Why a combined borough-wide team may hinder rather than help
Tameside: a product of the 1972 Local Government Act comprising of 210,000 residents, parts of three historical counties, and six senior level football teams with rivalries of their own. Devotees of the semi-professional game are spoilt for choice in the borough. Besides Stalybridge Celtic, Hyde FC, Droylsden, Ashton United, Curzon Ashton and Mossley A.F.C, there is a further two clubs taking temporary residence.
Prior to Broadhurst Park opening, F.C. United of Manchester have set up home at The Tameside Stadium in Crowhill – Curzon Ashton’s humble abode – after sharing with Stalybridge Celtic. Oldham Borough, after a two season stint at Alder House (Atherton Collieries F.C.), share Seel Park with Mossley A.F.C.
As seen in the last week or so, the number of senior level clubs in our borough makes for some interesting derby fixtures. Even with the lure of a warm pub or house (with the two Manchester clubs on t’internet or digital satellite), and atrocious weather, this New Year’s Day’s attendances held their own. Only Curzon Ashton and Hyde FC were away from home, hence the attendance figures below:
- F.C. United of Manchester 3 – 0 Trafford: 1,940 (at The Tameside Stadium, Crowhill);
- Stalybridge Celtic 7 – 1 Hyde F.C.: 670 (plus 16 to 20 on Hough Hill);
- Ashton United 2 – 2 Curzon Ashton: 223;
- Droylsden 3 – 2 Salford City: 208;
- Mossley 3 – 2 Padiham: 115.
Even with Manchester City being at home and a wafer thin bus network, a total of 3,156 supporters watched the borough’s non-league sides.
In spite of this, Tameside’s biggest non-league sides are in the bottom half of the Conference North. Curzon Ashton and Ashton United are riding high in the Northern Premier League below. Droylsden, after the previous season’s relegation are trying to get out of the same league which Mossley A.F.C. is in (the Northern Premier League First Division North).
Financially, some of Tameside’s clubs have struggled, thanks to a pincer movement effected by Barclays Premier League football and Conservative Party policies. The latter has had an affect on attendances, with above average unemployment figures and cutbacks from the borough’s largest employers: the council and the NHS. This has depressed spending habits, making a trip to Bower Fold or Hurst Cross less attractive than staying at home with the television, and watching City or United.
Not for the first time, an amalgamated Tameside F.C. has been suggested as a solution. A club for all 210,000 citizens. One ground, in a central location. It had been suggested in the 1989 – 90 season where Trefor Williams mocked the proposals in an edition of the Bower Bulletin. His name for Tameside F.C. was the Ashton All Stars. Back then, Mossley was in financial turmoil.
Will I be giving up my Mighty Stalybridge Celtic for the Ashton All Stars/Tameside F.C./A.F.C. Tameside? No way Pedro… and that’s many a Boxing Day and New Year’s Day ruined. Not only for me and a hardcore of 350 others, also fans of the other five teams.
All six clubs predate the creation of Tameside MBC by several years. What keeps the borough strong is the defined identities of the nine towns which make up our area. The difference between Ashton, Droylsden, Stalybridge et al, rather than a single dominant town with the other eight mere suburbs. Though there’s a healthy rivalry between the ‘Bridge and Hyde, we as a borough look out for any of the six teams if they’re riding high in a league or cup competition. If Hyde F.C. are in the Semi Finals of the F.A. Trophy, Tameside’s non-league supporters would wish them success. For the borough. For the North of England. Especially in a national competition.
See also the 10,000 people who went to see Mossley A.F.C. at Wembley in May 1980; the 3,790 attendance at Belle Vue, Wakefield for Emley versus Stalybridge Celtic.
It has been stated that a single club with a projected 3,000 gate per game would be more viable than six sides having between 100 – 500 a game. There’s no way that will happen. There is no way that Ashton United would want to give up their own – lively and profitable – social club. Nor would Curzon Ashton merge with its rivals. Hyde merging with Stalybridge Celtic and the rest would require a peace process and protracted negotiations.
If, in the near future all six clubs agree to an arranged shotgun wedding, there wouldn’t be the projected 3,000 fans per game. Nor a quick passage to the Football League. Rebel clubs could form, but where would they play if five out of six grounds are sold off for housing? Exiled ‘Bridge fans, unwilling to watch a Tameside F.C. in Crowhill (probably its most likely venue) may be switch their support to the Hillmen. Glossop North End F.C. could benefit from exiled fans. Droylsdonians could switch allegiance to F.C. United of Manchester.
Ultimately, the Premier League clubs which a possible Tameside F.C. aims to challenge, could be the beneficiaries. Given as some of Tameside’s non-league supporters also support Football League and Premier League side, the Manchester clubs will benefit. Public houses and shops close to incumbent grounds will suffer, though the former will continue to show City and United on their big screens.
What’s more, Christmas wouldn’t be the same. What is ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ like, devoid of decent local derbies? Could Tameside F.C.’s biggest rivals be Stockport County and Altrincham?
Outside of Tameside, has amalgamation really worked? Rushden Town merged with Irthlingborough Diamonds thanks to Max Griggs’ millions. They expanded rapidly, modernised Nene Park (Irthlingborough Diamonds’ home) and had a brief stint in the Football League. Then the money ran out.
Another example: Dagenham and Redbridge. The present club was formed in 1992, with Redbridge Forest alone created from four clubs: Walthamstow Avenue (1988), Leytonstone (1979), Ilford (1979), and the merged Leytonstone/Ilford (1989). The four sides have had a proud history, but they decided to cut their losses. Last season’s average attendance at Victoria Road was 1,920: slightly less than F.C. United of Manchester and lesser still than Stockport County. Even so, they are in their eighth season in The Football League.
Perhaps Dagenham’s averages may be a more realistic estimate. That of course is still less than the sum total of a typical Saturday’s attendances in the Tameside area. Its predecessors, especially Leytonstone/Ilford had similar gates at Isthmian League level, but the venues were starting to become unwieldy with the stands built for gates in the high thousands.
Ultimately, for the good of the non league game and the borough’s supporters, it is important that all six senior clubs in Tameside remain. If you’re unable to see any one of the teams away from home, there’s likely to be at least one or two at home. All of which a bus or tram ride away at an affordable price. If 150 years of Tameside football history is wiped away by a shotgun marriage, we would all lose out. Not only in terms of choice but also other joys like the view from Seel Park or the buzz of Ashton United’s social club. Long live our sextant of senior level non league sides!
S.V., 02 January 2015.