As preparations continue for our inaugural season in the Northern Premier League top-flight we thought we would have a look at all of our league opponents. This episode in the series are clubs in an exclusive group, as they are ones that we have faced competitively in league matches.

Ashton United

The Robins had a tough time last campaign, suffering relegation from the National League North (Conference North). While clubs tend to continue on a downward trajectory following a demotion there is a real sense of optimism around Hurst Cross as the club are led by brand new owners, David and Jonathan Burke, a Dad and Lad duo who have been helping to assemble a strong squad over the summer. Notably, they have captured winger Connor Hughes following his departure from Colls.

During their long histories, Colls and Ashton have spent only one season in the same league and this came during the 1987/1988 campaign. It was Collieries who came out on top in the home fixture, winning 3-1 with a double from Karl Gorse and a strike from Dave Liptrot. It was the latter who struck his own double later-on in the campaign to salvage a point in a 2-2 draw in the away fixture at Hurst Cross.

Other than that, the clubs met in a pre-season friendly in July 2012 when winger Phil Williams scored the only goal of the game to hand Collieries an unexpected victory over a side who were three divisions higher than them at the time.

The Robins are currently managed by Jody Banim who made a solitary appearance for the black and white stripes.

Bamber Bridge

Up until recently the two clubs hadn’t met since the 1991/1992 season when they were both in Division 2 of the North West Counties. An unexpected rivalry between Brig and Colls sprung into life during the 2017/18 campaign when we were drawn against each other in the Lancashire Cup and League Cup as well as being back in the same league as each other.

Bamber easily disposed of Colls in the Lancashire Cup, brushing them aside 4-1 at Alder House but it wasn’t as easy in the League Cup following a number of postponements due to an incessant deluge of rain that hung over Alder House for weeks on end. In the end, Collieries saw off the holders of the competition following a dramatic ending to the game which saw Marcus Cusani – now of Warrington Town – put Michael Clegg’s side ahead deep into injury time before Jamie Milligan acrobatically volleyed the ball past Greg Hartley. It dragged the ‘most drawn out tie in the history of the Integro League Cup’ into penalties and Colls progressed, eventually going on to win the competition.

Bamber finished last season in 16th position following the departure of Neil Reynolds who took up the vacant manager’s position at FC United of Manchester. They have appointed Joey Collins for this term, with the former British Army Football manager taking his first managerial appointment in semi-professional football, stepping up from being a first team coach.

FC United of Manchester

Matches between FC United and Atherton Collieries have been few and far between since the Red Rebels were formed in 2005. In fact, there have been only two matches and these came during the 2006/07 campaign when the clubs were playing in the North West Counties top flight. It was in the first meeting in November 2006 that a young, unknown teenager bagged a hat-trick for Colls in front of over 1,700 spectators at Gigg Lane. Anthony Pilkington grabbed all the goals as Collieries recorded an unlikely victory which is still spoken about to this day. Click here for the highlights of the match. On the back of this performance the striker was snapped up by Stockport County and went on to play in the Premier League for Norwich City and Cardiff City while also representing the Republic of Ireland on nine occasions.

The return fixture was hosted at Hilton Park, the now demolished home of Leigh RMI, in January 2007. At the time, Alder House was deemed to be lacking the infrastructure to host a match against a well-supported FC, so like most clubs in the NWCFL at the time it was decided to move the fixture to a bigger ground. This time Karl Marginson’s men claimed the points with a deserved 3-0 victory. Click here for highlights of that match.

Despite being relegated from the National League North (Conference North) last season, United manager Neil Reynolds remains more than optimistic of having a successful season. He has brought Brian Richardson in from Prescot Cables to be his assistant. Richardson spent three years at Cables, putting together a strong team alongside former Colls manager Steve Pilling. With their collective knowledge of players at this level, FC have been the most proactive side in the league so far bringing in a host of new talent. A notable addition is striker Chris Almond who topped the West Division goalscoring charts with 25 goals for Cables last campaign while at the back they have brought in Aaron Morris from Runcorn Linnets and young goalkeeper Paddy Wharton who had been at Colwyn Bay.

Hyde United

The Tigers have arguably led the way in recent years on how to structure a club from bottom to top, with their junior and academy sides sharing the same level of success as their first team counterparts. Over this break they have had a further restructure which has seen Darren Kelly move from being first team manager to being their Sporting Director. Former York City team mates Dave McGurk and John McCombe have taken up roles on the touchline and have been busy shaping their squad for the upcoming season with 11 players leaving the club following a 10th place finish.

Going through the records, Colls and Hyde appear to have only played each other twice and those meetings came in the 2017/18 season. The first meeting came in October of that campaign, when Hyde won 4-0 thanks to goals from Karl Jones, Ryan Ellison, Big Khamsuk and David Brown. The reverse fixture was a better affair from a Collieries perspective with a Ben Hardcastle penalty gaining us a point in a 1-1 draw at Alder House.

Current frontman Tom Bentham had a spell at Ewen Fields, scoring 14 goals in 33 appearances when they were in the Conference North.

Nantwich Town

As previously mentioned, Nantwich Town are the club which we have the most history between out of all the clubs we will face in the upcoming season. This is despite the fact the sides haven’t met since March 2007 when goals from Alex Lord, Barry Massay, Stuart Cliffe and Craig Hobson helped Collieries to a 4-1 home win over The Dabbers. Over the years, there have been 31 matches, with Colls winning 10 of these. The first ever match came back in November 1986 with a 1-1 draw at Alder House thanks to a strike from Alan Froggatt.

Nantwich left their Jackson Avenue ground in April 2007 and moved to the impressive Weaver Stadium, which Colls will enjoy their first visit to this season.

Colls stalwart Frank Anderson spent a short time playing for Nantwich Town in the 1960’s so it will be a clash which he will undoubtedly be looking out for when the fixture list is released in the coming weeks.

The Dabbers finished in fourth place last campaign, losing to the sectional winners – Warrington Town – in the play offs. After such a strong season, manager Dave Cooke seemingly doesn’t have to change much over the summer and at the time of writing has opted to only bring in full back Matty Devine from Witton Albion.

Radcliffe

These will be the fixtures which fans and players of both clubs look for immediately. This particular rivalry started to bubble in the opening stages of the 2013/14 season when the FA Cup draw threw together a clash which ended up going to a replay at Stainton Park. At the time, Radcliffe were two divisions higher and underestimated little old Atherton Collieries. The following season, the draw put the teams together again… and once again Boro scraped through. Then who can forget the tussle in the Lancashire Cup in which midfielder Brad Cooke saved a penalty to send Michael Clegg’s side through?

All of this is before we even begin to talk about the two teams going head-to-head at the top of the table last season, aiming to clinch the league title. The tension in the final few matches of the campaign was palpable and no more so when Radcliffe snatched a late win at The Skuna Stadium. Their celebrations were short lived however as Collieries kept their nerve and went on to claim the championship.

The rivalry is exacerbated when you consider the number of players who have played for both sides over the past few seasons. Danny Lafferty, Dave Sherlock and Danny Lambert were all favourites at Stainton Park with the former even captaining the side before moving down a division to join Colls.

Managed by Jon Macken and Frank Sinclair, Radcliffe assembled a strong squad last season and it appears all the players have committed to the club for the upcoming campaign meaning they will once again prove to be a strong force.

Scarborough Athletic

Formed in 2007 following the winding up of Scarborough FC, Athletic have proven to be a force in the northern non-league scene since starting in the Northern Counties East. They have a fantastic ground in their Flamingo Land Stadium and have been building another stand over the course of this break. Collieries fans had a fantastic time in the seaside resort when we played there in December 2017, despite losing 1-0.

Then in the March followed the infamous week when The Seadogs had to trudge down to Atherton twice in three days for a quick fire league and cup double header. Dave Sherlock and Jordan Cover got their names on the scoresheet in the League Cup game on the Thursday night as Colls secured a 2-0 victory. Two days later Alder House witnessed a famous 2-1 league win when Cover grabbed a first half double. At the time it put a huge dent in Scarborough’s promotion hopes but they eventually secured promotion, finishing in second place behind South Shields.

Last season The Seadogs finished in 8th place, five points off a play-off position. They have been busy over the summer and have replaced Steve Kittrick (now at Matlock Town) with former Bradford Park Avenue boss John Deacey. They have offered a number of last season’s squad deals for the upcoming season including James Walshaw and Michael Coulson who weighed in with 43 goals between them last campaign.

A connection between the two clubs is that defender Glenn Matthews had a spell with the Seadogs in 2016 under Kittrick, who had also been his manager at AFC Telford United.

South Shields

Another side that Collieries have faced just twice are South Shields. They have been a sensation in recent years, winning three consecutive promotions to take them from the Northern League Division 2 into the Northern Premier League top division with gusto. This momentum nearly continued last season when they finished in second place, three points behind champions Farsley Celtic.

Like all clubs, Shields will be looking to strengthen in the hope that they can build upon the previous campaign but at the same time they have been proactive in securing the services of key players. Their leading goal scorer last time out, Robert Briggs, has already put pen to paper alongside captain Jon Shaw.

Collieries fans will undoubtedly be making the most of their second trip to Mariners Park after a fantastic day out there a couple of seasons ago. While the majority of the away support carried on drinking in the pitch side marquee, Glenn Matthews scored a consolation goal just after the break in a 3-1 defeat to the eventual league champions. Disappointingly the fixture at Alder House fell foul of the weather just an hour before kick-off despite the best efforts of the Colls ground staff. It resulted in both the Shields and Colls players and fans heading down to the Rope & Anchor for a day of drinking, with former Sunderland and Middlesbrough midfielder Julio Arca appearing to enjoy himself. The match was rescheduled for a Thursday night in April and Shields comfortably dispatched their hosts 2-0 with goals from Lee Mason and Aksel Juul.

Warrington Town

The side from Cantilever Park can count themselves very unlucky to be in this league for the 2019/20 campaign having won the play-offs last season. Due to the well-publicised and debated restructuring of the non-league pyramid, Warrington had to take part in a super play-off against King’s Lynn Town, the winners of the newly formed Southern League Premier Central Division. In a tightly contested affair, The Linnets won 3-2 AET.

With that in mind, Warrington will be more determined than ever to try and gain promotion this time around having come so close in April. Their manager, Paul Carden, who has been in charge since October 2016 has agreed a contract extension which will keep him at the club until the end of the 2020/21 season.

On the field, highly rated winger Jack Mackreth has agreed a new contract at the club after receiving interest from clubs in higher divisions. He has become the ninth player to commit to The Yellows but disappointingly for them they have lost the services of defender Adam Hughes who appears to be moving to Welsh champions The New Saints. Robbie Evans has also left the club, moving up a division to sign for Curzon Ashton.

Head-to-head, there have been 14 competitive meetings between the clubs stretching back to 1982 when the NWCFL was conceived. The black and whites, in truth, have had a torrid time against their Cheshire based counterparts recording only one league victory. This came in April 2002 when a crowd of 50 witnessed goals from Paul Vandenberg and Stuart Shepherd to help Colls to a 2-0 victory.

Since then there has been one friendly meeting in July 2017, when the Wire came out on top 2-1 at Alder House despite a goal from winger Mark Truffas.

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