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The best club night you’ve ever been to on a Saturday afternoon
‘Anyone who knows anything about football knows that football is not about football’
By Jonathan Allsopp
“They were dressed head to toe in traditional Mayan garb, played conches and threw themselves around as if possessed,” recalls Simon King of a visit paid by Mexican band Ritual Maya in 2019. He counts his memory of the band, billed as “traditional Mexican ceremonial music with punk and metal influences” as one of his favourites.
He’s talking about FC United of Manchester’s “club night in the afternoon”, Course You Can Malcolm. Back in 2019, King was the event’s compere and tells me how he took them to store their instruments after the gig and the band even ended up on the terrace during the match serenading everyone with their conches. “And that’s not a euphemism.”
Course You Can Malcolm — or CYCM to its regulars — is a 90-minute entertainment slot featuring live music and spoken word that takes place prior to almost every FC United home match on a Saturday afternoon inside part of the classroom space under the St Mary’s Road End terrace of its Broadhurst Park ground in Moston.
Many Mill readers will no doubt have heard of FC United, the breakaway fan-owned club formed by supporters of Manchester United in 2005 following the hostile takeover by Malcolm Glazer. Full disclosure demands that I out myself as one of those who left Old Trafford to become a founding member and co-owner of FC.
However, I suspect few will be aware of CYCM, which is usually attended by around 80 people from all age groups, from teens to seniors, in a space that’s roughly the size of the Castle Hotel’s music hall in town. With temporary blackout curtains and stage lighting it feels like a proper gig venue and a few people have even been known to come for CYCM and leave before the match. It’s something that’s unique in British, if not European, football.
But how did Moston become the home of one of the most unusual cultural events in the city? Back in the heady days of 2007, one of FC United’s co-owners Robert Brady recognised the need to re-energise match day. He submitted a proposal to the club’s board, suggesting a pre-match event “combining football, beer and not-so-popular music” that would be run by supporters.
It would take place in Starkey’s Bar, a function room in a corner of Bury FC’s Gigg Lane ground where FC played most of its home matches up until 2014. He called the event ‘Course You Can Malcolm’, a line borrowed from a seventies television advert for Vicks nasal spray but also a nod to the Glazer takeover. “So you thought we couldn’t form a football club? Course you can Malcolm”.
The idea was that a local band or solo artist — typically unsigned by a record label — or comedian, poet or other act would perform for free. An opportunity would be presented: they would get to perform in front of a very different audience, and at a different time of day, from what they were used to. Less playing over a soundtrack of people shrieking over their cocktails, more rapt daytime attention. This would be accompanied by local beers and food which included ‘tater ash’ from an Openshaw bakery and a regular homemade veggie dish with all the money raised going to the club. It quickly became a much-loved part of many supporters’ match days at a time when many of us were beginning to tire of trekking to Bury on a Saturday afternoon. CYCM gave us a reason to get there early and bag a seat in Starkey’s.
But it wasn’t everyone’s cup of Bovril. Some fans baulked at the idea of bands and poets in a football ground as they felt it wasn’t ‘football’ and Brady had anticipated this in his proposal to the board when he memorably wrote that “anyone who knows anything about football knows that football is not about football. Anyone who does not know that knows nothing about football”.
There was also a rather Ragged Trousered-ish notion that culture somehow wasn’t for ‘the likes of us’ working-class football supporters – that it was all a bit ‘arty farty’. But Brady, who was a bricklayer and other CYCM volunteers, including railway workers and an electrician, recognised the power of music and poetry, just like football, to temporarily remove us from the mundanity of everyday life. CYCM was born of a recognition that there are some of us who prefer our weekly football fix accompanied by something more substantial than cheap lager, saturated fat, fixed odds coupons and gawping at a big screen.
Over several seasons at Gigg Lane, from 2007 to 2014, there were highlights galore with appearances by the likes of Slow Readers Club, the Eccentronic Research Council (featuring actor Maxine Peake) and Josephine Oniyama — all musicians that I later paid to watch at much bigger venues. One of Manchester’s most mysterious bands WU LYF appeared on the Letterman Show in the US not long after two members of the band had played an acoustic set at CYCM. A group of Halle choristers treated us to a set of United-themed Christmas carols. And you could have heard a pin drop in Starkey’s as Rebecca Joy Sharp played the harp in possibly the most un-football-like build up to a football match ever.
I was spellbound as Aziz Ibrahim, formerly of the Stone Roses, played not only before the match but again during a lengthy half-time set that resulted in dozens of us missing the first 15 minutes of the second half. But I didn’t care that I’d missed two FC United goals as I’d just seen and heard one of the finest guitarists of his generation in action. There’s a lovely photo of Aziz post-gig in front of the ‘Manchester — We Are All Immigrants’ banner which is one of many flags regularly on display at CYCM.
CYCM was always easy to love. But in its earliest days, it was occasionally tricky to explain my indifference to the seventh tier football team I supported labouring to draw on a Sunday afternoon against a bunch of part-timers from the West Midlands. My friends and colleagues didn’t entirely follow when I suggested it didn’t matter, explaining I’d been utterly captivated before the match had even kicked off, watching a band or poet on stage in a function room in Bury that was more Albert Tatlock than Albert Hall.
FC United’s mantra that it’s “doing things differently” can often feel like a timeworn Mancunian cliché. But sometimes clichés are true: being able to watch talented musicians, writers, comedians, poets and actors perform for free inside a football ground on a Saturday afternoon feels very special indeed.
Later at Gigg Lane, FC United’s board, keen to move the club onto a more commercial footing, asked CYCM to raise its beer prices. These had remained unchanged since its inception – but this proposal was resisted by the volunteers who pointed out that there had been no increase in the costs of buying in the beer. This led to a stand-off for the history books that became known as ‘beergate’ and although CYCM continued for the remainder of FC’s time at Gigg Lane it wasn’t clear if it would still have a place at the new ground in Moston, which FC eventually moved into in 2015, and some volunteers drifted away.
After a two-year hiatus CYCM eventually returned in the summer of 2016 and made its first appearance in Manchester in the Main Stand bar at FC’s new home at Broadhurst Park in Moston - the first new football ground in the UK to be built and funded by a supporter-owned club and the result of years of fundraising and planning. It came at the end of the club’s tumultuous first season in its own ground that saw the departure of its longstanding Chief Executive and the election of a brand new board who recognised the importance of CYCM to the club and invited its volunteers to begin hosting events again.
One memorable early edition in Moston featured a pulsating set by the young Mossley post-punk band Cabbage who were hotly tipped by the music press at the time. A Facebook post by a band member after the gig showed that they clearly enjoyed it as much as the audience: “playing at FC United has galvanised inspiration in me richer than the thousands of records I’ve sat in awe at in my bedroom growing up”.
Prior to Cabbage’s set the script writer Charlotte Delaney spoke about growing up in Manchester and Salford as the daughter of the ground-breaking Salfordian playwright Shelagh Delaney. Meanwhile a refugee charity from Buxton collected clothes and other items for Syrian refugees surviving a freezing European winter and a cabbage was raffled off as a prize in a ‘guess the weight of the cabbage’ competition.
Eventually Malcolmses found a comfier home in the refurbished space under the St Mary’s Road End terrace and has been well received by locals in Moston with many of the bands coming from north Manchester – the likes of Scuttlers from Middleton, The Battery Farm from Moston and Dirty Laces from Failsworth to name a few. Andy Davies, who books the bands and acts for CYCM, recalled that when Dirty Laces played for the first time in 2019 it was the busiest he’d ever seen CYCM as many locals were keen to watch them. Moston Community Fun Day followed shortly after, a free event at Broadhurst Park which featured football, kids’ entertainment and music from several local bands including Callow Youth who’d played at CYCM earlier in the year.
Not even the Covid lockdown of spring 2020 could deter Malcolmses as it adapted to a strange football-less period by shifting online. Sets of video clips of old and new performances – introduced by compere Simon King – were broadcast on YouTube at the times that FC United would usually have been kicking off matches and supporters generously chipped in what they would usually have spent on a match day to keep the club ticking over at a time when, like most non-league football clubs, FC had barely any income coming in. The online CYCMs typically received a few hundred views and brought the event to a much wider audience than in real life.
Simon told me that his involvement in these online shows had been life changing for him as filming the skits and links led to him getting back into acting and performing, something he’d not done for over ten years. He’s since gone on to appear on stage at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester and is now part of an improv troupe that will be performing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.
And the Prestwich poet John Darwin tells me how CYCM has also changed his life. “I was in a pub near Gigg Lane before a midweek FC United match in 2008 when someone mentioned that CYCM was short of an act for the coming Saturday, so I volunteered to do some of my poetry. Truth was that although I really wanted to be a poet I hadn’t written anything for years but I managed to write four poems before Saturday, read them at CYCM and loved it.” After that, he says, he did other local poetry nights and just carried on from there. John is now a regular on the northern spoken word circuit and won the award for Best Spoken Word Performance at the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival in 2021.
So what’s the secret of CYCM’s success? Andy Davies reckons that the event very much taps into the club’s DIY ethos as it’s “created by the fans, for the fans” – we’re not passive consumers of a match day experience created by someone with a spreadsheet, we do it ourselves. And bands love it, says Andy. “As there’s a ready-made audience here, they don’t have to worry about selling tickets”.
Lynette Cawthra, a volunteer since the start, feels that its next challenge is to bring through the next generation of volunteers to keep the shows as fresh and innovative as possible. Current compere Jonathan Cardoza is certainly a step in that direction. Jonathan had listened to a few FC matches on FCUM Radio at home in Bahrain before coming to watch FC for the first time in 2015 after moving to Manchester to study. He’d arrived during CYCM’s two-year hiatus so to begin with he “had no idea what people were on about when they mentioned Course You Can Malcolm” but he quickly grew to love it when it resumed a year later and his witty social commentaries now adorn each edition of CYCM.
For now, CYCM continues to play its much cherished part in nourishing FC United both culturally and financially. The Honey Drops became the first ever soul band to play at CYCM in December, and when they paused mid-set to ask the audience if they were looking forward to the match, there were plenty of groans. This reaction wasn’t because things have been that bad on the pitch — for a brief period last autumn FC United topped the Northern Premier League. No, I’d assume it was because CYCM is so enjoyable that it can feel like a chore to leave its warm embrace to go and stand on the terraces on a cold, grey afternoon in Moston. After all, going to the match is about much more than just watching the match. Football’s about more than just football.
Course You Can Malcolm takes place prior to almost every FC United home match on a Saturday afternoon in part of the classroom space under the St Mary’s Road End terrace of its Broadhurst Park ground in Moston (postcode M40 0FJ) that is used for teaching the club’s academy students during the week.
Admission to the match is £12 for adults, £7 for concessions and £3 for under 18s – simply pay on the gate, there’s no need to buy a ticket in advance - and once in through the turnstiles, admission to CYCM is free. CYCM usually starts at 1.30pm and finishes in time for the match which kicks off at 3pm. There are four CYCM events planned for the rest of the current football season on 4th March (that’s right, today — come along), 25th March, 8th April and 15th April and everyone is welcome to attend.