As in other sports, the cliché of a “Cinderella story” can sometimes be irresistible to both football writers and fans alike. It’s not just the play on the pitch and the final that bewitches us so… it is the human stories behind the matches, and our ability to relate to them. As a fan, you feel good when your team comes from the brink to do well; it affirms your choice to support your club. Likewise, the mourning that you feel when your club loses — or, heaven forbid, collapses — still allows you to feel part of something. You share your pain with those who wear the same shirts and scarves.
Last week, I was sent an e-mail from one of my best friends, a Chester City fan who had to endure the ignominy of his team going into administration and then folding into oblivion. In the note was a link to a mini-documentary done by the Guardian’s John Harris (see above). He covers a battle between two clubs owned by fans who took matters into their own hands. Chester FC was born out of the ashes of City’s demise… while FC United was formed by Mancunians fed up with the Red Devils’ American owners, who downloaded massive amounts of debt onto the club. Both neophyte clubs are competing in the Evo-Stick Northern Premier League, the seventh tier of English football.
The piece shows the fans’ pride as they realize the fruits of their efforts to start the new clubs (I also thought it was cool that you can have a pint with the players after the game). Team representatives are realistic; they know their supporters will always be split in their loyalties between the small club and their favourite Premier League side (in the case of the Chester fans, it appears to be Liverpool). But like any business, you tend to care more when it’s your name on the charter… and your money is at stake.
Of course, the ur-fan-based club in England is AFC Wimbledon, which came about after their original side — Wimbledon FC — was abruptly moved an hour north and renamed Milton Keyes Dons. AFC has since climbed into the ranks of professional football and competes in League Two this season.
So in the spirit of supporting the underdog, I will provide regular updates on these three sides throughout the season. Will they continue their rise through the ranks of English football? Or will the economics of the game finally catch up to them, weighing them down so they can’t rise through the surface of professional football?
You may not care about lower-tier football… but you have to admire these supporters’ pluck.
As of Monday, September 26, 2011:
AFC Wimbledon – 2-1 @ Bradford City — 7th (playoff zone) in League Two
Chester FC – 3-0 @ Stafford Rangers — 3rd (playoff zone) in Northern Premier League
FC United of Manchester – 5-3 @ Burscough — 9th in Northern Premier League