After what seems to have been several weeks swanning around the south of the country (Inverness CT excepted) I decide it’s about time to complete my Unibond set by visiting Trafford FC who play in the Flixton district of Manchester. My rail route takes me via Direby, the one good thing about which is the greasy spoon opposite the station. Stuffed with my ‘Veggie Monty’ at a trifling £4 I survey the glorious sunshine and think what a great day it is for watching football.
All that changes during the course of the rail tunnel west of Sheffield, as we emerge into overcast, murky conditions which, when I arrive at Manchester Piccadilly, manifests itself into cold and draughty – good old Manchester! I have my favourite pubs in the city centre, but today decide to explore a quartet of hostelries in the Chinatown district. The Waterhouse is a Wetherspoon’s which does what Wetherspoon’s does; the Vine is split level and is a bit soulless when empty (which it is at midday on Saturday lunchtime); the City Arms has lots of character, a good range of beers, and foot-tapping blues – excellent drinking music. Finally, the Seven Oaks has a couple of beers, a big sports TV, and excellent cobs. I’ve a definite beer buzz as I trudge the quarter of a mile or so to the Oxford Road station for the short trip to Trafford’s ground.
The ticket office man recommends I take the Liverpool train and get off at Urmston as it’s ‘just five minutes away’ – maybe if you’re Usain Bolt it is, but I’d time it at more like 15. However, prior to walking the walk, I’m impressed to see that Urmston Station has been turned into a very impressive pub called the Steamhouse. There’s three or for locally-brewed ales and some Belgian draught on offer – good stuff.
Trafford’s ground is tucked away behind housing, and judging by a number of spectators loitering outside the ground, paying your entrance money isn’t a prerequisite for watching the game. Pitch up with a bike or a box and the pitifully low fence is no barrier. Your’s truly believes in putting money into the grass-roots game so I’m through the turnstiles, picking up a prog just inside. At £1.50 it’s predictable fayre with reams of facts gleaned from the Unibond website, and even space dedicated to the Vodkat League, for no other reason it seems than Trafford played in it last season.
The ground is definitely work in progress, with modern looking roofing erected above seats on one side, and terracing behind one goal. The main stand is of the low-level type, and the club-house is snug, to be polite. I look in vain for any sign of proper beer and decide to investigate the snack bar instead. I remember Salford City selling a reasonable line in cheese pies, and Trafford have the same brand – must be a Manchester speciality!
A handful of Warrington fans have turned up, including a Kop choir leader with a voice like TV comedian Johnny Vegas and a physique to match. I determine to stand at the opposite end of the ground to him.
It’s a deceptively cold day and I need an action-packed encounter to get me warmed up. Unfortunately two struggling teams demonstrate exactly why they are at the bottom end of the league by serving up the worst ninety minutes I’ve endured all season. I was particularly looking forward to seeing young Trafford striker Scott Barlow, who scored 28 goals last season as his team won promotion, and has netted 32 times this year whilst playing in an under-achieving side. Today he looks less than average and watches with his team mates as visitors Warrington Town ease their relegation fears with the one bit of quality in the game, a precision strike from outside the box.
I try to whip up some enthusiasm by attempting to identify the player who shouts ‘Hey!’ every time a robust tackle is inflicted on one of his team mates – in this case it’s the Warrington Number 5. I reckon there should be an arm-band for this important position in any team. The captain gets one, so why shouldn’t the guy who shouts ‘Hey!’ get one too? Anyway, I’m just glad when the ref blows for full time.
I’m away and out of Manchester as quickly as trains will allow me. At Piccadilly a sudden roar signals the arrival of Leeds fans in transit from their match at Crewe. They don’t change, singing sick songs about Munich knowing full well United are away and City are playing tomorrow – no dust-up today, boys. They spot their connecting train and run for it. That’s something we have in common – heading across the Pennines and back to somewhat warmer climes.
Floodlight Pylons: Eight, including one telephone mast
Parakeets: Nothing so exotic up here – even the blue tits are grey!
Club Shop: a tray of badges and an advert for club tops at the side of the bar
Toilets – behind the main stand
Tannoy music – DJ’s day off
Quirkiest player name – either Dion ‘Chicken’ Depeiaza or Andy ‘Pandy’ Lundy . I did think about Anthony ‘C3po’ Daniels but you’d have to be a Star Wars fan to get that one….