Saturday 5th January 2013
North West Counties League Premier Division
ALSAGER TOWN 0 RUNCORN TOWN 2
Tea Hut Stuff: Tea 80p, Cheese & Onion Crisps 30p
Weather: Dry with a fair sky, reasonably mild
Parking: Housing estate adjacent to the ground
My apology, it has been some time since the last Tea Hut visit report, November I think? A bad cocktail of rubbish weather, wall to wall postponements and some problems with the Match Shed resulted in a lot of blank weekends. Now the weather has improved (at least for the time being) and a solution to the Match Shed situation is coming to fruition means I can go and watch some non-league football again... and where better than the superb value for money North West Counties League. I've had Alsager Town as a visit-target for quite a while, its one of the few NWCL Premier League grounds I've not been to. The fact that Alsagers opposition this weekend are renowned as one of the best footballing sides in the division, Runcorn Town, made this an eagerly anticipated match day choice. After weeks of endless rain it was good to enjoy a stress free trip down the M6 and the A50 in the Match Shed, there wasn't much traffic and it was quite fitting that what could be the Match Sheds last journey was bathed in glistening winter sunshine. I should explain, the Match Shed has reached the age that demands a parting of the ways, I've put it off but now the time is right, my trusty pal will soon be gone forever, this may very well be the last game for The Shed, such a shame but change is inevitable in this fast moving world (some people say we should embrace it?). I know I will miss it. I was quite surprised to find Alsager so close to open countryside, I knew it was north of Stoke on Trent but I had imagined it to be more urban. There was a bright cheery welcome sign just before I swung the Match Shed through the housing estate which is described as being adjacent to the ground.
It seems a decent enough area, one strange fact is that all the houses seem to have flat roofs? Some groundhoppers have gone on about Alsager Town being a hard ground to find, I had no such problems, its even signposted? Although it was only 2.15pm there was the dreaded sign at the gate 'Car Park Full'! It wasn't really a problem as there is plenty of street parking close by on the housing estate. It doesn't look the kind of place where somebody would pinch your wheels. I paid my 5 quid and joined a few Runcorn Town fans walking down the slope to the ground, the entrance, toilets and clubhouse are much higher up than the pitch, the setting is quite picturesque as the tidy well kept stadium meets open countryside which sweeps behind what I am led to believe is The Farside covered terrace.
Apparently Alsager once had a colourful following of disgruntled Stoke & Port Vale fans who draped the stand in various flags and banners, they would follow Alsager home and away and called themselves 'Ultra's'? Not like the Italian ones who stab you in the bottom I hope? I think the Ultra support may possibly have dropped off over recent seasons? Besides the Farside stand which adorns the far touchline, you move right to the Tea Hut end which is stood back behind the nets, its a block of black cabin like units with an adjoining medical room at one end, its all black appearance gives it a strangely charismatic profile, the all important Tea Hut is slap bang in the middle.
A bunch of lovely ladies are on hand to sell you soup, pies, burgers and hot drinks all at very reasonable prices, nice not to see rip-off charges for a change. Due to an impromptu running buffet I had before leaving home I was still too full to get any food down so I just had a large tea at 80p, it was very nice too. The clubhouse side of the ground sees two stands running the length of the touchline, the larger one offers seating, the nice looking new clubhouse and changing room blocks loom high above in the background (unfortunately the old clubhouse burned down and Alsager have worked wonders to get a high quality new facility in its place).
The stadium all looks spick and span with good hard standing and well trimmed perimeter areas adding to the 'welcome' feel to the place. I'd heard tales of "you wouldn't want to go to Alsager" but I must say, personally, I found Alsager Town to be a good location to watch football and it has that all important bit of character thrown in as well. Alsager Town currently sit mid table under ex Spurs & Portsmouths Andy Turner, a manager who really gets into the game coaxing on his side for the whole 90 minutes, I watched Alsager in the first game of the season at Squires Gate, they are no pushovers and would surely test the highflying Runcorn Town. The visitors were in third spot behind Maine Road and Padiham, chasing them in fourth position came Bootle who had 4 games in hand! It was essential that Runcorn Town got something out of this tussle with Alsager, preferably the full 3 points. I've banged on about Runcorn Town for some time now, when they put it together there is no finer side in the league, some of the football can be sublime to watch, however, not every game falls into the fantasy-island category, like every good side, Runcorn Town have learned how to win ugly when necessary, I was hoping the Alsager match would be a bit more Samba style Copacabana than a knees up in Rhyl? The first half went to Alsager in my book (just) despite Runcorn Town having a 0-1 lead through a 36th minute slightly controversial penalty from the striker they call Macca, James McShane. 5 blokes huddled around a tinny radio on The Farside thought the whole thing was totally 'Gareth Bale'! I've seen them given and to be honest, in my opinion, there was contact.
The elephant in the room was the fact that Alsager created piles of goal scoring opportunities and fluffed the lot of them, time and time again the Runcorn Town back four got pulled apart (much to the obvious anger of manager Simon Burton on the visitors bench) only for some very wayward shooting from the home side. After a half time packet of Cheese & Onion crisps (just to keep me ticking over) the first 20 minutes of the second half witnessed some of the Runcorn Town magic that makes them such an entertaining side to watch. Paul Shanley was having a fine game down the left flank and his wonderful jinking run and shot could only be half saved by the Alsager keeper, James McShane was on hand to slot home his second from the rebound, 0-2 to Runcorn Town.
Alsager battled on but the gaps in the visitors defence had been attended to, probably via a half time Simon Burton b*llocking! I sensed Runcorn Town eased down the gears after the second goal but how special it is when they hit the throttle, the ability to produce that extra piece of magic sets them apart from most teams in this league, thats 10 games undefeated for them, the real test comes with the unknown qualities of how sides like Maine Road and Padiham tussle with the draining aspects of the second half of the season? Will they slip up? I reckon Maine Road will be in the mix, not so sure about Padiham? Perhaps the biggest threat to Runcorn Town comes from the side just below them (with 4 games in hand) Bootle! Should be good to watch it happen. So there you have it, a decent game, scrappy at times but some Runcorn Town magic thrown in during the early part of the second half, it is worth noting that Alsager could have had this game won before the break if they'd had their shooting boots on. A good little ground to visit and a credit to the club helpers who've worked so hard after the clubhouse fire, well worth a visit if you are in the area.
I jumped back in the Match Shed and my trusty pal was soon negotiating a pitch black A50 on the way back north, how sad that it may be the Sheds last match day return to home?