On the Road to FC United – The Talking Bull Preview

In another away encounter, the Bulls face their next important fixture as they attempt to maintain their excellent form on the road with a match against second-bottom FC United of Manchester.

Hereford played at Broadhurst in a pre-season encounter a couple of seasons ago, but a large travelling contingent of Bulls fans are still expected to make the trip north, especially given the relative clubs positions in the league table. It is certainly a must-win game for FC United as they are already seven points from safety – and have played a match more than any of the clubs around them.

Simon Wright looks ahead to the weekend clash.

FC UNITED OF MANCHESTER

Back in the summer, FC United was the first fixture I checked upon. There would be no holidays booked that weekend for me, no family clashes and no other match would take precedent. But, back then, I didn’t envisage any relegation concerns.  Our hosts have only collected 4 points out of the last 30 so in theory should be ripe for knocking over. Sadly, Hereford have yet to beat any of the bottom 3 sides in the League.

FCUM’s home form is awful. They’ve only won one game here compared to 5 away victories and only collected 7 points in total at Broadhurst. Despite that, their average gate is increasing under the new -ish manager Reynolds who joined in late October.  The average is now a fraction under 2,000, about 150 up on last season.   That’s good for them but more importantly, it’s good for the game that people will go to matches for reasons other than expecting their side to win.  There simply isn’t enough success to go around. But bigger gates don’t necessarily mean League success. Of the 7 best supported clubs in NLN, only one of them are in the top 7.

FC player turnover is constant. Well over 30 players used this season, including 7 new arrivals in January and two more in February.  Obviously, players are leaving as well. Elliot Simoes, the young fast wide player who killed us in the League game, has signed for Barnsley.  He’s their 9th player to move from FC into the pro game.  The club have an U21 squad, an Under 18 squad and two Academy sides and understandably shout about their achievements.

Longevity is United’s problem. Captain Harry Winter is their senior player with 75 FCUM appearances over his 3 seasons up to end Feb 2019. Total may have been higher had not the midfielder also collected 27 yellow cards and one red along the way.  Striker Kurt Willoughby is near ever-present with 13 League goals so far. He is fifth highest scorer in the Division and scored twice in their recent 3-3 draw with Guiseley. Kurt signed last summer from Clitheroe for whom he scored 26 goals in Step 3 last season.  Also, in the squad is ex-Bull Chris Sharp, who plays occasionally and scores even less. (11 games, 2 goals). FC is his 14th club.  At the back are the mainstays Chris Lynch (bald, ex-Salford, does rack up suspensions, looks like he deserves to be booked) and his partner Steve O’Halloran is the only FC ever-present squad member.

Supporters of FC want the fun bits of football.  They want to stand. They want to sing and be noisy without panicking stewards. They don’t want segregation. They want to see their team in a traditional advert-free football kit, pay affordable prices, have cheap beer and easy access to it. And yes, they would like a winning team, but they don’t want to fall into the trap of vainly filling money pits. Admission here to sit or stand is £12. Concessions at £7 are pretty much half Edgar Street prices while Under 18s are £3.  A senior season ticket starts at £65 and adults at £100.

With FCUM having built their own ground from scratch, it has and will continue to soak up a lot of resource.  This year is the 4th season in Step 2 for FCUM, after needing 7 seasons to get out of Step 3. They’ve struggled since promotion so their reason to be a football club lies elsewhere.

Broadhurst Park is in use 7 days a week. There are 3G pitches outside, community rooms built into the main terrace, plus function rooms and a classroom in the Main Stand.   Every week, there are free football sessions for adults and kids, classes for people with dementia, a pensioners group, walking football matches, disability football, refugee groups etc.  There is a real warmth about the place. When we visited for the pre-season friendly, it was an afternoon of access all areas. Wearing a Hereford shirt, I visited the exec areas, then the bar behind the terrace and walked round most of the 4 sides. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. The Boss and I have signed up for corporate hospitality this time.

Broadhurst Park remains unfinished, notably sections of the main stand have steelwork but no seats.   Two of the standing areas are covered but are flat without any terracing.  FC try to avoid segregation wherever they can, but a tiny idiot element, mainly visitors, spoilt that so if we are segregated, we will have the flat Lightbowne area behind one goal but some seats in the Main Stand. Look out for the excellent £2 programme which include free staples.

Parking at the stadium costs £5 per car and must be pre-booked with the Club. I wouldn’t bother unless you’ve got mobility issues. Some streets are residents only but there is plenty of street parking nearby such as Moston Road and most local pubs have car parking.

And thinking of mobility, disabled supporters’ access is through a stewarded gate next to the first set of turnstiles that you approach from the car park. Disabled seating and wheelchair spots are to be found in the main stand and in the east and west stands. Disabled parking can be arranged in advance by contacting the FC United office.

Refreshments – go local. There is a large bar located under the St Mary’s Road Terrace, open to both home and away fans. The bar serves its own real ale called Broadhurst Park Ale (a 4% pale ale). If fans are not segregated, then it is also available to all supporters at half time.  Last time we were there, the bar furniture was an eclectic mix of stools, chairs, and industrial cable drum winders on end.  FC have invested much money this season converting the area into 7 day a week community space, so I assume the décor is rather different now. The nearest alternative is ten minutes’ walk away or a stop en-route if driving. The Gardeners Arms on Lightbowne Road is a JW Lees house so will serve their regular beers plus one real ale guest. Train travellers can take their pick in the city centre.

Getting There

By Car (M40 0FJ) 294 miles return. Leave M60 at J21 and take A663. Then turn right at the traffic lights into Hollinwood Avenue (Signposted A6104 Middleton). Continue along Hollinwood Avenue. At the next roundabout, take first exit into Lightbowne Road. Broadhurst Park is on the left.

By Train:  Very do-able from the Shire or the South-East and, oh joy, the Northern Rail dispute is settled.  Hereford and London trains go into Manchester Piccadilly station. (The service from London Euston takes just over two hours which is quicker than from the Shire.)  Local train service to FC is only hourly so the Metro tram service is a better bet, running every 30 minutes from Piccadilly Gardens. Nearest stop to the ground is Newton Heath and Moston. That’s a mile away but FCUM do run free shuttle buses from the Railway Inn pub next to the stop. The Railway is a big old boozer and a train spotters dream, serving Joseph Holt bitter.

By Coaches:  Reg has filled a full-size coach and is currently taking bookings for the minibus. £20 adults, £10 u16’s.  Depart Radfords at 9.00am.

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