Wednesday, May 09, 2007
FC United rise and shine on a sense of community
Source: The Guardian
While Manchester United have been slaying the Premiership, rebel offshoot FC United have been setting their own records.
May 9, 2007 12:24 AM
FC United of Manchester, formed by fans opposed to Malcolm Glazer's takeover at Old Trafford, have travelled a joyfully long way from mere rebellion. At Gigg Lane, a week before "Big" United were confirmed as Premiership champions, FC fans stood and sang throughout a 5-0 demolition of Formby, completing their own second season of record-breaking, championship-winning promotion.
In gorgeous weather surely never previously witnessed in April in Bury, in the raucous section of the Main Stand and the packed Manchester Road End, the fans belted out Sloop John B, customised as their season's anthem: "I wanna go home/I wanna go ho-o-ome/This is the worst trip/I've ever been on."
There is a depth to this commitment which quite unexpectedly caught me by the throat, got me in the eyes. FC United may have started in protest at the heart-sinking economics which devoured Manchester United but it is powered by the fans' heartfelt attachment to football and the collective belonging they feel it represents. The relationship with "Big" United is complex; most FC fans still support the club - packing the pubs and Gigg Lane social club to roar United on to the 4-2 win at Everton before FC's game last week - but they grew alienated, over time, from the business which is Manchester United.
Mike Turton, 44, an electricians' supervisor, who was at the Formby match with his daughter Danielle and sons, Ryan and Thomas, is a typical FC founding father. An Old Trafford regular for 31 years, he packed in on May 12 2005 - they can all recite the date - when the Glazers, from their Florida base, finally acquired United with their £810m hedge fund-leveraged deal.
"I didn't leave because of the takeover," he said. "That was just the final push I needed to get out. It started in the Nineties; winning trophies was very nice but I didn't support United to win trophies. I'd stopped enjoying it. The prices were rising and I started wondering why I was forking out to fund the players' ridiculous wages.
"I love what we've built here, I'm really proud of it. I like to think it's in the best Manchester tradition of protest, along the lines of the suffragettes and the Trades Union movement, which have their roots here."
You hear this Manc pride a lot as well as bemusement that fans of other clubs have not protested against their takeovers - "Not even Liverpool," the FC fans all murmur. Here they have moved on, to building their own club according to the principles they argued for when campaigning: supporter-ownership, with members (2,500 of them) voting for the board and policies; ticket prices affordable at £7 for adults, £2 for under...#8209;16s, and an agreement with stewards that supporters can stand. The club has established a youth policy which seeks to work with junior clubs who often feel exploited by the way professional clubs' academies trawl for the best players. FCUM have also made partnerships with social welfare and community organisations, seeking to welcome marginalised groups and introduce football as a good presence in their lives.
Andy Walsh, the former Militant firebrand and leader of the United fans' anti...#8209;Murdoch and anti-Glazer campaigns, has been reinvented here into FC United's general manager, all trim in a blue check suit and club tie, directing details on his walkie-talkie - stewards, tickets, match day volunteers.
"Most people here still love United," Walsh said, "but they love their feeling for United, which grew from following the club for years, not the big business which came to exploit that loyalty. We're aiming to show a football club can be run by and for supporters, open to all sections of society."
The Formby match was designated a youth day, with under-16s allowed in free and young people before the game taking part in drama, banner-making and working with the Touch of Class rap collective, which promotes an anti-gun message. Thomas Cullen, a coach at Trafford Athletic Club, brought a group; he said he believed one lad had just been saved from being excluded by his school. "His teacher is here and she saw a different side of him," he said. "This is great for them. They're mostly black lads from Hulme and Moss Side but not one has ever been to a match at Old Trafford because they can't afford it."
Bill Evans, manager of Rochdale Children's Rights and Advocacy Services, brought 30 children, all in local authority care, saying it was a "positive way for them to feel included". Maxine Seager of the Tameside Youth Service, a disaffected "Big" United fan herself, came with 70 kids - "Two coach loads," she said, grinning and rolling her eyes.
"They're loving it, buzzing. They get so much out of this and we work our programmes, on anti-racism and social cohesion, around coming to the game."
The youth day events were organised by Vinny Thompson, who seemed staggered by his own football conversion: "To go from parading on terraces all over Europe to being a lentil-eating social worker in two years is pretty bloody amazing."
The thirty- and fortysomething Stretford End veterans who formed FC United are painfully aware that Premiership ticket hikes have largely priced out the next generation of fans, so are replenishing their own ranks with the regular £2 entry price and this youth day. The place was teeming with kids, a sight long disappeared from top-flight football. One group of eight, aged 11 to 14, marching along with classic red, white and black scarves around their necks and not an adult in sight, seemed like a Life On Mars throwback to the 1970s. One eloquently explained why they come: "The atmosphere's mint."
The 3,847 who made it to the Formby game may not represent the dent in the Glazers' business plan some hoped for but it is many more than Bury had at their last home game, a phenomenon at the base of football's pyramid. The five goals strolled in took FC's total this season to 157 and a finish on 112 points; both are records. After the game the North West Counties League title was presented to Dave Chadwick, FC's mountainous captain, Walsh discreetly handing out the champagne. Beaming, bowing to shake hands with crowds of kids at the Manchester Road End, the players looked disbelieving, that tough semi-pro careers have turned out this glorious.
Karl Marginson, the former Rother-ham United and non-league striker who has proved the perfect manager, said he has understood FC's philosophy more with time. "It's a very special thing to be part of. I try to instil its importance in the players, that this is the fans' club."
In the celebrating stands they were mixing fond player ditties, anti-Glazer chants and pro-FC compositions. To the tune of Anarchy in the UK they roared: "I am an FC fan/I am Mancunian."
This is a football club they have fashioned for themselves out of belief and conviction. While Big United chase the Double at Wembley, they are off to the UniBond Northern Premier League next season. It seems like the best trip they have ever been on.
Manchester's proud tradition of protest
The army's slaughter of 11 people attending a mass rally for parliamentary reform in 1819 accelerated popular pressure for democracy
Marx and Engels
Karl Marx's political ally, Friedrich Engels, lived in Manchester and based his 1844 classic, The Condition of the Working Class in England, on the city's inequalities
Trades Union Congress
Formed in 1868 at the Mechanics Institute in Manchester
The Women's Social and Political Union, that lobbied for the vote, was formed by Emmeline Pankhurst at her home in Manchester in 1903
Right to roam
The campaign for access to the countryside was boosted by the 1932 Kinder Trespass, led by the Manchester activist Benny Rothman
A Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976 is often heralded as the birth of punk and inspired a generation of Manchester music
FC United of Manchester
Formed in 2005 by Manchester United fans protesting at the Glazer takeover