More battles ahead for FC United of Manchester after Play-Off heartache
FC United of Manchester have now suffered the heartache of three successive Evo-Stick Northern Premier League playoff final defeats after last weekend’s 2-1 loss to Hednesford Town. A bumper crowd of more than 4000 attended the game at Cross Keys, swelled by a swath of fans that had made the short trip down the M6.
The early history of the club included three back-to-back promotions, but FC United now appear to have found themselves at a level of competition that is providing a real challenge to their progression. The red rebels will be vowing to try and win automatic promotion in next season’s campaign, to avoid having to face the playoffs for a fourth time.
Back in April, the club held its annual “Youth United” day. A day of family and community-friendly events culminated in free entry to the match versus Worksop Town for both children and students from colleges local to their temporary home of Gigg Lane, Bury. Youth groups, football teams, dance troupes, families and groups of young mates added to the crowd and a carnival was created.
Average attendances have actually slowly declined season upon season, but have settled just below 2000 – still healthy for a club in the seventh tier of English football that exists without their own home. But, like most clubs at any level you could name, enticing more fans through the gates is a constant battle. Just ask FC United’s landlords, Bury FC, about their problems.
In the current age, football from leagues all around the world is available to watch from the comfort of your own home, or down the pub – be it through official means or not. That makes days such as Youth United day (and also Senior’s Day, which the club runs as well) important fixtures in the calendar and similar to schemes that many other football clubs run to bring in the punters.
But FC United of Manchester is not an ordinary football club. Originally formed as a protest vehicle against – or at least an alternative to – the Malcolm Glazer takeover of Manchester United, ticket prices, football as business and modern football in general. FC United are a giant amongst the clubs that currently surround them and looking around Gigg Lane during the match, despite the overriding blue of the seating and the stands that show the identity of their landlords, it is clear to see the roots of FC United.
Red, White and Black flags adorn every spare railing and wall space; Red Issue, that most (in)famous of Manchester United fanzines is sold outside the ground; a “mega-cabin” sits at the entrance, the non-league version of “big” United’s imposing megastore, selling all manner of United-coloured paraphernalia. Manchester United is woven in to the very fabric of the shirts, flags and scarves and hearts and minds of this still fledgling club.
As seen in the match programme, an article charting a Manchester United supporter trip to the 1968 European Cup Semi-Final second leg in Madrid ended with the words, “[this story] goes to show the deep United history that exists at the club our fans have created. Hopefully, that red thread will continue for years to come.” But will that “red thread” continue?
The club’s raison d’etre was to provide a haven for disenfranchised Manchester United supporters. Will this history in fact become a burden and continue to shape the future of the club? The Glazer family have stuck it out so far and appear to have ridden the storm at Old Trafford, with success still being delivered to the faithful. Can FC United continue to draw from that particular source or will the well run dry?
At an AGM back in 2006, following the club’s successful start to life, future hopes were laid out. These included building their own home and developing and consolidating an average attendance of 5000.
Setbacks have hampered both of those visions, but the issue of settling in to the club’s very own ground does at least appear to be nearing a climax. Planning permission has been granted to build in the working class Manchester suburb of Moston, not far from the original home of Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Football Club (the precursor, of course, to Manchester United). A site actually within Newton Heath had originally been targeted, but later shelved due to council funding issues.
The Moston Community Stadium is planned to be built on Ronald Johnson Playing Fields (in another act of near-synergy with the parent club, remember Ronnie Johnsen?), the current home of the Moston Juniors U18s football clubs – who are entering in to partnership with FC United and will be accommodated at the sports complex that will accompany the stadium.
This new plan has not been without its problems and some local residents objected to the removal of one of the few green spaces in the area. Fears were aired as to parking and traffice problems, large crowds and litter – resulting in the case being taken all the way to judicial review, eventually falling in favour of the club.
A new battle for FC United, therefore, is that of trying to get all the locals on side. The club has proved many times that it can be a force for good and will bang the community focussed drum loudly, hoping to win over those opposed to the club’s arrival.