CAS Trust member Samantha Mason gives her view on the success of FC United.
A couple of weeks ago FC United of Manchester gained promotion to the Conference North. A success worth highlighting as it comes almost ten years to the day since the club was set up in protest against the hostile takeover of Manchester United by Malcolm Glazer. A democratically run supporter owned club with 4,125 members, it really is a good news story from which all clubs struggling with ownership issues can take heart.
This is their fourth promotion since joining the North West Counties League Division Two in the 2005/06 season – level ten of the football pyramid. Now just two rungs down from the heady heights of Football League Two, promotion was secured in front of a crowd of 3,588 home fans which many teams in footballs lower leagues would be happy to entertain.
Having spent ten years ground sharing, their anniversary will be marked by the opening of a brand new football stadium at their new home at Broadhurst Park, in Moston, North Manchester. As part of a ‘summer of celebration’ their first hosts at the new stadium will be Portuguese champions Benfica on 29th May. Ok, it may be their ‘B’ team but still, quite a coup.
It’s important however to recognise that the Glazer's takeover, as stated on FC United’s website, was the “final straw” rather than the sole reason to set up a breakaway club from Manchester United. In 1998 fans fought a successful campaign to block Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to take over the club. Therefore the Glazer move was the culmination of fans growing increasingly disenchanted with their club and the corporate takeover of football. Namely being led by an agenda of global TV deals – Murdoch’s Sky no less – rising ticket prices, and increasing commercialisation of football.
As a tidal wave of anger rises up against exploitative owners - witnessed in the fans pitch invasion at Blackpool and ongoing protests at Newcastle - the good news story of FC United provides a reality check. Newcastle fans have understandably started a conversation about a breakaway club. But if it’s just a reaction to Mike Ashley’s ownership then this may not be enough to successfully carry them through all the complexities of creating a sustainable club for the long term.
Any move has to be supported by the kind of political vision and values which underpin the success of FC United and which are set out in their manifesto “who we are and what we mean”. Highlighting very clearly their anti-commercialisation, non-profit making principles the emphasis is on community, participation and democratic accountability. All elements reflected in the new stadium.
The 5,000 capacity stadium, a 3G pitch and two grass pitches cost £6.3 million to build with money being raised by members from community shares and other member fundraising, as well as through crowd funding. All the facilities will be available for use by the local community, and it will also be the home of Moston Juniors FC.
There will be no corporate hospitality boxes or executive boardrooms. Instead, a community classroom will entertain visiting Directors on match days, who will in time be able to sample the club’s own ale from the planned microbrewery. And they will quite literally be putting down roots by planting fruit trees and wild flowers around the stadium perimeter as part of a challenge to create the UK’s first pollinator friendly football stadium. This has been supported by a £4,000 grant from the Grow Wild community project led by Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens. An article for another time perhaps, but good to see, along with Forest Green Rovers, non-league clubs pioneering environmental sustainability initiatives in football.
As part of the election campaign, fans groups supported by the Football Supporters’ Federation set up a Vote Football website calling on politicians to protect our clubs from unscrupulous owners – see www.fsf.org.uk. This isn’t a call which finishes with the end of the election campaign but one we need to continue to press. The success of FC United shows what can be achieved by supporter-owned clubs, but all clubs are part of local communities, and the voice of supporters is key in their success however that is engaged.
Good luck to FC United and a much deserved summer of celebration!