Saturday 20th October 2012
North West Counties League Premier Division
WIGAN ROBIN PARK 0 BARNOLDSWICK TOWN 1
Tea Hut Stuff: Ready Salted Crisps 50p
Weather: Cloudy, sunny spells, stayed dry, reasonably mild
Parking: Big club car park
I love pies. They love them even more in deepest Wigan. As the Match Shed crawled through the gridlocked town centre traffic a van in front of us had a security sign in the rear window 'No Pies Are Left In This Vehicle Overnight'! For the last 10 miles I had seen dozens of posters promoting 'Wigan Beer Festival - Drink Till You're Ill' and 'Silcocks Fair - All Rides for a Quid', both interesting events were designated for the very place I was heading in the Match Shed, Robin Park. I feared a car park full of vomit, either through queasy kids throwing up following 5 consecutive rides on 'The Tumble Dryer' or a gang of under 21's struggling to keep down 6 pints of Brain-Buster Bitter. Fortunately there was ample space for parking and not a sign of the St Johns Ambulance Brigade. The Robin Park complex houses a busy shopping park as well as the very large 'DW Stadium' home of Premier League Wigan Athletic, this place over shadows the smaller Athletics stadium beneath it, it is the Athletics Stadium that is home to newly promoted Wigan Robin Park who now ply their trade in the ultra competitive North West Counties League Premier Division.
Wigan RP have started the season reasonably well and sit in the top half of the table alongside todays respected visitors Barnoldswick Town (or Barlick as the locals call em). I entered the fancy reception area through the automatic doors and followed half a dozen Barnoldswick supporters down a corridor to a table acting as the admission point to the Stand. A couple of girls taking entrance money looked a bit flustered and I got to hear the back end of a conversation they were having with some hungry looking visiting supporters, I couldn't believe what I was hearing! At 1pm they only had a bloody kitchen fire and managed to burn the entire Pie Stock for the afternoon! Of all the places where this could happen, surely not here, pies are king in Wigan. A bloke entered from a side room "Thats right lads, all the pies are gone" (I thought he was about to burst into tears) he composed himself and managed to continue.. "Burned out... alongside all other hot food items, including the tea and coffee", a Barnoldswick fan asked if they had anything else to offer food wise, the Wigan official told him they were trying to rustle up some crisps and soft drinks? I think he was suffering post traumatic shock. As for me, I couldn't take it in. What bad luck for one and all, at least nobody was hurt. No pies at Wigan! Its unheard of! I thought about doubling back to the shopping centre for a burger, it was too late, we were only 15 minutes from kick off. I handed over my 6 pounds and entered the Main Stand at ground level. With only an egg sandwich for breakfast I was running on empty. Lets get one thing straight about this visit report, it would be easy to have a go at Wigan Robin Park purely because they play in a corporate style athletics stadium with a big running track putting a big distance between the spectator and the pitch. You are not going to witness a nice little charismatic non league ground with rustic stands and bags of history, however, what we are going to see is a vibrant up and coming club making the very best of the circumstances in providing cost efficient football for the local population. They also tactfully target the away day visitor to the DW Stadium, Wigan RP promote early kick off games to capture people going to Premier League games at Wigan Athletic across the car park when fixture dates fall on the same date.
Looking around the ground just before kick off, everything is totally dominated by a modern large fully seated stand which provides suitable height to get a reasonable view of the pitch (despite the distance due to the running track). For those with itchy feet, you can walk around the entire pitch if you like, there is a black railed barrier on the outer side of the track which is a good height to lean on, I went all the way around and it does offer some nice views of the DW Stadium and the Main Stand. The Beer Festival was taking place in a long room underneath the stand and there was a fenced off open-air smoking area down towards the corner spot which had attracted a small crowd of people eager to take in a slightly obstructed view of the action (for free).
They seemed well behaved despite the odd abusive remark to the Liner. The club had quickly got a table together in front of the Main Stand with crisps, chocolate and drinks, at least I could now eat something! I opted for one of those tiny multi bag crisp packets that clearly state 'Not To Be Sold Individually', ironically, it also had the same days sell by date on it? For 50p I was desperate and wasn't going to deny sustenance any longer. I scoffed down the crisps immediately. I later saw people with tea and coffee so the club did manage to get some kind of service back in place (all credit to them). For some unknown reason we didn't kick off until 3.05pm but I didn't think much of it at the time, Barnoldswick did the 'Celtic Huddle' and off we went for what on paper looked an intruiging good looking fixture.
For some reason I just couldn't get into it. I don't know if it was the distance from the pitch or just the fact that a lot of the play looked disjointed, slightly frantic and increasingly scrappy. Both sides held possession well and did manage goal scoring opportunities, I would say Barnoldswick looked the more lethal of the two sides especially upfront where frankly Wigan RP struggled all game, even missing a penalty. Neil Chapman put the visitors ahead in the 8th minute and despite some nice passing sections from Wigan RP they never got near to threatening Barnoldswick enough where it mattered, around the 18 yard area. Come the second half, which due to the referee's obscure time-management principles kicked off at a very late 4.15pm, Barlick seemed to 'kick on a bit'. As Wigan chased the game, Barlick found the space with willing runners to move forward at pace, Wigan prevented at least 3 very good Barlick scoring efforts with some excellent goalkeeping and defensive support, one of the saves was almost as good as the Gordon Banks 'Mexico 1970' save against Brazil. Despite odd passages of quality the game failed to ignite, I can remember closing my eyes for a few moments and taking in the sounds around me, some karaoke singer was knocking out a dire version of 'Roll out the Barrel' from the inner chambers of the Beer Festival, stadium cleaning staff had an industrial vacuum cleaner going full pelt cleaning out the function suite at the rear of the stand and to top it all... a gang of under 10's were running riot trashing cardboard boxes behind the dug outs, despite them being politely told to behave by a club official (note: if adults bring young kids to games they should ensure they are reasonably and sensibly controlled, not just let them loose for 90 minutes).
This wasn't my best match day experience but that is not the fault of the Wigan Robin Park club, ok the match could have been better but we all see lots of disappointing games (England in Poland crops to mind), next week could be total-football again... and you cannot blame Wigan RP for the racket from the beer boozers, the cleaners and the unruly kids, I'm even going to forget the burnt pies (despite my greed at the time). To sum it up Barnoldswick just about deserved a 1-0 away win. Is it such a bad ground at Wigan Robin Park seeing as its got a running track around it? I'd urge you to give it a chance and take it on its merits, it offers a decent enough environment to watch NWCL football, dont go expecting old-glory quirky atmosphere, it is what it is and if it gives Wigan Robin Park a chance of progressing as a valuable member ot the NWCL thats good enough for me.