Sunday, November 04, 2007

Diary of a groundhopper


Saturday September 15 2007

Fleetwood Town 2 FC United of Manchester 1

Rod Allsworth, the PA announcer at Fleetwood, has been inviting me up to his club for over a year and today’s FA Cup first qualifying round tie seems a good time to oblige him. He reserves me a ticket for this all-ticket clash and assures me of a friendly welcome. This seems like a challenge, so off I trot!

I was at FCUM’s first ever match and was highly critical of their fans. The NLP received two psychopathic rants about me (males) and two perfectly reasoned pleas for me to give them a second chance (females). This afternoon was to be that second chance, with over a thousand away fans travelling to the north-west coast today.

I arrive at Highbury very early to ensure I get a parking space. The people manning the ticket collection table are extremely helpful and the boy who sells me a programme (£1.50) is politeness personified. All the stewards and community police officers are good-natured and helpful. A striking first impression.

Rod gives me a guided tour of the ground, pointing out which parts are to be refurbished and explains his chairman’s plans for the future. This involves a huge investment in local youngsters’ teams.

It is a typical northern stadium, with a small, raised stand opposite the main entrance with a smaller stand next to it. There is a new covered terrace behind one goal and an old-fashioned terrace behind the other. I am particularly impressed with the waitress service in the clubhouse that saves the usual crush to get one’s pint.

Kick-off is delayed for ten minutes due to queues at the turnstiles. Why can’t people get here on time to avoid inconveniencing those of us who plan our day properly?

Seconds before the start, United’s goalkeeper is felled by a bottle of water from the Town fans. He receives treatment but is soon on the floor again after being hit by another missile. The referee takes the players off. The morons are situated in the Percy Ronson stand, named after the holder of Fleetwood’s record appearances. What a disgraceful way to celebrate his achievements.

When the match gets under way, the crowd of over 3,000 creates a feverish atmosphere. Fleetwood take the lead but FCUM deservedly equalise before the break.

At half time, I survey the banners. There is a hand-painted ‘‘In 77 it was Docherty’’ on an old sheet and a more professional offering ‘‘2 Utds 1 soul’’. A big cheer goes up when Man Utd’s win against Everton is announced. I thought this new club was formed to cut all ties with the old one?

The second half isn’t a classic. Town have a man sent off but still have enough strength and know how to fend off a side that looks to have reached its level.

As for Fleetwood, the people are exceptionally friendly. It’s just a pity their hard work was spoiled by a few idiots.