Forget about how Luis Nani and Mark Clattenburg robbed Tottenham Hotspur this weekend the big story in football and in Manchester in particular is that FC United of Manchester will play their first televised match next weekend when they take on local side Rochdale in the first round of the FA Cup.
Birth of a Football Team:
The Red Rebels were formed in 2005 as a protest against Malcolm Glazer’s takeover of Manchester United. The creation of the new club caused thousands of Red Devils fans to turn their backs on their old religion and start supporting FCUM instead.
Initially, the idea of starting up a new team in Manchester was mooted around 1998 when Sky Sports’ impresario Rupert Murdoch announced that he was interested in buying the club. This caused massive panic in the stands of Old Trafford and fans groups mobilised immediately with the idea of defecting away from their club to one where the main interest would not be solely about making money.
Murdoch eventually baulked at the asking price for Manchester United and the idea of a rival club for fans by fans was shelved. However, the notion raised itself seven years later when the Glazer family moved to buy the club.
The idea of forming a new club was raised at a fans protest meeting in May 2005 and after several thousand fans agreed to fund the project FC United was born.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. The FA found a problem with the name FC United as the association felt it was too generic and insisted that the name of England’s newest club was changed.
The FC United name tag had already garnered huge attention across the globe and there was little doubt that they were the most famous amateur team on the planet. Search engines were already geared towards finding the name and faced with the prospect of having to create a new persona for the club several alternatives were offered to the clubs voting block of fans.
Four options were laid on the table for fans to vote on. Each with its own unique significance for the club going forward. FC United of Manchester, FC Manchester Central, AFC Manchester 1878, and Newton Heath United FC were the four names to choose from.
Many felt that FC Manchester Central, AFC Manchester 1878, and Newton Heath United FC were too closely linked to their Manchester United and that the name would effectively make the new club something of a poorer little brother to the giant so on June 14, 2005 FC United of Manchester won by a landslide.
The new name tag would be a new beginning for the club but also a slight nod to where it had come from at the same time.
Less than one week later and journey man footballer Karl Marginson was given his first job in management, without the club having one single player on its books! The ex-Macclesfield midfielder helped arranged trials one week later and chose 17 players for FCUM’s first ever squad.
The speed at which the club had been created was simply breathtaking. From being mentioned as a mere possibility on May 12 had become a fully fledged part of English football by July. 4,000 fans had pledged funds to run the club, a manager and team had been signed, and most importantly £100,000 had been placed into FCUM’s bank account, their story was just beginning. Robert Brady’s unashamedly romantic book, an Undividable Glow , about FCUM’s struggles in the summer of 2005 can be viewed here.
Football League Here Comes FCUM:
In August 2005 FC United of Manchester entered the 10th level of English football, the North West Counties Football League.
All of a sudden grounds that were used to handling around 10 people and a couple of dogs had to contend with FCUM showing up with around 1,000 fans for every match. Unsurprisingly, some clubs tried to take advantage of this new found interest by driving up attendance prices but the Red Rebels fans were not to be put off and an amazing 6,023 showed up for FCUM’s title winning match against Great Harwood FC Town as they gained promotion in their first season.
The following year, 2006-07, a league and cup double was achieved as FCUM became only the third club in NWCFL history to achieve the feat. 2007-08 was to provide yet another promotion to the fantastically named Northern Premier League Premier Division. Most importantly it meant that FCUM was just six leagues below the English Premier League.
The club have been hugely progressive in their promotion of the club and the club website puts many a bigger teams to shame. It has all that you would expect of a football site, up to date news sections, an area to buy club paraphernalia, team, club and developmental sections, but the most stand out section is FCUM TV and FCUM Radio.
Developing a Future:
It shows exactly where the clubs ambitions lie and what they would like the future to bring them. The club also realises that they will never reach that potential if they continue to ground share at Gigg Lane with Bury and have initialised a development fund as they strive to build a stadium of their own.
Having estimated that a stadium could cost them anything between £6 million and £8 million the club have started to gather as many contributions as possible for this aim. They estimate that sponsorship combined with grants and private donations will rake in around £5 million so the club are trying to raise at least £500,000 of their own money for the venture, or two weeks wages for Wayne Rooney…
At the last count around £307k had been collected by the club, just £193k short of their deposit fee. Not bad going for a collection that only started in 2007.
With Wayne Rooney’s recent contract negotiations in the glare of the media spotlight, Karl Marginson was asked if he was interested in signing the England international!
In the end Rooney was an obvious winner as his wages were increased by an estimated £8 million a season.
Ironically, his increase in take home pay is exactly what FC United are estimating their new home will cost to build.
Love United, Hate Glazer vs. Love United, Hate FC
However, not everything has been roses and since 2008 FCUM have found the going a little tougher both on and off the pitch.
As far as their league form they have found a level that is going to be very tough to get of. Gone are the fodder of the lower leagues as established sides like Chasetown FC, Colwyn Bay and Northwich Victoria can all boast budgets that better FCUM’s with fan bases to rival them.
Factors off the pitch like the dwindling media interest in the club have also had a huge effect.
In 2005, when the club was first set up it was not unusual for FCUM matches to appear in national newspapers. As a result, interest in the club reached its height in 2005. This can be seen through FCUM’s average home attendance which has steadily dropped over the last six years.
In 2005 the club averaged a more than healthy 3,049 fans per game. But even with three successive promotions that figure has dropped every single year to 1,723 in 2010.
Again there are a number of factors as to why this figure seems to be dropping. Back in 2005 there was a healthy relationship between fans of FCUM and MUFC, but as both teams tasted success the gulf between the two clubs seems to have widened substantially to such an extent that MUFC supporters are now calling fans that support both teams as “Judas Scum.”
Manchester United’s three league titles and Champions League success between 2007 and 2009 has enabled fans of the Red Devils to say that they were right all along and that the FCUM fans were traitors for leaving their club. While FC United of Manchester fans are able to point at player sales and growing ticket prices at Old Trafford under the Glazer regime.
FC United’s problems aren’t helped by the fact that self styled hooligan and Red Army General Tony O’Neill has been known to show up at a number of grounds during their matches, although his Police minders usually bar his way from entering. While incidents of hooliganism remain at a very low level for FCUM, associations with firms such as the Red Army is bad for their fledgling reputation, even if the firms all originate from Manchester United.
FA Cup Debut Against Rochdale:
That reputation has its best chance of enhancement on November 5 when FC United of Manchester take the short trip to Rochdale in the first round of the FA Cup.
This achievement should not be underestimated.
To gain three promotions and an FA Cup appearance in just five seasons is good going in anyone’s language.
That goal has set FC United up with the chance to travel to Rochdale for their first national broadcast match in their history.
As the match approaches Marginson talked to BBC Radio Manchester:
“It’s eleven blokes against eleven blokes on the day and you never know.
“We’ll try and cause them some problems, and hopefully leave Spotland with our heads held high.”
“Ever since the birth of the club it’s been one high after another and the Barrow win was certainly up there with the best of them.
“It’s a bit strange really, as a lot of supporters that come to watch us are United fans and it’s always been a big thing, the FA Cup for the Manchester United family, so everybody was just elated.
“There were grown men crying which I found a bit strange, but it’s nice to give them the chance of that glory.”
On Friday night the glory of the FA Cup will be there for all to see as FCUM take to the pitch in their famous red, white, and black kit.
Will they progress past hot favourites Rochdale? The chances of that happening are unlikely but just as the father of this club has a great tradition in the FA Cup many are hoping that its son will have just as great a tradition.