BY MATTHEW O’CONNOR-SIMPSON
Situated in an affluent suburb of Manchester, West Didsbury and Chorlton are among the most interesting football clubs in the country.
My trip to Brookburn Road subverted many of the stereotypes that you expect to find within the non-league game. Far from being backed by a load of middle-aged, angry football anoraks, West’s supporters are principally drawn from the white-collar professionals and recent graduates that live in the area. Rather than being decked out in bobble hats, scarves and pin badges, the average West supporter can be recognised by a number of alternative fashion choices. Calling themselves ‘The Krombacher Ultras’ after the premium German lager that is sold out of a shed behind one of the goals; Dr Martens, Reebok Classics and outrageous beards are the norm. They will often be spotted with a tote bag covered with the name of some obscure record label or their support for a number of progressive political causes.
Behind one of the goals at Brookburn Road is a patchwork of flags that all proudly display the group’s liberal values. EU and Spanish Republic flags take pride of place amongst this sea of colour as do banners labelled ‘Refugees are Welcome’ and ‘Anti-Fascist League’. These alternative aesthetics were dialled up to the max by one supporter who looked like he had just come straight from a night out in one of the seedier techno clubs of Berlin. Wearing camouflage combats, FILA hi-tops and a duster his incredibly powerful look was completed with a delightfully garish pair of Graduation-era Kanye shutter shades. It all seemed a bit much for a North West Counties Premier League game against Padiham.
This one man’s bold fashion statement does, however, provide an indication into the way that West Didsbury and Chorlton approach non-league football in a slightly different way to its rivals. Founded in 1908 as Christ Church A.F.C. the club changed its name to West Didsbury just after the First World War. The club’s third name change came in 2003 when stadium relocation saw them adopt Chorlton into their title in order to reflect their new surroundings. This move ignited a period of success for the club. After performing well in the Manchester League for a number of years and completing a number of ground improvements, West’s application for promotion into the North West Counties League was accepted in 2012. After promotion, West quickly established a level of notoriety for subverting the expectations for a non-league football club.
West is a club with a strong community ethic that is reflected in a number of measures that the club have undertaken this season. In a game against Litherland Remyca in November, the supporters club co-ordinated donations to a local food bank. West have also recently donated some of its old kits to OK4AFRICA who perform charitable work throughout Tanzania. The club also have a strong contingent of celebrity fans. Manchester based band Dutch Uncles are heavily involved and have even elected to sponsor the women’s side this season. Marcus Rashford, from nearby Wythenshawe, was also spotted at a game two years ago, albeit in some questionable clobber.
What West is most famous for is their adoption of Non-League Dog Day in 2017. The event was formulated as a tweak on the traditional Non-League Day formula where season ticket holders of professional clubs are encouraged to visit clubs lower down the footballing pyramid during the international break. West expanded this concept by incentivising their new fans to bring their dogs by offering reduced entry to anyone that brought a four-legged friend. The concept was inspired by the brilliant Non-League Dogs Instagram account and it was a roaring success with West winning the game 4-2 and attracting the attention of Sky Sports News.
There have unfortunately been few results of this magnitude for the team this season. West are languishing precariously in the relegation places having conceded 81 goals in 33 games. Perhaps hoping to revitalise their dismal season the club announced the return of Non-League Dog Day for their vital game against Padiham. West need all the help they can get in what is undoubtedly a relegation six pointer. Going into the game the two sides are separated by just two places and five points. In spite of the obvious pressure on their shoulders, West were still relaxed enough to play some composed and expansive football. Keeping the ball on the ground and looking confident playing out from the back, it is clear that there is some talent in this team. West Didsbury left-midfielder Ramirez Howarth has flair to match his exotic name as he cuts in with Arjen Robben-esque regularity from the left wing. Right winger Dunne is also a handful whilst Lee Gavin ploughs into challenges with uncomfortable tenacity as Padiham struggle to gain a foothold in the game.
West’s dominance would eventually result in a breakthrough. A timid pass to the Padiham centre-back is tenaciously closed down by Steve Hall. The ball then breaks to Howarth who performs his trademark drop of the shoulder to cut inside before firing a shot into the top corner. The goal incenses the Padiham management team. The pair do not look over thirty and are dressed as if they are going straight to Tiger Tiger after the game. Both of them are wearing netted snapbacks and exceedingly tight tracksuit bottoms. Complete with bright red Nike trainers, the dangerous duo are looking very equipped for a career as low quality tech-house DJ’s if Padiham do end up getting relegated.
Whatever these pair of fashionistas said to their team at half-time does seem to have some effect. Padiham are now winning more fifty-fifty challenges and the tension amongst the Krombacher Ultras is understandably increasing. This anxiety of the long-suffering West fans was neatly summarised by the jovial Scottish PA announcer who at half-time summarised the first 45 minutes as being ‘quite satisfactory but I am not getting my hopes up’. His pessimism would be proved right in the 62nd minute when Padiham did indeed find an equaliser. Clever wing play down the left saw West’s right back Josh Tinker left for dead. This allowed striker Gaz Burnett to place one past the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Will Jones. Not taking anything away from Burnett’s lovely finish but research into his background has revealed that the cheeky bastard once attempted to scam Aviva out of £11,000 through a false whiplash claim. He was caught red-handed due to his own short sighted error of tweeting about playing in a great win just one day after the supposed accident. So, I guess in some way Tinker and Jones still hold at least the moral high ground over the striker that bested them this weekend.
In spite of some late West pressure in which they bombarded the Padiham penalty area with set pieces the scores remained level.
Off the pitch Non-League Dog Day had represented another roaring success. The dog attendance had swelled from 2017 to a remarkable 57, but to my disappointment there were no stoppages in play due to the pooches running on the pitch after the ball. The Best in Show award went to Willow the Wader who had travelled all the way up from Biggleswade in Bedfordshire. The real winner for me though was a Chocolate Labrador called Henry. Heavy set and moody, Henry was the first dog inside the ground and even left five minutes before half-time, presumably to get a pint of Guinness to maintain his impressive physique. This one’s for you Henry. You were robbed mate.
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