My last Coast to Coast training ride was a trip down memory lane to the British Aerospace site I had started working at about 20 years ago. Whilst I was heading in that direction I thought I’d find a few more stadiums following on from my ride 3 weeks ago when I found 7 league football grounds around Manchester and Lancashire. I had stumbled across Ewood park on the ride prior to that so there were just 2 more Premiership grounds within riding distance.
20 years ago Bolton were still playing at Burnden Park and making their way up the divisions towards the top tier whilst Wigan Rugby League club were by far the biggest Rugby club in the land. Latics were floundering and largely ignored in the old 4th division so at the Lostock BAe site, located halfway between Bolton and Wigan, there was a very defined line drawn between the rugby obsessed ‘Pie Eaters’ and the football loving ‘Pasty Eaters’ from Bolton. As a resident from Bury I was considered a complete outsider and was not involved in any of the lively food/sport related debates.
Today I thought I’d include some rugby grounds on my ride, so my first stop was Sedgley Park about a mile from home where Sedgley Tigers play Rugby union and fellow big cats, Swinton Lions play rugby league. They used to lodge at Gigg Lane and I had the misfortune of seeing them trounced by Wigan in a cup match when Shaun Edwards scored 10 tries against them. The Lions hope to move back to their native M27 postcode but I notice that the latest update on their website has no timescales.
After a quick lap of the ground I rode out past Giant’s Seat, through Stoneclough and along the Croal Valley to Moses Gate. I then picked up Manchester Road riding past the site of Bolton’s old ground and found Deane Road to take me out the other side of Bolton. I followed my nose through an estate to find the Middlebrook Trail which I thought would have been well sign posted as Bolton Council have promoted it as their premier off road route. The first stretch had the cycle path nestled between the railway line and the brook itself and then from Lostock Junction the route ran through the middle of Bolton’s municiple golf course from where the Reebok came into view for the first time.
As a very occassional City and Bury fan I used to be quite envious of this stadium as I used to pass it on the M61 going up to Lancaster to see Catriona. I didn’t want to get any closer to it for a long time but have been to the retail park that surrounds on a number of occassions and a couple of weeks ago provided pre-match entertainment along with the Manchester School of Samba. We were well appreciated in a stadium which was suprisingly full for a meaningless end of season game against Hull City.
Before arriving at the stadium I respectfully tipped my helmet at the former BAe site. When I started there, about 3,000 worked on the site and as I was made redundant they were reducing the number to about 400. The machine shop was moved to Chadderton leaving just the electrical PCB assembly block, although checking on Wiki there is still a manufacturing presence there though I didn’t see any signs of it. The site seemed to be mostly storage units and the field where I played my one and only game of proper cricket (ending up 0 not out in a miserable 33 run total against BAe Chester apprentices) was now part of Wanderer’s training complex. How times have changed but I have to remind myself that 20 years have passed and the area is regenerated rather than depressed. You can’t help but notice that skilled manufacturing jobs have been replaced by those within the massive retail and leisure complex and even on the neighbouring Parkland business park the first names I saw were E-On, RBS and AXA representing the service and financial sectors.
I crossed the M61 and followed the signs for Wigan. Since I hadn’t been there for a long long time and on the last occassion I visited (BAe era) I was very, very drunk, I had checked beforehand that I just needed to follow the A49 through and out of Wigan. I passed the famous Pier and was suprised there were no signs for the JJB but I spotted it anyway, again nestled within the bosom of a retail and leisure park. The JJB is home to both Wigan Warriors who relocated from Central Park and Latics who previously played at Springfield Park. With a capacity of 25,000 it’s as impressive as the Reebok and sustainable for a moderate sized town blessed with football and rugby league clubs playing in their respective Premier divisions.
I started heading homeward but chose to go via Leigh. It’s 6 miles away and there’s a fierce rugby rivary between the Wigan Warriors and the Leigh Centurions. Gastronomically the rivalry is between pies and ‘Lobby‘ which I believe to be something like scouse or Lancashire hotpot without the crust. The Centurions have a wonderful new stadium which also provides Leythers with sports facilities open to all. Whilst having a noisey around the ground, a bored security guard said hello and offered me a tour of the 11,500 capacity stadium. It’s a fabulous ground with a terraced end stand, 3 seated stands and executive boxes along the length of the main stand. All the time the guard was giving me the tour I had a Tourettes like urge to shout out "f**kin unsustainable!" but I managed to contain myself and politely asked what crowds they entertained, mindful that they are a long way from promotion to the league that would bring Wigan, Salford and St Helens fans in their thousands. The guard said it depended upon how local the opposition was and claimed they can sometimes have 3,000 but looking over the current season it’s typically around 2,000 and only Widnes are remotely local. The plans for the inevitable surrounding retail and cinema complex are on hold until the resession is over, but there’s a hotel already built. I really hope it works out for the Lobby Gobblers but I’m sure they have to be in the top league for the ground to be viable.
I headed back through Boothstown along the East Lancs to Swinton and back home without any further delay. I’d not set off early enough to do the extra visits to Salford Reds current ground "The Willows" and to seek out the site of their new proposed stadium near Barton as I had intended. I also felt a bit uncomfortable as a result of not wearing cycle shorts and working a chesty cold out of my system. Fortunately the toothache I’d suffered for a couple of days had disappeared but this chesty cold is lingering. Catriona has been coughing for a couple of months and has finally been given anti-biotics for a chest infection. I have not been coughing anywhere near as much but I’m bringing up all sorts of coloured substances. The cold went to my head last week then went away but my chest is still not clear.
Glad to have finished the training rides and looking forward to the big Coast to Coast adventure next weekend.