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Quo Vadis FC?

Submitted by on December 24, 2015 – 3:53 pmOne Comment

ballys

Quo Vadis FC?

Stockport away was one of those days when everything seemed right in the world. A 2-1 win away from home, following a number of defeats, and getting to meet up with loads of reds, some of whom have otherwise drifted away from FC, and with it live football.

One of those friends was in the pub on the evening. “Drifted away” would put his story mildly. Betrayed by the club would be a better description. I’m lucky enough to have never experienced such a thing. For about 8 years straight, I believed the club could do no wrong, since then we’ve had a more troubled time. Writing an article about it is almost therapeutic, and whilst hopefully providing something interesting to read, it has also helped me reflect and try to understand what is going on.

Whilst I’ve not been betrayed by the club, I’ve often felt bitter disappointment. For many of us, FC started off as a protest by Manchester United fans. Obviously things evolve and move on. I remember a time-served red telling me years ago (the blue jumper and cargo trousers he wears should give most of you an idea who it was), that he’d knocked FC on the head because he “couldn’t accept the idea of falling in love with a club that wasn’t Manchester United”. I couldn’t understand it at the time, but on reflection he had a point. FC still has an intrinsic link to MUFC, but it took an alternative path the moment we made flags relating to FC or sang new songs. That was just the start. 10 or so years is a long time. Change is inevitable. My own relationship with the club has changed over that time too.

GlazersGill

FC was a stop gap at the beginning, it grew in my heart to a fondness, even a preference. Yet when the club disappoints, it feels like the carpet is whipped from under your feet. The façade drops. You realise it’s “just” 10 years in comparison with the years with United. You could stop going to watch FC, but you’d never be able to not be a United fan. The problem is though that running back to MUFC isn’t an answer. Many of my friends have experienced this. They remain caught in no-mans land. Disappointed by FC, not prepared to go back to Old Trafford, they end up where we never wanted to be – without football on a weekend, or stuck in front of the tele in a pub. They are in my eyes too good to end up like that.

“They cant hurt you, their style will never desert you, because theyre all safely dead”

So whats gone wrong? Essentially time didnt stand still. You know what the best moment in owning your own football club is? The first match. Leigh RMI away, only United fans, very little effort on most people’s part, none of the challenges to integrity, difficult decisions etc, just a big up yours to the common enemies and a feature in the paper. That’s the moment to be around for. You feel like you’ve basically reinvented football, everyone has respect for you, you can afford to be all self righteous – One member one vote, “this is our club belongs to you and me”, fan ownership blah blah blah. In Hollywood the credits would roll at this point. The moment, the idea behind the club would be safe from the corruption of normal life, and the “football purists” would have won.

The problem is though that there is no football utopia. The victory doesn’t stay won. As Sepp Herberger, the former Germany manager, once said “nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel” – after the match is before the match. Things carry on, forever. The football doesnt end. And if the football doesnt end, nor does a club remain unchanged. In fact it just gets more complicated. You begin to learn harsh realities.

One such reality is that the majority of football fans don’t actually care that much about democracy. They like to have a say if things get a bit rocky, but generally other than enough involvement to engender a certain feeling of attachment, they’d rather someone else dealt with it. Perhaps a popular leader with some good quotes for when things go well, and someone to blame for when things go badly. FC is no different. For the first few years of FC this worked fine. We had a decent constitution and some good people on the board, a few “right-on” decisions and the odd hint of a critical viewpoint on the commercialisation of football. As a result of this I trusted all those running the club. When it came around to voting, I ticked boxes where they recommended it and took the finances on trust. I probably even spent more time than necessary on the voting around kit designs.

Fans

Criticism by the likes of a short lived critical blog (if I remember rightly, it was called Republikans) or the flyer Tony O’Neill handed me once before a match were seen as rocking the boat. That wasn’t just my viewpoint, FC fans did, and to a certain degree still do, react very badly to criticism, however constructive, of the club. We wonder to ourselves why anyone would ever think that the fans on the board would ever want anything different for the club than what we wanted as fans on the terrace?

“United we stand, divided we fall”

10 years later the democratic potential at FC remains as strong, the actual democracy just as weak. We boast 5000 members, yet seemingly most of them are just well wishers, as voter turnout is incredibly low. Furthermore discussion of topics amongst the active membership still prove difficult. In the early days we often spoke of being a “broad church”, more importantly we had one common goal (make a club) and one unifying enemy (the Glazers). Now we assume everyone has an agenda. This fracture in the membership and wider fanbase is partly down to the time that has passed since we defined our aims, partly down to newcomers who don’t necessary immediately understand what the club is about, and partly down to the fact that any discussion between fans tends to take place online (never a good location for a respectful heart to heart).

Of course the paranoia that prevails is not just down to who said what on Facebook, the club has also played its part in creating the problem. For a longtime transparency was missing, many decisions were at best difficult to understand, at worst influenced by cronyism or nigh on Machiavellian plotting by certain individuals. The end result though is that many proposals made to improve the club, are treated as Trojan horses created by outsiders, cliques or critics. Rather than sensible discussions of the merits of proposals submitted, those who put the time and effort in to submitting something, or indeed stand for the board, have received vitriol from fellow members.

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This time around at the Annual General Meeting, it reached a new low. A founding member (I think he was even in the original steering committee) wrote around 32 separate proposals to be discussed and voted on. There was room for criticism of him, some of his discussion around them was too personal or offensive, also many of the proposals themselves would have rightfully been rejected for being poorly worded, thus leaving too many grey areas. Yet despite this, many of the proposals made important points, often uncomfortable but nevertheless valid.

So what happened? The person in question was a lapsed member who had reapplied. In the lead up to the meeting, he had his membership application revoked by the board. Just in time, the board had ensured that he couldn’t attend and make his case. A relatively long list of fellow members who had backed his proposals, following the proper process, were denounced for not volunteering often enough. The previous viewpoint of the club in trying not to reject “awkward” fans, and the ethos of all members being equal was trampled upon. Furthermore, an important chance to discuss and use the democratic structure that the club offers had been missed. The fallout means one or two more members drifting away, an opportunity to firm up or clarify the clubs viewpoint on a number of important matters seemingly successfully deterred.

Grounds for concern

Many people have cricitised the delay in delivering the new ground, yet I think this is unfair. For all their faults, many working in an official capacity at the club have dedicated years of their lives to get us there, far more than most of us. Should we hold them accountable for it being late? I believe not. I think that we are still run by fans, and the expectation that this will run on time, on budget in all cases is perhaps a little unrealistic. What the unavoidable fallout is though, is that we seemingly owe everyone money or favours.

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After enduring seasons of donation drives that made affordable football pretty hard to believe (the ticket price was always low, but the gauntlet of volunteers asking for donations in some form or other was tiring on the wallet), we now attempt to grab any profit going. Recent examples haven’t been pretty, whether it was the Twitter adverts for a zero-contract using Honda dealership, or the price hike on the programmes, our behaviour has become increasingly money grabbing. Compare the situation we find ourselves in, with how we, as a club, harp on about how great we are, and the difference is jarring. The phrase “doing things differently” coined at some stage by the official club now has all the cache of “every little helps”. Added to this, rather than learning from the shitstorms that have followed various regrettable decisions, those in charge have become flustered and attempted to shut down the discussion or select a fallguy rather than addressing the problem.

Meanwhile we continue to sell ourselves as a success story to further the careers of our various beneficiaries. Barely a month goes by where our, at best, unripe democratic culture, in debt with an admittedly impressive but delayed ground, is rolled out in hundreds of internet features or documentaries. We have become the poster boys and girls of supporter ownership, despite most of us being either indifferent to the concept or having our reservations about its execution. The increasingly institutionalised Supporters Direct trot us out to convince other fans that their clubs should follow a similar path. The seemingly stillborn HFc Falke, a recent addition to the range of clubs, doesn’t feature in a paper without mentioning FCUM, us seemingly being the flagship product.

In other words we do the waving for the cameras and atmosphere for a concept we currently barely partake in, a utopian vision to give other fans and assorted uefa officals a warm glow. People often talk about the club hosting events for such organisations, even summer tournaments with the other teams. Shouldn’t we be working on getting our own membership reengaged before running the marketing for others?

Pictures by Russ Hart

Pictures by Russ Hart

Our fans seem tired and disillusioned, divided and bitter. Our democracy is struggling, new fans unsure of what our culture or customs are, our vision never defined beyond getting to the new ground. We have a raft of open questions people are too scared to try to answer, and those who recognise how we are papering over the cracks, are drifting away.

So now the wakeup call. It would be easy for many of us to give up. Isnt that such a popular trait amongst us lefties? (whether FC is just for lefties is another question, but we are writing on for AFL here). We like to take the easy way out, we mope on about how we were sold out. We could sit in the pubs, claim that everything was alright at the club back when we went, that we were robbed, that football is flawed, that it’s someone else’s fault. In actual fact, we have no one else to blame, but ourselves. We must accept that there is no football utopia. Outsiders might believe we live in one, but we are going to have to fight every season to keep the club as we wish, to cope with changes and the evolution of the club whilst maintaining what it is meant to be. There will be no happy end where we win football, just a series of ups and downs, where we can, through hard work and attention, ensure the onus is onthe ups.

The club will never remain the sole possession of the founding members, but it can be passed on to others who understand and respect its traditions. Furthermore it will continue to give us a place to go. I suspect that we can’t live without football. We are social incompetents who cannot survive without the comfort blanket of the game, who feel too ill at ease with society to spend their weekends just sitting in “nice” cafes drinking overpriced coffee with “nice” people. The fixture list allows us to structure our lives better and above all keep in contact with friends we otherwise would only see half as often. For me that alone is something worth fighting for.

FC United of Manchester is our only hope of maintaining this, and the fight is still winnable. If you marched prior to Milan in 2005, or were dragged from the street by the police working for the Glazers, you know that the fight for FC is an easier one than with MUFC. Last month’s vote showed how much apathy there is at FC and how few votes can have an influence. Whether it’s forcing a real democracy on the club and ridding it of the smog of hangers on, or just keeping a lid on the fcfamily and their rightwing/oddball antics by selfpolicing the ground, this club is ours to have. No more talk of what we should have done, or how others have failed us, whilst we are dumped into the no-mans land of football in the pub, organise, show patience, discuss, vote and grasp what is ours!

FCUM OK!

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