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Eine kleine shitmusik

08/12/2018

A piece I wrote for the latest edition of the FC United of Manchester fanzine Top of the World

At the end of our latest Euro away match in Salzburg as the players came over to applaud the travelling fans and congregated on the touchline in front of us they were asked to “give us a song”. There was a momentary pause as they glanced at each other, the new players looking for guidance, and we waited for a tune. Which one would they choose from FC United’s extensive songbook? Well the answer turned out to be none as they instead launched into a rendition of “football’s coming home” with most of FC’s support joining in. The faces of a few of our older fans were a picture. But the choice of song shouldn’t have been a surprise as most of our support had been giddily belting it out at regular intervals following England’s World Cup quarter final win earlier in the afternoon, and it got played over the tannoy pre-match and again afterwards along with second album Oasis. At least the latter got a bit of stick from some supporters though.

There was even a suggestion pre-match that should England require extra time to see off the flat pack furniture specialists that the kick-off of our friendly match should be delayed. I guess it’s a sign of how much our support has changed over the years. Had this happened at the 2006 World Cup, say, I can’t imagine Baddiel and Skinner’s slice of Britpop would have been sung with anything like the same gusto. If at all, to be honest. And as for moving kick-off times, yer wot?

My own relationship with the national team can be split into two distinct phases pre- and post-1998 such that I was able to enjoy a pre-match beer in the centre of Salzburg with barely two hoots given for what was going on in Russia. As a youngster things were very different although my first memory of England in the World Cup is missing Robbo’s early goal against France in 1982 as we were still finishing our tea – the slightly avant garde notion of simultaneously eating and watching telly (or of rearranging our usual 5pm teatime) hadn’t quite caught on in our house back then. Eventually we settled down to watch England go on to beat a very good French side 3-1 and I was buzzing. Eight years later I was blasting out World in Motion several times a day through the month of June and six years on was gutted when “we” lost on penalties (again) in the Euro ’96 semi.

But the ’98 World Cup and its aftermath changed all that as David Beckham got sent off against Argentina and became public enemy number one as a well fancied England side were knocked out in the second round – the “silly little boy” had apparently let the entire country down with his petulance. Back then I still supported England. Well, if going to a pub and gawping at a TV screen for a couple of hours counts as “support”, which I guess by then it did. Leaving the pub afterwards I was gutted that England had been knocked out. But weeks later as abuse continued to be hurled at Beckham and United by the Anyone But United brigade and the tabloid press I decided that I’d had enough of the national side and its supporters. Fuck it.

That season after the World Cup in France following United home and away it felt like it was us against the world and it was magnificent. Arguably the treble might not have happened but for Beckham’s sending off in St Etienne as we circled the wagons, the siege mentality was cranked up to ten and we serenaded away grounds everywhere with chants of AR-GEN-TI-NA. We took on all comers including Murdoch and beat the lot.

By the summer of 2000 I’d gone backpacking and as I emerged blinking into the sunshine from a Los Angeles youth hostel late one June morning groups of crimson faced ex-pats were exiting nearby bars cursing Phil Neville as England had been knocked out of the Euros (to be honest I’d forgotten they were even playing). And two years later my masculinity was being called into question at work as I was the only bloke in the office on the day that England played Argentina in a lunchtime kick-off in the 2002 World Cup. I was pleased for Beckham that he scored that penalty (and for Nicky Butt who bossed the midfield that day) but that was as far as my level of arsedness with the fortunes of the three lions went. And by the time of the 2006 World Cup I genuinely found it amusing when they lost on penalties to Portugal – Gerrard and Carragher missed their spot kicks and our boy Ronaldo applied the coup de grace. Hahaha.

Of course we’ve got a lot of younger supporters for whom all this ABU tit for tat will probably mean little. So who can blame them for getting carried away, like most of the nation, about England doing alright in the World Cup. But some of FC’s older support really should know better. And what’s all this nonsense with inflatables? At times during the match in Salzburg I felt like I’d turned up at a Headingley test match mid-afternoon when everyone is six pints down and pissing around with a beach ball or summat oblivious to the action on the pitch. All that was missing was the fucking Mexican wave. And what’s with that inflatable crocodile? Granted the first time I saw it at York last season it raised a half smile but now that the scouser to whom it referred has disappeared why bother? Or is this the sort of wacky inflatable banana level of support we’ve sunk to now?

On the pitch from the brief moments I actually observed when I wasn’t muttering into my beer about the state of our support it looks like we’ve got the making of a half decent side – Tommy and his management team appear to be sorting things and it bodes well for the season ahead. It might be time for us to sort ourselves out on the terraces as well.

For starters we could do worse than take a look at SV Austria Salzburg’s support that, as with the match at Broadhurst Park a year and a half ago, was noisy, vibrant, colourful and never stopped singing and bobbing up and down all match. Frankly they were miles better than us. We may have won 3-1 on the pitch but we were soundly thumped off it perhaps for the first time in a Euro away where we have usually done ourselves proud and shown solidarity with the home support in the process; St Pauli and Babelsberg perhaps the best examples of that.

Should we be concerned or should we just live and let live? After all, there’d been a drop of golden sun, the beer had been flowing and it’s not every day that England get the better of Sweden. If some of our supporters want to belt out “football’s coming home” like they’re in a lagered-up Superdried Milton Keynes sports bar shouldn’t we just let them get on with it? To a degree, yes, I suppose but I’m genuinely puzzled as to why someone would bring a St George’s flag that simply said England on it (just in case you weren’t sure which nation it represented) to an FC United match – no mention of Manchester, United or FC United or any nods whatsoever to our red history. It’s not exactly bouncing up and down on an ambulance or trashing some Ikea furniture but I thought we had more class.

There are some amongst our support who have followed England for years including one of our board members who was out in Russia for the entire tournament. Fair play to them. But for many of us United post-1998 stood alone (bar maybe Liverpool?) as the anti-England – a clued-up, well travelled, diverse support that was everything England’s support wasn’t with its small town mindset, shit songs about the IRA and fondness for forelock tugging. Some would have it that FC United has become just another football club in recent times but I’m not having that as, despite our recent wake-up calls, there are still so many ways in which we differ hugely from a typical football club. But it’s apparent that over the last few seasons our support, away from home in particular, has gradually become a little less irreverent and inventive and a little more mainstream and Salzburg highlighted that. I know there was a cracking sing-sing post-match (which I missed) but, like belting out songs in the Bishop’s before a United match, it’s all very good and looks ace on social media but it’s in the ground during a match when it really matters. And for large chunks of the match in Salzburg, and on many occasions away from home over the last couple of seasons, it’s felt like we’ve been little different to any other travelling support in the country.

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