Is This The Year? Update 1

At half-time, it looked absolutely bloody brilliant. FC United a goal up at Grantham Town, Skelmersdale (2nd) and Aston (5th) a goal down, Ilkeston (3rd) drawing and only Workington (4th) in the lead.

Of course, it was too good to be true, with Ilkeston and Aston coming through to win, but FC did make it eleven straight League wins and Skem lost 2-0, so FC’s lead at the top of the table is now three clear points over them, and no change to the rest of the chasers, all games in hand maintained.

We’re in action again on Tuesday night (when aren’t we?) away to Rushall Olympic. Ashton and Ilkeston also have games that night but it’s a chance to distance ourselves even further from Skem and Workington – and who knows, maybe we’ll get some help from Kings Lynn Town and/or Blyth Spartans? But the all-important thing is that twelfth straight win.

Expect these updates on a regular basis unil the end of the season, and expect one bloody big ballyhoo if we pull this off…

Is This The Year?

Last year, I wrote a series of posts about my interests in non-League football, in the twin forms of FC United of Manchester (who I support) and Droylsden FC (who I used to support).

This time last year, Droylsden (aka the Bloods) were in horrendous freefall: a goal difference of more than minus 100 before New Year, confirmed relegation in February. It looked so bad, coming off the back of a similar freefall season in the Conference North the year before, that I seriously feared that they would continue to fall disastrously.

Well, that hasn’t happened. The Bloods have rallied in the Northern Premier League First Division North (I don’t do sponsors unless they sponsor me), and there’s no risk of the plummet continuing. Indeed, for much of the season, Droylsden have been in or about the play-off places and contenders for an immediate return. They are comfortably the highest scorers in the whole Northern Premier League and they are the kings of results, with only one draw in 32 League games.

Promotion looks unlikely, however. Droylsden lie 7th, two places and two points out of the play-offs, but the biggest factor weighted against them is that their 32 games is the highest number played among the promotion contenders. All six teams above them have one to three games in hand (and the next two teams below them have even more games in hand). The odds that at least half of these eight rivals will jointly collapse and let the Bloods overtake them are highly unlikely.

It’s a totally different story for FC United. Last year was the fourth in succession that FC had challenged for the Premier Division title and promotion to Conference North. It was the fourth season in succession that FC got into the play-offs, this time with home advantage in both semi-final and final guaranteed by virtue of finishing second.

It was also the fourth year in succession that they blew it, although disappointment this time came not in the Final but the semi-final: beaten 2-1 by Ashton United with literally the last kick of extra-time: I know, ‘cos I was there.

This season, FC’s progress has been held up by an extraordinarily successful run in the FA Trophy. The club got through to the quarter-finals, the last eight, the only non-Conference team left in the competition, before going out 1-0 at Torquay United, who, last season, were still Football League (I listened to radio commentary from BBC Devon, who were good enough to say that FC didn’t look out of place at Torquay’s level).

The consequence of that run has been that FC now has games in hand over practically everybody else in the Premier Division, and especially over all the viable promotion candidates.

It’s an old saying, but still true, that it’s better to have the points in the bank than games in hand. But as of Tuesday night this week, FC United of Manchester have both. As of Tuesday, we are top of the Northern Premier League Premier Division, for the first time this season, borne there on the stength of ten successive League wins.

FC are top on goal difference (plus 29) from long-term leaders Skelmersdale United (plus 13), but FC have SIX games in hand. They are four points clear of third place Ilkeston, with two games in hand, five points above Workington Town with one game in hand and six points clear of Ashton United, again with one game in hand. And that’s just the current play-off zone.

It’s in our hands, people, in our hands and nobody else’s. They can win all their games from now to the end of the season, but if we win, we are Champions and there’ll be none of this play-offs nonsense.

Promotion would be doubly appropriate, not only to celebrate FC United’s tenth year since formation, but also the long-anticipated move into our own ground. From 2005 to 2014, FC rented Bury’s Gigg Lane as their home ground, whilst this season home matches have been divided between Stalybridge Celtic’s Bower Fold and Curzon Ashton’s Manchester Park. But Broadhurst Park in New Moston, taking the club back to Manchester United’s roots, holds its inaugural game in May, hosting none other than Benfica. How better than to start our new home’s life in a new division!

So you can expect a few more posts between now and May, as the season progresses and the title race gets more and moreā€¦ what?

‘Spare Ribs’ strip 182


The last appearance, published on Saturday 13 March 1977. Back at the office, Suzi is grumpy at Debbie and Maisie getting back late from lunch. Debbie’s initially dismissive, just a temporary mood, but then the phone rings. It’s the invisible John, Suzi’s never-seen husband, and they’re having an argument which Suzi is clearly winning by ordering him to do what he wanted to do in the first place that she didn’t want him to do. It’s the intrusive size of the balloon and the shape of the lettering that carries the gag, and Debbie’s despairing ‘Oh God, aggro all afternoon’ is just a tail-piece.

On Monday 15th March, Spare Ribs had vanished, to be replaced by tEmPS, by Dickens alone. The difference between the two was shocking, less in the art but in the writing. This was the same man! The same writer. And in the space of two days he had gone from some form of the sublime, light through it may have been, to the incomprehensibly unfunny – about the same subject.

Only 182 strips, but still a little gem, carefully polished and glinting in every facet.

Quasi-Eurocrime: Fortitude – part 5

The lovely Elena

Last week’s violent eruption, as Sheriff Dan beat the shit out of naked Frank Sutter in the shower (don’t worry, new readers, only the surly, mumbling, unlikable Frank was naked and there was no soap involved) was the perfect leaping off point for Fortitude to get its chops working, to throw off the slow, deliberate, patient/painful (delete as appropriate) build-up and really slam it up through the gears. However, apart from a certain narrowing of focus, episode 5 offered no change in tempo whatsoever. Five episodes down and still plodding: it is getting harder to believe that this series will ever take off.

Apart from a couple of offshoots, just to remind us that the Who Killed Chris Eccleston? plot isn’t the only game in town, most of the episode focussed on Sutter and his possible guilt in the murder of Professor Stoddart. Sheriff Dan’s mad actions ruled him out of any direct involvement in the interrogation, allowing DCI Morton to step in in his quiet manner. Richard Dormer has totally lost me for the length of this series, but Stanley Tucci has gone too far in the opposite direction, underplaying to such a degree that he’s nearing the Earth’s core.

Sheriff Dan is determined not to be counted out. Governor Hildur is still on his side (until late in the episode when she discovers he’s been keeping secrets from her to protect someone else, after which I assume we shall see something of a rift wi’in the lute). She’s straining to paint Dan’s Puncheminnaface methods of arrest as justifiable in apprehending a suspect in a violent, brutal murder, and Dan’s peddling the traditional Police get out of ‘he was resisting arrest’ toDoctor Margaret, but it isn’t selling to anyone, least of all to Morton, who points out he witnessed it.

Dan’s still determined to fuck this investigation up if he can. They have a Frank Sutter t-shirt covered in human blood, but does it match Stoddart? Instead of having a DNA match done through the proper channels, on the mainland, Dan has it done at the Biology Station, by Stoddart’s ex-colleagues, with no forensic certificate, and a couple of eyebrow follicles tweezered out of Stoddart’s corpse by Dan himself in a deserted morgue, so not a lot of obstacles there for any half-competent barrister getting the DNA evidence (and the whole basis of the case) thrown out. Dan doesn’t care. Dan can’t even be bothered to shut the door behind the late Professor’s body to keep it frozen. Dan is not doing anything to embellish his already shaky image this week.

And guess what? It’s Stoddart’s blood on the t-shirt.

Sutter, in the meantime, is talking to Morton. The blood is that of his son, Liam, who we will remember was desperately sick, but suddenly recovered whilst Frank was in the barn, shagging the lovely Elena. Frank’s story is that he found Liam out of bed, covered in blood, that this thing on/in his throat had ruptured, that he’d got Liam cleaned up in the shower and put him back to bed, miraculously recovered, and simply chucked away his ruined t-shirt.

When pressed, he coughs to Elena turning up and the two of them fucking. Which, as we know, is absolutely true. We saw it in the opening double-episode, the fucking bit, that is, not the blood. So Frank has an alibi: he couldn’t have kiled Charlie Stoddart. Except that Charlie’s blood is the one all over the t-shirt.

Elena alibis Frank, and denies any relationship, sexual or otherwise, with Sheriff Dan. He denies it too. Unfortunately, Elena’s alibi has caused Morton and Governor Hildur to assume she’s in it with Frank, and that she was at Stoddart’s when Frank ripped him up. After all, her name is really Esmerelda and she’s done seven years in prison for murder, a minor detail the besotted Dan has been concealing from all and sundry in Fortitude, even Governor Hildur.

Finding that Elena is now under suspiction, the frantic Dan, who now believes Frank 100%, storms off on a desperate search of the Sutter house to he finds Liam’s blood-soaked pajamas. Hurrah, you’re wrong, says Sheriff Dan. My God, say Morton and Hildur, this means they took the boy with them!

Away from the main story, and by that token rather more interesting, we had a couple of distractions. Ronnie and 10 year old Carrie have left the security of the Little Wendy House on the Ice Prairie and are camping on the glacier. There are disturbances in the night. Ronnie reassures Carrie that it’s nothing, there’s nobody there except a stray reindeer, but in the morning there’s a massive bloodstain on the ice, and Ronnie’s right hand is cracked and blackened by frostbite…

In town, creepy Marcus, a man whose DNA is written through with the letters C R E E P, is feeding Doctor Margaret some unexpected minka whale with the compliance of daughter Shirley, with whom he is a) sleeping and b) conducting a great experiment. Which is to feed up Shirley, who is already on the rotund side, until… well, presumably, until she bursts. That Marcus is so overtly creepy that a three-month old baby would take one look at him and go ‘this man is so creepy’ stretches credibility to the point of insult: are we supposed to just assume that Shirley is so much a sad chubbo that she’d overlook anything just to feel like someone fancies her?

Then there’s the hermaphrodite reindeer. Yes, that’s right, there’s a sudden spate of hermaphrodite reindeer foetuses at the moment, the bio lab are studying them. Presumably like they’re studying the pig in the incubator as well? And with only two staff, who are about to shag each other senseless in self-congratulation at a DNA result that’s plainly cocked up somewhere.

The Radio Times thinks this series is ‘as original as it is beautiful’. Beautiful it is, but if the RT thinks this is original, it needs to stay in more and watch the telly. Out of Twin Peaks by way of The Killing, with an overlay of Strindberg’s Enemy of the People, not to mention a heavy dose of Gary Cole’s Seriously Bad Sheriff from the much-lamented American Gothic, only not so lavishly OTT.

Still, next week is half-way.

‘Spare Ribs’ strip 181


Still in the park, as Debbie strikes back, itemising all the opportunities for romance that she and Maisie have passed up. These details go into the massive word balloon in the centre of the strip: I said that Dickens used Roberts’ ability to define things with such elegant style to take a wordy approach at times and this is a prime example. Maisie’s response is to shout ‘Big Deal!’, which is only fair as Debbie is reaching for it here – especially with the tramps (this may be an in-joke: Spare Ribs usually appeared directly under Iain ‘Fiddy’ Reid’s daily strip Tramps about -if you couldn’t guess – two tramps). But I see this as Debbie being slightly more self-aware than usual, knowing that she’s admitting it was a waste of time but sticking up for herself. One flaw: Maisie’s head position in the first image is uncharacteristically awkward, and only the perspective keeps her from being taller than Debbie, which she certainly is not!

‘Spare Ribs’ strip 180


We’re in the park now and Maisie’s still a bit frustrated at having her lunch hour taken up by one of Debbie’s pursuits that will get her exactly nowhere – then there’s the first eligible male they meet! Not the best strip of this sequence, but note Roberts’ art in this, especially in the middle image where he conjures up the sense of the park with minimal line-work. My personal favourite part of this strip is Maisie’s expression in the first image.

‘Spare Ribs’ strip 179


Enter Maisie. Debbie’s still harping on about her romantic magazines but the only response she gets from the down-to-earth Maisie is ‘Sounds a bit sloppy to me’. Maisie’s got her eyes on the practicalties, like where they’re going for lunch, which is the cue for Debbie, still absorbed in her story of love beginning with a meeting in the Park, to suggest – where else? – the Park. Again, Roberts kills it in the last image: Debbie is already leaning away, shyly aware of the response her less-than-innocent remark will get, whilst Maisie’s slightly condescending but amused ‘Silly Devil’ is accompanied by an ambiguous swat to the head: is it an exasperated smack or a patronising pat-down of a silly child? Note too Maisie’s preference for a grey top, to distinguish her from Debbie and Suzi.