Friday, 19 February 2010
FC United of Manchester
'Brave Rebels', 'irrelevant outsiders' 'self publicists' and 'a right bunch of dicks'. Not my words, but phrases that have been used to describe and deride the fans and actions of FC United of Manchester since a group of disenchanted fans decided to set up their own club in reaction to the takeover of Manchester United by the loathsome US businessman Malcom Glazer.
Far from letting this unsettle them, the fans have taken these insults with a pinch of salt and more importantly a sense of humour. Since being founded in 2005, "The Red Rebels" have risen through three levels of the English Football League system to the 7th tier, where they currently reside playing in the Northern Premier League Premier Division.
I'm guessing you've already heard of Manchester United and are fairly familiar with their story? So, EFW thought we'd take a look at FCUM - a story that interests us a great deal more if we're honest - and so we got in touch with the club that were born in hope and live in hope:
How integral is FCUM’s role within the community to the ethos of the club? At FC United our members set out to be a supporter-run community club that works with the community, and that is exactly what we have achieved.
As we have found our feet on the football pitch, we have also taken root within the community with a wide-ranging series of initiatives, from fund raising for local charities, working with schools and communities in deprived areas through supporting local organisations, to helping with young offender programmes across Greater Manchester.
We currently work with more than 100 local organisations including schools, colleges, sports clubs, youth clubs, mosques, churches, ethnic minority organisations, housing associations, councils, Connexions, NACRO, Youth Offenders Teams, residential care homes, organisations for disabled people, children’s charities, refugee projects and youth advocacy on a wide range of projects.
On match days, FC United holds a strict ticket pricing policy of charging £7.50 for adults and £2 for children, and holds a number of match day initiatives including an annual Youth United Day involving more than 1,000 young people being invited to attend a free match day festival, and an annual People United Day designed to celebrate ethnic diversity and unity.
How important is it for FCUM to move to their own ground? Having a ground of our own is hugely important to the club. We currently groundshare with Bury FC – while it has been a coup to share a league ground, it is nevertheless expensive due to the necessary stewarding costs and also some distance outside the city boundary. Being able to develop and move into our own ground will make such a difference to us as a club – it will be a tangible symbol of our long-term ambition, something we can share with the local community, and will raise money to secure the future of FC United.
Are the fans and Bury FC as a club happy with the current groundsharing arrangement? We appreciate the standard of facilities at Gigg Lane. You would have to ask Bury FC for their opinion about the groundshare. (Mental note to self: post letter to Bury FC - Ed).
What drew you to FCUM? Like-minded people who wanted to provide a sustainable alternative to watching Manchester United at Old Trafford. That was the original attraction... once we attended the first game at Leigh, we were hooked! Standing and singing with our mates, being able to afford to bring the whole family, seeing our team mingling with supporters after the game and embracing our community ethos has all added to a strong sense of ownership and pride.
What’s the club’s medium/long term aim? Does it want to become a Football League club or is it intent on climbing the pyramid as and when? Getting our own ground is key for the reasons stated earlier. As and when this is achieved, we can look at what the future may hold. The future direction is down to the club owners and collectively we will decide how far we want the club to go.
If the Glazers left United, does the club anticipate a drop in support as disgruntled MUFC fans return to Old Trafford? FC United is one of a number of clubs that has proved supporter-ownership is a sustainable model for football. We have a core support that wants to continue enjoying what we have created. Any return to Old Trafford would depend on who the new owners are, what they would charge for tickets, and how they run the club (eg any supporter involvement).
During FCUM’s birth, there was said to be tacit support from a few United players, particularly Solskjaer. Is that support still evident now? You would have to approach the individual players to ask them their opinions; we cannot answer on their behalf. (Additional note to self: send text to Giggsy and Scholesy - Ed).
Has the club ever received any support from MUFC or is it effectively viewed as “person non grata?” You would have to ask MUFC on their views of us. (Further note to self: Send Lord Ferg a fax).
Do you still consider yourself to be a MUFC supporter? Yes.
Do FCUM fans still attend MUFC matches? Some do both. Some still refuse to go to any games. Some go only to away games. Some were priced out of Old Trafford before 2005. I’m not sure you can generalise about a FCUM fan other than a shared love for our club.
Are FCUM attendences effected by whom MUFC are playing? We have a hardcore regular support of around two thousand for home games. Ironically if there is an effect on our gates it can often come when a big game on TV, which tells you a lot about how a large number of supporters priced out of top-flight football are getting their ‘football fix’
Are you concerned about recent debt revelations from United or have you ‘moved on’ now? United supporters are hugely worried about the debt that Manchester United is in. The amount of money being leeched out of the club by the current owners is sickening.
Do you get accused of being a “judas”, having turned your back on United when maybe the need to show support is greater than ever in order to remove the Glazers? We did not turn our backs on United. A number of our supporters refused to pay any money to Glazer as they believe the only way to rid the club of leeches like him is to boycott and cut off the cash supply. It is very hard not going to watch the club you love and that you have grown up supporting.
If the Glazers left tomorrow, would you go back to Old Trafford? It would depend, based on the reasons stated earlier.
You've lent your support to the green and gold until we're sold protest, wearing different coloured scarves is all well and good but in my opinion the only way to really make a difference at OT would be for a 100% boycott of matches. That would result in some direct action surely? Whether to boycott or not is down to personal choice. It was in 2005 and remains so now. We didn’t seek the moral high ground then and tell supporters what to do and we don’t now.
Is FCUM building a supporter base in its own right, regardless of appealing to unhappy MUFC supporters? Our manifesto drawn up five years ago states that we exist to address the concerns of disenfranchised Manchester United supporters. That remains the case now. We offer an alternative for those that are.
I'm guessing the 'non-league experience' is relatively new to most of your fans. No ticket hassles, changing ends at HT, beer on the terracing, no airport type security upon entry. It is a world away from Old Trafford no!? It’s not new, we’ve been enjoying it for five years.
What sort of numbers do you take to away games? From 700 to 1,000 depending on location.
I've heard your support is very vocal. Are all the songs 100% about FCUM? Our team manager Karl Marginson loves the 90-90 rule – 90 per cent of our fans sing for the 90 minutes. These days, the majority of songs are about our club and the lads playing their hearts out for us, but we find time to sing about the removal of Glazer and certain Manchester United players, past and present.
Have you made any friends or foes in rise up the non-leagues? We would hope no foes. One of our earliest tag lines was “making friends, not millionaires” which reflects the fact we are a not-for-profit organisation.
Are you generally well received by other clubs and fans on your travels? Yes.
Is FCUM able to attract supporters who follow other clubs in the area, or does the MUFC connection put them off? We’re a broad church providing affordable football, if supporters of other clubs want to attend our games then hopefully they will enjoy it.
How easy has it been to form a new club from scratch in the north west, a region which is not short on football clubs with long histories? We formed the club five years ago in less than six weeks. Our success since then speaks volumes.
Is the club’s co-operative, one member one vote model an effective one in relation to the day-to-day operation of the club? Yes it works very well. Our owners vote on the big issues and the board vote on the day to day decisions.
What advice would you give to other club’s considering a more community-based approach along the basis of the FCUM model? Give supporters a voice in running the club. No-one cares more about the club than the supporters and they can make all the difference in ensuring the club is set up to prosper.
And finally, why did you make the decision to form a new club rather than looking to go and watch the likes of Rochdale, Bury or Oldham who were already locally established clubs in the area? One of the main aims of FC United was to keep together those supporters who were not prepared to fund the Glazers. Having been ‘taken over’ ourselves we could hardly do the same by arriving en-masse at another club demanding our own way. And besides none of them would be “ours” and we would not feel any connection with any of them. Creating our own club gives s that connection, something to feel part of, something to own and run, and something to celebrate.