Sunday, 3 February 2013

FC United Flying at High Altitude in Buxton

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Saturday 3 February 2013 at The Silverlands
Buxton 0 FC United of Manchester 3
Northern Premier League (Step 3)
Ground 505 on the lifetime list.  This is an “unfinished business” trip – I was headed for Buxton (because England beat San Marino 5-0, do keep up*) back in October for Non-League Day.  On that occasion, a major holdup on the M1 meant that I was forced to divert to Rugby Town.  This is the first home fixture since then that has worked logistically for me.

Pre-match preparation
The season is very much alive for both sides.  They sit just outside the playoff positions but a combination of cup runs and bad weather means that they have games in hand.  Buxton’s goalkeeper Ian Deakins is out with a knee injury and a loan of Craig Dootson from Kendal Town has been rushed through.  This will be a rarity at step 3 – a segregated game for spectators.
This match in one sentence
FC United took their chances and Buxton’s challenge, though it looked good for much of the first half, faded away after the second goal.
So what?
FC United are now indeed in the playoff places.  Five games in hand (after their Cup exploits) mean that on paper they still have a championship challenge too.  Buxton drop to 8th and although their season is still alive, they can’t afford too many days like this.
The drama unfolds
Buxton so nearly took the lead in the 4th minute.  They had started really brightly and Lee Morris headed a fraction wide with keeper James Spencer watching anxiously.  Then Spencer had to be alert to tip over Scott Maxfield’s shot from a neatly-worked free-kick that had been given for an off-the-ball trip.  Buxton were looking settled and confident, and so it was that FC United took the lead with their first real attack.  It was a crisp finish from Matthew Wolfenden from right to left across the keeper.  0-1 after 9 minutes

I took a scene-setter clip midway through the first half, and another one on the half-hour.  Buxton are in blue.

Although Buxton were pressing and looking dangerous, FC United were also threatening on the break and it took a brilliant save from the debutant Dootson to keep out Tom Greaves.  In first-half stoppage time, a low driven cross from the Buxton left went straight through the six-yard box.  It all happened so fast, but I think then a shot came in from the right, hit the angle of post and bar and then bounced clear off United’s Kyle Jacobs.  It would turn out to be another “if only” moment for Buxton.  0-1 at half-time

Wolfenden so nearly ran all the way through the Buxton defence straight after the restart, but United had their second within a few minutes anyway.  Dootson made a reflex save to push out a ricochet but it only bounced back off someone else to give Michael Norton a tap-in.  0-2 after 51 minutes

The tide turned and United now looked the more likely to score and they did so midway through the half.  Dootson got a hand to Norton’s close-range header but it went in to remove all doubts about the result.  0-3 after 65 minutes

It should have been 0-4 immediately afterwards.  As the temperatures dropped even lower the United connections increased as Rhodri Giggs, brother of Ryan, came on as a sub for the visitors.  The tabloid tales of last year gave the home fans something to sing about as their team tried for a consolation goal.  To be fair, they deserved to get on the scoresheet.  My nominal second half clip is from the touchline after about 84 minutes, and it could have been a goal-of-the-month contender if Wolfenden's volley had gone in.  There were no more goals, and this is a very, very good result for FC United.  Final score 0-3

The programme

Something random
Today's hop has made me reflect on how I got here.  The story of the formation of FC United has been well documented and the fans have an impressive array of banners as you will have seen from the clips.  The links to Manchester United are obvious, starting with the red-and-white, and the feelings for the current state of the fans’ first love come through in the yellow-and-green (the colours of protest against the owners) and slogans such as “Pies Not Prawns”, “Traffordable Football” and “Two Clubs, One Soul”.

I am used to unsegregated football these days and I’ve been in similar-sized unsegregated crowds at King’s Lynn, at Stocksbridge (for the visit of Chester) and at Whitley Bay in the FA Vase.  I was wondering why a visit of FC United is seen as a bigger risk, and then the flares came out after the first goal.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a degree in chemistry and I love fireworks and pyrotechnics, but in some ways their presence today was incongruous.  I’m not sure that it helps the developing club’s image and their bridge-building with the residents of Moston (see below), to be honest.  The police moved in on the first occasion but seemed less concerned for the second and third.

FC United are fighting the planning rules and regulations in their quest to build a home of their own in Moston – the very latest news is positive, though some local residents are contesting their plans.  This supporter-owned club is almost universally regarded as a “good thing” and their website is clear about their vision and the need to build bridges with the local community.  They are clear that football needs to find a different way, and on this I agree with them completely.

In case there are any doubts about my position on this for the casual reader:  I am a fan of sport and of the game of football.  I was born in West Bromwich and the Albion result is always the one I will look for first, but they have priced me out of The Hawthorns, and they let me down badly with their cynicism the last time I went to see them live.  I'm not bitter as such - they are generally regarded as a beacon of excellence in the professional game.  The market forces pushed me out, and I was replaced by someone else making different spending choices.  That's fine.  I don't watch TV and wouldn't recognise most of the players if they knocked on my door.  Except Peter Odemwingie, of course, but he turns up where he likes, or where his agent tells him to, anyway.  I do, however, watch a lot of football.  Live.

I am less misty-eyed about "old grounds of character" than most groundhoppers - I quite like to wash my hands after going to the toilet, for example.  However, the complex balances of media influence, advertising and economics are making a lot of people rich through football, and the supporters are paying, through their TV bills, the merchandising and the ticket prices.  We must be mad.  Imagine spending all of that on our health or on our children's education.  I can't bear listening to 6-0-6 where week after week supporters criticise their board for not spending or "investing", taking risks that no-one would take with the finances of their house, job or family.  "Gloryhunter" supporters are a pet peeve too.  

Mr C Samba of Shepherd's Bush will apparently earn more in a week than I did as the headteacher of a secondary school in a year, and some (not all) of the behaviour and examples set by some (not all) of his even-richer counterparts were unwelcome on our playgrounds and playing fields.  It's unfair to single him out.  There is too big a gap between the PL and the rest.  Ask anyone in Portsmouth.  There is even too big a gap between the "top four" and the rest, and in my view the Champions League has been an astonishing own goal in the long-term context of the sport.  It has set 90% of the status quo in stone and undermined our own FA Cup and League Cup.  Too many clubs have become "rich men's toys" and the discussion about Financial Fair Play is as much about finding ways round it as about agreeing with the spirit of it.

I sincerely hope FC United find their niche, make friends with Moston and set a good example for the rest of the game.  I look forward to being among the early visitors when they get a new home.
Hopping for Moorfields Update
The 42nd hop of the season was the ninth three-goal game and means the average is 3.36 goals per game.  Nothing else to report today.
Mars Bar Watch 2013
The murky world of chocolate retail was laid bare today at The Silverlands, with standard 58g Mars Bars on sale at two different prices within the space of 25 metres.  The pre-match 70p purchase from the refreshment hut was by way of dessert to an excellent main course northern pie, peas and gravy combo.  This had a brittle but pleasant external chocolate casing whose mechanical properties could be due to the low ambient temperature.  This stadium is said to be at the highest altitude in England, and is also said to be *&%#! parky.  I agree.  I am quite used to this, though, as a West Brom fan by birth.  At half-time, whilst in the clubhouse for 15 minutes of warmth, I secured a 60p Mars Bar in the interests of research.  The warmer outer casing did indeed maintain some characteristics of plastic flow, an advantage in the drinking context as it means that you are less likely to drop specks of chocolate thus compromising the visual qualities of the foaming head on your beer. This experience proves how important it is to “shop around” and either exposes the cutthroat world of microeconomics in the harsh reality of Mars Bar supply, or that I need to get a life.
What Next?
A telling-off from my dentist.  Football-wise, no idea. Watch this space and @GrahamYapp on Twitter.  No rant next week, I promise.

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