Thursday, January 14, 2010
Source: Daily Mail
By Michael Walker Last updated at 8:16 PM on 14th January 2010
In a converted mill in Ancoats in Manchester are a group of people who would be entitled to feel vindication this week.
FC United of Manchester is the football club Malcolm Glazer and his family founded by accident. Now members of the Unibond Premier League, FC United were established by disaffected Manchester United fans who fought to the bitter end to prevent the Glazers' takeover at Old Trafford four-and-a-half years ago.
They fought because they feared what is happening today - the apparent financial hijacking of United, or as FC United states on its website: 'The material theft of a Manchester institution.'
When, in May 2005, the Glazers won in spite of supporter opposition and, at one stage, opposition from the Old Trafford chief executive David Gill, Manchester United fans had choices: to continue attending, to walk away, to boycott selectively or, the 'last resort', to form a new club.
Around 1,000 of the disillusioned agreed to the last resort. With an ethos in total contrast to the money first model of Premier League club takeovers, FC United was born.
Many expected the club to fizzle out - particularly as Sir Alex Ferguson led United to three consecutive League titles and another European Cup - but FC United are still here. They rent Bury's Gigg Lane, have an average gate of 2,000, have won three promotions and this week submitted a business plan to Manchester City Council to build a new 4,000-capacity stadium of their own.
'We were never anti-American,' explained FC's general manager Andy Walsh, 'we were just anti-takeovers by people who knew little about the club or the community around it. We could see the dash for cash happening in English football and we knew ticket prices at Old Trafford would rise.
'The figures from Old Trafford are quite shocking. Most people were aware of a level of indebtedness but for it to be compounded by the Glazers cynically "dipping in" is bordering on the criminal.
'Most people have shielded their eyes to what's going on but the general public are now more familiar with the "casino economy" after Northern Rock and all the rest of it. People understand more about it and it's happening in football. That has shocked them.'
Those Walsh accuses of shielding their eyes are the authorities, including the Government. Walsh was part of Shareholders United and Manchester United Supporters' Trust who tried in vain to buy a bulwark shareholding to frustrate the Glazers. They petitioned John Magnier and JP McManus not to sell their 28 per cent to the Glazers and thought the Irishmen would not.
Once they did, Walsh says he received letters from then Minister for Sport Richard Caborn, the Premier League and the Football Association that offered reassurances about the Glazers' motivation and practice.
'They used phrases about the Glazers such as "safe custodians" and "intentions are honourable",' said Walsh. 'It's almost as if the football authorities and the Government are in cahoots. They seem wedded to this takeover business model.
'What about their fit and proper person test? Thaksin Shinawatra? It is so frustrating. They don't see an alternative. We do.'
FC United are not naïve, they exist in the real economy and need 1,300 fans to break even. They pay their semi-pro players - the top earner is on £150 per week - they seek and attract sponsorship and they sell merchandise.
If they get permission to build their new stadium, two more promotions would see them in the Blue Square Premier, already reached by self-starting forerunners AFC Wimbledon.
'There is nothing wrong with commercialism,' said Walsh, 'but our argument is that it should be used to subsidise tickets.'
FC United have 1,100 season ticket holders who this season have been reassurasked to pay what they can afford - £90 has been recommended as a minimum, the average is £120. The club has a thriving community scheme, although Premier League clubs are also very active in that sphere.
Aside from whispered support from former Manchester United players, there is no relationship with Old Trafford. Walsh says 'the vast majority' of FC United followers remain Manchester United fans. But ticket prices have risen under the Glazers; the very thing which FC United's founders warned of five years ago.
'Fans can't afford to go,' said Walsh. 'It's not just at Manchester United. Football in this country is woven into its social fabric. When clubs were formed they often had a social purpose and part of that purpose was community cohesion. That is being meddled with. And that's wrong.'