Saturday, January 14, 2012

Take the power back?

Since seizing control in the summer of 2007, Jabba has stabilised the club finances and overseen our return to the Premier League as a refreshed and rejuvenated side. But he's also treated two club legends in King Kev and Wor Al appallingly, rewarded Chris Hughton for getting us promoted with the sack, sold Rocky without having any back-up plan and kept all the cash, renamed the stadium and, perhaps most criminally of all, handed employment to both the Poison Dwarf and JFK. It begs the question: just what would it take to push us supporters over the edge?

For Wimbledon fans, it was when their club was relocated to the arsehole of the UK, Milton Keynes, by greasy pop supremo Pete Winkelman in 2004. For some Man Utd fans, it was the Glazer takeover, which saw the club plunged into huge debt through nifty financial gymnastics and prices hiked for your average punter.

FC United of Manchester, formed a year after AFC Wimbledon in 2005, are owned, funded and run by the fans, meaning that those who pay the prices get to set them too. The club marched up the football pyramid following their formation, and though they've now plateaued somewhat in the Northern Premier League Premier Division, their home games still attract around 2000 attendees. One blustery wet Saturday afternoon in early December, I was one of them.

Watching the lunchtime kick-off against Chelsea at the Swan & Cemetery in Bury, I was curious to notice the pub filling up with scarf-wearing supporters. It turned out that although the Shakers weren't playing at nearby Gigg Lane, FC United were, it being their main home ground. And that's how, the Blues having condemned us to a 3-0 defeat, that I ended up cheering on a red-shirted Manchester side against a side clad in black and white stripes (Garry Flitcroft's Chorley).

The game itself - a 0-0 draw - wasn't much of a spectacle (Flitcroft had an infinitely more searching examination when up before the Leveson Inquiry), but the enthusiastic support given to the players on the final whistle made it abundantly clear that this isn't just about what happens on the pitch.

Given that the club was founded on the premise of taking a principled stand against greedy out-of-touch ownership, it's not surprising that the fans see themselves as "children of the revolution", as one flag proclaims. Another declares, with pride: "A right bunch of dicks". You can probably buy it in the club shop, a Portakabin and awning-covered stall out in the car park.

The oppositional, political stance is equally prominent in their chants, superbly bastardised punk classics perfectly suited to being bawled from the terraces. For instance, to the tune of 'Anarchy In The UK': "I am an FC fan / I am a Mancunian / I know what I want and I know how to get it / I want to destroy Glazer and Sky / 'Cos I wanna be at FC". Another, to the tune of 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)', celebrates their longevity and sheer bloodymindedness in the face of being criticised, belittled and ignored by "loyal" Man Utd fans and even self-proclaimed socialist Fergie: "Merry Christmas / And a happy New Year / We're FC United / And we're still fucking here".

But their ambitions extend beyond just surviving. The parody of the Pogues' 'Dirty Old Town', ending with a lyric about building their own ground, isn't just wishful thinking. Planning permission has been granted for a site in Moston and fundraising efforts are ongoing to help make the dream a reality.

The truth is that all over the country fans are seizing back control of their clubs, as Kevin Rye of Supporters Direct recently noted on the NUST site, and FC United are only one of the more extreme cases. For Rye, there's no doubt that the model of fan ownership can work - and, by implication, that it could work anywhere, including at Newcastle.

The question, though, is whether we have sufficient stomach to take on Jabba, or to turn our backs on the club altogether and form an FC United of our own. With the club apparently solvent and sitting comfortably in seventh, it's difficult to see a similar splinter movement gaining traction while the (relatively) good times roll at St James' Park. But we should remember that it's been officially rechristened the Sports Direct Arena in flagrant disregard of fans' views, and that FC United have developed in parallel/opposition to a club which rarely goes a season without some kind of silverware. To paraphrase a Mancunian, we can have it all but how much do we want it?

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Blogger skif said...

6/7 years on from watching them, I still get the FC United terrace choir's version of 'Under The Boardwalk' as an occasional earworm.

I think it's the collective hitting of the high note which most impressed.

9:22 a.m.  

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