Did that really happen? It wasn’t supposed to. I was only at Ewen Fields, Hyde, to stretch my impressive unbeaten run watching Woking FC to 16 matches.
Despite still perceiving myself as some sort of Jonah, I’d not actually seen my team (I am after all based 240 miles from their Surrey base) lose since a 2-0 home humbling by the mighty Maidenhead United in Blue Square South in August, 2010. Even then, the hosts had WFC legend Dereck ‘God’ Brown as assistant manager, so you could argue it would have been sacrilegious to win. Besides, since then I’d witnessed 13 wins and two draws (eight away from home), scoring 37 times and conceding just 13.
All the signs were good this time too, with a victory not so long before at nearby Stockport County, and the Cards having humbled Farnborough in the FA Trophy 7-0 that previous weekend. It wasn’t likely to be another septhrashing (I might have made that word up), as those are pretty rare of course. That said, we’d already scored a hatful this season, and Hyde were in the bottom three before kick-off.
I’d also seen us pick up plenty of points at Hyde’s neighbours Droylsden and Stalybridge in the past, and more often than not had something to savour from matches on the outskirts of Greater Manchester, either as a reporter at rock’n’roll venues such as Abbey Hey, Ashton United, Bury, Cheadle Town, Flixton, Mossley, Radcliffe Borough, Trafford and Woodley Sports, or with the Cards at not-so-far-off Altrincham and Macclesfield Town.
Admittedly, my first visit to Stalybridge (which I always equate with Stoneybridge from cult Scottish comedy sketch show, Absolutely) ended in defeat, and it took a few visits before we got the hang of Bower Fold. But we eventually started winning there, the highlights including hat-tricks from Clive Walker in 1995 and Darren Hay in 1998.
But then came last Saturday’s Tameside Terror, a right proper Hydeing and Saturday roll-over in this weekly lottery we call football. And who knows, if our cave-in had started any earlier it might even have inspired the hosts to finally avenge the club’s 26-0 record league defeat to Preston North End – the oft-mentioned, heaviest competitive defeat in English football, dating back to a mid-October 1887 FA Cup tie at Deepdale, when the visitors were just two years old and Woking were just a week and a half away from a first general meeting (our team just a twinkle in the eye of first club president Alfred Wright).
I have to say I was surprised this Conference Premier clash was even on, with a few Evo-Stik League ties that same day called off due to frozen pitches before I left Leyland for the 45-minute drive around the M60 and beyond. But word had it that the referee donned his boots at 1pm to run across the pitch and declare this embarrassing day in Woking’s history open.
In the early stages I remained confident. We weren’t going great shakes, but while experienced home hands like Chris Sedgwick (ex-Rotherham, Preston, Sheffield Wednesday) and Phil Jevons (ex-Everton, Grimsby, Yeovil , Bristol City, Huddersfield and Morecambe) posed a threat, Aaron Howe seemed to have it all under control in our net.
But then came a key moment, a seemingly-innocuous challenge just outside the penalty area from Brett Johnson catching England C cap Scott Spencer (ex-Rochdale, Southend and Lincoln), who made a meal of it on a stodgy pudding of a pitch, the ref eventually catching up and brandishing his red card as he reached our incredulous defender.
Much shouting and partisan haranguing followed from aggrieved Cards fans, and Spencer certainly looked happy with his work as he dusted himself down. We survived the resultant free-kick and almost made it to half time on level terms following a substitution and change of formation. But this is Woking after all, and Jevons slotted home just before the break.
Even when a second went in courtesy of Spencer on 51 minutes, I still felt we had a chance of a draw against this relegation-threatened Greater Manchester outfit. But when Jevons struck again just before the hour it was as good as game over, Howe’s cartoon-like rage against defensive ineptitude at the other end almost comical. Tragi-comic as it turned out.
I’ll gloss over the rest, save for mentioning (it feels better to share it – it’s a bit like rubber-necking the aftermath of an accident in the opposite motorway carriageway) that at one point it seemed like every half-hearted Hyde foray forward led to another goal, while an increasingly-bewildered home crowd cheered and laughed. You could as good as see the smiles and disbelief from our end, despite a murky December dusk.
When the fourth official’s board went up near the end I half-expected to hear on the PA system, ‘the referee has indicated three additional goals for the home side’. As it was, they only managed one more though – the seventh of the day. We all dutifully stayed to the death (or perhaps the post-mortem), because that’s what real fans do. But there was no ovation for the embarrassed visiting side. There was precious little to ovate or even ovulate about, let alone dish out a case of the clap to. In fact, the only hands I saw raised in tribute were from the fella in front of me, applauding the shell-shocked Tigers fans who’d just about managed to stand up again after laughing so hard.
Those supporters were certainly having a ball (and four-goal Jevons already had his own) in the little stand to our left, and I don’t think they could believe their luck. Even when they were singing – in homage to Mancunian icons Joy Division – ‘Hyde … Hyde will tear you apart … again!” earlier, I don’t think they really believed it. Maybe ‘We’ve Lost Control’ would have been a fitting response from our boys. Or perhaps ‘Atrocity Exhibition’. Either way, Garry Hill would have gladly reprogrammed his team to Factory setting (or ‘I Remember Nothing’) to erase the memory of this horror show, and at least take us back to the Farnborough thrashing.
It was an afternoon to forget for sure, in a region which has given us ups and downs since that first defeat at Stalybridge in August 1992. I’d gladly trade recollections of this one for that great night of Mickey Mouse cup glory when we won the GLS Conference League Cup at Bower Fold at the end of April 2005 thanks to a lone Karl Murray wonder strike, having being forced to travel away on a Wednesday night on the toss of a coin.
There was a similar size away contingent that night too, the difference being that seven and a half years ago we were a little more eager to cram on to the official photos as Shwan Jalal, Adriano Basso and co hoisted our silverware.
I could add a few less memorable encounters in East Manchester, including a late season April 2008 date at The Butchers Arms, Droylsden, when a meagre 301 crowd saw our 1-1 mid-week draw against the Bloods. Not even Lou Reed would have relished a walk on the Tameside that night. I’d like to add something that proved I was there, but the entire match has evaded my memory, including Matt Pattison’s goal. We were already safe by then, while Droylsden were doomed to relegation. Totally meaningless.
What I’d have given to see our trip to Hyde becoming just as unmemorable. It doesn’t work like that though. It’s all just part and parcel of what makes a true football fan. And I only wish I was there with the loyal Woking fans who – despite many of them suffering at Ewen Fields – returned north (to Lincoln City this time) just three days later to see us overcome the odds and win 2-0 in the league at Sincil Bank. Which just goes to show that we can still run with it, even if we can’t always Hyde.