Putting them in their place
By Ian Childs
It’s Saturday afternoon and FC are away at Chasetown. The sun is shining like it’s summer, and the United fans are out in force, and in decent voice too. True to form, United supporters are more numerous and more vocal than the home crowd, and exuberant singing lasts through half time.
Things aren’t going so well on the pitch though. We’re 1-0 down and struggling to get our game together. One of our attacks is thwarted, the ball is forced out for a corner and there are some afters in their box, with Mike Norton getting involved in a tussle. When a Chasetown player starts writhing on the floor Norton is dragged off to one side and shown a red, though there’s a suspicion that the ref missed the incident and is reacting to some theatrics.
So far so shit, but we’ve won our last two games whilst down to 10, and there’s still every reason to believe that if the team pull it together we can get something out of this one too. But there’s something else. The ref today is a woman.
Our usual rallying cry “United… United… United…” is missing. Instead a chorus of “Cheat, cheat, cheat” makes way to shouts of “get back to the kitchen”. A chant breaks out: “does your boyfriend know you’re here?” It’s one of those moments when it seems like a switch has been flicked, and the world around you is thrown in a different light.
One second we’re all one big gang of Reds trying to cheer our frustrated team to one of their habitual fightbacks. The next I’m in the middle of a crowd of blokes howling out what they think women are good for. “Get back to your knitting”, I hear yelled from one side of our stand. “Slag” and “bitch” are spat from elsewhere.
The guy behind me sneers something about women’s football. Another shouts something about blowjobs. It carries on, in patchy chants and individual heckles. Most of the women on the terrace seem to have gone a bit quiet, though a lady to my right has turned round to give some stick to the bloke behind her. She points out there’s no way he’d be telling a male ref he’d be better sticking to household chores, no matter how shit an official he was.
Everything has gone a bit sour. I stay to the end of course, but the team never manages to recover, and neither does the mood on the terrace. Angry words are exchanged in a couple of spots, but mostly things just seem a little more subdued than normal. Heading for the exits at full time there’s usually a visceral feeling of unity, even in defeat. Not so today, and my love for FC feels bruised.
My mind is cast back to a different scene: the cup match at Brighton four months previously. In one of the biggest games in our history we manage against the odds to hold on for a 1-1 draw. When the players leave the pitch we stream toward the gates, the words “On top of the world” on our lips.
The joy is palpable, and most of us are wearing faces of mixed disbelief and exhilaration. Outside a Brighton fan comments on the great racket we made, “…and none of the normal anti-gay crap”. He’s right.
Creative as ever, the red end of the stadium poked fun in topical fashion, belting out songs about Steve Foster and the daft Category C status of the match, alongside hymns to Cantona and Best, chants lauding Margy, Carlos and Jerome, and selections from the growing repertoire of FC love ballads.
There was an unreal feeling as we took the lead, but not everything went our way. McManus got shown a red, Brighton drew level and the ref gave a last minute penalty against us. When a string of decisions were called in Brighton’s favour a lad nearby tried to get a homophobic chant going. Not a soul joined in. A nudge, a grim look and a shake of the head were enough to let him know that we wouldn’t be having any of that bollocks.
That day we were able to say “well, we’re not that kind of club”, and that’s how it ought to be.
At its best FC does a great job of sticking a defiant two fingers up to modern football with one hand, whilst welcoming newcomers in with the other, gathering all manner of folk behind our red banner, whether they be United veterans, schoolkids or enthused locals. But this spirit is undermined if half of the people in Manchester feel like we’d rather they pissed off home again and got on with cooking dinner.
That’s why if this sort of thing happens again, we need to be ready to do something about it. I don’t mean we need tighter or better enforced guidelines from the club, I mean we need action from ordinary fans.
Whether it’s something concerted like a chant, or just those nearby having words with each cluster of twats, we need to make it clear that those kinds of attitudes are not welcome at FC. Because like the banner says, “a woman’s place is at the match”. And anywhere else she fucking wants to be.