Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Goal.com: Field Of Broken Dreams

Field Of Broken Dreams
11 Oct 2005 9:15:00 AM

Alan Lawson
Source: Goal.com

Alan Lawson traces a story of football's enduring grass-roots appeal, as a group of Manchester United fans attempt to reclaim the game by bringing it back in touch with ordinary people....

Kevin Costner has made a number of films. Some, like Dances with Wolves, became epic successes. Others like Waterworld or Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, were rather less well received. For many his most successful and pleasing film was the 1989 venture Field of Dreams, which, for a British or European audience, started from an unpromising premise.

A farmer in Iowa starts hearing voices and interprets the messages as an instruction to build a baseball field on his farm. The film then depicts his struggle to build the baseball field in the face of commercial pressure and family opposition, but ends with the Costner character, Ray Kinsella, achieving personal and commercial redemption through the creation of the baseball field.

But what does this have to do with the high-power, high-pressure world of Premiership football? Simply that one of the central themes of the film was that by creating the field Ray Kinsella was allowing baseball to return to an earlier, less commercial and corrupt time. And, against all the odds, something remarkably similar is happening in football against the unlikely backdrop of north Manchester.

On the first day of the season as the mighty Manchester United faced Everton in the opening match of the Barclaycard Premiership a newly-created team ran out for their first-ever match in Division Two of the North West Counties League.

That team, FC United of Manchester, had been formed in a matter of weeks, recruited players and established a groundsharing agreement with Bury FC and were ready for their first ever league match some twelve divisions below Manchester United.

The match in Staffordshire was against Leek County Old School Boy's Club and kick-off had to be delayed due to crowd congestion, with over 2,000 FC United fans making the journey. The attendance of 2590 was a new record for the NWCFL, and was higher than Leek's combined attendances for the whole of the previous season. It was the first all-ticket match in the history of the North West Counties League, and F.C. United won the game 5–2.

A week later F.C. United played their first home match and beat Padiham 3–2. The game attracted around 2,500 fans, an attendance which was higher than some Coca Cola League Two games that took place on the same day, several levels above FC United in the football league system.

With several weeks of the season passed FC United have started their first season well, with six wins and a draw from their first seven games, and a real sense that something is happening with this fledgling club.

And it started largely because of the growing distaste that ordinary Manchester United fans had for the brutal commercialization of modern football. For many of those fans the Malcolm Glazer takeover of Manchester United was simply the last straw and though the Glazer name will evoke nothing but disgust from such fans it isn’t just Glazer that has created this mini revolution.

It is the whole commercial paraphernalia of Premiership football which is at the heart of their discontent, and the growing distancing of the players from the fans further aggravates an uncomfortable relationship.

For many fans of Manchester United the incredible success of the last twelve years has been accompanied by a growing slide away from the kind of football club that most of those fans loved and thought they knew. The more United became a corporate entity, a PLC, the less important the fans seemed to be. Except as clients, as customers, as, god forbid, consumers. For many fans their importance in the club’s eyes was not to be on the terraces or seats supporting the team but in the Megastore purchasing the latest replica shirt, or signing up for the club credit card or the fresh insurance product.

Singing in support of the team or standing up in excitement was frowned upon, and many fans began to feel that, much as they loved their club, it was turning into a commercial titan which happened to play a bit of football on the side.

In that climate the Glazer takeover was, although perhaps unavoidable, a step too far for many fans and the creation of FC United of Manchester was inevitable.

It wasn’t easy. It still isn’t, for existence in the shallows of football isn’t comfortable but there is a surprising reservoir of admiration and support for what they are trying to achieve. The new club received pledges and donations from several thousands of fans, giving them a level of financial security which removes many of the early concerns.

A fine example of the warmth being extended to the new club can be seen by linking to this article from a fervent United fan.

And, as the article, demonstrates, one of the most important aspects of the whole FC United adventure is that it is giving back to fans something they thought had been lost forever in football – the warmth, the fun, the closeness to the players, and the undeniable thrill of being part of the club.

In short it is a reversion to an earlier, simpler time where football was the game of the people rather than a diversion for the chattering classes. Bringing football back to the people that matter, the fans.

People like Ray Kinsella.