24th February 1996 – Maine Road, Manchester
It is the February half term holidays for a blonde-haired Welsh boy from Quakers Yard, Merthyr Tydfil. The week before his parents had picked him up from his school, Edwardsville Junior School, and informed him that they would all be going on a trip next weekend to Manchester – to watch a football match: Manchester City v Newcastle United at City’s infamous Maine Road ground. This was as a result of his older brother going on a skiing holiday with the school, so the youngest was awarded with his own expedition. The boy’s love of football had only really begun to develop a year or two before, as the boy was growing up very much a part of the Premier League generation. He had decided to spurn supporting the all-conquering Manchester United, who his father and brother supported, and instead pinned his early loyalties to Kevin Keegan’s swashbuckling Newcastle team of the 90s.
After a stay in Chester and a trip to Manchester Airport for no other reason than something to do, the Harrison family headed towards South Manchester and the notorious Moss Side region of the city. Amongst the labyrinth of red-bricked houses sat City’s Maine Road. The boy’s Dad was afraid to leave his car parked in certain streets claiming they were ‘dodgy’, but eventually the Dad found the least ‘dodgy’ of spots and they were soon working their way through the streets towards the rusting ground towering over the streets around it.
As far as first live games go , the boy could not have asked for more. Manchester City 3-3 Newcastle United. A game of pulsating attacking football with an utterly majestic performance from Georgi Kinkladze thrown in for good measure. Niall Quinn got a double for City, whilst Newcastle’s goalscoring defender supremo Phillipe Albert grabbed two for Newcastle. Colombian Faustino Asprillia scored his first for Newcastle to make it 3-2, much to the delight of the young boy who also had a strange love for the Colombian national team. The Toon Army was to be spoiled though, as with less than ten minutes remaining City cult hero Uwe Rosler equalised to complete the scoring. If the action within the 90 minutes wasn’t enough, on exiting Maine Road the boy witnessed Asprillia plant a headbutt on Keith Curle after the final whistle, as the Colombian lived up to his reputation as one of South America’s ‘loco’ players.
The game was brilliant. The atmosphere was brilliant. The ground was brilliant. The boy thought live football was brilliant.
18th March 2013 – Maine Road, Manchester
17 years later, that 7-year-old boy was now 24 years old and was back at the scene of his first ever live game – I should also add that the boy was in fact myself.(I feel like Alan Partridge in his cringing autobiography with the way I’m describing my own use of narrative). Just over 17 years after I had visited City’s Maine Road ground, I had decided to take in my 51st game of the 2012/2013 season – the North West Counties Football League fixture between Maine Road FC and Silsden AFC. With a Monday night trip hastily planned into the depths of South Manchester, I decided that en route to Maine Road FC, located near Chorlton, I would make a pilgrimage to M14: the sight of my 1st ever live game at Manchester City’s Maine Road.
I hopped off a bus at the bottom of Rusholme’s curry mile and began to walk west to the area slightly south of Moss Side. A walk down Platt Lane took me past Manchester City’s current Academy base and soon I found myself coming towards the red-bricked terraces that I remembered from 17 years before. Considering it was just after 17:30, the area was like a ghost town. I edged my way through the streets and found myself confronted with a rubbled wasteland and some new, pristine looking apartment blocks – this was once Maine Road. I roamed around the area trying to find something that commemorated the fact that one of English football’s most famous grounds, and certainly one of its most raucous atmospheres, once stood there, but I sadly found nothing (I was hoping I had just missed it and that there was some sort of commemoration somewhere near the Maine Place apartments).
Even though there was no trace of Maine Road left, I did start to get goosebumps when I thought that I had been here 17 years before as a young lad. I began to think that if I went back in time and told the 7-year-old me that he would be back on that site 17 years later, living in Manchester itself, watching 50 plus games of football a season and on his way to watch a game on Step 5 of the National League pyramid, he would probably have laughed (and probably been terrified of seeing his future self I imagine. Enough Harrison-orientated nostalgia for one night, it was onwards through South Manchester towards Brantingham Road, Maine Road FC’s ground.
The walk from old ground Maine Road to the NWCFL club Maine Road FC was a bit longer than anticipated, but after crossing nearby Alexandra Park, I knew I was getting closer to my destination. It was quite surreal walking through the more ‘edgy’ streets around Maine Road and then suddenly crossing Alexandra Park and finding myself in leafy suburban area of Whalley Range. Now I knew I was in range of Brantingham Road, I decided that I would pop into the first pub I saw. Similar to my trip to Witton Albion two days before, there were no pubs to be found en route to the ground and soon enough I was outside Brantingham Road itself. The time was still only 18:30 and I decided that it was too early to head into the ground and its clubhouse, so I carried on my trek through South Manchester towards Chorlton. I had visited the Manchester suburb of Chorlton on my trip to West Didsbury & Chorlton FC before Christmas and I knew there were plenty of pubs around there. Soon enough I encountered a bar called Odd Bar, just a 10 minute walk from the ground. The place was a quite stylish little bar on Wilbraham Road and despite me not having food, all the food being served looked delicious. My phone was on its last legs in the battery department and the bar offered a good chance to recharge it; it also meant that I could text Rob, who had opted to join me on another Lost Boyos adventure, and let him know where I had ended up on my roaming of South Manchester. After one pint in the Odd Bar, Rob showed up straight from his work shift and we began our walk back to Brantingham Road.
I’ll get it out of the way now and say there is very little to Brantingham Road. It is very ‘back to basics’ to say the very least. In fact, on arriving, the football club almost seems an afterthought, as the large sign welcoming visitors to St. Margaret’s Playing Fields advertised the fact that you could hire the pitch out for games, more than the fact that a non-league football club played there (see the sign below).
We made our way through the rickety old turnstiles and I paid my £5 entry; Rob on the other hand has started writing the programme for West Didsbury & Chorlton FC and has acquired himself a fancy NWCFL card, which means he could enter for £2 this evening and all NWCFL games for concession prices. After my raffle successes at Curzon Ashton and recently at the Flat Cap Derby between Atherton Colls and Atherton LR, I also decided to purchase a raffle ticket for £1 in hope that I could add the Maine Road champagne to my 2012/2013 raffle haul of red wine from Curzon and whisky from Colls.
Unsurprisingly, the name Maine Road FC is linked to the blue side of the two Manchester goliaths. The club was actually formed by a contingent of Manchester City supporters in 1955 under the catchy name of ‘City Supporters Rusholme’. Fittingly, the club have always played in light blue shirts and their club badge pays more than a passing resemblance to the old crest of Manchester City. After the club moved to the Manchester Amateur Sunday League in 1960, the club relocated their homebase to the social club on Maine Road and the club name of Maine Road FC was spawned from there and has existed ever since. In Road’s 50 plus years of existence, the club has gone from a Sunday League team being run by Manchester City fans to today playing in the Premier Division of the North West Counties Football League. The club’s trademark has been its development of youth over the years with the club honing their junior players to step up to the senior teams. Since Manchester City relocated from their South Manchester home and headed east to Eastlands, Maine Road FC has dubbed themselves ”South Manchester’s Premier Club’.
Despite its simple surroundings, I quite liked the stripped back charm of Maine Road FC on entering through the turnstiles. It was tragically refreshing. We headed to the clubhouse, which basically looked like a big council house in the middle of the playing fields, and went in search of some food and drink. Unfortunately, the bar wasn’t open, but I thought a 70p cup of coffee would satisfy me quite fine. I also decided to go for a meat and potato pie, but when the friendly lady behind the snack bar informed me that there was chicken curry and rice on sale tonight, I could not resist. For my £1.60, I received curry, rice and two pieces of bread and I have to say it was delicious – a nice change from my usual pie fix. The clubhouse, which mainly consisted of a large open room that you might usually find at a local run down community centre (although the incongruous church pews lined up against the wall were an unusual touch), was largely deserted with kickoff looming and after finishing off my food, we decided to join the small crowd that had come out for this Monday night fixture. The game was actually an important fixture for Road, as a victory would see Maine Road go back to top spot in the NWCFL Premier, a position they had held and flirted with all season. Silsden found themselves sitting in the lower regions of the league table, but the Cobbydalers (great nickname) had become a bit of a ‘bogey’ team for Maine Road and had beaten them earlier in the season.
We decided to stand on the touchline nearest the managerial dugouts, as the game got underway. Maine Road started the game the better team and were attempting to play some neat passing. However, every time Maine Road worked their way further upfield the play seemed to hit a dead-end, as Silsden held the Road attack off comfortably. With minutes gone, Rob and I had noticed that the Silsden team looked very young – like very, very young. I had decided to dub their number 10 ‘Cruyff’ because he had the same stance and hairstyle as the famous Dutchman, although he fell slightly behind Cruyff in the footballing ability department, but it was the number 11 for Silsden who looked like that he had come straight from a day of school – he looked about 14! In spite of his youthful looks, number 11 (who I have since found out it is named Josh McNulty) was to get more and more into the game as the half unfolded and despite his small stature, he certainly wasn’t scared about trying to hassle the bigger opposition around him; he also had some neat little tricks on offer as well. It was to be McNulty who would make the difference in the first half, as on the 44th minute, he expertly bended a freekick towards the near post from the edge of the box and scored, although the goalie was largely to blame for letting the ball bumble over his gloves. McNulty almost scored an absolute screamer with the final kick of the half, as he launched a rocket half volley from 20 yards out, but with the keeper getting nowhere near the effort the ball flew wide.
It had actually been a fairly warm evening, but as the half came to a close the temperature had began to drop rapidly, so we headed for the warmth of the clubhouse. On entering we were informed that I had not won the raffle, but that the Chairman of the NWCFL had conveniently won the champagne instead. Once again, the bar wasn’t open, but once again I wasn’t really bothered; I was more than happy with my hot chocolate to warm me up for the second half. Whilst I was buying my hot chocolate, I heard the woman who had served me the curry earlier and two men discussing the success of the curry this evening “I think we’ve sold 8!” Got to love non-league. I bought my hot chocolate, informed the chef how much I had enjoyed my chicken curry and then headed back out for the second half.
As expected, Maine Road came out for the second half fired up and seeking a goal in pursuit of the three points that would take them to the summit of the league. However, just like the first half, Maine Road’s attacks were just not getting anywhere and this was largely down to the dogged defending of Silsden. On the night, Silsden appeared to have great team spirit and they were constantly encouraging each other to keep working hard, as was the Cobbydalers’ staff on the touchline.
The second half was swinging back and for but with few chances. It was beginning to look like neither team was going to score again – that was until Silsden’s Danny Husband made a rash tackle on the edge of the box and Maine Road were rightly awarded a free kick. Warburton’s finish from the deadball was superb. Warburton curled his effort towards the far post and the ball swung into the back of the net leaving Silsden’s goalie Ed Hall wrong-footed and helpless. It was almost identical to the free kick I witnessed Gylfi Sigurdsson score for Swansea against Wigan last season. 1-1 with ten minutes to go.
Maine Road were now going to go for the full three points and the shouts from the Maine Road bench were for the team to go all out. There were still ten minutes remaining and the home team looked the more likely to score, although the Silsden defence remained stubbornly resolute. Silsden’s defensive solidity paid off. With 6 minutes remaining Silsden strung together a couple of passes and began to counterattack down the right-wing. A good ball across the box found Wademan unmarked and he tidily finished into the bottom corner to make it 2-1 in favour of the away team.
It was clear that the remaining 6 minutes plus stoppage time seemed like an eternity for the Silsden players with many of them screaming at the ref asking why he was playing so much added time. Maine Road continued to probe and came close with a free header in the box which ended up being fired straight at the Silsden keeper. Even the Road keeper went up and joined the fray in the closing stages, but Silsden held on for a 2-1 win, becoming the first team to do the double over Maine Road this season in the process.
We departed Brantingham Road via one of the gates at the front of the ground and en route heard the Chairman of the NWCFL state to a spectator “that was a good game of football from two good young teams that.” It was a decent game in fairness, but with very few chances. The highlight of the game was definitely the Maine Road goal, although the most praise has to go to the Silsden defensive effort, as it was only a great goal that was going to breakthrough the Cobbydalers’ rearguard.
After a short walk to Chorlton tram station, I found myself on an empty tram heading back towards the city centre by 10pm. Not a bad evening of football with a large chunk of nostalgia thrown in for good measure
Highlights: Revisiting City’s old Maine Road ground, Odd Bar, the chicken curry, cheap prices, Warburton’s free kick goal, Silsden’s defensive performance.
Low Points: not much near the ground, no bar open, very basic facilities at the ground.