My Valentine's date with Ronaldinho

Sunday may have been the Manchester derby, but Saturday saw another all-Manchester clash – between Blue Square Premier strugglers Droylsden and Altrincham. Curiously, the visitors wearing blue also ran out victors. 

Many Altrincham residents are proud of their Cheshire postcode, but the prosperous town is part of Manchester’s urban sprawl, its football team one of the non-league’s most famous.

‘Alty’ were regular giant killers in the 1970s and ’80s, twice winners of non-league’s top division before automatic promotion. Their proud history was recalled in a superb song by the 600 travelling fans in the 1,177 crowd when, to the tune of Lionel Ritchie’s Three Times a Lady, they sang: “We’ve been once, twice… three times to Wembley… and you’ve won the Manchester Cup.”

The last line was a dig at Droylsden, the East Manchester side who look set for immediate relegation following their first ever season in non-league’s top tier. The Bloods, under manager-chairman Dave Pace, have excelled in reaching this level on crowds of 400, but they’ve understandably found life difficult.

Altrincham average more – around 1,000 – and their Moss Lane home is fit for league football, but money is perennially tight and they’ve over-achieved by staying in a league where the majority of teams are full-time and far better supported.

The Robins do have one of the best websites in football though – a real labour of love by webmaster John Laidlar. Lower-level football would struggle without men like him.

Unlike leafy Altrincham, Droylsden is more hard-bitten. A takeaway outside their Butcher’s Arms home sells two pieces of chicken and chips for 99p. Another in the town centre is simply called “Smith”.

Closer inspection reveals that it sells bedding. Imagine the conversation between the shop’s proprietor and the sign writer: “Just put ‘Smith’ for the moment mate, that should entice people in.”

One thing both places have in common is that they are frequently spelt wrongly, Altrincham being ‘Altringham’ (that's how locals pronounce it) and Droylsden ‘Droylesden'. Manchester United’s official magazine even made the mistake when the club’s reserves started playing at Moss Lane.

Droyldsen, close to Manchester City’s new stadium, seemed more desirable on Saturday under an azure East Manchester sky, but Alty beat the Bloods 2-0 to increase their chances of staying up.

And now for something completely different. I’m off to interview Ronaldinho at the Camp Nou for a magazine who want a more offbeat and irreverent piece.

They’ve suggested some questions, one being: ‘Do you recycle your old plastic bottles and cereal packets?’

If that doesn’t spook him, I might ask him to spell Altrincham. If he’s really up for anything I’ll try and get him to play for Manchester La Fianna in our big cup game against league runners-up FCUK on Saturday.

And with it being Valentine’s Day, I’ve got an idea. My girlfriend is from Ronaldinho's home city of Porto Alegre. He's single and so are several of her Brazilian mates, who also live in Barcelona and are looking for love. It doesn’t take Einstein to do the math. Or Smith of Droylsden.

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