Saturday, December 10, 2005

All the Manchester Reds

Source: L'Equipe (no online content, for English translation scroll past the scans).

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English translation:

There used to be Manchester United … here is FC United, which has existed as a dissident team ever since an American showed up with his millions. The result: a shared passion that divides families.

Stuart Davies has still not come round to it. At sixty-two this dedicated Manchester United supporter doesn’t understand the choice his eldest son, Andrew, has made. After thirty years of shared thrills at Old Trafford, he has seen his son turn his back on Man U and support the dissidents of FC United of Manchester, ten divisions lower. “But why do you go to watch them?” barks the father, while munching a steak in the Malmaison brasserie in the heart of the city. A few weeks ago, Stuart accompanied his son to an FC United match, an occasion he judges, with irony, “amusing”. “That’s because we don’t go to the game for the same reasons”, his son retorts tactfully. You like the game, and me, the atmosphere. At Old Trafford, in the last fifteen years, ordinary supporters, families, have been driven away or split up. Today, a season ticket doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be next to your mates in the stand. What’s more, you’re obliged to sit down, you’re surrounded by stewards. With FC United, it’s different. With FC United I’ve rediscovered the ambience of Old Trafford twenty years ago. And then, I was one of those who didn’t want to sanction the takeover of the club by the American businessman Malcolm Glazer. When some supporters disillusioned with Manchester United created the club, I followed them by becoming a member, my membership also means I’m one of the club’s proprietors.”

Stuart sits up, rests his hands on the back of his head and holds forth in his Welsh accent. “English football has certainly changed. But the blame lies mainly with Rupert Murdoch, and his blasted Sky. The scheduling of Premier League matches is crazy, the price of seats in the stadiums has become very expensive ?” (30 pounds - 44.3 euros for Manchester United, 5 pounds - 7.4 euros for FC United.)

1.30 p.m. The lunch between father and son has finished. There’s just time for a manly handshake on the steps of the restaurant, then each goes his separate way to support “his” team. Stuart strolls around Old Trafford, his match not due to begin till 3.30 p.m. Andy hurries to nearby Piccadilly station. At 3.00 precisely, “Little United” confront New Mills at Macclesfield, thirty kilometres from Manchester. Scarcely has he left the train when his mate Andrew, another indefatigable supporter of FC, pops up from the crowd. While a crowd of FC supporters walk from the station, despite the drizzle, the two friends opt for a taxi, so as to knock back a pint before the match. In the parking lot by the corrugated iron stands at the Church Lane end of the stadium, they meet Andy Walsh, the club’s general manager, who is busy selling FCU badges and scarves out of the back of his estate car.

“Thanks to donations (1 pound for one share in the club) from our 3,500 members, we have raised £170,000 (251,140 euros). But that’s not sufficient if we want to sustain and develop the club”, explains Walsh. Nevertheless, they have got off to a good start: last summer, more than 900 players put themselves forward for FC United, 200 passed the trials and 17 have been retained. Like Jonathan Mitten, who agreed to descend 5 divisions, or the goalkeeper Phil Priestley, who played at Bangor City, but who has since left, having been unable to get a place in the FC team.

After a minute’s silence in memory of George Best, the match begins while 600 FCU supporters sing one of the 40 songs from their eclectic repertoire. “We all live in the Georgie Best boat, the Georgie Best boat, the Georgie Best boat!” On the pitch, “Little United’s” players confirm their
incipient status as predators of the North West Counties League (FC United is top of the table). By half-time, they have already stunned their opponents with two goals thanks to the local David Beckham, the whirlwind no. 10, a former 3rd division player. The rain doubles in intensity, but it can’t quench the frenetic enthusiasm of the supporters.

In their war against commercialised football, one of their favourite targets remains the stewards. They thought that they would be rid of them on leaving Old Trafford, but as FCU draw more than 2,000 supporters to each match, the host teams have subsequently made use of security services. So in the second half of the game a steward is subjected to a good-humoured diatribe. His bushy moustache provokes a machine-gun rhythm chant. “Moustach, stach, stach, stach, stach”, chorus the swaying supporters, forcing the steward to retreat.

The match ends on a decisive score: 5-0 for the visitors and their manager, Karl Marginson, a deliveryman and long-time follower of Man U, a masterly combination of speed, attack and virile defence to a man. After a session of hugging between players and supporters, the latter decamp to the pubs to watch “Big United’s” match.

At the other end of the city, Stuart Davies is already installed in the stand at Old Trafford, behind the goal. Before taking his place in the still half-empty stadium, he meditated for a few moments before the railings in front of the stadium and the flowers, football shirts and scarves laid there in memory of George Best. His head bowed, Stuart then went into the stadium café for a cup of tea. Five minutes before kick off, a friend and neighbour arrived in the stand. Separated by 15 metres, the 2 men will remain seated throughout the match, finally won (3-0) by Manchester. Before meeting once more and returning home by car.

For his part, Andy sang of the glory of “Little United” while watching the stream of images of “Big U” in the pub opposite the station in Macclesfield. In the middle of players and supporters united in the cult of beer as the evening begins.

Jérôme Cazadieu
10th December 2005