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!