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 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 2013-14 season, the future is definitely very bright at FC United.
FC United started the season in determined fashion, bursting out the blocks against Stafford Rangers with a goal from Matthew Wolfenden in the first minute. Dean Stott doubled the lead on the stroke of half time to ensure a winning start to the Red's campaign, brushing off the disappointment of last season's play-off final defeat.
Wolfenden, who would go on to be voted the Player's Player of the season, added to his tally in the next fixture against North Ferriby United. In a nine goal thriller, FC United recorded their biggest win of the campaign that ended 6-3 at Bower Fold, with a flurry of goals late on in one of the most exciting games of the season.
With less than ten minutes to go and drawing three a piece, it seemed like the points would be shared after battling displays from both teams. FC United pressed hard and finally Ferriby crumbled and conceded an own goal to push the Reds in front once again. Carlos Roca piled on further misery and slotted home from the penalty spot, whilst Steve Torpey rounded things off in the closing minutes.
After a couple of disappointing defeats at the hands of Chasetown and Chester, FC United were back to winning ways with a 4-0 victory at Buxton, setting things up nicely for the visit of promotion rivals Bradford Park Avenue. FC United thumped the visitors 5-2 in front of a lively crowd of almost 2,000. The score line would be repeated in January at the Horsfall Stadium to complete a memorable double over the West Yorkshire side.
The heroics of last season's FA Cup run could not be emulated after defeat to Lancaster City in the second qualifying round but the Reds did reach new levels in the FA Trophy. After dumping Frickley Athletic, Durham and Altrincham out of the competition, the Reds travelled to face Conference North side Guiseley in the first round. In a determined display, the Reds hit the woodwork twice but just couldn't break through. Two goals late on ended the FA Trophy cup run leaving the Reds to focus on the league instead.
A bright start was made to the New Year, in a convincing and confident 5-2 thumping of rivals Bradford Park Avenue on their own patch. Goals from supporter's player of the season Adam Jones and top scorer Mike Norton ensured the Reds moved to within a point of their sixth placed hosts.
In the remaining league games of the season, FC United raised their promotion push with ten wins, four draws and just five defeats. Despite this rich vein of form, the dream of another promotion via the play-offs lay in the balance right up to the final league game of the season at home to Northwich Victoria.
The visitors were found guilty of failure to comply with the League Rules relating to financial matters and the outcome of the initial hearing was for Northwich to be removed from the league. If the decision stood then FC United would take up the Vic's play-off place.
But with an appeal lodged by the club, the only way FC United could ensure making the play-offs safely would be to do it themselves. The Reds had to win their clash with second-place Northwich Victoria and hope Worksop could cause an upset against Hednesford.
A crowd of 2,542 turned out to watch the nerve-racking climax to season, but they needn't worry as the Reds delivered in style, with a solid 4-1 victory to ensure they did all they could in the last push for the play-offs.
FC United finished the season sixth, but as the decision by the FA was ruled to relegate Northwich Victoria from the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League, the Reds took their golden ticket to face Chorley in the play-off semi-final.
A quality strike from Mike Norton just past the hour mark and a goal from substitute Astley Mulholland was enough to seal a second successive play-off final appearance, this time against rivals Bradford Park Avenue.
After knocking the West Yorkshire side out of last season's play-off semi final and completing a humiliating double 5-2 drubbing this campaign, Bradford Park Avenue were out for revenge.
In a closely fought contest between the two sides, the deadlock could not be broken by the 90 minute mark, and so play continued into extra time. As penalties loomed, Tom Greaves poached the late winner that dealt the cruellest of blows. With less than two minutes to go there simply wasn't enough time for FC United to respond. It was another sad ending to the season but looking back, it was one with plenty of positives, both on and off the pitch to demonstrate a club that continues to flourish.
During the season several community initiatives such as the Big Coat Day, People United and Youth United Days were held which lead to the Reds being awarded as the Football Foundation Community Club of the Year. It also marked the establishment of the women's football team and the target £1.6 million fund was raised to build the new stadium and community sports facility.
Season review by Richard Jones.
A six-goal thriller made for an explosive opener to the campaign, as FC United came from behind to win 4-2 away at Grantham Town. It was also the beginning of a six game unbeaten run, and the best start to a season the Reds have had in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League. The Reds also fared pretty well in the domestic competitions, with several talking points:
The FA Trophy and Manchester Premier Cup - Over 800 fans turned out to watch an emphatic comeback against Mossley AFC at Gigg Lane in the FA Trophy. The visitors found themselves three up on the hour mark, but Chris Amadi's double brace and a last gasp goal from Jerome Wright earned a replay three days later, which the Reds went on to win 3-1.
In the Manchester Premier Cup, there was almost a repeat performance of the last time the two sides met. Again, the Reds were three goals down; only this time before the break. Despite a late rally and another double from Chris Amadi, AFC Mossley held on to inflict their revenge.
Mike Norton opened the scoring after just ten minutes at the Daniels Stadium in the FA Trophy, but two late goals from Stamford's Gary King and Danny Brooks ended the cup run.
The FA Cup - This season, the Reds recorded their biggest victory in the competition, with a five goal dismantling of Cammell Laird in the second qualifying round. The Reds then made the short trip to face Salford City. Nicky Platt bagged a hat-trick, but a late flurry from the hosts caused a nervy climax to the game. Salford pulled two back when Dean Stott put the ball in his own net and Nathan McDonald converted from the spot, but the Reds held on.
Kendal Town were next on the hit-list, as FC United came from behind to dump the Cumbrians out the competition, with a convincing 3-1 victory. The stage was now set to try and take the scalp of Conference side Hereford United in the next round. A 2,012-strong crowd turned out at Gigg Lane in the hope of a cup upset, but two goals from Hereford's Ryan Bowman saw FC United bow out to focus on the league and a third attempt at promotion. Attentions return to the league
After exits in most of the domestic competitions, Matthew Wolfenden's double in the 2-1 win over Ashton United in the league got the ball rolling again at the end of October. Just three more defeats were conceded for the rest of the year, as the promotion push continued.
The Reds made a brilliant start to 2013, with a ten match unbeaten run, eventually ended in March by Chorley. FC United stormed to a decisive end to the campaign, clocking up six wins and just one draw to finish third and full of confidence, ready for the play-off semi-final against Witton Albion.
The Play-Offs - Matthew Wolfenden settled any nerves for the Gigg Lane faithful, with a speculative long-distance strike after just nine minutes. By half time, the lead was doubled thanks to a cool finish from Astley Mulholland.
Albion came out in a determined fashion after the break and pressed hard to get back in the game. A tangle in the box saw the visitors awarded a penalty that Josh Hancock duly dispatched to give the visitors a short-lived lifeline. Just fifteen minutes later, Dean Stott sealed the deal from the spot to book a play-off final place against Hednesford Town.
The final - The Pitmen stunned FC United, as Neil Harvey slotted home moments after kick-off and Jamey Osborne doubled the lead half an hour later. If FC United were to do it, it would have to be done the hard way and the large travelling masses were in full voice to urge the Reds on. Mike Norton headed home from a corner just before the hour mark and the tables seemed to turn.
The goal gave a renewed belief as the Reds pressed on with several more chances, but Hednesford held on to clinch promotion. When Matthew Wolfenden's effort clattered the woodwork it summed up the season - once again, agonisingly close. Despite defeat at the final hurdle, FC United fans celebrated the club at the final whistle.
Looking back - The season may have been third time unlucky in the play-offs, but it has been one with lots of achievement that the fans, players and wider community should remember to drive the club forward in the next campaign. The club won the Fair Play and the Co-Operative Media awards, whilst Kyle Jacobs and Adam Jones featured in the Premier Division team of the year. Karl Marginson was also voted manager of the month for February.
The squad has been strengthened, with the signatures of North Ferriby United's versatile midfielder Oliver Banks, and German centre-back Kevin Masirika. Midfielder Sergio Rodriguez is another prospect for the club from Real Aviles, who are in the same league as Athletico Madrid Reserves and Real Oviedo, where Chelsea's Juan Mata and Swansea's Michu began their playing careers.
Community initiatives like the Big Coat Day continued, and collected six tonnes of clothing for the homeless and needy across Manchester. Personal development courses through football and coaching, Youth United Day and free football sessions during February half term have also continued to help local young people.
Season review by Richard Jones.
The sixth successive season in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier saw FC United achieve their highest ever league position, with a second place finish and just a single point off automatic promotion. Formidable frontmen Tom Greaves, Mike Norton, Greg Daniels and Matthew Wolfenden helped fire the Reds to a club record 108 league goals, whilst manager Karl Marginson's shrewd signings ensured the defence was one of the lowest conceding teams in the Northern Premier.
The arrival of Liam Brownhill from Bangor City bolstered the backline, with the defender making 54 appearances to earn the vote as the Player's and Manager's Player of the season. Further steel was added with the signatures of midfielders Chris Worsley, Callum Byrne and Joe Fox, but despite a stronger squad, the Reds fell agonisingly short once again.
The promotion push saw FC complete an incredible 14-match unbeaten run, spanning nearly four months and twelve consecutive wins, including an important away triumph over promotion-chasing Chorley. However, it was Buxton who finally put on the brakes, as goals from Sam Brooks and Matt Thornhill sunk the Reds run at Gigg Lane in April. With just four games left and everything to play for, it was straight back to winning ways against Grantham Town thanks to a goal from Tom Greaves and a Matthew Wolfenden double strike. Wolfenden also netted the equaliser in the next outing against Stamford, inspiring FC to a dramatic victory, as the Reds came from behind twice to snatch all three vital points.
Despite four straight wins, FC once again had to fight it out in the play-offs, this time entertaining Ashton United at home. Jerome Wright fired the Reds ahead from the penalty spot, but Dale Johnson snatched an equaliser at the death to force extra time. After a battling stalemate, as penalties began to loom, Jack Higgins scrambled the winner from a corner in the final moments leaving FC United no chance to reply.
Whilst the last full season at Gigg Lane ended in disappointment, the move to Broadhurst Park marks the beginning of a bright new era. It is the continuation and growth of initiatives like Big Coat Day and Kit Aid, which saw FC awarded Community Club of the year Award. It is testament to the hard work and belief of fans, who smashed the initial fundraising target of £26,000 by 198% for the Kit It Out campaign to equip for the stadium's new function room and community space. Broadhurst Park will also be home to the women's team who finished second in their league, as well as the rising stars of the club's development youth squad, who scored over 100 goals, won the Junior League and the Lancashire League Cup.
Season Review by Richard Jones
FC United finally clinched promotion in a memorable season that included incredible runs in the FA Trophy and league, as well as the opening of the new home of fan-owned football - Broadhurst Park.
A strong start to the new campaign saw the Reds unbeaten in the opening eight matches, before Marginson's men really turned the heat up on their promotion push on Boxing Day, with a fine victory against Curzon Ashton. A four-nil thumping made the shortest away trip of the season a reason for festive cheer as goals from Tom Greaves, Matthew Wolfenden and Dean Stott sparked the beginning of a 21-match unbeaten run which included 11 straight wins.
In what would become the club's second-longest ever unbeaten run, the Reds racked up 53 points from a possible 63, whilst scoring a staggering 46 goals. In short, after play-off pain in the last few seasons, the only option was automatic promotion and it was delivered in style.
Tom Greaves and Matthew Wolfenden helped fire FC United to the top of the table with a combined total of 38 goals, whilst Craig Lindfield lit up the midfield with 12 goals in his debut season, following his summer transfer from National League side Chester.
The Reds also enjoyed their strongest ever defensive record in the Northern Premier, conceding just 37 goals. The additions of Luke Ashworth and Chris Lynch from Hyde United and Southport respectively helped bolster the backline, whilst David Carnell's move from Curzon Ashton saw the goalkeeper keep 25 clean sheets in 57 games to earn the vote as Player's Player of the Season.
It was Carnell who kept four clean sheets during the club's sensational run to the Quarter Finals of the FA Trophy, where they faced Torquay United. Over 1,300 FC United fans made the 546 mile round trip to the English Riviera as the Reds rallied hard against the National League side in a closely-contested match.
Tom Greaves and Dave Birch had chances early on for the Reds before Torquay's Ryan Bowman rounded Carnell to take the lead in the second half. Despite several superb FC United chances, there would be no heroic comebacks unlike earlier in the competition. Matthew Walwyn, who scored a dramatic last-minute winner against Barwell in the Third Round Qualifying replay went closest when his headed effort crashed agonisingly against the upright.
Despite the result, it didn't dampen the mood among the travelling FC United fans, who were in full voice throughout the game and at the final whistle. It was the latest in a long line of memorable matches in the club's short history, ranking up there with the trips to Rochdale as well as Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup.
However, it was the victory against Stourbridge in April that FC United fans will mostly remember this season for. The winner, scored by full-back Greg Daniels finally sealed the club's fourth ever promotion to become Evo-Stik Northern Premier Champions after four play-off heartbreaks.
The celebrations continued to flow after the final matches of the season with the news that Broadhurst Park was finally completed. FC United opened the stadium in style, entertaining Portuguese giants Benfica in a friendly to top off the perfect end to a record-breaking season and set the Reds up for life in the National North League.
Season Review by Richard Jones.
FC United embarked on their first season in the National League North with much the same squad that had won promotion in the spring. Joe Fox, Matty Kay and Shelton Payne had moved on to pastures new, whilst Lewis Lacy ventured to play in the USA on a scholarship. Joining the club in pre-season were Adam Thurston, Sean Cooke and Cameron Murray, all of whom had experience of playing at a higher level. The squad was further strengthened the week before the season began with the addition of exciting forward Sam Madeley.
The first game in the new division was a trip to Cheltenham to face Gloucester City, but FC endured a frustrating afternoon by slipping to a narrow 0-1 defeat. The first league game at Broadhurst Park saw The Reds lose 1-2 to Stockport County, but not before Rory Fallon had delighted the home crowd by firing United ahead with the first competitive goal at the ground. Luke Ashworth’s equaliser against Tamworth earned a first point in Moston, but the team then slumped to a 0-3 defeat with a terrible display at Chorley, in which Jerome Wright was sent off for the second game running. Despite falling behind to an early goal at home to Brackley, FC finally earned their first win of the season thanks to goals from Matthew Wolfenden, Sam Madeley and Tom Greaves.
That was the beginning of a good run that yielded 13 points from five games and saw The Reds shoot up to eighth in the table. Comfortable wins at Hednesford Town and Lowestoft Town were followed by a late Wolfenden winner at home to Corby Town, with the only dropped points coming in a 3-3 home draw with Curzon Ashton. Despite trailing 1-3 with three minutes remaining, a spectacular strike from Madeley was quickly followed by an equaliser from Fallon to snatch a point and prompt Broadhurst Park’s first proper “goon”.
Unfortunately the league results then took a drastic downturn, starting with a 0-4 defeat at AFC Fylde as the home side ruthlessly exploited the dismissal of goalkeeper Dave Carnell. Four days later, Nia Bayunu was shown the team’s fourth red card of the season and Stalybridge Celtic took the points by converting the resultant penalty. Further defeats to Worcester City, North Ferriby United, Boston United, FC Telford United and Gainsborough Trinity meant an unwanted club record of seven losses on the trot and left the club hovering around the relegation places by mid-November.
The FA Cup provided a welcome autumn distraction, with The Reds victorious over old rivals Witton Albion in Moston’s first game in the competition. Another old foe, Buxton, were defeated after a replay before the team disposed of Midlands side Sporting Khalsa to progress to the first round for only the second time in the club’s history. FC were rewarded with a home draw against League One club Chesterfield, but the controversial scheduling of the match on a Monday night for live TV coverage saw hundreds of supporters boycotting the first half, and then continuing the passionate protest inside the ground for the second period. On the pitch, the visitors bagged two early goals on their way to a comfortable victory that saw them introduce former FC favourites Ollie Banks and Charlie Raglan from the bench. Banks hit his side’s fourth goal before Ashworth headed a late consolation.
On an eventful day in late October, the club announced the return of record goalscorer Rory Patterson after seven years away, before knocking Glossop North End out of the Manchester Premier Cup. Michael Norton scored his first goal at Broadhurst but the game ended 2-2 and so was decided on penalties. Veteran keeper Nick Culkin helped FC to a commanding position before former Red Martin Parker hit the post to ensure United won a penalty shoot-out for the first time. In the next round, the team were eliminated by the odd goal in seven in an entertaining encounter with Stalybridge. A few days later, United were unable to repeat their tremendous FA Trophy run of the previous campaign and fell at the first hurdle to Telford.
With the team near the bottom of the table and out of all cups, Karl Marginson took steps to rejuvenate the squad. Leaving the club were Michael Norton, Dave Birch, Nia Bayunu, Callum Byrne, Scott Cheetham, Sean Cooke, James Knowles, Chris Lynch and Cameron Murray, with Patterson returning to Derry City soon after. In their places came midfielders Sam Sheridan, Harry Winter and Scott Kay, defender Tom Smyth, plus the attack-minded George Thomson on loan from Chester. The additions contributed to an upturn in results, beginning with a previously unexpected 2-2 draw at league leaders Nuneaton Town where only a disputed injury-time penalty earned the hosts a point. After a tremendous win at Stockport, Nuneaton were beaten 3-2 at Broadhurst as the new line-up was beginning to gel.
Three home games over the festive period brought a defeat to Gloucester, a draw with Hednesford and a win over Bradford Park Avenue, and similar inconsistency would continue to haunt the team until March. A last-gasp Tamworth equaliser denied them a hard-earned win after Smyth’s sending-off, but an abject performance resulted in a deserved 0-4 thrashing at Brackley. Further defensive reinforcements were added with the return of Lewis Lacy and the signings of Chris Chantler and Tom Eckersley, and both Chantler and Lacy scored to help The Reds to the highest win of the season when Lowestoft were soundly beaten 6-1. The following week, Harrogate Town raced into a three-goal lead after 36 minutes before goals from Thomson, Sheridan, Greaves and Madeley turned the game around for a sensational 4-3 victory.
Those results, plus the permanent signing of Thomson, provided renewed confidence that the team would be good enough to prosper in this division, but a wretched run of results in February kept the fear of relegation looming. An extraordinary sequence of events contributed to a 1-5 defeat at Telford as Carnell was injured and replaced in goal by Madeley, who conceded an unfortunate own goal and was then harshly dismissed. He in turn was replaced by Ashworth, who was powerless to prevent the subsequent penalty and three further strikes. Ashworth himself was sent off in a 1-3 defeat by Alfreton Town, which was closely followed by a similar result at Bradford and then the club’s record defeat when Harrogate gained revenge with a 0-5 drubbing. Despite performing admirably, it had certainly been a baptism of fire for stand-in teenage goalkeeper Dylan Forth.
Carnell was back for the visit of high-flying North Ferriby, but The Reds conceded an early soft penalty to once again give themselves a mountain to climb. However, a Wolfenden brace looked to have sealed the points until the visitors equalised in the last minute. Undeterred, FC attacked again and Craig Lindfield hit the winner deep into injury-time to seal a priceless 3-2 victory. That was the winger’s last kick of the season as soon after he joined Ashton United on loan, as did Liam Brownhill, and Dean Stott also left the squad with a move to Colne. To replace them, the manager added the vastly experience defender Dale Tonge and classy striker Dale Johnson.
After a hard-fought point gained at Worcester and a narrow defeat to promotion-chasing Fylde, the new boys helped to make a difference in a tremendous win at runaway league leaders Solihull Moors. The returning Jerome Wright scored his first goal at this level in the opening minute, and Thomson struck the winner just two minutes after the hosts had equalised. Thomson hit another winner at Alfreton, before another wonderful performance saw Chorley defeated 2-0 in Moston thanks to Wright’s penalty and Johnson’s first goal for the club in front of 4,150 supporters. For the first time in the season the team had won three consecutive matches, and the climb to 12th place in the table had helped to ease the relegation fears.
However, despite relegation now being decidedly unlikely, FC would still not be mathematically safe for another three weeks. After goalless draw at Curzon, home defeats by Boston and Stalybridge came either side of a win at Corby before The Reds were finally assured of keeping their place in the National League North for another term. The campaign ended on a high with a win at Gainsborough, followed by a late comeback when a Greaves brace earned a 2-2 draw at home to champions Solihull. At the end of a somewhat transitional season, the revamped team finished in a creditable 13th position in the table, and could look to the results of the final 12 games to prove that they should be able to improve on that placing next time.
Season Review by Karl Ladley.
Despite ending the previous season with silverware, Karl Marginson drastically overhauled his FC United squad during the summer of 2017. Among the players leaving the club were stalwarts Jerome Wright, Matthew Wolfenden, Dave Carnell, Luke Ashworth, Sam Sheridan, George Thomson, Chris Chantler and Dale Tonge. Goalkeeper Lloyd Allinson, defenders Joel Senior, Matty Hughes, Danny Wisdom and Danny Brady, midfielders Richie Baker and Callum Nicholas, wingers Joel Logan and Jason St Juste plus forward Connor McCarthy took their places in the squad. They were joined by the returning Craig Lindfield and Lewis Lacy as the recruits made a promising start to the pre-season campaign, but this turned to inconsistency that was carried into the new term.
The team made the worst start to a league campaign in the club’s history, picking up just one point in the first five games and dropping points from drawing or winning positions in four of them. The first three games were odd-goal defeats, away at Brackley Town and home to Spennymoor Town and Kidderminster Harriers, during which only Jason Gilchrist and Wisdom had scored for FC. Bolstered by the additions of midfielder Michael Connor and forward James Hooper, FC looked to have kick-started the campaign with a good performance away at Southport. They led 3-1 with just three minutes remaining thanks to goals from Hooper, Nathan Lowe and Lindfield, but the hosts struck twice in the final moments to level the game at 3-3. A terrible 0-3 defeat at Bradford Park Avenue then left United rooted to the bottom of the table.
The Reds finally got their first win at the sixth attempt at home to Boston United. Lowe’s early penalty was added to by McCarthy’s first goal for the club before the visitors ruined their own chances by having two men sent off early in the second half. Even so, they managed to pull a goal back with a minute to go but FC held out for the maximum points. Two days later United faced a daunting trip to York City, where for much of the game they had to defend well as the hosts dominated. However another red card for the opponents in the second half swung the game in FC’s favour and they took advantage with ten minutes to go when Tom Greaves slotted home past old friend Jon Worsnop. Gilchrist added a terrific second in injury time to seal the points and take the Reds up to 16th in the table.
Unfortunately FC were unable to build on this momentum and proceeded to slip to four straight defeats in the first half of September. Leamington and Blyth Spartans both left Broadhurst Park with the points, before United suffered a first-ever loss to Curzon Ashton. The Reds were given a glimmer of hope during the tough midweek trip to Darlington when the hosts found themselves a man down at half-time, but FC self-destructed by having two of their own sent off. Hughes and Connor both saw red and the home side capitalised by hitting three goals without reply to propel United back into the bottom two. In the meantime the club had accepted an offer from Southport for Nathan Lowe, who signed a professional contract with the full-time outfit.
United were provided with some welcome respite from their league woes when they were drawn away at Northern Counties East side Handsworth Parramore in the FA Cup 2nd qualifying round. Recent signing Steve Irwin had impressed in midfield and he gave FC the lead from the penalty spot, but the hosts grabbed a last-minute equaliser to earn a replay. The Reds made no mistake back at Broadhurst, where goals from Connor, Gilchrist, McCarthy and Logan gave them a commanding lead half-time. The visitors pulled a couple back late in the second half, but McCarthy grabbed two more of his own to complete his hat-trick as FC progressed with a 6-2 win. United then earned a deserved 3-1 victory at home to Tamworth, thanks to a Gilchrist brace and another Irwin spot-kick. Gilchrist’s second was a goal-of-the-season contender, hammering the ball into the top corner from a position wide on the right.
The next round of the FA Cup gave United a short trip to Stockport County, but they looked to be crashing out of the competition when they found themselves 0-3 down in a disastrous first half. Marginson made a triple substitution at the break, and got an early response when Gilchrist pulled one back. One of the replacements was Greaves, who earlier in the week had been sent out to play for Ramsbottom United on a dual-registration basis. He celebrated his recall by further reducing the deficit by finishing a lovely team move with 18 minutes to play. The home side began to panic, and after Greaves was bundled over in the box, Irwin stepped up to bury another penalty to complete the unlikely comeback.
Those efforts looked to have been in vain back in Moston for the replay when the Reds were reduced to nine men before the break, with Hughes and Connor being the guilty men again. However, FC grabbed an unlikely lead three minutes into the second half when Greaves forced the ball home from close range. A shocked County had the vast majority of possession, but struggled to break through a resolute United rearguard. When they did create chances they were still unable to beat a colossal Allinson as FC held on for a famous victory.
Marginson had recently bolstered the squad with the additions of forwards Tim Kinsella and Sefton Gonzales and wide men Tom Walker and Kallum Mantack, the latter on a month’s loan from Oldham Athletic. Walker marked his debut by opening the scoring away at bottom club North Ferriby United, where further goals from Greaves and a long-range screamer from Irwin looked set to earn FC the points until the hosts snatched a late equaliser. The Reds were also undone by late goals the following week in the FA Cup at AFC Telford United. Lindfield’s equaliser looked to have earned another replay, but two strikes deep in injury time sent FC crashing out of the competition at the 4th qualifying round. Back on league duty, a dismal 0-1 defeat at Chorley the following week left United second bottom with just 11 points from 14 games, and would signal a historic change at the club.
On 24th October 2017, FC United announced that Karl Marginson would be leaving his post as manager by mutual agreement with immediate effect after more than 12 years in charge, during which the club won four promotions and three cup finals. Tom Greaves was put in temporary charge of the first team, becoming a caretaker player-manager until a permanent appointment could be made.
The team made a good start to life under Greaves when goals from Gilchrist and Jordan Fagbola earned a 2-1 win over Nuneaton Town at Broadhurst to bring a sense of optimism back to the terraces. They were brought back down to earth the following week at Stockport, though, when the home side gained revenge for the FA Cup shock by sending the Reds home with a 1-4 defeat. Greaves selected four teenagers in the team for the midweek Manchester Premier Cup tie at Salford City, and his faith was rewarded with a 3-0 win over the league leaders. A brace from Gilchrist and another from Kieran Glynn, recently recalled from a spell at Padiham, made it a comfortable night’s work and also allowed the luxury of introducing Tyrell Palmer, a recent recruit from partner club Moston United, for his debut.
The galvanised Reds then picked up maximum points from two home games in mid-November, on both occasions coming from behind to earn the victories. Telford took an early lead, but Greaves led by example to level midway through the first half. Gilchrist took over after the break, putting FC ahead after a wonderful piece of skill, before applying the gloss with an outrageous effort from over 40 yards to complete a 3-1 win. A few days later, Alfreton Town were two goals up at the break before Glynn reduced the arrears with a classy overhead kick. United were still trailing with three minutes to play when a penalty was awarded, which Gilchrist coolly converted. The Reds pressed for the winner, and got their rewards in the 90th minute when Logan’s cross was diverted over the line by visiting defender Tom Platt.
FC made the trip to Gainsborough Trinity without top scorer Jason Gilchrist, after the club had accepted an offer from Southport for his transfer, becoming the second United player to sign a professional deal there recently. His loss took the wind from the sails somewhat as the team fell to a 0-1 defeat, and then exited the FA Trophy by the same score at Northern Premier League side Marine the following week.
Trailing 0-1 at half-time against second-placed Harrogate Town in Moston on 2nd December, FC were wondering where the next goal was coming from, but they produced a terrific second half display on a memorable occasion. Lindfield levelled direct from a corner just after the break, and it was from another of his corners that FC took the lead with seven minutes to go when Greaves nodded home to claim his 99th goal for the club and equal Rory Patterson’s long-standing record. The ground erupted in the last minute when Greaves converted McCarthy’s cross to hammer home his 100th goal for the Reds and seal a magnificent win, although with the last kick of the game the visitors did pull one back from the penalty spot.
That began a month of remarkable results for United, and continued when Brackley, who had jumped over Harrogate into second, came to Broadhurst the following week. The visitors broke the deadlock in the second half, but Irwin despatched another inch-perfect spot-kick to earn a share of the spoils. It seemed like the long journey to high-flying Spennymoor just before Christmas had taken its toll when FC were 1-4 down early in the second half, but a brace from McCarthy either side of a strike from Lindfield earned an amazing 4-4 draw.
Table-topping Salford came to Moston on Boxing Day and twice went ahead as FC trailed 1-2 at the break. However a red card for the visitors just moments into the second period allowed United to take control and they got a deserved equaliser with 16 minutes left. Walker’s cross was only partially cleared to the edge of the box, where Zac Corbett stepped forward to hammer home an unstoppable shot for his first goal for the club. Walker was having a field day down the left side, and with nine minutes to go his chipped cross was nodded home by Greaves to complete a 3-2 win. FC travelled to Salford for the return match on New Years Day, and again twice fell behind. Lindfield had curled home a wonderful first equaliser before Corbett made it 2-2 for the second time in a week to earn a share of the spoils.
So United had, unexpectedly, picked up nine points from five games against teams in the top five of the table over the previous month, and they carried this form into January. Another Greaves goal earned a 1-0 home win over a Southport side containing four ex-Reds, and the boss was at it again with the equaliser at promotion-chasing Blyth. The great run came to a shuddering halt at Kidderminster, where Corbett was dismissed as the hosts hit four second-half goals without reply. The Reds recovered well as their superb home form continued with a 2-0 win over Curzon, the 11th game without defeat at Broadhurst, despite Glynn’s red card.
With the squad short of midfield options, Greaves brought in the experienced Danny Racchi to join other recent recruits Sam Tattum, Adam Gilchrist and Jamal Crawford. After Wisdom suffered a season-ending injury they were joined by Luke Higham on loan from Fleetwood Town, and all the new lads were involved as Gilchrist’s early winner saw off Hyde United in the Manchester Premier Cup semi-final. However, this was the only goal scored by the team in six matches, with the Reds picking up just one point in the league from a 0-0 draw with Chorley. Narrow defeats to Nuneaton, Stockport and Telford were followed by the club’s record hammering, 0-6 at Harrogate where ex-Red George Thomson bagged a hat-trick. This was a disastrous run that plunged United back into the relegation mix.
Two young players, Jeff King from Bolton Wanderers and Gerard Garner from Fleetwood, were brought in on loan to help the goal-shy attack, and they both played their part in ending the famine in spectacular style. The Reds were three down early on at Boston, but despite Lindfield and King reducing the deficit they still trailed 2-4 with just two minutes left. Garner then got FC’s third before Lindfield’s stoppage time header made it 4-4 to end the losing streak. United took the momentum back to Moston, where Lindfield’s cheeky flick was the only goal of the game against fellow strugglers Gainsborough. The fears were further eased with a 4-0 home win over Bradford Park Avenue, although the result largely hinged on two red cards for the visitors shortly before half-time. King took advantage by hitting home two free-kicks and a penalty for a hat-trick in his last game for the club, with fellow loanee Garner grabbing the other.
United were looking to avoid defeat from two crucial trips to the Midlands to face other relegation threatened sides, but fell to a disappointing 0-1 loss in the first at Leamington. When Hughes was harshly dismissed in the closing stages at Tamworth, FC would probably have been happy with the game ending scoreless. However, an innocuous shot from Lindfield was inexplicably spilled into his home net by the home keeper with just five minutes remaining, and then Garner made it 2-0 with almost the last kick of the game to give the Reds just their second away league victory of the campaign. A 1-2 home defeat to Darlington meant that FC were still not safe, but their place in the National League North for next season was finally confirmed by McCarthy’s winner as United completed the double over York. The league season petered out with two forgettable defeats to Alfreton and North Ferriby, although special mention must be given to Danny Racchi, Sam Tattum and Adam Gilchrist who all played the final games without payment to help the club’s financial situation.
Before the curtain came down on the league season, the club once again contested the final of the Manchester Premier Cup. At the Ewen Fields home of Hyde United, opponents Trafford twice took the lead but the Reds found equalisers from unlikely sources. Captain Scott Kay’s tremendous header was the first leveller before Joel Senior’s first goal for FC made it 2-2. That was the final score, and so the destination of the trophy was decided by a penalty shoot-out. Senior’s kick was saved, but Greaves, Kay and Glynn all converted and player-of-the-year Allinson produced a fantastic save to put the pressure on Trafford. They put their next two efforts over the bar to send the cup to Broadhurst Park for the second year running.
Season Review by Karl Ladley.
Their four year stay in National League North came to an end in 2018-19, when three managers and 57 players were utilised in a turbulent campaign. Greaves left the club in August and following a period with David Chadwick as caretaker boss, Neil Reynolds was hired from Bamber Bridge in October, but a miserable record of one home League win all season was instrumental in a placing of 21st and a return to the Northern Premier League for 2019-20.
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During the summer of 2019 Neil Reynolds recruited almost an entirely new squad (only three players survived from the previous season) and after an underwhelming start (FC were bottom of the table after three matches), the 2019/20 season blossomed into the most enjoyable in years – a young FC United side playing attacking football with passion, verve, and a recognisable style and, like all the best United sides, seemingly never knowing when it’s beaten. FC were in second place in the league when the NPL season became another, relatively minor, casualty of the coronavirus pandemic and was brought to a premature close in mid-March with all results and goals expunged from the record books. This included the hatful of goals scored by Tunde Owolabi, who joined FC at the end of August, scored 35 goals in all competitions and was named the Northern Premier League’s Player of the Season.
As the coronavirus health crisis worsened the club continued to offer a helping hand to some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in its local community as its Broadhurst Park ground, closed to the public following the lockdown, was used as a base for a group of volunteers to distribute food parcels to dozens of households across North Manchester experiencing serious health problems or financial difficulties as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In July 2020 prolific striker Tunde Owolabi left FC United to join Scottish Premier League side Hamilton Academical for an undisclosed fee.