TT No.21: Andy Gallon - Sat 1st September 2012; West Didsbury & Chorlton v Cheadle Town; FA Vase 1st QR; Res: 1-3; Att: 79; Admission: £4; Programme: £1.50 (20pp); FGIF Match Rating: ** 




Matchday images (20)


What a smashing little club West Didsbury & Chorlton are. They have waited a long time to secure a place in the North West Counties League - and seem determined to enjoy the adventure. The excitement amongst club officials is obvious. They are anxious to extend a warm welcome to unfamiliar faces and clearly want all visitors to go away telling of a positive experience. Even the meanest spirited hopper cannot fail to be impressed by what has been achieved at this ambitious, yet friendly, club.


Founded in West Didsbury in 1908 by the superintendent of a Sunday School on Princess Parkway, they began life as Christ Church FC and were members of the Manchester Alliance. The name was changed to West Didsbury (there was no choice in the matter) upon joining the Lancashire & Cheshire League in 1920. Having trundled along with sporadic successes, the club got a huge shock during the mid-Eighties when given notice to quit their home ground, the Christie Playing Fields, whose owner sold the site for redevelopment. West (as they’re known) finally left in 1992 to become footballing nomads, but five years later moved to the Recreation Ground in Chorltonville, former home of East Didsbury, who folded on joining forces with their neighbours.


The committee, many of whom had played for West in the Lancashire & Cheshire League, set about establishing a community club. To reflect their location, the club’s name changed again, to West Didsbury & Chorlton, in 2003. Grant aid and fundraising helped them improve the facilities sufficiently to join the Manchester League. A magnificent new clubhouse opened in time for the club’s centenary celebrations in 2008. Continuing work on the ground, which has included the erection of floodlights, enabled West to take part in last season’s FA Vase and in June this year they were elected to the NWCL. In addition to the senior XI, they run reserve and ‘A’ teams, two veterans sides and are represented by juniors right the way down to under-sevens. It almost goes without saying that West, surely a model non-league operation, have attained FA Charter Standard Community Club status.


The Recreation Ground is located in a southern Manchester suburb so affluent one expects to find a rugby union club at the end of Brookburn Road. In fact, Broughton Park RUFC are based nearby. Chorltonville is a pleasant conservation village. Early arrival is recommended to enjoy an invigorating stroll through the adjacent Chorlton Ees Nature Reserve, developed from 1972 on the derelict site of the Withington sewage treatment works. One of many delightful footpaths amid mature woods, meadows, rough grassland and ponds absolutely buzzing with wildlife leads to the banks of the Mersey, which flows west towards Liverpool about a quarter of a mile from the Recreation Ground. Up to five so-called health walks are easily followed. The reserve is in the care of the Mersey Valley Countryside Warden Service.


At the end of Brookburn Road, the tarmac narrows to a tree-lined strip and passes through a gate by a footpath fingerpost. Just when you think you’re about to plunge with the path into the trees, the access bends left to approach a pay hut in the north-west corner of the Recreation Ground. Spectator parking, in a delightful tree-fringed glade, is on the right. The surfaced access continues along the north touchline and wraps round the goal at the east end, passing in front of the clubhouse to reach a smaller parking area reserved for players and officials.


The ground’s three-sided nature is its most obvious characteristic. There is room merely for dug-outs along the south touchline, though I gather there are plans to dismantle the perimeter fence and make use of a grassy bank beyond. That would be eminently sensible because, as the arrangements stand, spectators on the north touchline are obliged to squint into the sun for 90 minutes. Not much fun! The only cover, sheltering a few rows of plastic tip-up seats, is provided by the clubhouse awning, topped with a rather fetching gable. The clubhouse contains a bar, kitchen, toilets, offices and the dressing rooms. Its most eye-catching feature is a simply superb time line history of the club, in words and images, spread along the entire end wall of the bar. Every club should have something like this. Many congratulations to whoever was responsible. The montage is laid out under the heading: ‘A game of two halves - 1908-2008. Here’s to the next 100 years’. The access provides the only hardstanding. There is grass, beneath trees, at the west end. The pitch, railed off, is big and flat: offhand, I cannot think of any better in the NWCL. Large semi-detached houses, raised high above the pitch, dominate the north side of the Recreation Ground and help give it an enclosed feel. The opposite side is surprisingly open, with rough, marshy grass extending between the Mersey and more desirable homes.


So, everything great thus far: then the players emerge with a ball and spoil everything! In truth, this was a disappointingly uninspiring Vase tie between two poor teams. Cheadle deserved to win and earn a trip to Northern Counties East Leaguers Pontefract Collieries in the next round. The visitors were sharper all round and more inventive in the last third. Crucially, Cheadle appeared, as the cliché goes, to want it more. They got off to a flying start, netting through Warren Gaskin in the fourth minute after West had failed to deal with a corner. Poor marking at the other end allowed Graham Bryant the time and space to head a 17th-minute equaliser, but Cheadle regained the advantage eight minutes later when Matt German swept a 20-yard free-kick into the top corner of Steve Mellor’s net. The second half was tight, without being terribly exciting, and Cheadle had to wait until stoppage time before adding a third. Substitute Aaron Carroll spotted Mellor off his line and scored with considerable aplomb from outside the penalty area. 

Plenty of hoppers in the crowd to witness West’s first home fixture in the Vase, though the official attendance of 79 was down on the two previous gates of 108 (v Formby) and 94 (v Northwich Villa). The hopping concept is clearly still new to officials at the Recreation Ground. Their president, in the role of enthusiastic ‘meeter and greeter’, was fascinated (and not a little puzzled) to hear why I’d trekked over from York to watch the game. And there were lots more from further afield! The girls at the pay hut were also unfamiliar with hoppers turning up early, securing their programme (excellent, in this instance) and then wandering off to the pub. Or, in my case, to enjoy another circuit of that splendid nature reserve. My patience yielded a close-up view of a great spotted woodpecker drumming away at the trunk of a tree. Not a bad ‘spot’ in a conurbation the size and density of Greater Manchester!

contributed on 02/09/12