The game I will never forget…
Saturday 14th February 2015, otherwise known as cup day to me and you. Not the FA Cup, no something much more important, the Quarter Final of the MEN United Cup. A game up in the hearty hills of Lancashire that determined who would progress to the semi-final. Said game was between Colne and Atherton Collieries.
It was no easy feat, for both sides. Colne were doing well and held their own at the top end on the NWCFL Premier Division and Steven Cunningham should have been and would have been proud of his well-drilled Colne side. Atherton Collieries, my team, on the other hand were top of the First Division, therefore, it was difficult to class this match as a ‘David vs Goliath’ – don’t get me wrong though, it was a challenge.
Weather, overcast – rain was in the air, I was in the air, well at least it felt that way at Colne’s XCLR Stadium. It was safe to say that from behind the goal I had the best view of Lancashire, in Lancashire.
As the two teams came out, nerves hit me, and I’m sure they hit both sets of supporters. This was a big game. I was stood behind the far goal (at the bottom of the slope) with club photographer Rob Clarke, supporters Gemma, Jasper, Blake and Arthur, and club secretary Emil. We didn’t know what to expect. We are always positive and go into the games knowing for certain that the lads would give their all, 100%. However, Colne were a good side, we knew that for certain. The again, so were we, and boy did the lads show up that day.
The game started with energy, both teams wanted this, you could tell. The reds and the Collieries shared possession. Colne enjoyed the opening ten minutes as they registered their first shots on goal. The Collieries had the next period of the half.
Then, it came, well, at least we thought it did. In a packed Colne area, a Collieries free kick flew into the box. Mark Battersby leapt into the air like a salmon to get his head to the ball. The ball jolted and changed direction thanks to Battersby’s guidance. The ball then bounced off the underside of the bar, drifted on the line and then was scrambled away. Did it cross the line? Was that a goal? We will never know. The important thing was the fact the ‘liner’ thought not.
Colne finished the half with an effort of their own. Danny Boyle wiggled his way into the Colls’ box but fired his shot at the reliable Taberner.
Half Time – Colne 0-0 Atherton Collieries
At the break it was evident that magic was needed to separate both sides, there was nothing between them.
Second half, we swapped ends and found ourselves stood next to the infamous Red Army. We were joined by Chris Boland, father of Atherton’s Matty and other fellow Collieries supporters. Colne were chanting. ‘Why don’t we?’ – Everyone around me considered the same thing. So we did.
As the lads came out in the second half chants of ‘Michael Clegg’s Barmy Army’ were sung whereas from the Colne end, ‘Red Army’. And throughout the half various chants both Colls and Colne themed were sung by respective supporters. The noise was loud. This wasn’t the Premier League, or the Championship. It was the NWCFL’s own cup competition, and it was better.
Spurred on by such as atmosphere both sides went for it, the phrase ‘winner takes all’ sprung to mind.
Colne’s Andy Tinker drilled a hard and low cross into the Colls’ box. However, the dangerous ball was cleared away. Nearly. Atherton’s Josh Messer curled a ball into the box for Ian Howard to head straight into the palms of the Colne Goalkeeper. Nearly. Minutes later, Matty Boland curled a corner into the packed Colne box. Mark Ayres was the most alert out of everyone to tap the ball into the back of the net, amid the bodies that scrambled to defend the Colne goal, and send the Collieries into the lead. There.
The net rippled. I threw my arms up in the air; others did the same around me. People cheered, others ran and the players celebrated.
Colne, both on and off the field, never gave in. The supporters remained strong chanting against us, as did the players on the field who fought till the very last minute.
The clock read 70. Goal scorer Ayres sent a ball into the Colne area. Ian Howard was on hand to tap the ball in the direction of the goal. Colne defender Jonathan Hodgkinson deflected into his own goal. 2-0. Celebrations, repeat.
However, that was not that, two minutes after the second goal was scored Colne found themselves with a penalty. Silence had fallen upon the XCLR Stadium. It was Boyle vs Taberner. Boyle kicks. Taberner saves! Cheers, of relief.
Both sides worked hard throughout the rest of the game. Colne tried to find a way back. Atherton defended their lead.
Full Time – Colne 0-2 Atherton Collieries
Job done. However, there was one more memorable moment still left to come.
As Colne supporters made their way to the players tunnel to clap their players (who had worked very hard) they shook our hand and congratulated us. Something you would rarely find in the Premier League or the Championship. That’s what makes Non-League what it is, and that’s why so many now support it.
What a day, what a game. One that will live long in the memory – the chants, the goals, the noise when we scored and the great hospitality from all at Colne.