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Saturday 7th March 2020 ko 19.30

North West Counties League Division One South

CHEADLE TOWN 2 (Davin 17 47)

MAINE ROAD 1 (Mooney 86)

Att 380

Entry £5

Programme £2

The coach pulled into Park Road, and we got precisely what we expected- chaos! One massive advantage of having the clubs’ meetings a month or two before the North West Counties Hop. We knew we’d be trying to get 300-plus supporters to a ground with a small car park at the end of a cul-de-sac. It meant anyone driving there would either park close by and risk being blocked in, or park further away and walk the last few hundred yards. We in the coach could drop the party off then driver Ian could park up elsewhere.

Yes, we’d got messages from hoppers intending to drive wondering where to park, and there was nothing we could advise, save for get there early! Even our normal response of “Use the coach” was redundant, the coach was full! But with the Cheadle Heath Nomads game having to kick-off at 4.20 it did give people plenty of time to get parked up, into the ground and the chance to explore a little. And the ground does cry out for a little exploration.

Cheadle Town moved here in 1982, changing their name from Grasmere Rovers in the process. But the ground has been in situ since the 1950’s and was originally Cheadle Rovers’ ground before they folded so Park Road became Manchester City’s training ground. Portugal used Park Road as their training base during the 1966 World Cup, so the great Eusebio graced the pitch here, as did Brazilian great Jairzinho; he ran a soccer school here in 1993!

But that history doesn’t do Cheadle Town justice. The club as well-known for their foreign tours under the name of Manchester AFC. They’ve played in front of 65,000 at the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City and in another 29 different countries. Maybe the newspaper clipping at the top of this article isn’t hyperbole!

Quite frankly the best part of 400 people swamped Cheadle Town, putting massive strain on in the club and their volunteers. Thankfully the queues did reduce and the time before kick-off helped I’m sure. Town coped, and by the time team sheets were being printed off I could sense the feeling that they got it back under control.

In fact the only issue seemed to be a lack of programmes. Now I’ll repeat the oft-uttered line that if you’re a groundhopper and a programme is important to you, then please buy an advance ticket. It guarantees a programme and as event organisers it gives us a massive steer on how big the crowds are likely to be.

That said, if the rumour is correct and the club only printed 46 copies over and above the advance ticket holders’ requirements than that would be way less than we would ever advise. Maybe Cheadle Town were worried about pitch conditions and decide minimize costs in the event of a postponement. If that was the case, who could blame them?

But what I’ll remember Cheadle Town for was the stand. Sounds daft doesn’t it? But on the fourth game of the day I was rather pleased that we’d been forced to switch this  game with Cheadle Heath’s due to a curfew on the use of the latter’s floodlights. It meant we had use of that lovely big stand with plenty of seats, just when the legs were most fatigued! Other than doing the head count I greatly appreciated just being able to sit and watch the game. I found a quiet moment for some food just after half time and for the first time on the hop actually began to relax.

Of course the hop knows Maine Road well, they closed the first NWCL Hop 3 years ago. And since they started life as the Rusholme branch of the Manchester City supporters’ club you could argue playing here is close to be a homecoming. I’m sure Maine Road will wonder where they lost this one; I’d argue Cheadle Town put the right pressure on them in the right places at the right times to force errors, and in Patrick Davin have a striker who’ll take full advantage of those mistakes. He certainly did on this occasion!

After it was all over I walked the full length of Park Road back to where the coach was parked. It wasn’t a long walk, a couple of hundred yards at most but it did give me time for reflection.

It had been an exceptional day and the attendances had been beyond anything we could have possibly expected. We’d spent the day at exclusively Step 6 yet to average 425 per game was a wonderful response from both locals and hoppers alike. I sat back in the hotel bar back in Crewe and quietly contemplated the likelihood to still higher crowds the next day.