Ashley Shaw assesses the challenges ahead for FC United of Manchester, freed from the clutches of Malcolm Glazer and now starting out at the botom of the pyramid
A new season, a new club and an entirely fresh set of problems for Manchester United’s disaffected supporters. Having seen their club narrowly fail to lift the FA Cup last May, following a season where failure meant third place in the Premiership and defeat to AC Milan in the San Siro, Reds disgruntled to the point of anarchy with the Glazer takeover have turned their backs on their life-long devotion to form a new club, FC United of Manchester (FCUM) at the foot of the football pyramid.
Clearly, the prospect of trading in support of a successful and glamorous team for one intended to make a point might not be everyone’s cup of tea. In a modern world where instant success often comes too late, the majority are going to stick with MUFC, whoever owns them. Yet forming FCUM was the only logical step for a section of supporters brought up within the radical traditions of the club and the city it represents.
Moreover, by trading the glamour of the Champions League for the cold comforts of the North West Counties League Two, supporters have at a stroke emancipated themselves from the slavery of the modern-day Premiership fan. Such concerns as TV dictated kick-off times, inflated ticket prices and how to get to the more obscure parts of eastern Europe for a Champions League qualifier have been replaced by the novelty of light or non-existent stewarding, the opportunity to stand without threat or entreaty from mob-handed “security” goons – the availability of cheap, honest food and drink, £10 pay-at-the-gate admission and away trips that go no further than Blackpool all add to the feelgood factor at their historic first fixture, against Leigh.
The success or otherwise of FCUM lies in the future but on the evidence of this sunny Saturday afternoon, the club has got off to a decent start. An official attendance of 2,552 for an otherwise meaningless friendly should ensure the club’s popularity with their peers and that support is in lively mood, consuming chips and lager in the sunshine and proclaiming FC United as “the only club in Manchester that’s free of debt”.
Out on the pitch, the standard of football might lack the flair of a Ronaldo or a Rooney but the players’ commitment to the immediate future of FC United is not in doubt – their work-rate surprising a Leigh team four tiers above them in the football pyramid. Strong first-half performances from the likes of former Port Vale man Steve Torpey and (grandson of United great Charlie) Jonathan Mitten hint at a cutting edge while the passion on display from the men in red clearly overwhelms a Leigh team whose supporters can’t bring themselves to make their presence felt until the second half. It also appears that United have found themselves an able keeper in Barry George. A string of fine saves either side of half-time maintains the club’s as yet perfect defensive record. A 0-0 scoreline is a fair result with Leigh RMI looking to recover following their relegation from the Conference last term and FCUM still sorting the wheat from the chaff.
At least, after the spleen-venting of the close season, fans can now focus on the positive. The directors of FCUM are at pains to point out that their club isn’t just a reaction to Glazer’s takeover – even if the acronym could be construed as a provocative acronym to a certain ginger chairman – but a statement of intent. The fans behind this venture have an idealised view of how a football club should be run. Ultimately they wanted a say in how MUFC was run before the illusion of co-operation was shattered by both the Glazer deal and the subsequent non-resignation of David Gill despite his misgivings about the new owner. So you could regard FC United as an exercise in occupational therapy – keeping fans’ minds focused on this new venture while simultaneously releasing themselves from the new MUFC and the popcorn-munching disaster they feel it will become.
For the FCUM directors this promises to be a trying season. Following a club is all very well; setting one up is an entirely different proposition. Important questions that used to be out of supporters’ hands are suddenly their problem. The sight of director Andy Walsh diving into the crowd after half-time to prevent inebriated fans from hurling plastic pint pots into the goalmouth was a comment on the adjustment both directors and fans have to make. Misbehaviour is fine when there are hundreds of stewards ensuring it doesn’t turn into anarchy – self-policing is another matter altogether and it will take a while for United’s foot soldiers to heed the message that acceptable behaviour at one end of the pyramid is frowned on at the other.
From WSC 223 September 2005. What was happening this month