Match Details: Frickley Athletic 1 – Chester 3 (NPL Premier Division)
Destination: Westfield Lane, South Elmsall, Pontefract, West Yorks, WF9 2EQ (see earlier reports for location and ground details)
Competition: Evo-Stik (aka Northern Premier) League, Premier Division
Off The Pitch: As non-league grounds go, in my eyes you can’t better Westfield Lane on a nice sunny(ish) day like today, with a decent crowd in attendance. Chester must have brought around 500 supporters with them, and during my half mile walk up to the ground today I was able to instantly draw three conclusions about yer average Chester fan:
1) They like beer (the lesser-spotted Chester beast was seen lurking outside multiple venues near the ground, with the adjoining cricket club doing particularly brisk business)
2) They like chips even more than beer (judging by the high numbers heading into town and asking for directions to chip shops, despite beer being available closer by)
3) They aren’t very good at map reading (to wit, the large numbers arriving minutes before kick off, then regaling their mates with tales of woe based around getting lost at various points between Cheshire and Yorkshire)
I could also add a number 4, that they seem like a genuinely decent bunch, with none of that air of sniffiness that can sometime attach itself to former Football League clubs who’ve hit hard times and had to start again at a lower level. I’ve only ever visited Chester’s ground once – that being three seasons ago when Leeds visited them for a League Cup game – and it was nice to have a chat to some of their fans about the club’s trials and tribulations since then (though neither of us is any the wiser about what happened to former Leeds and then Chester lardarse Paul Butler, following his half-time substitution in said match against Leeds, and apparent disappearance of the face of the earth thereafter). In fact, it was a pleasure to have them here at Frickley, so I hope any Chester travellers reading this had a good day out at the real home of ‘The Blues’.
On The Pitch: Barring a major slip up, Chester look odds on to get promoted out of the Evo-Stik Premier Division at the first attempt. Despite the big gap in league places between themselves and Frickley though, it was clear that Chester were looking at this game as a potential banana skin, and that it would be no easy place to come to and get a result. Upon winning the toss, they elected to make Frickley play downhill in the first half, and boss Neil Young appeared to have a gameplan centred around the premise that if they could get to half-time at least on level terms, then they would hope to force the issue while kicking down the slope in the second period.
The first half saw Frickley perform admirably, matching Chester for much of the time. The away side did have the ball in the net on 30 minutes, but it was ruled out for foul play. After the break, as predicted, Chester went all-out to force the issue. After a lot of huff and puff, they eventually took the lead on the hour mark, when what was either a mis-hit shot or a perfect cross from the right by Antoni Sarcevic allowed the unmarked Christian Smith to snaffle an easy tap-in at the far post. Years of experience told me this would be the right time to go for a quick Jimmy Riddle. So when Peter Knox equalised for t’Blues just 15 seconds after the restart, I had another entry for my “classic Frickley moments missed” file. Thanks to the club uploading the video highlights to its website afterwards, at least I’ve been able to watch it online since. Chester then regained the lead somewhat fortuitously, when unmarked (and almost definitely offside) substitute Iain Howard was presented with a one-on-one with Frickley goalkeeper Stephen Dickinson, and cooly rounded him before slotting the onion into the bag. From here-on there was no way back for the homesters. Ultimately Chester just had a bit too much for them on the day, and settled matters with a third goal 10 minutes from time courtesy of a George Horan header following a corner.
The presence of ex-league teams (or new versions thereof) in step 3 and below of non-league is a double-edged sword. Yes, it can act as suitable ‘punishment’ if they’ve gone financially tits up for some reason. And – so long as it isn’t wiped out by an insisted police bill as with FCUM visits – it can also provide a welcome payday in terms of gate receipts for the home club. But what those who normally only follow League football often seem oblivious to, is that it completely distorts the league they’re demoted to for a year – as you can’t expect a traditional step 3 club to compete financially against a club who are getting 10 times the crowd that they are. So last year we had Halifax, this year we’ve had Chester, and with only one automatic promotion place up for grabs, it’ll be nice next year if there are no demoted ex-league clubs to compete against.
A further set of pics from this game – as well as video highlights – can be found on the official Frickley Athletic website, at: http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/frickleyathletic/photos/frickley-athletic-v-chester-fc-243635.html