Skip to content

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m forty nine point six?


A piece I wrote for the latest edition of the FC United of Manchester fanzine Top of the World on how the club can play a valuable and much needed role, alongside local NHS services, in improving the health and well-being of people across North Manchester  

Scrolling through some old emails recently I found a long forgotten one that made me cringe – a missive fired off to the National Health Action Party in the spring of 2015 asking them to consider me as a possible parliamentary candidate in the forthcoming General Election. The nascent political party, campaigning for a properly funded, publicly run NHS, were standing candidates in a national election for the first time and as a longstanding NHS worker increasingly disillusioned with the ongoing destruction of the health service I had decided to throw my hat into the ring. Although quite why anyone would want to vote for an anti-social NHS bean counter standing for a single issue political party that no one’s even heard of is anyone’s guess.

The part of the email that made me flinch was not so much my audacity in wanting to stand for parliament in the first place, which was plainly nuts, but the final paragraph of my five hundred word statement that droned on about how I was a founder member of FC United and how much the club had achieved, on and off the pitch, in barely a decade providing proof that “a group of people with passion and commitment to a cause can”….wait for it…..“change the world” <inserts rolling eyes emoji>.

It’s easy to forget how, by early 2015, so many of us had bought into this “changing the world” bullshit that trips to the likes of Torquay were conducted with almost evangelical (oh look it’s the inventors of supporter owned football coming to save us) fanaticism whilst giddiness levels were cranked up to eleven at the prospect of our future Moston home becoming the power base for a full-on assault on rolling back western capitalism.

(I think we reached peak new world zealotry when Walsh and the Reverend Pye-in-the-sky turned up to a London branch meeting one year and were busy preaching the benefits of establishing links with like-minded clubs in Europe when someone, with family connections to Ghana, piped up that we should do the same in Africa – he had contacts there and would pass them on. Meanwhile the rest of us just sat there lapping it up, not one of us interjecting to say “hang on a minute mate, we’re a half-decent Northern Premier League side that’s permanently strapped for cash, how the fuck are we going to go inter-continental?”)  

Fortunately the party that no one’s heard of said thanks but no thanks to my offer to save the world. Devoid of backing from wealthy donors they were as skint as FC United and had thus wisely decided to stick with the dozen candidates they’d got so far rather than recruiting more – and therefore with no chance of internet footage of any pompous “changing the world” nonsense on the hustings emerging in later years my blushes were spared.

Fast forward a few years and, although our plans for world domination have been curtailed somewhat, there is an often over-looked and important connection to be made between FC United and the health and wellbeing of the community of which we are part. And I’m not talking about the blood pressure raising qualities of our Leeds supporting keeper either. The health service has taken a battering in the last decade as it endures the biggest sustained squeeze on its funding in its seventy year history whilst further butchering of the wider public sector that has seen local council funding slashed, school budgets cut and a dearth of affordable, decent quality housing has only exacerbated the pressure on hospitals and GPs. And north Manchester has suffered more than most as the health gap across the city has grown to such an extent that one councillor warned that the combination of bad health and bad healthcare in the north of the city is potentially “catastrophic”.

When viewed by council ward across the whole of Manchester the statistics on health for the likes of Newton Heath and Harpurhey make for grim reading whether we’re talking about life expectancy, mortality rates, childhood obesity or the percentage of babies born to mothers under 18. But perhaps the most shocking of all the numbers is the revelation that healthy life expectancy (i.e. the number of years a person can reasonably expect to live in good health) at birth for males raised in Newton Heath is a mere 49.6 years (the lowest of any council ward in Manchester) and 50.3 in Harpurhey (the second worst in the city) compared to 56.1 for Manchester as a whole (and 58.3 for South Manchester) and 63.5 across England. So men living in two of the wards on FC’s doorstep can typically expect to encounter serious health problems (and thus require the services of the NHS) nearly a decade before someone living in the south of the city and a staggering fourteen years earlier than the average English male.

No surprise then that the local hospital is struggling to cope. Visiting the long neglected North Manchester General Hospital in Crumpsall with its ageing buildings is like being whisked back half a century or more – staggering, in a city where multi-million pound hotels and yuppie apartment blocks are going up all over town, that one of its major hospitals has been starved of significant capital investment for so long. Meanwhile the management of the Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust, which runs the hospital along with others in Bury, Rochdale and Oldham, was branded “inadequate” by the healthcare watchdog the Care Quality Commission in 2016 and the trust is projected to make a deficit of £69 million in the current financial year – more than a tenth of its total budget of around £660 million. Like many hospitals much of this deficit is driven by an inability to cope with rising emergency admissions and difficulties in recruiting and retaining nursing and medical staff. And we think we’ve got financial problems.

We might not be trying to save the world anymore but much of the community work that we have done and are continuing to do since we arrived in Moston has been, directly or indirectly, about improving the health of local people from running healthy eating workshops for local schools and weekly walking football sessions to the sporting memories group which aims to reduce social isolation, depression and loneliness amongst older people through reminiscing about past sporting events. A recent report by the Health Foundation found that older people who live alone are 50% more likely to go to A&E than those who live with someone else and that by tackling problems such as social isolation and loneliness amongst elderly people it is possible to significantly reduce the pressure on A&E departments and GPs. We certainly shouldn’t underestimate the value of the work that the club is already doing.

But as the biggest community organisation in the area we could be doing more and the redevelopment of the space under the St Mary’s Road End was meant to be a game changer that would see us greatly expanding our community work with our Power to Change funding application, written over two years ago, referring to how the “multi-functional community space” will benefit the “health and wellbeing” of the local community by hosting activities such as “NHS medical surgeries, stroke victim clubs, blood/heart testing, mental health initiatives and physiotherapy and sports injuries clinics”. Yet nearly six months since Martin Buchan cut the scarlet ribbons where are all these activities that we were meant to be hosting?

You don’t need to be the Secretary of State for Health to join the dots and realise that FC United can play a key part in improving the health of our local community. And far from us needing to go cap in hand to the powers that be at the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, the alliance of councils and NHS organisations responsible under the so-called DevoManc initiative for managing the devolved £6 billion budget for health and social care for Greater Manchester, they really ought to be banging on our door. The recently published NHS Long Term Plan refers to something called “social prescribing” to ease the pressure on hospitals and GPs. It’s a fancy term for much of the good stuff that our football club is already doing and intends to do in future – doing our best to help people live healthier lives in an area that has borne the brunt of the post-crash cuts and where swimming pools, youth clubs, meals on wheels and libraries have either disappeared or been left to volunteers to plug the gaps. When we finally get round to setting out the club’s long term strategy, in whatever year that may be, our contribution to the health of the local community must surely be a significant part of that.

By helping us to help our local community each pound invested in activities at Broadhurst Park by the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership could, in the long run, save thousands of pounds for the local health economy by promoting a fitter and healthier population across M40 and M9 thus easing the pressure on our local health services. It ought to be a no brainer. A “win-win”. Call it what you want. However the NHS, with its byzantine organisation and almost impenetrable jargon, has traditionally been poor at looking beyond its own organisational boundaries for assistance and here at FC United, until recent times, we’ve not exactly been great either at attracting financial and other support from beyond our own fan base (you only need to look at the lack of income to support our community work to see evidence of that) so this will no doubt involve considerable hard work on both sides.

But we really need to get our collective act together here because right now the local NHS needs us to be doing our bit for the local community perhaps more than anyone at the club realises. We might not ferment the overthrow of the capitalist system but we could help some of our local residents to live a reasonably healthy, active and enjoyable life well beyond their fiftieth birthday. And it would provide a much needed nod to the vision, all those years ago, of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company’s board who, recognising the power of football, leased a plot of land, just down the road from here, for workers to partake in regular outdoor sporting activities in their spare time. Let’s hope our board and management team and local health bosses can display similar foresight.          


From → NHS, Sport

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: