March 22, 2011
FC United volunteers move around Bury’s Gigg Lane like bees – programme sellers, stewards, receptionists and turnstile operators.
They’re industrious, enthusiastic and share a common aim of working towards a place the breakaway club can call home.
Gigg Lane has served a purpose for FC, but it’s too big for a club playing in the seventh level of English football. Average league gates are holding up at just under the 2,000 mark, but no matter how many of its 11,000 blue seats are dressed up with red, white and black tricolours, Gigg Lane remains an uneasy fit for a team who play in red and whose fans prefer the option of terracing.
Bury is also too far from Manchester and the rent which FC pay is a heavy drain on the finances of a non-league club, whose total wage bill for their playing staff is £1,600 a week.
There would be pressure to increase that figure on the club’s already tight finances if FC continue their current surge and get promoted to the Conference North. They were in the relegation places in January but have since risen to seventh.
Promotion might be the priority for the team who reached this season’s FA Cup second round, but the bigger aim at the club is building a ground.
Fans have been raising funds for a new home for a couple of years, with nearly £1.5m pledged towards a new 5,000-capacity ground on Ten Acres Lane in Newton Heath and over £350,000 raised by a cash donations.
Ten Acres may have been a stone’s throw from the City of Manchester stadium and the grand plans which the Blues have to develop the area, but it’s also where Manchester United started life in 1878. FC fans were stunned two weeks ago when they learned that their plans for the proposed ground at Ten Acres Lane would not go ahead.
The news came after FC’s partners at Manchester City Council announced a review of the project. Hamstrung by spending cuts which have affected many areas, the city council want to explore other sites for FC’s new home.
“We had a lot of questions and concerns,” said FC’s general manager Andy Walsh. “We asked the council a direct question – is this because of City and will City be handed Ten Acres Lane?
“The straight answer was ‘no’. There has been a renewed energy and urgency about our discussions. The council have given us a commitment that the review will be completed by the end of March.”
Walsh also understands the reasons for the cuts which led the to council’s decision.
“We have to be mindful that nurseries are having their provisions cut in Manchester and people are losing their jobs,” he said.
“We’re a football club and, important as people think we are, people’s livelihood’s are at stake elsewhere.”
The city council have other sites in mind for the new ground, but losing Ten Acres still shocked the FC community and 330 concerned fans turned up for a meeting at short notice.
“There were a lot of difficult questions,” added Walsh, “but at the end of the meeting the mood was one of resolution that we will overcome this.”
Decisions still need to be made with regards to financing, grants and community shares, but one site in North Manchester is the favourite location, with FC fans trusting Walsh that the club will get it right.
“We believe that if everything comes to pass, we’ll have a better site,” said Walsh. “Personally, I feel very excited about it. We’ve got to focus on getting into our own ground by August 2012.”