Padiham? After 32 years spent following Manchester United, my supporting career has taken a somewhat surreal turn. Instead of showing up at Old Trafford for the 12.45 kick-off against Aston Villa, I'm planning to be a few stops down the Manchester Metrolink at Gigg Lane, Bury. That's where FC United of Manchester (FCUM) will take on Padiham in the second division of the Moore and Co Solicitors North West Counties League Division Two.
Instead of watching Wayne Rooney, I'll be watching the attacking runs of Steve Torpey, ex-Altrincham and Prescott Cables. And there will not be 67,500 gathered with me. We're hoping for 5,000, about 80 times the division's average gate.
You might think I've lost my mind. But I've never felt more sane.
FCUM are the breakaway club formed by 4,000 United fans disillusioned with the takeover of MUFC by Malcolm Glazer, who has passed on £540m worth of debt to the institution we helped build up. We respect the decision of many United fans to fight Glazer from within, but we have opted for a different route.
Some commentators call us naïve. After all, every club has to have an owner. And every plc can be bought and sold, even to indebted Americans needing to make a profit from the passion of others. Put up and shut up.
Obviously, I am not prepared to do that. But not because I've stopped supporting Manchester United. None of the rebels have. At the Dyers' Arms on Macclesfield Road in Leek last Saturday, the landlord had to close the doors at midday, such was the crush inside. FCUM were due to play away to Leek County School Old Boys (established 1945) at 3pm. Some 2,500 travelling fans had arrived in town early to make sure they caught the 12.45 Everton-United match on Sky. We're United supporters. But that's why, for the time being, we're not going to the games.
The club programme at Leek (we won 5-2 by the way, Torpey scoring a superb free-kick) printed this statement from the FCUM board.
"Glazer's takeover was the line in the sand in a game dominated by money. A game that has seen supporters fleeced as the source of the revenue while a small group of rich men get richer. The game that will see Glazer try to use these supporters to pay off his debt and make him a profit. In Manchester and its conurbation [including London} there was a group of people who stood up and said, 'No'."
The authors of this statement, for the most part, form part of a generation of United supporters that grew up going to United games in the Seventies and Eighties. They liked standing up with their mates, they liked singing and they were proud of the passion of Manchester United's crowds.
Over the last 10 years they have fought a rearguard battle at Old Trafford trying to preserve the "feel" of the football club. Stewards told them to sit down ("except at moments of high excitement"); the crowd around them visibly aged (you need a good income to afford Premiership prices) and players' wage demands became more outlandish (hello, Rio).
Kick-off times were constantly altered to suit the armchair viewer at the expense of the match-going fan. And the heart of the Stretford End was ripped out to provide executive accommodation.
Still this group tried, through fanzines and sharing the intensity of away games, to stay in touch with the roots of what Manchester United were, should be, and will be again: one of the most romantic, intensely proud sporting institutions in the world. But Glazer's arrival on the scene, and the craven turncoatery of those like David Gill, MUFC's chief executive, who opposed the bid and then decided to stay on to facilitate it, was too much to stomach.
A tipping point has been reached. United no longer make money to buy players to win matches. They win matches to make money to service Glazer's vast debt and (dream on) turn it into a huge profit.
So although, in the words of one popular song at The Dyers' Arms last Saturday, "It takes a week to get to Leek," we were happy to be there. And until Glazer is driven out and supporters are given a greater say in the running of the club they helped make great, we will continue to travel to places such as Eccleshall, Cheadle Town and Daisy Hill.
If last week was any guide, it will be a fun trip. Inside Harrison Park, the singing was continuous for 90 minutes. Every touch of "Mr Mystery", aka Rory Patterson, who appeared without a number on his back in a pre-season friendly at Stalybridge, was cheered. We all agreed that Rob Nugent (ex-Sheffield United youth) was better than Rio. And Torpey (who really does look a very good player) was accorded the honour of the song usually sung in praise of Ronaldo.
Today it will be the same. FC United of Manchester fans will gather in Bury pubs to watch the Villa game, hoping the Reds win. Then, in our thousands, we will urge on the new United against Padiham. Two Uniteds and, as the Stone Roses song has it "One Love". But we won't share it with Glazer.
Julian Coman is a founder member of FC United of Manchester
- More about:
- Derby County
- Manchester United
- Mergers And Acquisitions
- Premier League
- Wayne Rooney