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15 Years of FC : The Mike Norton Interview

15 Years of FC : The Mike Norton InterviewHe might not be from Gorton but he is one of the team that went down in history, by scoring a winner that only he could have scored, typifying his grit, graft and guile until the dying moments of a game, your team was never done with him in your side, he is of course, ’the non-league goal machine’, Michael Norton.

Mike Norton joined FC from close rivals Curzon Ashton in the summer of 2010 and went on to play 221 times scoring 93 times, winning three top scorer awards in three seasons, Player of the Year and most appearance awards along the way, and would have smashed the 100 goal mark first for FC but for a career threatening tackle. Read on as he answers your questions with the same self-effacing approach typified on the pitch.

What do you order when you go to the chippy?
Pudding, chips and gravy, with a jumbo sausage, a buttered muffin and a can of coke, I don’t go to the chippy that often though but that’s what I have every time.

Do you ever wish you were from Gorton?
No, I don’t want to be disrespectful to people from Gorton though, I’ve always lived in either Stalybridge or Dukinfield where I live now, coincidentally I live on a new estate which was built on where my mum used to go to school.

Do you remember the words to your songs?
Yes, the lads try to wind me up with them, there was ‘Not from Gorton’ and ‘Norton Rifles’. I loved the songs, great banter from the fans.

Why do you hang around with Dave ’Bluenose’ Birch, does he have something on you?
His missus and my missus are best mates so before the pandemic we’ve always socialised. I know he’s a blue and with the last two games of the season when they lost to Arsenal and Lyon I gave it to him something rotten; then of course United got knocked out of the Europa League by Seville – you can’t win.

You co-manage with Dave at New Mills, how did that come about?
We were always going to go into management together, we actually went for the New Mills job a couple of years ago and didn’t get an interview, then we went for the Glossop job, didn’t get an interview for that, but we hadn’t applied for anything else. We have been approached a few times but now we’re at New Mills we’re happy, we get on with the Chairman and it’s a good club.
In terms of how we divide the role, Birch does the team talks and I focus on motivating them, he’ll do the quiet chats to one side while I do the shouting!

If rumours were true Karl tried to sign you up on a couple occasions. What stopped you joining first time around? Was it down to loyalty or something else?
FC tried to buy me around Christmas the year before I signed, I was at Curzon Ashton and offers came in from FC and Halifax and I wanted to join FC but Gary Lowe the Curzon manager persuaded me to stay till the end of the season, which is when I signed. I was at Curzon for five years and we had a lot of success in the FA Cup, getting promoted and I was playing with Birchy, Chris Worsley, Adam Jones, I really enjoyed playing for them and it was hard to leave as I’d been there five years.

Who is the best referee to officiate you at semi-pro or Sunday’s?
Someone who’s deaf! I like referees and generally have some good banter with them, but I’m not keen on the refs who think they’re policemen. A good referee has a good rapport with the players and understands the game, and can manage the situations as they happen, I’ve played a lot of games and the best ones are the referees that talk to you. Let’s be honest on the pitch there’s 23 people and it’s not often it’s the ref having the worst game. Without them we wouldn’t be able to play the game and they get a lot of unfair stick.

You’re still playing at 39 – how many games have you played in non-league?
No idea, I’ve been playing for 22 years so it must be around 900 games I think. I started playing for Droylsden then moved to Woodley Sports and I was there for five years, then at Curzon for five years, then FC for five years before going back to Curzon for a year and now I’m playing for New Mills. Believe it or not I started as a keeper, they’re all a bit unhinged and I thought I would have been perfect, I’ve played with loads of keepers and not one have them has been normal.
After that I moved to the wing and eventually moved up front and I absolutely loved it, I scored a hat-trick in my first start up front and stayed there.

Do you ever watch the Rochdale game back?
I used to from time to time, but not recently. I got a message of my mate a few weeks ago telling me that the game had been replayed on BT sports but I don’t watch it unless someone sends me a link or something.

Click here to see Mike’s FA Cup tie winning goal against Rochdale

It was a foul though wasn’t it, did the keeper have it in both hands?
It wasn’t a foul on the keeper, I pushed the defender in the back and that could have been given as a foul. When Jerome played the ball forward I knew there wasn’t long left and I thought if I could get a corner or at least a goal kick then it would waste a little bit more time. I pushed him in the back and turned and I don’t think the keeper had it properly under control, the commentator also didn’t think he did either. Obviously now with VAR and all that, play would have been pulled back.

That Friday was a full day of build-up for us, we went to a hotel first to have a pre-match dinner, it was like being a professional footballer; then we went to the ground and we got into the changing room and the FA Cup was there in the middle. Then we went out to warm up and my mate bought me some new boots which I wore, then we walked out onto the pitch for the game and the noise was unbelievable, you look back at the footage and you can see the camera picture almost wobbling with the noise and movement in the FC stand, add to that it was bonfire night and you had all the bangs and explosions in the sky. Walking out to that had the hairs up on the back of your neck, and you knew it was a big occasion, then running through your head is the fact that you don’t want to let your family and friends down.

Playing in front of the FC fans is unbelievable and I was lucky enough to play for FC for five years, if anyone ever asks me what it’s like to play for FC then I say if you ever get the opportunity I would jump at the chance.

A few of my mates were there who’ve been home and away with United and they said for an atmosphere it was one of the best atmospheres they’ve ever been in, it took them back to the 80’s with the noise, and reminded them of the final in Rotterdam in 91.
People say you get upsets in the FA Cup but we gave a really good account of ourselves, considering the league positions of the two clubs you wouldn’t have realised that on the day putting the two teams next to each other. I thought we played really well, the hold up play we had for the first two goals was really good.

What was going through your head when the ball went in against Rochdale?
When I got the ball away from the goalie it seemed like I had ages, I felt like I could have put my foot on the ball and headed it in, but I tapped it in and was waiting for the whistle to blow for the push, and I turned round and the ref was pointing to the centre circle then I didn’t know what to do, I just ran towards the FC fans who were going mad, someone jumped on me and nearly took my head off, that feeling is the highlight of my playing career.

Apart from the Rochdale game, what other game for FC do you look back on and think "f*****g get in!!"?
The Chorley semi-final was good, I always enjoyed playing against Chorley as they had Andy Teague who’s the kind of centre half I like playing against and I like him as a person, he’s an aggressive centre half and I knew before the game I was going to have a battle with him, as soon as the game was finished he’d shake your hand, I think we made each other play better, as I remember I scored and then Astley Mulholland came on and scored a second.

Click here to see Mike’s stunner against Chorley

The other one is the home game against Northwich, Sam Ashton got sent off and Ben Deegan went into the net, the away fans were really giving me some grief and I don’t normally shoot with my left but I was on the edge of the area and smacked it into the top corner, past Spenner (James Spencer who later joined FC). No idea why that game sticks in my mind but I really remember it.

I loved the game against Norton and Stockton Ancients in the FA Cup run, that was a proper non-league game and I don’t know how many FC fans were there but they were just past the touchline. Every time we scored they ran on the pitch, loved it, definitely one of the best games and Jerome got carried off the pitch.

Any recollections of the 2nd round Brighton game?
I remember Jerome and I were having a barney after the game and he said I hadn’t put a shift in, but we got a video of the game and after we watched it he said “I owe you an apology, you ran your bollocks of all game there”. It’s probably one of the best games I’ve played in, we were more than a match for them until we got Scott McManus sent off, I remember Carlos coming in from the wing, then me setting up Platty to finish. When they got the penalty part of me thought we’d done well and 2-1 to the best team in the third tier of English football was respectable, but then Sam saved the penalty. I thought we’d beat them back at Gigg Lane but it wasn’t to be, the game should never have been played as the pitch was so hard you couldn’t stand up on it, it was the same for both teams and they gave us a footballing lesson, though if we’d scored the early penalty it would have been different.

Can you remember much of the foreign trips?
The first trip I went on was the St Pauli trip, it was my first ever game for FC and I loved every minute of that trip, the visit to Ireland was really good too when we played Cliftonville, I enjoyed that one. The one I was gutted about was when we went to Dresden but it was rained off, that ground was a amazing and really wanted to play in that stadium.

Who was your favourite strike partner at FC and why?
I preferred playing on my own as the main striker with someone like Roca on one side and Mulholland on the other feeding me. In the first season I enjoyed playing with Ben Deegan as he would do a lot of what I would call the donkey work and I’d put the goals in (Mike scored 32 in 52 appearances that season). Later on Matt Wolfenden was good to play with, and obviously Greavesy and I had a good partnership towards the end of my time there. The best return I had in a season was at Curzon when I got 51 goals and Moorsey got 50, he actually started in midfield and then moved into a #10 role and we got 101 goals between us.

You played with some great players at FC United. Which players who you have played with would you have liked to have seen at FC United?
I was disappointed that Steve Torpey left as I would have liked to play with him, he was a great player, but other than that no, all the lads I played with at FC deserved their chance and I was just grateful to be there.

Which player did FC sign that you thought was going to be bobbins but actually ended up surprising you?
Matty Tierney, he came in and I didn’t think he was much cop but he got going and played really well for us, same with Lewis Lacy, he was another one who I didn’t think could do it but ended up impressing me. I’m delighted to see Tom Davies and Charlie Raglan do so well, obviously I knew they were both good players playing with them but they’ve done really well for themselves, along with Ollie Banks, loved playing with him, he was a top lad. Jerome was also a great servant for the club, we had a lot of top lads. That promotion winning side was packed with quality and I was so happy for Greg Daniels when he got the winner against Stourbridge, I was gutted for Adam Jones as he’s a top lad and I have a lot of time for him but he’d left the club by then so missed out.

As someone who scored a lot of goals, grabbed the headlines and was a fans favourite did you ever consider yourself as a hero?
I was always a team player, it was never about me. When I was on the pitch I always looked to bring the other players into it and hopefully they’re return the ball back to me. I think the fact that the fans recognised that while I wasn’t the most gifted player, I fought none-stop for the team was what made me popular, when you look at players like Carlos Roca he’d have you on the edge of your seat where I was just grafting and causing havoc with the defenders. We had a great team.

How hard was it to watch the play off final against Colwyn bay as you’d been on fire in the run up to the final?
I had nightmares with play-off finals, I lost 7 of them between FC and Curzon. Jerome and I got sent off, mine was a joke as the ref sent me off for stamping on the other player when you can see from the video I didn’t, I was really p*****d off because I’d done nothing wrong but got sent off and missed the final, they didn’t even let me appeal it. In the run up to the final I’d scored 11 in 12 games and if I’d played I’d put my life on beating them, it was another of those play-off finals. I remember all the fans on the hill having a scrap but it was hard to watch knowing that I could have made a difference.
The other one was the Hednesford final when we went 2-0 down really early on, Margy apologised to us afterwards as he played a new player in at centre-half who had a big mac and fries on the way down, leaving Jake Cottrell on the bench, he ended up getting subbed in the first half but it was a nightmare, if I knew he was going to be starting I’d have taken the f******g burger off him! Again the FC fans were amazing and I scored and celebrated in front of them, the photo of that is my WhatsApp profile picture.

Click here to see Mike leapt highest to score against Hednesford (goal at 4.30)

As a striker what runs through your head when you’ve just put your team in the lead, when your defenders make a mistake and concede virtually straight away?
I don’t want to criticise other players, it’s like with a keeper who if they make a mistake it’s a goal. As a striker I can make loads of mistakes and no-one will mind as long as I score a goal or two I can still get man of the match. The players I appreciate most are the midfielders who’ve got to run their balls off, don’t get me wrong I’ll put a shift in but they’re worth their weight in gold.

I was never the most skilful player, I would never get the ball and run past anyone, my game was just aggression, work-rate and desire that got me where I got. You see some players who’ve got so much ability but just don’t want to put the graft in. I was the complete opposite, I knew what I was good at and I knew what I couldn’t do, I was never going to get the ball on the wing and take a couple of players on and score. My game was to hold the ball up, play it wide then turn and get into the box as fast as a I could to get into the danger area.

I have scored around 500 goals over my career and not many of them are what you would call ‘good’ goals they’re all from close range, I reckon there’s only 20 that would be classed as special, but as a manager now I would value a player who does that, for every spectacular goal you score outside the box you’ll always score far more in the box. Obviously, those are the ones people want to watch but my goals were usually team goals where we’d got into good positions. If I had to think about a goal then I’d probably not do as well as something instinctive, I remember beating a man in the first game for FC against ST Pauli and I remember Swampy saying that’s what we’ve needed, and I thought “that’s not me!”

Rochdale winner aside (thanks again for that), what was your favourite goal you ever a scored for FC?
The one I would say looks the best on TV would be the semi-final goal against Chorley, I got the ball on the edge of the area, ran then span on the ball to make space then chipped it across goal into the top corner. Another one I really enjoyed was the equaliser against Ashton United when we were 2-0 down and came back to score 3-2, really enjoyed that for some reason, it was a tap in but it meant so much. We went on to play them in the play off semi final a week later and I had to come off with a cut in my head, I got stitched back up and we went from 1-0 up to losing 2-1 in Extra-time.

Click here to see Mike’s equaliser against Ashton

Was the injury against Blyth Spartans in 2014 the worst of your career? We were gutted and we barely saw you play again for FC
That was the worst injury I have ever had, I’ve always gone in for challenges with the keeper but he went in two footed on me and didn’t even get booked! I’d snapped my cruciate and I came off and my leg looked like it was broken, I was gutted and I thought I never would play again. We had a guy at the club called Mark who managed to get me a scan at Blackburn, and a surgeon offered to do my surgery but he warned me that I’d probably never play again. I had the op in Blackpool and they said I might be able to strengthen it with rehab, it took me months and months working with Sam the physio to strengthen my leg up so I could play.

Was it the Marginson’s decision to bring Rory Patterson back to the club that prompted you to leave? What were your thoughts on that?
I don’t have any bad feelings for Rory, he was available and a fan favourite so as a manager you are bound to be interested, but when he arrived he wasn’t match fit and needed to get into shape. I’d just come back from injury and was looking to get back into the first team so I felt like I didn’t get a chance to get to the 100 goal mark, I would have smashed that without the injury and then coming back I could have done it. I left FC and went to Curzon for a season so I knew I could have stayed at and done it.

You must have had offers from other clubs while at FC, any really tempt you?

I don’t know about any offers while I was at FC, I was never tapped up and I was very happy so I don’t think it would have made a difference.

I was at Woodley and had an opportunity to go to Ayr United, and I had an opportunity to go to Bury, and got approached by Nottingham Forest who were managed by David Platt, I was actually about to sign when Platt got the England U21 job and the move was off, they recalled all their loan players and cancelled all new player moves. I then tried to get back in touch with Bury but they’d then signed John Newby from Liverpool.

I remember you were close to scoring the first goal at Broadhurst Park in the Benfica match, a defender cleared against you and it bobbled wide? Did I remember right? Any memories of that night you want to share?
The occasion was amazing, they had this eagle on the pitch and it was like Wow! Playing for FC is as a non-league player the closest you’ll get to being a professional footballer, especially when you’re in the bigger games. When FC were looking to get the ground up I did quite a bit with Andy Walsh particularly with the preparations for Ten Acres Lane, we played a game on the pitch there.

When you sign for FC, you’re not just signing up to play football, you’re signing up for the full package, you end up getting into the heart of the club, going for walks, bowling days that I’d take my kids to, it’s the things like that which I really miss. Occasionally someone will message me to say the fans were singing one of my songs and it still gets you. I’ve only been back once on business but otherwise never really had the opportunity, if something was organised I’d like to come back.

Whose ground had the best pitch you’ve played on, and the worst pitch you’ve played on?
I played at Old Trafford around five times in Charity games so that would be the best, at St James park as a kid for Bury and I played at Forest, and I really enjoyed playing at Gigg Lane both for Bury and for FC. I could have played at Wembley but we lost in the semi-final to Truro, I missed a chance I’d normally score early on too.
I’m not going to say which the worst pitch is because the clubs in non-league don’t have a lot of money and do the best they can with what they’ve got.

Is it true that you actually could grow a full head of hair but it would be like Leo Sayers, so you have to keep it short to look ’hard’?
I’ve not been able to grow hair since I was a kid, I shaved my head at 19 and have done so ever since, if it does grow back a bit I look a bit like a Slazenger tennis ball. I did shave it originally to look hard, as well as getting a few tattoos, I’ve a plaque tattoed on with space for a #9 and the day I retire from football, but I’ve signed on for the 20/21 season for New Mills, I was leading goalscorer for them last season and I think we will get into the play-offs, I like the club and the Chairman and so I think we’ll do well.

First Posted ~ 18:16 Sun 20 Sep 2020
News ID ~ 8780
Last Updated ~ 17:00 Fri 19 Feb 2021