A Bloody Shame

A friend has just e-mailed me the following:

“Club Statement

Droylsden FC have as of today resigned from the Northern Premier League and will also take no part in Cup Competitions this season
In a letter sent to the Northern Premier League Chairman Dave Pace described the decision as the  most difficult he has ever had to make.
However the disruption caused by the Covid-19 crisis has left him with no alternative.
The closing of the social club and its function rooms  since the start of the pandemic, the main income source with no indication of any restart on viable trading terms along with a loss of income from the club’s main sponsor  has left the club with no visible alternative income stream during the crisis.
“The club may hopefully survive this crisis and continue into the future in less challenging circumstances than we find ourselves in during the present”

The club will be making no further statement at the present time.”

Well, that’s a facer. To be completely honest, part of me doesn’t feel a thing about it, and there’s a little bit of schadenfreude in there. I don’t have any time for Dave Pace who was responsible for separating me from the Bloods, and I swore never to go back whilst he was still there. There’s a bit of ‘serve the f****r right’ in hearing that news. It’s the fans I feel sorry for, who’ve gone through a lot. Some of them were mates, lots of them were acquaintances, and all of them are the undeserved sufferers.

I wonder how many other clubs up and down the country are going to have to do the same.

A Bloody Embarrassment: the lowest ebb?

I’d rather have had something more positive as my regularly-celebrated Nelson post (this blog’s 555th post: we celebrate anniversaries this way), but the news has just filtered through from the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division that the game of top v bottom has gone according to league placings.

But it’s gone Chorley 13 Droylsden 1. And that’s not my crappy typing, it is indeed thirteen goals. To one.

FC United of Manchester have won 1-0 up at Blyth Spartans to keep up the pressure at the top, and are indeed home to Chorley on Tuesday night, needing to win that game and their game in hand to go back on top, but this isn’t about FC, it’s about Droylsden, and about how much worse this can possibly get, because this is an archaic score, it’s a between-the-wars result, it’s 167 League goals conceded and a goal difference of -137, and still five more games left.

What’s it going to be? -150 goal difference can’t be ruled out, but surely 200 conceded isn’t possible? And how can a team that’s been so comprehensively destroyed as this hope to rally next year, even in a lower division? It’s level eight next year, the lowest Droylsden have ever been in the Pyramid, the lowest they have ever been. I’m asking what it’s going to be like a year fron now?

A Bloody Embarrassment: Don’t Wait until Saturday

As anticipated, Droylsden were tonight beat at home, 2-1 by King’s Lynn Town. But the unexpected 1-0 victory by Barwell over play-off place chasers Ashton United has ended any significance for Saturday’s game at FC United of Manchester: withh eleven games remaining, Droylsden are now 35 points behind 20th place Barwell. As at Tuesday 25 February, Droylsden are officially relegated from the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division.

I haven’t actually checked, but I’m assuming that that’s the first official, confirmed relegation of the 2013/2014 seaso, and the first settled outcome in English football this season – hell’s bells, it isn’t even the League Cup Final until Sunday!

There’s nothing to actually say. Tonight’s crowd was apparently 118, presumably all Droylsden fans and my sympathy goes out to them, especially old friends. I’ve said all I intend to say about Dave Pace.

This is a ridiculous time to start planning for next season.

A Bloody Embarrassment

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.

How I Brought the Good News from Hucknall to Droylsden

The William Pace Stand, Butchers Arms, Droylsden

That astonishing season of 1998/99, the background of which I have described at some length in “The Mountaintop”, came to its own incredible climax with Droylsden on 1 May 1999.
To reset the scene, after a very long season and getting on for sixty games played, and four months of almost non-stop playing Saturday – Tuesday – Thursday – Saturday, Droylsden had secured promotion to the Unibond (Northern Premier) League Premier Division, three years after their previous relegation.
All that remained was to sort out which of us and Nottinghamshire’s Hucknall Town would be Champions. The ball was in Hucknall’s court: they had 85 points to our 83, and a two-goal advantage in goal difference. However, we had the edge in goals scored, which would be used if points and goal difference were levelled, having scored (and conceded) about twenty more goals than they.
So the options were limited. A Hucknall win would make them Champions irrespective of what we did, whilst our dropping points made them Champions irrespective of what they did. Only if we won and they didn’t could we top the table. Win-lose, and we were Champions by a point, win-draw and another factor crept in, for we would have to win by a minimum two goal margin, So, of the nine possible combinations of two results, only one-and-a-half options would serve us. So the odds were slim.
Hucknall were entertaining Bradford PA, who we’d beaten the previous Tuesday night, whilst we were also at home, to Stocksbridge Park Steels, a team from a satellite town north of Sheffield.
It was a bright, sunny May Saturday, and I decided to walk to the Butchers Arms. I’d done it before and, though there was no direct route, because of the Audenshaw Reservoirs, I could do it in an hour (that was then). It was ideal weather for walking and, whether we were Champions or Runners-Up, I intended to have a drink or three in the Phoenix, the Social Club, to celebrate our Promotion, so the car wasn’t being taken anywhere.
I arrived at the ground for 1.00pm. There was already a bit of a celebration atmosphere, and after the match was over, we were forming a new Supporters Club, which Chairman/Manager Dave Pace had asked a number of us, me included, to help form.
The only thing I had brought with me – apart from my wallet – was my notebook and a pen. Obviously, I didn’t have a programme to prepare until August, but I had a match report to do for the Tameside Advertiser, off whom I got a press card that got me into games free. Alan Slater, our Club Secretary, usually gave me the official team-sheet to fill in, meaning that I recorded goalscorers, substitute and times, which he then faxed to the FA within half an hour of the final whistle. And Nigel Randall, a really nice guy on the Committee, and a very hard and often unthanked worker for the Club, asked me to contact Radio Nottingham who, with the Hucknall connection in mind, wanted a phone number for someone to give them progress updates every fifteen minutes. I would be a busy boy,
Leechy, who lived nearest, was probably already there, or if he wasn’t, he was soon on the spot. Colin and Mark were also in before long, plus the High Street Choir: we were to be the basis of the Supporters Club Committee. I would end up as Vice-Chairman and Co-Treasurer with Mark, and responsible for signing up future members and collecting subs.
Basically, it was do or die, win or bust, win and hope for a bit of luck from Bradford.
The game is mostly a blur. The Radio Station, off whom I was supposed to be getting updates from Hucknall, barely called. At the other end of the Pace Stand were a group of representatives of the Unibond League, including the Secretary, who was known for not getting on with Pacey. They were in touch with Hucknall, where the actual trophy had been taken (this was the Northern Premier League, definitely no helicopters). We would get most of our updates from that quarter.
Needless to say, Stocksbridge scored first, but two goals from Wes Kinney put us 2-1 up at half-time, with Hucknall goalless. A goal from Lee Cooper made it 3-1 and put us in the frame. If it stayed that way at Hucknall…
But no, word filtered across, and around, that Hucknall had taken the lead, but ten minutes later, Bradford equalised, to swing the fragile balance back in our direction. All it needed was a goal, in either game.
And suddenly, Stocksbridge broke through on the right, down below us. Dave Williams came charging out of his area to try to hold the guy on the ball up, but he checked and went back inside, unleashed a curling twenty-five yarder towards an empty net… and there was Andy ‘Tate’ Taylor, appearing out of nowhere, to head the ball off the line. Where he’d come from, no-one knew, no-one in the ground had seen him run, that goal was completely unguarded when the shot was launched. I always said he’d travelled by TARDIS, moving to the exact instant of time and space to save us.
So that vital two goal lead was preserved. And minutes were passing and Hucknall were still being held.
I was always the one who rang to get the Hucknall result. With five minutes to go, I couldn’t stand it any longer and called their offices: still 1-1.
I couldn’t sit on my hands. I rang again about a minute later. And the minute after that. And the minute after that. Still 1-1, every time.
When I phoned the next time, Barney Quinn yelled up from the bench: “tell him to stay on the phone, Pacey’ll pay his phone bill.” So this time, when I got through, I gabbled out that I was from Droyslden, that we were winning 3-1, no, scratch that, we’ve won 3-1, the ref’s just blown the final whistle, and if you stay 1-1 we’re Champions, and I’m not coming off the phone until you give me the final score.
Having provided the guy with all the relevant information they needed, I’m faintly suprised that he didn’t hang up at such a rude outburst. I presume that he simply understood with where I was coming from, realised that if the roles were reversed he would have spoken in similar vein, so we settled to wait out the end of their game.
I was concentrating hard on the phone in my hand, pressed tightly against one ear, finger jammed hard into my other ear to cut out all extraneous noise. I had my head down throughout all this, but then I raised it to look around.
They were watching me.
Not just the rest of the Pace Stand Mob. And our Committee on my right. Or the Premier League committee over to the left and all the rest of the Pace Stand. But everybody. Everybody in the ground. Pacey and Pedro and the rest of the bench. The players, stretched out on the turf, lying, sitting, standing bent over, hands on knees. And the rest of the crowd, who’d come over the fences and walked towards the centre of the pitch, 250, maybe nearer 300 people waiting for my word. My word to tell them whether our season would turn, in an uncontrollable instant, into triumph or tragedy.
There was a commotion, crowd noise from the far end of the phone. Leechy said I went white in an instant. Later, I heard that Pedro had said that if I’d announced that Hucknall had scored, he’d have killed me. in the Non-League Paper, on Sunday, I discovered that Hucknall had hit the bar, in injury time.
It felt like ages but, overall, it was about three minutes, a flat, emotionless voice at the end of the phone said, “It’s over”, and I screamed “It’s over!” at the top of my voice and the ground went off like a firecracker. People cheering, hugging, shouting, jumping up and down and running round in circles, and everybody trying to get down the stairs onto the pitch ourselves. We’d won the League. It was the biggest thing the club had ever won in over 100 years, as big on its own terms, and maybe bigger relatively than the Treble United were approaching. I raced over to tate, shouting at him that he’d done it, he’d won the League for us with that header off the line and he yelled back that he had no idea, no-one had told him we had to win by a margin.
It was one of the strangest moments in my life, to be catapulted by chance into a moment when something that had gone on for ten months, to which I had contributed nothing but the skin of my throat, should put me at the very centre of of this story, completely undeservedly.
It wasn’t the end of the day. The players crowded into their temporary cabin changing rooms and started throwing their shirts out to the crowd (which pissed Pacey off because they were the club’s, not the players, and he’d have to buy a new set). I scored Willo’s jersey and got him to autograph it, and the players, Pacey and Pedro all to autograph the programme, my programme, the one I’d written almost exclusively. And we signed up over 50 people to the Supporters Club. And the High Street Choir nicked a ball and went out onto the pitch, kicking in at the Greenside Lane End, and I went out to join them in crossing and shooting and taking penalties, until I wanted another drink. And it was getting dark when I set off to walk home, but I didn’t get much over a quarter mile before Pacey overtook me and gave me a lift to Reddish.
I was there. And I was there for four more seasons, in the Premier Division, until the incidents that spoiled everything and I walked away for as long as Pacey’s still there, which means forever, basically.
I was modest about things: when I wrote the game up for the Advertiser, who’d given me 100 extra words in view of the importance of the game, I didn’t put my name in as the man with the mobile phone, referring anonymously to ‘a Club official’  (which, technically, I wasn’t, though I did get credited in the Unibond League Club Directory as Programme Editor). Anything else would have been too much: I was nothing but a messenger. But for those three minutes, the entire world revolved around me. I was there. And I’m never going to forget it.

The Most Surreal F A Cup Tie Ever

Third Time Round… and More to Come

I’ve been to three Cup Finals with United at the Empire Stadium, Wembley, winning the Double on each occasion and, whilst I was never blind to the manifest flaws of the decrepit old pile, I am thankful for the experience of taking part in such an historic occasion.
But some of my most memorable FA Cup experiences have been at the other end of the competition, with the non-Leaguer’s Cup Final, the Fourth Qualifying Round and, occasionally, their prize of a place in the early rounds of the Cup proper.
There have been two spells in my life when I’ve been an active, avid fan of Droylsden FC, a long-standing semi-professional club lying to the east of Manchester. From 1969 to 1980, and again from 1995 to 2003, I was a regular at The Butchers Arms ground on Market Street, and for the last five years of that second spell I was the editor and main contributor for the match-day programme. But I’d given up that role, and stopped going regularly (after a bust-up with owner/chairman/manager Dave Pace) by 2008, when the club finally emulated its late seventies success and got through to the FA Cup proper.
It was only the eighth time ever that the Bloods had even reached the Fourth Qualifying Round, four of those occasions coming in a five year spell in the late Seventies, two more in 1998 and 1999, and the most recent the previous season, when Droylsden had been humiliatingly knocked out by a non-League team two levels below them. I’d seen three of those ties, defeats all: on the three previous occasions we’d gotten through to the First Round, I’d been missing (the first time because the game clashed with my 21st birthday, and I wasn’t allowed to miss the party).
I’d been to the five games we’d played in the Cup Proper, and it was saddening that, with the Bloods drawn to play away at Darlington, I was forced to break my record because of the cost of petrol for the trip. But Droylsden achieved a creditable 0-0 draw, and my wife and I were at the replay, which we won 1-0 (though I missed the goal, the Bloods having the bad grace to score it whilst I was at the tea bar, getting refreshments for us). The reward, as we already knew, was an away trip to Chesterfield in the Second Round, the barrier before the opportunity of the highest in the land, the tie to be played on Saturday 29 November.
We set off from Manchester on a cold, misty afternoon, but found cool, clear skies once we had gotten onto the moors between Manchester and Derbyshire. But as soon as we began to descend towards Chesterfield, it was clear that the ground fog was thick in the valley, and we grew increasingly concerned that the fog would be to thick, and the game postponed. By the time we reached the centre of Chesterfield, and were struggling through Saturday afternoon traffic to find Saltergate, it seemed impossible for the match to go on. But once we’d found parking, and walked back, then walked round three-quarters of the ground to find the Away end entrances, the game had started. We found our old mates behind the goal.
The Bloods were defending the Away end. The scene was amazing: we could only see to the half-way line, and if the action was in the Chesterfield half, we could neither see nor hear anything of what was going on. Presumably the referee could see the goalposts at either end from the halfway line, which is, as I understand it, the criterion for starting a game, but it was absurd and surreal that the match should have been played in those conditions at all. Only those supporters sat or stood on the halfway line could have seen any kind of play developing: supporters at either end could only see what went on in their half of the field.
I’ve never seen anything like it when at the football. The only comparable situation, to which my mind flashed back instantly, was an early Seventies midweek European game featuring Leeds, which had been played in conditions of thick fog, during which play had been suspended for 25 minutes in the (realised) hope that the fog would lighten. Before this, the fog was so bad that the TV cameras could not pick up anything beyond a line about ten yards in from the further touchline, leading in turn to the surreal moment when the commentator had to announce, “And the ball’s gone out to Eddie Gray on the Leeds left, at least we assume it’s Gray, we cannot see the player but that’s where he should be…”
The proof of the abnormality of the situation came after 35 minutes, when Droylsden took the lead, and the first we (and our goalkeeper) knew of it was when celebrating players crossed the halfway line on their way back for the kick-off (the goal itself was barely visible on the BBC cameras for that tiny flash on MOTD that night).
At half-time we were still ahead, the Bloods’ goal having been in no real danger yet. The interval was, understandably, quiet, marooned in our little segment of visibility, but initial enthusiasm started to turn to concern when the interval carried on longer than it should have, and talk started to turn to the fear that the match was being abandoned. Then players and coaches appeared out of the mist to tell us that that was indeed the case. Just about visible, in front of the Main Stand in our half, a raging argument was going on between Pacey, the referee and their Chairman, but to no avail. Pacey accused the referee of giving in to pressure to abandon because Droylsden were ahead, that the game would have gone on if Chesterfield were leading. I’ve no doubt but that he was right. The honest truth was that that game should never have been started, that it was being played in conditions that were impossible, especially for the spectators who had paid £10 a head to ‘watch’ the match, but that as the situation had not deteriorated one bit during half-time, if the game was fit to play in the first half, it should have continued.
But there was no arguing: the game was abandoned, and was re-scheduled for Tuesday week, December 9, at 7.30pm. Chesterfield, to their credit, announced that entry to the second game would only be £1.
So, on a cold Tuesday night, we left Manchester as soon as I got home from work, drove through a cold, frosty night, parked in the same car park, walked the same long walk and were inside and joining our mates a couple of minutes after kick-off.
There was no fog tonight, everything was cold, crisp and clear. Unfortunately, as we had suspected would be the case, it was Chesterfield who got on top, and were 1-0 up at half-time. However, a short cross from the left and a superb glancing header put us level early in the second half. Then, with twenty minutes to go, the tie descended into the bizarre again.
Chesterfield player was down inside our half, and our defence, obligingly, put the ball out for a throw-in about thirty yards from goal. Treatment over, play resumed. The ball was thrown to Chesterfield’s no. 9, who I shall not name (but he knows who he is), who took one step with the ball, shaped to knock it to our keeper, then dug his foot under the ball and lofted it over his head into the net.
There was instant fury. We were howling with anger and rage, but our fury was mild and restrained compared to the Droylsden bench, who instantly charged Chesterfield’s bench. It was a mini-riot, and how the entire bench – especially Pacey – escaped being red-carded, I don’t know. I can only assume that the referee took account of the unusual provocation and made allowances.
The problem was, the goal was perfectly legal. It stood. Chesterfield have always maintained it was an accident on their striker’s part but, I’m sorry, there were no visibility problems that night, and I’ve watched enough football to know when someone means something, and that guy meant it.
It was a full five minutes before the game resumed, during which there was much discussion as to what should and would happen. But, credit again to Chesterfield, when the game kicked-off once more in an atmosphere of not-very muted tension and resentment, the ball was rolled forward, Droylsden’s skipper, Steve Halford, collected it and, with the Chesterfield team standing around casually, he jogged down the pitch with it, walked it past the keeper and knocked it into the net. It was only justice, but to actually watch that happen only heightened the surreality of the whole event. No matter how justified it might be, seeing an entire side step back like that felt curiously wrong, as if the very spirit of the game was being overturned.
It ended 2-2, and a replay was duly arranged at the Butcher’s Arms the following Tuesday night, December 16. Sean Newton, the Droylsden left back, received a yellow card during the game. This may seem irrelevant, but bear that in mind.
Surely the game would be completed at the third attempt, and one or other of the two sides would go through to meet Ipswich Town away in the Third Round. The Third Round: that’s what everyone was playing for.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be the Bloods. This time the gulf in quality between Blue Square North and League Two counted. Chesterfield were 2-0 with eighteen minutes to play, and looking far more likely to extend their lead than Droylsden were to cut into it. Then the floodlights failed.
This was the fourth time this had happened to me, although the previous examples included one set of floodlights failing to come on at half-time, and one side of Old Trafford losing all its electricity literally seconds after the final whistle. It’s weird. Your first instinct, strangely enough, is to laugh. one moment, the game is in progress under lights, the next, in utter silence, the world changes abruptly and you can’t see a thing. It had happened once, a few years earlier, away to Ashton United, when we were 2-0 up with thirteen minutes left to play (the game was abandoned and we lost when it was played again).
A fuse had blown, affecting not just the floodlights, but the whole ground: the Social Club were stuffed, the electric beerpumps wouldn’t work! And the game had to be abandoned, with the Chesterfield fans furious, and throwing around accusations that we’d switched the power off to avoid being beaten. Exactly as we’d said about Ashton when the lights went out at Hurst Fold, though it was clear that the entire area had been hit with a power cut.
So a fourth game was now required, to be played at the Butchers Arms, the following Tuesday night, 23 December. It could have been arranged for Monday night. If it had, maybe the strangeness of this whole tie might have ended there.
Until the Police first insisted, in 1992, on having ten days notice before providing the statutory cover for football matches, FA Cup ties had to be replayed to a result. At least every other year, there would be one tie in which three, sometimes four replays were required before one of two exhausted teams, now playing every other night, caved in and lost. In the Seventies and before, all replays after the First had to be on neutral grounds. This tie had assumed the proportions of one of those fabulous dinosaurs, and I don’t know what it was like for fans in that era, who knew this was on the cards, but in the Noughties this was unreal. We seemed to be doing nothing except play Chesterfield, and it was now only days before Christmas, with the Third Round on the first Saturday in January. It had to be settled tonight, extra-time and penalties of needed, but given the history of the tie so far, what else might happen?
The Chesterfield fans turned up super-disgruntled, their complaints abut the probable fraud over the floodlights exacerbated by the fact we were charging £5 for entry at the gate after they’d charged only £1 when it was their turn. You can’t blame them, really, although our economics were different to theirs.
However, they were jubilant about half an hour in when our keeper dallied over a back-pass, allowed that **** of a number 9 to charge the kick down, the ball rebounding into the net. Our despair was short-lived because, within ten minutes, Sean Newton, advancing into their half, drilled home a brilliant thirty-yard daisy cutter into the bottom corner.
I’d taken my wife’s mobile phone along to update her as to developments, so this called for a loud, jubilant call to roar about the equaliser, but it was nothing to the incident in the second half, abut an hour into the game, when there was a foul in the area and we were awarded a penalty. I was on the phone immediately, to give live commentary, with an exultant roar as Sean Newton blasted the ball into the net to give us the lead. And for all Chesterfield’s efforts, we refused to give way, and the final whistle, the very very very long overdue final whistle, we were through to the third Round Proper, for the first time ever in the club’s 100 plus years history. “Are you ready for a trip to Ipswich?” I husked down the phone to my wife, who came from East Anglia in the first place.
At last it was over, after four games or almost-games over 24 days. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
We went to bed not that long after I got home. If we’d sat up, and had been on the Droylsden Message Board at about 12.30am, we’d have had the first inklings that this tie was continuing to wreak havoc with everyone’s lives.
Sean Newton’s yellow card, collected a fortnight earlier at Saltergate, in a game that was only being played because of the fog abandonment, was his fifth of the season. Once this was reported, the FA notified Droylsden that Newton was suspended for one match taking place after Monday 22 December, in accordance with standard rules. The Club received this fax on Monday 15 December, checked the first list, acknowledged the suspension and confirmed that this would be applied to the Club’s match on 26 December, away to Vauxhall Motors. The following night, the floodlights had failed and the Club suddenly had an extra match pitchforked into its schedule. Like I said, it could have been played on Monday 22nd or Tuesday 23rd, and, presumably in the interests of extra recovery time from the weekend’s league game, the Club went for Tuesday. The day Newton’s suspension came into effect. In the fuss and bother of arranging yet another meeting, no-one noticed. Until after the match on Tuesday night.
Droylsden had played an ineligible player. What’s worse, he’d only gone and scored both the bloody goals we’d won by.
It was an accident, a calamitous accident, an all-too-easy oversight, but intentions are irrelevant in that kind of situation. The moment I learned of this blunder, I knew that we would be expelled from the Cup, and that Chesterfield would be reinstated and would play Ipswich in the Third Round. Any other outcome was impossible.
A lot of people refused to accept that. It was an accident, we could have played Monday night and he’d have been eligible, we’d already agreed with the FA which match he was going to be suspended for, Chesterfield were trying to cheat us after we’d beaten them fair and square. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair.They were all deluding themselves, unable to accept that, through our own fault, we had disqualified ourselves from this magical, once-in-a-lifetime achievement. One of those was Dave Pace, appealing against the FA’s decision and, of course, losing.
Chesterfield played Ipswich Town at Portman Road on Saturday 3 January 2009, and lost 3-0.
It was the final touch of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot insanity that, given everything that had happend in that tie, we should have seen coming. Winning the tie, in the end, was never going to be the end. It would have been a complete anti-climax if it had been.
I’ve drifted completely away from Droylsden since then. In 2010, they made it to the Second Round Proper again, forcing a replay away to Leyton Orient, and leading 2-0 only to be overrun and lose 8-2, the last six goals coming in extra-time. Currently, they’re second bottom of Blue Square North, have lost their last two home games by an aggregate of 0-12, are nine points from safety having played more games, and being kept off the bottom only by a club under financial restrictions, unable to play anyone other than Juniors. A return to the Evo-Stik (Northern Premier) League is all but guaranteed. It’s a far cry from the year the Bloods technically made it into the Third Round, but when they did, I was there.