Altrincham FC: Down to Earth Football

  • In his first report for the NQ, George Buksmann gives a detailed account of what life is like behind the scenes at Altrincham, and what a football reporter can expect whilst on the job 

As a first year journalism student with a passion for sport, I was eager to get involved with any and all opportunities that arose, so I jumped at the chance of going behind the scenes at Altrincham FC.

We arrived several hours before kick-off and it was obvious there was no glitz and glamour here. As an elderly gentleman crossed the road and approached us he asked “You ‘ere for the game?” We told him we were press. He nodded, and slowly made his way in search of a pint. A true die-hard fan.

It was at this point that some of the players started to arrive in three and four-year-old BMWs, parking up outside the chippy in the square opposite the stadium. There was no security detail or team coach for these blokes, expected to make their own way to games. It was almost like a pub team. A pub team driving BMWs, albeit.

Unfortunately Altrincham have been playing like a pub team this season, having plunged into the lower reaches of the Vanarama National League North and parting company with manager Neil Young. Former Stalybridge Celtic and Halifax Town boss Jim Harvey has taken over and is on a mission to rebuild the side, generating a feeling of faint optimism for the future.

We made our way inside the large community hall alongside the stadium to join the rest of the fans and have a good look round the ground.

This club has a strong family feel. It’s 1:30pm and there are about one hundred or so fans enjoying a drink before the game. They all seem to know each other. A long table has been reserved for children on a visit, and juice and biscuits are broken out for them. The crowd in here is of all ages, mixed in with club officials, players and stewards. The club shop is a trestle table selling hats, scarves and programmes. There are brochures on the windowsills and noticeboards advertising events happening here: party nights, yoga, even concerts.

For a club once considered the Manchester United of the non-league teams, they clearly have an important place in the community, boasting 12,000+ Twitter followers and regular attendances of more than a thousand.

Altrincham FC
Gianluca Havern (6, right) makes his first return to his former club.

There is history and heritage: one noticeboard details the playing statistics of the ‘legends’ of the club who notched up more than 500 appearances, including goalkeeper Stuart Coburn with 680 appearances and former manager Graham Heathcote who appeared 533 times for the Robins.

Prior to kick-off, we made our way under the main stand and through the players and staff entrance. Our names were crossed off the list – very official – and we shuffled along a tight corridor as we were introduced to the media team and the other press at the game.

I was very impressed with the media setup at Altrincham. Despite the chill from atop the makeshift scaffold gantry, there was an intricate and smooth operation being run; a live radio commentary from one side of the ground with a TV team filming the game; coverage on social media from the other. All of this is done by volunteers.

Press officer Brian Flynn (centre) and TV producer Mark Bennett.
The media operation in full swing.

The game ended in disappointment for most at Moss Lane as Altrincham lost 2-0 to a Telford side which dominated them physically and tactically. We waited for manager Jim Harvey to cross the pitch for his post-match interview after his players failed to claim three precious points at home.

Club press officer Brian Flynn put the questions and TV producer Mark Bennett filmed as Jim sat on a stool in front of the Vanarama League branding, wondering how he can improve things after six weeks in the job.

Press officer Brian Flynn (centre) and TV producer Mark Bennett.
Press officer Brian Flynn (centre) and TV producer Mark Bennett.

His assessment was damning, if realistic. “We simply didn’t compete,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Interview done, Jim departed to continue his rebuilding. Mark packed his camera away, heading home to edit his footage and upload Jim’s comments to the Altrincham YouTube channel. Brian showed us out before turning to the next things on his media to-do list.

At a club like Altrincham, there’s always something that needs doing – and for the love of your club, you do it.