“It’ll all be over by Christmas”.

Alan Gowling (ex Manchester United striker) on the establishment of FC United.

For what it’s worth I am a card-carrying member of FC United of Manchester.  I made the decision to throw my support behind the club following the hostile takeover of Manchester United by Malcolm Glazer. Though I still hold an affinity with Manchester United I don’t regret my decision to back FC United.

Don’t get me wrong it was a difficult decision. I started supporting Manchester United when I was a little boy. My grandfather gave me my first United kit, the classic 1985/86 version. My first Manchester United game was at Hong Kong Stadium in 1986 when the Red Devils faced South China (yep, there were money spinning tours back then too) the match ended in a 2-2 draw and I remember the referee awarding a debatable penalty for the home side.

At the time the club was managed by Ron Atkinson and had the likes of Chris Turner in goal, Gordon Strachan and Bryan Robson. United had a flair for doing well in the domestic cups but lagged behind the Merseyside giants in the league.

Then enter Fergie. I remember the highs like that goal by Mark Robins, the FA Cup victory against Crystal Palace and staying up late to watch the Cup Winner’s Cup triumph against Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona. The lows, the 5-1 thrashing against Manchester City at Maine Road immediately comes to mind and surrendering the title to Leeds United.

There was also the bizarre when Michael Knighton was on the verge of purchasing United and publicized the impending deal by doing keepy-uppies, fully kitted in the middle of Old Trafford. Perhaps it was for the best that the deal fell through.

Then along came the Premier League and we pretty much know what happened from then on in.

I was just your typical football fan, well as typical as one could get following Manchester United all the way from Hong Kong. I scoured for any and all football magazines, followed matches on British Forces Radio and watched the weekly round-up show on TV (my favourite version being the one hosted by the late, great Brian Moore). I enjoyed the success Fergie delivered but tempered any gloating having experienced United teams that were quite ordinary (I did make an exception for Liverpool fans though!).

If supporting United had given me so much why go and back FC United? It’s a question I’ve asked a lot and the answer is still the same: football. Granted it sounds a vague and cheesy reason so let me elaborate, FC United was formed partly because of the Glazer takeover but also as a response to the growing commercialization of football.

It would be churlish not to acknowledge the Glazer’s role in all of this as there’s huge resentment about the nature of the takeover. The Glazers effectively became owners of United without putting a penny into the club. Sure it was legal but that didn’t make it feel right. I suppose that I, like many other fans, felt disenfranchised by what happened.

Of course the commercialization of the club didn’t begin with the Glazers. During the Premier League era United leveraged their on-field triumph to rake in the case and become an off-field commercial success. The Glazers only accelerated the commercial wing of the club. Maybe a takeover was inevitable, United had managed to stay out of the hands of Rupert Murdoch and if the Glazers hadn’t succeeded another buyer may have come in to buy out the club.

There’s also something to be said about the state of modern football. The clubs prioritizing Premier League survival over cup runs and success. Success is now defined as finishing in the top four, the complete disinterest in the Europa League. The reasons go on and on and whilst the influx of money has led to a lot of positive developments in football it certainly has also diluted the ‘purity’ (for want of a better word) of the game. More and more we’re discussing football finances, becoming experts in Financial Fair Play or debating whether long cup runs are a good or bad thing.

FC United appealed because it was an idea, an initiative, an aspiration, and a movement to be a part of. It seemed almost natural to become part of this collective and ‘reclaim’ part of football’s spirit. The grassroots nature of FC United, the commitment to democratizing the club so that we’re all stakeholders, the idea that this should be a football club first, second and third.

It’s easy to characterize FC United as an anti-Glazer vehicle. True, fans are not supporters of the Glazers but if it were purely an antagonistic movement the club would not have survived for as long as it has. It was more than a little disappointing when Sir Alex Ferguson dismissed the fans of FC United as ‘sad’ and questioning how big their support was for Manchester United. He either didn’t know or didn’t want to know how the supporters who formed FC United really felt.

The club is a genuine community, the manager, Karl Marginson, was a fruit and vegetable deliveryman, before going full-time with the club. The players aren’t separated from the match going fans, there’s a youth, college and women’s team and season tickets are set at affordable prices.

Why should a person who grew up and lives in the Far East care about season ticket prices? The lifeblood of FC United are the fans so regardless of where you’re from there’s a solidarity with fellow supporters.

The momentum is growing as FC United are building a new permanent home, Broadhurst Park, which will be shared with junior football club called Moston Juniors F.C. Having a stadium to call home is a tremendous achievement for FC United especially as the club was founded in 2005.

It is difficult following a non-league club overseas, I try to catch highlights on the web, order season review DVDs, listen to podcasts, there isn’t exactly blanket coverage. That said the Internet has been a great tool in following the club. Over the years, I checked the club website to see if Steve Torpey had scored again, learn about the exploits of Carlos Roca, celebrate successive promotions, feel the disappointment of failing to go up via the play-offs.

The FA Cup run and of course watching FC United’s FA Cup run in the 2010/2011 season was something else. Seeing the team make it to the second round, upsetting Rochdale in the process, and feature in a televised match against Brighton was magical. The game against the Albion had it all, a neat and tidy team goal from FC United scored by Nicky Platt, United being reduced to 10-men and defending for their lives, being just seven minutes away from making it to round three before giving away an equalizer, a header off the line and culminating in a sensational last minute penalty save from the FC United keeper Sam Ashton to take the tie to a replay. It was breathless stuff. Unfortunately, United lost the replay 0-4.

Currently, FC United is embarking on its seventh campaign in the Northern Premier League Premier Division after winning three successive promotions. The heartache of losing out on promotion via the play-offs is tough but this club if not anything else is resilient. If FC United can gain promotion from that division into the Conference North then there could be momentum to build on and help the club further climb up the ladder and hopefully sooner rather than later make it into the Football League. It won’t be easy but then again this club has never done things the easy way.

Course, I do follow Manchester United, I’ve written about them for World Soccer Talk on a number of occasions. However when I’m next in the UK I’ll make it a point to travel to Broadhurst Park and watch FC United of Manchester. Knowing my luck my first game as a matchday fan will end in a 2-2 draw with the opponents winning a debatable penalty in injury time.

Then again FCUM all! This is punk football!

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