Is this Manchester’s most hipster football club?

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There’s something a bit different about hearing a group of football fans chanting about vegetarian food instead of ‘You’re going home in a St. John’s Ambulance’.

If you head down to a West Didsbury and Chorlton FC match, it’s far more likely you’ll hear Hummus, hummus hummus… quinoa, quinoa, quinoa being chanted to the tune of 2 Unlimited’s No Limit rather than any sort of abuse being hurled at opposition fans.

And it doesn’t doesn’t end there. Another favourite, sung to the tune of Lord of the Dance, is:

West, West, wherever you may be,
We eat hummus and celery,
We don’t eat meat, we love broccoli,
We’re Chorlton and West Didsbury!

Supporters have also been known to sing about Unicorn, the Chorlton grocery which sells locally-sourced organic fruit and veg.

As well as upholding this meat-free image, fans of the club are also into politics. EU flags can be seen at games, with the club’s badge inside the ring of yellow stars, as well as gay pride and anti-fascist paraphernalia. Another chant in the repertoire is ‘The referee’s a Tory’.

There was even an album launch at their Brookburn Road ground.  Dutch Uncles, a local band who are fans of the club, premiered their album O Shudder at a match. The team walked out to one of their songs and there was a half-time penalty shoot-out between the band and other West fans.

Much of the appeal of non-league football centres around authenticity and a more real, raw, affordable experience, as opposed to forking out huge amounts to watch superstars on megabucks in huge stadia which sell overpriced merchandise, food and drinks.

But with this club, affectionately known as ‘West’ (£5 adult tickets for home games), the fans seem to have forged an even more distinct image around politics and ethics than most other non-league teams. However, their means of communicating this is often done with a nudge and a wink.

Some of the West fanbase call themselves the Krombacher Ultras (after a German beer). I caught up with one of the founders, Matthew Britton, to hear more about the fans’ devotion to this ninth-tier football side and where the image comes from.

“I went to my first West game three or four years ago,” he told me. “I had been ground-hopping and going to different FA Cup games, but I moved to Chorlton and found West. It was walkable, cheap, and you can drink pitch-side. It had everything I was looking for so I stuck with them. There’s only so much fun you can get from watching Huddersfield v Charlton in the FA Cup and not really liking either team.”

Although the club has been around for more than a century, Britton says they started making more of a go of things in the last ten years. When current club secretary Rob McKay got involved, things turned into a more professional operation, especially in terms of online presence.

When Matthew and his friends started going down and calling themselves the Krombacher Ultras, “just because we thought it was funny”, McKay welcomed them and offered to talk about ways they could help expand the fanbase.

“Rob was really proactive at engaging fans and this included us. This led to us doing the first Krombacher Ultras AGM, where the club gave us 35 free tickets to give away. This was the start of us branding the fanbase, thinking about it properly. The next AGM was a bigger success, and people who have been involved in the club for decades were behind us.

“With the EU flags, we spent a lot of time on the sidelines discussing the referendum, so wanted to show our support. I ordered 20 and sold some to other fans. I got some anti-fascist West stickers made too, and I have now started budgeting for one stupid West purchase a month. These things help people identify, but have also raised some money for charity”.

Although Britton was central to the birth of this fan culture, it wasn’t until other people commented that he fully realised its potential.

“You don’t realise it’s a thing until people start mentioning it. Then you realise it’s definitely a culture. I wouldn’t know how to properly characterise it as it gets satirised as a condensed version of what Chorlton represents.

“The ‘Quinoa Hummus’ chant is a parody of that, knowing that this is what people think of us. But I love quinoa and hummus!

“It’s a play on fan culture. Real Ultras fan culture is horrible and can be very violent, and high level football fanbases turn everything into a meme and a flashpoint. We just have three bottles of beer at the football and discuss the latest Owen Jones thinkpiece. Thankfully the only pushback we’ve had was some Man United hooligans calling us ‘yoghurt knitters’ on Twitter.

“I don’t see the problem with being a hipster, doing exciting things. The alternative is just doing the same boring stuff. ‘Manchester’s most hipster club’ is what I’d ideally like West to be.

Attendances are rocketing at West, up around 40% on last year, with a similar spike on the year before that. Matthew thinks this is very much down to the image.

“It seems to be drawing people in, and with football at this level, something has to – be it a great ground, being cheap, being local. If it’s got a culture, it gives an idea of what the club’s values are too.”

The snowball effect is international too. There’s a Norwegian group who fly over once a season, and one exiled fan flew back from Berlin just to see West lose 7-1 to FC United this season. Closer to home, a lady attending this season’s final home game reportedly brought a two-day-old baby along.

Lots of West’s followers started out supporting other teams, but some consider them to be their main team now. Britton, originally a Leeds fan, is one such person: “The community feel and watching football with friends is a big draw. The club are not for profit and are heavily reliant on amazing volunteers. People are describing us as a family now.”

A quick look at Matthew’s Twitter account shows just how much he cares. When West beat south Manchester rivals Maine Road 3-0 recently, he tweeted a picture of one of the goals.

“A second wave of Ultras have arrived too. It’s snowballed. We noticed they had started coming and were Tweeting about West. We dubbed them the West Bank Ultras because that’s where they stood, but we all get together now, it’s great. My girlfriend comes but she asks who is going rather than who we’re playing.

“It’s a social event as much as football for some people. I invest a lot of emotional energy into working out how we can get more people down.

“I guess I just want to make even more friends.”

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