While Wayne Rooney was celebrating his new contract, a very different success story was being played out across town
o David Conn
o The Guardian, Wednesday 27 October 2010
FC United of Manchester FC United of Manchester fans welcome the team onto the pitch before their FA Cup tie against Barrow. Photograph: Javier Garcia/Back Page Images
As a palate cleanser following last week's gluttony in Manchester – where Sir Alex Ferguson, David Gill and Paul Stretford, with City waiting, negotiated to crowbar £180,000 a week out of the Glazer family for Wayne Rooney – Gigg Lane, Bury, on Sunday, was a refreshing place to be.
There, 2,700 fans who turned away from the whole Old Trafford money game in 2005 roared their own club, FC United of Manchester, to a nerve‑shredding 1-0 victory over Barrow in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round, sending FCUM through to play League One Rochdale in the first round proper a week on Friday, live on ESPN. Barrow, who play in the Conference Premier, brought 500 and the crowd, of 3,229, was bigger than those at four of Saturday's League Two matches.
Carlos Roca, who has played in the Football League for Oldham and reached the FA Cup third round with Northwich, at Sunderland in 2006, said it was "amazing" to score the winner. "We players understand the passion the supporters have," the 26-year-old said, "that it is all about this club being theirs, and it is a great feeling."
"Who ever would have thought it?" wondered Tony Jordan, the fan who, at Old Trafford, started the famous Stretford End banner logging City's years without a trophy. "That we'd feel as elated as this about going to Rochdale – as underdogs?"
Such is the revolution being celebrated at FCUM, the club the fans formed to embody their preferred values after the Glazers bought United with their half billion pound borrowings and loaded them on to the club to repay. For these Reds, their last United match was when they wore black to mourn the Glazer takeover at the 2005 FA Cup final, which Arsenal won on penalties. And for all the trophies United won after that, these fans have never been back, sticking instead with the manager Karl Marginson and his willing group of semi-pros, now battling such teams as Stocksbridge Steels Swifts in the Evo‑Stik League's Premier Division.
"Watching the Rooney saga made me very glad I'm not still there, paying Rooney's wages and the Glazers' interest," said Mike Turton, an FCUM founder member, at Gigg Lane with his wife, Gill, and children Ryan, Thomas and Danielle. "But we feel quite remote from all that now. We feel this is our club, doing things the right way."
Although the odd anti-Glazer tune still features in 90 minutes of ceaseless singing – "Glazer, wherever you may be/You bought Old Trafford but you can't buy me," goes one – FCUM are gradually growing more distinct from "Big" United as they work to forge their own story. Owned by the supporters, 300 of whom volunteer in vital tasks, community work is woven into the club's sense of purpose and written into its constitution. They are now striving to embed the club in Manchester football by raising £3.5m to build a stadium, in Newton Heath, where the whole United morality tale began.
The development, on a sports centre site in the deprived inner-city district, will incorporate a high-quality 11-a-side artificial grass pitch, renovated sports hall and club house, all for community use. Manchester city council, seeing the benefits of such a project in the area, is providing a £650,000 grant and revenue support in the first three years.
Fundraising is targeted to raise £500,000 and the club is applying for other sports-based grants but the largest single element of funding is a planned £1.5m investment from supporters and others who want to see the club succeed. The "community shares", designed by Kevin Jaquiss, a partner at Cobbetts, lawyers for the co-operative movement, invite investors to support the project for the long term.
Subscribers can invest as much money as they want to and commit to it not being withdrawn for three years, and after that only in 10% chunks, allowing security for the stadium to be built. After that, the club's business plan projects it will make a sufficient surplus to pay interest up to 2% above the bank base rate, provided its "primary commitment to community benefit" is being met. Investors are expected to receive an immediate 20% tax break on their investment if, as expected, the share offer is approved as an Enterprise Investment Scheme, which supports social entrepreneurial projects.
The share offer preserves the democracy of FCUM; however much investors put in, as members of the club they will still have the same single vote as others who have paid their £12 annual membership fee. That is highly significant at a club where all the board members, who have a range of senior experience in business, education, local authorities and the NHS, are elected by the supporters.
"This is a unique way of raising money for football clubs," Andy Walsh, FCUM's general manager, said. "This democratises the ownership of the club, putting fans and the community at the heart of it. And while it is difficult to raise money in this way, other smaller clubs could do it, and not have to turn to speculative business investors."
Adam Brown, an FCUM board member who was an appointee to the government's Football Task Force, said: "We feel we are setting a precedent. It is a better alternative to a football club being owned by one businessman. And there is an 'asset lock' in place, so the ground must be used for community benefit; it cannot be sold in future to make a profit."
At FCUM, the fans have transformed hostility to the Edwards family's cashing in on United – Martin Edwards made £93m selling his shares – then revulsion at the Glazers' leveraged exploitation of the club into a positive model of how they would have liked their club to be conducted.
The singing, including some golden oldies which date many fans as Stretford End and United Road veterans of the 1970s and 80s, have a joy, as well as defiance, about them. The banners – Making Friends Not Millionaires, said one; Pies not Prawns, said another – have a laugh, too. There is a tangible relish among FCUM fans about being free from the features of modern football which got them down, even as their own club was cleaning up.
That communicates itself to the players, Marginson said after the match, thrilled with his win. "You just do not get scenes like that at this level," he marvelled, a veteran of the non-leagues, including with Barrow, as a player. "Everything that comes off those stands is positive. There is a belief here that this is what football is all about, not wages of £200,000 a week."
As Marginson and Roca strode off to the dressing room, one of the stalwarts, Vinny Thompson, emerged, looking a little dazed. Previously a regular on United's European campaigns, here he is reinvented – to his own amazement – as a leader in FCUM's community work.
"Some people might wonder why that meant so much," he said, tears forming in his eyes. "It's only the first round of the Cup. But that is five and a half years of dedicated work rewarded. This is fan power. And it works."
Rebels' progress: The FC United story
2005 Formed by fans opposed to the Glazer family's takeover of Manchester United
2006 Promoted as champions from the North West Counties League Second Division
2007 Promoted as champions from the North West Counties League First Division
2008 Promoted as play-off winners from Unibond League First Division North to what has become this season the Evo-Stik League's Premier Division
Sep 2010 Launch "Community Share" investment scheme to raise £1.5m towards a new stadium in Newton Heath
Oct 2010 Reach FA Cup first round