“This bumpy bus ride reminds me of foreplay with my wife Barbara.” Not the statement you want to hear blurted out on a bus by a very posh-sounding old man, but this was how my Saturday afternoon began as I caught the no. 93 bus into the centre of Manchester. Today I was staying within the realms of Greater Manchester and more specifically I was heading into Eastern Manchester to visit Droylsden FC.
Recently, the small town of Droylsden has been opened up to world even more, thanks to the opening of the new Manchester Metrolink that was opened in February of this year and runs directly to Droylsden. So from catching a heritage steam engine to Ramsbottom last week, I decided I’d go to the other end of the spectrum this week and catch the modern Metrolink tram to this weekend’s football destination.
Shortly before 1pm I was aboard the tram and en route to Droylsden about 4 miles East of Manchester’s centre and about 20 minutes away on the tram. The new tramline also stops at the ‘Etihad Campus’ making life easier for those Manchester City fans who are travelling to the Etihad Stadium (the stop is right next to the stadium’s fanzone). I was also surprised at how quickly the new youth team stadium and youth facilities, City’s answer to Barca’s ‘Mini Estadi’ and ‘La Masia’, had shot up since I was last in the area around the Etihad Stadium. Anyway, enough about the glamour of City, today was all about Droylsden, where I arrived shortly before 1.30pm. On arriving in the town, I was greeted by some young teens practicing their cheerleading routine to ‘Cotton-eyed Joe’ – I began to wonder where the hell had I turned up?
One of the great things about Droylsden is that the ground is located right in the heart of the town centre and even more conveniently about 5 minutes walk away from Droylsden’s new tram stop. With over an hour to go until kick off at Droylsden’s brilliantly named ground, The Butcher’s Arms, I went in search of a pub to watch the second half of the Manchester United v Crystal Palace game. The night before, Radcliffe Borough fan “TGOTT”, a local of Droylsden, had tweeted me a list of recommended pubs in the area and soon enough I found the Beehive pub just down the road from the tram stop and literally just around the corner from the ground.
The Beehive is a small pub and with United on TV it was rather rammed. However, it was pleasant enough in there and there was a good atmosphere in the bar area with the 3 or 4 TVs showing the United game. The only thing I found a bit unusual was that the bar was full of people cheering on United – I was under the impression that Droylsden was a more of a City-orientated part of Manchester. Anyway, after watching United clinch a 2-0 win and after singing the praises of United youngster Adnan Januzaj to anyone who would listen (I’m a big fan of his having seen him several times for the United U21s), I headed out of the pub and 2 minutes down the road to the Butcher’s Arms; remember, that’s the name of the ground – not another pub.
However, you will find it unsurprising that the ground is indeed named after a pub and yes, it was indeed called the Butcher’s Arms. It was the landlord of The Butcher’s Arms pub who formed Droylsden FC in 1892 and the club would play on the pitch behind the pub, the same patch of land they play on to this very day. ‘The Butcher’ referenced in the ground’s name has also led to the ground adopting such sinister nicknames as ‘The Slaughterhouse’ and ‘The Abattoir’. To add to those vicious sounding overtones, the club are even nicknamed ‘The Bloods’, mainly because of their red kits.
As recently, as 2007 The Bloods were playing in the Conference National, after winning the 2006/07 Conference North. However, the club struggled at the highest level of non-league football and were immediately relegated back to the Conference North. Last season saw the club relegated from the Conference North and the club now find themselves playing in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier Division.
Today was not about the league for Droylsden, but instead a FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round tie against Trafford, a club from the same league as themselves. A cup victory today would not only take the club into the next round, but I was also told that it would bring the victors around £3000 – a nice sum for any non-league club. Although it was an FA Cup day, I was still quite unimpressed with the £10 entry fee – most clubs I have visited at this level charge around £7 mark, sometimes £8.
After paying my fee and entering through the turnstiles I was greeted by a large brick wall – this being the back of the main stand. To my left was another large brick building and I soon spotted a sign directing towards a club bar. That will do me! And what a clubhouse! If the football pitch wasn’t visible through the windows, then you would swear you’d wandered into a pleasant old-school pub. It certainly did not have the usual appearance of your usual non-league clubhouse. Like all good clubhouses, Jeff Stelling and the Soccer Saturday boys were on the large screen in the corner warming up for the day’s football, so with 15 minutes to go until kick-off at the Butcher’s Arms, I thought I may as well join them with a pint of San Miguel (which cost a decently priced £3). Then the lads from the Beehive pub arrived and I soon realised why they were all cheering on United: they were the Trafford away contingent, who’d come along to support the club at Droylsden today. Another interesting fact for you (well I say fact, I heard it somewhere and I’ve not really checked it): Trafford and Droylsden are the nearest clubs to Manchester United and City respectively, meaning today was almost like a ‘makeshift non-league Manchester derby’.
After a visit to the clubhouse, the next stop on my prematch wander was the tea hut – a small window outside the building. I bought myself a steak and kidney pie for £1.50 and a large coffee for £1. The pie was great with the gravy being particularly delightful (maybe a bit more steak in the pie may have made it an exceptional pie).
Now it was time for kick-off with the red of the Bloods lining up alongside the Trafford team, who were clad in their yellow away shirts for today’s game. I decided to watch the first half from the standing terrace behind the goal that Trafford were attacking with Trafford fan George Cheetham. George had tweeted me a couple of days before the game to inform me he’d be at the match and I’d met him shortly before kick-off. If you are ever at Trafford game, George is easy to spot as he’s the guy with the large navy blue ‘Shawe View – Trafford FC – Manchester’ flag.
I guess from that spot, I better do my usual description of the various stands in the ground: at that moment, I was stood on the sheltered standing terrace behind the goals, complete with red crash barriers. Behind the opposite goal stood nothing in the shape of a stand, just a large fence protecting the neighbours’ houses and gardens adjacent to the ground. Down the one side of the pitch is a more ramshackle covered standing terrace. And finally, on the opposite of the pitch is the main hub of the club and the main stand – a raised, covered seating stand with a seperate building next to it housing the clubhouse and other facilities.
The game kicked off and almost immediately it became apparent that Trafford were going to dominate the game. The home team just could not keep hold of the ball for more than a couple of passes and they struggled to get out of their own half for long periods.
It took until the 22nd minute for Trafford to take the lead, after a Paul Ashton (or ‘Flash’ as he is known by the Trafford faithful) pass was easily converted by Shelton Payne; the brilliantly named Shelton Payne, who sounds a bit like a villain from Sherlock Holmes (credit to James Bufton for that witty observation), getting his name on the scoresheet was to be a running theme throughout the afternoon.
Payne would have his second goal of the day by the 36th minute after he ran through the Droylsden defence and drove home past the Droylsden keeper, Yannick Nlate, who looked slightly ‘dodgy’ throughout the whole 90 minutes.
With Trafford now comfortably controlling the game, I decided to go for a wander of the ground. As I made my way around, I spotted the familiar face of friend of the blog, Mark of No Clash of Colours fame. Mark had spent the early part of the afternoon snapping photos around Old Trafford before the Palace game for his Manchester project, but he seemed to be much happier back at the more grassroots football of football. “Soulless” I believe was the word he used to describe his wanders around Old Trafford earlier that day.
There was just enough time before the end of the half for my favourite thing in the whole of football to happen: an indirect freekick in the box! Trafford earned this delightful treat after the Droylsden keeper claimed a lobbed volley back to him with his hands, but Trafford wasted the unique opportunity by blazing over the bar.
Half-time: Droylsden 0 – 2 Trafford. To be honest, it was already looking like a case of ‘How Many?’ for Trafford.
With a large queue forming at both the tea hut and the bar at half-time, I spent the break with Mark discussing past and future groundhopping adventures before heading back out to pitchside for the second half. I rejoined George, but this time we positioned ourselves behind the goals that Trafford would be attacking in the second half.
Droylsden actually started the second half fairly well with a couple of decent chances, but soon enough Trafford made it 3-0 and Shelton Payne grabbed his hatrick goal after an excellent cross from Bradley Anderson led to Payne circling the keeper to finish into an empty net.
It looked to be well and truly game over for Droylsden, but shortly after Trafford’s third goal, Droylsden pulled a goal back to make it 3-1, thanks to a simple free header from an unmarked Porya Ahmadi from a corner with the ball going in off the underside of the crossbar.
However, if there were any thoughts of an unlikely Droylsden fightback, those thoughts were extinguished as that lad Payne cropped up again. Firstly, Payne struck the bottom of the post when one-on-one with the Droylsden goalie, but two minutes later Payne buried an easy chance to make it 4-1 and to add to his tally of goals for the day. He joined a prestigious group of players I had seen score 4 goals in one game: Andy Morrell for Blackpool v Swansea in that amazing 6-3 thriller at the Liberty Stadium at the end of the 2006/07 and Yakubu for Blackburn at Ewood Park, once again against Swansea. Could Shelton Payne go on to be the first player I’ve ever seen score 5 goals in game? Well…
Standing behind the goals watching the Droylsden defence was quite humorous at times, as the amount of space afforded to the attacking Trafford was incredible. Trafford were finding holes in the defence with ease and unsurprisingly, Payne broke through once again. Payne found himself one-on-one with Nlate and rounded him to score his 5th goal of the game! Droylsden 1 -5 Shelton Payne! 5 goals for Payne! Such were the celebrations that one of Trafford’s midfield (I didn’t see who it was) earned a booking for blasting the ball away and getting the ball stuck in a tree in one of the neighbouring houses’ gardens. A classic ‘Can we have our ball back please?” moment.
Droylsden’s day was summed up ten minutes later when they earned a penalty for a supposed handball in the box from a Trafford defender, but almost predictably, Dylan Moloney’s penalty was saved well by Tom Read. It just wasn’t The Bloods’ day at all.
There was still time for Shelton Payne to have a glorious chance to score his 6th, but it appeared that he had become bored of slotting past the keeper and instead he went for a cheeky chip over the keeper, which didn’t quite go to plan, much to his own amusement.
Full-time: Droylsden 1 – 5 Trafford. A comprehensive and comfortable win for the away team, which sees them through to the second qualifying round of the FA Cup.
After saying my goodbyes to George, I headed for the bar for postmatch analysis with No Clash of Colours Mark and one last pint before hitting the road.
However, hitting the road, didn’t exactly mean heading straight back home. No, there was one Droylsden landmark I’ve not mentioned yet, which I was determined to visit before heading back home. I’ve always been a big fan of the blog 1 Leg on the Cup by the groundhopping duo of Tony One Leg and Johnny the Rhino. The twosome who are from Droyslden and most of their blogs usually end with the lads ending up in their favourite Droylsden drinking hole, ‘The Sweaty Spaniard’ (as they affectionately know the actually named ‘El Sapo Perezoso’ Tapas bar) – of course, I couldn’t go to Droylsden and not visit it.
So after a brief trip to the Lucky Toad, a pub around the corner to and commercially linked to El Sapo Perezoso (which means ‘Lucky Toad in Spanish), I headed to ‘The Sweaty Spaniard’. To my delight I was even joined by Tony and Johnny themselves, after they had returned from their latest groundhopping adventure, which was at Northwich Victoria’s Flixton home (which you can read about here). The evening was spent regaling each other with our tales of groundhopping since we had met up at Barnoldswick Town just before last Christmas. After a few drinks with Tony and the Rhino, after their famous story about how Johnny had pissed off Mark Hughes, and it was time to head home.
Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable day at Droylsden and thanks to the new tramline, easy for me to get home as well.
Highlights: easy to get to by tram, decent ground, great clubhouse, nice pies, Shelton Payne’s display, visiting the Sweaty Spaniard.
Low Points: I felt the entry fee was quite steep.