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I don’t care about Rio

08/14/2014

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We watched the lunchtime United match on a Greek porn channel in a two roomed back street boozer. Intermittently the reception cut out and the landlord popped outside to fiddle with the satellite dish. One minute Rooney was missing a near post header, the next a scantily clad woman was promising to fulfil all our desires. Well some of them anyway. Ruud scored one, I think, and United won 2-0. A decent result at Goodison on the opening day of the season.

On the final whistle we left the pub and strolled across town in the pouring rain towards another football ground. Back on the main road there were hundreds of others  heading in the same direction, refugees from the hostile takeover of a Mancunian sporting institution searching for a better life in the North West Counties Football League, ten divisions below the top tier of English football. A song about jester hats and Sky telly started up and soon it was echoing round the streets. Locals pottering around on a Saturday afternoon looked on bemused. I’m not sure Leek had seen this much commotion since Ranulph de Blondeville was granted the right to hold an annual fair in the town nearly eight hundred years ago.

We were heading to watch our team, Football Club United of Manchester, play their first ever league match at Leek CSOB. There’d been some confusion about exactly what the CSOB stood for. Was it Civil Service Old Boys as a BBC Radio 5Live reporter claimed? Or a mischievous ay-up-me-duck anagrammatical contribution to the perennial “barm or muffin” debate? No, it turned it was County School Old Boys. The Old Boys are a proud community football club dating back to the Second World War.

There was no denying though what FC United stood for (and still does); a democratic, supporter owned, affordable alternative to the Premier League and them greedy Glazer bastards. The Glazer takeover in May 2005 that plunged Manchester United into hundreds of millions of pounds of debt had been the final straw for many supporters disillusioned with the growing commercialisation of the game they love. A dedicated band of Reds had stood up and said “no”, turned the nightmare into a dream and formed their own football club. During the summer over three thousand members signed up and pledged £100,000, enough to see the club through its first season.

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The local police had insisted on this match being all ticket so I’d sent a stamped addressed envelope and a cheque to Leek CSOB’s club secretary, the self-styled Stan the Man, and in return received a pair of four quid tickets with the Stoke City badge emblazoned on them. Four quid eh? It’s barely enough for a pint of beer in London these days.

The kick-off was delayed as we queued at the half a dozen turnstiles and the friendly Old Boys’ volunteers coped valiantly with a crowd of over two and a half thousand when usually they’d be chuffed with a hundred. The previous season’s opening day fixture at home to Holker Old Boys had attracted a crowd of just fifty six. By the time we got into Harrison Park we were dripping wet and the pies had run out but we managed to grab a programme. There were some television cameras interviewing Reds inside and outside the ground. The revolution would, after all, be televised or so it seemed.

We purchased a brew for 40p and stood on the covered terrace behind the goal FC attacked in the first half and cheered on our white-with-black-diagonal-stripe-shirted heroes. Shirts that were, and still are, untainted by commercial sponsors. I’d missed the pre-season friendlies so it was like the first day at a new school getting used to new faces. The only name I half-recognised was the lad up front who was the brother of an editor of one of the United fanzines.

There were songs, passion, spontaneity, humour…everything that had been missing from the last few months at Old Trafford. There were old United songs, new FC songs and old United songs adapted into new FC ones. There was no being told to sit down and shut up for getting behind your team. There was no face paint or jester hats. You could stand anywhere with your mates and enjoy the game. It felt liberating. Midway through the first half a new song started over at the other end of the ground and, at first, we struggled to pick up the words but soon it had made its way round to us; “I don’t care about Rio, he don’t care about me, all I care about is watching FC…” It’s not grammatically correct and it’s a bit clunky but of all the new songs it perhaps best summed up how we all felt on that damp August day in the Staffordshire moorlands.

On the pitch, Leek CSOB took the lead but FC quickly equalised and eventually ran out comfortable 5-2 winners as the sun emerged in the second half. It was a lovely day that reaffirmed my love for the game of football. Difficult to believe it was nine years ago.

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