Under normal circumstances, the last game of the season should be a cause for celebration for clubs near the top of their respective tables. On Saturday at Gigg Lane, however, FC United of Manchester’s final game of the season against Northwich Victoria was met by protests by supporters of the visiting club at the end of a season which has seen them lose their ground and face expulsion from their league. Vics supporter Mark Riding was there, and reports on a day of unrest in Bury.

Rarely has a club finished a season in a state of such uncertainty as Northwich Victoria have finished this. Homeless and destitute since eviction from The Victoria Stadium in January, the club went into their final game of the season knowing they had secured second place in the league but could not reap the rewards of their season’s excellent performance. They have been found guilty of two charges relating to non payment of their CVA and the club’s punishment is expulsion from the Northern Premier League and all its divisions.

The consequences of this decision are still uncertain. The club have an FA appeal scheduled for today – Tuesday 24th of April – but in reality this may only serve to partially clear the murky waters. This is due to the North West Counties (the league below the Northern Premier league) sharing common segments of their rulebooks. In fact, the rules that Northwich Victoria have been found guilty of are identical word for word between the leagues. This raises the real possibility of a quadruple relegation – an impressive feat, even by the standards of the current chairman.

Indeed, this whole saga stretches back much longer than merely this season. Previous chairman Mike Connett and to some extent former board members David Stone, Derek Nuttall & treasurer Jim Rafferty must all shoulder some of the blame. However there is only one person that has seen these issues translate on to the league table. As it stands Rushe has managed the unenviable feat of at least five relegations in three years. Admittedly one was commuted to a points deduction on appeal, and it is for this reason that a minority still support the current incumbent hoping he can produce the proverbial rabbit from the hat once again.


The Red cards come out at Gigg Lane during FC United of Manchester vs Northwich Victoria

Photograph used courtesy of Alastair Adams of FCUMania

This all leads on to events this past weekend at Gigg Lane, Bury – rented home of FC United of Manchester. It is a fitting coincidence that the fixtures placed Northwich away at the ‘the rebels’ on this day. This was the day that Northwich fans had chosen to demonstrate their anger at such end of season events becoming normality, with an event dubbed ‘The 1874 Protest’. Pre-game, volunteers had distributed A4 sized red cards amongst the fans of both clubs. These were to be held up in minutes 18 & 74 (1874 being the year of the clubs formation) as a show of disapproval of the ten years leading up to the NPL’s decision last week. They called for change in the management and direction of the club, demanding that fans voices are listened to.

And so the game kicked off, with most eyes on the clock end of the scoreboard the 18th minute approached. Red cards in hand the fans from both clubs held their cards aloft chanting “we want change”. A sea of red engulfed the stadium. Admittedly this was not completely adhered to with a minority of Northwich fans actually attempting to disrupt the protest. Quite what they see in the administration that makes them so proud one has to wonder, but one thing that should be asked is whether they would be there on a wet away day in the Cheshire League, following the current club next season?

The Northwich goalkeeper goes after the ball against a backdrop of red cards – photo courtesy of Mark Van Spall.

Once again the 74th minute came and both sets of fans held their cards chanting. This time the FCUM fans responded to their visitors with chants of their own. They replied ‘sack the board’ and ‘take control’. At this point chairman Jim Rushe then decided to make a stand himself. In a bizarre act he then red carded his own fans, smirking whilst doing so. This single act demonstrated everything wrong at the club, actions without regard for consequences. Shortly afterwards the chairman gathered his things, then left.

The match finished 4-1 to the hosts, but the reality is that the result didn’t matter. Northwich had already secured runners up and FC United had finished 6th. The irony is that as it stands Northwich have ceded their playoff spot to the hosts, not through the final match, but through decisions made in the boardroom. For FC United this is justification of their ideals of a fan run club operated within its means, for Northwich it should serve as an even starker warning as to the dire straits of their club, than anything that came before it. For now, though, all eyes are on Wembley for Tuesday’s meeting at which there is a chance that one of the north-west of England’s oldest clubs may finally be laid to rest after a long painful death. Where the fans go from here is now in their own hands.

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