I’LL be honest, we missed the kick off. I was still in the pub with Big Ian (he’s about seven foot). Thought we had time for one more in the Deanes House and it was 3.05 by the time we clicked through the turnstile at Valerie Park. It’s nice that it doesn’t matter though. That I’m not all in. Just watching a game of footie and not too stressed at missing the start. Just making the effort because it’s Non-League Day.
As I handed my seven quid admission over, the fella raised his eyebrows and smiled, “They’re 1-0 up you know. Makes a change.”
He wasn’t messing.
Prescot Cables kicked off the season with a 3-1 defeat away to Clitheroe. Then they lost 6-0 at home to Witton Albion. Then 4-0 at home to Glossop North End. Then they travelled to Trafford.
And lost 8-0.
Unsurprisingly, they’ve changed the manager since then. And results have improved. But Cables have lost their last two matches 5-3 and 4-0. And the back story to how they are currently operating is quite mad, at least to my ears as someone who follows a Premier League club. So the raised eyebrows at the early lead over Ossett Albion? Understandable really.
I bump into Chris Hayden in the pub. He used to go home and away watching the Reds. Chris hated Brendan Rodgers. Hated him from the start. Thought he was full of shit. He’s glad he’s gone and he thinks Jurgen will do well.
He also thinks Premier League football is too expensive. And he’s right – it is. So, a while back, like Richard Felton with Marine, he decided to go all in on the non-league. Watching Prescot is a regular thing now for Chris and his mates. Having a laugh, having a pint (while watching the game), there’s a lot to be said for it. He’s even doing some aways. And I can honestly see why.
But the back story. Prescot Cables — competing in the Evo Stik Northern League Division One (snappy), four steps away from league football — are skint. Despite being in existence since 1884, Cables is the only club in its league that can’t afford to pay its players.
I wanted to pick up a programme but they’d sold out. Which seems good until you find out they only printed 80. Kids are let in for free. One volunteer says, “but they’ll come with their dad. And he’ll pay in. Then he’ll buy them food and drinks – it more than works out.”
The officials are glad of an attendance of 238 today (plus at least three dogs and a fella with a drum and a trumpet) the club’s second best gate of the season so far. But I’ve got to know more about the players playing for nothing at this level. I’ve known lads playing much further down the pyramid who were paid per game.
“They get some expenses,” says a volunteer. And as we chat the lads, mostly local, mostly young, are filing out after the match and grabbing a pint and a pie in the clubhouse. It’s fair to say they’re doing all this for the love. And that alone makes for a nice atmosphere around the place.
The game itself is a mixed bag. There’s a glaring Prescot miss in the first half that would get Ronnie Rosenthal off the hook for that one against Villa. The Cables keeper has a blinder, great on one on ones, good kicking, good saves. He had me thinking about Simon Mignolet and not in a good way. A couple of eye-watering tackles are thrown in and one seemed sure to end with a red card. Only a yellow was produced.
There’s a Russian linesman moment for Ossett, with a shot from distance crashing against the bar and landing over the line only for it not to be given by officials who were 20 yards or so away from it. The Albion manager bizarrely bollocked the referee for the decision claiming you could tell it was a goal “by the shape of the ball”. Needs a re-think that one. Chris and his mates rip the piss out of him. Relentlessly.
Prescot led 2-0 at half-time and second half they step it up, eventually winning 4-0 (with goals greeted by a party popper being set off by one of Chris’s mates) and climbing to 15th in the 22-team league. After the match celebrations seemed slightly tempered by the club’s plight. Robert Doran’s hat-trick put smiles on faces but the fact he — and the rest of the team — are only on seven days’ notice must be a continual nag for everyone involved at the club.
With that in mind, supporters are being asked to ‘pay a pint’ – a scheme asking fans to pay £2.50 a week to give the club, which doesn’t have a major sponsor, a chance of holding on to its best players, such as Doran, by offering them a contract. Chris is in. And he’s even tried signing people up without their knowledge.
I hope Doran stays and I hope Prescot survive. And I’ll go to watch them again. I might even take the dog. It’s a different world from the Premier League — almost a different sport. But it can be anything from a backdrop to a pint, a pie and a natter with mates to something you passionately follow as you would Liverpool. At £7 a game you can afford to take your time on making your mind up. Up the Cables.