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Monday, 28 November 2011

POV-FS - On the Road - England - Day Four: Euston Station, the Train Journeys North

Partially Obstructed View at Gigg Lane
    Up early this morning, a spot of breakfast in the dining room of the hotel - beans with breakfast is just odd, but I do love the colour of an egg yolk here - then a quick jaunt over to Euston Station.

    A light rain began to fall, pleasant enough as I like rain, but it was only a brief shower. There seem to be a real lack of garbage cans, I am told it is due to bomb concerns, which is understandable, but means I have lots of junk in my pockets, oh well.

    The train ride was smooth, quick and enjoyable. Other than being a little warm - it's stuffy everywhere it seems - it was fun. I could get all lyrical about the countryside, these neat little canals and their long boats, or the Sunday football on pitches we passed at high speeds, but that's not really my remit here, on to the football.

    Arrived in Manchester a little after noon, quick stop to check in at the hotel and drop off the luggage then onto the Metrolink bound for Bury.

    Without being patronizing Bury was a quaint little burg, the bus station took up a large part of downtown and the cabs - whose quality had downgraded steadily throughout the day - were few and far between.

    Rather than risk being late, a cab was summoned, off to Gigg Lane we went.

    Now the Lane is usually home to Bury FC, but FC United of Manchester rent out the ground - due to its proximity - as their home until they can afford to build their own.

    An off-shoot club of Manchester United - formed by disillusioned fans after the leveraged buyout takeover by the unpopular Glazer regime at Old Trafford - FCUM are one of the better supported Non-League sides and their opponent's Altrincham FC are on of the oldest.

    Compared to the Emirates the day before it was a step into the past; the ground, rather than dominating the area as had Arsenal's home, was tucked innocuously behind a residential area, and showed signs of being well-used and well-loved.

    The ancient turnstiles spun - as they had many times before - for the bargain price of 8 pounds. The concourse reminded me of some of the more run-down local arenas I had played my youth hockey in. Dingy, yet romantic; worn, but wearing it well. One could tell the experience was to be much different from the start.

    After selecting a seat in the main stand - general admission is a blessing - the Tannoy, showing a great deal of self-awareness, blared tinnily some retro reggae-ska; all upstrokes and treble of a happier, more optimistic time. And and and.

Prematch warmup
    'Red Red Wine' brought the events closer to the present, but still pleasantly old school, as the players warming up reflected the cheerful attitude of the day. Smiling and joking, having some fun and cheekily having a laugh with each other; far removed from the mechanical professionalism of the Premier League's prematch routine.

Home End; though it was just as loud in ours
    It has been said many times about the non-league game, but it truly did have a community feel. The ground was full of families and kids, old friends meeting up on the terrace for a shared experience, one close to home.

    As the match began that spiritus atmosphere exploded, the singing was incredible - I have a brief recording I will upload when I get a chance and figure out how; an endless variety of songs, filled the crisp winter's air, a thoroughly enjoyable night to be sure.

    The match was well-played and hard-fought, a local derby with a few tasty challenges and a referee who let the two sides play and the match flow.

    Both sides had chances that went wanting, until the end of the first half when United's fleet-footed left-winger Carlos Roca found himself in space a few yards outside of the box and lashed a curling shot magnificently into the top corner of the goal.

    Roca was the only player on the pitch I was familiar with, and his class was evident from the off. His pace and trickery caused Altrincham problems all night.

    The floodlights leaked on around the half, dimly illuminating the goings-on to dreamy effect.

    The visitors - clad in the yellow and blue of Leeds United drew the ire of the United fans, prompting chants of "we all hate the Leeds scum"; the inevitable dislike of City was on full display in the cacophony of Red Army voices - leveled from a corner after a spell of prolonged pressure to start the second half.

    But the match, much like the crowd, was United's; who grabbed the winner two-thirds through the half with a lofted header across the keeper to the far post. Two sublime goals, after a match of pressing and passing reminiscent of their mother club's best.

    The whole night was an experience without rival, I highly recommend you take the opportunity should it come your way, it's something I will never forget and will always bring a smile to my soul and goosebumps - or pimples if you prefer - to my skin. It got into you, it was fantastic.

Post match handshakes
    The one difference that struck me most between your average match and this one was how supportive the crowd were. Each player was referred to by their first name, like a close relation would be, and encouraged every step of the way. The chap behind me's favourite remark was "unlucky" as though there was an understanding that the lads were giving their all - so very different from the cynicism and frustration I feel at Toronto FC matches. The club - and by extension the players - was a part of these fans, something to be cared for and nourished, not belittled and cursed. A sentiment that the game could do with more of at all levels.

    I have a few more thoughts borne of this night - on how to market the non-league to infuse a but of cash and on the nature of the players - but I'll save them for a time when they can better be examined.

    No plans for Monday other than some much needed rest, but Tuesday sees a short train's travel to Nottingham to witness two fallen giants of English football as Forrest host Leeds United.

The fans pour out after a hard won battle

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