In an eagerly anticipated comeback, Droylsden FC made a spectacular return to the football scene over the weekend in a thrilling match against Stretford Paddock, marking their first game since the club’s revival. Both teams battled it out for the honoured Tony Downes Trophy, setting the stage for an enthralling contest.

The Butcher’s Arms Stadium was buzzing with excitement and the match garnered an unbelievable turnout, with an estimated 1500 fans making their way to the venue.

The atmosphere was electric, with both sets of fans generating an incredible noise. Stretford Paddock brought a considerable following of their own, adding to the vibrant atmosphere. Although the focus was primarily on Droylsden’s long-awaited return, Paddock, made it clear from the outset that they were not there to simply roll over; they aimed to spoil the party. With Paddock playing their home games at the Butcher’s Arms couple of seasons ago, it added to the historical connection.

The hosts kicked off the game with great energy, creating several scoring opportunities that ignited the crowd and Paddock spent much of the first half on the . However, the Bloods’ wastefulness in front of goal came back to haunt them late in the first half when Stretford Paddock’s new 45 year-old striker, Gavin Salmon, father of Paddock’s star midfielder Jainero Salmon-Harris, found space in the box, evaded his marker, and fired a precise shot into the bottom corner, giving his team the lead.

In the second half, Droylsden responded admirably, equalizing a few minutes in when their number 14 connected with a cross from the left, calmly slotting the ball home. The remainder of the game saw few noteworthy chances, apart from a close effort from Mikey Burke hitting the post from distance just minutes before the final whistle. With the score level at 1-1 after 90 minutes, the match would be decided through a penalty shootout. Martin Flannagan was the star of the shootout for Paddock where his impressive saves gave Paddock the advantage. Droylsden’s hopes were then dashed when one of their veterans stepped up and sent his penalty wild and high over the crossbar, sealing victory for Stretford Paddock. Paddock joyously lifted the Tony Downes Trophy moments later, in front of their jubilant traveling supporters.

However, beyond the footballing spectacle, the match served as a tribute to Droylsden guardsman Tony Downes, who tragically lost his life at the age of 20 while serving his country in Afghanistan in 2007.

Notably, Stephen Howson, who grew up in Droylsden, also served in Afghanistan around the time Tony passed away, making this cause particularly close to his heart. Stephen shared, “I was on the Herrick that preceded the one Tony passed away on. I didn’t know him, but being from Droylsden, it really hit home. It’s always poignant passing his memorial on the side of the pub. So, when Dave asked us to play for this trophy, we took it seriously. We wanted to do justice to Tony’s memory and ensure it wasn’t taken lightly.”

Stephen further expressed his delight at Droylsden’s comeback, highlighting the remarkable efforts of Dave Pace, the Droylsden manager, behind the scenes. He stated, “I’m absolutely buzzing. I wasn’t sure they’d come back from what happened to them, but Dave has worked tirelessly and has probably surprised a few people. A few thousand people are here today, showing just how much the community missed their football club.”

Dave Pace, the Droylsden manager, dedicatedly worked to make this return possible and was astounded by the tremendous support from the fans. Despite only having a few weeks to prepare with the players, he saw around 140 individuals turn up for the first training session, presenting him with his fair share of challenges. Dave expressed his gratitude, saying, “The support has been brilliant. Today exceeded my expectations. It’s just fantastic; words can’t describe it. We’ve come so far from where we were a few months ago, and it’s all credit to the fans and everyone connected to the club.”

The day was a fantastic one for the whole community, who had waited three years for Droyslden’s return as well as being a significant milestone for Paddock who were able to walk away with their first bit of silverware in the clubs history.

Ronaldo Brown

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