Sunday, 17 July 2011

Ground 175: Moss Lane, Altrincham

It’s 30 minutes on Manchester’s Metrolink from Victoria Station to Altrincham, an affluent market town eight miles south of the city centre which is home to a 24-hour Tesco and one of the most famous names in English non-league football. Founder members of the Conference in 1979, Altrincham were the Liverpool of the amateur game, winning back-to-back titles at the start of the 1980s, two FA Trophies in a decade and famously defeating Birmingham City (and a young David Seaman) 2-1 in the 1986 FA Cup third round, the last time a top-flight side lost to non-league opposition.

That aside, they can’t have seen many day-glo yellow boots at Moss Lane, let alone a pair adorning the feet of a £90,000 a week international footballer. But just two months after Manchester City claimed their first trophy in thirty-five years Craig Bellamy, once of Newcastle United, Liverpool and Celtic, is doing shuttle runs between the Popular Side and Carole Nash Family Stand while England Under-21 internationals Nedum Onuoha and Michael Johnson limber up nearby and the rest of the first team prepare to take on Mexico’s Club America in the drier and slightly more exotic climes of San Francisco.

With sixteen FA Cup wins over Football League sides Altrincham are a well-renowned nuisance to higher ranked teams. Helped along by some lackadaisical defending from Courtney Meppen-Walter, they take the lead two minutes into the game. City concede a penalty with virtually the first touch an Altrincham player has on the ball and Damian Reeves smacks his kick through the goalkeeper’s arms. “Someone YouTube that one later,” says an Altrincham fan from the top of the stand as Meppen-Walker looks apologetically at the ground.

The game is played at a training ground pace, the part-timers content to harry City’s midfield – which includes Johnson, Premier League substitute Abdul Razak and Israel international Gai Assulin – in possession and Bellamy bustling around tirelessly upfront alongside Joan Angel Roman, an 18-year-old attacking midfielder bought from Espanyol. Their work goes unrewarded until the 37th minute, when Bellamy works a four-man single touch passing move and Roman shoots low into the Altrincham net. Eight minutes later captain Kieran Trippier, an FA Youth Cup winner who played 37 games on loan at Barnsley last season, runs onto a pass from Razak and, as an unmarked Bellamy screams for the cross, slices a dipping effort into the same corner as Roman’s.

Bellamy is replaced by 16-year-old Devante Cole ten minutes into the second half, exiting to a standing ovation from the City fans in the 1,300 crowd. It’s just the first in a flurry of substitutions as the game peters out with City largely content to stroke the ball around midfield and Altrincham, relegated to the Conference North on the final day of last season, taking the chance to field youth team players and trialists. Benfica’s Francisco Santos Silva Júnior looks tidy but unspectacular in the City midfield, Johnson miraculously manages to survive the game unscathed and Onuoha shows why he was so highly-rated, a combative and assured display marred by too frequent lapses in concentration. By the end of the game, with the bench and stands emptying, you can't really blame him.

Football is back. Long may it continue.

Date: July 16th 2011
Admission: £7

1 comment:

  1. Michael: I cannot see a "contact" option - forgive me if I have overlooked it but hope you will see this and get in touch at
    I would love to reproduce one of your postings at Salut! Sunderland in return for a prominent link to your site.