Non League Daily

Supporter Ownership: Love spreads in the FC United community

Just as Manchester has defined the soundtrack to two generation's upbringing, one of its clubs is defining the future of its communities.

Where bands like the Stone Roses, New Order, the Smiths and Oasis provided the musical backdrop for at least two generations, FC United of Manchester are set on a journey to give their local community the support they feel it needs for years to come, by ensuring that success on the pitch is matched by integrity and involvement off it.

In doing so the club have become a source of pride for its vast amount of members and although they maybe have been founded as a rebel yell, they now find themselves as one of the leaders of the Supporter Ownership movement, with their local community at their heart of everything they do.

That is an ethos that the club has lived by since its formation in 2005 and one that Press and Communications Officer, Andy Walker described as "extremely important".

"We pride ourselves as a community football club and that work that we do is extremely important to us. While we haven't had a ground of our own we haven't had a community to call our own. Now we are ready to move into our new stadium, the community side can flourish.

“One of the key elements of setting the club up was to use football to the benefit of the local community. We are set up as a community benefit society, which is a statement of intent in itself. The projects that we provide range from adult education, youth projects, a football academy, a boxing academy, we have an annual scheme where we take school leavers and train them a sports coaches to deliver training to younger children.

“We are very much involved in our local community and move into the new ground will mean for the first time ever, we will have a community to work within right on our doorstep. It gives us opportunities to get involved in the local community and to give something back to the area."

The Rebels have lived a nomadic lifestyle so far, playing "home" games at Bury's Gigg Lane, Staylbridge Celtic's Bower Fold and more recently Evo-Stik Northern Premier League rivals, Curzon Ashton.

They are set to move into their impressive new ground at Broadhurst Park, a stadium designed as your would expect with a sense of community at its heart and Walker emphasised that the club have a "social responsibility" to support their local area.

"It has been about having a focus from the outset on having a centre, not just for football but for other leisure activities. In the same way that we didn't have a community, we didn't have a base of our own. Moving into our new ground will see us offering 3G pitches, community changing facilities and spaces to deliver different activities.

“The ground was specifically designed to enable us to deliver all of the activities we want to for the local community. We expect a local running club to move into the ground, we are talking to a weightlifting club and badmington clubs. We want Broadhurst Park to become a hub for the local community and to play a part in the wellbeing of that part of Manchester.

“We know that the wellbeing indicators in that area could be better and we feel we have a social responsibility to help improve that. A lot of the aspects of the club are important but the local community is absolutely crucial and our members fully support the move into the new ground ensuring that the relationship grows stronger"

The club will, all being well, move into their new home as newly crowned Evo-Stik Northern Premier League champions as they seem set to clinch the league title at the fifth attempt. Frustration has been found in the form of play-off heartache in each of the previous four seasons.

This year Karl Marginson has taken his side within five points of a promotion to the Conference North, something that could be confirmed within the next week and after the failures of the past Walker feels that gratification of the success will be enhanced.

"We need five points to be absolutely certain and take mathematics out of it. But the fact is that the league we are in is a very difficult league to get out of. We have failed at the play-off stage for the past four seasons and it may well be that the fact we have done that means that any success we do acheive this year is even more gratifying.

“The manager will tell you that we are taking each game as it comes and that has stood us in good stead this season. We have already sealed one league title this week as our women's team gained promotion in their third year. The club is on a high because of that and we hope the first team can do the same."

There is no getting away from the fact that FC United of Manchester are one of the most high profile clubs involved in the supporter ownership movement and in doing so they are showing that there is a different way.

The club was set up in protest at the Glazer takeover at Manchester United, as the American imposed an astronomical level of debt on the Old Trafford club.

The Rebels were born and they followed a path already taken by AFC Wimbledon, the two clubs became brothers in arms and with the support of Supporters Direct became the leading lights in the movement.

And it is a movement that isn't showing signs of stopping with Bath City and Torquay United supporters trusts both showing interest in increasing the involvement with their clubs. An FA Trophy tie between the latter and FC United has proved to be a landmark movement for supporters of the South Coast club, something that Walker believes shows supporter ownership is "very much on the agenda".

"We got some great help from Supporters Direct. Obviously as the representative for supporter owned clubs they worked closed with us. We took a lot of inspiration from AFC Wimbledon as they had trodden the path before us. We played a lot of friendlies with them and we cemented that very good relationship with them.

“It is interesting looking at it from the point of a movement. There are a number of supporter owned clubs and they are flourishing. A club like Portsmouth have been in the news recently with a community share ownership and we pioneered that in relation to our own facility.

“The question of supporter ownership is particularly important when you see the state of the game at the top level. I saw an article on Torquay United where they said our visit there in the FA Trophy showed them that it is possible to run a club as a supporter owned club. We took pride in that, not because it was us but because it showed that supporter ownership is very much on the agenda."

FC united are proving to be the example to follow as a supporter owned club. As previously stated their community involvement, success on and off the pitch and understanding of their social responsibility shows that they are the blueprint for any supporters who are interested in owning their club.

Walker believes that they have shown there is another way to do things and one that can help a club flourish.

"There are a lot of benefits to having a supporter owned club. The first point we would make is talk to people who have been down that route already. We got great support from AFC Wimbledon, it is hard because you can't rely on anyone but yourselves but when you see the team running out on the pitch, when you see the local community benefitting from your work, there is a lot to be gained from that.

“I think that AFC Wimbledon, ourselves and other clubs have shown it is possible to flourish. With the crowds we get, with the volunteers we have, you can see that the model works. We anticipate that going up to the next level will mean we have a sustainable model to support this club and to help it grow. Our advice would be go in with your eyes open, take advice, but above all go for it."

And after the success of the Rebels, who can blame them for urging supporters to join a movement that shows no sign of stopping. Love spreads throughout Supporter Ownership and it is a movement that is proving that dreams never end, do you know what I mean?

Interview: Mark Carruthers

Photo: FC United Of Manchester

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