It’s approaching the end of 2020 and I haven’t been to see United since March – 8 months devoid of trips to Old Trafford, around the country or across Europe. The 2020/21 Champions League group stage has started without away fans and neither that nor the domestic competitions seem likely to be allowing supporters in any time soon.
To try and get a fix I looked closer to home, and decided to switch the 1.5 mile walk to Old Trafford with a half mile stroll down to my local non-league team, West Didsbury & Chorlton AFC. Whilst top flight games haven’t been allowing spectators during the covid-19 lockdowns, some non-league levels have been open to a limited crowd, perfect for fans desperate to see a bit of live football.
North West Counties Football League – First Division South
Navigating the depths of non-league was my first challenge. I’ve previously been to a few FC United games, as they were climbing the football pyramid following formation in 2005, but almost all of my football match history has been with United. Once outside the top four flights of the Football League, the system becomes the National League.
West Didsbury and Chorlton FC (WDCFC or ‘West’) compete in the North West Counties Football League First Division South – the tenth division of English football. The steps, as they’re called, run from 1 to 6 and split into regional (North/South) divisions at step 2 and even further by counties at 5 & 6. By the time it reaches the NWCFL, the teams derive from the North West and 9 counties – including the Isle of Man!
The Step Places Stadium
West, originally founded as Christ Church AFC back in 1908, host their north-west rivals at the Step Places Stadium on Brookburn Road in Chorlton. A short walk from Chorlton Green and Beech Road, and close to the excellent Bowling Green pub, it’s at the heart of the local community.
Match admission is a reasonable £5 per game, with season tickets available for £80 (around the price of two United home games). The Step Places Stadium has a capacity of 1,000 with a record attendance of 812 vs local rivals Maine Road FC in 2018. In covid-19 times this has been capped at just 300, all sell-outs with fans understandably eager to get the match day buzz.
For me it’s new foray into non-league which I’ve loved every bit of, not least being able to drink pitch side – a novelty compared to top flight football. West support local suppliers Burton Road Brewery whilst regular fans are keen supporters of Krombacher, both available at matches. Safe standing is necessary with just a limited number of seats in the covered Rob Turley stand by the clubhouse.
As for the match itself, there’s definitely an appeal for this level of football. Spurred on by a fairly vocal crowd and an active supporters club in Union 1908, the handful of games I’ve made it to in the 2020/21 season, including the FA Vase qualifying rounds, have seen plenty of goals and drama. The quality of football is reasonably high given this is the tenth division, even if temper flare over more occasionally than the top level, with a fair few red cards and melees to show.
There’s no VAR, no sanitised crowds and a great sense of identity, West being a fairly left wing club in both support and club initiatives. It’s somewhere I’ll continue to attend, even when the Premier League allows an eventual return for fans. Even better, the penultimate game of the season is an away trip to the Isle of Man – perhaps my only football trip abroad this year!