Q and A: FC United of Manchester
Monday 26 Dec 2005
Seven months ago the Glazer family walked in to Old Trafford, and some disillusioned United fans walked out. Thousands returned their season tickets, a few have drifted back and a splinter group decided they had had enough, and started their own United, FC United of Manchester.
Here 4thegame talks to Jules Spencer, a lifelong Manchester United fan, and former chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association, who is now a board member of the team currently lying top of the Moore & Co Construction Solicitors League Division Two.
FC United is six months old - how do you feel things have gone so far?
Amazing. We get asked all the time if it's going better than expected and I suppose that from the point of view our highest gate was nearly 4000, then I guess it is. But then I was always quietly confident that we'd make a success of it. The job now is to maintain and grow the club even further.
FC regularly get over 3,000 supporters for home games at Gigg Lane - who are these people, disenfranchised United fans or United fans who gave up trying to get a ticket years ago?
All walks of life. And that is exactly what we wanted. Those that refused to go to Old Trafford once Glazer took over, those that were priced out of top level football years ago, whole families, kids and their mates, school parties, the list could go on. The best sight of all though is kids enjoying themselves. They underpin everything this club is about. For far too long clubs at the top of the game have not addressed were their future support is going to come from, choosing to look to the short term rather than the opposite. We think we are going a long way to addressing that.
What do you want to say to Manchester United fans not happy about the takeover - but haven't ventured to FC United as yet?
Come down and make up your own mind about what it's like. We think you'll be pleasantly surprised. And don't believe for a minute any urban myths you may have heard about us being Anti-MUFC. Anyone witnessing supporters watching the Villa - United match in the pubs before our game against Barrow last weekend, will testify what United still means to FC fans.
Have you had any contact from Manchester United FC about the new club?
Not directly, no.
How do you feel about Manchester United and it's new owners now?
Manchester United are still my club as it is for the thousands who come to our games. You can't just switch that off. Exit from Europe still hurt even though you knew it could harm Glazers business plan. Draws against City and Liverpool were just as frustrating from afar as they would have been if I'd been there. The Glazers I hold in utter contempt.
Would you close FC United if the Glazers upped and left?
It's not for me or anyone else on the board to dictate this club's future. That will be decided by the supporters as they own the club. But it's important to stress that FC United is not just an anti-Glazer vehicle. Its about building something positive for the community. About providing a home for those that are sick and tired of the path that football has been heading down over the past decade. About supporter ownership. And it's those supporters who will dictate how far and for how long this club runs. That's not a political side-step, it's the truth.
FC United are flying high, smashing 10 past Castleton Gabriels earlier this month, and running away with the title. Do you think this immediate success will help attract more fans, or work against you in the long run by creating an expectation that it will always be this easy?
No, I think we're a fairly level headed bunch of supporters. We won't be taking anything for granted.
Are you optimistic that FC United of Manchester can live up to its manifesto and always remain a club for the people?
Without a doubt. In terms of principles we know what is important to us and the reasons why the club came about. In terms of ownership it will always be owned by it's supporters, the structure of the club prevents private owners taking over.
What are your long-term hopes for both Manchester United and FC United?
I hope one day Manchester United will be returned to its rightful owners, the supporters. And I hope FC United long continues to give us the same enjoyment it's giving us at the moment. In football terms some have said they live for the day when we draw 'Big United' in the FA Cup. I'd rather draw City. And knock them out.
Have your experiences this season changed your views on lower league or non-league football?
The standard of football is surprisingly high, and without sounding too philosophical, a winning goal is a winning goal and a last minute equaliser is a last minute equaliser, whatever the level of football. You still find yourself hugging a complete stranger whether at Craven Park or Villa Park.
How far do you think the current FC United squad can go?
The manager wants to keep his squad together for as long as possible. A number of our players have dropped down several divisions and for less money to play for us, so there's no reason why he shouldn't be able to.
Will FC United always be based in Bury - or are their plans to move the club to within Manchester?
Gigg Lane has been great for us and supporters have taken it to their hearts. But we aim to have our own ground at some point in the future.
Is running your own football club easier than trying to lobby the board of another?
Hah hah, what a great question. Don't know if it's easier, but a lot of it is more enjoyable in that we have more control of our future. Glazer aside the most disillusioning aspects for me personally in recent years was feeling we were continually banging our heads against a brick wall at United. United will claim they had to listen to all their supporters (which would have been fine if they had done) and not just IMUSA or other groups. But I felt personally as Chair they could have done more to recognise what IMUSA stood for and were trying to achieve for all supporters. It became increasingly disheartening to be constantly rebuffed.
Finally - do you have any regrets about your decision not to go to Old Trafford any more?
I'm sad in a way that it ever had to come to this. But it did and we had to deal with it. But all the positives that FC United bring every day, every time we play, every time you see players mixing with supporters after a game, every time you see a volunteer giving up their pre-match drink to sell programmes, every time the team run out; you know that what we've got at FC United can't be wrong.
To find out more about the club, check out the FC United website at www.fc-utd.co.uk...