Friday, May 12, 2006

Guardian: The road to Leipzig

Source: The Guardian

It's a year since the Glazers took over at Old Trafford and, as Tony Howard explains, FC United are marking the occasion with their first foreign excursion

Friday May 12, 2006

Whisper it quietly, but it's a year this Friday (May 12) since Malcolm Glazer took over at Manchester United, and, for some former Old Trafford patrons, the doom we felt 12 months ago has lifted to such an extent that the anniversary will be more a celebration than a memorial.

Many of the Reds who refused to grease the American's palms will not this year be burning effigies outside Old Trafford. They will instead be in Leipzig, Germany to watch the club they formed in the wake of that fateful day as FC United embark on their first foreign excursion.

United fans have adapted to many new environments over the past year. No longer do we wonder at the size of the cantilever stands at some of Europe's great venues; we now talk enthusiastically about the size of the bus-stop style stands that adorn the tiny grounds of the North West Counties league. Where once we marvelled at trips to glamorous destinations like Barcelona or Milan; now we enthuse about the enjoyment to be had at places as obscure as Congleton or Clitheroe. Having formerly discussed the quality of the pitches at the Camp Nou or the Giuseppe Meazza; now we heap praise on the patrons of grounds that contain impressive grassy knolls which form the perfect back-drop to watching the game at this level.

It's been Cheadle instead of Chelsea, Nelson instead of Newcastle and Blackpool instead of Bolton (no-one can argue that's not an improvement). It's been a culture shock for some and in the harsh Lancashire winter that engulfed Accrington on a Monday night for one of our visits there, many of us were questioning our sanity. But it's all been worth it. Not least to hear the immortal line that has become the most common question filling the air of Manchester's pubs this week: "What yer doin for Leipzig?"

Not mithered by talk of when Tony will hand the reins to Gordon, Mancunians would much rather discuss how they're going to get to eastern Germany for a football friendly. Perspective, they call it. And why shouldn't we have an end of season blow-out? We've made something positive out of what was one of the darkest days in many of our lives.

I've been asked to write about the ups and downs of FC United this season, and some people have commented that my writing makes it appear that there isn't a grey cloud in the sky. But the truth is that despite the continued sadness at what has happened at our spiritual home, the sun has constantly shone through the snow, sleet and hail we've endured in our first season and it's been a joy. We've gone back to the future by recalling the great experiences of watching football in the past, set in the climate of a club run by fans which would present a very rosy template for tomorrow. And we can be forgiven for harking on about it. We hope our example will show fans of top-flight clubs, who continue to be treated like idiots by their clubs, players and governing board alike, that there is another way. Say, "Enough is enough," and walk away.

We were told by those who'd done similar, most notably Kris Stewart from AFC Wimbledon, that whatever happened this season we'd have one hell of a ride. And he's been proved correct. However, we were fully aware we'd be going to the likes of Flixton, Darwen and Leek - but I doubt anyone, even the most inebriated among us, would have predicted we'd be travelling to east Germany just 12 months after Glazer arrived.