Why Curzon Ashton are better than Barcelona...
Greetings from the press box at Camp Nou.
Barcelona are about to kick-off a cup tie against Benidorm of the regional third division in front of the smallest crowd IÃ¢ÂÂve ever seen here for a first team game Ã¢ÂÂ around 20,000.
You can easily pick out Ã¢ÂÂMes Que Un ClubÃ¢ÂÂ (More Than A Club) in yellow seats opposite. BarcaÃ¢ÂÂs website optimistically stated that there was no excuse for missing this game. Plenty have found one.
"The game is tonight isn't it?"
I was hoping that Benidorm fans would enjoy a trip to Camp Nou, much like QPR buzzed of going to Old Trafford on Tuesday, where they took 7,000 giddy fans. Hoping to see thousands of raffish Benidorm supporting ex-pats who work in garish bars serving all day English breakfasts for a Euro (about a pound these days) and boast signs saying Ã¢ÂÂNo Foreign Muck.Ã¢ÂÂ
Until 1,000 skinny skyscrapers (they are thin so that as many rooms as possible get a sea view) were built and tourism took over, Benidorm was a pretty fishing village on Levante beach. Now itÃ¢ÂÂs known as the Manhattan of Spain.
I was hoping for chants in English and flags calling people w*nkers. Instead, thereÃ¢ÂÂs about 40 Spaniards in the nose-bleed seats at the back of the third tier getting wet.
So IÃ¢ÂÂll talk about Curzon Ashton instead, who beat Exeter City in the FA Cup First Round last Saturday at their impressive Tameside Stadium.
My brother Jonathan, the 'non-league gypsy' has thrice parked his caravan at Curzon and remains close friends with their manager Gary Lowe, whom he argues with on the phone every day.
Lowe is in tonightÃ¢ÂÂs Manchester Evening News, pictured with his wife Anna holding a glass of red wine. The headline is Ã¢ÂÂThe Romance of the CupÃ¢ÂÂ and his wife talks of how they met and his opening chat-up line in an Ashton bar: Ã¢ÂÂWhy donÃ¢ÂÂt you give me a kiss, gorgeous?Ã¢ÂÂ
Lowe has always made me feel welcome to come training whenever I am in Manchester (one heavy session saw me need six sessions with a chiropractor at 30 notes a pop), like at the start of last season.
Michael Norton strokes home Curzon's opener
There were a lot of new players and I only recognised a few. Not wanting to unbalance the tender dressing room etiquette, the gypsy didnÃ¢ÂÂt introduce me.
Instead, he let the other players weigh me up as we walked onto the training field and took great delight in telling one of them that IÃ¢ÂÂd been signed from Morecambe to play in his position. I kept my head down, but it was clear that I wasnÃ¢ÂÂt as good as them.
Then Lowe came out of the dressing room and told everyone that I was the gypsyÃ¢ÂÂs brother. Ã¢ÂÂAnd donÃ¢ÂÂt be smart with him,Ã¢ÂÂ he shouted, Ã¢ÂÂbecause AndyÃ¢ÂÂs beenÃ¢ÂÂ¦ to university!Ã¢ÂÂ
Several players looked at me like I was an alien. One even asked me what it was like, as if Lowe had said Ã¢ÂÂon death rowÃ¢ÂÂ and not university.
Lowe then made me mark Rhodri Giggs for the entire session, which was hard because while heÃ¢ÂÂs got nothing on his brother, heÃ¢ÂÂs far quicker, younger and better than me. My team-mates did help me a lot though and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
A few days later Lowe called me. The gypsy had got him to do something similar several times before, saying things like: Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs the FA Vase Semi-Final on Saturday and my right-back has picked up an injury. Do you think you can do a job for us?Ã¢ÂÂ
I wanted to, I really wanted to and I swear I would not have let him down, but I knew he was winding me up. But this call was different. Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂm thinking of bringing the missus over to Barcelona for a weekend,Ã¢ÂÂ Lowe said. Ã¢ÂÂAre there any shops there?Ã¢ÂÂ
Benidorm have just hit the post after 20 minutes and so the naughty 40 are getting raucous, as they should, for at this stage Barca are usually four up. Actually, the police are now moving them to better seats lower down.
Congratulations then to Curzon, who play at level eight, for beating Exeter, who play four leagues higher. Glynn Barker, one of the Curzon players, had booked to come out to Barcelona to play for Manchester La Fianna last weekend, but decided that heÃ¢ÂÂd better stay for the Exeter game. HeÃ¢ÂÂd scored the surprise winner in the fourth round qualifying tie which set up the clash with last season's Conference Play-off winners.
"Kidderminster here we come!"
So Curzon did what Manchester United couldnÃ¢ÂÂt, and beat Exeter at home in the FA Cup. And given that Barca couldnÃ¢ÂÂt manage a draw at Old Trafford, that would make Curzon better than Barcelona. And, because IÃ¢ÂÂd trained with them, me better than Lionel Messi. Who has just scored a penalty. 1-0 to Football Club Barcelona.
IÃ¢ÂÂm going to applaud the Benidorm players for their efforts. I might even get a discount on a one Euro breakfast on my next visit.