Sometime, you just have to make a stand. I’ve said on here before that the formation of FC United of Manchester was about more than the issue of the Glazer takeover at Old Trafford. It was a movement which gathered it momentum from a more general disillusionment with the direction that modern football was taking. Whether it was sponsorship, ownership or moving kick-off times to accommodate TV companies, they were sick of it. With the formation of their own club, they were back in control of their own destiny. Or so they thought. FC United have spent much of this season in a battle against the heady mixture of commercialism and petty bureaucracy at bottom end of the football food chain.
Upon promotion into the Northern Premier League at the end of last season, it took about a month for their problems to start. The league insisted that they would have to wear a sponsor’s logo on their shirt sleeves. It is written into the FC United club constitution that no sponsors names are allowed on their shirts. A tense stand-off ensued, until an agreement was reached by which United players would wear armbands with the “Unibond” logo on them for matches. This was just the beginning.
You might think that there is no televised football at this end of the game, but the Northern Premier League runs a reasonably successful web site which broadcasts matches live, and on December 29th they had scheduled the Division One North match between leaders Curzon Ashton and FC United, and announced that the kick-off time would be brought forward to 12.00 to accommodate this. Both United and Curzon Ashton objected to this, but the league over-ruled them and the match will now take place at lunchtime rather than at the normal scheduled time of 3.00. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this didn’t go down too well in Manchester. The FC United board issued this statement, requesting that their supporters boycott the match. This is a significant decision. FC United take between 1,000 and 2,000 supporters to away matches in a league in which the average crowd is about 300 people. If United’s supporters do boycott the match (and it seems highly likely that they will), it could cost Curzon Ashton anything up to £20,000 in lost income.
There is no question in my mind that the club has taken the right decision. They founded their club on certain principles, and should stick to them. It is a shame that Curzon Ashton should lose out on their biggest financial event of the season, but if they are looking for someone to blame, they should be fixing their eyes firmly on the Northern Premier League rather than FC United. United’s travelling support don’t owe anybody anything, and this is their protest at a league which is aping bigger leagues in the worst way possible. How many people, exactly, do watch the live Northern Premier League matches on this streaming broadband site? Are their interests more important than the supporters of the clubs in the match being played? In a more general sense, at this level of the game, what is the reason for the existence of the league in the first place? There is no floating interest in this league (with the possible exception of cranky loners like me), so surely the whole point of the Northern Premier League is to act specifically in the best interests of its clubs and their supporters, isn’t it?