The real-life tales of a football writer
FC United, the breakaway club set up by disenfranchised Manchester United supporters in the wake of the 2005 Glazer takeover, play a cup game at Goole tomorrow.
FC were league winners in each of their first two seasons and are well positioned for promotion in their third. Gates are down slightly, but FC still average an impressive 2,000 for home games at Bury’s Gigg Lane and regularly take over 1,000 noisy away fans around the north of England.
Those fans fill the coffers of delighted hosts and the local newspaper in Goole is excitedly reporting that Saturday will see their club’s biggest gate in years.
One half of an away following of two, I visited Goole a decade ago to see my brother play. The other away fan was my brother’s posh girlfriend, who looked appalled when we arrived. It was 1999, the same year the Humberside town of 18,000 achieved notoriety for having the highest proportion of drug related deaths in Britain - 14 times the national average. I didn’t stay long enough to work out whether that was because of visiting sailors at Britain’s ‘Premier Inland Port’ or locals, and nobody offered me coke, crack or cake.
The skyline around Goole’s crumbling but gloriously named Victoria Pleasure Ground was dominated by two huge water towers known locally as “the salt and pepper pots” and the cranes of the nearby docks.
The locals, or ‘Goolies’ as they are known, were friendly, despite me travelling from the other side of the Pennines. Goole once had a hooligan firm called ‘the Gooligans’ and Margaret Thatcher wrote to the club expressing her dismay after they wrecked her hometown of Grantham.
Goole Town had a rich history including FA Cup games against Nottingham Forest and holding Wrexham in a 1977 second round tie, but they folded in 1996. They soon reformed as Goole AFC at the bottom of the non-league pyramid and started the long climb back up. Goole were having success, their fans confident, when I visited. “We’ll be in the Conference in five years,” opined one, incorrectly. They were genuine football people who wanted the best for their club. I tried to buy an enamel badge to support their cause. But they didn’t have any.
My brother’s team, the mighty Trafford, drew 1-1 in an FA Cup qualifier, but the game didn’t pass without incident. Some Goole fans gave the Trafford manager abuse. Unbeknown to them, the boss was Mark Molyneux, a legendary Salford character and former minder to the boxer Steve Foster, once made one of his players who was getting a bit ‘big time’ a ‘*** butty’ – his excrement hidden by a layer of cucumber.
A former goalkeeper, Molyneux also stole a pair of the former Manchester United and Scotland international Arthur Albiston’s underpants after an away game at Barrow and wore them over his trousers in the bar later. He generously told Albiston he could wear his soiled pair.
Molyneux gave the Goole fans as good as he got, but snapped when one of them made a comment about his daughter, sitting in the dug out. Launching himself over the fence Eric Cantona style, he charged at the gobby fan, who looked absolutely terrified as he ran towards the giant pepper pot. Molyneux didn’t give chase but focussed on his side gaining a 1-1 draw. Trafford won in the replay and played Burton Albion away later in the competition.
And the story of that trip is well worth waiting for...
Andy, surely you'll find "Britain's premier inland port" much nearer home.
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