Lost in...Squires Gate. A blogger’s guide to non-league on the Fylde
Matt Harrison is a well-known football blogger. Here we reproduce his latest blog...a trip to Squires Gate FC via the bright lights of Blackpool (and a long walk!)
For those with a Squires Gate-shaped hole in their knowledge, let me plug that gap for you.
No, Squires Gate is not a posh town from a Victorian novel – far from it. You’ll find Squires Gate in the England’s ultimate glamour town: Blackpool!
OK, I know many people are snobby about Blackpool and even natives of the north-west aren’t too complimentary, but that’s why I like it: it’s a place like no other – it’s a tarted up place that almost basks in its tacky glam appearance. So put bluntly, I was thrilled I was off to Blackpool for the day.
Last time I rolled up in these parts, to visit AFC Blackpool, I actually encountered Squires Gate FC.
In fact, if there is a more football club-dense area in the country, I’m not aware of it, as within a couple of yards of each other are AFC Blackpool and Squires Gate FC with Blackpool Wren Rovers literally over the fence from Squires Gate’s School Road ground.
Three football grounds a matter of yards from each other make this a sort of footballing tropic for non-league aficionados.
Also, Blackpool FC even train in the area too – as Ian Holloway used to constantly moan about when they climbed up to the Premier League.
It felt like it was written in the stars that I was to head to Squires Gate today, as, just like my last visit to the Fylde Coast to visit AFC Blackpool, West Didsbury & Chorlton FC were the away team today (who I’ll now refer to as simply as WD&CFC to save my keyboard the work).
That day at AFC Blackpool went down in Lost Boyos folklore: I got stuck in an airport fence, repeatedly abused a goalie and then trashed the West Didsbury & Chorlton FC (WD&CFC) team bus with beer on the ride home (I somehow swindled myself a lift home with the fans and the team). It was an epic day. I had gone along with Rob that day and as acting WD&CFC club secretary he’d been in Blackpool again today; plus, the flat cap/post-it notes combo had clearly wanted me to head to Blackpool as it was also Rob’s birthday.
Shortly after 10am my train rolled into Blackpool and the town was my oyster. Obviously, there was only one place to go and that was the seafront.
Firstly, I thought I would bask in the fresh sea air and have a wander down the North Pier to attempt to get some edgy photos of a very grey Blackpool today, but without the nuance to craft edgy photos or without a particularly edgy camera to pull off such a feat.
I had a pleasant walk down the pier with a coffee, but I had noticed that Blackpool, ever the party town, was already full of drunken revellers from the night before and so I figured I may as well join them and begin my journey into drunkenness. And at 10.30am there is only one place to go to begin such a journey: Wetherspoons.
I found one of the town’s three Wetherspoons on the road just below the imposing presence of Blackpool Tower.
The pub is named the Layton Rakes – the original name of the local area before it morphed into Blackpool resort. The local theme continued at the beer pumps with several local beers and ales on tap and so I figured I’d get into the spirit of things and order a Golden Mild, a beer brewed at the nearby Lytham Brewery.
While everything was all Blackpool-related at the bar, it seemed like the clientele were more native to my roots, as I clocked a couple of Welsh accents ar the table next to mine.
Not only were they indeed fellow compatriots, but the three gentlemen were from Ebbw Vale – a town only about 10 miles from my hometown, Merthyr Tydfil.
I was invited to join the lads and they were great company during my time in the pub and one of them was even kind enough to buy me a second pint of Golden Mild.
Top lads and of course I made them pose for a double thumbs up photo before I left.
I then frequented the rather dead Irish bar Shenanigans and then the more traditional Mitre, where I was grilled by one local on the current education system, before I felt I should do something more Blackpool-ish.
This meant I ended up in an arcade trying to win avalanches of 2ps and 10ps and cuddly Minion toys on the crane machine games; predictably, I won zilch and instead I left the seafront arcade with my wallet a few pounds lighter.
If there is one thing I learned from my trip to AFC Blackpool it is never to walk from town to the ground again – it was a killer. So now armed with such knowledge, I hopped on the tram and headed for the end of line at Starr Gate; disappointingly, this was just a mere tram stop and not a portal to another world like in the cult 90s film Stargate starring Kurt Russell.
Even from Starr Gate, it is still a fair trek to Squires Gate’s ground and I began questioning how the hell I had managed the walk all the way from town last time I headed this way.
I was reminded further of bad memories when I went past the fencing alongside Blackpool Airport – I could make out the area of the fence where I had got stuck last time and ripped my coat (clearly, news of my trauma with the hole in the fence had spread, as I could make out the new fencing inserted where the hole once was).
Eventually, I was turning off onto Common Edge Road and the homes of Squires Gate and Blackpool Wren Rovers were in sight.
However, there was only one place to go first: Shovels. I was a big fan of Shovels when I was last here and it was great to revisit the large pub next door to Wren Rovers’ home.
Within, I found birthday boy Rob, Paul, father of WD&CFC manager Steve Settle and one of WD&CFC’s ‘Krombacher Ultras’, Pete. I was eager to join them for a drink, but it seemed the barman at the Shovels was reluctant for me to, as despite the pub being fairly empty he took an eternity to actually serve me, instead getting distracted by other things.
I did eventually get a pint of Bitter Lemon ale (not as lemon-y as it sounds really) and joined the West contingent.
A couple of pints were enjoyed in the pub, whilst Rob went back and fore the ground to sort things out that come under his remit as club secretary, before we headed around the corner from the pub and entered Squires Gate’s School Road.
There at the turnstiles I met Dan, an exiled Watford fan and current stand in-media man at Squires Gate.
I’d almost met up with Dan when I went to Celtic v Inter Milan in February, so it was great to finally meet the lad who clearly is a great lover of the game like myself.
After saying hello to Dan, I had time to survey the ground. First opinion: it was modest but likable. Down both sides of the ground are covered standing areas with a completely open area behind the far goals and one small, seating stand behind the goals near the entrance.
But, as always, the first structure we headed for was the clubhouse situated in the corner of the ground.
The clubhouse isn’t the most gargantuan that you are ever going to visit, but it does its job with a small bar and seating area.
No taps on the bar here though and instead the day was spent drinking £2 cans of Carling from the fridge. I’d been told by Rob to make sure I wasn’t full up on arriving at the ground as he had dubbed Squires Gare’s pies as the ‘best in the league’, so I took his advice and made sure I had room for such a lauded pie.
On sampling the aforementioned pie, did I agree with Rob’s verdict? Eh…probably not. It was alright effort but it didn’t dazzle me either; matters were not helped by the tough coating of the pie and the plastic fork, which struggled to deal with the pie until eventually the plastic prongs started snapping.
Anyway, pitchside for the game!
If there was one team that was going to guarantee me goals today, it was West Didsbury & Chorlton. The Manchester club had scored a staggering 32 goals in their past five games, in a run which included a stunning 15 – 1 win over Dinnington in the FA Vase.
Fortunately, for us watching on, they lived up to their recent billing as a goal glut team.
The game was West’s game from the start and they never really looked in danger. Both teams had a few half chances but nothing of note really happened until the 36th minute when WD&CFC took the lead. A ball was crossed from the left and Ben Steer steered (see what I did there) his header over the Gate goalie to make it 1-0.
I considered the opening goal to be my cue to go complete a lap of the ground. There are not many nooks and crannies to the ground, but my walk did give me a chance to have a nose over the fence at Blackpool Wren Rovers’ Bruce Park ground.
The bottom platform area of one of the floodlights gave me a boost up to look over the fence and I could have quite easily watched Blackpool Wren Rovers Reserves v Ladybridge, whilst watching the game I was at at the same time. I wasn’t that desperate to take in two games at once though – one would do for me.
As I was completing my lap, West made it 2 – 0 and it was Steer with his second goal of the day. This time Steer scored with a well hit shot that lobbed the goalie. And that was that for the first half – Squires Gate were admittedly lucky that it was only 2 – 0 as it had been a largely one-sided affair.
Half-time: Squires Gate 0 – 2 West Didsbury & Chorlton.
Back in the clubhouse, more beer was purchased and I joined Dan as he was typing up his match report on his iPad. We chatted away about all things football and our chat carried over into the start of the second half, as we watched on from the conservatory-like entrance to the clubhouse. I figured that Squires Gate needed a match report and so I left Dan get in with it and went back out to join Rob, Pete and Paul.
If anything, it got worse for Squires Gate in the second half as the away team delivered 45 minutes of relentless pressure. Squires Gate never really turned up and they were lucky that they held out for so long in the second half with only some good saves and a clearance off the line denying WD&CFC.
West’s third goal of the game would eventually come in the 82nd minute and was scored by the superbly named Nic Evangelinos. Evangelinos cut in from the right before firing a low drive home.
There was still time for one more goal and once again it was WD&CFC getting on the scoresheet and making it 4 – 0. West’s fourth came from a lovely run from Mark Rogers, that saw him fly past a couple of defenders, before playing a nice one-two, which he got on the end of and finished easily. And that was it for today’s game.
Full-time: Squires Gate 0 – 4 West Didsbury & Chorlton.
A very comfortable 4 – 0 win for WD&CFC, who didn’t really have to do too much for their win.
Plus, they added to their bulging ‘goals scored’ statistics.
Weirdly, when I had watched WD&CFC play across the road at AFC Blackpool those couple of years ago, they also won 4 – 0 that day too.
So, WD&CFC, if you need a lucky mascot every time you are in the Squires Gate area of Blackpool, I’m your man.
After the final whistle, I found a very disappointed Dan who was lamenting the poor showing from his adopted Squires Gate. The day was to prove a pretty rubbish day all round for young Dan as his beloved Watford would go on to lose 3 – 0 to Arsenal in the late Premier League kick-off. Down-spirited or not, he still bought me a drink as a sort of ‘Thanks for visiting Squires Gate’ gesture which was very good of him and much appreciated.
Whilst I enjoyed my final can of Carling of the day, it was also good to have a brief chat with West manager Steve Settle.
Steve is one of the many Lost Boyos cult heroes after bagging my award for ‘Goal of the Season’ last season for his wonder volley at Ashton Town. I had officially awarded Steve his award when I met him at a preseason friendly between Daisy Hill and West; well, I say awarded, I just made him pose for a double thumbs up as there is no physical award for such a feat.
Today he also received the honour of a double thumbs up with me – I’m sure he was delighted.
The West contingent were soon done with their celebratory beers and the convoy from Chorlton were soon rolling out of Squires Gate, which was my cue to leave too. Time to finish the party off in Blackpool.
Once again, I made the long walk from Squires Gate’s ground to Starr Gate (still no Kurt Russell waiting for me) and then hopped on the tram and headed back to seafront.
By the time I got back into Blackpool proper, the hen and stag dos were all out in force and it’s fair to say that the place was far more lively than when I left; although as Blackpool turned more towards drunken debauchery, a very pretty red sunset had begun coming down over the town.
I figured I’d visit another Wetherspoons, this time with me calling in the Albert & Lion, before I continued up the strip to the Yates bar to watch the closing half of Arsenal’s demolition of Watford at Vicarage Road.
As the orange skies disappeared above Blackpool and late evening fell upon the town, I figured it was time to head home…after popping into Molloys pub just before Blackpool North station obviously…and then heading to Sainsbury’s to buy some BrewDog beer for the train home.
Until next time Blackpool…
I enjoyed my visit to Squires Gate. It’s a nice, decent club with a welcoming feel to it. I definitely look forward to returning in the future – especially as it means another day gallivanting in Blackpool.
I suppose I need to complete the hat-trick of south Blackpool non-league grounds now and head to Blackpool Wren Rovers next.
Highlights: a trip to the glitz of Blackpool, Welsh lads in Spoons, tram to near(ish) ground (no walking this time), Shovels, nice little ground, good clubhouse, decent game.
Low Points: pie was a little disappointing after Rob’s hype.
(To read more of Matt’s musings, log on to lostboyos.wordpress.com)