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 more… what?