A few years back I blogged on the creation of FC United of Manchester, musing on the revolutionary potential of such an audacious development. A few years hence and I'm proud to announce that that potential is starting to materialise. And it is fitting that in the very week that FIFA looks set to implode under the strain of systemic graft and corruption, it is truly inspiring to see this community based venture bringing back some integrity into the sporting arena. But it is more than community integrity that is at stake. What FC United reveals, perhaps even to the surprise of their own supporters, is that there are ways of organising human affairs that don't rely entirely on the motivation of money and the myopic greed of the so-called free market. And that human endeavour can be rewarding simply for the intrinsic pleasure of the activity itself, be it in the sporting, artistic or economic fields. If there was ever a germ of a communistic future, unsullied by stultifying state bureaucracy or the corruption of the capitalist market, then FC United is it. 

 

There is something of the early cooperative movement about this project and it probably should not surprise us that it emerged from the northern hinterlands rather than the 'sophisticated' capital and the surrounding southern shires. Increasingly, our concept of success and progress has been all but high-jacked by the GDP merchants who in their messianic rush for growth seem to have totally forgotten what precisely all this growth is actually for. Certainly there is little evidence to suggest that increased GDP produces greater individual happiness. Quite the contrary, as national growth has increased we the toilers and consumers have become more atomised, more alienated and more angry at the world around us. The global machine grinds on, spluttering between boom and bust; the elites become wealthier and more remote, whilst we are encouraged to consume glossy corporate titbits and tacky corporate culture. The supporters of FC United seem to be telling the world they've had enough of it. 

David Conn explains the amazing depth and ambition of the FC United project:

'The rebel United supporters could in 2005 draw on mutual models already developed for clubs such as AFC Wimbledon, Exeter City, and the Swansea City Supporters Trust, which owns 21% of the Premier League club and elects a director to its board. FC United have taken the concept further and formed specifically as a community benefit society, owned equally by each of its 4,200 paying members. This central duty to benefit the community is felt more keenly, given that there was some local resistance in the area to the stadium being built on common space, and the disruption a football club could bring. FC United are committed to encouraging wider participation in football and other sports, working with schools, colleges and social organisations, last year reaching 2000 people  particularly aiming to help young people struggling for work or training.'

David Conn then quotes the chairman, Paul Mitchell who adds;

One member one vote is a fundamental part of what we're about and I think that is what has held us to these principles. The members set the rules, directly elect the board and keep us to the core aims of the club.

The aims of the club can be neatly summed up by one of their terrace chants:

Glazer, wherever you may be, you bought Old Trafford but you can't buy me.

And that gets to the very nub of the matter. The current model of football club ownership, particularly at Premier level, can bring unbelievable successes but successes that turn out to be quite hollow and meaningless in the end. Chelsea supporters had waited patiently for over fifty years for top level success and when Abromovich bought the club and poured in his countless millions, the Chelsea supporters couldn't believe their luck. The trophies soon started to pile up, including the Champions League itself. But what does it all mean? Not much if the kids that go to the surrounding schools are anything to go by. I work in some of those schools and the kids, even those that love their football, seem to be completely underwhelmed. Just another Chelsea trophy bought and paid for by a foreign owner's dirty money. They may not precisely say that but that is the impression you get by their bland looks and their indifferent body language. Chelsea FC have very little to do with the local kids and the local kids are quick to reciprocate. Apart from anything else they and their families simply can't afford the Stamford Bridge prices. As for Chelsea, ditto for the other big Premier League clubs.

Could the FC United model work in the capital? I think it could. On the few occasions I have visited Stamford Bridge the atmosphere has been as dead as a dodo. Even Mourinho has said as much. Businessmen are on their mobiles and the all-seater stadium is like a library at times. And this should surprise no one. If you treat the community with contempt and turn a football club into little more than a play thing for an oligarch then it is very difficult to feel any passion. Why would you? The tribal affiliation still lingers but everyone knows in their heart of hearts that they are being sold a lemon. And what makes matters worse is that there are some really talented youngsters in the Chelsea youth teams but the chances of any of them making the first team are remote. They'll soon be out on loan and then eventually sold on. A community programme? It's just empty talk.

I've had the pleasure and privilege of be part of a real community sports club and the one thing I learnt right from the beginning  you can't kid people. The members know when something is genuine and they equally know if they are being conned. A community spirit can only be forged in genuine participation and not top down diktat. There has to be a real sense of ownership in everything that happens otherwise people will soon vote with their feet. I suspect that what is being built at FC United is both genuine and highly creative. FIFA is one model of development, a model that mirrors our current corporatized sleazy, criminalised world. FC United is an altogether different model and offers hope for a less alienated society. Manchester United were once trail blazers in the world of football. FC United of Manchester might very well be the ones to carry on that revolutionary tradition.

End JPK Copyright 28\5\15

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Last Updated ( Monday, 21 May 2018 06:40 )