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I’d like to know if…you’ve got the notion…

Submitted by on January 24, 2012 – 10:20 amNo Comment

The following is in response to the article on pages four and five (not the editorial as incorrectly stated – we don’t have an editor, therefore don’t have an editorial), of issue seven of A Fine Lung. To buy said issue and help FC United get to their proposed new home in Moston click on the ‘Buy issues of A Fine Lung’ link in the menu bar at the top of the homepage…

By Nick Speakman

I needn’t tell you dear reader what a hotbed of radical “Fuck it! We’ll do it this way”-ness Manchester is. Peterloo, Co-ops, Labour, Engels, Suffrage, Nuclear Free, Chartists, hell long before it became a haven for twitchers, the RSPB was started as a campaign against the killing of birds for millinery use in Didsbury. Even organisations which are normally bedrocks of conformity like universities are bolshy with what Freeman Dyson called the “anti-establishment brashness of Manchester”

So we arrive here. Fan owned football clubs. Let’s be honest no other fans of a premiership club can, would or will do what we’ve done. And to add to that, in the last AFLM editorial we were told that “FC United is probably the most democratic club in the world”. Well it’s certainly one of the most democratic in Manchester, but having just enthused of all things Manc, I fear that that sort of hyperbole coupled with the dismissive tone of people’s concerns and outright mistruths as to what people are seeking to do, isn’t actually very democratic at all.

You see I don’t think FC United is perfect. There! I said it and as I let my cathartic statement wash over you, let me follow that up with… but I don’t think it’s crap and I don’t think everything needs changing. I just think some things could be done better.

There’s been a whole load of stuff written about “transparency” in recent months, and the problem is that the word means different things to different people. So let me tell you what it means to me and some of what I’d like to see done differently, and hopefully you’ll agree with one or two things I say.

We as members don’t make every decision, we trust the board to do that, and rightly so but if we don’t know what board members are doing then we lack transparency. We don’t need to know who voted for what (although that would be nice) but if we knew how votes went, how unanimous it was that would help provide transparency to members. Also board minutes are published at a glacial speed and require more effort than online banking to access.

Other clubs such as Wimbledon just post their minutes for all to see, along with financial statements, which you could just get online anyway. But we shouldn’t be following Wimbledon’s lead we should be showing that here, in Manchester, we lead the world, let’s show how we have nothing to hide, it’s all above board. How many times have you been in a pub and someone questions FC’s activities with a “My mate said….” opening gambit. Bollocks! Send them a link to the website where they can see for themselves and shut them up.

We don’t know as members what responsibilities board members have, in fact we don’t know what the organisational structure of the club is. How can we make a decision about who to vote for if we don’t know what board members do? Also speaking of voting, I’d like to see a big push for candidates. We run the risk if Alison steps down next year of having no women on the board, plus we already have no young or old people, no ethnic minorities, just a bunch of grumpy looking white blokes.

Whilst representative, that’s not healthy democracy, and speaking of bad democracy often having 4 candidates for 4 places isn’t good democracy. Most board members have walked onto the board by virtue of simply applying, not by voting. This isn’t because Andy Walsh just gets his mates to apply as has been suggested, it’s because we don’t push the advantages of being on the board to more members. Also no standing board member has ever failed to re-elected, so basically if you fancy it, it’s a job for life at the moment. That’s surely not good for the club.

We have had a press relations person at FC since day one. However there is no-one tasked with disseminating information to fans. Surely that’s not right? Can you remember how you found out about TAL falling through? Maybe you were one of the lucky ones who managed to get to Prestwich on Saturday morning, maybe you had a mate there who texted you, maybe you were one of the ones asking the car park bloke on the forecourt what he knew, or maybe having invested your money you sat and worried and waited before finally reading more details in the MEN on Monday. That’s not right. We shouldn’t have the MEN as a primary source of club information for every bit of Moston or TAL news. The members’ blog is another case in point, rarely updated and with information that should just be on the website for all to see anyway. If you think the club distributes information clearly to fans, I’ve one word to say…. Chorley.

The most worrying thing is none of the above, the most worrying thing is that in a constant attempt to fight against FC’s detractors, I fear that we’ve reached a climate within the club where most criticism is jumped on. Even if that criticism comes from within the ranks of our own members, that’s the truly scary thing. That’s going from “Bolshie” to “Bolshevik”.

Ironically the last issue ended with the phrase “we really could be sleepwalking into becoming just another football club” and that’s my primary worry too. I don’t want that, we’re more than that, we’re better than that and smug complacency that everything we do is the “right way”, or shouting down people who have ideas for how to make things better, is the quickest way to walk that sleepwalk.

Here is the original article, that is referred to, from A Fine Lung issue seven…

Notions of us and them

Self-doubt and selfism were the cheapest things I ever bought…
Stood in the Main Stand bar before a recent FC United night match, myself and a comrade were party to quite a display, as one of the volunteers quit on the spot.
There were a few tears, a mini-tantrum and then by the time we’d finished our beer, the volunteer was back to whistling as they worked.

All very strange, but apparently this was not a unique incident of late. Furthermore, a week or so earlier, we’d had the experience of listening to people running for the board tell the annual general meeting that things ‘need shaking up’.

One person, during what must surely have been the greatest misplacement of ‘perspective’ in the history of the word, compared democracy at the club with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I don’t think he was joking.

Added to this, I have recently overheard some hilarious conversations about every paranoid person’s favourite subject – ‘cliques’. Apparently, according to some enlightened souls, FC United of Manchester is being run by a ‘Stretford Boys Club’. Not to be confused with the ‘Boys Club’ movement of the early 20th century, or Salford’s version, where The Smiths famously posed for the Queen is Dead, this apparently is an insular ‘clique’ that has left fans disenfranchised.

Yes, that’s right; among the famously disenfranchised FC United there are now fans that are seemingly the ‘disenfranchised of the disenfranchised’. In their own minds, at least.
For the uninitiated, the SBC (got a nice ring to it, you must admit) was a name given, by certain knockers, to those running the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association many years ago and those of us involved in the main fanzines. They met in Stretford and some people were upset they didn’t get to make the butties. Or something.

So anyway, many of those boys were behind the setting up of FC United of Manchester and without them you wouldn’t be reading this and I wouldn’t be writing this monologue to the dispossessed. They sound like low-life, self-seekers to me.

With ‘cliques’ fresh in mind, we had the wonderful spectacle recently of a clique set up to discuss cliques, under the (surely ironic?) heading of ‘transparency’.
Of course, well in the mix, is the most popular FC internet forum, which has housed some wonderfully fanciful stories of mistreatment over the years, with many internet warriors outwardly lying about their reasons for no longer being involved in order to damage the club or certain people within it.

When told to stand for the board or to put resolutions into AGMs, these keyboard colonels come back with excuses about not having the time, before they precede to spend the next 10 hours stretching threads out to 25 pages.

Some supporters have handed their memberships in and quit as volunteers over some very trivial matters. They have then gone around and bitched in order to gain support for their often-misplaced ire, before returning to their role a week later.

Gaël Cliquey…
Now, as the club we are and with the inevitable feisty nature and ‘fuck-you-ism’ needed to get this thing of ours off the ground, it is to be expected that we are all varying degrees of slapped arse. We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t.

But it appears certain people have lost all perspective and allowed their minds to become addled as they seek further influence within the club, or an enhanced ‘profile’. Volunteers should always be treated with respect and they are the true lifeblood of this football club. Some have genuine reasons for complaint and they have every right to make these known. And most do so in the correct manner, which allows issues to be dealt with.

However, I have sat in meetings with various groups of volunteers when club staff have thrown the floor open and allowed them to voice any concerns they may have. I have been to every AGM and GM and witnessed the ‘any questions’ sections of these events. Yet many of the people doing the complaining and bitching seldom, if ever, have said anything in the correct forum for doing so.

I once witnessed a group of people sit on their hands and say fuck all for half an hour before walking out at the end of the meeting to begin a huge bitching session on the Gigg Lane forecourt.

Snidey gossip and conspiracy theories don’t help anyone. Getting things out in the open does. That is what the much-vaunted word ‘transparency’ actually means. It would be funny, were it not so ridiculously true, that those most likely to discuss these imaginary cliques (which from what I can gather appear to be merely ‘groups of friends’, some of whom have committed the sin of knowing each other long before FC United was even a dream) are in fact the most cliquey people at the club.

Club staff spend hours each week solving issues for volunteers and supporters and they spend nearly as long appeasing people who are, quite frankly, creating problems where there aren’t any.

That attention to the supporter base and caring nature, often for those who could quite rightly expect to be told to sling it were they behaving like they do in any other organisation, does not happen at any other football club.

FC United of Manchester is probably the most democratic football club in the world. And many people seem to forget that amid a haze of paranoid shit stirring.
The board now features just four of its original members, out of the 11 that sit on it. That is some turn over in six years and hardly the basis of a ‘status quo’. Those on the board could actually be me and you. This weird notion of ‘us and them’ is completely misplaced. We’re no longer at Old Trafford – isn’t that obvious? Remember who the real enemy is – those who took our game from us and those intent on destroying our communities.

And before this is dismissed as ‘towing the line’, I’m hit with the classic put-down of ‘divisive’, or I am given an honorary membership of the SBC, I am not naïve enough to think things cannot be improved and I am by no means of the opinion that things are perfect. Many things have annoyed me over the years.

But, we have the power to carry out the necessary improvements, democratically and transparently, let’s remember that. We have been going for six years and the learning curve has been sharp, and will probably get even sharper over the coming months.

It is very disappointing that the recent negativity has come at a time when we should be concentrating our collective efforts into funding the move to our potential new home in Moston, and thus securing the future of our football club.

If ever a perspective bomb had to be dropped to disperse the dark clouds of doom, it is now. We have an opportunity to do everything this club set out to do when it was formed. We can go into an area of Manchester that will benefit from our politics and we can make a real difference to people’s lives. We can help in the fight-back against our unelected rulers who think it is fair to make poor people pay for the follies of the rich.

That is how important this football club can be. That is what we should be concentrating on. Let’s hope the misguided handful doesn’t let their poison spread into damaging something so potentially wonderful. TH

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