FORTY YEARS ON
By Mike Garnett
Reproduced by kind permission of the author from the Robins' Review, 24 August 2019.
At the end of the 1978-79 season a semi-professional international tournament was arranged with matches at The Drill Field, Northwich and Marston Road, Stafford. Altrincham F.C. might well have been thought a suitable venue, but building work in preparation for the new Alliance Premier League precluded any such consideration.
What, then, did the Robins’ home look like forty years ago? The present-day spectator would have recognised most of the fixtures and fittings in April 1979; the main stand looked the same although the area in front of the seats was a standing paddock, and the Golf Road End is essentially unchanged forty years on.
The Popular Side roof was all at one level – the central section was replaced by the present raised area in the 1990s. It is the far end of the ground in particular that would look very unfamiliar – until the end of the 1978-9 season the open end (or Hale End, Chequers End, or Red Robin Club End according to taste!) was a grass bank with a car park to the rear. The decision was taken to terrace that section of the ground, and in the process to lengthen the pitch slightly, bringing it up to minimum European dimensions (!).
The expenditure involved was considerable – I believe in the region of £40,000 at a time when ground admission for adults was under £1, juniors paid 50p and the match programme cost a princely 15p. Here again the price inflation of the 1970s can be gauged – for a 1st Round F.A. Cup-tie at home to Crewe Alexandra in 1968 adult ground admission was four shillings (20p) and half that for children; eleven years later a tie at the same stage against the same opposition saw admission rates of £1.50 (seats), £1 (standing adults) and 65p (juniors). In January 1980 a 3rd Round tie at home to Orient, then of the Second Division, saw tickets priced at £3, £1.50 and £1 respectively. The programme, with an extra four pages, went up to 20p!
To complete the tour of the premises – where the Family Stand is now was a covered terrace roofed along the same lines as the Popular Side, and the area between the main stand and Golf Road was open, part terrace and part grass bank. The floodlight pylons were in the same place then as now but the lights were nowhere near as good as their modern replacements. The nominal capacity of the ground was put at 10,000 – all I will say is that for the Orient game mentioned earlier the published gate was 7,844 and there was certainly room for more on the Golf Road that afternoon.
The club itself was, in common with all other members of the new League, based on the principle of part-time players; teachers, office workers and a wide variety of tradesmen were among the playing staff. Chairman Noel White, who sadly passed away earlier this summer, and his eight fellow Directors, along with Club Secretary David Baldwin and Commercial Manager Derek Kennerley kept the ship financially stable.
The last two pieces in this short series will look at where the founder members are now, and where those clubs constituting the equivalent division in 2019 were forty years ago.