Thursday, September 29, 2005

MEN: FC United defy the odds

FC United defy the odds
Thursday, 29th September 2005

Stuart Brennan
Source: Manchester Evening News

FC UNITED have defied the cynics to establish themselves as a thriving force in Manchester football - and the new club's board says: "This is just a start."

The doubters predicted that disillusioned supporters who gave up the glory of Manchester United and set up their own club in the Moore and Co Construction Solicitors League would slink back to Old Trafford shortly after the new season kicked off, leaving behind a handful of diehard fans and a struggling team.

And yet, six weeks in, the rebels top the Second Division of the North West Counties League - as it is traditionally known - averaging nearly four goals a game, with a membership of over 3,000 and an average crowd higher than that of Macclesfield Town and only just short of Bury, whose ground they share.

FCUM are in the process of taking on two full-time staff members, are selling out of replica shirts, scarves and badges, and are already developing plans to expand the club with junior and ladies' teams, as well as putting out roots into the community.


The success of the club has been phenomenal.

When the newly-formed team played its first game, a friendly at Leigh RMI in July, no one knew what would happen.

Estimates of the expected crowd ranged from a few dozen to around 800. Instead, 2,500 showed up.

Supporters fed up with inflated Premiership prices, aloof players, poor atmosphere and stifling stewards have flocked to the FC United banner. The club's formation was a revolution not entirely sparked by the Glazer family's Old Trafford takeover.

And Andy Walsh, one of the leading lights of the FC United movement and now acting as general manager until the post is filled, says there are plans to keep growing.

"The crowds have been maintained and built upon," he said. "In fact, our indications are that more people are going to be coming to our games.

"We are starting to gel on the field, although the manager Karl Marginson has not been entirely happy with the level of performance.

"But the feedback we get tells us that supporters have been so enthused by what they have seen on the pitch, and experienced on the terraces, that they intend to bring more friends and family."

It is off the field that FC United have been a real revelation. Their away support has been bigger than that of some Premiership teams this season - and the supporters at Gigg Lane's Manchester Road End claim to be the noisiest and most colourful in the country.

Low profile

The men behind the scenes try to maintain a low profile. The board of 11 has a rota which dictates who has to do the "flesh-pressing" in the directors' lounge that week, and which luckier souls get to sit or stand with their friends and family.

All of the board members were elected by the membership, and Walsh says that they see their role as converting the wishes of the supporters into reality.

Many within the North West Counties League were sceptical. Some felt FC United would not even make it to the start of the season, others were fearful that they were some kind of hooligan army about to wreak havoc from Daisy Hill to Darwen.

Those fears were intensified at the first game, when some fans threw beer cans on to the pitch at Leigh and a steward was assaulted.

But the supporters addressed that problem, there have been no incidents since then and the police have begun scaling down their presence at their games.


"The police have begun to accept that our crowds are boisterous but friendly," said Walsh. "We have plenty of Bury stewards, but they seem to enjoy it as much as the supporters, even joining in the songs and banter. Our fans police themselves."

FC United was founded by supporters who refused to compromise their principled stand against Glazer, many giving up their season tickets.

And their principles were bound to rub raw against some in the non-league pyramid - the FC United board refused to sell tickets for a sportsmen's dinner because it was men-only.

The league, far from taking umbrage, agreed that it was an out-moded concept and is now planning to replace the event with one which is open to all.

Walsh says that the immediate aim of the club is to keep the momentum going and consolidate their supporter base - but there are plans for the future.

"We have a team of people, led by a couple of board members, looking at community work and how we can develop it, including forging links with local junior clubs and schools.

"Eventually we want to develop teams at all levels and age groups, girls as well as boys, and a ladies' team, but how much we do will depend on finance and the will of the supporters."