More battles ahead for FC United of Manchester after Play-Off heartache

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Updated: May 15, 2013

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The club was successful enough to enable the tendering of an application to join the football league. After a couple of failed attempts in 1929 and 1930, Manchester Central DID eventually gain permission to join the league (replacing Wigan Borough, who resigned from their place), only to find that both the red and blue sides of Manchester had combined to formally oppose the move – claiming that a third Manchester club would damage attendances. Manchester Central’s application was duly rejected again, and the club disappeared.

The Manchester City and Manchester United of today will not see FC United as such a threat to their existence, but there is still a place for an alternative Manchester club.

Today’s football audience – and indeed whole football landscape – is a very different beast to that of previous eras. TV and internet access to all the top sides, new football fans can watch any team in the world they like and profess to be supporters – never having to miss a game. Demands for success, for superstars, for the Champions League all create obstacles for lower league football clubs in their quest to even survive.

But there is still no real substitute to watching football live amongst a lively set of fans. That is why grounds still pulsate to the sound of football fans and that is part of even what the tv armchair fan wants to see.

FC United’s vibrant atmosphere wins plaudits from opposing fans and players alike – and it may just be the thing that keeps everyone coming back.

No television broadcast of a game at Parkhead, for instance, however impressive, can ever portray the true sense of being there on a special European night. This thing that FCUM have may not be the size of Parkhead – but it is its own brand of special – and the feeling is that the club holds no such pretensions for now. That would only bring with it issues such as television schedules, high wages and a loss of control for its owners.

The football on display is naturally not the same standard as that which would be found treading the boards at the Theatre of Dreams, but the effort of every player is always appreciated, attacking football always encouraged and because of this there is great mutual affection between players and supporters.

Looking around me on Youth United day, I see smiling faces – my son, whole families, raucous youths and old-stagers alike. Replica shirt and scarf bearers, old school rattlers and black coat wearers. All incredibly happy with their lot. All making one hell of a racket.

Naturally, promotion is the aim – although eluding the club at the moment – but the targets remain level-headed. The days of league football, of regular television offers to change match times and of massive wages may be light years away – but, actually, some of these very issues may even start to raise their heads often within just one move up. Kick off times for the playoff finals were moved both this year and last (perhaps to cash in on FC United’s support?) and a higher division would probably mean having to raise player costs.

So, tempering ambitions and staying around the level that they currently are may be the best way to ensure that the club can continue to be run the way it is – by the supporters and for the supporters.

It is those supporter-owners that will make the decisions on any of the questions above that appear in FC United’s future. Promotion to the Conference North has to wait for at least another season, but there is still much to look forward to.

The sense around the club is that of one which understands its place in the natural order of things. It is a club which feels that building a solid foundation in the local community as a force for good is the best way to sustain itself and even move forward.

It has taken a long time and plenty of soul-searching about this football thing since I left Old Trafford and became a founder member of FC United – but on Youth United Day, surrounded by future generations of football fans, I think I finally got it.

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