Every few seasons many teams create a night which will last in the memory of everyone associated with it for many, many years.
5th November, Bonfire Night in 2010 was to be such a night for FC United.
For FC, merely reaching this stage of the FA Cup was a minor miracle, but after several earlier round victories and a superb performance to beat Barrow inspired by the diminutive Carlos (feet like lightnin!) Roca they had been drawn against near neighbours Rochdale.
After genuine consultation between ESPN the broadcasters covering this stage of the competition at the time, Rochdale and Board officials at FC, it was agreed the game could be played on the Friday night facilitating broadcast and causing minimum disruption for all those wishing to attend.
Many naysayers have pointed to this fixture change in an accusatory manner saying FC sold their soul and credibility by agreeing to this change at the behest of TV, well as just one co-owner of the club I cannot speak for the wider membership but my attitude was that we were not totally against ANY coverage of football on television, but that the two clubs and in the case of FC, naturally, the co-owners and fans MUST be at the heart of that discussion and not an afterthought.
This game was a case in point, and as a result the 4,000 tickets offered to us were sold double quick and as they were all in the same seating area running the length of the pitch we were looking forward to the evening with fanatical relish, there was always going to be virtually zero chance of anyone actually using their seat!
As I approached the ground by car and then on foot it had the inexplicable electrical energy in the air that made your senses that bit extra alert, and the couple of pubs that were heaving with reds passed en route were full of song and optimism.
This was not a kind of blind optimism that we could get any kind of a result, after all Rochdale were a full 4 leagues above us with full time professionals, compared to our assortment of ground keepers and tilers, no the joyous mood amongst our fans was that we would make this a night to remember win lose or draw, simply by doing what we did best , loud, passionate singing, non stop for 90 minutes.
As I entered through the turnstiles the bedlam only increased, many it was clear had started this particular celebration at midday and had not let up since, everywhere people were grinning and singing and swearing all with a shared feeling of gathering euphoria.
15 minutes prior to kick off 70-80% of the 4,000 FC fans were in place and “Bring on United” our standard pre match chant, was getting louder and louder. The match commentators for ESPN were only yards from the stand which FC were occupying and thankfully the atmosphere was being transmitted not just all over the UK but as I was to learn later, over much of Europe.
The full FC and Man United songbook was getting a serious airing and as the teams emerged a crescendo we all thought was reached, the next 90 minutes however were to emphasise that great quote by Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of the insane final minutes of the Champions League Final in ’99………”Football, Bloody Hell”
Once the game was underway the singing continued and the team responded playing as if their lives depended on it, and as FC pressed and cajoled it became obvious that this was not going to be an easy night for the Rochdale professionals, then a few minutes before half time Nicky Platt found some space and calmly lifted the ball over the advancing keeper!
Different fans have different names for types of celebrations and when things went really mad at big or little United it was and is described as a top goon. Well the 30 seconds after the goal was probably only matched at a few big United games I had been to in the previous nearly 40 years, it was manic.
Half time passed in no time with continuous renditions of the Carpenters tune –On top of the World, a raucous “Are you watching David Gill”, a reference to the snidy senior United exec who had miraculously changed his mind about the wisdom of the Glazer takeover and other tunes too numerous to mention.
A link to our song book, much copied it has to be said in the following years is in the back of the book.
A few minutes into the second half and Jake Cottrell created yet more delirium, Nicky Platt had put a pass on a plate for Jake to pile drive into the top corner from all of 25 yards out –unbelievable.
This was now a fully blown party for the reds and it must be said that at least half of the 4,000 FC fans were far from regular attendees, the majority being United fans who may of come for a season or two or just perhaps a couple of games since the clubs formation in 2005. Regardless, despite the home team eventually showing composure alongside their natural quality and pulling two goals back the noise and joy refused to abate, it simply got louder and louder.
With many Rochdale and FC fans slowly starting to contemplate a replay, and it has to be said a much needed extra pay day for the club with only a few minutes remaining Mike Norton did what he had done every time he pulled on a football shirt, he grafted until he had literally given his all, a pass was being shepherded out of play for a harmless goal kick to the home side, but Mike had not got the email about just letting the defender have an easy ride as a replay was ..well ok , oh no Norton brushed the defender aside, the keeper had committed himself thinking all was fine and dandy and Mike Norton deservedly wrote himself into FC United of Manchester legend and simply slotted the ball into an empty net.
I have no words, no really, the FC contingent myself included erupted into a yelling, hugging, mass of hysteria that continued straight through the final whistle and for a good half hour afterwards. No one wanted to leave as we knew how rare this feeling was likely to be once we had made the impossibly heart breaking decision to leave the Premiership behind several years before.
This was a Bonfire night that all those present would reminisce over for years to come , and rightly so, it was that special.