Season Annual Excerpt: Matthew Britton on Maine Road 0 – 3 West

This is an excerpt from the 2016/17 Season Annual, designed and produced by Lew Currie. While physical copies are sold out, digital copies are available now from the West fan club website for £1 – click here to buy. This piece was written by Matthew Britton on last season’s South Manchester Derby game away at Maine Road.

I never thought I’d be the kind of person who makes flags in their spare time. You see Arsenal fans on telly with their Arsene Out banners and you think – bloody hell mate. But there’s always been something that has intrigued me about it. Creating a flag isn’t an accidental thing, something you can do by mistake. It takes several steps, each of them more desperate than the last. To start, you’ve got to have something in your mind that you want scrawled on material, something that you want to broadcast to the world enough to commit it to a flag. After that, you’ve got to go through the actual process: buying the cloth, the paint, marking it out, putting out the newspaper on the living room floor, laying down and carefully following your outlines with the acrylic – all while being dogged by the thoughts that it is going to look terrible, and everyone will hate it. Which they most likely will.

Still, that’s what I did for the South Manchester Derby against Maine Road. After the first game had been called off with West a goal down in one of the most turgid matches I can remember, the second game had to be a spectacle befitting of the centrepiece of our season. Our annual trip to Brookburn Road has turned into something I spend an inordinate amount of mental energy on; a 90 minute game that gives me insomnia for the week before it.

We’d beat them at their ground the previous season, with Matty Kay scoring an early goal (whipped into the box from deep, Kay spotting it early, drifting away from his man and gracefully sweeping it into the roof of the net on the bounce) to send the travelling 20 or so travelling fans into raptures. Since that cold day in December 2015, a lot had changed – as well as West now clearly being the better side of the two, we’d grown off the pitch too; this time we’d be taking around 200 of our fans to their ground to hopefully cheer the boys on to victory. And so, I did it. I painted a flag. A crude message of WDCFC M21 IS OURS scrawled in black acrylic on thick white cloth. It took absolutely ages, but it looks like it was banged out in the space of 5 minutes. Still, it turns out that I am the kind of person who makes flags – bloody hell mate.

It hung in the corner of the stand where our support stood, watching what turned out to be a masterclass in settling derby day nerves. That boy Matty Kay slotted away an early penalty, and from then the game was never really in doubt. With the fans in fine voice – including the now infamous Hummous/Quinoa chant rattling round the tin shed – Joe Shaw scored a wonder goal from 30 yard part way through the second half to truly kill things off before, with minutes to go, a miracle occurred.

With a West corner about to be taken, we chanted BEEF – our striker and cult hero Saul Henderson’s nickname – more in hope than expectation. Floated to the near post, tall Saul flicked it on and… pandemonium – Beef, naturally not knowing what to do when the gods have blessed you with a derby day goal, rips off his top and then, still bewildered, jumps into the stands to celebrate with the fans. All I can remember is how things felt – the firmness of the bodies as I fought through fellow fans to get close to our adopted hero; the whip of wind as I went lunging in for an embrace; the sharp cold of his sweat-covered skin; punching the early spring air. A three nil win at the home of our bitterest rivals. I’m not saying that the result was influenced by my home-made, badly painted message of support; I’m completely certain that it none of it would’ve happened without it. A bad flag, awkwardly flapping away unnoticed in the corner of a stand on that day when Saul Henderson became an integral part of our club’s folklore and M21 truly became ours.

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