Recurring FIFA scandals, controversial Super League proposals, a summer of £2.36 billion spent on transfers, and football being a major player in modern ‘sports-washing’ by the PIF (Public Investment Fund) in Saudi Arabia. Amidst the hyper-commercialisation of the game, a chasm between the owners and the fans’ voices, and rightful questions about the integrity of the sport, there are a growing number of fans rediscovering the roots of the game: community.
West Didsbury and Chorlton (WD&C) make up one of the most interesting football clubs in England, amassing a fan base through their liberal flags, the overall inclusivity of the community, and a desire to continue that growth—something worth a lot at this level.
A 15-minute walk from Chorlton Centre and hidden at the bottom of a picturesque suburban Chortonville street lies Brookburn Road, the home to WD&C. The ‘Stadium’ consists of a clubhouse, a small sheltered seating area, and a packed stand on the other side of the pitch for the tongue-in-cheek named Krombacher Ultras (named after the drink supplied at matchdays). The club is volunteer-run from the clubhouse itself to the much-needed sales of pasties and refreshments. At the club merch shed, a friendly volunteer told me that she had not even used her season ticket to Manchester United this season due to clashes with West games. Community spirit is evident as families, friends, and even a few dogs find their places around the sidelines.
I watched WD&C play Isle of Man on a rainy Saturday; the grassy knoll on the sidelines turned into a small mud feature. Yet the stadium still managed 1,051 people in attendance, mostly wrapped in white and black scarves with some Isle of Man red littered around. It is an impressive turnout for 9th-tier football, especially when they share the city with football giants.
Politically, “West for all” is the slogan of the club’s inclusive views. Anti-homophobic, anti-sexist, pro-NHS, and refugee-welcoming flags help spread this message. On the shirt itself are sleeve sponsors the Christie Foundation, with a percentage of sales going toward the charity. Union 1908 stands as a fan-led group to support the club and community; they organise food donations or fundraisers for local causes, and put on DJ nights, such as the West Rhythm Club, all helping create that strong community.
WD&C are also not restricted to the men’s team. They pride themselves on their growing youth teams, and a successful women’s team was formed in 2017. A swift promotion sees them comfortably sitting in the fifth tier alongside the likes of Tranmere, Blackpool, and Blackburn. A future first round fa cup game against Leeds United Women helps trump the men’s position in the football pyramid.
On the pitch itself, WD&C went into the match unbeaten; they are at the highest level they have ever played and sit fourth in the table. The visitors, catching a ferry from the Isle of Man, are lower down the table but bring strong support for the journey. After a brief pause to remove dog excrement from the pitch, WD&C took the lead through a cross-cum-shot. Umbrellas are brought out and hot drinks are bought as the rain picks up, and just after the restart Isle of Man equalise.
About 80 minutes in, one of the WD&C players gets fouled just outside the box. The stand behind the goal erupts as the resulting free kick is superbly struck into the top corner. Perfect conditions allow a smooth knee slide into the jubilant fans in the corner. From behind the goal chants ring out to the tune of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls just want to have fun’ or Abba’s ‘Voulez-Vous’ as West see out the game to continue their good form.
The entrance price stands at £5 for students and gives you access to £2 pasties that help support a local community and bring you into a friendly, non-league atmosphere. This paired with a small charity shop trip within Chorlton – makes WD&C a great day out. Fans are focusing on when football was more about passion and less about profit, turning their attention to local clubs.
West Didsbury’s next home fixture on October 28 (at the time of writing) is against Bury, a club who were in League 2 as recently as 2018/19 before entering administration. The newly formed Bury are still playing at Gigg Lane with a capacity of 12,500, and the fanbase are attempting to drag them back up the football pyramid. There are plenty of fascinating stories in lower-league football waiting to be discovered.