Can you hear them yet? ‘Noisy’ FC United fans on Manchester-Torquay trip are future of football

While top flight supporters are disillusioned with overpriced tickets and eerily empty stadiums, the passion for non-league club FC United of Manchester is stronger than ever.

More than 1,000 fans will embark on a 500-mile round-trip to attend their FA Trophy quarter-final fixture against Conference Premier side Torquay United this weekend.

For a side in the seventh-tier of English football, this is quite a remarkable feat and exemplifies a growing fanbase for a club lurking in the shadows of Premier League neighbours Manchester United and champions Manchester City.

Andy Walker, FC United’s press and communications officer, said this was something that the fan-owned club – who have been in existence for nearly 10 years – were aiming to take advantage of.

“We think that football fans have been disenfranchised by owners who are distanced from the supporters themselves,” he told MM.

“Our supporters can draw an enormous amount of satisfaction from the knowledge that what’s happening on the pitch is down to what’s happening off it.

“This makes for a different type of matchday experience, to anything you’ll witness at our level or many others above it.  

“You won’t come to our games and hear a quiet crowd.”

The Northern Premier League club – who have achieved three promotions in their short history – are just two games away from reaching a Wembley cup final and supporters have booked places on planes, trains, coaches and automobiles for this weekend’s trip to the English riviera.

They will face a club two tiers above them – who were only playing League football last season – but will be in high spirits after dispatching higher-league opposition in the competition this season including Harrogate Town, Chorley and AFC Fylde.

“There’s no question that the game has captured the imagination of our fans,” Walker added.

“It shows the support that we have as a club and also the desire and dedication of our fans to get to the other end of the country to cheer us on.

“This is a game that a lot of people in Manchester want to go and see and it will be certainly one of the biggest away followings that Torquay has seen this season.”

With FC United being one of a minority of fan-owned clubs existing in the UK, Walker believed that other clubs could follow suit too, citing examples such as League Two side AFC Wimbledon and Conference Premier outfit Wrexham.

“It’s not a pipe-dream that supporters can run clubs at a higher level – it can be done,” he said.

“It’s whether or not the will is there for people to understand they’re better off placing their future in the hands of supporters who have basically financed the game in the first place.   

“Our model is sustainable and we don’t operate beyond our means.

“All our income and resources are generated by the members and supporters of the club and we have a board who are completely focused on not overreaching ourselves, while giving the manager the chance to put a side out that will compete.”

FC United announced this week that they had reached an impressive total of over 3,600 members, only a month prior to moving to their brand new £6million stadium based in Moston – which fans helped raise £3million towards.

Walker reinforced that the club will capitalise on their move to the 4,500-capacity Broadhurst Park stadium, after previously renting grounds such Bury FC’s Gigg Lane and Stalybridge Celtic’s Bower Fold over the past few years.

“Previously the local communities we’ve been based in have been other team’s communities and therefore it has been somewhat difficult for us to establish a base in those areas,” he said.

“Everything we’ve achieved so far has been achieved without a ground of our own, which is a massive impediment.

“Second spending – such as money spent in bars and the opportunity to hire the ground – has been closed off from us in the past.

“That won’t be the case with our new ground and who knows where that might lead on the pitch when we have that financial backing.”

The club harbour ambitions of reaching the Football League and have the support to back it up – averaging crowds of nearly 2,000 fans each week – the same amount as an average League Two club.

Walker explained there wasn’t a target date in mind for reaching the fourth tier of English football and that it would be more likely to be assessed when they move to their new home.

“That would be the time to start making plans about where we go on the pitch,” he said.

“I have no doubt our board will then sit down and review where we want to be in the next 2-3 years.”

Main image courtesy of PI ALFA via YouTube, with thanks.

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