It’s 12 o’clock on a Saturday and in about two hours, Everton will host Bournemouth at Goodison, not two miles away from here. But for the people in attendance at the Delta Taxis Stadium, these are the only lads in blue that matter.
In the middle of an industrial estate full of warehouses and offices, I found the Delta Taxi stadium, home of mighty Bucks, Bootle FC.
The fixture is Bootle FC v AFC Darwen in the North West Counties league, the 10th tier of English football and let me tell you now, it is wonderful.
The Bucks are topping the North West Counties league and are going strong with a form of 6 wins on the run. I’m told by supporters the match should be a win but Bootle had a few mishaps against lower ranked teams so as usual, nothing should be taken for granted.
On my way to the ground, I linked up with a man that has a real passion for the club, Joe Scattergood, half of the admin team responsible for the Bootle FC Supporters club on Twitter, @BootleFCBucks.
Joe himself was a Liverpool season ticket holder but gave it up to follow the Bucks full time. “Liverpool became a company, not a club, they treat supporters as numbers and call them customers.” This would be one of many similar notions to why your local grassroots football team is where to watch 22 lads kick a football rather than your nearest Premier League club.
Standing near the entrance to the stadium is Frank Doran, the club president of Bootle and the first of many Dorans I’ll meet today. Frank is one of the people who established the club back in 1963 when it was called Langton. Nowadays the white haired man is still contributing to the club in any way he can. Later that day I see him pitchfork in hand helping the groundstaff with the pitch. When was the last time you saw Tom Werner or Bill Kenwright sorting out divots?
Bootle’s pitch is actually very well maintained, the quality of playing turf deteriorates as you go down the leagues but thanks to the efforts of the volunteers in the club, the Delta Taxi pitch can put a few conference sides to shame.
Inside the empty (for now) bar area the staff are getting ready for the matchday and I meet Bryn Astbury, one of the many volunteers who assist in running the club on a day to day basis. Bryn is only a 20-year-old and has been going to Bootle games for a couple of years. When he asked to be more involved with the club, he was given the role of kit-man for the club.
The quiet of the bar area gets interrupted when John Callaghan, committee member and the man responsible for merchandising of the club, opens the door and welcomes a group of Raith Rovers (That’s in Scotland) supporters who are on a stag do (That’s a bachelor party, for you yanks) and decided to come down to Liverpool and watch some football. They exchange scarves with John and are told to have a pint and make themselves at home, a phrase John does not skimp on. “Look around, everyone knows everyone, no one is sitting on their own, this is a community, a family, not just a club” he later tells me.
The groom-to-be is being urged by Joe Scattergood to be today’s mascot which he politely declines. Chelsea proceeds to humiliate Arsenal and the Scottish party is having a laugh at the expense of the lone Arsenal supporter in their group.
By now, more people have arrived at the Bootle FC clubhouse including more staff, supporters and even a few players.
One of the first players to arrive is Josh Hamilton who was on the books at once Premier league club, Wigan Athletic , where he played from the age of 8 until 16 when he got his YTS. He tells me he’s been in the club for 3 years so far and played for the reserves before advancing to the first line up.
Josh supports Liverpool but as many people tell me today, it’s hard to attract even a tenth of the crowds you see at Anfield and Goodison Park even though he’s convinced non-league football is the best.
Before long, another staff member steps into the dressing room, its assistant manager Richie Boswarva who tells me these group of lads are the best the club has ever had so far. However, this league is very competitive and it shows when Bootle were beaten by a Squires Gate team that had no subs and had to play their own manager. “If you don’t respect them on the day, they’ll do that to you,” he says.
Richie started as a youth manager six years ago, he then advanced to reserve manager before getting his current role, assistant manager to manager Joe Doran who he says share a great relationship and believe in the same values. About the current state of the club, he says: “We’re very pleased at the moment, but I think It’s the first time we’ve been able to mould and shape a team and we’ve got the resources to do that. We’ve had a very young side before this season but it’s great to see some of the young players like Josh for example who have been with us for a number of years still here now, and it’s great to see some of the lads I had in the reserves, playing for the first team now.”
Speaking of youth, I ask him about the youth set up in Bootle: “As a club we couldn’t and still can’t go out and take players off a conveyer belt, we go out and nurture talent. We bring young players on and we’ll also go out and watch Sunday league football and go watch games on a Saturday to bring in players on a lower level. It’s difficult at times, you can think you have a great side like I did, I had a brilliant U14s side and then lost 6 players to local academies and that sorts of rips your team apart. I don’t necessarily agree with the process that they (youth academies) use. They just sort of “hoover” up all the young talent, keep them for a bit, then get rid of them, and it destroys young lads, to be honest.”
Interview with Ryan Cox
Ryan was a part of the Huddersfield academy.. to the young lads who might want to break into the football scene he says “I personally think kids go to clubs too soon like 5 or 6 you get great treatment but you play with kids drafted from all over and you end up not enjoying your football. So just have fun playing and worry about academies later.
“I don’t have kids so I can balance it well. I work a basic 9-5 job, train with the club 3 days a week. But when you love something you make time for it. We all love being at Bootle so we all make time to train, we all make time to play. We all enjoy seeing each other, we’re all good mates off the pitch so it’s good you can get involved and have a laugh with the lads as well.”
“Non-league football is a hidden diamond, in my opinion, I watched Liverpool for years, I was a season ticket holder watching them both home and away and don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant. But nowadays, there’s no real love no more, it’s for tourists, especially at the top level. Non-league football is about people who come here because they want to because they love to watch it. The players are here because they want to be here. You’ll see after the game today, we’ll finish the game and we’ll all have a pint with the fans and the staff. It’s just nice when it’s a close club, you won’t get that with Liverpool. You won’t be able to go get a drink with Coutinho, it’s just not like that.”
“I played for a few clubs from professional teams to this level and the biggest thing about Bootle is that it’s a family club. It’s a club like no other in the aspect of the fact one of the top men of the club is a Doran, the manager’s a Doran, and the girl behind the bar is a Doran. It’s just a family club and you feel that. As soon as I met Joe (Doran) it was obvious I wanted to play here. I enjoy being here and I’ll hopefully be here for a few years to come.”
“I’m a goalscorer so I’ll always have people sniffing around me as long as I keep doing what I’m doing but I think what it was is that I spoke to Joe (Doran) and he’s an honest fella. As a manager, you can’t knock that. He asked me a few things, I asked him a few things, he promised me a couple of things, I promised him a couple of things and I think that’s it. Joe’s a top manager but also the lads that were here, Liam Loughlin, Steve Jones, they’re all my friends, good friends who I played with for years. They bring out the best of me so I’d have to be daft to go anywhere else, to be honest.
“I’m hoping to stay here for a few years as I said, if we’re doing well and it’s enjoyable, why would you leave? It’s not about money for me, If it was I wouldn’t have signed for Bootle in the first place. I want to make memories at this level, I want to play and I want to do what I do now.. Go and have a drink with the fans and the lads and I think it’s no better club for me right now.”
More and more players enter the bar area to have their pre-game energy drinks as well as catch up with their teammates and I grab Joe and Sam who run the Bootle FC supporters club for a quick chat.
Both Sam and Joe are local lads, they both support Liverpool and when I wonder again, why they’re here instead of Anfield, they say: “We grew up in Bootle, It’s our local team, we’ve become a bit disillusioned with how Liverpool has turned in terms of a club and how the Premier League has gone now as well.” Sam says. “The money involved, the way you’re treated by Premier League football teams as a number and not an actual person.. they call you customers rather than fans now” Joe chimes in. “You come here and it’s totally different, you feel like a part of the club, we’re just supporters but we feel engaged a lot more,” Sam sums up a big part of the identity and atmosphere at Bootle.
Joe has been coming to the Delta Taxi stadium for around 5 years now, Sam has only made it a habit in the last season or two declaring “I totally fell in love with the club. The goal of the whole Twitter account and the supporters club itself is to bring people together and try and raise money so we can subsidize things like going to away games and look after each other” according to Joe. Joe and Sam might be “just” supporters but they’ve established a few new things with the club: “We’ve introduced little things like little awards for the lads who play. we’ll give them stupid alcoholic drinks for winning player of the month or getting man of the match. I think this created a spirit between the fans and the team which the club never had. One thing we did that involved the community was the food bank collection we ran before Christmas, It got a few more fans through the gate and we’ve got quite a lot of food for the South Sefton Foodbank which obviously makes a big difference for a few peoples' lives especially at Christmas.” And their hard work is very appreciated by the club, they tell me: “One amazing thing that we didn’t expect was when we went to Cleethorpes in the (FA) Vase, the players all said to us the week before: don’t buy any drinks or anything on the day - and they paid for everything for us which ended up being a few hundred pounds!”.
To the local lads who follow football they say: “Come down, you won’t be disappointed. Let us know in advance on Twitter (@BootleFCBucks) and we’ll see if we can help you with anything. You will just get hooked by the style of football and atmosphere here. It’s a very social environment.”
Interview with Liam Loughlin
“I used to play at Wigan (academy) then got released, I came to Bootle when I was about 18 and then from here I went to the Welsh League, played there for a few years, then signed for AFC Liverpool in the same league as Bootle. I played there for about 5 years and then came back to Bootle at the end of last season then Joe made me captain.”
“I’m hoping to play as long as I can, I reckon I’ve got 5 or 6 years left at this level. I want to see if we can take Bootle high as we can. I think this is the best side that Bootle ever had and a lot of people who have been coming here for years have said that they’ve never had a squad like this so this is probably our best chance of doing it.”
“I think it’s been good, I think when I signed last season there were only 10 games left so I was looking for this season really, I didn’t sign because of last season, I was looking ahead. Joe (Doran) said if you come and sign I want you to be the captain and stay here and see what we can do with the league and he told me he was positive about going for the league. So with the players that we got in the summer, we attracted a lot of good players, so since then we’ve been doing well, we just got players from higher league wanting to come down and play for us. Like Paul Woolcott and Tony Rendell came down a league to play for us because they knew what was happening.”
“I think that the best thing about it is that all of the lads are getting all well and when you come to footy, every time we play, we win and we go out and it’s all like a good squad cause we always end up on nights out and everyone are good mates, there’s no like egos in the side, everyone’s a good lad so we’re all in training and we have a laugh.. like we’ve got a group WhatsApp with a bit of banter but no one takes it to heart, it’s all good jest like so that’s probably why we’re doing well because everyone’s mates and there’s a good togetherness.”
“I think we need to treat every game as they come, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and think we’re going for the league. People are telling us, which people do when you’re doing well and that but there are still 5teams who can win the league. So we need to take every game as only three points.”
About the upcoming match against AFC Darwen, Liam said: “I think we beat them 5-1 away but in this league, it’s all on the day. We dropped points to teams who are lower in the league. We were beaten by Squire’s Gate for example… they came in with no subs, just 11 men and still beat us. So in this league, you have to perform like you’re top of the league every week and because we are top of the league other teams are lifting their game because they want to beat us, so it’s getting harder for us as the season goes.”
On his Welsh adventures, he said: “I think the standard is roughly the same. The Welsh league is a good league but they get a lot of players who are just there because they’ll do the travelling. A lot of scouse players in the Welsh league. I mean, I’m getting a bit older now so I’ve got a little baby, I don’t want to do the travelling. I live here, like 10 minutes from the ground, so this is ideal for me.”
“It’s hard but my girlfriend is understanding. It’s hard if you do like Tuesday night and you go footy and not coming home till like midnight, then up for 6 the next day for work. So sometimes you won’t see the baby for a couple of days.. I mean, she understands but when the baby’s older he’s going to come with my dad which was a main thing of me signing here cause It’s a local club my dad can bring the baby and watch the match with no travelling. In the Welsh league, you won’t be able to take a baby on a two-hour journey to watch a game.”
“I think people should come and watch non-league football because the quality is a lot better than what they think, it’s a lot cheaper and you get a more intimate experience watching the game which proves with our fans that we built this year they’re giving up their Liverpool tickets to come and watch us because it will cost them £50 just for the ticket and £50 here will see them through the game, and the drink and food for the entire day. I think people should give it a go, maybe just come down, watch a game and see it’s worth it.”
Within a couple of minutes, the players take to the pitch to the sound of their appreciating supporters clapping and singing.
The point Sam and Joe emphasise and the principal I hear from most people around the club is that grassroots football gives them something Premier League club and even lower tier clubs won’t, for them, it’s about the community, the passion, the actual love of the game and at Bootle, there’s plenty of that to go around.
The match kicks off and for the first 20 odd minutes, Bootle are in firm control of possession with Ryan Cox getting caught offside a few times as well as seeing his shot cleared off the line by a Darwen defender.
The first goal comes courtesy of a Liam Loughlin penalty. Darwen handles in the box and the Bucks captain puts it beyond the keeper, cool and collected.
Loughlin then makes it a double close to half time when he himself gets tripped and receives another penalty for his efforts, which he again, calmly converts.
It looks like Joe Doran had some choice words for his lads at half time as the Bucks break loose and cause utter chaos in the Darwen box.The second half sees a total and absolute domination from the Bucks, the 3rd goal comes only a few minutes into the half with a shot from Carl Peers gets a good save from the Darwen keeper, only to be headed in from a close range by a lurking Ryan Cox, a real poacher's goal, as they say.
Ben Hodkinson makes it four for the Bucks, tidy finish from a one on one situation with the Darwen keeper, bottom left corner, cool as you like.
Hodkinson’s last action of the match before being subbed is a great arching shot from the right that misses the post only by a few inches.
The marauding Keiran Haligan is running a riot in the Darwen defence putting in a half cross-half shot that hits the bar. He’s then subbed off for a well-earned rest.
Bootle are poking and prodding Darwen for another goal, with the latter just trying to get some possession and have a breather, they don’t know their day is about to get a whole lot worse.
Ryan Cox is again involved for the 5th Bucks goal, he nutmegs the man in front of him, supplying Josh Hamilton with a great pass, which he puts beyond the keeper.
The man who supplied it becomes the scorer once again, Carl Peers crosses from theright to Ryan Cox who side foots it in, it’s 6-0 and you get the feeling that the Bucks and especially Cox, are not done just yet.
The fans are yelling for a seven and a possible hat-trick for Ryan Cox which he gets a few minutes later when Josh Hamilton gets an assist when he slides a pass straightinto Cox’s path, it’s 7-0 and a Ryan Cox hat-trick.
You can’t blame the supporters forbreaking into song and dance with “Coxy’s on fire, your defence is terrified”, the striker has been immense today.
Hamilton then gets another assist, after some good midfield play around outside the box, he gives Carl Peers a cheeky backheel pass which he converts, it’s 8-0.
Not long after and it’s NINE! Substitute Micheal Carberry puts a lovely cross into the box from the left, three Bootle players are eyeing it and all of them dive for a far post tap in, Peers just gets in before Cox and Woolcott and gets a brace.
The final whistle finally puts an end to Darwen’s miserable day and announces the Bucks highest win of (at least) the last few seasons. The players retire to the dressing room for much celebration before emerging out of the back rooms to a cheering crowd and a long night full of drinks.
I, on the other hand, find Joe Doran and get an interview.
The interview gets interrupted a couple of times by different volunteers and staff asking Joe for instructions or help with all sorts of things, from organising the front room of the clubhouse to where to have the team picture and when to do the player presentations. Joe might just be the manager but does so much more for the club and it’s very obvious he cares for the people around the club like they’re his own family (even the ones who aren’t).
It’s time to celebrate a great Bootle victory and the players are doing exactly what they said, having a drink with their supporters and families. Man of the match and goal of the month prizes are given to Carl Peers and Liam Loughlin respectively who receive a cheeky Carribean Twist each from the Bootle supporters club before Paul Woolcott is presented with a bottle of Jagermeister for his player of the month award.
I find John Callaghan in the busy bar room once again. The man is responsible for merchandising and it’s easy to see why. “I’ll tell you this.” he says “Bootle is a special club run and followed by special people. We all work hard NOT to be like the pro football clubs. Inclusion and integration are our mantras, Football for all is our goal. Bootle is like a wicked mistress, she’ll take you away from Everton or Liverpool and show you more than you’ve had before, she’s a dangerous girl!” he jokes.
Interview with Joe Doran
Joe, who do you support?
I was a Liverpool supporter as a child but since I left professional football at 19 I haven’t supported a professional clubs, I just like being involved with grassroots, non-league football.
You're the manager, secretary and treasurer of the club. You've also got a full-time job as well as a family including a child, how do you balance everything?
“It’s something I’ve always been involved in. I started being a secretary at 2006 so it’s kind of second nature to me now but if you can get yourself organised and get a good team behind you. I’ve got an assistant secretary Connor O`Niell, he takes a lot of the pressure off and I deal with more of the higher level stuff and the strategic stuff and he sorts out the day to day stuff on the football side, so on a match day, Collin will take over.
Bootle have been on a great run, winning the last 7 and scoring 26, what would you say is the biggest factor of this form?
“I think, to be honest, we’re able to score goals at any point in the game with the players that we’ve got and the way we try and play football also the key for us is to also keep clean sheets. Really pleased today to keep a clean sheet and I think with the players that we’ve got in the squad and the comradery we’ve got I think it lends itself well to scoring goals.”
Your last game for Bootle as a player was in the 2010/11 season, what has changed in the club since then?
“Well, I started playing for Bootle at 2004-2005, I’ve done 3 years professional at Oldham Athletic and I never broke through to the first team. I played a few times in the reserves and that but when I left professional football I just wanted to concentrate on playing a bit more local so obviously with my family being involved with Bootle for a number of years I started playing there and enjoyed it for a good 4 or 5 years.. won the first division title and then left to be assistant manager in a lower league with a few friends before coming back to Bootle as the reserve team manager (and managing Bootle’s ladies team). Then obviously from the reserves team, when the old first team manager was relieved of his duties the committee asked me to take the job so this is my third full season.”
You have one of the best disciplinary records in the league, is this something that is stressed in training and team talks? How do you balance between physicality and composure?
“I think it comes from the type of players that we’ve got in the squad, to be honest, they are quite calm, quite cool, it takes a lot to rattle them so, that’s the type of player I go for. Someone who’s a bit more level headed and I think this season apart from a couple of silly sending offs we’ve been quite good on the disciplinary front, we didn’t get that many yellow cards either for dissent and stuff like that.”
In order to get promoted, you must fulfil a certain ground rating, is this something that you think of in the back of your mind?
“We’ve applied for the Evo-Stick League which is the league above. So that means there’s a ground rating we need to achieve by the 31st of March. We’ve got a meeting on Monday to discuss some of the issues we’re facing and what we’re going to do is that we’re going to be announcing some working parties on probably Saturday the 18th of February and then on some Sundays where we’re gonna look to put some work in to achieve the grade. We’ve had the grade before between 2010 to 2014 so I don’t foresee any issues getting it again, I mean, there are little bits and bobs we need to do but overall it’s very doable.”
As a coach these days and someone who's been through the academies as a youth player how do youth systems compare between now and 15 years ago?
“I think the biggest difference is that there are lot more youth teams now. I think when I was a young lad playing like U10s all the way up to U13s-U14s before I signed for Oldham, You would have well run, organised teams and they would have multiple age groups where is now I think there are a lot of teams that just start up independently and that’s good for football because it means people can express themselves in their own way for their club and their team but I think there’s a lot more organisation that goes into it now. When I was younger it was school team, Merseyside boys, Sefton boys, stuff like that. It is good but I think the difficulty we have now is that the pro clubs take the young players into the elite academies way too soon and I think when you get into an academy you have to be very careful to not turn all the players into the same player, players retaining their unique abilities and skills are the key for young players now. The perfect example of that is Wayne Rooney, He was playing football in the streets with his mates rather than training in the day time then going and scoring past Arsenal, he had that thing about him where you didn’t know what he was going to do and I think you see less and less players coming through with that ability and those who got it make it to the top.”
You've got a lot of players who were released from big clubs' academies, some of them stating it was very hard on them, as someone who got released from an academy as well, would you agree?
“It was the same for me when I was released from Oldham. I mean, Mikey Ordish he was at Celtic, Steve Jones was at Stoke, Josh (Hamilton) was at Wigan, Ryan Cox was at Huddersfield, I think nearly everyone at some point at our level, like our left winger who came on the second half, Micheal Carburry he got released by Doncaster rovers in June so it is hard and I probably suffered from it longer than I should have to be honest. It took me two years to get back into football but what I would say to the younger kids out there is don’t put all your eggs in one basket with one football club if you get treated well by a club then great but just remember that they see you as a commodity and there are plenty of other football clubs out there that will take your ability on and from my own personal experience, I put all of my eggs in one basket cause Oldham showed faith in me and gave me a good contract, when it didn’t work out for me, it was hard to take. But I think having someone around who’s a bit more level headed, more experienced, can help these young lads through. So you can’t underestimate ex-professionals or current pros going into schools and or youth clubs and speaking to them and explaining to them that although it’s their dream it’s also a career and you have to be prepared for anything.”
As your family are very involved with Bootle FC, was it the obvious place to go to after you got released from Oldham?
“When I was at Oldham, I was literally going to go to Vauxhall Motors who were at the time at the conference but as I said, I didn’t take getting released that well so my confidence wasn’t what it should have been and it took me longer to sort of get back into football so I wanted to go somewhere where it meant something to me and there was no better place really. I was just lucky that the manager at the time decided to take me.”
The day to day work at the club is done by volunteers. Overall this club has a great sense of community, how did you get that, how do you communicate with the supporters?
“I think social media is the key, we’ve increased our presence in social media in the last four or five years and I think having volunteers the likes of Connor O`Niell and Dave Marley who work on the media side of things, keep that engagement with the fans and also local businesses and I think it’s key. There’s no doubt about it, it’s all down to our volunteers and that’s what drives us. Obviously, our fans have been absolutely brilliant this year and played a massive part in our success and that’s only happened, that sort of support in the last four or five months and it’s taken the club to another level.”
By the end of the evening, the Scottish Raith Rovers group have invited the lads from Bootle up to Scotland to watch their club play and show them the same hospitality the Liverpudlians showed them.
Bootle FC tries and succeeds in being a family club which is run by the community and for the community. There’s no escaping anyone in the bar area, now watching the next football match on offer, feels like a big family. From the second I walked into the Delta Taxi Stadium the lads have welcomed me into the club as one of their own. If you’re a first-time fan or die-hard veteran you will be treated the same. Bootle is a great place to watch some quality football and enjoy good company for the price of a pint at Anfield.