Opinion

How Manchester City fans boycotted the Community Shield and funded a food bank for the summer

Manchester City fans responded to a row over the Community Shield's kick-off time with a boycott that raised almost £15,000 for a Manchester food bank. MCFC Fans Foodbank Support's Nick Clarke explains why it shows fan power at its best

Manchester City supporters have been supporting food banks over the last few years

Nick Clarke (far left) set up MCFC Fans Foodbank Support to mobilise City fans towards tackling hunger. Image: Supplied

Like millions of people here in the UK, I’m a football supporter, and like hundreds of thousands of those, I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to go and watch my team week in week out as a season-ticket holder. However, unlike the vast majority of this demographic, I have the privilege of watching one of the most successful teams in the country at the moment – Manchester City Football Club. Bear with me here, there’s something here for supporters of all clubs I promise!

Along with a few good mates who are also season-ticket holders at Manchester City, I’m part of a group called MCFC Fans Foodbank Support (MCFC FFS). For the past three and a half years we’ve been collecting donations of food outside of our club’s weekend home games, come rain or shine, to support members of the local community in Manchester who are struggling to put food on their families’ tables.

Our overwhelming experience since starting MCFC FFS is that football supporters, despite being a broad church, are incredibly compassionate and willing to fight for a cause. Which is why when the FA set the kick-off time for the 2023 Community Shield at 5.30pm on a Sunday, fans decided to push back. This would have been the latest the fixture will ever have been played in 100+ years. And it would cause serious implications for 30,000 fans expected to make the 400-mile round trip from Manchester to Wembley and back in time for work on Monday, in a country not known for its well-funded or well-managed rail infrastructure.

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MCFC FFS were asked by City fan group 1894, who are responsible for some of the brilliant flags and displays at home games, to join them in organising a show of defiance to this evident lack of consideration of supporters. We called for a boycott and attached a fundraiser to put our money where our mouth is, with all proceeds going directly to Manchester Central Foodbank. They are one of the biggest in the region, feeding 1,200+ people in our city each month. City fans outdid themselves and raised nearly £15,000 as it stands, which will cover Manchester Central’s food purchases for the whole of summer. In response, the FA changed the kick-off time for the first time in history, but only to a pitiful 90 minutes earlier.

The boycott proved to be a success. Our alternate screening of the game for Blues who didn’t want to travel sold out 500 tickets at an iconic Manchester gig venue, Band On The Wall. Only around 10% of the allocation for the Wembley fixture was bought by season-ticket holders like me, with many supporter’s club branches refusing to send coaches down for the fixture and hosting fundraisers for us, until the game went to general sale. Such is City’s recent success that casual fans filled the hole left by the core support and the game ended up a sell-out. But as heard on telly and reported by many in attendance, our absence left a gaping hole in the emotion, atmosphere, and competitive edge of the match, which can’t be replaced as easily as a ticket.

Nick Clarke Manchester City supporter
Nick Clarke has joined like-minded supporters in taking a stand for fans and local communities. Image: Supplied

It’s not the first time we have taken a stand. In these past few years, we’ve been involved in campaigns that blur the line between our experience as football supporters and fighting to support our communities – a line we don’t believe actually exists. Alongside Fans Supporting Foodbanks (FSF), founded in Merseyside by Everton and Liverpool fans, we’re part of the movement to enshrine a Right To Food in law, led in parliament by FSF co-founder Ian Byrne. Then with the same set of supporters, including counterparts in Newcastle, Birmingham, and London, we were part of the successful #CharityNotPPV campaign which put an end to efforts by TV broadcasters to squeeze even more money out of fans to pay to watch games during lockdown.

Like many clubs across the nation, City’s history can be traced back to the 19th century when a local church began a football team to improve the lives and outcomes of their local community. For us this was St. Mark’s in Gorton, amidst the backdrop of rampant poverty and abject conditions to be found in many Victorian cities and industrial heartlands, that the inner-city slums of Manchester in particular is only too well known for.

Elements of that community spirit still run through our club, and others, with City’s charity ‘City in the Community’ doing commendable work, and by how many clubs across the leagues became vital community hubs during times of crisis, such as FC United’s Covid-19 Food Hub in North Manchester.

But can we truly be called “community clubs”, as we would like to think we are? It feels like the further towards the top of the English footballing pyramid you get, the further the distance between us and the club hierarchy, the more a club’s traditional support and community is treated as an afterthought, and the less we’re seen as what makes that club what it is: an integral part of why the club exists in the first place.

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This distance is proved most clearly by the decisions by TV broadcasters to play matches at ridiculous times with no regard for travelling fans, such as 7pm on Sunday night, and the decisions by clubs to increasingly price out working class fans who’ve been the bedrock of their support for decades. All of this, at a time when the English game has never been so profitable, with the Premier League alone estimated to be worth upwards of $10billion. The cost of my seat at City has doubled in the last 15 years, it’s not hard to guess whether average wages in Manchester have done the same, and we’re not the only club extorting fans for the price of their loyalty.

This environment English football has created, where the very supporters who make it the eye-wateringly valuable product it is, seem to be treated at best with utter indifference and at worst like club’s biggest enemies to further profit. This leads to widespread disaffection, and makes fans take actions like our boycott of the Shield. By putting their money where their mouth is, and supporting community causes like us at the fan’s foodbank whilst making that stand, we did make the FA listen, and we did have an impact in the stadium with our absence. I want fans across the country to realise their voice not only matters, but it is powerful. Speak to each other, ignore the tribalism, support your communities and together we can make changes across this country – from the most local of issues right to the top of the tree.

Nick Clarke is one of the founding members of MCFC Fans Foodbank Support

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