A footballing world away from Old Trafford, Zurich or Jack Warner in the Caribbean, the temperature is hovering around freezing, in fact as Tom my 14 year old lad and I make our way round the Stalybridge ground, in the shadow of the Pennines, large parts of the side lines have the silver shimmer of ground frost.
The date is December 3rd 2014, it is half time in the FA Trophy game between FC United of Manchester, or more simply FC, as we all call our team, and Barwell a large village or small town, if you are feeling generous, in Leicestershire.
They have become a bit of a bogey team.
The away team are leading 0-1, and even the most optimistic amongst us has seen little in the first half to persuade us that our team will be able to shrug off the air of defeat that was hanging over them as they went in to the sparse dressing room of our latest nomadic home.
But, was I particularly bothered about us trailing yet again, in all honesty, not that much, after all I was with my lad at an FC game, and only six months before the likelihood of me being able to say that sentence was extremely low.
Tom, like his older brother was diagnosed as being on the Autistic Spectrum, fortunately Tom who was a millennium child, had his condition diagnosed when he was just 3 years old by our speech and language therapist, the fact that Tom had next to no speech at three, my wife and I had initially mentally swept under the carpet, well to be completely honest, I had.
Ben his older brother by 6 years did not get a diagnosis until 10 years of age.
A mum sometimes has more of a gut instinct for these things than a Dad does and Cheryl my wife had for some time, it transpired been convinced that Ben, Tom’s older brother also had more issues than just being a bit well, different. For my part I just thought he was stubborn and badly behaved, perhaps I was just a crap Dad!
But once Tom’s mastery of lining up tank engines in unfeasibly straight and uniform lines and Ben’s ability to memorise in minute detail every episode of Dr Who had gained a label, it was clear that our job was to fight for every bit of help we could get and put any thoughts of career progression to one side and devote all our time and energy to the boys. Continuity is essential to give our boys a sense of confidence and security.
This we did for ten years, and the transformation in both our amazing lads was little short of miraculous, there were a great many factors and people contributing towards this, and we had only done what most parents would of, given the circumstances.
Then, in early August 2014 after watching quite a few world Cup games on the telly and sharing a plethora of player statistics and gossip over his headphone on line with his mates, Tom said something I thought I would never hear.
“Dad, are you going to watch FC again this year”
I was tempted to ask him if the pope was catholic, but similies and metaphors did not always work that well with our lads so I played a straight bat.
“Yes, of course”
Dad ……..can I come”
Indescribable joy, masked not for the first time by my best poker face
“Great, I will let you know when the first game is”
So it was that we were two of the 503 people present that freezing December night, six months after Tom had watched England fail yet again in the stifling heat of Brasil, this was an exceptionally low turnout, with numerous factors contributing, but as I always say, forget the quantity, focus on the quality of the support provided. In reality though, the poor play and freezing conditions meant that our usual high level of vocal support was somewhat muted that evening.
Ten or fifteen minutes into the second half the visitors are leading 0-2, and we are behind the goal FC are attacking, to little avail, and I have noticed that a small group of the main stand singers have remained in the place they were during the first half and are attempting to keep up a wall of noise, which was some achievement when there were not much more than a dozen or so of them.
That was it
“C’mon Tom lets go and join the barmy army, they need a little help”
Tom smiled, he got the joke, they were quite possibly a little barmy, although determined and passionate were other adjectives that work well, but they certainly weren’t an army!
We walked round and for the next half hour continuously went through the not inconsiderable FC and United song book, perhaps coincidentally, almost immediately the team got one back, then another.
With about two minutes to full time and despite multiple layers and long johns I could tell Tom who is slim to say the least, was freezing, so I said, come on we’ll go behind the goal for the last couple of minutes, intending to head straight back to a warm car on the final whistle.
I waved good bye to Mack, Philnevlegend (that was his social media moniker, the only name I knew him by) and the other guys in our small but perfectly formed platoon, and we headed behind the goal, no sooner had we got there than Matty Walwyn I believe it was, nicked a winner, bedlam, mayhem, random people hugging random people, and me picking up Tom and spinning him around on a Pennine hillside, all over a division 7 non-league team playing in a tournament most people have never heard of.
How had a lifetime supporting one of the richest, most successful, yet marmite teams in the world been cast aside for this, and more importantly how could it feel this good.
Well that is a story worth telling, it is unique in many ways and yet if people were able to be dispassionate about football it was the most logical thing to do.
A quote I have come to love and which only true fans can understand is “Anyone who thinks football is all about football, knows nothing about football”
The simple fact is that this thing is ours, we will make the decisions about our clubs future, we will shape it and nurture it and quite often fall out over it ,we may perhaps learn from our own mistakes, we don’t care, at least we have got something vital back into our lives….CONTROL.
Go to the site for highlights…… Fcum.tv…..FC United vs Barwell FC – FA Trophy – Goals – 03/12/14