Sitting up high on the Stretford End at Old Trafford feels like being in the…
A Game at FC United of Manchester
FC United of Manchester is an impressive and inspiring tale of principled supporter ownership. It is also, to these foreign eyes, a somewhat odd, sentimental fantasy world.
Just start with the name, which already tells you that their supporters wanted to support an FC called United that wears red and black and plays in Manchester – just not Manchester United FC.
The origin, if you didn’t already guess it, is pretty straightforward. A group of Manchester United fans got sick of the corporatization of football, of the worship of money, and specifically of United’s ownership, the Glazer family. All perfectly noble, and hard to disagree with – even admitting that this comes from a guy who basically makes his living selling Americans hospitality tickets to clubs like Manchester United.
So let’s say you’re one of these people and you are done with United in its current form. Great. Assuming you live in Manchester – ie, you’re not the subject of so much ridicule, the perhaps-mythological London- or otherwhere-based fan of United – but in fact you live in or around Manchester, and you want a different club to support.
To suggest there are many to choose from would be to understate things considerably. Football league, non-league, you name it; there are dozens of clubs nearby. But these folks decided to start their own club, which is about as Utopian and idealistic as you can get. Very much good on them.
And they didn’t just start a club, they started a model club for everything they stand for: major decisions made by one vote per member; no shirt sponsors; made admission as affordable as possible; and resolved to remain a nonprofit. They have 5,000 members, making them the second-biggest supporter-owned club in the country.
They had to share a ground for a while, with of all clubs another model of what’s wrong with football, Bury FC, who literally went out of business because of terrible owners and the role of money in the modern game. They started in the 10th tier and quickly earned three promotions; today they play in the Northern Premier League Premier Division at tier 7.
Eventually, the owner-supporters of FC United built their own ground, and a lovely one at that. Broadhurst Park has capacity of 4,700, most of it standing, especially in a big terrace behind one goal that’s the source of most of the noise – famed for including a huge variety of songs.
They slung banners all over it with messages like “Makin’ friends, not millionaires,” “The Times They Are a-Changing,” “A Woman’s Place is at the Match,” and “More Women at Football.” They got pies (more on that in a bit) from a local bakery, beer from a local brewery, and even have some kind of book lending library.
Hell, they even got Benfica to send a youth side for a friendly. But as a taste of the kind of club they are, when the board decided to raise the price of programs for that game, the editor resigned in protest.
All utterly amazing and inspiring. I guess I just don’t get why they had to make it a mini-Man-United. Among the scarves on the wall are several from Manchester United. There’s a tribute to the Munich Air Disaster. There are pictures of Manchester United FC’s 1999 treble-winners on the wall next to the FC United of Manchester team photo.
I think another sign explains it pretty well: “Still Fans, No Longer Financial Supporters.” They have simply put their money where their principles are. They support their old club, or maybe a frozen-in-amber version of what they believe their club used to be, but they choose not to put more money into the pockets of the Glazers or the modern football global elite. They choose instead to do things their own way – and, for their own reasons, still support a red-and-black clad team in Manchester called United.
Seeing a Game at FC United of Manchester
But let’s just say that you didn’t know any of this, that you somehow inhabit a world where you didn’t know about the existence of Manchester United or, therefore, the origin of United of Manchester. Let’s say you just happened upon a game happening at Broadhurst Park and went in to check it out.
You might stop and chat with the program seller, who would tell you they’ve had the same manager for five years now, because they don’t just fire people when things get tough. The first manager lasted 12 seasons. While you’re chatting with him, a few others will come say hello, catch your accent, welcome you, and invite you into the bar for a postgame pint – and to meet the current manager, for that matter.
Then you might go into the stadium, check out the folks selling snacks and old programs, then head into the bar, looking for a pregame bite, and discover the existence of a thing called a Lancashire Kebab. You would, if you were me, immediately order this thing, just to see what it is. This would garner you the enthusiastic welcome and well-dones of a certain pie evangelist who will, with a constant beaming smile on his bearded face, proceed to take a chicken curry pie, place it upside-down on half of a white bread roll, slap a samosa on top of it, slather onto that a combination of garlic yoghurt and hot sauce, put the other half of the roll on top of all that, press down, hand it over, and make your day. As the evangelist will tell you, in Lancashire all food is improved by placing it on, or in, white bread. Preach on, good sir.
After all of that, you can listen to some live music and then go take your place on the terrace, perhaps next to the man with the spaniels, or perhaps in the vicinity of the youth team which will play a game at halftime, or perhaps on the side close enough to hear what the manager is yelling to the players. You can admire the smattering of away support down the other end – a hearty half-coach-load of folks from Barnoldswick Town of the North West Counties League Premier Division (tier 9), in for a First Round Qualifying match in the FA Cup. And you can tell yourself you need to get to a game at Barnoldswick Town (home ground: Greenberfield Lane), if only because one of their banners says something about the Sewer End. And you need to know what the Sewer End is all about.
In other words, you can go and watch a proper game of non-league football. For like £10. And the kebab was £5.
So I suppose it doesn’t matter what they call it, or what colors it wears. The fact is, some folks who didn’t like the overall direction of big-time modern football, and specifically the assholes that took over their beloved club, went and started their own thing. And it’s a really cool thing. Next time you’re in Manchester to see a game at one of those big-time clubs, keep a few quid out the pocket of the Glazers and put it into the supporter-own club out in Marston. They will be more than happy to see you, and you will have a nice day out.