If you live in the south of England, one of the biggest myths that you grow up with is the one that says that, “All Manchester United supporters are football tourists from Devon, Surrey, Ireland, Norway and South Korea. All football supporters in Manchester support City”. This is frequently cast around by City supporters and, of course, it’s not remotely true. Modern Manchester is a vast, sprawling city, and United are one of its great institutions. Manchester United supporters come from all walks of life, and in the 1970s, United’s travelling hooligans were amongst the most feared in the country. The factionalism of United’s support has never completely gone away, and one of the biggest challenges that has faced the breakaway club, FC United of Manchester, has been trying to steer clear of the worst behaved of those groups.
Considering the size of their support (and, more significantly, the size of their away support), they have been, broadly speaking, successful. Most FCUM matches are accompanied with a large, loud and quite often drunk away support but, all things considered, they pass off peacefully. This is in spite of occasional attempts by local knuckle-draggers to goad them into a fight, most notably when some Stoke City supporters turned up at a match between them and Staffordshire club Newcastle Town a couple of years ago and a similar event at the end of last season when some of Leeds United’s less endearing followers chose a confrontation with them at a match against Garforth Town rather than supporting their own team. FCUM have chosen, rightly, to follow an inclusive path – you don’t have to “hate Glazer” to support them, and you don’t have to give up following “Big United” to support FCUM. However, the factions remain and there are plenty of Manchester United supporters who hate FCUM with a passion.
Last Saturday afternoon was, to the casual observer, a fairly typical late July Saturday afternoon. FC United had their first away match of the season, on the other side of the country against Kettering Town, whilst a Manchester United Reserve XI were away against BSP club Altrincham at their Moss Lane stadium. FCUM’s away day was a mixed bag – they took an estimated 350 supporters but lost the match by two goals to nil. Events at Moss Lane, however, would come to overshadow anything going on in Northamptonshire. It was clear before the match between Manchester United and Altrincham that there was likely to be trouble. An off licence opposite the ground was looted, and approximately one hundred drunken youths were involved in trouble in and around the ground throughout the afternoon, including forcing their way through turnstiles, a disturbance in the bar at half-time and an invasion of the pitch which resulted in the referee abandoning the match with five minutes to play.
So far, so depressingly familiar. What happened next, however, was somewhat strange. Altrincham supporters, justifiably angry at damage done to their ground and the curtailment of their afternoon’s entertainment, blamed FC United’s supporters for it. This seemed to be based upon two factors. Firstly, some of those involved in the trouble were sticking “Love United Hate Glazer” stickers up around the Altrincham ground. Secondly, there was an unattributed comment, reportedly from a GMP police officer at Moss Lane who believed that those causing trouble there were “known FCUM hooligans”. Let’s take these one at time, then. Firstly, “Love United Hate Glazer” is far from being FCUM-specific – indeed, the LUHG website doesn’t refer to them a great deal at all. There are plenty of Manchester United supporters that loathe both FCUM and the Glazer family. Secondly, the “quotation” from an anonymous policeman is riddled with flaws. Presuming that said officer wasn’t sitting at a laptop with photos of local hooligans on it, how would he know from sight which club they were affiliated to?
Contrary to the opinions of Altrincham’s supporters, the evidence would seem to indicate that the trouble was somewhat closer to home. Watching the hoolie porn back on YouTube, there are no FCUM flags at the match, and in one piece of footage a song eulogising Alex Ferguson can quite clearly be heard – not, considering his comments about FCUM, something you’d expect to hear from their supporters. Also, this curious Facebook page came up in a thread on the Altrincham, featuring photos that appear to have been taken by someone that was, to say the least, close to the trouble on Saturday. Lots of pictures of Manchester United (including many taken from inside grounds, and almost all displaying a flag that can clearly be seen in a YouTube video of the Altrincham match), but again nothing about FCUM. There is clearly bad blood between FCUM and Altrincham (and I would reiterate that I fully understand their dismay at what happened on Saturday), but I can’t help but think that they have jumped very quickly to point an insultingly accusing finger in completely the wrong direction.
This evening, ironically, Altrincham are playing FC United in a pre-season friendly in a match that many supporters from both of the clubs concerned felt should be called off. At the time of writing, there are no rumours of the ground having burnt down, which lends credence to my initial belief that FC United were nothing to do with Saturday’s unfortunate events. They might well be owed an apology.