While events at Camp Nou, Allianz Arena, Santiago Bernabeu, Old Trafford etc are rightly in the news, I want to introduce you to English non league football in the unheralded depth of the lower leagues.
Tuesday was a splendid Spring day, with Altrincham FC entertaining Brackley Town in the semi-final first leg Blue Square North League. www.bluesqnorth.com. Its the 6th tier, two divisions off the Football League, but Moss Road, home of the Robins is a splendid venue, where Manchester United reserves play, and a 10 minute walk from Metrorail station. www.altrinchamfc.co.uk
Their fans are both legendary and superb and it was the fourth time I had watched Alty play in a month, the last three being over the Pennines at Halifax, Guiseley and Bradford Park Avenue. The visitors, founded in 1890, are from Northamptonshire and called the Saints and play at St. James Park- not the more famous one in the North-East. They play in red & white stripes as do Alty, so had to switch to All Yellow. This league is the highest they have ever attained and they had beat Alty 4-1 on the opening day of the season last August.
Making a day out of it it took the MetroLink tram from Piccadilly to the supposedly World Famous Bury Market, perhaps hoping to find a Neville Brothers antique. Their family are a big wheel in Bury FC. Open daily I was told. WELL Tuesday and evidently Thursday and Sunday they are closed as I found out when I arrived. Back to the big city and a splendid all you can eat lunch at a Turkish restaurant near Chinatown, Efes Restaurant and Tavern. What a lunch buffet for £5.95 with soups, salads, breads, mains, desserts and more. www.efes.co.uk
The visitors look strong and domineering in the early stages but The Robins fought back including 3 shots in 15 seconds that hit the posts. However Town struck first when home goalie Stuart Coburn let in a header from the tall substitute Jefferson Louis . They fought back to equalize straight away with a goal from Simon Richman who headed in Duncan Watmore's cross, and in the 93rd minute Jack Moult struck with a superb volley and injury time winner to give a slight advantage going into Saturday's away leg.
Brackley boss Jon Brady said afterwards, " You've got to take it on the chin, it's 2-1 and finely poised. I don't see it as a defeat, its only half-time"
League top scorer Damian Reeves with 40 goals this campaign was kept scoreless again. Expect a large Alty fan turnout at the weekend. They were noisy throughout at Moss Road and even red flares lighting up the ground. The team will wear aqua jerseys on Saturday.
The other Northern final first leg saw FC Halifax and Guiseley play out a 1-1 draw in a local West Yorkshire derby. One of these four teams will move up to Blue Square Premier along with league champions Chester FC. Blue Square South semi final first legs saw Chelmsford top Salisbury 1-0 and Eastleigh lose 1-3 at home to Dover.