Three-year collapse from Cup high point

9 November ~ In November 2010 I wrote a piece for this website on the eve of Droylsden's FA Cup second round tie with Leyton Orient. The game was seen as a high-water mark in the club's history, and interest was national with both ESPN and Radio Five Live covering the game. Even Droylsden's most weary and sceptical followers were allowing themselves a measure of optimism; the money generated by the game would, they were sure, be used wisely by the canny chairman/manager Dave Pace to strengthen an already talented squad for another crack at the Conference National.

They were also quietly confident of dispatching Orient and dreamed of a third round match-up with a Premier League giant. Football, however, is no place for dreamers. The Orient tie – with Droylsden matching their Football League opponents until a drastic capitulation in extra time of the replay – ultimately serves as an adequate metaphor for the Bloods' consequent malaise, a classic story of hanging on grimly to overstretched ambitions until harsh reality takes a grip. For a club then unable to attract 400 for league matches, the financial windfall merely kept the club afloat rather than bankrolling a promotion. Almost inevitably, many of the players from the squad were consequently cherrypicked by wealthier clubs, but Pace suddenly lost his ability to replace them with cut-price equals as he had done for so many seasons previously.

The slow downward spiral – weaker teams, poorer performances, dwindling crowds – accelerated alarmingly last season as Droylsden's catastrophic second half to the season saw them relegated from Blue Square North. Any fanciful thoughts that the club might regroup and come back stronger have since been cruelly exposed in the Evo Stik Premier. After 17 games Droylsden have accrued two points and have a goal deficit of 54. Last week they lost 10-0 at home to a Fylde team who were two leagues below them a couple of seasons ago. A crowd of 109 watched it.

Rumours of crippling financial problems and possible closure are common. Pace used a BBC Radio Manchester interview recently to placate fans (well, those who remain) that a current debt of £280,000 is under control and that liquidation is not imminent, although with so little now being taken on match days a little more detail on how the club will be kept afloat may have been helpful. Pace also mentioned that many players were appearing without payment which, noble as it is, hardly bodes well for a healthy future.

While Pace himself will gain very little personal sympathy in this current plight – his prickliness made him very unpopular in non-League circles over the years – there is a real tragedy here. Supporters are fully aware of the irony of potentially losing their beloved club to a debt that amounts to no more than a week's wage for some players plying their trade a couple of miles away. It would take a heart of stone not to be moved by a post on a Droylsden supporters' forum after the game at Blyth Spartans this week that completely summarises the reduced ambitions of a once-proud club: "Lost 3-0, listened to the game on Radio Northumberland, not a bad effort." Tony Curran

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