I have visited Gigg Lane on three occasions now – I really need to write about the ground, especially considering I really like the place. I have visited the ground twice for two Bury games and this weekend I attended my first ever FC United of Manchester game. I have enjoyed all three of my visits to Gigg Lane (although the less said about the second game I attended there, the better), especially my day in the stands with the FCUM fans.
In my first week living in Manchester, I noticed every bus that passed me seemed to be heading to Bury. All roads out of Manchester appeared to lead to Bury. After recognising this pattern, I was straight on the internet to have a look at Bury’s upcoming fixture list. It turned out that Bury would be playing Sven Goran Eriksson’s Leicester City that very day. £5 a ticket and I was sold. An August Tuesday fixture at Gigg Lane was scribed into the diary; this would be my second game in Manchester following my move to the area, my first being Manchester City’s Aguero/Silva-inspired 4-0 demolition of my beloved Swans.
Thanks to my housemate taking ages to decide whether she was coming to the game or not it was a real rush to make the game and after purchasing our tickets we missed the opening minutes of the game. We found ourselves sitting in the Cemetery End behind the goals and after asking a local fan it turned out we had missed very little in the game’s nascent stages. After the rush to make the game we got to our seats and I began to take in the ground around me. Gigg Lane is a proper football ground. I think I have stated several times on my entries about other grounds, but for some reason I love a ground that has trees around it (Huddersfield’s Galpharm Stadium being a particular favourite of mine because of it’s surrounding forestry – who knows where this tree fascination comes from) and Gigg Lane falls into this delightful category. On the left of the Cemetery End is the Les Hart Stand, which for this cup game was full of Leicester fans; the stand is not usually the base for the away support but the sheer amount of Leicester fans that had made the trip up to Lancashire dictated they accommodate this stand. The away support are usually housed in the Manchester Road End behind the opposite goal. And finally on the right, stands the Main Stand, complete with what look like small conservatories right alongside the pitch – Bury’s answer to VIP executive boxes.
As predicted with a Carling Cup game, the crowd were not really up for it, but soon they would have no choice. Put bluntly, the game was superb. If anyone read my “Lost in…Season Review of 2011/12” you will know that I placed this game as the third best game I saw all season – and I saw a hell of a lot of good games last season. Leicester were passing around Bury for fun, but Bury dug in and battled bravely against a team that was a league above them and much more financially affluent than them. I was particularly impressed with Leicester’s Japanese midfielder Yuki Abe who was holding the ball up superbly in the centre of the pitch and regularly playing defence splitting passes. It only took Leicester 10 minutes to score, but then against the run of play Mike Jones equalised for Bury. A great first half was followed by an even more thrilling second half as the game became a real end-to-end affair. Bury took the lead through Ryan Lowe (playing one of his last games for Bury before moving to Sheffield Wednesday) who scored a brilliant curling free kick that was right in the top corner and unreachable for Chris Weale in the Leicester goal. The atmosphere at Gigg Lane was now brilliant as the Bury fans went wild with joy and the Leicester fans went wild with anger, so much so that after some winding up from the Shakers’ fans, many of Leicester’s fans acted aggressively and found themselves escorted from the ground by the stewards. Whilst we are talking of the fans, I have to praise Bury for their amazing chant directed at their striker:
“His name is a shop!/His name is a shoooooopppppp!/Lenell John-Lewis!/His name is a shop.”
The goal sparked Leicester into life, especially Paul Gallagher who attempted to drag Leicester back into the game singlehandedly. After iconic bandana-wearing Nigerian defender Efe Sodje brought down Lee Peltier on the edge of the box, Gallagher scored the equaliser by driving a free kick under the wall into the bottom corner. Next to score was Lloyd Dyer who beautifully curled his shot in from the corner of the box into the far corner of the goal and Leicester’s victory was all but confirmed after Neil Danns scored following a solo run into the box. Full time: Bury 2-4 Leicester. What a game! All the goals were brilliant.
The rush to get to the ground had not given me an opportunity to complete my prematch ritual of wandering the town and its various pubs. With Bury being the third nearest league team to me, this had to be remedied. My second visit to Gigg Lane was delayed repeatedly and I would not visit the ground again until the one but last day of the Football League season, as Bury took on one of their local rivals, Oldham. I had been ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ whether to go up to Gigg Lane all morning, as Swansea were playing Wolves the very same day and I had planned to watch that game on on the internet. I decided that the Swansea v Wolves game would be a dull affair and it’s always good to see live football. To Gigg Lane I went.
After making the 25 minute bus journey north of my abode in Lower Broughton and purchasing my ticket for the game, I went in search of a pub near the ground. The first thing I noticed was that there was a lot of police about; I knew Bury v Oldham was a derby but as far as I was aware there was little animosity between the two clubs, especially compared to the much fiercer Bury v Rochdale derby. Anyway, I decided to plomp for the first pub I saw, which was the Staff of Life on Manchester Road. The pub was rather bare and slightly run down inside, but the people in there were very welcoming and even when I told them I was a Swansea fan they weren’t too bothered; Swansea won at Gigg Lane in the mid-2000s to get promoted to League One and so ensued a pitch invasion which didn’t go down well with the home support. It turned out the drinkers frequenting the pub seemed to have a lot more hatred for Cardiff City than their West Wales rivals. I was going to move onto another pub after the first pint, but one of the locals insisted on buying me a pint, so in the pub I remained. My new companion, a man in his 50s who had only called in for one drink on his way home from the butchers where he had purchased steak for dinner, turned out to be quite a character and he even insisted I visit the butcher he had just come from as he did the best steak around apparently.
My next stop was the club’s clubhouse which is situated just outside the gates of Gigg Lane. The clubhouse is very sizable and there is a separate area for season ticket holders. There was a great atmosphere in there with both sets of fans mingling and sharing a drink together and the large police presence around the streets began to seem unnecessary to say the least. One of the other reasons I was at Gigg Lane that afternoon was to catch a glimpse of an old favourite of mine: Shefki Kuqi. I always enjoyed watching Kuqi at Swansea although in all fairness, he was rather dismal at times – in fact a lot of the time – particularly with his finishing; yet for some reason, I always found him entertaining and enjoyable to watch (apart from the time he scored twice against Swansea for Palace and then against Wales for Finland only two weeks apart – I was at both games). Speaking to Oldham fans at the bar, they seemed to have similar feelings towards him as myself. Thus after leaving the bar and entering the ground, I was heartbroken to learn that Shefki would not even be on the bench for Oldham as he had a minor injury. Gutted.
This time I was sat in the main stand which I much preferred to the Cemetery End, despite the irritation of having to peak around one of the stand’s supporting pillars every now and then. Admittedly, there was very little to need to look around the pillar as there was nothing of an excitement going on on the pitch. Bury v Oldham on the 29th April 2012 has to go down as one of the dullest games I’ve ever been in attendance at, even rivaling Kuqi’s Swansea debut against Coventry in a 0-0 draw on a cold Tuesday night under Paulo Sousa’s Swansea managerial reign – that really was the dullest game I’ve ever been to. I would describe some of the action, but there wasn’t any after the first 20 seconds when Bury missed a glorious chance to go 1-0 up. That was it. My decision to attend the game was made all the more frustrating by the fact that the Swansea v Wolves game that I had shunned, ended up 4-4. I should really have seen the dull game coming as both teams had nothing to play for, as both had already escaped relegation and neither were near the playoff spots.
My second game at Gigg Lane was beyond dull, but I would be rewarded for my endeavours with a much more exciting exhibition of football on my third visit to the ground 5 months later. This time I would not be seeing Bury play at Gigg Lane, but the ground’s part-time tenants, FC United of Manchester.
For those unsure of who the hell FC United are, this is the ‘punk’ football club that came to be in 2005 after the Manchester United fans’ protests against the Glazer family. For some, the protesting and the waving of green and gold scarves was not enough and a contingent of United fans decided to cut their attachment to the Premier League Goliath altogether and start their own club from scratch, a club that would be away from the vultures of foreign ownership and the high prices of modern football. In fact, the club even operate their own ‘Pay what you can afford’ season ticket scheme, giving the fans the option to pay whatever they can for a season ticket (the minimum is £90, but the average the club receives for a season ticket is £149 per person). The club embraces their ‘punk’ persona and many of the flags carried around by the club’s supporters are brandished with things like ‘Children of the Revolution’, ‘Red Rebels’ and ‘Our Club, Our Rules’. From the stories I had heard and read about the club, I had an image in my head of some sort of football pirate crew riding around Manchester tarnishing the name of the more established clubs around them. The rebellious tone towards modern-day football is embraced further with the club’s constitution stipulating that the club is never to have a sponsorship on their shirts. The club has shot up the leagues since its birth in 2005, after achieving 3 successive promotion in its first 3 years, as the club rised through the North West Counties Division One and Two leagues and the Northern Premier League Division One North. Since the 2008/09 season, the club has been in the Northern Premier League Premier Division and over the last couple of years the club has come close to achieving promotion to the Blue Square leagues. The only thing missing from the FC United ensemble is their own ground, something they are working to secure in the very near future with their bid to build their own £4m ground in the Moston area of Manchester.
I once again made the trip up from my home towards Bury, but this time I dismounted the bus outside a pub just 5 minutes down the road from Gigg Lane called the ‘Swan and Cemetry’; a strange name but it had the word ‘Swan’ in it so it had to be good (WARNING: do not enter pubs just because they have word ‘Swan’ in their name – I found this out on a trip to Burnley, but that is a story for another day). The pub was dubbed on the outside as ‘the friendliest pub in Bury’ and it certainly was very nice inside with many people settling down for their Sunday dinner. The food looked great and the beer was relatively cheap (£2.70), especially when taking into account the very neat and tidy appearance of the pub. The place was great and there were plenty of FC United and Cammell Laird fans, but I still preferred the more rundown Staff of Life up the road; despite it’s more grizzled look, I found this pub much more friendlier. And on that note, I opted to pay ‘the Staff’ a second ever visit. The Staff of Life had even undergone a slight (very slight) makeover since my last visit there, although it still maintained that tatty-looking charm that had pleased me so much last time. Whilst in the pub, a man wearing a Primal Scream t-shirt came around selling the FC United matchday programme, and despite me generally no longer buying programmes these days, I opted to get one for £2. For £2 the programme was great with plenty of information on the club and the opponents and it was also useful to get a feel for the whole ethos behind FC United. After a swift pint, I headed around the corner to Gigg Lane.
FC United were out in numbers on this warm, stuffy Sunday afternoon and it looked like we were in a for a good crowd at Gigg Lane. On entering through the gates of Gigg Lane I was greeted by a series of tents all pushing the FC United cause: a tent selling membership to the club (the club runs a ‘one member, one vote’ system); another selling season tickets – remember, pay what you want – and two large tents and a long stall selling a whole range of FC United merchandise. The range of merchandise would put most Football League teams’ club shops to shame.
I paid my £8 and I was into Gigg Lane. One thing I hadn’t done on my previous visits to Gigg Lane was to purchase a pie – that had to be sorted. I was overjoyed to hear that they offered my favourite type of pie, the cultured Chicken Balti Pie. It was a tad expensive at £3, but it was a class act. Big thumbs up for the pies at Gigg Lane.
I’d heard that FC United fans were very noisy, so whilst perusing the stands I looked for the area which appeared to be seating (well, standing) the ‘loud’ fans. I then headed up the steps and found a place to stand on the edge of the main singing area. And sing they did. FC United fans are a very impressive bunch. Not only do they come out in numbers (there was an attendance of just over a 1000 there at Gigg Lane that day for a FA Cup game) but they sang for almost the entirety of the 90 minutes – and for about 10 minutes before the game and throughout half-time. They also have the best catalogue of songs and chants I’ved heard at any football match. There is a mix of old school United songs such as the classic “U.N.I…T.E.D. United are the team for me” and “We are the Busby Boys” to amazing renditions of pop and rock classics and even their own rendition of “Consider Yourself” from the musical Oliver! It really was truly spectacular. It was hard to pick a favourite chant; I’m a huge fan of the Yaz song ‘Only You’ which United fans made their own; I also enjoyed their tweaked version of Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m into Something Good”; but my favourite was the club’s rousing version of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy of the UK”, which also added to the punk rock vibe of the club:
I am an FC fan/I am Mancunian/I know what I want and I know how to geeeet it/I want to destroy, Glazer and Sky/I…. want to be….at FC!/
The game was completely one-sided and FC United dominated the game from the first minute to the last. As well as battering Cammell Laird, they even did it with some very nice passing football. It really was great to watch. It was patient, calculated and intricate and reminded me of Swansea under Rodgers last season. The first chance didn’t really come until past the 30 minute mark when Lee Neville was duly put through on goal and he buried the chance with aplomb. The goal was also the catalyst for the FC United goal celebration ritual in the stands, as the fans unravelled their scarves and spun them with delight into the Lancashire air.
The floodgates were now open. By half-time it was 3-0 to United following goals from the lively Jerome Wright and the prolific Mike Norton; many of the FC United supporters were actually wearing shirts emblazoned with the words “He’s Michael Norton, He’s not from Gorton” in ode of the ode directed at their talismanic striker. Despite the three goals, the player that had stood out for me was United’s centre back Adam Jones. Name aside, Jones reminded me a bit of the Phil Jones of the Glazer Empire. Adam was strong, commanding and he was clearly comfortable on the ball as he pushed up the field. There was no mindless lumping up the pitch from him either. Unfortunately, Jones did not come out for the second half and I’m guessing this is because of a slight knock that he picked up during the first half or maybe even to rest him with the game practically sewn up.
Cammell Laird lasted of all two minutes after the restart before FC United added their fourth, although technically Cammell added it through their defender Michael Grogan’s own goal. United carried on pushing and the fans were baying for more goals. The introduction of Carlos Roca would inspire the team to their fifth goal, as the tricky winger picked out Norton in the box to score his second and United’s fifth. Out came the twirling scarves for the fifth and final time. United continued to ball hog and Cammell were chasing shadows for the rest of the game and even when they did win the ball back, the FC United players hunted in packs to get it back. Full time: FC United 5-0 Cammell Laird.
I swanned back to the ‘The Swan’ before heading home.
Gigg Lane is a great little ground. The Bury fans I encountered on my visits up there have been great and I think Bury are a great club. However, I have to admit that standing with the FC United fans was one of the most enjoyable times I have had standing in another club’s home end (although it is not really their home end). The atmosphere, the songs, the fans, the team – watching FC United is certainly an experience. I’ve been singing “Anarchy in the UK” all day!
Highlights: Relatively cheap tickets, some decent pubs around the ground, witnessed two great games there, decent clubhouse, the fun atmosphere with FC United fans, the FC United chants, Chicken Balti Pie.
Low Points: That god awful Bury 0-0 Oldham game I attended, £3 a pie, being denied Shefki Kuqi.