View Full Version : The Official FC United of Manchester Thread
January 15th, 2006, 05:28 PM
Thought I might start one to keep everyone up to date with our developments. Now the Manchester Forum already has a FC United thread which at first was slated with the usual rubbish, but gradually people have come round to the ways things are and have accepted us.
So Im gonna brave it on here and spread the word.
January 15th, 2006, 05:33 PM
FC United of Manchester is a new football club founded by disaffected and disenfranchised Manchester United supporters.
Our aim is to create a sustainable club for the long term which is owned and democratically run by its members, which is accessible to all the communities of Manchester and one in which they can participate fully. Although driven by very different circumstances, FC United of Manchester takes as its inspiration a number of supporters’ groups who have gone down this route, including AFC Wimbledon, who have offered unstinting support.
FC United of Manchester is intended to create a football club which addresses the concerns which many Manchester United fans have had over the last decade or more with how the club and football have developed, culminating in the club’s takeover by Malcolm Glazer. We will follow the best traditions of Manchester United’s past by developing policies which encourage youth participation in terms of both playing and supporting.
FC United of Manchester will be formed as a member-owned, democratic, and non-profit making entity on the Industrial and Provident Society company model. The EGM will focus on the election of a board of directors by the members, and the direction of the club over the coming season.
We have ambitious and long term plans. Above all we want to be seen as a good example of how a club can be run in the interests of its members and be of benefit to its local communities. However, we are a new club and will require patience in order to reach our goals. With the help of all our members and supporters we are confident we can achieve them.
Seven core principles of how the club operates is set out below, which has been agreed by the membership, and will be protected by all elected Board members:
The Board will be democratically elected by its members.
Decisions taken by the membership will be decided on a one member, one vote basis.
The club will develop strong links with the local community and strive to be accessible to all, discriminating against none.
The club will endeavour to make admission prices as affordable as possible, to as wide a constituency as possible.
The club will encourage young, local participation - playing and supporting - whenever possible.
The Board will strive wherever possible to avoid outright commercialism.
The club will remain a non-profit organisation
January 15th, 2006, 05:37 PM
From The Guardian
FC United's Tony Howard looks back on a year that supporters in Manchester won't forget in a hurry
Friday December 30, 2005
The year 2005 has been described as an annus horribilis by supporters of Manchester United: their team finished the 2004-05 season trophyless; Roy Keane left in acrimonious circumstances; a poor Liverpool side somehow won the European Cup, and United then crashed out before even reaching the group stages of this season's competition. However, surely the biggest blow of them all came in the merry month of May when Old Trafford was invaded by Americans.
The Glazer takeover saw the club plunged into massive debt by people with no love for the game and a sole interest in profit. It felt like the world had ended as many of us gave up our most prized possessions in the world - our season tickets - because, in our eyes, Manchester United as we knew it was no more. Yet FC United of Manchester's formation has provided a chink of light in the darkest of years.
It was with heavy heart that we swapped Old Trafford for Gigg Lane and many friendships and even family relationships were damaged by the decision to depart Old Trafford. Despite the sad instances of infighting amidst the red half of Manchester, those of us who made the move have been rewarded with an amazing ride over the last five months.
We've been to football grounds we never knew existed. We've been to places we'd never heard of and all the time we've rediscovered the joys that only watching football can bring. We've even seen our team score 10 goals in a game (against Castleton Gabriels), been to Accrington Stanley (v Colne) and we've still got a 'European away-day' to look forward to at Blackpool in February (v Blackpool Mechanics).
We now look forward to trips to places like Leek or Barrow and wonder whether there'll be boozers near the ground or what the stands will be like - just as last season we felt the same about trips to more glamorous destinations on the continent. None of us takes any joy as we watch the downward spiral happening at our spiritual home in M16, but I'm sure few of us have any regrets.
And as FC United end 2005 11 points clear at the top of North West Counties Division Two, with crowds regularly topping 3,000, we are sure to look forward to many more days out in wild and wonderful venues in obscure towns around the region next year. Many in Manchester may be glad to see the back of 2005, but it was also the birth of a new era in United supporters' football history. And for that reason, the year will never be forgotten.
January 15th, 2006, 05:43 PM
From The MEN
FC United 2 Winsford 1
FC UNITED had double cause for celebration as they started 2006 with yet another victory.
The red rebels' 2-1 home win over second-placed Winsford stretches their lead in the Moore and Co Solicitors League Second Division to a massive 14 points and leaves them looking odds-on favourites for a debut season title.
And the bumper 4,328 Gigg Lane crowd set a new attendance record for the fledgling club.
But it took the shock of falling behind to a 52nd-minute Rob Hopley goal to bring Karl Marginson's side to life.
Hopley stunned the hosts by firing into an empty net after keeper Barrie George had been left stranded.
FC United's response was to subject the visitors to a sustained onslaught, which led to Simon Carden bundling in an equaliser 11 minutes later.
And Winsford's time-wasting tactics were punished 10 minutes from the end when Rory Patterson blasted in the winner after being released by Orr.
And from the unofficial forum
By Paul Edmundson
Second-half sub just the tonic for trailing reds.
A Rory Patterson substitution inspired FC United to a thrilling 2-1 win over title rivals Winsford. The 21-year-old forward came on to grab the winner after Simon Carden equalised for the reds in an action-packed second half. Just six minutes after the break, Winsford’s top scorer Rick Arnold put his team ahead when FC United shot-stopper Barry George failed to collect the ball on the edge of his area.
But Carden was there to tap in from close range 13 minutes later, setting up a thrilling finale. Enter Patterson, who was first to react when Winsford ‘keeper Craig Clare hit a goal kick poorly. Patterson kept his cool to finish past Clare, though his over-exuberant celebration in the Manchester Road End earned him a yellow card.
The first half was more of a scrappy affair, though both teams went close on several occasions, with the home side having a goal ruled out for offside. The win – before a record attendance of 4,328 - leaves FC United 14 points above Winsford, though they have three games in hand.
After the game, FC United manager Karl Marginson said: “I thought we showed character [to come back] because the chances that we created, we had battered them to be fair.
“You sometimes think it’s never going to go in, like we’ve had the offside one.
“We kept going and then Simon [Carden] did what Simon does and then it was a great finish from Rory [Patterson] as well.
“[Josh Howard] was brilliant, but I wouldn’t really single anybody out for praise or criticism. I thought it was a really good team performance and they all worked hard.
“[Patterson] is a quality player so to have him on the bench, he gives you another option. He is pacey and you have seen today he is a big-game player.”
He added: “It’s another three points because we’ve got Darwen next so if we don’t go and get a result there, today’s result won’t mean as much.
“But today was a big game because Winsford have been showing they can keep pace with us and that they are a good, organised, young and fit team.
“That’s the best atmosphere I’ve seen. I’ve been involved in some games with 15,000, but that was just awesome.”
Winsford United manager Dave Twite said: “I thought we worked really hard today, but I’m disappointed we didn’t get anything.
“[FC United’s] second goal came from the only mistake our ‘keeper had made all day, but he took it well.
“We’ve got some big games coming up. We can still win [the league].”
January 15th, 2006, 05:46 PM
FC on Sky News
January 15th, 2006, 05:48 PM
Financial support for FC United.
REBEL soccer club FC United, which was set up by disgruntled Manchester United supporters following Malcolm Glazer's Old Trafford takeover, has appointed Beever & Struthers as its auditor.
As a not-for-profit club, FC United sought a firm of accountants which specialises in the field.
The club is riding high in the second division of the North West Counties League and attracts crowds of more than 2,700 to its matches at Bury FC's Gigg Lane ground.
Maria Hallows is the Beever & Struthers partner responsible for the firm's work with FC United. She said: "This is a great signing for us and we look forward to working with this popular new local football club."
FC United is run as an Industrial Provident Society on democratic, non-profit community principles.
Pete Munday, the board member responsible for financial matters, said the club was impressed by Beever & Struthers' experience of auditing similar organisations.
January 15th, 2006, 05:51 PM
Red Army fight for new soul of United
Malcolm Glazer's arrival at Manchester United signalled the departure of hard-core supporters, who went off to form FC United of Manchester. The club's runaway success in their debut season has brought satisfaction but also concerns for fans who still have emotional links to Old Trafford
By Julian Coman
Published: 12 January 2006
It was when I saw Barrie George, our goalkeeper, in the pub before a home game against Daisy Hill, that I knew I was following a very different kind of football club. Barrie, the keeper in the England partially sighted XI, was accompanied by another player and the FC United of Manchester kit man. The crowded bar, in chorus, told them it was "the worst fucking warm-up" they had ever seen. FC United won the match 6-1. And everyone, including half the players, met back at the Swan and Cemetery afterwards.
Just another match day in the surreal development of a football club that has acquired a momentum that astonishes even the supporter-directors who dreamt it up in a Manchester curry house. The takeover by Malcolm Glazer of Manchester United was the catalyst for the formation of FCUM, and high ticket prices, rampant commercialism and the increasingly anaemic atmosphere at Premiership games contributed to the revolution.
FCUM's chairman, Andy Walsh, sought and received sterling support from AFC Wimbledon, the pioneer breakaway club formed in 2002. A veteran of non-League, Karl Marginson, whose contacts enabled him to bring in a number of players from the Unibond League, somewhat higher up the non-League pyramid, became our manager. Mass open trials, similar to those at Wimbledon, also brought in some players.
What began as a boycott of Old Trafford now has a life and identity of its own. A club for supporters run by supporters. As a favourite song has it at Bury's Gigg Lane, where FCUM have made their home: "And Fergie said, 'Go and watch Chelsea. Are you having a laugh? We'll be watching FC."
Over new year a record 4,328 did just that, witnessing a 2-1 home win against Winsford, the team's closest challengers in the North West Counties League Second Division. That was more than Hartlepool managed at home in League One, seven divisions higher. In fact, that is more than Manchester City managed for a first-team League Cup match a few years back. No other crowd in the North West Counties League topped 200 that day. A club formed in anger in the summer now command a higher average gate than four Football League clubs. And FC are top of their league by 14 points.
But there have been strange moments in the new "Two Uniteds" era. This is an experiment with unforeseeable and possibly disturbing consequences.
It felt odd, watching "Big United" vs Chelsea on television, when the team needed all the support they could get. And I never did manage to resolve the debate between my heart and my head over United's stalled progress in Europe. Did I want the club to fail to hasten the departure of the owner, Malcolm Glazer? Or progress because, well... because they're United.
When George Best died, Old Trafford would have been the natural place to be. And questions of a quasi-theological nature still preoccupy me occasionally. Can two Uniteds have one soul? Or must the soul temporarily reside at Gigg Lane during the Glazer time?
Some at the Swan and Cemetery are contemplating never going back. "For me this is United," said Chris Porter, who was among a thousand or so demonstrators who ensured an uncomfortable first visit to Old Trafford for the three Glazer sons. "Until United are fully supporter-owned, like FC, I don't think I'll be going back to Old Trafford."
Others, like Alison Watt, a "United duoist" who is still going to both Big and Little United, believe that even the departure of Glazer might not be enough to reunite a divided support. "As an educated guess, I'd say when Glazer goes, some might drift back, but as the world of football stands at the moment that would only be a small minority Glazer is the catalyst, not the sole reason. If all the other things that are wrong with the game could be put right, then the decision might be tougher, but (a) that's not going to happen and (b) I honestly believe there would still be enough people who would want FCUM to survive irrespective of changes elsewhere."
How can an entirely new team engender such instant loyalty? Well, the players might be new, but the supporters are veterans. One of the most frequent comments I hear from older fans is "It's just like the Seventies all over again."
This is the Red Army, witty and irreverent but without the riots. Freed from the feeling of powerlessness that followed by the Glazer takeover; able to stand if they choose and no longer the targets of ruthless commercial practice, the support has come into its own.
Half the Big United hard-core vocal support has decamped from Old Trafford and created Premiership standard backing for a team at step six (the bottom step) of the non-League ladder. It is surreal, at times hilarious, and always passionate.
Goalkeepers from places such as Eccleshall, Nelson and Ashton are cruelly abused for being too fat or, failing that, too thin. The goalkeeper of Colne, while retrieving the ball, was offered a cheeseburger by a fan worried that he would waste away. The singing is constant, loud and endlessly varied. When Spandau Ballet's "Gold" can be adapted for Adie Orr, FC's free-scoring centre-forward and former Manchester City trainee, ("he's indestructible"), you know the match atmosphere is in good hands.
Colour is back. At Big United, the legacy of the casual era and a distrust of megastore culture created a largely monochrome support. At Little United the scarves are everywhere, usually being waved around to the tune of "Que Sera Sera".
A full-sized dinghy bounces over the crowd's heads at Gigg Lane, symbolising the escape to the lifeboats from Glazer's Titanic. The players, when not in action, sometimes stand with the crowd. Steve Torpey, a Scouser who played for Liverpool Schoolboys, did a stint there recently and launched into a rendition of "We don't care about Rio, He don't care about me, All I care about is FC".
After a recent away match against Holker Old Boys of Barrow, a long-standing Holker supporter wrote to the club's directors to tell them that he had never witnessed a better atmosphere in 30 years of attending amateur football. Anyone who believes that watching football is a spectator sport should visit an FC match. This crowd participates in the event it helps to create. And a fair proportion of that crowd are children who have never experienced anything like this before.
What the future holds partly depends on when Glazer realises that his surely ill-conceived business plan for Big United is not going to yield the profits he requires and sells up. At that point there will be an enormous opportunity for the political wing of United's support. But it also depends on what FC United's growing support want to do with the club they have called into being. At their current rate of progress, FC could legitimately aspire to become a League club within 10 years. But can one really follow two clubs, formed by same support and reserves of passion? Some of us may need a counsellor before long. Or a bloody good philosopher.
Julian Coman is a founder member of FCUM
The making of FC United...
* Founded July 2005 by Manchester United fans angry at the takeover by the Glazer family.
* Home ground Gigg Lane, Bury
* League status North West Counties League Second Division.
* First competitive match 13 Aug 2005, v Leek CSOB (away). Won 5-2. Attendance: 2,590.
* Manager Karl Marginson (former player with Rotherham Utd and Macclesfield Town).
* Most illustrious player Leon Mike is only 24 but the striker has played for Manchester City and Aberdeen, for whom he scored five times.
* How they stand: North West Counties LeagueSecond Division - Top of the table
... and how AFC Wimbledon have done it
* Founded June 2002, in association with Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association (WISA) and The Dons Trust
* Home ground The Fans' Stadium (formerly Kingstonian's ground, Kingsmeadow). AFC Wimbledon bought the ground from them when Kingstonian went into liquidation.
* League status Ryman League, Premier Division (currently lying eighth).
* First match (friendly) 10 July 2002, v Sutton United at Gander Green Lane. Lost 4-0. Attendance: 4,657
* First competitive match 17 Aug 2002, v Sandhurst Town (away, Combined Counties League Prem Div). Won 2-1. Attendance: 2,449.
* Honours, 2002-03 won the Supporters Direct Cup
2003-04 Won Combined Counties League and CCL Premier Challenge Cup.
2004-05 Won Isthmian League First Division and Surrey Senior Cup.
* 23 July 2005 AFC Wimbledon played FC United in the Supporters Direct Cup and beat them 1-0.
January 15th, 2006, 05:56 PM
What The World Is Waiting For
by Martin Hall
When Rio Ferdinand took his seat on the substitutes bench for England’s recent game against Austria it’s unlikely he was straining to hear the singing coming from FC United’s supporters at Bury’s Gigg Lane ground. However, had he listened carefully he would have heard the following ditty:
“I don’t care about Rio, He don’t care about me, All I care about is watching FC, watching FC.”
As England fans watched another dire, negative performance from ‘their’ team and paid in the region of £40 for the privilege, a few miles away 3,808 people were watching FC United: entertaining football from players passionate about the club they represent, 90 minutes of non-stop singing, great banter between all supporters and six goals. All for the princely sum of seven pounds.
FC United of Manchester Football Club was formed this summer by Manchester United fans angry at Malcolm Glazer’s strongly opposed takeover at Old Trafford. There were other factors too. The crass commercialism of the club was getting worse, ticket prices were becoming increasingly exorbitant and the intangible ‘connection’ between players and fans was practically non-existent.
Just as the punk revolution of 1976 was borne out of a ‘Do It Yourself’ ethos and a desire to show that the emperors of the mainstream were indeed naked, FC United comes from a long-held Mancunian belief that the status quo does not necessarily have to remain unchallenged and that the people ‘in charge’ don’t necessarily know best.
Or as Primal Scream’s Mani put it in the latest edition of the excellent FC fanzine Under The Boardwalk: “It’s a case of ‘please mister, can we have our ball back.’ It’s been nicked and no-one’s even asked us if they can have it.” The club have had a remarkable start to the season, dropping only 5 points so far. They have also smashed all attendance records for the North West Counties League Division Two, and the buzz is getting bigger with every game.
BBC GMR and Radio 6 DJ Conrad Murray has been a familiar face at FC’s matches and he’s certainly buzzing off the match-going experience: “I really enjoy the fact that it’s like when I first started going in United Road with my mates from school. You’d be phoning round on the Friday night seeing who was going. Loads would turn up and you’d all stand together. It’s all inclusive- you don't need to apply for acceptance.”
Liam Ronan, Swine contributor and Sheffield Wednesday fan agrees with Murray’s comments: “I think what’s quality about it is that you can go along and support FC without feeling guilty. It’s a good craic and a top day out. And it’s definitely the only time you’ll ever hear me chanting ‘United’ at a football match!”
To paraphrase Tony Blair, FC United have accepted the best parts of Manchester United’s history- great fans and diverse support- and rejected the worst - excessive commercialism and disregard for supporters. As well as upholding the finest traditions of Manchester United Football Club, FC are aiming to prove a positive force in the game and beyond.
Dr Adam Brown- a respected former member of the Football Task Force and board member of FCUM- wants the club to be an integral part of the Manchester community: “In many ways the club has been set up as a community club in that it is an expression of the community of the fans that wanted to form it. In that sense it’s bound up in the ethos of the club anyway.”
“We’ve made it very clear that we want the club to be of service to all the communities in Manchester. But obviously it’s early days and the kind of funded outreach work that the best clubs do is something that takes a bit of time to put in place.” Brown believes that the youth of Manchester are vital to the future of FC and wants to ensure this often neglected demographic are catered for: “We’ve got a particular desire to be accessible for young people and on matchday that’s reflected in terms of the £2 prices for under-18’s.
We made it consciously under 18’s rather than under 16’s because we recognise that anyone between 16 and 18 is likely to be in full-time education and very few are going to be earning an adult wage. We had a under-18’s day where 700 under 18’s came in for free. “We’re applying for some money from Sport England to help us develop community ties at the club and that will lead to a coaching course which the club will run for under 18s. There’s a lot of interest in working with schools.”
The difference in ethos between FC United and premier league team is simple, according to Brown: “Everything that FC United makes is reinvested in the club and that is absolutely fundamental to understanding the difference between the commercial, corporate model that is dominating the top level of English football and the kind of model that we’re pursuing.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of all of this is how quickly the Steering Committee were able to set up the club. Never mind the chant ‘shit ground, no fans’, at the start of June FC United had neither a name nor a stadium! The first major supporters meeting after Glazer’s takeover was held at the Methodist Church Hall on Oldham Street with the next one at the Apollo.
A sense of defiance permeated both meetings and Andy Mitten, editor of the influential fanzine United We Stand says he was not surprised at the rapid establishment of the club or the enthusiasm with which the supporters have embraced FC: “They had to seize the initiative and be up and running in a matter of weeks to tap into the feeling amongst Reds post-takeover.
“It was imperative that they started the 05-06 season. I wasn’t surprised because I knew the calibre of people involved and what they were capable of.
“I always felt there would be an initial wave of enthusiasm and publicity- but what was important was what happened after that. Many in non-league were sceptical. The manager of one non-league team said to me: ‘Is this going to happen or what? And isn’t it just going to be a flash in the plan?’”
“It did happen and given that attendances are rising and not falling, it’s unlikely to be a flash in the pan.”
There have been many memorable moments for the club so far. The pandemonium of the first game, the travelling support for the Supporters Direct tie against Wimbledon and the performances in the League have all been exceptional. But perhaps the first competitive match -away at Leek- offers the most accurate insight into the mind of an FC supporter.
Despite a torrential downpour that was more befitting of the African rainy season than the North West non-league season, over 2,500 fans crammed into a, ahem, ‘traditional’ football ground to witness a 5-2 win for FC. The public transport system meant a three and a half hour journey back from deepest Staffordshire but for former Student Direct editor (and contributor to FC’s superb matchday programme) Matt Haley, the day was a welcome return to football’s key values: “The problem with modern-day top-flight football is that every time you buy a ticket you’re just making rich men richer.
“At the risk of sounding overtly political, FC is almost like a socialist utopia in the sense that all the money you spend is ploughed back into the club instead of funding the Chairman’s Ferrari addiction or whatever.” Haley’s conviction is a common one. With ‘football in crisis’ currently a mainstay of sports headlines, it seems that supporters are becoming increasingly disillusioned with keeping their star players in Moschino shirts and diamond earrings whilst paying over the odds for the dubious privilege of 4-5-1 and trite PR statements gobbled up by quote hungry hacks.
Chelsea’s European Cup attendances serve as proof that the money-men may have finally killed the goose that laid the golden egg. But the Moore & Co Construction Solicitors North West League Division Two is a far cry from the shallow opulence of the Premiership and Andy Mitten thinks things can only get better for FC: “FCUM are receiving so much good publicity at the moment that I can only see the crowds continuing to rise.
People are going to games, enjoying themselves and returning. They feel that they are getting value for money and great entertainment- principally because of the atmosphere. “People who called themselves United fans but stopped going to games for various reasons are now match going fans of FC. Their enthusiasm for watching live football has been rekindled, their cynicism tempered. Not everyone agrees with the concept but FCUM has put a smile on thousands of faces.”
And Conrad Murray is adamant FCUM is no gimmick or fad: “I reckon FC is definitely going to go from strength to strength. The club has a great infrastructure in place and the ongoing increase in crowds is evidence that it’s going to get bigger and better. Viva la revolution!”
January 15th, 2006, 06:01 PM
As the 145th Manchester derby kicks off today, once diehard fans will have greater cares. Dominic Fifield finds the breakaway FC United thriving in a world without Glazer
Saturday January 14, 2006
Manchester is rarely less united than on derby day but, as the dust settles on the 145th spat between city rivals, a corner of Lancashire will be more intensely United than ever. Some 1,800 travelling fans will converge tomorrow upon Accrington Stanley's Interlink Express stadium, Nelson FC's temporary home for the afternoon, to bellow their support for a side clad in red and, just as familiarly, sweeping all before them this season.
The chatter among the heaving away support will touch upon the exploits of Ronaldo, Rooney and Van Nistelrooy the previous day but the names bellowed will be those of Orr, Torpey and Carden. Welcome to the new United.
Barely seven months since conception FC United of Manchester is a phenomenon sweeping through non-league football. The club formed by disenchanted supporters infuriated by Malcolm Glazer's £790m takeover at Old Trafford sit 14 points clear at the top of the Moore & Co Construction Solicitors' North West Counties League Division Two, with a goal difference to match their points tally of 49. If strides have been made on the pitch, progress off it is staggering. Those perturbed by the sudden emergence of a club dubbed, often unkindly, "The Rebels" or "Little United" might have hoped initial momentum would have dissipated by now. The reality is very different.
Some 4,328 people attended FC United's recent victory over Winsford at their adopted home of Bury's Gigg Lane, a league record that swelled their average attendance to near 3,000. Six League Two sides - Bury included - cannot match such support. A club that attracted 900 hopefuls to trials for the first-team squad last June now boasts supporters' branches from Swindon to Switzerland, north Lancashire to New Zealand. "This is about building a sustainable club for the benefit of its community, its players and its fans, a football club which is about football," said the acting general manager Andy Walsh. "We're not unique in that. There are plenty of clubs out there interested purely in the game but, from where we came from, this is a new experience."
That background was one of disaffection. Glazer's arrival last summer prompted the breakaway but many who swapped the Premiership for trips to Padiham and Castleton Gabriels had long felt squeezed out. If those involved in AFC Wimbledon arguably had no option but to form their own side following their club's defection to Milton Keynes, FC United was founded by people who had a choice, albeit gut-wrenching.
"This club is a symbol of the opposition to the commercialisation of the game," said Walsh. "Football cannot continue like it is, whether it be with the Glazers or the way those running the top-level clubs chase television money. There's no feeling of long-term responsibility.
"Some people have objected to what we've done but none of us are any less United fans. It's not been an easy decision to give up our season tickets but it's also not been easy for those who've stayed at Old Trafford. We recognise that. Time will show that Glazer is bad news for United and for football - no one has outlined how he will pay off his debt in the long term - but those of us boycotting Old Trafford joined a growing band of disenfranchised: people who couldn't afford to go any more or have been edged out by unsociable kick-off times. We've touched a nerve among fans who want to attend games yet don't want to support the business takeover of football."
Days like today will still prompt pangs of regret. A year ago the Manchester derby would have been the focal point of a season, a fixture to catch the imagination if not necessarily quicken the pulse. Karl Marginson, FC United's manager, first stood on the Stretford End in 1978.
"The derbies now are unrecognisable from 20 years back," he said. "Talking to people who went to the match at Old Trafford earlier this season, the atmosphere was dead. No life. What we've got here is 90-90 football: 90% of the people singing for 90 minutes."
One of those chants chortles "He sells asparagus, and the odd avocado," in recognition of Marginson's day job delivering groceries. "It was a gamble," said the former Rotherham striker. "We hoped to attract 1,000 through the turnstiles but what's happened instead just shows how disillusioned people are at what's going on across top-level football. The fans have had God knows how many years of being told to sit down and shut up at games. Now they can enjoy themselves."
"It's like being transported back to the 1970s," added Barrie George Sr, a City fan whose son, Barrie Jr, has excelled in goal for FC United and the England partially sighted team. His own chant rings out "Free Barrie George, he didn't kill Dando," with T-shirts of the keeper behind bars to match. George previously graced Altrincham and Radcliffe Borough, though the FC United squad boasts league experience. "There are disgruntled fans of other non-league clubs who argue people who turn up here should be watching their games instead," said Leon Mike, formerly with City and Aberdeen, "but this is a movement."
The players earn at least £50 a week, peanuts when Rio Ferdinand picks up more than £100,000 but significant in a league where most would normally go unpaid. Marginson's squad is so large it was easily split into two at training on Thursday night, one group drilled on the five-a-side pitch at Broughton Rugby Club while another shared the grass with Radcliffe Borough as a freezing wind howled across Houghend playing fields. Filming them was a French camera crew. Last week a Russian magazine reporter jostled with Dutch television journalists to cover the story at training.
"The interest is astonishing but I've spoken to former team-mates at United and their attitude is: 'The fans will do what fans want to do'," said the midfielder Mark Rawlinson, who graduated through the same youth team as the Golden Generation of Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and David Beckham before spending five years at Bournemouth. "They probably look at this as 3,000 out of 67,000, and those seats will get taken by other people."
At best it would take seven years for the club to progress into the Football League, so few at Old Trafford will be quaking in their boots yet, though the impetus is inescapable. FC United are advertising for a chief executive and a club secretary on salaries of £25,000 and £18,000, with their income generated through gate revenues, sponsorship and merchandise. Some 650 season tickets have been sold. "We are effectively being run like a league team," said Walsh.
Their impact in the North West Counties League has been far-reaching. Nelson have only once hosted more than 100 spectators this term and could normally hope to take around £5,000 through the turnstiles in a season. Having drawn FC United in the divisional cup as well, they might expect receipts of 10 times that from the two fixtures. "Life is a real struggle at this level, so this offers a comfort zone for next season," said Linda Treitl, Nelson's managing director.
Some clubs whose grounds FC United have visited already this season, and whose coffers they have therefore helped to swell, have taken to recruiting ringers for the return fixture at Gigg Lane, paying for the temporary signings with money generated from the home gate. One player has featured four times against the league's newcomers this season, for three different clubs, while another side offered its players £250 win bonuses to beat the leaders.
Only one, Norton, have managed that to date in the league - "Some of our defending was unacceptable," moaned Marginson - though most have been dismissed by a flurry of goals from those in classic red. All involved will switch on televisions or radios this lunchtime to chart United's progress at City.
"This used to be the biggest game of my season," added Walsh. "I'll be wanting United to win but ours is a real football club, a real football team." Nelson awaits the phenomenon.