TT No.44: Andy Gallon - Sat 20th October 2012; Longridge Town v Eagley; West Lancs Premier;              Res: 4-1; Admission: £1.50 (including 12-page programme); Att: 115; FGIF Match Rating: ***.

 

 

Matchday images (18) https://picasaweb.google.com/footballgroundsinfocus/LongridgeTownFC02

 

Longridge Town are a club on the up. As recently as 2009, they were playing on a park pitch in the Preston & District League. Promotion to the West Lancashire League became possible when a businessman, Mike Riding, bought a farmer’s field in the neighbouring hamlet of Whittingham. Longridge developed a new ground at the site behind the Alston Arms pub on Inglewhite Road and have gone through the West Lancs divisions like a dose of the proverbials. Last season, they secured promotion to the Premier Division and victory in this important match consolidated second place. Charnock Richard are top only on goal difference.

 

This is very much a community club. The crowd included a great spread of the generations and several young families. In recognition of their benefactor’s generosity, Longridge named their new home the Mike Riding Ground, whilst its only stand is dedicated to the late Frank Jamieson, a gentleman who, I was told, did a lot for sport in this small Ribble Valley town 12 miles north-east of Preston. Hoppers receive a warm welcome and anyone buying a mug of tea or coffee can help themselves to a free biscuit. A nice touch and the sort of gesture that ensures a club linger in the memory. The comparison with the appalling events at Hillsborough the previous evening could scarcely be more pronounced.

 

Clubs at this level are never going to impress with hulking stands or acres of terracing. Setting is everything. In this respect, it’s win-win for Longridge Town. From the south side of the ground, a wonderful scenic panorama is revealed. It includes several Forest of Bowland AONB summits. To the left are Parlick, Fair Snape and Beacon Fell. Longridge Fell, with a house in which Oliver Cromwell is said to have spent a night, rises across to the right. The Lord Protector dubbed the dale “the most beautiful valley in England”. Stand on the north touchline and to the east the whole of Longridge can be seen. The town has been described as “all of Lancashire in a square mile”. It is a justifiable claim. Longridge features former coal-powered cotton mills, disused quarries, stone cottages once occupied by handloom weavers, rolling hills and abundant farmland. If wandering around before kick-off, don’t miss the excellent Heritage & Visitor Centre in the old railway station, the terminus of a classic country branch line from Preston. Passenger services ended as early as 1930 (well before ‘Beechingisation’), but the route was used for goods traffic until 1967.

 

A large car park fronts the south side of the Mike Riding Ground, which, owing to a lack of trees, is open and fairly exposed. Thank goodness for a still, mild and dry autumn afternoon! A single-storey red-brick structure, positioned centrally, houses the dressing rooms and a superb bar, tastefully decorated and whose walls are adorned with team photographs going back to 1909. The only hardstanding - compacted aggregate - has been laid outside the clubhouse. Adjacent is a tiny stand, about 10 yards long and clad in corrugated sheeting. It has four steps of terracing and, at the rear, a row of bench seats. The pitch, heavy after a week of rain, is railed off on each side. The near-left corner is scarred by a boarded-up factory, which, thankfully, appears to be in the process of demolition. There aren’t any floodlights. The marshy land falls away from the north touchline towards one of two cricket squares and soon the Ribble Valley gives way to the aforementioned fells: a simply splendid spectacle.

 

The game (second versus third) promised much, and proved a close encounter in the first half. Eagley, unbeaten away from home, broke strongly to score through Ryan Moore in the fourth minute. Longridge went close several times before Sam Dean drove home a 40th-minute equaliser from 16 yards. Seconds after the restart, a linesman’s flag resulted in a Longridge penalty, with the well-placed assistant indicating a trip on Dean had been inside the area. Joe Melling smashed his spot-kick into the top corner. The hosts dominated the rest of the match, underlining their superiority with further goals from Jack English (59min) and Guy Heywood (63min). Eagley rather lost their discipline, copping a flurry of yellow cards, and Longridge could have won by a margin of five or six.

 

Snapping away during the second half, cut off inside a bubble of concentration, I was interrupted by a Scottish woman who asked if I’d been at Vale of Leithen a couple of weeks previously. As, indeed, I had. Only then did I recognise her. Liz, a keen hopper and St Johnstone fan, was at the game with her partner, Mike Roe, an occasional contributor of images to FGIF. They’d come over from nearby Fleetwood, where they live. A small world!

 

contributed on 21/10/12