The latest chapter of Pete Sixsmith’s own version of Notes from a Small Island takes him to Gigg Lane, a ground where Sunderland have enjoyed happy times, but for an FA Cup tie featuring neither SAFC nor Bury …
There are certain grounds in the pantheon of Sunderland’s success that you just look back at with fondness and nostalgia.
Hillsborough for ’73 and ‘92, Sid James Park for that wonderful night in 1990 when Marco put the ball past Fat Burridge and, for me, Gigg Lane, Bury, where we cemented promotion in 1999 with an emphatic 5-2 win.
That was an interesting day. I had started off at The Riverside, Chester-le-Street, where the first day of the County Championship was lost to snow. The trip over the Pennines was not brilliant, but the performance was.
We had a great side that year. Gray and Johnston marauded down the left and in Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips we had the classic big man, little man combination. Happy days.
Super Kev hit four that night as we took up half the ground and the reaction of the Bury fans was excellent. They almost enjoyed seeing their team torn apart and I know that a fair few Sunderland fans contributed to their “Buy a Seat” campaign a year or so later.
Since then, they have slid back into Division Two, but play some decent football under Alan Knill and a Sunderland fan, Chris Brass. But it wasn’t Bury that drew me to the almost rural charms of Gigg Lane, it was FC United of Manchester.
I am sure that we all know that they were formed as a response to the Glazier buy out of United. They are a fan owned club, who started at the bottom of the non-league pyramid and are climbing up it reasonably quickly. They have left the North West Counties League behind and now play in the Northern Premier League, Premier Division, one step above Durham City and one step below Blyth Spartans.
I have seen them a couple of times, at Harrogate RA and at Bradford PA, and I have to say that on those two occasions, I found their fans rather irritating. Not because they were glory hunters, but mainly because all they wanted to do was sing about how much they disliked Liverpool, Citeh and (for some obscure reason) Leeds United.
Maybe I caught them on bad days, because I have to say that I was mightily impressed with the whole experience on Sunday.
They played and beat Barrow AFC from the Conference 1-0 and deserved it. The organisation of the day for a crowd of 3,200 was immaculate and the support was outstanding. Any harsh thoughts about FCUM have been banished to the dustbin of history.
The whole of one stand at Gigg Lane was taken up with banners. Most showed where the owners of the aforementioned banners came from, but a couple hit the spot with me. One made it clear that they were watching football for fun and not for multi millionaires, while the other was a quote from a MUFC official, who described them as a “bunch of dicks” . The irony was not lost on me.
The fans in the main stand showed little interest in what was happening at The Britannia Stadium and were much more concerned with who was playing for FCUM and how effective Barrow were.
The game was a good one. Barrow had their chances, but FCUM kept on at them and gradually got on top. The winning goal came in the 79th minute, when Carlos Rocha poked the ball over the line.
He played against us in 2006 for Northwich Victoria and had a canny game. Apparently, Mick McCarthy enquired after him, but he has scuffled around the North West since. He looked a very good player as did one or two others. Barrow were disappointing and I can see their manager coming under pressure.
Plenty of social activity from the club with stalls selling t shirts, scarves, hats and cakes. They were also looking for contributors to their Build A Ground scheme. They are hoping to move back to Newton Heath, where United originated in the 19th century.
They are now faced with a dilemma. One of their reasons for falling out of love with the modern game was the constant shifting of games to accommodate TV companies. Now, they have been drawn away to Rochdale and I would imagine that ITV would love to have it as a televised game. It means that they will make a fair amount of money from a broadcast game, but what happens to their principles? It’s an interesting one.
Only days to go until the Derby – and why is Andy Carroll not in prison?