"You know you're watching West Didsbury now..." - Feature Article

Thu 4th August 2022 | West Didsbury & Chorlton
By Jay Cooper

On March 26th, 2022, West Didsbury and Chorlton fought to a 1-2 away win against Barnton to be officially crowned as NWCFL Division One South champions for 2021/22. Promotion to the next step of the English Football Pyramid was already secured, but now they would be taking the league trophy with them. Expectedly, there was no lateral movements for the M21 side, and it was decided they would ply their trade in the NWCFL Premier Division for the 2022/23 campaign.


It wouldn't be the same as last season in this higher division. Chris Rowley and company knew it, and that point was hammered home when top scorer and captain Sam Heathcote moved on to NPL Division One West side Runcorn Linnets. Losing 30+ goals coming from a player who generally played at centre-back did not bode well, but the the start of the new season waits for no man, and West had some preparation to do.


Pre-season was a mixed bag for the team from Brookburn Road. They began as they had finished last season, with a 2-0 home win over Altrincham, but that would be only one of two wins from six friendlies. A defeat away to Stockport Town was followed by a trip to Wales and a 0-3 stuffing of Conwy Borough, but that was the last of their victories. Defeats to Sandbach, a team they had left behind in Division One South last season, and 1874 Northwich came and went, before they held Trafford to a 2-2 draw.


In amongst these fixtures were also some signings coming through the door. Firstly, and imperatively, a new skipper was appointed, and, Mr. Consistent, Matty Cook was a fine choice. Then a host of new faces could be brought into the fold. There was a 3-in-1 package of Callum Graham from Irlam, and both Ben Hampson and Sam Dickinson from Prestwich Heys, and this was followed up by Armel Zola, Markell Foulds and Curtis Miller.


All this led to their first game of the season, which took place on July 30th, 2022. On the schedule was an away trip to Ashton Athletic – a side who spent the back end of last season flirting with the drop zone. I was in attendance, and spoke to media man Greg prior to kick-off, who echoed some of the confidence that West fans had felt throughout last season's title-winning exploits.

"Losing Heathcote was obviously a huge blow, but, last season, the Cup campaigns were a big positive for us. We actually beat Ashton Athletic, as well as Prestwich Heys, both from the Premier Division - we've proven we can beat teams at this level. The hope would be for top half, maybe top 6 or 7. Today we're missing a couple of players, including Matty Cook, the new captain, but we're still hoping for a win.”


A win would not be what West would come away with, and the first half proved to be a fairly lifeless one. Neither goalkeeper was tested until the 20-minute mark, when Ashton's Joe Smith denied a routine strike from Ben Elliott. Dontai Gabbidon was the only player who made a mark on the game, being on the end of two West attacks, before Ashton's Max Rogers made a mark on his opposite number in added time with a nasty challenge, for which he was booked.

The second half was a little livelier, but it really looked like if there was going to be a goal, then that would be the winner. Then it came. Ten minutes from the end, Elliott poached his first of the season after Smith couldn't keep hold of a Liam Delaney free kick. The travelling fans, whom I was sat amongst, went absolutely wild - It didn't matter how unglamorous the goal was to them.




Full credit to those West Didsbury and Chorlton fans. They turned up in numbers and with their voices primed, especially for the first game of the new season. There was barely a quiet moment from them for 89 minutes, and some of the chants they came out with really stick in your head – well, perhaps they wouldn't if you're a Maine Road supporter.


You know you're watching West Didsbury now, (watching West Didsbury); Brookburn Road, (Brookburn Road)”, to the tune of The Beatles' “Twist and Shout” was a popular one, as well as simply “West Didsbury and Chorlton”, sung to the tune of The White Stripes' iconic guitar piece in “Seven Nation Army”. Other favourites included parodies of Kylie Minogue's “Can't Get You Out of My Head”, Rod Stewart's “Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?”, and even Blink-182's punk rock anthem, "All the Small Things".


Those chants would die down as the game crept into added time, however. Ashton equalised with the last real attack of the game, when a searching ball along the floor from Max Rogers came off the base of Andrew Jones' post and clipped up to substitute Zach Conway for an equalising header. The game finished 1-1.

As well as captain Cook, another absentee from the opening day was manager Chris Rowley. His assistant, Chris Adams, took charge of this fixture, and was kind enough to speak with me afterwards.

We're definitely better than what we've shown today. Pre-season has been a bit stop-start, and it showed later on with certain people getting tired. It just takes one mistake, and it comes from that tiredness, really. There were some positives, the new centre-back (Markell Foulds) came in and I thought he did really well, but, as a back 4 – we've only had one game to work with, and I know we're better than that and we'll only get better, but a draw is probably fair result.”


Adams mentioned “not doing enough to win it”, and went on to tell us how he and the rest of the West staff plan to address that issue. “It just shows that you've got to be more clinical at this level. The forwards are better, you don't need to give them many chances. There aren't many changes in our side, but we lost a major threat in Sam Heathcote, and that's something we need to try and add to, get more people scoring goals.”


It would seem that whatever the management team have instilled into the squad after the Ashton game has worked out – 3 days later would be their second game of the season against Prestwich Heys, who had beaten Burscough 3-0 on day one. After falling behind and going a man down in their own back yard, West fought to a 2-1 advantage and notched their first win of the season to put themselves 5th in the league. It goes without saying that it's still very early doors, but 4 points from 6 available is better than 3, or certainly 0.


If West Didsbury and Chorlton can continue their early season momentum, then it's likely they'll do enough to sit comfortably in the NWCFL Premier Division, which is seemingly what fans are expecting and hoping for. However, management know that this is a step up for them, and a lot of their players who helped them to promotion last season will have to learn that quickly to avoid anything going wrong later down the line. At this time, it's too early to make concrete assumptions as to where they will be at come next May. One thing is certain, though – when they come to your local NWCFL ground, you'll hear them coming.

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