FC United of Manchester v Curzon Ashton
Broadhurst Park / Conference North / 31st August 2015
“You don’t have to worry about burning bridges, if you’re building your own.” Kerry E. Wagner – writer/publisher.
Since I’ve moved to Manchester/Salford and somehow stumbled onto and delved into the area’s non-league scene, I’ve found that there is one large non-league footballing entity that proves hugely divisive: I speak of the upstarts known as Football Club United of Manchester – or just FC United for the purposes of conciseness. Before becoming more familiar with non-league in the north-west, I always figured that everyone just loved the club known as ‘the Rebels’, but the more I’ve travelled around and met fans of other clubs, the more disdain I hear coming United’s way; especially from fans of other Greater Manchester non-league clubs. It could be the large following they have; maybe the sometimes more ‘raucous’ actions of some of their fans; or maybe even the fact that they are a relatively ‘new club.’ A lot of people just don’t seem to like them. So I’ll go on record with my views on the club now…
I love FC United.
For me, everything they represent and stand for is just perfect. I even once claimed that if I didn’t already have my own beloved club to support I think this would be the club I’d opt for. From the main building blocks of FC United, like the fans and philosophy of the club, to the little details like the badge and all those amazing songs, everything about the club just feels right to me. I’m already picturing certain fans of other non-league clubs smashing up their screens and shouting “NO! NO! NO!” in my general direction.
For those readers less familiar with ‘What is FC United?’ I’ll try give a brief overview.
Essentially, FC United spawned from a group of disenchanted Manchester United fans in 2005. A group of fans had protested against the way the club was heading for a while, but the turning point proved to be the Glazer family’s hostile takeover of United. The ‘rebel’ group of United fans decided to burn their bridges with Manchester United, but were more than happy to build their own bridge: this bridge would be FC United. Sir Alex Ferguson had a pop at the rebel club being set up – they didn’t care. Other Manchester United fans had a pop at the mutinous supporters – they didn’t care. Other clubs and fans had a pop at them – they didn’t care. The new club they looked to form was going to be a club with a difference: it would be solely theirs. Amazingly, the club is 100% owned by the fans and run by the fans; I suppose a true ‘leftie’ club. The left-ism continues with their commitment to helping in the community and their pledge to remain a ‘non-profit’ organisation. I believe the term used these days is ‘punk football’.
The club have risen from the North West Counties Leagues, through to the Northern Premier, before last year they finally reached the Conference North, after a few play-off mishaps over the past few years. The real staggering aspect about the club for me is the sheer size of their following with their lowest average attendance over the past 10 years being 1,800 and the highest being 3,000. This is a club who have spent the best part of their existence between the 7th and 9th tier of English football, making those figures quite incredible. Sorry if this reads a bit too much like an FC love-in already.
I’d heard a lot about the club since their formation and the whole concept of the club intrigued me, so on moving to Manchester in 2011 I decided I had to visit them. I live only a few miles south of Bury FC’s Gigg Lane, where FC used to play, and when possible I would usually head up for midweek games when I wasn’t gallivanting everywhere like I usually do on a Saturday. This is where my affection for the club developed with their 90 minutes of singing and scarf waving and generally offering the main thing I look for on my football outings: fun.
Today, I wouldn’t be watching them at Gigg Lane though. Nor, their other less-frequented adopted homes in Stalybridge or Ashton-under-Lyme. No, today I would be heading to the ground they have worked so hard over the past ten years to build for themselves and which opened this summer after several delays. Today was my first visit to Broadhurst Park – FC United’s first true home of their own.
Today was a Mancunian derby of sorts with FC United taking on Tameside club Curzon Ashton – a club who’s ground they shared for the last part of last season whilst Broadhurst Park was having the final touches made to it. As some of you may be aware, I’ve befriended some of the Curzon lot since I moved to Manchester and so obviously that presented a bit of awkwardness today, as I ditched my Curzon mates for the FC end. I decided I had to go in the home end for ‘blog purposes’. Plus, when I stated at the start of the blog ‘I love FC United’ I didn’t really have a decision to make did I? Still, I was cheeky enough to join the Curzon contingent in the Lloyd’s Bar in the Printworks for their prematch drinks…at 10.30am. It was a Bank Holiday Monday I suppose, so morning drinking is definitely allowed and encouraged.
I found the Curzon fans (plus adopted Curzon fans for the day, York City’s Ben and Crawley Town’s Craig) sitting in the corner of the bar when I arrived, but I was more excited to learn that Lloyd’s now sell Timmermans Strawberry Lager. Now that stuff is heavenly. I can’t put it into words how good it is, although my Curzon pals did give me a bit of a funny look when I arrived at the table with it. Although I think they were less amused when I said I was going to head over to the ground early and mingle with the FC United fans prematch and go in their home end. It turned out that Curzon loyalist Oliver is one of those people who really, really hates FC.
“Jägerbombs?” asked Aaron, although it was more of definitive statement than a query. Soon after, I glanced at the time to notice we were all doing Jägerbombs shortly after 11am. I already knew this was going to be a long day of drinking. Once again, I told myself that it was a Bank Holiday Monday and anything goes; also, I suppose I was still celebrating Swansea beating Manchester United 2-1 from the day before.
Jägers and strawberry lagers drunk, it was suggested we move on. Somehow we ended up in the Bierkeller – a place I’m not a fan of purely because the beer in there always tastes a bit…well, like piss. However, speaking of piss, more exciting was the interactive urinal racing game in the toilets, which involved pissing in certain directions in the urinal to drive the car on the screen in front of you around obstacles. The chase for the high score became very competitive throughout our time in the Bierkeller.
Then, it was time for my moment of turncoating and after a double thumbs up with the Curzon faithful, who actually won the bizarre award of ‘Best Double Thumbs Up of the Season’ on my 2015 awards blog, I said bon voyage and headed to Moston. It was time to leave my Curzon sympathies behind and get into FCUM mode.
The tram from Shudehill to Newton Heath/Moston took ten minutes and some FC fans I had got chatting to informed me that there would be a free bus to the ground waiting for us just outside the tram stop. Excellent stuff.
The bus journey was a short one with the bus rolling up outside Broadhurst Park in less than 5 minutes. I was planning on going straight to the pub with kick-off still about an hour and a half away, but I did now at least get an opportunity to have a quick bit of scrutinising of FC’s new home pre-pub. First impressions: well, I liked the sort of wooden effect on the outside, but it was all a bit plain too. Nonetheless, I’d save my opinions for later. Pub!
I’d received a tweet from FC fan Martin Smith earlier in the morning inviting me along to the Miners Arms for prematch drinks and I figured I should take him up on his invite. It also helps that he sold it to me by saying that the place is full of FC fans and ‘characters’ – and we all know I like ‘characters’.
I was definitely glad I accepted his invitation as, put bluntly, the Miners Arms is awesome. Properly my sort of pub. The place is absolutely huge with a cafe at the front, a bar with a stage and dancefloor in the middle and several other little rooms littered about the place. I obviously opted for the room churning out northern soul music with three middle-aged women dancing along on the dancefloor. Once I had my pint of Crystal though, I went in search of Martin, who I found in one of the back rooms of the pub with his mates. Fairplay to the lads, they were all very welcoming to me and without any prompting we were soon talking all things football (although I seemed to be pushing the conversation towards Swansea 2 – 1 Manchester United a lot). I’ve heard some say ‘FC United fans are dicks’; every club’s fanbase has their dickheads, as I’m sure FC do (I know Swansea do too!), but I’ve only ever seen the other side of this club and fans – all very friendly, welcoming and fun. And they paid for my beers! Classy! Drinks are on me if you are ever in South Wales lads.
Kick-off was approaching, so I said my goodbyes and headed across the road to Broadhurst Park, where a steady sea of red was now rolling into the ground. I entered into the St. Mary’s Road End (known by everyone simply as SMRE) for £9 and it was time to see how the latest tale in the story of FC United was going to unfold.
I’ll once again say that the ground isn’t the flashiest structure you are ever going to see, but once again I’ll emphasise how this ground was mainly paid for by the supporters saving money up over the years – an impressive feat. I’m sure more will be done to develop it over the coming years. The SMRE is one big standing terrace behind the goal whilst the other main stand, to the left of SMRE, houses the only real seating in the ground, as well as the club bar, hospitality area, changing rooms and all the usuals. The other two sides of the ground are just really spacious open walkways, but all largely decorated with flag after flag after flag. In fact, everywhere you look in Broadhurst Park you will see a FCUM flag of some sort. It helps give the ground some real character. Perhaps more impressive though is the giant scarf-like feature in the stand behind the far goal emblazoned with the FC logo.
I’d got into the ground shortly before kick-off, so after checking out the merchandise stall (I didn’t buy anything), I headed up into the terrace to get a good perch for the game. It was then I spotted the Curzon gang enveloped in what looked like their very own paddock in the midst of the FCUM seated fans. Fairplay to them, there wasn’t a huge army of them, but they were still making decent noise amongst the 3,500+ FCUM fans around them.
The teams came out and I was gutted to learn that Sam Madeley wasn’t playing. For those that don’t know, I live close to Salford City FC’s Moor Lane ground and so I go to watch them a fair bit; Madeley was my favourite player last year for Salford, so was gutted to see him leave for FCUM and then end up on the bench today. Much more on him later though…
Beforehand, the Curzon fans were not too confident about a result today to say the least having not picked up a win yet this season, yet the away team came flying out the traps. FC United fans were as loud as usual off the pitch, but Curzon were dominating on the pitch and soon they deservedly had the lead. FCUM failed to clear in the box and the ball eventually fell to Matty Warburton who passed to Ryan Brooke, who easily side-footed home from 8 yards. Cue my blue friends across the other side of the ground going crazy.
I wasn’t going to regret picking the FC United end was I? Of course not. Soon the volume was back and their ridiculously extensive songbook was getting a good airing. I was particularly delighted when they began their choruses of Yaz’s (or Flying Pickets if you want) Only You – a song that’s a huge guilty pleasure of mine. Respect to FCUM for putting it into chant form. I don’t know a club with more songs or with more original songs.
Curzon’s Matty Warburton was having what can be only described as an absolute stormer. He was untouchable and I said to the lad next to me “Hey, he’s playing like a Mancunian Gylfi Sigurdssson.” When he gave me a strange look I explained that this was a glowing reference, as, as a Swansea fan, I sort of love Gylfi.
It was Matty ‘The Mancunian Gylfi Sigurdsson’ Warburton who would put the away team 2 – 0 up. FCUM had most of the ball without doing anything with it, whilst Curzon were using the ball far more clinically. A ball slipped into the near post was tapped home by Warburton and now FCUM had a mountain to climb. Despite the setback, the fans were still singing (although maybe not quite as loud as usual now).
FCUM still kept the ball, but still offered virtually nothing with it. Curzon almost made it 3 – 0 with a freekick that just went over the bar, but the score was to remain the same as we went in at the break.
Half-time: FC United 0 – 2 Curzon Ashton.
I then received a message from Martin to head under the stand for a half-time beer. I happily obliged, but I was surprised with what I found under the stand. The place is still practically a building site it seems. There was fencing down one side, a makeshift bar, round pieces of wood for tables, a gravelly/dusty floor and even portacabins for toilets. I suppose it added to the ‘DIY football’ feel of FC United.
Beer drunk I headed to the hot dog stand after Martin had giving it a beyond glowing reference. Sadly, the queue was huge and when I headed back later, they were closing up. Maybe next time. Instead I thought I’d complete a usual lap of the ground. All very pleasant, but then I sort of forgot that I would have to walk past the Curzon Ashton fans. I actually thought putting my flat cap down over my face had worked for a bit, before all of sudden I heard Ben shout at me and then a sudden chorus of:
“BOYO! GIVE US A SONG! BOYO, BOYO GIVE US A SONG!”
I panicked and ran away – an act that was greeted with boos from the Curzon fans. I ran back to the safety of SMRE, who were now chanting “SMRE!” whilst the main stand fans chanted “MAIN STAND!” – a nice bit of in-house stand rivalry there.
It couldn’t get much worse for FC United and they did start the second half composed again, but only after Curzon’s Gary Burnett’s shot deflected just wide of the post.
On the 58th minute, FC United finally grabbed a goal. A freekick was swept into the box and it fell perfectly for Luke Ashworth to header home. 2 – 1 and game on.
It really had been a compelling game so far and there was a sense around the home end that FC were now on the ascendancy and that the game was there for the taking. However, FCUM slackened and it became similar to the first half when they began to do little with their possession. Curzon did.
A long ball forward fell to Warburton and his touch was good enough to make FC’s Liam Brownhill slip. Then Warburton lined up his shot and launched a 25 yard piledriver that flew past the United goalie. Unstoppable. Dare I say Gylfi-esque. 3 -1 to Curzon with less than 5 minutes to go. The game looked won.
By now, Sam Madeley had come off the bench for FC United and he seemed to be on a one man mission to seize the game back for FC. And he certainly began the fight back in style. My travels have entered a bit of a ‘wonder goal drought’ over recent months, but Madeley’s goal to make it 3-2 definitely fell into the ‘wonder goal’ category for me. The ball sprung up 20 yards out and somehow Madeley seemed to manipulate his body around the ball perfectly to fire home an unstoppable volley into the top corner. I was to the left of the corner he hit it into and have to say it was bloody incredible. The technique was quite unbelievable. Easily the best goal I’ve seen this season. In fact, that and Warburton’s effort are probably the two best goals I’ve seen this season so far.
Warburton had scored in the 85th minute, Madeley in the 87th minute, so perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised that another goal was coming in the 89th. And it was the crowning of a brilliant fight back from FC United. It was Madeley again who produced a brilliant run down the left touchline and his pass across the box fell to Rory Fallon (not the former New Zealand striker who played for the Swans) who tapped home. The FC United end went crazy and even I got caught up in the celebrations; it was hard not to after such an end to the game. Madeley had caused the damage and had somehow earned FC United a point just minutes after they had gone 3 – 1 down. An FCUM goal signals the traditional scarf-spinning and it was more frantic than usual after such last gasp action.
Full-time: FC United 3 – 3 Curzon Ashton.
What. A. Bloody. Game. Not only had I seen the two best goals of my 2015/16 travels so far, 22 games in, but I’d probably watched the best game too. I needed a drink after all that excitement. Speaking of those two superb goals, press play on the video below to see them both one after the other. You won’t regret it – especially for Madeley’s effort.
In the large FC United bar at the top of the main stand, Crystal was the only lager on sale. I think I once dubbed it as ‘horse piss’ on these pages, but the stuff had won me back on side today; they clearly pour it nicer in Moston.
I completed my 2nd turncoat manoveure of the day in the bar and went to work on consoling my Curzon pals, and their manager John Flanagan, who were still a bit shellshocked after dropping two points in such a style and so late. I did perhaps inadvertently rub it in a bit though, by asking Curzon’s John to take a ‘doube thumbs up’ photo of me with FC United manager Karl ‘Margy’ Marginson.
The Curzon fans rolled out of Broadhurst Park and I decided to head out with them. Time for turncoat moment number 3 of the day – I went back to the pub to meet the FC fans again.
Once again, I found Martin and his gang in the back of the bar, yet they were now joined by entertainment: one of his mates was now in possession of a ukelele. What ensued was an array of FCUM songs played on the ukelele – some of the usual chants and some originals by the ‘ukulelist’ – sung along by the small crowd around him. We were even treated to some classics too, such as The Jam’s That’s Entertainment.
By now, there was also a punk band performing in the next room and we felt it rude not to go watch them – but not before Martin showed me the final hidden part of the pub though. It seems he knows the owner of the pub and so we were guided through a locked door into a huge cinema. The pub had a bloody cinema! Apparently this is used to show football on some days. There’s still some development and tidying up to be done in there, but…the pub has a cinema! This place really is insane.
I had one last pint watching the band and then I decided to call an end to my day in the eastern provinces of Mancunia. Goodbyes were said and fairplay to the lads for looking after me so well for my day at FCUM – it was hugely appreciated. It was a brief 10-15 minute walk back to the tram stop and I was soon rolling back into the heart of Manchester.
Interestingly, a fan before the game said to me that the ground still feels ‘like an away day’ to many and I did notice that the noise level never reached the ear-busting levels I have heard from the FC fans in the past; that’s not to say they were quiet either – far from it. As one of their song states, ‘we’ll never feel down / When we build our own ground’. I think I’ve made it clear enough my views on FC United and I really hope that the club can continue to make Broadhurst Park into a true home for such a true club.
Cheers FC United! I’ve just noticed you are playing Worcester City on a Friday night in a few weeks, so you can probably expect to see me there.
Highlights: prematch Curzon drinks (early morning Strawberry lager), shuttle bus from tram to ground, Miners Arms, great fans, great club, big standing terrace, ridiculous game, Warbuton’s showing and goal, Madeley’s goal, ukelele singalong post match.
Low Points: ground is a bit underwhelming (apart from the flags etc.)
See all my photos from my day out at FC United’s Broadhurst Park here.