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Monday, June 17, 2013

Punk Football: FC United of Manchester post-season tour of Germany 2012/13

FC United of Manchester post-season tour of Germany 2012/13 

Do you ever get that feeling when something feels good but you can’t just quite put your finger on it? I had that feeling when I first heard punk rock, when Matt Freedman’s bass solo kicks in on Maxwell Murder, the opening track to the punk-rock classic, And Out Come the Wolves. I still get that feeling from punk rock, and I get that feeling every time I go watch FC United of Manchester. It’s a feeling that emanates from the atmosphere, the buzz, the energy, and not just some quantifiable element to an experience.   

Back in 2003 I was a student at Manchester Metropolitan University, studying a degree in Sociology, and in particular, enjoying reading on a Unit called ‘Football & Society’. I wrote an article about regional identities and resistance to the globalisation of football, using FC Saint Pauli as a case study in question. The course leader was a bloke named Adam Brown, who currently sits on the board of FC United of Manchester (FCUM). This time I sit alongside him not with any hierarchy, but as a fellow co-owner of a football club. This is progress.

After three consecutive seasons of loosing in the final of the playoffs in the Northern Premier League, FCUM had been invited over to Germany to play two friendly matches against SV Babelsberg 03 and Dynamo Dresden. Not bad for a team on the seventh level of the football pyramid?  Here is a report of my adventures:

I rocked up to the pier in central Potsdam and not a soul was in sight. It felt as if this voyage was doomed from the start. Yet the arrangements made through the fans soon came to fruition after I spotted a couple of lads with Babelsberg t-shirts, and they informed me that I was an hour early. They invited me to join them and their friends in a nearby beer garden to have a few warm up beers. Punk Football 1 – Alienation 0.

The Babelsberg Ultras had organised a special boat party – a three-hour cruise around the rivers of Potsdam – as a precursor to the friendly. There was supposed to be space for about 50 FCUM fans, but due to airport delays there were only about 20 of us. Stepping on the boat, I glanced around and I didn’t know anyone onboard. I plucked up some courage and asked a few FC fans if I could join them at their table. The beers and conversation flowed, friends were made and the euphoria kicked in.

We made a great party with their fans, and when everyone had supped enough to sing, the lower deck packed out for a sing-off between both sets of fans. We represented well considering our numbers, yet the Babelsberg Army outdid us with their choreographed routines and rowdy dancing. Check out the video below to get an impression of what it was like.

The next day was the big one. It was the game I was most looking forward to. I had seen Babelsberg play in the past, so I was aware of the similar ideals and politics that both clubs and fans share.  Even though it was pissing it down with rain, which seemed apt for a visit of a travelling Mancunian army, there were many people outside the ground at 4pm, supping beers, and enjoying the punk-rock band who were playing on a stage adjacent to the entrance. Again, all organised by the fans, as part of their ’11 days in May’ football festival. Friends started to arrive and the wave of familiarity had hit.

I took a walk to their fan bar down the road, which was also packed with FC fans, soaking their throats with Sternis and singing an array of FC classics. The ‘null drei’ army clearly loved this unique atmosphere, and the foreplay to the intercourse was well underway.  

Outside the ground there were some info stalls, one of which was occupied by fans of FC Partizan Minsk, an anti-fascist club from Belarus, whom had recently been on a friendly tour of Germany. Again, organised by fans. I have nothing but admiration and respect for anyone who is going to take an open stand as an Antifa in a country that is a repressive dictatorship such as Belarus. It is a way of life, and a stand that probably means daily survival and self-protection against violent fascists.

Then there was the game, or what I can remember of it. Everyone was in a jolly good mood. FCUM took the end behind the goals, mixed in with a smaller sub group of the Babelsberg Ultras, and the majority Babelsberg fans had their usual spot in the Kurve. I couldn’t believe that we had managed to bring about 500 fans for this post-season friendly. Here are the eleven highlights of the game (in no particular order):

1)  Babelsberg Ultras pyrotechnic displays.
2)   Former Babelsberg legends cancelling holidays because they wanted to play in the match.
3)   Babelsberg fans being open and proud about being Communists and Anarchists: Working Class Pride.
4)   Drinking beer in the stands.
5)   Sitting on the steel fence, swinging a large red and black flag.
6)   Singing Robbie Savage songs to their Blondielocks midfielder.
7)   Running along to the Babelsberg stand and presenting our flag for a swing, whilst simultaneously joining in with one of their choreographies where the stand resembled a mosh pit.
8)   Their fans throwing their shoes onto the pitch with 10 minutes to go, which meant the game had to be stopped whilst the referees assistant gathered them off the pitch.
9)   Both sets of fans cheering the other teams goals.
10)  Our keeper playing up front for the last few minutes of the game.
11)    FCUM winning the match 3-2.

The orgasmic moment of the love in came after the final whistle, when their fans ran the length of the pitch to provide us with a song. They then kicked open the fire doors, and a load of FC fans spilled out onto the field to shake hands, sing songs, and swap merchandise with their comrades. For 45 minutes following the game, both sets of fans took turns to sing songs to each other, with the vinegar strokes kicking in when all the FC fans started singing ‘We love you Babelsberg, we do”.  Friends were made for life, and the words of Frank Gallagher became immortalised when he said “but all of them to a man... who knows first and foremost, the most vital necessity in this life is they know how to throw a PARTY!”

The train ride back to Berlin was a hoot, with songs and beers a plenty. I stopped off in Friedrichshain on the way back to the hostel to catch the Gaelic punk band Oi Polloi who was playing at Supermolly that night. I had slammed too many Mexicanas, and needed the stage to prop me up as they blitzed through their catalogue. I then had my phone confiscated for taking photos, and in order to get it back from the promoter had to sit there and delete the photos I’d taken at the gig. What was worse is that I fully understood and respected their reasoning for the no photo policy, yet inside I still felt angry. I took that as a sign and called it a night.

The next day I met up with some fellow oddballs from the FCUM Eccles branch, and took a trip over to West Berlin to the Mommenstadion to watch FC Tennis Borussia Berlin or ‘Tebe” as they are colloquially known, who play at a similar level to FC United. I had met one of their fans at a Turkiyemspor Berlin last season, and after hearing about the punk ethos of their fans and the way the fans saved their club, decided that it was a perfect place to hoard an FC following along to hoist up the Sloop John B.  Other FC fans had the same idea, and were around in the stadium too, and we even spotted the flag of the Southern Reds, proudly proclaiming the words ‘Mine’s a Shandy’. 

Fans United

Honest Trev led the charge to get stuck in and join the ‘Tebe Party Army’ at the opposite end of the stadium. We joined in with some of their songs, sang some FC songs, and invented some of our own Tebe songs. We fell in love with their right-winger, number 22, and treated him to a rendition – “He’s got feet like lightning, Fabien, Fabien”. It turns out he was a former African refugee who had a terrible life, and the fans at Tebe had rescued him, giving him a home and a life at the club. Note the keywords again here: Fans. Punk. Football.

FC United of Manchester is 'Saving Tebe'

At the end of the game, the players showed their appreciation to the fans by running alongside the fence to high-five the fans, and the fans showed it back by singing them a song. We were then invited into the Tebe members’ area, and treated like good comrades, with free food and free beer! We then held a press conference and took a few questions about the club, before getting down to the second love in of the weekend. I also made an interview with their TV channel to exclaim why FC United of Manchester were ‘Saving Tebe’ (see above link). We were made to feel very welcome, and again we made lots of new friends, sang songs to each other, more friends for life. The FC United Manchester / Tennis Borussia friendship had officially begun. We all packed in together to help them pack away all their gear, and then realised it was four hours ago that the game had finished.

 Press conference

I spent the rest of the night at the ULTRASH festival, which was taking place in Potsdam that weekend, a red and black, antifa skinhead festival, where I got to see the legendary Oi band from Wales, The Oppressed – a perfect way to round off an excellent three days of Punk Football. I spoke to many of the Babelsberg fans, and they were ecstatic about the way everything went.  Cheers, a lifetime of comradeship all round!

The Oppressed

Did I mention that the game in Dresden was cancelled due to waterlogged pitch? Not that I cared. I was too swamped in the buzz.

The feeling. THAT feeling. The one that engulfs my soul every time I’m surrounded by the punk ethos: be it the football stands, the autonomous space, or the punk-rock show. THAT is the buzz of life that is worth finding and unifying for. THAT is the buzz of a life worth living. 

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