Sunday, 23 August 2015

Making Progress Down Football's Left Wing

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Saturday 22 August 2015 at Broadhurst Park
FC United of Manchester 3 Brackley Town 2
Conference North (Step 2)
I am here at ground 576 to restore “The 160”, that is all of the current English grounds down to Step 2.  It actually comprises only 157 venues at the moment because of groundsharing arrangements for Gloucester City, Worcester City and Hayes & Yeading.  It’s a new stadium and plenty of hoppers will have it on this season’s hotlist.  Indeed, plenty have already been.
Pre-match preparation
FC United are looking for their first win at this level.  The club has risen pretty steadily up the pyramid since its formation, and this is their first full season at their own stadium.  Brackley Town are mid-table.
This match in one sentence
FC United showed resilience after going a goal down but also left themselves a nervy last few minutes on their way to a first step 2 victory.
So what?
The not-won-yet burden is removed and Brackley stay in mid-table.
The drama unfolds
Despite an early departure from Hertfordshire, I only made it to the ground just in time for a quick batch of ground pix and a hasty pie and peas before kickoff.  Hello again, M6 northbound and your mysterious blockages.  This match will be well-covered elsewhere, so I will be brief.  I watched the first half from high-up in a corner of the end terrace housing the home fans.  Brackley Town’s 10th minute lead came rather against the run of play.  FC United failed to deal defensively with a ball down near the corner flag and the ball came back to Brackley full-back Stephan Morley in acres of space.  His cross was met firmly by the head of Steve Diggin who had lost his marker in a well-timed run to the near post.  0-1 after 10 mins

The equaliser was created by another full-back, this time United’s Liam Brownhill.  He controlled the ball well on the flank and turned to create space for a left-footed cross which floated perfectly to give Matthew Wolfenden an unmissable close-range header.  1-1 after 14 mins

It was Brownhill’s work again, this time with his right-foot, that led to a corner.  As the pressure built, Sam Madeley was in the right place to score and give United the lead which they held comfortably enough until the break.  2-1 after 26 mins and at half-time

Madeley gives FCUM the lead and wheels away to celebrate ...

I moved to the other end for the second half, and watched Brackley get back into the game.  More of their players were 6-foot plus and they started to use their physical advantages a bit more effectively.  Their substitute David Moyo looked a handful and cut inside to hit the woodwork after 57 minutes.  An equaliser looked on the cards, but somehow United weathered the storm and created a one-on-one chance for Tom Greaves.  He didn’t miss.  3-1 after 71 mins

Cool finish from Greaves

The tension eased and even the small core of Brackley fans seemed to accept the impending awayday defeat.  Then they received an unexpected gift in the form of a defensive lapse that let Moyo in to score with several nervy minutes still ahead.  3-2 after 81 mins

It was indeed nervy.  Brackley had a set piece chance but the freekick went wide.  United’s clearances were hurried and they headed for the corner flag whenever they could.  However, the results pages will record that they hung on for a first Step 2 victory and another landmark.  Final Score 3-2

The thunderstorms that I encountered on the way back south gave me the worst driving conditions I have ever experienced.  They meant that I failed to get far enough down the M1 before the bollards meant that we queued for ages to get down to one lane.  Nine hours in total behind the wheel of the Yappmobile today.  It would be terrible to be a southerner and have to drive every week to watch football in Manchester.  Just saying.
Ground Pix

Match Pix

Something You Don’t Get in the Premier League

Goalkeeper Top Colour Stats
Green beats blue, but no clean sheets.  Full points table next time.
Soapbox Section
Their formation and progress has been well-documented elsewhere, and FC United look to be in a pretty healthy state with a very professional setup.  The stadium is still a work-in-progress but is already functioning perfectly well for this level.  They are an inspiration to other clubs who have sat contentedly in the lower leagues.  Altrincham are the nearest rivals in Step 1 and FC United have now caught up or overtaken the many established Step 2-4 clubs on the patch.  I think they are realistic enough not to expect annual promotions, but it is hard to imagine them getting relegated.  It is quite easy to imagine them as a sustainable League One outfit but then they would hit those barriers between sport and business that led to their formation in the first place.  Their average attendance will be around the 3000 mark, 2996 today.  At some point, just like it did for AFC Wimbledon, a competition will throw them up against Manchester United.  That will be interesting for the neutrals.  The only extra comment that I have about sustainability is that they have found a home closer to the Etihad than to Old Trafford, and yet in their terrace chants they have brought with them an anti-City sentiment.  Maybe this will in time put a limit on their fanbase, because people round here seem to be born blue or red.  Or maybe it will take twenty years for the club to have a core of supporters who are indifferent to the original Reds.  Mind you, the current FC United take the pitch looking just like my 1970s Manchester United Subbuteo team with simple and vibrant red shirts, white shorts and a green goalkeeper.  It is a great no-nonsense kit, and it sells well too.  Overall, I must say that it was a very positive matchday experience for this passing neutral.  It’s a left-leaning political place – see all the slogans on their flags and be prepared for pie queue conversations about which food companies pay tax in the UK – but I liked it and didn’t feel that I was gatecrashing someone else’s party.

What Next?
This visit leaves me with eleven Step 3 grounds to complete the next layer of English football, and I will be trying to get to all of them this season.  Most of them are in the Northern Premier, so plenty more time to come on the M6 for me then.  Work is about to take control of my life again as the new school term approaches, but watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details, and maybe become my latest 100th follower.  I have been hovering around the 1000 mark all summer.

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