Theyâ€™ve done it! Finally! After a few years of â€œplay-off heart breakâ€, FC United have finally made it to the lofty heights of the Conference North, and only one level away from national football. Surely all football lovers should be rejoicing in the success of a fans owned protest club? Or perhaps not.
FC United have always been a case for great intrigue and championing by the press. 100% of the articles I have read are positive in their unbridled support for the club and what the board there are trying to achieve. One could be forgiven for thinking that FC United are the saviours of the game, the best thing to happen to non-league football, or football in general. A beacon of hope in the current climate of perceived astronomical player wages, and unrealistic ticket prices. So as the â€œlove inâ€ really takes hold driven by FCâ€™s promotion to the Conference North, and imminent move into their own ground, please allow me to put across the case of the opposite view. Views shared by many die-hard supporters of lower league and non-league clubs up and down the country, but rarely given the chance to be aired.
First thing to point out is â€“ I donâ€™t hate Man United. In fact, I have nothing against them whatsoever. There is a school of thought that where a negative perception of FC United does exist, it must stem from a deep-rooted hated of Man United. Maybe there is some justification for such a theory, but this is not the case here. Manchester United have never played my team, never offended my team in anyway, and when it comes to top level football, I generally find myself favouring the team with the most home-grown players â€“ often United since the beginning of the Premier League.
No, the worrying thing for me is what FC United represent for the future of the game. That being a firm step towards the dreaded â€œB teamâ€ scenario, rightly and universally opposed every time this wretched idea is raised. Only this time, in fairness, driven by the fans and not (as proposed by the Dyke-lead FA) for the benefit of the clubs of with the purpose of developing home-grown players. While the FC intentions may be honourable, the end result has the same effect on the existing clubs. Martin Samuels wrote an impassioned piece in the Daily Mail against the B team model proposed by the FA Commission, where he raised the issue (among many other relevant points) of the B team model â€˜dilutingâ€™ the existing lower league rivalries. I would agree with this wholeheartedly, and take it a step further. The idea of Premier League clubs having supporter owned mini-teams completing in the lower leagues and non-league will not only have the same effect, but it will doubtless lead to the dilution of the existing clubs themselves, never mind the issue of rivalries as raised by Mr Samuels. With the continued success of FC United, where would this end? Roman Abramovichâ€™s Chelsea love affair turns sour â€“ FC Chelsea would only need 1,400 fans watching to become â€œWokingâ€. The Manchester City â€˜projectâ€™ is bound to turn sour at some point (it is City after allâ€¦) â€“ FC City of Manchester would only need 1,200 to be â€œAltrinchamâ€. Newcastle fans are rarely a happy bunch, and aside from the current average crowd being higher at the International Stadium due to a purple patch driven by heavy investment into the playing squad, in reality they would only 400 fans watching to displace â€œGatesheadâ€. You get the picture. Liverpool fans have already attempted such a stunt, but fortunately for the existing local clubs the timing was less favourable than on the red side of Manchester, with Hicks and Gillett departing less than a year later and before the project really got off the ground.
In fact, the way in which FC United have claimed to take ownership of the â€˜soulâ€™ of Manchester United, moved the â€˜soulâ€™ miles up the road into another borough, taken the clubs songs with them, and traded off the same name, it could be claimed with some justification that the similarities lie closer to the dreaded franchise model of MK Dons than that of other fans-clubs, such as AFC Wimbledon (which rose from the ashes of what should still be consider a major blot on the conscious of all involved in English football who stood back and allowed it to happen).
As honourable as the FC intentions claim to be, this is not a model I wish to see replicated in other English cities – non-league football awash with fans owned Premier League team clones.
Which brings me on to the subject of fan ownership in non-league football. FC United are rightly championed for their ownership model and work within the community (leaving aside their new â€˜localâ€™ communityâ€™s long drawn out and expensive campaign to attempt to block FC United building a football ground on their local park). However, this is not unique or new, in spite of what the press would like to portray. Yes, there are obvious examples of non-league clubs with lofty ambition driven by rich local beneficiaries. The late Rushton & Diamonds are a prime example, there are other â€œprojectsâ€ still on-going (for now), Fleetwood and Crawley being the most obvious. However, a casual observer would be wrong to assume this was the norm. Almost every non-league club from the Conference down survives due to the fans. Clubs which would not function without an army of match day volunteers, and fans raising funds within the local community. The local communities being vital to the survival of the local club, the club in turn being vital to the survival of the local community.
This community-driven fan involvement has been on-going for the past 100 years in non-league football, and the lower leagues. Not only the past 10 years since the inception of FC United.
And letâ€™s not forget that among all the anti-SKY songs and banners, and the promise of football at 3pm on a Saturday, this is the club who were more were more than happy to abandon these loosely-held principles the first time they were offered the money to do so by a subscription-only broadcaster. FA Cup: Rochdale vs FC United â€“ Friday 5th November 2010, 7.45pm (ESPN).
The match day experience itself offered at FC United is often portrayed as a glowing beacon of family friendly football. â€œMaking friends not millionairesâ€. It sounds catchy, but a quick trawl through YouTube rubbishes such a claim. Now I do accept that this isnâ€™t endorsed by the club, is possibly a small number of fans and every club in the country has its less savoury element. However an atmosphere of smoke bombs, pyrotechnics, open drinking on the terraces and idiots invading the pitch every time they score, isnâ€™t the sort of atmosphere that I would want to expose my family to. In fact there is a good reason why all of the above are illegal at all football grounds from the Conference level upwards.
If this is the reality of Premier League fans invading non-league, then it can go back to from where it came.
â€œBut we donâ€™t want to watch Premier League footballâ€ will be the cry from the FC United fans. Yes, a fair point. They wonâ€™t have to look too far into their own community to find their existing local non-league club, all of which are followed by a proportion of fans whoâ€™s primary allegiance lies elsewhere, often in the premier League. â€œBut that wonâ€™t mean anything to us as Manchester United fansâ€ will be the retort. Well, hang on, you canâ€™t just invent a B team to support, or a franchise of the original club to run yourself, and not expect a backlash. That is NOT how football should work.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the on-going media love in, was the message of support last week from a certain Russell Brand. The self-styled man of the people and independent thinker, swayed by a combination of the media and the FC United PR output. â€œI reckon this is the future of footballâ€ he tweeted. Bollocks Russell. It will be the death.