Community spirit in a vase
The FA Vase may not be the pinnacle of the round-ball game but it had a strange effect on the streets of Glossop. Helen Rose provides an outsider’s perspective of sporting endeavour and community spirit.
The East Stand at Glossop North End's Surrey Street ground
One hundred years ago, Glossop North End Football Club were at the top of their game, getting promoted in the first year of their acceptance to the Football League, spending a year in the First Division and reaching the quarter finals of the FA Cup in 1909. Since then the club has drifted into anonymity, pulling a handful of spectators to matches and, though still showing its face in the FA Cup and a few other competitions, never matching it s previous success – or popularity.
On Saturday 28 February, however, supporters flocked to watch Glossop play Marske United in the last proper round before the semi-finals of the FA Vase. I happened to be walking home past the club and was accosted by my friend Peter, telling me simply, “You’re coming to the footy.” I was confused on a number of levels and as we joined the throng of people jostling to get in, I asked him what was going on – I’d never been to a football match before, being more of a rugby girl, and as far as Peter was concerned a hat-trick was something involving a man in black tie and a disgruntled white rabbit. He looked at me like I was stupid. “Everyone’s here,” he said. “It’s what we’re doing today. It’s just… what we’re doing.” He trailed off, seemingly unable to express the strange urge that had driven him to make his way to the tiny ground, penned in between a scrap yard and a KFC.
It wasn’t until I got inside that I realised what it was he was trying to say – it seemed the whole town had turned up. As well as what I assume was the usual crowd – men with bald heads and necks thicker than my thigh and young boys in miniature blue Glossop kits – there were little old ladies, mums, pouty girls, lads with the initials of the club painted on their bare chests (they put their tops back on pretty quickly – after all, this is Derbyshire in February we’re talking about – but the sentiment was there), and almost all of them looking as confused about the whole thing as I was. Despite the fact the place was already pretty much full, there were still people coming in through the two rickety turnstiles at the entrance. At the far end, those too cheap to pay the £5 entry fee were climbing the wall to get in ; there was even one man tall enough to just look over the wall from the street outside. By the time the teams ran out the crowd inside had risen to a remarkable number – 1210, according to the North End website – and the atmosphere was buzzing.
After taking about ten minutes to find out who we were playing, asking around me to find someone who either knew or at least cared, I settled in to watch the game. I’d like to offer an in-depth match report but unfortunately I haven’t the slightest understanding of what was going on and spent most of the game half expecting them to stop play for a quick scrum. I know from the old guy in a flat cap stood next to me that there was a “lovely piece of footwork” at one point and that something called a “back pass” made him very angry indeed. It’s all Dutch to me – I thought passing backwards was a good thing.
That being said, I did pick up on a few things. For one, it seemed that there were exactly five Marske United fans at the match, all of whom heckled Peter for having “poncy” hair. There was one exciting moment when the ball flew over the net, over the crowds, over the wall and smacked straight into Colonel Sander s’ smiling face before bouncing back with such force it flew back over the wall, over the crowd and over the net onto the pitch again. Somewhat less amusing was when the incident was repeated, this time replacing Colonel Sanders with a little old lady.
By the time the match was finished, the mood was incredible. The whole crowd seemed connected to each other, the sense of community almost tangible ; I’ve never felt so Glossopian. The sky seemed a slightly bluer shade of grey and while the birds were not exactly singing, they could well be described as humming softly to themselves under their breath. Whether it was the openness of the crowd, the diversity of the crowd or the humiliating 5-2 arse-whooping the Glossop Hillmen gave Marske United, securing their place in the Vase semi-finals and bringing us one step closer to playing at Wembley, something about the day really brought the community spirit out of us all.
Helen Rose is The Leisure Review's special events correspondent.
The Leisure Review, March 2009
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