Friday 30 October 2015

Number 9 - Grays Athletic FC Vs Welling United FC, FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round, Mill Field (25/10/15)

It is a stroke of good fortune, good juju if you like, and the only time I’m happy that a club has been forced to play away from their spiritual home, that we are first able to go to a game at all this weekend, but secondly and far more importantly we are able to keep up our 100% record in the FA Cup, with the first game at the Old Spotted dog back in August, now a fond but distant memory.

My Sister who is not au fait with the qualifying round dates of the FA Cup, had decided to get married on Saturday, whipping it out of contention, and leaving Sunday as our only option. We have found since starting our blog, almost a year ago now, that non-league games on a Sunday are few and far between, so the chance of missing a round, except for a bit of luck if a replay worked out in our favour, was too disastrous to contemplate.

Grays Athletic FC (GA) are a team we perhaps know more intimately than any other, with perhaps one exception. Last season we were given a very special opportunity to spend the day of the Ryman League Cup final against Hendon FC with them.

Unfortunately for GA they lost that day, but standing in the changing room at full time, racked with an overwhelming feeling of awkwardness and guilt, perhaps gave us the biggest insight we will have into the high’s and low’s of being a footballer, and for that we will be eternally grateful.

GA like all good teams, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and moved on, and the beginning of the 2015/16 season got off to a flyer, however they been tailing off a little in recent weeks. The home of Aveley FC, Mill Field is the current sofa GA are borrowing, for five years now, until they can move back closer to Grays itself and find a replacement for the “New Recreation Ground” which was their home for over 100 years.

Due to a fixture clash, Aveley FC are playing at home on Saturday, the date of the game has been the subject of much deliberation. After a few tense moments, a slightly premature announcement by some fans with the game confirmed for Sunday before it was, the green light was finally given, we were on, and it’s why I'm sitting on a District line train, making my way to the London/Essex borders, with a banging headache, thankful to the Second World War British Government for the change of clocks, the reclaimed hour, meaning I don't feel totally fucking disastrous.

Tom waves at me from the opposite end of the platform, as I drag myself along it, glad that the previous days weather has disappeared, and it's a glorious hazy Autumn afternoon. The change of position amuses Tom, usually it's the opposite way round post Saturday night. Standing at the bus stop outside the station, I do wonder if I am still drunk, as a priest in a short sleeve black shirt, dog collar and a large silver cross around his neck, like one from the front of a Black Sabbath record, chats to a couple of believers.

A winding tour of the Essex countryside, takes in a power station, lots of streets with the word “Mungo” in and Tom pointing out a humongous drive through KFC, we finally disembark on a bus stop/grass verge. The bus has dropped us off only a minute away from Mill Field, and a sign points us down a gravelly uneven road. It’s doing a much better job than it’s predecessor, an old wooden one hanging by a single nail from a post, it’s very faint blue writing is barely visible, but we can just make out “Aveley FC”.

Although the blue and white turnstile is the first thing you see, your eyes are instantly drawn to the stand behind them. Its shape is what you might call “iconic”, it looks like a proper football stand, not some modern metal creation. Its sloping corrugated roof, and the large flat back wall with “Aveley Football Club” painted across it in red and blue letters, just screams of football from a bygone age.

The turnstiles are not yet open, so we head towards the players entrance at the bottom of the main stand, in search of David, one of the GA coaches, this is when we receive the first of many warm welcomes. The GA keeper is talking to two other players through the window of a parked car, looks up and says “hello”, we ask him how he thinks they will do today, and he replies quickly “think we will nick it”.

Beyond the open players entrance, people move between rooms, and when we ask for David, we are told he is on the pitch setting things up for the warm up. A quick walk back the way we came, though a big metal blue door, we spot David on the far side of the pitch, and a quick holler from our escort, makes him him look up, wave, and make his way over to us.

Now inside Mill Field, it’s apparent the main stand in on a slight hill, overlooking the pitch. We have to step down the large concrete steps, that stretch the whole length of one side of the pitch.

David embodies the passion that is still alive and well for the FA Cup. It was him who I asked about the opinion of the competition in the lower leagues, and it was him who convinced me it still holds a special place for so many people. The next 10 minutes or so are a Scouse sermon on all things football from the FA Cup to being a referee in Scotland, and everything in between, we both stand quietly enjoying his effortless storytelling.

“We believe we are here to win” he says in his constantly positive manner “not here to make up the numbers, we are reasonably confident”.

The weather really has been a pleasant surprise, and seems to have only improved what you would think is a unimprovable mood “This weather, it’s October!!”, “I refereed a game two weeks ago and got sunburnt!”

“Testing one two, testing” the public address system crackles into life, and sounds dreadful, whoever was testing it, gives up.

David confesses to have never been happier since leaving the top flight, and coaching non league, his last job was at Kilmarnock FC. He tells us about the unenviable task he had while working at one club “I had the fun Job at Spurs letting people (youth players) go”.

Soon David realises he has more important things to do, but still has the time to walk us up the white caged tunnel, that leads from the pitch, to the changing rooms. “This is where it all happens” announces David as he takes us through the double doors leading to a wide corridor with various rooms off it. David is not wrong when he describes it as a “hive of activity” as people come out one door, and go in another, like a Scooby Doo chase scene, just waiting for a ghost to pop out.

“Take some pics before it gets serious” says David, so Tom sets down his bag, and off he goes, and I wait for him by two knackered looking bits of gym equipment, David gestures towards a small room opposite with a kettle in, and says I can make myself a cup of tea. The physio room is busy next door, one player is sitting on the table, and two others sit waiting for treatment.

I leave Tom to it, and have a nose around the main stand, which up close is even better. Blue and white wooden seats stretch all the way to the top, at the back is a small cabin, where the club announcer is fiddling around with wires. At the front two older ladies, with their GA scarves on, are tucking into something wrapped up in tin foil.

As a GA player walks by, one asks “you playing?” he replies sheepishly “think so”.

“You should” and she continues with her lunch, and the players face breaks into a smile.

I notice player/manager Mark “Benno” Bentley and his assistant, ex-premier league player Glen Little sitting in one of the perspex dugouts deep in conversation, as I wait for Tom in my blue wooden seat, desperately in need of the restorative powers of a warm drink in a white polystyrene cup.

Getting to the bar requires us to go back out the big blue door, and the person manning it is concerned he won't remember us on our return “knowing my memory, I might forget who you are”.

People are sitting around large round tables, and standing around the edge of a wooden dance floor, a must have in any good clubhouse. It’s busy, and only gets busier, one man at the bar with a flat cap on, clutching a large folded up flag, is asked by someone “is that the famous flag? been all over the TV?”

Tom has a bright idea, to have a pint and not a cup of tea, and I let him convince me some “hair of the dog” will sort me out. The first sip of the pale yellow larger, tells me instantly that it was an error, as it hits my empty, slightly churning stomach, and the only thing that can remedy it, is joining Tom for my first non-league burger.

His previous scouting mission came back with some interesting news “they do a breakfast burger”, and when he notices the queue has gone down, he rushes off, this time is no dress rehearsal.

On his return clutching two objects wrapped in white tissue, he sits and places one down in front of me, and I unwrap it cautiously. The pale seeded bun, holds a single brown pattie, a slice of square yellow cheese and onions, he informs me “no ketchup”, but I soldier on. I lift it to my mouth, try and avoid the the tissue as I take a Henry VIII size bite out of it, and the soft texture of the burger, cheese and bun is comforting, but is occasionally ruined by the sharp, eye watering raw onions inside. I start to feel the after effect of the free bar melting away, while my brain tells me I should not be enjoying this so much.

“Hot Dogs look good, half time snack” says Tom, interrupting my culinary experience, and he has not even finished his, but is already thinking about later. He also informs me of the less than appetising options for vegetarians, an “onion burger”, which is comprised of a bun, cheese, and raw white onion. Perhaps the non-league world is taking a little longer to catch up with the notion of Quorn and veggie burgers, or perhaps the person ordering it doesn't have a date tonight, or is a masochist.

On our way back outside, the dark wood panels, and umpteenth old photographs of the boardroom, incite us to pop our noses in and have a look. Along with two men in blazers chatting, there is a woman drying a mug. We ask if we can take some photos, and as Tom brings his camera to his eye she tells us it's “all Aveley, nothing Grays”. “Don't they allow you a little corner?” I ask, she laughs “nope”, this is my corner, pointing to the kettle and microwave, still with the mug and tea towel in hand.

Kick off is not far off now, I have gone some way towards being the man I was before, so we head past the queue that has formed at the turnstile, thankfully are allowed back in by the forgetful man on the gate, to be greeted by the previously empty steps, that are now full with people. David's hopes for over 300 in attendance, seems to be becoming a reality

“Last two programs” and “don't forget your 50/50 tickets” shout the man and woman, standing behind the white patio table with a sign for the “Grays Athletic Supporters Trust” on it.

Glen Little takes the players through the last moments of the warm up, “get those drinks on, get ready to go”. Someone hands us a team sheet, which is good, because when the public address system coughs and sputters to life again, the voice apologises for the sound quality, starts to read out the starting 11’s and then gives up, once again.

“What you going to do when you find the Beautiful Game?” says the smiling club photographer Peter, as he walks over to us, and we can add another friendly welcome to the list. In a hi vis jacket, GA baseball cap, GA scarf and his camera around his neck, we get chatting about the team's chances.

“You confident?” I ask


“They should really see us off, but we might give them a surprise”

“Them” are Welling United FC (WU) of the National League, from two divisions higher than GA, whose fans have turned up in good numbers. Easy to pick out in their bright red scarfs, and one of the more interesting club badges we have seen, a white winged horse.

He also comments on the facilities and snug conditions at the stadium “You went into the dressing room? You will need a close up lense” he chuckles to himself, “I thought I had a small bathroom”.

Before he goes Peter gives us a warning “If we lose today, people will start calling you a jinx”.

“Benno” is walking off the field and shouts “first 11”, and they follow, leaving the subs taking pot shots at the reserve keeper. We make our way past the considerable crowd on the steps, and what looks like an almost full stand. Tom takes up position on the edge of the pitch, not before he expresses a bit of lense envy, towards the howitzers of a camera lense a photographer has to manhandle with two hands. I make my way to hover outside the double doors leading inside, to a now much calmer area under the seated public.

The now familiar noise of the buzzing electric bell, signals the beginning of the game. WU turn ‘Wonderwall’, by Oasis up to 11, and even then I can still hear shouts of “come on lads”. It seems the bell is pretty much ignored, and as usual requires the banging of a fist and a shout through the door “come on, let's go!”, to get people moving.

GA’s captain is the first person out, and strikes a lonely figure, fiddling with the drawstring on his shorts,
and studying a Premiership fixture poster, on a wall in the tunnel. Even when he is joined by other team members, and then finally WU, once they have been checked by the referees assistant “thank you, thank you, thank, you”, he keeps his steely look of concentration.

It is very quiet in the small area immediately outside the changing rooms, it's only when the players are led down the steps by the referee, and the crowd see the teams, that Mill Field erupts.


David is one of the last out, carrying the the water bottles. One space in his carrier is missing a bottle, and has been replaced by a freshly made cup of tea. He is accompanied by “Rhino” the club kit man, who carried out the subs boards in a Morrisons bag for life.

Standing on the top of the steps the lady from the boardroom asks someone to “let her know when it’s half past, I’ve got some soup on”.

The post coin toss shuffle takes place, now the fans know where to stand. The majority of the WU fan's take up position behind the goal, the GA support are more spread out, but a small and noisy band take over the small stand behind the goal, and the flag from the bar is unfurled.

On the whistle the crowd noise level goes up again, mostly from the group next to the flag.


Although there is a good contingent of traveling fans, they are making very little noise, on the other hand the GA fans are banging the stand, and it’s one song, after another “Oh when the Grays, go marching in”. When the home fans have a dig at the opposition “can you hear the Welling sing?” it draws a song from them, but it quickly dies out.

It’s a cagey start for both teams, one is being cautious because they are the underdog, one wanting to make sure they don't make any mistakes and let the lower “underdogs” get a toehold in the game. The first shot on target of the game comes after about 25 minutes, by GA. The referee though has been the main focus of attention, particularly when it takes an age for him to wave on an injured GA player, leaving the home team down to 10 men, forcing the GA fans to try and get his attention, so their player can rejoin the match, “REF, REF, REF!”.

“Come on Welling, come on Welling” is what the away fans muster when they do sing, except for one female fan who continuously, in a pitch that could shatter glass screams “COME ON WELLING” over and over.

The game flits back and forth between each side, but without either really getting a grip on it. WU apply the first real pressure, which forces GA into four very hurried clearances, but WU are unable to keep it up, and Tom says “it's getting scrappy again”.

I think it's fair to say the referee has an relaxed outlook on his job, and continues to get an ear full. When he gives WU a through in, that was clearly GA’s the whole crowd turn into an audience from a panto “boo, boo, boo”. Glen Little on the sideline is overflowing with rage, exasperated at his decision.

GA forge the best chance of the half, when a through ball is met by the big number 9, who chips his shot over the keeper, the ground holds it’s collective breath, and then exhale in unison “oooohhhhhhhhhhhhh” when it hits the base of the post and goes out. If GA had been slightly out of the game until now, they are now well and truly back in it, and spend the remaining 10 minutes or so on top.

It’s the WU fans turn to give the referee some stick after a strange call following a clash of heads, which
has people a little confused “you are making it up as you go along”, “you are a fucking idiot” declares one supporter.

There are plenty of good chances in the final moments, a cross finds the GA 9 in the box, but his header is straight at the keeper. Two free kicks in a good position to shoot, are wasted, and end up in or over the stand behind. One of them is won after the GA manager goes on a winding run from midfield, and gets chopped down, but his efforts are appreciated by the crowd “well done Benno”.

GA should be ahead, finish the half in control, and probably rueing those missed chances.

The crowd next to the steps turn and applaud the players leaving the pitch, “come on Grays”, one the them is @robdseaman81, he tells us he is “happy with that so far”, but when we reminisce about the missed chance, his head drops into his hands “that could of gone in”, his face overcome with anguish.

We also meet a group of Austrian tourists, who are here as part of a week look holiday, watching football in England. It also explains the man wearing the purple SV Austria Salzburg scarf in the bar.

With all the chatting, by the time we get to the tea bar, I can’t be bothered to wait, also the players have started coming out, and we like the fans have swapped ends, and are looking forward to the second half.

GA come out at a million miles an hour, whatever was said in the tiny dressing room did the trick, as they dominate, reducing WU to spectators.

“Benno” is really putting a shift in the midfield, at one point on hearing a crunching tackle, the crowd gasp, I look up from my notebook, expecting blood and guts, only for him to dust himself off and carry on.

Ten minutes into the half GA come flooding forward, and out number WU 3 to 1 at the back. A crude tackle sends out shouts from the crowd “PENALTY”, only for the referee to blow his whistle and point about one inch outside the box. Considering their other free kicks, a high and wide shot seems the only outcome, only this time it’s quite the opposite. The shot is fierce and on target, and the keeper can't hold on to it, pushes it out into the path of the on rushing “Benno”, but the bounce takes it away from him, and he ends up in the goal, grasping at the nets, baffled at how he did not score.

Two things are consistent in the second half, the referee continues to aggravate everyone, and GA are outshining a team from two leagues above. They have numerous chances to score, a corner almost goes in directly, “Benno” passes his marker on the edge of the box, and instead of shooting, takes one touch too many, and the ball gets away from him. All the while their fans continue to back them “come on blues”, “come on Grays Athletic, come on”.

When WU do get a chance, their only one of the half so far, it is a sitter, and they miss. A pacey attack down the left, sends the ball across the box, to a man unmarked on the back post, who pokes wide. Once the fans realise they have not gone behind, they jeer the WU player, all mixed in with a heavy helping of relief, it would have been absolute daylight robbery if they had gone ahead.

If a goal was ever going to come, it was in some part going to be down to the number 9, who has worked tirelessly all game, and on about 33 minutes this pays off. A short burst of pace from a second half sub, finds the 9 with his back to goal, just inside the box and eager to receive the ball. He receives it, holds it for a fraction of a second and then perfectly rolls in back into the path of the same player who passed it to him, teeing him up for a blockbuster of a shot, low and fizzing past the WU keeper.

A huge bundle of players, subs and staff form on the side of the pitch, and it's not like the fans need any reason to sing, but they are off again, banging the fence behind them, “we are, we are, we are the Grays”, the goal is much deserved, and really was a beauty, it unfolded right in front of Tom and I, who both turn to each other, mouths open.

“Don't just boot it” shouts a fan near us, because since the goal GA have lost a little bit of composure, and it's all got a bit hoofy.

GA’s 9 almost seal’s the deal, after some great running down the left, the player somehow manages to keep the ball in, when it look destined to go out, and squares it to the goal hungry forward in the box, who unfortunately crashes his shot off the crossbar.

“Who needs a drum, when you have a fence” says Tom, as it continues to get a battering from the joyous fans. Tom however is a little concerned “it might come down”, considering how vigorously they are banging it.

All the missed chances can only mean one thing, WU go up the other end, and with their first shot on target of the half, curl the ball past the keeper and score. Also for the first time of the half the WU fans make some noise, “Welling, Welling, Welling, Welling”. The goal results in a mini onslaught in the last minutes, only a fine fingertip save from the GA keeper, keeps them in the tie.

“Three minutes lads, do not fucking stop” says “Benno”, as the assistant holds up the board between the once sunny dugouts, that now sit in the shade of the main stand, to signify how much extra time there is to play.

One last chance, one last opportunity for a giant killing falls to who else, GA’s number 9. A long ball over the top, finds him on the move, making his way into the box, with only the WU keeper to beat, but his effort his high, and the game is going to a replay. David and Glen Little on the touch line, turn and smile, then mime the motion the striker should have adopted to score the goal.

Despite the results, as I go to say goodbye to David, he is smiling as ever. I say I thought the game was a “cracker” and it was, the second half was extremely entertaining, and he agrees “yeah it was, once again the best team didn't win”.

WU players with a look of relief on everyone of their faces, trudge off the field, only to be stopped and reminded to applaud their supporters. It’s a bit of a half arsed effort if I'm honest, perhaps not the noisiest of fans, but they have traveled nonetheless and deserve the acknowledgement.

No raffle win! Due to the broken public address system, someone tells us we have to check with the ticket sellers, for the winning numbers. The flash of the green tickets, the same as ours, make me for a moment think today, is the day, only for the numbers not to match, and my dreams are dashed again.

Interestingly the guys from @AcrossParkBlog, give us a little bit of non-league ITK (in the know) transfer gossip. The word is Bournemouth FC are interested in GA’s number 9, and after spotting the
Bournemouth assistant, it adds some weight to the rumour, he could not have done his reputation any harm with today's performance.

Well that’s the end of the preliminary and qualifying rounds of the FA Cup, and I can't tell you how much we have enjoyed every match. As the first round proper approaches, that brings the league clubs, the non-league teams will sadly start to become few and far between, and I fear those things that made it so special, the warm welcome, the spirit and enthusiasm, may start to waver.  We will however endeavor to follow the “minnows” or “underdogs” for as long as they are still in the hunt for the Cup.

Each game we have gone to, just reinforces how much affection for the FA Cup there is from the fans and the clubs, even though they know in their heart of hearts they won't make it to the final, people have come out in force to watch their teams compete.

We have seen moments of history, we have seen fans support their team quite unlike we have seen fans support their teams before, and it’s all because of this big eared silver cup, which is known the world over.

Both of us would like to extend a massive thank-you to everyone at GA, your wonderful welcome blew us away, but we are not surprised considering how well you treated two practical strangers last season, when we turned up to gate crash your Cup Final.

GA played a blinder today, and their fans were just as fantastic. All involved with Grays Athletic FC, should be very proud.




For all our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Thursday 22 October 2015

ETFC, ETFC, ETFC - Enfield Town FC Vs Hitchin Town FC, FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round, Queen Elizabeth II Stadium (10/10/15)

With a fuzzy head, due to a recent heavy dose of man flu, I find myself being forced into a slow canter, because I'm late to meet Tom, after once again having unshakable confidence in the TFL journey planner, and once again it being about as accurate as a stopped watch.

Not that we need a specific day to sing the praises of lower league football, but today along with it being the FA Cup 3rd Qualifying round, and our 5th game out of 5 in the competition this season, it is also the annual “Non-League Day”. Taking advantage of the international break, now in its 5th year, it is a chance for the teams towards the bottom of the pyramid to raise their profile, without the bigger local teams stealing all the limelight, dazzling people with shiny things, and in a lot of cases flattering to deceive.

On arrival at the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, or what I am now aware is affectionately called the “Donkey Dome”, (which just makes me think of Tina Turner) home of Enfield Town FC (ET), the coach of today’s opposition is pulling up in front of the lovingly restored Art Deco main stand. On being here however I do break a recent vow I made in a piece for the ET programme, having said we would avoid attending any FA Cup games, considering our poor record of seeing every home team lose so far this season, but with the curse being put to the sword when we saw Hanwell Town FC claim a victory in the last round, we thought we should be hex free now.

The players of Hitchin Town FC (HT) all pile off the bus, pick up their bags, and make their way into what they all the think is the entrance, only once halfway in the building, they are told to turn around, and go in an alternative door.

I spot Tom through the fence next to the turnstile, and make my way into the ground. I was solo the time we did our last blog here, so Tom is quick to share his views on the Donkey Dome, since he has had a bit of time to wander about and take some pictures, “I hate a running track”. I think most of us out there would agree, a running track at a football stadium is not ideal, I remember visits to the old Wembley, and although it was not a running track, I think it was used for Speedway, that distance from you and the action is a bit of a nuisance.

ET however have set things up slightly differently say from Tower Hamlets FC whose main stand is so far removed from the pitch it kills the atmosphere somewhat. Here the two covered terraces behind each goal are inside the running track placing you within touching distance of the keeper, as is the seated stand, opposite the main one, which has you right up against the fence around the pitch, so you don’t miss a thing. Although the gorgeous main stand is a fair way from the pitch, its elevated position gives you a good view

Various flags hang from the railing of the balcony of the main stand, one says ‘carefree’ and there is a Catalan flag with a donkey on it, but they are all out done by the giant blue and white St George’s Cross, with the ET badge slap bang in the middle of it, that hangs from the first floor all the way down to ground level, and is very impressive.

The HT players are now out on the pitch, and Tom and I stand watching as they perform what you might call a pre match ritual. They form a line on the edge of the 18 yard box, then in turn approach the goal, one by one taking turns to touch the crossbar. I can only assume the lamb was sacrificed behind closed doors, the bright sun might have affected the blood reading.

There is an undeniable buzz around the ground, even with about an hour and a half to kick off, all despite there not being many supporters here yet. One old chap however has already taken up his spot on the small raised standing section pitch side, in his blue club jacket, he leans against the back almost motionless, watching as people scurry about getting ready. One main contributor to the small groups of the ET staff standing around chatting, and the heightened feeling, is the presence of Copa 90. The online purveyors of all things football culture on YouTube, who are here to make a film about Britains first fan owned club, Non-League Day and the fanatical fans “The Enfield Ultras”, and behind one goal Muzzy, who I have yet to meet, but have chatted to on Twitter, is being interviewed. It was after meeting Copa 90 at a five a side football tournament in the Summer, and explaining the ET story, that they are here today.

Perhaps unaware of the conditions required for filming, as the camera crew take up a new spot to to interview the ET manager, the ball boys having a kickabout on the running track with their red bibs on, crash a ball off the dugout, and are shooed away.

One player walks out on to the pitch, holding two different boots, tests the playing surface, and turns around and walks back inside, Tom who is a bit more clued up on these things says “blades it is”.

A young man perhaps 10 or 11, whose role is signified by his red bib, strides up to us like a little Boss, introduces himself “I’m the head ball boy” and commences to cross examine us like Columbo. Asking who we are, and if our work is going to be in the “Mirror” we have to break it to him, we are not going to be appearing in a national newspaper, and he looks very disappointed. We ask him for his opinion on the game, “we have not lost in 7”, “bit of a tough game, but we could win”, and as quickly as little Clint Eastwood had appeared, he was off again, walking away with a undeniable air of "I run this town" about him.

It has become apparent, that at most clubs, the FA Cup is the game you get your best suit and tie out of the cupboard for, the one reserved for weddings, funerals and job interviews, and pop it on for the big day. So when Ken the club's Press Officer introduces him self, he is no different, and although we have exchanged a fair few emails, as he has been very kind to include some of our work in the ET match day programme, we are meeting for the first time on the edge of the pitch, exchange handshakes, and he escorts us to the changing rooms, to grab some pics. Our quick photo opportunity, as people busily move around each other in the narrow corridor, is accompanied by what seems the music of choice at most clubs, very loud R’n’B.

Ken also tells us that the “BBC are allegedly going to be here at 14:00”, they will be trialling a new concept of the first mobile only broadcast football match, but no one from the Beeb have yet to be spotted.

Your go to place for club merchandise at the QE2 is a hole in the wall of the main stand, covered by a
blue shutter when we first arrived, it’s now open and overflowing with all sorts of football goodies, to tempt every collector/hoarder, and Tom and I add to our pin and programme collections respectively. The woman in the bright orange club shirt jokingly apologises for the level of customer service on offer from her accomplice this afternoon “sorry the usual guy is at Twickenham watching the rugby”.

Although there has been a growling feeling of excitement around the ground, it has also been relatively quiet, almost a bit eerie, but this is all smashed into next week, by a combination of the music coming over the tannoy, some of the best the 1980’s has to offer, who doesn't love a bit of Cindy Lauper? and the noise of the players warming up.

Having grabbed a quick hello with Muzzy as he accompanied the camera crew, we now get to have a chat with him and Eli the Copa 90 host. Our conversation is interrupted by the first appearance of the Ultras, taking down their flags on the balcony, and making sure Muzzy doesn’t forget where he has come from, and all the limelight doesn't go to his head, he goes a bit red as they direct a few chants his way, one of them is his brother, who looks especially happy to embarrass him “all you do is hop, all you do is hop”, no one has any idea what it means, but you can tell from his face he knows exactly “they like to remind me of the stupid things I say”, he says.

Muzzy is not only a bit of a mover and shaker now in the media world, but runs his own little “football highlights” empire, filming the games for the club, and sharing them on YouTube. His Dad is the Under 18’s manager, side had a victory over the HT Under 18’s in the FA Youth Cup the previous night, which he agrees is a good omen.

The odd flecks of green and gold, start to appear, which means the HT fans have started to arrive, but the drum of the Ultras takes us inside and up the stone spiral staircase of the main stand, to the first floor bar, usually overlooking the pitch, except on this occasion there are some very odd blue tarpaulins obscuring the windows.

“Everywhere we go” sings the Ultras, as they move in single file through the heaving bar, down the stairs and back outside. I wait for Tom on the balcony, by another snazzy looking club official taking an extra £1 from people who want the Art Deco surroundings of the main stand to be there vantage point to watch the game from. A phone call from Tom, quickly explains why the tarpaulins are here, FA regulations mean you can’t drink alcohol in view of the pitch, stranding Tom in the bar until he drinks up.

“Wembley, Wembley, Wembley”

Tom reappears from the bar “there are fucking loads of people in there!”

With 5 minutes to kick off the music is off, and the calm quietness is back. The Ultras are standing on the halfway line, waiting for the toss of the coin, which decides which end they will be occupying for the first half.

“Shut the gate, they are coming out” is the instruction from the head ball boy, whose eyes dart frantically between the door leading out to the pitch, and the gate keeper. “I could hear the ball”, he informs a fellow ball boy, who is baffled he knew they where on their way, before he could see them. His eyes are frantic, but he never loses the cool exterior of a man in charge and the gate keeper, a much larger and older man, is quick to do what he is instructed, and closes the gates, that form the ‘tunnel’.

The ET players are much noisier, and are first out in their blue and white strip, “come on lads”, HT are significantly quieter in their green and yellow, and once both teams are lined up, the referee gets things under way “let’s go”.

“Welcome Hitchin Town” says the game show host sounding voice on the tannoy, as the team's walk out. On the centre circle the coin toss triggers a movement of people, the likes of which have not been seen in modern times, as the fans of each side, make their way to behind the goal their team will be attacking, and quickly the flags are going up, HT have 2 huge St George’s crosses, but nothing to rival the ET mega flag.

“ENFIELD TOWN” and the Duracell Ultras are off, as the drum really gets underway, and a new phenomenon to me, the banging of metal spoons on the stand, adding a little percussion to the singing.


The stand is fit to burst, and I’m just to the side of the goal, leaning on the railing next to a Father, with his young Son. Although the HT fans have some impressive flags, the Ultras are not very impressed by their lack of noise, and are quick to tell them “can you hear the Hitchin sing?”


There seem to people everywhere, each stand looks full, and the whole pitch seems to be surrounded, by people leaning against the railings watching the match, the shame is that unlike the Ultras, the players have not really not got going, even a finger wiggling accompanied rendition of “oh when the town go marching in”, can’t spark the game into life, and someone behind us is a bit frustrated, “come on town”. On turning round, I recognise the older man in sunglasses from the first time I came, and recall his constant less than positive offerings from the sidelines.


“So far this is the dullest game in the world” says the Dad to his Son, “and I have been coming for years”. You can tell when the fans are a bit bored, never quiet in the case of the Ultras, just a bit bored, when they start slagging off the rivals “clap, if you hate Barnet!”

The frustration levels are rising around us “get it on the floor” and one person is getting fed up as ET continue to loose possession, “come on let’s keep it for a bit”.

HT’s keeper is entertaining the fans behind the goal, even if the football isn’t. His kicking has been less than accurate, and the biggest cheer of the day so far, is when he kicks the ball straight out into touch “he’s got his IQ on his shirt”.


It takes around 30 minutes for either team to get a chance, and then both have one in short succession. First it’s ET with a header from a free kick, but it’s straight down the keeper's throat, and then HT get a chance from a good cross, but the header from close range, is put wide.

“If we win, do we get a trophy?”, says the boy to his father, “no just a bit closer”, he reply's.

A quite unorthodox move by the raffle master at ET, is the announcement before the half is over of the winning ticket and guess what, we didn’t win, whatever!

I think to say it’s been a bit dull so far would be a fair assessment, and as one person near us says it’s been a bit “scrappy”, which I would agree with. The boy next to me has been driven to practicing WWE wrestling moves on his Dad, and has his old man gets lined up for an RKO.


To prevent his Son doing a swanton bomb on him, he explains after a player is booked, how the yellow card system works “no he doesn’t get to keep it and take it home, the referee just shows it to him, and puts it back in his pocket”.

The realisation that the half is about to finish dawns on both sets of players and both teams spring into life, and have more chances in the final moments, than in the rest of the game. A shout of “charge” rings out as ET breaks on HT, but the counter attack comes to nothing.

“Got away with that” says a fan behind us, after the ET defender heads back to the keeper, but has misjudged where he is, and sends the ball over him. The ball drops in the 6 yard box, the HT player ready to tap it in, wrestles with the keeper, and in the eyes of the referee was too forceful, and his attempt to get past him is deemed a foul.


It’s ET’s turn, this time a cross finds the forward alone and unmarked, but his attempt to head it in is all wrong, and his body position momentarily leaves him hanging in the air horizontally, before crashing to the ground with his head in his hands, “should of scored that” says someone.

Like a game of basketball, there is now a chance at the other end, only for a last ditch ET tackle preventing a tap in, and the boy next to me has the right idea “GET IT OUT!”

The last attempt of the half in these final end to end moments, goes to ET. A clever short corner, taken by a player with big hair who Tom heard a teammate call “Sideshow Bob” rolls the ball along the ground to a player ready to meet it, and his first time shot, from just inside the box is tipped over. The two resulting corners come to nothing.

An attendance of 883 is announced just after the half time whistle, and all those people who were laughing at Muzzy for thinking they would have over 600 here today, are conspicuous in their absence, as the flags come down, and the Serengeti wildebeest BBC documentary begins, as both sets of supporters swap ends for the second half. It’s also at this point that Tom tells me someone told him he looked like Jurgen Klopp, which he is not delighted about!

There is almost nothing of any interest to write about the first 30 minutes of the new half. A point blank save from the ET keeper is a stunner, and keeps the game level, and the HT keeper continues to be the main source of fun, but shoots up in my estimations after doing an impression of an officer from WW1 going over the top “FORWARD” as he urges on his team mates.

The monotony is finally broken after a spellbinding run by the ET Number 11, which deserved a goal so much, after he slalomed past so many of the opposition, only for his shot to be blocked.

It’s around this time we bump into a familiar face @SupriseTruck, who we first met at the Greenwich Borough FC game in the 1st qualifying round. “thought I would come and get some warmth and atmosphere”, as he joins us in the ET end, “nothing coming from that end, just the odd shout to the linesman”.

And then it starts, much like the never take a breath chant in ‘The Temple Of Doom’ “ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC” and it keeps going and going. A couple of Ultras have their shirts off, as they continue to support the team, despite the average game. Eli from Copa90, who confessed earlier on to not being very well, is front and centre with a drum, banging away.


One of the shirtless Ultras is now standing above the crowd, steadying himself with his hand on the roof of the small rammed stand, he gestures to the non singing fans around him, cupping his ear “I can’t hear you”. They only stop for a fraction of a second, to berate the HT keeper for a shonky kick, and then they start where they left off “ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC”.

HT almost perform a bit of a smash and grab, after a fine ball across the ET box, offers the HT attack a chance for all the plaudits, only to miss. The ball must have taken a touch off the sliding defender, who has prevented a certain goal, the resulting corner is dangerous, but cleared.

A final moment of heroics from the ET Keeper, as he saves from a one on one, and very much keeps them in the tie, and cements the fact that the game will now be going to a replay. All along the Ultras continue their low rumbling chant “ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC, ETFC”

The blast of the whistle brings the game to an end, but signifies the beginning of a mass team on team brawl, nothing too serious, and it is quickly over. I do wonder though if the child WWE fan, is pulling on his Lucha libre mask, and is itching to do a tombstone or a crippler crossface.

The flags at both ends come down for the last time, and as the once bustling stand empties, the core of noise, the Ultras, remain applauding their team, and the players respond in kind, approaching them, with their hands above their heads, clapping like only footballers do, and repay the compliment, for their flawless and non stop support.

Someone tells us on the way out, it’s been a good day on the turnstiles for the club, pulling in about £7,000, when the normal gate is around £2,000, he also tells us the bar has done a roaring trade. If the day could not get any better on the way out we bump into BBC pundit, former Crystal Palace FC and Charlton Athletic FC player Mark “Brighty” Bright, who is happy to pose for a pic with our flag, once we have assured him he is not “endorsing” anything.

The football was lacking today, ET have been on such a great run of late, I think everyone would have been hoping for a better performance, but these things happen. The people however, the fans, the ground, the atmosphere are just bang on. Enfield Town FC and it’s supporters deserve every moment of exposure they can get in the wider football loving world. It’s important for all to know what is going down at the Donkey Dome!




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Saturday 17 October 2015

Come For The Beer & Stay For The Football - West Didsbury & Chorlton A.F.C. Vs Dinnington Town FC, FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round, Brookburn Road (03/10/15)

Manchester has reverted to form and the previous day’s blue sky, has been replaced with what a good source tells me is the norm for this time of year, it's grey and cold. “One Man And His Fiancee In Search Of The Beautiful Game’s” mini tour of the North West continues as we once again find ourselves waiting for a bus at Piccadilly Gardens, hopefully with a much more competent driver than the day before.

20 minutes later we find ourselves in the area of Chorlton, which from the outside seems like a very leafy, suburb of Manchester, and far from all the naf old stereotypes associated with the city. We end up taking a very pleasant Saturday afternoon stroll, playing “I could live there” as we pass a succession of nice houses, spurring the the fiancee into showing me once again, how many rooms, bathrooms and square footage of garden, we would get, if we just packed up and moved up here, and if Chorlton were to be my new home, you would not catch me complaining.

Past a school, that we decided our fictional children would attend, once we settle down here, it feels like we are walking down a dead end, but Google maps says otherwise, so we continue onwards, still delighted at the surroundings. It’s only when we spot a small sign, obscured by some weeds, that we know we are in the right place.

Down a heavily tree lined lane, we pass a dog walker and then through a gap in the trees, a huge clearing comes into view, and two men standing next to a small shed, give me plenty of confidence we have arrived at Brookburn Road, home of West Didsbury & Chorlton AFC (AFC)

We are here today thanks to the recommendation of @TheNonLeagueMag, who answered my call on Twitter, and for which we are very grateful.

The man on the gate is also the Father of the Manager, he also scouted today’s opposition Dinnington Town FC (DT) at their previous game, and doesn't feel they are going to be much of an issue, from 2 steps below, with a goal difference of -30 and have not won a game all season. They are also not strangers to visitors from far flung climes here, he tells me about people from Germany and Norway coming to watch a match, making my journey from London look very insignificant.

As we make the short walk down the side of the pitch towards the clubhouse, we pass two people in long black club coats, who offer us a cheery “hello”.

“Welcome to West Didsbury & Chorlton AFC ” is above the door, and it's a sharp right into the bar, where a couple of people are watching the rugby on the TV, one of them the Dad of one of the away team and two equally jovial people are manning the sandwich laden bar, we are much in need of a cup of tea, half to combat the slight chill, and half to combat the hangover we have courtesy of the FC United of Manchester bar from the previous night. The room is fairly simple, one end is decorated with a timeline celebrating the club's centenary 1908 - 2008, and one table, clearly marked out for the top brass has a red and white table cloth, and food shielded from the likes of you and me, with tinfoil hats. As we take a seat, a man comes in, leans against the bar, and asks for a pie recommendation.

A conversation with the club secretary Rob is cut short as he needs to hand in the team sheet, and clarify with the Chairman if the club want a replay or penalties, a choice that can be made between both clubs in the FA Vase, although Rob does say the other team “don’t think it will come to that”.

News seems to travel fast around here and the boy selling us our golden goal tickets, which he just spent 5 minutes fastidiously folding up on the table next to us, also informs us that “Dinnington are useless”.

Outside both teams warm up on a field next to the pitch, amongst the Saturday afternoon dog walkers, and Rachel informs me it’s a conservation area. Sitting on the porch of the clubhouse, under the gabled roof, AFC shortly followed by DT come down onto the pitch for a last bit of shooting practice, and a chance to warm up the keepers. Although there is a large net to protect the windows and spectators from any stray football's, it’s hard not to flinch every time someone takes a shot.

DT go in long before AFC, as they continue to shoot from all angles, sending us both close to a nervous breakdown, anticipating a ball in face at any moment. With the two step difference, you would think DT have a lot more to talk about, and need every minute they can in the changing room. AFC on the other hand seem very relaxed, the scouting report must have filled them with confidence, and there is plenty of laughing and joking, the keeper nonchalantly leans against the railing around the pitch, and has started chatting to a man with a dog.

The away fans and staff have taken over the “The Rob Turley Stand” a small covered seating terrace next to the clubhouse, and we overhear them talking about how bad their pitch is compared to AFC’s and how much of a nuisance the birds are whenever they try and plant new grass seeds.

What looks like two large scaffolding poles are swung in to place, to create a rudimentary "tunnel" for the players to walk down. The ring of the bell in the changing rooms, results in very little movement from each team, only when the referee's assistants give each door a whack, does this stir the players on the other side.

AFC’s captain looks very focused, and a DT fan reminds the players lining up to come on that there is “no pressure”. One DT player is clearly feeling the sentiment, looks very chilled and comments on how nice he thinks the AFC purple kit is. Shouts of “Come on West” and “Daddy” from a girl on the sidelines, welcomes the teams as they make their way on the pitch.

Groups of fans gather around the pitch, or as Rachel puts out “there are lots of dogs and babies”. Opposite us next to the home dugout, is the largest and noisiest group of AFC fans. One is holding a homemade tin foil FA Vase, the first such wonderful creation I have ever seen in the flesh. I thought they were reserved for BBC montages.

The next 45 minutes are an onslaught, and at times it’s hard to watch, as every inch of the two step difference is made painfully apparent. Goal one for AFC comes after 7 minutes rendering our golden goal tickets redundant. When a DT player goes down in front of us, after a boot to the face, the AFC player remonstrates with the referee's assistant, arguing that he was the one that had been hard done by, “don’t feel sorry for him, that’s a foul!”

A man next to us has one eye on the match, and one eye on the baby in a pram he rocks with one hand, all while the home keeper does his best Manuel Nuer, sweeper keeper impression flying out of his goal to mop things up at every opportunity. This works on most occasions except with about 20 minutes of the game gone, he rushes out to meet the DT attacker, who clearly is singing from his own hymn sheet, rounds the German wannabe, and finishes really well. Considering the previous onslaught from AFC this is going a bit against form, and the scorer bolts towards the away bench, to be greeted by a massive hug, and the the adulation of his team mates.

“Serves you bloody right” says a home fan next to us, quite unimpressed at the keepers antics.

It’s getting colder, and the goal has composed DT and at least for now they seem a little less deer in the headlights. The bronzed referee is what you might call letting the game flow, and I wonder if he even has a whistle, as tackles are flying in, but he is happy for the game to carry on.

“Great tackle cookie” shouts a DT player to his teammate, whose excellent last ditch effort, stops a certain goal.

The few moments that DT looked like being in the game, are quickly forgotten, and will never be remembered again in this match, as AFC take a 2 - 1 lead, and there is no looking back. “don’t let heads drop” says the DT captain, but I fear he is going unheard.

3 - 1, DT are outnumbered at the back, and the AFC attacker is one on one and slots it in.

Once again the captain of DT pleads with his team “heads up” it’s commendable, but morale is only going one way.

“Raffle tickets, raffle tickets” announces the boy who sold us the ones for the golden goal, and like a moth to a flame I hand over a couple of quid and cross my fingers. At this time the man from the gate walks past us holding a baby, “on to my second job now, babysitting!”

Not that any conceded goal is a good thing, but some are perhaps better than others, AFC’s 4th will have to go in the “pretty awful” pile as the already dejected DT keeper drops a cross from a corner into his own net, and it becomes starkly apparent that you might need more than two hands to count the score of this match.

5 - 1, a lob from well outside the box over the stranded keeper.

“Everyone has got to work” shouts a DT player. The 5th goal brings a big cheer from the home fans and for the first time on the opposite side of the pitch I notice the homemade FA Vase being held aloft.

6 - 1, chipped in cross from the left, and a simple finish from the man on his own in the box.

Unfortunately for DT, things if it was even possible get worse, as what looks like a clear stamp on an AFC player get’s a straight red from the referee, as the the victim of the foul gets to his feet, clutching his neck he is expectedly unhappy, “he’s a scumbag”. It’s a long walk off, the game on hold as he makes his way, and he has to wait for someone to open the shutter, that is currently locked and covering the changing room doors.

7 - 1, far too easy, ball passed well, but the defence is motionless.

8 - 1, ball lofted over the defense, and a finish from a tight angle.

“Wembley, Wembley” is sung just after the final whistle, but it’s not so happy in the DT camp as the players argue amongst themselves as they are given 15 minutes of respite, after the previous 45 minute long nightmare.

Half time for us is a slow walk around the pitch to take up a new spot next to the dugouts, and by the time we get round, the home subs are handing out boot lace sweets amongst themselves. The sideline cup lifter, returns from the clubhouse victorious in the raffle clutching a bottle of Grant’s whisky “8 -1 up, I’m so happy”. A fellow fan comments on his winnings “Is that your bottle of Grant’s? Better than the bottle of rouge from last week”.

Just before kick-off the referee performs some stretches and comments to someone that he feels "like I’m still on the beach” which would explain his stunning tan.

With the second half underway an AFC player who has scored two goals goes off and the crowd are disappointed for him “oh no, no hattrick!” Rachel thinks AFC have toned it down a bit, which may be the case, only for DT to add to their own misery, when one player manages God only knows how, to lob his own keeper, not quite as well as Lee Dixon, but it’s pretty nuts, and one of the AFC fans puts it perfectly “that’s from a Danny Baker highlight video”.

“One more goal and we open the whisky”, and it’s only the DT keeper keeping it in single figures, and the booze flowing, with a fine one handed save from a header, which gets a round of applause from both sets of supporters and shouts of “good save keeper”.

10 - 1, a loose ball from a corner is finished from close range.

The look on the face of the raffle winner is similar to that of Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider when he has a drink, after he takes a glug from the bottle, which distorts his face, causes him to dribble, and prompts a couple of questions from his friends “Is it bad?”, and one who is clearly a connoisseur “it’s a blend”.

11 - 1, tap in.

“Don’t drop your heads” is an attempt to motivate from the DT keeper.

12 - 1, player runs right along the by line CHECK unchallenged and pokes the ball in.

One of the old men from the balcony in the Muppets Statler & Waldorf is trapped in the 8-9 year old boy standing next to us, whose choice of colorful language and tackle by tackle commentary, means I am unable to keep up with the gold spilling from his young mouth, he does though perhaps sum up the DT keepers day perfectly “he is having a mare!”

13 - 1, shot from the edge of the box.

14 - 1, another shot from the edge of the box.

15 - 1, a close finish, after a short corner.

The referee shows mercy, and with clearly 5 minutes or so left on the watch, calls it quits.

DT’s small contingent clap off the team, who shuffle off the pitch like Walkers “well done lads”. The raffle seller asks me to “remind me what team I was watching?”, perhaps not used to such a goal fest, and the man from the gate hopes we had a good time but lets us know “it’s not always like that”.

We can hear the AFC players celebrating, as we take a seat on the porch again, and grab another cup of tea, the ticket seller/scout/babysitter is now groundsman, and multitasks wonderfully as he carries the child in one arm and the corner flags in the other.

Close to us outside the DT players have gathered, and the post match examination of the clearly painful last hour and half is underway, as one player with tears in his eyes claims “I have never been so embarrassed in my life” he is consoled by a woman in a club jacket. She lets all the players and staff around her know, “you turned up! Not like the others who have walked away from this club”, “we learn from it and move on”. We get chatting to her after her rousing heartfelt talk with the team, she is the Manager’s wife, and to say she is involved in the clubs running is an understatement, as she reels off her duties at the club, kits, food, club secretary, the list goes on. Four players had recently left the team, and so they had to promote 4 from the under 18 squad who played today.

I manage to have a longer chat with Rob the club secretary & press secretary standing in front of the clubhouse with a bottle of German beer in his hand, I comment what nice beer it is “best in the league” he says, “like to think our fans come for the beer and stay for the football”.

AFC have been in the FA Vase for the last 5 years, and he says unlike the FA Cup, “everyone is equal” being only from steps 5 and 6. The club will collect £800 winnings today, and £1,200-1,500 in the next round if they can venture past the 1st Round proper, which they have never done before, and the money, he says “keeps them going”, “we are not a bank rolled club”. It’s back to the league in a couple of days and Rob says with a grin he “fears they might not score” and they “shouldn’t have used all our goals up” today.

The dissection is in full swing as we get ready to leave, the DT keeper is consoled in a slightly backwards way “that Arsenal keeper gets £200,000 to drop the the ball in the net”. Rob’s words are a little more conventional “keep your head up, you made some good saves that 2nd half”.

We receive just as nice a goodbye as we did hello, as we make our way home “you can come again, if we play like that!”

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Monday 12 October 2015

Who Gives A F**k, I Own This Club - FC United of Manchester Vs Worcester City FC, National League North, Broadhurst Park (02/10/15)

It’s a worry when you get on a bus, and the driver doesn't know where it goes. Having faith in my research, and that I was at the correct bus stop just off Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens, I hopped back on, but even after showing him the map, of where I wanted to get off, he was still unsure. Only thanks to a couple who overheard where I wanted to go, and after much debate and convincing of the driver, that he does in fact go there, did we finally take a seat on the top deck.

I’m one man down today, so it’s more accurate to say it’s “One Man And His Fiancee In Search Of The Beautiful Game”, having managed to shoehorn a game into a visit to the the North West to see the soon to be in-laws, as my fiancee is a native of these parts.

Today Manchester has been blessed with what is the main topic of conversation, with every person we have happend to talk to since arriving, a sunny day. It’s also a Friday night, not a day you would typically watch football in England, until recently that is, and having only done it once before when we visited Berlin, and what a night that was it meant that a Friday night under the flood lights had a lot to live up to.

Unless you are a follower of Manchester Untd or you are up on your football history, the area of Newton Heath may not mean much to you, but as we pass through it on the bus, it seems pertinent, considering tonight's final destination. It reminds me of the yellow and green scarves that were so prevalent at Old Trafford in the early days of the Glazers takeover, a sign of protest from United fans appalled by the actions of their new owners, flying the colours of the Newton Heath LYR FC, a club formed at a local railway yard in 1878, by the Carriage and Wagon department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, that would eventually go on to become the world famous Red Devils.

No talking buses round here, no robotic female voice informing you of the next stop, and not having a lot of faith is this ship’s captain, it was thanks to the same passenger who got us on the bus, who told us we had arrived, Broadhurst Park home of FC United of Manchester (FCUM).

As seems very much the way round here, we get chatting to the couple of FCUM fans, and I get the feeling their story is one replicated a lot at FCUM, one of split loyalties, but ultimately siding with the club that will give them a voice, be affordable and not be totally engulfed in all the trappings of modern football.

They have been coming since day one in 2005, in fact he had missed that game, but she was clearly very proud to have attended. Now ex season ticket holders at United, they had kept them on for the first season of FCUM formation, but have now stopped going. I ask if they prefer to come here, he is quick to say “yes” her reply is stifled with a little hesitation, but she ultimately agrees. She says they “occasionally go to Old Trafford, but the atmosphere” she gestures to the stand closest to the road, just behind us “is stunning”, so not only does she make our mind up for where we are standing this evening, but also confirms what I have heard, read and seen.

There is already a considerable amount of people here as we arrive, either ordering from the burger van, sitting around or like a couple of kids are, kicking a ball around on one of two greens in front of the main entrance. We are so punctual, that the turnstiles are not open yet, and a queue of people has informally formed.

“Two pound your match day programme” says a cheery women, holding one high above her head, on the wooden Nucky Thompson absent walkway, leading between the two greens outside the ground.

Although admittedly not a huge fan of new build grounds, I think I’m with the majority who would prefer a history filled, ageing ground, over a flat pack Ikea one, but Broadhurst Park is a bit more stylish, a bit more modernistic, the combination of wood, metal and brick, all red and black, is almost chic, in fact it does not look like a football stadium at all.

The opportunity to win a fudge hamper or £200 is too hard to resist as one of the raffle prizes, so another roll of the dice, and the chance to win big, and as with all of these things, it’s all for a good cause “the money goes towards the ground development fund”.

A clunk from behind the red turnstile door, grabs the attention of the informal queue comprised of kids and families, which very quickly becomes a formal one, waiting for the door to open. I stand studying the ground regulations on the wall, which whilst I was taking a picture earlier someone had asked me if it was an “eviction notice”.

Once inside it’s very easy to be blown away by the compact, but perfectly sized ground. The fact one of my favourite bands are playing Queens Of The Stone Age, and the large ever ascending covered terrace behind one goal, the "The St. Mary's Road End" recommended by our bus saviour, with its red railings brightly lit, is currently empty, will undoubtedly be where we stand tonight, but before we pick our spot, there is a lot to take in beforehand.

A tarpaulin covered market stall, you would normally see outside, is pitch side, with clothes rails of shirts, as well as hats and scarves, and pins. If you have a sweet tooth, there is a stall selling enough sweets, all lined up in white boxes side by side, to satisfy Augustus Gloop, where you can pick up a bottle of “pop” or an FCUM lolly.

Although tempted, very tempted indeed to get Tom a shirt, the red with white collar, and no sponsor, is very cool indeed, a nod I’m sure to the other team which fills so many hearts of the people and fans of FCUM, a retro design that looks very 21st century. Instead I plumb for a pin to add to his ever growing collection from the clubs we have visited so far.

Walking past the "The St. Mary's Road End" you can not help but want to go and investigate the flags and banners of various sizes, suspended from the stand, that runs the whole length of the pitch. “FC UNITED SONGS OF FREEDOM” and “TRAFFORDABLE FOOTBALL”, are just a couple, but the one that sums up FCUM up perfectly is the one that reads "2 UNITED'S 1 SOUL". There are no seats, but just a gallery if you like for all the supporters groups, from all around the world, France, Poland and China, to display their allegiance. An opportunity for all those people who have invested their emotion, time and money into this idea, this ethos which seems to have captured so many imagination's, just like a medieval army, the Vanguard flying its colours before battle. Behind the other goal, the “away end” is a huge scarf that almost runs the full width of the pitch.

“Dad can we stand behind the goals?”.

The main stand, mostly all seating, with a couple of small standing sections at the front is almost full, by the time we have done a lap of the ground. One thing that caught my eye was the man offering historical walking tours on Saturday's, before a match. Taking in all the local sights and points of interest in the area relevant to the history of both United and FCUM. Staring in Newton Heath, and ending up at the ground well in time for kick off.

Allowing a man with a walking stick, decorated in the clubs colours to pass, we climb the terrace and take up our spot for the night, and as we hang our flag from the railings someone asks us “have you found it yet?”.

There is a steady stream of people making their way in, and as the attendance grows, so does the atmosphere, fewer and fewer places to stand are available. People selling more raffle tickets, climb up and down the stand, weaving in and out, taking a pound here, a pound there, from all the lovers of fudge here this evening.

“Bring on United, bring on United, bring on United” starts just to the right of us, and engulfs the crowd. It keeps going, getting more intense until a swarm of luminous green hoody wearing ball boys fly out of the tunnel, followed by the the teams, FCUM and Worcester City FC (WC) breaking the hypnotic chant with shouts of “come on” and “FC, United. FC United” as the supporters call and respond amongst themselves.

As the flag with a bee waves back and forth in front with the slogan “buzzin” below it, a kid drops his chips and looks mortified, more and more songs flood from the terrace

“I am an FC fan, I am a Mancunian”

“We go wild, wild, wild, FC make some noise”

It mostly starts from a core in the middle directly behind the goal, and on hearing the first rendition of “Dirty Old Town”, something which has become a personal obsession of mine it sends the hairs up on the back of my neck.

“I met my love by the gas works wall.

Dreamed my dream by the old canal,
I kissed my girl by the factory wall
dirty old town, dirty old town.

This is our club belongs to you and me
we're United, United FC”

While this has all been going on, a football match broke out, and I realise quite how long I have been watching and listening to the crowd, and things going on around me, like the smell of chips and gravy or the frankly pornographic way the slightly drunk man in front of us devours and digests one of the gourmet hot dogs on offer.

FCUM really look great running around under the flood lights, a combination of their vintage look, standing on a terrace, the signing, the sound of a wooden rattle, it’s like a football DeLorean, a time warp to a rose tinted time of pure nostalgia. A time I’m too young to have experienced directly, but one you can read about, watch films on YouTube about, but this was real, this was happening right here, right now.

“You soft bastard, you soft bastard, you soft bastard” is the opinion of the crowd in regards to the WC player who goes down injured, rolls off the pitch, and then rolls back on, forcing the referee to halt the play.

Its packed!

The game, yes I have not completely forgotten about it, has been a bit stop start, with no clear chances for either side, with FCUM slightly shading it, so with 25 mins gone, WC go 1 - 0 up, you might say it's against the run of play. It’s a nice goal, a high ball controlled well, a touch to take it away from his marker in red, and a clinical low curling shot, well out of reach of the keeper.

For the first time in about an hour the chants are slightly muted except for the youths behind me “You blue cunts!”, but this is quickly remedied “FC United, FC United, FC United, FC United”.

Since the goal WC have taken control, and their rapid number 7 is causing all sorts of problems. When FCUM do break out of their half, they pass the ball well around the box, but the killer ball is just not there for them.

WC have everyone laughing when a free kick routine ends up with each player leaving the ball for the other, and they both run away from the ball, one has a bit of a strop and an FCUM fan near us quite rightly asks “what the fuck was that?!?”.

Once again the WC number 7 is creating all the danger, a quick counter attack finds him running along the goal line, after cutting inside from out wide, passing into the area, only for the resulting shot to be cleared off the line.

FCUM are handed a lifeline, after the goal scorer Lee Hughes, who is probably more famous for spending 3 years in prison, than playing football is given a straight red, after raising his hands, and what looks like putting them around the neck of his appointment. An innocuous coming together, seems to rub him up the wrong way, and he leaves the pitch to a chorus of “cheerio, cheerio, cheerio” and the half finishes with FCUM a goal behind, but a man ahead.

Half time went like this: Players off, sprinklers on, subs warm up dodging the water. No £50, no £200 and NO FUDGE! Gambling is cruel, I have to take deep breaths and remember it all goes to a good cause, breathe, it all goes to a good cause.

“United, United, United, United” the noise of the wooden rattle starts again as the teams come out for the second half, FCUM have 45 mins against 10 men, “United, United, United, United”.

The home side as you would expect with the numerical advantage come out the stronger side, and it’s not long into the half that they have an attempt cleared off the line, but the same affliction of the first half is hampering them in the second, as they continue to get into good positions, but with little or no final product.

“Manchester, la, la, la, la, la”

WC are happy to sit back, and are doing a good job in nullifying the FCUM attacks, they are proving very hard to break down. The fan next to us sums up the half so far perfectly “we’ve got 11 men, but can’t get hold of the game!”

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the game is for the booking for the WC keeper, the same keeper who every time he kicks the ball the whole terrace shout “ohhhhhhhhhhhh, you soft bastard, ahhhhhhhhhh” after he went down after a very tame nudge from an FCUM player. The referee has had enough of his blatant attempts to run down the clock, and so have the fans “you time wasting bastard”.

A chant to the tune of ‘Peaches’ by the Stranglers, accompanies FCUM’s best chance of the half so, with 10 minutes to go, a great turn and long range shot, is just tipped over the bar, and the two resulting corners come to nothing.

“Get the ball in their fucking half”

“How?!” I scream with minutes left of the half when FCUM are offered a golden chance to salvage something, from what could be a bit of an embarrassing result, considering how long they have had the man advantage. A superb flick, sends the ball out wide, a cross into the box is dummied at the front post, leaving a player practically under the bar to grab the equalizer, but he misses, he puts it over. In the words of Rachel, my fiancee “that sums up their night”.

The request of the FCUM fans for the team to “attack, attack, attack” ends up biting the team in the arse, because as the whole team floods forward, they are vulnerable to the counter attack, and WC’s pace sends them flying up the left and a great finish across the keeper into the opposite corner. For the first time this evening I’m aware of the travelling support, jumping up and down beneath the mega scarf, and the team race to the barrier to celebrate with them. Not long after the restart, the announcement of the attendance 3,619, gets a massive round of applause, and is just shy of the 4,000 the couple we met outside had hoped would be here.

The final whistle brings a reasonably quick exodus, but not before the team, gracious in defeat approach the fans and applaud them on mass, not in dribs and drabs as the rest slink off, but as a team they thank the fans. It’s something we are seeing more and more, the first time was in Germany, and I think it highlights wonderfully the connection between players and supporters “we love United we do”.

A fan in a pragmatic mood walks past us on the way out and I think expresses the overall emotion perfectly “who gives a fuck, I own this club”.

“Booo get off the pitch, hang them” is the tongue in cheek opinion of a woman standing behind us as a couple of kids jump the barrier, and start a mini pitch invasion. The remainder of the fans still here, as we take down our flag, walk along with a bin bag in hand cleaning up, just like the anti fascist wombles we had seen at Clapton, these must be their left wing Northern cousins.

On our way to the bus stop, it’s now dark and chilly, and we find 3 Portuguese tourists who have been somewhat caught out, as we are about to be, by the infrequency of the evening buses, and we potentially have a 1 hour wait until the next one. They disappear into the night in search of transport, we walk back the way we came, in search of a drink at the fingers crossed still open bar in the ground.

Through the white double doors, and directed up the stairs by a man on the front desk, past a display of all the clubs silverware, and into a still busy bar, full of fans from each team, standing around in small groups.

£5.20 for two pints, not one, two! I’m not going into some rant about the North South divide, but this is fucking mental, and the look on my face, brings a slight grin from the bar man. All the tables in the bar are full, so we take a chance, and lucky for us some of the doors leading outside, are open, and on our way out I overhear one fan who hits the nail on the head “we never looked like winning that”. We join some of the press in the process of the packing up, and take a seat in the area reserved for “accredited press and media representatives”.

I’m not sure I have ever had a nicer spot for a post match pint, the Irish Centre after a game at Spurs will never feel the same again. From on top of the main stand, the ground in almost complete silence, we sit with perhaps the best view of the pitch you could want. The main flood lights are off, but each stand is still lit, the flags look fantastic, and the terrace we had watched the game from is very imposing.

The last bus has been and gone, as one pint turns into three and four, and we are the last people to leave the bar. Broadhurst Park is a very different place now than when we first arrived, a few hours earlier, a much quieter place, a much less vibrant place. This evening has left me scratching my head a little, perhaps only something a visitor would not understand: I just didn’t get the anti City, Chelsea and Leeds songs. Now anything this young is going to have a identity crisis, and I’m sure that will resolve itself in time. Old grudges die hard, and with so many fans coming over from United, it’s inevitable, but I just don’t understand what it has to do with FCUM. Is it just a new version of the old, but without all the fluff and hangers on that is plaguing so many big clubs, or is it a whole new enterprise built around a core value of the fan led football, or is it both, or maybe it’s neither.

We had a fantastic time, with out a doubt on par with one of the best atmospheres at any game I have been to, non-league or not, and the music kicked ass to boot. It ticked every box, and we would be back in a heartbeat. I have never been sure if I like punk music, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that I love punk football!

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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