On a rainy Thursday night without any Premier or Football League fixtures on, my friend Tim invites me to see local team Maine Road F.C. against Squires Gate in the North West Counties Football League.
We get into the ground at kick-off, and have hardly found us a seat, before the hometeam takes the lead. Maine Road F.C. are in all skyblue kits, and wear the original badge of Manchester City. The club was formed by a City social club back in 1955 – and tries to carry on traditions such as the name of City’s old ground and the club badge.
And they are doing well, too. They are second from top against second from bottom. Not that that guarantees anything as Wolves’ win over Hull the other night proved. But this Thursday, Maine Road F.C. are 3 up within 25 minutes and could actually have had 6.
Tim asks me, what level I used to play at. I tell him emphatically that I was not very good, but if I should compare myself with one of the players on the pitch it would be the Squire’s centreback number …. Suddenly I can’t spot him. He has been taken off after 26 minutes! And partly because of that and partly because they put a bit of pressure on the Maine Road backfour which is not quite as overwhelming as their strike force, Squires have stopped the rot.
In the second half, they even have a brief spell of pressure, but 2 minutes from the end, a Maine Road player is through on goal, beats the keeper with his shot, but the ball bounces off the advertising board behind the goal. We wonder how he could miss, and finally the referee decides that he actually hasn’t missed, but that the ball has gone through the net. The keeper is furious. But it ends 4-0.
We are 42 people attending, paying £ 5 each + £1.50 for the match programme. At half time, we go into the nearby building, where the players’ changing rooms are located, and have a coffee. And we follow the players back on to the pitch, which looks remarkably good considering the appalling winterweather.
After the blistering start, the game falls a little flat, but it is still a good focus point for meeting and having a chat. The referee also likes a chat. He gives long explanations of his decisions to the players with a big smile on his face, and when a Squires fullback ballons an attempted cross out of the ground, the referee runs a fully 30 yards to tell him how awful that was. Great enthusiasm!