Tuesday, 14 December 2010
"I wanna destroy Glazer and Sky, Cos I wanna be at FC" A chat with an FC United founder
With the club's recent FA Cup run hitting the headlines, the plight of FC United of Manchester has become big news. A Shakespearean tragedy-turned happy ending played out on the back pages.
With that in mind I spoke to Edmund Barrett - a FC season ticket holder (despite now being exiled in Germany), founder, member and volunteer - forced to watch the drama unfold on random satellite channels and various web forums.
"Even from afar its been phenomenal," the red head explained. "Realistically we might never quite make it that far (Round Two) again and so we’ve savoured every moment."
Having travelled over from mainland Europe with two friends, the Rochdale win will clearly always hold a special place in Edmund's heart. "It was just a great occasion," he enthuses - eyes unusually bright for someone remembering a cold night in Lancashire. "The absolute sense of not knowing what to do due to sheer happiness following the win, the march through Victoria and then town afterwards. The exposure on TV showing the rest of the public what we are about in terms of fan culture too.
Our fans, the noise, the pyromania was all shown positively in the same way as it is with foreign sides, as opposed to Mark Lawrenson bleating on about 'dark days'."
Perhaps mindful he is talking to a Brighton fan, Edmund admits expected United to get "tonked" on their visit to Withdean - a match he watched online, holed up in bierkeller country, peeking at the screen from behind the sofa like a young Dr Who fan nervously waiting for the monster to jump out and spank his team 6v0.
As we know, that never happened, and United were treated to a replay at Gigg Lane - a replay they were unlucky to lose 4v0 after a spirited display.
FC never expected to win. But then, as fans of lower league clubs will surely testify, that is part of the fun isn't it? "It was 11 men who work normal jobs, are friends with fans on Facebook, go to the pub occasionally after a match playing like a professional side and with real skill and heart. And in the background, two stands glowing with flares and rocking with noise. Whats not to like?"
Portsmouth awaited the winners - but it could so easily have been a match-up with Manchester United. Surely that was the one they all wanted? "No definitely not," explains Edmund. "Friends and family have been divided between United and FC.
"If we’d drawn United, the press would've cluelessly harped on about us wanting to beat them, people would have claimed we are the 'real fans' when there are plenty at Old Trafford and we would have wondered about whether to boycott or not. It would've been horrible."
Ah, onto the real dichotomy at the heart of FC United of Manchester. The noisy former lovers from across the city.
So how do FC fans view the Red Devils who opted to stay at Old Trafford and steer clear of the more romantic notion of a supporter led club?
"It is their choice. I didn’t have a season ticket at Old Trafford, I went when I could. Making the decision to give up a season ticket you might never get back, is a thousand times harder.
"Go into any pub in the Castlefield bit of town on a match day and you will see football fans who still go, who are like you or me. I would love them to come to watch FC, and some of them do, but I am in no position to ask someone who has held a season ticket for 20 years to just pack it in. They’ve got to make their own choice.
"That said, I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who did not renew and therefore sacrificed a season ticket they had held for so many years."
But, in all honesty, FC fans must look at the Green and Gold campaign and think, isn't that a FC-lite? Apparently not so. At least not completely. "It was an inspired idea but only works so far. The money just goes, for the most part, into the scarf-grafters pockets and the effect disappears once you are wearing a scarf like that, while holding a megastore bag full of newly bought official gear.
"It did show how important PR can be though and if that in anyway helps the fight from within, or makes the risks and issues log of this 'it is just business' world look a little lengthier then that’s a good thing."
What though if the ideal world scenario of the Glazers do one back over the Pond. Would FC see fans flocking back to the Theatre of Dreams? "I think everyone has a different opinion on what they would do. For me, while I can see the Glazers selling up, I can't see it then being bought by the fans.
"Regardless of how dire the debts might be, United is a big name with a value. It’d probably be like at Liverpool where one thief is replaced by a new one who is just there to make money too.
"I couldn’t accept that, so Id be staying at FC. That would only change if the club was fan-run. Even then, I think FC could still play a role."
Like most fans it seems Edmund is now forever FC, but, as one of the first supporters to embrace the idea of a new community club instead of one driven by shareholders and profits, what proved to be the final straw? Plenty of clubs have foreign owners out to make a quick buck, but they don't all jump ship - something which is often pointed out to FC fans. "For me it was Glazer. I'm a product of the Premiership, I was used to sitting down, I was used to the odd muted atmosphere and for the Premiership, United's ticket prices weren't actually that bad prior to 2005, but the takeover, like the attempt by Murdoch beforehand was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder.
"And every numptie or pundit just telling us that this is all 'just business'- fuck that! I went to the first FC match at Leigh and liked it and now I realise what a pleasure it is to stand at a match, to sing full voiced and not be looked at strangely.
"Ask any FC fan now and they can hardly remember what it was like to sit at a match with a seat in front of you digging into your shins."
Sitting down may become more of an issue if the club can get the finances together for a mooted move to United's spiritual home of Newton Heath. Plans for a brand-spanking new stadia are well underway and the cup run cash has helped. FC, it seems, are destined for bigger and better things - and in Manchester to boot.
"Bury have been kind to rent their ground to us," says Edmund, "but Bury is not Manchester.
"I go to watch St Pauli most weekends now and it makes my heart skip with joy at people piling off the underground or turning up on bikes to the match. Then when it finishes, the night goes on in the bars around the city centre.
"Going to watch FC should be like that. The match should be just part of life in Manchester, rather than hopping in the car, trying to beat the traffic to the ringroad."
And, with the club back in the community, FC hope to embrace the sort of neighbourhood projects which Brighton have been so congratulated for in recent years - the parallels between the clubs, it seems, keep on coming.
"For me the work in the community is almost as important for FC as the match. A lot of services are getting cut by the Government at the moment, that FC can support its community whilst the government ignores it fills me with a sense of rebellious pride."
Edmund laments the fact that ticket prices have already begun rising to cope with the team's climb up the leagues - albeit a modest 50p - but is realistic about the need to match the on-the-field progress with more professional steps off it.
However, unlike other clubs, the increase was set by the fans - as are players wages.
"Obviously the higher you go, the more you sacrifice. I've seen that here in Germany too, with St Pauli getting promoted to the top flight. Therefore, my personal wish would be to make the professional leagues, but not fly too close to the sun."
And, at the heart of the club remains a sense of inclusion - a stark contrast from the supply and demand mania of the Premier League. "We have a pay what you can afford approach to season tickets. The suggested minimum is £90 a season, but if you are really hard up you can ring the club personally, explain your circumstances and pay less. In fact, most people pay more than the average."
Edmund admits still casting an enviable eye on his footballing ex, and says he always will. But as far as Manchester City go, he feels nothing but sympathy - no doubt much to the chagrin of any Blues reading this.
"I feel sorry for them. They’ve kind of lost what they were about. The badge turned into some inexplicable faux-Italian thing with a random three stars, seemingly to coincide with teaming up with the Italian kit supplier, Kappa.
"They’ve left their part of the city and now play at a ground that isn't really theirs. The various PR stunts have been laughable (that Tevez/Obama flag they had made Chelseas plastic flags on a Champions League night look like the Fossa dei Leoni, the bluemoon lightshow being interrupted by United fans with flares, THAT film). Oh and they have a team of mercenaries.
"I'm sure at the moment, those fans who've been going for years will be enjoying winning more often, or playing European ties that aren't just in Wales, but a few years of that, and it will all become normal, and then I think they will realise what they have lost."
On subject of loaded owners, Edmund echoes the thoughts of Seagulls everywhere in urging the FA to better control who can buy clubs and what money they use to do so.
"They should do more, but the FA can only do so much. They are influenced heavily by the Premier League and those bastions of integrity, FIFA.
"If they brought in very stringend rules, the top clubs might start looking at TV deal run European Super Leagues again.
"Still it would be nice if they tried, even if that did mean the big four found themselves playing in Dubai in front of a crowd of bankers (they are the other group who threaten to show their arse, every time anyone suggests a modicum of austerity).
"Rolling out a line of 'frankly we don’t give a flying fuck' would be more acceptable to me though, than this fake 'oh we’ve chatted with Mr A. Carpetbagger and despite his human rights record, he has given us his word that he will uphold the traditions of Melchester Rovers…' that they’ve come up with so far."
However, he is quick to point out that were it not for the lead shown by clubs like the Albion and, to a bigger degree, AFC Wimbledon, FC United would not have got off the ground.
Thankfully for fans like Edmund, the project did get up and running. And he wouldn't swap it for the world - or all the Champions League titles in Old Trafford.
"The sense of pride and belonging that you get from having made the thing yourself makes it all the better.
"You’ve worked a turnstile before rushing to your mates on the terrace and watching your team lose but it doesn’t matter - you’ve had a laugh and the players gave their all, even bothering to come over and thank the fans afterwards."
FC United it seems are here to stay. And any true football supporter should welcome them with open arms.