Friday, March 03, 2006

A cold wet night in Accrington

Source: The Guardian

A cold wet night in Accrington

Not longer after Manchester United were winning the Carling Cup, FC United went 18 points ahead in the North West Counties Division Two, writes Tony Howard

Friday March 3, 2006

Soon after Gary Neville held aloft the once-mocked Carling Cup amidst the Cardiff fireworks, FC United fans were preparing to travel to Accrington to face Great Harwood Town - a club runners-up Wigan were playing regularly 30 years ago.

In 1976 Latics recorded their lowest attendance of the season against the East Lancashire side on their way to a fifth place finish in the Northern Premier League.

Not many of the 730 people in attendance at that game would ever have imagined Wigan would one day be playing mighty Manchester United in the League Cup final - indeed, it was two years before Wigan were invited to join the Football League at Southport's expense and the top tier of English Football must have seemed a million miles away.

Tommy Docherty's exciting United side, on the other hand, were on their way to Wembley after returning to Division One following their brief sojourn in the league below. How many in the 57,000 Old Trafford crowd who saw the reds beat West Ham 4-0 on February 28, 1976 would ever have thought they'd be watching non-league football 30 years later?

But, while Wiganers recovered from their hangovers and the 19-hour traffic jam out of Cardiff, 1,100 United fans travelled to Accrington on a cold, wet Monday night for a rearranged North West Counties Division Two fixture.

If it wasn't difficult enough dealing with the conflict of feelings of seeing our once beloved Manchester United win their first silverware of the Glazer regime, we were faced with an experience we feared would be the norm once we dropped down 10 levels of English football.

Michael Fish would've struggled to predict the combination of weather conditions that saw snow, sleet, hail; rain and gale force winds descend on Accrington all within 90 minutes.

It's harsh criticising officials at this level, when they only receive £25 a game, but they had a shocker to add to our 'joy'. And it's not sour grapes - FC were gifted a penalty for no apparent reason, on the way to drawing the game 1-1 and moving 18 points clear at the top.

But, despite this we once again had an enjoyable night in the home of the famous Accrington Stanley. We may have shivered and we may have shaken our heads at some of the decisions, but we were huddled together against the cold - behind the club that is genuinely ours.

The Millennium Stadium may have felt like a million miles away, but as Wigan have proved anything is possible in football. We have already managed to take more fans to play Great Harwood than they did 30 years before, so who would bet against FC United of Manchester playing Manchester United in the League Cup Final 2036? f the Old Trafford club haven't gone bust by then, that is.

- Tony Howard