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Football can get stuffed

05/05/2014

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As something of a tree hugging, part-time vegetarian it’s perhaps no surprise that my knowledge of taxidermy is limited. To say the least. But fortunately I was able to rectify this a little in a second hand bookshop in Stamford a couple of weeks ago. Nestled between copies of A Summer on the Nene and The Skaters of the Fens, a book entitled Artistic and Scientific Taxidermy and Modelling by Montagu Browne caught my eye.

It’s a thick volume, published in 1896, something of a heyday for stuffed animals it appears. I ended up perusing an extensive, illustrated chapter on how to stuff birds. “Undeniably the most popular section of taxidermy is that vulgarly known as bird stuffing” suggests Montagu. Vulgar or not, there was plenty of detailed guidance on how to clean mud and blood stains from a dead bird. How to skin it and trim the skin. And then how to stuff it and mount it for display.

Whilst most of FC United of Manchester’s away support seem to be able to drink like thirsty fish, my forty summat years have brought a more circumspect approach to matchday quaffing. In short, I’ve become a bit of a lightweight. One of the joys of the Northern Premier League is that you get to visit places like Stamford, Matlock, Kendal and Buxton and have a proper pre-match nose around without arousing the attention of the local dibble. Bookshops, and second hand ones in particular, have become a popular matchday haunt for me.

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Scrivener’s in Buxton, for instance, is a higgledy piggledy multi-floored delight complete with sofas, cake and a kettle for brewing up. On a visit a couple of seasons ago, whilst most FC fans were giving it “this badge is my badge” in Market Square, a few hundred yards down the road I was flicking through a dusty four volume, nineteenth century History of the County of Derbyshire with a slice of carrot cake and a brew. And there’s an equally ace bookshop in Cromford, near Matlock, that does hearty homemade soups, the sort you can stand your spoon up in. Perfect for a wintry trip to Causeway Lane or the Reynolds’ Stadium or whatever they’re calling it this year. If FC’s Course You Can Malcolm has taught us anything it is that pre-match nourishment can be cultural and educational as well as culinary and alcoholic. ”A slum sport watched by slum people”? Pfffttt. “Bookshop Reds we are here…..”

Stamford, as befits The Sunday Times’ choice as best place to live in Britain in 2013, also possesses some fine bookshops. Eschewing the Easter weekend beer festival at The Green Man I opted for some pre-match bookworming and a quiet pint in the lovely Tobie Norris pub. Lovely that is except for a painting of the union bashing Winston Churchill in the front room. Stamford has its own, slightly unusual, literary history. Proclaimed as the “finest stone town in England” its beautiful medieval and Georgian architecture was used as a backdrop for much of the telly costume dramatisation of George Elliot’s Middlemarch in the nineties and the film version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice more recently. I’m also sure I read somewhere that the United supporting journalist Jim White was mooching in a gift shop in Stamford on that life affirming Easter Saturday in April 1993 when Steve Bruce scored two late goals for United against Sheffield Wednesday. Although quite why he should be there and not gooning in K Stand like the rest of us remains a mystery.

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The views across town from Stamford’s wonderfully ramshackle ground are fabulous; a jumble of limestone buildings, trees and church spires. One of the locals informed me that they’re moving to a new ground next season so this was one of their final games at the old ground. A shame. With FC still in with a sniff of winning the league this was the Lincolnshire club’s largest crowd for many a year. And they saw a cracking end to end game which FC eventually won 3-2 with a typical poacher’s goal (see what I’ve done there?) from Michael Norton that was described, in a wonderful snippet of commentary on FCUM radio, as being like Berg-Norton-kamp. It was that good. The ice cream van end was in raptures. As we left the ground and headed back into town for post-match refreshment a cheery steward wished us a safe journey home and said that he hoped that we won the league.

We didn’t of course. In fact we didn’t even win promotion. Despite another late winner on Easter Monday and a comfortable win at the Canaries of Barwell on the last day of the season, FC United ultimately lost out on the title by a point to the Magpies of Chorley. And on a rousing, gut wrenching Tuesday night they lost in the one hundred and twenty first minute of the play-off semi-final to the Robins of Ashton United. Perhaps this summer Margy and our red shirted heroes should pick up a copy of Artistic and Scientific Taxidermy and Modelling and discover how to stuff these birds instead of getting stuffed by them. Let Montagu Browne be our guide.

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