Is This The Year? – update 8


A waterlogged pitch at the Tameside Stadium did for FC United’s game today, with the visit of Stourbridge postponed until Tuesday 21 April. The weather also did for Ashton United at home, so this gave the other two challengers a chance to cut into FC’s lead. It looked good at half-time, with Ilkeston’s game being goalless, and Workington 1-0 down at home to Buxton, but I’ve been fooled too many times already by juicy half-times scores. Indeed, Ilkeston went on to a 2-0 win to cut the gap to us to only 4 points, but FC are back to having two games in hand over the Derbyshire outfit. Buxton, however, did us proud, scoring again to take all the points in a 2-1 win. Overall, no change, except that five wins from the remaining eight games will now eliminate Workington. No midweek game again for FC United, but Ashton and Ilkeston both play away on Tuesday night, so expect the next update then.  Edited to add: Though the fixture isn’t on the Northern Premier League web-site, FC United are actually playing on Wednesday night, at Whitby Town (lovely place to visit but perhaps not on a midweek evening), so expect a plethora of updates across the next ten days.

Never Do Anything, Unless It’s To Extremes


It seems only fair to record that, after last season’s series of posts on the ill-fortunes and preposterously bad form of Droylsden FC in the Evo-Stik League Premier Division, the Bloods have completely reversed things so far this season.

With wins of 7-1 and 6-1 already (admittedly with a one-goal home defeat between), Droyslden are the joint highest scorers in the whole of the Evo-Stik League and have the best goal difference of any of its 72 clubs, being in double figures at +10 after only three games.

Does this mean a complete role-reversal for last year? Too soon to tell, but if it does, fairness demands that I record it.

Squeaky Bum Time: Ah, well…


We did everything we could. It’s finished 3-0 to FC United, but it’s also finished 2-0 to Chorley. Congratulations to the Champions, and all back to Gigg Lane as we go through the Play-Off dance for the fourth year in a row.Ashton United on Tuesday night and, we hope, Fylde or Witton Albion next Saturday.

Addendum: apparently the Chorley fans have invaded the pitch, which is understandable, but allegedly have been hitting Buxton’s players, which is not on. I’m not alone in wondering if there will be consequences of this…

If there are, I’ll be back with an update. The Bum is not done yet!

Squeaky Bum Time: Easter Monday and how!


Oh my goodness, that was squeaky bum time for real! I was at Gigg Lane for what may yet be the last game FC United of Manchester plays there (until they return as the Visitors) and what an experience that was. A goal down inside sixty seconds, a second from an atrocious defensive mix-up, playing with the same disjointedness and ineptness as MUFC yesterday and looking as likely to make a comeback as David Moyes’ men.

But Karl Marginson’s team have got more to them.First, leading scorer, and Supporter’s Player of the Season, Tom Greaves rammed the ball home after 65 minutes, and ten minutes later, Mike Norton (he who scored that winner at Rochdale) punted the ball in to level it, and then would you believe it, virtually on the tick of half-time, sub Greg Daniels rose to head in a corner and 3,056 of us went bananas at the win.

But it’s all down to the last weekend, and the last round of games. Needless to say, Chorley (1st) and Fylde (3rd) also won, comfortably, 4-0 and 5-0 respectively, the latter giving Fylde a G-D advantage of two goals over FC.

So it’s Chorley 94 points, FC 93 and Fylde 90. FC go away to 14th place Barwell, Fylde entertain 10th place King’s Lynn Town and Chorley visit Buxton – the team that put a crimp in our late season run of wins – who are 13th. Well, they owe us, so now’s the time to deliver.

Whatever anyone else does next Saturday, FC have got to deliver a win. If that happens, the worst that can happen is 2nd place: a home Play-Off semi-final against Ashon United (again) on Tuesday 29 April and, hopefully, a home Final on Saturday week (when I’m off duty and can go again) against the winners of Fylde or Witton.

If we slip up at Barwell, a draw will still secure 2nd but a defat might let Fylde in to push us down to 3rd. That would mean a home semi-final against Witton, but the Play-Off final would only be at home if Ashton beat Fylde: otherwise its the seasiders who will enjoy home asvantage.

But if Chorley slip up, if they so much as only draw at Buxton, an FC win would take the title, would mean automatic promotion, would mean the Skrill Conference North next season. The dream is still on. I just hope that, next Saturday, I’m not on an inbound call when the results flash up…

Squeaky Bum Time: Easter Saturday update


Yesssss!!!!!!!!  Get in there!!!!!!!

It’s been a good day for FC United of Manchester. Despite conceding a 3rd minute goal at Stamford, the Reds fought back to a 3-2 win, keeping them well in the hunt on 90 points with two to play. Better yet, leaders Chorley could only manage a 1-1 draw at Whitby Town, cutting the gap at the top to only one point, and third place AFC Fylde – same points, same goal-difference, fewer goals – were beaten 2-1 at home by Grantham Town, to keep them on 87 points. The only other top 4 winners were Worksop Town, who also pulled out a 3-2 win, at home to Blyth Spartans.

So, Chorley 91 points from 44, FC United 90 from 44, Fylde and Worksop 87 from 44, with Fylde the better goal difference (and FC having scored their 100th League goal of the season with the first goal today, and are now the second highest scorers after Witton).

I still can’t honestly see Chorley dropping points against Marine on Monday, whilst we’ll have a handful with Ashton United (although their win and Skelmersdale’s defeat have guaranteed their Play-Off place, unless Skem can turn around a 20 goal GD advantage in their last two games). But, provided we don’t blow that game, which, being at Gigg Lane, I plan to attend, that should guarantee 2nd place, and pole position for the Play-Offs.

And then it’s all down to what happens seven days from now…

Squeaky squeaky.

 

Squeaky Bum Time


The disastrous season Manchester United have had has left me in the highly unusual situation of having nothing to care about at the end of the season. The last time this happened was the nearly-forgotten season of 1990/91, the penultimate season of the old Football League, when United, despite improving dramatically from the year before’s 13th place and the threat of relegation for most of the season – and you call 7th a disaster? – only finished 6th, a place behind the Bitter Blues for the first time in over a decade, and the last time until their last lick goal-difference miracle in 2012.

Of course, it wasn’t a truly bleak season, since the Reds were heading off to Rotterdam, and a rendezvous with Barcelona in the European Cup-Winners Cup Final, and Sparky’s two goals, and Sunbed’s goal-line clearance in the 89th minute.

This year though, there’s nowt to look forward to except my fervent prayer that anyone – and I even include the Bitters in this – win the Premiership except Liverpool.

But let’s leave that contentious, and potentially highly painful, topic and remind ourselves that football goes on in other realms than the artificial world of the Premiership.

Every now and then I’ve been bringing you bulletins about life at the bottom of the Evo Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division and the embarrassing/horrifying/amusing (delete to taste) experiences of Droylsden FC, long since condemned to relegation to First Division North (level 8 of the Pyramid, and the lowest level at which the club has played in its existence). It’s been car crash fascination with the Bloods, who are firmly in the Bust cycle of the Boom that peaked with their solitary year in the Conference Premier Division.

But most of the time my eyes have been directed much further up the table, of FC United of Manchester, the team formed by and for fans of Manchester United who found the 2005 takeover of the Old Trafford club one piece of commercialisation too far. FC was created as a Friendly Society, a members club that cannot be sold, and which exists to remind us of the old values of football, the joy of backing your own, and the true place of football at the heart of a community.

Needless to say, FC’s existence has always been controversial, but the comparatively massive level of its support enabled the club to get off to a flying start, with three years of unrelieved promotion getting them into the Northern Premier League Premier Division as early as 2008/9. The club has always been competitive at this level, and indeed has been the losing Play-Off Finalist in each of the last three seasons (the cruellest blow coming in 2012, when the Club lost 1-0 to Bradford Park Avenue, the goal coming in the last minute of extra-time).

This year, the club has spent virtually all its ime in the top half of the 24 tean Division, flirting with the fringe of the Play-Off places, until the beginning of February, when FC started a run of 12 consecutive League victories, that took them to the top of the table, in direct competition with Chorley for the League title, and automatic promotion.

Throughout this period, FC had the advantage both of games in hand on Chorley, and a superior goal-difference. And beating Chorley 1-0 away was a massive boost to FC’s ambitions. That is, until Droylsden took an unexpected hand in the destination of the title. Their 13-1 crash at Chorley reversed the goal-difference advantage, giving Chorkey a lead that, in practical terms, was unassailable. It was like their having an extra point: even if FC won their remaining game in hand, and drew level on points, Chorley’s goal difference would keep them ahead.

Unfortunately, FC’s streak ran out. The return game at Gigg Lane was almost a disaster, with Chorley taking a 2-0 lead, until a dramatic two goals in three minutes, very late on, brought FC back to claim a point. Then FC were beaten at home last Saturday by perennial bogies, Buxton, though they bounced back to win their game in hand, trouncing Grantham 3-0.

So: it’s Easter weekend. ThePemiership may have forgotten old traditions that favoured the fans, but they’re alive in the Evo-Stik League: there are full programmes on Easter Saturday and Easter Monday, and the final round of games is six days later, Saturday 16 April. It’ll all be known then: who goes up, who goes into the Play-Offs. It might well be over for FC United by theend of Monday.

Currently, Chorley top the table with 90 points and a G-D of 62. FC are second, on 87 points and a G-D of 51. AFCFylde are also still contenders, also on 87 points with a G-D of 51, but FC are placed above them having scored 9 goals to Fylde’s 90. Technically, the title is not beyond fourth place Witton Albion (84 points, G-D 34, and the League’s highest tally of goals, 116) but realistically, they should be looked on as a threat to second place.

Tomorrow, Chorley are away to 12th place Whitby Town, and on Monday at home to 20th place Marine, still in danger of filling the last relegation place. FC are at 15th place Stamford tomorrow, and entertain 5th place Ashton United on Monday. Fylde host 16th place Grantham Town on Saturday and visit 6th place Skelmersdale United on Monday, whilst Witton go to 14th place Barwell tomorrow and face 7th place Rushall Olympic at home on Monday.

To be honest, short of miracles, I can’t see Chorley dropping points in either of their games, especially not on Easter Monday, which puts the onus on FC to win both games. I mean, they know that anyway, it’s got to be three-out-of-three, whatever Chorley do, but if FC drop a point this weekend – and the Ashton game is going to be tough, since they’ll be desperate to maintain their Play-Off place – then the title is gone.

Fylde also have one ‘easy’ and one ‘hard’ game this weekend, but Skelmersdae are a different propisition to Ashton: they were contesting the title themselves until about six weeks ago, since when a results freefall has left them at risk of missing even the Play-Offs: anything less than matching Fylde’s record sees FC drop to third.

And the consequences of dropping out of second are serious. FC are guaranteed a Play-Off place already, but second is imperative as this will ensure home advantage in both semi-final and final, which FC have never had before, usually creeping in in 5th.

I haven’t minded FC’s years in the Evo-Stik Premier. The club needed to consolidate, to establish itself, rather than skyrocket too far too fast. But three years of PlayOff Final disappointment is at least one too many, and the time is ready to take that next step up in level, especially with FC United on course to start the 2014/15 season in their own grouns, the under-construction Broadhurst Park, in Moston, closer to Manchester United’s roots as Newton Heath.

It’s squeaky bum time, as a former Manchester United manager once put it. This may all seem remote to you, and of no imprtance whatsoever, but having had years of experience in Non-League football, I can assure you that the passions are the same, the stakes as important, and the disappointments as crushing. Manchester United have nothing left to play for, but FC United of Manchester have everything to play for, even if the reward is ‘only’ to move to within two levels of the Football League.

‘I don’t care about Rio/he don’t care about me/all we care about/is watching FC’.

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.