When the dust settled after a weekend of FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round matches that were watched by over 40,000 people, one tie from the First Round draw stood out from the rest: Rochdale vs FC United of Manchester. It could hardly more apposite that FCUM earned their first appearance in the competition proper of the FA Cup in this of all months. The name of Manchester United has been dragged through the mud by the Wayne Rooney transfer debacle – an event that may have woken many up to the colossal lack of soul at the heart of Premier League football. The protest, meanwhile, goes on at Gigg Lane but such success brings new debates to be had for a club that is a protest against much of what is wrong with modern football.
It is hardly surprising that a cross-town derby featuring a club that is a story in itself should be attractive to television companies, and so it was that Rochdale vs FC United of Manchester was selected as the Friday night match to be shown live on ESPN at the end of next week. For many FCUM supporters, this created something of a dilemma. The concept of “3pm Saturdays” has become something of a rallying call for the club over the years, a protest against the sale of football’s soul to television companies. In December 2007, the club urged its supporters to boycott their Boxing Day league match at Curzon Ashton after the kick-off time was moved to lunchtime against the wishes of both competing clubs in order that it may be shown live over the internet.
What, some might wonder, is the difference this time around? Is the only difference between this and the Curzon match the amount of money being offered? Does the soul of FCUM have a price? The answer to this is less straightforward than a simple denounciation of a club selling its supporters and principles down the river, of course, but it won’t stop many from trying. In the case of the Rochdale match, FCUM had the option to turn down the television money and insist that the match was played on the Saturday afternoon of the First Round weekend if they wished. However, the trust board didn’t have long to make a decision. It was agreed with Rochdale that prices would be reduced to a very affordable £10 and that the game would take place on the Friday night. It’s not ideal and it has not pleased all of their supporters, but sometimes compromise rather than intransigence is the prudent way to run a show and this isn’t just about the money. It’s about the biggest match in the club’s history and about having the opportunity to show their club off on a national stage in way that not many members of the Evostik League Premier Division will ever get to.
The protest against televised football was more nuanced than just being against televised football and in favour of kicking off at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. It was about supporters, en masse, being inconvenienced upon the whims of a television company. The Guardian chose to show up what it considered to be inconsistency in the club’s policies in its Fiver column this afternoon, but they chose to overlook that both FCUM and Curzon objected to the match in December 2007 and that this match was moved to a time that was enormously inconvenient to supporters of both clubs for practically no return. FCUM are going to to get this sort of nonsense in increasing measures should they become more successful. There will be plenty that will seek to deny them any right to any sort of commercial activity and mis-quoting the club’s constitution, as if they alone should put their principles ahead of the well-being of their club. That this should even need to be stated about a club that has any principles at all at a time when the moral stock of English football could hardly be said to be lower, however, seems surprising to say the least.
So, the match will go ahead on Friday 5th November and some people will probably use this as a stick to beat them over the head with. None of this is particularly surprising. It may not have been an easy decision for them to make, but it was a decision that had to be made exceptionally quickly and, if enough supporters do feel strongly enough over this matter to wish to stand against the existing board at the next elections, they can do. That’s how democracy works. It seems unlikely, however, that General Manager Andy Walsh will be replaced any time soon. Most importantly of all, a robust, articulate debate on the subject is being had amongst the club’s supporters of the club itself and, if it sees fit, a resolution to the club’s constitution could be passed to state that they should never get involved in such a venture again. Their club, as they say themselves, their rules.
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