Groundhopper: Ramsbottom United – Malcolm Stephenson

Ramsbottom United 3 Blyth Spartans 3.

It’s very rare that I take in a match on a Thursday night and not even a Europa League game on the box. It’s even rarer that I go to a new ground on a Thursday that I have not been to before. The last time I was ground hopping on a Thursday evening was Spartans FA Trophy 1st round re-arranged game back in 1987.
This week was a make or break week for Blyth in their quest for making the play-offs. So far it had not been going according to plan with home draws against Rushall Olympic last Saturday and another draw with Barwell on Tuesday. To play again just two days later and once more the following Saturday was a big ask of any team. Four games in 8 days would have any Premier manager crying all the way to FA headquarters. Teams like Blyth Spartans just grin and bear it, getting on with the job in hand as best they can.

Ramsbottom is tucked in the West Pennine Moors and just 4 miles North of Bury plus another 8 from Manchester. You cannot get here by Train normally as the line was closed in 1972. However there is the East Lancashire Railway heritage group which has kept the station alive. Recently FC Manchester had a special train on for their match at Ramsbottom. The station is really handy sitting literally 5 minutes from the ground. Today there was no ‘Rammy rattler’ but the joys of Motorways and other roads to get me here tonight.

Ramsbottom is also home to the World Black pudding throwing championships. This is where you have to knock down as many Yorkshire puddings down as possible by chucking rings of black pudding at them. There was none of this either tonight but I did notice a sign advertising  a duck race for the coming weekend. Before animal rights activists blow a fuse it was the plastic variety of ducks that would be competing with each other. Lest hope the winning duck had a smile as it crossed the finishing line in this upcoming event.

The football ground is next to the Cricket club. There only seems to be one turnstile into  the ground which takes you onto the same side as the changing rooms, sponsors lounge, Directors rooms club shop and tea room. On the far side of the pitch is one quite small seated area right on the touch line and another longer main stand yards away down the right hand side. Behind the left goal was a good terrace area with a cover over nearly the whole width of the pitch while a bus shelter smaller shed covered the other end behind the goal. Floodlights and sponsors lounge were recovered from Oldham Athletic and some seats from Manchester City’s Maine Road stadium.

Ramsbottom Utd started life in 1966 playing in the Bury Amateur league. In 1995 The Rams joined the North West Counties league and in 2012 joined the Northern Premier league. Last season they won promotion to the Northern Premier league, Premier division through the play offs after beating Darlington1883 and Bamber Bridge.

The furthest they have ever been in the FA cup has been the 3rd qualifying round although they did reach the 1st round of the FA Trophy last season when they lost at home to Stockport County. Ramsbottom once reached the 3rd round proper of the FA Vase.

Blyth’s team selection witnessed more of a shuffle than you would see on Come Dancing. It’s not easy when you have 4 games in 8 days. I was really hoping and even expecting a win tonight against a team we scored four goals in their net just a few weeks ago. Its was not to be. They looked better than last time we played them. Ramsbottom went into the lead on 17 minutes although we had some equalising chances which were missed. Dan Maguire got us back into the game just after half time with a bullet of a header. Later in the game the home side scored two more goals which looked as if it sealed the night for them. With four minutes left I thought that was it and we would be going home with nothing. If I had had some black pudding on me at the time i would have felt like throwing it at someone. But in amazing two minute spell towards the end of the game Spartans popped up with two goals from Hutchinson and Maguire again to gain a valuable point for Blyth. It was probably a fair result on the night but I am sure the home side would have been disappointed with the final score.

It was a good point on the night and it’s just one defeat in 15 games which is good current form. It’s now three draws in our last three games which, to me now at least, probably sees off that small chance to reach the play-offs. Realistically it was a big ask. The team has still done everyone proud this season. We had a fantastic FA cup run this season. I do not think you can do that and have a promotion chasing season at the same time.

The journey home was going favourably until we hit Scotch Corner. The A1 was completely closed and a diversion took us through Barnard Castle. It was another hour on the journey which was a real pain in the neck. It just shows you never know what’s going to happen on the night.

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