Monday, 13 December 2010

FC United of Manchester 0 – 1 Halifax Town; 11/12/10.


It's a freezing Wednesday night at Gigg Lane and Football Club United of Manchester are playing the biggest game in their short history. They are contending with Brighton and Hove Albion in a replay of the second round of the FA Cup, having drawn at their place. Each opportunity in this cup is another cup final. Through the flares and dark cold a large banner billows as much as it can when its four corners are pinned to a barrier. "Making Friends Not Millionaires" is the maxim.

If FC United made millionaires in the way they make friends then they'd be staring liquidation in the face.

Us at FC Halifax Town have been rubbing our hands together for this one. Let's put it coyly: this isn't because we both have support that outnumbers all others in the league. Nah, we're just excited to have a game on after three weeks. With Aspin giving the boys a lot of running exercises at training as pitches in the Northern Premier League freeze over, maybe they want to do something more interactive also.

It's been another magical FA Cup run for a handful of clubs. Tipton Town took on Carlisle after getting through six rounds. Hythe Town likewise, bowing out to Hereford. Havant & Waterlooville got another good FA Cup deal for their money before falling to Droylsden, who threw away a 2–0 lead at Leyton Orient, the O's coming back in extra-time to net eight. Droylsden are one of the most central teams in Manchester, though not many professed City or United fans would recognise their name.

FC United did remarkably well, too. They got through five rounds. Even more remarkably still perhaps, they eclipsed all other tales of heady FA Cup dreams. They're out of it now of course after losing 4–0 on Wednesday, but they're not yet out of the relegation zones. A commentator during the Brighton game explained this may be down to "their style being unsuited for the Northern League." That's a bit like saying Ann Widdecombe isn't suited for the sexuality of the modern man.

The relation is this: Halifax Town never had a choice when we lost everything. With opaque staffing and declining performances we could only sit and spectate. The borough of Calderdale wasn't behind its club and still is antipathetic for the most part, so even when we rose from the ashes, a supporter-owned club was out of the question. We're lucky to have the most open management in years. We're lucky to have a large stadium that stands tall and in decent nick for one of the first times ever. And we're lucky to have a team and management team that put the time and effort into the club that we as fans do. So in this match, the biggest in the non-league this weekend, FC United were playing a team of similar support. That's what the neutrals came for still, but they stayed for the FC United story. On the other side of the halfway line stands a team representing a club once known as the worst in the league, and there isn't a team in this league who don't fear us as opposition. For those actually involved in the Evo-Stik Premier, we're the ones to watch. Rightly so, as even FC United, who despite achy legs put in one of their big efforts, failed to match up to a Town line-up, our excuses plentiful but aside.

Over to more pressing matters, an entourage of Shaymen rocketed over the Pennines for a bit of fun. Sources over here put it at 750, sources over there put it at 937, but for however many it was we were raring for another league game. Singing as we approached the turnstiles helped too. I gave the fella with the programmes £2 for a neatly laid-out but thin issue that could be devoured within five minutes with great respects to their community efforts. It should be noted that fans like him were cheerful and chatty. As many top FC United fans there are about, they're sadly eclipsed by the endlessly cocky and hostile sub-Leeds United nutters who soil a great (not far from perfect!) concept for club management. Notable in the programme is the charitable heart it places in of Greater Manchester. Our club isn't far off in this respect at all, but it creates FC United as a social conscience. I'd wager those who perspire for the club and its community work and those who make this a reason to be arrogant scumbags are two completely separate factions. All the best to the programme guys and the FC United fan who extended himself to offering me a lift for this game, and may they inherit their club over the worst sorts. True fans: masses of warm, firm handshakes and luck wishes.

FC United came out from the changing rooms as a nasty shock, and a departure from the eleven dry farts I saw at the Horsfall Stadium a few months ago. They forced an attack early on with a narrow miss, and missed out on a fuzzy penalty call as Liam Hogan and their Carlos Roca nearly collided. This was more like the FC United I saw on Sky against Rochdale and Brighton. They were up for it, but when they weren't attacking we were. Guaranteed. Garner laid on very nicely for Deano who skied it at close range a few minutes later. Following on from that, Scott Phelan hit the post. If the times Phelan hit the post and the times he scored were proportional to the area of the posts and the net itself, goalposts would be about two metres wide. He'll get them in soon enough.

Not the best but not the most worrisome showing for us in the first half, then. As Deano went off injured, a bit more bite came into our attack. Just as I remembered the words I'd been given: "FC United cannot deal with crosses into the box," Metcalfe did just that. The ultimate finishing move for a goalie is a deflection of a quick ball which came courtesy of Garner's head, and the ball sizzled in the right corner. The Cemetery End erupted and carried on at such a volume for a good while.

One goal's never enough though, especially in lower-league football. The ensuing 40 minutes were some of the most tense I've seen, and across the stand our very frequent chanting interchanged with much chewing of fingernails. We forced more attacks, but when we weren't setting some up they were. Their problems were getting caught offside too often and damn target practice. Ours were . . . target practice, I guess. Sometimes we're great at it, sometimes we're desperate. For a team susceptible to attacks on the wing we didn't do that all too often but if Vardy finished all his one-on-ones he'd be bringing the match ball home for sure. If it weren't 0–1, it'd be 3–4.

The final whistle blew, and three points were counted for the Shaymen, now six points in the lead. If Worksop win their games in hand they would be three points behind us. Beside which, we're simply admiring the view.

FC United of Manchester 0 – 1 Halifax Town; att. 2805
Programme: 5/10
Talent: one stewardess; a Town fan returned to get "searched" by her again
Non-partisan entertainment: 8/10  


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