Fleetwood Town P - P Mossley

It turned out to be a long way for nothing for quite a few people on Saturday as, with less than an hour to kick off, Mossley’s trip to the coast was rendered futile.

Why the match referee should deem a pitch to be unplayable when a) there had been no rain in the five hours since it was passed fit by a local official and b) both sides wanted to play will no doubt have the veil of secrecy used by drawn over it.

A quick look at the Fleetwood Town message board will give you some idea of the anger and bewilderment the decision to cancel caused and if some of the comments posted are true (and I’ve no reason to doubt that they aren’t other than to protect myself against any future libel proceedings) then the least both sets of clubs and their supporters deserve is an apology and, in a gesture that’s not likely to happen whilst time is still measured, some recompense for a wasted afternoon.

However there were a few Mossley supporters who did manage to get their weekend fix of non-league football. After making the decision not to travel to Fleetwood less than 24 hours earlier, the search for another match began in earnest and with Stalybridge being the solitary local side playing at home there was only one decision: off to Salford versus Curzon in the NWCL League Cup Quarter-Final.

Actually there was two but it was only after monies had exchanged hands with the turnstile operator at Moor Lane and the offer to buy a DVD of Salford’s victory over FCUB was refused did we realise that by turning right instead of left at Junction 17 of the M60, we could have watched Radcliffe Borough take on North Ferriby in a game that would have had consequences, good or bad, on Mossley’s fight for survival.

Salford’s ground hasn’t changed much since Mossley last played there four years ago. In fact it hasn’t changed at all! The biggest difference is actually just outside where the pub that was handy for a quick u-turn in the car has disappeared under the concrete and red brick of a new housing estate.

The other noticeable anomaly was that Salford City appear to have developed a fan base. It seems the days of one man, his dog and that old bloke who sat in his car beeping the horn have gone and in their place there’s people actually singing, cheering and shouting encouragement. It was genuinely good to see a club that looked like it was starting to pick itself up off the pitch and I’m sure it’s something that Curzon will have looked at enviously.

Despite the phenomenal season the blue Ashton side are having they’re just not attracting the crowds. Of course they’ve never been the best supported of sides but that so few of their supporters could travel the short distance for a local derby is ridiculous. Out of the official attendance of 151 there couldn’t have been more than a handful of the regulars who attend games at the Tameside Stadium.

Anyway, back to Saturday. When Mossley last played at Moor Lane both sides took to the field with the music of the Cheeky Girls blaring out over the P.A system and though crowds may have improved it soon became apparent that their record collection hadn’t. The music that Curzon emerged from the changing rooms to wasn’t a problem (whilst many music fans regularly poor scorn on Joey Tempest’s magnum opus, I actually quite like ‘The Final Countdown’), the cringing really began when Salford made their way onto the pitch five minutes later.

When you’re pumped up for a derby match in the quarter finals of a cup competition against one of the form teams in the league and the manager’s team talk is still ringing in your ears, can their be anything more deflating than setting foot onto the pitch to the sounds of your own supporters being drowned out by ‘Its Raining Men’ over the public address system? Not that the Curzon players had anything to snigger about; lest we not forget that they still run out at home to the sound of Gary Glitter.

Before we were treated to a rendition of ‘I Am What I Am’ and a Bette Midler medley the referee got the match underway. In fact you’re probably wondering at this point why after 900+ words there’s been no mention of any actual passages of play and there’s a good reason for that: there wasn’t actually that much to write about. Curzon looked like their minds were focused elsewhere, which is hardly surprising given the FA Vase game next week, and Salford were struggling to build on the solid foundation their defence had given them.

That’s not to say it wasn’t an end to end affair but it wasn’t until the closing stages of the first half that the score line came anywhere close to being threatened; the home side seeing efforts come back off the post on no less than two occasions.

Even though I took camera to the game I couldn't be bothered to take any pictures. So in order to break up a huge body of text, here's a picture of America's answer to Frank Spencer playing cricket:

The arrival of the interval meant it was time to see how Mossley were going on in West Lancashire. Obviously I didn’t know at this point that the match had been postponed due to a squishy pitch and I was similarly unaware of that situation after I’d phoned up Highbury for the half-time score. “Nil –nil” may have technically been an accurate response but I’d have much preferred to have been told of that the game actually gone ahead. That way I wouldn’t have spent a fortune ringing up at full-time to get an answer machine that was similarly lacking in postponement news.

It wasn’t just the spectators that had turned up in large numbers either. The ground, like an over producing zip factory was suffering from a severe fly infestation. The effect it had was to make it seem like a Magnus Pike fan club convention was taking place on the terraces such was the amount of arm waving going on. It got to the point where serious thought was given to having an ‘al fresco’ dump behind the stand in an attempt to give the little blighters something else to focus their attention on. Thankfully though the second half coincided with the rain the Met office had promised and the frantic semaphoring the crowd appeared to be partaking in quickly subsided.

The second period was an altogether more sprightly affair, due in no small part to both teams deciding to try and injure one another in as ridiculous manner as possible. With the announcement during the week that the Ultimate Fighting Championships were coming to the Manchester Arena, it appeared that a few players believed the match was an open audition for a spot on the bill a mile down the road. The highlight of this Bruce Lee-athon came when after receiving treatment for a late challenge, Curzon’s Mike Norton returned to the action muttering something about not caring if he got sent off before attempting try on a pair of socks that the Salford left-back still happened to be wearing. That Salford managed to give as good as they got was amazing considering that with their spindly bodies and closely shaved heads it looked like they were on day release from a gulag.

The referee deserves enormous credit for managing to keep a lid on proceedings without showing anyone the red card and the reward was a final fifteen minutes where both sides actually tried to score a few goals instead. Salford were extremely unfortunate to have a goal ruled out for offside before Curzon re-enacted the home sides late first-half showing by hitting the framework of the goal twice in the closing stages.

For the second time in two weeks a game we’d gone to as neutrals was to be decided by extra-time and for the second time in two weeks we left before it got underway; the prospect of an extra half-hour of similar fare being less than enticing than an invitation to be flayed and dipped in vinegar.

On the journey home the fate of the Mossley game was discovered via a Fleetwood official who was still audibly seething at the match being called off. And after a warm, wet and insect saturated afternoon in Salford, the prospect of an early spring trip the tropical climes of, er… the Wyre coastline seems positively luxurious.