Righteous football

26 04 2013
FC United of Manchester 1 Chorley 3
Northern Premier League

Today I was finally going to watch an FC United home match and naturally I was quite excited. I was so excited I pranced around Piccadilly Gardens taking photos of the stickers that football fans leave behind on street furniture. On the train to Manchester I decided that the picture taking came somewhere between documenting social history and an art project, at the least I thought it would be interesting.

People are funny aren’t they? They live in a city full of people acting “strangely” but show them a person taking photos of the stickers that football fans leave on street furniture and watch the incredulous expressions appear. Then again who cares what “other people” think? Who cares how they look at you. “Other people” are the sort of people that are too busy downloading music to visit actual music shops.

I saw a lot of “other people” today; the downloaders had descended on a HMV closing down sale like a plague of locusts. I bought a copy of the Socialist Worker outside the Arndale Centre to even up my karmic balance for being part of a society that spawned this. I also know what it’s like to stand in the blistering cold with a paper in one hand, a petition in the other and silent indifference for company.

I went for a brief look for a mother’s day gift and paid a quick visit to the National Football Museum Shop to see if they had the latest issue of A Fine Lung (They didn’t) before boarding the tram for Bury.

I’ve been to three matches in Europe in a tram (In Graz, Vienna and Helsinki) and I’ve been to West Brom on the tram and let me tell you, there’s nothing finer than pulling up outside a ground in a tram and getting out. More cities should reintroduce trams as it’s the only true way for football fans to travel to matches. Cars, buses and train are all fine and dandy but there’s nothing like the majesty of tram travel.

Yes, there’s nothing like tram travel. even if your modern British tram is basically a smaller version of a train, even if the tram  leaves you miles from where you actually want to get to. Fortunately, I was so excited about finally going to FC United I didn’t care about the 15 minute walk to Gigg Lane.

After a bit of research, and help from a few FC fans I know thanks to twitter, I knew that there was something on in FC United’s social club –  “Cause You Can Malcolm”. I wanted to be there when everything was kicking off, at about 1 o’clock, but unfortunately I didn’t get to Gigg Lane until about ten past two, which was still enough time to buy a badge and the latest edition of A Fine Lung.

Let’s deal with the football first.  Unfortunately FC United lost but that’s football for you, sometimes even the righteous don’t win.  I knew what I was going to get, I’ve seen Colwyn Bay enough times, and it was typical Northern Premier League stuff. I didn’t really go for the football anyway.

I love the political edge to FC United; the co-operative status of the club, the feelings expressed on flags and the different way of doing things. For example International Womens’ Day happened this week so the match programme was dedicated to the idea of a “woman’s place is…at the match” (there was also a display in Malcolmses.) I love the FC United way, here’s two more small examples of it; the pre-match entertainment was an Irish tinged punk band and an announcer reads out the teams in the style of John Cooper Clarke rather than John Motson. You can stuff your tinny tannoy.

The next great thing about a visit to an FC United is hearing the song book. The cornucopia of songs is marked by sheer quantity and the  inventiveness is truly impressive. There’s no off the peg Soccer AM shite at FC. Every song is different.. From the joyous I am an FC fan  to the “And Fergie said” (or at least that’s what I think I heard) ”This Badge Is Your Badge” (or at least that’s what I think I heard) “When FC United go out to play” . It was great to finally hear a proper version of Sloop John B, as I’d only seen it performed in a train carriage on You tube;

There are too many songs to list here but I liked them all.

The biggest thing I took from today was the friendliness of people. I turned up at Malcolmeses and just started talking to a bloke about the ”Colwyn Bay Reds” flag on the wall. Before long we were having a conversation about the pubs of Old Colwyn and the standards of non-league attendances. I was also welcomed by the mate of this bloke. It’s the first time I’ve gone to a ground as a stranger and been greeted with “It’s good to see you” followed by a shake of the hand. On the terraces, everyone was polite, and I mean everyone. No-one pushed in to you or past you. Mind you I have come to expect this level on manners in northern cities.

Looking For Eric, and everything I’ve read, hadn’t prepared me for just how wonderful the experience of watching FC United is. I think I may have found a football second home.

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Celtic 4 Aberdeen 3
Scottish Premier League

This week I was finally going to Celtic Park for a proper match so for the second Saturday in a row I was very excited.

The excitement built from the moment I began the process of buying tickets; Celtic’s ticket booking page gives you the ability to see the view from your ticket. I could already taste the atmosphere. I thought about advertising Bangor with the “Bangor is an Energy” flag.

I was halfway through booking the train tickets when I had the misfortune to read an annoying email. The email told me that the WPL fixture planners had moved Bangor’s away match with XXX XXX XXXXXX from Sunday 17th to Saturday 16th. At first I panicked then I remembered that I’d been looking for excuse not to give them money, fate was telling me to go to Celtic, especially as I had already paid for a ticket and half my journey. After I bought the other half of my train journey all I had to do for a couple of weeks was sit and wait.

When today finally arrived I couldn’t believe I was finally on a train up to Glasgow to see Celtic. I was going to see the great Celtic FC on a Saturday!!! This has seemed an impossibly exotic thing since I was young. To add to my sense of childhood wonder it started snowing when we reached Scotland and it’s always nice to see snow.

Unfortunately it was raining in Glasgow when the train arrived. If you look weird taking photos of the stickers that football fans leave on street furniture in dry conditions, imagine how weird people you look if you take photos of the stickers that football fans leave on street furniture when it’s raining.

Rain is a bit of bastard really, it’s not only the sworn enemy of stylish footwear it turns Glasgow’s pavements in to slippery devils. North Waleans aren’t supposed to be too bothered about a little rain but I strode on, unsure of my footing and worried about the effect of rain on yellow suede. Then I didn’t find the DVDs I wanted in Fopp, or footwear ideas in size?, then I couldn’t buy the badge I wanted in Calton books, and Robert wasn’t behind the counter in Calton Books so I couldn’t have a chat, and it was still raining. I really hope the revolution happens on a sunny day.

I love the hustle and bustle of a city. I love hearing accents. Even though it was raining I felt happy when I overheard three Glaswegians having a conversation;

“Did ya see that thing on the telly last night?”

–          “Oh aye, there were these two cunts on it…”

Thanks to Still Game, Rab C. Nesbitt and listening to Billy Connolly’s albums on family car journeys in the 1980s I’ve developed a particular love for the Glaswegian accent, or “Glasgow patter” as I believe it’s called. I love it’s lyrical flow and the way it makes things sound a bit more vibrant. The train guard’ Glaswegian lilt made ”Got a ticket pal?” sound far, far nicer than an effete  “Have you got a ticket sir?”

Just after I bought the Celtic ticket I decided that I needed to experience a bit of proper Glaswegian culture, I took this to mean I needed to have a couple of pints before the match. On the way to the pub I went in a very well-stocked shop, a shop that’s probably well-known by those that go to Celtic Park. My lasting impression of this shop was the weird badge display, half Che Guevara badges / half papal badges. I should be glad that Che Guevara seems to be an image that’s been adopted by fans but in this context any political message had been neutered for commercial gain. I realise that not all shops are like Calton Books but this shop appears to be taking the piss.

Anyway back to the pub….I found a nice looking pub,  The Drover Arms, when I went to Glasgow in the summer but I didn’t feel like I had the time to stop. Today I knew that I had to make up so I went in. I wasn’t disappointed, what attentive staff!! Drying off nicely, a pint in front of me, the air filled with proper banter and fitba on the telly, I finally felt like I was in Glasgow proper.

It was still drizzling when I left the pub; this was alright as I was now dry. By the time I’d walked to ground, bought a couple of fanzines, had a look around the ground I was sopping wet again.

It’s always nice to encounter stewards that are helpful, friendly and chatty as they’re so much nicer than the jobsworth twats with their “You can’t stand there, you can’t take photos, we’re not here to have fun so we’ll make sure that you don’t” sort of approach. I found a friendly steward as soon as I saw that my ticket couldn’t be used; my seat was in the taped off first two rows. The steward just said “I’m Sorry aye, you can just sit at the top of the stand, it’s a bit steep up there I hope you don’t mind” What a novel approach!

I looked at the section of the ground where the Green Brigade congregates and saw a lot of people in black t-shirts with white symbols on them. When I saw a few people in black t-shirts outside the ground I thought they might have been the Green Brigade, it appears that I was correct. I couldn’t make out the slogan on the front of the t-shirt outside the ground but I didn’t have to wait long to find out what the slogans were thanks to the Green Brigade’s giant banners. I don’t know the precise details of the problems that the Green Brigade were experiencing but to my untrained eyes it seems as though there was a bit of victimisation afoot.

The match started with the fastest goal I’ve ever seen; about ten seconds. The bloke sat near was rather happy about this, after sharing a few celebratory words I had someone to chat to for the rest of the match.  It was a good job I had someone to chat with as not much happened in the next twenty minutes. For some reason I’d brought another coat with me and thank god I did as it began to feel rather cold in my lofty position. I had to wear my hat and ancient Celtic scarf as well.

The friendly steward kept popping up to see me, or it may have been my new friend as they seemed quite friendly. Each visit involved a snippet of conversation,  a smile and friendly gesture. This bonhomie almost made me feel as though I was involved with Celtic, well as much as a total outsider can feel involved.  I’d been led to believe that all the humane and personable stewards has been phased out in favour of private security operatives, I’d been grossly deceived.

The crowd was a bit smaller than I envisaged. I tried to ask my new friend why; “Was it due to the lack of Rangers, or boredom with the league’s format?” but instead of answering my new friend sighed loudly. I looked at the pitch and saw an Aberdeen player running through the area with the ball, in another second the ball was in the Celtic goal. There were no more goals before half time.

During half time the cold really got to me and not even our friendly steward could help, or cheer me up. I was cold, the rain was pelting the roof, Celtic were drawing and I sat there, unable to hear the half time announcements and records properly, all I could do was hope for a small crumb of good news. Then I noticed that Alwyn texted me half an hour before to tell me that Bangor were losing 3-0.

The second half went from bad to worse for my new friend. Aberdeen not only somehow took the lead, they went further ahead. Celtic may not have been their fluent best, there many mishit passes and shots, but I couldn’t see how they deserved to be two goals behind. Sadly it didn’t look Celtic would find their way back in to the match as they continued to mishit passes.

When the Celtic fans began to moan it wasn’t an unpleasant sound as there was a glorious rhythm and echo to it all, “That’s shite Celtic, utter shite……………. Aw c’mon this is pish Celtic…………. Aw that cunt is fucking useless.” Not that everyone was annoyed to swearing levels. The friendly steward’s demeanour merely looked a little forced and my new friend called the display “mince” and warned me that this is what Celtic have been like this season; “Good one week, Mince the next”.

He then pointed at the jubilent Aberdeen fans and said “See them, their journey home will be as long as yours” I would have fallen in to a reverie about the views from Scotland’s roads but another text from Alwyn  stopped me; XXX XXX XXXXXX had beaten Bangor 6-0. This was sadly unsurprising, something told me that we wouldn’t win when we were 3-0 down.

When things are going badly everything looks terrible but then you’re in a negative frame of mind and it’s a natural assumption. Football may often looks hopeless but sometimes it only takes a lead reducing goal to make everything feel positive again. Amidst the wailing and gnashing my new friend remained sanguine; “All we need is a goal and we’ll be back in it”. I knew he was right.

And lo, my new friend was proven correct; about 10 minutes after Aberdeen’s third Celtic scored their second goal. A goal in circumstances that look so so bleak always feels better.  Celtic then began to exert a little pressure, at first the usual frenzy of desire made an Celtic equaliser feel imminent but as usual the further we went from Celtic’s second goal the less effect the frenzy had, in the end a Celtic equaliser still looked far away.

Then the football miracle of all football miracles happened; Celtic equalised when someone’s shot, probably Charlie Mulgrew’s, was deflected past Aberdeen’s keeper. I couldn’t quite believe it. For my new friend, this was enough, he’d been proved right and this was enough; “It’ll stay at 3 each. Have a safe journey home!!!” I made my way to the exit as well but something told me I needed to carry on watching the match so I hung around the bottom of the steps.

This time I was right and my new friend was wrong, it didn’t stay at 3 each. Giorgios Samaras, who’d made an incisive impact since entering the fray as “a midway through the half substitute”, scored an injury time winner by hooking the ball over his head.

Injury time winners are the great levelers of football, whether you’re a fan of a less than glamourous club or fan of a world famous giant the feeling is the same. I wouldn’t quite call what was happening around me “Pandemonium” but there was a lot of embracing. The friendly steward even embraced me and wished me a fond farewell.

I walked quickly to the city centre with a spring in my step, what a match, what a finish. I was quite drained by the time I was sitting on my train seat, but it was a good tired. I didn’t even care that the sight of my ancient Celtic scarf had caused a drunk wanker to sing “The famine’s over, why don’t you go home?” at me outside the station. I was quite happy, and this was before I’d found out that Wales had stopped the public schoolboys winning a grand slam.

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One response

21 07 2013
Trafod blogiau pel-droed ar Ar y Marc (20.7.13) | Gwenu Dan Fysiau

[…] arall sy’n adrodd yn ol ar brofiad refreshing o wylio FC United of Manchester, yn ei gofnod Righteous football. Mae’r cofnodion yn cynnwys holl ddefodau od yr awdur wrth iddo fynychu gem ymhell o adre, […]

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