Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fitba' Daft

Andy Walker is a spokesperson for FC United of Manchester, a club born in 2005 from immense frustration with the way ownership was running Manchester United. When the Glazer family from the United States bought Manchester United just a few years after Rupert Murdoch attempted the same thing in 1998, some fans drew the line and formed their own club. Walker, and the rest of the renegade fans, place the destruction of football—from the anti-competitive nature of the Premier League to rising ticket prices and incessant bowing down to television—at the feet of these super-rich owners.

"These are business people whose primary aim is to make the maximum profit from their investment while saddling the club with massive debt," Walker told Bleacher Report. "They epitomise everything that is wrong with modern football. Supporters are rarely consulted about matters affecting their clubs, have to suffer massive hikes in ticket prices and inconvenient kick-off times for the sake of television and have largely been marginalised."

Michael Brunskill, a spokesperson for the Football Supporters Federation related how some fans, take this new reality in stride, supporting local nonleague clubs instead of Premier League clubs, returning to times when football was at the heart of communities without worrying about international rights and hidden money.

"They feel more of a closer relationship with the club and more of a connection with the club and the players," says Brunskill of these fans. "They aren't global superstars who you can't get near. If you go to a nonleague game, you can have a pint and a chat with the player in the bar afterward."

FC United of Manchester are taking it to the next level. Just 10 years in the making, FC United have already made the Northern Premier League playoff final three times. The former Manchester United fans boast more than 3,500 paying members, all of whom get a vote in decision-making of the club. And they will soon move into their own stadium, Broadhurst Park—financed largely by their own members. Members, referred to as co-owners, vote on everything from the board to the kit to ticket prices, all to create an environment of loyalty, engagement and community involvement—a far cry from the elite hierarchy of teams or the motives of super-rich owners.

Though victory happens to be a byproduct of rabid fans willing to do anything for a club that shows them as much love as they show the club, FC United's goals, according to Walker, are "to be a sustainable football club that can be the best it can be on the pitch while making a real difference in the local community and beyond of it."

Oddly, it sounds like the ideal marketing pitch to a group of millennials, though FC United isn't a start-up tech company from Silicon Valley. Instead, they are simply going back to the days when football meant something to the community and reflected the ideals of the fans who built the club.

"People want to belong," said Walker. "If you value that loyalty and promote engagement and involvement, then people will do amazing things with you and support you through thick and thin."

Whether FC United are part of a bigger trend or simply a small reaction to a larger problem remains to be seen, but they certainly have strong selling points for young adults who can't afford to attend bigger games, participate in the spectacle or have a say in the direction of the club. Of higher importance in a global economy, the profits from FC United will stay in the community rather than going back to a Russian, American or Middle Eastern bank account.

Still, less practical, more emotional reasons may have a stronger effect on the tide of fanhood. Gone are the days when David toppled Goliath to win the league. The key element in both religion and football—faith—is in danger of being eliminated. We know Sunderland will not have a moment like Sergio Aguero's to snatch the title from an age-old rival. We know Newcastle United will not play in the Champions League and stun Real Madrid in the final. We know players such as Willian will choose Chelsea over Tottenham Hotspur. We know these things because the global economy has taken so much money away from middle and lower classes and at the same time seen the wealthy become the super-rich. We know because the game favors those with the largest bank accounts.

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