On the Loan is not just about giving you a match report, but a review of the whole experience from different teams in the North-West. It takes the wealthy world of football and asks, can it be enjoyed on a student budget? This week we head to the National League North, and Ashton United vs Leamington FC.
It’s important to give a bit of context, to what we believe is the best division in English football. The ‘National League North’ is the sixth tier in the football pyramid. Nine teams in the division are in the greater Manchester area, and it boasts some big-name clubs. Many of these have ended up where they are due to a combination of mis-management, bad ownership, and the fact the league itself is so competitive and tough to get out of. Stockport County for example, were beating Manchester City in the championship as recently as 1999. Oh how the fortunes of the two clubs, 10 miles apart, have changed in the 20 years since.
On Saturday we were at recently promoted Ashton United, with 189 others. The Robins got off to the worst possible start, Ghanaian forward Ahmed Obeng headed in a first minute opener for the visitors. Ashton were un-phased, however, and on the 18th minute, following a failure by Leamington to convincingly clear Matt Regan’s cross, the ball fell to Bradley Jackson, who finished emphatically from the top of the area. “Top bins or no bins”, was the cry from Alex Thrower, and he was not disappointed.
The second half went by at a slower pace, and until stoppage time the most exciting event of note was Ashton striker Matty Chadwick being booked for a dive in Leamington’s area. Ashton were knocking on the door however and as the visitors sat back, apparently happy to settle for a point, they were made to pay. A 92nd minute goal mouth scramble meant the ball eventually fell to substitute Martin, allowing him to seal 3 points for Ashton, moving them up to 14th place. 5 points off the playoffs, 5 points off relegation, a fitting symbol for our love for the division.
Although we drove to the fixture, Ashton United is not tough to get to by public transport. A 10 minute train from Manchester Victoria will take you to Ashton Under-Lyne, from which one can travel 20 minutes by bus or by foot to the ground.
A concession ticket was £8, which we did feel was a tad steep, but these clubs have got to stay alive somehow and Ashton are clearly struggling to bring in the punters. This could be due to the extreme density of clubs in the area. £3.50 got us a pie and chips, from one of the most impressively stocked food stands we’ve seen on our travels. The £2 programme gave excellent background on the opponents, and so with a bit of petrol money it came to a £16.50 day out. This is not bad at all, though given the very reasonable £12.30 we paid last week for Manchester United Women’s, it’ll be interesting to keep a league table, so to speak, of the costs of such days out. Nevertheless we undoubtedly got value for money.
A score, it would have to be a 9.3/10. The ground was lovely, even if it is in need of some major TLC. The ticket was more than one should expect, but the standard remained high and a last minute winner automatically adds (1) to any score.
On the Loan can also be found on Instagram, @ontheloan for more football experiences both in the UK and abroad.
This episode was written by Will Caspari.