Lancaster City 1 Mickleover Sports 1 (19th August 2017)
How can you not want to see a game at a ground which revels in the name “Giant Axe”? Well, I guess when it’s up the other end of the country, so far off the football map that “dragons live here (and Carlisle United)” would show up on any map covering Lancaster’s northern fringes.
Despite that, and aided by the fact that it wasn’t my turn to drive this time, not to mention that Reading playing down the road in Preston offered an alternative if freak weather meant the game was called off, that was the destination on this day.
Of course, “freak weather” in Lancashire could also be said by some to include sunshine, and despite some grimness around Cheshire on the way up, this part of the country was doing a good impression of August, or at least a quite sunny day in April, with the occasional cloud and a fair breeze making it not totally summery.
An early start to the day gave us enough time to have a look round Lancaster Castle, just up the road from Giant Axe. It’s not the biggest castle in the world, and sadly we didn’t have time do to the 75 minute tour of the interior, but it’s imposing enough, and like all the stone buildings in the town, of which there are plenty, it looked great in the sunshine. It did also offer several other smaller tours, linked to the Pendle Witch trials, which took place within the castle in 1612. It also offered “broomstick training” which I imagine owes more to Harry Potter and witchcraft in general than learning how to sweep a floor. I’d be nice to go back one day and do the tours, but it is a heck of way to go.
Instead we went for a beer in town. A slightly dishevelled old man had moaned in our direction as we left car park about there being no pub nearly, despite the detail that we were a five minute walk from the city centre, where it seemed that if a man in a blindfold stumbled through the streets, the first building he’d bump into would be a pub.
Back in the car park we were a bit disappointed to notice we seemed to be the only people who’d paid the £2 pay and display charge. We knew it was supposed to be free for people going to the football, but had no idea how to indicate we were doing so, and the ticket machine didn’t mention it. It did mention that all cars had to be parked in marked bays though, which difficult as there wasn’t a single bay marked anywhere. It must be really confusing for BMW drivers, who must have no idea what to do if there aren’t some white lines to park across.
Maybe Lancaster City thought they had to compete with the city’s pub proliferation, as the club had the unusual set-up of offering two club bars, one on either side of the pitch. The smaller of the two was housed inside a converted shipping container, with a very narrow bar at one end, and seats and small mock fireplace at the other. Maybe we’d missed the “rush” in this bar, as barstaff aside, it was completely empty. Another shipping container sat above, with this one being used as a hospitality suite. Two more stacked shipping containers made do as club offices in the car park,
The other bar, on the other side of the ground, was “cosy”, but at least bigger than the shipping container. It did only offer the same two draft beers though, of which only one matched the logo on the pump. The bar also featured a large picture on the wall of a match taking place in January, being played in the sort of stairrod rain and muddy pitch conditions that we seem to enjoy saying that Messi and Neymar wouldn’t be able to handle. Who knows. Maybe the world cup will be played in England’s northwest in January, and we’ll find out.
While they’d be no Lionel Messi (or similar weather) to put such ideas to the test today, the visitors did include former premier league player Clinton Morrison in the squad, although at 38 (and being a non-playing substitute) the premier league glamour really ended there. Ex-Derby and Rotherham defender Pablo Mills did play, but probably wasn’t fighting off the autograph hunters.
From the lofty perch of the steeply terraced southern end of the ground, you get a good view of the ground, not to mention the castle poking through the treetops to the east, with the intercity trains to and from Scotland parked up on the slopes for the nearby station, looking like they’ve stopped to get a free view of the match.
Had they done so they have seen a match that was interesting without ever scaling any heights. Most of the first half was dominated by the home side, as the “Dolly Blues” as Lancaster City are known, perhaps the least intimidating name in football, camped in Mickleover Sports’ half.
They didn’t really trouble the keeper though. A swirling wind didn’t help, with probably their best two shots of the half landing in the car park. They did have a couple of penalty appeals, but the low-budget period costumes of some of the Lancaster Castle staff were more convincing.
Mickleover, who’d approached the Lancaster goal with about as much enthusiasm as a dog does a bath for long periods, slowly got into the game. They still weren’t creating much, but when they did it was good. One shot hit the woodwork, and another was just fired over from a good position, but the half ended goalless, and that feeling that the whole match would end the same began to creep in.
Mickleover seemed to use the wind better than their hosts in the 2nd half, putting pressure on the home defenders near their goalline, and getting into some decent positions. They’d already had one backheeled goal disallowed for offside (no complaints) before taking the lead with 20 minutes left. They’d forced two or three saves out of the home keeper in quick succession before a half-cleared ball was scuffed towards the Lancaster goal. The shot deceived everyone, and rolled slowly just inside the far post to put the away side 1-0 up.
Given how the previous 70 minutes had gone, they must have been fairly confident of holding on to the slender lead, but Lancaster slowly found a head of steam and began to put some real pressure on. With six minutes left they drew level. A ball was hit towards the away goal – maybe a wayward shot, or maybe a perfect pass, it’s hard to tell from the far end – and Lancaster’s Ryan Winder was able to run in at the back post as sidefoot the hosts level.
Lancaster could have won it too. A few minutes later a shot was hit from the edge of the box. The lad who struck it absolutely middled it, to borrow a cricket term, and it left his foot like it was fired out of a cannon. Sadly the accuracy didn’t match the power of the shot, going a couple of yards wide and causing the spectators behind the goal to dive for cover.
Clearly they didn’t win it though, and the game sort of fizzled out with that sort of “oh” feeling, when neither side is really satisfied with the outcome. With news from down the road at Deepdale being predictably disappointing, a bit of late drama would have been welcome. In reality there are days when I feel a nine-hour round trip would require a seven-goal thriller, dancing girls, and a possible UFO sighting to be worthwhile, but with lowered expectations, it wasn’t a bad day out overall. If only those Pendle Witches could have been here. A little magic on the pitch wouldn’t have gone amiss.