Hyde v FC Halifax
Ewen Folds / Conference Premier / 8th March 2014
People moan always seem to moan about the working hours and holidays of teachers with probably very little understanding of the amount of effort that goes into being in the teaching profession outside of the usual 8am-3pm school hours. An example of this was to come this Saturday morning (and for the Saturday mornings either side of this one) as I found myself rolling into work at 9.30am on a Saturday morning, ready for some GCSE catch up work with Year 11. Of course, as can be the case a lot of the time, my profession intruded on my football plans, but that’s just the way it is sometimes. However, I work and live around one of the biggest footballing hotbeds in the UK: Greater Manchester. So with me due to finish my Saturday morning session at midday, I decided to snoop around for an interesting local fixture. Many games were considered and it looked like I was going to settle on a trip to Stalybridge Celtic, a ground I had visited at the very start of my travels last season and a ground I had very much enjoyed visiting. The Stalybridge revisit plan never took off though, thanks to the intervention of a fan of their local rivals.
Following a tweet from ‘Breezeblock’, a Hyde fan I’ve met on several occasions and someone I’ve come to enigmatically know only by the aforementioned Twitter handle, it was decided shortly after 10am that I was going to venture east of Manchester towards the small town of Hyde to watch Hyde FC take on FC Halifax at Ewen Fields. The game may have been a slightly enticing Conference Premier fixture, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it was Breezeblock’s use of the words ‘bar’ ‘happy’ and ‘hour’ in his tweet that was the final decider in me heading over to Hyde.
The trip was made further attractive by the infamy that Hyde have seemed to ascertain this season. For those unaware, Hyde have become a sort of non-league 2nd team for many fans up and down the country, as they are lavished with sympathy, I feel somewhat patronisingly at times, for their incredibly bad league form. My visit today was to be Hyde’s 36th game of the season – the previous 35 games had seen the club accumulate a paltry 9 points and a mere 1 win all season. Their poor run has even seen Sky Sports’ very own Jeff Stelling charting the club’s efforts in the Conference and even gracing Soccer Saturday wearing a Hyde FC scarf at one point. Throw in the fact that the Tigers of Hyde had conceded 96 goals all season and there was definitely a promise of goals this afternoon.
Alongside the 29 game winless streak, which was ended with a 2-0 win over Welling in mid January, the club have also earned affection for their highly humorous official Twitter account (@hydefclive), which has taken a light-hearted spin on the club’s dire season. For example, the tweet below shows what you can expect from the account – this is from when the club finally won:
@hydefclive: Just text the missus tell her get her sexy gear on I’m on my way home love #tonightsthenight
By 1pm, I had arrived into Hyde itself. I had visited Hyde’s ground once before, purely to watch Swansea legend Andy Robinson turn out for Tranmere Rovers Reserves against Manchester City’s EDS team (Man City’s U21s play at Hyde, but more on that later) on a Tuesday night. That day I had arrived at Newton for Hyde station, before heading straight to the ground, but today I disembarked at Hyde Central giving me the opportunity to explore Hyde town itself before heading off to Ewen Fields.
I made my way through the quiet Satuday afternoon streets of Hyde, until I arrived on the main street. I was pleasantly surprised to find half the street consisting of pubs. With a wide range of pubs to choose from, it was now just a case of choosing one. For no other reason than it had the word ‘jolly’ in its name, I opted to enter the Jolly Carter to catch some of Manchester United’s early kick-off against West Brom. However, it seemed the place was not the jolliest of places for me to be introduced to the town of Hyde, as on arriving at the bar, I was greeted by a long-haired man with a hi-vis jacket with “Look at this twat in the flat cap,” before oddly adding, “But I bet he’s hardworking.” Thankfully, I went unnoticed by the rest of the pub as the others were far too engrossed in Manchester United actually winning a game for once this year.
I had arrived into Hyde fairly near to kick-off, so after one pint, I made my way towards to Ewen Fields, a short 10-15 minute walk away from the town centre. The walk consisted of endless rows of front-gardened terrace houses, before I finally arrived at a small, yet steep hill which led up to the red-bricked houses surrounding Hyde’s Ewen Fields home.
My arrival at Ewen Fields was ill-timed, as I entered the car park behind the main stand just as minibuses full of Halifax fans arrived and headed towards the club bar – obviously my first port of call.
The social club consisted of one half of the room being dominated by round tables and chairs with the England shirts of ex-players adorning the walls (I should add England ‘C’ internationals), whilst on the other side of the room stood a small stage with a large screen displaying the closing moments of United’s 3-0 win at the Hawthorns. This side of the room was also jam-packed, as the arrival of all the Yorkshiremen into the bar had caused quite a lengthy queue emanating from the bar. The next ten minutes of queuing consisted of disgruntled Yorkshiremen entering the bar, seeing the queue and them uttering with anguish “Is this the bleeding queue?!” Yes, it was and in all fairness the bar staff were battling the queue bravely and it was soon decreased until I arrived at the bar itself. There were rumours coming up the line that the bar had run out of gas, meaning that the staff were battling with their beer taps to work. I felt relieved when my pint of Fosters was poured, but, despite being warned by the friendly lady behind the bar that it might be better to purchase a can of Red Stripe, it was to prove an awful decision. The lack of gas behind the bar led to me drinking possibly the flattest pint of lager ever to grace this world. It was truly horrendous, but I decided I was not going to waste it and instead courageously sunk it quickly to get rid of it, before heading back to the bar for a can of Red Stripe – I should have heeded the barmaid’s advice in the first place.
So with my gas-less pint of Fosters and can of Red Stripe finished with, I headed out of the social club and towards the turnstiles, where I had to pay £14 for today’s game – a bit high I thought for a team that had lost nearly all of its game this season, but then I guess this is just the going rate for Conference football these days.
On entering through the turnstiles, you are met by the backs of two stands. The first, to the left of the entrance is, the main stand, which is all-seater and sheltered with the unique quirk of having two floodlight pylons perched on top of the roof. Next door to this stand is a smaller, covered standing terrace, which I was to learn is known as the ‘Scrattin Shed’. Running down almost the entirety of the opposite side of the pitch is another covered standing terrace called the Leigh Street Stand, which stands behind the two dugouts. Behind the one goal is a very similar stand to the Leigh Street Stand, known as the Walker Land End. Arguably, the most interesting stand in the ground sits behind the opposite goals: Tinkers Passage End -named after the Tinkers Passage footpath that runs behind it. Once again, this is another sheltered stand, but unlike the others, it has quite a low roof and the stand seems to go quite far back behind the supporting pillars that stand at the front of it. Today, this was to house the Halifax fans, who seemed to be placed behind some sort of netting that was placed in parts at the front of the stand.
I should mention here that there is one distinctive feature of the ground that I have not yet noted. The ground has been noticeably modernised, especially for a semi-professional club at this level and that is down to one factor: Manchester City Football Club. It is great that Man City have pumped money into the club and the ground so that Ewen Fields is a fitting home for the U21 team of one of European football’s biggest aristocrats, but it is probably fair that the place has been slightly over-Man-City-ified. The City badge graces many of the stands around the ground, whilst even the ground itself has morphed from a red arena to a blue one with even the seats being changed from red to blue since City moved in in 2010.
The original Hyde FC was formed in 1885, but would not play at Ewen Fields until they merged with another local club, Hyde St. Georges. However, the outbreak of war eventually saw the end of the club and Ewen Fields was left unused for several years. Football would return to the area in 1919 with the formation of a new club: the current club in their old guise, Hyde United. Originally, Ewen Fields was earmarked for some sort of building development, meaning the new club originally started life playing at Townsend Street, but by 1920, Hyde United were calling Ewen Fields home.
The club played in a combination of the Manchester League, the Cheshire Leagues and the Northern Premier League throughout its history. One of the more interesting moments in the club history came in 1986 when Ewen Fields underwent a huge makeover as the club sold the ground to Tameside Council so that a synthetic Baspograss (not even sure what this is) pitch could be laid. That pitch would enter the history books with Hyde’s 1994/95 FA Cup 1st Round game against Darlington being the last time a non-qualifying FA Cup game was played on an artificial pitch. For the 1995/96 season, the pitch was returned to a grass surface.
Since 2005, the club have played in the Conference leagues and graced the Conference Premier for the first time in their history last season, after they won the Conference North in 2011/12. Sadly, they are already destined to be relegated back to the second tier of non-league football (in fact, as I edit it this two weeks after my visit, relegation has been confirmed with the end of March still over a week away).
Directly ahead of you as you enter the ground is the food hatch at the back of the main stand and it was here I headed first for a pie ready for the fast approaching kick-off. By the time I had my pie in hand, the teams had emerged onto the field with Hyde in their red and Halifax in the blue and soon we were underway in this Conference clash.
As the game kicked off, I positioned myself in the Scrattin Shed to the side of a lively gathering of young (and some older) Hyde fans in the corner of the Shed. This crowd would generate the most noise throughout the game, as they clearly decided that if the team was going to provide little joy on the pitch, they were going to have a good time off the pitch.
I spotted Breezeblock over in the stand behind the goal and so I decided to make my way over there to join him. By the time I had walked around the back of the main stand and come out the other side near the Walker Lane End, Halifax had gone 1-0 up with ex-Hyde player Ryan Crowther scoring a 9th minute volley.
On meeting up with Breezeblock, he was already apologising for what he could already see was going to be an awful, yet typical, Hyde performance. For the next few minutes I thought Hyde did OK and they were at least trying to play some football, but as Breezeblock had forewarned me, Hyde just could not seem to get past the halfway line. Despite a wave of tweets from my Morecambe pals celebrating the fact that I was going to see Hyde striker and Morecambe legend Danny Carlton play, I’m sad to say that Carlton struggled all game to offer any sort of spearhead to Hyde’s attack.
In the 27th minute Halifax made it 2-0 with a close range finish coming from Lee Gregory. It was not to be Gregory’s last contribution to today’s game. By the time Halifax had taken a two goal lead I had completed my exploration of the three home stands of the ground and I headed back towards the main stand.
Half-time: Hyde FC 0 – 2 FC Halifax.
I had made my way back to the main stand as Breezeblock had prompted on Twitter that I make an appearance on ’26 Nil Live’. What is 26 Nil I hear you ask? 26 Nil is Hyde’s very own commentary stream hosted by one of Manchester’s non-league aficionados, Ian Burke. It turned out that there were quite a few press people people at the back of the main stand and many gave me strange looks as I asked “Where are the 26 nil people?” Eventually one chap pointed me towards the correct side of the press area and before I even had a chance to say hello, Ian had placed a mic in my face and I was already pressed with questions about my travels, today’s game and a bit about Swansea City (which gave me a cheeky chance to plug our Swansea podcast, The JackCast).
The first 5 minutes of the second half properly confirmed Hyde’s inevitable loss as Paul Marshall curled a shot in from the edge of the box to make it 3-0 to the Shaymen. I had now returned to the Shed and the Hyde fans refused to be despondent and instead launched into songs of “Let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal!” before launching into exuberant celebrations over imaginary goals.
However, the Tigers’ fans would have a real goal to celebrate soon enough. In the 56th minute, Alex Brown pulled one back for the hosts. A slip from the Halifax defence saw Jordan Clark break through to set up Brown to score simply past the Halifax keeper.
Sadly, the home team’s joy was short-lived as Halifax made it 4-1 with the in-form Gregory taking the ball around the keeper and slotting home. The home fans had now stopped celebrating imaginary goals and had now shifted their elation in to pretending that Halifax goals were indeed their own goals. It all proved for great comedy and as I turned around I even saw some of the fans crowdsurfing. Quite the party was going on behind me , something that was especially humorous since the home team were getting so comprehensibly dominated.
It always looked likely to happen, but finally in the 82nd minute Gregory grabbed his hatrick with a low shot and to wrap up the scoring for Halifax with a 5-1 victory.
Full-time: Hyde FC 1 – 5 FC Halifax.
I had been told before the game that there was some sort of trouble at this fixture last season, but apart from the usual derogatory comments/gestures aimed at each other in the stands, there had been no trouble to speak of. However, as I was entering the bar again, a few Hyde fans came rushing past me and headed towards the nearby gate. It seemed that a scuffle had broken out with both sets of fans getting stuck into each other, whilst stewards tried to close the gate to separate the fans. It was hard to see what was really going on or who was to blame, but it’s never nice to see such scenes at football.
I rounded my day off on Tameside with a couple of pints (with gas now included) in the club bar, before working my way through a selection of bars and pubs in Hyde centre. A particular highlight was to be a very drunk and lairy Mancunian butchering Tom Jones’ It’s Not Unusual on karaoke in a particularly gritty looking pub, which I cannot remember the name of for the life of me.
An enjoyable day out in East Manchester was finished with a pint of German lager in the excellent Cheshire Ring pub opposite Hyde Central, before hopping on the train back to Manchester Piccadilly and then onwards home.
Highlights: plenty of pubs in Hyde, nice ground, plenty of goals.
Low Points: being called a ‘twat’ by a random man in a pub, my gas-less pint of lager.