When you haven't won a match in six outings and are in 17th place in the league, anything positive is acceptable. and so it proved to be at the well maintained Moss Lane ground of Altrincham of the Blue Square Premier League as they entertained league leaders Salisbury City on a sunny and dry Saturday afternoon. The town and its historic market are 800 years old.
I had bumped into club director Andrew Shaw and his son Eliot at a Cobh Ramblers match in Ireland in mid summer and was welcomed by Andrew who was resplendent in beautifully tailored club blazer that all the committee members proudly wore, and supplied by a former club chairman Len Rosenfield of The Mens Wearhouse. With an EPL off day due to World Cup matches, ALTY, or The Robins as they are known, attracted some fans of both major city clubs not far away. In fact, I took the Metroline high speed light rail from Piccadilly past Old Trafford and another 6 minutes to the end of the line at Altrincham Station.
Of course Manchester has been in the news this week with City leapfrogging United and Chelsea as THE richest club in the world, with the sale to the Abu Dhabi Royal family holding company, the transfer of Robinho from Real Madrid and the sale of Dimitar Berbatov from Spurs to Man U. Of course the really SENSATIONAL story was that Sir Alex Ferguson drove to Manchester Airport to pick the Bulgarian just in case he changed his mind and caught the bus to Eastlands.
There had been torrential rain in Greater Manchester the week before, but thanks to groundsman Neil Brown the pitch was a beautiful shade of green and only a little standing water off to the side. A few minutes gone and Salisbury's No 8 Scott Barlett came in for a tackle like Joey Barton in heat, but after that it was quite a competitive match with nothing really nasty. I thought that referee Mr T. Harrington gave a superb display and must surely be destined for a move up the ladder. Fans around me thought that it would be Alty's day, but I was quite impressed by the visitors, well organized and cool. The home fans were loud and supportive and just before half-time only a world class 'Gordon Banks style' fingertip save by goalie James Bittner from a header by Colin Little prevented Altrincham from going off for a half time cup of tea in the lead. Not to be outdone, home goalie Stuart Coburn, playing his 399th match for Alti also had some great saves.
I did even better, with a de-licious Shepherds Pie in the board room, prepared by chef Inga and presented by Jo. Shepherds Pie is one of my favourite dishes, and this was authentic - made from ground lamb with lots of veggies-carrots, peas, turnips and mashed potatoes. I must admit that like Oliver Twist I asked for more, and unlike the Dickensian character I was rewarded. It's a favourite dish in the nation's pubs and there is also a vegetarian variety without meat, called Shepherdess Pie, which whole flocks of sheep and lambs evidently approve of.
The most impressive player on the pitch was French born City defender Djoumin Sangare, as solid as a rock. Salisbury have had a rapid rise from nowhere and through the leagues from their Wiltshire home in recent seasons. Alty are overshadowed by their big time neighbours but are a 'salt of the earth' club run by many dedicated volunteers and they don't pay silly wages. They once tied Tottenham Hotspur in an F.A. Cup tie at White Hart Lane in 1978 and in 1986 won away at St. Andrews, home of Birmingham City of the then First Division, only the second non-league club apart from Wimbledon to win away to a top Football League club in the competition. In fact Alty have humbled Football League opposition on no less that 16 occasions.
In the end it finished all square 0-0, as satisfactory as kissing your sister, the third home draw in succession. I remarked that there was nothing that a $60 million striker couldn't put right, which I am sure manager Graham Heathcote could find a place for - if his arm was twisted.