Monday, October 10, 2005

Bolton Evening News: Everyone a winner as FC United draw the crowds

Everyone a winner as FC United draw the crowds
Last posted: Monday 10 October 2005 16:34
Source: Bolton Evening News
Neil Bonnar

FC United of Manchester was born amid a wave of passion among Manchester United supporters disillusioned by Malcolm Glazer's takeover of Old Trafford.

And in a phenomenal beginning, they have attracted a following of thousands to their games. Neil Bonnar went to sample the experience at Gigg Lane, the home of Bury FC, where they now play all their home games . . .

DAISY Hill became the first of Bolton's local amateur football clubs to feel the force of FC United on Saturday.

And what a force it is.

On the pitch, the team showed their playing power thrashing the New Sirs outfit 6-0.

Off it, there was a new North West Counties League record crowd of 3,800 at United's Gigg Lane home ground.

This in a league where crowds average between 50 and 65 and rarely ever get into three figures.

Many thought the new Red Army would fade away as quickly as they arrived once the novelty wore off.

Some still do. But they had better think again because this club is showing every sign of being here to stay.

They lead the NWCL Division Two, although it is tight at the top and they will not be able to reach Division One without a battle.

After that, they will be looking to go through the two Unibond League divisions then the two Conference divisions before being able to really announce their arrival by becoming a Football League club.

While they have the fans, however, they have the opportunity. And, boy do they have the fans.

There were twice as many FC United fans at Gigg on Saturday than Bury get for their home games in League Two. And this for the visit of comparatively tiny Daisy Hill opponents.

Next season they will be able to play in the FA Vase and, the season after, the FA Cup.

In just two years time they could be seeing their name being pulled out to play Manchester United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup.

There would be no problem filling the 10,000 away end for such a game. FA United could already fill any away end in the Premiership.

They are currently like the Titanic occupying the same waters as rowing boats and pedalos.

They have the money to go through the leagues and, at the helm, they have people who are determined to prove the cynics wrong and lead them towards a bright future based on old fashioned principles like cheap tickets (currently £7 for adults and £2 for kids), a pint, a sing song and standing up.

The quality of football, it has to be said, does not deserve to be attracting crowds of nearly 4,000. But this is not about football but about loyalty.

And spokesman Andy Walsh says they are delighted with the response so far. He said: "We have had 7,000 people watch us in the last two games which is much better than any of us expected.

"About 5,000 people have been to see at least one of our games and the word is spreading around Manchester that you can have a good time watching football again.

"More than one person has said it was like stepping back in time watching an FC United game. Fans can stand up and they are enjoying the freedom again.

"People were cautious about our intentions when we started and it is encouraging to hear that we are changing people's minds.

"They are starting to realise we are not a flash in the pan or a gimmick but that we are serious about our club."

Daisy Hill manager Frank Armstrong agreed: "They step up a level again next year because they have the financial clout and they will go straight through the leagues.

"And good luck to them. I am a season ticket holder at Manchester United and a lot of United fans are disillusioned with the club. I wish FC United well and I'm sure they will go from strength to strength.

"We were gutted to lose so heavily. We have a number of injuries and had to play three 17-year-olds. But even so we were never 6-0 worse than them. Everything they hit went in.

"To be honest there is a gulf in the finances of FC United and the other clubs and we just cannot compete. Although everybody would tell you they are happy to have them in the league because the money generated from the one game against them keeps you going financially all year."

Daisy, like virtually all the division's clubs, will have to move their home game against FC United, scheduled for February 11, to a bigger venue and they are currently looking at suitable grounds.

Frank may have to get a megaphone for the occasion, if it is anything like Saturday's game.

He said: "The atmosphere was intense, something else. You could hardly hear a thing with all the noise that was coming from the fans. I couldn't get messages on the field to people who were 20 yards away. It was that bad."

The biggest problem the league faces is accomodating FC United's huge following at matches.

League official Alan Farnworth said: "The clubs think it is wonderful because they are getting the money but a lot them cannot cope with 2,000 away fans.

"It's not a nightmare as long as clubs organise alternative venues early like Daisy Hill are doing.

"There are plenty of bigger clubs out there who are willing to help and stage their games and these clubs are happy because they can get £2,000 to £3,000 on a day when they would not have a game on.

"Blackpool Mechanics might go to Blackpool's ground, Oldham Town are going to Stalybridge, Castleton Gabriels went to Radcliffe Borough, and there are other clubs willing to stage games like Bury, Northwich Vics, Chorley and others.

"We have a duty of care to the supporters, which means we have to make sure they are well stewarded and that there is segregation if necessary.

"We're glad we've got them because they bring in a lot of money for the clubs and they have not been an ounce of trouble although it is hard work sorting out their matches because of the huge numbers of fans they've got.

"And I don't think it's a flash in the pan. I was one of those who did at first, but now I have to hold up my hands and admit I think I was wrong.

"The are only going to get bigger. They can go into the FA Vase next year and then, they year after, they can enter the FA Cup and I can honestly see them getting 6,000 or 7,000 by then, I really can."