FA Cup, Second Qualifying Round
Goodness gracious. Only three ties into the FA Cup trail - and fully three wins from the first round proper - and I think I've come across a big match. I can actually identify where the game is taking place from the people milling around; the ground has stands on all four sides; fans wear replica shirts; and, horror of horrors, there's a foreign name on the team sheet: Celtic's No 11 is Carlos Roca.
Only the gents (an open air, painted wall and trough job), the clicking of the turnstile beside it as I widdle and a goalkeeper called Paddy Gamble assure me that I'm not going to be suffering altitude sickness from having gone too far up too soon.
The crowd soon disperses - or rather changes end as happens at non-league games. The Hyde fans leave the Joe Jackson stand (surely not named after the eighties pop star) and head past the Lord Tom Pendry stand to the other end. Their journey isn't much further than their trip to ground - a mere four miles. I am at the other Manchester derby - or, more strictly speaking, the Tameside derby. Celtic are, according to their fans' scarves, "the pride of Tameside" after all.
Apart from me I reckon there are probably only two people inside the stadium (one of my all-time scenic favourites - see pinched pic above) that have come from the other side of the Pennines. They are Neil Tolson and Chris Brass, both formerly of York City. The programme's reference to Brass is euphemistic. "Has managerial experience with York" it says. More precisely, in his one and only full season as player-manager the then 27-year-old presided over a spectacular post-Christmas collapse in form that saw York drop out of the league on the final day of the season. And so to Harrogate Town, Southport, Bury and Hyde United ...
Five years on you can't fault Brass's application. He was kicked around the park all afternoon and required three visits from the physio. In fact, the whole match was played in a highly competitive spirit and was nip and tuck from start to finish, Gaby. Celtic took an early lead with a slick header from a cross and, surprisingly, that's the way it stays despite loads of chances and a late rally from Hyde.
I ended the match with the smells from the ground's Indian restaurant wafting past while standing on the terrace with spaces for those in wheelchairs. The only user today was a young father sat next to his son in a pushchair.
After the final whistle the Celtic players punched the air and came over to clap their supporters. Outside the Hyde fans spat out "Oh, Stalybridge is full of SHIT!" with such venom that I thought that a most enjoyable afternoon was going to be capped with a punch-up. (It wasn't).
The result, even at this early stage of the competition, clearly mattered. Second Qualifying Round? Second Round Proper, more like.
Historical footnote: Hyde's ignominious claim to fame is that the town's former club was on the wrong end of the biggest thrashing in English football history - 0-26 against Preston North End in an FA Cup tie in 1887.