Monday, August 25, 2008

A club that is United by common values

Kaveh Solhekol

August 25, 2008

It probably does not bear thinking about, but in three years there could be two Uniteds from Manchester playing professional football in England.

FC United of Manchester were formed in 2005 by fans who refused to support Manchester United after the Glazer family took control at Old Trafford and their success on and off the pitch has been just as remarkable as the achievements of Cristiano Ronaldo and his team-mates during the past three years.

After three promotions in three seasons, FC United have worked their way up to the UniBond League premier division, the seventh level in the English game, and this afternoon will take on Boston United, who, before financial meltdown, were playing in Coca-Cola League Two as recently as May last year. Another three promotions and FC United will be rubbing shoulders with the big boys in the Football League.

“Football has been taken away from the working class,” Karl Marginson, the 37-year-old FC United manager, said. “Going to a football match has become like going to a business meeting. It’s too corporate. Having a season ticket has become a status symbol.”

Marginson was working as a fruit and veg man when he received a call from a friend asking him if he would be interested in managing the new club. At first, Marginson combined his coaching duties with his day job of delivering fruit and vegetables, which meant setting the alarm for 4am, but thanks to a new job as head of coaching at Manchester College, Marginson can concentrate on getting his coaching badges and leading FC United into the Football League.

“Our players know what playing for this club means,” Marginson, who used to play for Macclesfield Town, said. “I’ve got all sorts in my team — accountants, drivers, bricklayers, a couple of unemployed lads and a model. They get paid about £80 a week, so they can relate to our fans. The professional game has gone too far. How can you have players earning £150,000 a week? It is so far detached from reality it is ridiculous. We’re not in the entertainment business, we’re a football club.”

FC United are owned by their supporters and, unlike other clubs, have a manifesto of core principles including a commitment to keep down ticket prices, to nurture young, local talent and “to strive to avoid outright commercialism wherever possible”.

Home matches are played at Gigg Lane in Bury — tickets £7.50 and free for under-18s — in front of about 3,000 fans but ambitious plans are in the pipeline for the club’s own ground. Their home is a world away from Old Trafford but their kit is modelled on United’s classic strip of red shirts, white shorts and black socks — with no sponsor’s logo. “We don’t model our playing style on United, but we like to get the ball down and play,” Marginson said. “I don’t have anyone like Ronaldo in my side.”

Like most FC United supporters, Marginson used to be an Old Trafford regular but he has not been to the Theatre of Dreams for three years. When he gets the chance, he watches Sir Alex Ferguson’s team on TV and combines being a red rebel with being a red devil. “I haven’t been to Old Trafford for ages,” Marginson said. “Our supporters have given up watching some of the best in the world to drop down and watch us, so it would be hypocritical for me to go.”

So, as a manager who has won three promotions in a row, has he got any advice for Ferguson on how to retain the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League? Do they need to spend £30 million on Dimitar Berbatov? “I don’t know anything about the transfer market,” Marginson said. “I’ve never bought a player in my life.”