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From Clapton to Manchester United

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Paul Fletcher | 13:12 UK time, Saturday, 22 October 2011

Within five minutes of Aldershot Town being drawn against Manchester United in the fourth round of the Carling Cup, the League Two club's website crashed and did not recover for days.

Graham Brookland, lifelong supporter and the club's communications and website manager, had to sort out the problem, but not before noticing the expression on 13-year-old son Oliver's face.

"The look of pure joy on his face took me back to when I was a kid," said Brookland. "Oliver goes to school and gets ribbed for supporting the Shots but now he can saying that his team is playing Man United."

In a way it was a moment that completed a circle started when Brookland co-founded Aldershot Town after Aldershot FC were wound up on 25 March 1992, becoming the first club to go the wall mid-season since Accrington Stanley in 1962.

Supporters queue for tickets to see the game against Manchester United.

The game against Manchester United has caught the imagination of supporters. Photo: PA

Brookland was chairman of the supporters club back then and had been in love with the Shots ever since he saw them demolish Cambridge United 6-0 in 1974. He was at the Recreation Ground when he heard the news that the club were no more.

"It is not possible to describe a moment like that," added Brookland. "There is an emptiness and an anger, the why, what and how?"

The following day Brookland met another devastated supporter, Terry Owens, at the Crimea pub opposite the Recreation Ground, which had already been padlocked by Rushmoor Borough Council, and resolved to form a new club.

"Terry and I did a lot of work," added Brookland. "We started a new company with two £1 shares, he has number one and I have number two. Mine sits in a cabinet."

They roped in as many people to help as they could. Owens, a local businessman who eventually spent six years as the club's chairman, acted as the frontman, while Brookland's brother David, a chartered accountant, helped with the finances. Brookland himself had been made redundant from his role in the City and had plenty of time to devote to the club.

They had no idea where they would play or what league they would be in. The Conference turned them down, as did the Southern League, but they were eventually allowed to enter Isthmian League Division Three. They looked into playing at the Aldershot military ground but eventually persuaded the council to grant them a licence to use the Rec.

The only player that remained was Chris Tomlinson, the groundsman's son, but Steve Wignall, who had made more than 150 appearances for the previous club, was put in charge of the newly formed Aldershot Town and cobbled a team together.

Their first fixture was against Clapton and Brookland can still instantly recall the attendance that day even though it was more than 19 years ago. They had budgeted for 700 but 1,493 turned up. It proved to be the lowest gate of the season.

The Shots went on to climb through five levels of the football pyramid before returning to the Football League with promotion to League Two in 2008. It was a remarkable journey but after several seasons of establishing themselves in the fourth tier, the draw against United has given the club new impetus.

"It is massive for us," added Brookland. "This has set our profile again, I think we needed it, it has given us a new incentive."

Aldershot FC played United twice, firstly in a League Cup tie in 1970 and then a friendly in 1982 organised after the Falklands War to raise money for the South Atlantic Fund. The Shots lost 3-1 at home back in 1970, with George Best, Denis Law and Brian Kidd on the scoresheet in front of a crowd of 18,500.

The capacity these days is a little under 7,500, but the tie has required a lot of organisation, with Brookland wryly noting that he seems to be spending more time on his part-time role with the club than his job as assistant secretary of the Army Football Association.

It hasn't done much for the club's form, with the Shots losing five straight League Two fixtures after their victory over Rochdale in the previous round.

They returned to form at Dagenham & Redbridge on Saturday with a 5-2 win.

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Manager Dean Holdsworth, who played against Manchester United as a member of Wimbledon's Crazy Gang, rested Darren Jones, Ben Herd and Danny Hylton for the match at Victoria Road.

"We couldn't have allowed them to be booked or they would have missed the game on Tuesday and I would have opened myself up to some criticism with the gamble, but the gamble's paid off," said Holdsworth.

Current chairman Kris Machala said shortly after the draw that it was "the best thing to happen to the club in 40 years".

But in many ways the significance of the draw is much more personal than the revenue the club will generate and the raised profile it has given them.

Brookland, now 45, reckons that he wanted to form a new club back in 1992 so that there was a team for the people of Aldershot to support. Success was one thing, but secondary to the identity that having a local side gives to a town and its people.

It was a desire perfectly encapsulated on the look of joy on his son's face when the draw was made.

It would be something of a miracle if the Shots inflicted on their opponents the sort of hammering Sir Alex Ferguson's team had at the hands of rivals City on Sunday.

Indeed, the Shots may well get hammered by their illustrious opponents, but that is to miss the point. This tale is about the refusal to let a club die and the heights that determination can reach.


  • Comment number 1.

    Great article Paul - it's stories like this that just about keep me clinging on as a football fan. The Premier League in the main bores me senseless, and the relentless over-reaction to challenges by players (and the ridiculous numbers of free kicks, penalties and disciplinary awards that are caused by that) really makes me just want to turn my back on the sport. People like Graham Brookland however, along with the likes of the AFC Wimbledon and FC United guys, plus the countless uncredited heroes that run non-league clubs are what the game is really about as far as I am concerned.

  • Comment number 2.

    My first live match I ever saw was Aldershot v Scunthorpe,who were my nearest professional club, which ended in a 2-1 win. A year later I got to play on the (very waterlogged) pitch in a primary schools cup final winning 3-0 if remember right. It wasn't enough to keep me as a fan but I've been back a few times since.

    Aldershot is the real football experience or football reality. No frills and definitely no Aston Martin's in the club car park or the players selling the photo rights to their wedding to Hello magazine.

    I was shocked when they went bankrupt after being "bought" by a 19 year old but I followed the results closely when Aldershot town was formed and was genuinely pleased when they got back to League 2 (or old 4th Division).

    I second what Dippyblue has said about Graham Brookland and the many others like him who get little recognition for their work in the press and do what they do for the love of the game and their club.

  • Comment number 3.

    IMHO it's so good for football when teams like The Shots bounce back.

    Someone in my family was a chairman at a local non league club who went bust three times in 10 years (not under his stewardship).

    Their local rivals did the same a few steps up the pyramid twice and it all came down to both teams having bent boards (at first) and then just general incompetence the next time it happened.

    Both teams did exceptionally well on the field but ended up having to start again two/three divisions below under a different name each time it happened.

    The supporters are behind everything that happens and without them the club being at the hands of these so called 'executives' cease to exist forever.

    It's high time these type of fraudsters and blaggers were brought to justice.

    Good luck Shots.
    From Blues (we won it last time and are almost bust now thanks to all the points previously made)

  • Comment number 4.

    I have been a fanatical fan of United for over 64 years. To me they are second only to my son and his family. Over the years I have enjoyed the ultimate in the success of United and the heartbreak of games such as last Sunday. I do not hate any team although I detest certain players whose acting would be better seen in Hollywood. When it comes to a story such as that of Aldershot and the many teams like them, I tend to get sentimental. If they were playing anyone but my Manchester United, I would pray that they would win. I can only wish them good fortune and if United have to lose, I hope it is to such a team as Aldershot. Good luck to both sides and the game of football as it used to be.

  • Comment number 5.

    One error, it was Terry Owens as chairman during the rising of the Phoenix-great leadership. As a Shots supporter myself with lots of memories and at the Man U game in 1970 I hope the team can do everyone proud, not just for the Shots but all the teams reliant on miniscule crowds and finances with hardworking background staff. Come on you Shots.

  • Comment number 6.

    What happened to Spencer Trethaway(??) who pretended to buy the club? I remember he was interviewed on Wogan

  • Comment number 7.

    I think Athletico Aldershot would sound pretty good, don't you? And a draw or win against Salford United FC is not out of the question. Good luck!
    From a Newport County supporter.

  • Comment number 8.

    Ahhh Paul! So glad you blogged about this! Massive return to action for Man Utd, and despite all the harsh treatment they complained about at the beginning of the season [ ] - I don't think they've got anything but a good honest defeat to bounce back from.

    Aldershot have nothing to lose, and I'll be honest, the CC has gone a bit stale. Owen will be up for it, but Berbatov etc IMO will be out in Jan, and struggle to come to terms with a fall from grace as harshly as it has been. Particularly being left out of the 16 vs Barca at Wembley.

    I think, 2-2. United to win the return leg. Sir Alex to go MAD.
    Great piece Paul!!!

  • Comment number 9.

    I am a United supporter but I wish the best of luck to Aldershot, I am hoping for an exciting game. United will mostly field youngsters I expect so it should make it interesting.

  • Comment number 10.

    Manchester United will not under-estimate Aldershot. The club youngsters will get a chance, accompanied probably by Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov, it should be a very entertaining match. Hoping that United away fans will get behind the team and sing their lungs out.

  • Comment number 11.


    Might be wrong, but I am pretty sure there are no replays.

    Goes to extra time and pens

  • Comment number 12.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 13.

    Good luck aldershot

  • Comment number 14.

    All this whining from the MU fans and gloating from....well me! ... Thisnis what football is REALLY about! Come on Aldershot!

  • Comment number 15.

    Great story.

  • Comment number 16.

    @6 Spencer Trethawy changed his name to Spencer Day and is now the manager of Chertsey Town FC, which is the club he coincidentally owns.

    Although I'm a Liverpool fan Aldershot is my home town team so I have a double incentive to cheer them on against Man Utd.

    Good luck to the Shots.

  • Comment number 17.

    At the same time as Aldershot went bust David Platt moved to Italy for a million pounds. I remember thinking at the time, 'A fraction of that could save a whole club.' Well my tickets for myself and my 7 year old grandson are worth more than any money paid for a player. Foootball is in our blood, as the statements about the guys who put this club back on its feet, prove. My grandsons eyes nearly popped out of his head when I showed him his ticket on Sunday and, you can't buy that. Unfortunately, it was just before he went out to play for his team and, like the shots, he lost.

  • Comment number 18.

    @Paul and #7 - I thought County went to the wall in the late 80s with games remaining on the calendar? Maybe my memory is playing tricks.

  • Comment number 19.

    More stories like this are needed to remind people, and introduce those who only know of the SKY and Premier League years, that there is so much more out there than the same recurring Champions League fixtures and discussion around the contenders for the Premier League title.

    The emergence of Aldershot Town is a wonderful story and will provide sentiment to those who remember when football was more about local identity and pride and less a commercial steamroller built on the billions of pounds generated globally. The story of Aldershot Town can draw similarities to that of AFC Wimbledon and Accrington Stanley. I'm sure there are many other stories throughout the non-league structure and as football fans we should embrace these as, in my opinion, these are the lasting memories of football how our parents and grandparents watched it and for some of us old enough, provide insight into why we fell in love with the game.

  • Comment number 20.

    @8 @11 - yes, no replays in CC. Frees up some fixture space so we can get some laughs watching England play, whilst making each CC round marginally more exciting as a contest (but not much).

    Best of luck to Aldershot. You'll need it... I don't envy you playing Utd after their humiliation last week. Such a shame the tie isn't at Old Trafford, at least then Aldershot would make some money out of it. Alas, we come full circle and see the impact of abolishing replays on smaller clubs.

    I love how we all comment on this article and act like we give two hoots about clubs like Aldershot. Probably all the same people that call for Winter Breaks and no relegation from Premier League... What a mugs game it really is.

  • Comment number 21.

    Just had to write a quick good luck message to Aldershot on here, I do not go to games, ever, so by all means will never call myself a fan, but I grew up in the town and was lucky enough to play on the ground twice, a charity match and in a cup final so to know Utd are going there tonight gives me great pleasure because that pitch is awful :-) fingers crossed for a Town win, plenty of people are going there tonight that I know and if they somehow manage to pull it off it will be spoken about for years to come, for Utd its just another win, for Town it could be their story to tell forever! Come on you shots!!!!!

  • Comment number 22.

    Just the suggestion that the PL would stop relegations says so much about the business side of football.

    With all the money sloshing around at the top of the football tree you would think that more would be done to help the likes of Aldershot. Maybe if player fines were put into a pot (Tevez two weeks wages?) and there were more pre-season at home than chasing the $ or Yuan the grass roots would find it easier to survive in these hard times. These are community teams after all....

  • Comment number 23.

    Visited Aldershot in 1992 to give advice (i.e. try to sell) on work to get their training changing rooms up to standard on a budget of no money. The attitude was brilliant and I have watched with interest (and a soft spot) ever since. Until now their achievement has been largely overlooked, mainly because they made the return to the Football league alongside Accrington Stanley, who got most of the 'romantic' headlines.

    What they did was a blueprint for AFC, FC United and others to follow and long may it continue. Would be great to see one of them play us in the Championship - best league to watch - in the next few years (if we don't go down...)

  • Comment number 24.

    #6. This is what wikipedia say about him.

  • Comment number 25.

    As a lifelong Man U fan from Aldershot, who goes regularly to see the Shots, I had the dilemma of whether I was going to go for a home or away ticket... After deciding I couldn't possibly get an away ticket to my hometown club, and having gone to the previous round against Rochdale I got a home ticket and will be there hoping Super Danny Hylton pops a couple in to assure Aldershot of a place in the Quarters!

  • Comment number 26.

    As a watcher of Tamworth FC it still amazes me to look at the bottom two divisions of the Football League and seeing how many clubs I saw Tamworth play in the conference five or six years agp rubbing shoulders with their more established clubs.

    Good luck to Aldershot tonight.

  • Comment number 27.

    Brilliant, educational blog .Follow united and didn't know a single thing about aldershot until today. I'm not from manchester, or england even but united are in my veins and i struggle sometimes to understand why. Ireland doesn't have a professional league so lots of irish people look to england for a fulfillment of their passion for the game. Started supporting them around 85 and suffered Liverpool's success for my teenage years but it was around that time that i learned to love and value three points for it's own sake. Brian McClair was my hero while i was reading salinger and Kerouac and trying to imagine fourth base!

    I really love the game and ties like this bring me back to when this madness for the game took hold. Fans of aldershot might think united fans are glory hunters from a different football planet. 92, when united went global, while you lads were regrouping for your community. In these dark days when community seems to be dying on its arse i envy you. I'd even like to cheer for you tonight but as soon as that whistle blows i won't be able to help myself. I hope your club continues to thrive.

  • Comment number 28.

    As a United fan I was sure Aldershot had some history with MUFC but didn't know that much about them. Was watching football in '92 but I'm sorry to say the original club's demise must have flown under the radar of a 9/10 year old living north of the border at the time.

    Of course I still hope United win tonight(particularly after Sunday's humiliation) but here's a salute to one of the game's survivors

  • Comment number 29.

    #18 - Yes, County went into liquidation in February 1989, but had dropped into the Conference in 1988, so I assume the article meant The Shots were the last league club to fold mid-season. Best of luck Deano. I think County have found a worthy replacement for you at last!

  • Comment number 30.

    Can't wait for tonight. 1ST ever game between the 2 clubs, even though alot of media are saying it's the 2nd meeting. David and Goliath comes to mind. Finishing work early to get home to get changed and straight down the the EBB to meet my mum and brother. It seems along time since the Clapton game, and the cold dark nightS at some strange away grounds (mind some may say that about the EBB ) . Come on you SHOTS. GIVE IT YOUR ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 31.

    @23 - Eewires:
    "Until now their achievement has been largely overlooked, mainly because they made the return to the Football league alongside Accrington Stanley, who got most of the 'romantic' headlines."

    Actually, it my was team, Hereford United, who got promoted with Accrington back in 2006. The last part of your comment RE Accrington is correct, though :-) They did get most of the headlines!

    Aldershot got promoted two seasons later, I believe.

  • Comment number 32.

    "Actually, it my was team, Hereford United, who got promoted with Accrington back in 2006. The last part of your comment RE Accrington is correct, though :-) They did get most of the headlines!"

    I think you are correct there. Aldershot got promoted to the Conference the same season as Accrington, our first game in that division was at home to them on a baking hot afternoon and live on Sky. The Shots won the Conference a couple of years later.

  • Comment number 33.

    Great occasion, real players, real fans and an interesting ground with a great atmosphere. It always beats me why more people do not physically follow their home town or town that they live in clubs. They need your money far more than clubs bankrolled from abroad.

  • Comment number 34.

    "The capacity these days is a little under 7,500"

    Surely you meant attendance.

  • Comment number 35.

    My son asked me to take him to see Aldershot in 2007 in what proved to be their last year in the Conference. I was more than happy to take him as they are our local side and I was much happier that he chose them rather than one of the big names who are miles away and impossible to see. They won the first match we saw 4-3 against Stafford Rangers and we were hooked. The good thing about football at the lower leagues is it doesn’t have the pretentions of the Premiership, which I think is because the players probably earn no more than those watching them.

    The directors at Aldershot recognise how important the club is to their supporters and bend over backwards to help them. They even consulted with the supporters on how the tickets for the Man U game should be distributed. They work hard on a tiny budget to keep the club going but they realise the club is far more than just a business, it is a part of the local community. I am sure there are many other small clubs who also treat their fans with respect and they are what makes football great away from the money grabbing Premiership.

    We have our tickets and will be at the match tonight, we know the chances of it going our way are slim, but whatever happens it will be a fantastic night for Aldershot. I look forward to a day when more people support their local side rather than a big name who are fashionable to support.

  • Comment number 36.

    Chester FC fan here. Completely empathise with the people who have got the towns football club back on its feet. We have had a very similar situation with our club. We are currently fighting our way back up the non-league pyramid, in the same way Aldershot have done. Hopefully, we too can get back into the league, as Aldershot have managed. Hope you turn United over tonight (unlikely, but that's the beauty of football).

  • Comment number 37.

    @18: Yes you are right, Newport County DID go out of business, under similar circumstances as your original Aldershot, it was some lousy Yank who cocked it all up (1989). But the club was resurrected as Newport AFC soon after and had to start from the bottom, later returning to its original County name. In addition, some "clown" in the Welsh FA called Alan Evans, at the time wanted to force Newport to leave the English pyramid system and join the Welsh footballing "structure" (which is a joke), took Newport to court and lost spectacularly. At the time, they had to play their matches away fromn their homneground in the Welsh Marches (Moreton-in-the-March) and were nicknamed "The Exiles" Thanks to a certain Mr Holdsworth - bless you mate! - they have worked themselves up into the Conference, where they are currently third from bottom. But they have a nice stadium now at Spytty Park, next door to the Newport velodrome. It's a hard life upstairs...
    Best of luck to Aldershot!

  • Comment number 38.

    This is what football is all about. I remember playing against Aldershot a few times as they were making their way back through the Isthmian league and it was fantastic to see the deep support for the club even though they were playing many levels below where they belonged.
    Its great for the game to see them back in the league and playing this sort of dream fixture.
    It reinforces the magic of these cup competitions and also the sort of dream that small clubs can have to move up the levels, even to the Premier.
    We must keep promotion and relegation part of the game at every level!!

  • Comment number 39.

    Aldershot is a great story can they pull it off tonight knowing Dean Holdsworth from Wimbledon's days it won't be for the want of trying.Man Utd will be badly injured from the weekend but as it is a Carling Cup match will Sir Alex play a weakened side! Even with a weakened side the odds of United losing well would you put any money on it happening no thought not but what a tie for the Shots the town will be buzzing!

  • Comment number 40.

    Now then - many thanks for your thoughts so far.

    Lots of goodwill toward the Shots - and fully deserved I reckon. A club built form modest beginnings, with a lot of hard work and determination to succeed.

    That said, I cannot see them winning tonight.

  • Comment number 41.

    I think you mean Terry Owens (not Evans) He was chairman of the new club and moved heaven and earth to get the Shots up and going and into the Isthmian league.If he hadn't, a year would have been lost and that may have been fatal.

  • Comment number 42.

    nativeson - blame that one on my cloth ears. Sorry, what was that?

  • Comment number 43.

    Ha! I was at the 6-0 demolition of Cambridge in 1974. I remember everyone was chanting "We want 7"

  • Comment number 44.

    Wonderful blog. Speaking as a foreigner with a soft spot for the UK in general, one thing that always has amazed me is the football structure in England (in particular) below the lofty heights of the premier league. It is simply great to see the role that the club plays in small places and to see how much people care.

    Even more, I am very happy someone like Paul Fletcher keeps sharing these great stories with us once in a while. I still like watching the PL for the skill on offer, but I greatly enjoy matches from the lower leagues when I can catch them on the telly (not living in the UK it is out of question to go watch the matches :)

    Thanks, Paul! Keep them coming & good luck to Aldershot (heartfelt as I'm a L'pool supporter :)

  • Comment number 45.

    Conflicted. Followed Fergie's fortunes since '86 when he left us... but moved to SE England and was treated to my first game at nearest league ground, the Rec - Aldershot v Halifax on a foul Friday night when they were 91st and 92nd respectively in old Football League. The Shots won, there was a great atmosphere and had a soft spot for them ever since. Delighted they are back where they belong (that really is Division 4!) and got to support them tonight, leaving Man U to focus on winning the league.

  • Comment number 46.

    Just got home = no ticket so it's Sky2 tonight. Saw the game in the seventies as a small kid, some great memories!
    My son posted this on FB after the draw and a visit to the pub.
    "Just like all the stories I heard from the old men in the pub 'when man united came to aldershot and george best played blabla'.. I will now have my own story to pass down to my children in the future.. "when rooney come on and blablabla""

  • Comment number 47.

    Tooting Popular Front - that is why we lose football, surely.

  • Comment number 48.

    Good Luck can do it, I know you can. Look forward to meeting you in the quarter-finals! Up the Clarets.

  • Comment number 49.

    Paul - He loves his football

  • Comment number 50.

    I agree with DippyBlue. The premier league if largely boring, predictable, far too earnest and serious, and the desire to win overshadows everything from sportsmanship, fairness, honesty, value for money, and modesty among players. Good for Aldershot-hope you have success and keep afloat.
    Earworm (Walsall FC fan)

  • Comment number 51.

    What a fantastic article, well done Paul! I can't imagine how, at such a low point, you had the foresight, belief and energy to initiate the phoenix rising from the ashes. Congratulations to you and all your fellow supporters who created a better club than the original. You fully deserve your place in the sun and I hope that you draw the match thus giving all the fantastic "shots" supporters a special day out at the Theatre of Dreams.

  • Comment number 52.

    Nicely done Paul. Shots deserve great credit for what they've achieved from right down in the local leagues.

    It looks to be over, but a goal against Man United would be a nice way to exit the competition.

    Lower league football is just a lot more fun these days...

  • Comment number 53.

    Shame they couldn't get the fairytale result, but the club's rising from the ashes is a satisfying enough fairytale in itself.

    Agree wholeheartedly that the Premiership is dull as dishwater these days and that lower league football is far more enthralling and engaging.

    Sad to hear that Michael Owen refused to exchange shirts after the game though.

    Good luck to the Shots in future!


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