Any way you look at it
By J Walter Weatherman
The American author and abolitionist Henry David Thoreau once said: “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way”, which is a positive and admirable stance to take I’m sure you’ll agree.
So after taking on board these wise words, I’m going to completely disregard this school of thought and cast a glance over the shoulder of the present to look squarely into the face of the past. Now before you think I’m just being an awkward get, I should really point out that far from being a futile exercise, there is a point to all this.
Saturday the tenth of September saw FC United’s game against Chorley boycotted by its supporters following the club’s refusal to accept tickets, and to get a better understanding of this, it will require a look back into the not so murky depths of the not so distant past.
After years of supporters being shat on from a great height by probably the majority of the people that have a say in running football, a group of Reds were tipped over the edge by a secretive and downright greedy businessman who decided that the ‘Manchester United Football Club franchise’ (sic) would be a wonderful addition to his business portfolio of an American football club, various trailer parks and failing shopping malls.
So what was the answer from this group of United supporters to rising ticket prices, overzealous policing, lack of atmosphere, early kick off times, pandering to the middle classes and Far Eastern markets, footballers who’d lost touch with the common man, and last but no means least (I could go on and on but I’m getting bored now and I’m sure you are too), carpetbaggers with no understanding of football tearing the very heart out of it for their own financial gain? Well it was simple really. It was to carry on a fine Mancunian tradition and hoist two fingers into the air at all this injustice and do things their own way.
And so (to momentarily adopt a Biblical style of writing) FC United were formed and the people were happy and the King of Govan found this did not pleaseth him. And all was well for the first few years; people left cynical by the Premiership gravy train suddenly re-discovered an almost child-like love of football in this purer form of the match going experience and embraced it.
For two seasons this utopian vision of supporting a team in red with the words ‘Manchester’ and ‘United’ in its title went along unhindered and exactly to the script as written by its supporters and owners. And then in the third season along came a man named John Warrington.
Maybe he was utilising blue sky out of the box ball park thinking (to use the lingo he and his ilk would understand) or maybe he was just a clueless man who thought he could squeeze even more money out of football, but he came up with the ludicrous idea of showing non-league (tier 8 to be precise) football live on the internet. And charging £3.95 for the privilege.
Invision had arrived, uninvited into FC’s world, and boasting potential viewing figures of 15,000. A collective “hmmm” could be heard all the way to Uncle Malc’s Florida hideaway, and this scepticism was quickly transformed into unbridled outrage when they announced they would be showing FC’s game at Curzon Ashton live and with a very Premiership-esque lunchtime kickoff.
Perhaps Mr Warrington had misunderstood David Gill’s boasts about the number of United fans around the globe and wanted to reach out to the lucrative Far East market, but regardless of this, something FC supporters thought they had seen the back of had surprisingly reared its ugly head once again and a kick off was being moved for television.
Heart-warmingly though, this wasn’t the Premiership and this wasn’t a club run for profit. The board once again embraced the Mancunian spirit and ethos that courses through the veins of the club and shook their head in disgust and defiance. One of the very reasons the club had been set up for wasn’t going to impact on supporters again and a boycott was called. The team went on to secure a 2-0 victory in front of 297 Curzon fans but the true victory was for football and all its supporters. A tad hyperbolic? Perhaps, but it was a sign that the club and its supporters weren’t to be messed around with. Strength in unity and all that.
Like a ghost showing Ebenezer Scrooge the error of his ways, onwards I’ll take you now to the Fifth of November 2010 and FC’s most famous victory (on the pitch this time). As the media clamoured to get the views of a fan owned club that had just beaten a real, actual proper league team in the shape of Rochdale, the BBC were left on their own, kicking their heels like the last one to get picked at football in school.
No doubt presuming the club would be more than happy to have access to their Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special sized audience, they were flatly knocked back by FC’s morals and principles. A strike from members of the National Union of Journalists over proposed changes to their pension plan was backed by FC in a showing of solidarity as they turned down the opportunity to appear on Football Focus. Just a shame certain ex-Reds didn’t show the same level of solidarity when they appeared on the show the following day, but perhaps expecting someone who’s benefitted financially from modern football to do so is expecting far, far too much.
And so now that brings us crashing back Michael J. Fox style into the present day and this weekend’s game at Chorley (I’m referring to the time travelling aspect; I can say with near certainty that Michael J. Fox has never been to Chorley. Go on, prove me wrong). Following trouble at last season’s game between Chorley and Chester, Lancashire Constabulary voiced concerns about a repeat showing from the cosmopolitan locals and informed Chorley they’d want to police this season’s game against Chester and prior to that, FC’s game.
Chorley, also facing a rather large police bill, decided to go ahead with arrangements without any input from FC, gleefully putting into place an early kick-off and allocation of roughly 500 away tickets, whilst putting into place stringent measures to stop any old knuckle dragger access to the match. And by stringent measures I mean allowing people on production of a voucher from any of their first three games this season the chance to buy up to four tickets. All very stringent I’m sure. At the eleventh hour, FC and the league were let in on the arrangements, leaving little time to try and sort out this sorry mess, despite meetings with all parties, including the police.
So another boycott was on the cards, though with a fundamental difference this time. FC couldn’t get the guarantees of safety they wanted and were left with no choice but to reject the ticket allocation, ensuring supporters weren’t put at risk and weren’t punished for something that had diddly squat to do with them. This time around, no singing or dancing, the club just sighed and got on with doing what it’s best at: standing up for its supporters and refusing to let other parties with their own interests get their own way.
It would seem there’s been a fair bit of debate surrounding this recent boycott, and really, it’s hard to see why. The club have been clear on their stance, and when it comes to an issue such as this, why would you except them to act any differently? Boycott, refusal of the allocation, whatever you want to refer to the non-attendance of Saturday’s game, it was FC United doing what they do best; continuing a fine Manchester tradition of rebellion, not just for the sake of it but for change and progress, doing it because it’s the right thing to do.
From Peterloo to the Anti-Corn Law League and the Free Trade Hall, from the Suffragette movement through to the resistance shown to the EDL in recent years, it’s what Manchester, and by extension, FC United, do. No shouting from the rooftops about it, it’s just the way it is, and if you don’t understand or agree with this spirit, then you’re probably at the wrong club.
J Walter Weatherman