Rags to Riches: FC United on the Up?

Radiohead's Thom Yorke; an FC United fan perhaps?

Radiohead's Thom Yorke; an FC United fan perhaps?

The old adage runs that adversity brings out the best in people, and I think FC United’s decision to allow fans to effectively ‘choose their price’ with regards to how much they pay for their season ticket for next season. The recession is causing problems for us all, but for these guys, lower down the football league ladder where there is far less money in the game, have it tougher than most. To have the genorosity to allow for financial hardship in their fans then, is a really nice gesture.

It’s worth noting that supporters can’t get away with paying nothing, or 50p, as was the case when Radiohead pioneered such a move with the release of their last album In Rainbows, as there is a ninety pound minimum for a full adult season ticket. However, given that the equivalent last season cost fifty pounds more than that, and that they are open to negotiation from fans who are in particular hardship shows that they are a very sensible board, in touch with the requirements of keeping a club in business and satisfying its fans, which should be every board’s main concerns.

It has to be said though, that many other businessmen who run football clubs these days, especially further up the football league ladders, should sit up and take note of FC United’s actions. While most clubs have shown a measure of sensitivity to current financial climes and not increased season ticket prices, most owners of football clubs are in it still primarily as a money making venture.

Of course, were it not for such ruthless and callous owners in the first place, FC United would not exist; and the fans that are choosing their own prices may still be attempting to afford a season ticket at the more illustrious Old Trafford. It was the move that saw the American Glazer family take control of Manchester United, plunging them into massive debt in the process, that saw some of the club’s loyal fans breakaway and form FC United to preserve the true spirit of their club.

Indeed, the Glazers represent all that is wrong with the recent influx of foreign owners into football. We’ve said time and time again that football is not a business and that clubs are not companies, and yet still the league and the requisite authorities allow such businessmen to come in and put the future of out clubs in jeopardy.

Some may say I’m over reacting here, given that Manchester United are just a point away from wrapping up a third successive Premier League title and set for a showdown to retain their Champions League crown too. Indeed, on the pitch, everything looks rosy for the Red Devils. But the Glazers have transferred their enormous debts onto the club, totalling about £660 million, plus the massive interest that such a debt will accrue very rapidly.

Obviously this debt has to be managed somehow, and so the logical thing to happen is for such things as ticket pricing and merchandise revnue to foot the bill, ultimately transferring the burden of the debt in part to the supproters, and in a strange way forcing the fans to pay for someone else to own their own club. It’s clear to see then, why the people involved with FC United broke away when they did, because their club had been sacrificed to become, essentially, a money machine.

While they remain successful on the pitch though, these concerns will continue to be dismissed, but if Malcom Glazer can’t properly manahe his debts in the near future, the ownership of the club could pass into the hands of other companies, who would have far less difficulty in convincing themselves to sell of the club and its assets for as much money as possible in order to refund the debts. This would mean that United would have to sell its most valuable assets, namely the players, and so their success on the pitch would be compromised.

If that were to happen, it’s hard to say how far Manchester United could fall. They are obviously a team that has established a habit of success, but such habits can easily be broken, and as I noted in a recent post, it certainly is not unprecedented for big clubs to fall a long way. This remains of course, entirely speculative, but I know that many Manchester United fans are alive to these concerns and are genuinely fearful of what the future could hold for their club.

On the other hand though, it is refreshing to see that some people at least, know how to run and manage a club properly. FC United’s board have shown that they have their priorities in the exact right place, as they seek to accommodate their fans first and foremost, but without running the risk of undermining the overall health of the club and its finances because, unfortunately, every club now has to involve a certain amount of business enterprise, simply because of the hugely capitalist nature of our society.

But the future of FC United looks very bright. When the club was first formed in 2005 they were accepted into the Northwest Counties League Division Two, with a daunting task of achieving six promotions just to make it to the Football League ‘proper’. However, they’ve pushed on and were promoted in each of their first three seasons, and this season only narrowly missed out on a play off spot in the Northern Premier League, but hope to be promoted next season to continue their climb.

Neither are FC United the first club to show that it does not take a successful businessman to run a successful club, and indeed it could be claimed that AFC Wimbledon and FC United have shown that fans often make more effective owners of their teams, despite the obvious emotional attachment, because they are ultimately intersetd in what’s best for the club and not what’s best for their personal pockets.

AFC Wimbledon next season will play in the Conference, just one promotion away from the football league, and with FC United hot on their heels, we may not be too far away from witnessing the ascendency of two clubs to the very top in a manner reflecting that in which the original Wimbledon FC rose spectacularly through the leagues to the top division and a famous FA Cup win. Certainly, every real football fan surely hopes that such a feel-good story could eventuate in this age that places so much emphasis on the financial side of the game, as it would bring back some of the magic of football that is no doubt being lost in the current climate.

So well done to FC United, for showing such heart and initiative with their season ticket pricing scheme. Though Manchester United have never been a popular club with neutrals, I think it’s fair to say that the ‘real’ United and their Wimbledon counterparts will always be held in fond esteem by the genral football public. Hopefully such considerate and highly prioritised ownership of a football club will pay off, and wouldn’t it be nice for FC United to pass Manchester United, as the former ascends and the latter descends.

That would be a great lesson to all these people who are trying to make money out of our game. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, what really counts in this game is the football and the fans, and it’s good to see that even in really harsh financial times some people remember that.

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4 Responses to Rags to Riches: FC United on the Up?

  1. Alex Smith says:

    This really makes you look at things in a different perspective.

    I personally cannot afford a season ticket for my team (Newcastle United), not to mention that the logistics of heading to a game every two weeks are near to impossible, but this article has given me the inspiration to go and find a small local team to support too.

    I think love in football should be shared at all levels.

  2. Adam says:

    Good on you Alex 😀

    I was lucky enough to have my Dad buy me my season tickets for all the years I went to Everton, but on my current student finances I’d really struggle.

    Being in NZ, I suppose I benefit from the fact that football isn’t super popular and so the Phoenix keep prices reasonable to encourage attendance.

    I certainly think that clubs need to make an effort sooner rather than later in re-connecting with their fans where it counts, because ultimately the fans are the lifeblood of any club.

    Cheers for your comment 🙂

  3. Andy Cleeter says:

    Unlucky FCUM, hope you get promoted next year. I think like most AFC Wimbledon supporters, FCUM are not so much rivals as Northern cousins in a common cause, and congrats on the brave decision to cut prices for you fans. Couldn’t see your larger neighbours (or should that be ‘neighbors’)doing that.
    Good luck for next year lads, keep up the good work.

  4. Mosh says:

    I used to have a season ticket for Newcastle, though I was living in Bradford at the time. I didn’t miss a home game for five years and went to pretty much every away match countrywide for three of them.

    Then I packed up all my stuff and buggered off abroad for three years, living on my savings.

    It didn’t take long to realise how expensive the UK is and, in particular, our football tickets. Even when dotting around the lower league clubs (I used to date a Colchester United supporter) the gulf in ticket prices were enormous compared to Premiership clubs.

    Worldwide, the gap is just as big. A good seat at an Aussie Rules game will set you back a little over a tenner.

    Now I live between Perth and Dundee and don’t have any income (thanks to my parents for putting me up as I find my feet!). Driving to Newcastle every 2 weeks just isn’t going to happen – a shame as, like Alex above, I’ve started to follow some of the smaller clubs in the region – Gateshead FC, Whitley Bay and Newcastle Blue Star (fingers crossed for them financially at the moment :-/).

    What I’ve taken to doing is just catching the occasional game wherever I am. I went to see Dundee United a few weeks ago. I’ll try to catch Dundee next season. Aberdeen’s not too far up the road and I’ve driven past Inverness CT’s ground in the past.

    Football’s football. It’s the spirit and the competition that count. Sure, the added flair of a Ronaldo (when he’s not diving) or a peak-fitness Shearer makes for something special. But if you watch two teams going at it hammer and tongs on a field and get wrapped up in it, then who cares if you’re one of 50,000 or one of 150.

    Except your wallet.

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