I mentioned last year that every now and again you end up watching a football match which seems to redefine your views and opinions about football. I had one of these moments in Mechelen where I watched 11,000-12,000 KV supporters create the sort of atmosphere that reminds you of a time where people just went to watch football and support their team. I had some expectations about my visit to Chorley a few weeks ago. Victory Park is a fantastic ground and for the first time ever a fellow photographer, who’s a bit of a legend in the non league scene, managed to sort me out with a press pass for the game. When I left Victory Park in order to drive back to London after the game it was done with a reluctance and a heavy heart.
The packed away end at Victory Park.
A time when Man United just started to whore themselves out commercially.
When I was growing up in Devon in the 1980’s I supported Torquay United primarily but because of my late father I was also a big Manchester United fan. Dad was from Sale you see and had moved down to the Westcountry when he was 14 or 15. He told me that he had a paper round in Sale and used to deliver the Manchester Evening News to a few United players (Paddy Crerand and Harry Gregg) who lived in the area at the time. Of course the old man could’ve been talking bollocks, but at the time it sounded pretty impressive. On my 6th birthday I got a Manchester United bag in the morning and then watched the Spurs V Man City cup final in the afternoon whilst asking my father why he’d bought me a United bag when City were on the telly. Perhaps I broke his heart on that day. But I was a pretty staunch United fan in the 1980s even though at the time the two big teams in the school playground where the dreaded Liverpool and fashionable Spurs. In my primary school they started doing a monthly school magazine and in the “What football team do you support?” poll I was the only Man United fan. I had posters of Norman Whiteside, Remi Moses and Frank Stapleton up in my bedroom but by the early 1990s I’d lost interest a bit. I don’t really like or follow teams who are successful. But still, to this day, I still hate Liverpool more than Plymouth Argyle.
Anyway, I drove up from west London after waiting for my fellow photographer mate to turn up from Eastbourne. We made good time and got to Chorley at 1pm or so. We parked up and met Josh, the club photographer, got our press passes and had a wander around a deserted ground except for a few stewards, the catering staff and around 30 members of the Lancashire Constabulary who were being briefed in the main stand. The strong police presence was deemed necessary after a spot of bother between Chorley V Chester earlier in the season. They were expecting around 1,100 away fans and nobody wanted any trouble. I had a nice wander around the ground and had a walk on a lovely springy pitch. We had a couple of pies and had a chat with supporters, stewards and coppers. The Coppers in particular were very chatty. One of them (a Southport fan) was interested that I was a Torquay supporter. Nice people up north. They even correct a southerner’s amateur pronunciation of Bacup. But I will say if it’s got a bastard “y” in it spell it with a bastard “y”!
Yes Carole, I’ll have one from the top, one from the botton and two from the middle.
The ground started to fill up and myself and David went our separate ways. The FC United end was packed out and the local Chorley population didn’t disgrace themselves either and turned up in force. There’s an atmosphere up north that’s a lot different to what it is down south. There’s more knowledge, enthusiasm and a bit of extra passion in the support they show for there teams. At least one of the Chorley lot was a disillusioned Blackburn Rovers fan who was tucking into one of the excellent pies with a t-shirt hurriedly knocked up with “100% Rovers, 0% Venkys and Kean” written on it. It’ll be less than 0% now they’ve gone down. The poor buggers. Only Paul Robinson and the chicken can only their heads high after the Wigan game.
The match kicked off. Chorley started off pretty well. There was a slight altercation in the main Chorley end when a group of FCUM supporters announced themselves to their new adoring public. “Manchester, la-la-la” got transformed to “Manchester, wank wank wank” in riposte. There was a small stand off and then a slight delay in ejecting them. To be fair to the stewards and the police I think their policy of negotiation was a prudent one. Really, you should’ve seen the fucking state of them. Rough as Badger’s arses they were. Think The Jockey in Shameless. Then when things settled down off the pitch the match got a bit scrappy on it as one or two FCUM players went down a bit easily which brought several reactions from the Chorley faithful “Get up yer fucking soft bastard” and then I was joined by an 8 year old local urchin who started giving the ref a bit of stick “Manc refs, we only get Manc refs” he sang passionately. Impressive stuff from someone so young. The first half ended up being a bit of a stalemate. FCUM just shaded it in front of their noisy supporters who didn’t stop singing for the entire half. It was unbelievably impressive stuff for any neutral in the ground. Next to me was a Scarborough supporter who started chatting away. We both concluded that the amount of noise being generated from the away end took us back a few years.
Police and Stewards plan on how they going to take on the Manchester mob from hell.
I was initially a bit suspicious about FCUM and what they stood for. My views on them were probably a little influenced by what AFC Wimbledon have become. I wondered about their motives for essentially turning their backs on a club which most of them supported for years. Their argument is of course ,and backed up fully by chatting to some FCUM supporters before the game, is that when Glazer got involved the club as they knew it died. The new club carries on the same sort of spirit and type of support that I remember normal United fans showing back in the 1980’s , or as one slightly older fan told me before the match, the famous Man United away days in the old 2nd Division in the mid 1970s when Tommy Docherty was in charge. Away days which were characterised by a huge travelling vocal army of support. My suspicion would be that instead of thinking as FCUM being created in a knee-jerk reaction to Glazer taking control at Old Trafford, it would be more accurate to suggest that they were actually created many seasons before that. The spirit and the ethos of the club seems to come from a period in the past when nobody had ever heard of Malcolm Glazer or even possibly Sky.
First half aerial action.
So the second half kicked off in earnest. FCUM improved markedly but unfortunately for Chorley they didn’t improve from a poor first half display. Michael Norton (he’s not from Gorton) opened the scoring with a deft turn and a delightful left footed chipped finish into the corner. From that moment there was only really one winner and they added a second through Astley Mulholland. The final whistle blew and I managed to get onto the pitch at the end and took some celebration shots. A deserved win for FC United even though they got into the playoffs a little luckily after the league through the book at Northwich Victoria.
Victory Park. One of the great settings for a football match.
As for Chorley it’s a bitter end to a decent season. Victory Park is a magnificent ground and it’s a very decent club with a lot of good people attached to it. I think Gary Flitcroft will get them there or thereabouts and there may be an extra influx of Blackburn fans as the full backlash of relegation takes effect at Ewood Park. As for FCUM, well a week later they lost out to Bradford Park Avenue in the play-off final. I don’t know whether there are too many upset fans after they missed out in the play-offs in successive seasons.
FCUM players acknowledge their fantastic supporters
They’ve obviously got a very good fan base. The acid test will come when they move to their own stadium in Newton Heath and progress through the leagues. I hope, as this occurs, that the club and it’s supporters don’t lose sight of what they stand for and what should really matter when supporting a football club. Turning up in numbers, making a huge amount of noise but supporting the players no matter what the result. Myself and David found them to be a breath of fresh air. Whether they can continue in the same way if one day they progress into the Football League and then have to shove the prices up to a such a level as what they were paying at Old Trafford is debatable. I sincerely hope that they never lose sight of not considering themselves FC or indeed one of the family.