Posted by: seanxsmith | April 29, 2009

FCUM manifesto

Punk football comes to Bury

* * *

A middle-aged bloke is waving the white and blue Argentinian flag, with the word ‘MARGENTINA’ printed on it, wafting the aroma of chips, pies, beer and aftershave towards the back of the stand. Someone passes around a hip flask full of fiery liquor of indeterminate origin.

Everyone in the crowd wearing FC United of Manchester scarves starts twirling them above their heads like so many synchronised red and white helicopters. I catch a hint of weed on the breeze. A minute later, they’re all singing, “I don’t care about Rio, and he don’t care about me ..” to the tune of Mellow Yellow.

They proceed to enthusiastically bawl out a string of half-remembered tunes (Donovan’s drippy-hippie classic, Peaches by the Stranglers, Under the Boardwalk by the Drifters, even the theme from The Addams Family) complete with new, morale-boosting, frequently hilarious lyrics.

It’s a surreal assault on the senses, an impression only heightened by the entire 3000 strong FCUM crowd suddenly chanting ‘Attack! Attack!‘ over and over. They only stop when the ref blows the half-time whistle.

Oh yes, there’s a football match on too.

Malcolm Glazer’s takeover of Manchester United Football Club last year was neither unusual or surprising – like any other public limited company, if you buy enough MUFC shares, you’re the boss. But the reaction of ordinary fans to the American billionaire acquiring a controlling interest in the club was simply extraordinary.

Rightfully fearing that Glazer would have to borrow a large part of MUFC’s £790million price-tag (using the stadium and even the players as collateral on the loan, to be sold on in the event that he defaulted) fans were against the move from the outset. Efforts to exert pressure though the stock market achieved little, more militant voices came to prominence and there were large demonstrations outside Old Trafford.

3321951049_7fe7072cae_mA group of die-hard Reds decided they’d had enough and rather than continue ‘the fight from within’, in the venerable Mancunian tradition of proud, uncompromising bloody-mindedness they decided to form their own football team. A team which would stay true to the ideals – integrity, community loyalty – they felt Manchester United had betrayed.

But football isn’t the game it once was. After 96 Liverpool fans died on the terraces at Hillsborough in 1989, football grounds’ big, rowdy unseated pens were replaced by banks of seating. Rather than paying on the door, on the day, fans now had to buy expensive season tickets with allocated seating. It was pot luck who they sat next to. The atmosphere at matches changed.

Nick Hornby didn‘t help matters. Fever Pitch persuaded the middle classes that football was not only modishly laddish, tribal and credible, but also sufficiently disengaged from its working class origins for them to avoid experiencing anything too unsettling. Football became a multi-million pound business and MUFC were at the forefront, enjoying enormous success on the pitch and on the stock market.

“People go on about Glazer but if they want to get upset about something, they should’ve got upset went the club became a PLC in the first place,” Boardy, an early supporter of the club and my affable guide into the wonderful and strange world of FCUM, tells me at half-time. “It’s okay when you’re winning trophies. You’ve got loads of money for this and that, but you’re still paying money to shareholders, you’re still running the club as a business. You could argue that if people are that bothered, they should have done something then.”

The origins of FCUM fans’ sense of disengagement from the club they adore clearly go back further than Glazer’s arrival on the scene.

“Towards the end of the time I was going down to Old Trafford, I wasn’t even buying a programme,” remembers Wolfie, who edits the FCUM fanzine, Under the Boardwalk. “I might’ve bought a beer. But they don’t want the likes of me down there. They want the tourists, who’ll spend a bit of money in the shop.”

The young side that did so well in the Nineties, says Wolfie, “obviously they were getting paid a lot of money but they were in touch with the fans, there was a community connection there. People like the Neville brothers, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs – he’s technically Welsh but he’s as Salford as they come – even Beckham, to an extent. They had a link to the local fans that we’re probably losing now.”

While everyone still refers to Manchester United as ‘us’ there’s much more of a connection with the team put together by greengrocer and Manchester United fan turned FC United manager, Karl Marginson (hence the ‘Margentinian’ flag and the frequent lyrical references to fruit and veg) than an Alex Ferguson side fans often regard as flash, arrogant and mercenary.

The part-time side – made up of disaffected United fans and canny semi-professionals dropping down a few levels to play for a team so obviously on the way up – has had a dream first season is phenomenally well supported, particularly when their opponents can usually muster a couple of dozen souls at most. There were more than 4000 fans at Blackpool in February, and with home teams getting half the £7 a head gate receipts, it’s fair to say FCUM have made an impact on Division Two of the North-West Counties League

Running the club as an Industrial and Provident Friendly Society, on a one member, one vote system, the sense of ownership fans feel for FCUM is palpable. Taking their inspiration from the DIY culture found in the UK in the late Seventies, they call it Punk Football. The young supporters club is called the FC Children of the Revolution.

Relishing the step back in time they experience when they crowd onto the terraces at the Manchester Road End of their adopted home of Gigg Lane in Bury, they wear club shirts, scarves, badges and hats in a way that fashion-conscious football supporters haven’t done in decades. Kids get in for free, so loads of them are charging about and there are more women than you might expect. Everyone has a smile on their face.

The banter is a bit rough and ready – this is football after all – with old hatreds slowly being supplanted by new ones (Winsford Town replacing Manchester City as the team they love to hate), but FCUM matches are gloriously celebratory affairs, win, lose or draw. Under the Boardwalk columnist ‘Politico’ says it is, “football how it used to be, full of fun, laughter, and raw, uninhibited passion,” and continues, “FCUM has allowed us to reclaim some kind of control of our lives, and that is why it feels so good”.

“I just want to see how far it goes,” decides Boardy, “that’s all it’s about. See how far it goes. Enjoy the ride. People say, what do you expect to achieve? All that. Well, what I achieve is a fucking laugh, that’s what I achieve.”

[First published by Flux Magazine in October 2006]

PHOTO: Pickle-Pics at Flickr

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