My Matchday - 162 Ashley Travel Stadium

Skelmersdale United 2v2 Gateshead
Unibond Challenge Cup Semi Final
(a.e.t. Skelmersdale win 4-2 on penalties)

8th March 2008
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Skelmersdale United are a club based in West Lancashire, a former coal mining town which became a New Town in 1961, designed to cope with the oversized Scouse population from nearby Merseyside, the town still has strong links with Liverpool with the M58 connecting the two towns. The name stems from old Norse speak, which translates as “Skjadmarr‘s Valley” and is more commonly known locally as “Skem.”
Skelmersdale United were formed in 1882 as founder members of the Lancashire Combination, the greater part of their history was spent between this and the Liverpool County Football Combination, where they found their true niche, winning the title 10 times as well a further 18 cups wins.
The club’s most successful side played in the late 1960’s/ early1970’s, with memorable campaigns in the FA Amateur Cup, after losing out in ’67 to Enfield, they won the trophy four years later hammering Dagenham 4-1, Skem will forever remain in the football record books, the first of those two Wembley finals saw 75,000 under the old twin towers, the highest ever attendance for a non major final or international.
After two league titles in three seasons in the Cheshire County League, the club turned professional in 1971/72, spending a brief period in the Northern Premier League, even though the team didn’t struggle on the field, they found life difficult financially, and made the decision to again return to the Lanc Combo in 1976/77.
Their route back to the Unibond League started as founding members of the North West Counties League in 1982, after the odd promotion and relegation in the NWCL they won promotion to the Northern Premier League Division One in 2005/06 and after the reconstruction of the league became inaugural members of Unibond First Division North this season.
Some famous players started life playing for United, the Futcher brothers, Wolves striker John Richards and two ex-Toon stars that I’m particularly fond of, striker Peter Withe and “He’s here, he’s there, he’s every F….in where, Mickey Burns, Mickey Burns” but the most notably
name is former Liverpool legend Steve Heighway, who gained a Republic of Ireland cap while still a Skem player.
Ashley Travel Stadium (originally Westgate Interactive Stadium) is the clubs third ground, the club played the majority of their early life at the spacious Sandy Lane before moving to Whitemoss Park in 1958, the club took the decision to relocated to the present ground a mile and a half away on the Stanley Industrial Estate in 2002, when under construction, the club shared with neighbours Burscough at Victoria Park for a season until the ground was opened for the 2004/05 season.
The ground has a capacity of 2,300, which 240 are seats, this is made of two basic stands with blue seats which are separated by the players tunnel, the nearside has the turnstiles, toilets and refreshment bar, with a sheltered cover which is made of scaffold supports with a Perspex roof resting against the rear of the clubhouse. There’s a separate control area which is a portakabin with a balcony type-thing in front, all these amenities are painted blue to give a more attractive appearance. The remaining two sides are left open, with hard standing and grass banks, there is plenty of vacant space so there’ s room for an improvements in the future if required.

As far as the matchday goes, to say it was eventful and action-packed would be an understatement, a broken down coach, winning the raffle, a tragic mystery tour journey through the dark satanic mill towns of Lancashire, torrential rain, a goalkeeper giving stick to a fan, a fan attacking a goalkeeper, a Anti-Geordie official from the FA, a police escort out of town and to top it all off 120 minutes of football with a penalty shoot-out, all this for a bargain priced £20.
We departed the Civic Centre just after 10am in an old banger of a coach (Toon Army booked 40 coaches for Liverpool and we got what was left over) an accident on the A66 meant a diversion to the A57, which added time to our journey, this resulted in a late arrival at 2.10pm. I headed straight into their spacious club house where I met up with 100FGC squad no.34 David Poole aka
‘The Groundhog’ who became a member of the Heed Army for the day. Another coach full of Gateshead supporters arrived just prior to kick-off, I knew a few of them, but had never seen them at a Heed match before, so I greeting them with jibes of “Glory hunters” but appreciated them making the journey to support their home town club.
The first half of the game was a quiet affair (compared with what was to follow) conditions didn’t help as the rain went from spitting-heavy-torrential as the first half progressed, Skem took the lead in the 6th minute, a ball over the top caught the Gateshead defence square leaving Chris Almond room to pick his spot and lob the ball over the keeper’s head, the only key moment in the first half apart from an Armstrong effort just before half time.
The match reflected the weather, the second half was greeted with bright sunshine and a brighter start from the Heed forcing some fine saves from keeper McMahon, the introduction of Davy Southern on the hour gave Gateshead the edge and it was his superb cross which found Graeme Armstrong at the far post, with a sublime glancing header into the corner
of the net. The game was end to end stuff with both teams looking to win the game in normal time, good saves from both goalies kept the score at 1-1 on the full time whistle.
During the second half a few Gateshead supporters gave the Skem no.1 a bit stick, which is usually taking as a bit harmless fun and it’s something you’ll find at any football ground in the country, but this keeper took exception to the taunts by reacting with verbal’s and hand gestures and even went crying to the referee about it. The situation then got out of hand when 2 minutes into extra-time Gateshead took the lead, again Southern was the provider and Jamie Harwood slid home after just coming on as a sub, a ‘fan’ then jumped on to the field to ridicule the keeper on conceded the goal, which lead to a bit of WWE action, as Ryan McMahon wrestled the lad to the ground before being taking away by security. The incident didn’t just mar the game, it marred the reputation of the Heed Army, the rest of the supporters were saddened by the incident, along with the chairman and officials from the club, but the actions of one individual shouldn’t mean we should all be tarred with the same brush, but an official from the FA who was present didn’t agree, his comment was, and I paraphrase; “ your all the same, you have the same accent don‘t you”
If that wasn’t enough, tempers flared 10 minutes before the end of extra-time, a cross into the box was met with an attempted clearance from the Tynesiders centre-half Jamie Curtis, but the moment before he was about to volley the ball away, Skelmersdale striker Prescott went to chest the ball which resulted in Curtis catching ball and player together, after a loud scream from the striker, the referee paused before pointing to the spot after a nod from the linesman. Donnelly made no mistake with the spot kick, but as he walked past Curtis celebrating the goal, Jamie made a remark and Donnelly gave him a dry slap in the face, which lead to flared uproar on both sides with the offending player giving the red card.
The final whistle and a score of 2-2, after both teams gave their all over 2 hours of football, what happened next? Well that was obvious to everyone in the crowd even before the penalty shoot-out began, who was going to be the hero? There was only going to be one man to grab the headlines, Skem goalkeeper Ryan McMahon who saved penalties from Cave and Bowey, before stepping up the score the winning kick himself to book a place in the League Cup final 4-2 on pens.
Skelmersdale United are currently top of Unibond North, they have a hard working side who should get promotion, if not as champions then at least through the play-offs, they’ll hold their own comfortably next season in the Unibond Premier (they must be good to match one of the best teams in that league) but before then they face Eastwood Town in the League Cup final, best of luck to them, but I honestly don’t think they’ll need it.
Just prior to the end of the game a couple of police were present, but as I left the ground was amazed to find the riot-squad in attendance, who stopped us returning to the clubhouse and were here to escort us out of Skelmersdale, a bit over the top me thinks, but all part of what was a remarkable day, which will live long in the memory, but not for all the right reasons.
Update May 2008
Skelmersdale went on to lose the cup final 3-0 to Eastwood Town and also let their position at the top of the league slip, eventually finishing 3rd.
In the play-off semi final they easily took care of Curzon Ashton 3-0, before coming up against the might of FC United of Manchester away in the final.
A controversial match saw Skem lose 4-1 at Gigg Lane in front of 3258, they had two players sent off and conceded two penalties, which added to a frustrating afternoon and a poor finish to their otherwise great debut in the Unibond League.

2 comments:

David said...

Shaun,
I like the write up! It was a pleasure to be a member of the Heed army for the day and to meet up with you and Steve. They have a great set of fans and in such numbers! It was a proper away atmosphere. Shame about the result but no complaints about the drama. Let's hope the Heed fans aren't tarred with the actions of one man. The Skem keeper should have known better than to get involved. He should be held to account if the Heed fan is.
Excellent day out, though!

PS I'll try to do my write up ASAP but time's too tight to mention at present.

The Smid said...

Cheers David, It was nice meeting another member of the 100FGC Groundhoppers Union.

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