THE colours of Newton Heath being worn by disillusioned fans at Old Trafford has been one of the enduring images of the season. As the anger towards the Glazers has increased so has the number of green and gold scarves appearing in the crowd at Manchester United matches. In a desperate attempt to appease their supporters the club has announced a freeze on season ticket prices. Yet yesterday, a far more significant announcement was made in one of the world’s most famous footballing cities.
FC United of Manchester, the protest club set up following the arrival of the Glazers here in 2005, revealed it is moving to the place where it all started in 1878. After five years sharing with Bury at Gigg Lane, and getting better crowds than some League Two teams, the club affectionately known by its fans as FC is not only looking to relocate to Manchester, it is set to move to Newton Heath.
Providing they get planning consent and approval from residents, this will be a momentous occasion for FC’s general manager Andy Walsh, the man who led the mass walk out from the Old Trafford terraces when the Glazers rolled into town. Walsh helped set up a fan owned club which now has more than 2,000 members.They pride themselves on not having shirt sponsors and, for the current campaign, season ticket holders were told to pay what they can afford.
Yet after promotions in their first three seasons, they are currently mid-table in the UniBond League Premier Division and desperately need their own ground. Walsh said “There is historical significance with the area but it is not just about that. It is about us building for the future and we are all very excited. It’s about two miles north of the city centre so it is a lot closer than Bury.
Let Walsh take up this remarkable story.
“We need to raise about half of the £3.5million it will cost to move, but if we can do it, we could be in our new home by 2012. It would be a massive thing for us and it would help the club progress. We’ve always said that FC United is a positive alternative, we are all Manchester United fans, all of us.
It has been quite a rollercoaster of a journey and a very steep learning curve. There have been more ups than downs. When we first started this, we said we’d be happy with a 1,000 people. In the first season, we were getting crowds of over 3,000. Now, we are getting crowds of over 2,000. Inevitably, there would be a settling down period but to still be getting League Two crowds is a real achievement. It is down to the loyalty of the supporters and what we are doing.
They believe there is a different way of running football clubs. We have also enjoyed a lot of support from other clubs, particularly AFC Wimbledon who found themselves in a similar situation. We have a lot of people who stopped going to Old Trafford in 2005 but also a lot of people who have stopped going since then. Manchester United have repeatedly increased their prices and taken advantage of the fans’ loyalty, we knew this would happen when the Glazers arrived.
Last year, as we were in a recession, the board had a discussion on how we could do something different so we told the fans to pay what they could afford. We gave £90 as a guideline. The interesting thing was the year before, the average price paid was £140. When we said pay what you can afford, it went up to £160. We had one guy contact us and said he could not afford £90, but at the other end people gave us over £700 as that was the price of their season ticket at Old Trafford. As the Glazers increased their prices, perversely, it’s benefited us”
FC United are looking to rebuild and renovate the Ten Acres Lane sports centre in Newton Heath.The capacity of the ground will be 5,000 yet if FC United end up in the Conference, which seems likely, they could easily fill that. FC United had a league game on Wednesday and ironically, ahead of their big announcement, they suffered their heaviest ever defeat, losing 5-1 to Bradford Park Avenue.Yet the atmosphere was hardly like your average non-league match and it was noisier than some home matches at Old Trafford.
There were plenty of anti Glazer songs, along with those aimed at Liverpool, Manchester City and Leeds. Speaking to fans afterwards, none have regretted tearing up their Old Trafford season tickets even though it was initially a tough decision particularly as many United supporters labelled them with the ‘Judas’ tag.
Like many football followers, they were simply sick to the back teeth of being squeezed dry for cash. Admittedly, you can still buy FC United souvenirs for a few quid. But whereas Manchester United can boast a megastore, FC United have a mega-cabin. Now the question is whether boss Karl Marginson who has been at the club from day one, can get the club into Conference North.
But the £5,000 it costs to stage a game at Gigg Lane is a heavy drain on resources, despite their support. Walsh added: “Our top earner is on £150 and the average is £90. We want players to come and play for the club without money being a major factor.”
Walsh smiles when asked about one day facing Manchester United in a first team game, potentially in the Carling Cup in a few years. But he has not ruled out the chance of the club establishing a link with Old Trafford if a supporters’ trust takes over “It would be good if there was a relationship, if United became fan owned. But as long as the Glazers are there it will never happen”
There can be no doubt that the people behind this new club have their heart in the right place but there must also be a little discomfort to think that fans who had supported Manchester United all their life found it necessary to walk away from it. It’s very possible that the Glazers are a mere symptom of their grievances with the major disillusionment being with the road that football itself has chosen to take.
Although their objections are very real, it’s simply not possible for a club like Manchester United to pretend that it’s a community club run along the lines that FC United people demand while competing in a 2010 cut throat world of professional football. Yes, the name of Barcelona, Real Madrid and a few others are successfully run along those lines but they have been doing it for decades and know no other way. Government support which under the British political system cannot be given to clubs like United is also a major factor in the way that the likes of those two Spanish giants are able to survive.
Whether we like it or not football has moved in a totally new direction to the one that many people have been accustomed to. Even previously conservative organisations like FIFA has had to learn to live with the commercial realities which are demanded today. Manchester United has been around for over 100 years and it was only possible for it to thrive by adapting to ever evolving circumstances. Despite the many sins which the Glazer family has committed against it, the great club will continue to prosper and remain amongst the elite of world football.
Is FC United proving to be a hindrance to the future of Manchester United Football Club?