FC United play the numbers game
Friday, 15th July 2005
Manchester Evening News
HISTORY will be made at Hilton Park tomorrow when FC United of Manchester play their first game against Leigh RMI, with club officials still unsure of how much support they will attract.
With over 4,000 members and £100,000 pledged in donations since the club was formed in May as a direct result of Malcolm Glazer's £790million Manchester United takeover, the new venture is certainly not lacking backers.
But the first test of whether that sympathy will extend to actually supporting the team on the pitch is yet to come, although chairman Tony Pritchard admits crowds are unlikely to test the 11,000-capacity of their confirmed home stadium, Bury's Gigg Lane.
"We are still largely unsure of the following we are going to get," he said.
"The talk has been anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 but until we start playing, we won't really know.
"I wouldn't pretend we are going to fill Gigg Lane but even if the crowds levelled off at 2,000, we have found a stadium which suits us perfectly."
Curiously, Gigg Lane does not have any terracing and is not in Manchester either, not exactly in line with the founders' ethos about reclaiming their club for the fans.
But when a proposed ground-share deal with Droylsden fell through, the one-year deal, based on a fixed payment per game, proved to be the best available alternative.
FC United will make their debut at the stadium in a North West Counties Division Two clash with Padiham on August 20, a match that will kick off half an hour after Manchester United are due to complete their opening Premiership home game against Aston Villa.
Before that, FC United have a symbolic trip to AFC Wimbledon, whose own officials have done so much to help the new club through their initial teething troubles, by which time manager Karl Marginson will know whether he has a squad capable of pushing for promotion at the first attempt.
Marginson's first squad includes a link with the past in former Altrincham striker Jonathan Mitten, great-nephew of Red Devils legend Charlie Mitten, plus goalkeeper Phil Priestley, who has UEFA Cup experience from his time at Bangor City.
"I will be unbelievably proud when the team runs out tomorrow," said Pritchard.
"Personally, I have been drifting away from the game at the top end for a number of seasons.
"It is not just about Malcolm Glazer, it is about the players and agents stripping cash from the game.
"I think a lot of people, who support a lot of different clubs, have been in agreement for quite a while that football is reaching the stage where something has to give.
"I wouldn't be surprised if this is the start of it."