MISCHIEVOUS mutts on leads wagging their bedraggled weather-beaten tails with a glad-eye on, for now, my piping hot pie and peas.

Wind blowing, autumn leaves flowing . . . that smacking sound of a size-nine boot on leather ball as the keenest of players are put through their paces. Kick-off is ticking ever closer.

Find a spot. There’s a few to choose from, even though it’s only £3 to get in and £1.50 a pie.

Stroll past the battle-hardened regulars – they’ve been coming here since Adam was a lad. Former England captain David Platt once made these very same steps.

I’ve arrived at Chadderton Football Club – the Ark Fleetech Stadium they call it now . . . it will always be Broadway or Andrew Street for most of us here.

Ashton Town are the visitors - the one near Wigan, not Ikea - a swift one in the clubhouse bar, and we’re ready for kick-off.

This in Non-League Day, and as I ferry my pint to the touchline (you can do that here . . . and even have a crafty fag if the mood takes you) the referee, going through his pre-match warm-up routine lets on to me.

“You’ve got the right idea, make mine a vodka,” he says, nodding to his limbering-up linesmen, all of whom not exactly relishing 90 minutes in the elements with the remnants of Storm Callum for company.

He loves it really, they all do. Non-league football is a happy, friendly place.

When did a referee last converse with you on – as seems to be the standard Football League example – a Tuesday night in Stoke?

It’s a lot more personal here and in your face . . . as an elderly gentleman who suffered the misfortune of a stray pass just moments into the game will tell you.

There’s all the familiar silver-tongued hollers from the terraces (that’s another thing, you can stand here without fear of a jobsworth steward moving in) – “get a grip, liner” and (my personal favourite of the day) “are you out tonight” (that was from one player to another).

Things can get a little feisty as you’d expect, but you can bet your bottom dollar it all gets sorted out in the social club afterwards.

And that’s the point. This is a social occasion. Talking, laughing, having a moan if that’s what takes your fancy. Then there’s the football.

There wasn’t much moaning going on when Chaddy took the lead from the spot on 16 minutes.

Jordan Matthew sent the ’keeper the wrong way after captain Jack Turnbull – back from a short stint at Silsden – was upended by the Ashton number one when clean through.

The lead didn’t last long though. Danny McLoughlin, who would go on to net a hat-trick, connected sweetly for Ashton to fire a fierce a drive into the back of the net from just outside the box.

McLoughlin’s second, 15 minutes after the restart, was a tap-in after a floated free-kick wasn’t fully cleared.

Not that the Reds had thrown in the towel – far from it. Substitute Leon Iluobe was upended with seven minutes left –Turnbull on hand to convert from 12 yards . . . but only just as the ’keeper laid part of a glove on it.

“It’s the worst penalty I’ve ever scored,” was the fans’ favourite’s reaction straight after the game. They all count.

Then came several chances for Chadderton to win it – the best when Will Shawcross put it down the goalkeeper’s throat when it looked easier to score following an intricate move involving Iluobe.

McLoughlin – on loan from Skelmersdale – claimed the match ball with a late breakaway goal expertly placed in the corner.

Chaddy thought they had levelled things in stoppage time through Nathan Connor, but an offside flag ruled otherwise.

A Tuesday night in Stoke is one thing . . . a Saturday afternoon in North-West Counties First Division North is quite another.

STAR MAN: Colossal Nathan Tayo stood out as a centre half – switching to left-back in the second half – but exciting attacking midfielder Will Shawcross just about edged it.