As the 2014/15 season approaches its denouement, two Greater Manchester rivals sharing a place name in their moniker are battling it out at the top of their league.
Premier League behemoths Manchester United and Manchester City step aside, this is Ashton United and Curzon Ashton’s time in the spotlight.
Both clubs find themselves in the running for promotion from the Evostik Premier League this year, the first time in 17 seasons they’ve been competing in the same division.
United boast a proud 137-year history – their residence at Hurst Cross since 1880 is one of the longest in the footballing world – and they narrowly missed out on promotion to the Conference North last year, losing out to AFC Fylde on penalties in the play-off final.
Curzon meanwhile are celebrating their 50th campaign in style, following up last season’s promotion with a strong showing in the Evostik Premier, in which they sit one place out of the play-offs in sixth, two points behind their second-placed rivals.
MM spoke to both clubs to find out if their proximity equates to the kind of rivalry that ignites fans with passion, or whether they’re just happy to see the small town of Ashton-under-Lyne putting its name on the Greater Manchester footballing map.
Ashton United PR man Jeremy Sayle shed some light on the situation, explaining that the 17-year wait for a league meeting between the two has left the modern generation lacking appreciation for a rivalry that burns among the two clubs’ older supporters.
“It’s only natural that there’s a certain degree of rivalry,” said Sayle.
— Ashton United FC (@AshtonUnitedFC) March 10, 2015
“How strong that rivalry is felt will depend on the age of the supporter – I think it’s fair to say that rivalry is fairly intense between the older supporters and, no surprise, the clubs themselves.”
However, the relationship between the two clubs isn’t as antagonistic as many other local derbies.
Ex-Curzon board member and 40-year fan Ian Seymour spoke of how it felt ‘great’ to be mixing it with their neighbours once again.
Seymour said: “It would be fantastic to have both Ashton clubs in the play-offs.
“Personally I would prefer Ashton United to be successful before some like FC United [of Manchester] – but I’m not prepared to say more than that!”
The prospect of having both Ashton teams in the play-offs is not too improbable, although Seymour was quick to point out that Curzon had no control over a situation in which they sit one place outside the top five.
Sayle said: “I think supporters of both clubs would love there to be another league derby next season in Conference North.
“It would be great for all the teams in the borough to be playing at the same standard as each other, meaning lots of local derbies and good crowds.
“But if the two meet in the play-offs it will undoubtedly be a no-holds-barred affair!”
Fans of the Conference North would surely be happy to see both sides in the league as well if the teams’ contests this season have been anything to go by.
Belying their status as the smaller of the two sides, Curzon have had the better of United over two exciting matches, beating their neighbours 3-2 at home, before holding them to a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture.
Curzon Ashton FC Reach 1000 Games Follow link for full details http://t.co/0OUY1d9CVP
— Curzon Ashton FC (@CurzonAshton) March 8, 2015
Seymour described the results as ‘better than great’, while Sayle had words of praise for what he describes as ‘a good side’.
He said: “I don’t think too many can have been overly surprised by Curzon’s performance this season.
“The standard of play in Division 1 North is very high and it takes a good side to get out of that division, let alone win the title.”
A first year in the same league since the late 1990s has been a good one for the two teams from Ashton, whose rivalry lay dormant for so long that it now feels like a new addition to the vibrant network of Mancunian football.
Within that, Tameside is fairly poorly represented, especially at the higher levels. So promotion for either club could encourage them to become flag-bearers for the region.
One thing is for sure: with both United and Curzon on an upward trajectory, the rivalry between the two is only likely to increase.
Here’s hoping that success cannot corrupt its magnanimity.
Main image courtesy of Matthew Wilkinson via Flickr, with thanks.