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7th February 2024

Govan & Uni of Manchester FC: The prologue to a fairytale

Govan & University of Manchester FC, a purple wave soaring to new heights across every patch of velvet green
Govan & Uni of Manchester FC: The prologue to a fairytale
Squad photo. Photo: Stuart Montagu @ Govan & UoM FC

Since the two sides merged in 2022, Govan & Uni of Manchester FC – two footballing establishments from vastly different backgrounds – have reached a pivotal stepping stone. With regular games every Saturday and Wednesday, an inferno of tenacity can be sensed within the players and staff as both FA and BUCS matches have been  an opportunity for further accolades that can grow the club and bring them ever closer to achieving their dream of semi-professional status. As manager, Jack Norbury, puts it “[we are] building towards something exciting, getting the Uni of Manchester into the FA Cup is what we’d love to do. We don’t know when that’ll happen, but we’re not that far off it.”

This endeavour is one of unfiltered passion. There was a glow in Norbury’s eyes that couldn’t be hidden, as though he could already picture the scenes of students gathered to see their team battle for one of the country’s most prestigious trophies. It’s the possibility for these imaginings to unfold into reality that maintains the focus of the team and allows them to perfect every detail in training, despite the stinging cold weather that overstays its welcome each week.

Last year, both the first and reserves team won their respective divisions, but Norbury takes most pride in there being “a real one club mentality. We’ve got the whole club playing loads more football, all connected, all watching each other’s games. That’s the best thing about this.”

Team talk. Photo: Stuart Montagu @ Govan & UoM FC

There’s an abundance of chemistry within the squad, which is why there are “alumni coming back to play for the team. They still love being part of the club.” Given the blending of a local and a university team, a wonderful dynamic has been woven into shape as “you get a few local lads, who used to play for the old local team, the Govan team, and students, who are from everywhere, like London or America. So you get this lovely mix of older lads and students working together.”

With great ambition comes robust discipline, which is enforced upon the team by the very nature of the club’s organisation, “It’s on a performance program, so there’s a high expectation of them. If you’re not meeting the expectations, you move down the teams. You don’t just stay in one team; you go where you’re performing. That keeps everyone on their toes. There are constantly people trying to get in their position and so that makes them work hard, push each other on and set high standards on and off the pitch.”

When a team has a firm objective, believed in wholeheartedly by every member of the collective, obstacles become minutiae that barely leave their mark. “How do we train when it’s cold and miserable? Sometimes I wonder that. Why do I do this to myself? The reason is, it’s all working together towards something. Anything we do tonight in training, for example, is working towards the bigger picture at the end of the season. And so we love that little detail, everyone’s working on those little things, day in, day out, and that equals something at the end of the year.”

It was clear that the staff have an altruistic approach to running the club and genuinely care about the future of their players. As Norbury went on to say, “Pushing for silverware and competing, that isn’t the only marker of success. It’ll be how many players we develop and put through the club. We got quite a few first team lads from last year playing semi pro now at a good level because they came through our program. And we take as much pride in that as if the current crop wins a trophy.”

Govan Athletic FC players holding a trophy. Photo: Stuart Montagu @ Govan & UoM FC

The respect and camaraderie between the players described by Norbury was demonstrated moments before training started as handshakes and lively conversations naturally sparked amongst them. Abe Wood, the team captain, was particularly revered, illustrating his competence for the role. He was promoted to captain at the end of last season and is currently in his final year, studying Economics and Politics. “It was quite a proud moment. To be elected by your peers is obviously a great compliment. This is such a big uni, such a big football club, so to have that responsibility means a lot.”

“I’m most proud of how new players are integrated into the club. They’re made to feel welcome. It’s nice that we’ve managed to incorporate the non-students into the student environment. We’ve had a few socials as well, which has been good for the club.”

As a central midfielder, it is demanded of Abe to be a catalyst in both the team’s style of play and their mental fortitude. Yet he described his process with humility, “Everyone buys into the same philosophy, so there’s not much I have to do, other than a few ‘Come on boys!’.”

Coming off a loss the previous weekend, there was a tension in the night-time air, a portent of inbound victory. To the orders of Norbury, the players stormed back and forth across the pitch with a drive matching that of soldiers in no hurry for an armistice. Every tiring tendon, gnawing bone and blistering patch of skin had a purpose for these men and they were reminded of it by the assistant manager, Stuart Montagu, as he called to them, “Remember what happened last Saturday! We can do better; we can learn a lot.”

Jack Norbury and the players charging across the field. Photo: Kappa Kugabalan @ The Mancunion

This is a club worthy of growth, looking to gain as much support as possible. Even for those who aren’t at the standard to play, there is a home here for them too, as Montagu aptly put it, “We’re always looking for people, whether they want to be a part of the media team or do some performance analysis, statistics, whatever it may be. There’s a long-term vision where we want the university football club to have a really big footprint in Fallowfield. We want to try to grow the club to be a big thing in the community. Anyone who wants to get involved with the club, we’re always keen to hear from them.”

This is a tale of humble beginnings, inviting people to partake and scribe together a legacy – one to look back on someday, one to have as their own. Norbury’s call to arms is as follows: “You come into it, and you’ll have some of the best times of your life by joining a journey that has stress in it and enjoyment. It’s got friendship and drama. You come into this big story, which is why we keep coming back to it because it just gets your adrenaline going. Sometimes you’re terrified, sometimes you’re feeling amazing.”

Jack Norbury: [email protected]

Stuart Montagu: [email protected]

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