Welcome to my first in a new series of articles – to be published every Sunday – about mad, sad and surprising stories that actually happened in football.
Being from the North-West of England, I have decided to dedicate the first surprise story to my homeland.
Congleton Town is a town based in East Cheshire and they have spent over a century in the regional Cheshire leagues. With a stadium capacity of 1,300, The Bears (as they are nicknamed) have only ever reached the FA Cup once – losing in the first round to rivals Crewe Alexandra 2-0 in 1989. Formed in 1901, they currently languish in the 9th tier of English football (North West County’s Football League) and average around 130-170 fans per game, far off their 7,000 attendance record set nearly 65 years ago. Despite the low attendance, these fans keep Congleton Town going, as they are involved with local charities and school schemes to keep their football club in the public eye. It was due to their involvement with the community, that they made their biggest ever blunder.
In February 1993, Congleton town were due to face Rossendale United FC (now dissolved) when Chris Philips (then programme editor) received a call to say that lifelong Congleton Town fan Fred Cope had died. Philips then wrote an obituary and stapled it to the back of every programme. Being a community, everyone “huddled in groups, paying homage to their greatest fan”to mourn the loss of their friend; the fans didn’t talk about the three points, they instead reminisced about Cope – Congleton Town’s greatest fan.Before the game they decided to do a minute’s silence. There were 30 seconds for Fred Cope and another 30 seconds for English hero, Bobby Moore who had died the weekend previous.
Fred Cope then interrupted the minute’s silence. He was late for the game and found out from the pale-faced ticket collector that Congleton Town, the club he’d supported for 85 years, was mourning his premature loss. Alarmed by Cope’s presence, Philips then spoke over the tannoy saying that the minute’s silence was for Moore alone.
Cope said he “wondered why I got some funny looks as I arrived at Booth Street” and said – presumably referencing alcohol – “I’ve been bad over the last week, but not that bad!”. Everyone was overjoyed that Cope was in fact living and to celebrate, Cope even bought tickets for the raffle – in which he promptly won £10 and a bottle of whiskey. Congleton Town finished the day by securing a 6-1 victory over Rossendale, to cap off a truly remarkable day.
When Fred Cope did sadly pass away, there was another minute’s silence; for a stellar fan.
A Random History of Football by Colin Murray, 2009, Orion Books, London
Congleton Town Wikipedia entry page – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congleton_Town_F.C.
The Independent, Saturday 6th March 1993, Henry Winter – http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football-diary-wrong-said-fred-1496007.html