County Day


This was the day of my trip to Edgeley Park to see FC United of Manchester visit Stockport County in the FA Cup. And a right old day it was.

I was awake, and unexpectedly refreshed at an unusually early hour for me, though I’m paying for it just now. There were things to do, as there always are when the resting weekend is cut back to only one day, and I had had to plan my movements to take everything in.

After finishing the Library book I had to renew today, I went from reading to writing.  I have been putting together scenes for something I’m not sure should emerge as a publishable book, but which is enabling me to keep my creative juices flowing. I’d taken time to come up with a partial synopsis which showed that several scenes were radically inconsistent with the timeline. But with some judicious cutting-and-pasting, some re-writing here and there, a bit of linking material, it all hung together perfectly well.

Then there were the eBay sales to wrap so I could be at Stockport Central Post Office to despatch them before 12.30pm. Some lunch, eaten under a sometimes dripping tree in Mersey Square: this is a grey day, dull and miserable but I’ve lasted all through September without having needed to put the Central Heating on, which is better than last ‘summer’.

Then up the steps, past the office, and return that book to the Library. Then it’s off to Edgeley Park. Though this is a two-bus journey, it’s hardly long-distance. I am outside Gates 3 and 4 (Visiting fans) for ten to two,and only one FC fan before me. Like me, it’s his first game of the season, although he has better reasons for it than I since he’s come from Solihull.

Indeed, as a small crowd of about a dozen accumulates over the next hour until the gates are actually opened, I’m starting to feel I’m the only one from Manchester. I’m certainly the only one from Stockport.

By the time we’re let in, my knees are making it known that they’re going to get me for all this time spent standing and my easing-but-still-sore right heel is also making noises. I’m actually first through the turnstiles, at the end that was once that cinder bank of long ago, and which is now a fenced-off, cut down, closed stretch of terracing. We FC fans have two blocks of the stand on the far side.

The turnstiles have been timely as it’s just setting in to rain, a quiet, spotty drizzle that dampens the Futoshiki in my paper. I’ve chosen an aisle seat about half way up: decent views without complication. The far end, the Cheadle End if I remember correctly, is the main and most towering stand. It winds up about half full, if that, and somebody’s got a bloody drum, arghhh, but I remember that practically heaving, when we were here all that time ago, against Norwich in what’s now the Championship.

All’s well until the main mass of FC fans start trickling in faster from about 2.30pm. It fills in to my left, towards the halfway line. The singing starts at ten to three and it never stops: we drown out the numerically superior home support, we always do.

The problem is, most people are standing. As long as they’re left of me that’s fine, but there are people standing directly in front of me, in this sparser-crowded fringe. The game’s started, County’s players are universally bigger, stronger, faster and quicker-thinking than hours, I’m constantly demanding people sit down, but if they sit down there are people standing in front of them that I can see over but they can’t. It’s wet, we’re getting out-played, my frustration is growing exponentially.

We’re fifteen to twenty minutes in when County take advantage of a bloody awful slip to score. I’m hating every minute of this. I can’t just stand myself, not for ninety minutes, not with all the knackered bits of me that will give me agony. I’ve never walked out of a football match before the final whistle in my life, but I’ve already thought about it.

This is awful. I used to love my football so much. all those miles chasing around northern England, following Droylsden to some right little shitholes. I can’t cope with this. I’m looking at my last football match.

After about twenty minutes, I storm away, hoping maybe for a spare front row seat. I’d rather sit there and get rained on than endure this, and it’s now coming down strong and steady, like an English monsoon, polite and unemotional. There are actual lots of second row seats, from which I can see alright, if at practically ground level. My screaming pitch slowly unwinds.

FC’s pitch isn’t getting any better. A free-kick’s conceded on the edge of our penalty area. From my perspective, the wall’s leaving about two-thirds of the goal uncovered, and it becomes the most predictable free-kick goal I’ve ever seen, at least since Mario Basler in the Nou Camp, when it’s blasted in for 2-0.

Well, that’s it, and it becomes even itter when County make it three just before half-time. I read my book in peace and quiet. My mind goes back to a rainy day in March1996, Gainsborough Trinity away, nice place, have an internet friend lives there. They stuffed us 7-1, still the biggest defeat I’ve ever seen. It could be beaten second half, day like this.

And it’s more of the same. We’re too small, too slow,  especially in our thinking. Then, about fifteen minutes in, we start stringing the passes abut a bit. We’re getting behind them on the left. The ball comes over, low, our no. 9 turns with it, fires, it’s in the corner, we’ve scored.

My spotty attendance record means that this is actually the first time I’ve seen FC score since the last home match of the 2014/15 season, so it’s worth a cheer, a feeling of relief. It’s a consolation.

about a minute later, we’re screaming again because it looks like we got another, but no, side-netting. But FC are transformed. They’re pressing, probing, keeping County on the back foot. It’s all positive. If we could get another, it would frighten them to death, and we cut hem open with some swift passing and there’s Tom Greaves, a veteran who’s only playing today because of other lads being cup-tied, and he’s banging it into a half-empty net and it is 3-2 and it;’s a different game now and I’m a transformed as FC.

I’m remembering another day, another game. We’re not there yet, the final condition hasn’t come up, but maybe it will because it’s a penalty, a bloody penalty! I have not been so tense about seeing a penalty scored since Eric’s first in 1994, and that was Wembley and the bloody Final, and we’ve scored! It’s 3-3. Bloody hell, football.

And that day can now be remembered. 11th November, 1973. My eighteenth birthday. My girlfriend home from University in London for the weekend, invited to tea, have to miss Droylsden at home. Only to find that was the day they went in 3-0 at half-time and came back to win 4-3 in the 88th minute. I have never seen that happen. I’ve seen Droylsden come back from 3-0 to draw but they got the first before half-time. It’s not like this. Is my long penance going to be over? Am I finally to see the proper comeback?

But I’m still waiting. 3-3, replay Tuesday. Off in the rain for the bus, queues of cars, queues of passengers. Never a penalty, he got the ball, liner saw it. I say nothing. Change buses in thestation, a 7 that goes via Tescos but I’m breaking my journey home for the Asda at the top of Lancashire Hill, and there’s a Pepperoni Feast pizza going in the oven once I’ve finished this.

So that was my fifth visit to Edgeley Park. If life goes to pattern, there’ll be another one next year then nothing for three decades, by which time I reckon that my knee, my hip and my heel will have seen me off, unless I’ve the genetic durability of a Harry Dean Stanton.

But maybe that won’t be my last football match after all.

County Night


Though next weekend involves a working Sunday, putting a premium on Saturday relaxation (and shopping) time, I have discovered a need to tie up half the day by visiting my local football team, Stockport County, to watch an FA Cup Third Qualifying Round tie.

I haven’t been to Edgeley Park for over a decade, and having thought about it carefully, I think this is going to be only my fifth ever visit, which is not a particularly impressive record for someone who has lived in or about Stockport for over fifty years (the Nottingham years excluded).

And it’s not as if I’m going to support the Home Team, either.

Though I didn’t actually start to live in Stockport until 1987, my family had been on the border – literally: the pavement was in Manchester, the road in Stockport – since December 1966. United and City were both in the First Division and doing well, and I first became aware of County through the regular posters promoting “Friday Night is County Night”, the Club making Friday night their home slot to avoid clashes with whichever local giant was at home each week.

At the time, I was too young to be interested in football except for kicking the ball most unsuccessfully in the schoolyard or during games, and when professional football started to penetrate into my consciousness, a couple of years later, my thoughts did not turn to County, who were probably languishing in the Fourth Division in those days.

My first visit to Edgeley Park was at the instigation of my old schoolmate Steve Callaghan (pronounced Calligan). Cally was interested in non-League Football before I started to take up with Droylsden, his allegiance, for some reason, being to the long-deceased Sandbach Ramblers, Cheshire League members.

County weren’t involved. We were going to some form of local Cup Final, possibly to do with the infant Northern Premier League, founded 1968. This game was taking place in, I am certain, 1970, and featured Macclesfield Town and Northwich Victoria. Steve backed Macc, as the ‘local’ team, but I was attracted to Vics’ green shirts, which were a bit of a rarety then, as now. Anyway, the game ended 1-1, and I never discovered the result of the replay.

Sometime within the next twelve months or so, he dragged me back to see County this time, or at least their reserves. The game bored me: my only recollection is wandering around during the second half, ending up at the top of the cinder bank that served as standing terraces at the town end of the ground, and running to play ballboy at one point, to return a misdirected shot that had ballooned up to my ‘lofty eyrie’.

Time went on. We left school. I went to University, Cally into employment. Sometimes he’d go along to Droylsden games, and we’d meet on the bus, or else he’d appear, smiling around a cigarette, under the uncertain floodlighting. After he stopped coming, we lost contact.

It was thirty years before I entered Edgeley Park again, and once more it was for two games, albeit in separate seasons. County were at the peak of their success, fully-fledged members of the First Division (i.e., the old Second Division of my unconfused youth), bogeymen to the Bitters, doing the Double over them each season they shared that level.

Both occasions were courtesy of the Club, or rather free family tickets distributed to my younger stepson’s school. My stepdaughter was far from impressed, but everybody else enjoyed our visits, especially as County won both. The first was against then-Division leaders Norwich, who were beaten 2-1 thanks to a debut goal for ex-England international and new player-manager, Carlton Palmer. On the night, if a stranger had been asked to decide which side were leading the Division and which were hovering above the relegation zone, he’d have made the wrong selections.

But with two wins under our belt, and County struggling, we used to joke that the Club should send us free Season Tickets, since we invariably brought success with us.

I enjoyed the visits just for the change of scene, because I was no longer going to see Manchester United, and because they enabled me to put vital ticks on a mild obsession. Between various Clubs, I have to date seen football matches at every level in the Pyramid, or the English League System (which is a bloody stupid and non-descriptive name when the Pyramid was so spot on), except for Level 5, i.e., the Conference/Alliance Premier.

County gave me the second tier in that list, though I can’t remember where or when I saw a Level 3 game, unless my memory of both County games being in level 2 is incorrect, and the latter of them followed relegation.

But back to next Saturday. County’s fortunes have fallen far since that Level 2 spell. They were relegated from the Football League in 2011 and went through the Conference stage. For the last three seasons, they have been marooned in the Alliance North, level 6, which status they share with FC United of Manchester.

Since County have wound up in the same division as FC, I have wanted to see such a derby. Unfortunately, home games at Broadhurst Park have always been all-ticket, and the return matches at Stockport have all clashed with me being on shift. Not so Saturday week. I am going to catch a Derby, I am going to cheer on FC United. My only previous experience of an FC Derby was against Droylsden, both games going 4-1 to FC, but on the other hand, I have never seen County lose.

Incidentally, if we’re playing the completist game again, as to the FA Cup, I have the complete set: I have seen games in every round from the Preliminary Round through to the Final, so a Third Qualifying Round is familiar territory for me.

Though I have always had a fondness for County, and a wish to see them do well (especially when playing Manchester City), and though there will be a certain oddity about supporting the visitors in a stadium that is far closer to my home than my team are based, I will be up for’t’ Cup with FC United.

Roll on next Saturday!

The Road Ahead


Much to the disappointment of every football fan who doesn’t follow Chelsea, the club has announced today that Jose Mourinho has been sacked, thus bringing to a (potential) end one of the few bright sparks about this otherwise dull and tedious season.

Given the general unrest over the fortunes of Manchester United under the increasingly unconvincing Louis van Gaal, and ignoring the constant stream of stories about support for the manager coming out of the club, a lot of fans have jumped on the lazy assumption that Mourinho will simply hare up the M6 and install himself at Old Trafford.

There are United fans who would welcome that, though how many I don’t know. I can only assume that all they see is the trophies Mourinho habitually brings at the beginning of his invariably short tenure: a short cut back to the days of Fergie.

I’m not in that number, not even for a guaranteed 2016/2017 repeat Treble. Mourinho is the line. He’s the switching off point. He’s the rat trap that closes on the neck of my allegiance to my club of 36 years. I’m making this public now, as a guarantee against back-sliding, but the day Jose Mourinho is installed as Manchester United manager is the day I shut the door on my memories, lock them up and deposit the key somewhere safe, not to be used again until the man has ceased to pollute my team.

There’s a lot of you out there who have taunted those of us who have criticised Mourinho, who’ve said that our opinions are only the result of jealousy. Here’s someone for whom that’s not the case. I’m nailing my colours to the mast: if Mourinho arrives, I go.

Where to? I already have FC United of Manchester, and my claiming of temporary Fox-dom for the rest of this season wasn’t more than half a joke. That’s a bridge we’ll cross when we come to it, but so far we can’t even see the river.

Alea jacta est. Asterix books do come in useful.

We’re on our way to Wembley… the wrong way


Good news and bad about FC United’s FA Cup 1st Round Proper at home to Chesterfield. The good news is purely personal, however.

FC United have been advised by the FA that the game will be played on Monday 9 November at 7.45pm to enable it to be broadcast live on TV (can someone remind me who’s got the rights this year?). Unlike the Saturday, I will be free to go to the game, ticket availability willing, or at least watch it on live TV.

Unfortunately, the move has been made against the Club’s wishes. The full story is here, but for those who want the short version, FC’s stance has always been about putting the supporter back at the centre of the game. This includes NOT moving games from the traditional Saturday 3.00pm kick-off unless there is very good reason for doing so – and TV money does not count as a good reason.

So the club refused, and was ordered to comply by the FA. Then they requested any date but Monday which, being a work day, followed by a work day, causes the most inconvenience and disruption to the supporter: think of Chesterfield’s following, getting to Manchester and back for work Tuesday morning. And the FA insisted: fuck the fans, TV is god.

One thing FC can control, however, is the price. FC also supports keeping ticket prices in line with fans’ means. The entrance fee at Broadhurst Park is £9 but the FA are insisting on £10 – the First Round’s ‘minimum’ price. FC must comply, but out of their own resources, every entrant to the ground, away fans included, will receive a £1 voucher redeemable for food, drink or merchandise inside the ground.

Ever since they formed, I’ve been very proud of FC United of Manchester. Do you see why?

We’re on our way to Wembley…


Broadhurst Park, Moston

Well, here’s a thing.

Five years ago, FC United of Manchester, in only their third season in the FA Cup, reached the First Round Proper for the first time. As I have written elsewhere, the Red Rebels were drawn away to Rochdale, a tie that was an eerie echo of my previous FA Cup experiences with Droylsden who, on only their second foray into the Cup proper, had played – and won – at Rochdale in the First Round.

FC United won that tie, but were knocked out in a Second Round replay by Brighton & Hove Albion, the then League One leaders and the highest ranking team in the competition. But they couldn’t beat us at home.

At the weekend, FC played away in the Fourth Qualifying Round to Sporting Khalsa of the West Midland League, three levels down. They win, 3-1, to reach the First Round Proper for the first time since Rochdale.

Once again, the eerie hand of coincidence strikes, for who should they have drawn that once again looms large in Droylsden’s FA Cup history but Chesterfield (read here).

The bastard of it is, from my point of view, that the tie is to be played on Saturday November 7, at home. November 7 is a working weekend for me. I’m not even back in work for another two days to see if there’s a faint chance of there being enough capacity to get that Saturday off.

But, bloody hell, how many times is my personal history going to shadow FC United in the Cup?

This Is The Year – aftermath 2


And I am genuinely delighted to welcome Curzon Ashton, play-off winners by the only goal against Ilkeston, alongside FC United of Manchester in next season’s Vanarama National League North, even if it does mean having to undergo that bloody awful bus journey to the Tameside Stadium. Here’s hoping you get second place, guys, and you meet the ground gradings for level 5.

And I’m especially pleased after the terrible blow Curzon suffered back in 1997 when they were relegated from the Northern Premier League First Division. Under the rules of the Pyramid, Curzon should have dropped down into the North-West Counties League Division One, but by a quirk of ill-fate, all three bottom teams in the Unibond First came from the south eastern corner of Lancashire.

The relegated teams should normally have been divided, on geographic grounds, between the North-West Counties League (Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, West Derbyshire), the Northern Counties (East) League (Yorkshire, East Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire) and the Northern League (Northumberland, Durham). But all three relegated teams were prime North-West Counties candidates.

Give the North-West Counties credit, for they made room for two teams, but couldn’t take all three. The most ‘easterly’ team, Curzon Ashton, were forced into the Northern Counties (East). An entire season without local derbies, traditional clashes, and every single away game starting with a trip across the Pennines on the M62. Curzon were nearly destroyed financially, and did no better on the pitch, falling straight through. Fortunately the rules of the Pyramid did not require teams ‘stranded’ geographically to get lost in an alien strand, and further relegation saw Curzon shunted back to North-West Counties Two.

When I was first exposed to non-League Football, I learned about the Tameside Five: five senior, long-lasting non-League clubs in one small area: Ashton United, Droylsden, Hyde United, Mossley and Stalybridge Celtic. Mossley were the cock team then, doing well in the infant Northern Premier, the other four in the Cheshire League. Curzon were nothing then, not remotely considered to be a par with the Five, the Tameside Stadium non-existent, the ‘ground’, if you could call it that, little better for facilities than a park pitch.

But Curzon made it into a Tameside Six. And next season they go into a League where only Stalybridge Celtic of the old Five play: Curzon Ashton look down upon Ashton United, Droylsden, Hyde United and especially Mossley, who haven’t approached that cock team level in nearly forty years. Good luck to them, I say, except in two matches next season.

It Is The Year – aftermath 1


That victory a week ago Tuesday night has taken all the steam out of the football season for me. It’s not all wrapped up, but I can’t pretend to have much invested in the final few weeks. Chelsea are going to win the Premier League and Liverpool aren’t. That makes twenty-five years now, but Brendon Rodgers still believes he’s the man to bring an end to that twenty-five year doubt, without having the nous to understand for a second that, if he gets another chance next season, he’s going to be trying to break a twenty-six year drought.

That’s exactly equal to Manchester United’s drought from 1967 – 1993, and guarantees the fulfilment of a dream I’ve long held, and that I was seriously afraid, a year ago, of being denied, that Liverpool had to go at least twenty-seven years. That won’t be known until this time next year, but if the Universe really does intend to turn against me as it so often does, I know the scores will at least be equal.

And I do have a cause in the Cup Final, after expecting to have to boycott it this year: Arsenal v Liverpool? It’s not possible for both of them to lose. But I’ll be cheering on Aston Villa, not only out of principle, but because an Arsenal win takes away United’s record of FA Cup wins, currently shared. And I hate Arsene Wenger anyway.

But this is the year FC United got out of the Northern Premier League after so many attempts. But there’s one more team will go up with us into Conference-North-with-another-new-name next season, and last night the play-off semi-finals were held. The Ashton derby ended all-square, but Curzon Ashton won on penalties, but the big shock was in the other game. Workington had been going great guns towards the end of the season, whilst Ilkeston were starting to fall away, but the Derbyshire side scored the only goal up in Cumbria to go through to Saturday’s final: Curzon, as the highest placed finisher, have home advantage.

So who joins us? One last issue of interest, and then it will be over for the summer.