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Erling Haaland transfer stunt highlights unique World Cup opportunity for Manchester United and City fans

With no Premier League fixtures and still a few days to go until the World Cup, one of the bigger stories in the world of football this week came from a very unlikely source. Ashton United of the Northern Premier League.

“It just makes sense,” said Robins manager, Michael Clegg. “City aren’t playing, and we want to help by keeping Erling fit. It makes more sense than him playing golf for six weeks. We think he will be a great fit for us and would slot in with our squad dynamic really well.”

Yes, Ashton were seriously trying to convince Manchester City to let their 23-goal, £51m striker Erling Haaland go on loan for a month. Well, maybe it wasn't that serious, but it did highlight a valuable issue that City and United fans can help with over the next month.

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The country's media jumped on Ashton's cheeky loan offer for Haaland, and the regional news crews raced down to Hurst Cross. When City were first formed, a club based in Hurst were one of their main rivals, yet the footballing fortunes of both areas couldn't be further apart these days.

Of course, City are never going to let Haaland go on loan, let alone to a seventh-tier side. But Ashton have likely gained everything they hoped for when 'submitting' their loan for the world's most in-form striker - and likely more. They've got exposure, and while City take a break for five weeks, they will hope some of it translates into fans through the gate in the coming weeks.

It's not just Ashton who need any extra body in the ground these days. Rivals Curzon Ashton, in the National League North, just took League One outfit Cambridge United to an FA Cup replay after a first-leg draw at the Tameside Stadium. Stalybridge Celtic and Hyde United also play in the NPL, as do FC United and Atherton.

These clubs, along with the likes of Bury, Radcliffe, and Atherton, plus the many other local clubs further down the pyramid, will be hoping for a World Cup boost to attendances, whether in the ground for their ongoing league fixtures or in clubhouses to watch the more sanitised football going on in Qatar.

Then there are the more familiar names in Greater Manchester, who will continue to play through the World Cup. Oldham Athletic are turning a corner off the pitch after their summer takeover, but are struggling in the National League following relegation and will be hoping to pull away from the drop zone in the next few weeks under manager David Unsworth.

Stockport aren't finding League Two as easy as they found the National League, but are expecting a sell-out at Edgeley Park this weekend against high-fliers Leyton Orient, while Salford are just two points off the play-offs . Rochdale are showing signs of steady improvement under Jim Bentley, and have two home games during the World Cup to try and climb up the table - including a much-anticipated derby with Stockport.

Bolton are only outside of the League One play-offs on goal difference, although Wigan are struggling in the Championship relegation zone so may be thankful for the second tier taking a break until December 10 for the World Cup.

Then there is the Women's Super League, which will take centre-stage domestically throughout the men's World Cup. United have started slightly better than City, sitting third with five wins from six while the Blues are a place behind and three points back having won their last four following a slow start. They will both be looking to continue their decent form in the lead-up to the December 11 derby at the Etihad Stadium, which could attract a record attendance for a women's Manchester derby - the last one at the Etihad saw 31,000 fans attend in 2019, and tickets are on sale for the 2022 edition.

Most United and City fans will cope with the Premier League break by supporting their country at the World Cup. If they are missing the excitement of live football, though, or simply cannot relate to the many issues exposed at the very top of football in Qatar, there is plenty of honest football down the leagues.

They may not see Haaland down at Ashton United if they go along to their local club, but their ticket price will go so much further than it would at the Etihad or Old Trafford. It will be significantly cheaper too, and could be one of the only opportunities to take in a lower-league game when City or United (or England) aren't playing.

Where to get your live football fix during the World Cup break

This break in the season means that Manchester United and Manchester City match-goers will not be able to see their sides in action until the League Cup fixtures in the week commencing December 19th. These fixtures will be just days after the World Cup final which kicks off at 3PM on Sunday December 18th.

However, not all is lost for those wishing to attend fixtures across late November and December. Sides in League One and below are not affected by the World Cup break, and will be playing games while the international tournament is taking place in Qatar.

There are plenty of League One, League Two and non-League sides in and around Manchester, and they’d all be extremely welcoming to new attendees at their games during the World Cup. Not least because the extra revenue will help them through the cost-of-living crisis.

Bolton Wanderers are having a decent season in League One, and they sit in seventh place, level on points with the play-off positions. They take on Joey Barton’s Bristol Rovers in a Friday evening kick-off on December 2nd at the University of Bolton Stadium. Ian Evatt’s team also host fellow play-off chasers Exeter City at 3PM on Saturday December 17th . The stadium is very easy to get to via public transport, as it is a short walk away from Horwich Parkway train station.

Moving down a division to League Two, Stockport County have been on fantastic form in their first season back in the Football League after a long 11 years for Hatters fans. County are unbeaten in their last six games in all competitions. A 4-0 win over Swindon Town saw Dave Challinor’s side cruise through to the FA Cup second round in which they face League One side Charlton Athletic.

Stockport host Leyton Orient at Edgeley Park in a mouth-watering fixture this upcoming Saturday. Their other home game during the Premier League’s break from action falls on Saturday December 17th when the Hatters face recently relegated Gillingham.

Sticking with the fourth tier, Rochdale sit just three points above the relegation zone but will be looking to find some form when they have two consecutive home games in early December. Firstly they host fellow strugglers Harrogate Town on December 3 rd before a local rivalry of sorts a week later against the previously mentioned Stockport.

One lower-league team that Manchester United fans may be interested in keeping an eye on while the Reds have no fixtures of their own is Salford City. The Ammies are famously co-owned by former Manchester United players who were part of the club’s ‘class of 92’. Manchester United legend Nicky Butt recently took over from Gary Neville as Salford City’s CEO but Neville is still one of the club’s co-owners.

Salford sit just two points below League Two’s play-off spots but they have failed to find the back of the net in the league since October 25th . The Ammies take on League One Peterborough United in the FA Cup in a televised fixture tomorrow night. They also host Carlisle United and Walsall at the Peninsula Stadium on November 19th and December 10th respectively.

Moving into non-League football, and the National League is where both Altrincham and Oldham Athletic ply their trade. Alty are a traditional non-League side whereas the Latics were relegated from League Two last season in the midst of a financial crisis. Altrincham host Eastleigh in a usual afternoon kick-off Saturday 26th November. Those wishing to experience National League football under the floodlights can look forward to the clash between Alty and Maidenhead on Tuesday 13th December in a 7:45pm kick-off at the J Davidson Stadium on Moss Lane.

Sadly, Oldham Athletic are struggling yet again this season and find themselves in the National League relegation zone. However, those wishing to give the Latics a lift can watch the side in action against Torquay United on Sunday 11 th December at Boundary Park. Be sure to bring a coat though, as it is famously one of the coldest grounds in English football!

The National League North (sixth tier of English football) has lots to offer, and Curzon Ashton based in Ashton-Under-Lyne sit 19th in that division. Mark Bradshaw’s side only lost on penalties to Cambridge United in the cup last week, but there are still plenty of opportunities to see the team in action as they have plenty of upcoming home games, including a midweek clash with Kidderminster Harriers on December 13th .

Another tier down are FC United of Manchester who were formed by Manchester United fans in a protest against the Glazers’ ownership of the club. They play their football at Broadhurst Park in Moston.

There are also plenty of Greater Manchester sides to go and watch in the Northwest Counties Football Leagues (ninth and 10th tier) including Salford-based Irlam FC.

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