Saturday, December 1
Avro FC 0 West Auckland Town 2
Another resolutely grey, drizzle-filled day. I am on my way north along the M1, which seems to have been built to retain the maximum amount of surface water that’s physically possible.
My first task is to get to the Oakwell Training Facility to witness Barnsley’s U-18 side play Leeds United in the EFL Youth League. It’s somewhere I have wanted to visit because AFC Barnsley used to play there in the Central Midlands League. I never made it thanks to the club folding with just a week to go of the season: the week I was due to go!
After seeing Leeds triumph, I scoot further north on the M1 and cut across the very busy M62 towards Manchester. Spray is reducing visibility to a few yards but Jane SatNav skilfully leads me to the Vestacare Stadium in Oldham for the biggest match in Avro FC’s history.
Avro’s history is rooted in the air industry. In fact, it is intrinsically linked with the Dambusters. If I had remembered this before, I would have driven across the moors to get here: Ladybower Reservoir is where the Lancaster planes used to practise bombing raids.
The club has just been admitted to the North West Counties League, Division One North, and is going along nicely. Today, they face West Auckland Town in the FA Vase, 3rd round. Of course, the visitors are no strangers to silverware: they won the ‘World Cup’ twice back in the early 1900s. It’s definitely an historic tie!
I approach the turnstile and nearly get a shoeful of water, as the gateman is sweeping away a puddle from the entrance. There are no worries today, though; the game is being played on a 3G pitch. My programme, The Bombardier, costs £2 and I scuttle back to the car to read it. It’s a glossy edition with an old fashioned style cover.
I pay £5 to get in and walk round the back of the clubhouse to access it. It is very busy, mainly with visiting fans. I’m not surprised; there are two coaches parked in the main car park! There are two bars, with just one lady serving at each, in danger of becoming overwhelmed. The only food available is a choice of two flavours of pie. This isn’t very inspiring or filling if you’ve just travelled from the north east on a coach for three hours.
The stadium itself seems to be undergoing gradual development. My surroundings look vaguely familiar, but it’s only when a text arrives from Pencilman that I realise why: I have been here before when Oldham Borough played here!
I make an early dash for available cover. I stand at the rear of the main stand in one corner of the stadium. There’s a small area of cover directly opposite, but this isn’t very useful being as it is positioned such that fans can stand in front of it.
The game itself is fairly tight. It takes the northeasterners a while to adapt to the artificial surface. As I await the seemingly inevitable extra-time, West nab two late goals to shoot Avro down in flames. The first, a volley by Steven Snaith, is a thing of beauty; a genuine contender for goal of the season.
Pre-Match info: 8, Welcome: 6, Facilities: 5.5, Food: 3, Charm: 4, Programme: 6, Home Team Respect: 3, Home Fans: 6, Match: 5, Overall Trip: 6, Att: 180
Saturday, December 1