Aside from football and ale, one of the other great passions of my life has always been music. Brought up on a diet of the Shadows, then the Beatles and T. Rex, and having diversified through numerous musical genres – glam, punk, disco, mod, ska, new romantic, indie, Brit Pop – during the ensuing decades, one form of the art I’ve always gone back to is Prog Rock.
Not everybody’s cup of tea I know, but having been ‘into’ Pink Floyd, Genesis, Hawkwind, Yes, ELP and Led Zep during my early impressionable college and working years, it’s still the sound that I feel most comfortable with. Not that you hear a lot of it on the radio, or at football grounds come to think of it. So I get my kicks via my ipod, in the car driving to evening games after business meetings, or at the occasional Live gig. Now if only I could coincide one of the latter with a new football stadium….
Well I’m having a stab at that today, borrowing the wife’s motor for a sprint up the M6 to Squires Gate FC in Blackpool, before returning south and then West to Liverpool, and the O2 Academy to see a Polish band called Riverside, who I’m pretty sure most of you won’t have heard of. Like most prog-rockers they’re pretty well known all over Europe, but have only a cult status in the UK amongst us dwindling band of enthusiasts but hey, that means I’m not likely to get killed in the rush.
Situated just outside of Blackpool, virtually in Lytham St Annes and close to the airport, Squire’s Gate FC’s School Road Stadium is just a couple of hundred yards or so from the Mechanics Ground of fellow North West Counties Premier outfit AFC Blackpool. What’s even cosier is that there’s another football ground between the two, this being the (also) School Road home of West Lancashire League side Blackpool Wren Rovers, who also have a game today. In fact they appear to share some terracing cover with Squires Gate, just a fence partitioning the two grounds. Now if I had a stepladder – two games for the price of one!
I arrive around 2.00pm as do most of the players and a referee, who soon departs stage left as he realises he’s supposed to be in charge of the match next door. Squires Gate’s opponents today are promotion-chasing Norton United. I remember taking in their Community Drive ground back in 2006 when this Stoke-on-Trent based team were a mediocre mid-table side in the North West Counties second tier. Clearly some kind of forward momentum has arrived at a club which now threatens Runcorn Linnets’ position at the top of the table, and with games in hand look ideally placed to take the only promotion slot. A tweet on the Squires Gate Twitter account from a Linnets supporter implores the seaside club to ‘do us all a favour ‘ which, taking the home side’s recent poor form into account, seems fairly optimistic.
I have a walk around the ground which features a small covered seated stand which seems to be reserved for club officials behind one goal, while there is further covered seating down one side. On the opposite side, the one adjacent to the Blackpool Wren Rovers ground, there is a long section of narrow covered flat standing. I use the word ‘flat’ in its broadest sense, the surface appearing to be less ‘paved’ and more ‘crazy paved’, either by design or evolution, it’s not clear.
There is a reasonable sized clubhouse with an area set aside for a kids creche, which I presume is what it doubles as during the week (very similar to one I encountered at Chalfont St Peter a couple of months ago). There’s no beer of note and although there appears to be some trade in pies, it’s not readily obvious what’s on the menu and I feel disinclined to enquire.
From the early stages of the game it’s fairly clear that the home side will be up against it, and with the United No11 running riot down the left wing the visitors are two-up after barely 15 minutes. But just as I’m anticipating a cricket score, Squires Gate pull one back and that’s the way it stays. For much of the ensuing 70 minutes it’s a messy affair with Norton looking the most likely to score without ever achieving it. It’s a bad tempered contest with both sides giving Football League referee Paul Kettlewell plenty of grief, most of it unjustified.
And so it comes to pass that the favour requested by Runcorn fans is unfulfilled and the Linnets aren’t singing today. Not music to their ears, but it’s a different kind of music I’m thinking of as I head down the M62 for a pre-gig pint in the Ship & Mitre and then a date with Riverside.
Programme: £1 on the gate. 24 pages of which 16 are advertising. Allow 2 more pages for the cover and team sheet and you can work out the amount of actual reading matter. 2/10
Floodlight pylons: 6
Birdlife: Being so close to the coast, I think you can guess the dominant species
Toilets: Inside the clubhouse
Club Shop: No
Music the players run out to: None
Kop choir: No
Away support: I’d guess around half of the 42 people recorded as passing through the turnstile.
What’s in a name? Bet Squires’ Matthew Swash never gets called ‘Joe’! If Charles Dickens was still alive and writing books today, would he find space for characters like Squires’ Joe Noblet and United’s Thomas Winkle? and doesn’t Tom Fogg’s value to the Norton team seem to be shrouded in mist…?