Runcorn Town 2 City of Liverpool 1 (9th February 2019)
The town of Runcorn, on the south bank of the Mersey, isn’t famous for many things. It’s mainly known for its bridge. Less known about is its absurdly complex road system, which manages to pack a mindlessly excessive set of mini-spaghetti junctions into the footprint of a town of just 60,000 people. Even with a completely befuddled sat-nav, Runcorn Town’s ground must go down as the most complicated one I’ve ever tried to drive to.
Runcorn was also known for having a plucky but poorly-supported team in the Conference, until a fire and other structural damage to their Canal Street ground, in view of the bridge, started a fatal downward spiral. Runcorn Town football club has no connection at all to that club. There were formed way back in the 1960s as CKD, then Mond Rangers, but only progressed from amateur football as the original Runcorn FC was crashing down the divisions in a death spiral. It was before Runcorn FC’s last season that the name Runcorn Town was adopted. The spirit of the original Runcorn does live on, on the other side of town, with Runcorn Linnets, playing in Runcorn’s yellow & green, with Runcorn Town playing in light and dark blue.
Another big difference would be the location of the grounds of the two new clubs. Linnets play in a new and somewhat functional ground on the town’s eastern edge, backing onto to open fields and modern housing estates. In contrast, Runcorn Town find themselves squeezed between the ring road and the mass of Runcorn’s heavy industry, which consumes the entire western riverside of the town. The ground of what once was the industry’s works team is directly next door, now overgrown, with the small stand now but a shell.
Nothing in the area, including Runcorn’s ground, is going to be having UNESCO calling to preserve its architectural beauty, but there was a kind of ramshackle charm to the place. A slightly sloping pitch added a little quirkiness, especially at one end that was so narrow that no spectators could fit behind it. None of the structures looked like the dull “off the peg” spectator units that sap the life out of many small grounds, even if they clearly were made on a budget. Warning signs for “Corrosive chemicals – keep out” hinted that being a ball boy on the main stand side would not be ideal if the ball cleared the perimeter.
It was a very friendly club though, and being welcomed on this day were the fans of City of Liverpool, a purple-clad club who only kicked a ball in anger for the first time in the 2016/2017 season. Despite their youth, they are well on course for their 2nd promotion in just three seasons, and are attracting crowds well above the league average. They would have the majority of the support at this game too, which kicked off in sunshine with the slightest hint of warmth on an otherwise cold day, hinting at spring being not too far away.
Having won 21 of their 27 league games this season, the away fans can be excused for expecting victory, and their confidence was hardly dimmed by their opening. A sustained spell of pressure from the kick of saw the ball crossed in low. It couldn’t be cleared, and it was turned in from 10 yards past an exposed keeper.
City of Liverpool continues to press. They had another “goal” ruled out for offside, and it was looking, even at this early stage, that it was going to be a difficult afternoon for the hosts.
It was all turned on its head a few minutes later. A rare attack saw the ball turned in for an equaliser on twelve minutes, in the host’s first serious attack. The next one, three minutes later, saw Runcorn Town go in front, when a good cross was flicked across goal to put them ahead.
City of Liverpool were now clearly a bit rattled by this unexpected turn of events, and the game start getting a little niggly, as the challenges started to get a little more “combative”. The culmination of this came a few minutes later. An apparently fair challenge by a City of Liverpool player saw Runcorn Town’s Shaun Tuck planted face down on the pitch. Seconds later, with the same City of Liverpool player with the ball on the touchline, Tuck went in with a rather stern challenge of his own. With the City of Liverpool guy down, and screaming in pain, the rest of the City of Liverpool players ran over to Tuck to say “Gosh, what a silly thing to do” or words to that effect.
After rather a lot of arguing, the ref did indeed produce a straight red, and it changed the game, but not in the way you’d have expected. Logic would say that with a man advantage for 66 minutes, the table-topping away side would go on to win. Instead, a previously open game would close up as Runcorn Town could no longer push forward in numbers.
With the backdrop of heavy industry, and the odd plane coming in to land at Liverpool Airport just across the Mersey, the game settled into a pattern. It became almost chess-like, albeit in an English mud & thunder variety rather than the stereotypical 1-0 Serie A match, as the increasingly desperate away side looked to find a way past a resolute home defence. Runcorn Town would still have the odd chance of their own; a flicked header, well held by the away keeper, and an overhead kick that lacked any direction, but other than that, it was mainly one way traffic.
As mentioned earlier though, traffic in Runcorn can find it difficult to go the direction it intended to go, and this was City of Liverpool’s problem. They found it very hard to create clear chances, as the prospect of a second consecutive defeat made them more and more desperate. And when they did get a sight of goal, Runcorn Town’s keeper held or tipped away anything aimed at his goal.
Their efforts were best summed up 10 minutes from time. In a crowded area, a ball probably bouncing towards goal anyway, with the keeper stranded, was given an extra kick by an outstretched City of Liverpool boot. It looked a certain goal, but the flick took it up onto the crossbar, and the rebound was turned wide for a corner. Nearly everyone in purple stood with their head in their hands, unable to believe the miss. This really was “one of those days”.
Several City of Liverpool players slumped at the final whistle, unable to believe they failed to get even a point out of the game. Their travelling fans, despite their frustration, were generously supportive, while the home fans and players were naturally delighted. A quick sojourn to the bar to check the half-time scores (it was a 2 pm kick-off) was made all the sweeter for the home fans by being able to hear to cheers of the celebrating home team players, one thin wall away. Runcorn Town might not have City of Liverpool’s backing, ambition, or support, but they clearly have heart, and that counts for a lot.