My very first car was a Mini. Actually, when I’d finished with it, it was a compilation of several Minis, a real ‘Trigger’s broom’ of a motor. It was hand-painted, featured more plastic bodywork than metal, had footwells which filled up with water whenever it rained, and it could barely do 30mph uphill. But it was my first car so I loved it, especially the number plate, WEE 681. I often wonder what became of it, though I can make an educated guess.
It was the vehicle that set me off on this footballing voyage of discovery, when I decided one day to head off for a Chesterfield v Mansfield match for no other reason than it was a stadium I had yet to visit and for the next 40 years I haven’t really stopped doing the same thing.
I had another Mini ten years or so later, and once again decided it might look a bit smarter if I tarted it up a bit. I could buy most stuff locally, but those essential ‘go-faster’ stripes eluded me. Then I heard about a shop called Minisport which was to be found in a far-flung land called Padiham. After poring over my dog-eared atlas I located this mythical town as being more or less adjacent to Burnley, and so the car and I set off for my first and until now only ever visit to Padiham. 30 years on I am about to return – so what have I missed?
Having planned the trip for a week, my heart sinks when I realise that Direby County have an away game at Burnley on the same day. What are the chances of that? It means I may well have to share my trains and buses with a loud-mouthed bunch of sh*ggers. I grit my teeth.
I’m heading to Padiham for two reasons – one, it’s a new ground for me in the Northern Premier League Div 1 North, and two, they’re playing Darlo, one of MY teams. There are lesser souls that think this club went out of business two years ago. Not a bit of it. It’s true that they suffered a good kicking, with the FA pitching in with their Size Twelves, but they’ve struggled up off the deck, blooded but unbowed, to start walking up that hill again.
I take trains to Manchester via Stoke, and having done some research, eschew the cattle wagon line from Manchester to Burnley for the cheaper and quicker X43 bus service. The £8.50 DayGold ticket also gives me a free ride from Burnley to Padiham and back, and I make a mental note that this service also takes in Nelson and Colne, for future North West Counties League reference.
There are two free houses quite close to Padiham’s ground, the first of which, the Free Gardener, has a couple of beers on, as well as flat screen TVs placed where they cannot be easily viewed from any of the fixed seats. A bit odd that. I try a pint of Bowland Daylight Robbery which at £2.70 a pint doesn’t live up to its name compared to what I was paying south of London last week. Inevitably it’s a golden beer but as I’m only having the one I stick with it. 100 yards away, and right at the bottom of the road that leads to the ground, is the Hare & Hounds, where the beer selection is more expansive. There’s a couple of beers from Worsthorne and examples from Bank Top and Coach House. I try the two Worsthorne brews, Some Like It Blonde, and Pack Horse, the former well.. er.. blond, and the latter unusual in that the initial taste is totally underwhelming but the aftertaste quite appetising. So if you can get over that initial disappointment, a good beer is to be had.
The pub starts to fill up with Darlo fans, but there’s not a familiar face to be seen. Whatever happened to the DAFTS gang, who used to travel to watch the Quakers from far and wide? I text one of them and he replies with ‘they folded two years ago mate…’ Oh they of little faith!
The ground is typical of a side that’s gone up a level with some catching up to do. The clubhouse block is modern but fairly compact, and spectator accommodation is primarily the small main stand and a stepped covered terrace adjacent. There’s some cover behind one goal, but the other two sides are open flat standing. The pitch has a decided corner-to-corner slope, but as there’s no wind today it shouldn’t be a game of two halves.
The clubhouse bar doesn’t serve real ale, but there is a selection of bottled beers on a shelf, including those of local Burnley brewer Moorhouse’s. I’m not fond of room temperature beer so pass in favour of a pint or two in Manchester later. Catering today is courtesy of an outdoor barbecue where pies, peas and gravy are on offer. Sadly for me, the pies are all of the meaty variety and although the very nice serving lady offers me just the peas and gravy, I respectfully decline.
The new Darlo are punching their weight near the top of the division, and they have kept most of the better players they had when they won the Northern League last season. The unmistakeable figure of Sean Gregan, former Leeds, West Bromwich Albion and Preston stalwart and ex-Darlo into the bargain, patrols the touchline as part of the coaching squad, and he watches on as the visitors show the better qualities in a first half where they go ahead but might easily have more than the one goal to show for it at the break. If Padiham were anonymous in the first half, they make up for it in the early part if the second, laying siege to the Darlo goal and going close on a number of occasions. A second Darlo goal settles the nerves however and the visitors take the spoils.
To make all my connections going home, I need to get out of Padiham tout-de-suite. Where’s Minisport when you need it – those ‘go faster’ stripes might well come in useful!