Updated: Monday, 19th August 2019 @ 10:17am

'It’s a special competition': Broadhurst Park gets first taste of FA Cup on red-letter day for FC United

'It’s a special competition': Broadhurst Park gets first taste of FA Cup on red-letter day for FC United

| By Ed Higgs

When the oldest cup competition in the world comes to the newest ground, there’s a heightened air of expectancy.

To a casual observer, Saturday’s fixture against Witton Albion represented just another game in the short history of FC United of Manchester, the breakaway club formed as a reaction to the Glazer family takeover of Manchester United. 

The crowd was made up of the same faces, the players went through the same pre-match warm-up, and yet there was an extra spring in the step, a more fervent atmosphere.

Saturday, rather than just a normal game, was the first ever FA Cup tie to be held at Broadhurst Park, the highly impressive home of FC United since May.

 

 

Since their formation in 2005, FC United have hopped from ground to ground, playing predominantly at Bury’s Gigg Lane, but also running out in Altrincham, Stalybridge, and Ashton amongst others, before finally opening their shining £6.5m stadium with a curtain-raiser against Benfica at the end of May. 

Now, two months into a new season at their new ground, FC United welcomed something old - the FA Cup.

“It’s fantastic,” general manager Andy Walsh enthused before the game.

“The FA Cup’s been very good for us, even in our short history.

“It’s got some magical memories for us, especially that game against Rochdale, and then playing Brighton, so to have an FA Cup game here is just the next step along the way.

“Great nights, fantastic nights.”

For FC United fans, ‘that game against Rochdale’ has the same resonance, if not the same ring, as ‘that night in Barcelona’.

In 2010, FC United achieved the most remarkable victory in their short history, beating a side ranked four divisions above them courtesy of a last-gasp winner.

Michael Norton, who scored that goal, might not evoke the same memories as other FA Cup legends like Ricky Villa, Ryan Giggs, even Ronnie Radford, but for supporters at FC United, that match – and the subsequent brave defeat to Brighton in the next round – is not just the benchmark for a gloriously romantic cup run, but inscribed in the DNA of the club.

“It’s got to be in the top five,” said Les Croft, a supporter and volunteer at the club from Chorlton.

“There’s certain games where if you go right back to the start, they’re more meaningful, more purposeful, but they were good games, they were enjoyable games.”

That perhaps summed up the pressure-free joy FA Cup runs can bring, the have-a-go-hero attitude that has served FC United so well in its rage against the machine of the moneyed Premier League. 

Not that there was a lack of pressure on Saturday, mind, when faced with the prospect of a cup defeat to Witton Albion, who lie two divisions below. 

 

 

For a while, when Albion scored inside the first two minutes, it looked as if we might be treated to a different kind of romance, with the hunter becoming the hunted.

Ultimately class told, with FC United running out comfortable 3-1 winners. 

When dared to dream of a run to the third round and beyond – four wins away now - supporters’ responses ranged from the pragmatic to the tongue-in-cheek.

Walsh said: “If you ever look beyond your next game, then you’re in trouble. 

“Especially in cup competitions, you look at the game, and deal with each game as it comes up.”

In stark contrast, indulging in the sheer joyous abandon of a potential FA Cup run, those in the St Mary’s Road End sang of being ‘off to Wembley’, though it seems that amongst the dreaming, one sentiment is unanimous.

Playing Manchester United, the 11-times winners of the FA Cup, would be a family reunion that’s not even worth contemplating, whilst the prospect of victory, of fratricide, is unpalatable.

“I never want to play United, never,” says Croft.

“It’s a conflict of interests.

“We’re still United fans - not supporters, but we still want United to win.

“We never wish them ill, I’d just rather not go through the problems with that.”

 

 

Before the game, Neil, a supporter from Moss Side, wearing an FC St Pauli hat – the German club that are the inspiration for so many anti-establishment sides – perhaps summed up the mixture of relief and excitement that this day could finally come to pass after years of tenancy and fundraising. 

“The FA Cup’s a special competition, and I think we’ve got a special ground to match it.”

Looking out across Broadhurst Park, shimmering in the autumnal sunlight and primed at long last to stage English football’s greatest institution, it’s hard to disagree.

Image courtesy of PI Alpha, via Youtube, with thanks.