Is This The Year?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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’.