Clifton Colliers #1: a place between places

The earliest record of CLIFTON by name is that in the Pipe Roll of 1183–4, the sheriff giving account of 8s., the issues of Clifton, which had belonged to Hugh Putrell, outlawed

From https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/lancs/vol4/pp404-406

1: A club borne of Troglodytes, formed in the Earth ..

Clifton, that often pissed-wet-through gateway to Swinton and Kearsley, an artery between Manchester and Bolton that has existed for almost a thousand years, serving for most as a mere 2 minutes 41 seconds blip in their car journey ‘twixt the two down Manchester Road (at 30 mph, other times/speeds will vary). No, not the one in Bristol with the bridge or the one in Bedfordshire with the nice church picture on wiki but an actual place on it’s own, with some real humans, 3 pubs that don’t have brilliant beer; and other interesting stuff like trees and shit, especially down the path behind the TA depot where the dog walkers go. A place barely noticed by anyone except those who live there. A place between places.

It’s fair to say then that most people passing through it rarely stray from the main road and its usual tourist attractions of Wickes, the rubbish tip on Lumns Lane and one of the many food and nail establishments that have taken over our main street (including the ones who never sell a thing but always seem to look oddly very profitable). In fact they probably don’t even know that our little “village” library has extended it’s opening hours to a full 8 per week (1:30 to 5:30 Tuesdays and Fridays apart from Bank Holidays).

But anyone stepping off the route and allowing themselves to drift down one of the many veins that stretch down to the Irwell Valley and it’s winding river will find themselves in a different world, one of lush green leaves, vast industrial history and farms and wild nature, intersected by the winding River Irwell that flows above a hundred miles of subterranean coal mine tunnels still with canal boats entombed. It’s pretty good to be honest, I even saw a deer once.

Now imagine a new world in the Football Manager universe where the only lower league club within a 2 mile radius of here wasn’t Salford City FC, in an alternate universe where literally everything else is the same except that in Clifton there exists a new, old, team, formed by the miners who lived and worked in the many pits in the valley in those long dark days of the late industrial revolution before the thick wedge of the mines gradually closing reached it’s end in the 1980s. A club borne of Troglodytes, formed in the Earth and tempered by the blue and black coal scarred paws of those great working men. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Clifton Colliers, who crawled from the coal-laden Earth in 1922 and are now entering their centenary year with commemorative kit and badge to match.

Their motivation? A searing rivalry of all things Salford City FC, borne from a hatred of the City’s audacity at taking it without asking into their environs many years back, spurning the now famous, albeit ambiguous, banner “No Salford Slaves” in the Harry Pilkington end of their ground, Wet Earth Park, just behind the entrance to the refuse tip on Lumns Lane.

Their character? Perhaps best summed up by this quote from Arthur Ramsbottom, the only man in The Football League ever to single-handedly occupy the roles of Chairman, Manager and first choice Goalkeeper for 21 years (with a break to fight in WW2) from 1928 to 1956, retiring from playing only at the age of 46 when he broke his wrist for the seventh time mid-game, coincidentally on the same hand that had been shot at by a German sentry while parachuting into Normandy on the 6th June 1944:

Half the time we’d play in our work boots straight from t’pit, not that we didn’t have proper football boots but it just gave us that extra edge when it came to one to ones, and with all the mud on the Lumns Lane pitch the ref couldn’t see them to check anyway.”

From “Feet in the goal and arse in the boardroom, a reet good life” by Arthur Ramsbottom, Meat Pie Press 1970.

2: The Lion across the valley

Anyone familiar with Salford City will know that their badge since the Class of 92′ takeover is a Lion and as Moor Lane, their ground, is just one and a half miles away across the Irwell Valley from the fictional site of our stadium this subtitle seemed appropriate.

That said, this rivalry with Salford will be a major feature. Earthmen, (the nickname for the Colliers and their fans) truly hate them, no, I mean really, really hate them with a passion that is sacred and placed above family, friends, the wife and life itself. This is a rivalry far greater than Manchester United vs Liverpool, Dortmund vs Shalke and Barca vs Real combined. In this world divorces have happened, marriage proposals have been turned down and family members have become estranged for years over incidents as small as a disallowed goal.

All that said, I have fed this and other considerations such as the club origins and the toughness of the players into my alternate fictional history below to give me what I think will be a believable and interesting starting point. I have also included any scores of key games vs Salford from 1940 onwards (when Salford they were formed, as “Salford Central Mission”) as and when they occurred, as follows:

3: The Earthmen, a potted history

1st July 1922: Clifton Casuals are formed by a group of colliers, inspired by an exhibition match played by Corinthian Casuals on a Lancashire tour. The kit colours are black shorts and navy blue top, to signify the coal and the blue scars it leaves on cuts on the miner’s hands. They join the Lancashire Combination League and for the next 17 years they are a nomadic team, playing on one of 3 sites for several years at a time owned by the Fletcher family who own and manage all of the collieries in the local area.

19th December 1928: The club is renamed Clifton Colliers, as a tribute to the closing of the Wet Earth Coal mine in the centre of the Irwell Valley, where many of the players had formerly worked and which LS Lowry sketched in 1924 (NOTE: this closure was real, see the wiki here)

Wet Earth Colliery, LS Lowry 1924

12th June 1936: Plans announced for a new permanent ground to be called Wet Earth Park in honour of the colliery, “to be completed in no longer than three years at an initial estimated cost of £4,500, in a fund to be raised by raffles, local tea dances and other such means” (Manchester Gazette, 13th June 1936). This is immediately boosted by a £2,500 donation from Thomas Pilkington, the youngest of the seven Pilkington brothers who own a tile and glass factory bordering the proposed building site and also the land it is to be built upon, in return for a 50% share in any “current and future club profits” (one week later he buys back the land from himself from the building fund at a cost of £1,481).

28th June 1939: First game played at Wet Earth Park, a rumoured 7,000+ crowd cram into every corner of the (official) 2,730 capacity ground in what is still, at the time of writing, an attendance record to watch the Colliers play a combined 2nd XI from Manchester United, Manchester City, Stockport, Bury And Atherton Collieries AFC. The visitors win the game 4-1 after making 14 changes during the 90 minutes. The game is most notable though for a 20 minute appearance by Swindon Town’s 28 yr old midfielder Jimmy Murphy, in town visiting relatives, who will later go on to take a place in Manchester United folklore as the assistant manager to Sir Matt Busby from 1945 to 1971.

WW2: 3rd September 1939 – 8th August 1945, with the regular league suspended and many players classed as exempt due to their reserved miner occupations, the Earthmen take the initiative to join their local wartime regional league. Fixtures are sporadic though and players come and go up to the point when the MoD commandeers the Wet Earth ground to use as a barrage balloon site due to the presence of Magnesium Electron’s factory directly opposite at Clifton Junction, with the submarine batteries they make there a key component of the war effort (NOTE: this is still a real company, they did make WW2 batteries and were protected by barrage balloons and this is one of the still-standing pillboxes that protected it below).

16th June 1946: Football resumes in Clifton with a friendly match against Bolton Wanderers who leave as 6-2 winners after a stunning brace from returning 21 yr old forward Nat Lofthouse, whom in 1939 had volunteered to work down the mines as a “Bevin Boy” (NOTE: absolutely true, here is a picture of him in his mining gear):

Nat Lofthouse, footballer and Bevin Boy

The post-war years 1946-1982: remaining in the Lancashire Combination League, the team often promise promotion but never achieve it, hovering in mid-table for almost the entire period. Ownership changes 5 times as new ideas are introduced only to ultimately fail. VS SALFORD RESULT(S): 30 competitive games played across 36 years, 10 won by Clifton, 8 by Salford, with 12 draws.

18th April 1982: Conference League Cup winners. For the first and only time in their history the Earthmen win a trophy with a dominant run towards the Conference League Cup final, beating Weymouth 2-1 in the final. VS SALFORD RESULT(S): 9th January 1982 Conference League Cup first round 3-2 aet (0-0 in 90 minutes).

30th June 1985: The club turns professional after consecutive promotions sees them knocking on the door of The Football League, led by a new Chairman, Jeff Broadhurst, Grandson of Herbert Broadhurst, one of the former colliery owners and the founder of the recently formed “Wet Earth” Brewery.

20th April 1987: The dizzying heights of the Football League are reached as The Earthmen are promoted into Division Four. Praise is publicly given to Jeff Broadhurst after funding major ground improvements, but fans prefer to credit their star striker Kenny Richards, who finishes the season with 36 goals from 39 played. VS SALFORD RESULT(S): 13th April 1987, Salford 3 vs 4 Clifton Colliers, to take the Earthmen within 1 point of winning the league, which they secure with a 0-0 draw away to Altrincham the following week.

1987 to 2019: consolidation as a (4th Division) League Two side. After occasional scares in the relegation zone over the years and dabbles with promotion, the Earthmen cement their position as a mid-table League Two side, still holding the record as the longest consistent members spanning a 22 year period, from when it was Division Four up to it’s current Sky Bet League Two incarnation.

2019: Investment and expansion: True to character, the club’s aging owner Jeff Broadhurst continues his support of the club with a new main shirt sponsorship deal from his brewery for a “Wet Earth IPA” with an initial £2mil investment. With facilities improvement long being a passion for Broadhurst, part of the money is set aside as a deposit on a possible new training complex to replace the nearby “Salford Sports Village“, the name and location of which had always been poorly received by fans.

1st July 2021: The “Irwell Valley Training Complex” is completed on the site of the former Wet Earth Colliery, 99 years to the day when a group of colliers had been sat having their lunches and decided to form the team on the exact same spot after watching Corinthian Casuals play their exhibition match.

4: Making a lost world: Save aims and creation

With all the above in mind then, these have been my save aims and my decisions on how to create the world in order to get me there and make it as enjoyable as possible:

Save Aims, in order of importance:

  1. To defeat Salford, anyway and any time.
  2. Break out of League Two!
  3. To be a tough team with a hard pressing playing style.
  4. To win the Premier League.
  5. To win the Champions League.

When it came to building the save to accommodate all these and when compared to my previous epic undertakings such as the resurrection of Newton Heath and the creation of my 1902 FM database, this was relatively easy albeit time consuming once I had planned it all as follows:

WHAT TEAM TO USE AS A MODEL? Easy, right under Salford in League Two, which at the end of 21/23 was Newport County in 11th, so I was able to use them as a base model for a lot of the club aspects.

WHICH PLAYERS AND STAFF AND WITH WHAT BUDGET? I’ve had this problem before when I created Newton Heath, which is basically that I don’t want to just inherit a team so prefer to start from empty with a budget, which is the hard part as too little will make us weak and too much will make us too strong. That said, I decided to avg. out all of the wages and transfer values for the current Newport County team which gave me an avg. weekly wage budget of 56k and a total transfer budget (taken from the middle of the estimated low vs high transfer values) of 3.5mil.

HOW TO IMPLEMENT THE “TOUGH” CLUB PERSONA? Tactics-wise it has to be a high pressing style, though the “Get stuck in” instruction could be problematic given the next part, that I intend to recruit based on these attributes and will set a search filter accordingly when in game:
PRIMARY ATTRIBUTES: DETERMINATION, AGGRESSION, BRAVERY, WORK RATE
SECONDARY ATTRIBUTES: NATURAL FITNESS, STRENGTH, STAMINA

HOW TO INCLUDE THE FICTIONAL CLUB HISTORY? There was a lot to this and it had to be right to get the feel that it was real. That said, I created Clifton as a new city (with the exact longtitude and latitude, of course 🙂 ), then both the “Wet Earth stadium” and the “Irwell Valley Training Complex”. I also gave myself a little gift of a few random attribs youths with the surnames Pilkington and Fletcher, as supposed descendents of local historical figures, and also my FM buddy @FM_stag, purely for the giggles. In addition, I am going to create an annual friendly trophy called the “Irwell Valley Invitational” with Salford, us, Bury and Bolton taking part. I also added some Colliery teams such as Atherton Collieries as affiliates and I finally changed every club record to match fictional players from the past.

5: And finally, the end result ..

So there you go. It’s been a long hard slog in the last few days so I’m going to take a few hours off before I start the save and attempt all of those aims. I will however need a team and staff with well ‘ard attribs first so that will no doubt take me a while.

That said, I give you the Clifton Colliers and their history in the images below, see you for team building and tactics in blog 2!

See you there!

Daz aka @fmheathen everywhere

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