Saturday, August 30, 2008

FC take a United front

Stuart Brennan

30/ 8/2008

CHRISTMAS comes every Saturday afternoon for supporters of rebel club FC United.

Three years ago, the club was in its infancy, surrounded by enemies and cynics. One of the snipers, was former Manchester United player Alan Gowling who declared on Radio Manchester that the whole thing would be "over by Christmas".

Three promotions, two league titles and two cups later, the phrase has become a rallying point and a catchphrase among FC fans, many of whom wear T-shirts bearing those ill-informed words.

Over 1,000 supporters headed to Buxton at the weekend to bask in the sun and bathe in the achievement of reaching the UniBond League Premier Division - and the players responded by racking up the club's first win at the higher level.


The club was born out of many things - disillusionment with the whining and preening of superstar players who care little for the empty pockets of their fans; anger at the cynical exploitation of fan loyalty by the men in grey suits; and sorrow at the sterilisation of a rich Old Trafford culture, with old, established fans forced out to make way for those with more money to spend but less Red in their hearts.

The Glazer takeover was the last straw for many, but the inception of FC United has ensured that out of the heartache and turmoil of the battle against the takeover, something worthwhile and inspirational has emerged.

The fans at Buxton at the weekend were unrepentant at their decision, despite the fact that "big" United have won two league titles and the Champions League in the intervening period.

The spectre of debt, made more worrying by the global credit crunch, added to ticket price hikes, automatic cup schemes and other commercial decisions, has - FC fans believe - fully vindicated their decision to withdraw their financial support for the Glazers.

The message is often misunderstood. FC United supporters are, largely, still United fans, and cheer every win and every trophy that rolls into Old Trafford, but choose not to be a part of the financial game.

The shifting of kick-off times for the needs of TV means that they rarely miss watching a Manchester United game through going to FC, often in a Bury pub, before or after FC's 3pm kick off."

I was becoming disillusioned at Old Trafford before the takeover," says Andy Brennan of Stockport. "I was fed up with the attitude of fans around me, who felt United had a given right to be winning every game within 20 minutes of kick off.

"I moved my seat to the Stretford End, but I remember clapping the players off after a game against Middlesbrough and nearly ended up in a fight with a guy who took exception because he was frustrated at how we had played. He was a day tripper and had no idea.

"FC is much more on my level. I love the fact that all the money that comes into the club stays in the club. I began by going to both United and FC, but gradually drifted away from Old Trafford because I enjoyed FC so much.

"The Champions League final was a weird experience. I watched it with lads who love United, and still go. I celebrated, but still felt a bit removed from it all."

Frank Dormer from Harpurhey says FC "is the best thing since the days of Tommy Doc in the 70s".

"It has all the good things about those days - the support, the fun, the banter, but without the violence.


"In those days, all the kids I knew from Moston, Harpurhey, Collyhurst and Miles Platting used to go to Old Trafford, but you just don't see it any more.

"FC reminds me of those days when we had a community at United, people who got on together and knew what it was all about. Going to the match is about being part of that community, as much as it is about the football."

Ross McDougal is a Scot who used to follow United home and away from Edinburgh. Now he follows FC, and has moved to Victoria Park to be closer to the club and the friends he has made through it.

"I have no regrets at all," he says. "Sometimes I miss the standard of football, but I can always watch United in the pub anyway, and the atmosphere is usually better anyway. If people think we have turned our backs on United, that is their problem. We haven't walked away from United, but from the greed at Old Trafford and in top-flight football in general.

"Someone had to make that stand. But there are people who just can't see what is happening, and will just keep on paying whatever they are asked to pay.

"I was overjoyed when we won the Champions League. I watched it in the Palace Hotel, and we celebrated big time."

Chris Stamp from Heaton Moor, says his kids were a driving factor in his decision to follow FC: "I used to take them to open days at Old Trafford, but that was all I could afford.

"And when I went, I was being told to sit down and shut up - it was a waste of time.

"Now I pay £2 to take my ten-year-old lad to Gigg Lane and he loves it. It reminds me of being 12 and going to United for the first time."