In amongst all of the filth and fury of this week, one simple truism has remained unchallenged: it has to be like this. Although modern fashion likes to talk of football supporters as if we are “valued customers” or even – God forbid – “stake-holders”, the truth of the matter is that, by and large, we’re not. Customers wouldn’t put up with being treated in the way that football supporters are as a matter of routine. They’d take their business elsewhere. Stake-holders wouldn’t tolerate perpetual hyper-inflation and the implication that, somehow, we owe those that deliver the game to us a debt of gratitude rather than the other way around.
As such, the relationship between a football club and a supporter of a football club might be be more akin to the relationship between a drug dealer and a junkie. They feed our addiction. They charge what they can get away with – and we don’t even know what the upper limit of that pricing policy might be yet – and we grumble, but we still turn out in our millions. If we complain too loudly, there is a reasonable chance that we will simply be cast asunder, in the full knowledge that there are plenty of others that will take our place. We are divided and conquered, beaten into submission. We are treated with such suspicion by the authorities that it is not difficult to start to feel like criminals, even if all we are doing is partaking of a pastime.
Our clubs are administered, broadly speaking, by dolts and fools who chase pots of fools gold at the end of non-existent rainbows, and when the inevitable conclusion of attempting to run something as a business whilst blithely disregarding many of the fundamental principles of running a successful business – rule number one: keep costs under control! – plays out to a the brink of a financial cataclysm, they throw their hands in the air, find someone else to blame and, if they are unable to rescue the train wreck that they have caused, sneak out through the back door. Indeed, such is the brass neck if the sort of person that involves themselves in this sort of behaviour that they will often turn up at another club a few months down the line, full of the same platitudes and empty promises. The administrators, meanwhile, do nothing or next to nothing. Sometimes they are one and the same. Sometimes they are merely in their thrall. The end result remains depressingly familiar and we are told – ad nauseum – that “this is the way that things are”, as if there is some sort of cosmic alignment that places the job lot of the football supporter into a similar territory to the laws of gravity or thermodynamics.
It isn’t, of course, and there is proof all around us. Late last night, FC United of Manchester, the high water mark of the alternative vision of what football clubs in this country could be like, announced what their supporters have been waiting to hear for a considerable amount of time – this club, playing in the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League, six divisions below the gaudy opulence of the Premier League, has reached its target of £1.6m towards building a home of its own in the Moston area of the city of Manchester. The money has been raised through a Community Share scheme, through the club working closely with Co-ops UK. Such schemes are designed to enable co-operative organisations to raise finance from their communities to support development without having to refer back traditional methods of funding such as borrowing from banks. The £1.6m figure was critical for the club, because it was this amount that they had to raise in order to obtain funding through grants for the other £3m required to complete the facility. It is now hoped that work will be able to start on the new ground soon.
As regular readers of this site and those that keep a close eye on non-league football will already be aware, FC United of Manchester have a history of lateral thinking that other football clubs would do well to follow. This is a club that was borne – in part – from disillusionment with football’s status quo and a burning belief that there had to be a better way. To understand the club requires something of a shift of perception. The traditional football supporters’ perspective of winning at all costs has, to a point, been sacrificed to make a club of which its supporters can be proud. It is a football club that is built upon principles that would be considered almost perverse elsewhere. Ticket prices are kept down in order to make their matches as affordable as possible. The supporters trust model of ownership is rigorously managed, and ideas such as slashing season ticket prices but requesting donations from supporters are indicative of a club that will do things differently. Moreover, the atmosphere at Gigg Lane – the clubs home away from home since its formation in 2004 – is unlike anything that would usually be seen or heard at anything the level of football at which they play. It is a truly extraordinary, run by remarkable, committed, passionate people.
In spite of all the bad news, then, we can still find nuggets to celebrate in football. We should be delighted for FC United of Manchester, and we should be awe-struck at their achievement in raising this amount of money. An enormous amount of hard work has gone into getting this money raised, and we can say with a degree of certainty that it has been raised by the right people, for the right reasons and for a project that couldn’t be in safer hands. One journey has ended, but another one will begin when the shovel hits the ground at the site of the new ground for the first time and work starts on building this club’s future. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of people – living, breathing proof that no, it doesn’t have to be like that.
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