ALTRINCHAM FC SPECIAL FEATURES

Barry Pikesley

Everyday is like Tuesday

Reproduced from the Robins' Review of 20 August 2013

"Following on from last August’s programme article devoted to an overview of the Robins‘ fortunes in the opening fixture of a league campaign since the inaugural season of the Alliance Premier League back in 1979/80, this year’s flimsy excuse for a misty-eyed wallow in some Alty nostalgia comprises an account of the club’s experiences when the first home league fixture of a new season has happened to fall on a Tuesday evening.

Monday had traditionally been Alty’s favoured midweek night for staging home matches until mid-September 1985, when the decision was taken to switch to Tuesday evenings at the instigation of John King and George Rooney, who were the managerial team at Moss Lane at that particular time.

In the Robins Review, they opined that this change “would give the players valuable extra time to prepare for midweek fixtures. That little extra recovery period can have a very beneficial effect for a player who has collected a knock on a Saturday and such extras can sometimes make the difference in achieving the results we want. We hope that the move doesn’t inconvenience any of the supporters too much but we believe that it is for the good of the club.”

In the wake of this revision of club policy, the first Tuesday evening match enacted at Moss Lane comprised a Gola League fixture versus Scarborough on 24th September 1985, when 1,023 spectators witnessed Graham Bennett net both goals in a 2-0 triumph for the Robins.

In the ensuing 27 seasons, Alty’s record in the 11 opening home league fixtures played on a Tuesday evening reads as follows: won: three; drawn: four; lost: four; goals scored: 18; goals conceded: 15 and points accumulated: 13 out of a possible total of 33.

The first of those matches transpired on 25th August 1987, when the Robins registered a heartwarming 2-0 victory over the heinous Northwich Victoria in a GM Vauxhall Conference (GMVC) derby watched by a crowd of 1,465.

Alty had suffered a 3-2 defeat at Dagenham on the opening day of the 1987/88 season and their team on that following Tuesday evening included the likes of the former Marine left full back Paul Edwards (who would be sold to Crewe Alexandra later that season) and the ever-reliable Paul Cuddy, not to mention a rare appearance by the injury-afflicted Martin Hanchard, as well as two players who were making their Moss Lane debuts: ex-Chester City goalkeeper John Butcher and former Peterborough United left winger Garry Worrall.

The green slime’s line-up on that occasion featured four ex-Alty players: Phil Gardner; Phil Wilson; Paul Reid and Graham Bennett.

Two strikes from the one-time Vics midfielder Eddie Bishop (29 and 44 minutes) clinched the three points for the Robins. However, a subsequent sequence of eight league matches during which Alty managed merely a solitary victory; collected only six points out of a potential tally of 24 and slumped to 18th position in the GMVC table culminated in the dismissal of the team manager John Williams and the controversial and inevitably ill-fated appointment of a busy after dinner speaker and local radio pundit named Tommy Docherty.

Incidentally, the 1987/88 GMVC season saw the implementation of that bizarre experimental offside law, whereby players could not be offside direct from any free kick. Thankfully, it proved to be a short-lived and largely unpopular innovation which was only applied throughout that one season.

Having commenced the 1988/89 GMVC campaign with a 2-1 victory at league newcomers Aylesbury United, the Robins faced another newly-promoted side in the guise of Chorley at Moss Lane on 23rd August 1988. Neil Cook and Ricky Harris were making their respective home debuts, whereas the visitors’ line-up included the ex-Alty winger John Brady, who would later return to Moss Lane for a second and far more successful spell as a central striker, and two other characters who would also subsequently play for the Robins: Steve Phillips and Phil Power.

In front of a gate of 1,514, Ronnie Ellis gave Alty the lead after 17 minutes. However, Phil Power levelled matters in the 37th minute and a 58th minute goal from Paul Moss secured the first of six consecutive league victories for the Lancashire club.

The ensuing two league fixtures saw the Robins capitulate to a mortifying 7-2 drubbing at eventual Champions, Maidstone United, and then lose 2-1 at Cheltenham Town, all of which engendered the sacking of the club’s manager Jeff Johnson, who was swiftly replaced by his erstwhile Alty team-mates John King and Graham Heathcote.

Alty embarked upon their momentous 1990/91 GMVC season in deceptively subdued fashion via a goalless draw at Fisher Athletic. The Moss Lane fixtures began on 21st August 1990 in the form of an encounter with those long-standing foes from Runcorn.

The Canal Street side’s line-up included three players who would later join the Robins: Tommy Miller; Tony Edwards and Simon Rudge. Meanwhile, recording their respective home debuts for the hosts were a trio of inspired Summer signings: Harry Wiggins; Ken McKenna and the sublime Paul Showler.

In front of 1,016 onlookers, Alty proceeded to achieve a 1-0 victory by virtue of John Brady’s 64th minute goal. In fact, the Robins would amass the sum of 425 minutes before conceding their first goal of that particular season in a 3-0 reverse at Wycombe Wanderers on 1st September 1990.

In the aftermath of an encouraging 1-0 win at Kidderminster Harriers via a Ricky Harris goal on the opening day of the 1992/93 GMVC season, 814 spectators convened at Moss Lane on 25th August 1992 to witness the new-look Robins confront Gateshead.

This represented former Emley manager Gerry Quinn’s first competitive home game in charge of Alty and his side that evening included six of his Summer recruits who were making their respective home debuts: Clive Freeman; Russell Green; Mike Farrar (who is currently Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, having been awarded a CBE in 2005); Simon Woodhead; Ian Thompson and Mick Carmody, as well as another individual who was recording his full debut for the Robins. In the absence of his first-choice goalkeeper Joe Paladino, who had incurred an injury at Aggborough three days earlier, Quinn had arranged a loan deal with Bury for a certain Mike Pollitt, who would go on to play for Wigan Athletic in the Premier League.

Alas, Alan Lamb’s 38th minute strike for the visitors duly consigned Quinn’s nascent Alty project to a dispiriting 1-0 home defeat. This marked the third in a nightmarish sequence for the Robins of 11 games without a victory against Gateshead, a run which was finally halted by means of a gratifying 3-2 success at the Gateshead International Stadium on Wednesday, 27th March 1996.

On 24th August 1993, the Robins welcomed Stalybridge Celtic to Moss Lane for a GMVC fixture, which unfolded before a crowd numbering 758. Alty’s starting XI included two home debutants in the shape of the ex-Trafford forward Willie Bell plus Tim Clarke, a goalkeeper who had been snapped up on a free transfer from Huddersfield Town just 48 hours prior to the inception of the new season. Meanwhile, the visitors from Tameside fielded the one-time Alty midfielder John Aspinall (whose son, Steve, would later play for the Robins); the ex-Oldham Athletic striker Frank Bunn and that man Phil Power once again.

Notwithstanding the significant presence of the mighty Ian Tunnacliffe in the Robins’ forward line, the insipid 90 minutes concluded in a goalless stalemate, following on from an identical outcome in Alty’s opening fixture of the league campaign at Merthyr Tydfil on the preceding Saturday.

The Robins’ ensuing 14 fixtures in all competitions yielded just three victories; elicited a meagre tally of 10 Alty goals and contained nine defeats, including a dismal 2-0 Moss Lane surrender to Accrington Stanley (then of the Northern Premier League) in the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round. The upshot of this lamentable spell was the sacking of Gerry Quinn after a truly desperate 1-0 loss at Kettering Town on Saturday, 30th October 1993, whereupon he was promptly succeeded by the recruitment of Paul Rowlands from Bangor City as the club’s new player-manager.

The Robins kicked off their 1994/95 GMVC schedule in fine style with a 3-1 triumph at Yeovil Town. Their first Moss Lane assignment under the Tuesday night lights duly ensued on 23rd August 1994, in the shape of a 5-1 trouncing of Stafford Rangers which was enacted in front of 850 spectators.

It proved to be a memorable home debut for the diminutive ex-Bootle FC striker Steve O’Neill, who scored a couple of splendid goals (30 and 73 minutes). The delightfully combative Andy Green chipped in with a goal on the stroke of half-time and central defender Paul France followed up his goal in Somerset on the previous Saturday by bagging two more (61 and 90+2 minutes). The visitors’ sole reply came via a 75th minute Paul Shepstone effort.

Almost nine years had elapsed before the Robins’ opening home league fixture of the season next fell on a Tuesday evening. By this juncture, Alty were languishing in the relative wilderness of the Unibond League Premier Division and Graham Heathcote’s men had begun proceedings with a goalless draw at Alfreton Town.

19th August 2003 brought a visit from a Marine side that contained a midfielder by the name of Eddie Hussin, who would go on to join the Robins in June 2004.

Only 579 interested parties had been tempted to venture to Moss Lane that evening and they witnessed the Crosby team establish a two-goal lead courtesy of a Ricky Bainbridge tap-in (62 minutes) and ex-Alty player Neil Murphy’s close range finish (64 minutes). The Robins restored parity through a Steve Aspinall penalty (67 minutes) and an exquisite lob from Ian Craney (72 minutes), before then proceeding to add a third goal after 77 minutes, when Mattie Hughes’ left wing cross was converted by Dave Gardner, that football agent and very good friend of a certain David Beckham. However, Marine rallied and duly concocted an 86th minute equaliser via Paul McNally‘s adroit volley.

Alty’s first Nationwide Conference home game since winning promotion from the 2004/05 Nationwide Conference North transpired on 16th August 2005. Having experienced a 3-0 setback at Stevenage Borough on the opening day of the campaign, the Robins now faced an Accrington Stanley side which featured Alty’s former star midfielder Ian Craney in front of a gate of 1,264. The visitors would eventually emerge as the league Champions that season.

Alas, Colin Little endured an off night, squandering several good chances for the Robins. The contentious only goal of the contest arose in the 85th minute, when Michael Welch bundled the ball into the net at the far post after both Peter Band and Stuart Coburn had appeared to have been fouled during the build-up. Welch went on to join the Robins in February 2009 and is best remembered for scoring that phenomenal goal from his own half via a 70-yard free kick in a 2-2 draw with Crawley Town at Moss Lane on 28th March 2009.

Fresh from overcoming Woking 2-1 at Kingfield Stadium on the opening day of the 2008/09 Blue Square Premier season, courtesy of goals from Alex Meechan (who is currently employed as this evening’s visitors’ player-coach) and Colin Little, the Robins crossed swords with newly-promoted Barrow at Moss Lane on 12th August 2008. The sporadic torrential rain was braved by 1,312 souls, who observed the Furness club eventually triumph 4-3 in a pulsating clash.

The Holker Street side engineered a 2-0 lead through goals from Jason Walker (21 minutes) and one-time Alty winger Carlos Logan (54 minutes), before five goals ensued in a matter of fifteen minutes. The Robins drew level via strikes from Colin Little (64 minutes) and Chris Denham (72 minutes). However, just two minutes later, Jason Walker notched his second goal of the evening, after intercepting a wretched mishit pass by the Robins’ right full back Chris Lane. Colin Little’s majestic 77th minute 25-yard free kick made it 3-3, only for the unmarked Paul Brown to strike the winning goal for the visitors after Stuart Coburn had superbly blocked Walker’s initial shot (79 minutes).

Alty’s inaugural fixture of the 2010/11 Blue Square Bet Premier programme was marked by Damian Reeves’ first goal for the club in a 2-1 reverse at Luton Town. Three days later on 17th August 2010, 1,099 people congregated inside Moss Lane as the Robins squared up to a Darlington side which included Chris Senior, who had been Alty’s leading goalscorer in the previous season.

Chris Denham capitalised on some defensive confusion to put the home side ahead after 51 minutes and substitute Dale Johnson (presently at Barrow on loan from FC Halifax Town) diverted Ryan Brown‘s free kick into the Quakers’ net to double Alty’s advantage (78 minutes). So, with merely 12 minutes of the match remaining, the Robins were ostensibly coasting to a merited first victory of the season, only then to implode and allow Darlington to escape with a fortuitous 2-2 draw. In the 82nd minute, Stuart Coburn collided with Robbie Lawton whilst punching a cross and promptly conceded a hapless own goal. Alty’s misery was then compounded when Tommy Wright headed in a 90th minute equaliser. 12 angry minutes that would come to define a season of unremitting despair.

A calamitous and demoralising run of six consecutive league defeats ensued, during which Alty could only manage to muster a single goal. The Robins were left marooned at the foot of the league table and on Tuesday, 14th September 2010, the club announced that manager Graham Heathcote’s contract had been terminated by mutual consent. He was duly succeeded by his assistant Ken McKenna, who went on to mount an ultimately abortive battle to avoid relegation.

The next season saw Alty launch their Blue Square Bet North programme in somewhat faltering fashion via that bungling and self-inflicted 3-2 defeat at Harrogate Town. Lee Sinnott’s first competitive home match as Alty’s manager materialised three days later on 16th August 2011, when the Robins entertained Workington in front of 774 observers.

The Cumbrians opened the scoring in the 28th minute through the portly figure of David McNiven, that nomadic striker who Graham Heathcote had endeavoured, in vain, to bring to Moss Lane back in February 2006. The Robins were gifted an equaliser after 41 minutes, when Shaun Densmore pounced on an underhit backpass, rounded the visitors’ goalkeeper Aaron Taylor and then deftly slotted the ball into the net from the right of goal. Notwithstanding enjoying the lion’s share of possession in the second half, Alty were unable to break the impasse.

Last Saturday’s uplifting 3-1 opening day conquest of Worcester City constituted Alty’s first victory at Kidderminster Harriers’ Aggborough stadium in over 19 years (Saturday, 7th May 1994, to be exact, when a 1-0 triumph over the eventual GMVC Champions in the final fixture of the season was accomplished by means of a Stuart Terry goal).

Rather uncannily, it’s now virtually 19 years since the Robins last tasted success in an opening home league game staged on a Tuesday evening. So, let’s hope that we are about to revel in Barrow being reduced to scrap at the J Davidson Stadium and this latest instalment of Tuesday night fever will climax in George Heslop dancing like John Travolta amidst the joyous post match celebrations in the Noel White Suite. BARRY PIKESLEY (with thanks to John Laidlar and Mike Garnett)".


Copyright: 2013 Altrincham FC