Friday, March 10, 2006

Article in Unitedsupporteren

Source: Unitedsupporteren issue 6 2005/2006 (the Magazine for Manchester United Supporters Club, Scandinavian Branch) no online content.

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There’s Only Two United! (sic)
Last summer some United supporters left Old Trafford behind and went to follow amateur football at Gigg Lane instead. The atmosphere they create there is being talked about at levels above their station, high up in the league system.

Gigg Lane, November 2005: Cold, miserable and quiet. Manager Chris Casper is on the touchline trying to egg his players on. Trying to get them to give that little bit extra needed to get a goal. Bury FC, one of the worst teams in the professional league, is about to go out of the FA cup before the competition has even properly started. Bury, one of many professional clubs on the verge of bankruptcy, could really have done with more that the 2,940 spectators who turned up for this game, not to mention a cup run that lasted just a little bit longer. I make my way back, in a slightly frozen state, to the tram. Thinking there must be at least 1000 more fun things do do with my life than this; bad football watched in a ground with no atmoshphere played in a field out in the sticks.

Gigg Lane: January 2006: It’s cold, fun and the noise level is incredible. It’s still 10 minutes until kick-off , and the packed stand behind one of the goals is singing: “Bring on United!”. This is sung non-stop from ten to three until the players come on to the pitch. The FCUM manager Karl Marginson is chewing his lip, he looks a little bit nervous. The closest thing FCUM comes to a ‘hate’ game in North West Counties League division 2 is this game. Normally a game at this level will attract 32 spectators and a few stray dogs, not today. FC United are at home to Winsford United (Winsford is a scouse overspill town of course), Winsford is also one of three teams battling it out for promotion from division 2.

The record attendance for FCUM at home is 3,808 against Daisy Hill back in October when the fan’s favourite Adie Orr scored two. Now, at ten to three, the stands are filling up nicely in the rented home of FCUM which just happens to be the one they share with Bury FC.

-What do you recon, will the attendance today be more than 3,000?
-Way over. There is 1,000 outside waiting to get in! –claims Julian Spencer as he lights his fifth cigarette in an hour. He is freezing, but proud and happy. Until last summer Spencer was the chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA). Then Glazer came along and it was all over. Spencer became one of many Manchester-lads who, whilst still counting themselves as MUFC supporters, refused to spend money at Old Trafford.

He became a member of the board of FC United of Manchester instead.

-It wasn’t just the Glazer takeover that tipped the balance for me. I’ve been heavily involved in IMUSA for years and was deeply frustrated over the way our club met us. Many felt the same way as I did, and we decided to use our energy and time in doing something positive rather than hitting our head against a wall all the time.

When AFC Wimbledon was formed it was to a backdrop of universal praise from the footballing world (read; supporters). They’d been on the receiving end of a Norwegian based heist, their club was moved to a different part of the country.

For FC the story was different. The ‘real’ club, Manchester United, was still there. Some of the supporters wanted something else though – a club they could call their own. The solution was FC United, a club owned by its members. Any member turn up to the general meetings holding just that one vote. That members, or supporters if you like, actually own the club is not the normal way of life in English football.

The reactions to FC have been varied, both from other teams and of those following Manchester United. Some say it is nonsense to change clubs. Others see FC United as a nostalgic wish for football getting back to it’s roots, and wish them well – but doubt it will work. Others again have been to a single game and are hooked.

All choices are respected. Like the girls on reception at Gigg Lane this Saturday. They put in time for nowt for FC United on match-days, along with some 120 others. One renewed her ST at OT this season but hasn’t been to a single match so far this season. One of the others is still doing both MUFC and FCUM, the third gave up her ST. They’re all agreed on one thing though; FC United is fun and this club is starting to be an important part in their social life as well.

No matter how many, and why, have chosen to switch from MUFC to FCUM, the United fanzines have adopted a ‘all choices are to be respected’ policy. If you’ve decided to do MUFC games, you’re not going to be called a Glazerite. Have you decided to drop the Premier League hysterics (sic) for close-fought games against Flixton or Blackpool Mechanichs instead, your choice should be met with understanding. The Fanzine’s editorials are clear; there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choices.

-The choices are of an individual nature. I can’t say what’s right for you. You’ve got to choose (Julian Spencer).

Outside the stadium, an hour before kick-off, I find myself talking to a few of the supporters. All kinds; those who still attend ‘real United’, and quite a few who used to go to Old Trafford but had to give it up. The last group is the larger of the two.

-I’ve not been able to afford going to Old Trafford for many years now. I don’t particularly want to go and watch anybody else. This (FCUM) I can afford, and the atmosphere is fantastic. It’s £7 for adults and £2 for kids. That’s nothing says Andrew Concannon, who has brought his kids; Thomas and Emily to the game. It’s Emily’s first game, Thomas is attending his 2nd.

-I like the philosophy behind FC United, the way the fans own the club. I don’t really feel a part of Manchester United anymore, even though I’m still a supporter – says Steve Yates. He’s ready for his first ever FC United game, and doesn’t really know what to expect.
-I’ve heard a lot of good things, and hope it will be fun.

Fun is a key-word for FC United, if you’re a fan our not. FC United has the highest attendances in the amateur leagues as I write this. In the Conference there are some teams that can compete, but AFC Wimbledon’s average is lower than that of FCUM. In the 4th division of the league several teams have a lower attendance record than FCUM. The FCUM-supporters give the club income and economical strength to move up the league. Even with low prices for admission is it clear that the turnover in the first year will be several million kroner (1 GBP = 11.5 NOK).

Spencer is dreaming of FCUM getting a ground of their own. It can seem like a long way off, but the success of AFC Wimbledon is obviously an inspiration to FC United. If everything works out AFC Wimbledon can be in the same division as Milton Keynes in a few seasons. Neither Spencer or anyone else wants to talk about this, but there is no reason why this club can’t progress if the supporters remain loyal. The size of their support is just so much larger than that of their opponents.
-A lot of the clubs in our league was sceptical as to letting FC United in. Other teams had had a difficult time getting accepted and FCUM could only offer promises, no infrastructure at all. The travelling FCUM support has been a lifeline for several clubs though, according to Winsford United’s exec Bob Astles.

I’m quite impressed as to the standard of football to be honest, not bad for a team at the very lowest rung of the ladder. A full 10 divisions below Manchester United . But then again several of the FCUM players have solid backgrounds. Both Joshua Howard and Mark Rawlinson were juniors at Manchester United, and Leon Mike is enjoying his debut for FCUM today. He has played for City – but claims to be a United fan like several others in the team. FCUM’s strip is the familiar red top, white shorts and black socks. Many of the songs are the same as at Old Trafford and this club doesn’t hide where it’s coming from. The players earn less than £100 per week, and according to Spencer doesn’t FCUM pay over the odds in this amateur world. Several players have dropped divisions and pay to play for FCUM. The club has employed two people to get the administrative work running smoothely, and both the manager and assistant manager (Power) has part time employment with the club.

FC United’s success has not gone un-noticed in the media. At the game I attended there were media from both Russia and Holland (The Netherlands). Since I was there The Guardian has had a big piece regarding FCUM.
Andrew Donegan is perhaps the best example of a FC United supporter; he has given up his ST at Old Trafford and has been to every FCUM game this sesaon. Before the Winsford game he steps in at the mega-stall as a seller.

-Why pay £30-£40 to go to Old Trafford only to sit in complete silence watching boring football if you can come here? Jumping about and having fun? I wake up on match-days with butterflies in my stomach.
-But the football is poor compared to Old Trafford?
-I don’t care. As long as I see a team of players proud to wear the shirt.

The game is a close fought match between two teams trying to play football. The atmosphere is top for the full 90 minutes. Particularly the stand behind the goal – it’s a long time since I’ve experienced this kind of atmosphere at Old Trafford. When Rory Patterson puts away the winner with two minutes left on the clock, I thought the roof was going to be blown off with the noise. 4,328 witnessed this. A record. Again. An attendance Bury can only dream about.

For me, and most MUFC supporters, there will only ever be one United. My heart wasn’t in it at Gigg Lane. Having said that, it was a good laugh. If you find yourself in England and have the opportunity to watch FC United in addition to the Real United, don’t hesitate. Go. You’ll not regret it.