Funny, isn’t it, how Wayne Rooney’s concerns about the ambition and long-term stability of Manchester United evaporated as soon as Sir Alex Ferguson agreed to double his salary?
By Simon Briggs
Published: 7:30AM BST 25 Oct 2010
But there are plenty more people in the city who remain unconvinced. Some 2,000 of them turn out regularly to watch FC United of Manchester, the club formed five years ago as a symbol of discontent over the Glazers’ takeover.
Perhaps there is an element of nose-cutting and face-spiting to FC United’s supporters, who have swapped the artistry of Ryan Giggs and Dimitar Berbatov for the rather earthier charms of Jerome Wright — an office administrator from Wythenshawe — and Mike Norton, last year’s top scorer in the Evo-Stick League One Division North.
But there is also something heart-warming about a group of ordinary fans who are prepared to stand up against the corporate tyranny of Premier League football. As a neutral, you had to root for them on Sunday at Gigg Lane, the ground they hire from Bury FC, as they battled for a place in the first round in the FA Cup proper.
According to manager Karl Marginson, formerly a midfielder for Macclesfield and at least a dozen non-League clubs, this tie against Barrow was the biggest match in the short history of FC United. It was also a match they were expected to lose, on the basis that Barrow play in the Conference, two flights higher up on the ladder of non-league football.
But, from the way the game unfolded, you would never have guessed that the ‘Red Rebels’ had come in as underdogs. Marginson sent them out with instructions to enjoy themselves, and the mood was set as early as the second minute when Wright produced a flashy step-over to release Lee Neville (yes, even these Reds have a Neville at full-back) for a raid down the wing.
Wright, a 24-year-old who had a promising junior career at Oldham, proved to be the star of the show. A left-footed winger, he was on a different plane to the players around him — the Lionel Messi of Gigg Lane. He drew three fine saves from Barrow keeper Shaun Pearson during the match, and put in another shot that was almost turned in by Norton.
On the opposite wing, Carlos Roca, whose exotic name disguises his roots in nearby Withington, was having a quiet match by comparison.
But football can be a contrary beast, and it was Roca who wound up scoring the decisive goal in a 1-0 win. It came in the 77th minute, the result of a scuffed shot from Norton that ricocheted into his path some five yards out. A lucky goal, perhaps, but then no one could dispute that FC United were the better team on the day.
Given that this club were formed as a protest against the debt-laden ownership of Manchester United, it was ironic to discover the nature of Roca’s day job. “I’m a loan sales advisor,” he explained, which means that he helps people to service their own personal debt crises.
“I’ll be back in the office tomorrow, and I doubt anyone will have a clue what I did this weekend.”
Still, his goal will no doubt win him hero status among FC United’s fans, who were magnificently noisy throughout.
“You just don’t see scenes like that at this level,” said Marginson. “Now we’ve got Rochdale in the next round, which should make us a few quid to help us build our own ground.”
And there’s another irony. As FC United struggle to pay the rent at Gigg Lane, the club that rejected the evils of market forces now find themselves back at the mercy of economics all over again. Only without so many zeros at the end.