Ever wondered which Greater Manchester bus routes share or shared their number with a football formation?

For many people, New Year’s Day isn’t only about giving up smoking, going on a diet, or alcohol abstinence. January sees the start of a 31-part soap opera known as The Transfer Window. Yes, it is that time of the year which leads to Transfer Deadline Day. The climax which sees Barclays Premier League and English Football League players change hands for silly money.

Strangely, in this 1500 or so words of this piffle, Association Football shares some of its vocabulary with public transport. ‘Transfer’ also means the art of changing from one mode to another, or one bus/train/tram/ferry to another. ‘Parking the bus’ doesn’t mean the literal parking of your cherished Enviro400 onto a football field, but backs to the wall defensive play. Like having a Leyland Atlantean outside the six-yard box.

This has led us to a bit of whimsy for our first Not So Perfect Ten of 2019: a selection of Greater Manchester bus routes which share their numbers with football formations. For example: 3-4-3, 4-2-4, 5-3-2, and 5-4-1.

1. 2-3-5

The Formation: a traditional attacking formation with two defenders at the back, three in midfield, and five forwards.

The Bus Route: the now defunct Mayne of Manchester anti-clockwise service from Manchester [Shudehill Interchange] to Mossley. In its Mayne of Manchester form, it took in Clayton, Droylsden, Littlemoss, Hartshead, and Ashton-under-Lyne. Thereafter, it continued to Mossley via Cockbrook, Stalybridge, Copley (including Brushes Estate), Millbrook, Carrbrook, and Micklehurst. On reaching Bottom Mossley and Top Mossley, it continued to Ashton-under-Lyne via the 350 route along Mossley Road.

Its sister routes were the clockwise 232 and 233 services and its anti-clockwise companion the 234. Shortly after Stagecoach Manchester’s acquisition of Mayne’s bus operations, the Droylsden section was taken over via today’s 231 service. Its Mossley and Stalybridge sections formed part of an extended 217/218 route via Dukinfield. The 217 went clockwise with the 218 going in the opposite direction.

In 2014, the 217/218 east of Audenshaw (Trough) were cut, with the 217 reverting to its core Ashton – Manchester city centre route. The Stalybridge – Droylsden section formed part of a short lived extension of the 408 service, whereas there were no takers for TfGM’s tenders between Stalybridge and Ashton (via Mossley). As a result, the Brushes Estate loop was added to the 343 service.

2. 3-3-4

The Formation: a largely unconventional one which eschews centre forwards in favour of inside forwards. Used by Bill Nicholson’s double-winning Tottenham Hotspur side in 1961.

The Bus Route: actually, two former Greater Manchester bus routes, both of which in the Tameside area.

Ashton-under-Lyne – Hartshead Circular: formerly Ashton Corporation’s 4 route, this was renumbered in 1973-74 as the 334. Like its then sister route the 332, it went via Turner Lane. Today, this street up to Wood Lane is covered by MCT Travel’s 395 (Limehurst Farm) and 396 (Newton Heath) services.

Ashton-under-Lyne – Stockport: in the early 1990s, the 334 was a Saturdays only shoppers’ service. Following the 330 route up to Hyde, it continued to Ashton-under-Lyne via Dukinfield (Cheetham Hill Road), and Stalybridge. It was operated by Pennine Blue till 1994, when the 334 service was withdrawn. The Stockport – Hyde section was a short lived addition to Pennine’s journeys on the 346 service.

3. 3-4-3

The Formation: an attacking midfield formation, beloved of Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino.

The Bus Route: one of Greater Manchester’s most scenic bus routes, connecting H with D, S, and M. The only route to link up all four constituents of the former Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley, and Dukinfield Joint Board.

Before SELNEC’s 1973-74 renumbering exercise, the 343 was previously the 4A route, the younger sister of SHMD’s 4 route which took in Winterford Road instead of Staley Road. The 4 was renumbered 344 with most of its route following the former tram route. On the 20 July 1980, the 343 route absorbed Oldham depot’s 416 route (formerly the 16 and E routes before then). Therefore, from its Mossley [Brookbottom] terminus it was extended to Oldham [Town Hall] via Grotton and Lees.

In the last decade, the 343 has seen some dramatic changes to its route. Since 2008 it has served both Staley Road and Winterford Road. With changes to the 217/218 services, it has inherited its Brushes Estate link. Changes to the 350, its more frequent neighbour on Winterford Road, saw the addition of Hey Farm Estate as part of its route, en route to Bottom Mossley via Roaches Lock.

The present day 343 route is operated by Stott’s Tours, who have had the route since Spring 2012. This reaches Oldham via Lees Road. Recent developments have seen changes to its evening, Bank Holiday and Sunday journeys, which have been renumbered 340. This takes a different route to Oldham via Springhead and Greenacres. Whereas Stagecoach Manchester operates its Sunday and Bank Holiday journeys, First Greater Manchester runs its weekday and Saturday evening journeys, albeit with earlier finishes.

Nearby Football Grounds: Mossley AFC’s delightful Seel Park is a five minute walk from the Brookbottom stop.

4. 3-5-2

The Formation: a midfield formation which allows for the use of a sweeper. It worked for Brazil in the 2002 World Cup Finals, which led to their World Cup Final victory.

The Bus Routes: Greater Manchester has two 352 routes and a defunct one which was superseded by an extended version of the 350 route.

Wigan – St. Helens (via Pemberton and Orrell): the most frequent of our two present-day 352s is Arriva North West’s service. It has a daytime frequency of four buses per hour and two buses per hour on Sundays, Bank Holidays, and evenings. End to end, the journey takes 45 minutes.

Uppermill – Holmfirth (via Greenfield and Isle of Skye Road): offering a marked contrast is South Pennine Community Transport’s 352 service. Operating only on Saturdays, its five return journeys offer superb views of Saddleworth Moor taking in Dovestone, Yeoman Hey, and Greenfield reservoirs. Between The Clarence Hotel and Upperthong is a long hail and ride section which spans TfGM and Metro West Yorkshire boundaries. A splendid way to kill 25 minutes of your time along the whole route.

Ashton-under-Lyne – Uppermill – Denshaw: the former SpeedwellBus route was withdrawn in 2004 to make for today’s upgraded 350 service via Saddleworth. The service approached Mossley via the present 350 service up to Delph with a slight diversion through Dobcross village. North of Carrcote it continued to Denshaw. Its first operator (27 October 1986) was Checkmate Coaches, then as S.M Tandy or T’Andy Bus. It had a Saturday service until 1997.

5. 4-2-4

The Formation: an attacking formation which makes for fast flowing football with goals galore.

The Bus Route: or more specifically, a former bus route. In 1987, Mayne of Manchester launched the 424 service as a new way of travelling from Ashton-under-Lyne to Fitton Hill estate. Before then, it was a case of ‘any bus as long as it said Moston [Gardeners’ Arms] or Chadderton [Whitegate]’ on the front. Originally every half hour, Bristol VRTs and DMS Daimler Fleetlines were the order of the day.

By 1991, it was extended to Manchester city centre, via Hollinwood, Failsworth and Newton Heath, where it would compete with GM Buses and Citibus. Today, most of the route lives on in the form of MCT Travel’s 396 service, which is an hourly service that terminates at Newton Heath.

6. 4-3-3

The Formation: derived from the 4-2-4 formation, the 4-3-3 can either be used as an attacking formation (with a central midfielder in attack) or a defensive formation (with a central defender in midfield).

The Bus Route: once again, through the joys of SELNEC/Greater Manchester Transport’s numbering system, Rochdale is a happy hunting ground for bus enthusiasts with F.A. coaching badges to their name. It is used for the Sunday and Bank Holiday version of the 434 from Rochdale to Castleton. Like the 434, it operates on a once hourly basis, a far cry from the start of bus deregulation when the 433 and 434 had a seven minute peak hour frequency (every 15 minutes off-peak).

Where it varies from its domineering twin sister is its route around Lower Place. It cuts out Kirkholt in favour of Queensway. Further north it omits Belfield Road in favour of Halifax Road and Yorkshire Street. Both the 433 and 434 routes are extended versions of the Rochdale – Turf Hill circular route of 1990.

7. 4-4-2

The Formation: the High Visibility Jacket of football formations, used by countless managers the world over from Olé Gunnar Solkjaer to Simon Haworth (Come On Celtic!). It even won Sir Alex Ferguson a treble in 1999 and several other trophies.

The Bus Route: a former bus route and a present-day one.

Rochdale – Norden: Rosso’s present-day service is a full time one with a hourly frequency. Its Sunday and Bank Holiday service also runs a little closer to the witching hour than similar routes of this ilk. From Rochdale it passes the Seven Sisters tower blocks approaches Norden via Bamford [War Office Road] and Bagslate Moor prior to terminating at Norden Way. From end to end, 19 minutes to complete the journey.

Nearby Football Grounds: Spotland, home of Rochdale AFC and Rochdale Hornets RLFC is a short walk up Sandy Lane.

Rochdale – Castleton: Throughout the most part of the 1990s, the 442 was Pioneer Travel’s local service from Rochdale to Castleton. This was a circular route which approached Castleton via the Sudden roundabout.

8. 4-5-1

The Formation: as Jose Mourinho and countless other defensively-minded managers would have done, The Nation’s Favourite Way of Parking The Bus.

The Bus Route: only one Greater Manchester bus route matters: the ever-so-tasty sounding Peppermint Bridge route to Rochdale. Combined with sister route 462 it creates a near hourly frequency between Milnrow and Rochdale (though more frequent 58s and trams are also available). Both services are operated by MCT Travel.

As for the 451 service, it only has five return journeys every two hours on weekdays and Saturdays from 0917 to 1755. Also it takes in Bentgate Street, Sycamore Avenue, Two Bridges Road and Haugh Lane. On Bank Holidays and Sundays, from 1044 to 1720, it runs hourly (three minutes past the hour from Peppermint Bridge, 16 minutes to the hour from Rochdale Interchange). If you fancy exploring the Piethorne Valley and Ogden Reservoir, this is the bus for you.

9. 5-3-2

The Formation: as Jose Mourinho and countless other defensively-minded managers would have done, The Nation’s Favourite Way of Parking The Bus.

The Bus Route: another former bus route, this time the Bolton – Sharples Circular. In recent times, Bolton’s successor to GM Buses, has lost a lot of market share to Arriva, Transdev’s operations, Diamond Bus North West, and independents like Vision Bus. Back in 1992, GM Buses’ Sharples Circular took in Blackburn Road and Ashworth Lane.

Today, the Blackburn Bus Company (one of many local variants of Transdev) covers much of the route on its 1 service to Darwen and Blackburn. Ashworth Lane and Thornham Drive is served by today’s 537 and 538 services. The former by Vision Bus by day, and the latter by Arriva North West on Sundays, evenings, and Bank Holidays.

10. 5-4-1

The Formation: The Nation’s Other Favourite Way of Parking The Bus, which worked for Greece in the 2004 European Championships (that year’s winners). Possibly that Alexander bodied Volvo Olympian megadekka which Stagecoach Cumberland had nearly 30 years ago.

The Bus Route: for our final one of our Not So Perfect Ten, we didn’t get very far from our previous route. Hall I’Th’ Wood to be exact. Like its sister route, the 538, the 541 service is operated by Arriva North West. Their arrival in Bolton was marked by the acquisition of Horwich-based Blue Bus in August 2005.

In 22 minutes, one can get from Bolton to Toppings (via Hall I’Th’ Wood). The service operates every half hour from 0705 to 1903 with a slightly start on Saturdays. After 7pm, its evening, Sunday, and Bank Holiday journeys are covered by the 538 service.

Before I go…

Though this post features football formation themed bus routes of a Greater Mancunian variety, feel free to add a few more from other parts of the UK and overseas. You may elaborate on our ten bus routes or, better still, tell us how the 343 has got you in good time for the kick-off at Seel Park.

S.V., 02 January 2019.

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