Sunday 18th August 2013
FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round
AFC LIVERPOOL 1 CHEADLE TOWN 0
Tea Hut Stuff: Still enduring takeaway rehab
Weather: Mainly sunny, light breeze, mild and dry
Parking: Council car park 5 minutes from ground (free Sundays)
What could be better than a Liverpool v Manchester FA Cup Special? (Ok, I know Cheadle is also near Stockport with a Cheshire postcode but its near enough to Manchester for me). This one was free of nasty additives like overpaid namby pamby footballers who blow over in the breeze, there was no vanity, no diving and no nasty elements of people looking for trouble (unless you pushed in the queue at the tea hut). A nice change from the over-hyped, over-charged dancing classes we see with the big cities Premier League sides. AFC Liverpool are one of a select bunch of NWCL sides who always seem to have a certain style and charisma about them. Their escapades on the pitch are superbly backed up by an excellent website offering quality reporting and photography alongside the added attraction of well presented post match interviews with the respective Managers, you should give it a try on http://www.afcliverpool.tv/. The club was only established in 2008 and following some pretty impressive form in the NWCL Division 1 this is their second season in the Premier Division. They've started the season well with 3 wins out of 4 in the league, some may argue if it wasn't for some dodgy refereeing decisions it would be 4 out of 4? Their opponents from Park Road play in Division 1 of the NWCL and have a decent squad who are more than capable of passing the ball around and playing good football, they certainly weren't entering the tie as also-rans. Cheadle arrived looking for a win which quickly became evident as the first half wore on.
AFC Liverpool play their home games at Valerie Park which is also the home of Prescot Cables from the Evo Stik Northern Premier League. The ground is full of old school charm and character.. besides a few rough edges. I've been here twice before in winter months and never been inside the ground. Both occasions witnessed very late postponements from new age referees who didn't fancy getting their socks dirty. The pitch has a few drainage problems and can be dodgy if it rains a bit (like 9 months of the year). That wasn't a problem today as the pitch looked in perfect condition for the game. The obvious feature attraction of Valerie Park is the large 1950's grandstand, it looms over the rest of the ground like a mountain of uncut vintage design, full of classic character, presence and style, it really does make the place a very impressive non league ground, its also a tremendous antidote for flat-pack-itis which pollutes so many new stands in certain quarters of the NWCL.
The rest of the stadium sees a covered terrace stretching two thirds across the town centre end with the other touchline and the far end of the pitch remaining uncovered with shallow grass banking and hard standing. There is a great looking bar under the grandstand and a tea hut built into the front of it, unfortunately AFC Liverpool do not reap the rewards of ale and grub sales at the ground, it goes to their hosts Prescot Cables instead. There is a band of enthusiastic home supporters in red and white clobber, if you want to join them there is a selection of merchandise available online or from the selection spread out adjacent to the bar during home games. They also adorn the grandstand with various flags which sets a nice backdrop to the action. I didn't get anything from the tea hut due to some ongoing problems following a 7 day binge involving a chop suey house (say no more) so I spent my tea hut money on a match programme. I was relieved to find out there was something to read in it following some pretty naff purchases at other NWCL grounds recently.
Onto the action. We kicked off in resplendent sunshine before a healthy crowd and the home side soon started to create some pressure. I wouldn't say too many chances were created but Cheadle were definitely on the back foot. AFC Liverpool looked sharp in midfield with Steve Williams making a positive impression.
Unfortunately for the reds supporters they just couldn't turn the possession into goals and slowly but surely Cheadle forced a remarkable turnaround in the proceedings. During the last 15 to 20 minutes of the first half the visitors cut Liverpool apart with some clinical passing opening up the defence at will, time and time again Cheadle broke forwards only to see their efforts unrewarded. I got the impression this was a critical period of the match for Cheadle, the fact that they went back in at half time without a goal turned out to be a deciding factor in the outcome of the game. AFC Liverpool manager Paul Moore doesn't strike me as the kind of person to hold back his words in expressing a home truth or two. I reckon a few home players got a clear message from him in the changing rooms to get out there and prove their quality and determination to grab the initiative back from Cheadle. That they certainly did. It was a much more dominant and controlled home performance in that second half. Players like John Lawless and Steve Jones looked much more dangerous as the Cheadle goal was peppered with incoming traffic. I reckon Liverpool hit the woodwork at least 6 or 7 times. It was Paul Brown who got the all important goal as he bundled it in after 54 minutes. Despite prolonged pressure there was no increase to the tally. Its fair to say Cheadle had a good few opportunities to equalise as they refused to give up and sped forwards on some dangerous looking counter attacks. They will be disappointed not to at least get a replay out of a game they seemed to dominate just before the break.
I left the ground to the applause and positive comments from those nearby that it had been a thoroughly good cup tie which was in the balance right up until the final whistle. The reward for AFC Liverpool in the next round is a nice looking trip to one of the most scenic grounds in the North, Ramsbottom United, they can also play a bit as well, should be a cracker!