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Wednesday 1st January 2013 ko 15.00

Conference North

STALYBRIDGE CELTIC 0

ALTRINCHAM 5 (Clee 6 Moult 18 Leather 31 Perry 50 Reeves 58)

Att 684

Entry £12

Programme £2

Teamsheet FREE

Badge £3.50

As a groundhopper sometimes the weather dictates everything. This was very much a case of sitting in Lee’s Warwickshire front room with a coffee and trawling Twitter, comparing it to our respective wants lists. Even that task requires an element of subtlety, how do you interpret no news, even the term “Confident,” is open to interpretation!

We took the view that no news was good news, and I’m grateful to Altrincham fan Kirsty on Twitter for letting us know that it had stopped raining in Stalybridge and so the game wouldn’t be in doubt.

It would be all too easy to place Stalybridge in Greater Manchester, it is in Tameside after all, but historically its part of Cheshire, and the leafy suburbia around the Bower Fold seems more part of the latter than the former. Stalybridge was built on the water-powered looms of the textile industry at the very birth of the Industrial Revolution.

The area was immortalised by L.S. Lowery at the start of the last century, and the town was where the song “Its a long way to Tipperary,” was composed and first sung in 1912 by Jack Judge, winning a bet that he could write, compose, and produce a song in just one night. There’s a statue of Judge in the town centre.

The Bower Fold is an icon of the non-league game. It would be all to easy to describe the place as a Football League ground in waiting, but the club has played League football in the distant past. Celtic were formed in 1909, and were founder-members of Division 3 North in 1921. They only lasted 2 seasons, resigning and replacing their reserves in the Cheshire League, despite their average attendance of 5,480 being 2,000 more than neighbouring Rochdale, who were also members of the same division.

The ground is of League standard, even if the team isn’t. The stand that dominates is the Lord Pendry Stand opened in 2004, and named after the town’s former MP. That replaced a covered terrace dating from the 50’s. It rather dwarfs the Main Stand opposite, but what appealed to me was the plentiful supply of nooks and crannies to explore. I loved the club shop, I picked up a Threave Rovers http://wp.me/p1PehW-1Qi badge, and you only ever see Polish League badges on sale at Non-League grounds! Sadly, the team failed to live up the surroundings.

Sometimes when I write these articles I look a the score and comment that it wasn’t a fair reflection on the game, but if anything this scoreline was kind to Celtic. Whilst the club are riding along on the crest of a slump, a slump that saw the departure of manager Jim Harvey, this was the kind of performance that will leave all those who care for the club looking over their collective shoulders.

Put simply, everything Stalybridge tried, failed. They were unable to maintain possession, and all Altrincham had to do is wait for the inevitable defensive howler and pounce. That they did with some gusto, and given the reversed fixture on Boxing Day also produced a 5-0 Altrincham win, its clear that the new management team at Stalybridge of Keith Briggs and Andy Fearn have a real job on their hands.