Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Rebel with a cause

By Liam Chronnell

IT is unusual for a footballer to embody what their club stands for quite as much as FC United's Rob Nugent.

The Atherton-born defender has made the second highest number of appearances for the breakaway club, formed in 2005 by disenchanted Manchester United supporters following the takeover by American billionaire Malcolm Glazer.

Nugent was one of those fans who took to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction at the Premiership giants.

From the ashes of those protests rose FC United and, following two title-winning seasons, the UniBond League Division One North outfit are now chasing a third successive promotion.

The 25-year-old centre-back, a former Sheffield United trainee, has played a central role in that success; the only player in the current squad who figured in the Rebels' first ever game - a friendly at Leigh RMI on July 16, 2005 - and one of only two, Rory Patterson being the other, to make more than a century of appearances for the club.

And Nugent, a former Bolton School pupil, is delighted to have played such a significant part in the Reds' short history.

"It's a dream really," he said. "As a young lad growing up you want to play for Manchester United if you are a United fan. This is the next best thing.

"When it was announced the Glazer's were taking over at Old Trafford I was involved in the protests, and I was there from the first meeting when there was talk of FC United being formed.

"I put my name down to be involved in any capacity I could, but it wasn't until one of my friends mentioned I used to play for Sheffield United that (FC manager) Karl Marginson got in contact.

"The whole thing was very close to my heart because I was a big United fan. I was not happy with the way football was going in general, not just at United but at other Premiership clubs with lots of foreign owners coming in and pricing normal fans out of the game.

"At FC it's £7 to get in and £2 for children; obviously it's not the same level of football but it's a better atmosphere."

Nugent, whose father, Steve, used to play for Atherton LR, looked to have a bright future in the game after spending four years at Sheffield United.

But after being released from Bramall Lane at the age of 20, he spent two seasons playing for Ossett Town in the UniBond Premier Division. However, he had little hesitation in making the switch to FC when the chance arose.

He explained: "When the opportunity to play for FC United came, even though it was four levels below what I was playing at, I jumped at the chance.

"I used to play in front of 60 people at Ossett, now it's 2,000 every week. I remember the last game at home in our first season; there was 6,000 there. It was phenomenal."

The Rebels, who play their home games at Bury's Gigg Lane, are eight points behind leaders Bamber Bridge with three games in hand.

Through to the semi-finals and quarter-finals of two cup competitions, United look set for another trophy-laden season - but it wasn't always that way.

Back in November, after an unprecedented four defeats in five games, FC's critics were quick to suggest the club had reached its plateau. After successive promotions, it was suggested the Reds' balloon had finally burst.

Nugent, a trainee accountant at Trafford Borough Council, admitted: "It was the first blip we'd really had but it coincided with us coming into the UniBond.

"The teams are bigger and more physical in this league, but we've got the players to play at this level. A lot of our players have dropped down the leagues to play for FC so there's no reason why we shouldn't do well in this league, or the leagues above.

"This club can go as far as the fans want to take it. We've had two promotions in two seasons; who's to say we can't make that three in three, four in four."

And has Nugent been back to watch his beloved Manchester United? "I've not been this season at all," he said. "I went once or twice last year, but it just wasn't the same buzz as when I used to go when I was growing up. It's the same at a lot of modern-day grounds. I'm from Bolton, and you only need to look at some of the crowds Wanderers are getting at their home games - they should be much bigger with better atmospheres, but they're just not."

A true believer in what FC stands for, Rob Nugent is surely the ultimate clubman.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008