One of the better known non league sides in the country is FC United of Manchester formed in 2005 by a group of Manchester United fans unhappy with the Glazer takeover and went on to set up their own fan owned club. Since then the club has come on in leaps and bounds and is now fighting for promotion from the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League into the Vanarama Conference North. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Andy Walker, FC United’s press officer, about fan ownership and other non league topics.
As a club do you play any attention to the goings on over at Old Trafford, or has the connection between the two clubs been lost over the past 9 years since formation?
The connection between FCUM and MUFC will always be there but in the sense that this is a club that was born out of dissatisfaction with the way that football generally and MUFC in particular was being run. Most of our supporters would still class themselves as United fans but many do not wish to give the club their money, preferring instead to invest their hard-earned cash in something that they own and run and have a real say in. Some of our supporters still pay attention to what is happening at OT but most are more preoccupied with what we have built at FC. With our new ground on the horizon very soon, it’s exciting times for our supporter-owned club for sure.
Clubs with fan ownership are becoming more and more popular, with Portsmouth perhaps being the largest of them all, what from a clubs perspective would you say are the major pros and cons of being entirely fan owned especially on a one vote per member basis?
We believe that supporter ownership is the way forward for many kinds of sports clubs. The advantages include being able to involve all supporters in the running of the club and a shared sense of achievement and togetherness that you only get from being part of something that you truly own. That breeds greater involvement in the club too as fans have a real stake in what we are doing. I honestly don’t see any disadvantages of fan ownership, only the challenges that come from involving thousands of members in the running of the club. But you want those challenges. It’s what makes us strong as an organisation.
For the previous 9 years you’ve been sharing stadiums with other clubs, Gigg Lane and now Bower Field, how difficult has it been doing this and how will it feel finally moving to Broadhurst Park when it’s finished?
It’s been difficult not having a place we can call home but we have still achieved great things on and especially off the pitch with our award-winning community work. Moving to Broadhurst Park will be a magnificent achievement and marks a quantum leap in the development of FC United of Manchester. Clubs need a place they can call their own home. When we’ve built our own ground we will have one and the achievement will be all of ours. Truly an amazing thing.
National Non League Day this year falls on September 6th, are the club doing anything special to celebrate despite playing away to Marine?
We just took a good turn out to Marine and took part in a special anti-racist Kick it Out day of action at the game.
How important are days like this to raise the profile of football and the teams outside of the Football League?
These days are very important because it shows that there is life beyond the Premiership and the Football League. Hopefully people who get interested in non-league as a result of NLD will come to watch their local teams again and get hooked.
At the level of football FC play at the leagues are split into 3, Northern, Southern and Isthmian. What effect does this have on the club if any compared to if you were forced to play in a national league system?
Given some of the journeys we have to make in the NPL Premier – Blyth Spartans, Kings Lynn, Stourbridge, Grantham – it feels like a national league sometimes. We aspire to move up the leagues so look forward to a day when we travel a bit more. Our supporters certainly love visiting new grounds and given the numbers we travel in I think that away teams will love to welcome us!
For a while now fans of top flight clubs have been saying that the FA Cup has lost it’s magic, how important is the competition to non-league teams like FC United?
It’s still very important. When we had our cup run a few years ago and beat Barrow, Rochdale (live on TV) and drew with Brighton, it was an amazing time. Magical probably sums up the night we had at Spotland when we defeated Rochdale in the last minute. All the cups are important to our supporters and the FA Cup still means a lot to us. It’s sad that many teams higher up the leagues don’t take the competition seriously and it’s a sign of how money is ruining the game and its traditions.
I heard on the non-league show on 5Live that the extra preliminary round had a prize fund of £1600 for winning, the prize will obviously be greater when you enter the competition next month. How important is that prize money to a non-league club and would it allow you to do anything that may not have been financially viable previously?
The prize money is important, of course, but FC United is a financially sustainable club and we don’t need to rely on cup income to do things we wouldn’t have done. One of the benefits of fan-ownership is that our supporters are keen to ensure that we do not overreach ourselves and break our budget. A good cup run will be welcome but it is not something that we are relying on to break even or even make a surplus.
Given the club’s roots what would it mean to everybody should you reach the FA Cup third round and be drawn against Manchester United?
We always get asked this question and in truth the vast majority of our fans would not like to see such a tie take place. In many ways it would be our nightmare game. We’d rather play another team from higher up the leagues really.
I was speaking to one of the co-owners recently who told me about the fantastic fundraising and charity work that goes on at the club, could you perhaps explain what the club does to raise money for both internal and external purposes?
It’s not just about raising money, our community work makes a real difference to people’s lives by giving them training or providing services that improve their lives. We do a lot of work with children and young people, using sport and especially football to break down barriers and promote inclusion and participation. Our good neighbour schemes where we visit isolated older people are vital and have been recognised as being examples of leading edge community work. Our work with young offenders inside and outside institutions is making a significant difference. Our community programmes are generally regarded as being some of the best that there is in our sector. It’s part of the DNA of our club as a community cooperative.
Following on from that, how important is the money that you manage to raise to the club?
As a social enterprise cooperative, everything that we raise is ploughed back into the club to enable us to succeed both on and off the pitch. There’s no big share premiums to pay out to fat-cat owners or debts to service. Every penning that anyone puts into our club is invested with care and will help us make a real difference in everything that we do.
Finally if you had to sell FC United and non-league football to somebody how would you do so?
It’s a way to get involved in a level of football where you are part of the club and its success. You’re closer to the players, the day-to-day running of the club and at FC United you can share in the success of the club both on and off the pitch. You can also help to make a real difference in your local community too.
I would like to thank Andy for taking to time to speak to me and wish FC United all the best for the rest of the season.