The Second Round of the FA Cup should be a time for the supporters of an Evostik League Premier Division club to be celebrating, but, as we have discussed on this site before, FC United of Manchester are not like other clubs and this week has, if nothing else, been a harsh education in the ways of modern football at higher levels. We spoke on this site of the rank injustice of their ticket allocation for their trip to the south coast to play Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup tomorrow. It felt at the time as if there was more to this matter than met the eye, and the details about it that have been made public have revealed a little – but not enough – detail on the reasons behind this allocation.
Brighton & Hove Albion issued a press release at the start of this week confirming that they were made to act upon information from the police and the Stadium Advisory Group and make this match a Category C match. No details have yet been made public on exactly what intelligence was given and FC United supporters are justifiably unhappy at this slur upon their character. What the Brighton statement does make clear, however, is the extent to which the club had no choice over the decision to limit tickets and tighten security for it. The unfortunate reality of the situation is that Brighton would have been opening a whole new can of worms for themselves had they ignored this advice (however wrong it may or may not be) and ended up with trouble flaring at the match.
It seems likely that, despite the best efforts of the club, there will be FC United supporters in amongst the Brighton supporters for this match. Considering this, much will come down to how the police and stewards at the match carry themselves. We will not know the extent to which FC United supporters will be in the home end for this match, but it is worth pointing out that heavy handedness on the part of those in charge of the security of all at the match will most likely only exacerbate any tensions that surround the match. A little lightness of touch will go a long way in making the afternoon pass off peacefully and the occasion more enjoyable for everybody present.
FC United supporters do not need reminding of the importance of behaving themselves in Brighton tomorrow, but with this odd categorisation they have an even greater incentive to do so. They have been unfairly labelled, and the best way for them to stick two fingers up at the authorities in this case will be to act impeccably tomorrow. They are the owners of their own club and, with the announcement of the go ahead to build their own ground at Ten Acres Lane, now the masters of their own destiny. Anything other than this will be playing into the hands of those that seek to denigrate and castigate them. However, contrary to what many of their supporters may believe, there are many of us in Brighton that are looking forward to welcoming them to our town tomorrow.
Much has been said by some supporters of both clubs that is regrettable, but the ultimate problem over the last couple of weeks or so has been a lack of communication. Reading between the lines of the statements issued by FC United, it seems likely that there is much that they wish to say on this subject but are not saying at present. Brighton & Hove Albion, the Safety Advisory Group and the police could have perhaps diffused tensions with clearer and less terse statements. It should also be added that there have been times when it has felt as if some of the supporters of both clubs have hardly helped themselves with comments that they have made on their own and each others’ forums. However, it must be pointed out that these tensions have come about primarily because of decisions that have been made elsewhere. Ultimately, everybody – both sets of supporters, both clubs, the stewards, the police, everybody – is responsible for their own actions and their own behaviour.
Cross-forum arguments have clouded the fact that the supporters of the two clubs should have more in common than they do between them. Brighton & Hove Albion suffered their own shock during the 1990s, evicted from The Goldstone Ground and forced to exile in Gillingham. They stayed and fought for the survival of their club, but they had to fight nevertheless. FC United’s supporters have had a battle of their own. They chose a different path, but it is a path that would have seemed inconceivable during the 1990s. There is no specific right or wrong way of doing this, only a number of different struggles at a number of different clubs that need to be won by the supporters. Brighton won their struggle, eventually, and FC United are winning theirs, their own way, and tomorrow should be a reflection of this.
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