Monday, January 23, 2006

Busby boys flock to watch a return to the old values


Malcolm Glazer will never have heard of Blackpool Mechanics FC but ironically his takeover of Manchester United last summer has provided the tiny North West Counties League Division Two club with an unexpected windfall.

The formation of FC United by supporters of Manchester United opposed to the American entrepeneur's ownership of their club, has transformed the finances of every team who play in their division this season.

FC United's fixtures have attracted record attendances to the 10th tier of the football pyramid, with crowds averaging nearly 3,000, home and away.

The 2,500 people who paid £6 at Leek County School Old Boys or Castleton Gabriels, for example, will keep both clubs going for years, whereas FC United's home games at Bury have turned historic Gigg Lane into a theatre of dreams for both players and supporters.

On New Year's Bank Holiday Monday, an incredible 4,328 turned up to watch the top-of-the-table clash with Winsford United and 3,549 were in attendance on Saturday as FC United completed a double over Ashton Town with a 2-1 win, to remain 14 points clear at the top of the league, having suffered just one defeat in 22 games.

As with other supporter-created football clubs, FC United are an industrial provident society. Membership is obtained by donating £1 or more to the club, but each member receives only one share and is entitled to a single vote at meetings, regardless of the amount donated. There are currently more than 4,000 members, most of whom were at Gigg Lane on Saturday. I shunned the press box at the invitation of Helen Goldsmith, one of the founder members of FC United, to stand at the popular Manchester Road end - you cannot sit down in there - from where I witnessed something almost surreal.

A team made up of players from non-League football, some of whom have dropped several levels to play for FC United, wearing the old-style Manchester United strip of plain red shirts, white shorts and black socks. Shirts numbered two to 11 and the absence of a sponsor's name added to the illusion that, against the backdrop of a single-tier old football stadium, one end of which was completely full, I was watching a Manchester United team of the Fifties. The impression is not coincidental, a passionate desire to return to old values is a lot of what FC United is all about.

"The Glazer takeover was the final straw," said board member and founder Jules Spencer. "We had previously considered a new club in 1998 when Rupert Murdoch made a bid for Manchester United, but that bid failed."

It was the strength of the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association, set up in 1995 as a result of an Old Trafford announcement ordering supporters in the K-stand to remain seated or face ejection that saw off Murdoch, but many realised that it would only be a matter of time. "Millions of pounds are going out of the club to the wrong people," said Spencer, who has been going to Old Trafford since 1978. "We can't sit with our friends, kids can't get in and some players just don't care about the fans. At the moment we may be making decisions that could be described as emotional, as with the vote not to have a sponsor's name that would tarnish the shirt," he continued. "We do live in the real world, we just have different ways of doing things."

But some things will never change. The Manchester Road End was in good voice all afternoon and as the names of Adie Orr and Josh Howard were sung alongside those of George Best and Eric Cantona, I heard the one I was waiting for. "We are the Busby boys," they sang, and I guess whatever happens, they always will be.

By Ricky George
23rd of January 2006