Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mixing with the stars

Source: Guardian Unlimited

Never mind Rooney and Ronaldo: the summer has been just as busy over at FC United, writes Tony Howard

Wednesday August 9, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

While Old Trafford was the centre of national attention over Wayne Rooney's World Cup fitness, his subsequent clash with Cristiano Ronaldo and the future of Ruud van Nistelrooy, it was also a busy close-season at the other United.

In between celebrating their first birthday, FC United of Manchester spent the summer winning their first-ever cup, enlisting a winger called R Giggs and injecting a bit a of showbiz thanks to the inclusion of a Coronation Street star.

FC fans turning up to watch their club's pre-season games were left baffled by a couple of familiar figures; indeed, many were left rubbing their eyes and mistakenly believing that a Manchester United legend had made an improbable switch to Gigg Lane.

At first glance Rhodri Giggs is the spitting image of his brother Ryan, although he plays on the right rather than left and lacks the yard of pace that his older sibling is blessed with. He does, however, look equally smart in a red shirt, he runs in the same arm-pumping style - and takes corners in a similar vein by hitting the first defender with alarming regularity. That aside, Giggs has fitted into the camp well.

As has Sam Robertson, better known as Adam Baldwin in Corrie. The boy with the strange barnet impressed FC United's coaching team during a charity game in May, after which the manager Karl Marginson said: "Mike Baldwin's lad looked good; we'd like to get him involved."

As a result, locals walking their dogs on the field behind the south Manchester high school where FC train can enjoy the surreal sight of Adam Baldwin being put through his paces twice a week by a delivery driver from Ancoats. At least it's taken his mind off the wrangling about his Dad's will. Robertson/Baldwin has gone on to make fleeting appearances throughout the summer with the new FC United reserve team.

Fans hope that the new faces - including the striker Stuart Rudd, who has plundered over 30 goals at other clubs in each of the last five seasons - will soften the blow of losing the talismanic Steve Torpey, who was poached by Halifax Town after an amazing individual performance in FC's impressive 4-2 friendly victory at the Shay.

Torps' place in United legend is assured, however, as it was he who banged in FC's first-ever goal at Flixton a year ago. And he certainly went out with a flourish in his final appearance against Halifax. During FC's inception they were warned by those behind AFC Wimbledon not to get too attached to players as they come and go at this level. How right they were.

United had hosted AFC Wimbledon at Gigg Lane, beating them to claim the Supporters Direct Cup, again thanks to a Torpey special. As a result FC have a nice cup to go in the cabinet alongside the North West Counties Division Two trophy they won in their inaugural season. There was also a game against the landlords Bury at Gigg Lane, where the Reds outnumbered the home supporters by two to one. Bury won at a canter, but the moral victory was with the far more vociferous lodgers.

A week before the league season began FC returned to the scene of the club's first-ever game, and were impressive 4-0 winners against Leigh RMI, who sit three divisions higher in the football pyramid. It was in stark contrast to the 0-0 draw there in July 2005, and offered a marker of how far the club has come since that famous day.

Now fans will hope that, with a couple of new signings and a lad called Giggs running down the wing, they can win their second successive title. And with the mouthwatering prospect of an FA Vase run to look forward to, it's sure to be another eventful season in FC United's short history.

FC United open their North West Counties League Division Two campaign with a visit to St Helens Town on Saturday August 12, kick-off 3pm.