heartfelt congratulations to our footballing comrades FOOTBALL CLUB OF MANCHESTER or better known of course as FC UNITED. Ten years after Malcolm Glazer completed his unwanted hostile takeover of Manchester United, FC United have risen from nowhere to the brink of the Football League. The supporter owned club is truly a part of its community and is an inspiration to us all. Modern Football is shit but their are glimpses every now and then of a better world…
by Jonathan Allsop
I reckon Odysseus had it relatively easy. Okay it took the Greek ruler and hero of Homer’s Odyssey ten years to return to his Ithaca home following the Trojan war, battling various cannibals, witches, ghosts and six headed monsters along the way. But it pales a little compared to the story of FC United of Manchester’s ten year journey home. Ten long years it’s taken us but on Friday 29th May 2015 the Northern Premier League champions welcomed the Portugese champions Benfica to the opening of Broadhurst Park, our very own Ithaca. What an epic journey it’s been for those seeking asylum from the Glazer regime, grafting relentlessly to raise the small matter of the £6.3 million needed to build the ground at a time when the economy is on its arse, dodging the slings and arrows of the planning process and coping with other obstacles like having to find another site for the ground after Ten Acres Lane fell through, the judicial review, contractors going out of business and Japanese knotweed. Finally though we’re playing football in Manchester and have our own ground, somewhere to call home. And we moved in one day short of ten years since the public meeting at the Apollo theatre when the idea of FC United was discussed. Odysseus? Pfffftttt. For FC United it all began at a venue named after a Greek god no less.
There must have been around two thousand of us at the Apollo on Ardwick Green on that warm, sunny bank holiday Monday. I’d been to Chester for the weekend and the street stalls flogging t-shirts celebrating the “miracle of Istanbul” had done nothing to improve my mood. May 2005 had been a thoroughly dismal month to be a Manchester United supporter following the hostile takeover by the Glazer family. The rather forlorn looking red wristband on my left wrist said, incorrectly, “not for sale”. Yet somehow I’d convinced myself that all was not lost and that with a concerted “fight from within” we could still send the Glazers packing. The protests, flash mobbing and boycotting of sponsors would have to continue and surely we’d have to boycott games too. It wouldn’t be easy but if any set of fans could do it it had to be us. Love United Hate Glazer. The FC United breakaway club thing sounded like a good idea but it probably wasn’t for me.
I’d gone along to the meeting at the Apollo primarily to find out what the plans were for the next stage of the fight to get rid of the Glazers but something changed for me that afternoon and I’m not sure exactly what it was. Maybe it was those ace t-shirts with the fist and the “our club, our rules” motif. I’m always a sucker for a political slogan or two. Maybe it was hearing Kris Stewart from AFC Wimbledon describe forming your own football club as “the best thing you will ever do”. Or maybe it was re-reading the photocopies of that stirring “think about the future” article about FC United that appeared in Red Issue back in February 2005 as the Glazer takeover loomed large.
The meeting got me thinking, like perhaps never before, about what a football club actually is. Is it the team and its players and manager? The football ground itself? The directors and shareholders? Or is it something less tangible than that? What is apparent is that without supporters football is nothing. Take away that passion and noise and colour and all you’re left with is twenty two people kicking a bag of wind around a patch of grass. So, if that’s the case, surely the best way to secure the long-term future of any football club is to entrust the ownership and running of it to the very people without whom it would be nothing; the supporters. Maybe, just maybe, something beautiful could emerge from this wreckage. More than one thousand signatures of support for FC United were received from that meeting. Mine was one of them.
So it was that on a muggy August day I found myself on a bus to Leek heading to FC United of Manchester’s first ever league game against Leek County School Old Boys in the North West Counties League, six divisions below the football league and ten divisions below the Premier League. Me and a mate arrived early to watch United in the lunchtime kick-off versus Everton at Goodison Park in a back street pub. The place was rammed and as more fans drifted in during the first half one of them glanced over at the screen on his way to the bar and said something, not too complimentary, about “the other lot”.
It caught me by surprise and it took me a few seconds to realise that “the other lot” were in fact our red shirted heroes on the telly. As an out-of-towner I’d been spared much of the pain and acrimony of the split in United’s support that summer as groups of mates who’d been going to the match together for years went their separate ways. Emotions ran high and that split in our support in the summer of 2005 was perhaps the single worst aspect of the Glazer takeover, one barely mentioned by the media. For me it was a huge wrench to stop going to United after twenty eight years. The decision mangled my head for weeks but I was relatively lucky, at least I hadn’t suffered the jibes of being a “splitter” or “Judas scum”. The worst that got chucked my way when mentioning FC United, aside from “who are they?” was the old missing-the-point chestnut of “why don’t you go and support another non-league team instead of forming your own?”
Sat in that pub in Leek town centre I still felt like a United supporter and when “we” eventually ran out 2-0 winners that felt like the main event of the day. If FC won as well that would be great, but I wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it. It still felt like a protest. As hundreds of us walked through the rain from the pub to the ground, singing anti-Glazer songs, it wasn’t unlike that pre-match march before the AC Milan match six months before.
And for much of those first two seasons in the North West Counties League it continued to feel like a protest. We carried on singing the songs about Glazer, Gill, Fergie and Rio and what happened on the pitch was, at times, almost incidental, the noise of the crowd often not matching the ebb and flow of the game. At some point though this changed. The third round FA Vase tie against Quorn in December of the second season was undoubtedly a turning point for many as an FC side down to nine men with half an hour of the game to go battled valiantly and unbelievably took the lead with only a few minutes left. The Manchester Road End went bananas. This, all of a sudden, was a football club, our football club not just a protest movement. “We” eventually lost 3-2, cruelly in the last minute of extra time but it was a seminal moment nonetheless.
There have been some great memories on the pitch that have been wonderfully documented by better writers than me elsewhere but some of my proudest moments of the last decade have occurred off the pitch. Pay what you can afford season tickets. The vote to ban Sky and any other pay per view broadcasters from a future ground. The refusal to speak to strike breaking BBC journalists the day after the FA Cup win at Rochdale. The continued principled stance taken against shirt sponsorship. Being recognised as community club of the year in 2011-12. Raising more than two million pounds in community shares. The annual Big Coat Day. The recent vote to choose not to work with any organisations who operate the government’s shameful policy of Workfare. Boycotting the Curzon Ashton game in December 2007 after the kick-off time was moved for television purposes. Becoming the first football club in the country to adopt the Living Wage. The assistance and advice provided to other supporter owned clubs (as AFC Wimbledon did for us). And, of course, the wonderfully irreverent pre-match Course You Can Malcolm nourishing us with music, poetry, comedy, theatre and fairly priced food and ale.
On that Friday evening against Benfica, there was a tear in my eye as I stood on that magnificent terrace behind the goal. After years of pound for the ground draws, standing orders for the development fund, sticking loose change in barrels, community shares, crowd funding and the rest we finally have a place to call home. It’s wonderful that something so beautiful and so positive has emerged from the years of protesting and being told to “sit down and shut up” and that “it’ll all be over by Christmas”. Broadhurst Park is a monument to Mancunian defiance and a reward for the assorted oddballs, subversives and “real ale hooligan socialists” who had the courage to stand up and prove that there is a better way for football. It felt apt too that Benfica, with the largest number of supporter members of any football club in the world, were our guests for this special occasion. Like Broadhurst Park, their original Estadio da Luz home was built primarily with funds donated by their fans.
As I tucked into a bottle of Two Hoots in that lovely, make-do-and-mend space beneath the St Mary’s Road End before kick-off I, strangely, found myself thinking back to the summer of 1991 when Manchester United were floated on the Stock Exchange. Arguably the very beginning of a timeline that has brought many of us to Broadhurst Park. It was a few weeks after Rotterdam and having recently shelled out for a season ticket for next season I had to borrow some money from a mate to scrape together the minimum share investment of £190.
Despite the cost, it felt great to buy those fifty shares and have a stake, no matter how small, in the football club I loved. Somewhat naively I thought that this could be the start of something beautiful; a Manchester United owned by its supporters. I didn’t realise at the time that the primary motive for floating the club on the Stock Exchange was to raise money for the redevelopment of the Stretford End, to transform it into an all seater stand following the Taylor Report. It was reckoned that the rebuilding would cost around twelve million pounds with roughly £6.7 million to come from the share issue.
That figure is uncannily similar to the cost, twenty four years later, of the entirety of Broadhurst Park. When the Glazers took over in 2005 I got a cheque for my United shares. Unbelievably those shares purchased in 1991 were worth a staggering three thousand pounds by 2005. Usually I’d be delighted to be sent a cheque for that much. But this felt like a kick in the teeth. A recognition that my stake in Manchester United was no longer needed, no longer welcome. A symbolic moment. In that summer of 2005 I gave some of that money to FC United, one of thousands to do so, to allow the club to get through its first season. Since then we’ve all invested our time, our skills and our hard earned cash to get us this far safe in the knowledge that this time no one with a big wallet and a smart-arse business plan can pinch it off us. This is ours. This football club. This ground. It’s ours. It’s been a remarkable ten year footballing odyssey.
re-printed from the excellent blog ‘NOWT MUCH TO SAY’. head over there now by pressing here to find more from a London based politically and footballingly red and founder member and co-owner of FC United of Manchester.