Result: FC United of Manchester 1-1 Hednesford Town (Vanarama National North)
Venue: Broadhurst Park (Monday 28th December 2015, 3pm)
To finish off my trio of festive fixtures, after visits to Stockport County & Maine Road, it was to be another nearby fixture that was required, following shelling out a fair few quid in the previous week. So, after narrowing down the options to Stalybridge or FC United it was, well, I’m sure you’ve figured out by now where I ended up.
So, after getting the train through to Manchester, I undertook the short walk down Deansgate over to Manchester Victoria where I was to get the train 0nwards to Moston. What I hadn’t counted on, though, was the unadulterated magic that was awaiting me there. Yes, in a Christmas miracle, Northern Rail had a train with USB charging plugs in. Quite something, and it certainly proved a hit on twitter. Sadly, my experience on this magical carriage was a short one as six minutes later I disembarked at Moston before climbing the steep-ish hill up to road level where a fellow asked for directions to Broadhurst Park. I let him know to the best of my knowledge and off he went.
Yes, off he went but it turned out he had the same ideas I had and headed straight for the Gardeners’ Arms pub on the corner of Lightbowne Road. No sooner had I walked in than we sort of congratulated each other for the decision and I was offered a pint. After talking about a number of different football related things and to this Dutchman’s many travels throughout Northern Europe and Britain chasing football we were heading off down to the ground, but first the Miners’ Social Club which neighbours the St Mary’s Terrace End. The Miners had been recommended to me by Matt of LostBoyos fame and by Corby fan Jack over twitter so it definitely seemed that this was a must on the hitlist. It was in here that I finally realised that I had neglected to find out Ronald’s name. It was, well, Ronald. I sort of gave that one away didn’t I?
I have to say that Miners really is something a little bit different. It certainly has its quirks and although I can’t quite rave about it as others have, I feel as though I may have caught it on one of its quieter days, which is a shame if its the case. Anyway, after buying a pint each of Red Star Miners’ Lager for the princely sum of £5 and drinking it down, we made the decision to head over and into Broadhurst Park itself and sample the club bar’s offerings. After a few pics of the outside area and the wooden façade of the ground and purchasing a programme for £2 after being reeled in by a seller’s claim of “Buy my programmes, she’s sold more as she’s far more attractive”, we headed over to the turnstile near the corner of the St Mary’s Terrace and after handing in £9 admission, it was into BP for the first time. My 167th ground.
Broadhurst Park is certainly a ground with character even early on in its existence. With numerous flags adorning the walls of both the far side stand and the Lightbowne Road “away” end, both of which are hard covered standing, it sort of hides the fact that both are strange structures with no raised levels, meaning viewing must be difficult from these areas when full. Meanwhile, there’s no such issues with the other two stands, the St Mary’s Terrace is a large raised covered terracing structure, which is very popular and is where the singing masses congregate for the most part, with the smart Main Stand having seating to the rear (higher up) and more terracing to the front, giving it a different look to most. The bar to the back gives good views over the ground prior to the game and we took advantage of these whilst in the company of a pint of Crystal Lager, meaning we could watch a dog invade the pitch pre-match, until Dan arrived to join us ahead of kick-off. But first…
The club was founded in 2005 as a protest club against the takeover of Manchester United by the Glazer family. After originally being named as just FC United, the club were forced by the FA (who else?) to edit the name to something less generic and, as such, the name FC United of Manchester was voted for. It caused enough of a stir at Old Trafford for the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson to feel the need to criticize the club’s formation. Regardless, FC United continued on and secured themselves a place in the North West Counties League Division 2 for their first season.
Playing at Bury’s Gigg Lane and under the stewardship of Karl Marginson, FC United had a, not unexpected, strong start to life, immediately taking the NWCFL attendance record for their game at Leek CSOB who played at Leek Town’s ground. By the end of the season, FC had attained their first promotion and were presented with the trophy in front of a 6,000+ crowd. 2006-’07 saw the club go straight through the NWCFL First Division and lifting the league’s Challenge Cup. They then went on to compete in the first season of the NPL Division 1 North, winning the play-off final against Skelmersdale Utd and lifted the NPL President’s Cup.
Now in the NPL Premier Division, the club found life a bit more challenging on the pitch, including becoming one of two teams to lose to Durham City on the Northumberland side’s way to ending the season on zero points in 2010. 2011 saw more of a high point as FC reached the FA Cup Second Round, beating Rochdale 3-2 at Spotland, before eventually bowing out to Brighton & HA in a replay after managing a 2-2 draw down on the South Coast. They did manage to reach the play-offs come the end of the season but lost out to Colwyn Bay in the final.
After further playoff disappointment in two of the following three years, the club eventually achieved promotion last season after winning the NPL Premier Division and thus were to play in the Conference North, for the first time, this season and average attendances appear to be back on the rise again especially this season following the move into their own ground.
So, back onto the game at hand, and after a brief blast of the usual pre-game chant of “Bring on United” from the home ends, the sides made their way from the bowels of the Main Stand and out onto the Broadhurst Park pitch and the three of us made our way over to the Terrace to join the most atmospheric part of the ground. With the usual pre-game pleasantries out of the way, it was time for FC’s boss “Margy” to pit his wits against the new-ish Hednesford boss, former Chelsea man, Frank Sinclair.
Hednesford began the brighter, going close on a number of occasions. The closest of these chances was when Ahmed Obeng, who’d caused FC no shortage of problems, struck the foot of the far post with a rasping low drive. This prompted the Main Stand to join the terrace-based fans in a song, which wasn’t greeted fondly by those near us who responded with “Fuck off Main Stand!”. Talk about friendly rivalries or what?!
But the Pitmen were to pay for not making their advantage more meaningful, when a chipped cross found Matt Wolfenden inside the area and he side footed a volley into the roof of the not from around the penalty spot. 1-0 to the Red Rebels.
To be honest, the game wasn’t one filled with chances and there wasn’t much more action of note during the first period, so I briefly left my companions to beat the crowds to the food bar situated below the Main Stand. This is clearly located by a large sign citing, would you believe it, ‘Food Bar’. After negotiating the packed terracing and purchasing a Steak Pie for £2.75, I was asked by the woman serving if the half was done. “No, about 5 minutes left” I answered. “Oh, fucks sake” came the reply. Superb!
The pie was a perfect accompaniment for the remainder of the half and for the break, when Ronald decided he too would sample to delicacy delights of Broadhurst Park. As for me, the pie I’d bought was top notch, a really tasty offering and well worth the price. Into the second half we soon went, but Dan and I remained Ronald-less. We feared he’d been taken.
Are fears were soon allayed, though, as Ronald appeared through the crowds and re-joined us, having had to wait for his chips which he didn’t seem too fond of. FC’s fans weren’t too fond of the next goal either, as Hednesford were soon deservedly level. A quick attack led to the ball being played down the left. The cross came in and Adam Thomas arrived at the back post to nod home and send the visiting support into raptures.
Hednesford continued to be on the front foot generally all the way through to the last five minutes and despite the lack of a floodlight. This quickly became half the floodlights in the 90th minute, as both St Mary’s End lights were expunged, leading to chants of “We’ll play in the dark” and anti-Sky songs filled the air too.
Ronald had left to catch a tram during the brief darkness whilst me and Dan decided to brave it out and all credit to the ref who gave the time for the lights problem to be fixed, which it was but to little effect as the game fizzled out. 1-1, full time.
Outside the ground, I bid goodbye to Dan and headed back up to Moston Station for my train back to Manchester and the return journey back home. As it was, it was a great first visit to FC in their own ground and one that is more than worthwhile for anyone who would have the thought pass their minds. As for next week, well…..
Game: 6- Decent, but nothing special.
Ground: 7- Two good stands and two fairly bland ones.
Fans: 9- Great atmosphere throughout the game. But Margentina….
Programme: 8- A good, enjoyable read for a cheap price.
Food: 9- One of the better samplings I’ve had during my travels, at least this season.
Value For Money: 8- A pretty good day and experience overall. Cheap entry for the level helps too!