afternoon, I suggest, might disagree.