A rough guide to... Altrincham

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell

4 October 2021

They have historic reasons to despise the Mariners, but after rising again through the non-League pyramid, Altrincham are looking forwards, not back.

How are you?

Robins are regularly voted Britain's favourite bird. Small, friendly and familiar, who doesn't love the sight of a cheeky redbreast puffing its chest on their garden fence. You might go miles to see an eagle, or write an epic poem about an albatross, but for robins there is no need.

Outside of the rest of Cheshire, everyone likes Altrincham. Never was a nickname so well chosen as "the Robins". Not because they are easy to patronise but because they are fiercely territorial. Already this season, Altrincham have beaten pre-season promotion favourites Torquay United and Notts County. On Saturday they scored two late goals to beat Dagenham & Redbridge. Grimsby's record against Altrincham reads played six, lost two and won only one.

Moss Lane is apt to be the graveyard of any team which thinks it is a bit too grand for non-League. It'll probably find a robin singing on its tombstone. 

Long time, no see

When we went up in 2015-16, Altrincham went down, and down again, suffering consecutive relegations.

Just before the end of 2016-17, they appointed Phil Parkinson as manager. If the name sounds familiar, you are probably thinking of Wrexham's Phil Parkinson, who played 500 League games with Bury and Reading. Altrincham's Parkinson played 200 games for Nantwich and was a lecturer in sports science.

If you get the chance to hear one of his lectures, he's probably worth listening to as his track record is impressive. Under Parkinson, Altrincham won the Northern Premier League at the first attempt and in 2020 they beat Chester, York and Boston in the play-offs to win promotion from the National League North. Last season, Alty occupied one of the play-off places for a time, before finishing 17th in the National League. With 47 points from 42 games, they were 16 points above what would have been the relegation places if there had been any relegation.

Altrincham remain part-time, but on 14 April this year Parkinson and his assistant Neil Sorvel were given full-time, three-year contracts. It is the first time Alty have had a full-time manager, and a statement of intent. The Robins are no longer content just to go bob-bob-bobbing along the upper reaches of non-League.

How are you feeling?

These are heady days to be an Altrincham fan. After two of their games were postponed for Covid,  they held an artificially low place in the emerging National League table. When they came up against Notts County, it was seen on the Altyfans messageboard as a free-hit: even a point would have been a bonus against one of the league's many full-time teams. They won 1-0 and followed it up with a 4-1 win over King's Lynn. Saturday's third consecutive victory puts them sixth.

It may be that competing for promotion against clubs with far bigger budgets will prove beyond them as the season goes on, but in the meantime their supporters are enjoying the ride. Back on Altyfans, one poster notes that if they win their games in hand, they'll be top of the table; another confesses to nosebleeds just being in the play-off places.

Where are you from?

Administratively, Altrincham is part of Greater Manchester, in the borough of Trafford. It is true that, to take a random cliche, if you are travelling from Surrey for a game at Manchester United, when you pass by you'll only be a couple of miles from your destination.

Culturally though, Altrincham is still in Cheshire, the seat of one of Manchester's relatively few Conservative MPs. It has the artisan market and the old building converted to accommodate street food and deli stalls to show for it. If you arrive by train or tram and you have time only to go to the game you'll need to walk to the east down Moss Lane. Otherwise turn to the west for an array of up-market (and down-market) pubs, tapas bars and other eateries.

You must be really pissed off with Grimsby Town

Altrincham's last heyday was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Back then, the third round of the FA Cup was one of the highlights of the football season. The media had a keen eye out for giant-killings, with no nonsense about squad rotation and big clubs not taking the competition seriously. "Giants" may not be the right word but over eight seasons Altrincham beat Hartlepool, Scunthorpe (twice), Crewe, Rotherham and Sheffield United in the early rounds of the Cup. They made the third round in four consecutive seasons between 1978-79 and 1981-82.

There was no automatic promotion to the Football League then, but Altrincham put themselves up for election four times. Their strongest claim was in 1980: not only had they beaten two League clubs that season, they had also won the Alliance Premier League, the forerunner to the Conference. Meanwhile Rochdale, for ever bumping along on the bottom of the fourth division, were trying the patience and the self-interest of the other League members. Before the League AGM, when the vote on next season's membership would be taken, Altrincham had the promises of support that they needed to take Rochdale's place.

Luton had promised to support them, but got the time of the meeting wrong, and turned up too late to vote. Grimsby had promised to support them but failed to cast their vote. The most charitable explanation is that the Town representative had got so used to sitting with the associate members of the third and fourth divisions that they forgot that as Division Three champions, they were now full members of the Football League and so entitled to a vote of their own in the election. Altrincham lost out to Rochdale by one vote. As Dave Twydell writes in Denied FC, his entertaining history of Football League election struggles, it was "surely the closest, and the cruellest, denial of Football League 'promotion' ever experienced by a club."

Pre-match factfile


Altrincham's goals have been shared around, as likely to come from midfield, through the Trafford-born but Welsh-qualified Dan Mooney or the accurate shooting of Ryan Colclough as from striker Marcus Dinanga.

Last time

In January 2016, Town achieved their first ever win against Altrincham, 5-0 "without playing particularly brilliant" said Paul Hurst, "In some ways I see that as a positive, to win five-nil and not be totally happy." Earlier in the season, we had lost 2-1 at Moss Lane, with Nathan Arnold again Town's best player.

Ex-Town factor

After Lincoln and Boston, Arnold made three appearances for Altrincham in 2019. In their current squad they have ex-Mariners Joe Bunney and Ben Pringle. Going the other way, Luke Waterfall played once for Altrincham in 2008

Rivalometer - 5 (rising)

Before they beat Dagenham & Redbridge, this would have been a standard Conference three on the rivalometer. Now, Tuesday night's encounter has become a top-of-the-table clash.