FC United: football and democracy, hand in hand

Some might be familiar with the history of FC United, a club that places values before business and that was precisely launched by a group of supporters fed up with Manchester United’s commercial drift. Some months ago we talked about this project in an article that included a couple of instructive videos (link) and now we bring you a first hand testimony thanks to John, a committed fan who shows us the club’s philosophy. From what we’ve seen, there’s only one United… and that’s FC.

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  • How is possible that fans of such acknowledged club as Manchester United end up supporting a team that started in the 10th division? What was the process that led you to that decision? It had to be hard and very strange to change colours, something like a divorce. Do any of you still go to Old Trafford or was it something for good?

A number of fans during the late 1990s and early 2000s had become fed up with a number of changes. Kick off times and dates of matches were being changed for television, fans were being told to sit down in the all-seated stadia (and being ejected from the ground if they failed to do so and the atmosphere was being quietened by this and the dilution of the supporters by Manchester United deliberately allocating tickets to irregular supporters for high profile matches (so that the ‘day trippers’ would buy merchandise). The fight, in 1998/1999, to prevent Sky Television from buying Manchester United had radicalised a core of supporters and, at that time, some had suggested the idea of forming a supporters’ owned club if Sky had succeeded. So, when the Glazer family eventually succeeded in buying MUFC, the idea was resurrected and FC United was born in 2005.

It was very difficult for many of us to make the decision to part from our first love. However, the determination shown to start the club has stayed with a core of about 2000 people and they drive the club forward. Some, like me, have never been back to Old Trafford, some will watch MUFC if they are offered a ticket and some still have a season ticket at MUFC and will watch FC United if MUFC are not playing. All still support the team, but not the club. They will watch MUFC on television when FC United are not playing.

File photo of Manchester United fans protesting against the proposed sale of the club to US tycoon Malcolm Glazer.

  • How did this affect your relation with United fans who still support that club?

There were a lot of arguments for the first 2 years, but those have largely died down now.

  • The ground is already half built. How did you manage to make it economically viable? Did you get to consider to build it yourselves as FC Union Berlin did?

The ground will cost about £6 million, of which half has been raised by supporters and friends of FC United. Then we have had grants from Sport England, the Football Foundation and Manchester City Council which has covered most of the other costs. We did consider using supporter help to build the ground but it would have taken far too long to build by that method and building + safety regulations are very strict in the UK. We do still anticipate using supporters’ skills to help fit out the ground and build additional facilities once we have taken possession of it.

  • How’s the English football scene in the division you’re currently playing? Are there fans as numerous as yours? Is there any violence or is it a more relaxed atmosphere?

We call our current level of football ‘Non-League football’. At most matches at this level the atmosphere is very relaxed with the supporters mixing and talking quite happily with each other. We average about 2000 supporters at our home matches and the other clubs at our level averaged last season between 172 and 949 for their home matches. We take between 400 and 1000 supporters to our away matches. Our fans generate an excellent atmosphere with their 90-90, 90% of the fans singing for 90 minutes.

  • In different videos through the Internet of your fans we could see a remarkable display of chants. What are your influences when you compose them and how do you make them known through the fanbase?

There is no real organisation to it! In true punk football style, everyone is encouraged to sing their songs to others in the pub or on the train and buses to the match. If it is good, all will sing it at the next match.

 

  • Is there room in the two firsts European leagues to fight from the stands against modern football or is it like preaching in the desert and not worth it?

We would like to have the opportunity to try! We want to demonstrate that supporter owned clubs can be successful at the very highest level, but we will not go into debt to achieve it. We are attracting increasing attention in England and overseas, as we have demonstrated that democracy can operate in football clubs for a sustained period of time and that supporters can build a £6 million, 5 thousand capacity ground which will have daily community benefit. Some people said in May 2005 that we would not last until Christmas. They will receive their 10th Christmas card in December from our supporters! As time passes, we are growing in confidence that supporter owned democratically run football clubs can be successful and we are not afraid to say that there is another model by which clubs can be owned and run.

  • When a magnate buys a club, also acquires to a certain extent (or at least tries) the added values of the club, often working class and leftist values linked to the city. Isn’t there a way to fight against that commercialization?

It is very difficult for fans to fight against the wish of an owner. They want the investment, but often dislike the ways that the owner attempts to increase revenue. Most owners reject the values of the local, traditional working class supporter in the attempt to attract the more affluent middle class supporter. FC United supporters start from a different base because the supporters decided the club’s constitution and its values 9 years ago. We are a democratic organisation in which the supporters have the final vote (decision making power) on such things as admission prices for entry to the ground, the price of season tickets, whether there should be a new design for a shirt and what that design should be.

  • How does the club internally work? Have you transferred this FC running to other experiences (districts, unions, associations…)?

The supporters own the club who elect 11 Board members for 2 years to set the strategy for FC United. They appoint people to run the club and carry out the strategy. Many supporters volunteer to help us run the club on a day to day basis. We have 7 or 8 volunteers who carry out administrative tasks each week and we have about 100 people who volunteer at home matches. Then we have web designers, FCUM Radio and television commentators and producers, volunteer coaches in the community and people who help with fund raising events. Up to now, the different parts of FC United have been based in different parts of Manchester, so have not had a great effect on the organisations that you mention. When we have our new ground, hopefully by the end of September, we will have one base and then the district will see how we work and may be the people will be influenced by our style of working.

 

  • Do you have a football academy? If so, what’s the difference between taking your son to the FC football school and elsewhere?

We have just started an Academy. We will try to give them a good education and a set of values by which they can live their life, as well as provide them with excellent coaching.

  • What is the general opinion over there about Athletic Club de Bilbao?

Most working class people who support Manchester United admire their independence and determination that only Basque born people can play forAthletic Club de Bilbao. Manchester United fans always like to have players from Manchester in the team.

* Eskerrik asko to John and to Alabinbonban`s official translator.

 

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