Saturday, January 21, 2006

Fans prove FC United are no flash in the pan

Source: Bury Times

THEY were unheard of this time last year. But, six months after they were formed, FC United of Manchester attracted 4,328 fans to Gigg Lane for a league match against Winsford writes Marc Higginson

You can expect a big crowd for a top of the league match like this one.

But when you consider that league is way down the soccer pyramid in the North West Counties League Division Two, where the average crowd is somewhere between 50 and 100, it's clear there is something special happening.

Winsford were the visitors and they were the latest to be defeated by the FC United juggernaught which extended its lead to 14 points and made promotion almost inevitable in its inaugural season.

It made a mighty point to the football world that the breakaway soccer club is here to stay.

The club was formed last summer in response to the controversial takeover of Manchester United by American business tycoon Malcolm Glazer, plus what was seen by many to be the spiralling costs that have meant the match-day experience has been lost to some working class fans.

Many people thought the side would be a flash in the pan after initial crowds of 2-3,000. But the fans have continued to be attracted by the low admission prices and traditional atmosphere.

Six months into their first season and it is clear FC United are here to stay.

Andy Walsh, one of the founders of the club said: "The way the club has taken off has been breathtaking.

"The level of support we have got is way beyond our wildest expectations and we have also had a great start to the season on the pitch.

"There is a real buzz around the club and everyone is enjoying the experience of non-League football.

"We have fans coming who have been put off watching a higher level of football because of the costs involved and some are watching live football for the first time.

"It may only be the North West Counties League, but the atmosphere means it feels like a big game every week."

One of the impressive features of the crowds is the number of children who are getting involved with the club by going to regular matches.

Walsh enthused: "I think 20 per cent of our fans on a match day are children and that is what we wanted. They want to be part of something that is new and exciting.

"We wanted to attract families and itís great that kids are getting the chance to see their heroes in action and are not just watching them on television.

"When you see your players live, it has a much bigger impact and kids will want to emulate their heroes on the local park - instead of being sat in front of a PlayStation."

The club attributes part of its success to playing at Bury FC's Gigg Lane every week.

Andy said: "Gigg Lane is a traditional football ground and that makes everything all the more exciting.

"Initially, we were worried about playing in Bury because it is so far out of Manchester, but the fans have proved they enjoy coming along and they have really taken Bury to their hearts.

"The friendship and warmth shown by Bury means many FC United fans are watching Bury when we arenít playing and everyone right through from the stewards to the directors has been a credit to Bury FC.î

United assistant manager Phil Power said: "I've really enjoyed our team playing at Gigg Lane.

"We like to play a passing game and the Gigg Lane pitch has made that much easier for us. If we had played at a ground of lower standard, we might have struggled a bit."

United will be speaking with Bury directors about playing at Gigg Lane again next season in the coming weeks.

Walsh said: "We will sit down and discuss what the future holds for us. We want to see where we can learn from any mistakes and improve for next year.

"Building our own ground is also a consideration of ours."