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10th February 2023

Four promotions in one season? Meet A Block Athletic

Despite no funding or coaching, the team are outperforming the University 3s and are approaching the summit of campus league football.
Four promotions in one season? Meet A Block Athletic
Photo via Adam Pogrund @ The Mancunion

The University of Manchester boasts a thriving intramural sports scene. The largest of which is the campus football league. It sees 44 teams in six divisions play at Wythenshawe Sports Ground every Wednesday of term. Unique amongst these teams is A Block Athletic. Founded in September 2021, and despite starting in the lowly division 5, they now find themselves vying for promotion to the top division: the Premiership. 

It has been quite the rise for a team started by a bunch of mates. In fact, they are one of two teams in the top three leagues to not be officially associated with halls, society, subjects, or departments. This independence comes with its own problems. There is no funding for pitch hire for training, or for kits. The £500 league fee does not include a weekly £20 referee fee either. Nevertheless, it has not prevented A Block from progressing up the league table.

The team’s name can be traced back to its Tree Court roots, where many of A Block’s core players unsurprisingly resided in Block A. The last remaining rooms of the infamous Owen’s Park accommodation were permanently closed in June 2021, but A Block Athletic continues to go from strength to strength.   

A Block was forged by the experiences of the 2020/21 intake, all of whom saw their first year at university seriously impacted by the COVID pandemic. The restrictions meant there was no campus league for the majority of the year, and first-year opportunities to be involved were limited. By the time the second year arrived, despite a widespread passion for football, no one had joined a team. Eventually A Block was established. 

A 3-1 loss to Headless FC signalled a bumpy start in A Block’s first-ever game.  However, a run of scintillating form saw them go unbeaten in the league for the rest of the season, winning 16 and drawing 1, including a 4-0 thumping of Headless in the return fixture. Multiple score lines ended with double digits. During this winning streak, they swapped places with MACE Turkgucu in Division 4. Starting from the bottom of this higher league, and although half the season had already been played, A Block managed to end the season in the second promotion spot.

William Bradley ended as the top scorer, with Joe Young being voted Player of the Year. The Cup campaign was not as successful. A Block beat Unsworth twos on penalties in the first round of the cup, a team placed three divisions above them. The next round saw a face-off against Medics AC on the Armitage astroturf. A 2-0 loss was a respectable result as A Block bowed out to the Premiership side.    

This season has continued as strongly as last. Players departing for years abroad and placements have been replaced by new talent. A Block started on -1 point with one game played due to a late promotion. At the time of writing, they sit in third place, two points off second. Highlights include a 3-0 win against the UoM Development team, a squad with weekly training and a coach. This result underlines the ability of A Block players, and those who sit above them in the league. One might question why there are no more official university football teams when there is such quality and depth amongst the current crop of students.

A Block in action at the Armitage against the University of Manchester  Development Team
Photo: Adam Pogrund @ The Mancunion

In spite of only being an intramural football league,  it is extremely competitive. Many teams hold weekly training sessions and out-of-season friendlies. The seriousness of the league is best indicated by the repeated requests from prospective players to join A Block. Captain George Howard reveals “You’d think I was joking but we genuinely had an email from someone’s agent asking about trials.”

For many, captaining and managing an 11-a-side football team may sound like too significant of a commitment, especially whilst trying to remain on top of work in the third year. George is also a co-founder of the event’s company DR3 Sounds. Nevertheless, he remains positive about his role.

“With captaincy comes a large plate of responsibilities which some people may struggle to balance with uni work. However, I’d argue that the success of the club has considerably motivated me to put aside a bit of time each week to ensure that I keep the same standard of captaincy. There’s no better feeling than earning three points each week with a great group of lads, who help me with lots of the jobs anyway.”

Oliver Sprague Kelly is another player amongst the senior leadership team, combining his position in central midfield with being the social media secretary. He even managed to find A Block a sponsor, the chicken shop Peck Peck, located in Hackney.

A Block’s players are clearly dedicated to their side, and keen to achieve as much success as possible in their campus league careers. But, it is more than just the competitive edge of winning football that drives A Block. As is the case with most university sports, the social element is as important. Win, lose, or draw, post-match is spent at the Orion or Studio. Socials often occur, and end-of-term dinners take place at Moon in Withington.

A trip to Liverpool for the end-of-season awards is being planned. Mikey Njai, a masters student living in Manchester for the first time, points out the social side of A Block. “Joining A Block really helped me settle into Manchester. I slyly knew a few people here already, but after my first game for A Block I instantly felt at home. It has been a great experience playing every week too, and gives me something to look forward to midweek.”

Photo: Adam Pogrund @ The Mancunion

What next for A Block? Most of the team are rapidly approaching the end of their undergraduate degrees. Whilst some are looking to remain in Manchester post-uni, there will be many players missed too. There is no guarantee that in 2023/24 A Block will manage to compete at the same high standards as it currently is. Whatever happens in the future it has been a great two years, and a highlight of its players’ time in Manchester.

To keep up with A Block’s progress for the rest of the season, follow @ABlockAthletic on Instagram. 

For more information on how to become involved in university sport campus leagues here!



Sports Editor (2022/23)

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