This afternoon at Ewen Fields, the freshly-renamed Hyde FC play Manchester City in a pre-season friendly which may feel more like a home match for City supporters than they might have been expecting. Hyde have had a turbulent time of things over the last twelve months or so, with the club only avoiding liquidation at the last minute at the start of last season. Now, however, they could be forgiven for feeling a little more secure after a sponsorship deal with Manchester City was agreed that will see the Premier League club play its reserve matches at Ewen Fields and Hyde’s shirts sponsored by City In The Community.
The changes that have taken place at Hyde this summer, when seen through the prism of this partnership, are somewhat unsurprising. In addition to the name change, Hyde have also changed their colours from red and white to white and navy blue. We can only assume that Manchester City didn’t particularly wish to enter into partnership with a club called “United” that wear red and white. In addition to this, Ewen Fields has been given a lick of paint (in navy blue and grey), and other improvements that Hyde wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford have been completed.
There are arguments to be made on the subject of the loss of the club’s identity, but perhaps the only minor cause for concern is that Hyde’s management have claimed that the name change is a reversion to their original name and colours to celebrate their upcoming one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary. If most supporters believe that the name change and change of colours are related to their partnership with Manchester City (and the name change came five days before the announcement of the partnership, with no reference to it being made) and the club hasn’t addressed this link, Hyde supporters could be justified in wondering whether anything else about this link up is being held back from them.
In cases such as this, however, security for the future has to take precedent over such considerations. Of all the clubs that had a narrow escape from the swinging axe of the taxman last season, Hyde United’s was possibly the closest of all, with the club being successfully wound up before managing save themselves on appeal after a fund-raising effort that included a collection at Manchester City’s home, televised Premier League match against West Ham United on the fifth of October last year, which raised £8,000. Having managed such a narrow escape, they can be probably be forgiven a little compromise on the colours of the club, and what can happen to a non-league club in terminal decline was thrown into sharp focus by the closure this week of former Football League club Nelson, who this week resigned from the North West Counties League and now seem certain to fold after one hundred and twenty-nine years.
Nelson’s story was a familiar one of slow decline over a period of decades. They had been members of the Football League between 1921 and 1931, before being voted out in favour of Chester, but their short stay in the League was an eventful one, including one season in Division Two and a tour of Spain in 1924, during which they beat Real Oviedo and Real Madrid, which saw them becoming the first British club to beat Madrid. The club had folded and reformed once before, in 1936, but didn’t take a place in the Northern Premier League when it started in 1968, staying in the Lancashire Combination, and had been members of the North West Counties League since its inauguration in 1982. It is to be hoped that a new club can be formed, if for no other reason than to make use of the town’s Victoria Park ground, which is known locally as “Little Wembley”. We shall have to see whether the will exists of the people of the town to pick up and pieces and start again.
Tales such as this were probably looming large in the mind of those that run Hyde FC throughout the remainder of last season, and if Hyde can pick up a few extra floating supporters and secure their financial position from the partnership over the next three years, they will be largely unconcerned about the cosmetic changes that have been undertaken at Ewen Fields. Manchester City have, it has been said, spent £250,000 on the upgrades and Hyde will also continue to benefit from rental income over this period. For all that we criticise the Premier League and its largesse, this sort of partnership could prove to be a way forward for other non-league clubs that are currently staring into the abyss. Manchester United supporters living in the vicinity of the ground may seek to disagree, but beggars can’t be choosers and it seems probable that many non-league clubs will, at some stage over the coming nine months, have the begging bowls out. Hyde FC, whose supporters had to do exactly and literally this outside The City of Manchester Stadium less than a year ago, won’t be amongst them.