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Saturday 19th March 2016 ko 15.00

North West Counties League Division One

NORTHWICH MANCHESTER VILLA 1 (Martins 67) Norris sent off 90 (violent conduct)

HOLKER OLD BOYS 2 (Stanway 13 52)

Att 25 at Manchester Regional Arena

Entry £5

Programme £2

For the hopper there’s three stadiums to complete at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. Other than the newly enlarged main stadium, there’s the Academy Stadium,  and on the other side of Alan Turing Way there’s the Manchester Regional Arena. Originally built in 2002 as a warm-up track for the City of Manchester Stadium (now the Etihad) for the Commonwealth Games, it’s had a history as chequered as the football club that currently calls it home.

It was odd turning up at Manchester City a day before the derby with Manchester United, to the point where all the parking signage was in situ and many of the stewards in place and on edge. I arrived at Gate 12, and told the guard where I wanted to be. The look I got said, “But you’re a day early!” but I was eventually directed to Gate 13, and watched a group on a stadium tour look out of the glass paneled front of the main stadium down and on to its smaller neighbour next door. Unquestionably there were more people on that tour then there were attending my game.

Primarily, this is a 6,500 seat athletics stadium, and despite the City blue seats, it remains configured for that purpose. Nevertheless it has been home to Manchester City’s Ladies and Youth teams before their moves firstly to Hyde United’s Ewen Fields, then finally to the Academy Stadium. Those moves allowed Manchester Rangers Rugby League Club to move in, and this season, Northwich Manchester Villa.

The club were originally Woodley FC, and played in the Cheshire League. They changed name in 2010 to Northwich Villa and became Northwich Victoria’s feeder club. In 2013 they moved into Valley Road, the former home of Flixton FC and changed names again to Northwich Flixton Villa, and it seems at this point the links to Victoria were dropped. For this season, they’ve moved to the Regional Arena, with yet another name change to Northwich Manchester Villa.

The problem with the Regional Arena is that it is first and foremost an athletics stadium, and as such cannot get the “H” grade needed to the club to remain in the NWCFL. The toilets are accessed via the same door the players use for the changing rooms, and the only tea bar was via the press box, which seemed to be being used as a changing room by the match officials too! The upshot is that the club are moving again, to Mossley’s Seel Park for next season and they’ll be changing names again, this time to Manchester Diamonds. By my reckoning that’ll be 5 names and 4 grounds in 6 years!

With that history you’d wonder what the point of it all is. But chairman Bill Prendergast is nothing if not enthusiatic and he clearly sees the club as a means of believing and investing in young people. And when he quotes Machiavelli in the matchday programme he manages to do it without any hint of an ulterior motive!

His team, wearing old Northwich Victoria kit, certainly looked young, and in the end Holker’s experience and know-how won out against enthusiasm and youth. It all got a little too much for Villa’s Dylan Norris, who lashed out on frustration in stoppage time and will miss the next 3 games as a result.

As an athletics stadium there are far worse examples that have staged football matches. Despite the fact that the stadium will never be able to stage Step 6 football on a permanent basis, I’d be surprised if another club doesn’t move in, the backdrop is just too interesting!