Saturday 6 November 2010

Grassroots United recapture Cup's magic

It often seems difficult to identify tangible examples of what David Cameron likes to call the "big society". One of the best so far may be that of FC United, the new non-league football club created five years ago as part of a protest movement against the ownership and commercialisation of Manchester United.

Told that they would not last until Christmas, they are now thriving as a community football club in their own right, and planning to build a new stadium, demonstrating how ideas of mutualism and democratic supporters' trusts have taken root in non-league football over the last decade.

Last night, FC United won their first ever match in the FA Cup proper, somehow living out every cup classic cliche for real by beating league one Rochdale 3-2 with more or less the last kick of the match having earlier lost a two-nil lead. The winning goal was a bit controversial but United deserved the luck, while the sweeping move for the second FC United goal might not have looked out of place at Spurs v Inter Milan in the Champions League last week.

The non-league side was cheered on by 4000 supporters among a crowd of over 7000, who seemed to sing from the first whistle to the last to create an electric 70s-style atmosphere (though pitch invasions for the goals as well as at the end probably ought to be frowned upon).

The FA Cup has certainly lost some of its shine in recent years. As football has become more stratified - within the Premiership as well as across divisions - those famous giantkillings and unlikely winners have become rarer, though the 2008 tournament was of classic vintage. Most infuriating of all is mediocre Premiership teams putting the reserves out to eschew their one shot at glory in case it might endanger the opportunity to grind out a league point the following week.

Today, AFC Wimbledon play an FA Cup first round tie as favourites. That is another incredible and sustained achievement of successfully rebuilding a club from scratch, after Wimbledon fans lost their club to an incredibly shoddy bit of Football League rule-bending on behalf of a new Milton Keynes franchise in 2002. As David Conn writes for the Guardian, their cup tie with Ebbsfleet United offers an intriguing contrast in football community, since Ebbsleet has been the site of a high-profile postmodern experiment of "internet community" fans' ownership, which seems to have lacked the same degree of commitment and stamina.

And now FC United are just one game from being in the third round draw with Manchester United. The Guardian reported last week that FC United supporters would boycott an away tie at Old Trafford. It feels to me that they should turn up and celebrate their achievement as visitors, just as they would at Anfield or Man City, perhaps switching green and gold for the occasion.

There must be limits to how far even the FA Cup can live up to the most ludicrous of fairytale scripts. Even being in the hat for the 3rd round draw would show that the FA Cup still has a magic that no other sporting tournament can match.

1 comment:

Mark said...

If AFC Wimbledon ever meet MK Don, it'll be like 'Back to the Future'!

On the Big Society angle - Cameron has effectively politicised volunteerism. If my local library closes, I'd be happy to lend my services and professional experience - but not if it's going to be held up as a beacon of Conservative dogma...