Saturday, November 12, 2005

Tony in a United Stand

Source: This is Scunthorpe

12:30 - 12 November 2005
Scunthorpe United's FA Cup first round tie at Bury last Saturday attracted 2,900 fans - a third of which were Iron followers.

Yet the week before, over 3,000 'home' fans flocked to Gigg Lane to see a match down in division two of the North West Counties League. Among them was a 36-year-old computer technician from Epworth who has been 'smitten' by a new football bug.

Tony Wilkinson used to be a die-hard Manchester United fan, following the mighty reds all over Europe.

But now he's happy to have swapped the Theatre of Dreams for the reality world of minor non-league action.

Instead of heading to top Premiership games at the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, he finds himself getting out the map to search out the home grounds of clubs with delightful, exotic names such as Blackpool Mechanics, Daisy Hill and Castleton Gabriels.

Tony is one of the disillusioned band of Manchester United fans who turned their backs on Old Trafford when the American Glazer family took control.

They have formed their own club FC United who gained entry to the bottom division of the North West Counties League.

"We are nine divisions below the Football League - but we are happy and we are growing in numbers all the time." he insisted.

"It is a club run by the fans. Everyone has a voice - not like it is at Old Trafford now.

"Manchester United has changed. They are not interested in the normal fans now, they just want to cater for people with money.

"A lot of people were unhappy when the Glazers took over - and that's why FC United was formed.

"I had my doubts about it at first, but 4,000 people pledged money to the club when it was formed at a meeting back in July.

"For me, this is something that has been coming for a long time. The Glazers, and the way they came in, was just the final straw.

"I vowed never to go again to watch Manchester United - a club I had been a season-ticket holder at in my student days.

"I left to work abroad in 1994 and when I came back the atmosphere at Old Trafford had changed with the all-seater stadium.

"Football was also being dictated to more and more by Sky Television. No longer were games just on a Saturday afternoon.

"More and more money was pouring into the game and yet it was getting more and more expensive to watch.

"Players are getting huge wages and becoming more remote from the fans.

"I am sure that if most premiership players saw their wages cut in half, they would hardly notice it.

"Football has lost its soul and I was not enjoying it at Old Trafford.

"I wondered how difficult it would be to switch to supporting another team - but it's been easy.

"I feel I have fallen back in love with football.

"FC United is our club, run by the fans. We have adopted rules that we will never have shirt sponsors and we will never talk to agents.

"Our players are all part-timers and mix with the fans.

"Before one game recently a couple of the players joined us in the pub and had a coke with us. You would never see that at Premiership level. You could never imagine Rio Ferdinand or Wayne Rooney doing that could you?

"Gigg Lane is our home now. We have been getting up to 4,000 for some games and they have had to open a third side of the ground for us.

"It causes quite a stir when we play away at teams that are not used to handling a big crowd.

"It worried the police at first but I think now they know that all we want to do is enjoy the football and support our team.

"We have lost only once so far this season. How far can we go - who knows?

"At the moment I am just happy to be enjoying my football again with 'my' team," insisted Tony.