Saturday, March 04, 2006

United they Stand

Note: This article first appeared in swine magazine, online at and has been reprinted in this Months ICE magazine.

What The World Is Waiting For
by Martin Hall

When Rio Ferdinand took his seat on the substitutes bench for England’s recent game against Austria it’s unlikely he was straining to hear the singing coming from FC United’s supporters at Bury’s Gigg Lane ground. However, had he listened carefully he would have heard the following ditty:
“I don’t care about Rio, He don’t care about me, All I care about is watching FC, watching FC.”

As England fans watched another dire, negative performance from ‘their’ team and paid in the region of £40 for the privilege, a few miles away 3,808 people were watching FC United: entertaining football from players passionate about the club they represent, 90 minutes of non-stop singing, great banter between all supporters and six goals. All for the princely sum of seven pounds.

FC United of Manchester Football Club was formed this summer by Manchester United fans angry at Malcolm Glazer’s strongly opposed takeover at Old Trafford. There were other factors too. The crass commercialism of the club was getting worse, ticket prices were becoming increasingly exorbitant and the intangible ‘connection’ between players and fans was practically non-existent.

Just as the punk revolution of 1976 was borne out of a ‘Do It Yourself’ ethos and a desire to show that the emperors of the mainstream were indeed naked, FC United comes from a long-held Mancunian belief that the status quo does not necessarily have to remain unchallenged and that the people ‘in charge’ don’t necessarily know best.

Or as Primal Scream’s Mani put it in the latest edition of the excellent FC fanzine Under The Boardwalk: “It’s a case of ‘please mister, can we have our ball back.’ It’s been nicked and no-one’s even asked us if they can have it.” The club have had a remarkable start to the season, dropping only 5 points so far. They have also smashed all attendance records for the North West Counties League Division Two, and the buzz is getting bigger with every game.

BBC GMR and Radio 6 DJ Conrad Murray has been a familiar face at FC’s matches and he’s certainly buzzing off the match-going experience: “I really enjoy the fact that it’s like when I first started going in United Road with my mates from school. You’d be phoning round on the Friday night seeing who was going. Loads would turn up and you’d all stand together. It’s all inclusive- you don't need to apply for acceptance.”

Liam Ronan, Swine contributor and Sheffield Wednesday fan agrees with Murray’s comments: “I think what’s quality about it is that you can go along and support FC without feeling guilty. It’s a good craic and a top day out. And it’s definitely the only time you’ll ever hear me chanting ‘United’ at a football match!”

To paraphrase Tony Blair, FC United have accepted the best parts of Manchester United’s history- great fans and diverse support- and rejected the worst - excessive commercialism and disregard for supporters. As well as upholding the finest traditions of Manchester United Football Club, FC are aiming to prove a positive force in the game and beyond.

Dr Adam Brown- a respected former member of the Football Task Force and board member of FCUM- wants the club to be an integral part of the Manchester community: “In many ways the club has been set up as a community club in that it is an expression of the community of the fans that wanted to form it. In that sense it’s bound up in the ethos of the club anyway.”

“We’ve made it very clear that we want the club to be of service to all the communities in Manchester. But obviously it’s early days and the kind of funded outreach work that the best clubs do is something that takes a bit of time to put in place.” Brown believes that the youth of Manchester are vital to the future of FC and wants to ensure this often neglected demographic are catered for: “We’ve got a particular desire to be accessible for young people and on matchday that’s reflected in terms of the £2 prices for under-18’s.

We made it consciously under 18’s rather than under 16’s because we recognise that anyone between 16 and 18 is likely to be in full-time education and very few are going to be earning an adult wage. We had a under-18’s day where 700 under 18’s came in for free. “We’re applying for some money from Sport England to help us develop community ties at the club and that will lead to a coaching course which the club will run for under 18s. There’s a lot of interest in working with schools.”

The difference in ethos between FC United and premier league team is simple, according to Brown: “Everything that FC United makes is reinvested in the club and that is absolutely fundamental to understanding the difference between the commercial, corporate model that is dominating the top level of English football and the kind of model that we’re pursuing.”

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of all of this is how quickly the Steering Committee were able to set up the club. Never mind the chant ‘shit ground, no fans’, at the start of June FC United had neither a name nor a stadium! The first major supporters meeting after Glazer’s takeover was held at the Methodist Church Hall on Oldham Street with the next one at the Apollo.

A sense of defiance permeated both meetings and Andy Mitten, editor of the influential fanzine United We Stand says he was not surprised at the rapid establishment of the club or the enthusiasm with which the supporters have embraced FC: “They had to seize the initiative and be up and running in a matter of weeks to tap into the feeling amongst Reds post-takeover.
“It was imperative that they started the 05-06 season. I wasn’t surprised because I knew the calibre of people involved and what they were capable of.

“I always felt there would be an initial wave of enthusiasm and publicity- but what was important was what happened after that. Many in non-league were sceptical. The manager of one non-league team said to me: ‘Is this going to happen or what? And isn’t it just going to be a flash in the plan?’”
“It did happen and given that attendances are rising and not falling, it’s unlikely to be a flash in the pan.”

There have been many memorable moments for the club so far. The pandemonium of the first game, the travelling support for the Supporters Direct tie against Wimbledon and the performances in the League have all been exceptional. But perhaps the first competitive match -away at Leek- offers the most accurate insight into the mind of an FC supporter.

Despite a torrential downpour that was more befitting of the African rainy season than the North West non-league season, over 2,500 fans crammed into a, ahem, ‘traditional’ football ground to witness a 5-2 win for FC. The public transport system meant a three and a half hour journey back from deepest Staffordshire but for former Student Direct editor (and contributor to FC’s superb matchday programme) Matt Haley, the day was a welcome return to football’s key values: “The problem with modern-day top-flight football is that every time you buy a ticket you’re just making rich men richer.

“At the risk of sounding overtly political, FC is almost like a socialist utopia in the sense that all the money you spend is ploughed back into the club instead of funding the Chairman’s Ferrari addiction or whatever.” Haley’s conviction is a common one. With ‘football in crisis’ currently a mainstay of sports headlines, it seems that supporters are becoming increasingly disillusioned with keeping their star players in Moschino shirts and diamond earrings whilst paying over the odds for the dubious privilege of 4-5-1 and trite PR statements gobbled up by quote hungry hacks.

Chelsea’s European Cup attendances serve as proof that the money-men may have finally killed the goose that laid the golden egg. But the Moore & Co Construction Solicitors North West League Division Two is a far cry from the shallow opulence of the Premiership and Andy Mitten thinks things can only get better for FC: “FCUM are receiving so much good publicity at the moment that I can only see the crowds continuing to rise.

People are going to games, enjoying themselves and returning. They feel that they are getting value for money and great entertainment- principally because of the atmosphere. “People who called themselves United fans but stopped going to games for various reasons are now match going fans of FC. Their enthusiasm for watching live football has been rekindled, their cynicism tempered. Not everyone agrees with the concept but FCUM has put a smile on thousands of faces.”

And Conrad Murray is adamant FCUM is no gimmick or fad: “I reckon FC is definitely going to go from strength to strength. The club has a great infrastructure in place and the ongoing increase in crowds is evidence that it’s going to get bigger and better. Viva la revolution!”