FC United of Manchester

FC United of Manchester vs Chorley, Vanarama National League North, 26/03/16, Broadhurst Park, Match 33

With everything signed for the new house, and the keys picked up, the dreaded move can begin. Now it’s fair to say that I am excited about getting in to the new house, I just don’t really want to move stuff from the old house, I’m lazy like that. So we decided to take as much as we could in the car to Chorley, and then I would head off to the football.

FC United is a team that I’ve wanted to visit for a while, and I do have a soft spot for them, as someone who grew up as a Manchester United fan (thanks Dad), I was always interested in the “Red Rebels”. My soft spot for FC United was helped by a great save that I had going on Football Manager 2009, which kept me entertained during the ICT lectures I attended at University, many hours went into that game and I am proud to say that I got FC into the Football League. My interest in FC United grew when they announced plans to build their own stadium, and when the fixtures were released, this was one of the fixtures I looked for first.

Once the car was unpacked, I decided that I would leave for Broadhurst Park, last time I had travelled from Chorley to the Manchester area, I had been going to Stockport, and had found myself in a traffic jam, which meant I arrived for that game with minutes to go before kickoff. Hence why I left for Broadhurst Park at 12.40pm, however the traffic I had expected never materialized and I pulled into some nearby car-parking at 1.20pm. It cost me a very reasonable £3 to park at St Matthews RC High School, and I was lucky to get a space right by the exit, meaning I would have a quick getaway at the end of the game. With plenty of time to kill I walked down to the ground, and purchased a programme for £2, I wasn’t really in the mood to stop for a drink anywhere and completed a lap of the outside of the ground, before having an aimless walk around the area. It was around 2.10pm by the time I entered the ground with the entrance fee being £9.

Once inside Broadhurst Park I was immediately impressed by my surroundings, FC United have put a lot of work into this stadium, and they can be proud of themselves for what they have achieved, the ground is awash with flags and banners which add extra colour to the surroundings. I had consulted the Football Ground Guide before the game, which advised that the area in which the Chorley fans would be housed, compromised of flat standing, and with a large Chorley travelling contingent expected, I did wander how easy it would be to find a good vantage point. Many fans had already staked a claim to the space behind the goals, and I found a good spot by the barriers near to the corner flag.

Broadhurst Park is in its first year as a football ground, it was built between November 2013 and May 2015, with it being opened on the 29th May 2015. The opening match was a friendly between FC United and Benfica B on the 29th of May, which is the anniversary of the 1968 European Cup final in which Manchester United beat Benfica. Benfica B won the opening game 1-0 in front of a crowd of 4,232. The first league game to be played at Broadhurst Park was held on the 11th of August 2015, in which FC United lost 1-2 to Stockport County. From the outside the ground is impressive, with the Main Stand being an eye-catching feature, with its interesting design of red fascia on wooden cladding and two large white pillars flanking the main entrance. The Main Stand is the largest stand in the ground, and it contains a mixture of seating to the rear and terraces at the front. Opposite the Main Stand, stands the North Terrace which compromises flat covered standing, the roofs have a high supporting back wall, and a number of supporting pillars run across the front, in the middle of the North Terrace stands a wooden television gantry. The Lightbowne Road End, where the Chorley fans would be housed, is very similar to the North Terrace, as it too is an area of covered flat standing. I did wonder whether the high supporting back walls have been designed in a way to allow the construction of a bank of terracing, to be installed when FC United progress into the higher leagues. For me, the most impressive stand in the ground was the St Mary’s Road End, which is where the majority of the FC United fans congregated. The St Mary’s Road End is a covered terrace, which can house 2,500 fans, and originally stood in place at Northwich Victoria’s old Drill Field ground. The stadium also has free Wi-Fi which is brilliant for anyone wanting to keep up to date with scores from elsewhere.

FC United of Manchester were formed in 2005, by Manchester United fans opposed to American businessman Malcolm Glazier’s controversial takeover of Manchester United, however a number of FC United fans are also disillusioned fans who had turned their backs on Man Utd due to the rise of modern football, with its day-trippers, high ticket prices and loss of atmosphere. On June 14th 2005, it was announced that the name FC United of Manchester had been chosen, beating AFC Manchester 1878, Manchester Central and Newton Heath United. Karl Marginson was appointed as the club’s manager on the 22nd of June 2005, and by the 6th of July 2005, over 4000 people had pledged money to the club and FC United had over £100,000 in the bank. FC United started life in the Second Division of the North West Counties Football League, the tenth level of the English Football League system. The club arranged to play their home games at Bury’s Gigg Lane. During their first season, FC United won promotion to Division One in their final home league match of the season, despite losing 1-0 to Great Harwood Town. FC United then won promotion, as champions, from the NWCFL Division One in the following season which saw them promoted to the Northern Premier League Division One North. The charge through the football pyramid continued as FC United won promotion through the play-offs after beating Skelmersdale United in the play-off final to earn promotion to the Northern Premier League Premier Division. In their first season, 2008 to 2009, in the Northern Premier League Premier Division, the club were unlucky to narrowly miss out on a place in the play-offs, as coming into the last game of the season they were level on points with Bradford PA and Kendal Town, with superior goal difference, however a draw with Bradford PA and a win for Kendal meant that Kendal took the play-off place. The 2009 to 2010 season saw FC United finish in their lowest league position in their first five seasons, as they finished in 13th place. The 2010 to 2011 season saw FC United reach the First Round Proper of the FA Cup, where they beat League One side Rochdale, to advance to the Second Round, where they played Brighton & Hove Albion, FC United forced a replay with a 1-1 draw, but lost the replay 4-0. At the end of 2010 to 2011 season the club finished in 4th place which saw them enter the play-offs, after beating Bradford PA the club advanced to the final, where they lost 1-0 to Colwyn Bay. Again FC United qualified for the play-offs during the 2011 to 2012 season, and after beating Chorley 2-0 in the semifinal, they then lost 1-0 to Bradford PA in the penultimate minute of extra time. For the third season in a row the club booked a place in the 2012 to 2013 play offs, and they beat Witton Albion in the semis, only to lose to Hednesford in the final. The 2013 to 2014 season saw FC United once again book a place in the play-offs, but this time they lost in the semi-finals. FC United fans must have been wondering whether they were ever going to escape the NPL Premier Division, especially with the multiple disappointments in the play-offs, and the start of the 2014 to 2015 season saw them pick up only 12 points from their first eight matches. However an undefeated run of 21 games from December to April, including 16 victories, saw them with a five-point lead at the top of the table. On the 21st of April 2015, FC United beat Stourbridge 1-0 to confirm their 2014 to 2015 NPL title, meaning they won promotion to the National League North. Coming in to today’s match FC United sat in 14th place, on 42 points, with their last league match ending in a 1-0 loss to Alfreton Town.

I’ve covered Chorley a couple of times this season, so I won’t go into their history here, as that’s something you can read on my earlier blogs. My last Chorley game was the 2-0 loss at AFC Telford United, which is something you can read here. Coming into this game Chorley sat in 8th position in the league, and in their last league game the Magpies lost 1-0 to Bradford PA.

Today’s match saw the Chorley FC Supporters Trust & the Twincess Charity join forces to cycle from Victory Park to Broadhurst Park, to mark World Down Syndrome Day 2016 (which took place on 21/3/16). It wasn’t only Chorley fans who cycled the route as FC United fans also got involved, and it wasn’t only people cycling the route as one hero ran the route, and fair play to them! I’ve donated £10 to the charity, and I would be pleased if some of the readers of this blog would also donate to the charity, which can be found here: Twincess Donation Page. Obviously I’m not expecting everyone to donate £10, but if you could spare a couple of quid then it would be brilliant!

The match also saw Chorley goalkeeper Sam Ashton playing against his former team. Sam made his start in football at Bolton Wanderers, making his debut in an FA Cup match vs Watford in the 3rd Round in January 2006. Ashton was bought on by Wanderers’ manager Sam Allardyce as a striker. He was to leave Bolton at the end of the 2005 to 2006 season, and was picked up by FC United in July 2006, Ashton went on to make 187 appearances for FC United between July 2006 and July 2011, before he moved on to Skelmersdale in order to secure more first team football. He then joined Chorley in May 2013, and was part of the team who won the NPL Premier and were promoted to the Conference North.

The stadium announcer was simply superb, with his announcements constantly making me chuckle, and to be fair he was worth the entry fee alone. From the “Bing bong” before he started announcements to the way he said Spar, he was brilliant.

Before the match there was a minute silence for all lives lost in conflict across the globe, which was impeccably observed, and an excellent tribute to those who have lost their lives in the recent suicide bombings in Brussels and the football stadium in Iraq. RIP.

In the 21st minute, Chorley’s number 5, Kiel O’Brien went down clutching his hamstring after pulling up short whilst chasing the ball down, it was clear to see that he wouldn’t be able to continue, and he was replaced by number 15 Jack Lynch.

With the half time break approaching, I decided to beat the queue and headed down to the Burger Van in the corner, where I paid £3.50 for a bacon and cheeseburger with onions. Burger in hand I headed back to my space by the corner flag, where I stood and watched the last couple of minutes whilst munching my way through a very good burger.

An even half ended even, both sides had had good chances, with Chorley playing some good football down the right wing. The referee, in my opinion, had been a bit lenient with both sides, but he had allowed the game to flow which was good to see.

Half Time: FC United of Manchester 0-0 Chorley

Before the game, I had bought a half time draw ticket, for £1, even though I never win on them. So at half time I waited patiently for the numbers to be drawn, but before the draw could take place, someone proposed. Not to me of course, I don’t think my wife would be too happy, and after the stadium announcer informed us that “She said yes!” the ground burst into a chant of “You don’t know what you’re doing!” Once again the stadium announcer was entertaining, and I think in the fifteen minutes of half time, he was more entertaining than the first half of the football. As normal I didn’t win on the half time draw, and I began to wonder why I even bother with them.

The second half kicked off at 4.04pm, and two minutes after the restart FC United were awarded a penalty, I’m not sure what the referee saw, as FC United were attacking the St Mary’s End, but FC United had a penalty. Jerome Wright stepped up to take the penalty, and he converted the ball low and hard into the bottom left hand corner.

Chorley followed this goal by making a substitution in the 55th minute, with the ineffective Paul Jarvis being replaced by Micah Evans. I’d probably be being too complementary if I said that Jarvis had had an okay game, but then again we all have our off days.

The rain had gotten heavier, and the Chorley fans around me retreated under the cover at the back of the stand, which confirms, to me at least, that we Southerners are made of sterner stuff, as I stayed out by the barrier, or I did until it started raining sideways.

Chorley’s final sub came in the 65th as Jordan Connerton left the pitch to be replaced by Jack Dorney.

FC United made their first sub in the 70th minute as Tom Brown came on to replace Sam Sheridan. Unfortunately it was around this point that someone from the Chorley end threw a flare onto the pitch. In all honesty it was pathetic, a lone flare on the pitch. As I’ve said before I’m a fan of properly choreographed flare displays, think Borussia Dortmund, but when it’s just one flare thrown at the pitch, it all looks pathetic, and I had to smile when the FC United fans began to chant “What the f***ing hell was that?”

A couple of minutes after the first flare was cleared, a second flare was thrown from the crowd, and play stopped. At first I thought that the ref was removing the players for safety’s sake, but soon enough the stadium announcer came on with an appeal for a replacement linesman. Apparently the linesman who had been running the touchline in front of the Chorley fans on the North Terrace, had picked up an injury, although he didn’t seem to have any trouble leaving the pitch. I do have to wonder if it was a case of hurt feelings, as he did get a bit of abuse from the away fans, as it looked as if we should have had a penalty following a push on Darren Stephenson in the box. A replacement ref was soon located and the game restarted.

The rain had gotten even heavier, and there was a lot of standing water on the pitch, if the rain had been like this in the first half, I doubt the game would have reached half time, but with ten minutes left, the referee seemed happy to play to the end.

FC United made their second change in the 85th minute with Matt Wolfenden coming on to replace George Thomson.

Dale Johnson made it 2-0 to FC United in the 86th minute, as he picked up the ball in plenty of space in the area, before firing the ball home.

To reward Johnson for his goal he was substituted in the 90th minute, with Tom Greaves coming on to replace him. Johnson had taken his goal well, and I’m sure he deserved to get out of the rain and under cover.

With the various stoppages, it was inevitable that there was going to be a considerable amount of time added on to the match, and it was no surprise when the fourth official signaled for 10 minutes of added time. The rain was easing up at this point, and I had moved to the North Terrace, where I stood by the barrier. However Chorley weren’t going to get back into this game, and the ref blew his whistle giving FC United all three points.

Final Score: FC United of Manchester 2-0 Chorley (Wright 47, Johnson 86)

Following the final whistle I headed back to my car, and felt pretty lucky with my parking space, as I was able to get out of the car-park quickly, and back on the road to Chorley. There wasn’t any traffic on the way back, and I soon had the wife and kids in the car, and we made our way back to Wrexham, to continue the packing.

The win for FC United sees them move up to 12th place, and with 6 games left of the season, they are only 11 points off of the play-offs, and with a lot of luck they could make it. However it would take a lot of luck, and I think FC United fans will have to content themselves with a mid-table finish. FC United are now 14 points ahead of Corby Town who occupy 22nd place, and are 9 points ahead of Lowestoft Town who occupy 20th place, whilst it is still mathematically possible for FC United to be relegated, I think it would take a catastrophic loss of form for that to happen.

Chorley continue to occupy 8th place, and the play-offs seem to get further and further away for them, although they still have 6 games left, which means there are 18 points to play for, so I won’t write them off yet. Chorley currently sit 4 points off of Nuneaton Town who occupy 5th place, and the last play-off space. Nuneaton have a game in hand which if they won it they would be 7 points ahead of Chorley. To show how tight the league is, it is mathematically possible for Chorley to be relegated, 20th place Lowestoft have two games in hand over Chorley, and Lowestoft sit 16 points behind Chorley. Whilst it is mathematically possible, it is doubtful, very doubtful.

I thoroughly enjoyed my adventure to Broadhurst Park, and am looking forward to going back. Due to the rain, the pictures I took today aren’t as good as I would like, so I’m planning on heading back to Broadhurst Park next season, and next time I will probably stand on the St Mary’s Road End. As a club FC United are brilliant, with plenty of thought going towards the local community, as before the game there were volunteers posted up and down the roads near the ground to try and minimize anti-social behavior, and to make sure people attending the game didn’t inconvenience anyone with their parking. Finally I must once again say how much I enjoyed the stadium announcer, and I hope that he’s still doing it next time I attend.

Attendance: 4150

Hat-tricks seen so far: 3

Money spent: £18.50

Next game: No plans as of yet

FC United of Manchester’s twitter: FC United

Chorley twitter: Chorley FC

Link to the team sheet: Team sheet

For pictures of today’s adventures follow this link: My Flickr

Thanks for reading!

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