'The club set up in protest to Malcolm Glazer's takeover of Manchester United' is a statement often used to describe FC United. But while there is no doubt that FC would not have happened without the American invasion, it was the catalyst, the final straw, but not the sole reason.
The material theft of a Manchester institution, forcibly taken from the people of Manchester, was the tip of a pyramid of destruction, with changing kick off times for the benefit of television, soulless all-seater stadia full of 'new' supporters intent to sit back and watch rather than partake in the occasion, heavy handed stewarding and ridiculously priced tickets propping it all up.
By May 2005 some supporters had had enough. The failure to prevent Glazer and repeat the successful repulsion of Rupert Murdoch in 1998 resurrected a 'last resort' idea from that previous campaign and the FC United wheels were put in motion. A group of individuals determined to continue the fight formed a steering committee and FC United of Manchester was delivered.
Critics of the idea argued that if supporters were disgruntled with the Premiership then why didn't they go and support other local cash-strapped clubs instead of setting up their own? But that wouldn't have been theirs would it? It wouldn't have been United and it wouldn't have been right to takeover another club after they had just been taken over themselves. Nor could they drift off in various directions and be lost to each other and maybe football forever. They wanted to maintain the momentum of the protest, to stick together, to sing United songs, to reminisce and bring back the good bits of the good old days. They wanted Our Club, Our Rules and they got just that, a member owned democratic, not-for-profit organisation created by Manchester United fans. A club accessible to all of the Greater Manchester community, dedicated to encouraging participation of youth whether it be playing or supporting and to providing affordable football for all.
The Inaugural Season
The steering group did an amazing job in a short space of time including the appointment of the club's first manager Karl Marginson. Only a fortnight old, the club played its first game at Leigh on July 16, 2005 in front of an official crowd of 2,552. It ended with an exuberant pitch invasion and players, new heroes, being carried off shoulder high. Probably the first time such jubilant scenes had been witnessed after a goalless friendly.
The following week it was off to AFC Wimbledon, the club that gave them so much help and inspiration after they themselves became victims of a businessman who wanted a new toy, albeit in different circumstances. The club secured a ground share with Bury FC at Gigg Lane and successfully applied for membership of the North West Counties Football League. United made their debut in division two at Leek CSOB. From that rain soaked competitive debut in August right through to the end-of-season party in April which saw over 6,023 people turn up to see the Reds lift the title, an unbelievable amount of fun was had at every game. There were unforgettable days, such as Blackpool where Bloomfield Road saw its biggest away following for 20 years when well over 4,000 Reds made the seaside trip. The club even had an end of season Euro away to Germany to face FC Lokomotiv Leipzig.
But there were also the odd 'downs' sat sombrely alongside the many 'ups'. In November they said farewell to two heroes. Steering group and board member Russell Delaney whose determination despite illness ensured FC United was born, finally lost his long battle against lung disease and United legend George Best also passed away. Both received their own minutes of applause. But sad losses aside, the season was an unqualified success on and off the pitch and the NWCFL first division provided the next challenge.
The quest began for a second successive promotion and FC recorded 12 straight wins before Salford City stopped them setting a new record. That defeat was one of only two in the league in another thrilling campaign that gave them more great days out including two victorious mini-derbies against Manchester City fans' club Maine Road.
The League Cup was a refreshing sideshow and the 2-1 victory in the final over Curzon Ashton at their own Tameside Stadium was the second season's cherry to bring the club a league and cup double.
Despite winning two trophies the highlight of the season for some was actually a defeat. The FA Vase fixture against Quorn at Gigg Lane saw the Reds beaten 3-2 in a compelling game. Nine-man United had victory snatched away in the dying minutes then were cruelly denied a replay with virtually the last kick of extra-time. But despite the disappointment of defeat, it really hit home that what the supporters had here was worth more than any amount of trophies. The spirit of the players as they battled for the club was there to behold but in the stands the FC crowd rocked Gigg Lane as they boomed out the season's soundtrack Sloop John B, willing the red shirted heroes in an amazing battle.
With the league and cup double secured, FC then made a raid on the UniBond Division One North title as well as entering the FA Cup for the first time. After a disappointing start to the season, the Reds fought back against the backdrop of a succession of injuries, suspensions and a criminally ridiculous fixture pile up which saw United playing every other day to find themselves in the promotion play-off places.
After clinching the UniBond President's Cup with a 2-0 victory over Radcliffe Borough, United missed out on the league title by just one point to Bradford Park Avenue. The Reds were a side full of confidence though and they beat Bamber Bridge 3-2 in the play-off semi-final to set up a showdown against Skelmersdale United. After falling behind early on, the Reds battled back to a 4-1 win sealing a place in the UniBond Premier and a hat-trick of promotions.
FC United received an early setback at the start of the 2008/09 season when Rory Patterson and fellow striker Stuart Rudd, left the club to join rivals Bradford Park Avenue but manager Karl Marginson found a suitable replacement in Kyle Wilson, who would go on to become the club top scorer for the 2008-09 season.
They started the Northern Premier League Premier Division with an 3-3 draw at home against Matlock Town, before settling into a mid-table position with a loss and a win in the next two games. 25 August 2008 saw the biggest crowd of the season up to that point, 2825, when FC United hosted ex-Football League team Boston United at Gigg Lane. The match ended 1-0 to Boston.
FC United started their second FA Cup campaign in the First Round Qualifying away at Nantwich Town. The match ended goal-less, which meant that the tie would be decided at Gigg Lane, where FC United almost pulled off a fightback. Three goals down with 20 mins to go FC scored twice, but Nantwich held on to deny FC victory. FC United's misfortune in FA Competitions seemed to give way when they scored in the last minute of the FA Trophy First Round Qualifying match against Radcliffe Borough, but their run came to an end with a 3-1 defeat at home by Boston United in the 3rd Round Qualifying.
An indifferent run of results in the league left FC stranded in 11th place for several weeks. Gigg Lane witnessed one of the games of the season when FC United drew a ten goal thriller with Cammell Laird. 5-2 down with 20 minutes to go, FC produced one of the best fightbacks in its short history, to take a point. One of the lowest points of the season came when FC lost 4-2 at home to rock bottom Leigh Genesis, FC undone by a hat-trick by former Manchester United starlet Phil Marsh, who would go on to sign for FC United in the closing months of the season.
FC United's league form had improved after Christmas, but still they looked good for a mid table finish at best, with 48 points from 32 games, with only 10 games remaining. United were also without the services of 24-goal Kyle Wilson, whose season had been cut short by a knee injury. But FC went on a remarkable run of 7 wins and 2 draws to start the final week of the season as favourites to clinch the final play-off spot. FC United were locked on 71 points from 41 games, with Bradford P.A. and Kendal Town, but with a better goal difference and the season was set for a thrilling finish with FC United taking on Bradford at Gigg Lane on the final day. The winner would secure the final play-off spot unless Kendal went on a rout against mid-table Buxton.
Spurred on by the season's biggest crowd of 3718, FC United looked to be heading for the play-offs with a 1-0 lead, but Bradford equalized with 7 minutes remaining. Kendal were drawing 2-2 and FC would still have gone through had the scores remained that way, but Kendal scored in the 88th minute to break FC United hearts. It was one of the most exciting ends which the Northern Premier League had seen in recent seasons. FC United enjoyed a terrific first season in the Northern Premier League premier division and have set themselves the target of winning the league next season.
A pre-season trip to South Korea to play Bucheon FC 1995 in front of 23,000 supporters helped FC United bounce back from the disappointment of missing out on promotion for the first time in the club's history and soon they were able to have a second crack at the UniBond Premier Division.
Marginson had to rebuild his squad once again with Kyle Wilson being snapped up by League Two side Macclesfield and influential midfielder Nicky Platt had decided to try his hand playing football in Australia.
The Reds got off to a poor start, losing crucial games to the majority of the division's best sides before the summer was out. A welcome distraction came in the form of the club's best FA Cup run to date, narrowly missing out on making the first round proper but beating Conference North neighbours Stalybridge Celtic 1-0 in a replay after a thrilling 3-3 encounter at Gigg Lane. Northwich Victoria eventually put an end to United's campaign before becoming the season's giant killers by taking the scalp of Charlton Athletic.
Back in the league, FC United's indifferent form was continuing and although the club had a brief flirtation with the play-off places they soon slumped back down into mid-table. The lowest point of the campaign came in March when the Reds were humbled by a team of hardworking youngsters from Durham who beat them 2-1 to record their first victory of the season. United eventually finished in a disappointing 13th place as Guiseley took the title and Boston United gained promotion via the play-offs and the Reds' longest serving player, Rob Nugent announced his retirement.
The 2009/10 campaign was never going to end with an anticlimax though. As well as finally announcing plans to build their own ground in Newton Heath, FC United were invited to play St Pauli on the official date of the Hamburg side's 100th anniversary. An entertaining match ended with a 3-3 draw as Germany's most fervently anti-fascist club welcomed the newest addition to the 'punk football' family. A trip so good it left many of the travelling Red army feeling on top of the world.
The Reds were also invited over to Belfast to play Ireland's oldest football club, Cliftonville. FC United continued the trend of making friends not millionaires and the fellow supporter owned club hosted the visitors from across the water in a commendable fashion.
As well as the two great trips keeping the buzz alive at FC United, there were reasons to be cheerful on the pitch too. The Reds were boosted by several new additions to the squad for the start of the 2010/11 season as Marginson's side mounts its third attempt at the Northern Premier League with renewed vigour.
Records were broken and new heights were reached as FC United of Manchester's sixth season enthralled from start to finish with twists and turns both on and off the pitch.
The 5th November 2010 will go down in the club's history as being one of our finest hours. The Reds were competing in the first round proper of the FA Cup for the first ever time in front of a crowd creating an electric atmosphere, the type of which many onlookers thought didn't exist anymore in English stadia.
United raced into a 2-0 lead with goals from Nicky Platt and Jake Cottrell against League One side Rochdale, a team 97 places above them in the football pyramid. However, Dale pulled two back and the 7,048 fans in Spotland and thousands more watching live on TV, wondered whether the Reds could hold on for the last 12 minutes to earn a well deserved replay.
Mike Norton had other ideas. With 93 minutes on the clock, FC United’s new striker stole the ball from keeper Josh Lillis' grasp and, whilst evading the Rochdale number one’s desperate lunges, rolled the ball into the back of the net.
Words can't describe the scenes that followed but here's one that comes close - pandemonium. FC United of Manchester had done it and as the final whistle went thousands of supporters poured onto the pitch to celebrate with their red shirted heroes. A truly magnificent night.
In round two, United gained a 1-1 draw at the soon to be League One champions Brighton and Hove Albion but it was almost felt like a victory as goalkeeper Sam Ashton saved an injury time penalty to keep the cup dream alive.
The Reds eventually bowed out in the replay in front of 6,731 supporters, our highest ever crowd at Gigg Lane, but the fairytale run in the game's oldest cup competition had reminded the world that supporter-owned football was not only alive and well but also going from strength to strength in England. More than 1,000 extra members joining the club over the ensuing weeks was testament to that.
Playing and beating more highly rated opposition had given the players greater belief in themselves too. After a disappointing autumn and early winter in the league, the Reds were second from bottom in the Evo-Stik Premier Division by the first week in January and there was talk of a relegation fight by some.
Thankfully not by Karl Marginson or his assistant Roy Soule though. The FC United management team knew their squad was good enough to be at the other end of the table. And so it proved. An incredible run of 14 wins in 19 games saw the Reds climb all the way up to second place by 23rd April.
During that incredible run, United were dealt a hammer blow out of the blue with the council announcing that our prospective new home at Ten Acres Lane in Newton Heath was no longer a viable option due to funding cuts. The club once again demonstrated the never say die attitude that has been on display so many times before and a new location for our ground was found in Moston.
Back to the pitch and in the end defeat on the final day of the season meant the Reds slipped to fourth place, which was still their highest ever finish. The final standings resulted in a Thursday night trip to the Horsfall Stadium to take on Bradford Park Avenue in the play-off semi-final.
United started as underdogs, having never managed to beat Bradford on their own patch despite five previous attempts. An early goal from Matthew Wolfenden put United in control and with the vast majority of a lively 2,785 crowd willing the Reds on, an own goal early in the second half settled the tie.
With Avenue overcome, United then travelled to second placed Colwyn Bay on the first May Bank Holiday Monday with the winners gaining promotion to the Conference North. With top-scorers Norton and Wright both suspended, it was always going to be a tall order. Despite having the vast majority of possession, United couldn't find a way through and one second half breakaway goal was enough to give the Seagulls victory. It was a sad end to an epic season.
However, with plans coming together to have our own ground and community facility - providing affordable football and much, much more - for the start of the 2012-13 season, the future is definitely very bright at FC United.