Sunday, August 06, 2006

FC United of Manchester - One Year On and Thriving


FC United of Manchester have celebrated their first birthday. The anti-Glazer breakaway club played their first fixture on 16th July 2005 and since then the new club has been a roaring success. This year they are in a higher division and enter their first national cup competition.

It’s a common enough reaction among football fans to threaten to tear up the season ticket and stop going to games, so when FC United was mooted there were many who thought the move would never happen. The club has not only survived but thrived and hopes are high for another promotion.

This is still North-West Counties Division One football we’re talking about but when FC lifted the 2ND Division title last term they pulled in a massive 6,023 fans for the match against Great Harwood. There’s every reason to think that the club can average 4,000 for home games this campaign.

This is new territory because unlike AFC Wimbledon, the Old Trafford club still exists in the same stadium with minimal changes in personnel. What has been surprising is the reserve of goodwill FC have been able to draw on from those who continue to follow Manchester United. In very rough terms, Man United fans break down into five categories after the Glazer upheaval;

The Loyalists

A large group who view any attempt to break with the parent club and cut ties to Old Trafford with huge suspicion. To this section, the FC United revolution is at best wrong-headed and at worst traitorous. Will not be attending games at Gigg Lane under any circumstances.

The Indifferent

Manchester United are a huge club and it’s fair to say that many of the supporters don’t relate to non-league soccer in any way. For much of this group, FC United have no impact- many don’t even know where they play or how they are progressing. Others in this camp know of FC ‘s efforts and bear them no ill will; they just don’t see what the fuss is about.

The Straddlers

It was uncertain what relationship the revolutionaries would have with any Old Trafford regulars. In fact, a surprising number have chosen to give support to both clubs. One factor in this is the unusual pleasure of being able to watch a side at 3.00 on any given Saturday. Manchester United fans have suffered more than most from modern match scheduling. These fans represent a certain feeling against the Premiership in general, although not enough to make them want to abandon old allegiances.

The Disillusioned

Not just fed up with Manchester United but like many fans at other clubs, driven away by the excesses of the Premiership of which the Glazer takeover was one example. Still consider themselves Man U fans, although increasing numbers may not be able to afford to see games at Old Trafford. FC United offers a chance to keep the faith but at the same time connect with a more down to earth game.

The Revolutionaries

Hard core anti-Glazer fans who believe that the Glazer regime is wholly bad for the club and that still attending Old Trafford only digs the club into a bigger hole. Not prepared to go to Old Trafford under the present regime and broadly sick of many aspects of the modern game. A minority among Man U fans but their efforts have impressed many who still attend Old Trafford.

If FC keep winning they will draw more interest and might even create a 6th category of fan- the person who supports the new club and holds no allegiance, current or former, to Old Trafford. The club’s new youth set up will contribute to this goal.

By keeping the rhetoric anti-Glazer rather than anti- Man U, FC United have the potential to draw support from all but the first of the above groups and as their success grows the impact on the second group will greatly increase.

In this regard a match on 23rd September at Brodsworth Miners Welfare is crucial. This is the new club’s debut in the FA Vase and a chance to enter a national competition- one that was won last season by Nantwich Town, a team from the same division as FC will play in this year. Winning the Vase might be a long shot but a decent Cup run could raise the profile, alongside what is certain to be another push for promotion.

For the moment FC United can try to attract most Manchester United fans without those supporters felling a conflict of interest. Only if the breakaway club soars up the Pyramid structure can that happen. At the moment they can call on a core support and wider community that can make FC United the envy of every other non-league team. Year two should be another exciting prospect.