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Come on, let’s be avenue…

Submitted by on May 5, 2012 – 10:33 pmNo Comment

They might be the words of our fellow football club owner Delia Smith, but they’re also the sentiments of the West Yorkshire Police, who have, for what they say are resource and public safety reasons, told the 1,000 FC United fans that were permitted to attend their club’s play-off final against Bradford, that they can forget the scheduled Saturday 3pm kick-off, and instead can only see the game if they come 23 hours later.

It’s not the first time of course that we’ve been messed around like this, and while there is some recognition that FC fans may have given a bit of ammunition to those seeking to limit the possibilities for the kind of away day we have come to hope for every now and then, there is above all a deep disappointment and dismay (and a few of those other dis’s for good measure) at the power that various authorities clearly have to scythe down our plans at alarmingly short notice.

We may like to proudly state the ‘our club: our rules’ mantra, but the nagging recognition has been there all the time that of course, we’re always reliant to some extent on other groups and individuals that don’t share our outlook or interests. We’re a football club after all, and need other clubs and leagues to provide meaningful structure to what we do, and of course local authorities, police and the government of the day can and do have an enormous influence on what we can and can’t do. Ten Acres Lane being just three words that bring that realization crashing home whenever we see them.

FC then has two broad aims. To become the club we all dream it can be – hopefully by playing on as big a stage as possible in order to show that fans can run a football club better than financially-motivated investors. The second broad aim must be achieved along the way, because it also holds the key to how we might be able to maintain our principles while climbing further up the leagues. We need others on our side – other fan-owned clubs and meaningful supporter representation within the game’s governing bodies. This would almost certainly go a long way to soothing the uneasy relationship many FC fans have with the notion of ‘progressing’ up the leagues.

In light of the last week’s events, we have to hope that if fans were to get real power in football generally, and not just in our own club, this would also surely help prevent local authorities and the police from treating us like unruly children without presenting very good reasons in a transparent way. But what do we do in the meantime, while we know we’re an island of fan democracy in a sea of fan exploitation? Football fans do sometimes act like dicks, and worse, but we shouldn’t just accept that this means we can all be messed around and inconvenienced with so little regard to our interests, not to mention our lives away from football, and that this can potentially happen whenever we have a big match to play in the future.

When we’ve been messed around with for reasons of someone else’s commercial gain, like with the Curzon Ashton ‘Invision’ case, we all know what we can do to stop this happening – we’d emphatically already established this part of our armory in 2005, we just removed ourselves and therefore removed the incentive for anyone to try to commercially exploit us. When we’re messed around with for the reasons given this week though, we know the boycotting tactic isn’t the clear-cut obvious choice. We know it wouldn’t directly hurt the ones responsible for this, but what other options do we have?

Fans have been putting up with being treated like this for decades. They’ve been turning up as they’ve been told and what difference has that made? Clearly not a positive one. So if fans stopped turning up whenever fixtures are in their view unreasonably messed around with, perhaps… perhaps the pressure from even commercially-minded clubs and leagues would have an effect. Perhaps, and perhaps not, but maybe it’s worth a try.

I understand the arguments against staying away – ‘you’ll only hurt yourself, the players etc’, and of course ‘the police will be laughing at having such an easy time and will do the same again safe in the knowledge that those reactionary FC fans will stay away again’. As for the former, well so what? No strike or boycott has ever avoided hurting those closest to those taking the action. By definition it’s a sacrifice and therefore not taken lightly, but the end, long-term result is what should make it worthwhile.

The latter argument – the laughing policeman – I don’t buy. There’s no promise being made about what kind of action we’ll take in future, so even if the Machiavellian police forces of England were always desperately trying to find ways of preventing FC United fans from attending games, having the boycott in our armory doesn’t mean we’re doomed to responding like salivating dogs.

This week, the events have shown above all that we’re not sufficiently prepared as a fan base for this scenario. There hasn’t been enough time between the decision(s) being announced and the game itself for an informed consensus to emerge. It’s clear we need to develop a clear narrative of what we can meaningfully do when this occurs again – in the same way we know almost instinctively what to do when someone’s after exploiting us for commercial gain. Then if and when this happens again, we can hopefully respond as one, and come through with the type of unity we had after the Curzon boycott, rather than the ambivalence and disunity that appears to be the case now.

I’ve decided not to go to the game, but it was a close call. Because of the above-mentioned ambivalence around this issue, there isn’t a clear-cut right and wrong thing to do, not for me anyway. So I’m not calling it a boycott, because I believe for a boycott, like a strike, you need to have had a proper debate about what you’re trying to achieve and how best to get there. Without that, we can’t impose a divisive call to boycott on the issue, because those who go to the match are not going against any agreed collective action. That isn’t a wishy-washy liberal cop-out; it’s about respecting people who more than deserve the respect of acknowledging that we might well be wrong or misguided in our choices.

I’m sure this incident will give us all a kick up the arse and we can help our club out a bit more in future to develop more robust and effective means to tackle these kind of issues, and above all, to make sure as a support, we’re ready to act in the right way when our vision of our club comes under the unwanted attention of people who don’t care what we’re all about, but whose position allows them to put a spanner in the works.

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