Using up one’s leftover annual leave days near Christmas can be a wonderful thing. For the last couple of years it’s meant Germany, sausage, beer and football. But not this year.This year’s trip has been postponed to February. So what to do? People who know me are fully aware, especially when it comes to football, that I like to procrastinate a little bit. Personally speaking, I do wonder whether there is a finer joy in life than planning where to go and watch football on a Saturday morning. There have been a few exceptions to this rule. German trips but even last season’s highlight of Glentoran V Linfield in the Bel-classico saw both the match ticket and the plane ticket booked on the Friday before the game.
So over Lidl coffee (Gold Bel Arom, very good) and Warburton’s crumpets (double toasted for optimum top crispness) I scoured the interweb for inspiration. Merthyr Town maybe? Haywards Heath? Cunningly I was too late for Scotland, but to be honest only a Pollok/Greenock Morton double header will shift me over the wall in the icy land of the hairy deep-fried skag beast these days. By 0945 I still hadn’t decided but I was ready to go. By 0950 I’d decided. Marine V Witton Albion and by 1000 I was out the door.
The last time I was on Merseyside was back in 1982 during a week’s holiday with the family in Southport. My father, on the way back, decided to do one of his famous excursions and gunned the Ford Escort Popular Plus (in Signal Red) through Ainsdale, Formby, Great Crosby, Waterloo through my first taste of urban depravity and boarded up windows in Bootle and onwards to Liverpool city centre and through the Kingsway Tunnel to Birkenhead. Once home to Peter Storm jackets and awaydays. Cue the guitar riff from Magazine’s “The light pours out of me”. It had to be better than Dunstable Town V Chertsey Town, which was the blandest ground I’d ever been to. Cold and unfriendly people also. They didn’t even bother doing a minute’s silence for Nelson Mandela. Absolutely disgraceful in this day and age 😉
It was a fairly uneventful drive up the M40 and M6. No real traffic issues which I have to say surprised me a little bit. A little bit more traffic on the M62 passing such places as Warrington and St Helens before I decided to ignore the Garmin and detour around Liverpool a bit on the M57 before veering left after Aintree and heading towards Sefton on Dunning’s Bridge Road before hitting a roundabout with a Beatles mural in the walls of a few houses. I muttered something about Paul McCartney being a massive bastard and then turned right at Sefton Docks and a few minutes later I found the ground on College Road in the suburb of Crosby. Birthplace of Anne Robinson and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie. Although if you’re counting the neighbouring areas of Waterloo and Seaforth then you can include Cherie Blair and Kenny Everett as well.
Marine AFC were formed in 1894 by a group of local businesses and college students. The name “Marine” came from the name of the Hotel in nearby Waterloo where the club were formed. They moved to the current ground (Rossett Park) a few years later in 1903. Marine hold the post war British record for the longest serving football manager as well in Roly Howard who won 30 trophies in his 33 years and 1,975 games in charge. He was appointed manager in 1972 and retired in 2005. Some record indeed. A bit of trawling on the internet for notable former players includes the likes of former Accrington Stanley and now Southport manager John Coleman and none other than Jason McAteer who was spotted by scouts from Bolton Wanderers whilst playing for Marine. MK Dons manager Karl Robinson played for them back in the early noughties as well as ex Torquay United player Neil Sang who mustered 14 appearances for the mighty yellows back in the 1991-1992 season.
The ground, now known as the Arriva Stadium is a fairly unique one. They’ve crammed most of the space into the ground behind one end where there’s a smart seated stand with terracing to the bottom and right of the stand. There’s just a wire fence and the dugouts on one side of the ground, some very narrow covered terracing on the other side with an open terrace down the other end. I stopped off in the club bar before the game for an inexpensive pint of mild and to watch the final 20 minutes of the Man City – Arsenal game.
It was a gritty game. Though the poor Marine (pronounced Meeeeerrreeeeenne) goalkeeper struggled to boot the ball further than no man’s land between the D and the centre circle as the wind howled in off the Irish Sea. Marine looked the more dangerous and created 3 or 4 decent chances but the visitors Witton Albion look the more assured, especially in their approach play. The wind defeated all in the first half. I retired out of it briefly to treat myself to a warming Chicken Soup. Very good soup. Hotter than the sun but very good. It still beggars belief that non league clubs can do such good food when compared to their Football League counterparts.
Witton scored early in the second half and looked good value for their lead but somehow Marine responded and through Jonathan Goulding on the right wing and Matty Devine began to really take the game by the scruff of it’s neck. Jamie Rainford equalised with a neat header on 75 minutes before Matty Devine managed to score the winner in the last minute. On the 2nd half showing Marine just about deserved their win. A first win in 6 games.
Decent game. Nice ground. Friendly people. Quality soup. A nice three hour drive home with a brief detour for chips in Crewe.