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We’ll carry on through it all

05/29/2017

LONG READ: As the 2016-17 football season draws to a close here’s a review of the last twelve months in the life of FC United of Manchester. It’s undoubtedly been a tough year on and off the pitch but, through it all, there has been much to celebrate and be proud of. 

 

As Tony Walsh’s stirring ode to Manchester, “This Is The Place”, boomed out across Albert Square at the vigil to remember those children, young people, parents and others killed at a pop concert at the Manchester Arena, the words may well have resonated, on several levels, with FC United supporters. That Mancunian spirit of defiance in the face of adversity and the desire to do our own thing, to be creative, to make things better is part of this football club’s DNA. At times like this football appears trivial set aside the heartbreaking loss of young lives destroyed simply because they went to a pop concert but there is much more to this football club than kicking a ball around a patch of grass.

A few days before Tony Walsh’s appearance in front of the Manchester Town Hall was beamed across the world, he had entertained more than three hundred supporters at FC United’s fundraising Gala Dinner at the Midland Hotel, earning a rapturous ovation for his wonderful poetry. And a week before that he’d also done a turn at our Supporters’ Dinner at Broadhurst Park. Two gigs for FC United in eight days. Not to mention an appearance at Course You Can Malcolm at Gigg Lane many moons ago. This is a fella that clearly “gets” what we are about and after the recent Gala Dinner Tony expressed his pride at being invited along and the “huge respect” that he has for what this football club is achieving on and off the pitch. And he’s right, because despite all our well-documented difficulties over the last year there has still been much to be proud of and to celebrate. Sometimes it takes someone else to remind us of that.

On the pitch, to those observing the club from a distance, it might appear to have been a fairly dull season at FC United. Our second campaign in National League North ended with us in thirteenth place, exactly the same position as last year, this time with a total of 54 points, a mere one point more than we garnered in 2015-16. Indeed the rhythm of the season was similar to the previous one with a sluggish start followed by a brief flirtation with the relegation zone in the new year before a decent run of results to pull ourselves into the safety of mid-table by the end of March. But given that this season’s league campaign has undoubtedly been a tougher one with the likes of Kidderminster Harriers, Salford City, FC Halifax Town and Darlington thrown into the mix it’s no mean feat to finish in mid-table again. Most of us would probably have settled for that at the start of the season even if, at times, the football has lacked some of the attacking urgency of old.

Off the pitch though it’s been a year of huge change for the club, a year of growing up and of finally getting to grips with the reality of not only owning a football club but a multi-million pound facility too. Yet although it’s been bloody hard work there has been much to celebrate which may come as a surprise for outside observers for whom Danny Taylor’s piece on disharmony at the club in the Guardian over a year ago or that headline on the BBC’s website last November about our financial troubles (“protest club may apply for overdraft”) might have been the last thing they read about FC.

But through it all the club has continued to cement its place as a Mancunian organisation that offers a helping hand to some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our community; like offering a refuge for the homeless at Christmas, supplying breakfast for kids and families that might otherwise struggle to get a decent one, offering companionship for often socially isolated older people, contributing to collections for refugees and recognising the power of football to help victims of torture who choose to make Manchester their home. A football club to be truly proud of.

So even if there’s an understandable temptation to sigh “who cares about football at a time like this” let’s make a brew, grab a biscuit or two and allow ourselves a few minutes to reflect on some of the highlights of the last twelve months.

Now we’re at the wheel….

In times of strife it’s tempting to look for turning points, a six-two-at-Arsenal-in-1990 moment when the future begins to take on a brighter hue. The reconvened General Meeting in May of last year may well come to be seen as a watershed moment in FC United’s history as around four hundred members gathered on a sunny Sunday in Prestwich. We could easily have hit the deck that day and not got back up but instead we summoned that DIY punk spirit that got the club off the ground within a matter of weeks in 2005.

At the end of an often acrimonious twelve months which had seen the resignation of the club’s longstanding Chief Executive and seven Board members, the debate was lively but as the details of more than thirty motions were discussed and voted on, over the course of four hours, the passion of the club’s members and collective desire to get things back on track was clear for all to see. A record turnout of more than eight hundred co-owners voted on these motions – perhaps not trumpet blowing territory but there are plenty of football clubs at this level that would love to have that many supporters attending matches let alone engaged in the running of the club.

And this participatory zeal was demonstrated again in June when a record nineteen candidates stood for election to fill the eleven board vacancies at an Extraordinary General Meeting. Of the eleven subsequently elected only two had previous experience of being on FC’s board. They deserve our thanks for having the balls to stand up and be counted in the club’s darkest hour and thanks too for grafting to keep the club afloat over the next few months, for much of this time without key members of staff in place to take care of day to day issues.

The new board met for the first time in July and quickly got down to business, signalling their intention to operate with greater openness and transparency than in the past and there were welcome apologies to several individuals wronged by the previous board. Another of the new board’s first actions was to announce a friendly match against Rochdale at the end of July that was used to pay tribute to the hundreds of volunteers, past and present, who give up their time and skills week in week out to make the club what it is. The Friday night before the Rochdale match also saw the return of the much missed Course You Can Malcolm club night in the afternoon (but this time not in the afternoon) for the first time since 2014. Another refreshing attempt by the club to heal the rifts that had developed in the club’s support and to move forward as a united body of supporters.

Despite our off-pitch travails the often innovative community work that is woven into the fabric of the club continued throughout the summer in the form of breakfast clubs and youth projects during the school holidays. In addition, the club was the only organisation in Manchester to participate in a national charity-run event to distribute breakfast cereals to community groups, food banks and local residents who might otherwise not get a decent breakfast. The cereal was distributed from a huge container in the car park at Broadhurst Park.

The car park was also the setting in July for Jimmy Cauty’s unusual artwork, the Aftermath Dislocation Principle, which attracted considerable interest. Slightly older readers may recall Jimmy’s role in the acid house scene of the late eighties as part of the KLF. The artwork depicted a model village in a post-riot landscape and was set in a 40 foot shipping container and toured the UK visiting places where “significant civil unrest” had occurred in the past. Civil unrest? Us? Given the radical history of this city the fact that FC United was the only place in Manchester it was displayed also represented something of a coup for the club.

And continuing on the arty theme, a theatre production of the FC United story called “Conceived in a Curry House” and featuring FC supporters and local residents played at the Lowry Theatre, another example of our thriving, longstanding relationship with local theatre group Moston Active Drama.

Doesn’t matter if it’s far or to Broadhurst Park….

Despite all the drama and comings and goings off the pitch, remarkably most of the first team squad had remained intact over the summer and the squad was strengthened with a sprinkling of mainly youthful new signings. The season kicked off with draws against Chorley and Telford but the highlight of the opening weeks was a well deserved Friday night 2-0 win against Stockport County with one of the new signings, Nathan Lowe, sealing the victory only moments after coming on as a late substitute. The first of several important, often spectacular, goals that he would go on to score as the season progressed. The win put FC into the dizzy heights of second place in the table for a few hours at least.

The home match against Darlington on August bank holiday Monday saw the club working with the charity Sporting Memories for the first time. The Sporting Memories Foundation supports older people across the UK living with dementia, depression and loneliness helping them to recall fond memories of watching or playing sport and to connect with others and with their past. Following the match a Sporting Memories group was established and met in the classroom at Broadhurst Park on Friday afternoons throughout the season, proving to be a very popular new strand of the club’s community programme.

Boston three party

The vacant Chief Executive Officer role attracted considerable interest, reflecting the club’s wide appeal, and in the first week of September the board announced the appointment of Damian Chadwick (no relation to FC’s former “nutter in the middle”) as the club’s new CEO. A founder member of FC United, Damian was the Venue Controller at the Macron Stadium, the home of Bolton Wanderers, and was responsible for managing the year round operation of the stadium and the adjacent Bolton Arena. Quite a coup for the club to find someone of this calibre from within our own ranks to step into the Chief Executive role. A reminder, once again, that it is not merely a cliché to note that our very own members are our greatest asset.

The following day FC United recorded their first away win of the season defeating Boston 3-2 at York Street. But that was to be our only league win in September as losses at Harrogate and at home to eventual champions Fylde were followed by draws with Tamworth and Curzon Ashton. However the season’s FA Cup campaign got off to a flyer as the Reds banged in seven goals on a sunny afternoon at Ossett Town.

Panda-monium

Unfortunately another revenue boosting FA Cup run wasn’t to be as, on the opening day of October, with the Reds only seconds away from being in the hat for the draw for the fourth and final qualifying round Harrogate Town snatched a 95th minute equaliser to draw 3-3 and subsequently ran out comfortable 2-0 winners in the replay the following Tuesday night.

The following Saturday saw the long awaited and welcome return of a matchday Course You Can Malcolm to the right end of the tram tracks with poetry, pandas, spaghetti western garage rock and an appearance by lifelong Red and telly presenter and writer Terry Christian. All of this was played out in front of a packed two-thirds of the Main Stand bar before FC United beat Alfreton Town in a topsy turvy seven goal thriller.

The trip to AFC Telford United the following week wasn’t quite as lively as FC once again failed to beat our Salopian bogeymen, losing to a single goal. But all of that was forgotten a week later when FC roared on by a raucous travelling Red Army took all three points back up the M6 after a remarkable, backs to the wall 2-0 win away at promotion chasing Kidderminster Harriers. However, a midweek 3-1 defeat at Halifax Town and a 4-2 mauling at home to the Tigers of Gloucester City had us peering nervously, once again, at the relegation zone.

The Gloucester match took place on People United Day, FC’s annual celebration of the diversity of our local community and, once again, it was a wonderfully heartwarming occasion that featured a special friendly match, after the Gloucester match, on the 3G pitch adjacent to the ground, between a team from United Glasgow FC, comprised largely of refugees and a team from the Freedom from Torture charity. It was refereed by Karl Marginson and watched by a decent crowd.

Freedom from Torture provide clinical support for victims of torture who arrive in the UK as asylum seekers having endured the kind of pain and suffering that the rest of us can probably barely imagine. One of the many strands of FC United’s community work involves a group from Freedom from Torture attending weekly football sessions at Broadhurst Park. A return match in Glasgow is planned as part of Refugee Week in June and it is hoped that these friendly matches will become regular fixtures in the calendar. People United Day with its celebration of diversity and clear anti-discriminatory message proved, once again, that it is as much to do with what this football club is about as winning trophies and snaffling occasional late winners.

Our flag stays red

November didn’t spawn a monster but a 3-2 defeat at home to struggling Bradford Park Avenue wasn’t exactly the prettiest way to start the month as we slipped into a not-too-comfy 17th place in the league. But the following Monday the club was boosted by Damian Chadwick joining the club as our new Chief Executive having been itching to get started following his appointment in August. The club was also pleased to announce the signing of a three year deal with Manchester brewer Joseph Holt’s that means they will be the club’s all important brewery supplier for the next three years. Quite a commitment given how much beer our support typically puts away.

The mood was brightened further by FC’s youth team making their first ever appearance in the first round proper of the FA Youth Cup against Carlisle United at Broadhurst Park. The FC youth had already played four games to make it this far in the competition with wins over Curzon Ashton, Ashton Town, Gateshead and Nostell Miners Welfare in the qualifying rounds, scoring three or more goals on each occasion. The young Reds, captained by Sam Baird, gave a good account of themselves in front of a crowd of 342 but their Cumbrian opponents notched two second half goals to win 2-0. Nevertheless there was much to be proud of and the success of the youth team not only in their cup run but also in the likes of Sam Baird and Mike Jones making the step up to the first team. And FC’s Academy has had a fine year too with praise from many for the quality of the teaching and reflected in the fact that, in contrast to last season, no students have dropped out during this academic year.

The Reds, backed by a large away following, secured a much needed win at Stalybridge Celtic in mid-November with Jason Gilchrist bagging a brace and Kieran Glynn also netting in a 4-2 win that saw young Sam Baird stepping up to make his debut in central defence and impressing with his composure against an experienced Stalybridge forward line. The wonderful station Buffet Bar (we’ll miss it next season) was packed to the rafters before and after the match with several old faces returning and a certain song to the tune of the Stone Roses’ Waterfall getting an airing for the very first time. The win at Stalybridge was the first of three consecutive wins in the league and an unbeaten run that lasted into the new year. Although this was tempered a little by another early exit from the FA Trophy with the Reds crashing out 5-1 at home to Nuneaton.

Meanwhile off the pitch a statement issued by the board on the last Friday of November outlined in stark terms the perilous financial position of the club barely half way through only the second season in its own ground. It highlighted under-performing non-match day revenue, an “unrealistic” business plan, a staffing structure that was simply “not fit for purpose” and a lack of basic financial controls, HR processes and contracts for just about anything; mismanagement and incompetence on a scale that very nearly drove the club into oblivion. In addition things weren’t helped by having to function without a Chief Executive or Club Secretary for a significant chunk of 2016.

Of course, we are far from alone in experiencing financial problems. In our own league, AFC Telford United decided that they could no longer compete with the likes of Fylde and Salford City as a supporter owned football club and voted to seek outside investment; fan ownership viewed as a weakness rather than a strength as it was higher up the football food chain at Portsmouth where the Pompey Supporters’ Trust voted in favour of selling the club to the former chief executive of Walt Disney. And as the season ended Worcester City announced that they would be voluntarily dropping three levels down the non-league pyramid following their relegation from the National League North pointing to “excessive costs” as the chief reason for this drastic action. No surprise then that some FC supporters have questioned whether we too can continue to compete effectively at this level of football and keep our founding principles and commitment to affordable football intact.

The response to the board statement was typically heartening with supporters digging deep once more with many fans taking advantage of Red Friday special offers on merchandise at the online club shop or renewing or increasing regular contributions to the Development Fund (which by the end of the season had raised over £110,000). Match sponsorship received a welcome boost too with the likes of the Giddys (a group of younger supporters usually to be found waving flags at the front of the SMRE), the Red Issue Sanctuary, Reporter from the The Soul Is One forum, the Rainbow Firm and the Secret Mustard Society of Rugby sponsoring matches which meant in the second half of the season almost all home matches were fully sponsored (match, ball and programme), a marked improvement on the previous season. This spirit of defiance was also typified by Karl Marginson donating the fee that he received for his punditry during the television coverage of Curzon Ashton’s FA Cup first round clash with AFC Wimbledon. And Crystal Vehicle Hire very generously offered to sponsor all players who up until that point of the season had not attracted sponsorship.

Giving something back

The home match against Boston in mid-December saw another barrage of benevolence as both the match ball and programme sponsors gave away their spoils to good causes a trend started earlier in the season by the mysterious Redeye who sponsored the match ball and programme for the Fylde match in September and then donated the benefits to a couple of the organisations with which FC United work as part of our community programme.

A wonderful new initiative saw the club open its doors from 7am on Christmas Day morning for homeless people to get a cooked breakfast, a shower and enjoy some of the festive comforts that most of us tend to take for granted. In addition there was a dentist, a hairdresser and nurses on hand to provide medical advice and the club was overwhelmed with donations of food. A minibus driven by an FC United supporter was able to transport more than forty homeless people from the city centre to Broadhurst Park . The FC United volunteers included fans, players and manager Karl Marginson explained that it was all about the club “giving something back to people who are less fortunate than ourselves”. The day was a tremendous success and attracted plenty of media interest with BBC Radio Manchester broadcasting live from the ground on Christmas morning and the Manchester Evening News running a piece. It’s hoped that this will be the first of many such initiatives.

The idea for the Christmas Day initiative stemmed from FC’s annual Big Coat Day collection of warm clothing for homeless people, the longest running part of our extensive community programme. This season’s Big Coat Day took place on New Year’s Day when FC were at home to Altrincham. The day was, once again, very successful with more than six tonnes of warm clothing and footwear collected, even more than last year’s record breaking collection. In total five charities were able to benefit from the collection including our regular partners Lifeshare which works mainly with young homeless people. St Paul’s, a charity based close to Salford Shopping Centre that offers meals, emergency shelter and clothing to homeless people described this season’s Big Coat Day collection as “magnificent”.

In a similar vein, FC also staged its very first Toy Story event in December, working with the Frost Foundation to collect toys and games to distribute to families and young people in need over the Christmas period; anything from cuddly toys, Lego and dolls to jigsaws, games, educational toys, train sets or remote control diggers. Toy Story took place at the home match on 17th December and was also a big success. Each Christmas we celebrate FC United still being here and Toy Story was all about us bringing some festive joy into the lives of others and helping some local children and families who might otherwise struggle at this time of year.

We are those lions

The year closed with a group of local supporters known as the Moston Knuckle Draggers helping to cover the pitch to ensure that the New Year’s Day local derby with Altrincham was able to go ahead. The pitch covering worked but despite an early Jason Gilchrist goal FC were unable to beat the bottom of the table team drawing 1-1. The following weekend FC’s unbeaten league run came to an end in front of 2,821 spectators at AFC Fylde’s new Mill Farm ground, with a 3-1 defeat to the league leaders, a scoreline that flattered the high flying Coasters, as the Reds went toe to toe with the full time professionals and could easily have scored four or five. It was perhaps one of our best performances of the season.

The Main Stand Bar was busy again as the latest edition of Course You Can Malcolm took place before the home match with Salford City on the last Saturday of January. In a slot called Rubbing it Red some supporters spoke passionately about their involvement in the club and its future, embracing the spirit of participatory democracy that had swept through the club in recent months. Where once we’d have been content to let the board and Chief Executive get on with things supporters were now collectively, via a progressive new board, taking charge of the club’s destiny.

Pam and Sarah from the Hummingbird Project, a High Peak based grassroots organisation set up in 2015 to help refugees, made a welcome return to Malcolmses collecting donations of underwear, socks, hygiene items and cash for refugees surviving the winter months in Europe and Syria. They described themselves as being “bowled over” by FC the last time they visited CYCM in July and were back for more. The admiration is mutual.

This was all topped off with a storming set by the young Mancunian band Cabbage, about to start a UK tour, who had the room bouncing with their brand of politically charged post-punk. They clearly enjoyed the occasion as much as the audience if a social media post after the gig by one of the band’s members is anything to go by; “playing at FC United this weekend has galvanised inspiration in me richer than the thousands of records I’ve sat in awe at in my bedroom growing up”.

Similarly the bar under the St Mary’s Road End was also rocking both before the match and at half-time. A bumper crowd of 4,158 packed into Broadhurst Park for the visit of Salford, the highest attendance for a league game since moving to Moston and the fifth highest in the club’s history.

Although things on the pitch didn’t quite work out as the vast majority of the crowd would have liked (Salford City won 3-0) it nevertheless felt like some of the intoxicating joi de vivre of the early days of FC United was back, particularly in the second half, as a cacophony of old and new songs filled the air including an ace new one to the tune of the Stone Roses’ Waterfall…”we’ll carry on through it all, playing punk football”. Dissecting business plans and debating the finer points of the club’s electoral policy is, of course, important but sometimes you just want to go to the match and enjoy yourself. At the Salford match it felt like some of the fun had returned to FC and if you wanted evidence that there are folk left with the faith to fight for FC United then here it was in spades; board members, staff, volunteers, supporters and players united as one.

As a lovely footnote to all the positivity and togetherness in evidence at the Salford match it was great to see Cabbage and the Hummingbirds buzzing off each other too. So much so that the Hummingbirds were invited by Cabbage to go along to their subsequent Manchester gigs at the Gorilla club and the Academy and collect for refugees. Isn’t that lovely? Some would call it “networking” but more simply it’s about people being brought together through a shared love. Love of a football club, of Manchester, of music and of our fellow human beings regardless of which side of arbitrary borders they are born on.

The tills are alive

The following Saturday it was all about Salzburg not Salford as with no league match scheduled for the first weekend in February FC invited fellow supporter owned club SV Austria Salzburg for an international friendly match at Broadhurst Park. The Violetten have much in common with FC United with the club having been formed in 2005 following a hostile takeover of their club by the Red Bull energy drink brand and continue to swim against the tide of rampant commercialisation of the game that we love. Like FC they recognise that football is about more than football and that it has a role to play in wider society in promoting social engagement and integration.

The occasion was a tremendous advert for supporter owned football and the tills were alive as a pre-match Course You Can Malcolm and beer festival filled the Main Stand Bar again. On the pitch FC ran out comfortable 3-0 winners but the SV Austria Salzburg supporters brought plenty of noise and colour to the far end of the Main Stand with their non-stop singing, flag waving and bouncing around. The proceeds from the match were shared equally between the two clubs, a wonderful gesture of solidarity with a club that is also experiencing financial problems.

FC were only six points clear of the relegation zone following a 2-1 defeat at Stockport in front of a league record crowd of 5,630 supporters including nearly a thousand FC United fans. And when we were two goals down at half-time away at Gloucester City the following week it looked as if we were heading towards an inevitable relegation scrap. But the Reds staged a remarkable second half comeback, one of the highlights of the season, with two late goals, including a spectacular strike from Nathan Lowe who lobbed the keeper from inside his own half (file under “audacious”) to snatch a dramatic 3-2 win. The travelling support, in fine voice throughout, could barely believe what they had just seen and the ensuing goon was perhaps the finest of the season.

Ten pints of bitter please

This was the first of three consecutive league wins including a fine performance to beat promotion chasing Kidderminster Harriers 1-0 and another late Nathan Lowe screamer was enough to see off Tamworth. By mid-March the Reds had pulled themselves clear of the relegation scrap and sat in twelfth position. But the following week they looked to have taken the foot off the gas a little as they lost 2-1 away at a struggling Alfreton Town.

Off the pitch the home match with FC Halifax Town was preceded by another Course You Can Malcolm featuring something you don’t see too often at a football match, live competitive painting as three artists from Art Battle went easel to easel for half an hour in the Main Stand Bar to produce something on an FC theme with the audience then voting for their favourite painting. The winning effort by cartoonist Tony Husband, a name familiar to readers of Red Issue and Private Eye, was auctioned off and raised a few hundred pounds for the Development Fund.

As March drew to a close members voted, at an earlier than usual General Meeting, in favour of continuing with our pioneering “pay what you can afford” season tickets for next season with a minimum price of £100 for adults, £65 for concessions and £21 for juniors. The meeting had been brought forward by several weeks specifically so that the sale of season tickets for next season could commence as soon as possible thus providing a much needed boost to the club’s cash flow.

The suggested donation of £75 on top of each adult season ticket price represented an increase of £15 on this season’s suggested average donation of £60, a decision that was driven by the seriousness of the club’s financial situation. If there is one lesson that we must take from the events of the last year it is that moving forward FC United must be run responsibly, sustainably and professionally with a credible and robust financial plan.

The General Meeting also saw members voting in favour of the club introducing a limited number of three year season tickets at a price of £1,000 each with the tickets to be issued on a first come, first served basis and limited to a maximum of 200. The aim is to build a pot of up to £200k of working capital to strengthen the club’s underlying financial position and support a number of infrastructure projects that will allow us to reduce costs or generate additional income on match days or through community use. For example, the club currently spends over £8k per season on renting portable toilets but by having the capital to invest in building more toilets we will not only have better toilets but the savings generated will ensure that they pay for themselves in little over a year.

A touch of class

With the pressure off the rest of the league programme was fairly unremarkable until the Reds roused themselves for the final two league games. Indeed, the penultimate match on a sunny afternoon at Nuneaton was perhaps one of the highlights of the season with the Reds attacking with an urgency not seen for several weeks and winning 4-1 in front of a travelling support intent on having an end of season party and who never stopped singing throughout. The sight of a group of younger Nuneaton fans buzzing off the atmosphere and coming over to join us on the terraces to join in the singing will live in the memory for quite some time. Making friends and all that.

Off the pitch a brand new pre-match event “If the Reds Should Play” took place before the Brackley match and was all about bringing supporters together to celebrate and share stories of the days when we used to go down to Old Trafford to watch a team in red and partly a nod to the wonderful success of the club’s Sporting Memories Group that meets every Friday afternoon at Broadhurst Park. The first “If the Reds Should Play” was all about the trip to rainy Rotterdam in 1991 for the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final with former Red Clayton Blackmore entertaining us with his memories of that match and what it was like to be playing for United at the time. Oh and he might have mentioned that free kick at Montpellier too. The perma-tanned utility player seemed to enjoy the event as much as the rest of us packed into the Main Bar as he posed for pictures with supporters afterwards.

There was more good news off the pitch in April as the club’s bid for Power To Change funding to develop the space under the St Mary’s Road End of the ground was approved. The hope is that this work will take place over the summer thus allowing the popular bar under the SMRE to continue to open next season.

On the final day of the league season more than four thousand supporters packed into Broadhurst Park to see FC finish the season on a high note with a 5-1 thrashing of Gainsborough Trinity, the Reds biggest league win of the season. An initiative to give 1,700 free tickets away to residents living in the M40 and M9 postcode areas and local schools and community groups proved to be very popular and hopefully they’ll be back for more next season. George Thomson picked up both of the club’s Player of the Season awards and celebrated with a spectacular second half goal from outside the box.

It was great to see youngsters from Moston Juniors FC on the pitch at Broadhurst Park once again and as the season closed FC announced a new arrangement with Moston Juniors that will see players aged 16 to 21 from both clubs form a team called Moston United FC that will compete in the Lancashire and Cheshire League next season. An exciting initiative that offers, for the first time, a potential route for five to six year old players playing for Moston Juniors to ultimately make it through to the FC United first team and is a reflection of our flourishing partnership with the junior club.

The Gainsborough match also saw Lewis Unwin presented with the inaugural Nobby Stiles Shield as FC United’s Academy Student of the Year. The award had been renamed in honour of the Mancunian footballing legend and in recognition of our own deeply founded Manchester United roots. Unfortunately Nobby’s decline in health meant that he was unable to attend the match but members of his family, including his son Robert, were at Broadhurst Park to present the shield to Lewis before the match.

It’s particularly fitting that Nobby’s name should be linked to youth football at FC as he was youth team coach at Manchester United in the early nineties playing a key role in the development of the likes of Giggs, Beckham, Butt, Scholes and the Nevilles. After the match Robert Stiles contacted the club to thank everyone on behalf of his family and described the occasion as a “fantastic day” and remarked that the club “did everything with a touch of class”. “I know my dad would have been very proud and honoured to have his name associated with the award and with such a good club” he added. In a season when we’ve buzzed off performances by young players like Kieran Glynn, Nathan Lowe, Jason Gilchrist and Sam Baird it was a fitting way to close the league season.

She wore a scarlet ribbon

And it was another of those young players, full back Jake Williams, who scored the winner in the Manchester Premier Cup Final a few days later, in the first week of the merry month of May, as FC beat Stalybridge Celtic 1-0 at Oldham’s Boundary Park to win the competition for the first time and our first cup since 2008. The scenes at the end were fantastic as captain Jerome Wright celebrated his 400th appearance for the club by lifting the trophy and then taking it to the fans at the front of the stand as players and supporters celebrated as one.

In a nice touch by the board and Chief Executive eight members of staff and volunteers were invited to make up the club’s official party at the final in recognition of the hard work and dedication of all our staff and volunteers. Without the efforts of our wonderful volunteers it’s no exaggeration to say that there would be no FC United of Manchester. Whether they’re manning the turnstiles, pulling pints, dishing up tater hash, selling programmes or Pound For The Ground draw tickets, marshalling traffic, keeping the website up to date, commentating on the match for the radio or television, organising regular matchday events like Course You Can Malcolm or fundraising events such as the popular Punkertainment quiz nights, writing board reports or counting cash the club’s dozens of volunteers do us proud and represent everything that is ace about supporter ownership.

The men’s Manchester Cup triumph followed hot on the heels of FC’s women’s team winning the Manchester FA Women’s Challenge Cup on the preceding Friday night. Jade Parker scored a hat trick as the women produced a brilliant all round team performance to beat City of Manchester Ladies 5-1 in front of a tremendous crowd of 208 at the home of West Didsbury and Chorlton FC. And days later the women’s team made it a cup double following an epic 6-4 win over Bury Ladies in the Argyle Cup final. In the league the women’s team finished in second position five points behind champions Merseyrail Bootle; a tremendous season all round for the women under new manager Luke Podmore. Francesca Davies of the women’s team will join up with an FC United squad, captained by Jerome Wright, that will take part in an indoor football tournament in Lille in June.

The season closed with two big fundraising events for the Development Fund. First up was a Supporters’ Dinner at Broadhurst Park where around a hundred supporters enjoyed a cracking evening of entertainment provided by the comedian Sam Harland, performance poet Tony Walsh (aka Longfella), our own DJ Pace and special guest former United player Norman Whiteside. Norman was full of admiration for what the club has achieved and was blown away by the warmth of the welcome he received. His scouse busting conquests of old clearly haven’t been forgotten.

And a week later the club’s third ever Gala Dinner at the Midland Hotel in town was also a memorable evening with over three hundred people, a tremendous turnout, enjoying a three course meal and a feast of entertainment including Terry Christian, Tony Walsh, the legendary Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam and three blasts from our Manchester United past in the form of ex-manager Tommy Docherty and former players Gordon McQueen and Sammy McIlroy.

Of course, there’s still much to do to establish a stable financial footing for the club but after a year that has tested our resolve to its limit let’s at least allow ourselves a collective smile at everything that we’ve managed to achieve over the last year. Thirteenth in the league might not sound anything special but it’s no mean achievement when you look at how competitive the league is and when we factor in our considerably improved goal difference it represents our best ever league finish. And an average league attendance of 2,667 meant that we were the sixth best supported club in non-league football; a tremendous level of support week in week out, particularly when you realise that the only clubs with bigger average crowds are all well established former league sides.

Meanwhile off the pitch whether we’ve been singing ourselves hoarse in tiny English towns, drinking beer festivals dry, sponsoring matches, collecting cuddly toys, donating big coats, quizzing, attending fundraising dinners, sticking our pocket money in the Development Fund barrels, communicating better or watching cartoon pandas and battling artists; the faith to fight for the future of FC United is well and truly alive and kicking. The days of us sitting back and saying “we’ll leave it to them, they know better” are thankfully over. It’s been a season of supporters pulling together to help “our” football club. We’ll carry on through it all.

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