In British history there are numerous icons who still capture the imaginations of both young and old alike. Whether this be through their willingness to never give up; or simply their intuition and imagination which ultimately went on to change the course of this great nation for ever more.
One such luminary was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, an extraordinary Victorian engineer famed for designing and constructing bridges, ships, railways and viaducts. In 1833, he was appointed the chief engineer on the Great Western Railway and quickly work began on the line that linked London to Bristol.
Stations, such as the vast Temple Meads building were crafted to perfection while tunnels were painstakingly dug to allow day trippers and leisure seekers access to other far flung parts of the country. One could only imagine the pain, blood and aching limbs that went into building Brunel’s feats of engineering but nothing could compare to the time and effort spent on preparing the Collieries pitch to appease disgruntled match goers on Twitter.
At the fifth attempt, Atherton Collieries hosted Bamber Bridge in the Second Round of the Integro League Cup. A heavily waterlogged pitch had prevented this fixture going ahead on three occasions while the recent cold snap from Siberia had dashed hopes of it being played at the fourth time of asking. Volunteers worked morning, noon and night each time but to no avail, only to then be criticised by individuals who had probably never forked a pitch or offered to take a net down in their life.
Bamber Bridge were the holders of this trophy and had beaten Prescot Cables 4-1 in the previous round back in October. Sitting fourth place in the table and with high hopes of securing promotion into the Premier Division, Bridge understandably wanted this fixture out of the way to avoid congestion as the season drew to its conclusion.
Collieries meanwhile were now flying high in 14th place and came into this match boasting a seven game unbeaten streak. They handed a debut to left winger Marcus Cusani who had been signed on the day of the match from NWCFL Premier Division side Ashton Athletic. Iain Howard returned to action and took his place on the bench.
It was the visitors who started off the match brighter and were unlucky not to take the lead on the eight minute mark when Matthew Dudley turned the ball against the post from a corner kick. Another chance arrived three minutes later but Greg Hartley did well to deny a low James Boyd effort.
After around 20 minutes the home side began to settle and looked far more comfortable in possession having had a frenetic few moments at the back. Ben Hardcastle went to task down the right hand side and seemingly caused the Bamber left back all kinds of problems.
Colls did have the ball in the back of the net on 27 minutes but Adam Farrell’s tight finish was correctly ruled out for an offside against Hardcastle who had charged behind the Brig backline.
It was the winger again who was in the thick of the action a few moments before half time when he sent a fantastic cross towards the back post but it was bravely headed away from danger by the last man. It was now all Colls and rather typically the visitors took the lead with the last action of the half.
A needless free kick was given away in the final third and Jamie Milligan curled it in towards the back post where Alistair Waddecar was able to head into the left hand corner having been left completely unmarked.
While in the first half, Bamber Bridge perhaps looked more than happy for Colls to have the ball, this half saw the black and white stripes frustrate their higher ranked opponents and they completely outplayed them, limiting the visitors to just three efforts on goal.
Collieries had a penalty appeal waved away within the first minute of the half and had another turned away just five minutes later. This spell proved to be a turning point as the Colls forwards and midfielders realised that with intricate passing and fast play they could cut through the Bamber Bridge backline with relative ease.
Chances came and went for the trio of Bailey, Farrell and Hardcastle with the latter unlucky not to see a ripper of a shot fly into the roof of the net on 62 minutes. Brig had their first shot of the half on 64 minutes when they cracked the ball against Hartley’s left hand post and the home side managed to scramble the ball to safety.
Michael Clegg then made a double substitution which proved to be a master stroke. The hard working pair of Farrell and Cooke were brought off and in their place came Jordan Cover and Iain Howard; with the midfielder making an impact within a matter of minutes.
Howard looked lively as soon as he came on to the pitch and brought Colls level when he rocketed an effort into the top left hand corner from around 30 yards out. With his finger up in the air, he continued to race around the perimeter of the pitch as the home fans began to sense that this match was now there for taking.
On 83 minutes, Jordan Cover broke down the left hand side and drilled the ball across the face of goal where Cusani was diving in to apply what would have been the finishing touch. Just like Gazza’s Golden Goal miss against Germany in Euro ’96, it was a head in hands moment as the hosts came so near but still yet so far.
With a minute to go, Vinny Bailey, who had stolen the show for the black and whites tried to execute an audacious lob from the edge of the area but it dropped just inches over the bar of the back peddling Lloyd Rigby.
Two minutes into stoppage time and this time Rigby was lobbed and it was by the debutant Cusani who must have felt he had surely won it for the Colls. He took full advantage of a slip in the Brig defence and carefully lofted the ball over the goal line to ensue scenes of mass jubilation in the far left hand corner of the pitch.
Home fans had hardly caught their breath when they were duly silenced as Jamie Milligan scored an absolute belter just seconds later. The ball was played out to the right hand side straight from the kick off and crossed to the edge of the area. Milligan, with little time to react performed a sideways scissor kick to send the ball straight over the head of Hartley who could have done little more.
And so, the most drawn out tie in the history of the Integro League Cup was still not over. It was now time for penalties, with Collieries going first.
Vinny Bailey and Jamie Milligan coolly slotted their spot kicks into the net before Hardcastle made it 2-1 to Colls. Hartley got his hand to Bamber Bridge’s second penalty but it still found it’s way into the bottom corner much to the relief of substitute Dodd.
The pressure was on with the score at 2-2 but Jordan Cover dispatched a confident effort to restore the advantage. Macauley Wilson then missed his penalty for the visitors following a fantastic save from Hartley who committed himself to diving to his left, palming away the effort.
Danny Lafferty stepped up for Colls and made it 4-2, meaning Matthew Dudley had to score his penalty for Brig. Hartley once again guessed the right way and emphatically punched the ball away to make sure Atherton Collieries progressed into the next round, earning the right to take on Scarborough Athletic in the Quarter Finals.
It was a fantastic team performance, with every single player putting in their all and no less than Colls deserved.
But after weeks of trying their very best to get this fixture played only to be accused of not trying; Atherton Collieries volunteers, this victory is for you.
Atherton Collieries – Greg Hartley, Jake Kenny, Danny Lambert, Josh Messer, Danny Lafferty, Matt Grimshaw, Ben Hardcastle, Brad Cooke (Iain Howard), Adam Farrell (Jordan Cover), Vinny Bailey, Marcus Cusani – Substitutes not used: Glenn Matthews, Lewis Doyle
Bamber Bridge – Lloyd Rigby, Stuart Vasey, Chris Marlow, Macauley Wilson, Phil Doughty, Adam Roscoe (Danny Forbes), Alistair Waddecar (Adam Dodd), Jamie Milligan ©, Matthew Dudley, Hyuga Tanner (Regan Linney), James Boyd – Substitutes not used: Kieran Charnock, Michael Potts
Attendance – 161
Man of the Match – Ben Hardcastle
Photo by Ian Monk