There are six football grounds in Tameside. The Butcher’s Arms in Droylsden was the last one to tick off on my list. Granted my trip to Stalybridge was for an FC United match, so doesn’t exactly count – but who is bothered? I had been aiming to go to Droylsden for a couple of seasons but had always chosen other matches in this crowded corner of East Manchester.
I was at Atherton Collieries 2-2 AFC Darwen on the Monday evening when Aaron mentioned that he’d be reporting on the Droylsden v Kings Lynn match the following day. Depending on my work load at college I was up for the trip and it was soon organised that he would pick me up en route… if his car was working of course.
During the day I read up on the history of the two sides and current standings in the league table. I knew that Droylsden were propping up the table – everybody knew that – but I didn’t know that The Bloods could be relegated after the match depending on other results around the league. If Barwell avoided defeat and Droylsden didn’t win then Dave Pace’s side would be condemned to their second relegation in as many campaigns. Not only would they be relegated but they’d be relegated without a single league win and would be the first team in the English football pyramid to discover their fate at this premature stage.
If there’s a man in football who doesn’t deserve relegation it is Dave Pace. One of the more colourful characters in the local non-league scene he is Mr. Droylsden. He owns the club, manages the team and it wouldn’t surprise me if he takes the kits home afterwards to wash them. He’s had a hard time as of late, seeing his beloved club go through financial trouble. Limited finance has seen players come and go at regular intervals during the season and this has told. Credit has to be paid to a man who would rather carry on fighting than pull the plug on a club before starting again.
In a recent interview with The Telegraph he said “It would make a great TV series, right from the days from when I had my floodlights pinched. That was when I said to my dad: ‘I’m going to pack it in’ and he said: ‘You’ve never jacked in anything in your life’.”
“The club was advertising in the paper that they needed players. But there was no stands, nothing. I tried to do the club up a bit but it burnt down, and I didn’t get any insurance. I managed to soldier through. I built it from the bottom up, became chairman, then took over as manager in 1996, took the club all the way to the Conference Premier.”
Droylsden had benefited from lucrative FA Cup runs in recent years, but the glory days appear to be over for The Bloods. In 2009, they knocked out League Two side Darlington. However, controversy struck when they were drawn against Chesterfield in the next round. After two abandoned games through fog and then floodlight failure, the Spireites were knocked out at The Butchers Arms only for The FA to find that Pace’s side had fielded an ineligible player. They were subsequently booted out and missed out on the chance of playing Ipswich Town.
The Bloods reached Round 2 in the 2010/2011 season and were drawn against League One side Leyton Orient. Despite leading 2-0 at Brisbane Road well into the second half, Orient equalised late on taking the tie into extra time. Droylsden went on to lose 8-2 after extra time.
It isn’t just the FA Cup that the club has done well in during recent times. In 2000, The Bloods won the Manchester Premier Cup. However, Dave Pace wasn’t managing the side after a spat with the Manchester FA. Instead, his wife Stella took charge and won the cup.
Their visitors for the evening Kings Lynn Town were founded in 2010 after original club – Kings Lynn FC – were wound up. Debts of £360,000 had amassed and eventually brought an end to a football club which had played for 130 years. The renamed club continued to play at The Walks which has been their home since original formation in 1879. In 2012, The Linnets gained promotion into the Evo-Stik Division One South – winning the division in their first season. It was a great ending to the season with Kings Lynn overhauling a 17 point gap which stood between themselves and league leaders Coalville Town who had a bumpy end to the campaign.
After another long day at college Aaron picked me up from Atherton. Within half an hour of being picked up we were in Droylsden; a new place for me to tick off my non existent geographical bucket list. Parking was limited but we managed to squeeze into a space near the turnstiles.
An eclectic mix of 90’s dance anthems were echoing around the area for the sparse crowd that were making their way to what was likely to be another dark evening for the club. I approached the turnstile and asked the man for concessionary admission, he told me to go to the other turnstile as this was for adult payment only. Fair enough.
I did a slight detour and walked in through the other turnstile which was a couple of metres to the left. Rather unsurprisingly the same man appeared. He took my money and let me in. Had situations at Droylsden got that dire that they amused themselves by being pedantic?
Once through the turnstiles, you are greeted by brick walls. A brick wall in front of you, a brick wall to the left and a brick wall to your right. I followed the floodlit tarmac around to the left and walked through an open metal gate, entering the ground. There weren’t many people in the ground, just King’s Lynn fans who were sceptical that the match may be called off once again.
Back in November, Lynn fans had travelled to Droylsden on a Saturday afternoon, only for the match to be postponed 15 minutes before kick off. A hailstorm had hit Tameside and the referee had no option but to call the match off. Droylsden refused to give fans their money back, whilst the players bought travelling fans drinks as a goodwill gesture.
The pitch was slightly claggy this evening, but the players were warming up on it so it looked as though it would finally go ahead. It was also a bit colder than I expected on Tameside, so I wandered around the ground in attempt to keep warm. The place was desolate. It was sad to see a club with one of the more interesting histories in local football struggling like this.
The club was founded in 1892 at the invitation of local landlord Joseph Cropper; the landlord of the Butcher’s Arms public house. They played their matches on a patch of grass behind the pub; a patch of grass which is still their home to this very day. The early days of the club were a struggle with disbandment, reformations and various other changes. However, they emerged from World War I as the only local side remaining and joined the Manchester League.
It was during this time that they changed their clubs colours to red, the colour which gives the club the nickname of The Bloods.
In the 1940’s, The Butcher’s Arms was leased to Belle Vue FC who subsequently renamed themselves Droylsden United. The Bloods were forced out of the ground and moved to Moorside Trotting Stadium. The council soon intervened and bought the ground before a merger between the two sides was agreed. In 1952, The Bloods came back to The Butcher’s Arms. During their absence, the pitch had been rotated and other facilities had been renovated.
The ground these days has a capacity of 3,500 with 500 seats found in the William Pace Stand – which manager Dave Pace constructed himself in his father’s honour. Opposite the William Pace Stand is The Far Side which is a small shed which runs along a small section of the pitch. The rest of the ground consists of The Near End which is a small terraced stand, and The Far End which is hard standing.
Still, the ground refused to fill up. It really did feel like the town had deserted their football club. Even the two Droylsden fans that I know; Tony 1 Leg and Johnny the Rhino hadn’t made an effort to watch their club this season. And why should they? Why should they spend their money watching a club that quite frankly isn’t fit to play at this level of football?
Going into the match, Droylsden sat rock bottom of the table. Played 33, won 0, drawn 3, lost 30. They had scored just 24 goals and had conceded 128. They were 18 points adrift of Stafford Rangers who were second bottom and things didn’t look like improving. They had lost 9-0 at home to Ashton United, 10-0 at home to AFC Fylde and 7-3 away at Skelmersdale. Wherever the Bloods played, goals were a certainty.
King’s Lynn on the otherhand were seventh in the table and still chasing a play-off place. They were just three points behind Blyth Spartans and Ashton United knowing that a win would put pressure on the teams above them.
The teams emerged from underneath the Main Stand just as the corner flag had been replanted. A fan took it upon himself to fish some stray footballs out of the bush behind the net with the pole. It got us thinking, what would have happened if the corner flag would have gone missing too? Would the match have been postponed again?
Droylsden were in red, attacking the terracing in the first half whilst The Linnets were in all yellow.
King’s Lynn started off the better of the two sides, as expected. But what wasn’t expected was for the home side to take the lead. The deadlock was broken on 30 minutes when Jake Parker threaded an inch perfect ball through the Lynn defence. Sam Madeley was first to advance on to the through ball and had time to compose himself before slotting into the bottom right hand corner. He celebrated by running off into the corner, sliding in front of a handful of home fans who were able to enjoy only their 26th league goal of the season.
Kings Lynn should have been awarded a penalty a few minutes later when the ball was pinged into the Droylsden area. A Lynn player was first to it and took the ball inside with his first touch before blatantly being brought down.
The referee finally gave the visitors a decision and the resulting free kick was curled on to the top of the crossbar after a rather pathetic wall failed to jump in time with each other. The structure constructed by the Droylsden players reflected the team as a whole. A fragmented outfit, all arguing amongst themselves and playing as individuals.
Jake Jones had the ball in the back of the net shortly before the interval for the visitors but the linesman wiped the goal off, giving an offside decision. A ball was chipped over the top and the original effort was blocked before it ricocheted off an advancing striker and into the back of the net.
It was getting a bit cold, so I opted to join Aaron in the small press box at the top of the stand. I took my relegation party food with me and settled down for the second half. Mini scotch eggs and orange juice should be the staple of all relegation party meals.
Rob Duffy and Massiah MCDonald were both introduced for Lynn and made an immediate impact. Both players offered the visitors more versatility up front and there looked like there would be only one outcome in this match.
Another goal was disallowed when Lynn played the ball out to the left hand flank where play was immediately switched with a precision pass across the field. With an outside of the foot cross the ball was met by a head which sent the ball towards the bottom left hand corner. The Droylsden keeper did well to get down but saw the ball go past him on the rebound; only for the other linesman this time to wipe out another goal.
Finally – with twenty minutes of normal time left – the visitors pulled a goal back. A low David Bell corner was missed by the The Bloods defenders and Ryan Fryatt was on hand to stab home from close range. It was nothing more than the promotion chasers deserved and suddenly the floodgates looked like opening.
With fifteen minutes remaining, the ball was worked to the edge of the area where it was picked up by Jake Jones. The playmaker twisted and turned before sending a tame but precise shot into the bottom left hand corner. The goalkeeper; who had been fairly solid up until then fumbled the ball and it trickled past him to condemn Dave Pace’s men to relegation.
Further chances followed and it could have ended 6-1. That would have been cruel but extremely familiar to Droylsden who have had a horror season.
We left the ground and strolled down to The Lazy Toad where we met up with groundhopper and Droylsden fan Johnny. There were a few strange people knocking about on the streets of the town, but we survived and I enjoyed a couple of pints before we set off back to Atherton.
No doubt I’ll be back to The Butcher’s Arms sometime again in the coming seasons. I didn’t get a chance to go into the pub itself and will hopefully be able to soon.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 22 miles
- ADMISSION: £5 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2
- PIE: I had party food instead