Pete Green watches Manchester Disunuted, a film about Manchester's splinter club
When Malcolm Glazer seized Manchester United two years ago, the protests at Old Trafford elicited little sympathy from other fans. Maybe the claim that the club was suddenly “not for sale” grated a bit after United had done very well out of plc status since 1991. Maybe, when debt and changes of ownership are commonplace, outsiders saw the violent reaction to Glazer as arbitrary and disproportionate. And, let’s face it, it didn’t help that it was Manyoo. Whatever the reasons, if AFC Wimbledon became everyone’s second favourite club, then FC United of Manchester have not found goodwill so easy to come by.
It may be harder to deny FCUM a little warmth of feeling after watching Manchester Disunited, a film offering genuine insight into the predicament of fans who hate what their club has come to represent. In this regard it usefully rebuts the impression given by much of the coverage in 2005, that Glazer suddenly alienated fans who had otherwise been happy with life. The real story is that the takeover consolidated existing disenchantment at the corporate pillage of the game. Supporters who were already unhappy – with stratospheric prices, compulsory seating and the “daft o’clock kick-off”, as one fan in the film puts it – were given a tangible cause to rally round and, as the new club emerged, a chance to keep the faith while opting out of commercial depravity. If this is having their cake and eating it, let’s share the recipe.
Disunited is the work of amiable Brummie journalist Adrian Goldberg, who uses a series of droll stunts to illustrate his points. Glazer’s unpopularity is borne out in a bucket‑shaking exercise conducted in the Birmingham suburb of Bearwood (for no reason more apparent than it being the filmmaker’s old stomping ground), which asks passers-by to donate to either the Glazer or the Saddam Hussein “defence fund” – with hilariously pro-Iraqi results. “We’re not claiming that in any way it’s scientific!” grins Goldberg, who later offers tweezers to a bemused Chelsea drone in case £24 million bench fixture Shaun Wright-Phillips “has got any splinters in his bum”.
It might have been fascinating to examine the logistics of conjuring a club from thin air and indignation, but footage of a public anti-Glazer meeting cuts straight to FCUM’s first fixture at Leigh RMI. From here we receive a crash course in supporter ownership via Wimbledon, Barcelona and Brentford, a gobsmacked English visitor to the Camp Nou asking: “How can they have democracy, cheap costs, and fantastic football?” A well grounded sequence tracking the wider context of football finance fingers Sky and the Stock Exchange as the rich clubs sew up the competitions and Martin Edwards trousers a fortune. For this Goldberg wisely enlists David Conn, whose brilliant investigative work on boardroom carpetbagging has done much to enlighten those of us with attention spans on a par with Peter Ridsdale’s goldfish.
FCUM chief executive Andy Walsh comes across very well, but his assertion that “literally tens of thousands of football fans have been disenfranchised from the professional game” by greed and corruption is a modest one – the Premiership boasts literally millions of contented consumers – and must be set against the total failure of the anti-Glazer campaign, whose leaders were ultimately far wider of the mark than the American tourist in Stretford who doesn’t “really follow football” but tells Goldberg: “I don’t think they’re gonna have empty stadiums. I think they’ll get over it pretty soon.” The fact is that the refuseniks, though growing in number, are still a minority subculture. “If [the Glazers] supply the money and let Fergie buy who he wants,” shrugs one southern-accented Old Trafford loyalist, “then that’s it, innit?”
This need not remain the case. While the iniquities of the Premiership and its parasites are now well documented, football journalism is ripe for a killer text that explicitly links the ruination of our game to the devastating logic of the global free market. Much of Manchester Disunited will already be familiar to well informed fans. But it is an accessible introduction to these issues for supporters who may not have given them much thought, and a satisfying recap for those who have.
From WSC 246 August 2007