On Monday I knew that I could wake up and forget about work for at least another 24 hours as it was a public holiday. Therefore I decided that I would go to a football ground in my home city that I’d been meaning to go to for quite some time.
The Arriva Stadium, at one time known as Rossett Park before the ground was sponsored by the Arriva bus company, is the home of Marine AFC and lies in the outer Liverpool suburb of Crosby. On quite a few occasions already this season I had sacrificed a visit to this particular stadium in order to watch Waterloo RFC, a rugby union team just ten minutes up the road, and who I’ve never seen lose whenever I have gone to see them play. The reason why I always had to choose is that, for some peculiar reason, both Marine AFC and Waterloo RFC’s home games always seem to kick-off at exactly the same time. This time though, on a cold and windy Monday afternoon, Waterloo had no game to play and Marine were able to fill the void.
Marine AFC, fifth in the league, played host to fourth placed Chorley FC, a team based in a town of the same name just 35 miles away, in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division, effectively the seventh tier of English football, with the two teams separated by just three points before the game kicked off. I took my seat in the only seated stand in the stadium, located behind one of the goals, and found myself sitting next to a Roberto Mancini look-a-like. Just in case I was actually lucky enough to be sitting next to the Manchester City coach himself I asked him if he knew the time but his accent was more Scouse than Italian. “Roberto” did prove useful in one area; his knowledge of the English non-league football scene was encyclopaedic and he came in useful in pointing out players whose identities remain as anonymous with me now as they were before I entered the stadium.
The game started with Chorley enjoying most of the possession and it was no surprise when they took the lead after 20 minutes thanks to a Tom Ince shot from an acute angle beating Marine keeper Ryan McMahon. This spurred the home side into life and it wasn’t too long before the game’s major flashpoint flared up. A midfield battle, culminating with some flying tackles from both sides, ended up in a needless mêlée in which Marine’s Thomas Moore was given a straight red card after seemingly throwing a punch at an opposition player. Despite the numerical disadvantage Marine were able to pull level just three minutes before the break with Neil Harvey scoring from the penalty spot following what looked to me to be a soft foul on Aaron Rey.
For the second half I left the confines of the seated area and was able to stand on the side lines in what looked like a glorified garden shed. In a game which had been largely devoid of atmosphere throughout the first half both sets of supporters amongst the crowd of 575 suddenly began to make some noise and made it worthwhile standing in the bitterly cold weather. Chorley re-took the lead eight minutes into the second half with another penalty converted, scored by Steve Foster. But Marine wouldn’t lie down and came back to level things again with Aaron Rey able to tap the ball home from a couple of yards out in the 68th minute to set up a grandstand finish between two teams who both have genuine hopes of gaining a spot in the top five and being in the end-of-season play-offs this season. However the home side were not able to enjoy parity for too long as Chorley wrapped up the game in the last twenty minutes; a Mark Ross free-kick from the halfway line somehow lobbed over McMahon in the Marine goal in the 71st minute before a glorious strike from the edge of the box by Steve Denham sent the visiting fans wild, knowing that the three points would be theirs unless the home side had some luck in the dying minutes.
Chorley’s reward following the victory was to see their advantage in the table double over Marine from three points to six and cement fourth spot with 48 points, five behind league leaders Chester FC who have two games in hand. Despite defeat Marine should not be too disheartened but they will have to fight it out with the likes of Bradford Park Avenue and FC United of Manchester who lie just below them in the table. Whether I will get to see Marine again anytime soon is anybody’s guess. After all, with my record amongst the Crosby sporting scene, something tells me that the oval ball merchants of Waterloo RFC will welcome me back a lot sooner than the round ball practitioners of Marine.