Source: Daily Mirror
Oliver Holt 25/04/2007
GIGGS scored a hat-trick for United on Saturday. "Sublime," they called it on the club website.
What, you mean you watched the game against Middlesbrough and you didn't see it?
Well, you could be forgiven for that because you were watching a different United and a different Giggs.
And you could be forgiven, too, for having forgotten all about FC United of Manchester, as Manchester United of Manchester have carried all before them in a magical season that is racing towards its climax.
FC United were formed by disillusioned Manchester United supporters in the summer of 2005 in the first flush of resentment against Malcolm Glazer's debt-laden takeover at Old Trafford.
For a year, they were the club's guilty conscience. Their presence was a reminder of the way Sir Alex Ferguson and his craven board had swallowed their principles and bowed down in front of the money-men from Palm Beach.
Think of Dennis Skinner railing from Labour's back benches against the sell-out Tony Blair and you've got an idea of their position in football culture.
To the more romantic, they were knights on white chargers waging war on the football anti-Christs who talked of fans as 'customers' and the club as 'a brand'.
They were part of a movement to give football back to the fans, part of the counter-culture initiated by AFC Wimbledon and taken up by clubs like Stockport County, now run with passion and intelligence by supporters.
But then this season, Manchester United put their recent years of relative ordinariness behind them and started playing well again. Started playing beautiful, beautiful football again.
The Glazers shelled out big money for Michael Carrick and Nemanja Vidic and appeared to be ready to sanction the £20million purchase of Owen Hargreaves from Bayern Munich.
The television moolah rolled in, ticket prices remained stable and suddenly everyone started asking what all the fuss had been about. To many, FC United had lost their raison d'etre.
The people at FC United don't see it that way. On the pitch, things are still going as well as they possibly could. A week ago, they secured their second successive promotion. They have won 35 of their 40 games in the North West Counties Football League Division One.
They have amassed 108 points, which puts them 15 ahead of second-placed Curzon Ashton. Their goal difference is plus 116.
On Saturday, they beat Salford City 4-2. Rhodri Giggs, younger brother of Ryan and a left-winger to boot, scored three of the goals.
Next season, they will play in the Unibond First Division. They are clambering up the pyramid fast. Four more promotions and they would be in the Football League.
Attendances are holding up, too. They are averaging more than 2,500 this season, which puts them above several league clubs, including Bury, with whom they share Gigg Lane.
And for the fans instrumental in the founding of the club, the fact that Ferguson and his side are closing in on another Treble has given them no reason for second thoughts.
Because, essentially, it's not what happens on the pitch at either club that defines the reason for the split. It's what happens off it. "The true effects of the Glazer takeover at Old Trafford have yet to come to fruition," FC United board member and spokesman Jules Spencer said.
"There were always going to be two or three seasons of grace before the interest payments Glazers' investment vehicle, announced a loss of more than £130m last week for the year ended June 2006.
"But the figures were revealed at the same time as news of Cristiano Ronaldo's new contract so no one really took any notice. They paid £85m in interest payments until June last year and that's £85m that could have gone towards keeping ticket prices down.
"We didn't set up FC United just because Manchester United were in the doldrums. The fact they are having success now does not remove the reasons why we walked away.
"We were becoming disillusioned by issues like kick-off times, rampant merchandising and rising ticket prices. And when Glazer took over, we objected to the idea we would be buying the club for him.
"None of those issues have changed because Manchester United are in the semi-finals of the European Cup and are at the top of the Premiership. It's important to stress we still remain United fans, just not customers.
"Anyone who saw how FC United supporters reacted to John O'Shea's winner in front of the Kop in the pubs round Gigg Lane prior to one of our home games will attest to that."
FC United face plenty of stern challenges in the years ahead, not least the fight to avoid turning into the kind of club they despise the closer they get to the Football League.
But their philosophy is worth supporting. They're the acceptable, articulate face of opposition to foreign ownership, the antithesis of the old-boy idiocy of Peter Hill-Wood's xenophobic garbage about not wanting 'their sort' here.
"We never opposed Glazer on the grounds of his nationality," Spencer says. "We just had concerns that he had no emotional ties to Manchester United and about the debt burden. "But takeovers by foreign owners are distancing Premiership clubs even more from their supporters. Clubs and the community should be one and the same thing.
"We still stick to our philosophy of not endorsing rampant commercialism. We do some merchandising but it's only what is requested by our fans. We took a vote on it. That's the difference." Well, vive la difference. I still admire FC United for what they're doing. I hope they continue to prosper.