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.

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.

Is This The Year? – IT ****ING WELL IS!!!!!

Boy, am I glad that’s over! After making it look like a romp in the fields could be on, FC United of Manchester have put us through the wringer this last fortnight, but not last night (well, yes, last night, but when you win you forget all that, don’t you?). I made a last minute decision that I had to be there, scraped a couple of hours off work, and after a particularly twitchy Tuesday, broke for it to go to the match against Stourbridge.

This is likely to be the most parochial piece of advice I ever give on this blog, but if you have to get from Stockport Town Centre to Ashton, and you are under any sort of time constraint that is measured in less than years, do not for the life of you use the no. 7 bus. How I got there only two minutes after kick-off, I’ll never know after all those cramped back streets, diversions and second gear rambles.

There were more than 3,500 of us at the Tameside Stadium and let’s not pretend that this was a game of any sophistication. It was kick and run, long balls, high balls, throw yourself in at ninety miles an hour. FC got in sight of goal more often but couldn’t shoot straight, one looping header off the bar aside, and it took till the 68th minute to do it: long ball out to the top left corner, the cross back in, not cut out by the keeper and Greg Daniels bundling it into the net off everything.

That set up twenty-odd twitchy minutes, which could have been relieved if the referee had spotted the blatant handball five minutes from time and given the penalty, but it wasn’t needed. Champions then, automatic promotion after all those seasons of blowing it in the play-offs, goodbye Northern Premier League, hello Conference North, and the Football League is now in sight.

Since I had to get home on public transport, there was no time to stand and celebrate. The plan was to catch the Metro into Ashton (2 minutes ride) and a 3300 bus back to Stockport, but of course the Metro had gone, so it was round the triangle the long way, Metro to Manchester, bus home, arriving back a very long time after leaving for work.

Championes, Championes, are we are we are we.

Is This The Year? – update 15

It bloody nearly is! After going behind to Stamford, FC United finally shook off the nervous nellies of the past three games and came through to win by a comfy 3-1. It could have been enough. If Ilkeston, so recently very strong, had taken even as much as a point off Workington, it would have eliminated their prospects, but a 3-0 win keeps them in with the sniff of a chance. On the other hand, Ashton United’s 2-0 defeat at Whitby Town knocks them out of contention at last. So it’s still two points separating the top two, but Workington have only one game left, next Saturday, at home to FC United. It could be a tense title-decider… but FC have one game more to play. On Tuesday night. At home to 14th place Stourbridge. And I’m working…

Is This The Year? – update 14

Not on the evidence of tonight. This is what you call a serious wobble. Had FC won away at free-falling Skelmersdale, and Ashton and Workington lost, we would be even now be in the Conference North. But for the first time since November, FC lost, and their two rivals were heartened by wins, and now it looks a lot tighter than it should have been. Workington have cut the gap to two points, with two to play, Ashton have moved to five in arrear with three to play, like us. We still need five points, just from the last nine now. It won’t get decided on Saturday so I won’t be going, especially since I did my right foot today so can barely walk on it. Oh shit.

Is This The Year? – update 13

This was nearly a perfect day. I didn’t see this coming but both Ilkeston and Ashton United lost today, by the solitary goal, away from home. But FC United failed to take full advantage, recording their second successive draw (this time goalless) at Witton Albion. Even with Workington winning today, a single goal for FC would have meant that a win on Tuesday night, at the free-falling Skelmersdale United, would have been enough to win the League! Overall, the position is little changed: FC are still five points clear, but now of Workington (three to play, maximum 9 points possible). Ilkeston drop to third, six points adrift (two to play, 6 points possible, all but mathematically out of it) and Ashton to fourth, eight points behind (four to play, 12 points possible). Five points from the last four games are all FC need. It could still all go down on Tuesday, if Ashton lose again at Ramsbottom and Workington are beaten at home by Trafford. But the odds are that there will be something left to settle next Saturday, at ‘home’ (Stalybridge Celtic’s Bower Fold) to Stamford. I’m not working next Saturday…

Is This The Year? – update 12

Last year, I watched my first actual FC United game of the season on Easter Monday as well, at home (Gigg Lane) to Ashton United. This year, it was at home (the Tameside Stadium) to the other Ashton side, Curzon, our gracious hosts for the back half of this season. It was a gorgeous day, the gate was over 3,000, but the game was crap. We did not show the form that’s made us top of the League. Despite taking the lead just before half-time, it ended 1-1 and Curzon could and should have won it. Workington managed an identical result but Ashton United and Ilkeston both secured single goal victories. So the lead is down to 5 points (plus two games in hand) over Ilkeston and 7 over Ashton and Workington, with a game in hand over the latter. Ashton are still the biggest threat. We started the day needing three wins and a draw: this was the draw.

Is This The Year? – update 11

The first of two rounds of games for the Easter weekend, the other being Easter Monday, when I intend to be at the Tameside Stadium to see FC United take on our hosts and play-off candidates Curzon Ashton. FC, Ilkeston and Ashton all secured 2-0 wins (United keeper Dave Carnell’s 23rd clean sheet of the season) and Workington 1-0. No change to the set-up at the top, just one fewer game to play. And every win increases our chances that this is the year.

Is This The Year? – update 10

Despite the bonus of an early goal (Tom Greaves, 7 minutes), it was Twitch City half the night until FC United were revealed to be 3-0 up and victory secured (it ended 4-0). Though I’d stopped considering Skelmersdale United as realistic challengers a couple of weeks ago, tonight’s victory officially rules them out of contention to overtake us. Considering that they were seven points clear at the top of the table on 22 November 2014, the 27 point swing since then is incredible. The result means a seven point lead and games in hand over Ilkeston and Workington, and nine points lead over Ashton United, whose 93 maximum points is the line we’re set on crossing. Twelve points wanted from seven games, with Easter Saturday and Easter Monday next. It’s looking good, but until we hit 94 points…