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We could settle wars with this

05/16/2013

Hednesford1

And so it happened again. As a series of squally showers swept across Keys Park in Hednesford last Saturday afternoon so FC United of Manchester’s hopes of promotion to the Conference North were blown off course in the Northern Premier League play off final for the third season in a row.

The bare statistics of the game tell only a fraction of the story. Hednesford Town won 2-1 in front of a crowd of 4,412 paying spectators and a few others who jibbed in over a wall. I’ve no numbers on possession, shots on goal, corners or pass completion rates other than to say that FC struggled to string two passes together in the first forty five minutes and were 2-0 down at half-time with much to do. They came back strongly in the second half, pulled a goal back and briefly threatened an equaliser but it was to no avail.

Hednesford deserved their victory, no question, the better team on the day and over the season. But as I stood on the delightfully Dickensian sounding Wimblebury Terrace I couldn’t help thinking, yet again, that what we’ve got at FC is something very special indeed.

It’s a cliche that football is nothing without fans but Saturday epitomised that. The size of the travelling support alone was impressive. The average crowd for a match in this division is usually about 300. I’d wager that about two-thirds of the crowd on Saturday were FC supporters, close to three thousand visiting fans. A good number by Premiership standards let alone non-league. “Where are they all coming from?” asked a bemused steward as hundreds continued to pour into the away end minutes before kick-off.

Even more remarkable was the noise generated by those fans. The support that rained down from the terraces for the red shirted heroes was extraordinary even by FC United standards. On a par with the famous trips to Rochdale, Brighton and Bradford. It was an utter joy to behold. From the raucous cries of “Bring on United” before kick-off the songs just kept on coming and as the two first half Hednesford goals went in the volume simply got cranked up. Hymns of love and devotion drawing on an eclectic mix of tunes by the likes of the Sex Pistols, Herman’s Hermits, The Drifters, Yazoo, The Smiths and Ewan MacColl.

Undeterred by the scoreline the songs continued through half time with a rendition of The Carpenters’ Top of the World (St Pauli remix). Richard and Karen probably didn’t have a damp afternoon in Hednesford in mind when they wrote that one. Who knows what the home fans and any neutrals made of all this. It was football support in its rawest form; no face paint, no jester hats and no “ooh, look, they’re all waving red flags” choreographed flag waving. Just an abundance of old fashioned, vocal chord shredding, boisterous support. A magnificent wall of noise.

As the minutes ticked by in the second half and it became clear that it just wasn’t going to be our day the songs carried on and on and on, like a travelling jukebox that won’t shut up. I’ve never seen a losing football team showered with so much affection in ninety minutes.

If we could bottle this stuff, it’d be worth millions. It would pay for the new ground in Moston that we’ll hopefully move into at the start of the 2014-15 season. But we’re not really into business opportunities. We’re more about “making friends not millionaires” as one of the best banners around the ground says. I reckon we’d use it for nobler causes. We could settle wars with this, to paraphrase Mike Skinner.

As we rode the post-match love train to Birmingham New Street, there were no inquests, no finger pointing or radio phone-in style pontificating. Much of the talk turned to what everyone’s doing for Germany. FC will play friendly matches against Dynamo Dresden and SV Babelsberg later this month and giddiness abounds at the prospect of football, sausages and beer. German football, with its emphasis on supporter ownership and mistrust of debt, has long been an admirer of FC United and this will be the club’s fifth visit to Germany.

Aside from the Euro away there is much to look forward to. Building work will start on the new ground in the next few weeks. Over £1.7 million of the funding for this ground has come from ordinary supporters investing their hard earned cash in community shares. No jumping into bed with a supermarket to build a new ground for this football club.

FC United will continue to lead the way when it comes to “doing things differently” in the running of football clubs. Members recently voted to keep next season’s admission prices the same at eight pounds for adults and two pounds for kids. And season tickets will continue to be sold on a “pay what you can afford” basis.

Meanwhile the community work that is enshrined in the club’s constitution and saw the club voted non-league football’s Community Club of the Year for 2012 will continue through the summer. One initiative that caught the judge’s eye was the annual Big Coat Day when fans are asked to bring coats and warm clothing to a match to donate to a homeless person in winter. Six tonnes of clothing were collected at this season’s Big Coat Day in December. The club’s phenomenal community programme includes work with school children, those not in education, employment or training, young offenders, asylum seekers, refugees and older people who may be socially isolated.

To put the community programme into some sort of perspective the turnover for FC United’s community work in 2011-12 was about £200,000, roughly 23% of the total income generated by the whole football club. Meaning that nearly a quarter of the club’s finances are spent on work in the community, a remarkable statistic. In comparison, across town, the turnover of Manchester United’s charitable arm the Manchester United Foundation was £2 million or about 0.6% of Manchester United FC’s total income of £320 million in 2011-12. Football is about much more than football and the supporter-owned cooperative FC United punch well above their weight in demonstrating this.

Maybe next year the stars will align, we’ll get a little bit of luck, secure promotion and start the new season in our new ground. If that happens it will be some flippin party.

See you in Berlin.

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