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FC make some noise

FC United 0-1 FC Halifax (11:12:10)

There is no government health warning printed on match day tickets at FC United of Manchester. And there should be. I suffer from terracechantitis; a disease whereby if I hear a natty terrace ditty on a Saturday, it’s liable to rattle around in my head for days, weeks and, I’m looking at you here Royal Antwerp, months later. Be forewarned: FCUM have become the kings of the natty terrace ditty.
EFW has covered most aspects of the rise and rise of FC United here, there and everywhere. The one thing missing is a report on a matchday experience on their (sort of) home turf. So I rolled back the years and journeyed north for a 540 mile round trip, something I used to do every other week following Brighton, before I became obsessed with, ahem, European Football Weekends.
Under the boardwalk, watching FC.

What’s not to like?

First port of call upon arrival into Manchester was the Waldorf pub. It probably doesn’t rank too highly on beerintheevening.com, but time wasn’t on our side and it’s only a goal kick away from Piccadilly station. I’m not too sure if any new bands have emerged on the Manchester scene in the last decade, because the pub was still pumping out tunes by The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets on loop. Still, that suits me fine and it proved an inspirational backdrop as Cynical Dave, City Dave, Mr Fuller, Christa and I made notes on the EFW divisional ready reckoner.
Despite the knock on effects of a devastating crash in this area last week, the tram service from Manchester to Bury was running as smooth as a pint of Boddingtons. It was hard not to rubberneck as we eased our way through the carnage left behind on Coronation Street. Our thoughts are of course with Ashley Peacock and his family at this distressing time.
Bury tram station pumps out Abba tunes on a Saturday morning. No, me neither, but Dancing Queen seemed fairly apt as Mr Fuller was still sporting a spot of mascara from his previous nights entertainment – part of a bet on a work night out in Denmark by all accounts. Those Danes eh? What are they like?
The hospitality afforded to the EFW team at the Stade le Gigg, Bury was of the highest possible order. A chap called Swampy took us under his wing and – after negotiating the crystal maze of the Bury main stand, with doors and stairways everywhere, like a deluxe edition of Cluedo – we finally ended up in the Course You Can Malcolm (CYCM) bar. Here we knocked back an ale brewed to commemorate FC United’s FA Cup run and listened to some quality, and very funny, speeches by the home (team) manager and his trusty assistant. A bit different. A bit brilliant, actually.
She wore, she wore, she wore a Scarlet Ribbon.

I say Ottershaw, this Barnstoneworth United can play a bit lad.

Heavy duty flagage.

The highest compliment I can bestow on this match, is that it felt like a game in Germany in terms of the atmosphere. And lets not forget to mention FC Halifax fans part in all this. They travelled in great numbers – 5-600 or more – and gave their team tremendous vocal encouragement as they celebrated their 100th game as the club who replaced Halifax Town A.F.C. a c0uple of seasons ago.
In truth, there wasn’t too much high fiving between the two sets of fans. This was Yorkshire v Lancashire, and a battle of the roses, after all. A couple of FC Halifax fans had caused a bit of northern uproar by referring to FC United as ESPN United, and a few more chanted USA, USA during the game. See what they did there? Ouch. The home fans also insisted on singing anti-Leeds United songs. I don’t get that, I don’t get the songs about Eric Cantona either, but – for me anyway – 90% of everything they do makes sense.
We were plenty surprised by the high skill factor and flair from both teams during the match, which was befitting of such a large crowd. FC Halifax deserved their victory though. A small section of the travelling Shaymen put the stewards to the test by trying to encroach on the pitch at the end. This was swiftly dealt with, and within a couple of minutes both sets of players took applause. A great advert for the Evo-Stick League, in the seventh tier of English football? Yes Sir. The return fixture is on New Years Day back at The Shay. I can think of worse ways of starting the year.
Time to wheel out the ‘Stairway to heaven’ caption again, tick.

Simon Garner (former FC United player, no less) and friends salute the travelling Shaymen after notching the winning goal.

A mover and shaker.

For lots more photos from the day CLICK ME.

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Category C, You’re Havin’ a Laugh
Brighton 1-1 FC United of Manchester (27:11:10)
Brighton and Hove Albion have three options when it comes to attracting the eye of the national press; Flirt with extinction – and be rescued by tireless efforts of its supporters, race clear at the top of League One with a colourful boss at the helm – and a shiny new stadium to move into, or draw FC United of Manchester in the FA Cup.

One argument levelled against FC United is that they get a disproportionate amount of press coverage considering they ply their trade in the Northern Premier Division. This is undoubtedly true, but it’s because they’re so newsworthy. And their fans have certainly struck a chord with us here at European Football Weekends.

Unfortunately, the hype and hoopla of this match got the better of the Safety Advisory Group (SAG) who – in their infinite wisdom – decided to grade this a Category C match, meaning that, in their view, it carried the highest risk of disorder. This was the first time this had occurred in five years, since Crystal Palace rocked up to Withdean. That I could understand. This, less so.

Initially, on internet forums (I know), both fans went in swinging virtual windmills and accusing each other of all sorts of nonsense. A resemblance of calm was eventually restored when those fans took a step back and realised they had a lot of common ground; neither of these two clubs would exist if it wasn’t their supporters – two of the best sets of fans in the country when it comes to campaigning and tackling the issues of mod£rn football.

The FC United fans arrive. Did they rampage through the streets of Brighton beforehand? Did they ‘eck as like.
Up for the cup.

When the seagull follows the trawler……
Ultimately, this fixture was drawn out of the hat a year early. Had it arrived 12 months later, then FC United would have been afforded the luxury of a 3,500 away allocation – instead of the derisory 845 – and we’d have all been moaning about ticket prices instead. £10-12 for this game by the way – no own goal there. Incidentally, a ticket to football in 2010 shouldn’t cost more than £15. If you think that’s bonkers, then tap ‘Germany + football + supporters not customers’ into Google.

So, what should have been a football fiesta celebrating FCUM’s biggest game in their short history had kicked off on a sour note. In my view, what puts the magic in the FA Cup is the fact that grounds can teem with away fans on days like these. Football without fans is well worn cliche, and with good reason. Those empty seats at Withdean on Saturday should have been filled with the FC United fans whom had to be content with a seat back at the Flixton Cricket Club, where the game was beamed back to.

There is some good news though; FCUM can rejoice in one decision this week, that of Manchester Council City’s Council Committee (MCCCC!) whom approved planning permission for the club to build a new 5,000 ground and community sports complex at Ten Acres Lane, Newton Heath (Newton Heath!). Brighton fans, for their part, have enjoyed a season in which the Gus Bus has chugged through the gears nicely, and arrived at the top of League One. Thousands of Seagulls have flocked to recent away games; 3,394 at Charlton, 2,519 at Peterborough and 3,105 at Southampton. Woof!

Time for a beer I think don’t you? I met up with a few old faces in the pubs of Brighton prior to the match. A few pangs of guilt about not attending Withdean for a while were dispatched with every passing pint of Harvey’s, and anecdotes of following the blue and white wizards home and away for over 20 years: we were up for the cup – and ready to witness some tippy-tappy football in the Albion’s (not quite) Olympic stadium. £10 for a waft of magic from Elliot ‘Benno’ Bennett’s boot anyone? – rather.
Cries of “Bring on United” rang out across the ground for five minutes or more before the match kicked off. Part of the appeal of FCUM is their vociferous supporters. Karl Marginson – the clubs one, and only manager – described FC United as a 90/90 club, where 90% of fans sing for 90 minutes. Today, they were a 100/96 club. To the tune of Anarchy in the UK then: I am an FC fan, I am mancunian, I know what I want, And I know how to get it, I wanna destroy Glazer and Sky, Cos I wanna be at FC. The songs came thick, fast and loud. The only ditties I didn’t quite get were ones related to Eric Cantona. Yes, he endorsed the club, but why not sing about the players in your own team now?
The Theatre of Trees.

The ultra club.

Keep of the pitch IN THOSE TRAINERS.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist this snap.
For new readers: this isn’t really the site to head to for an actual match report. Others do that much better than I ever could. I will say that FCUM stopper Sam Ashton chose arguably the biggest day in the clubs history to play an absolute blinder between the sticks. A performance in which he added the icing to his cake by saving a last minute penalty, thus securing an unlikely draw for the away team – who were positioned 120 places further down the football pyramid than their table-topping opponents.
It was also so cold that the Albion substitute, Spaniard Franciso Sandaza, took to the field of play sporting a pair of black tights. That wasn’t the worst fashion faux pas though; one of the linesmen had a pair of trainers (trainers!) on. Letter of complaint to the FA on it’s way as I type, obviously.
At half time I met with Andy Walsh, FC United Chief Executive. Earlier in the week, he was afforded just four minutes to put forward the club’s case for that new stadium in Newton Heath. “Everybody took the piss” he said “It normally takes me four minutes to say my name.” We all laughed. I was particularly interested to talk to Walsh, because he’d helped sell the notion of a community club – and gave a morale boosting leg up in the process – to Lewes FC. This community, co-operative club football lark could well catch on you know.
I ended up tapping my foot to the ground, not only to keep warm, but – along with a bit of hum – also to join in with the songs of the travelling support. “I wish I was in their end” said my good friend Mr Cherry. We’re both Brighton fans, but it was hard not to get swept up in the mood emanating from the away seats – seemingly several hundred yards behind one of the goals. Best and loudest song of the day (to the tune of the Beach Boys, Sloop John B): Hoist up the John B sail, see how the mainsail sets, call for the captain ashore, Let me go home, I wanna go home, I wanna go hooo-oo-ome, this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on, Doo doo doo dooo (repeat to fade).
So, the mockery of the Category C grading had been turned on its head. Best away fans we’ve had at the Withdean? Probably. Certainly, they were the loudest since Stoke City came to town around six years or so ago. There will be better days for the Albion. Promotion would be rich reward for the Brighton fans whom have fought tooth and nail to keep their club afloat in more trying circumstances. A final thought to the Safety Advisory Committee: Football is nothing without fans.
Cat C – unfair. Tick.
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For many more photos of the day CLICK ME.
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This badge is your badge, this badge is my badge
Andy Hudson describes the joys of following a community, co-operative football club – and travels with FC United of Manchester fans to experience one of the greatest nights in their short history:
A curry house in Rusholme sounds an unlikely setting for a revolution, but over chapattis came final consensus that modern football was out of touch with its fans. The story of what happened in 2005 when Malcolm Glazer knocked on the door of Old Trafford and demanded the richest club in the world be saddled with huge debts has been well documented, especially during the week that FC United of Manchester introduced themselves to the nation by defeating Rochdale, who currently play a whole four divisions above them, live on TV in the FA Cup. Suddenly the media and football fans were either queuing up to love them or lining up to run them down.
We live in a time where football fans have less say than ever in how their football club is managed but over in Manchester it is the fans of FC United that make their own decisions. All members have an equal say in what happens and if they don’t agree then they will display that first through debate and then through a ‘one member one vote’ system.
The decision to move the Rochdale game for television caused debate across the members’ base – many were in favour of the move while there were those who refused to attend due to the change from a 3pm kick-off on Saturday. For a club that sinks every spare penny they have into the development fund for their new stadium, the £67,500 TV money makes a significant contribution towards running costs after yearly losses. Make no mistake, FC United are far from flush with money, and still refuse to consider a shirt sponsor. Being without their own ground brings many problems, such as paying rent to Bury FC for the use of Gigg Lane and fixture clashes with their landlords resulting in home games already having to be moved to other dates. Agreeing to move a game so that it can be televised on a Friday night, 5 miles from where they usually play, is different to a forced change when the game is in London for example; something that fans of ‘big’ clubs have experienced on a regular basis in the past.
Where FCUM really lead the way in how football clubs conduct themselves is through their community schemes. The club is a co-operative and their groundbreaking initiative to raise funds for the stadium development at Ten Acres Lane, Newton Heath offers fans a chance to buy community shares and own a part of their community’s regeneration. As General Manager Andy Walsh stated, “This is a landmark opportunity to invest in a club bringing football back to the heart of its communities and leave a lasting legacy for future generations”. Newton Heath suffers from a number of problems, such as education, skills and employment issues, activity provision and crime. Football can play a role within communities as part of a broader regeneration strategy and FCUM have prioritised developing projects with socially excluded young people, providing positive and healthy activities and providing education and skills development. FC Community Coach Steve Bennett explains that “working within the community of Manchester is an integral part of the work that FC provides. We work in inner city schools with every age group and support multi-sports, nutrition and out of school activities. FC encourage parents to bring their children to the games and we often put transport on to get them to Bury, in the hope that when the move is made to Newton Heath there is a strong fan-base of young kids.”
FCUM were one of the first clubs in the country to offer a pay-what-you-can-afford season ticket, which raised more money than charging a set price the previous season, and as part of the TV agreement with Rochdale they managed to agree on a reduced ticket price for the match so that attendance was more affordable to both sets of fans.
The fans actively participate in anti-racism projects and are one of the few teams to be invited to play in the annual Antira football tournament, organised by the fans of the German club FC St Pauli, where anti-fascist and anti-racism ideas are discussed and networks and friendships forged with fans from teams such as Sampdoria, FC Winterthur and Fortuna Düsseldorf. To many FCUM fans the politics are of utmost importance, this being a club that for some time have actively encouraged gay and unwaged supporters to attend their matches.
Fans of FC United and St Pauli unite following a game at the Antira Tournament.
Under the direction of Robin Pye, FCUM have recently launched a 16 week apprentice scheme aimed at 16-19 year olds, of either gender, who are out of employment and not in further education. The focus is not on personal football ability but on developing skills that one can use on a personal level and within the community. There are a number of FCUM volunteers working on their coaching badges, which the apprentices will also work towards, and sessions are regularly arranged for kids across all areas of Manchester. Manager Karl Maginson, who sold asparagus as a fruit and veg man when he first became manager of FCUM, now spends his week travelling around Manchester with Roy Soule, another member of the FC management team, coaching in schools, youth offenders institutes and prisons as two of ten community coaches who also run FC’s Community Sports Leaders Award.
This volunteer sense strongly prevails at FCUM. Not only do members help out on match days but you’ll often find the office staffed by folk doing a few hours of work here and there. It was estimated that 200 volunteer hours managed to get FCUM Radio (http://www.fcumradio.co.uk/) on-air during October 2010 and along with live radio commentary of every match there is also streamed ‘television’ coverage available online.
The atmosphere so loved by the watching television audience for the Rochdale match wasn’t a show for the cameras. Karl Marginson once described FCUM as a 90/90 club, where “90% of the fans sing for 90 minutes”. I’ve been to the glamour grounds of Rochdale, FC St Pauli and Ramsbottom United and Margy is wrong: it’s more like 99% of the fans singing for over 90 minutes. Before the teams make their way out for kick-off there’s the chant of “bring on United” which reaches a crescendo just as the teams emerge from the tunnel. The noise then continues unabated for the rest of the match. The difference between attending a Premier League match and going to watch FCUM is simple: the atmosphere is vastly improved watching FC; whereas most Premier League grounds struggle to produce 6 different songs during a match, you are likely to witness over 15 at FC; and you get flags at FC. Lots of them. For those with any experience of German football, the fan culture is more aligned to our Teutonic cousins than to our fellow countrymen.
And what specifically of that Rochdale match? I joined the Stockport branch for the day, meeting up at a pub for a 5.30pm coach departure time. I arrived at 2pm expecting the pub to be quiet. Giddiness had gotten the better of some of the members (I mean when was the last time you were able to watch the team you co-own make their FA Cup First Round debut?) who were already flowing with beer. A packed pub then embarked on a slow coach journey, Manchester’s traffic allowing us to progress at a speed similar to that of the Cup winners on their open-top bus trip in May, before ditching us outside of Spotland and the Krypton Factor like challenge of getting served inside the Church Pub, just along from the Willbutts Lane stand which had been given over in it’s entirety to FC for the evening.
Standing just to the right of the ESPN commentary team, Jon Champion (who had made a special appearance on the live FCUM Radio commentary the week before against Ossett Town) and Craig Burley (who had been making a brew for the FCUM Radio team prior to kick-off), at the back of the stand I witnessed a tornado of red, black and white cascade down below me. The night was freezing and the steam rising from 3,200 voices singing in unison could have powered Stephenson’s Rocket to far flung destinations such as Vancouver and Sydney where official supporters’ clubs were watching live. Nicky Platt scored just before half-time and the guy in-front had me in a massive bear hug. Jake Cottrell scored a tremendous goal just after half-time, a goal that would be analysed over-and-over again if it were scored in the Premier League, and the noise volume of the crowd seemed to double. Whereas most fans would be subdued if their team were then pegged back to 2-2, the Punk Football that The Red Rebels sing about was displayed; defiance, a “you’ve equalised, so what?” attitude prevalent and the singing continued. And then there was Mike Norton bundling the ball from the ‘keeper to score with seconds left. Voices eventually started to crack; throats would be sore.
Joyous scenes greet the final whistle at Spotland.
FCUM will play Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup Second Round. Many FC fans immediately cast their mind back to the 1983 FA Cup Final. That year they supported the overwhelming favourites; this year they support the overwhelming underdogs. Steve Bennett, who is also the radio commentator for FC told me, “I fond memories of that game as it is my first FA Cup memory, but now we are FC United of Manchester. The spirit and camaraderie between the two groups of fans is already apparent as a number of Brighton fans have been up to FC. This is an opportunity to express ourselves and show that community, co-operative football is the way forward. We’re still on a high after beating Rochdale and the management of FC will be going into the game feeling they can win. From the fans perspective it’s all about the weekend, meeting new fans and flying the flag for co-operative football clubs. The more we can achieve the better it will be for the co-operative movement within football.”
The FA Cup party continues but the real one began over 5 years ago when these fans started something that every football fan wants: a club that appreciates their love.
You can follow Andy Hudson and FC United on Twitter.
To read more of Andy’s work, make a beeline for his splendid Gannin’ Away blog.
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