It sounds crazy, or perhaps so crazy it could work, that a soccer club would allow its fans to pick its weekly starting XI. Well, that is just what United London FC is doing. The start-up, non-league English side is working to bring fans back into the game, in a Football Manager meets fantasy sports way.
Starting play this season, United London will be the first ever club to be managed by its supporters. It is a team that will allow its fans to pick the starting XI week after week, thanks to updated scouting reports from the first team coaches and the use of social media.
Hearing about the club, it seems almost unreal, that a team could give so much power to its followers. Yet, soccer fans from around the world have already thrown their support behind United London, joining the team’s website and following along with every news post.
The club recently held its first trials in London, and reportedly identified 14 players that have been signed by the club. United London has also garnered quite the publicity, with Sky Sports, Radio Yorkshire and BBC Radio all jumping on board to interview club chairman Mark North.
With the success of players in recent times that came through the non-league system, players like Jamie Vardy, Chris Smalling and Charlie Austin, United London hopes to give footballers a chance to shine and move on to bigger clubs.
In a recent interview with BBC’s Radio 5 Live, United London chairman Mark North outlined the club’s ambitions.
“Basically United London FC is a football club with two main objectives,” North explained. “It’s to give grassroots players a unique platform to raise their profile and hopefully we can get them signed to semi-professional clubs or professional clubs.
“But also to engage with football fans that can vote on a real starting XI each week.”
Putting fans in the dugout and giving young players a chance to fulfil their dreams is a noble act in today’s soccer world. However, the biggest question will be, can this be sustained? Of course, time will tell, but right now the team is working to give fans a voice that many feel was lost since the debut of the English Premier League in 1992.
Including fans as the team’s “true manager”, is an interesting decision, but one that has got the media talking about the club. A new club, from scratch, can’t compete with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal in England, but a club offering a different option could see the team reach success both on and off the pitch.
In recent years, clubs such as Wimbledon FC and FC United of Manchester have succeeded as supporter-owned clubs. United London is taking a step further by allowing fans to run the team, at least, to a certain extent. The club will have a first team coach in former professional Leon Constantine, whose job it will be to organize the team, and implement the tactics. Will fans have a chance to vote on tactics and substitutes someday? Perhaps they will as the club evolves. That will really put fans in the manager’s seat.
The club is doing something different, and are putting eyes on the team. The first ever manager-less team will take to the pitch next season in hopes of bucking the trend of current football teams.
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