As regular followers of this blog will know, I spent long years as a fan of Droylsden FC, a non-League football club on the eastern margins of Manchester, based in the Borough of Tameside.
I first went to see the Bloods (a nickname shared with only one other English Club, Essex’s Saffron Walden Town) in 1969, and spent two long spells following the club, from 1969 to 1980 in the Cheshire League, and again from 1995 to 2003, in the Unibond Northern Premier League.
In the latter spell, I became involved in the club itself, as match-day reporter in the local press, programme editor and main contributor for five years, and Vice-Chairman on the Supporters Club formed in 1999 in the wake of the Bloods’ greatest ever season, a marathon effort that ended with the club winning promotion to the Premier Division by the narrowest of margins.
Droylsden’s success in achieving that, and the success the Club has enjoyed subsequently – elevation to Conference North, winning that Division, a season in the Football Conference Premier and twice reaching the FA Cup Second Round Proper – is due to Chairman/Manager Dave Pace, a local double-glazing merchant who played for Droylsden as a Junior, and who has owned the Club since before 1995.
Pace has put at least £1,000,000 into Droylsden (that estimate was made several years ago and is undoubtedly much higher), and as well as being Chairman, he has managed the team since 1998, with a series of coaches assisting him, currently long-term Droylsden player and coach Aeon Lattie. He’s committed the team throughout this period to a ground-based, passing game, as opposed to lumping long balls forward, and when it has worked it has resulted in both exciting and attractive football, and plenty of wins. The fact that a club the size of Droylsden that, despite its success on the field, cannot command a committed support of more than a few hundred, would reach the Football Conference, is due to Dave Pace and the money he has pumped into improving ground facilities beyond all recognition, and paying good footballers to perform for the Bloods.
By the time that happened, I had stopped going to Droylsden on anything more than a very occasional basis, and that is also because of Dave Pace, and I am far from being the only person that thinks that way.
I’m not going to use this blog as a means of rehearsing my particular grievances. But it is acknowledged that Pace, who is not always the most diplomatic of people, is very single-minded and that this extends to his ownership of Droylsden FC. The Club is under his sole control, and therefore what he says goes. He is determined to maintain that control in every respect, and that has led at times to friction with the Supporters Club, which was set up as (and I assume remains) an independent Supporters Club and thus, whilst devoted to Droylsden, not under the control of its Chairman. The early enthusiasm of the Supporters Club to assist in any way possible, and its ideas (from a supporter’s perspective) as to what might be done to aid the Football Club, fell by the wayside over the fact that such ventures would have been outside Pace’s direct control.
Droylsden’s peak was the season in the Football Conference premier in 2007/8. Even as they won Conference North at the end of the previous season, my thought was that success the following year would mean finishing 23rd. I wasn’t just being cynical, I was being coldly practical, and unfortunately I was correct, Droylsden came straight back down, in 24th place, a last-day defeat costing them even the dignity of finishing second bottom.
It’s been downhill ever since, though not, initially, with the precipitousness that these past two seasons have displayed. The Club maintained its position in Conference North until 2012/13 and, to be honest, I paid them virtually no attention. I do recall the 2010/11 FA Cup, Droylsden reaching the second Round Proper against Leyton Orient, and the disaster of the replay away: leading 2-0 after 54 minutes, Droylsden conceded first an equaliser, and then, in extra-time, six more goals in a complete collapse that saw them knocked out 8-2.
The irony now is that the Bloods no longer have any money. A large tax bill, which Dave Pace has honourably chosen to pay rather than go into bankruptcy, has left him unable to put into the Club the kind of money he has done before now, and without Pace’s support, Droylsden FC is far from capable of supporting itself. The result has been collapse on the field.
Droylsden were relegated last season with 22 points from 42 games and a goal difference of -81, having conceded 124 goals. They were only saved from being bottom by the even more extreme plight of Leicestershire’s Hinckley United. In the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League, Droylsden are doing a Hinckley: they are in freefall.
Tomorrow, Droylsden are set to play at home to Liverpool’s Marine. It will be their 31st League match of a 46 game season. Of their first 30 games, the Bloods have drawn 2. the other 28 have been lost, including the last 22 in a row. The defeats have been unending, and few have them have been close: already this season, Droylsden have suffered home defeats of 10/0 and 9/0 – the latter at the hands of local rivals Ashton United on New Year’s Day.
Should Droylsden lose Saturday’s game by two clear goals or more, they will, before the end of January, reach a goal-difference of -100 or more. Just think about that for a moment.
My first season ‘back’ at Droylsden, in the mid-Nineties, saw the Club concede exactly 100 goals, and be relegated from the Northern Premier League Premier Division (on goal-difference) on the last day of the season. The 100th goal was conceded in the penultimate match of a 42 game season.
This is an entirely different order of things. Though mathematically Droylsden are not yet down, the fact is that they would need to win ten and draw one of their remaining 16 games, without any of the four teams above them (two of which have a game or games in hand) adding a single point just to escape the relegation zone, means that the position is as hopeless as it could possibly be.
Last time they were relegated from this Division, Droylsden conceded 100 League goals: this season, they conceded that number before the New Year.
What is the cause of this spectacular collapse? The answer is money: the Club owed £100,000 to HM Revenue and was placed under a transfer embargo. The easy option was to let the Club go into Administration, write-off the debt, or at least the vast majority of it, and accept a mandatory three-level demotion (to the North West Counties League Premier Division). Instead, and to his credit, Pace chose to pay off the money in full, from his own pocket, and take a one-level relegation.
What has happened this season was not on Pace’s agenda.
As I said, I was (twice) a committed Droylsden fan, and on the second occasion the link was broken by Dave Pace. Like many others who have, in one way or another, gotten on the wrong side of him, I’m not prepared to go back whilst he is there: which, realistically, means never. Though I did return in November, as an away fan supporting FC United of Manchester: it felt extremely strange entering that ground to support the opposition and I couldn’t shake a certain sense of betrayal (FC won by a comfortable 4-1, which at another time might have felt like a spanking but, in the light of the scores the Bloods have been conceding, was no more than a light slap).
For most of the first half of this season I have been enjoying the results almost unreservedly. The reasons I have no time for Dave Pace are, in my eyes, full justification for enjoying the spectacle of his Club being completely humiliated as they have been, over and over. Though the 10-0 home defeat sobered up even me.
My only regret was for the loyal fans, who appear now to have been whittled down to about 120 people, several of whom I know and at least one who used to be a good friend. However much Dave Pace might deserve this, they surely don’t. But they’re taking it, and they’ll take it next season in First Division North, and all credit to them for their loyalty.
Now the only question is how deep the embarrassment will extend. Last week, the transfer embargo was lifted, and the Club is desperately trying to attract new players. Marine’s manager has already warned his team and fans about complacency, unless they should find themselves facing a Droylsden side unrecognisable from that which has been humiliated over and again. Surely something can be done to prise a win – or even another draw? – out of those sixteen remaining games.
On the other hand, you have to ask what player of the grade required would go to a Club that’s a stone-cold certainty for the drop?
Still, there is a ray of hope: unbelievably, two levels higher and a few miles distant, another of Droylsden’s Tameside rivals, Hyde (formerly Hyde United), having been going through an almost identical nightmare in the Conference Premier, having accumulated only four draws and no wins in the first 29 games of their League season (though with a negative goal difference less than half that of Droylsden). What chance two such appalling records within so small an area?
Then, at the 30th attempt, Hyde won, and away from home too! (Though they crashed 6-2 at home next game).
The example is there,and for the sake of Colin, and Mouse, and Leachy, and Rusty if he’s started going there again, Mike from Crewe and the Marshes, Stroller, Steve Jarvis, and Nigel Randall too, not to mention good old loyal Aeon, I hope the Bloods can muster up one win to give them relief, even whilst I hope for Dave Pace, and others I shalln’t name, I hope that the egg continues to be spread, liberally, face-wise.
Because Droylsden FC ultimately is Dave Pace, and he’s deprived me of what was once my team, and I do not forgive.