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Doctor, doctor, can’t you see I’m learning, learning…

Submitted by on June 14, 2013 – 5:00 pmOne Comment


AFL at the MMU Annual Football Conference
First off a couple of admissions – number one, this was the first ‘conference’ I have ever been to and number two, I have never been surrounded by so many doctors since the last time I found myself in A&E.

Now these things are relevant, believe it or not, in writing this sort-of-review of the Manchester Metropolitan University’s annual football conference, which I was lucky enough to attend this week.

It was hugely interesting couple of days and the speaking line up, including many comrades of this publication, encouraged some great gabbing with their array of vastly eclectic presentations.

The so-called doctors who organised the event deserve great credit for pulling together the likes of David Conn, Sheila Coleman from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, football historian Gary James, DJ Dave Haslam, the original Doc – Adam Brown, Malcolm Clarke from the Football Supporters’ Federation and many more.

There were a number of presentations and discussions on a great range of topics relating to football, which were all underpinned in some way by culture, community and fan involvement.

I am no expert in the field of conferences, as my admission shows, but it is impressive that a university should give this kind of credence and time to discussions of this nature about the game we all love to moan about and enjoy in equal measure.

David Conn kicked us off with a talk about how football started and how it became the capitalist beast it is. He was rudely interrupted, which my guide tells me is not good etiquette, by a blue, which will surprise no one. I got chatting to said blue (interrupter, not Conn) later on and he was sound, football team aside, as it turned out.

And that impressed me most – people talked about stuff. It sounds daft and a bit simple, but I have only really ever spoken about football culture with people like myself. People who are roughly into or anti the same things as me and my mates. Here you could talk to a range of people from all kinds of backgrounds – academics, supporters, campaigners, researchers and even a lawyer (who spoke about how fans are treated and the ridiculous nature of banning orders, which can be implemented with no evidence as a ‘preventative measure’).

Even our mate Bernard out of Jilted John was there exhibiting his ace paintings (pickingsides.co.uk).



FC United was mentioned a lot. This was by no means deliberate on the part of the organisers – only two presentations related to the club. But people in the audiences, from wherever they came, tapped into something we have created and they seemed appreciative and interested in the club, as they constantly drew back to FC as part of the post-presentation debates.

It was lovely to see people, outside of our usual social circles, discussing this thing a few of us started off our own backs.
The fact the FC mentions were organic, rather than nurtured by the conference agenda, was all the more heartening and a sign we must be doing something right as a club.

Of course other clubs, including Sankt Pauli and Exeter City featured heavily. The Sankt Pauli presentation by Mick Totten from Leeds Metropolitan University, centered on an issue many of us noticed during FC’s visit to Hamburg in 2010.

Although the fans of the club are overtly political, as we all know, there is a very evident separation between them and the actual club. People mistakenly think St Pauli is a ‘left wing club’, when in actual fact it is the fans that are, not the body of the actual entity of FCSP.

We noticed, and reported on here, that the club has a lot of commercial aspects to it. The ground is a soulless wood and glass construction, which at the time contained exec boxes, including one that was effectively a lap-dancing lounge. As Mick noted, this has now been scrapped due to supporter-led campaigns. Furthermore, I noticed in a shop in town they now sell designer St Pauli T-shirts, presumably licensed by the company who stole the skull and crossbow emblem off the fans.

At the Lung we have many writers with far more knowledge than me about St Pauli, but I am sure this was the first time I heard that the fans had bought their own water canon to use should the police turn theirs on them. That is something many people would pay to see…

Also on the theme of German football, Peter Millward (another doc), from Liverpool John Moores, spoke about how fans there (Germany not Liverpool) complain about their game in the same way fans here complain, which will surprise many of those who vouch for some kind of Bundesliga promised land. He has contributed to a book called ‘German football is rubbish’, which flies in the face of current thinking, however deliberately provocative the title is.

Once again, this may be no shock to our readers, as the Lung has featured a few articles on this subject – through their own experiences our writers Christian and Teddy have regularly questioned the lofted opinion many in this country have of German football.

Doc Peter also discussed his field-work (no fields involved) into the ultra movement, with an emphasis on a little-know club in eastern Germany called Carl Zeiss Jena. Pete the Doc spent much time with their ultras, drinking and singing and learning dance moves. It made for interesting listening.
Exeter City’s Doctor (see what I mean?) David Treharne, spoke about the trials and tribulations of the supporters’ trust that runs his club. The point was made that very few reds present at our game there in 2004 would have thought we would be taking some inspiration from them in setting up our own Trust-run club less than a year later.

However, the level of camaraderie didn’t extend to a certain MMU employee giving Doc Dave back the ball he stole from the Grecians at that game…
There was plenty about football’s community role and how that could be improved. The importance of supporters was paramount throughout with an apparently unanimous consensus that fan-ownership could only improve a game that has been strangled by greed.

This was a theme that ran into the evening event at the National Football Museum. Again, the organisers compiled an intriguing top table which featured Lung comrade Mark Longden from IMUSA, Jay McKenna from Spirit of Shankly, Malcolm Clarke and Bill Routledge a self-professed ‘Preston casual’… his shorts, socks and shoes combo being the height of fashion out that way it would seem.

The less said about the relevance of the food and drink choices to ‘football culture’ the better.

The chair was DJ Dave Haslam (not a doctor). Dave did his best to hold things together, but showed a slight lack of understanding on occasion, which led many to question his true knowledge of football culture. His admission that he was happy with his beloved West Brom being owned by a businessman, was quite startlingly naive, given the themes of the event. To be fair to DJ Dave, when this was pointed out to him he took it in good humour and was happy to admit to a certain amount of ‘devils’ advocating’.

McKenna was excellent. One of the shock revelations of the night was that he is only 26-years-old. We can only presume he must walk up hill to work…

Many of the issues being discussed across the two days will be completely familiar to those who read this publication. We have been banging on about the same things for many years, and it certainly feels sometimes like we, as politicised Manchester United fans primarily, are constantly waiting for others to catch up. Football is largely still a mess and this was stated on many occasions at the conference.

The night event highlighted this perfectly – as one Lung representative pointed out, we were having very similar discussions 15 years ago. In fact many of those in the room, were at the Town Hall for the Football Task Force debate in the mid-1990s.

The subject matter was not new to many of us, but maybe the issues we have been campaigning about in football needed this extra attention from the intelligenza to create more of a focus on improvement and the advertisement of examples of a better way of doing things? Who knows.

Hopefully something will come out of it and people will go away knowing more about what is wrong, and right, about football in this country. They can then educate others.

The more people that have the debate, the better it will be for all of us in the long run. MMU deserve great credit for furthering this opportunity. If only the authorities would catch on too.

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