January 20, 2013 by mapperleystag1
Formed by disgruntled Manchester United supporters, opposed to Malcolm Glazer’s takeover of the club, FC United have inevitably drawn comparisons with another well-known, newly created fan-owned side, AFC Wimbledon. Whilst not quite enjoying the same remarkable on-field success as the Dons, the Red Rebels have certainly made their mark, both in the local community and across the country.
Admitted into the second division of the North West Counties Football League in 2005, FC United enjoyed three successive promotions under the management of Karl Marginson, catapulting them into the Northern Premier League Premier Division for the 2008-2009 season. In the past two campaigns, the club has narrowly missed out on promotion, suffering the agony of consecutive playoff final defeats, to Colwyn Bay and Bradford Park Avenue respectively. As things stand this season, United are well-placed to qualify again for the playoffs, lying 7th in the table, desperately hoping that it will be third time lucky for them, should they finish in the top five.
The disappointment of recent league campaigns has been balanced somewhat by their excellent cup run two years ago, which saw them reach the FA Cup 1st round for the first time, beating four sides to qualify. In the tie of the round, United travelled to near neighbours Rochdale, in front of a crowd of over 7000 at Spotland. After scoring either side of the break, United threw away their two goal advantage. However, in the fourth minute of injury time, Michael Norton scored a dramatic last minute winner, to send United into the 2nd round, albeit in slightly controversial circumstances, as Rochdale believed that the ball was kicked out of their goalkeeper’s hands. In the next round, United travelled to eventual League One champions, Brighton & Hove Albion, earning a replay at Gigg Lane. However, in the return fixture, the league side displayed their superior quality, winning 4-0, and thus depriving United of a home tie against Portsmouth, leaving the majority of the record crowd of 6731 disappointed.
As a supporter-owned venture, each member of FC United can vote on how the club is run, ranging from issues such as voting for board members, to agreeing on season ticket. The one person, one vote system seems unusually egalitarian in a footballing world today consumed by capitalist greed, a pleasant anachronism juxtaposed against the excesses of society, evidently displayed at Old Trafford. Moreover, since their formation, the club has always benefited from excellent support, with attendances in their first year making them the 87th best supported side across all divisions in the country. The atmosphere created is also renowned in non-league circles for being one of the best outside the Football League.
In 2006, the club outlined some bold aspirations for what they wanted to achieve by 2012. Their ambitious aims have yielded mixed results, especially compared against AFC Wimbledon, whose targets of promotion to the Football League and successful integration into the community were comprehensively met. Perhaps the most achievable goal of gaining promotion to the Conference North has surprisingly not been delivered. However, judging by recent seasons, it is likely that United will achieve this sooner rather than later.
Their target of averaging 5000 supporters per home game has also not been met. Indeed, crowds have declined in all but one of their seasons so far, as the novelty factor of supporting a newly created club has lost its appeal for casual fans, especially when faced with the unglamorous reality of non-league football. Similarly, their aim of building a new stadium has encountered difficulties, with Manchester City Council withdrawing funding from the project at one stage. However, these difficulties appear to have been resolved, with United expected to move into the new Moston Community Stadium for the start of next season. Other targets, such as developing their own training facilities and starting a women’s team, have been far simpler to manage.
With declining media coverage, combined with plying their trade at a competitive standard, where teams do not just roll over against them, an argument can be made that FC United have stagnated recently. However, even if this contentious interpretation is accepted, there are many reasons for hope in the future. The completion of the new stadium should positively impact on performances on the pitch, enticing fans back and encouraging new supporters. Equally, through the money generated, United should be able to invest further in their squad and, more importantly, on continuing to foster links with the local community. Furthermore, the burden of paying Bury £5000 per game for use of Gigg Lane will be lifted.
Whilst performances on the pitch are undoubtedly crucial, a sole focus on on-field matters seems to miss the purpose of clubs such as FC United, whose passion for running their own football club threatens to overshadow any success on the pitch. Formed out of frustration and anger with the excesses of the modern top flight game, United have developed a sense of solidarity and community spirit, conspicuous by its absence at the highest levels today, where unchecked wealth and greed supersede any sense of togetherness and loyalty. On more than one occasion they have been described as pioneers of “punk football”, a DIY, almost rebellious ethos, sharing many of the characteristics of the movement in 1970s music, and no doubt referencing the Sex Pistols legendary gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976. Whilst supporters of the Red Devils continue to celebrate the seemingly never-ending stream of trophies from a strangely detached vantage point, the Red Rebels, on the other hand, run their club with the sentiment of “Our Club, our rules.” Perhaps this comparison is best illustrated by the fact that one club is in control of their own destiny, and the other is beholden to an American owner, so unpopular that he does not feel safe in the city.