As another year draws to a close, thoughts turn towards 2019 and what may lie ahead. Those of an Altrincham persuasion may also wish to reflect on the past 12 months and marvel at how our fortunes have continued to follow an upward curve. What a year it has been, with Phil Parkinson’s squad making an instant return to the Vanarama National League North as champions and now mounting a concerted push for a second successive promotion. There has been sadness along the way, with several notable names no longer with us, as we head towards another New Year. Most of the memories from 2018 are joyful ones, though, and, here, Press and Media Officer John Edwards selects a personal top 10, presented in chronological order.
Saturday, January 6th – Farsley Celtic 0, Altrincham 1
Hard on the heels of a 4-3 home defeat to Witton Albion in monsoon conditions, this fixture belonged in the ‘must win’ category. Easier said than done, given Alty’s 16-game unbeaten league run had just squelched to a halt and Farsley were fresh from a resounding 4-2 win over pre-season promotion favourites Shaw Lane, yet the outcome was seldom in doubt, as Jordan Hulme coolly rounded the keeper and slotted home the only goal in the second half.
It wasn’t by chance that Jordan finished with such assurance, either, as manager Phil Parkinson relived the 65th-minute breakthrough and provided an insight into the behind-the-scenes professionalism that helped make Alty last season's outstanding side in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League.
‘Believe it or not, we have been working with Jordan on how he deals with a one-on-one, and it’s good to see it paying dividends,’ he said. ‘Full credit to Neil Sorvel for that. He does ever such a lot of good work on the training field. Some of the stuff he does with the lads is fantastic. He has done it with the other strikers as well, pulling them to one side and concentrating on how to make the most of it when you are clean through. We recognised we had been a bit wasteful in those situations, but I can’t remember Jordan missing one since working with Sorvs on it.’
As a footnote to a hard-earned but thoroughly-deserved win, one of the Farsley directors stopped his limousine on his way out of the ground, after spotting a small group of Alty fans near the exit, wound down a window and said: ‘Nice little team you’ve got there, lads – I can see you going places.’
Saturday, January 27th – Altrincham 1, Warrington Town 1
The result could have been better - par for the course against near-rivals Warrington, unfortunately - but at least there was a bumper crowd of 1,419 and a grandstand finish to mark Shaun Densmore's 350th appearance in Alty colours. Warrington always seemed to make life difficult for Alty last season, and it was no different on this late January afternoon in wet conditions that necessitated a pre-match pitch inspection. They went in front in the 19th minute, then predictably retreated into their shell, inviting Alty on and soaking up the pressure that inevitably followed. It was a plan that looked like succeeding, until the second of four added minutes, when James Poole forced a close-range shot through the hands of Tony McMillan to spark celebrations that home keeper Tony Thompson joined in with after sprinting the length of the pitch. The evergreen Densmore, still going strong 10 years after arriving at Moss Lane, had no complaints about being booked on his big day, as he reflected on his 49th-minute indiscretion with typical candour, and said: 'It was a bad one, really. We were told at half-time to watch the tackles, but I just mistimed it a bit. It felt like 350 games in that second half, but overall I've loved playing for this club.
'It has been brilliant, bar the last 18 months, when I haven't played anything like as much as I would have liked, due to injury. To be honest, I probably underestimated how much surgery and rehab takes out of you. But it's great to be back, especially in front of such fantastic supporters. You could forgive people being down in the dumps, after what we've been through in the previous couple of years, but they have got behind us all season, and that makes such a difference.
'This is easily the best non-League club in the north-west. I can't really judge for the country as a whole, but there's none better in this region, and that is why I have stayed so long.'
Sunday, March 18 - Kenny Palin dies
This review of 2018 was originally going to be called 10 Highlights, but we couldn't very well leave Kenny out of it, and so a more appropriate title was called for, hence Memories. And what memories he left us. A one-off, if ever there was, Kenny was such an irrepressible, popular figure than not only did everyone know him, everyone had their own favourite anecdote about him, many of which ensured his funeral was an occasion for laughter as well as tears. The service was held at Altrincham Methodist Church on Friday, April 6th, and it will surprise no-one that it was standing room only. All 200 seats were taken long before the start, and another hundred or so people packed into the aisles and lobby, straining for a view and perhaps wondering how events might unfold. On the one hand, Kenny's exuberant, extrovert, fun-loving nature was such that mourners were urged to wear brightly-coloured ties, yet this was farewell. How to pitch it? The answer was not long coming, as the minister took his place at the front, looked at the congregation and simply said: 'Hiya, mate!', even remembering to drop the h, as Kenny always did.
It set the tone perfectly, and by the time the likes of Graham Heathcote and Grahame Rowley had finished recounting tales that raised more smiles, justice had been done to the memory of one of the Altrincham sporting scene's great characters. Stories of Kenny's innate ability to make people laugh are seemingly endless, and Neil Tolson came up with a selection to mark the lifelong Alty fan's 70th birthday. Writing in his matchday programme column, back in November, 2015, Alty's former assistant-manager said: No apologies for this week's column having a theme running through it after the incomparable Kenny Palin turned 70 last weekend. Here are three tales about him that always make me chuckle:
The first concerns a party in Kenny's honour at Timperley cricket club, where the highlight was the presentation of an Altrincham shirt, autographed by all the players, with Palin and 70 on the back. Stuart Coburn was there, and was having a laugh and a joke with Kenny, and Graham Heathcote was linking everything together in his inimitable style as compere. Stuart was the obvious choice to make the presentation, so when the time arrived, he left the room and waited behind the door while Graham gave it the big build-up. 'Now Kenny, we've got something a bit special to mark the occasion and someone a bit special to present it,' says Graham. 'If I said it was an Altrincham legend, someone who has been at the club years and become a cult figure, who would you want it to be?' Kenny gives him a look and says: 'John King.' Stuart is already opening the door at this point, and the whole place just falls about laughing. Fair play to Stuey. He just gives Kenny a shake of the head and hands over the shirt. Classic Kenny.
Second one: Kenny was part of a great turnout for the Meet The New Recruits evening in the Community Sports Hall last Saturday, and proceedings began with a chorus of Happy Birthday. After I replaced Brian Flynn as compere for the second half of the evening, I fully intended it to end the same way. 'Finally, ladies and gentlemen,' I said. 'Let's all sing Happy Birthday once again to the legend that is Kenny Palin.' But he wasn't having it. 'No, no,' he said. 'Give me the mike, and I'll sing to you.' We all waited with baited breath, and away he went with 'There was a woman who swallowed a fly.' Slight pause, then 'perhaps she'll die.' There was verse after verse, about swallowing a bird, how absurd, and swallowing a cat, imagine that. There was every variation you could think of. I think he covered the animal kingdom in its entirety, and, each time, there was a pause just long enough to make you think he was done, then he'd launch into another. The room was in absolute hysterics. You couldn't get your breath. When he finally handed back the mike, it packed in. Gave up the ghost. The evening couldn't have ended any better.
And finally: The following conversation took place between Kenny and the gaffer's wife in the Community Sports Hall. 'Who are you?' 'I'm Lynn.' 'Where are you from?' 'I'm from Hull.' 'Hull? That's a long way. What are you doing here?' 'My husband works for the club.' 'Who's he?' 'Lee Sinnott, the manager.' 'Tell him he needs the sack.'
Monday, April 16 - Jordan Hulme, goal machine
The spearhead of Alty's attack, arguably the best of Phil Parkinson's many outstanding signings, had his scoring feats officially recognised at a ceremony in Barnsley, where he picked up the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League player-of-the-season award. These individual awards can sometimes be contentious, but no-one could possibly question Jordan's right to this one after an exceptional campaign, in which he scored 31 goals overall, including 26 in the league. Certainly, there were no arguments at Alty, where he was voted manager's player-of-the-season and supporters' player-of-the-season.
Saturday, April 21 - Grantham 0, Altrincham 2
A 2-1 win at Shaw Lane two days earlier put Alty within touching distance of the Championship trophy, and here, at a windswept South Kesteven Stadium, they finally wrapped both hands round it. It was never going to be easy, given Grantham were in the play-off places and their wide open ground, with the pitch surrounded by an eight-lane athletics track, exaggerated the effect of a swirling wind, but the opportunity was never going to be passed up after Alty had led the table since mid-October.
Sure enough, a dominant second-half performance led to goals from on-loan midfielder Chris Merrie and winger John Johnston, and Alty were champions with two games to spare, sparking jubilant scenes between the players and another sizeable, vocal following of away fans.
'That was a fantastic second-half performance, sensational when you consider the resilience the players have had to show through a very tough week, where they have taken 10 points from four games - three of them away from home - without conceding a goal from open play,' said proud Alty boss Parkinson. 'One of the abiding memories for me will be how special the fans were in outnumbering the home support. We must have had nearly 400 in the ground, which is phenomenal for such a long and difficult journey. It is an unbelievable feeling to be able to call ourselves champions - I love the sound of that.'
Tuesday, August 7th - Southport 1, Altrincham 3
If there were any misgivings over an opening-day 2-2 home draw with Leamington, they were swept away by this commanding performance against a side rated among the pre-season promotion favourites. It was Alty's first win at Haig Avenue in over 20 years, and it never looked in doubt. After dominating a goalless first half, Alty went ahead through summer signing Liam Goulding and made light of a fairly rapid equaliser by adding further goals from John Johnston and Jordan Hulme.
Skipper Jake Moult was at the heart of an early statement of intent from Parkinson's men, the Alty boss saying: 'Jake was exceptional. That was a real skipper's performance, getting in blocks, tackles and headers but also being outstanding in possession. It was the complete holding midfielder's performance.'
Saturday, August 11th - Spennymoor Town 4, Altrincham 4
Never a dull moment following Alty, as illustrated by this first 4-4 league draw since the Robins shared eight goals with Runcorn at Canal Street 46 years ago. After going behind in the 11th minute, a rampant Alty went on to lead three times with a brand of football that had Spennymoor manager Jason Ainsley admitting: 'We did well to get a draw out of that.' Ainsley got no argument from Phil Parkinson, who marvelled at the quality of his side's attacking play against a side with promotion ambitions but could not hide his frustration at seeing the lead slip away three times.
Saturday, October 6th - Altrincham 4, Bradford (Park Avenue) 2
There was a sombre mood ahead of this FA Trophy tie, just a few days after the death of hugely-popular former Robins boss Bernard Taylor, but another show of attacking verve at least did his memory proud. It was a milestone in the Alty career of Jake Moult, who was making his 300th appearance for the club and marked it in style with a goal from outside the area, as Alty booked their place in the next round.
Signed by Lee Sinnott from Alfreton Town in August, 2012, Jake has made an immense contribution over the years, and current boss Phil Parkinson summed up his skipper by saying: 'He is being called Jake Moultrincham, and that's because if you cut him in half, he would bleed red and white. He is a big reason why I came here. I spoke to him for about an hour when I was deciding whether to leave Nantwich. I trusted his judgement on the club, and I'm glad I did.'
Footnote: Simon Richman matched the feat of 300 Alty appearances against Stockport County on Boxing Day.
Saturday, November 17th - Altrincham 3, York City 0
Alty had underlined their promotion credentials with an excellent 2-1 win at form team Chester a week earlier, and confirmation they were serious contenders came with this emphatic victory, as they extended their unbeaten league run to six games and moved into the play-off places for the first time. All the goals came in the second half - two from Josh Hancock and the other from Jake Moult - and the score would have been doubled but for the brilliance of keeper Adam Bartlett.
Alty climbed into seventh place, and are still in the play-off positions, going into the New Year. This game marked the final league appearance of Owen Dale's hugely-successful loan spell, prior to his return to Crewe.
Sunday, December 23 - Jacqui's legacy makes George an Alty shareholder at nine years old
In a moving presentation that underlined the bond that existed between Jacqui Forster and her beloved Altrincham, the club were delighted to welcome nine-year old George Denhem-Everett to the ranks of our shareholders after the Buildbase FA Trophy game against Stockport County at The J.Davidson Stadium.
A proud George took ownership of the shares as a bequest from his auntie Jacqui, our late Honorary Inclusion & Diversity Officer, and the club did their bit to make it a special occasion for him by drafting in his favourite player, John Johnston, to do the honours.
Alty's flying winger jumped at the chance to present the share certificate to George and made the young Robins fan's day by joining him in the Community Sports Hall, along with Jacqui’s partner Pete Baker and Alty director Bill Waterson.