More battles ahead for FC United of Manchester after Play-Off heartache
Since its inception, the club have been incredibly inclusive. A banner hangs along the Les Hart Stand at Gigg Lane, pronouncing, “making friends, not millionaires” and even a cursory glance through the club programme shows adds substance to that claim.
Alongside interviews with new players proclaiming how the supporter’s passion convinced them to join the club are stories of youth projects, tales of the players and club staff on bowling trips with the ballboys and girls (crew) and more senior supporters stating that they have rediscovered their joy of going to the match.
FCUM are never shy of tackling large social problems, either. Another article in the programme on Youth United day told of a supporter who was kicking off his stag weekend at the match. This particular supporter is gay – and as chair of the Gay Football Supporters Network he discussed the difficulties faced in tackling homophobia in football.
In giving voices to these issues, once again the ethos of the club is on display – embracing all and committed to changing both the image of football supporters and the way in which a club can be run – for the benefit of the community and a force for social change.
Making friends in lots of places, consolidating links with AFC Wimbledon and other fan-owned clubs in Britain and even influencing and assisting the growth of similar clubs elsewhere in Europe – such as Spain, where CAP Ciudad de Murcia and UC Ceares have used their example to help shape and reinvent their own club’s destinies. All positives to draw from the FCUM experience.
Yet, as inclusive and welcoming as the club and its supporters are, football remains tribal at its heart. There is still no getting away from the fact that running deep in the veins of every FCUM supporter and to be found in every weave of the fabric of this club there is the DNA of Manchester United.
Sir Alex Ferguson issued a broadswipe against the club in “The Official Manchester United Diary of the Season” in 2006, saying “I wonder just how big a United supporter they are,” and accusing the breakaway reds of self-promotion.
FCUM’s formation already causing friction between some sets of supporters, Sir Alex’s comments didn’t help – and FC United spokesperson commented, “whether the fans stopped going to Old Trafford on a point of principle, or because they could no longer afford the prices, they did so with a heavy heart and remain Manchester United supporters. Those supporters deserve better than this.”
And indeed, those divisions still exist. Supporters who believe FCUM’s fans to be “traitors,” those who follow FCUM who can’t understand why others didn’t also make a stand, those who follow both. Not forgetting that there are supporters who simply can’t afford the trips to the Premier League and attend FCUM as a cheaper “red” alternative.
As a team with such deep-lying ties to Manchester United, though, where will the continuing support come from? Does FCUM continue to mine solely from disenfranchised Reds?
Displaced Manchester City fans are unlikely to identify with them and be enticed, and the “parent” club is such a divisive one that in truth, it probably disconnects them from a lot of football fans. FC United have even become a coveted scalp at non-league level, due to the ties that bind them to Manchester United.
So does the future hold a place for fcum, less as a band of red rebels and more as a third Manchester club in its own right?
This question brings to mind the short-lived story of Manchester Central, a football club formed in 1928, who played in the Belle Vue area of Manchester in what would eventually become the city’s speedway stadium. East Manchester had been stripped of its football clubs in the preceding decades (City moving from nearby West Gorton and Ardwick and United from Newton Heath), surely there was room for another club to step in?