Grantham Town 1-5 FC United of Manchester (att. 739)
Last Saturday Tony and I travelled to the South Kesteven Sports stadium, in Grantham, Lincolnshire, to watch a match in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League. It’s part of the Untold Non-League tour, which has already taken us to watch Corby and Guernsey (away at Crawley Down Gatwick).
All I really know about Grantham is that is was the birthplace of Maggie Thatcher (which didn’t exactly endear it to me!) but there was little evidence of the Iron Lady here today. The travelling hordes from Manchester (who must have accounted for about 400-500 of the gate) remembered her though, chanting ‘Argentina, Argentina!’ at various points in the game (very witty these Mancunians).
The South Kesteven ground is an impressive local sports arena; complete with a stand on both sides and a running track with hurdles (Tony and I broke the Untold World Record during the break…).
I presume the ground belongs to the local authority rather than the club but it meant we had an excellent view of the game overlooking the centre line. The facilities were good too, we enjoyed a beer and food before the game in the bar; good value but Tony was a little upset they had run out of steak pies – chips were good though! And the locals were friendly, especially when they realized we weren’t actually ‘proper’ away fans but ‘football tourists’.
The phenomenon of FC United is interesting. Here are a group of disgruntled MUFC fans who (unlike some we might mention) instead of simply grumbling about the takeover of their club by unwanted owners, have actually gone and done something constructive about it. They formed their own club in 2005 and now command impressive gates at their home (Gigg Lane that they share with Bury) and take plenty away.
To give you some idea, the average attendance at an FC United home game last season was 1,842. The next highest in this league (King’s Lynn) was 667. At ou game they created nearly all the atmosphere at Grantham, singing throughout the game with hardly a pause for breath. Admittedly several of their songs were dirge-like and rather uninspiring but you can’t fault the effort and the passion they have for their team.
Presumably ‘City, what’s the score?’ was aimed at the sky blue Manchester club because there are no ‘city’s in the NPL. They brought loads of flags with them which they dotted about the ground so that it resembled an England away game more than a lower league clash.
Ok, what about the game? Well it started slowly and wasn’t much of skill fest. Indeed by contrast to Guernsey FC (who won their first ever FA Cup game today!) and Crawley Down Gatwick I thought the quality of football from both sides was poor in the first half. FC United started best but the Gingerbreads came back into it and up until the 30-minute mark it was pretty even. Then United took the lead through Lee Neville (possibly Gary and Phil’s other brother…) and this prompted the already excitable away support to let off a red flare that fluttered in the cooling late summer breeze.
United were two up by the end of the half, as the home team’s already fragile looking defence committed collective suicide and Tom Greaves (the great great grandson of Jimmy, possibly…) took full advantage and scored.
Tony and I retired to the bar (and discovered that it would have been quite easy to avoid the £10 entry fee and sneak in). There we chatted to a weary home fan and asked him why the team were playing in red when everything indicated that their regular kit was black and white stripes (a la NUFC and Notts County).
It seems that they have a new sponsor who picked the kit, so a similar situation to Cardiff but on a smaller scale. Should sponsors or owners be able to dictate what colours the team wears? What would we feel about it? Our friend wasn’t happy (‘you have to buy a new kit each year’, he complained). He also told us this was a newish side, with lots of players trying to fit in and a new manager. They certainly didn’t play as a team – notably at the back where the keeper alone kept the score down in the first 45 minutes. The motto over the bar read Ubi concordia, ibi victoria, which I translated as ‘where there is harmony there is victory’ but unfortunately there was little concord in the home team’s performance.
The second half was more lively and Grantham pulled a goal back through the impressively large Gregg Smith. He had quickly become the butt of the travelling fans chants of ‘you fat b*****d’ because he tended to throw his weight about.
However the home revival was short lived and at times the gulf between the teams was quite apparent. A beautiful pass split the GTFC defence and FC United were 3-1 up. This soon became 4-1 and then, with the short distraction of a semi-clad streaker (it wasn’t Tony folks, calm down!), it became 1-5 and a veritable rout. The home players had simply lost it by now and were backing away from the oncoming United attack instead of closing them down. Confidence is a crucial thing in football and when their short comeback collapsed the heads dropped and most of the fight went out of Grantham.
But then they won’t have to play FC United every week and I would wager the Manchester outfit will be a good shout for promotion this season. They weren’t classy but they did look efficient and very well organized.
And I hope Grantham do ok because this is a nice little club with a good ground that came up from the league below two years ago and are consolidating. Overall it was another great day out with good company. Next weekend there are no PL fixtures because of the Internationals and is therefore Non-League Day, so why not go and find your local team and have some fun?
* Grantham’s nickname is the Gingerbread – I didn’t discover why.
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