Fear and loathing in Bury

It’s Christmas.  A time for reflection of what this time of the year means to us all.  A time for families to come together and enjoy each others company.  A time for peace and goodwill to all men.  Is it heck!  It’s about having a few beers, and parties night after night.  Well that is what has been on the agenda this week for GTC Media’s equivalent of TinTin and Snowy, Danny Last and myself.

The week started was some fantastic news.  Our very own blog, this humble establishment had been awarded a “Bronze for Quality” in When Saturday Comes annual web awards.  To say that we were chuffed was an understatement, and with this very award being held last year by Danny’s European Football Weekends we had certainly kept it in the family.  Then we had a couple of Christmas parties.  First up the London team at Delfino’s, which was still going strong at 3am when we dragged ourselves home.  Then like Phil Collins at Live Aid we flew direct to Copenhagen to present some awards, give our annual speech before donning our Zorro outfit for a masked ball.

Cynical in the Christmas spirit

All fun right?  Well, going straight from a strange building in the middle of Copenhagen straight onto a BA flight is one thing at 7am in the morning, but then once I was in London getting on a train to Manchester is enough to test anyone’s resolve.  What I needed was a wing man or two.  What’s that coming over the hill?  Is it a monster?  Near enough I suppose – Cynical Dave and Danny.  And where were we heading on such an early Saturday morning?  Why Manchester lalala of course.

So moved by the events in Coronation Street this week, Dave wanted to put something back into the local community, so suggested we head up to Manchester, buy a few beers and watch some football.  Surely that would help? And what a game we were going to watch.  None other that FC United of Manchester versus FC Halifax Town.  Possibly the biggest game in the Non-League calendar, despite being some four leagues below the Football League.

Havin' it large in Madchester

Times have changed on certain parts of the railways and our Virgin Train sped through eight of our finest counties in just 2hours and 5 minutes and as if by magic we were in Manchester.  We we lucky in the fact we had two local guides for the day. Dave, the man who put the name Dave in Dave’s TV Sports was there to show us the lowlights of Manchester, whilst Christa, was there to add the glamour.  After all when you are in the cultural capital of the North you cannot afford to make a fashion faux pas like having the wrong make up on…more of that later.

To make me feel at the the first stop was the Danish Kro Bar.  What makes this place Danish you may ask.  Well £8 for a pint of Carlsberg is one aspect, as too is a menu containing enough sausage to keep even the most fundamental Nordic-skeptic happy.  One Smørrebrød later and we were in the more familiar surroundings of the Waldorf, which apparently is where the salad of the same name was created and not at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1893 if you believe such rubbish.  It was Christmas, it was our Christmas party so we needed a few games to get us under way and what better that “Who is the name of Gaz Coombes, of Supergrass fame, wife’s daughter?” We don’t do trivia by halves you know, although if you want to have a go at some others, scroll down to the end of this piece and have a go at three nuggets.

Tram services running as normal

So with our whistles wetted we went westwards (see what I am doing here?) and jumped on the tram.  I asked one of the men on the platform and he assured me that events in Corrie this week had had no effect whatsoever on the tram network.  Phew!  The twenty eight minute journey north was supposed to feature a running commentary by our local guide as to the areas we were passing through but unfortunately she didn’t actually know.  Dave harshly gave her a 1 out of 10 for local tour guide ability.

Just as we were pulling into Bury I rubbed my eyes in a sort of “I didn’t actually get in until 5am and then got up an hour later” sort of way, and coming off in my hand was clumps of black stuff.  Events started to unravel in my mind from the night before.  There was a bottle of schnapps, a bet, a comment about my girlie long eyelashes and then a mascara pen came out from someones handbag.  Shit….I was wearing mascara, and had been for the past 12 hours.  Thank’s everyone for telling me, although it does explain why the steward on the BA flight went and got me a pillow…no Stuart don’t go there!

Bring on United

Unfortunately time was tights so we couldn’t go to Bury Grand Market, as we had heard it was a great day out.  Instead we hopped in a cab and 5 minutes later were walking through the gates of Gigg Lane.  You got a sense of community straight away.  No flashy megastores here – just decorating tables set up in the car park selling FCUM merchandise, a chance to subscribe to their community based share scheme that will fund the new ground at Ten Acres Lane in Newton Heath and lots of proud people after their amazing run to the FA Cup second round.  My musings on the great work the club have done cannot be done justice here so I urge you to have a look at this or this for more details.

We were whisked inside by our host “Swampy”, a man who is as FCUM as anyone and we had our press passes issued.  Stewairt, Garry, Dani and Grista (“Nice name luv, are you foreign) all soon had new identities and before you could say Cigarettes and Alcohol we were whisked into the upstairs bar to sample some of the FCUM Ale.  Hard life this football sometimes.

Come game time and we could choose where we wanted to sit.  The 5 minute build up to FC United entering the pitch at home is now legendary “Bring on United” build up.

Stirring stuff.  Although we mustn’t forget the contribution to the atmosphere from the 600 or so FC Halifax Town fans at the opposite end.  The two clubs are united in their missions, although their backgrounds are so different.  Halifax Town were a football league club for over 80 years before the age old story of crippling debts, the unforgiving tax man and local fans deciding that Leeds United are the future saw their decline into the non leagues.  In July 2008 after demotion to the Northern League they reformed as FC Halifax Town and since then have been on an upward march.  Coming into this game the team were sitting top of the league with games in hand.  Whilst FC United were languishing at the lower end of the table with their games in hand they could actually go 2nd!

FC United of Manchester 0 FC Halifax Town 1 – Gigg Lane – Saturday 11th December 2010

Isn't it supposed to rain all the time in Manchester?

With our access all areas we could literally go anywhere in Gigg Lane.  So what did we choose to do?  It in the seats reserved for Directors and Guests of course.  There was to be no note taking today, just sitting on the halfway line listening to the incredible amounts of noise the 2,800 fans were making in the ground.  It must be a hard situation for Bury FC.  Are they happy that their tenants get more publicity than them?  Not being a regular at Gigg Lane I cannot comment on the normal matchday atmosphere but I but have a wager it’s not as loud as FC United.

A jaunty angled look at life

This was a humdinger of a game.  Both teams really went at each other at a hundred miles an hour and chances fell every few minutes.  It could have been five all at half time if it wasn’t for the combined efforts in goal of Sam Ashton, the hero from the Brighton cup game and Jonathan Hedge in the FC Halifax Town goal who kept the scores level.

So at half time it was downstairs into the “Legends” Bar, with the walls adorned with some of the most famous moustached players in the world including Terry McDermott, Neville Southall and Derek Spence – yes that Derek Spence.  The Legends lounge is essentially a double glazed conservatory bolted onto the edge of the main stand, meaning you could watch the game at grass roots level if you so wished.  Beer sir?  Of course – after all this isn’t the Premier League, nPower leagues, FA cup, FA Trophy or FA Vase heaven forbid!

Simon Garner scores the winner

The second half saw the pace continue.  FC Halifax should have been ahead early in the second half only for the linesman on the far side to continually be 5 yards behind play and flagging Metcalfe and Garner offside erroneously time and time again.  However, it was these two players who combined for the only goal of the game as Manchester-born Metcalfe crossed and Garner beat the defender to head home from close range.

It's great up north

The FC United fans turned up the volume to 11, hoping to inspire their team but they found Hodges in inspired form in the FC Halifax goal.  To vary things up a little we headed down to the “Invited guests only” lounge and enjoyed a free cup of tea to watch the final few minutes unfold.  Rock ‘n’ Roll eh!

With just over an hour until our luxury steam train was due to transport us back into the metropolis we decided on the cab route back to Piccadilly.  With Dave taking shotgun we were treated to 45 minutes of dancefloor classics such as the CC Music Factory, Deelite and the “new one” from Rihanna which “isn’t up to her normal standards” according to Tim Westwood in the front.  The traffic was crap to say the least and every back double led us into more traffic. “Are we still in Bury” came the call from Mr Last.  Unfortunately yes we are Danny.  Dante’s Inferno was written after his 14th century experiences of trying to get home from the mill around here don’t you know.

But we made it and after a quick stop in Sainsbury’s for some refreshments on the way home (of course it had to be Denmark’s Carlsberg Export didn’t it) we boarded our carriage and got about the task of trying to put all 92 clubs in their rightful divisions.  Mass debate ensued especially over the fate of Wolves, West Brom, Brighton and Huddersfield, although I let a quick power snooze distract me and all of a sudden WBA were back in the second tier of English football, doomed to a life time of highlights at midnight on a Saturday night on BBC1.

We weren’t alone on the journey.  We were joined by none other than Kenneth Williams, Ashley Peacock, John from Howards Way and Roy Hodgeson fresh from Liverpool’s defeat to Newcastle United.  No really, we were –  just see for yourself above.

While you're down there

And here is the final amazing event of the day.  “Ladies and Gentlemen.  we are now arriving at London Euston 19 minutes ahead of schedule”.  Paul Hardcastle obviously had been using Virgin Trains as his inspiration for that song which I cannot quite remember the name of.  Are you listening SouthEastern?  A proper rail service.

And there we have it.  A cracking day out, complete with supporting cast.  It summed up all the reasons why we love Non League football.  FC United will succeed, of that there is no doubt.  They have passion, a sustainable business plan, vision and the willingness to deliver.  Four of the most key attributes to make any business succeed.  And good luck to them.  Some of the nicest people we have met in football.

Another view on the day through a different pair of beer goggles can be found here at Danny’s EFW site.

For more of our adventures click here to access our Flickr feed from the day.

1. Name 4 sets of players who share the same name who have played professional football at the same time?

2. Name 6 Scottish players who have played in the Bundesliga?

3. Apart from MK Dons, name three other current Football League teams who have changed their names whilst being in the league?

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