Match Details: Chorley 1 – Frickley Athletic 3 (FA Cup 2QR)
Destination: Victory Park, Duke Street, Chorley, Lancs, PR7 3DU
Competition: F.A.Challenge Cup, Second Qualifying Round
It’s half-past one on a baking late-September Saturday afternoon, and I’m on Chorley High Street outside a pie shop. Mrs.Dribbling has opted for watching a film about penguins with the kids over the lure of the FA Cup; I don’t think it helped matters when I mentioned that last season was the first time Frickley had played Chorley in several years, and we got thumped 6-0.
No matter. Chorley is a hotbed of pastry products, and accordingly the Victory Park stadium now has two separate detached brick-built tea rooms, with one sitting at each side of its impressive and archaic main stand. I’m just a ten minute or so walk from away the ground, but the lure is too much. I go in and order a cheese and onion pie, only to find they’re already sold out (evidently you have to get up early to get your first choice pie in this town). I settle for a cheese and onion pasty instead, but hope it isn’t a bad omen of disappointment to come later in the day. Elsewhere, the local tattooist defiantly displays the message ‘Strictly No Prams’; a brass band plays in the background as a junior sea cadet rattles a collecting tin; and the sign on the way in proclaims ‘Chorley is Lancashire’s Market Town – A place where everyone matters’.
Fifteen minutes and one pasty later, I’m at the entrance to Victory Park – or ‘Chorley Sporting Club’, if you’re following the wording of the local signage. It’s approaching an hour before kick-off and Frickley’s secretary has a worried look on his face, as the team bus seems to have got lost somewhere en route. I reckon that could account for the pie shortage, especially if Desperate Dan doppelganger Gavin Allott is onboard. Five minutes later though it pulls round the corner so we have a match on our hands, and as the coach doors open I’m sure I can smell a mix of steak and onion with pastry.
Despite sounding a bit like a modern take on stadium naming one-upmanship, Victory Park is so titled because it was opened in 1920 to commemorate the end of the First World War. It’s a lovely mix of a huge old stand with terracing at the front and wooden seating up top (reminiscent in fact of Frickley’s own main stand), covered terracing behind each goal, and spacious hard standing down the remaining side. The only drawback is that recently implemented bobbins meddling regulations have meant that the grass banking behind the hard standing is now out of bounds. As grounds go though, it’s a ‘must visit’ location if you’ve never been here before. The main stand roof was replaced recently, and I guess if they ever got promoted to the Conference North then the wooden seating would have to be replaced with crap plastic ones, but for the time being it’s steeped in historic quality. I’m guessing that the two brick-built structures that nowadays house the tea rooms were once changing rooms, but the players’ loss is the fans’ gain, as they make ideal gathering places.
Inside the bar and social club, the whole area is heaving; a rowdy mix of optimistic home fans, tentative away fans hoping maybe for a draw, and a small handful of vociferous Frickley supporters who are convinced that Gavin Allott is going to singlehandedly destroy Chorley and send Frickley into the next round. They may possibly be deluded, they may possibly have been drinking, but a combination of both is most likely.
Back pitchside, the teams are warming up and Chorley’s mascot has a costume which follows their nickname of the magpies – see, even that has the word ‘pie’ in it. He must be sweltering under all that fur, and it’s no surprise when he quickly disappears back down the tunnel. A minute’s silence for lifelong Chorley fan Frank Powell is impeccably observed by both sets of supporters , then we’re ready for off.
The first few minutes see both sides go hell for leather in order to get a foothold on the game, and a few crunching tackles fly in accordingly. Frickley’s tricky midfielder Indy Aujla upends a Chorley racehorse and is lucky to only receive a ticking off from the referee. Chorley are using the flanks and Frickley left-back Lee Stratford is constantly under the cosh. The Frickley bar is shaved on the quarter-hour mark from the first real clear cut chance of the game, as Chorley’s Chris Denham hits a volley just too high to count. Elsewhere a couple of wayward pot-shots go high and wide and orbit-bound. Frickley soak up the pressure though, and then comes the game’s first real turning point on the half-hour, when Chorley’s Tom Ince is challenged ‘robustly’ by Frickley’s Jimmy Ghaichem. Ince retaliates by lashing out while Ghaichem is lying on the ground, and the referee has little choice nowadays but to give the Chorley man a straight red card.
To say the home fans aren’t happy is an understatement, and you wonder if the referee will have the presence of mind not to subconsciously want to even things up later. Frickley’s Gavin Allott is seemingly upended in the box by the Chorley keeper, but nothing is given. Following a free-kick though, Allott heads the ball goalwards and a Chorley defender makes like a window cleaner and deflects the ball away with a hand. Allott sends the keeper the wrong way from the spot kick and Frickley are one-nil up. Less than ten minutes later and Frickley have another penalty, again for handball, following a shot from Matty Bloor which the Chorley defender in question is adamant hit him on the chest. The ref is having none of it though, and adds him to the growing list of home bookings. Allott steps up to the plate like a polar bear, sends the keeper the wrong way again (this time to the opposite corner), and Frickley are two goals to the good at the break.
Much grumbling takes place in the tea bars over the interval – I can understand the home fans being miffed at the refereeing performance, though to their credit most also seem to realise their team hasn’t done anything on the pitch to warrant much praise either. One old chap near me calls for wholesale changes, including the immediate introduction of Matt Jansen. Sadly for Chorley though, their mercurial ex-Premier Leaguer isn’t even on the bench today. I buy a cheese and onion pie to calm my nerves and sit in the stand, marvelling at the construction of both equally. The hot drinks here are also bang on – tea and coffee in proper sized cups for a quid – and with serving time clocking in at under a minute, it’s a resounding thumbs up for the five-star Chorley catering services – winners where it really counts.
Back on the turf, Frickley come out first and are chomping at the bit, while I sense manager Garry Flitcroft is going over some reorganising tactics with the home lot. Nothing gives though for a while, with Frickley holding firm and beginning to look fairly comfortable. Meanwhile Flitcroft juggles his pack, bringing on much-touted pair Ciaron Kilheeney and John Cunliffe, so that by 55 minutes he has used all three substitutes. And though it’s a big risk, it gives them some added energy and just before the hour mark they reduce the deficit following a free-kick when Frickley’s Lee Stratford hooks into his own net. Chorley then get a dangerous-looking free kick on the edge of the box, but again it’s poorly executed and goes straight into the wall.
Chorley now have some momentum though, and look to press for an equaliser. However, Frickley are a team with no weak link today, and a confidence which belies their league position. They sense they can kill the game off and that Chorley are there for the taking. At the second of two corners in quick succession, Jimmy Ghaichem’s flag-kick is perfectly flighted, and that man again Gavin Allott rises like a colossus ahead of the Chorley defence and powers home his header. He hasn’t quite single-handedly destroyed the opposition, but he’s done enough to deserve the Man-Of-The-Match award in my book. Chorley are all but done for five minutes later, when Tom Williams limps off injured and they are forced to play out the remaining period with nine men. Frickley now have extra bodies to pick up nearly every loose ball, and though the home side do manage to fashion a chance in injury time through Darren Stephenson, his shot is another one hit wide of the target. Soon afterwards the final whistle blows. The Frickley-ites go home delirious and the referee goes off with a tight security escort. Elsewhere, the penguin film has gone down so well that Mrs.Dribbling wants one for xmas. If Frickley are still in the FA Cup by then I tell her, it’s a done deal.