The Road to Moss Lane
by Terry Rowley

Terry Rowley published the first part of his account of the emergence of Moss Lane as Altrincham's ground, in nthe Robins' Review of 21 August 2010. Those interested in the story may also find the website's page on Pollitt's Field, Alty's previous ground, of interest.

Part One

By now, most people know that 3rd September 1910 was that the date that marked the beginning of 100 years of Altrincham AFC's history at the current Moss Lane ground but where did they play prior to moving to Moss Lane for the 19 years since they were formed?

Altrincham AFC’s origins begin with the Rigby Memorial school, which was built in 1886 and regarded as the principle education centre in the Broadheath area. Football began soon after with the pupils of Miss Lee’s Sunday School class forming a team. There was no ground, merely farmers' fields at Massey Farm and Dairyhouse Farm and behind the Atlantic Works on which rudimentary pitches were marked out.

This situation continued into the 1890s with the team playing friendly or challenge matches but with no formal league membership. By the 1892/93 season the club were organised on a more formal basis and adopted the name of Broadheath AFC. Their headquarters remained at the Rigby Memorial School and they continued to play on surrounding fields in the Broadheath area.

For the 1893/94 season things changed as Broadheath joined the recently re-formed and re-constituted Manchester and District League. The more formal League structure meant that the team needed better playing conditions. For this reason Broadheath AFC not only used the previous fields in Broadheath but made their first use of Moss Lane as a home pitch. Hale Moss was poorly drained and the only area where football could possibly be played was on Stamford Park [on Moss Lane], which was opened as a place for public recreation in 1880 and included football pitches.

The increased attendances at Moss Lane encouraged the committee to use Moss Lane for all their home fixtures during the 1894/95 season, this situation continued into 1895/96 when crowds of up to 1000 were reported. One end of the pitch was referred to as the ‘Station End’. This continued use of Stamford Park could not continue as, with the ever growing population, the demand for pitches was becoming higher. This, coupled with the difficulty of charging admission on a public park, meant a return to Broadheath for the 1896/97 season and [they] obtained the permission of Mr Meadows to use of what was described as ‘an admirable ground in Stockport Road’ (Timperley).

This arrangement continued for the 1897/98 season but the ‘admirable ground’ was proving to be less than an ideal playing surface. (Pitch conditions would trouble Altincham over the next decade until the move to Moss Lane). Match reports continually commented on the pitch conditions; for example, against Hyde St George's, ‘The ground owing to the recent heavy rain was in sloppy and slippery state, often rendering accurate football difficult’. Even switching back to Moss lane didn’t help as against Talbot ‘...the ground usually played upon was in a bad state and unfit for play, so the game was played on an adjoining field’.

The 1898/99 season continued in a similar vein with home fixtures played at both Stockport Road and Moss Lane but the committee were now trying hard to locate a permanent home pitch and for the next two seasons (1899/1900 & 1900/1901), they came right back to their roots and played all their home fixtures just down the road from the Rigby Memorial School on Navigation Lane (Navigation Road).

But once again these were public playing fields and hardly ideal for establishing a home ground. The following season, (1901/02) the committee thought they had found their permanent home and in August it was announced that; ‘Broadheath have surmounted their ground difficulty and will in future be found operating near the railway arches at Broadheath’.

But their hopes were short lived for, in October, it was reported ‘The Broadheath Club from force of circumstances has had again to seek new pastures. A suitable pitch has been secured near Timperley Station. The field is a long way out and will test the loyalty of the most ardent supporter. The gates may in consequence suffer, especially as Oldfield, last year’s winners of the Sale and District, are operating in Broadheath and are sure to prove a strong counter attraction’.

The Timperley location brought its other problems, with no facilities. The players changed off-location ten to twelve minutes from the ground and, from there, then walked to the pitch to play. After a particularly fractious Christmas Day match in 1901 against old rivals, Northwich Victoria, which the ‘Vics’ won 1-0,with a controversial goal, there were alleged assaults on both the Northwich players and a linesman was kicked and struck.

Northwich raised a complaint and in February Broadheath were summoned before the Cheshire FA to answer the complaints. The charges were subsequently proved but, with no means of identifying the culprits, the Broadheath club were instructed to post warning notices and to provide dressing rooms nearer the ground.

The team soldiered on at the unsuitable Timperley site for the following 1902/03 season, with small crowds and declining interest leading, at the season's end, to a statement by the club of it being ‘suicidal to remain at the present ground as it was so outlandish.’ Ironically the pitch itself was immaculate.

At the Club's AGM on 26 June 1903, (held in the now demolished Forrester's Arms pub in Altrincham), Mr Smith a committee member declared that the club used to find it drew good gates, when it ‘was more central in the town and it would be of further benefit if the club were it henceforth known as Altrincham AFC, as they were without doubt the premier club in the town and fully entitled to the name’.

Mr Wilkinson seconded and the proposal was carried unanimously; this name change was ratified by the Cheshire FA in September 1903. There had been much discussion with Altrincham District Council on obtaining a ground in Altrincham and now, in line with their name change to Altrincham AFC, they pushed on for a site based in Altrincham itself.

From around 1900 Altrincham was rapidly expanding and Hale Moss was being drained and small industrial buildings were set up alongside the 1847 gasworks and slaughterhouse. The District Council suggested the use of Pollitt’s Field, a plot of land which had been bought by Altrincham District Council from the Trustees of the Dunham Estate for £500, the deal having been ratified on 1st April 1902. The field is named after Henry Pollitt, who kept the slaughterhouse on the Moss in the 1850s.

All was agreed and the field leased to Altrincham AFC on an annual lease. Work commenced immediately on the alterations to the plot which were required, such as lengthening, widening, levelling and drainage, including piping of the many brooks around the field. Although termed a Football Ground it was little more than an enclosed field. Facilities were virtually non-existent, with the players having to change at the Woolpack Hotel [in Altrincham town centre] and run to ground.

The pitch was only 106½ yards long and had a nominated ‘Gas Works End’ and a ‘Moss Lane End’. This lack of changing facilities on the ground had previously and would continue to bring the Committee problems with authorities when spectators attacked both players and officials. The Altrincham committee were planning to develop Pollitt’s Field as a permanent home but, in December 1905, it looked like their tenancy would be short-lived as the following was announced...

‘Not a little alarm has been occasioned amongst Altrincham supporters by the disquietening rumours which have been in circulation during the last 2 or 3 weeks, to the effect that the club stand in danger of losing their ground. Fortunately the rumour is far from correct. It probably owes its foundation to the fact that the District Council have commenced the scheme of building municipal dwellings on the site adjacent to Pollitt’s Field and the fear on the part of some that the ground would be required to complete the work”.

The need for housing in Altrincham was becoming urgent, due to the rapid increase in population and the Council produced a scheme to build 26 houses at £4260, on the area adjoining the Altrincham ground, this was completed in 1908.

Having survived this scare by 1906/07 the committee cracked on, with embankments being raised on three sides and a new pavilion erected near the Gas Works End of the field. This was followed in 1907/08 by the building of a new grandstand costing £100 and seating 500 at the Moss Lane End of the ground.

However the pitch was beginning to prove troublesome. In the English (FA) Cup the pitch was found to be to be too short for FA matches, being only 106 ½ yards long instead of the required 110 yards. Opposition Stalybridge, refused to play a tie at Pollitt’s Field and so it had to be played at Stalybridge, Altrincham lost 4-0.

In 1908/09 the pitch was increasingly coming under criticism, mainly due to poor drainage, for example; against Northwich "Heavy turf", Hazel Grove CSC "The Ground was very heavy" and against Macclesfield “Unfortunately the ground was on the heavy side".

During 1909/10 complaints against pitch were becoming increasingly frequent. Against Newton Heath; 'The recent heavy rain had rendered Pollitt's Field in a wretched condition and the ground was covered in pools of water'. In fact, the match had to be suspended at one point due to heavy rain, but was played to conclusion.

Against Rusholme; " The ground was in very bad condition rendering football most difficult" and Witton "The turf was like a quagmire" and finally Macclesfield “The ground was in wretched condition”

During early 1910 discussions were under way over moving to a better location were in progress with the District Council. Fortunately the Stamford Trustees at the same time as selling Pollitt’s Field to the District Council had also sold ten acres of the fourteen acres to the east of Pollitt’s Field on the north side of Moss Lane to the Urban District Council, who proposed this recently drained area as a suitable location for a ground and a lease was agreed.

To be Continued..."