Friday, 4 May 2012

Looking California, Feeling Minnesota

As it says on the club website:

" 'The club set up in protest to Malcolm Glazer's takeover of Manchester United' is a statement often used to describe FC United. But while there is no doubt that FC would not have happened without the American invasion, it was the catalyst, the final straw, but not the sole reason."

Many reasons collided at once for a minority group of militant Manchester United fans who had grown disillusioned with the modern game and it's trappings: kick off times dictated by TV, escalating ticket prices, matches taking place in soulless "theatres" and the perceived ever-widening distance between the club and the local community as it sought, ever more avariciously, new global revenue streams.

An idea, first floated when Rupert Murdoch's BskyB attempted to buy the club in the late nineties, was resurrected as a last resort. Start their own club. Supporters as members - each with a vote. Reasonable ticket prices. FC United of Manchester was born in 2005 and the club began it's odyssey in the 10th level of football.

Manchester United were my club. Whilst to the pedantic I am not, strictly speaking, a Mancunian, I was born just six or seven miles from the city centre, in Ashton-under-Lyne, the town that gave us world cup winners Sir Geoff Hurst and Simone Perrotta (with Jimmy Arnfield being born just a couple more miles away, in Denton). With that proximity, I was destined to be either a Red or a blue. With family ties, and particularly an elder sister who rampaged with the team in Division 2 in the seventies, my Red allegience was set.

Eventually, after years of attending matches, either paying on the gate to get in the Stretford End or the E stand seats behind or later with a season ticket, the same problems that irked the militants rose their head for me. Added to the mix, a further child born, I was skint and low on free time - the season ticket and plastic seat gave way to the comfort of the sofa, I'm afraid.

A big part of my football fan education, however, had also taken place in the non-league. As a young kid, if not going along to Old Trafford, I would attend matches in the old Northern Premier League with my grandfather, watching Mossley AFC at Seel Park. They would be taking on such evocatively named teams as Witton Albion, Frickley Athletic, Stalybridge Celtic, Northwich Victoria, Kidderminster Harriers.

The attractions of non-league are the local rivalries, the reasonably-priced beers at the club-house (with a view on to the pitch), the family atmosphere and the fun. Sometimes it is like a trip back to a bygone age. The word community is the most appropriate - and a real attachment to the town that the club represents. FC United are seeking to make those deep roots with the community and have devised excellent plans for a ground and sports facilities in the North Manchester suburb of Moston.

FC United of Manchester brought all those old names and experiences back, mixed with larger crowds and the songs and colours I knew and loved - and a cracking atmosphere. It was a long road that was being travelled for many disparate reasons, so by God, the supporters (nay, members) were going to make the best of the journey. But it still wasn't quite United for me and I retreated back to the side-road of my sofa, with little excursions every now and then to keep the engine ticking over - always keeping an interested eye on their progress.

Football itself seems perpetually at a confusing crossroads. As the leagues further down the pyramid search for sustainability and look to offer a sleeker package to keep people coming through the turnstiles, changes are occurring outside the Football League which have a similar resonance to those within. Clubs are going out of business, or struggling desparately to make ends meet.

Clubs are, despite the odds, still an attractive investment for some. But, for fans, ownership appears to be a lottery - with no effort on your part whatsoever, you could be a winner and be landed with a Sheikh Mansour. Or, more likely, you could end up with the Venkys or a George Reynolds.

It is the old adage of the theory of evolution -the survival of the fittest. Every club must find a way to adapt and swim against the Premier League/Sky tsunami. Alongside the supporter-owned models of AFC Wimbledon, FC United, Ebbsfleet United and the like, there are those that are helped with heavy investment in the teams such as Crawley Town and Fleetwood Town.

Another survival route is "sponsorship" deals by Father-clubs, such as that by Manchester city, whose reserve team has for many years used Ewen Fields in Hyde, Greater Manchester to play their matches. Hyde (United) gave up their ground's colours, red turning blue, as well as the "United" part of their name (and Manchester United-like club crest) in return for their soul and investment in the ground along with the honour of continuing to host matches for the ridiculously named "Manchester city Elite Development Squad."

Echoing Crawley and Fleetwood's successes, Hyde FC have now found themselves just recently promoted as Conference North champions and will ply their trade in the Conference for the first time next season.

Then again, unfortunately there are the Northwich Victoria and Darlingtons of the world...

Thanks to an ill-fated relocation and financial difficulties that have plagued the club, Northwich Victoria found themselves expelled from their promotion position in the Evo-Stick Northern Premier League this season, leaving another place up for grabs. This was gratefully (but also humbly) accepted by FC United of Manchester.

As is the way with teams that sneak in to competitions at the last minute (famously Denmark in the Euros, of course), FC United made light work of the play-off semi-final last weekend against Chorley, before a crowd of almost 3000, setting up a final this weekend against an age-old name in footballing terms - Bradford Park Avenue.

It is very much a case of the old versus the new. Bradford Park Avenue have been there, done that. They have experienced league football, reaching the heights of the First Division and drifted down through the league. They suffered the ignominy of being voted out of the league in 1970 and liquidation a few years later. Numerous homes and starts and false-starts now leave the club in it's current position and a battle-royale against the upstarts from Manchester.

Ironically, considering the involvement of a club that holds 3pm Saturday close to heart as the correct time for football, the game now kicks this Sunday, 6th May 2012 at 2pm. The final was originally scheduled for Saturday at 3pm, but police concerns over the amount of fans attending and coinciding with a Bradford City match have resulted in the (unpopular) change.

My son is a footballing worry to me. He plays the game, he wears the shirts, but he has no interest in watching. I need something to spark that interest. The roar of the crowd, the songs, the thwack of the ball as it is cleared up field, the screams of "man on", the wrapping up in a preposterously coloured scarf and hat in the winter and the dressing down and carnival atmosphere of the warmer months - he needs to experience all this before he is lost to WWE or whatever acronym fake wrestling goes under nowadays. Maybe now is the time to think about starting again with him? To re-enter the fray at non-league level?

Or would that make me a gloryhunter?



  1. Replies
    1. haha - it is a good job I know you and what you mean by that comment, otherwise that would be very creepy!!


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