We have noted on here before that non-league football can be a hand to mouth existence for many clubs, all of which makes the recent behaviour of Northern Premier League club Chorley FC in relation to the ticketing and policing arrangements for their match against FC United of Manchester on Saturday even more perplexing than they might otherwise be. Chorley are due to be playing FC United in the league on Saturday, but there will be only one set of supporters present for the match, following the decision of the FC United board not to take up their allocation of just five hundred and thirty tickets for the match – a decision which, it should be added, has been almost unanimously approved by the supporters of the club itself.
The root to this story, somewhat ironically, is to be found in a match played at Chorley earlier this year against Chester FC in Division One North of the Northern Premier League. With both teams near the top of the table, a large crowd turned out at Chorley’s Victory Park, but inadequate arrangements on the day meant that there was considerable disturbance both inside and outside the ground. Anecdotal evidence at the time suggested that a sizeable proportion of the trouble on the day was caused by supporters of other clubs that had decided to “adopt” Chorley for the day, but the antiquated nature of Victory Park was also held responsible by many for making confrontation possible because it lacked adequate provision for keeping supporters apart. This video gives an hint as to just how inadequately prepared Victory Park was for that match.
With Chorley and Chester both getting promoted into the Premier Division of the league at the end of last season, it could be argued that Chorley had plenty of time to make improvements to their ground in order to minimise the opportunity of a repeat of disorder which tarnished the reputation of both clubs last season. When the ticketing arrangements for the match against FC United were announced, though, there was good cause for FC United supporters to feel disheartened. The match had been moved to an 11.30 kick-off, and the visiting club were to be allocated just five hundred and thirty tickets for it. The police’s concern seems to be that the match has been scheduled for the same day that Bolton Wanderers play Manchester United in that day’s tea-time Premier League match, but the eagerness with which Chorley seem to have decided to limit tickets for the match leaves a sour taste in the mouth, to say the least, and it is also worth pointing out that the decisions made were taken without even the common courtesy of consulting the visiting club.
The Chorley vindication was that, “These decisions have been taken to reduce any potential of a repeat of the incidents that took place before and after our fixture with Chester FC at Victory Park last season”, all of which can only invite the question of why supporters of another club are being sanctioned for trouble at a match that was nothing to do with them. There was a similar police overreaction, as some of you may call, prior to FC United’s FA Cup match at Brighton last year, when tickets were limited after the match was made a “Category A” match on police advice. There was no trouble at that match and, indeed, there has been no trouble at FC United matches that hasn’t been caused supporters of other clubs turning out with the express intention of provoking it, and even that has been on the decline in recent years. If the police are reacting to the criticism that was aimed at them after the Chorley vs Chester match last year, that doesn’t alter the fact that this trouble was nothing to do with FC United.
As long ago as July, the Chorley Guardian was reporting that the police and the club were aware of the potential for trouble at Chorley matches this season, although the newspaper’s scaremongering – note the use of such words as “carnage” and “thugs” – can hardly be considered as helpful under such circumstances. Some may also have had cause to question whether motives were all about crowd control following the comments of the clubs first team manager Garry Flitcroft that, “It’s a big advantage if we can get the ground full of Chorley fans”. The Northern Premier League’s statement on the ticketing arrangements was a mixed bag. On the one hand, Alan Allcock, The Northern Premier League’s Operations Manager stated that, “I am a little surprised on the insistence of a change of kick off time for this fixture in view of FC United’s excellent behaviour by their supporters particularly over the past 12 months”. On the other, though, he also stated that, “A half empty ground and no trouble does not prove anything. A full ground and no trouble would be considerable proof towards convincing people to relax the arrangements that have been forced on Chorley FC for the FC United fixture”, all of which could be interpreted as endorsing the notion that anything that had gone on at Victory Park before was anything at all to do with FC United of Manchester.
Against such a backdrop, it was inevitable and entirely justifiable that the club should make the decision not to take up its ticket allocation for this match. It is difficult to avoid that conclusion that, for the sake of one match, it’s not worth the hassle for FC United support, or for the club itself. Subsequent to the decision to not take up the ticket allocation, the kick-off time was moved back to 12.30 – again, something that will only puzzle those that will feel that they had been led to believe that an 11.30 kick-off was effectively non-negotiable – whilst one or two Chorley supporters even repeated assertions, made before, that a large number of FC United supporters (“Non Chorley fans as you say includes 50-100 FC fans with Chorley tickets,and are also the (same fans) involved in the trouble back in February. Is your chairman going to make sure these do not gain entrance to the ground???”) were involved in the trouble between their club and Chester last season, a claim so extraordinary that it beggars belief, and one that has not been substantiated in any way.
It is worth making a couple of points for the purposes of clarity in conclusion to this odd and strangely sad story. The overwhelming majority of Chorley supporters would have welcomed FC United supporters to Victory Park in whatever number turned up, and those that caused trouble at the Chester match earlier this season were not those that are regular supporters of the club. Gary Flitcroft may well have got his “big advantage”, but it has come at a cost to his club. Whether the policing bill will now come down for this match is a matter for conjecture, but further damage to the reputation of this club has clearly been done by the handling of the arrangements for this match and some may think twice over whether to visit the club after publicity such as this, whether rightly or wrongly. Finally, it is worth remembering that Chorley still have a home match against Chester to come this season. If, as has been suggested elsewhere, the match against FC United of Manchester was being used as a “dry run” for this match, it can only be reasonably described as having been a failure.
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