FC United of Manchester – Everything I want the world to be
SHOWDOWN OF THE SEASON
THE CHOSEN ONE VS. THE SPECIAL ONE
EPL MEGABOWL 2013
OK, I might have made that last one up, but the Sky Sports hype machine was in full flow on Bank Holiday Monday, as Manchester United faced Chelsea at Old Trafford in the biggest game in the history of football, at least since the last one. Adverts had been running all week, as a clash of titanic proportions was promised and various experts gave their opinion on what would make this game so unmissable. However, this was not the game in the Trafford region which interested me, nor was it the game on the mind of the other 1,372 people packed into Trafford FC for the visit of FC United of Manchester.
Pitch side beer and comically small dugouts – the beauty of Non-League
This was to be my second trip to watch FC United play punk football, with the first being their 2 – 1 defeat to Hednesford Town in last seasons playoff final. The atmosphere that day had been truly incredible, and had rid me of any doubts about FC United as a club. In truth I should have gone to watch them ages ago, but there was always the nagging doubt of “It’s a bit like Man United, innit”. I think this connection is what stops many people from truly embracing the FC United of Manchester spirit, but the fact is that they are separate clubs, and watching FC is roughly 10 million times more fun than joining the iPad wielding tourists at Old Trafford.
Trafford FC vs. FCUM may not be the biggest Manchester derby of the season, but you’d have struggled to have a better football experience even if the likes of Robin Van Persie, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Wayne Rooney had been on show. I’ve watched Bayern Munich, Galatasaray, AC Milan and Manchester City already this season, but this was unquestionably the most enjoyable 90 minutes of 2013/14 so far.
I joined the FC United supporters behind the goal, where the loudest and most vociferous fans seemed to be based. It appeared as though the visitors had three sides of the ground, with the majority of the Trafford fans taking their positions at the far end of the stadium. There was no segregation, nor was there any need for any, as fans mingled freely, exchanging conversations and predictions for the game. It was like a crowd at a rugby international, apart from a distinct lack of overweight women in cowboy hats and 80 per cent of the crowd not having any idea of the rules or indeed the score.
With around 15 minutes to go until kickoff the FC United fans began what I now recognised as a regular tradition, chanting “BRING ON UNITED” in increasingly loud and passionate tones. It really creates a sense of excitement and anticipation, to the stage where the atmosphere is better before the players have even emerged than at any stage during the majority of Premier League games.
As well as the plentiful traveling support from the red rebels, there were plenty of home supporters in and making a decent noise, with another nice touch coming from the bucket collection being held for a member of the Trafford playing staff who had suffered a nasty injury in pre-season. Some £400 was raised from supporters of both sides, an amount which would surely go a long way for a player at this level of football.
The Trafford players pose for their 2013/14 squad photo
Eventually the players did emerge on to the pitch, with FC Utd choosing to defend the goal in front of their own fans in the first half. At the top level of football this rarely makes much of a difference anymore, but it would go on to be extremely significant here. The early stages of the game had an excellent atmosphere but not much else going on, you wouldn’t have guessed in the opening 25 minutes that this game would turn out to be a mini Manchester classic. United had the better of the game, marginally, but there wasn’t much in it and the majority of the action was taking place in midfield where some thunderous tackles were flying in. This was proper football, with the added bonus that none of the 22 players on the field felt the need to throw themselves high into the air at the faintest sign of contact.
Just after the half hour mark, FC United took the lead with the first properly clear cut chance of the game, a nice finish from Astley Mulholland and a superb pass from ‘Wolfie’ creating a fine opening goal. The FC Utd fans celebrating in their usual style, with scarves twirling around their heads and the obligatory pyrotechnics.
The opening goal is greeted with a red smokebomb
With United having won 6 – 0 on the weekend I thought this goal might spur the reds on to a rout, and indeed they did threaten the Trafford net again on a number of occasions as the clock ticked down until the half time break. Trafford held firm however, ensuring that just a single goal was the difference at the break.
Half Time – Trafford FC 0 – FC United of Manchester 1
I will resist using the old “game of two halves” cliche, but the second 45 minutes really was almost unrecognisable from the first on this occasion. Perhaps Trafford had roped in Alex Ferguson with all his new found spare time to give one of his famous ‘hairdryer’ team talks, because the men in white were on fire in the opening stages of the second half. On the other hand, with beer being freely sold in the stands, maybe the FCUM players had a couple of cans at half time, as they protected their goal even less successfully than a girl from Newport trying to maintain her dignity at 4am outside Revs.
Just three minutes into the half, some dreadful defending from United allowed the hosts to level, with the ball being given away far too easily and leading to a simple chance which was gleefully converted by the impressive Shelton Payne. As always with FC United, the result doesn’t impact on their levels of support, with the constant singing continuing without a pause even as the ball was put into their net. The reds have an extensive songbook, but perhaps my favourite (and the one which gives this article its name) is to the tune of The Carpenters hit ‘On top of the world’. I have yet to hear a song which better sums up the mentality at this football club, they’ve won just by existing and the actual result on the field is very much a secondary concern.
This was perhaps just as well, as five minutes later United were behind. Some stupendously bad defending allowed Trafford a 3 on 1 situation, with United giving the ball away cheaply again. The white shirted home side could have stopped for a reasonably priced pie and a chat to the fans behind the goal before rolling the ball into the net, such was the freedom they were offered. 2 – 1 to Trafford, as the turnaround was completed by the 55th minute.
It was at this stage that the FCUM fans realised they could help their side come away with something, with the reaction of the Trafford goalkeeper indicating that he was not particularly comfortable playing in front of such a large crowd. Goalkeepers at a higher level are surely used to having abuse hurled at them, such is the life of a goalkeeper after all, but this chap clearly wasn’t. Each goal kick was greeted with the familiar “OHHHHHHHHHHHHH”, followed by a couple of minutes of wild screaming and generally being mental. Having been perfectly reliable in the first half, suddenly the man in net for Trafford was giving the ball away easily every time he had to touch it.
Showing any sign of weakness to a football crowd is a bad move, and the level of baiting increased further still, with the extremely childish (but unquestionably hilarious) chant of “pie pie, chippy chippy pie, pie pie chippy chippy pie, pie pie chippy, pie pie chippy, pie pie chippy chippy pie AND PEAS” being directed at the unfortunate keeper at every opportunity. FC United were piling on the pressure as time ticked on towards the end of the game, but despite how flustered the goalkeeper for Trafford was, the reds couldn’t pile on the misery by leveling the scores.
The ball flashed just wide on a number of occasions, the woodwork was struck and last ditch tackles were made, and still the ball just wouldn’t go in. The home side were by no means spectators to the action, having plenty of chances of their own to increase the lead and surely make the points secure. With 71 minutes on the clock, they looked certain to score a third and win the game, but an almost miraculous save from the keeper and then an equally impressive block on the line kept Utd in it. The passion felt in the stands was clearly also present on the pitch, with every player giving their all and running themselves into the ground.
It looked as though all the effort from FCUM may be for nothing, but with just over 10 minutes to go they were to get their reward. Substitute Matthew Walwyn finding the back of the net from close range, sparking wild scenes amongst the visiting fans behind the goal. A little too wild for one fan, who actually passed out from the excitement (and maybe the beer…but mainly the excitement). Luckily there was no lasting damage and they were helped away from the stand to recover somewhere a bit calmer. Perhaps just as well, as there was nothing relaxing about what was to happen next.
Having worked so hard to get level, United almost lost the lead again instantly, as well as Trafford almost wrapping up the goal of the season award in August. Ali Nsangou performing an incredible overhead kick, with the United goalkeeper beaten but the ball thwacking off the crossbar rather than creeping inside the top corner of the net. It would have been a goal worthy of winning a game of football at any level, and you suspect that Nsangou will be telling the story of the goal that got away for some time to come. Still, I’m sure he’ll be over it by around the 2085/86 season.
Not to be outdone, FCUM put a shot of their own on to the bar just moments later, with the poor old goalkeeper enjoying a moment of relief as he made an excellent save from a Tom Greaves header. Such is the charm of non-league football that Greaves had been supposed to start the game, but was instead relegated to the bench after getting stuck in traffic on the way to the stadium! Somehow you can’t imagine Robin Van Persie stuck behind a tractor on the way to Old Trafford as he frantically thinks of an excuse for David Moyes, but stories like this are all part of what makes FCUM and non-league football in general so endearing. They aren’t big time, they’ll probably never win anything, and guess what? They couldn’t be less arsed. When visiting Austria Salzburg last month I was taken by their slogan of ‘Never Changed Passion For Glory’, and this is reflected in the attitude of the FCUM fans. Morals and principles are more important than money and titles here. They also quite like getting smashed, as well.
A draw might have been a fair result, Trafford were certainly a likable team who played their part in a fantastic game, but I always felt that a winner was going to come for somebody. Luckily for this story, not to mention my love of jumping around with a bunch of drunk lunatics, it was to fall to FC United. Four minutes of injury time had been added, and at least three of them had elapsed before FC’s magic moment. Tom Greaves struck a fine shot from the edge of the box, with the despairing goalkeeper unable to get a hand to it. It flew into the bottom corner, and madness followed. One of the few beautiful things remaining in football is the last minute winner. A last second winning goal feels just the same whether you’re in the Champions League or the Evo-Stick League, and the FCUM fans rightly enjoyed their moment.
The players piled into the away end to celebrate, as the playing staff and the supporters came together to rejoice in three points. This is a club which is truly united, where the fans still matter and aren’t simply financial commodities to be milked for all they’re worth. If you’re all a bit disillusioned with the state of football in England, embracing FC United may just be the best thing you ever do. Put your doubts to one side and forget who the fans used to support, this isn’t Manchester United. It’s much, much better than that.
Hundreds of teams may be above them in the league structure, but I doubt any fan base has more fun than this lot every week. As the song which remains stuck in my head days after the full time whistle had blown, FCUM is a fan base at the top of the world looking down at a pretty fantastic creation. And in England, it may just be the closest thing to Heaven that you’ll find…