Source: Manchester Evening News
Saturday, 17th December 2005
Are you watching, Malcolm Glazer?
THE rebel football club set up by Manchester United fans after the Malcolm Glazer takeover has been proving a massive hit.
And while the Red Devils have been stuttering in recent weeks, FC United now claims to be the fastest-growing football club in the world.
And to cope with its increasing popularity, the club has now advertised for a £25,000-a-year chief executive and an £18,000-a-year club secretary.
Despite being in the second division of the North West Counties League, seven leagues below the Premiership, gates at the semi-pro club are better than some professional outfits.
The club averages 2,738 spectators at the home matches it plays at Bury's Gigg Lane ground - more than their hosts, a professional club three leagues higher. As well as this, the club regularly takes the same number to away games.
It also boasts 3,500 members from as far afield as New Zealand and has sold 2,500 replica shirts in its inaugural season.
And 650 fans have paid £112 for season tickets, while matchday tickets cost £7 for adults and £2 for kids compared to £26, the cheapest at Old Trafford.
The players are paid about £40 a week, which is nowhere near the £100,000 a week Rio Ferdinand is reported to earn at United.
Apart from the price, fans say the other main factor persuading them to swap the Theatre of Dreams for Gigg Lane is the atmosphere.
Fans love the singing and the humour, which reminds them of what Old Trafford used to be like before corporate supporters - dubbed the "Prawn Sandwich Brigade" by former captain Roy Keane - were blamed for failing to take part in the chants.
FC United was formed after fans reacted with fury when Glazer, the Florida-based tycoon, bought the Old Trafford club for £790m just before the start of the season.
Acting chief executive Andy Walsh said: "There are thousands of people who cannot afford to go to top-flight football these days but still consider themselves to be supporters of top-flight teams.
"For too long, top-flight clubs have looked after corporate clients and taken ordinary fans for granted.
"We're offering those people who feel disenfranchised an alternative and it has been embraced by thousands of people, and we're welcoming new people all the time.
"The interest has been absolutely phenomenal. About a quarter of the gate is gangs of kids coming in on their own, the same way we used to.
"Nowadays getting a ticket for a Premiership game is a military operation. You have to apply with a credit card six weeks before the game and that's if you can afford it. A lot of people who come to our games are affording football for the first time in a long time. And one thing people comment on is the atmosphere. It's amazing, like football used to be."
Andy, a 43-year-old former IT worker from Urmston, who says he will apply for the chief executive position, last went to Old Trafford for the final game of last season. Now he says he will not return until owners with the best interests of the supporters at heart are in place.
He said: "I haven't turned my back on United. I've been a United fan for 43 years and I will always be a United fan.
"However, I won't put money into a Glazer business. He's not got the interests of the club at heart. He's only interested in the club financially."
Over at Old Trafford, Manchester United spokesman Phil Townsend said: "We wish them well."