West Didsbury & Chorlton sign

Festive fun as South Manchester derby sees West Didsbury & Chorlton draw their best-ever crowd

THE residents of Chorltonville must have wondered what the heck was going on. On Tuesday afternoon they were tucked up in their cosy semi-detached homes, recovering from the festive frivolities, as dozens of football fans descended on the sleepy garden village. Those that had been to Brookburn Road before knew exactly where they were going. The newbies, like myself, were relieved there were plenty of other fans to follow rather than rely on their own navigational skills.

For the home of WEST DIDSBURY & CHORLTON AFC can be difficult to find. It seems you are heading to the end of a dead-end street and into the local woods, then you bear to the left and there, nestled at the back of the estate, where ‘the Ville’ gives way to Chorlton Meadows, the football ground comes into view.

And there were plenty of people making that very journey on Tuesday as it was derby day. Since being promoted to the North West Counties Premier in 2013, West have played MAINE ROAD in what’s been billed the ‘South Manchester Derby’. In fact, they could narrow it down even more as the two clubs are based on opposite ends of Chorlton. Just 1.6 miles separate their grounds. I know because I walked it before kick-off, via a couple of Chorlton’s fabled watering holes of course. Well, it is Christmas!

The local rivals have had a festive clash every year since West joined Road at step five of the non-league ladder (Road have been in the NWCFL since 1987). Last season’s match at Brantingham Road was put back a day to December 27. It was West’s turn to play host this Christmas and again the game was put back a day, to a 3pm kick-off on a Tuesday afternoon. It was a wise move.

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Many Chorlton residents hail from elsewhere and go home for Christmas so it gave them time to return to Manchester before popping down to Brookburn Road on Tuesday. And with everyone else in action on Boxing Day, from the Premier League down to the Evo-Stik, it gave fans and officials of other clubs a chance to catch a game they wouldn’t normally be able to get to. Curzon Ashton manager John Flanagan and Trafford boss Tom Baker were among a crowd of 674, which is the biggest gate in West’s 108-year history – and by some distance. Their previous best was 463 for their pre-season friendly with FC United in July.

When I arrived the two sides were warming up on the field next to the ground (West now own that too) so I popped into the well-equipped clubhouse. Krombacher is the tipple of choice among the West faithful, a small group of which call themselves the ‘Krombacher Ultras’, and I enjoyed a bottle while reading up on the club’s history on the huge board they had produced to commemorate their centenary. It runs the length of a whole wall.

The current vintage have been doing well in recent weeks having won their previous three, including a 4-2 win over Glossop in the quarter-finals of the Manchester Premier Cup (they visit FC United in the semis on February 7). Since joining the North West Counties League in 2012, West have looked to gradually improve their squad and featured a trio of former Trafford players, with Kevin McGrath at centre-half while Martyn Andrews and Joe Shaw were in centre-midfield. Their former Trafford team-mate Steve Mason left Ashton United earlier this month to rejoin Road and was playing in their defence alongside his brother Jon.

The hosts had the better of a hard-fought opening, although Road had the first chances, with left-back Josh Tinker testing Dean Williams with a long-range strike before Calum Broady headed straight at the West keeper. With West having most of the ball, I took up a spot behind the goal they were attacking, opposite the clubhouse end. West have spent most of their existence in the Lancashire & Cheshire League and moved to Brookburn Road in the late 90’s. As well as redeveloping the ground, which was unused and overgrown, the club knew they would have to attract and engage the local community if they were to thrive, not just survive, and they are doing just that.

Graduates and professionals from all over the UK have settled in Chorlton and Didsbury and, in amongst the West fans, I heard all sorts of accents. There were couples catching up with friends after Christmas, some with young children – and some were even sporting West scarves too. You’ve gotta start ’em young!

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The driving force behind the club’s transformation was Rob Turley. Indeed, Rob himself hailed from Belfast and settled in Manchester after going to University here. Once a prolific striker, he scored over 500 goals for West before joining their committee, identifying Brookburn Road as a potential new home and overseeing the construction of the clubhouse.

His off-field endeavours helped provide the platform for West to enter the Manchester League in 2006 and then the NWCFL in 2012. A 50-seat stand was installed next to the clubhouse in 2014 (pictured above) and the club named it after Rob when he brought up 40 years with West later that year. Sadly Rob lost his battle with cancer in May but he left the club in a far healthier position than when he joined it, and West look set to go from strength to strength.

Matty Kay gave them a 34th-minute lead against Road as he rose highest to head home from a Nic Evangelinos cross. He even lost one of his boots in the process but didn’t panic. He celebrated with his team-mates before going to retrieve it. He’d clearly done this before, 10 times this season in fact. It was also his 28th goal for West, taking him past Rick Gleave as their leading scorer in the NWCFL era. Jon Mason had barely let Kay out of his reach until then but the Road centre-half sportingly picked up the striker’s boot and handed it back to him.

Shaw and Paul Socha fired over before the break, and sub Ben Steer spurned two chances to double West’s lead before the hour mark. Steer and Shaw both sent free-kicks just wide too. At half-time I’d moved to the bank which leads up to the adjacent field. It offers a great vantage point and room to get even more people in, which may soon happen if West keep developing at this rate.

But Road wrestled the initiative back from them in this one. Boss Chris Hirst brought on Rhys Clooney and the young striker’s introduction changed the game. He twice went close before Kay had to clear off the West line from a Road corner.

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West goal scorer Matty Kay clears a Road chance off the line

And for all their pressure, Road’s 80th-minute equaliser came from a through-ball which appeared to be bouncing harmlessly through to the keeper. However, Williams somehow spilled it, gifting Broady the chance to tap into an empty net. A draw was no more than Road deserved and it was one they welcomed after losing three of their previous four. It leaves them 12th before Friday’s home match against Darwen (weather permitting!), with West eighth.

While Williams showed his frustration at the final whistle, Clooney tried to console his rival keeper. That summed up the spirit of this fledgling derby fixture. This is certainly no grudge match, even if it does have Ultras! Maybe that will come in time.

For now, it’s a friendly rivalry between two neighbours who respect each other and enjoy each other’s company. And as long as they keep rearranging it as a stand-alone fixture, it’s a game that will be enjoyed by all of the Manchester football community.