Play-off Final: Hednesford Town FC 2 v 1 FC United of Manchester:
And so to the match itself. We met up at Piccadilly and caught the slow train down to Rugeley. Dave had done a little research in advance, and had found out that most trains would be carrying Wigan and city fans down to the cup final at Wembley, and therefore alcohol would be banned. Sure enough, the majority of trains had police on the platforms, checking what people were bringing with them. Fortunately we had found another route though, and so could have a breakfast beer as normal. As we passed Stockport, we paused to make tired, clichéd jokes about the number of city fans on the platform, whilst then looking in the direction of Edgeley Park. If all went well, we could be travelling there next season.
Arriving on the edge of Rugeley, we went for a few drinks in the rather unfortunately named “The Yorkshireman” pub, before getting taxis to the ground. The ground was buzzing. You could hear that the place was pretty full, and there was a long queue in. Some fans were even climbing in over the roof of the stand. It was like the old giddy days of our first season! Once inside, we realised the main stand where the FC fans were, was already closed for being too full. There still seemed to be a bit of space to stand down at the front though, so like many, we climbed over the advertising hoardings and ran across the corner of the pitch to get in. Hednesford also had plenty of extra fans in tow, although oddly their smokebombs were still in United red. With the place rocking, the match kicked off. Almost immediately, Hednesford scored. Typical. Oddly though Si had mentioned, that he’d dreamt that we would go 2-0 down before coming back to win. Even though I’m not particularly superstitious, this sort of comforted me. Even as Hednesford with their pacier, stronger players, bossed the first half and deservedly took a 2-0 league, I still thought we might get back into things. In the second half, Hednesford didn’t have to look for goals anymore, and as a result we started to get more possession. Norton pulled one back, and the crowd got back up again. The roar off that goal was incredible. Unfortunately though we never looked like finding a second, with the exception of a very strong penalty shout that was ignored. As Hednesford fans (or more likely one or two who were going to be fans for just the one day) started to collect on the edge of the pitch, nothing would’ve been sweeter than a last minute equaliser. It was not to be. The final whistle went, the Hednesford fans celebrated a deserved win, and for us it was another year of falling at the last hurdle. Some of their fans seemed to want to have a go at us, rather than celebrate promotion. The police didn’t seem very bothered, so we decided we would go on the pitch too and thank our players. As nice a feeling as promotion is, going up all the time isn’t necessarily what we all want as fans. Another year in the same league is bearable. Being a football fan isn’t just about success. FC fans let off flares, chanted the players’ names or just milled about chatting to friends.
We stopped off for a couple more pints in Rugeley, but there was no party mood. city losing to Wigan was quite funny, but it wasn’t going to save the day. We got some gin and caught the train home, passing Stockport on the way back. Edgeley Park will have to wait. The buzz however continues…