Victory Park

Ground No. 176
Visited - Saturday 7th March 2009
Result - Chorley 0-2 Clitheroe
Competition - Northern Premier League, Division 1 North
Attendance - 370

Chorley. To most people a small town in Lancashire, famous for its cakes and fictional radio station, not to Wolves fans though! For those of a gold and black persuasion it’s not a place name, more a metaphor! Whilst the 1980’s were a bad time in general for football, it was terrible for Wolves, a decade that nearly saw the club liquidated (twice) and go on a fall that we’ve never quite recovered from since. To give a brief history lesson, it had started off fairly well, winning the League Cup in 1980, FA Cup semi-final and European football in 1981. Top 6 finishes in the league, breaking the British record transfer to bring Andy Gray to the club, and a brand new stand considered to be one of the finest in the country. Promising times indeed, but it was the building of the John Ireland Stand that proved to be a catastrophe in disguise. After interest rates had risen, the club found themselves suddenly in a lot of debt and unable to pay for it. Players were sold, and the club auctioned off to profiteers (The Bhatti Brothers) whose main intent was to turn the ground into a housing and shopping scheme. With the Bhatti’s running the club into the ground, following relegation from the top flight in May 1984, just over two years later, August 1986 saw Molineux hosting Division Four football with three successive relegations in between. Leeds eat your heart out! But if things were bad, then the low point was still to come. The FA Cup draw had seen us paired with Chorley, a banana skin if ever there was one, but still not a game to be feared with the Lancastrian side not even in the Conference at the time. Despite this, the first game had ended 1-1, as did the replay, so in the days before penalty shoot-outs a second replay was required. New signings Andy Thompson and Steve Bull were sitting in the stands at Burnden Park to watch the game and later spoke of wondering what they had let themselves in for after watching the NPL side stick three goals past Graham Turner’s team with no reply, putting themselves through to a fourth round game with Preston. Wolves of course recovered, Graham Turner, aided by Bull and co. pulled the club out the doldrums, but the name of Chorley would never quite leave the psyche of Wolves fans, even now over 20 years on.

So, back into the present day and thanks to Sky, Wigan (Rugby)’s game against Bradford had been put back to a Saturday 5:30 kick-off, so I was determined to find another ground to visit beforehand. Initially I’d been looking at nearby Skelmersdale, but a recommendation of Chorley sounded more appealing, and with an assurance that I’d be able to get between the two, then I decided to go for it.

Having been founded in 1875, the club has a long history, initially starting as a Rugby club, but they switched codes to soccer in 1883. Following a number of early venues, 1920 saw them move to their current home (named to commemorate the end of the war) and they’ve been there ever since. Described as a classic, I was quite looking forward to visiting, so was in a good mood after setting off, and made my way there via Manchester with no troubles at all. In the run up to the day, I’d been thinking it would probably be best to keep my identity covered to avoid ridicule, not a great problem given I don’t speak with the strongest accent. The night before though I’d seen an offer on their website… ‘season ticket holders of league clubs get in half price’ Great! A bit of money saved in much needed times, then it dawned on me the need to show a Wolves season ticket and totally blow my disguise away!

After arriving, I was one of the first in. Directed to the discounted turnstile I quickly flashed the Wolves season ticket, but slightly too quick it would appear! Asked which club it was, the mumbled ‘wlvs’ required a second showing and laughter ensued amongst the guys hanging around the gate, and so it began! To be fair, they were very friendly, and after being welcomed to the club, I made my way in and had a look around the ground. From the turnstiles, you have to walk past the clubhouse and car park before coming in at the near corner. Along one side runs a grass bank with hard standing in front. Surprisingly, the grass bank was in use during the match, and even has a number of crush barriers on it. It continues around the corner and far end, with a deep, but not particularly wide covered terrace directly behind the goal cut into it. On the far side is the Main Stand, a beautiful 1950s classic, similar to its counterpart at Worcester, although not running the full length of the pitch. The seating is raised from the ground, with a small paddock in front and the changing rooms beneath. A pitched roof tops it off. At the near end is another covered terrace, again fairly deep with 17 steps, although viewing is quite restricted from the rear, with two rows of columns supporting the roof.

Having had a look around, then I made my way into the clubhouse before the game was due to get started. Clitheroe were the visitors and seemed to have bought a sizeable, and noisy, following to back the team and it was them with the most to cheer from the off. Only five points separated the two sides beforehand, but in the early stages, the visitors looked too strong for the home side, and if it hadn’t been for Peter Collinge in goal, then the game would have been out of sight for Chorley well before half-time. As it was, Collinge’s heroics were keeping the scores level and this helped the hosts start to get back into it as the half wore on. They could even have gone into the break ahead with a couple of late chances, but fate was ready to kick them in the balls when with the referee virtually having the whistle in his mouth Clitheroe scored during probably their quietest period of the opening 45 minutes. Most ironically of all it looked like Collinge in goal was at fault after a corner was met by the head of visiting defender Jonathan Smith who hit it home through a crowd of players to make it 1-0.

The second half was far more even, but with neither side able to create many chances it was petering out into a bit of a dull affair. Chorley, improved from their early showing were pressing their case for a share of the spoils, and with a little more luck up front they could have perhaps ground out a point, but the last nail was finally put in their coffin with another late goal, again from Smith who grabbed his second with a thumping header from a free-kick to finish the game off. 

After the final whistle, I quickly made my way away, catching a taxi down to Wigan, and making the 44-10 victory over Bradford with ease, going home in a good mood after a nice little ‘double’.

Overall, it had been a good day out. Victory Park is a real classic, and instantly ranks as one of my favourite grounds visited. If not just for the ground itself, then the home fans who are a very welcoming bunch. The local council has banners around the town stating ‘Chorley: A great place to live’, and that was very much the impression I got. From 176 grounds so far, then this is probably the friendliest of the lot by a long way. I’d even go so far as to forgive them for that win back in ’86!

Welcome to Victory Park

The Clubhouse

The Near Side

The Near End

The Main Stand

The Magpies Nest

The Far End

Ready for Kick Off

The Far End

The Main Stand

The Near Side

Victory Park Panoramic

Second Game of the Day
The JJB Stadium: Wigan 44-10 Bradford

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