Ten years ago today – Wednesday 29th of November 2006. Think! Does anybody know the relevance of the date?
Thought not. Well I will tell you.
Wednesday 29 November 2006 was the date of a NWCFL Division 1 game in Bury, with FC United of Manchester as our hosts. A decade ago Division 1 was the league’s top flight with the Premier Division tag only coming in the for the 2008/09 tag. FC were runaway league leaders while we were having our best ever NWCFL campaign – league position wise – under the guidance of young manager Phil Brown. Phil worked with Colls doyen Alan Lord at Myerscough College and it was a major coup for the club to forge a link with an esteemed educational institution. The young players brought to the club were quality and formed the nucleus of the side.
This game should have been played originally on a Saturday in September but a broken water pipe around Gigg Lane saw the match postponed and Emma and I made the most of the cancellation and enjoyed a few pints in the Bury Town Centre with our now unfortunately deceased compadre John Weaver. It’s still the only time I have boozed in the town.
A week before the 29 November match up both FC and ourselves had lost in the FA Vase to Quorn and Glasshoughton Welfare respectively in games both were expecting to win. As previously stated Browny’s team had been a revelation but this game was going to be a major test against a juggernaut opponent who were still hurting from their cup exit. The hosts were odds on favourites especially as a couple of the key Colls personnel were having trouble negotiating the rush hour traffic and it was nip and tuck as to whether they would arrive in time for the pre match handshake (only the skippers did it then).
The lads fortunately got to the ground in time and the game kicked off to a crescendo of noise. We fetched a good following (maybe 100 in a crowd of 1723) and were located in the segregated away end. It was at least double our average home gate. Included in our brethren was Anthony Johnson, current Salford City co-manager, and his dad. Jonno had left the club to sign for Ramsbottom United but he still thought a lot (and still does) about us. I bet he didn’t think 10 years ago he would now be one of the most famous non league managers in the land who has starred in a football docu soap and an Umbro commercial.
The game started and we settled well and on 15 minutes took a shock lead. Teenage winger Anthony Pilkington wriggled his way through for a solo effort. The home crowd were shocked but kept singing songs although the only chant I really remember was ‘Argentina’. The lead was doubled in first time injury time and it was Pilkington again who scored. The Colls support were as stunned as the home faithful at the interval.
Back to the game and FC must have had a real half time tongue lashing and they restarted the game with more tenacity and had numerous chances but if you watch the YouTube video of the game they didn’t seem have their usual shooting boots on. The Colls rearguard were also in formidable form. The top hat was put on in stoppage time when a punt by keeper Gavin Bates was flicked on and Pilkington gratefully gobbled up his hat-trick. The lad of course grabbed all the headlines but it was a real team performance mastered minded by Phil Brown and his back room staff
This famous victory was Pilks last ever appearance in a Colls jersey as by the time the next game came around Stockport County had taken a punt on him and for years and years his feet never seemed to touch the ground. He is the only player I know to score winners against FC United, Maine Road, Manchester United and Manchester City. FC were magnanimous in defeat. It was their second and final league reversal of the season as they romped to the title. They did get revenge on us in the first game of 2007 when we played them at Hilton Park winning by the same 3-0 score line.
Was it really ten years ago when unfashionable Atherton Collieries beat FC United of Manchester. When I say unfashionable I meant very very unfashionable. The years leading up to the 06/07 season had seen us struggle not only to retain Division 1 status but to keep the club in existence. A cocktail of sheer wanton vandalism at the ground and general apathy had made day to day involvement a onerous chore. There seemed no light at the end of tunnel. Chairman Paul Gregory and I had recently called for an influx of new committee blood or the gates would have been closed permanently. Thankfully the call to arms had been answered by a good number who are still part of the fixture and fittings to this day.
It will forever be one of my favourite ever Colls memories and I still possess, for safe keeping I hasten to add, the white with sky blue sleeves no 11 shirt which Anthony Pilkington wore that evening.