Offside, 24 February

Breakaway Man Utd fans, take note: 'authentic' clubs are for losers.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

This week I read that a group of Manchester United fans are planning to set up a breakaway football club if US tycoon Malcolm Glazer succeeds in his bid to buy the club. It is well-worn joke that United fans are all glory hunters but these disaffected Reds, who are prepared to enter their new club FC United in the humble North-West counties League, appear to be hunting for something altogether different. Welcome to the world of the authenticity hunter.

I’ve always thought that the pejorative term ‘glory hunter’ was rather bizarre. I mean who in their right minds doesn’t want glory for their team? After all, unless I’m missing something, the whole point of the ‘glory game’ is, er, glory. Glory is, of course, relative. For Manchester United fans glory means winning the European Cup. whereas a giant-killing cup upset against United would be pretty damn glorious for Brentford supporters (though I’m prepared to accept that some Bees fans have their sights set on the Champions League).

So when we accuse United fans of being glory hunters what we really mean is that they aren’t ‘real’ fans. They’re fake, bogus, plastic and, worst of all, they don’t even come from Manchester. Most glory hunters are armchair fans who never go to games. However, those ‘day trippers’ who do actually travel to Old Trafford – invariably from Surrey – are too busy munching prawn sandwiches to join in the singing. I’ve never actually met anyone who fesses up to being a glory hunter, so I’ve had to rely on hearsay and legend to piece together a photofit.

A ‘real’ fan, by contrast, supports their local team – in fact they were probably born within spitting distance of the ground. Real fans follow their club through bad times as well as good – in fact the more misery they’ve endured the better. Real fans have been to every game, home and away, for over 30 years and have the matchday programmes to prove it. Some ultra-authentic fans even go to watch reserve games and hang around the training ground. Real fans will gladly regale you with tedious stories of how they travelled for 10 hours on a coach to Wrexham away on a rainy Tuesday night in February to watch their team get knocked out of the Auto Windscreen Trophy. And they loved it.

Put simply, real fans don’t have a life – or rather football is their life. If this was any other leisure pursuit they’d be derided as saddoes or anoraks, but in our mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world they are revered for their authenticity. Real fans, like their glory-hunting counterparts, are largely mythical creatures. It doesn’t matter how much time and money we spend following our club, we suspect that there is always someone even more fanatical, more devoted, more genuine than us. Ultimately real fandom is a beatific state to which the rest of us can only aspire.

As the authenticity hunter sees it, the real fan has become an endangered species thanks to football’s gentrification. Real fans have been priced out, ethnically cleansed by middle-class supporters and corporate hospitality clients. Ideally a real fan should support a ‘family club’ (whatever that means) not a soulless global merchandising operation. The commercialisation of English football has destroyed the real fan’s traditional habitat of: run-down stadiums, crumbling uncovered terraces, third-world toilets, and food unfit for animals. Authenticity hunters fondly remember what football used to be like in the 1980s. The grounds were half-empty, the police herded us around like animals, and the quality of football was piss-poor…but we were happy.

AFC Wimbledon, the Real Madrid of authenticity, provide the template for FC United. The dissidents have drawn up an eight-point charter which declares that FC United will be owned by a supporters’ trust, that profits will be reinvested in the club, that there will be no shirt sponsorship, and that ‘support among the youth of Manchester and Salford will be a priority and actively encouraged’. It reads like a cross between a utopian socialist manifesto and a funding application for an inner-city youth centre.

Why are supporters of clubs like United desperately seeking authenticity? Aren’t they happy with their club’s wealth and success? It seems like a bad case of self-loathing to me. Every week United’s green-eyed rivals mock their opponents with chants of ‘We support our local team’. United fans traditionally treat this taunt with the contempt it deserves – ‘You support a load of shit’ is the standard riposte. Quite right. This moronic celebration of the parochial is a bit like chanting ‘We support our local tax office’ or ‘We support our local bus depot’.

Now some authentically challenged Reds aspire to be like the losers they once derided. Fair enough, but why form a breakaway club? If they want the authentic taste of parochialism, perennial failure, relegation dogfights, and trips to lower league grounds, why not support City instead?

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Topics Politics


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