Identity crisis

Chris Taylor is confused – he’s a Manchester United fan, or at least he was. Does he now support FC United as well as or instead of the Glazer-owned Old Trafford team?

It’s not easy being a Manchester United fan at the moment. Oh, stop laughing at the back. It really isn’t. I suppose the playing side of things isn’t too bad, you know, relative to everyone else who isn’t Chelsea. But off the pitch, where things are suddenly far more important, things are screwed up good and proper.

You see, I don’t even know if I am a United fan any more. Certainly there’s a life-long affiliation, a relationship that’s only outlasted by that with my family. But Malcolm sodding Glazer stuck his beak in last year and threw everything right up in the air.

You don’t need to know the details of the takeover; everyone has been subjected to them for a year or so now. And this is good, because I am in no position to describe them to you. First, because prodding at that seeping wound is all too painful. And second, because, well, in truth I (still) haven’t got a clue about all the minutiae and detail. My E-grade economics A-level didn’t stretch to cover preference shares, asset stripping, and what have you. All I know is that Malcolm Glazer and his ilk are bad for football and that that might not even matter anyway, because top-level football is unutterably rubbish at the moment.

So here’s where FC United of Manchester come in. For the few thousand disillusioned Reds who upped and left Old Trafford in the summer, football has become fun again. Indeed, the game has become of almost a secondary importance. The sense of community that had evaporated at Old Trafford, of going to the match with a group of friends, standing and singing together, and not having to pay through the nose to do so, has returned. And on the pitch things are remarkably rosy, too. Top of North-West Counties League Division Two, attracting crowds bigger than every other non-League team save Exeter, and playing surprisingly decent football. So everyone’s happy, right?

Well, no. Not really. It seems that a small section of Old Trafford regulars see FC United fans as traitors and splitters – witness the banner away to Benfica that proclaimed “Fuck FCUM – Salford Reds”. Nice. And in turn, there are some at FC United who see those still at Old Trafford as scabs and Glazer stooges. Manchester United? It’s a ridiculous situation and the fractious infighting is helping no one.

When the takeover was announced, fans tended to fall into one of three categories. Those who called it a day and vowed never to step foot inside a Glazer-owned Old Trafford. Those who would carry on the fight against Glazer from within. And those who didn’t really care. And that’s fair enough. No one should have to justify their position, just as no one should criticise someone else’s. It was never going to be an easy decision to quit Old Trafford after a lifetime’s support and, as has been pointed out many times by many different people, the fans were there before the Glazers and they’ll be there long after they’ve crawled back into whatever hole they came out of.

But what of those still in Old Trafford fighting the good fight? Those subversive, guerrilla tactics meant to bring the empire down from within? Well, nothing much happened. A temporary ice rink was daubed in anti-Glazer slogans. A few people have been removed from the ground for daring to bring in anti-Glazer banners. But that’s it. No shows of force like the barricades that kept the brothers Dimm inside Old Trafford for four hours last summer. No peaceful marches, no more flag burning, no nothing. Part of the argument against the formation of FC United was that it would remove those with experience of organising and implementing effective protests from where they are needed most. The more political and militant of fans are now having the time of their life at Gigg Lane. Why should they care about what’s going on at Old Trafford any more? They have their own club to support now.

And this, essentially, is the problem. The Glazers have become a part of supporting Manchester United now. No one likes them, no one wants them there, but there they are. A slow acceptance, if not approval, of their presence has emerged. There’s nothing we, as fans, can really do to speed up their departure. We just know that with his unrealistic financial planning and unserviceable debts, coupled with Ferguson’s hilarious inability to create a team to challenge for Premiership or European honours, the whole sorry mess will soon come crashing down. But by then who knows what might have happened? FC United could be the biggest team in the land and only a few thousand could be rattling round Old Trafford watching Darren Fletcher and the boys.

From WSC 230 April 2006. What was happening this month