As FC United take on Frickley in the first round of the FA Trophy, Manchester United supporters still bicker amongst one another over ex-comrades who defected.
It was Joey Barton’s spiritual mentor Friedrich Nietzsche who stated that ‘When a hundred men stand together, each of them loses his mind and gets another one.’ In May 2005 thousands, let alone hundreds, of Manchester United supporters’ minds were distorted when the Glazer family completed their £800m takeover of the club. Many had campaigned tirelessly in a bid to stave off the American threat, yet their futile efforts were then compounded by the dawning quandary of whether or not to return to watch United at Old Trafford again.
But there was another alternative that had been pioneered by AFC Wimbledon, set up by supporters following their disillusion at the club being relocated and rebranded as Milton Keynes Dons. But unlike Wimbledon, United remained at Old Trafford (set to expand by a further 9,000 seats) and retained their name, contrary to fears following the Glazers’ rejigging of their NFL franchise Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Yet the prospect of financing the Glazers’ privilege of owning the club, now saddled with hundreds of millions of debt, saw thousands more cut the cord. And so FC United of Manchester was established in a bid to offer disenfranchised Reds an antidote to the acrimony over severing ties with their lifelong club. Over six years on, the club are plying their trade in the seventh tier of English football, playing their home matches in front of crowds of 2,000 at Bury’s Gigg Lane while only on Thursday the dream of a 5,000-capacity stadium edged closer.
Yet despite FCUMs progress, they divide opinion amongst United supporters. As one of Old Trafford's taboo subjects, it will remain an unwritten rule to mention their name in the presence of Sir Alex Ferguson. The Scot has belittled The Rebels’ inception and accused them of attention-seeking: 'I'm sorry about that (the breakaway club). It is a bit sad that part, but I wonder just how big a United supporter they are. They seem to me to be promoting or projecting themselves a wee bit rather than saying, "at the end of the day the club have made a decision, we'll stick by them." It's more about them than us.'
His view is shared by other United supporters who frown upon the non-league side as a treacherous formation, supported by deserters who purport their loyalty through abandonment, when one of football’s prime mantras is that the club you follow is the club you follow for life. Unfortunately the opinion has manifested itself because of certain United supporters who have capitalised on the Glazer takeover.
Another fan, who has worn anti-Glazer garb at FC games and is the owner of another egregious banner even asked to have his photo taken with Avram Glazer.
Stretford End Flags, responsible for the permanent banners which adorned the second tier of the famous stand, took down the decorations which back in 2005 in protest at the Glazers’ arrival. Almost immediately somebody else took over the reins of the group and has since displayed some truly cringing efforts, even seeking the advice of Liverpool supporters’ groups on mosaics (a recurring appearance at Old Trafford) since 2008. Imitating, not innovating.
Reviled and identified as a ‘Glazer stooge’, said imitator (who will remain unnamed) is inexplicably the mouthpiece news outlets contact to gain reaction from on a matter from a fans’ perspective. Thanks to his position he is the unofficial mouthpiece of the Old Trafford hierarchy, he voices petty dismay to feed his own hunger for power to the insatiably ludicrous extent that he was a convenient competition winner on the club’s website last season.
Knowledgeable United supporters’ frustration is that too few of them know who he is. Because Old Trafford, in the Glazer era, is populated by touristic jester hat (or sombrero) wearers who each strike a dagger to the heart of United’s soul, and the fan factions mount and the togetherness subsides so significantly that Manchester is far from united. Even pop culture has commented on the subject, courtesy of a scene in Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric(2009), which illustrates the ambivalence and dogmatic assertions that are synonymous with the issue.
Another fan, who has worn anti-Glazer garb at FC games and is the owner of another egregious banner (there’s a theme here), even asked to have his photo taken with Avram Glazer during the club’s tour of the United States last year. Yet whereas yesteryear it would be feasible for him to abstain from attending games due to intimidation, United’s support isn’t what it was.
Both sides of the fence have exercised the nuclear option of burning bridges thanks to the mudslinging and umpteen accusations of disloyalty. A truce was called in January last year when United supporters, outraged at the publication of club accounts which showed figures revealing that without the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for £80m, the colossal interest payments on the club's debt would have meant a net loss, conjured up the Green and Gold movement. FCUM offered an olive branch - and solidarity - since two split divisions were literally singing from the same hymn sheet, but now that United are league champions the G&G momentum is irrelevant because success trumps identity for the majority.
Supporters who go to watch both sides tend to champion the ‘Love United Hate Glazer’ cause most fervently, but if and when the Glazers sell up, FCUM aren’t simply going to fold and undo years of work enhancing the club’s profile and working their way up the ladder of English football. In this case, Joey’s friend isn’t right; the future doesn’t influence just as much as the past.
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