Source: Manchester Confidential
Few reasonable football fans would dispute that FC United - the club formed by disaffected Manchester United fans in the wake of the Malcolm Glazer takeover - have been a breath of fresh air in the football world. Owned by the fans and committed to the finest ideals, they play football the way it should be played, backed by an army of joyously full-throated supporters.
Having progressed rapidly from their inception in the North West Counties Second Division (the tenth tier of England’s ‘football pyramid’) to the Unibond Premier League (the seventh) the current season has seen the club embark on an unprecedented FA cup run, defeating Sheffield FC, North Ferriby United and Stalybridge Celtic of the Conference North en route to a place in the fourth qualifying round and the chance of a first round draw against Football League opposition.
Saturday’s tie at Northwich Victoria saw the Rebels up against Northwich Victoria of the Conference North, but on a day of mixed weather everything seemed to go wrong. On a greasy pitch, both teams struggled to keep the ball on the ground, and FC found themselves caught between their footballing ideals and the need to grind out a result, typified by winger Carlos Roca’s constant struggles to keep his footing. The Vics meanwhile (managed by former Bury boss Andy Preece) stuck to a more prosaic game plan, muscling in from the start and feeding the ball through to forwards Mark Danks and Lee Elam as quickly as possible. FC held out until the fifty-seventh minute when FC captain Dave Chadwick conceded a penalty, bringing down Lee Elam as he broke into the box. Danks converted from the spot. Eight minutes from time, Adam Tong turned a Danks cross into his own net. The FC fans, in typical fashion, responded by singing the unfortunate centre half’s name.
It was when the third goal went in that things went awry. As FC pushed up, Northwich caught them on the break, Elam setting up substitute Wayne Riley to tap in from close range. As the Vics striker sallied by the FC fans he raised his finger to his lips to quell the away supporters, who had been dominant all afternoon. In response, two or three fans ran onto the pitch. One was led away. The other fought with the steward who intercepted him, then with the police who attempted to restrain him, first with handcuffs and then finally with leg restraints.
What happened next should serve as a warning to the excesses of self-righteousness in the stands. Emboldened by the lack of policing a crowd of fifty to a hundred FC supporters gathered round the fracas in a bid to defend ‘one of their own’ - succeeding finally in freeing the miscreant, who eventually was able to flee, albeit with a handcuff intact.
Shushing, ear-cupping and celebrating in front of opposition supporters have been all the rage this season. In August Southampton’s Ricky Lambert celebrated a penalty conversion against former club Stockport County with no little comedy (he stuck is bum out and it was funny) In September Emmanuel Adebayor ran the length of the pitch to acclaim the Arsenal fans who had rejected him, so revealing the extent of his professional insecurities.
The current popularity of the gesture might be traced back to Jose Mourinho’s reaction to the Liverpool crowd in the 2005 Carling Cup Final. Mourinho, of course, always loved to ham it up. And there’s the thing - it’s part of the pantomime. The bad guys score and then they leer. Under circumstances such as Saturday’s the authorities are understandably trying to stamp it out, but in some ways it will be a shame to see it go. When it does it will be the fault of the fans and no one else. The appropriate response – loosely speaking - is to boo and hiss.
On Sunday it came almost as a rebuke to the Murdoch-trashing grassroots to watch the beach balls rain down comically on Sky TV - as ‘Big United’ took on Liverpool at Anfield. Rafa Benitez’s superbly orchestrated victory over the man who so successfully got under his skin last term may put a temporary end to questions regarding his tenure, but the gulf between last season’s top two cannot have been more heavily underlined this past week.
Benitez’s side now lie a mere four points behind United, who also sport a depleted and unfinished team (we could argue as to the extent). But while in Manchester Fergie can afford to sit and wait until a new team comes together – possibly until the season after this – Benitez will feel the pinch whenever results go against him. A further bad run could see the wheels come off completely.