FC United are the true model for fan-owned clubs in England. The determination of fans to create a club that doesn’t run purely on profit is a lesson we should all take into day-to-day life.
Football clubs in England typically began as local community organisations, similar to modern neighbourhood sports clubs, that operated as unincorporated associations or community benefit societies with players for the teams as members. In 1899 when professional football clubs started to emerge, the FA took action to safeguard the clubs’ tradition of assisting their members and communities by making sure if the clubs were set up as a company, that they prohibited payments to directors and restricted dividends and payments to owners on winding up.
Although effects took time to materialise, the transition from community organisation to a limited company was something that got accepted by the FA and in 1983, the organisation gave Tottenham Hotspur permission to transform the club (a private limited company) into a public limited company, which would then be floated to raise money on the public markets in exchange for a part of the earnings earned by the club, this was a significant effect that has become synonymous within the world of football today.
Over the past 30 years, since that decision was made, it’s clear how detrimental it has been to the existence of football clubs. Across the world, huge investments have been made in clubs that could be seen as either successful for the club, or the downfall in some cases. Corruption from the top has really set precedent for what the modern game has become, however, maybe this isn’t always seen as a bad thing.
People are actively following more grassroots football now than ever before and with the top-level organisations showing signs of weakness, supporting a local team on the weekend is increasingly seen as the obvious choice for people who adore watching the game.
FC United are a fan-owned club based in Moston, Manchester. A stone's throw away from the birthplace of Manchester United and a suburb of Manchester where true reds are born. It was here that history was born on formally, one, but now on two accounts. For people born out of the UK, it sometimes gets confusing, with both teams adhering to ‘United’ and both rocking red and black as their colours of arms. But for most, the stark contrast in history and success is enough to understand which club came first.
It’s often hard to believe, but Manchester United was famously the catalyst for the birth of FC United. After the takeover in 2005, by American businessman, Malcolm Glazer, a group of dissatisfied Manchester United fans made a tough decision to break away and create a team that would not solely run for profit.
It was said that frustrations amongst Manchester United fans had been building for years previous, after the clubs supporters’ group lobbied to keep Rupert Murdoch from buying the club in 1999. Clearly, some Manchester United fans saw their future of being owned by somebody who doesn’t care for the club as a tipping point to not support them anymore.
This wasn’t an easy decision for the fans to make. They firmly stated that this wasn’t a coup, but more of a decision led by honest compassion for the game they loved. In Sir Alex Fergusons’ The Official Manchester United Diary of the Season, he questioned the fans' decision to break away. “They seem to me to be promoting or projecting themselves a wee bit rather than saying, "at the end of the day the club have made a decision, we'll stick by them."
For Alex Ferguson, it seems obvious to say after a hugely successful career at the club. He felt an eternal attachment to the club and his bosses who paid his wages for a number of years after he wrote this book. Since his departure and with Manchester United not winning a league title in nearly 10 years, it’d be interesting to see his views on the matter now.
FC United started like any new team would, in the 10th tier of the footballing league. After trialling over 900 players, the team was brought together and two consecutive promotions meant F.C United were onto something good. During their first season, F.C. United consistently broke NWCFL attendance records. A crowd of 6,032 watched the team during their final home league match of the season against Great Harwood Town in 2005. In 2015, they had their own ground finalised with a capacity of 4,400.
FC United are well known in Manchester for the fan’s bravery in setting up something that was fan-owned and most importantly, accessible for the people who love to watch football on the weekend. With 2274 current members, the club believes its fan-based system is sustainable and superior. In the football league and in an era where many teams are facing significant financial problems – amongst terrible decisions by board members – it seems like an obvious decision to try and get clubs back into the hands of the fans, but obviously very much easier said than done. We just appreciate the fact that clubs like FC United and the fans who care so much about the game exist.
Photography: Matt Wilkinson