“It won’t last beyond Christmas,” “It will all end in tears”; they were just two of the many comments thrown the way of FC United of Manchester back in 2005 when the club were formed by disillusioned and fed up Manchester United fans. Ten years on from those throwaway comments they’re still here, thriving, surviving and striving to be different from the rest. This a football club made by the fans, owned by the fans and now, ten years after their formation, they are playing in their own ground that was part funded by the fans too. FC United of Manchester (FCUM) are a living, breathing and shinning example of what fan power can ultimately achieve if a collection of fans decide the time has come to turn their backs and say enough is enough and change must happen.
After the takeover of Manchester United in 2005 by the Glazer brothers, their leveraged buyout of the club plunged the once debt-free Manchester giants into debt to the whopping tune of £790 million! For many loyal and passionate Manchester United fans this was the straw that finally broke the camels back. Despite months of protests by United fans, which included a very visual Gold and Green scarf campaign on display at Old Trafford in homage to their Newton Heath roots, the Glaziers still pressed ahead with their takeover against the fans’ wishes and finally took power inside Old Trafford in May 2005. For some United fans the takeover symbolised the broken bond that ties supporters to a football club for life, whilst for others it was the vast sums of millions now paid to the Premiership players, the ridiculously high ticket prices charged by Premier League clubs and the general disillusionment with top level football in England that made them wonder if there was a different way.
A football club should always be part of and give back to the community what it has originated from, but for thousands of Manchester United fans the club they loved and were loyal to had morphed into a debt-ridden financial giant where million pound sponsorship deals were the order of the day and not the concerns of those who held the club close to their hearts; the fans. Those loyal fans also now believed they would be seen as consumers to be fleeced at every opportunity via sky high ticket prices, expensive United branded merchandise, and match day hospitality packages. Many felt the Glazers would use the money the fans put into the club to help pay back the vast debt and interest the club now had to service. For many their club had become a profit-driven monster first and a football club second.
The idea to start a brand new football club wasn’t necessarily high up on concerned fans agendas after the Glazer takeover, then late in the summer of 2005 a group of fans came together and, led by the current FCUM general manager, Andy Walsh, held two meetings in Manchester’s Central Methodist Hall and one at the Apollo theatre in Ardwick. This is where the formation of a new club was suggested as an alternative by the fans who wanted real change. On the 5th July 2005 FC United of Manchester was born and held its first ever AGM. Then on the 16th July 2005, after hundreds of players had turned up for trials in the days and weeks beforehand, 11 players took to the field in an emotionally charged friendly against Leigh RMI, which was watched by 2552 supporters; many high on the intoxicating vibe of this brand new venture.
The majority of those 2552 supporters present at Leigh’s Hilton Park ground that barmy afternoon were there to cheer on FCUM, and in the process they had done what many had thought was unthinkable, they had walked away from the club that they once loved and were once loyal to and decided to start again. It was quite a remarkable statement to the Glazer brothers and the watching footballing world. However, by walking away from Old Trafford they had taken their tentative first steps on a remarkable journey with a new club they now owned and that would be playing their first ever season in the tenth tier of English football, the North West Counties League Division Two, for the 2005/2006 season. This was a league that was so far removed from the glitz and glamour of the Premier League and the trophy-laden Manchester United teams these fans had become used to and many said it wouldn’t last beyond the first Christmas. How wrong they were, which was to be proved as the years rolled by complete with League titles, promotions, big crowds coming through the turnstiles, records continually being set and then broken, new friendships made and an unbelievable story that Hollywood script writers would have struggled to come up with.
That historic first ever season saw over 100,000 come through the turnstiles and watch an FC United game, a staggering amount for that level of football but a real testament to the power and will of those who wanted change, walked away and formed a football club that now belonged and was owned by them.
On the 29th May 2015, almost ten years exactly to the day in July 2005 when the club were born, a Benfica B team turned up at an emotionally charged Broadhurst Park, the new home FC United of Manchester located in the Motson area of Manchester, to play a friendly against FC United. The match itself was watched by just over 4,200 fans, some with tears in their eyes as the realisation of quite what had been achieved in the space of ten years had reached the high point of that journey, Nevetherless, this is still a journey that is far from complete and has many more words to be written about it and many more moments for this unique set of fans to saviour. There was also tears shed for those lost along the way too, the likes of Russell Delaney who passed away in November 2005 but played a huge roll in help setting in the club.
The 2015/16 season is the first for FCUM playing in the National League North Division, the highest level that they have played at to date. They began 2016 and the second half of the season with a visit from Bradford Park Avenue.
Saturday 2nd January 2016 – National North – FC United of Manchester 2 v 1 Bradford Park Avenue – Attendance – 3379
As the New Year began and the memories of 2015 faded away over the horizon, it won’t have gone unnoticed to many FCUM fans that their current Manager, Karl Marginson, is now half way through his tenth season, whilst across the city at Old Trafford the current manager of Manchester United, Louis Van Gaal, has just lost four straight games and is constantly being asked the question by the media if he will be sacked or not despite being in the job for less than two years.
Karl Marginson has probably seen it all in his ten years at the club, and despite a few hiccups along the way which included three Playoff failures in the Northern Premier League, the board at FCUM have stuck by their man throughout and he finally delivered the Northern Premier League Championship and promotion double in May 2015. Welcoming the FCUM supporters back to Broadhurst Park for the start of the 2016 in his programme notes, Marginson again highlighted that this first season playing in a new division and the club’s new home was a fact-finding mission, but the team’s focus was going to be maintained as they continued to work hard to achieve results which will hopefully pull the club away from the relegation places in the National League North.
This game has been dedicated as a ‘Big Coat’ day at Broadhurst Park, as supporters were asked to bring their unwanted winter coats with them to give away to local charities. FC United’s Big Coat day had begun ten years earlier when a Sky Sports reporter had asked an FC United fan what he would do when winter came around standing in the exposed grounds of the North West Counties League, his reply being, “I’ll just wear my big coat.”
A visit to Broadhurst Park feels like a throwback to the old days of football when steep terraces behind the goal were commonplace inside football grounds in the UK, and the home fans were already making their voices heard behind the goal on the St Mary’s Road terrace long before the players emerged from the changing rooms. The whole atmosphere inside the ground was of a friendly nature with fans greeting each other like long lost relatives as they came through the turnstiles ready to cheer on their heroes in red. The main stand is made up of 850 seats with terrace areas at the front. The rest of the ground is made up of flat standing areas but what brings the stadium alive is the colour of the many flags that are hanging from the walls displaying the passion and defiance that seeps from every corner of this ground. It’s difficult to imagine just where else in the UK a ground would display a banner with the words, ‘Making friends not millionaires’. It’s what makes this football club so very different and admired by so many.
“Bring on United” echoed around the ground as the players emerged from the tunnel ready to do battle with their Yorkshire visitors. The referee put the whistle to his mouth to signal the start of the match as his watch ticked over to 3:00pm, and by 3:03pm the home fans were in full celebration as Matthew Wolfenden opened the scoring for the home side. An in-swinging cross was wiped into the box and Wolfenden was the player who got the crucial final touch to divert the ball into the net. It was a just reward for the home side’s positive attacking start to the game. The goal was the signal for the FCUM fans to rise the noise levels further as the bar scarves were waved around in celebration.
However, if the majority of the 3000+ inside the ground believed this was the start of a home team onslaught they were mistaken. The visitors didn’t let the goal affect them and started to work their way back into the game. They went close on a number of occasions but couldn’t break through as the home side defended well. Then on 34 minutes Bradford lost the ball in the FCUM half, FCUM then sprung a quick counter attack which was finished off by George Thomson as he ran clear to cooly slot the ball under the goalkeeper after a fantastic pass played him in. The fans inside Broadhurst Park were now in fine voice as song after song was bellowed out in support of their team.
The second half continued in much the same fashion with both sides looking to get forward, but as the game wore on the home players did start to drop deeper to protect what they had, inviting Park Avenue onto them. Eventually the away side pulled a goal back in the 82nd minute as a fine solo effort from Lamin Colley suddenly had FCUM fans nervously looking at their watches and praying for the final whistle.
In the closing minutes, Park Avenue twice went close to levelling things up as FCUM clung on to their now slender lead. Craig King was first to go close when he was clear through and bearing down on goal after a FCUM player slipped to let him in, only to be denied by Dave Carnell in the home goal who was quick off his line. There was one final scare for the home fans to endure as the ball kept coming back at the FCUM goal. A poor ball was played back to Carnell by his defender Carnell quick reaction to put in a strong sliding challenge denied the Bradford player bearing down on him.
The final whistle eventually came to the relief of the FCUM fans as 2016 began with a win for the rebels and their passionate fans.
As those smiling fans slipped away onto the streets around the ground with the heavy rain having finally let up, you couldn’t help but wonder where the next part of FCUM’s journey will take these unique set of supporters. Either way, be it up or down the divisions, these fans will still be here in defiance against the Glazers and David Gill. As one of the signs proudly displays inside Broadhurst Park,“David Gill look, fans can run a football club”. I couldn’t agree more.