Monday, December 31, 2007

Fans Boycott a Storming Success

By Dale Haslam

On a landmark day in the history of FC United - a club whose fans are famed for making a huge racket wherever they go - it was the silence that rang out around the Tameside Stadium that spoke loudest.

In a well organised and brilliantly executed boycott, only 20 or so fans of the Bury-based outfit were visible among the 297 in attendance, with an estimated 1,500 refusing to trek to Ashton for the puzzling 12.45pm kick-off arranged at the whim of an internet television channel and without the approval of both clubs.

A few miles away at the home of Abbey Hey - just as captain Rob Nugent was powering home United's second, building on Simon Carden's first-half tap in - about 500 reds were watching the first-place reserves outfit beat nearest league rivals Club AZ.

It meant that for the first time in the club's short history, as the first-team shirts put on an impressive display on the field, there was no singing, no merriment, no smiling young faces or joy expressed off it.

The mood of the day was reminiscent of the emotional Sunday back in May 2005 when 100 or so Big United' fans dressed in black to mourn the loss of their club to current owner Malcolm Glazer, but those taking part will this time know that, unlike on that dismal Cardiff afternoon, they've won their battle.

The Curzon fans, who have seen their savvy team rise to the top of the table in a promising five months, seemed to have no problem with having the league puppet them about on their Saturday afternoon.

One middle-aged man queuing up for a much-needed steaming cup of coffee at half time seemed to sum up the apathy, or just downright stubbornness, of his fellow Curzon supporters.

"What's the point in staying away? It won't achieve anything. People need to realise it's not the 1960s anymore. You just have to get on with it," he said.

But, according to some of those who do have the power to change the status quo, that doesn't appear to be the case.

The magnitude of the boycott certainly seemed to home with today's grim-faced match commentator John Warrington, head of In Vision, who said he is confident such a situation will not be allowed to take place in future.

Speaking at half-time, he said: "It is hugely disappointing that the attendance is so low for everyone involved, especially Curzon Ashton, who have lost out on a big slice of revenue.

"When the board of FC United announced that they would be in favour of a boycott of this game, I was in Las Vegas and I was disappointed that Andy Walsh was not prepared to wait just one more day until I got back to discuss the issue with me so we could have talked it through."

He added: "As it is, I cannot see any club being shown more than once before the play-offs on a Saturday.

"But when there are concerns of the change of times, we will certainly be prepared to hold discussions with the league in order to find a solution."

Indeed, Mr Warrington admitted he did ask the league if they would move the fixture back to 3pm, with In Vision showing the game in full at 5pm. The league refused.

League secretary Phil Bradley was at today's game, but wasn't too prepared to make himself available for a comment. He left right on the final whistle.

Curzon chairman Harry Galloway said that, while he expected a low attendance, it was still a blow for his club to miss out on an estimated £10,000 windfall from a bumper attendance.

FC United of Manchester general secretary Lindsey Robertson, meanwhile, said she was delighted with the success of the boycott - and that, according to Mr Warrington, it could avoid kick-off times changing in future without agreement of the clubs involved.

She said: "It just shows how strongly the supporters feel about this matter. I know it is hard for them because they want to support the team, especially in such a big game, but it's important we stand up for what we believe in.

"If what has happened today provokes discussion about whether this will happen again, it has been worth it and it will show how essential it is for supporters to have a voice."