FC United is a football club forged in the brazier of protest – a protest at the Glazer family’s ownership of Manchester United.
That this football minnow should now be on the receiving end of protest over the location of its first stadium bears a certain irony.
FC United had aspired to create its first home at Ten Acre Lane in Newton Heath. This was a site of enormous historical significance, since Manchester United evolved from a railway works team founded in Newton Heath in 1878.
The cuts made necessary by the savagely-reduced government grant settlement to Manchester city council meant the withdrawal of the council’s £600,000 funding for FC United’s stadium plan and a search for a new site.
The Ronald Johnson playing fields in Moston were the next choice for FC’s 5,000-capacity stadium. But this has not gone down well with local residents. Almost a thousand have signed a petition in opposition, with only a handful of locals expressing support for the proposal, say campaigners.
These residents do not just complain about crowds, cars, and the possible drunken rowdyism associated with football. They also have a principled objection, that this land was gifted to the public, and that nothing was supposed to be built here.
Local councillor Paul Murphy confirms that there is a covenant on the land, and this is a matter which will involve the Charity Commission.
There is another vital stakeholder in all this. Moston Juniors have a lease on this site until 2032, running 20 teams, from under-sixes to an adult first team. Whatever happens with FC United’s aspirations must not interfere with all these other teams from lower down football’s food chain.
So far FC United talk a good game. Football would only be played here 25 to 30 days a year, says Andy Walsh, general manager of the team. The new stadium would be even more accessible to the community than at present. Moston Juniors would be helped, not hindered.
This will be, one suspects, a long and tight match which may run into extra time. But it is absolutely vital that FC United and the city council find the reassurances necessary to make this happen with residents’ approval, not in the teeth of their opposition.
If FC United stands for anything, it stands for the idea of a football club for the people, not the vested interests. To build FC United’s first home in the midst of people who don’t want it would be a contradiction of its own founding principles.