Cover image by Oli Biddle – biddleofnowhere photography
IF A banner can be taken as a statement of fact, the one reading ‘small in number, big in heart’ at Curzon Ashton would definitely qualify.
Yes, they may not get the largest crowds but the spirit among the volunteers that has helped the club to the National League North more than makes up for it.
And like any club, they have bigger and better ambitions.
As The Correspondent visits the Tameside Stadium on a Tuesday night against Scarborough Athletic, there is no doubt the attraction of staying in a warm room to watch Manchester United in the Champions League on TV has affected the attendance.
However, those who did turn up made their presence felt and their love for the club clear. As the steward told us: “Go and see Dreads. He knows a lot about the club. You’ll recognise him.” We did and he does.
Even before you enter the stadium, the town of Ashton-under-Lyne’s contribution to the footballing landscape is clear.
A statue featuring the three World Cup winners born in the town, Jimmy Armfield, Sir Geoff Hurst and Simone Perrotta, it is the only place in the country to hold that distinction, stands proudly outside.
Once inside, that pride does not dip. Punching above its weight? Even players and officials would agree.
But things are coming together, especially off the pitch as the team stands in the mix for a play-off place.
And the tannoy announcer left no-one under any illusions about what’s coming up – a league match against former Football League club Chester followed by the FA Cup first round tie at home to another in Barnet.
Four words showed its importance to the Nash – it’s the big one.
One of the biggest signs of off-field improvement comes in the form of the club shop – a smartly laid out, well stocked facility standing in one corner.
“It was a mess when we got it,” said Rachel Carr, who has had its running for two months. “We just put it right.
“It was just like a storage room, so we got rid of all that and made it look like a shop.
“It was always shut, it was just being used to sell programmes from.
“So I was asked if I’d mind running it. Even though they had all the stock, there was no-one here to sell it.
“Since we made it like this, people are now coming in, looking around and buying, to the point where we’re running out of stock.
“Life in the club shop is good, we’re selling out of stuff. It gets quite busy on a match day, it depends on the crowds really.
“We’ve sold out of scarves, so there are more on order – there’s no kids it left either. And it’s contributing fund to the club.
“But it will be busy against Barnet, definitely.”
Son Lucas, who helps out, added: “We treat everyone here like they’re part of the family.
“It’s a club that bats above its weight, everyone has that attitude of proving people wrong.
“Even on the pitch, we achieved a good position last season but lost a few of our players and thought, ‘We won’t be able to do that.’
“But we’re doing better than last season!”
You do not need to look hard to know Curzon makes the most of what it has and those involved do everything, the puff off the cheeks from secretary Rob Hurst showed that!
It also does not need much searching the find its connections to the aforementioned World Cup winners as the Nash Bar – the inspiration for a fine chant – is adorned with an Italy shirt worn by Perrotta, who won the 2006 tournament.
After spending five years at St Ann’s Primary School on Burlington Street, it is clear his home town still has a place in his heart.
‘To the boys and girls of Tameside, with affection,’ Perrotta wrote on the shirt.
And the hard-working women in the snack bar – which echoed to talk of watching Les Miserables among home supporters – put in sterling service, even if demands placed strain on certain food stuffs.
Before half time saw a queue stretching out of the door, one said: “We’ve only got two burgers left – we started with about 40!
“It’s like the Scarborough fans just got off the bus and came straight here, for an hour!”
Changes have seen Craig Mahon take charge as interim player/manager after Adam Lakeland departed for Kings Lynn Town – the derogatory chant from the 10-strong singing section made the fans’ feelings clear about that choice.
And not even the blow of a 1-0 defeat, through Will Thornton’s strike, could knock Curzon off their journey of growing while aiming higher.
Even though Mahon, who in the warm-up was heard telling his players, ‘we should be at them, really on it,’ was frustrated.
After seeing chances go begging, he told The Correspondent about embracing what lies ahead, saying: “It’s worse when you feel like you should’ve won. It’s a tough one to take.
“We created so many chances but it hurts more when you play well and come away with nothing.
“But we can’t lick our wounds for too long. We’ve a great group of lads who will do something good for us this year.
“We’ve big games coming up against teams with big reputations but this is what we relish. The lads will embrace it.”
The message over the tannoy summed up the excitement at Curzon. “Bring as many from Ashton, Tameside and the surrounding areas to the game,” the announcer boomed out.
If the Nash produce in front of the extra fans the Barnet game will bring, expect plenty more occupied places at the Tameside Stadium and crowds more befitting the huge efforts being out in.