Intended as a short trip to London to celebrate our daughter’s 15th birthday, our family outing took a somewhat sinister turn when both my wife´s and daughter’s visa were refused on the fact that there was no marriage certificate included in the pile of documents we had to send as part of the application procedure. As if there are no digital systems to find out within second that we have been happily married for two years and a month now. Since even a partial refund for the money we had invested in the trip was out of the question we decided that I would still make the trip, but then alone. So instead of shopping sprees and showing the sights to my family I found myself visiting the British Museum for the first time and roaming around the impressive area around Liverpool Station, just for a taste of the unique London atmosphere, rather addictive to an English teacher from Holland. One prearranged part of the programme was not to be adjusted though, my maiden visit to FCUM, the club I have gradually come to respect and support , after having seen a documentary on Dutch TV. As a football romantic with a love for the pureness of the game the story of FC stands out as a dreamlike adventure amidst Sheikh overtakings, Corporate Football, Customers not Fans policies and artificial turf, even at top level.
So Saturday saw me on the train from Euston to Piccadily, finding my way through throngs and thongs of people who definitely were in Manchester for different reasons than watching a 7nd league game in a suburb. This suburb turned out to be much farther away than I had anticipated, which also counts for the long walk from the tram to the ground. If not for following a little group of youthful FC fans wearing their scarves I would probably have arrived with the game well underway. Now I arrived well in advance of the events of the afternoon as well as most fans , as it was a very quiet and peaceful atmosphere I entered outside the ground. I met a female volunteer who kindly offered to show me around and introduced me to other volunteers. The first stop was the “members” stall, for lack of another name coming to mind, where I renewed my member/ownership and boasted that I would bring in the goals. Then off to the mega stall for a picture and a scarf.
The lady ushered me into CYCM, a much smaller place than I had anticipated from watching You Tube and other internet sources. Bury is very much an old, somewhat refurbished ground, with a gate reminding me of the days when my dad took me to my first game in Holland and the pissoir smelled of whatever people do there. But there was a lively and cosy spirit in all the areas I was shown and everybody I was introduced to seemed somewhere to be a link in the unending chain of volunteers that forms the heart and soul of the club. When I was later introduced to Richard Simpson from the International Branch, he told me a lot about the coming into being and philosophy of the club, everything consistent with the expectations formed by following FC on the internet.
The ground may be old and small, it also gave an atmosphere of intimacy, even with only two stands used. The turn out was rather small, due to a combination of late August and a bank holiday weekend, but still the faithful were in good voice, which turned even better and louder as events unfolded on the pitch. The style of football that FC (intend to) play is reminiscent of the club most of the fans used to frequent, with the difference that one touch football often became two touches, side shifts from left to right often just missed the intended receiver and neat passing and combination football were occasionally marred by complete misses and lapses of concentration. The opponents probably played the more common style at this level, a towering centerforward assisted by a pacy winger, looking for opportunities that were inevitable to come. Luckily they came far and in between and were not put to full use. On the other end things went smoothly with Tom Greaves scoring some real striker goals and FC showing that they can be lethal when given any extra space. Judging from this game the quality of the FC team should reach higher than most teams at this level. The main danger lies in playing all up front and giving acres of space away to breaks that will come in any game.
I spent the second half of the game talking to two fans from Macclesfield, who go to both home and away games. One of them described the essence of FCUM in a nutshell i.e. out of 100% Man U fans who were dissatisfied with the goings on at Old Trafford 95% grumbled put paid the price ´literally´ for modern football. They still go to games and follow Man U. The other 5% chose the arduous path of saying goodbye to their football lover and started on an uncertain journey through non/league football, from Champions League to North West Counties. The fact that FCUM has not only survived, but is still growing and thriving is largely due to the determination of those fans who made that heartbreaking decision in 2005.
Yet I did not perceive FC United as little United, as it is often claimed on rival forums. Yes, there are definitely links in outfit, fanbase and playing style, but this club has a strong identity that is entirely different from top flight football. The down to earth camaraderie and the community spirit based on voluntary work make this club stand out as a brand name for modern football, punk and rebel style. Also the strong principles stated in the club´s constitution make this club unique. There will still be many challenges to maintain that identity as the club will inevitably go up the league system. However, I trust these fans to stay loyal to the path they chose, and in that they can be the proudest fans ever. Perhaps ironically, I met some Russians and a whole group of Danes on my way back from the ground. They had been to the game, had been impressed by the atmosphere, but took it as a side dish to the Man U / Chelsea clash on bank holiday Monday. For me FC United of Manchester constituted the main 6 goal dinner, leaving me hungry for more. My family and I will surely be visitors in the first season of FC United´s New stadium, which simply should be called Our Ground, in honour of all the fan/owners that have built the ground together.